(part of) You Are Here: Explorations in Search of Current Reality

See also Tales of the Early Republic, a resource for trying to make some sense of early nineteenth century America


Saturday, May 22, 2010

When Someone says Islam *IS* based on Tolerance, Charity, ... [It Really MIGHT depend on the meaning of IS, part II]

If you haven't already, I recommend reading Part 1.

OK, if someone says (as I'm sure some do) that "Islam is based on Tolerance, Charity, ..." -- while on the other hand inciting hatred and violence to Jews, or Americans, or Muslims of another persuasion, then this is something we call lying, and that sort of thing happens a lot, as we all know.

But there is plenty of evidence if you're willing to look, of ordinary Muslims, in America, Britain, Pakistan, or Africa, whose lives are about going to work and raising children who say and sincerely believe such a statement.

As I see it, they are to a great extent using the word is to make a declaration; they are not merely describing some objectively observable entity called Islam. Now as I said in Part 1, we human beings are habitually often muddled about whether something that comes out of our mouths is a declaration or a claim of fact. This "muddle" has been called by one ontological comedian  "not knowing your ass from a hole in the ground", because he claims nothing is more like the essence of who you are than your ability to make a declaration, and know that you have made a declaration, and follow through as if what you just spoke was a declaration. In fact when most mortals say something say something like "I'm going to lose 10 pounds in the next month", our mental attitude is somewhere on the boundary between promise and mere prediction.

So, even if the declarer says "No, this isn't me, this is just what Islam is", I say they are almost surely in part holding it as a declaration. And, unless they are among the liars and propagandists, they truly believe, and may actively support the belief that the haters, the terrorists, and the Imams who act like a law unto themselves are not practitioners of their Islam.

And we ought to be very glad they are out there talking and living that way.

P.S., the Koran and other Islamic writings, like the Bible, contains contradictions, and people resolve those contradictions in their own creative ways, or the ways of their communities. I'm not familiar with the most disturbing passages of the Koran, which I assume exist, but in the Christian and Jewish Bible, Isaiah 13, we see God's declaration that:

3: I have commanded my holy ones; I have summoned my warriors to carry out my wrath...

15: Whoever is captured will be thrust through; all who are caught will fall by the sword.

16: Their infants will be dashed to pieces before their eyes; their houses will be looted and their wives ravished.
Infants dashed to pieces before their eyes? wives ravished?  Strong words.

There is a whole lot of exhortation to slaughter wicked infidels in the "Old Testament" as Christians call it, yet I don't personally know any Christians or Jews who live by that sort of code today, though I'm sure they exist somewhere. Maybe you would say they are not real Christians or Jews. And if that's what you say, holding it partially, at least, as a promise, then I say "more power to you".

If we blind ourselves to the existence of sincere Muslims who are decent human beings, we are left with what? Wage war on the whole Muslim world?  Nothing could do more to bring on a uniting caliphate in that very divided world.

QUOTE: "There could be a powerful international women's rights movement if only philanthropists would donate as much to real women as to paintings and sculptures of women"
    This book has plenty to say the very worst things happening to women in the world. Chapters include "Rule by Rape" and "The Shame of 'Honor'", and it certainly doesn't shy away from misogyny in the Muslim world.
    But it doesn't stop there -- with no hope unless maybe the "hope" of converting (or if not that, then what?) 1.5 billion Muslims -- an idea as impossible as it is inhumane, and based on inability to see that there are many Muslim cultures.
    Indeed the last chapter, which can be read online, is "Four Steps You Can Take in the Next Ten Minutes."

  Bangladeshi-born Muhammad Yunus is another believer in improving society by empowering women.  In 1973 he was an economics teacher in Tennessee with an American wife.  Shortly after Bangladesh became independent, in a time of severe famine, he returned to his newly independent native country.
   After some years there founded the Grameen Bank, the original blueprint for "Microlending" which is now a worldwide phenomenon.  It started with money out of his own pocket to provide tiny loans to poor villagers, especially women, and has grown and diversified enormously in the last 35 years.  The loans must be for specific business purposes (such as buying a supply of bamboo for making stools), and loan recipients are required to belong to support groups, which have helped maintain the extraordinarily high rate of loan repayment.
    Yunus is no fan of government programs for the poor, but believes passionately in his trademark form of "social business" which is something in between the normal non-profit, and corporations which are legally obligated to maximize profits no matter what.
     Some of Grameen's enterprises have included the "Telephone Ladies" who for a time were likely to be the only owner of a phone (cellular) in a village, and who made the phones available for a fee.  Something like the old style payphones that those villages never had -- at a fraction of the cost.
     The "Micro Lending" which Yunus made famous, has been imitated by groups all over the world, and I believe the total scale of this kind of operation had gotten into the billions of dollars.

  History of the Shiite-Sunni split.  Particularly interesting at a time when people believe an email that says the martyr "Imam Ali" flew one of the planes on 9/11 (it turns out Imam Ali was a founding prophet of the Shiites, who died before 800 AD, and so did not live long enough to participate in the 9/11 attacks  - see "My Not-Really Right-Wing Mom and her Adventures in Email-Land"

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

It really MIGHT depend on what the meaning of the word "is" is.

If you think every word has a definition, and definitions are how we know what words mean, consider the word "is" -- which is a pivotal part of every definition -- indeed of the very idea of definition. A bear is a large furry mammal that sometimes walks on it hind legs, etc., etc.

When Bill Clinton said:
"It depends on what the meaning of the word 'is' is. If the--if he--if 'is' means is and never has been, that is not--that is one thing. If it means there is none, that was a completely true statement....Now, if someone had asked me on that day, are you having any kind of sexual relations with Ms. Lewinsky, that is, asked me a question in the present tense, I would have said no. And it would have been completely true."

it was just an example of a legalistic way of dealing with a question -- i.e. it's fine to ignore the intention of a question, even when it is perfectly obvious that you are doing so -- you can split hairs and answer the literal meaning of a poorly or not too carefully worded question, and not say "Oh, but I suppose you meant ...". That's the rule of the game on the witness stand.

But there is one huge and important variation in the way the word "is" is used. If someone says, "I am your friend", or "I am a Christian", or "I am a Muslim", the statement is or should be a promise. Actually it is almost certain to be a mixture of promise and assertion. By the "assertion", I mean you might run through some checklist like "I go to church", "I pray", etc., or "We get together socially every week or so", "I came to help you when you moved".  But the statement {I am your friend/a Christian/a Muslim} would be heard by almost anyone* as having an element of promise, promising for one thing that you will still be  ____ ten minutes from now, tomorrow, maybe forever [your friend/a Christian...]; you are not just making an observation about this moment -- indeed you are not "just making an observation" at all. Unless that element of promise or intentionality  was part of your being as you made the statement [I am your friend...]  -- i.e. if you had a mental reservation like "but I won't be your friend tomorrow", most people with normal brains would consider that untruthful.

The same sort of distinction applies, even more sharply, to any sentence purely about the future (so we're likely to pass from "am/is" to "will" or "shall"). A sentence about the future is either a promise or a prediction, and people are apt to interpret a sentence about oneself in the future as a promise.

Well, maybe, because what you would wish to be a promise is more typically an unholy mixture. A real promise is like when Scarlett O'Hara says "Never Again", and is never quite the same again. A real promise changes the person who makes it. The truth is, nearly everyone is a bit confused about whether they're really making a promise or not. E.g., when you said "I'm going to lose 10 pounds in the next month", it was part promise and part prediction, and as soon as you saw, with a sinking feeling, that the prediction was proving false, whatever promise aspect was in it when you said "I'm going to lose 10 pounds in the next month", that promise aspect probably started to evaporate.

I could cite John Searle (a philosopher) or others, but these words either get you or they don't.

* Now how the hell do I know this, you might ask, but at least consider whether the statement "rings true" for you or not.