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October 18, 2006

Waifs and strays
Posted by Patrick at 04:43 PM *

Right-wing zoophile Rick Santorum embarrasses Tolkien fans everywhere by explaining how things are swell in Iraq because “as the hobbits are going up Mount Doom, the Eye of Mordor is being drawn somewhere else…I want to keep it on Iraq. I don’t want the Eye to come back here to the United States.” Matt McIrvin, unlike me, has the patience to explain why this is insane.

Remember the astonishing Sony Bravia ad with the thousands of colored balls bouncing down San Francisco streets? Sequel here.

One of the nice things about being the Empire is the privilege of stupidity. Okay, it’s not like anyone important doesn’t know the difference between Sunni and Shiite Islam. Just the top FBI guy in charge of national security, and a bunch of major Republican congressional committee chairs. Nothing to worry about. Remember, these are the people Joe Klein, Mickey Kaus, Joe Leiberman, and the people who run your national media consider “serious.” Knowing actual facts is boring.

I don’t know who sent me the 2007 John Jude Palencar calendar, but thanks very much to whomever did. Like this year’s Hugo winner, Donato Giancola, Palencar gets contemporary effects by deploying an old-fashioned, almost lush illustrator’s sensibility in startling ways. He’s way overdue to win the field’s major awards.

Comments on Waifs and strays:
#1 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2006, 04:53 PM:

"Knowing actual facts is boring."

More than that, it's well known that facts have a liberal bias.

#2 ::: Skwid ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2006, 05:06 PM:

The sad truth is that Tolkien lends itself extremely easily to conservative metaphors because it oftentimes reads as one (all that is magical and pure is fading from the world, and only by returning to an ancient ruling line and traditional ways will things be saved, at least for a time). I know several folks who have problems with it for just that attitude, actually.

That doesn't make Senator Frothy Mix any less of an asshat for that particular analogy, mind you.

I have to admit that I have trouble remembering which is which on the Sunni/Shiite division, though I know what the split was about. I know if it were even remotely related to my job, though, I would freakin' study the subject until I couldn't forget it...

#3 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2006, 05:09 PM:

Tolkien was an actual conservative, unlike most people who have claimed the "conservative" mantle in the last hundred years or so.

#4 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2006, 05:10 PM:

Let's see, without looking them up...

Iran is mostly Shiite, Iraq mostly Sunni. I seem to recall that Iran is unique in being mostly Shiite, too, so most Islamic nations should be mostly Sunni.

Hm. The difference between them dates back to a dispute over who should have been Mohammed's successor (or maybe his successor's successor), but I don't remember the details.

The Shia revere someone named (I think) Hassan, who was assassinated (I think in a mosque), and have a holiday commemorating the assassination where men wound themselves. I don't remember whether Hassan was supposed to be the guy the Shia think should have been Mohammed's successor.

And I've got a vague image of Sunni clergy wearing green. Green turbans, I think. And Shiite clergy wearing black turbans.

Mmf. I should go look this stuff up.

#5 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2006, 05:16 PM:

OK, it was Ali ibn Abu Talib who was assassinated, not Hassan. Don't put me in charge of Homeland Security.

#6 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2006, 05:16 PM:

OK, at the risk of seeming pig-ignorant, is there really a big difference in their fundamental religious beliefs? Or is it just about which successor to the Prophet (pbuh) their ancestors followed?

Is "what's the difference between a Shi'ite and a Sunni" really a fair question? Which groups are which, now that's fair. I know they have centuries of conflict in their past, I know which groups are which sect, and I know the difference is quasi-ethnic (there are Shia names and Sunni names). Do I need to know the details of their belief differences, if there are any?

If you know that the Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland hate each other; that they have many decades of violent conflict in their past; that Paisleyites are a violent Protestant group and the IRA is a violent Catholic group, and that the difference is quasi-ethnic (there are Catholic names and Protestant names), does it really matter that Catholics believe that transubstantiation is literal and Protestants that it's symbolic? I mean, who cares?

#7 ::: Tully ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2006, 05:18 PM:

Matt McIrvin, unlike me, has the patience to explain why this is insane.

For one thing, we're lacking in hobbits.

#8 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2006, 05:19 PM:

And Husayn has the commemoration, not either Ali or Hassan.

I'm gonna stop now.

#9 ::: meredith ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2006, 05:29 PM:

Thank you for giving me something pretty and shiny to look at (the ad). I needed something to distract me from the overwhelming urge to drive an ice pick through my eye. (Gods, that must have been a PAIN to clean up!!)

I have to say, though, that my favorite commercial at the moment is this one. It's so wonderfully surreal.

#10 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2006, 05:30 PM:

The really big difference between JRRT and the average in-power Republican, frothy or otherwise, is that Tolkien volunteered to go to war.

And then, 20 years later, he saw his son go to war, and it really was a war against evil, against a new dark age.

There are parts of Tolkien that I can only dimly grasp at second or third-hand, through my Grandfather's experiences. Passchendaele and the Dead Marshes, the glimpses of an understandable humanity in the orcs, contrasting with the slaughter of battle: my Grandfather seemed to have more respect for the Germans than for the French, and yet could be "bowling them over like skittles" with a Lewis Gun.

As for "ancient ruling lines" and "traditional ways", America has George Washington and elections, and I think Britain could do worse than reverse Tony Blair's descent from an hereditary peerage to the current cronyism.

#11 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2006, 05:32 PM:

It's not the differences in religious beliefs that's important, it's the relative proportion of each belief within the population. Iran is 80-90 percent Shi'a, while Iraq is 20 percent Sunni, 15 percent Kurd and Turkomen and other, and the balance Shi'a.

Don't hold me to those numbers, please; the point is the potential religious alliances with other countries in the neighborhood should have an effect on policy-making.

#12 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2006, 05:43 PM:

I don't remember where I read this, so treat as apocryphal until sourced:

Before the war, or early on, George Bush was given a briefing on Iraq. Part of it concerned relations between Shi'a and Sunni.

After listening a bit, he asked (paraphrasing): "Wait, I thought they were muslims over there."

#13 ::: Michael ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2006, 05:44 PM:

Xopher:OK, at the risk of seeming pig-ignorant, is there really a big difference in their fundamental religious beliefs? Or is it just about which successor to the Prophet (pbuh) their ancestors followed?

OK, the class was 15 years back, but I'll take a crack at it. The differences are bizarrely similar to the differences between Catholics and Baptists in that they have to do with structure and governance.

The Sunnis believe that the ulemma, or community of believers as a whole, can make good decisions for the community. They are fundie democrats, or at least republicans since they rely on wise elders to determine what the ulemma thinks. This is similar to the Baptists in the SBC or the American Rebel colonists.

The Shi'ites believe in a chain of authority from Mohammed, screwed up by assassinatory Sunnis about the time of Mo's grandson. They are the one true original faith and the rest are mostly rationalizing to make up for killing their real leader. They are similar to Catholics and American Royalist colonists.

So, the answer to your question is "yes and no, or perhaps maybe, depending on what you really mean." Does that vague it up enough?

#14 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2006, 05:46 PM:

Is it possible that the buildings in the Brevia ad were slated for demolition? The stairwell shot screamed "public housing."

#15 ::: Giacomo ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2006, 05:49 PM:

#4: Iran is mostly Shiite, Iraq mostly Sunni.

Wrong. Iraq is majority Shiite, but the educated ruling class in Baghdad has often been Sunni (like Saddam was). To keep things quiet, the cunning dictator downplayed the religious thing, preferring basic nationalism and pseudo-socialist propaganda that could appeal to Shiites too. More or less like Tito downplayed the ethnic divisions to keep Yugoslavia together. This is Middle-East 101, folks.

Notice that, by humiliating Saddam, the nationalist-militaristic concept now carries an element of shame in iraqi minds, like it did in fascist countries after WWII. Weak nationalism means a weak army, and in "hot" places like middle-east, a weak army means a weak state. Not a single country ever fought wars for "liberal democracy" (not even NorthAmerica, sorry), they all did for nationalistic or economic interests... that's another reason why the current exercise in Iraq is doomed.

#16 ::: Kiwi C. ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2006, 05:50 PM:

You know, I really didn't enjoy that ad. I know they cleaned up after themselves, but it just felt like wholesale vandalism to me. Could they completely clean up the trees and grass? There was probably a lot of residue for a long time afterwards. Bleah. What an unappealing mess.

#17 ::: Lisa Goldstein ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2006, 05:52 PM:

But -- but -- if Iraq is the place where the Eye of Mordor is looking, and the United States is the place where it isn't looking, then that makes the United States Mount Doom. But no one in the United States is making anywhere near the heroic effort the hobbits made, or is even sacrificing in any way -- except in Iraq. Boy, I'm confused.

I hate this argument anyway. Santorum and his ilk are saying that it's okay for people to die and sh*t to get blown up in Iraq, as long as we're all right.

#18 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2006, 05:55 PM:

Giacomo, I should have remembered that. I've read about how one of the benefits Iran's gotten out of the US ousting Saddam is that Iraq's gone from being a Sunni-dominated country to a Shiite-dominated one.

#19 ::: Adam Lipkin ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2006, 06:02 PM:

The good news is, if Electoral Vote.com is correct, Santorum will soon shift from embarassing the entire state of Pennsylvania to only embarrassing his immediate family.

#20 ::: Neil Willcox ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2006, 06:08 PM:

Xopher @#6,

Agreed, but, following your analogy, you should at least be able to say "The Catholic religion is lead by the Pope; Protestants don't follow the Pope". You might also want to follow the strand of Marxist thinking that went into the IRA.

Off the top of my head, which seems to be the challenge, there are many hadith which are the interpretations and rulings on the Koran differ between Shi'a and Sunni; also the descendants of the prophet are revered as saints by the Shi'a tradition.

Which, I have to admit, is pretty poor for someone who wants to follow world affairs in 2006.

#21 ::: Neil Willcox ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2006, 06:11 PM:

"yes and no, or perhaps maybe, depending on what you really mean."

That was my original answer, but better phrased.

#22 ::: Nathan ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2006, 06:35 PM:

Stefan Jones,

I guarantee it was something scheduled for demolition. I'm a Location Manager for film/tv and the whole time I was watching it I was seething with jealousy for whoever got to manage that commercial.

Drool, Drool.....

BTW, if anyone in NY area needs to blow up some 20ish story buildings (apartment type), I've got the location for you. (Don't know if they'd want to be paint bombed, though)

#23 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2006, 06:43 PM:

Nathan,

It was a housing estate in Glasgow that was being demolished. I remember reading about it at the time on BoingBoing and wondering how it would turn out.

I prefer the superballs, because they make me homesick for San Francisco. In a good way.

#24 ::: Pantechnician ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2006, 06:56 PM:

Santorum is actually just testing the waters in hopes of somehow getting his LotR fanfiction published.

#25 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2006, 07:01 PM:

Notice that, by humiliating Saddam, the nationalist-militaristic concept now carries an element of shame in iraqi minds, like it did in fascist countries after WWII. Giacomo at 15, this is a really good point, one I hadn't spent time thinking about before, but will...

It rings true. And adds yet another degree of complication to Bushco's simplistic dreams (I can't call them plans, they weren't) of Iraq as a democratic state.

#26 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2006, 08:04 PM:

"because they make me homesick for San Francisco"

I was down in the Bay Area over the weekend; actually, until yesterday morning. My sister was out there for a pit bull rehabilitation conference. After visiting friends and family we walked around Berkeley and hiked in the hills over Oakland.

At dusk, looking down and out over the Bay and at the twinkling slopes of SF, you realize why people build houses up there, despite the stands of highly flammable eucalyptus.

* * *

Hmmm. The SF superball release could make a nice yearly event. Perhaps scheduled for the same day as Bay to Breakers, to give families something Kid Safe to go to.

#27 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2006, 08:17 PM:

"a pit bull rehabilitation conference???"

Quoting Yakov Smirnov, "What a country!"

#28 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2006, 08:35 PM:

JRRT was a classic country Tory who believed that the true England was rural and its true values were those of the sixteenth-century squirearchy. His hatred of the modern world was the result, I think, of his reaction to the slaughter of WWI.

#29 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2006, 08:38 PM:

Dave Bell i understand completely how your grandfather could have more respect for the Germans, and still bowl them over like skittles.

I don't think I can explain it to you, but it's a truism among soldiers, we like each other.

And enemies have a certain respect, for both the struggle, and the dying/killing, in a way that allies can't. Allies may help you out in a jam; then again they may let you down (and things like the Somme were undertaken to relieve pressure from the French). An enemy may kill you, he may spare you, but you usually know where you stand. In a thing where the lines are stable, a modus vivendi will come to be (I recall a tale of some germans being told they had to lob some shells at the Brits, because their sector of the line was too quiet, so they sent rocks over, with notes, telling the Tommies to tuck in at whatever time it was, apologising that they were going to spoil their suppers).

#30 ::: sdn ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2006, 08:40 PM:

i got that calendar, too, as did my art director. maybe it was sent to everyone jjp has worked with?

#31 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2006, 08:49 PM:

I wonder if there will shortly be a new version of LoTR with a new hobbit, Rick Murotnas, who becomes a real comedy sidekick.

#32 ::: Raven ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2006, 09:39 PM:

I assume Rick Santorum saw the LOTR movies, which early on show Sauron's agents using alternative interrogation techniques on Gollum, and later show Sauron's armed forces conducting a "shock and awe" assault on Minas Tirith, as well as Frodo being kept in a prison outside Mordor's main valley, where he is stripped and ... does any of this sound familiar in a mundane political context?

Just who really is behaving like Sauron here?

#33 ::: Matt McIrvin ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2006, 10:09 PM:

In related but stupid news, "Santorum" is an anagram of "Sauron™".

#34 ::: Matt McIrvin ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2006, 10:10 PM:

Damn, should have checked the page encoding before posting that joke.

#35 ::: SusanD ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2006, 10:14 PM:

So George and Dick are Frodo and Sam? That is wrong in so many ways.

#36 ::: little light ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2006, 10:35 PM:

This sorta breaks my heart. I always expect this community to be full of people who know all sorts of things, and who can answer just about any question when they come together. ...I guess that means it's my turn to step up. I'm an Islamicist; here are the basic-basics.

There's a debate as to who took over for Muhammad when he died. One faction recalled him entrusting his close friend Abu Bakr with stewardship of the fledgling Muslim community, and both listened to his sermons and backed him as a temporal leader because he was loyal and trustworthy and qualified. Another faction recalled something Muhammad had said to his adopted son 'Ali, who was a relative anyway and who'd married Muhammad's daughter and thus was producing a line of blood succession, that his religious authority would pass on in that way.

These are two kinds of authority. Abu Bakr's followers thought of him as a khalifah, a Caliph--that is, a sort of viceregent whose job it is to speak for the community as a whole and look after its temporal needs. Ali's followers thought of him, and his sons and grandsons and so on, as Imams--people given the spiritual authority of the Prophet, a sort of divine insight into what the Qur'an really means and what God wants from people. (This is very different from what eventually became the Sunni concept of "imam," which is to say, "a learned person in the community who can be trusted to lead a congregation in prayer.")

Various members of both the Prophet's family and the community split up, and there was fighting over it. The authority of Caliph changed hands a couple of times with the death of Abu Bakr and then his successor, another friend of Muhammad's. Mu'awiyah, the new guy, stepped things up while fighting with 'Ali's followers and sent assassins. 'Ali and his wife Fatima and their children and everyone there were killed, messily.

At this point the territorial dispute got very, very ugly. 'Ali's followers, who were to become the Shi'a, saw Abu Bakr's followers as the murderers of the Prophet's entire bloodline. They fought, but they also went their own way, and some of them told stories about a grandson who'd escaped, a little boy who went into hiding to nurse his status as Imam and one day return. They found new ways to work out who was an Imam and thus worth following. There are various factions based on who worked this out in what way, most of them quite small.
Meanwhile, Abu Bakr's crew, the eventual Sunnis, saw the Shi'a as cultish and obsessed with splinter theology and willing to give human beings divine authority even after the Last Prophet--which borders on the greatest Muslim sin of associating things which are not God with God and sets up flesh-and-blood people in dangerous positions. They went their own way, too, and happened to win out in a lot of ways in terms of temporal power and conversion, and far outnumber all of the Shi'a factions combined, today.

This is a huge difference. One reason: Sunnis don't, properly, have clergy. They have scholars of jurisprudence, who interpret religious law and make pronouncements based on their debated opinions; they have local preachers; they have teachers of religious schools; sure. They don't have a hierarchy. There's no Pope and no Church. A Sunni like, say, bin Laden can make pronouncements about God's Commandments till he's blue in the face, and there's no reason for any other Sunni to listen to him unless they respect him for other reasons. Shi'ites are different. There's hierarchy based on divinely-inspired ability to interpret and intermediate, much more like the Catholic Church, though again with no Pope. There are structures for who gets to say what authoritatively. It changes how you deal with who, and who you do your dealings with.

There's also huge and justified bitterness between the two communities, and in various places, some of one have massacred some of the other over and over. It all gets mixed up, too, with who of which ended up, over the years, integrating more Greek philosophy or got more mystical or syncretized more with local cults, and there's big divisions within both Sunni and Shi'a. Add to that that the original Qur'an, hastily taken down from oral dictation in classical Arabic, has no vowels, and that the two groups spent a long time Not Speaking and now have differing interpretation of a number of key verses, and you've got a good solid schism.

Does this-all help?

#37 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2006, 11:13 PM:

Little light, it helps a whole lot; but... could you explain the wahabist movement? Just because no-one ever does, and I've gotten the impression that it's behind a lot oof the contemporary conflict within Muslim societies?

#38 ::: Raven ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2006, 11:18 PM:

Re #33, Matt McIrvin:

This should work:   S A N T O R U M   →   S A U R O N ™

That's using the HTML character ™

#39 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2006, 11:34 PM:

Raven @ 38:

Who has the One Ring, and which volcano should it be thrown into?

#40 ::: FungiFromYuggoth ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2006, 11:34 PM:

I think the importance of understanding the Shiite/Sunni division comes from symbology - if you're ignorant of a country's cultural language and occupying it, you're likely to upset many people quite accidentally. I believe a lot of the sites from the Sunni/Shiite schism little light ably explains are located in Iraq, which leads to some deja vu in some circles.

To use the American analogy, it's important to think twice before shooting unarmed protesters in Boston (even if they're throwing rocks), and I wouldn't want to carry out postwar reconstruction in the South without any awareness of what "Carpetbagger" means to people.

That being said, three years and change on we seem to be in a point where US decision makers can't figure out which side of the divide Al-Qaeda and other players are on. This would be like not being clear which part of Ireland was Catholic-majority and which Protestant. Wackiness ensues.

For some insight into the Wahabbists, I recommend this essay by Zacarias Moussaoui's brother. I'm sure little light can point out some more resources (it looks like it's your turn to be the little neuron that could).

#41 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2006, 11:35 PM:

little light (hmm, I'd almost be willing to guess that you're of Iranian origin and that your real name is Roxane): Yes, that's enormously helpful. Stuff I never knew.

Sometimes you get to be the only one hear who knows about something. Islamic sects are of much more general interest than stratificational linguistics, which was my expert moment.

#42 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2006, 11:58 PM:

Santorum embarrasses Tolkien fans

Gak! I don't know why, but I felt compelled to click on that link. Now I've got stupid all over me. I need a shower. And someone needs a beating.

#43 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2006, 12:21 AM:

I just read that essay by Abd Moussaoui. That's heartbreaking.

#44 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2006, 12:32 AM:

Who has the One Ring, and which volcano should it be thrown into?

Hm, lemme put my stupid helmet on (hat-o-war) and see what it says.... click. click. whir. PING!

It says the One Ring is a small nuke in North Korea and it must be tossed into the volcano that is Iran. When this happens, though, the ground level for several hundred miles will drop at least a hundred feet, killing any and all armies standing there. The helmet advises that it would be best to be standing just outside the gate looking in with pleased astonishment when this happens.

Magic will be swept from the world by this even, to be replaced by plutonium radiation which will turn us into superheroes and supervillians. Dick Cheny will turn into cousin It, Bush will morph into Uncle Fester, and Rumsfeld will emerge as Lurch. Much gnashing of teeth will be done trying to explain why these three figures will turn into secondary characters in a weird TV sitcom, but to no avail. After that series is canceled, the age of Radiation Sitcoms will end and give rise to a new Age of Nanobots with powers equal to magic and superhero radiation but viewed by readers of the time to be "so much more cool than that lame retro stuff". Roaming blobs of nanobots will rule the streets. Arnold Swartzneger will be president at this time due to a constititunal ammendment being passed under the slogan "He couldn't be any worse than what we've had recently". With Hulk Hogan as his vice president, and Andre the Giant as secretary of defence. The appointment of a thought-to-be-dead wrestler-turned-actor will cause major confusion in the nation, even more so when the senate decides to confirm him based on a speach by the Senate Majority Leader that goes, and I quote, "what the hell, why stop now?"

It is during the confirmation vote, when all eyes are on the senate that the nanobots will make their move on the white house. Arnold is turned into a silvery, mercury-type machine with glowing red eyes, who can shape shift, but due to a glitch in the nanobot programming, he can only turn himself into a winged, high-backed, leather chair. The consequences of this are duly noted when during the first battle with nanobot-converted evil-doers, Ahnohld turns into a chair and the Hulkster comments "that isn't helping".

The Hulkster, on the other hand, morphs into a mild mannered scientist being chased by the military, looking for a cure for the nanobot infection that he suffers. When the Hulkster fights super-evil-dudes, he just puts on a bandana and a fake handlebar mustache.

The age of nanotech will soon end when it's realized just how lame a plot device they are. Their fall will be instigate the age of Quantum Devices, which will have power equal to Magic, and Super-Radiation, and Nanomagic, only different in trademarked characters and titles.

But that's a different story altogether.

But that's a different story, all together

#45 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2006, 12:46 AM:

"But that's a different story!" (all together now ... )

#46 ::: Andrew Willett ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2006, 01:27 AM:

Stephen Colbert did a lovely anatomization of the Mordor analogy this evening on the Report--with LOTR movie memorabilia as visual aids and everything! ("And the cave troll is, uh, Ted Kennedy, I guess.") It should show up on YouTube any minute now. I love it that he's so, you know, One of Us.

#47 ::: Keir ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2006, 02:36 AM:


If you know that the Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland hate each other; that they have many decades of violent conflict in their past; that Paisleyites are a violent Protestant group and the IRA is a violent Catholic group, and that the difference is quasi-ethnic (there are Catholic names and Protestant names), does it really matter that Catholics believe that transubstantiation is literal and Protestants that it's symbolic? I mean, who cares?

Given that the earliest Catholic/Protestant violence in Ireland dates back to the 1640's, and that there are Catholic-Tory-Royalist/Protestant-Whig-Parliamentarian features to most of the 17th century wars in the Atlantic Isles, I'd say that understanding of the doctrinal differences is neccesary to understand those wars. I'm not sure that understanding the origins of the Ulster Scots, the Orange Order, the Apprentice Boys of Derry, etc, is needed to understand the paramilitary violence, but it is surely needed to understand the root causes, and fix them.

#48 ::: Andrew Brown ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2006, 02:59 AM:

That ad is really rather glorious, but the most impressive thing is that when I watch it from a British IP address, the slogan at the end spells "colour" right.

#49 ::: Niall McAuley ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2006, 04:43 AM:

Sign of the Times #214: I didn't think clean-ups after those Sony ads would be needed since I just assumed they were computer generated, not filmed.

#50 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2006, 05:07 AM:

I agree with Xopher: I don't mind too much if they think that the Sunni are the followers of Ali and the Shia aren't, as long as they know the following:
that the two sects exist;
that they often don't get on very well;
and which countries have a majority of which sect.

#51 ::: Neil Willcox ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2006, 05:07 AM:

Little Light, that's an excellent summary. I rather think you've proved your own point about people here being able to answer just about any question.

I realised when typing that what I thought I knew mostly came from a discussion between the guy who had the room opposite me at university (his parents were Iranian) and a friend on my physics course (he was a hindu from Manchester, but his knowledge of religion and ideology was extraordinary, which is why I sat next to him in our philosophy lectures). Apart from being ten years ago, this may not have been the best of sources.

#52 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2006, 05:27 AM:

Terry, I've heard very similar stories from my Grandfather (although mostly through my father, rather than directly). And one or two sort-of-similar stories from when German POWs were working on farms, with my father.

(Sidenote: in WW2 the NCOs and other ranks could be put to work, though not on something with a direct military effect. It was one of the reasons why Churchill regretted letting the RAF continue using NCO ranks for pilots and other aircrew. The officers had the free time to organise escape attempts.)

What my father encountered were a lot of rural Germans doing much the same work as he did. And he heard a few stories about the US Army. One of the Germans had cousins in the UK.

So that scene in LotR where Frodo and Sam overhear the orc patrol bitching about Sauron, that fits. And I think it connects with the Scouring of the Shire. There's hints about how Aragorn treats the defeated enemy after the War of the Ring, but there's no mention of any particular charity towards the orcs. But Frodo makes an effort not to continue the killing. They're not orcs in the Shire, and that might make a difference, but the Frodo tempted by the Ring in a different Frodo to the one who fought the Troll.

Of course, in The Silmarillion there's some pretty heavy hints that Elves and Orcs aren't human, theologically, and "Thou shalt not kill" doesn't apply.

#53 ::: Neil in Chicago ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2006, 05:45 AM:

Wait a minute.
We have a clear demonstration here that the distinction between Sunni and Shi'a is relatively obscure to Americans.
OK, I'm not too happy about it, but there it is. But those unevolved anthropoids in Washington have been at this thing for FIVE YEARS AND THEY STILL HAVE NO IDEA?!?!

It just gets worse and worse and worse and worse . . .

#54 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2006, 07:12 AM:

I have Santorum's analogy all figured out:

While the Eye of Sauron (American public opinion) is focused abroad, the hobbits (half-pint intellects Bush and Cheney) are struggling up the side of Mt. Doom (Washington, DC) to throw the One Ring of Power (the US Constitution) into the fire where it was forged, destroying it forever.

#55 ::: NelC ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2006, 07:14 AM:

Actually, I thought this was the sequel to the Bravia ad.

#56 ::: rea ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2006, 07:39 AM:

"I think the importance of understanding the Shiite/Sunni division comes from symbology"

More important, and more practical, is its use in understanding who are natural allies and who are enemies. The Sunni bin Laden isn't likely to be allied with the Shiite government of Iran. The Shiites we've installed as rulers of Iraq, on the other hand, can be expected to be pro-Iranian . . .

#57 ::: Martyn Drake ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2006, 07:42 AM:

As somebody working for the company responsible for the post-production side of of the Sony Bravia ad, here's a link to our page which explains how it was all put together.

http://www.moving-picture.com/sony_paint

Ironically, however, the first I saw of it was on our own web site rather than on television. And no matter how good a TV advert for HD televisions are, I'm not switching over to HD until my 28" widescreen CRT is well beyond repair.

M.

#58 ::: Martyn Drake ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2006, 07:44 AM:

P.S. to my above post - all opinions are my own, etc. and are not necessarily shared, etc.

#59 ::: Steve Buchheit ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2006, 08:00 AM:

So if we're in a LotRs world, I was wondering if that would have made Tommy Franks Aragorn? Then Dick Cheney is Denathor? Geo. Bush is Boromir. Hmm, this is fun. Who is Tom Bombadil, cause I really want to hang with him and Goldberry.

#60 ::: lalouve ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2006, 08:10 AM:

If I recall my theological training correctly - and I'm not an Islamicist, so please correct me if I'm wrong - the Shi'ite also have, by virtue of their background, a theology capable of dealing with loss and oppression. They have almost always been the minority, often oppressed, used to losing conflicts and going on (or down) fighting. This is part of being Shi'ite.

#61 ::: Tim Hall ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2006, 08:18 AM:

Looks like the Eye of Sauron is now focussed on Britain.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/terrorism/story/0,,1925698,00.html?gusrc=rss&feed=1

Thanks a bunch, Neocons. We Brits now get to do red state America's dying for them.

#62 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2006, 08:27 AM:

Steve Buchheit #59: Jimmy and Rosalyn?

#63 ::: John ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2006, 08:44 AM:

OMG, I used to buy those superballs to amuse one of our cats with. He would go nuts in the kitchen watching it ricochet off the floor, counters, ceiling, etc, and try his best to leap up and catch it. Imagining 250,000 of those bouncy little things going everywhere would be mind boggling.

#64 ::: NelC ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2006, 09:02 AM:

#61: You know, I find that Guardian article quite reassuring. None of the Bushite Terr hysteria, just a factual account of how the AQ network (look, they called it a network!) operates in the UK. One can hope that this attitude will propagate up to Cabinet and Prime Ministerial level, and who knows, maybe even across the Atlantic to that white building on Pennsylvania Avenue.

#65 ::: Steve Buchheit ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2006, 09:13 AM:

Tim, no no no. We're fighting them over *there* so we don't have to fight them *here.*

Well, I guess, technically for Bushco, Britain is "over there." Sorry about that.

#66 ::: debcha ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2006, 09:17 AM:

Andrew Brown (#48): That ad is really rather glorious, but the most impressive thing is that when I watch it from a British IP address, the slogan at the end spells "colour" right.

Actually, I watched it from a US IP address, and the slogan at the end still spelled "colour" right (I'm Canadian :). I noticed it also says 'Bravia-advert,' gives a .co.uk address (and, as previously pointed out, it's a Glaswegian housing estate). My guess is that it is meant to be the UK complement of the superball ad (which appears to be intended for the European market).

I find it really astonishing that the visual vocabulary of the architecture and environment are so easily distinguishable as American or British. This was also really clear in the live-action Simpsons opening sequence, which (to my eye) is instantly and unmistakeably British.

#67 ::: colin roald ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2006, 09:29 AM:

#16 ::: Kiwi C. ::: You know, I really didn't enjoy that ad. I know they cleaned up after themselves, but it just felt like wholesale vandalism to me. Could they completely clean up the trees and grass? There was probably a lot of residue for a long time afterwards.

It seems obvious to me that those buildings must have been scheduled for demolition. Since the trees and grass would then be about to be receiving construction equipment anyway, I'm glad to see more use extracted from the buildings before they're thrown away.

I'm just disappointed that it looks like they cheated with CGI. In particular, in the stairwell sequence, a red paint bomb explodes right in front of the camera, out of nothing I can see. Just below and to the left of it, though, there's a suggestive shadow, also apparently cast by nothing. Really looks like they did some digital subtraction there -- wish they hadn't done that.

Oh, yeah, looking at the link Martyn Drake posted, I see they did all kinds of stuff. Oh well. Would have liked it to be real. ("Start with real then doctor extensively" isn't real any more.)

#68 ::: DaveL ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2006, 09:33 AM:

re: #56 rea

It's possible to make too much (or too little) of the importance of religious affiliation in Iraq and elsewhere. There are also the language and ethnic dimensions to consider. Iranians are indeed Shi'ite but they are not Arab and don't speak Arabic. There has historically been a lot of tension on that level.

It is by no means a foregone conclusion that Iraqi Sunnis will be opposed to Iran, and Iraqi Shi'ites allied with it. Things are much more complicated (and confused) than that.

My understanding of Shi'ite organization is that it is more like Eastern Orthodox Christianity, in that it is hierarchical but also "polycephalic." Iranian Ayatollahs don't outrank their Iraqi equivalents, or vice versa.

#69 ::: Alex Cohen ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2006, 10:03 AM:

Shi'ites are different... much more like the Catholic Church, though again with no Pope.

Worth noting that at least one sect of Shi'ites, the Nizari Isma'ilis, do still have an Imam, Aga Khan.

#70 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2006, 10:16 AM:

my Grandfather seemed to have more respect for the Germans than for the French, and yet could be "bowling them over like skittles" with a Lewis Gun.

There is a point, though, where I think any concept of "respect" for you enemy goes out the window. It seems to occur when the other side is percieved to be fighting "unfairly" for some definition of "unfairly".

I remember reading "All's Quiet on the Western Front", and there was this bit about using bayonets with a saw on one edge, and how being seen or caught with such a thing generally got you shot on sight by the other side, rather than taken prisoner. It seems absurd that in a war fought with mustard gas as a standard weapon that a serrated bayonet would be considered unforgivable, but whether factually, historically true or not, it rings true from a human point of view. I think the psychology of the mind that determines what is and is not "fair" is deep in the subconscious, and doesn't neccessarily follow logical rules.

I don't know why, but I'm having this flashback to sometime when I was about 8 years old. My dentist at the time had been a bombadier in a B17 during WW2. And I remember, for some reason, he decided to tell me the story about getting shot down and parachuting into enemy territory. The local people had gotten to them first, and they had just been the target they were bombing, so these people were pissed. One of the civilians ended up running a pitchfork into one of his crew's chest, killing him. And it was soon thereafter that a German officer and small number of enlisted finally arrived in time to save my dentist and what was left of his crew from the raging mob of civilians. My dentist conveyed in not so many words the idea that this officer was basically risking his life to save these americans from the mob.

What this has to do with anything, I'm not sure. But I guess it reflects respect and lack of respect in war. Your milage may vary.

#71 ::: Faren Miller ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2006, 10:40 AM:

Amid the putrid sea of attack ads currently polluting Arizona TV, one by Republicrap Jon Kyl warns against all the terrible things the Muslims want to do to us when they conquer Our Country (while the Dems presumably want to appease them) in terms that sound remarkably like what Bush and his gang of fundamentalists and opportunists are already busy doing. The Middle Eastern schism just adds to my feelings that Tom Paine was right and religion is a blight upon humanity.

In calmer moments I can see some of its benefits (artworks, charities, etc.), but Religion + Militance still seems to be a formula for absolute disaster.

#72 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2006, 10:43 AM:

I think the formula can be reduced to

N + militance = absolute disaster

for most values of N.

#73 ::: Steven Gould ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2006, 10:45 AM:

Isn't Palencar Artist GoH at this years World Fantasy Con?

#74 ::: Ken MacLeod ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2006, 11:00 AM:

Xopher, #6:
If you know that the Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland hate each other; that they have many decades of violent conflict in their past; that Paisleyites are a violent Protestant group and the IRA is a violent Catholic group, and that the difference is quasi-ethnic (there are Catholic names and Protestant names), does it really matter that Catholics believe that transubstantiation is literal and Protestants that it's symbolic? I mean, who cares?

Don't get me wrong; I appreciate the goodwill behind this statement, and I realise it's tangential to the thread, and I'm no expert on Northern Ireland; but while it's true that you don't need to understand the theological differences to understand the conflict, the points about what you do need to understand are a little misleading.

Catholics and Protestants in NI do not hate each other, generally speaking. They don't have many decades of violent conflict in their past, unless you mean the three decades of the Troubles. The Paisleyites are not a violent Protestant group - the Democratic Unionist Party, the party headed by Ian Paisley, is the largest party in terms of votes and elected politicians in the Protestant community, and is neither prone to violence nor led by former members of military or paramilitary organizations. The IRA was certainly violent, and its members mostly Catholic, but to call it 'a violent Catholic group' is misleading in that its ideology wasn't Catholicism but Irish Republicanism (which has, to be sure, been swayed in various ways over the decades by Catholic social doctrine (not to mention fascism and communism) and its very largely Catholic base of support, but which is basically a national revolutionary democratic ideology which claims its origins in the largely Protestant United Irishmen of the 18th century). To say that 'the difference is quasi-ethnic (there are Catholic names and Protestant names)' is kinda sorta getting somewhere, in that it's a national conflict: a conflict between the mainly Protestant minority in the north-east who opposed Irish Home Rule and (later) Independence, and the mainly Catholic majority who came to support both; and who historically respectively supported and opposed Partion as the long-term solution. The NI Catholics are the minority of that majority who fell on the other side of the Partition line. (Names are one indicator of religious/community origin, but not altogether reliable.)

Of course there's lots more to say but that would only make sound complicated.

#75 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2006, 11:13 AM:

As to respecting the enemy, my father, who fought in the Western desert and the Pacific in WWII, had a great deal of time for the Italians, whom he saw as peaceable decent people driven against their will into conflict. He had Italian friends whom he had nursed in PoW hospitals with whom he corresponded, as late as my teens. On the other hand, he hated the Japanese with a pure, coruscating, outraged hatred. He'd have been all in favour of dropping at least a couple dozen nukes on them, and hanging the Emperor into the bargain, plus every single one of them who'd ever been in any way involved in running prisoner of war camps. But then again, he'd also nursed the Allied ex-PoW's out of those camps. He was wrong, but the feeling was honestly acquired.

#76 ::: Raven ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2006, 11:24 AM:

Re #39, P J Evans:   Who has the One Ring, and which volcano should it be thrown into?

Part 1, with a hat tip to Andrew Sullivan:
(bumper sticker)   "Frodo has failed — Bush has the Ring"
(an alternative version starts, "The Fellowship has failed"....)

Part 2 depends on Election Day.   So vote if you can!

#77 ::: Josh Jasper ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2006, 11:41 AM:

As we know,
There are known Muslims.
There are Muslims we know we know.
We also know
There are known unknown Muslims.
That is to say
We know there are some Muslims
We do not know.
But there are also unknown unknowns Muslims,
The ones we don't know
We don't know.

- Ronald Dumbsfeld

#78 ::: FungiFromYuggoth ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2006, 12:10 PM:

For some reason, I keep thinking of Sauron giving a speech at the ruined base of the tower of Barad-dur (a few days later, when things are safe and the armies have left).

"We thought that mountains would protect us..."

#79 ::: Joe ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2006, 12:14 PM:

Geez, I cant stand these types of comparisons, as much as I love LOTR, I dont see it pertaining to a real life event like the war.

#80 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2006, 12:22 PM:

Eye of Mordor is upon you
All the livelong day...

#81 ::: Raven ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2006, 12:40 PM:

Re #77, Josh Jasper:

I couldn't help but think of Rumsfeld's known knowns, known unknowns, and unknown unknowns when I read this extended riff in Lemony Snicket's The End.   (No plot spoilers here, and I hope Mr. Snicket's handlers will excuse one paragraph as "fair use.")

The phrase "in the dark," as I'm sure you know, can refer not only to one's shadowy surroundings, but also to the shadowy secrets of which one might be unaware.   Every day, the sun goes down over all these secrets, and so everyone is in the dark one way or another.   If you are sunbathing in a park, for instance, but you do not know that a locked cabinet is buried fifty feet beneath your blanket, then you are in the dark even though you are not actually in the dark, whereas if you are on a midnight hike, knowing full well that several ballerinas are following close behind you, then you are not in the dark even if you are in fact in the dark.   Of course, it is quite possible to be in the dark in the dark, as well as to be not in the dark not in the dark, but there are so many secrets in the world that it is likely that you are always in the dark about one thing or another, whether you are in the dark in the dark or in the dark not in the dark, although the sun can go down so swiftly that you may be in the dark about being in the dark in the dark, only to look around and find yourself no longer in the dark about being in the dark in the dark, but in the dark in the dark nonetheless, not only because of the dark, but because of the ballerinas in the dark, who are not in the dark about the dark, but also not in the dark about the locked cabinet, and you may be in the dark about the ballerinas digging up the locked cabinet in the dark, even though you are no longer in the dark about being in the dark, and so you are in fact in the dark about being in the dark, even though you are not in the dark about being in the dark, and so you may fall into the hole that the ballerinas have dug, which is dark, in the dark, and in the park.
Now I have deep dark suspicions about who wrote Mr. Rumsfeld's speech for him; it may quite possibly have been one of his handlers, but the public is usually left in the dark on such matters, even though the briefings are in fact usually quite well lit.

Not wishing to be left in the dark on this matter any more, I intend to query Mr. Snicket's editor, typesetter, and proofreader, the next time I visit them, which (very conveniently for my travel budget) will in the same quite restful home for the mentally troubled and physically eyestrained, where they, quite coincidentally, all retired immediately after working on this book.

#82 ::: Janet Brennan Croft ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2006, 12:44 PM:

Joe, there's a big difference between allegorical readings, which Santorum is so ineptly trying to do, and applicability. The War of the Rings is applicable because we can think about what Tolkien had to say about leading from behind, about treatment of prisoners, about demonizing the enemy, about conducting a war for the right reasons, about the possibility of losing everything, about the risks of pure pacifism, about the dangers of vastly powerful weapons and the temptations of power, and then apply what we take away from the book to real life. But we can't and shouldn't force a one-on-one allegorical reading where this equals that. (Which said, James D. MacDonald's gloss on Santorum's allegory at #54 is going right up on my office door...)

#83 ::: Raven ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2006, 12:50 PM:

The word "be" should be added before the antepenultimate word in the antepenultimate line of #81.

#84 ::: Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2006, 01:03 PM:

Greg #70 -

I spent most of my high school years ('68-'71) in an American high school in Wiesbaden. There was one town across the Rhine, a bit past Mainz, that we were advised not to stop in, a rather nice looking place at that. I finally found out why -- according to the stories floating about an American bomb hit the town's school one afternoon, killing many of the children in class. When the crew of an American bomber bailed out nearby, the townspeople strung them up from a tree right outside town.

We were warned that many there still held the grudge (no wonder). The tree was still there, too.

#85 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2006, 01:04 PM:

Tim Hall #61, writes: "We Brits now get to do red state America's dying for them."

Nobody ever listens to us "dirty fncking hippies," do they? We told you Tony Blair was just as crazy as George W. Bush. You could have punked him. Your government could have refused to join the so-called "Coalition Of The Willing." Seems to me, Britain has its own collection of "red state" wankers for whom its troops are also dying.

Ugh, I am suddenly reminded of how much I loathe that "Coalition Of The Willing" name. Once again, it's the Green Lantern Theory of Geopolitics. That thing is like the xenomorph from Alien— it's gonna have to be nuked from space. It's the only way to be sure.

#86 ::: Cat ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2006, 02:20 PM:

Xopher @ #6

that Paisleyites are a violent Protestant group and the IRA is a violent Catholic group

If by 'Paisleyite' you mean the Democratic Unionist Party, then they are not (most of them) equivalent to the IRA. The Loyalist analogues to the IRA are the UVF, LVF, UFF, and a few other factions I can't remeber. Paisley is the Right-wing Religious Raver.

And neither the members of the IRA or the Loyalist terror groups would know transubstantiation if it hit thewm around the ear. The divide for the majority of inhabitants is tribal and cultural.

#87 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2006, 02:47 PM:

it's gonna have to be nuked from space. It's the only way to be sure.

this is a multi-million dollar investment, okay? He can't make that kind of decision, he's just a grunt!

(turning)

no offense.

None taken

#88 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2006, 04:01 PM:

According to Atrios, "liberals" have vowed to respond to Santorum by distributing bumper stickers which read, I'm an Orc and I vote.

Giggle.

#89 ::: Tim Hall ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2006, 04:41 PM:

We told you Tony Blair was just as crazy as George W. Bush. You could have punked him. Your government could have refused to join the so-called "Coalition Of The Willing." Seems to me, Britain has its own collection of "red state" wankers for whom its troops are also dying.

Thanks to our fundamentally broken electoral system, he-who-has-his-head-up-Bush's-ass was relected with just 37% of the popular vote (When you take the low turning into account, he had the support of about one in four registered voters). The main opposition party were a bunch of rightwing nutters led by a vampire who also supported the war. And too many people refused to vote for third parties out of misplaced tribal loyalty.

The fact that the vast majority of the population oppose and have always opposed Chimpy's idiotic Iraqi misadventure is the elephant in the room that our political class refuses to see.

#90 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2006, 04:45 PM:

#75 Dave Luckett,
Your father may have had good reason to feel that way about the Japanese. One of my Oahu co-residents wrote a horrific book entitled "Prisoners of the Japanese" which went into great detail about the treatment the Japanese Army meted out to people it captured.

#91 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2006, 05:13 PM:

OK, everyone, I had the Northern Irish parties wrong. I think Ian Paisley is a lunatic, but his group isn't as violent as I thought. But that wasn't really my key point: what I was trying to say was that the history between the two groups in conflict there is much more important than their ideological differences are.

Raven (#83): the antepenultimate line of #81 will vary depending on the monitor, browser, and window size employed. For example, on my screen right now it's

typesetter, and proofreader, the next time I visit them, which (very conveniently for my travel

which would mean you were adding 'be' before 'for' (which sounds sort of Delanyesque, but I daresay isn't what you meant).

#92 ::: Raven ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2006, 05:40 PM:

Re #91, Xopher:   Ah.   Oh.   Very well, then, my fallback position that the verb of existence not missing from that sentence, because... after all... it exists.   (This also explains why Russian sentences, despite what your eyes or ears may tell you, do not lack that verb.)   Anyway, that my story, and I sticking to it.

#93 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2006, 05:45 PM:

"Thanks to our fundamentally broken electoral system, he-who-has-his-head-up-Bush's-ass was relected with just 37% of the popular vote (When you take the low turning into account, he had the support of about one in four registered voters). The main opposition party were a bunch of rightwing nutters led by a vampire who also supported the war. And too many people refused to vote for third parties out of misplaced tribal loyalty."

Sounds like "we're all in it together," as they would say in Terry Gilliam's Brazil. Okay, we muddle through and fix the bugs in version 2.0.

#94 ::: Lis Riba ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2006, 10:13 PM:

Stephen Colbert did a lovely anatomization of the Mordor analogy this evening on the Report

If you want to see Colbert's take, they've posted the official video

#95 ::: D Bratman ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2006, 11:37 PM:

The most significant difference, in my view, between Tolkien's view and that of the neocons who try to invoke him is tht Tolkien believed that it is just as important to fight evil in the right way as it is to fight it at all. You wouldn't catch Aragorn, Faramir, or Frodo making excuses for Abu Ghraib, or defending Gitmo. Whereas this bunch, if they had the Ring, of course they'd use it.

#96 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2006, 01:05 AM:

Lovely nugget by William Gibson:

"It is becoming unprecedentedly difficult for anyone, anyone at all, to keep a secret. In the age of the leak and the blog, of evidence extraction and link discovery, truths will either out or be outed, later if not sooner. This is something I would bring to the attention of every diplomat, politician and corporate leader: the future, eventually, will find you out. The future, wielding unimaginable tools of transparency, will have its way with you. In the end, you will be seen to have done that which you did."

Bold italics mine.

#97 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2006, 01:07 AM:

At least we Brits count the votes.

#98 ::: Malthus ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2006, 12:14 PM:

Well, I'm assuming this is an unofficial open thread. (If I'm wrong, I apologize for putting this in the wrong thread).

Keith Olbermann as of, I think, Tues. night

Military Commissions Act results, as of Wed.

I don't think I have to, or can, say anything else.

#99 ::: little light ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2006, 05:09 PM:

Dave Luckett @ #75: On the other hand, he hated the Japanese with a pure, coruscating, outraged hatred.

I've always been nervous of these sorts of hatreds, but they're not uncommon in my family, too. My great-grandfather and his brothers were in the Bataan Death March, and both he and my grandfather worked in the guerilla insurgency against the Japanese occupation of Luzon, sometimes allied with the U.S. as Philippine Scouts. The echoes of the horrors that went on during that time still haunt those of us relatives who only had to hear about it, and my grandfather, by all accounts a sweet, artisitic, pious boy who'd had a gun put in his hand and got shoved into the jungle to fight or die, wouldn't speak of most of it until the day he died.

Anyhow, I'm gonna try and get on all those Islam questions. I forgot how fast comments pile up around here.

#100 ::: little light ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2006, 05:28 PM:

Alex Cohen @ #69: Worth noting that at least one sect of Shi'ites, the Nizari Isma'ilis, do still have an Imam, Aga Khan.

This is definitely true, and is one of those many alternative solutions to missing Imams I sort of handwavied at. The Isma'ilis are, as you probably know, sort of an odd case--there are ways one could think of them as "the Mormons of Islam," as it were. They think of themselves as Muslims, and have some added material the other sects don't; many other Muslim groups refuse to consider them legitimate Muslims, and shun them. They proselytize widely and throw a lot of money at it, though their numbers are comparatively small, and their hierarchical structures are different from the rest of Islam's. The Isma'ilis are, in short, interesting.

#101 ::: Raven ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2006, 07:00 PM:

Re #100: ... including in their history the original Assassins (until the Mongols came to the Mountain).

#102 ::: little light ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2006, 01:38 AM:

JESR @ #37: could you explain the wahabist movement?

That may take another comment--or maybe I should just post somewhere. The short version is that Wahhabis follow the teachings of an anti-intellectual theologian who thought that paying too much attention to the quasi-Talmudic bickerings of centuries of scholars and jurors about what Islam means would lead people astray, was the province of elitists, and should be thrown out to give more people more access to the supposedly basic, simple, literal teachings of Scripture. It's a logical, if extreme, extrapolation from one of the four major schools of Sunni theology.

Wahhabism was behind the closest thing Islam ever had to an Inquisition, which led to ideological purges and the burning of Sufi mystics, among other things, but they were a sort of obscure sect before they struck a deal with the rich Arab House of Saud. They agreed to throw their weight behind each other even though their interests were in many ways diametrically opposed, because it created what's now Saudi Arabia. To wit: the Saudi family got control of massive oil resources and commerce centers, and the Wahhabis got to be the state-sponsored religion of the nation that contains Mecca and Medina, where every Muslim, if reasonably able, must someday go. Saudi money funded hundreds of seminaries and elementary schools and community centers across the world, and Wahhabi clerics went with them--to Indonesia, to Pakistan, to the Americas. Wahhabi morality police keep Saudi Arabia together and quiet while the House of Saud, as shrewd businesspeople, continue to profit, and they give each other plenty of room and backup so that everyone can win.

FungiFromYuggoth @ #40: I believe a lot of the sites from the Sunni/Shiite schism little light ably explains are located in Iraq

The massacre of the Prophet's family, as well as many of the battles that surrounded it, took place on what's now Iraqi soil. Most of Shi'a Islam's holiest sites are, as a consequence, in that area--including the mosque and cemetery erected to honor that event's memory, and the center of the world's many annual ritual commemorations of it on the day of Ashura. Most of those sites have been bombed or set on fire in the past couple of years.
(There's a lot of ignored history in Iraq, though, even leaving aside Mesopotamia or the convenience of forgetting that Baghdad was once, arguably, the center of civilization, and inarguably a shining beacon of art and science and commerce and culture for many years. Basra, for instance, was once known almost solely for its poets, and for its having been the hometown of Rabi'a al-Adawiyya, one of the most of highly respected mystics in history and, as far as Islam has a concept of such things, a revered saint. Tikrit, mostly in the news as Where Saddam Grew Up, used to be known primarily as the hometown of Saladin.)

Xopher @ #41: little light (hmm, I'd almost be willing to guess that you're of Iranian origin and that your real name is Roxane): Yes, that's enormously helpful.

I actually don't catch your reference, though I laughed. I'm neither Iranian nor a Roxane, for the record. (Also, stratificational linguistics sound fascinating, and I'm sorry I missed your moment of Especially-At-Bat. I guess I have the occasional academic shortsightedness of assuming my field is interesting to everyone and therefore everyone clearly knows about it, myself.)

rea @ #56, and DaveL @ #68: More important, and more practical, is its use in understanding who are natural allies and who are enemies.

This is much more to the point, and DaveL got at some of it quite well. One of the basic ideological divides in the Arab world since the advent of modernity was the one between two very different reactions--Arab Nationalism and what we could call Fundamentalism. This next is pretty roughed out:

Arab Nationalism embraced secular government and renegotiations of every system from sanitation to education, but frequently at the cost of increased militarism and brutal putting-down of the people within the countries who embraced it. Think widespread reform--newspapers, radio, wider-spread literacy--alongside the inevitable guns of revolutionaries and authoritarians, in most cases. The modernist reformist Sayyid Qutb got thrown in jail and tortured by the new Arab Nationalist government of Egypt, and when he came back out, turned all his eloquence and brilliance to the cause of religious zealotry and fundamentalism. At the same time, the movement fostered stability satisfactory to Western interests in the wake of the colonial pullouts across the board. On the other other hand, Arab Nationalism had very little to offer the millions of non-Arab Muslims in Indonesia and Africa and China and much of North Africa. Saddam Hussein, in many ways, was the failure-state of Arab Nationalism--secular government, aggressive crushing of ethnic minorities, relative stability but constant violence. Negotiations with Donald Rumsfeld and US gas canisters on the Iranian border.

What he would never, ever have cooperated with was the Fundamentalists, whose major successes looked like Pakistan and whose failure-states include al-Qaeda and the Taliban. This was the reaction to modernism that said hell no. This is where all of the young people with nothing to eat and plenty of resentment for colonialist oppression went--because why listen to anything the French or English have to say if all you've ever seen them do is redraw your borders, take your goods, and kick you while you're down? This is what fueled the mujahideen in Afghanistan when they fought with Russia, including a rich wannabe from Saudi with CIA training who we've all grown familiar with. To the Fundamentalists, the Nationalists were sellouts, turncoats, abandoners of tradition and collaborators with the colonizers who put their ethnic ties above their loyalties to coreligionists and God.

That is to say, in short, to anyone who had done homework: al-Qaeda and Iraq were natural enemies between whom alliance was near-impossible. Iraq already was at war with Iranian Fundamentalist Shi'ites; there was no love lost between them and Fundamentalist Sunnis like bin Laden's gang.

And if our officials and our news media and so on had done their homework and paid attention to things like the difference between a Sunni and a Shi'a or between Nasser and Khomeini, we could have been turned aside from this whole mess.


Lord, this got long. I'll thank our hosts for their graciousness if it actually makes it through, and your indulgence if y'all actually read the whole of it.

#103 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2006, 05:46 AM:

Little light: you underrate yourself. I found that very interesting.

#104 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2006, 05:52 AM:

All that about LOTR reminded me:

"I endured him as long as I could, but the truth was desperately important, and in the end I had to be harsh. I put the fear of fire on him, and wrung the true story out of him, bit by bit, together with much snivelling and snarling."

IIRC, that's the only thing of its sort in LOTR--most of it favors decent treatment of prisoners, and torture is generally something the bad guys do.

Still, how tiresome it much be if someone snivels and snarls at you when you're terrifying them.

#105 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2006, 12:18 PM:

Little light, thanks so much. I'm wondering, now, what led the theologian to his original break with scholarly tradition; it sounds, to me, rather the philosophy of the person who can never quite grasp the assigned readings.

#106 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2006, 01:06 PM:

#102:

The short version is that Wahhabis follow the teachings of an anti-intellectual theologian who thought that paying too much attention to the quasi-Talmudic bickerings of centuries of scholars and jurors about what Islam means would lead people astray, was the province of elitists, and should be thrown out to give more people more access to the supposedly basic, simple, literal teachings of Scripture.

That is astoundingly close to the origin of a set of pamphlets called "The Fundamentals" published in the early years of the 20th century that led to the movement called "Fundamentalism" in the United States.

#107 ::: little light ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2006, 01:39 PM:

#106:

Astounding, isn't it? I mean, I simplified, and simplified in that direction to hammer the point a little, but there's a reason we can get away with referring to certain branches of Islamic teaching as "Fundamentalist" in nature, even while most within the tradition wouldn't use such terms. It's a term of convenience that I'm often uncomfortable using in an Islamic context, and it indicates, contrary to a whole lot of popular belief, exactly what you've just laid out: a measure of similarity to a particular 20th-century American Protestant movement.

These are poor people's movements, and frontier people's movements, and movements of the uneducated. That's why they appeal so well to people on precipices, and why in structure they're often so similar to progressive religious movements. Thye begin with the basic premise it shouldn't be this way or the world is in crisis and then move on the the next premise, we have to do something about it. The somethings differ, but it comes down to people in need, in a world that's not kind to them. Once you've tapped that hurt or desperation, it's a very short step to further premises like guess whose fault it is or I know what you should do. It might mean soup kitchens. It might mean genocide. When you've got a religion like Christianity or Islam where the command to change the world is built in, you can hope that it'll go the way of feeding the hungry, but the command to change often takes precedence, from what I've seen.

The trouble is when you make scholars and educators your scapegoat, as in what we could call "fundamentalisms." In America, it dates all the way back to the first western expansion, with a stack of people ekeing out a living and not wanting to have their relationship with God mediated by uppity New England professor-type preachers--wanting to get together and just feel their way through it. That went some good places. It also went some bad places.

One of those bad places, I think, was putting a poor and hunted people's populist theology in the hands of the rich and powerful. But then, that's sort of true for both Christianity and Islam on the whole.

#108 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2006, 03:39 PM:

little light,
You've definitely lived up to your nickname, shedding (more than) a little light on the subject.

I've had the admittedly simplistic idea that Islam seems never to have had a Reformation, unlike Christianity, and it might have changed things quite a bit if it had.

#109 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2006, 04:09 PM:

Little light: I would love it if you would take your posts here (including your last response to JDM's comment) and stick them on a web page where I could point people to them.

Before reading what you wrote, I did vaguely know some of the differences between Sunnis and Shi'ites, primarily in terms of the assassination of Ali, that Shi'ites were awaiting the return of the lost imam, and more strongly in terms of the political connections to different groups, and the geographic/ethnic connections of each sect. I did not understand it in anything like the clarity you've given it in a couple pages.

If you don't have a place to repost these, maybe Teresa would topline them here as a "Things you should know" type article.

#110 ::: Lisa Goldstein ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2006, 05:53 PM:

I've quoted this from LOTR before, but it seems to apply more than ever. Theoden says to Saruman: "Even if your war on me was just -- as it was not, for were you ten times as wise you would have no right to rule me and mine for your own profit as you desired -- even so, what will you say of your torches in Westfold and the children that lie dead there?" This does put Theoden in the place of Sadddam Hussein, unfortunately, but I'll put it up against Santorum's analogy any day.

#111 ::: Meg Thornton ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2006, 09:47 AM:

Little Light (#36) - Does the difference in religious structures explain part of why Iran became a religious dictatorship under the Ayatollah Khomeni? From the way you've explained things, I'm suspecting it might - although it rather hinges on the Ayatollah being regarded as an Imam by the population, and therefore having a lot more clout than anyone in the Judeo-Christian West suspected.

(Oh, and by the sounds of things, the differences are much more like the differences between the Roman Catholic Church and the various Eastern Orthodox Churches; the big sticking point being the authority of the pope and the clergy, as well as a lot of little doctrinal differences which grew up out of a long separation and which won't be resolved short of actual intervention by their conception of the Supreme Power.)

That said, I definitely second the comments others are making about your comments being extremely helpful. Understanding the other person's point of view is very useful in preventing wars.

Oh, and here's a thought for everyone: wouldn't it be good to see a form of religious education which consisted of covering things like: How [religion] works; Subsections of [religion]; Big issues in [religion]; Primary beliefs of [religion]; etc. Of course, the [religion] blank would need to be filled by things such as Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Shinto, Buddhism, Hinduism and soforth. But surely knowing these types of things would help us all in being able to respect our neighbours, and understand what's driving a lot of seemingly irrational decisions out there...

#112 ::: little light ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2006, 03:28 PM:

#111:

Just to clarify, the Ayatollahs aren't seen as Imams. That's important. They still, however, have major clout as clergy with the authority to make pronouncements on the finer points of Islamic religious doctrine.

The thing about the Ayatollahs and Iran as it currently stands is that one has to understand the immense popular support that was put behind the Islamic Revolution there. Like a whole lot of other idealist revolutions, it didn't deliver on many of its promises, but the promises made are important to be aware of. I see a lot of parallels with the Cuban Revolution, myself, if that's more familiar; the Shah who was overthrown was, in many ways, a dictator, with a corrupt and problematic regime, propped up by American support as a useful strategic ally--not unlike the position Batista was in before Castro stepped up, through Batista and the Shah were very different animals. Young, charismatic idealists leading the charge to a new order, guns-a-blazing.
The people who stood against the Shah--and with the group that mutated into who's now in charge--were in large part young people, oppressed people, students, what you might call anti-monarchists, and, though this is often overlooked, women. There was a huge women's movement in support of the Revolution--women who believed that the idealistic group trying to overthrow their current ruler would provide them better treatment, more say and a more equal position in society. They were eager to displace one kind of traditional orthodoxy for a chance at a new world. The regime that ended up growing out of the Revolution ended up shortchanging those women, vitally, but many of them were shocked when that was the case.
The idealism of the Revolution was partially about observing the titanic struggle between Western capitalists and Soviet communists and saying, there has to be a third way, another way out of this. They saw problems with both and thought their best chance was to bet on throwing off the yoke of Persian noble rule as well as foreign interests, and throw in their lot with the promises of a just Islamic society. That's what Islam is, at a lot of its core principles, about, after all: building a just Earthly society where the fortunate take care of the unfortunate, where slaves are freed, where a benificent system of law guides people to work together across lines of race and nation in a greater community bound by shared ideals. Just because it hasn't done so, yet, historically, doesn't mean that people can't pin their hopes on trying to make it go that way.

It doesn't hurt that, for all his anti-Semitism and paranoia, Khomeini was brilliant. His political writing is evocative, eloquent, impassioned. He draws out problems with other ways to run a society in painful detail, and when he offers his alternative, it's with such a genuine piety and dedication that it seems like it would have to go well. He comes off as educated, even cosmopolitan, a guy who's seen the rest of the world going to hell and who might have a better idea. He went his own way in a lot of cases, and was apparently, if imposing, quite personable: there's a famous story of a transsexual woman who fought her way into a private audience with him, debated the theology of what her life implied, and walked out with Khomeini's blessing: he made a ruling allowing for sex transition as not forbidden by divine law. Homosexual conduct is still punishable by death in that country, but there's relative stacks of transsexuals, because he talked it over with one, and decided her claims were pretty reasonable.

A lot of staunch supporters of the Revolution were shocked at what came after. And plenty of them never expected the heads-on-a-platter approach that the people who'd led them used to purge anyone involved in the former regime. This is the situation that brought the Ayatollahs into power. They're not Imams, but they are inheritors of a massive popular movement that, when it flexed its muscles, proved that revolutions often just go 'round and 'round. So there's the people who were with them, specifically, in the first place, believing wholeheartedly in their vision; there's the people who supported them, and who can't stand to admit anything went off the tracks, and so back them up even now to avoid moral culpability; there's the people who're just plain scared of the power they wield; there's the ones staying in the system, to try and get it to where they thought it'd go in the first place; and there's of course, the people who disagree--and there's plenty of those.

The power structures erected to protect their authority and power don't hurt, either.


As to your notions about religious education, yeah. I see understanding this stuff as vital. Even if one isn't religious oneself, getting at this stuff is learning about things so important to some people as to define their lives and deaths, and if you want to understand people and what they do, that's not something to be ignored. I think society would benefit a great deal from that kind of comprehensive and comparative secular education on the subject.

#113 ::: cd ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2006, 04:02 PM:

Little light: I knew a little of what you've written, but your comments (as the distributed neuron firing in this question) have been most enlightening. Thank you for sharing!

#114 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2006, 05:27 PM:

Little light: like many here, I'd like to thank you for the postings you've been making on this thread. Excellent stuff.

Meg #111: To my complete astonishment, I found such a section on my employer's private intranet at the start of Ramadan this year (the link turned up on our front page then). Lunchtimes have been very interesting since then.

#115 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2006, 07:36 PM:

Little light: 'roxane' is Persian for "little star."

#116 ::: little light ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2006, 08:54 PM:

Xopher: D'oh! Of course. My Persian's crap, actually, though it oughtn't be; my partner's Iranian-American.

And Clifton: I'm not sure how much reformatting would be appropriate in terms of putting it up on my blog, and I sure as the dickens would need to learn how to code a cut-tag first, but I'll see what I can arrange, and thanks for the vote of confidence. Maybe I'll start a Q&A feature, or something.
(That said, I'd be a little uncomfortable answering questions it might be better to put to actual Muslims, rather than a scholar of Islam from outside the faith. Maybe there's a way to do it that doesn't make me a colonialist jerk. I'll look into it.)

#117 ::: Julia Jones ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2006, 09:50 PM:

Little light: just to add my thanks -- that's been a very clear, concise description.

#118 ::: Janet Brennan Croft ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2006, 11:27 AM:

#104 Nancy Leibovitz -- there's an interesting article on just that particular break with just treatment of prisoners in Mallorn XLIII (July 2005): "Gandalf as Torturer: the ticking bomb terrorist and due process in LotR" by Adam Rosman (p.38-42).

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