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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