Saturday, November 25, 2006

Article in French weekly against Islamic totalitarianism

We refuse to renounce our critical spirit out of fear of being accused of "Islamophobia", a wretched concept that confuses criticism of Islam as a religion and stigmatisation of those who believe in it.

We defend the universality of the freedom of expression, so that a critical spirit can exist in every continent, towards each and every maltreatment and dogma.

We appeal to democrats and free spirits in every country that our century may be one of light and not dark.

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Sunday, November 05, 2006

remember, remember the fifth of November

Remember, remember the fifth of November,
Gunpowder Treason and Plot,
I see no reason why gunpowder treason
should ever be forgot.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Spiegel interview with Aga Khan

This guy wriggles, tosses out red herrings, uses the "you're another" fallacy...what an amazing bit of theater. He can't back away from the accusation that Islam is out to establish a global Islamic state, though. A year ago, I never would have agreed with that accusation. Today, I don't see how it's not the case.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Historiography of Islamic Science

The history of science in the Islamic world, like all history, is filled with questions of interpretation. Historians of science generally consider that the study of Islamic science, like all history, must be seen within the particular circumstances of time and place. A.I. Sabra opened a recent overview of Arabic science by noting, "I trust no one would wish to contest the proposition that all of history is local history ... and the history of science is no exception."[1]

Some scholars avoid such local historical approaches and seek to identify essential relations between Islam and science that apply at all times and places. The Pakistani physicist, Pervhez Hoodbhoy, portrayed "religious fanaticism to be the dominant relation of religion and science in Islam". Sociologist Toby Huff maintained that Islam lacked the "rationalist view of man and nature" that became dominant in Europe. The Persian philosopher and historian of science, Seyyed Hossein Nasr saw a more positive connection in "an Islamic science that was spiritual and antisecular" which "point[ed] the way to a new 'Islamic science' that would avoid the dehumanizing and despiritualizing mistakes of Western science."[2]

Nasr identified a distinctly Muslim approach to science, flowing from Islamic monotheism and the related theological prohibition against portraying graven images. In science, this is reflected in a philosophical disinterest in describing individual material objects, their properties and characteristics and instead a concern with the ideal, the Platonic form, which exists in matter as an expression of the will of the Creator. Thus one can "see why mathematics was to make such a strong appeal to the Muslim: its abstract nature furnished the bridge that Muslims were seeking between multiplicity and unity."[3]

Rather than identifying such essential relations between Islam and science, some historians of science question the value of drawing boundaries that label the sciences, and the scientists who practice them, in specific cultural, civilizational, or linguistic terms. Consider the case of Nasir al-Din Tusi (1201–1274), who invented his mathematical theorem, the Tusi Couple, while he was director of Maragheh observatory. Tusi's patron and founder of the observatory was the non-Muslim Mongol conqueror of Baghdad, Hulagu Khan. The Tusi-couple "was first encountered in an Arabic text, written by a man who spoke Persian at home, and used that theorem, like many other astronomers who followed him and were all working in the "Arabic/Islamic" world, in order to reform classical Greek astronomy, and then have his theorem in turn be translated into Byzantine Greek towards the beginning of the fourteenth century, only to be used later by Copernicus and others in Latin texts of Renaissance Europe."[4]

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History of Islamic Science

In the eleventh century Muslim science and the numbers of scientists started to decline. After the thirteenth century they would still produce occasional scientists but they were the exception, not the rule (see list of Islamic scholars). One reason for the scientific decline can be traced back to the tenth century when the orthodox school of Ash'ari challenged the more rational school of Mu'tazili theology, or even earlier when caliph Al-Mutawakkil (847-861) started to suppress the Mu'tazili theology. The orthodox Muslims fought the shia Muslims and other Muslim branches, as well as several invaders(mongols, crusaders etc.) on the Islamic lands between 1000 – 1300. In the end the Sunni orthodox were victorious and the more strict Ash'ari school replaced Mu'tazili thought in the Islamic lands. That replacement and numerous wars and conflicts created a climate which made Islamic science less successful than before.

With the fall of Muslim Spain in 1492, scientific and technological initiative generally passed to Christian Europe and led to what we now call the Renaissance and the Enlightenment. The fiqh of Islamic Law froze more or less along classical/medieval lines, and no longer encouraged science.

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Thursday, October 05, 2006

The Laboratory of Violence

This Der Spiegel item is on Sao Paolo, but it got me thinking about Dubai.


Violence works like a centrifuge. It separates out the various elements of society. Giant metropolises like Sao Paolo split up into different social strata -- they develop a criminal underworld that forms a society of its own, replicating the state system. One layer above this criminal underworld is the middle class, a thin segment of society that does everything it can to close itself off, and above the middle class is the segment of the rich and the super-rich. It's only logical that millionaires should seek safety even higher up, by stepping into helicopters.

Or, into artificial cities. Across from Daslu there used to be a small mountain on the west bank of the Rio Pinheiros. Now there's a hole in the ground, and inside, an army of construction workers in yellow helmets feed the hole with tons of concrete and core wire. If investors have their way, a total of €640 million ($813 million) will disappear into the pit, which is Brazil's most expensive real estate project -- a fortress for the upper classes.

This will be a new Sao Paolo, a Sao Paolo from the fourth dimension, which will avoid contact with the rest of the city. The plan is for an enormous residential, shopping and office complex with nine skyscrapers, surrounded by palm trees and parks, equipped with eight cinemas and the largest sports complex in South America. Only those with an anuual income of €150,000 ($190,000) or more will be allowed to purchase an apartment there. The smallest will have an area of 240 square meters (2,583 square feet), the largest, 780 square meters (8,396 square feet). This real estate project is a bid to escape the penetrating power of the PCC.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Islam, Immigration, Assimilation

Wide awake and lying in bed at 3:30 a.m. this morning, I was thinking about the attitudinal shifts that immigrant populations undergo when they move to America, and whether this was an issue with Muslims who move to a new country. Sure enough, this morning's Der Spiegel has an interview that references the problem of attitudinal shifts:

SPIEGEL: But how do you expect to draw the third generation away from the influence of the mosques?

Tibi: I don't have any clear idea either about how this should be done. The situation is this: young Muslims want to be "members of the club," part of German society. But they are rejected. And parallel societies provide warmth. It is a vicious circle.

The first generation moves to a country and tries to set up a mini-homeland (think Chinatown). The second generation rejects the first generation's strategy and does everything it can to assimilate into the mainstream. The third generation rejects their parents' assimilative notions and tries to return to the values of their grandparents. In America, by the fourth generation, the assimilative cultural forces are too strong to overcome.

Assimilation is the most powerful cultural force in America. That force is not present in Germany or in most other countries (Australia being one exception, and perhaps Canada--both countries with a history of encouraging immigration). Muslims cannot find ways to assimilate because those ways will not be provided. I now wonder if they would assimilate even if it were possible.

The rest of the article is spot on with regard to the way the Western half of the dialogue has no grasp of what the real Muslim intent is. Enough has been done and said at this point that it's no longer necessary to say what that intent "seems" to be.

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Friday, September 29, 2006

What's Your Beer Personality?

You Are Guinness

You know beer well, and you'll only drink the best beers in the world. Watered down beers disgust you, as do the people who drink them. When you drink, you tend to become a bit of a know it all - especially about subjects you don't know well. But your friends tolerate your drunken ways, because you introduce them to the best beers around.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Imprimis article

These are snippets from the longish original article, which can be found by following the linked title of the post.

“Freedom and Justice in Islam”

Bernard Lewis
Cleveland E. Dodge Professor Emeritus of Near Eastern Studies, Princeton University

By common consent among historians, the modern history of the Middle East begins in the year 1798, when the French Revolution arrived in Egypt in the form of a small expeditionary force led by a young general called Napoleon Bonaparte—who conquered and then ruled it for a while with appalling ease. General Bonaparte—he wasn't yet Emperor—proclaimed to the Egyptians that he had come to them on behalf of a French Republic built on the principles of liberty and equality. We know something about the reactions to this proclamation from the extensive literature of the Middle Eastern Arab world. The idea of equality posed no great problem. Equality is very basic in Islamic belief: All true believers are equal. Of course, that still leaves three “inferior” categories of people—slaves, unbelievers and women. But in general, the concept of equality was understood. Islam never developed anything like the caste system of India to the east or the privileged aristocracies of Christian Europe to the west. Equality was something they knew, respected, and in large measure practiced. But liberty was something else.

As used in Arabic at that time, liberty was not a political but a legal term: You were free if you were not a slave. The word liberty was not used as we use it in the Western world, as a metaphor for good government. So the idea of a republic founded on principles of freedom caused some puzzlement. Some years later an Egyptian sheikh—Sheikh Rifa'a Rafi' al-Tahtawi, who went to Paris as chaplain to the first group of Egyptian students sent to Europe—wrote a book about his adventures and explained his discovery of the meaning of freedom. He wrote that when the French talk about freedom they mean what Muslims mean when they talk about justice. By equating freedom with justice, he opened a whole new phase in the political and public discourse of the Arab world, and then, more broadly, the Islamic world.


What happened on 9/11 was seen by its perpetrators and sponsors as the culmination of the previous phase and the inauguration of the next phase—taking the war into the enemy camp to achieve final victory. The response to 9/11 came as a nasty surprise. They were expecting more of the same—bleating and apologies—instead of which they got a vigorous reaction, first in Afghanistan and then in Iraq. And as they used to say in Moscow: It is no accident, comrades, that there has been no successful attack in the United States since then. But if one follows the discourse, one can see that the debate in this country since then has caused many of the perpetrators and sponsors to return to their previous diagnosis. Because remember, they have no experience, and therefore no understanding, of the free debate of an open society. What we see as free debate, they see as weakness, fear and division. Thus they prepare for the final victory, the final triumph and the final Jihad.

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Stratfor Geopolitical Intelligence: Pope Benedict's possible motives

Faith, Reason and Politics: Parsing the Pope's Remarks

By George Friedman

On Sept. 12, Pope Benedict XVI delivered a lecture on "Faith, Reason and the University" at the University of Regensburg. In his discussion (full text available on the Vatican Web site) the pope appeared to be trying to define a course between dogmatic faith and cultural relativism -- making his personal contribution to the old debate about faith and reason. In the course of the lecture, he made reference to a "part of the dialogue carried on -- perhaps in 1391 in the winter barracks near Ankara -- by the erudite Byzantine emperor Manuel II Paleologus and an educated Persian on the subject of Christianity and Islam, and the truth of both."

Benedict went on to say -- and it is important to read a long passage to understand his point -- that:

"In the seventh conversation edited by Professor Khoury, the emperor touches on the theme of the holy war. The emperor must have known that Sura 2,256 reads: 'There is no compulsion in religion.' According to the experts, this is one of the suras of the early period, when Mohammed was still powerless and under threat. But naturally the emperor also knew the instructions, developed later and recorded in the Quran, concerning holy war. Without descending to details, such as the difference in treatment accorded to those who have the 'Book' and the 'infidels,' he addresses his interlocutor with a startling brusqueness, a brusqueness which leaves us astounded, on the central question about the relationship between religion and violence in general, saying: 'Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.' The emperor, after having expressed himself so forcefully, goes on to explain in detail the reasons why spreading the faith through violence is something unreasonable. Violence is incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul. 'God,' he says, 'is not pleased by blood -- and not acting reasonably is contrary to God's nature. Faith is born of the soul, not the body. Whoever would lead someone to faith needs the ability to speak well and to reason properly, without violence and threats ... To convince a reasonable soul, one does not need a strong arm, or weapons of any kind, or any other means of threatening a person with death ...'

"The decisive statement in this argument against violent conversion is this: Not to act in accordance with reason is contrary to God's nature. The editor, Theodore Khoury, observes: 'For the emperor, as a Byzantine shaped by Greek philosophy, this statement is self-evident. But for Muslim teaching, God is absolutely transcendent.'"

The reaction of the Muslim world -- outrage -- came swift and sharp over the passage citing Manuel II: "Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached." Obviously, this passage is a quote from a previous text -- but equally obviously, the pope was making a critical point that has little to do with this passage.

The essence of this passage is about forced conversion. It begins by pointing out that Mohammed spoke of faith without compulsion when he lacked political power, but that when he became strong, his perspective changed. Benedict goes on to make the argument that violent conversion -- from the standpoint of a Byzantine shaped by Greek philosophy, and therefore shaped by the priority of reason -- is unacceptable. For someone who believes that God is absolutely transcendent and beyond reason, the argument goes, it is acceptable.

Clearly, Benedict knows that Christians also practiced forced conversion in their history. He also knows that the Aristotelian tendency is not unique to Christianity. In fact, that same tendency exists in the Muslim tradition, through thinkers such as al-Farabi or Avicenna. These stand in relation to Islam as Thomas Aquinas does to Christianity or Maimonides to Judaism. And all three religions struggle not only with the problem of God versus science, but with the more complex and interesting tripolar relationship of religion as revelation, reason and dogmatism. There is always that scriptural scholar, the philosopher troubled by faith and the local clergyman who claims to speak for God personally.

Benedict's thoughtful discussion of this problem needs to be considered. Also to be considered is why the pope chose to throw a hand grenade into a powder keg, and why he chose to do it at this moment in history. The other discussion might well be more worthy of the ages, but this question -- what did Benedict do, and why did he do it -- is of more immediate concern, for he could have no doubt what the response, in today's politically charged environment, was going to be.

A Deliberate Move

Let's begin with the obvious: Benedict's words were purposely chosen. The quotation of Manuel II was not a one-liner, accidentally blurted out. The pope was giving a prepared lecture that he may have written himself -- and if it was written for him, it was one that he carefully read. Moreover, each of the pope's public utterances are thoughtfully reviewed by his staff, and there is no question that anyone who read this speech before it was delivered would recognize the explosive nature of discussing anything about Islam in the current climate. There is not one war going on in the world today, but a series of wars, some of them placing Catholics at risk.

It is true that Benedict was making reference to an obscure text, but that makes the remark all the more striking; even the pope had to work hard to come up with this dialogue. There are many other fine examples of the problem of reason and faith that he could have drawn from that did not involve Muslims, let alone one involving such an incendiary quote. But he chose this citation and, contrary to some media reports, it was not a short passage in the speech. It was about 15 percent of the full text and was the entry point to the rest of the lecture. Thus, this was a deliberate choice, not a slip of the tongue.

As a deliberate choice, the effect of these remarks could be anticipated. Even apart from the particular phrase, the text of the speech is a criticism of the practice of conversion by violence, with a particular emphasis on Islam. Clearly, the pope intended to make the point that Islam is currently engaged in violence on behalf of religion, and that it is driven by a view of God that engenders such belief. Given Muslims' protests (including some violent reactions) over cartoons that were printed in a Danish newspaper, the pope and his advisers certainly must have been aware that the Muslim world would go ballistic over this. Benedict said what he said intentionally, and he was aware of the consequences. Subsequently, he has not apologized for what he said -- only for any offense he might have caused. He has not retracted his statement.

So, why this, and why now?

Political Readings

Consider the fact that the pope is not only a scholar but a politician -- and a good one, or he wouldn't have become the pope. He is not only a head of state, but the head of a global church with a billion members. The church is no stranger to geopolitics. Muslims claim that they brought down communism in Afghanistan. That may be true, but there certainly is something to be said also for the efforts of the Catholic Church, which helped to undermine the communism in Poland and to break the Soviet grip on Eastern Europe. Popes know how to play power politics.

Thus, there are at least two ways to view Benedict's speech politically.

One view derives from the fact that the pope is watching the U.S.-jihadist war. He can see it is going badly for the United States in both Afghanistan and Iraq. He witnessed the recent success of Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas' political victory among the Palestinians. Islamists may not have the fundamental strength to threaten the West at this point, but they are certainly on a roll. Also, it should be remembered that Benedict's predecessor, John Paul II, was clearly not happy about the U.S. decision to invade Iraq, but it does not follow that his successor is eager to see a U.S. defeat there.

The statement that Benedict made certainly did not hurt U.S. President George W. Bush in American politics. Bush has been trying to portray the war against Islamist militants as a clash of civilizations, one that will last for generations and will determine the future of mankind. Benedict, whether he accepts Bush's view or not, offered an intellectual foundation for Bush's position. He drew a sharp distinction between Islam and Christianity and then tied Christianity to rationality -- a move to overcome the tension between religion and science in the West. But he did not include Islam in that matrix. Given that there is a war on and that the pope recognizes Bush is on the defensive, not only in the war but also in domestic American politics, Benedict very likely weighed the impact of his words on the scale of war and U.S. politics. What he said certainly could be read as words of comfort for Bush. We cannot read Benedict's mind on this, of course, but he seemed to provide some backing for Bush's position.

It is not entirely clear that Pope Benedict intended an intellectual intervention in the war. The church obviously did not support the invasion of Iraq, having criticized it at the time. On the other hand, it would not be in the church's interests to see the United States simply routed. The Catholic Church has substantial membership throughout the region, and a wave of Islamist self-confidence could put those members and the church at risk. From the Vatican's perspective, the ideal outcome of the war would be for the United States to succeed -- or at least not fail -- but for the church to remain free to criticize Washington's policies and to serve as conciliator and peacemaker. Given the events of the past months, Benedict may have felt the need for a relatively gentle intervention -- in a way that warned the Muslim world that the church's willingness to endure vilification as a Crusader has its limits, and that he is prepared, at least rhetorically, to strike back. Again, we cannot read his mind, but neither can we believe that he was oblivious to events in the region and that, in making his remarks, he was simply engaged in an academic exercise.

This perspective would explain the timing of the pope's statement, but the general thrust of his remarks has more to do with Europe.

There is an intensifying tension in Europe over the powerful wave of Muslim immigration. Frictions are high on both sides. Europeans fear that the Muslim immigrants will overwhelm their native culture or form an unassimilated and destabilizing mass. Muslims feel unwelcome, and some extreme groups have threatened to work for the conversion of Europe. In general, the Vatican's position has ranged from quiet to calls for tolerance. As a result, the Vatican was becoming increasingly estranged from the church body -- particularly working and middle-class Catholics -- and its fears.

As has been established, the pope knew that his remarks at Regensburg would come under heavy criticism from Muslims. He also knew that this criticism would continue despite any gestures of contrition. Thus, with his remarks, he moved toward closer alignment with those who are uneasy about Europe's Muslim community -- without adopting their own, more extreme, sentiments. That move increases his political strength among these groups and could cause them to rally around the church. At the same time, the pope has not locked himself into any particular position. And he has delivered his own warning to Europe's Muslims about the limits of tolerance.

It is obvious that Benedict delivered a well-thought-out statement. It is also obvious that the Vatican had no illusions as to how the Muslim world would respond. The statement contained a verbal blast, crafted in a way that allowed Benedict to maintain plausible deniability. Indeed, the pope already has taken the exit, noting that these were not his thoughts but those of another scholar. The pope and his staff were certainly aware that this would make no difference in the grand scheme of things, save for giving Benedict the means for distancing himself from the statement when the inevitable backlash occurred. Indeed, the anger in the Muslim world remained intense, and there also have been emerging pockets of anger among Catholics over the Muslim world's reaction to the pope, considering the history of Islamic attacks against Christianity. Because he reads the newspapers -- not to mention the fact that the Vatican maintains a highly capable intelligence service of its own -- Benedict also had to have known how the war was going, and that his statement likely would aid Bush politically, at least indirectly. Finally, he would be aware of the political dynamics in Europe and that the statement would strengthen his position with the church's base there.

The question is how far Benedict is going to go with this. His predecessor took on the Soviet Union and then, after the collapse of communism, started sniping at the United States over its materialism and foreign policy. Benedict may have decided that the time has come to throw the weight of the church against radical Islamists. In fact, there is a logic here: If the Muslims reject Benedict's statement, they have to acknowledge the rationalist aspects of Islam. The burden is on the Ummah to lift the religion out of the hands of radicals and extremist scholars by demonstrating that Muslims can adhere to reason.

From an intellectual and political standpoint, therefore, Benedict's statement was an elegant move. He has strengthened his political base and perhaps legitimized a stronger response to anti-Catholic rhetoric in the Muslim world. And he has done it with superb misdirection. His options are open: He now can move away from the statement and let nature take its course, repudiate it and challenge Muslim leaders to do the same with regard to anti-Catholic statements or extend and expand the criticism of Islam that was implicit in the dialogue.

The pope has thrown a hand grenade and is now observing the response. We are assuming that he knew what he was doing; in fact, we find it impossible to imagine that he did not. He is too careful not to have known. Therefore, he must have anticipated the response and planned his partial retreat.

It will be interesting to see if he has a next move. The answer to that may be something he doesn't know himself yet.

Send questions or comments on this article to

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Stratfor Terrorism Report: Pope Benedict's controversial speech

The Pope as a High-Value Target

By Fred Burton

For the past several days, Muslim governments and religious leaders from both the Sunni and Shiite realms have been expressing their outrage over Pope Benedict XVI's controversial speech at Regensburg University. Reactions have varied from strictly political moves, such as the recalling of ambassadors, to more emotional statements and acts: The pope has been burned in effigy in India and Iraq, publicly likened to Hitler in Turkey and made the subject of fatwas -- issued by some marginal radical leaders in the United Kingdom and Somalia -- calling for his death. Not surprisingly, al Qaeda in Iraq has pledged a war against the "worshippers of the cross" in response to Benedict's speech.

This last threat has little significance in and of itself, as al Qaeda long ago declared war against "crusaders," and its node in Iraq has been attacking American, British, Australian, U.N. and other foreign targets for the past three years. But the statement is nevertheless a valid representation of wider jihadist sentiment concerning the Christian world in general and the pope in particular.

Jihadist attacks against Christian targets can be expected to continue in Muslim lands. This was to be expected even had the pope not quoted a passage from history that described the teachings of Mohammed as "evil and inhuman" -- though the violence may have been a factor in Benedict's decision to include this quote. However, the risks to Christian and Catholic targets in Muslim lands, like the risk to the pope personally, likely has ticked upward in the wake of the comments at Regensburg.

Given the symbolism of his position, the pontiff -- whoever that individual might be at a given time -- was already in the jihadist crosshairs, but the recent speech likely has moved Benedict to the forefront of jihadist consciousness and up a notch or two on the target lists of al Qaeda, its sympathizers and grassroots jihadists. We anticipate that attempts will be made on Benedict's life and -- should plots actually reach the execution phase -- they will, given the nature of the pope's public activities, be quite bloody.

The Backlash

Criticism of the pope's speech has come from all quarters of the Islamic world. Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah, a Lebanese cleric who is Hezbollah's spiritual leader, said Sept. 15 that Benedict should personally retract his "false statements" about Islam. A Sunni leader, Sheikh Youssef al-Qardawi -- the head of the Islamic Scholars Association -- said, "We call on the pope, the pontiff, to apologize to the Islamic nation because he has insulted its religion and Prophet, its faith and Shariah without any justification."

Governments from Iraq to Indonesia have also expressed their anger. The deputy leader of Turkey's Justice and Development Party, Salih Kapusuz, compared the pontiff to Hitler and Mussolini. Malaysian Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar said Sept. 18 that Benedict's apology was insufficient and echoed Fadlallah's call for a retraction.

Toward the other end of the spectrum, some radical leaders have issued fatwas calling for the pope's death. So far, none have been issued by widely recognized Islamic scholars -- but since many radical religious leaders believe that insult to the Prophet Mohammed (and thus to Islam) is an offense warranting the death sentence, and it is widely held that the pope's words were in fact an insult to the Prophet and Islam, it seems only a matter of time before more prominent clerics and leaders issue similar fatwas. In the eyes of a radical jihadist, however, the issue of sourcing would carry little weight; the mere fact that a fatwa exists, regardless of who issued it, would likely be sufficient justification to act. Along these same lines, we would expect a statement from al Qaeda's senior leadership to be issued in the near future, likely transmitting a call for the group's supporters to strike at the pope or, possibly, a wider array of targets.

One of the fatwas -- issued by Sheikh Abu Bakar Hassan Malin of Somalia -- is worth examining. Malin said the pope's statement is as offensive to Islam as Salman Rushdie's Satanic Verses was, and called for Muslims to "hunt down" and kill the pope. The reference to Rushdie is a reminder of the lingering power of fatwas: Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's edict against Rushdie was issued shortly after his book was published in 1988 and remains in effect today. The author, of course, has maintained a high level of personal security since the fatwa was issued -- something the pope, as the leader of a billion Catholics worldwide, could never do.

The anti-papal backlash has encompassed violent acts as well as words. At least seven Christian churches were either firebombed or shot at in the West Bank and Gaza; another church was bombed in Basra, Iraq. And a nun who worked in a hospital in Somalia was shot and killed in the days following Benedict's speech.

Violent protests of the pope's statement thus far have not reached the magnitude of the cartoon controversy that erupted earlier this year. That said, it must be noted that the massive reaction to the cartoons lagged their initial publication in a Danish newspaper by several months; during the interim, groups of Muslims who had objected to the cartoons played up the issue in Muslim countries. In other words, using the cartoon controversy as a precedent, it is too early to judge the total reaction to Benedict's statements. It is possible that a second wave of responses, more violent than the first, could be set off.

Anti-pope demonstrations that are expected this week in numerous parts of the Middle East and South Asia could give important indications about the trajectory of the popular response. This trajectory could be in keeping with the tone of the initial fatwas -- which have been directed at the pope personally rather than more generally at Christians or Catholics -- or it could be more encompassing. It will be important to read the wording of any future fatwas carefully for indications of a change in emphasis or authorized targets.

A History of Violence

Whatever the future may bring, Christians living in Muslim areas clearly have been at some risk from jihadists for years. Jihadist attacks against Christians in places like Pakistan, Egypt, Indonesia, Bangladesh and the Philippines clearly predate the pope's speech and, in some respects, may have played into the motivations for giving it. This history also demonstrates that a certain threshold of risk would have persisted, independent of the pontiff's controversial statement.

There also is a clear history of jihadists having targeted the pope himself.

The most serious attack in recent memory, of course, came -- not from a jihadist, but from a Turkish gunman -- on May 13, 1981, when Pope John Paul II was shot twice in the abdomen as he entered St. Peter's Square, riding in an open-air convertible. There have been competing claims about the motives and actors involved in the assassination attempt: Some say it was orchestrated by the Bulgarian intelligence service because of John Paul's activism against communism; others claim the gunman, Mehmet Ali Agca, was associated with a Turkish nationalist group called the Gray Wolves. No definitive proof has ever been produced, however, that Agca was acting in conjunction with a group.

Another assassination attempt came almost exactly a year later: On May 12, 1982, an ultraconservative Spanish priest in Fatima, Portugal, approached John Paul with the intent of stabbing him with a bayonet. The priest, who later said he felt the pope was an agent of Moscow, was stopped and arrested before he could reach the pontiff.

Jihadists with links to al Qaeda also play a role in the history of plots against the pope.

In 1994 and early January 1995, a militant cell in Manila, led by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and his nephew Abdel Basit, was planning a number of operations, including Operation Bojinka. Their plans came to light on Jan. 6, 1995, when a batch of improvised explosives they were brewing set their apartment on fire. Philippine authorities arrested Abdul Hakim Murad, one of Basit's co-conspirators, while he was trying to re-enter the apartment and retrieve a laptop computer. The computer, it was later found, contained a trove of information; the files and other evidence retrieved in the investigation brought Philippine authorities to the conclusion that the cell not only was developing an ambitious plot to take down multiple U.S. airlines, but also had plans in the works to assassinate U.S. President Bill Clinton and Pope John Paul II.

The pope was scheduled to visit the Philippines on Jan. 12, 1995.

It likely was no coincidence that the apartment where the fire broke out was situated only a few hundred meters from the Papal Nuncio in Manila (where the pope stayed during his trip) and along the route the papal motorcade logically would take to reach and depart from the nuncio. (The pope's visit took place as scheduled, but he traveled by helicopter rather than motorcade as a result of the findings.) Other evidence in the investigation showed that the suspects had collected garb worn by Catholic priests, Bibles, rosaries, a large crucifix and a photo poster of the pope. From the interrogation of Murad and another cell member, Wali Amin Shah, it is believed that the group planned to kill the pontiff by placing a large bomb under the road, but the priestly clothing and other evidence indicates that a backup plan might have involved a suicide bomber or gunman disguised as a priest.

Philippine police reported that shortly after his arrest, Murad said there were "two Satans that must be destroyed: the pope and America." The statements of Osama bin Laden and other al Qaeda figures, with their frequent references to "Crusaders," is evidence that this mindset remains unchanged.

Hardened Targets and Collateral Damage

Following the assassination attempts in the 1980s, personal security measures for the pontiff were stepped up. For instance, travel in an open-air convertible was abandoned in favor of the so-called "Popemobile," a mobile, raised platform protected by bullet-resistant glass. This increased security against lightly armed assailants is likely what caused the Manila cell to consider using a large bomb in their later plot.

Security for the pope's residential quarters and around the Vatican as a whole also was increased in the 1980s, and further upgraded following the 9/11 attacks and growing recognition of the scope of the jihadist threat in Europe. Today, visitors who want to enter St. Peter's Basilica must pass through screening points equipped with magnetometers. Physical security measures have been visibly ratcheted up in the wake of last week's speech as well, with the addition of random bag searches for visitors.

Unlike many high-profile figures, the pope does not truly have the option of avoiding public appearances when he is believed to be under threat. And due to the nature of his office, he can be expected to draw large crowds whenever he makes a scheduled public appearance. As past assassination attempts have shown, it is at precisely these moments that the pope's movements are most predictable -- and therefore, when he is the most vulnerable to attack.

As the situation stands now, the increase in the pontiff's personal security measures means any serious attempt on his life would have to include steps to overcome security -- either by stealth or, more likely, with overwhelming force. That, combined with the notion that his appearance inevitably will draw large crowds, means that any actual moves to assassinate the pope likely would result in many collateral deaths -- a valuable secondary consideration, from a jihadist perspective.

An inflection point in the threat environment may come in November, when Benedict plans to visit Turkey. Presumably, tensions would be running high during this visit regardless of recent events: As Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Benedict developed a reputation as a Vatican hard-liner who spoke out against Turkey's admission to the European Union. The papal security team would also be very mindful of the fact that John Paul's would-be assassin, Agca, is Turkish.

The reaction to Benedict's recent speech has done nothing but add to such concerns. Politically, it is never comfortable visiting a country whose ruling party has compared you to Hitler. And, in fact, Agca on Sept. 20 issued a statement through his lawyer, urging the pope to cancel his visit: "As someone who knows these matters well, I say your life is in danger. Don't come to Turkey."

This is not to say that the pontiff would be demonstrably safer if he confined himself to predominantly Christian or Western countries. As the plans discovered in the mostly Catholic Philippines showed, the jihadist threat can crop up in seemingly unlikely locales. This is true even for Italy. Since 9/11, Italian authorities have disrupted several jihadist plots. One of these, discovered last summer, reportedly involved plans to attack cathedrals in Cremona and Milan; another, thwarted earlier this year, allegedly would have targeted the Basilica of San Petronio in Bologna.

Clearly, jihadists are interested in hitting symbolic Catholic targets in a number of regions, and there is perhaps no target more symbolic than the pope himself. Benedict's statements and the media coverage and outrage they have generated might already have moved the pontiff higher on jihadist hit-lists, and the risk might increase still further if prominent Muslim leaders issue fatwas in the near future.

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Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Excerpt from Der Spiegel interview: Wolfgang Schaeuble

Schäuble: During the cartoon controversy, some very credible and smart people debated whether it was a good idea to publish the images, because as they claimed, even freedom of the press should have its limits. That was a mixture of do-good idealism and fear. My view on this issue is quite clear: There are tasteful and less tasteful cartoons, but we must tolerate them, and we cannot start qualifying them. Those who constantly qualify everything and have no opinions of their own are ultimately just as incapable of tolerance.

SPIEGEL: You had no objections to the publishing of the cartoons?

Schäuble: I didn't like the cartoons, but the fact that they were printed, also in the German media, is legitimate. I will always defend the right to do this.

SPIEGEL: Do you agree with your predecessor, Otto Schily, who wanted to see Islam subjected to a period of enlightenment?

Schäuble: I don't want to change Islam, but if there is to be a European Islam, it must incorporate European values. During the centuries-long process of Reformation and Enlightenment, Christian churches had to accept some things they didn't like. Islam will have to do the same; otherwise it isn't part of Europe.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Pope Benedict's actual speech

The more reactions I see in the Islamic world, the more I'm convinced that the Enlightenment is the place to look.

Cheers to the Pope for his appropriate response.

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Monday, September 18, 2006

opinion piece in Der Spiegel

This is another Der Spiegel article. It has the usual warnings, such as, "Bending to this demand would be a mistake -- indeed it would be
tantamount to turning one's back on freedom of expression and opinion," but it also has some nice insights.

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Cardinal Walter Kasper in Der Spiegel

A major Catholic Church figure is talking about the same things I've been writing about. Never thought I'd be happy to see a cardinal agreeing with me.

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Isis, as if it could be anyone else

I promise, I really will write some more serious items soon. I've made a huge amount of progress on the next set of Rammstein essays, for instance, and there's a fruitful discussion of the Islamic stuff on a Mensa email list (GenX-Ms, if anyone from it reads this blog). But I do love me some quiz goodness.


Indeed, you are 87% erudite, 83% sensual, 45% martial, and 54% saturnine.

This Egyptian supreme Goddess is certainly the most influential deity on subsequent cultures. She was the ideal figure of womanhood, usually compared with the Greek Goddess Demeter or her Roman version, Ceres.

Isis was one element of a Holy Trinity, the remaining two figures being her brother and husband Osiris and their heroic son Horus. She was the Goddess of Magic for her brilliance, as well as the Goddess of Love because of her tenacious devotion.

She is often shown with wings, curving to caress coffins and sarcophagi of many a king. In certain papyri she is shown with her falcon wing headdress, covering her ears. One of her sacred symbols is the sistrum, a musical instrument that was believed to ward off evil spirits. Isis' sistrum was carved bearing the image of a cat and was representative of the Moon.

Isis was the High Priestess and an omnipotent magician as well as the only being ever to discover the secret name of Ra. She invariably carries the ankh, the symbol for eternal life. Her name is, by the rules of numerology, adding up to the number “2” and she just so happens to be depicted on the tarot card “Key 2 – The High Priestess”.

My test tracked 4 variables How you compared to other people your age and gender:
free online datingfree online dating
You scored higher than 99% on erudite
free online datingfree online dating
You scored higher than 99% on sensual
free online datingfree online dating
You scored higher than 99% on martial
free online datingfree online dating
You scored higher than 99% on saturnine

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

third movement of the myspace sonata

What, what, WHAT can I say about this quiz but right on?

Which Member of Rammstein are you?

You are Till Lindemann, the lead singer! You are the man of the show, whipping yourself with a cat of 9 tails, lighting your body on fire, running around with boots that erupt with sparks and shooting a flamethrower over the audience! You just plain rock!
Take this quiz!

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second movement

Love this one. Makes me feel all special and stuff. Except that I'd rather be understood than see another cocked eyebrow.

heh...I just wrote "cocked."

Which Rammstein Music Video Are You?

Du Hast
Take this quiz!

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myspace is a little bitch, in three movements

Three fab Rammstein quizzes, and I can't post them to my myspace blog. First one.

What Rammstein Song Are You?

You're Herzeleid! My, what a terrible cynic you are! You're just about to give up on ever getting anything good out of life, and you can shut up any optimist with a few short and sweet sentences.
Take this quiz!

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Monday, August 28, 2006

suicide bombers and kamikazes

This interview with Salman Rushdie in Der Spiegel got me thinking...has anyone looked at similarities between suicide bombers and the kamikazes in World War II? Rushdie says the following:

Lenin once described terrorism as bourgeois adventurism. I think there, for once, he got things right: That's exactly it. One must not negate the basic tenet of all morality -- that individuals are themselves responsible for their actions. And the triggers seem to be individual too. Upbringing certainly plays a major role there, imparting a misconceived sense of mission which pushes people towards "actions." Added to that there is a herd mentality once you have become integrated in a group and everyone continues to drive everyone else on and on into a forced situation. There's the type of person who believes his action will make mankind listen to him and turn him into a historic figure. Then there's the type who simply feels attracted to violence. And yes, I think glamour plays a role too.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Which evil corporation are you?


53% personality, 26% politics/class, 86% intelligence

You're a Starbucks whore. Spread those lips.

My test tracked 3 variables How you compared to other people your age and gender:
free online datingfree online dating
You scored higher than 99% on personality
free online datingfree online dating
You scored higher than 99% on politics/class
free online datingfree online dating
You scored higher than 99% on intelligence

Friday, August 18, 2006

a definition of sin; more thoughts on Islam

"Sin is not just a list of moral mistakes. It is living a life turned in on itself where people ignore the consequences of their actions." --Richard Chartes, Bishop of London, quoted in The Toronto Star.

What is it about Christianity that made it both an essential precursor to the Enlightenment and the source of white liberal guilt? I am getting the sneaking suspicion that Milton is telling us something in Paradise Lost that we all need to hear.

As a longtime Wiccan, I feel a fair amount of consternation at the way I'm writing about Christianity. I do not believe in sin, period, and haven't for decades. Yet there is something in the bishop's definition that is of value to us all, I think. Anyway, I'm still mulling over all this stuff, including the not-so-recent posts I've made.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

last blog leads to next blog

Blueprint Magazine, 17.05, 2006 (USA)

Flemming Rose, the cultural editor of Jyllands-Posten, the Danish daily which published the Muhammed cartoons last September, defends his decision as a stance against what he calls "the politics of victimology", a rhetoric concocted by the European left which he says has been cleverly exploited by Islamic radicals. "Equal treatment is the democratic way to overcome traditional barriers of blood and soil for newcomers. To me, that means treating immigrants just as I would any other Danes. And that's what I felt I was doing in publishing the 12 cartoons of Muhammad last year. Those images in no way exceeded the bounds of taste, satire, and humour to which I would subject any other Dane, whether the queen, the head of the Church, or the prime minister. By treating a Muslim figure the same way I would a Christian or Jewish icon, I was sending an important message: You are not strangers, you are here to stay, and we accept you as an integrated part of our life. And we will satirize you, too. It was an act of inclusion, not exclusion; an act of respect and recognition."


I realized a few years ago that middle-class liberal guilt has its roots in Christian charity, specifically New Testament virtues. More on that idea in my next post.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Mohammed's image: parody and scientific inquiry

I am fascinated by the fact that Arab/Muslim [1] cultures cannot tolerate parody of religious matters. I expect this among radical and conservative Christian sects, but they are a minority in Western countries. In Arab culture, however, this attitude seems to be the norm.

So what would be the source of this, outside of the strictures of the Koran? I think it has to do with secularity, humanism, and skepticism.

Backing up for a bit to pose a question: Did Arab culture go through an Enlightenment?

I've been thinking about this ever since I came across the idea in a Der Spiegel article. An Arab writer (I believe he was Muslim as well) mentioned in a dismissive manner the Western idea that Arab culture had never gone through this movement. I've never read Walter Benjamin's Orientalism, so if it's mentioned in there or other significant cultural works, then mea culpa.

If Arab culture didn't go through an Enlightenment, then how does one characterize the flowering of Arab culture during the 9th-12th centuries? Looking back over what I've read and learned of Arab culture, it seems that it experienced the same initial push toward enlightenment that Western culture did, but for some reason, it didn't continue. Arabs were well known as mathematicians, for instance, and traders, and one point. Those skills didn't catch anything else on fire. I'm not sure that it's accurate to attribute the faltering [2] of this rational, scientific impulse to military conquest by Christians.

It's no secret that Western countries see Arab culture as increasingly violent, but the furor over the cartoons published in Jyllands-Posten (Denmark) caught a lot of us by surprise. What could be more harmless than parody? It seems exceedingly irrational, even for Arab culture, to be so intolerant of a joke.

And there, I think, is the key.

Parody and scientific inquiry stem from the same intellectual roots. A favorite professor of mine once said that in order to be a good skeptic, one has to concede that there might actually be Truth. If one can't consider that possibility, then one has nothing to which one can compare observations. In other words, the chance that there's an answer gives one the power to compare things. And that's what skepticism is all about--what rationality is all about. The potential truth that one uses for comparison thus comes under constant scrutiny. It's always being compared to this or that.

Parody is a similar strategy. It asks us to compare the parody to the icon and to do so with skepticism toward both. Rationality and revisionism are parodic axioms, and it holds the whole of reality as its set of potential objects of inquiry.

The fury of the conservative Arab response was breathtaking, and the capping surprise was the support that came from other Arab strata. Social mobility and Westernization apparently did not make inroads into the belief that some people have the right to not be offended.

Being offended in Western culture is a cherished thing, and I don't mean the garden-variety ire one sees when, for instance, a group of citizens protest a new strip club's opening. Witnessing the offense of others is an opportunity to reexamine one's own values and beliefs. Parody is one of the most important things we can have around us, because in sparking a response, it asks us to be philosophical.

To demand that one not be offended is to demand that the philosophical not be encountered. Now that is breathtaking, indeed.

[1] I use "Arab" to mean "Muslim" here for the sake of brevity. I am quite aware that the two are not necessarily the same, that one is an ethnicity and one is a religion. This first "Arab/Muslim" citation is to get you to read this footnote.

I realize that the language I use is that of absence, lack, etc. I am writing this from a Western perspective, after all.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

does innocence invite its own murder, part 4

Here are my thoughts on "Keine Lust." First, the quote that I have not yet confirmed but of which I am still enamoured:

“I dare not let my devils go, lest my angels go with them.” –William Blake

“Keine Lust” is a highly complex song, the more so the more I look at it. Mere disillusionment is too simple an assessment of the lyrics and the narrator. What makes it complex is the dominant metaphor. Being frozen, especially emotionally and intellectually, is the external sign of the loss of one’s internal dialogue. Consciousness comes from the dialectic between yes and no, between the me and not-me. An awakened consciousness leads to conflict and aggression, and these, if used authentically, can lead to creativity and art. In turn, creativity and art expand the artist’s consciousness and increase his sense of freedom. Yet where is any of this for the narrator of “Keine Lust”?

The song begins with a stanza that rejects all possibilities—relentless, determined, utterly self-absorbed. The first line of the second stanza is a logical loop: The narrator expresses not desire, but avoidance and rejection of *not* doing something. He puts it in terms of a double negative: “Ich hab’ keine lust mich nicht zu hassen.” This is a negation that expresses an absence—a logical conundrum, but not the first time such a thing has occurred in R+’s lyrics (qv. “Amerika” as one example). Because this song is about Gestalt more than anything else, the conundrum makes the song stronger rather than weaker. Too, because the narrator is telling us that he doesn’t feel like not hating himself, his statement clears potential obstacles between himself and his self-loathing. He has a choice that he refuses to take; his internal dialogue remains dormant.

The narrator’s sense of lack and absence is physical as well as spiritual. Most of the rest of “Keine Lust” deals with the sensory: Masturbation, nakedness, bestial impulses, eating, fatness. All these are distractions, though. The point isn’t whether the narrator feels like seeing himself naked; it’s whether he can regain a sense of personal power and authenticity. The narrator returns to the sense of inner emptiness near the end of the song:

Ich bliebe einfach liegen
Und wieder zähle ich die Fliegen
Lust los fasse ich mich an
Und merke bald ich bin schon lange kalt

After running through his mental rolodex of potential stimulants, the narrator attempts to awaken himself sexually by masturbating. Unlike Dionysus’s awakening of Ariadne, however, or any of several famous sexual awakening scenes from myth and history, this narrator can’t manage a semi—not even through self-stimulation, arguably the most direct way to do it. His attempt only affirms (if it can be called that) his disconnection with his own sexual center. No wonder, then, that he seems to see freedom and choice as burdens, and that he closes his sensibilities to experience. He has lost his connection with his sexuality—the one thing that links us to the external world in the most visceral and complex ways. The narrator’s internal dialectic is frozen, as frozen as the metaphorical snow in which he lies. His sensibilities closing to experience, he attempts an inauthentic dissolution of the self through persistent denials. He lacks the courage to create, the will to even express violence and thus achieve a sense of ecstasy, and finally an utter loss of volition. In letting his devils go, his angels have abandoned him.


This post originally had a different ending on the Rammstein fan area forum, but since it's expired, I can't retrieve it. Deathless prose, indeed.

does innocence invite its own murder, part 3

Time to address authentic innocence, since in my earlier posts I talked about inauthentic innocence. The definition of authentic innocence, again: When authentic, the sense of awe and wonder that accompanies childlike perceptions (think of artists who see the world anew). When inauthentic, a deliberate blinding of the self to one’s complicity with evil, or pseudoinnocence.

“Los,” “Links 234,” and “Der Meister” can all be placed within a spectrum of demonstrations of authentic innocence. “Los” is a validation of cultural innocence, “Links 234” is a validation of political innocence, and “Der Meister” is a curious thing…a restarting of historical consciousness via the reestablishment of terms of innocence (see caveat below).

These three songs trumpet the inauthenticity of others. One cannot help but think of the infamous treatment of the band after performing “Bück dich” in Massachusetts to see an immediate subtext to “Los”:

Sie waren sprachlos
So sehr schockiert
Und sehr ratlos
Was war passiert

But instead of responding with denials or claims of misinterpretation, which is what the psuedoinnocent would do, the narrator asserts the independence and strength of the group, ironically through the term “los.” This term in some really old dictionaries is defined not merely as lack or absence, but also as freedom, even looseness. Moral outrage such as that expressed by the outsiders stems from an oversized sense of one’s importance. It causes its own rigidity; the inauthentic self is constricted by the mores it seeks to impose on others, and is at the same time both outraged and gratified that its “moral leadership” is being ignored. Because it’s being ignored, the inauthentic self can continue to rage and issue demands. This is self-indulgence, not governance, and the counter to it is detachment:

Wir waren namenlos
Wir haben einen Namen
Waren wortlos
Die Worte kamen
Etwas sanglos
Sind wir immer noch
Dafür nicht klanglos
Das hört man doch
Wir sind nicht fehlerlos
Nur etwas haltlos
Ihr werdet lautlos
Uns nie los
Wir waren los

This independence and strength as expressed by the narrator stems from self-knowledge. No self-inflation or disguises here; instead, honesty, even bluntness, lets the group leave the shocked community behind, no doubt licking their moral wounds.

This same directness is characteristic of “Links 234” (which, let me state as a research bias, is one of my favorite songs). I’ve mentioned in earlier posts the way that the lyrics rework conventional metaphors for talking about the human heart, so I won’t recapitulate those comments here. This song is clearly a statement of authentic cultural innocence, especially once one takes into account the accusations leveled at the band early on. The key stanza concerning authentic innocence is the final version of the chorus and its added lines:

Sie wollen mein Herz am rechten Fleck
doch seh ich dann nach unten weg
da schlägt es in der linken Brust
der Neider hat es schlecht gewusst

The need to speak in ambiguous terms is characteristic of the pseudoinnocent and his denials of responsibility. He creates a cloud of philosophical ambiguity around himself so that others will not notice that he is as much a part of the “system” as anyone else. Because his vision of the world is clouded by this ambiguity, he cannot correctly perceive the motives of others. He buys his freedom with his own isolation, and indeed, probably cannot distinguish between the two. The narrator of the song, however, can see through the ambiguity and can recognize the distortion in his perceptions.

“Der Meister” is a bit of a risk in this topic, largely because I know little about its background and development. (This is not to say that I know much of anything re: the other songs, either.) However, it does fit in nicely, so here goes.

If “Los” is about cultural innocence and “Links 234” about political innocence, then “Der Meister” conjures images of renewed power borne in the wake of a revised, more authentic historical sense:

Die Wahrheit ist wie ein Gewitter
es kommt zu dir du kannst es hören
es kund zu tun ist ach so bitter
es kommt zu dir um zu zerstören

And who will be destroyed by this? Those who feel malice and envy, prime characteristics of the pseudoinnocent. Violence, warfare, strife are unnecessary. Even though the imagery in the song leans in that direction, it is the truth (die Wahrheit) that cannot be withstood by those who deal in the manipulation of circumstances. The truth forces new beginnings through a sense of dramatic historical change, and the destruction it brings does not permit the pouring of old wine into new bottles. No wonder, then, that the pseudoinnocent experiences the truth as ruin (“Es kommt zu euch als das Verderben”).

Who knew that something as simple as innocence could be so complex?

does innocence invite its own murder, part 2

I’m dividing the songs for this topic into two areas: Songs dealing with the murder or death of inauthentic innocence (also known as pseudoinnocence), and songs dealing with the affirmation of innocence. The nexus between the two points is the authenticity of the innocence in question, i.e., it depends upon whether the innocent is deliberately avoiding complex issues and his own complicity with evil. This post will cover “Rosenrot,” “Spring,” and “Hilf mir.” “Ein Lied” with some caveats, may serve as a warning about innocence and action, but that will come in a later post.

“Rosenrot” is fascinating, especially after referencing the texts “Heidenröslein” and “Schneeweißchen und Rosenrot.” The Goethe poem is in some respects a rape fantasy. The boy is ravished by the sight of the rose, and in reaction, he plucks the rose, ignoring the wounds that the rose futilely deals him. The implication is that the rose earns its demise because of its showy display. This parallels to some extent the actions of the boy in the Rammstein song; like The Fool on the Tarot card, the boy is not mindful of his own well being while on the mountain. Similarly, Rose-red in the Brothers Grimm story is the sister who goes out into the meadows and forests, while the more practical Snow-white stays indoors. (Snow-white is the one who uses her scissors to help the dwarves, and who finds a clue about the true identity of the bear, presumably while Rose-red was telling the Big Bad Wolf which way Little Red Riding Hood had gone.) However, the song turns the perspective around from the female to the male. We follow the boy as he climbs the mountain to fetch the rose and please the girl. Unfortunately, his preoccupation is his demise: While reminding himself that this effort will ultimately be worth it (“Tiefe Brunnen muss man graben / wenn man klares Wasser will”), he loses his footing and falls to his death. Here, the innocent is not the girl, but the boy, and his innocence is inauthentic because he blinds himself to reality.

“Spring” addresses the violence that accompanies the death of innocence. In an almost Hitchcockian or Pinteresque scene of sacrifice, a man climbs onto a bridge, claiming he only wanted to see the view, but is murdered by the narrator of the song in order to appease the mob that gathers under the victim. The narrator senses the shame that the man feels at his own cowardice and at his refusal to redeem the mob by fulfilling their expectations of a spectacle. Any innocence claimed by the man is automatically inauthentic by virtue of his cowardice. The chill the man feels is amplified by the ripple effect that this one sacrifice has, i.e., the “thousand suns” that burn for him. The man’s identity, history, and feelings are unimportant; his only value is in his death, and his greatest moment of significance is the moment before he dies. The narrator understands that to fear death at one’s own hands is an irredeemable flaw—a flaw that every member of the mob possesses, since if they possessed that kind of courage, they would not need to call for the man’s sacrifice. And because those thousand suns will continue to burn, more innocence will have to be sacrificed. The death of the man becomes inevitable.

Unlike the victims in “Rosenrot” and “Spring,” the little girl in “Hilf mir” knows on some level that she is complicit with her own death:

Immer wenn ich einsam bin
Zieht es mich zum Feuer hin
Warum ist die Sonne rund
Warum werd ich nicht gesund

At first, it seems she is too young a figure to be held fully accountable. However, she speaks of the fire as a lover (“Das Feuer liebt mich”) and she does not resist it when it reaches for her. In fact, once she is dead, she even reaches toward the sun as the ultimate source of fire. This is not pure, childlike innocence at all, yet neither is it utterly prurient. It is an innocence that leads to self-destruction, a death without a sense of sacrifice to ennoble it.

I am inordinately proud of myself for not adding more songs to the list.

Rammstein: does innocence invite its own murder, part 1

These posts will cover some of the material on Rosenrot, which my previous posts did not. In order to talk about this topic, I will need to address a few points here so that some common ground and definitions get established*.

Power, evil, responsibility, and innocence are difficult terms to address, especially that of evil. Instead of trying to define evil, I will discuss specifically the idea of complicity with evil and not attempt to define the nature of evil itself. Better people than I have been working on it for millennia, and they haven’t come up with a definition we all can accept.

Having offered those caveats, here are my definitions.

Power is the ability to cause or prevent change. Note that power is not a dirty word, at least not for the purposes of this series of essays.

Complicity with evil is simply the realism, or the accuracy, of your perception of evil. In other words, you understand and accept your own potential for committing acts of evil. If you have a sense of your own complicity with evil, then you accept your participation in larger social and cultural processes, many of which are beyond your direct control yet which are a part of you in some way. This acceptance helps you to feel empathy with your enemies and to gain a sense of mercy toward all.

Responsibility comes from complicity with evil, i.e., it is the sense of yourself as being complicit with evil and a participant in modes of power. It means not blaming culture or circumstance for the totality of what you are.

Innocence comes in two flavors. When it’s authentic, innocence is the sense of awe and wonder that accompanies childlike perceptions (think of artists who see the world anew). When it is inauthentic, however, it becomes a deliberate blinding of oneself to one’s complicity with evil. Inauthentic innocence is an innocence that can’t come to terms with the destructiveness in itself or in others—an innocence that cannot accept violence and its purifying effects.

So, does innocence invite its own murder? I think there are some interesting variations on this idea to be found in Rammstein’s music. As before, I am concentrating solely on the lyrics.

Finally, a favorite quote... “I dare not let my devils go, lest my angels go with them.” –William Blake**

*If you’re interested in these ideas, I recommend Power and Innocence: A Search for the Sources of Violence, written by Rollo May. Post a comment for more information, or check Amazon in its various national permutations.

**A trusted college professor said this was a Blake quote, but damned if either Google or I can find it. If someone knows the proper attribution, please leave a comment.

impossibility of authentic connection, part 4

The western cultural mythos tells us that the ultimate place for people to connect is during a sexual encounter. Stale sex is nothing new to human experience, and while I personally am not familiar with the full musical canon on BDSM, I think that some of the emotional struggles involved of that kind of sexuality can be found in “Bestrafe mich,” “Bück dich,” and “Feuerrader.”

Putting these three songs on a continuum means putting “Bestrafe mich” first, because it’s about the agreement between master and submissive; “Feuerrader” second, because it is the submissive requesting discipline; and “Bück dich” third because the sexual act is viewed from the master’s perspective. (I promised no more songs and that’s my story, but if one wanted, one could put “Keine Lust” and “Rein raus” on the list. But I’m not.) BDSM is a perpetual mindset, so no ending song, so to speak, is necessarily required because the mindset doesn’t leave the participants.

“Bestrafe mich” begins with the submissive granting service to the master, which, in BDSM relationships, is the highest gift a submissive can give. The lyrics “deine Größe macht mich klein / du darfst mein Bestrafer sein” are not about physical size, but psychological size. I’ve thought a lot about the lines “Stroh wird Gold / und Gold wird Stein,” and without external consultation, the best I can come up with is the way that submission and discipline make a submissive stronger, i.e., through emotional and psychological self-discipline. (If you’re hearing parallels to Christianity, congratulations—you get your choice of stuffed animals from the top shelf.) All choice is taken away from the submissive until the submissive chooses to leave the master’s service. This self-discipline is difficult, though, and it’s brilliantly illustrated in the simple lines “du meinst ja / und ich denk nein.” The ambiguity of the submissive’s relationship to himself comes through in the way the song is sung. The lyrics read that the submissive keeps his thoughts to himself, yet the performance carries a force behind the phrase “ich denk nein” that is usually reserved for a spoken phrase. This emphasizes the submissive’s engagement in yet another battle of will and discipline. Finally, the submissive’s uncertainty about the master’s devotion to him is illustrated in the final lines: “doch gibt er nur dem / den er auch liebt.” The best connection the submissive can manage to gain is no better than he began with.

“Feurrader” moves us into a more intense part of the BDSM relationship. The submissive asks for physical restraint, i.e., to be tied, collared and leashed. The submissive encourages it because through restraint comes release—but not freedom, since freedom would signify the end of the relationship. The grooves of this encounter are familiar to the submissive, who has a plan in mind for the session and expects it to bring him emotionally closer to the master: “wir feiern eine Leidenschaft / der Schmerz ist schön wie du.” The ambiguity here is reduced, and oddly, the circumstances create a scene that’s about as intimate as two people can get in Rammstein’s songs. What little ambiguity is present comes from the near-complete absence of the master’s presence in the lyrics.

Finally, “Bück dich” is a portrait of a master who cracks during a session. The actions of the submissive, who is totally compliant, only make the master’s hollowness more pronounced. In a classic BDSM maneuver, the master refers to the submissive as a “biped” and “two-foot” rather than by anything more distinctive. He repeats acts of domination—forcing the submissive to kneel down, further denying his identity by refusing to look at his face—yet the master cries during penetration. The intimacy that we search for in sexual encounters, even casual ones to some extent, is blocked here. The dominance and submission game, instead of bringing the sexual partners closer together as its proponents insists it does, has only made this master aware of his emotional emptiness. But with whom can he connect? Certainly not his submissive, because that would violate the code by which masters conduct themselves. He has the freedom to leave, but for now, he chooses to remain in the position of the master. So long as he does that, he will not be able to achieve fulfilling intimacy with anyone.

Okay, that’s enough on this theme for now. There’s an entire book here, waiting to be written.