- Scandinavians and the boons of empire Miles Macallister, Aeon
- Europe’s populists are waltzing into the mainstream the Economist
- Toughing it out in Cairo Yasmine El Rashidi, NY Review of Books
- Knowledge of the Holocaust Bart van der Boom, OUPblog
Many notable, and many more unnotable, commentators will swear by Islam’s “violent penchant.” They don’t care for nuance. They don’t care for facts. Instead, they adhere to the old principle of repeating something often enough until it becomes true.
I think there is an issue with Sunni Arabs and cultural chauvinism (the Qur’an is supposed to be memorized in the Arabic language only, for example) masquerading as religion. I think religion itself is mentally and emotionally abusive. Yet I am confident in stating matter-of-factly that there is no penchant for violence in Islam. Each instance of violence perpetrated by an Islamist can be explained by his or her political, or better yet institutional, situation. Islamism is, after all, a relatively new political paradigm that has arisen only with the advent of the nation-state in the Middle East.
Incidentally, these same detractors – the ones who repeat themselves over and over again – are also hawks when it comes to Russia. If I am not mistaken, Russia is a Christian nation (with a few exceptions along its peripheries) and unofficially a Christian state (did anyone catch the Patriarch’s recent speech to the Duma?). The Russian state is violent and aggressive. Russian society is violent and parochial. Moscow routinely violates individual rights. Because the vast majority of Russian citizens support the aggressiveness of both the Russian state and the Russian communities in post-Soviet space, this means that all Christians are violent and aggressive, right?
That is the title of this piece by Barnaby Rogerson in the Spectator. There are three beautiful pieces of medieval art (two Persian and one Turkish), and those alone are worth the price of the click. There is, of course, a short essay explaining why there is now so much resistance to depicting Mohammed in art (of both the high and low brow variety). Check it out:
Whatever the heritage of their medieval past, Sunni Islam — in the Arab-speaking Middle East — had decisively turned its back on depictions of the Prophet well before the 18th-century emergence of Wahhabism. Once again there are no definite answers. It may have been a gut reaction to the magnificent art produced by their Iranian Shiite rivals but it also reflects a very real fear that Mohammed was slowly being turned into a demi-god and that in the process his actual prophetic message would be ignored. This was especially true in the far eastern frontiers of Islam, such as India and Indonesia (numerically the two largest Muslim nations in the world) with their ancient syncretic traditions. So the attack on imagery can also be seen to have a constructive element embedded within it, concentrating all attention on the text of the Koran and reinforcing the Arab nature of that revelation.
Take this as you will. My instinct is to suspect “the Arab nature of that revelation” as the initial reason for this change in Islamic aesthetics. That is to say, I suspect that a medieval notion of Arab chauvinism is responsible for the shift.