Thursday, November 9, 2017

Did the Golden Age of Muslim Spain really happen? A Debate.

Part III—Who’s right?

From 711 to 1492, Muslim conquerors ruled parts of Spain, which they called al-Andalus.

As with everything about Islam, what sort of rulers they were is a matter of controversy.

In Part I of this series I reviewed The Ornament of the World: How Muslims, Jews, and Christians Created a Culture of Tolerance in Medieval Spain by the late Yale University professor María Rose Menocal. According to her, Muslim Spain was “the chapter of Europe’s culture when Jews, Christians, and Muslims lived side by side and, despite their intractable differences and enduring hostilities, nourished a complex culture of tolerance.” She paints a Spain where caliphs like Abd ar-Rahman III built spectacular palaces and populated them with scholars and poets. Jews like Samuel ibn Nagrillah rose to lead armies and rule at the side of kings. Christian youth were so eager to assimilate into this shimmering culture that old fogeys like Alvarus of Cordoba complained Arabic was all the rage among them. Kids today. They completely neglect Latin. Philosophers like Averroes and social scientists like ibn Khaldun pushed the boundaries of scholarship. And absolutely everyone was a poet, churning out ingenious new forms of verse to celebrate the charms of their lady loves, forms that would go on to lay the foundation for Christian Europe’s troubadour culture.

Part II covered The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise: Muslims, Christians, and Jews under Islamic Rule in Medieval Spain by Darío Fernández-Morera of Northwestern University, and that book paints a very different portrait. The conquest of the peninsula was bloody. Captured women were sold into slavery, to be raped in the harem. The shari’a imposed severe restrictions on non-Muslims. In Cordoba, between 850 and 860, some four dozen Christians were murdered for the “crime” of declaring the divinity of Christ. And anti-Jewish riots killed many, including Samuel ibn Nagrillah’s son Joseph.

Interestingly, Menocal and Fernández-Morera don’t disagree about facts. Their differences are over interpretation.

Menocal acknowledges episodes of intolerance like the anti-Jewish riots and the Martyrs of Cordoba. But she dismisses them. “It would be foolish,” she writes, “to suggest that this was a world devoid of all manner of intolerance and darkness. What age, no matter how golden, is?”

Similarly, Fernández-Morera acknowledges the spectacular courts of the caliphs existed. But he dismisses them. They weren’t typical of the life of the common people.

Thus, the two authors mirror each other in their confirmation bias: both are quick to grasp the smallest factoid that supports their hypotheses. But inconvenient bits of data that contradict them are dismissed as the sort of thing that can happen in any society. Of no importance whatsoever.

So who’s right?

In my humble opinion, both. Fernández-Morera was right that Muslim Spain was far from a paradise. And yet Menocal was right that its remarkable achievements really did make it the Ornament of the World.

The glittering courts, with their vast libraries and spectacular gardens, really weren’t typical of the life of the average Andalusian—but they still glittered.

The women who enflamed the romantic ardor of poets really were sex slaves—but the verses they inspired were no less heartfelt or influential.

Averroes really was exiled by his fellow Muslims, and ibn Khaldun ignored—but their accomplishments in philosophy and social science were no less remarkable.

Non-Muslims really were second class citizens under the shari’a—but many of them nevertheless rose to the stratosphere of Muslim society.

Jews really were persecuted because they were so successful—but they were successful.

Muslims really did murder Christians who insisted on broadcasting their faith—but to the chagrin of Alvarus of Cordoba, the pageant of Islamic culture enticed legions of others to assimilate.

In short, Muslim Spain was a case study in Dr. Zuhdi Jasser’s “Two Islams” hypothesis, which he explained in his book A Battle for the Soul of Islam. There’s the Islam he grew up with, which taught him that “Christians and Jews were my brothers and sisters, ‘People of the Book.’” And there’s political Islam or Islamism, which he first encountered during his college years. That pernicious doctrine preaches that “Islam comes before all else, and everything should be done to make this religion the dominant one in the world and for laws to based not on secular agreement but purely on shariah.”

Just as both of these two Islams exist today, so they existed side-by-side in Muslim Spain. To insist it was all one or all the other, besides being far less interesting, is to cling to only half a truth.

 

Michael Isenberg writes about the Muslim world, medieval and modern. His forthcoming novel, The Thread of Reason, is a murder mystery that takes place in Baghdad in the year 1092 and will be the first in a series that depicts how the Muslim world committed cultural suicide during the Middle Ages.

Photo Credit: Michael Isenberg

Monday, November 6, 2017

Did the Golden Age of Muslim Spain really happen? A Debate.

Part II—No.

The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise: Muslims, Christians, and Jews under Islamic Rule in Medieval Spain by Darío Fernández-Morera.
Book Review by Michael Isenberg.

“Few periods in history have been more misrepresented than that of Islamic Spain.” So writes Darío Fernández-Morera, Associate Professor at Northwestern University, in his recent book, The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise.

Works like María Rose Menocal’s The Ornament of the World, which I reviewed in Part I of this series, depict Muslim Spain, or al-Andalus as the Muslims called it, as a warm memory where enlightened rulers were the epitome of rationality and tolerance. It was a “Golden Age” when Jews and Christians were able to practice their religions freely, achieve great things in poetry, philosophy, and commerce, and rise to dizzying heights in a Muslim-dominated society.

But Fernández-Morera begs to differ. According to him, the Muslim era in Spain (711-1492) was a time of brutal invasions followed by brutal suppression of rebellions. Bigoted Muslim jurists joined forces with bigoted ordinary Muslims to martyr Christians and conduct pogroms against Jews. Cultural accomplishments, such as they were, were highly overrated and primarily borrowed from the Christian world.

Fernández-Morera doesn’t dispute the existence of the glittering royal palaces, as presented by Menocal, with their legions of poets, scientists, and highly-placed Jewish and Christian officials. But he argues that you can’t infer from court life what life was like for the average Jew or Christian living under Muslim rule. “This selective approach is as scholarly defective as would be assessing the everyday life and moral preferences of twentieth-century American families based on a reading of the historical records left behind by Hollywood actors and American artistes and literati,” he writes.

The picture he paints of the daily grind for the typical non-Muslim, especially Christians, is grim. “A basic fact is lost in discussions and arguments about the details of the life of the Christian dhimmis in Spain, the so-called Mozarabs, and about how much or how little they benefited from Islamic ‘toleration’—namely, that they were by definition a subaltern group, a fourth- or fifth-class marginalized people in a hierarchical society, and that they were the victims of an extortion system, the dhimma, that gave them the choice that gangsters give to their victims: pay to be protected, or else.

Fernández-Morera concedes that life for Spanish Jews was somewhat better than for Spanish Christians. “It is true, then, that the Jewish community experienced better living conditions under Spain’s Muslim conquerors than under the Catholic Visigoths. It is also true that, as a result, for some centuries Andalusian Jewry thrived, producing a brilliant cultural output.

“But none of this mean that Islamic Spain represented a beacon of tolerance…the Muslim masses resented the Jewish community’s influence and visible material success, particularly given that this largely urban minority was relatively well educated and prosperous when compared with the poor and illiterate non-Jewish masses. This resentment contributed to several anti-Jewish riots, pogroms, assassinations, and expulsions, and eventually to a precipitous decline in status during the Almohad rule [1147-1238].”

In other words, yes, the Jews experienced persecution in Muslim Spain. But it happened because they were so successful!

To make his case, Fernández-Morera catalogs many atrocities: No quarter was given during the initial Muslim invasions. Crucifixions and beheadings followed in the wake of the periodic rebellions that followed. Women were taken prisoner and sold into slavery, to be raped in a harem. Then there was the tragic episode of the Martyrs of Cordoba, between the years 850 and 860, when Saint Eulogius and some four dozen other Christians were executed for the "crime" of declaring that Christ was divine and Muhammad a false prophet. Many of the atrocities occurred during the reign of Abd ar-Rahman III, a perennial favorite of the “Golden Age” crowd.

But even more than catalogs of atrocities, Fernández-Morera relies on catalogs of laws to make his case—in particular the so-called Ordinance of Omar. In addition to requiring Jews and Christians to pay a special tax, the jizyah, the ordinance required them to wear distinctive clothing as a badge of their inferior status. They could not build their homes or houses of worship higher than the Muslim buildings. They were prohibited from riding horses, and they could only ride a donkey if they used a wooden saddle. They were required to make way for a Muslim if they were to meet him on the road, and were banned from ringing church bells or otherwise making noise during their religious ceremonies.

Relying so heavily on the law puts Fernández-Morera on shaky ground. He is aware of this. “One should not assume that legal systems indicate how the law is applied or obeyed. Anyone can find examples in his own time and place where the written law does not reflect what some individuals do, or rulers choose to enforce, or judges decide." But he argues in his defense that these examples "do not lessen the importance of taking into account the legal system of a given culture in order to understand its customs, ethics, and beliefs.”

He is right, of course, that where tolerance reigned, it happened in spite of the shari’a, and over the objections of the ulama—the Muslim intellectuals. For example, toleration was especially common during the Taifa period (11th century) when central authority broke down and al-Andalus split into numerous petty kingdoms. These periods of “not unlikely violations of Islamic mores…which are often praised today… marked the nadir of Islamic rule in Spain—as ulama then pointed out and ulama today still do. [emphasis Fernández-Morera’s].”

Nevertheless, in my humble opinion, Fernández-Morera dismisses the tolerance that existed in al-Andalus too readily. Yes, it violated the shari'a. But it still existed.

In fact, I think Fernández-Morera is too ready to dismiss any evidence contrary to his hypothesis. In this he is guilty of the defective, selective approach of which he accuses his opponents. His dismissals are often accompanied by unbecoming sarcasm. Nearly every time he mentions the scholar and jurist ibn Rushd, he refers to him as “the great philosopher Averroes,” in sarcastic quotation marks. In a chapter on the status of women in al-Andalus, he scoffs at the idea that female intellectuals were common, and quotes Maria Luis Avila: “We must avoid allowing ourselves to be impressed by these one hundred and sixteen ‘learned’ women.” I submit that when you have 116 examples of something, you don’t get to dismiss it as anecdotal. It’s officially a thing.

Despite these shortcomings, The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise is a serious work of scholarship—there are nearly a hundred pages of end notes—a marked contrast to the nearly non-existent citations in The Ornament of the World. Myth is an important book in that tells a side of the story that the others leave out.

Fernández-Morera recognizes that his conclusions aren’t politically correct. In the introduction, he laments the harsh reception academia provides to anyone who questions the established wisdom about al-Andalus. “Such questioning would also risk an end to travel to Muslim countries to do research, a loss of funding for the heretical scholars and their universities (not only from grant-giving institutions but also from governments such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Libya under Gadhafi, and Turkey), ostracism as graduate students, and difficulty finding university positions (assuming the scholars were able to complete a PhD in a department of Middle East Studies)…University presses do not want to get in trouble presenting an Islamic domination of even centuries ago as anything but a positive event, and academic specialist would rather not portray negatively a subject that constitutes their bread and butter. In addition, fear of the accusation of ‘Islamophobia’ has paralyzed many academic researchers.”

Here I agree with Fernández-Morera 100%. As we see in nearly daily headlines, hostility to freedom of speech is rampant on college campuses, and this extends far beyond the Islamic Studies department. I salute the courage of Fernández-Morera in fighting back by writing the The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise and giving the world a more truthful, more complete picture of Muslim Spain.

So who's right? Was Muslim Spain the Ornament of the World, as Menocal claims, or is Fernández-Morera correct in arguing that's a myth? I’ll reveal that answer in Part III.

Michael Isenberg writes about the Muslim world, medieval and modern. His forthcoming novel, The Thread of Reason, is a murder mystery that takes place in Baghdad in the year 1092 and will be the first in a series that depicts how the Muslim world committed cultural suicide during the Middle Ages.

Photo: The Martyrdom of Saint Eulogius of Cordova, by unknown artist.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Did the Islamic Golden Age in Spain really happen? A Debate

Part I—Yes.

The Ornament of the World: How Muslims, Jews, and Christians Created a Culture of Tolerance in Medieval Spain by María Rose Menocal.
Book Review by Michael Isenberg.

In the spring of 711 AD, the Muslim general Tariq ibn Zayid led some 7,000 fierce Berber fighters in an invasion across the straits that would later bear his name (Gibraltar = Jebel al-Tariq = Mountain of Tariq). Their landing in Spain and subsequent rout of the Visigoth King inaugurated 700 years of Muslim rule over parts of the Spanish peninsula, in particular the area in the south which the Muslims called al-Andalus and is now known as Andalucía.

When I was growing up, my Sunday School teachers told us what a wonderful place al-Andalus was (Yes, we had Sunday School at the synagogue). The Muslim rulers, we were taught, were the epitome of rationality and tolerance. It was a “Golden Age” when Jews and Christians were able to practice their religions freely, achieve great things in poetry, philosophy, and commerce, and rise to dizzying heights in a Muslim-dominated society. Indeed, the time is remembered so fondly among Jews, we still build our synagogues to look like mosques.

It was only as an adult that I learned that not all historians think things were so rosy. There is a debate among scholars as to whether this Beacon of Tolerance ever really existed. Some argue that Muslim Spain was more like South Africa under Apartheid, with Jews and Christians relegated to second class status, or Iran under the ayatollahs, with government by clergy.

Recently I read two books on opposing sides of the question of whether the Golden Age ever happened. The late María Rose Menocal, of Yale University argued "Yes" in her book The Ornament of the World: How Muslims, Jews, and Christians Created a Culture of Tolerance in Medieval Spain. Darío Fernández-Morera of Northwestern replied with an unequivocal “No” in The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise: Muslims, Christians, and Jews under Islamic Rule in Medieval Spain. In this post I'll review the Menocal book. I’ll cover Fernández-Morera in a future post.

Menocal was primarily a professor of literature so it’s no surprise that The Ornament of the World presents the chronicles of al-Andalus as a series of stories. “Rather than retell the history of the Middle Ages,” she explains, “or even that of medieval Spain, I have strung together a series of miniature portraits that range widely in time and place, and that are focused on cultural rather than political events.” This approach makes for a very readable book, but not without some sacrifice of scholarship. There aren't even proper end notes—mostly just sources on the quotes and their translations. Much of the book reads more like literary criticism than history. For example, she tells us that it “is about a genuine, foundational European cultural moment that qualifies as ‘first-rate,’ in the sense of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s wonderful formula…namely, that ‘the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time.’” In the case of Muslim Spain, the two opposed ideas were the Islam First ideology that existed in theory in the shari’a and the tolerance that Menocal claims existed in practice.

Muslim Spain was, Menocal writes, “the chapter of Europe’s culture when Jews, Christians, and Muslims lived side by side and, despite their intractable differences and enduring hostilities, nourished a complex culture of tolerance.”

She took her title, The Ornament of the World from the writings of Hroswitha of Gandersheim, a German, Christian lady-scholar of the 900s. Hroswitha used the phrase to describe the City of Cordoba, capital of Muslim Spain. As Menocal portrays it, Cordoba was a city of spectacular edifices—tourists can still see the famous red and white horseshoe arches of the Grand Mosque (now called the “Mosque-Cathedral”). There were seventy libraries in town whose holdings ran into the hundreds of thousands—at a time when the largest library in Christendom “probably held no more than 400” books. Madinat az-Zahra, the palace of the caliph, was every bit the rival of the Dar Calipha in Baghdad (palace of a rival caliph), with a gold and silver-roofed reception hall, a pool of liquid mercury, and an animal park. Its library was so vast that just the catalog was forty-four volumes.

Menocal’s stories are chronological, starting with the departure of the young Abd ar-Rahman I from Damascus in the mid-700s as he set out to make himself Master of Spain. The tales run through the publication of Don Quixote in the early 1600s—Cervantes claimed in a (fictitious) preface that his masterpiece was a translation of an ancient Arabic history that he rescued from a pile of old manuscripts about to be made into rags. Along the way we meet:

  • Alvarus of Cordoba (ca.800-861), a Christian scholar who complained about the damn kids who were more interested in writing in Arabic then in Latin.

  • Hasdai ibn Shaprut (ca.915-ca.970), leader of the Jewish community and foreign minister to the caliph Abd ar-Rahman III. In that capacity he negotiated an alliance with Christian Constantinople against Muslim Baghdad.

  • Samuel ibn Nagrillah (993-ca.1056), undoubtedly the star of the show. Also known as Samuel the Nagid, he was another leader of the Jewish community who rose high in Muslim circles, in this case to the rank of vizier or prime minister to King Badis of Granada. Samuel was also a warrior and a poet. Much like twentieth century Zionists, he was active in a movement to take Hebrew, which at that point was a dead language, and revive it as an idiom of life and literature. I came across one of his poems not long ago:

    Friend, lead me through the vineyards, give me wine
    And to the very brim shall joy be mine…
    And should you pre-decease me you, friend, select,
    Some spot where vineyards twist, my grave to sink.

    Clearly Samuel was a kindred spirit to the great Omar Khayyam, astronomer, poet, (and hero of my forthcoming historical novel, The Thread of Reason) who, a generation later and a continent away would write,

    Take heed to stay me with the wine-cup,
    and make this amber face like a ruby;
    when I die, wash me with wine,
    and out of the wood of the vine make the planks of my coffin.
    (Ousley MS #140, Ruba'i 69, Heron-Allen translation)

  • Abu Muhammad ibn Hazm (994-1064), a Muslim contemporary of Samuel and a tragic figure. His life was defined by two great losses—his native Cordoba, from which he was exiled when Berber tribesmen overran it and razed the Madinat az-Zahra in 1009, and a slave girl, whom he loved passionately, and who died around the same time. Ibn Hazm spent his youth wandering around Spain and serving a series of leaders who he hoped, incorrectly, would restore the greatness of the fallen Umayyad dynasty. Somehow he found the time to write 400 books on a wealth of subjects. Few survived but among those was The Neck-Ring of the Dove, a manual of the romantic arts.

  • Judah ha-Levy (ca.1080-ca.1141), a wildly popular poet. In old age, he set off for Jerusalem. Stopping in Alexandria, he was lionized as an international celebrity. Little did the people of that city understand that Judah was no longer the poet they so adored, having denounced the rationality that underlay al-Andalus culture, in favor of faith. In his Book of Khazars, a philosopher and a rabbi debate the topic in front of the (probably) mythical Jewish King of Khazaristan. The philosopher loses.

    On the eve of the Second Crusade, Judah left Alexandria to resume his journey. What became of him after that, and whether he reached Jerusalem in those turbulent times, no one knows.

     

    Menocal concedes that Muslim Spain was not all palaces and poetry. “It would be foolish,” she writes, “to suggest that this was a world devoid of all manner of intolerance and darkness. What age, no matter how golden, is?” She mentions, for example, Joseph ibn Nagrillah, son of Samuel the Nagid, who laid out the gardens of the al-Hambra, still a spectacular Granada tourist attraction, before being killed in an anti-Jewish pogrom. She also touches on the Martyrs of Cordoba, the forty-eight Christians executed between 851 and 859 for publicly asserting the divinity of Christ and denouncing the wickedness of Muhammad. Menocal dismisses the episode on the grounds that they knew what they were doing and chose martyrdom voluntarily. Talk about blaming the victims.

    IMHO, Menocal was too willing to gloss over the dark and intolerant side of Muslim Spain. More about that in Part II.

    Michael Isenberg writes about the Muslim world, medieval and modern. His forthcoming novel, The Thread of Reason, is a murder mystery that takes place in Baghdad in the year 1092. It depicts the war for the Muslim soul between those who seek to enforce shari’a strictly, persecute Jews and Christians, and stamp out "un-Islamic" science, and those who wink at a few sins, tolerate their non-Muslim neighbors, and write books about science instead of burning them.

    Photo credit: Michael Isenberg

  • Tuesday, October 10, 2017

    Taxation is Violence

    Some days, as we read about the latest atrocity from the ISIS "caliphate," the Iranian "democracy," or the Saudi "monarchy," it’s easy to forget that the people of the Middle East are, in many ways, not that different from us.

    Then there are days like today.

    The people of Egypt are out in Tahrir Square again, but this time not to protest. Amid flags and fireworks, they’re celebrating that the national team qualified for the World Cup.

    As for Lebanon, there the people are protesting, but not against the United States or Israel: they’re protesting that their taxes are going up.

    Against the backdrop of a nearly $5 billion budget deficit and nearly 150% debt-to-GDP, the Lebanese Parliament last July approved a billion dollar increase in government employee salaries—and a corresponding tax hike to fund it. Last month the Constitutional Council overturned the tax hike, but yesterday Parliament reinstated it with the necessary amendments.

    The Lebanese have taken to Twitter and #Stunned_by_Force is trending. There’s a pun in there because the words for stunned and taxes sound similar. Both come from the word daraba which means hit, which gave us our English word drub. In Arabic, therefore, taxation is literally violence.

    Some complained about the burden:

    Taxes on the people for people on the dole.

     

     

    Others called out the politicians:

    Oppressive official wants to convince oppressed citizens that taxes are for the good of the people. #fail #marvelous_country #stunned_by_force

     

    Member of Parliament Ibrahim Kanaan in particular was called out for hypocrisy. Apparently he voted for the bill despite a previous call not to hike the VAT:

    Kanaan demands suspending Value Added Tax increases

     

    The woman in this picture is former Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard:

     

     

    It’s easy to complain about the politicians, but at the end of the day, they’re the ones the voters elected.

     

    Fortunately, some Lebanese voters have channeled the spirit of the American Tea Party and promise to do something about it:

     

    Granted, that’s going to require a bit more effort than complaining on Twitter:

    Q: How do the Lebanese people stand up to a tax hike?
    A: We let loose the hashtag #Stunned_by_Force and it trended. The street is for cats and trash and we withdraw to our houses.

     

    This lady summed things up nicely:

     

    Michael Isenberg writes about the Muslim world, medieval and modern. His forthcoming novel, The Thread of Reason, is a murder mystery that takes place in Baghdad in the year 1092. It depicts the war for the Muslim soul between those who seek to enforce shari’a strictly, persecute Jews and Christians, and stamp out "un-Islamic" science, and those who wink at a few sins, tolerate their non-Muslim neighbors, and write science books instead of burning them.

    Monday, October 9, 2017

    Tales of Medieval Islam: al-Biruni

    The annals of Islam are chock full of tales about wise men called into the presence of a king, saying something clever, and having the royal bounty bestowed upon them. And so it was with Abu Rayhan al-Biruni (973-1048). Alas, he had a bit of a detour along the way.

    Abu Rayhan was one of the greatest astronomers and mathematicians of the Middle Ages. By his own count, he wrote 113 books. At a time when it was widely believed that the earth was stationary and the heavens revolved around it, Abu Rayhan delved into the possibility that it was the other way around: the earth revolved on its axis. But despite his brilliance, when it came to speaking to kings, he forgot the first rule:

     

    It is related that once when Yaminu’d-Dawla Sultan Mahmud bin Nasiru’d-Din was sitting on the roof of a four-doored summer-house in Ghazna, in the Garden of a Thousand Trees, he turned his face to Abu Rayhan and said, “By which of these four doors shall I go out?” (for all four were practicable). “Decide and write the decision on a piece of paper, and put it under my quilt.”

    Abu Rayhan called for an astrolabe, took the altitude, determined the Ascendant, reflected for a while, and then wrote down his decision on a piece of paper, and placed it under the quilt. “Hast thou decided?” asked Mahmud.

    He answered, “I have.”

    Then Mahmud bade them bring a navvy [an unskilled laborer] with pick-axe and spade, and in the wall which was on the eastern side they dug out a fifth door, through which he went out. Then he bade them bring the paper. So they brought it, and on it Abu Rayhan had written, “He will go out through none of these four doors, but they will dig a fifth door in the eastern wall, by which door he will go forth.”

    Mahmud, on reading this, was furious, and bade them cast Abu Rayhan down in the midst of the palace, and so they did. Now there was stretched a net from the middle floor, and on it Abu Rayhan fell. The net tore, and he subsided gently to the ground, so that he received no injury. “Bring him in,” said Mahmud. So they brought him in, and Mahmud said, “O Abu Rayhan, at all events thou didst not know about this event!”

    “I knew it, Sire,” answered he.

    Said Mahmud, “Where is the proof?”

    So Abu Rayhan called for his servant, took the Almanac from him, and produced the prognostications out of the Almanac and amongst the predictions for that day was written:—“To-day they will cast me down from a high place, but I shall reach the earth in safety, and arise sound in body.”

    All this was not according to Mahmud’s mind. He waxed still angrier, and ordered Abu Rayhan to be detained in the citadel. So Abu Rayhan was confined in the citadel of Ghazna, where he remained for six months…

    It is said that the Prime Minister Ahmad ibn Hasan of Maymand (may God be merciful to him!) was for six months seeking an opportunity to say a word on behalf of Abu Rayhan. At length, when engaged in the chase, he found the King in a good humour, and, working from one topic to another, he brought the conversation round to Astrology. Then he said, “Poor Abu Rayhan uttered two such good prognostications, and, instead of decorations and a robe of honour, earned only bonds and imprisonment.

    “Know, my lord,” replied Mahmud, “for I have discovered it, and all men admit it, that this man has no equal in the world save Abu Ali [ibn] Sina (Avicenna). But both his prognostications were opposed to my will; and kings are like little children; in order to receive rewards from them, one should speak in accordance with their views. It would have been better for him on that day if one of those two prognostications had been wrong. But to-morrow order him to be brought forth, and to be given a horse caparisoned with gold, a royal robe, a satin turban, a thousand dinars, a boy slave and a handmaiden.”

    So…they brought forth Abu Rayhan, and the gift of honour detailed above was conferred upon him, and the King apologized to him, saying, “O Abu Rayhan, if thou desirest to reap advantage from me, speak according to my desire, not according to the dictates of thy science.” So thereafter Abu Rayhan altered his practice; and this is one of the conditions of the king’s service, that one must be with him in right or wrong, and speak according to his wish.

    Source: Nizami Arudi, Chahar Maqala (The Four Discourses), Edward G. Browne, tr., Mirza Muhammad, ed., London:Luzac & Co., 1921, Anecdotes XXIII-XXIV, pp. 65-67.

    Michael Isenberg writes about the Muslim world, medieval and modern. His forthcoming novel, The Thread of Reason, is a murder mystery that takes place in Baghdad in the year 1092. It depicts the war for the Muslim soul between those who seek to enforce shari’a strictly, persecute Jews and Christians, and stamp out "un-Islamic" science, and those who wink at a few sins, tolerate their non-Muslim neighbors, and write science books instead of burning them.

    Photo credit: AboutIslam.net

    Sunday, October 8, 2017

    Mideast Week in Review

    by Michael Isenberg.

  • ISIS nearly eradicated in Iraq.
  • Kurdistan: Baghdad strikes back.

    ISIS nearly eradicated in Iraq: The Iraqi government announced on Wednesday that it had driven ISIS forces from the town of Hawija, in the north of the country.

    As the map shows, Hawija was the last ISIS stronghold in Iraq, other than a small band along the Euphrates River between the Syrian border and town of Ana. Meanwhile, in Syria, operations continue against ISIS forces around Deir al-Zour. Clearly, ISIS’s days as a “state” with territory are numbered.

    Sadly, I do not expect ISIS to go away. Rather, I predict it will evolve into something that looks more like al-Qaeda, claiming responsibility for terrorist attacks around the world, some which it actually committed, and others, like the tragic shooting in Las Vegas last weekend, which it apparently had nothing to do with.

    Read more—

  • Iraq forces retake town of Hawija from IS (BBC)

     

    Kurdistan: Baghdad strikes back. As I reported previously, Iraq’s Kurdish Autonomous Region held a referendum last week and chose to secede from Iraq by a mind-boggling 92% of the vote. The referendum is non-binding; most pundits consider it merely an instrument to give the Kurds leverage in negotiating their eventual departure.

    Nevertheless, the Iraqi government has now struck back. Last Friday it announced that it was lowering the ban hammer on international flights to the Kurdish region.

    The Kurds voted for secession because they thought the central government persecutes them. So the government responded by proving them right.

    Read more—

  • Iraq halts international flights to Kurdistan Region (BBC)

    Michael Isenberg writes about the Muslim world, medieval and modern. His forthcoming novel, The Thread of Reason, is a murder mystery that takes place in Baghdad in the year 1092. It depicts the war for the Muslim soul between those who seek to enforce shari’a strictly, persecute Jews and Christians, and stamp out "un-Islamic" science, and those who wink at a few sins, tolerate their non-Muslim neighbors, and write books about science instead of burning them.

  • Friday, October 6, 2017

    The Las Vegas Massacre: the Arab World Reacts

    It’s been almost five days since a piece of dirt named Stephen Paddock opened fire on a crowd of innocent Las Vegas concertgoers, murdering, at last count, fifty-nine people, and injuring nearly five hundred. Five days in which we've confronted our shock, celebrated the heroes, and begun the process of grieving, a process which, for the friends and loved ones of the victims, will never end completely.

    Now that we've had a decent interval for those things, it's time to comment on more mundane aspects of the tragedy. Like politics, or since this is a blog about Islam, the reaction in the Arab world.

    That there exists hatred in the Arab world for Americans is well known, so it's no surprise that some of that hatred spilled over onto Twitter. As you'll see, this attitude was by no means universal, but that's where I'll start. To my disgust, and the disgust of decent people everywhere, many Arabs cheered for the killer. They implied that Americans deserved to die because of Iraq…

    I wish he slaughtered more because then they would know and feel sorry for the people of Iraq and the Levant.

    Or Trump…

    #Las_Vegas Trump you terrorist.

    Or Hitler…

    #Las_Vegas_Attack
    They destroyed Hiroshima
    And Hitler killed a quarter of the people of the Earth
    And they destroyed Iraq and Syria
    And on top of this they accuse the Muslims of terrorism. Wow!!

    Others were more subtle in their gloating. They merely posted verses from the Quran. Some seemed innocuous, but the common theme was judgment. So the message was that Stephen Paddock was an instrument of Allah, to rain down justice upon America.

    And if they keep to the (right) way, We should certainly give them to drink water in abundance [al-Jinn:16] [Maulana Muhammad Ali translation] #Las_Vegas

    But Pharaoh disobeyed the messenger, so We seized him with a violent grip. [al-Muzzammil:16] [Maulana Muhammad Ali translation] #Las_Vegas

    I’m not sure what the deal is with the emojis. The heart kind of makes sense, but the hamburger seems completely bizarre.

    Taking their lead from Thomas Friedman and Piers Morgan, many Arabs complained about what they perceived as a double standard: no one was calling Paddock a terrorist. If he had been a Muslim, they felt, things would have been different:

    American writer Thomas Friedman: What if the shooter in #Las_Vegas was Muslim?”

    British Journalist (Morgan): If the one who let lose the bullets was Muslim it would have been considered a terrorist attack, but it involved a white American, so it was considered a shooting incident #Las_Vegas

    In my humble opinion, the claim that Paddock wasn’t called a terrorist because he was white is the pinnacle of idiocy. After all, no one hesitated to call the white Oklahoma City bombers terrorists. Dictionary.com defines terrorism as “the use of violence and threats to intimidate or coerce, especially for political purposes.” By that definition, Paddock may have been an evil man, but not a terrorist. As far as we know, he wasn’t trying to coerce anybody into doing anything. He didn’t have any political purposes. Whether he was called a terrorist had nothing to do with being a white American. That this was the pretext for Morgan and Friedman to play the race card is symptomatic of the intellectual rot and the tedious obsession with race, to the exclusion of all else, which infests the Left in 2017. All white people, according to them, are racists (yawn) and damn any sense of intellectual rigor or notion that words have meanings. Ironic, given the leftist assertion that they're the intellectual ones, in contrast to the "anti-intellectual" Right.

    But I digress.

    In any case, it’s not true that no one called Paddock a terrorist; the terrorists did. In a claim disputed by the FBI, ISIS took credit for the attack. They released a statement that Paddock was one of their own, having been converted to Islam some months ago.

    Drawing on social media posts collected by the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), Pamela Geller provided numerous examples in her blog of Muslims cheering this development. They called Paddock “Brother” and “the Lion of Monotheism.”

    But the tweets I came across were more skeptical. Paddock just didn’t seem the Islamist type:

    Desperate ISIS’s impulse to adopt a drunk, “Stephen Paddock” and his terrible crime in #Las_Vegas is to lift morale with the news.

    ISIS adopts an attack committed by an unbeliever. In other words, Scott says to you, where is the credibility of terrorism? If you eat cheese, right!

    In the end, it was heartwarming how many tweets I came across from ordinary, decent people, who just wanted to express sympathy and solidarity with the United States in its hour of tragedy. They were an example to all of us:

    Michael Isenberg writes about the Muslim world, medieval and modern. His forthcoming novel, The Thread of Reason, is a murder mystery that takes place in Baghdad in the year 1092. It depicts the war for the Muslim soul between those who seek to enforce shari’a strictly, persecute Jews and Christians, and stamp out "un-Islamic" science, and those who wink at a few sins, tolerate their non-Muslim neighbors, and write science books instead of burning them.

    Wednesday, October 4, 2017

    Tales of Medieval Islam

    How a Jewish astrologer outwitted two Muslim antagonists.

    Another story from Nizami Arudi:

    Ya’qub ibn Ishaq al-Kindi [801-873], though he was a Jew, was the philosopher of his age and the wisest man of his time, and stood high in the service of [the caliph] al-Ma’mun. One day he came in before al-Ma’mun and sat down above one of the prelates of Islam. Said this man, “Thou art of a subject race; why then dost though sit above the prelates of Islam?” “Because,” said Ya’qub, “I know what thou knowest, while thou knowest not what I know.”

    Now this prelate knew of his skill in Astrology, but had no knowledge of his other attainments in science. “I will write down,” said he, “something on a piece of paper, and if thou canst divine what I have written, I will admit thy claim.” Then they laid a wager, on the part of the prelate a cloak, and on the part of Ya’qub a mule and its trappings, worth a thousand dinars, which was standing at the door. Then the former asked for an inkstand and paper, wrote something on a piece of paper, and placed it under the Caliph’s quilt, and cried, “Out with it!” Ya’qub ibn Ishaq asked for a tray of earth, rose up, took the altitude, ascertained the Ascendant, drew an astrological figure on the tray of earth, determined the positions of the stars and located them in the Signs of the Zodiac, and fulfilled all the conditions of divination and thought-reading. Then he said, “O Commander of the Faithful, on that paper he has written something which was first a plant and then an animal.” Al-Ma’mun put his hand under the quilt and drew forth the paper, on which was written “The Rod of Moses.” Ma’mun was filled with wonder and the prelate expressed his astonishment. Then Ya’qub took the cloak of his adversary, and cut it in two before al-Ma’mun, saying, “I will make it into two putties [leggings made from winding a strip of cloth].”

    This matter became generally known in Baghdad, whence it spread to Iraq and Khurasan, and became widely diffused. A certain doctor in Balkh, prompted by the fanatical zeal which characterizes the learned, took a knife and placed it in the middle of a book on Astrology, intending to go to Baghdad, attend the lectures of Ya’qub ibn Ishaq al-Kindi, make a beginning in Astrology, and, when he should find a suitable opportunity, suddenly kill him. Stage by state he advanced in this resolve, until he reached Baghdad, went in to the hot bath, and came out, arrayed himself in clean clothes, and, placing the book in his sleeve, set out for Ya’qub’s house.

    When he reached the gate of the house, he saw standing there many handsomely-caparisoned horses belonging to the descendants of the Prophet and other eminent and notable persons of Baghdad. Having made inquiries, he went in, entered the circle in front of Ya’qub, greeted him, and said, “I desire to study somewhat of the Science of the Stars with our Master.” “Thou hast come from the East to slay me, not to study Astrology,” replied Ya’qub, “but thou wilt repent of thine intention, study the Stars, attain perfection in that science, and become one of the greatest Astrologers among the People of Muhammad (on whom be God’s Blessing and Peace).” All the great men there assembled were astonished at these words; and Abu Ma’shar confessed and produced the knife from the middle of the book, broke it, and cast it away. Then he bent his knees and studied for fifteen years, until he attained in Astrology that eminence which was his.

    An end note in the Edward Browne translation of Nizami explains that Abu Ma’shar went on to become “one of the most celebrated astronomers of the third century of the hijra (ninth of the Christian era)…On one occasion he was scourged by the command of the Caliph al-Musta’in (reigned A.H. 248-251; A.D. 862-5) because of a prognostication which he made and which proved too correct.”

    However, the notes also tell us that “The author’s assertion that the celebrated al-Kindi, called par excellence 'the Philosopher of the Arabs,' was a Jew, is…so absurd as to go near to the discrediting of the whole story.” Nevertheless, the story, “derives some confirmation” from other works.

    Regardless of whether the story is true, its very existence tells us something about the time and place where it originated. It was an era when the shari'a relegated the Jews to the status of “a subject race,” and yet here we have a story where not only is the Jewish character the good guy, but he gets seated in a place of higher precedence than "the prelates of Islam," is waited upon by "descendants of the Prophet" and "other eminent and notable persons," and in the the end, gets the better of his Muslim adversaries. The fact that a prominent scholar like Nizami Arudi, a student of the great Omar Khayyam, included this story in his book shows that not every learned Muslim was characterized by "fanatical zeal" against the Jews.

    Michael Isenberg drinks bourbon and writes novels. His latest book, The Thread of Reason, is a murder mystery that takes place in Baghdad in the year 1092, and tells the story of the conflict between science and shari’ah in medieval Islam. It is available on Amazon.com

    The quotation from Nizami come from Chahar Maqala (The Four Discourses), Edward G. Browne, tr., Mirza Muhammad, ed., London:Luzac & Co., 1921, Anecdote XXII, pp. 64-65.

    Tuesday, October 3, 2017

    Trending in Saudi Arabia

    We baldies don’t want shampoo.

    You can’t make this stuff up. Over the weekend, “We baldies don’t want shampoo” trended in Saudi Arabia. I got no idea who started it or why, but however it got started, many agreed it was a good idea. Shampoo is downright dangerous.

    Others saw it not so much about safety, more like a civil rights issue:

    But @figas_44 thought there are more important issues:

    Several tweeters posted video of a bald man receiving a present:

    @Hananbagazi offered some advice:

    This young lady has my eternal gratitude:

    But perhaps this guy had the best idea:

     

    Michael Isenberg writes about the Muslim world, medieval and modern. His forthcoming novel, The Thread of Reason, is a murder mystery that takes place in Baghdad in the year 1092. It depicts the war for the Muslim soul between those who seek to enforce shari’a strictly, persecute Jews and Christians, and stamp out "un-Islamic" science, and those who wink at a few sins, tolerate their non-Muslim neighbors, and write science books instead of burning them.

    Friday, September 29, 2017

    Mideast Week in Review

    by Michael Isenberg.

  • Baghdadi alive?
  • Iraqi Kurds overwhelmingly vote for secession.
  • Saudi women to be permitted to drive.
  • Palestinian gunman murders three.
  • Egypt arrests seven for displaying rainbow flag.
  • All kneel before Faisal, King of Saudi Arabia, and his little friend Yoda.

    Baghdadi alive? The loathsome ISIS cult may be nearly dead, at least in its present form as a territorial state. However its so-called "caliph," Abu Bakr Baghdadi may still be alive. New audio of a man who sounds like Baghdadi has been posted to an ISIS-affiliated website. In it, the speaker mentions recent events such as North Korean saber-rattling and the Battle for Mosul. Although the US Department of Defense is still analyzing the recording for authenticity, it appears that Russian claims of having killed Baghdadi in a May airstrike are greatly exaggerated.

    Read more—

  • 'New Baghdadi tape' posted by Islamic State group (BBC)

     

    Iraqi Kurds overwhelmingly vote for secession: The Kurdish Autonomous Region held a referendum on Monday on seceding from Iraq and establishing an independent nation. 3.3 million people—73% of the electorate—turned out at the polls. The referendum passed by a whopping 92% of the vote.

    The Kurds are the fourth largest ethnic group in the Middle East (after Arabs, Persians, and Turks) and the only one out of the four without a state of their own.

    The referendum is non-binding and will not lead immediately to independence, but it should give the Kurds considerable leverage to negotiate with Baghdad for their departure.

    The bid for Kurdish independence has almost no support among the governments of the world, especially Turkey and Iran, who worry that their own Kurdish populations will get ideas. Other nations, including the United States, oppose Kurdish independence on the grounds that it will be destabilizing. One of the few supporters is Israel, which sees in the Kurdish quest for a homeland a reflection of its own cause.

    In a related story, the Turkish and Iraqi armies have begun joint exercises near the Kurdish border.

    Read more—

  • Iraqi Kurds decisively back independence in referendum (BBC)
  • Kexit? Iraqi Kurdistan referendum explained (BBC)
  • Now trending: Kurdistan (Michael Isenberg)

     

    Saudi women to be permitted to drive: The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia—notorious for its restrictions on the freedom of women—announced a historic reversal of policy on Tuesday: starting next June, the gentle sex will be allowed to drive.

    Around the kingdom, and around the world, women took to social media to celebrate. Many activists tempered their jubilation with caution: women still have a long way to go in the kingdom. In particular, the “guardianship” system still persists. Under this system, women need permission from their male custodians to travel, marry, start businesses, and many other common activities.

    Read more—

  • Saudi Arabia Agrees to Let Women Drive (NYT)
  • Women to drive in Saudi Arabia: Twitter goes bonkers (Michael Isenberg)

     

    Palestinian gunmen murders three: On a sadder note, a Palestinian man, identified as 37-year-old Nimer Jamal, shot and killed two Israeli security guards and a border policeman at the gate of the Har Adar Jewish settlement in the West Bank. The Information Office of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah Party blamed Israel.

    Read more—

  • Palestinian gunman kills three Israelis in West Bank (BBC)

     

    Egypt arrests seven for displaying rainbow flag: The government of President Abdel Fattah this week continued to pile up its abysmal human rights record. In the latest incident, seven individuals were arrested for “promoting sexual deviancy” after raising the LGBT rainbow flag at a Cairo concert.

    Read more—

  • Seven arrested in Egypt after raising rainbow flag at concert (BBC)

     

    All kneel before Faisal, King of Saudi Arabia, and his little friend Yoda: In an embarrassment to the Ministry of Education, the Saudi government released a textbook that included a photo of King Faisal signing the UN charter in 1945, while seated next to Jedi Master Yoda, of Star Wars fame. Analysts believe the picture has been photoshopped. The BBC reported that education minister Ahmad al-Isa called it an “unintended mistake.” No word yet on how it happened.

    Read more—

  • Saudi textbook features image of Yoda with King Faisal (BBC)

    Michael Isenberg writes about the Muslim world, medieval and modern. His forthcoming novel, The Thread of Reason, is a murder mystery that takes place in Baghdad in the year 1092. It depicts the war for the Muslim soul between those who seek to enforce shari’a strictly, persecute Jews and Christians, and stamp out "un-Islamic" science, and those who wink at a few sins, tolerate their non-Muslim neighbors, and write books about science instead of burning them.

    Photo credit: BBC/Shaweesh/Gharem Studio

  • Thursday, September 28, 2017

    Women to drive in Saudi Arabia

    Twitter goes bonkers.

    The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia—notorious for its restrictions on the freedom of women—announced a historic change on Tuesday: starting next June, the gentle sex will be allowed to drive.

    Around the kingdom, and around the world, women took to Twitter to celebrate.

    A bunch of people posted this awesome video:

    Some speculated what the roads would be like in a kingdom where segregation of the sexes was still the law of the land:

    Others wondered, now that women were mobile, why the hell they’d stay in Saudi Arabia:

    Of course, social conservatives were unhappy, and announced their intention to put their foot down where their own wives and daughters were concerned. And so, #The_harem_of_my_house_won’t_drive hashtag was born.

    Naturally, these assholes invoked the usual sexist stereotypes:

    But such tweets soon became hard to find as harem_of_my_house was hashjacked by the forces of modernity:

    I’m uncertain whether the gratitude to “Uncle Trump” was sincere or sarcastic.

    I had a little trouble with the translation on this one:

    I did okay with the first line, “#The_harem_of_my_house_will_not_drive Harem?! Hahahahahahaha.” But, stuck on the second line, I tweeted the author and asked her what it meant. Her reply:

    I’m not sure if that’s the actual translation, or she was merely giving me advice :-)

    Many took the trouble to thank the king for his decree:

    But as my friend Ammar Anwer pointed out, the real heroes, “are the brave Secular activists, who are either put behind bars, like Raif Badawi, or compelled to leave the country for their own safety. It is a moment to congratulate them, not the totalitarian Extremist dynasty.”

    You may recall Raif Badawi; I wrote about him previously. Mr. Badawi is a blogger who was sentenced to 10 years in prison and a thousand lashes (he’s received 50 so far) for “insulting Islam.” The last I heard, his wife had had no word from him for over a year. Needless to say, he’s been unable to comment on Tuesday’s news. But the Raif Badawi Foundation tweeted on his behalf:

    Among the activists who have been driven out of the country is Manal al-Sharif. In 2011, Ms. Sharif posted video of herself driving. She was arrested, lost custody of her son, and was publicly shamed. During a sermon at a mosque—with her father in the congregation—the imam called her a whore. She now lives in Australia but says she looks forward to driving in her home country. She posted this cartoon about what would happen to all the men, many of them foreign, who are currently employed as chauffeurs for the women of Saudi Arabia:

    On a more serious note, Ms. Sharif pointed out that the women of Saudi Arabia still have a long way to go. In particular, the “guardianship” laws are still in place. According to the BBC, under these laws,

    There are many things women must ask the men in their lives for permission to do. These things include, but are not limited to:

  • Applying for passports
  • Travelling abroad
  • Getting married
  • Opening a bank account
  • Starting certain businesses
  • Getting elective surgery
  • Leaving prison
  • So Ms. Sharif and her allies have their work cut out for them.

    One of those allies, who I also wrote about previously is Loujain Hathloul. Like Ms. Sharif, she was arrested—and held for two and half months without charges—for posting video of herself driving. Her response to Tuesday’s news was eloquent and succinct:

    Michael Isenberg writes about the Muslim world, medieval and modern. His forthcoming novel, The Thread of Reason, is a murder mystery that takes place in Baghdad in the year 1092. It depicts the war for the Muslim soul between those who seek to enforce shari’a strictly, persecute Jews and Christians, and stamp out "un-Islamic" science, and those who wink at a few sins, tolerate their non-Muslim neighbors, and write books about science instead of burning them.

    Tuesday, September 26, 2017

    I’m shocked—SHOCKED—to find there are women here

    Saudi Arabia is in an uproar: the government allowed women into King Fahd stadium this weekend.

    The occasion was National Day—the anniversary of the founding of the kingdom in 1932. Although the women who joined the celebration in the stadium and other venues were suitably covered in black abayas, in accord with the law of the land, many Saudis were nevertheless outraged, and #Patriotism_is_not_Sin began to trend:

    Some thought even without women in the picture, the celebration lacked sufficient decorum:

    Many thought they knew the problem: last year the government scaled back the powers of the infamous Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice. If only the Committee could once again arrest people for using the wrong gender entry to the mall or playing musical instruments in public, rather than merely report these infractions of shari'a to the police, society would no longer be on the verge of collapse, what with women going to stadiums and all. And so #The_People_Demand_the_Return_of_the_Committe became a thing.

    Others had more fun with the impending breakdown of civilization:

    Meanwhile, in neighboring Abu Dhabi, they sat back and enjoyed the show:

    Michael Isenberg writes about the Muslim world, medieval and modern. His forthcoming novel, The Thread of Reason, is a murder mystery that takes place in Baghdad in the year 1092. It depicts the war for the Muslim soul between those who seek to enforce shari’a strictly, persecute Jews and Christians, and stamp out "un-Islamic" science, and those who wink at a few sins, tolerate their non-Muslim neighbors, and write science books instead of burning them.

    Monday, September 25, 2017

    Now trending: Kurdistan

    Today is referendum day in Kurdish northern Iraq. Some four million voters turned out to weigh in on whether to secede from the country and establish an independent nation. The Kurds are the fourth largest ethnic group in the Middle East (after Arabs, Persians, and Turks) and the only one out of the four without a state of their own. The referendum is non-binding and will not lead immediately to independence, but if it passes, it should give the Kurds considerable leverage to negotiate with Baghdad for their departure.

    In many parts of the region, a festive atmosphere has reigned for days:

    On Twitter, #Kurdistan is trending.

    Just as in the west, many want to broadcast their votes:

    I couldn’t tell if this voter was giving the finger to independence or to someone who voted against it. The caption wasn’t much help, but it’s nice to know that some gestures are universal.

    Many wish the Kurds well:

    Nevertheless, the bid for Kurdish independence has almost no support among the governments of the world, especially Turkey and Iran, who worry that their own Kurdish populations will get ideas.

    Some find significance in the decision of the Turkish and Iraqi armies to begin joint exercises near the Kurdish border today:

    Israel is one of the few nations that have announced support for Kurdish independence. Many welcome this,

    But others see something sinister, as in this loathsome anti-Semitic cartoon:

    Incidentally, despite being depicted as sitting next to Israel at the feast, the US government opposes independence.

    Julian Assange, of Wikileaks fame, posted this cartoon:

    It depicts the Kurdish nation, pierced by the arrows of Iraq, Turkey, ISIS, Iran, and a few others I don’t recognize. Nevertheless, the Kurds persist and climb the ladder of freedom out of the abyss and into the sunlight.

    As we await the results of the vote, I hope that proves prophetic.

    Michael Isenberg writes about the Muslim world, medieval and modern. His forthcoming novel, The Thread of Reason, is a murder mystery that takes place in Baghdad in the year 1092. It depicts the war for the Muslim soul between those who seek to enforce shari’a strictly, persecute Jews and Christians, and stamp out "un-Islamic" science, and those who wink at a few sins, tolerate their non-Muslim neighbors, and write science books instead of burning them.