Militants and mavericks

Readers respond to Laura Miller's essay on the threat of militant Islam and a review of Mathematica developer Stephen Wolfram's "A New Kind of Science."


Letters to the Editor
May 17, 2002 11:00PM (UTC)

Read "Death Rattle?"

The article by Laura Miller is interesting but flawed. As an Arab who lives in the West, I am amazed how out of touch Western media columnists can be with what's really happening in the Muslim world.

Although Kepel's book is always more interesting to read than the Zionist Bernard Lewis, Kepel is badly mistaken when he says that political Islam is dying in the Islamic world. I would say it's the complete opposite.

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This attack on the U.S. was a warning that political Islam has finally awakened from a deep slumber. It was a warning to the U.S. to change its policy in the Middle East and, yes, Israel plays a big part in this awakening of political Islam.

Hezbollah didn't exist before the Israeli criminal invasion of Lebanon. Political Islam has grown stronger and stronger since the creation and the imposition of the artificial state of Israel. The fact that the U.S. is the main backer and supporter of the Zionist entity is the real reason why political Islam hates the American state.

It's no secret that Israel and the U.S. have also helped secretly sustain most of the dictatorships in the region because of their own mutual interest in having no democracies in the region. They want to have cop states to beat up and control the people who aspire to freedom and Islamic democracy. Israel was the original cop state of the U.S. in the region, but now there are other Arab regimes who are doing the same work for the U.S.

Finally, the arrogance of Western writers about the necessity of secularism in the Islamic world is dumbfounding. After the Crusades, colonialism and the Christian evangelists, now we have another Western onslaught on the Muslim world in the guise of a new Western "religion": secularism!

We Muslims are fed up with the secular fundamentalists who are trying to tell us that there is no freedom, no progress, without secularism. How can they be so arrogant and so blinded by their own beliefs? We have our own civilization and long history. Please, respect it!

-- Malika Benkirane

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Radical Islam appears to represent only a minority on its last gasp. Does that automatically disassociate qualifier and subject? It's radical, and it's about a religion. Segmenting Islam denies the supra-sovereign unity of this religion that is dear to every Muslim. Muslims are hurt when it is implied that there are different kinds of Islam, allowing us to choose which kind of Islam deserves legitimacy. So just like "good Injuns" and "bad Injuns," we've now got "good Islam" and "radical Islam." If there is something like "Islamic ambition," then it is common to all Muslims.

It is tempting to see the rise of the West as a vulture that fed on the carcass of the Islamic empire, but there is no clear cause-effect link. The Renaissance and what it fueled were independent of Islamic decline. That the scholarly achievements of Muslim and Jewish scholars were included in Western studies establishes the status of Islam as a patron of learned studies, and cannot be stretched to cover the vulpine status accorded to the West. How many decent, law-abiding Muslims in the Islamic world believe that the West caused the decline of Islam? Do Muslims have a sense of destiny, or do they follow the Gandhian dream of a morally and economically self-sufficient society composed of cotton-spinning cottagers delighted with their poverty?

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Somebody needs to get down to doing a proper survey to get these answers, rather than generalized pronouncements based on individual, segmented, slice-of-life type experiences that go on to influence government policy because the author has become a celebrity and considered an expert, perhaps just on the basis of availability. If such a survey recognizes that Muslims have a sense of destiny, and believe that the West cheated them of their place in history, the difference between this radical and nonradical Islam would be only of means and methods. Which means that the West is asking Islam to play by its rules. When two civilizations compete, each plays the game by its own rules, until one loses. At that time the winner may impose rules of play.

-- Azam Gill

I've read a bit about the Islamism movement, for example, Qutb of Egypt. Now suddenly, I see parallels in him with Jack Kerouac and the Beats. Both movements are deep into "culture." Both are "in denial" of the present society. Both seek a new "fundamentalism" that is the contrary of the society, and/or anti-nationalism.

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For both, this "new religiosity" is a primitivism and a simplicity reaching down to the people of the street and away from the established church or upscale societal centers. Both were seeded in the '30s-'40s and matured in the '50s-'60s. Both have "lived on the run." Both sought an "otherworld" -- the Beats, Buddhism and Taoism, and Islamism, a medieval Islam of origins.

Differences would be that Qutb would be shocked by some of Kerouac -- say, the booze and perhaps sexuality. As well, Qutb and Islamism project an austere harsh religious state; Kerouac projected free love. (Though actually, if you read Qutb's manifesto, his end-state has more a poetic free-association quality.)

I find the similarities of two "loose social movements" in mid-20th century to be striking. Particularly the denial of society/nationalism and the seeking of an "utter fundamentalism." I sense a difference from communism, or Maoism, or the Greens, etc., other streams of 20th century consciousness.

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One further lead-on is that I've always felt the Beats were also the first broad-scale "gay liberation movement." Kerouac was not precisely gay but many Beat leaders were. A far larger and "popular" liberation than that of the 1920s or the 1890s.

I wonder if Islamism, and the Islamic Brotherhood, might not have a significant "gay movement" in extreme anti-gay Arabic societies, e.g., bin Laden hanging around in the terror camps in the mountains with all the young men. Or are all these guys, Qutb et al., just "real men" fighting for Islam?

-- Bill Manning

Read "The Next Newton?"

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According to Dave Appell's article "The Next Newton?" Stephen Wolfram appears to be trying to take credit for all of complexity theory. These ideas of using computer simulations to model self-organizing systems are hardly new. They have been studied for at least 20 years. There are many previously published books on the subject. Academia commonly teaches courses now on nonlinear dynamic systems. There are even entire institutes devoted to the study of these topics, such as the Santa Fe Institute. Is Wolfram taking credit for too much, was Appell not aware of Wolfram's context, or do I just not understand this article?

-- Hunter Hatfield

"... a Moby of a scientist ..."

And, like Moby, the greatest talent is self-promotion. Everything that he does is "a fundamentally new kind of" thing, even when it's the same old thing, invented by other people, and cleaned up a little bit. To the people who never knew it existed in the first place, Wolfram appears to be the brilliant originator.

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The people who really originate this stuff generally don't have time for self-promotion.

People in the mathematical software industry know that Mathematica is a cleaned-up rehash of Macsyma, and most of Mathematica's development was done by other professors, most of whom he later ripped off, with infinitesimal shame.

-- Allan Bonadio


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