Open Thread – November 13th, 2010

By Razib Khan | November 13, 2010 2:28 am

Blogs worth checking out: Reaction Norm, A Replicated Typo, and Dodecad. Heather Mac Donald has some expectations for the Tea Party.

Take a look at the Wikio Science Top 20. Same old, same old. I’m always sniffing around for new science blogs, and am struck by how many of the top bloggers I’ve met personally. Eight of the top 20 on Wikio for example. Are there many unknown gems out there?

Josh Green reminisces about the rise of Talking Points Memo. Some people “have it”, some do not. Joshua Micah Marshall “has it.” He’s always had it. I started an abortive blog in the fall of 2001, but gave up after a week. Then I started blogging in April of 2002, and never looked back. For most of the 2000s I was a code monkey who blogged as a hobby on the side. I never managed to give it up, and it’s led me to some really awesome places.

Cultures differ. Check out the definition for ‘Islamophobia’. Now read this article, Palestinian held for Facebook criticism of Islam:

Residents of Qalqiliya say they had no idea that Walid Husayin — the 26-year-old son of a Muslim scholar — was leading a double life.

Known as a quiet man who prayed with his family each Friday and spent his evenings working in his father’s barbershop, Husayin was secretly posting anti-religion rants on the Internet during his free time.

Now, he faces a potential life prison sentence on heresy charges for “insulting the divine essence.” Many in this conservative Muslim town say he should be killed for renouncing Islam, and even family members say he should remain behind bars for life.

“He should be burned to death,” said Abdul-Latif Dahoud, a 35-year-old Qalqiliya resident. The execution should take place in public “to be an example to others,” he added.

Over several years, Husayin is suspected of posting arguments in favor of atheism on English and Arabic blogs, where he described the God of Islam as having the attributes of a “primitive Bedouin.” He called Islam a “blind faith that grows and takes over people’s minds where there is irrationality and ignorance.”

If that wasn’t enough, he is also suspected of creating three Facebook groups in which he sarcastically declared himself God and ordered his followers, among other things, to smoke marijuana in verses that spoof the Muslim holy book, the Quran. At its peak, Husayin’s Arabic-language blog had more than 70,000 visitors, overwhelmingly from Arab countries.

Husayin is the first to be arrested in the West Bank for his religious views, said Tayseer Tamimi, the former chief Islamic judge in the area.

The Western-backed Palestinian Authority is among the more religiously liberal Arab governments in the region. It is dominated by secular elites and has frequently cracked down on hardline Muslims and activists connected to its conservative Islamic rival, Hamas.

Husayin’s high public profile and prickly style, however, left authorities no choice but to take action.

Instead, he began going to an Internet cafe — a move that turned out to be a costly mistake. The owner, Ahmed Abu-Asal, said the blogger aroused suspicion by spending up to seven hours a day in a corner booth. After several months, a cafe worker supplied captured snapshots of his Facebook pages to Palestinian intelligence officials.

He could face a life sentence if he’s found guilty, depending on how harshly the judge thinks he attacked Islam and how widely his views were broadcast, said Islamic scholar Tamimi.

Even so, a small minority has questioned whether the government went too far.

Zainab Rashid, a liberal Palestinian commentator, wrote in an online opinion piece that Husayin has made an important point: “that criticizing religious texts for their (intellectual) weakness can only be combatted by … oppression, prison and execution.”

– I think many readers of this weblog could sympathize Walid Husayin. He seems to have been an “internet atheist,” obsessed with the rejection of theism which was so strongly normative in the world around him. Because of the familial expectations he clearly had to live a lie in public, so he took out his angst in private. We’re not talking Michael Servetus here, we’re talking an angry 15 year old on LiveJournal (no offense, but in societies where men live with their families deep into their 20s they are usually psychologically teenagers in my experience).

– Burning a religious dissenter has some negative connotations for people in the West. That sort of stuff basically stopped after the Enlightenment, though the famous burning of the aforementioned Michael Servetus at the instigation of John Calvin shows just how acceptable such barbarism was in the West even in the early modern period. From the perspective of modern Westerners though that was the past, and like slavery burning someone for blasphemy is no longer thinkable (unless you’re a follower of R. J. Rushdoony). Things are different in much of the Muslim world, especially the Arab world. If Islamophobia is the irrational fear of Islam, what do you call the rational fear? Are those who want a cordon sanitaire against these sorts of cultural values without any foundation in reality? I don’t begrudge Muslims of whatever stripe arguing for the superiority or virtuosity of their belief system; that’s the nature of their meme. Rather, I’m always struck by the lack of reflection that many secular Westerners have as to the realized perniciousness of Islam in the world when judged by the values that Westerners today hold to be fundamental.

– The 70,000 visitors is vague. 70,000 visitors total is not large, but 70,000 per day is reasonable. The fact that Walid Husayin attained some level of pseudo-fame in the Arab world attests to a pent up demand for a violation of the norm of ostentatious piety. Throughout the history of civilization there have been sects and movements which operate as a counter-narrative against the pieties of the age. Cynics in ancient Greece of the Stoics and Platonists. Daoists in the China of the Confucians. The Carvaka who rejected the strictures of Brahmanical Hinduism. This strain also existed within Islam, exemplified by the poet Al-Ma’arri, who declared that “The sacred books are only such a set of idle tales as any age could have and indeed did actually produce.” But the fact is that the Abrahamic religions in particular have a long track record of not tolerating counter-cultural religio-philosophical movements. Al-Ma’arri and Plethon were notable tokens, not representatives of an alternative school. In contrast to the often imperfectly realized acceptance of the fact of plurality of opinion in Greece & Rome, in China, and in Indic civilization, Christianity and Islam tended toward ideological monopoly.

– The blog Breaking Spells asserts:

Regardless, only the most backward of societies -the most primitive of this world- would still have the barbaric and mindless law which allows a death sentence for blasphemy….

Here’s a map of the UN’s Human Development Index (black is the lowest category, but lighter blue shades are lower):

800px-2010_UN_Human_Develop

Some Muslim countries, like Pakistan, have low HDI. Others, like Iran and Saudi Arabia, have high HDI. Additionally, much of Latin America and Africa has lower HDI than the “core” Muslim world (Arab-Turk-Persian). The Muslim nations really aren’t primitive. Geneva in the 16th century wasn’t primitive. A well developed system of thought-policing from on-high is unfortunately a feature of more advanced societies, though the trend is obviously not monotonic as a function of development. The causal connections are not necessarily clear.

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  • Gav

    picky but as regards Calvin you might be thinking of Servetus.

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  • somecomment

    Well, when you say these things to Westerners, they often react with denial. See, for example, this discussion:

    http://yro.slashdot.org/story/10/11/13/057239/Facebook-Postings-Lead-To-Arrest-for-Heresy-In-the-West-Bank
    .

    There you have educated people of the Western society, saying:

    – “Are you sure that Western values are superior? (My answer: yes. We don’t kill people because of their beliefs)

    – “I love how apparently the West now has a peaceful culture. The past 500 years of genoicde and slavery apparently dont count” . (My answer: every culture is based on genocide and slavery: Islam too – there are slaves in Muslim countries right now. We can’t do anything about the crimes of the past. But we can fight for crimes not to be committed in the present or future)

    – “Religion is the problem, no matter what religion” (My answer: I will believe that when Buddhists kill Muslims because of religion)

    – “We are not better: we are invading Iraq”. (My answer: The fact that invading Iraq could be wrong does not mean that killing people for their beliefs is right)
    .
    Seriously, when you read all these excuses, denials and rationalizations, you realize that Western civilization is in decline. People (and especially the elite) do not believe in Western civilization anymore. In every culture (including Islam), people think their culture is the best so they are willing to deffend it.
    .
    But not in the West. We think that our (democratic) culture is not superior to others. When somebody criticizes the West, Western people criticize the West. When somebody criticizes a non-Western culture (for example, Islam), Western people ALSO criticize the West. For example, about the Walid Hussayin case, somebody wrote:
    .
    “What western values wold those be then? The values that allow us to invade other countries, killing 10’s of thousands, just so rich old men can be richer, and then pass it off a few years later as an unfortunate mistake (haha! oops!) and let’s never mentioned that again? Have we advanced beyond barbarism ourselves? What’s the difference? And what’s the difference between their fanatics and our own secular fanatics – you know, the ones who will not permit anything to be done about climate change because it might cost us money Do you imagine our crimes to be less barbarous, our fanaticism less damaging then theirs?”
    .
    This is said by a person who enjoys all the advantages of Western civilization and who probably won’t be able to live in a totalitarian regime like Islam, but he is quick in despising Western civilization using the same freedom of expression that this civilization gives him.
    .
    At the end of the day, it is only self-hate. Westerners despising their own society. You are seeing in these words a civilization in decadence. When Western people stop believing in the goodness of a civilization that has given the world the biggest prosperity and freedom ever, it is the time of the decline. Soon, other cultures with more willingness to live will replace our culture.

  • Katharine

    I don’t think it’s self-hate so much as a total lack of gratefulness and perspective.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    i think katharine’s is a more accurate in her assessment. the term “self hate” has more rhetorical utility than a descriptive one. a small minority of people who are accused of “self hate” really do hate themselves. the majority are engaged in other projects, like social signalling or group conformity. self hate requires more consciousness of the issues at hand than most of the ./ers above seem to exhibit.

  • omar

    I agree with Razib and Katharine about the “self-hate” accusation. I am also not convinced that “Western” civilization is really in such serious decline. A lot of the ignorance about other cultures and their sometimes malevolent features is actually a reflection of how much more Western culture had developed; allowing some of its well-fed and highly educated intellectuals to get away with truly remarkable ignorance about other cultures. As those other cultures push in with their own notions, this may change rather quickly. Of course, I could be wrong.

    I personally do not think the current situation in the Islamicate world is stable. Apostasy and blasphemy laws protect the 12th century Sunni consensus and if these two laws are no longer enforced then the public consensus around orthodox Islam has absolutely no chance of being sustained in any open debate. It will not disappear, but it will not be “consensus” anymore. The entire edifice is dependent on the enforcement of very harsh rules against free speech…and free speech on the net is very hard to regulate. I think that this consensus will be increasingly violated on the internet and we will see more episodes of blasphemy and apostasy, followed by reprisals wherever Muslims are in a position to enforce such reprisals, followed by gradual but very steady erosion of the consensus and this gradual weakening may be followed by catastrophe (in the mathematical sense).

    I also think that many Muslims realize this at some level and that some of them in fact explode BECAUSE they are starting to realize this fact and they cannot stand that thought.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    A lot of the ignorance about other cultures and their sometimes malevolent features is actually a reflection of how much more Western culture had developed;

    yeah. i think muslims (or chinese or indians) are basically civilizational elementary school kids. western civilization is in a teenage angst period. i hope we’ll reach adulthood and be able to balance self-critic and acceptance of who we are and why we should be happy about who we are.

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This blog is about evolution, genetics, genomics and their interstices. Please beware that comments are aggressively moderated. Uncivil or churlish comments will likely get you banned immediately, so make any contribution count!

About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at http://www.razib.com

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