Peoples Geography — Reclaiming space

Creating people's geographies

Conversations with bigotry: on Israel, Islam and Ideologues

Encounter with Sigmund, Carl and Alfred
** SEE ALSO: Israeli funding for Hamas plus: note to Sigmund Carl and Alfred dc-rally-5-by-dgl.jpg

Can one hold a civil conversation with a racist Israelfirstophile ideologue? Well, I tried. Let it not be said that all of us only preach to the choir. I responded to comments and posts calling Palestinians and Muslims “beasts” at the Sigmund Carl and Alfred pseudo-psych hate-blog. I touched a nerve, prompting several subsequent posts full of smear and names like whore, nazi and bigot that say much more about Sigmund Carl and Alfred, this intellectual fraud and bully who has tried to intimidate several people now who raise valid points challenging his racist rubbish and who earn his ire, attracting the very labels he calls others and what he is himself. When such people can’t respond rationally to arguments, they attack the person with cowardly slander, of course. Though I now ignore him and his blog, thank you to all those people who did write and take this bully to task.

As you will see if you can stomach going there, [or read the full thread of the original ‘ The Israeli Beast’ (SCA’s title) post in word or .pdf], I sought to systematically address each and every point raised. In doing so, and in not mimicking his Manichean worldview, my responses raised the bile of the blogger who saw fit to devote a whole post several posts and long screed to your humble servant.

If “Christians do not ally themselves with racists or racist ideologies,” what are you doing SCA defending rabidly racist/ exclusivist Israeli apartheid, demonising Muslims and justifying racism against the Arab world, who you say are not morally equivalent to Jews?

leunig_saviour-me-appearance.jpgWake up and see the real “new” anti-semitism.

In response to your smear, SCA, I am at peace with my Christianity, with Christ’s injunction to “love one another, as I have loved you”. Sigmund Carl and Alfred professes to be an Anglican, but he evidently does not take on board the counsel of the head of his own Church, Dr Rowan Williams. He chooses to willfully ignore how Dr Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury and spiritual leader to the world’s 77 million Anglicans, has said of Israel’s apartheid wall that it is “a sign of all that is wrong in the human heart” and symbolised “the terrible fear of the other, of the stranger, which keeps us all in one kind of prison or another” when visiting Bethlehem seven months ago. Pretty astute words, I’d say. The good doctor and Archbishop has also wisely spoken up against the invasion and occupation of Iraq.

Sigmund, Carl and Alfred has claimed I did not quote Dr Rowan in full, but crucially neglects to show how that would at all deviate from the point presented and himself neglects to quote him in full to demonstrate otherwise.

In the spirit of the Prince of Peace, thank you Sigmund, Carl and Alfred for this opportunity to encounter the level of hatred, persecution and misinformation that exists, and salaam and shalom to you. May you give up your irrational hate and build bridges rather than walls.


Here is what would have been my reply to questions about Islam and theological interpretation, in response to the last commenter on the Israel Thread.


“Verily never will God change the condition of a people until they change it themselves” — Qur’an (13;11)


leunig_bush-flushing-bible.jpgThe charge was leveled that I was like “the typical Islam apologist” and that “it [the Holy Qur’an] actually should be read literally.” Further, the anonymous commenter claimed that “Interpretation is irrelevant when it comes to Islam, as it is not allowed.”

This is wrong, an outright falsehood.

There is in fact a strong tradition of Qur’anic interpretation and hermeneutics.

Let’s put aside theological debates,which will follow, just for the moment.

The reality of interpretation is most visibly evidenced and embodied in the fact that the two major branches of the faith, (Shia and Sunni) exist, as well as the mystical branch of Islam, Sufism. The fact that different branches exist testifies to the existence of interpretation, and millions of practising Muslims of either school do not take a literalist view of the entire book, just as Christians and Jews do not for their holy books.

In fact, one difference between Orthodox Islam and Shi’ism is the view in the former that, originally, virtually any Moslem could interpret the Qur’ân and the Traditions, while the Shi’a branch held that proper interpretation could only be dispensed by one descended from ‘Alî, the son-in-law of the Prophet Muhammad.

The hierarchy of power and ebb and flow of what is seen as legitimate sources of doctrinal authority can be seen played out in all faiths and their internal branches/ denominations. The Catholic Church is notable for placing ultimate doctrinal authority in the Pope, but earlier Christianity invested doctrinal authority in Church Councils.


Hermeneutics (similar to exegesis) is central to all religion (from Greek hermêneuô, “to interpret or translate” and ‘Ερμηνεύς, the Greek word for interpreter, and also means “to make the meaning clear”. This is related to the name of the Greek god Hermes in his role as the interpreter of the messages of the gods. It is the theory and practice of interpretation, originally the interpretation of texts, and especially religious texts, but also used now in philosophy).

Islamic exegesis has a well developed tradition and shares some precepts with Christian and Judaic hermeneutics, moreso the latter.

Islamic religious doctrinal authority has three sources: the Qur’an, the Hadith and the law doctors. The Hadith are alleged eyewitness accounts of the sayings and doings of the prophet, written down by his contemporary followers: the equivalent of some of the Christian gospels or moreso the Oral tradition of Judaism (written in the Mishnah and Gemara).

Islamic hermeneutics (interpretation) is similar to Talmudic rabbinical interpretations in its dialectical and other forms of reconciliation. Here is a good summation of how Islamic exegesis is harmonised where the different passages of sources differ, and bears similarity to the Judaic traditions.

Notably, the Qur’an also contains passages calling for reason to prevail over received truth, and therefore subscribes to a rational as well as a revealed exegesis. As Mermer writes in the Journal of Scriptural Reason (2005), and I quote:

In addition, it should be noted that the Qur’an condemns blind imitation. It repeatedly condemns the blind following of the tradition of forefathers, But when they are told, “Follow what God has bestowed from on high,” some answer, “Nay, we shall follow that which we found our forefathers believing in and doing. Why, even if their forefathers did not use their reason at all, and were devoid of guidance? …. Deaf are they, and dumb, and blind: for they do not use their reason (2: 170-171)

The Qur’an persistently says, “So will you not think?” and refers what it says to reason. It invites those who refuse to consider its proposition as reasonable on its merits to ‘produce an evidence for what they claim.’[20] The believer is over and over invited to think and ponder over the evidences in the universe in order to confirm his iman (belief) in the truth of the Qur’anic message.

This also indicates the compatibility of Islam with its great scientific tradition, upon which Europe’s later Renaissance depended. Rather than an incompatibility of beliefs claimed by anonymous commenter I-S, the two very much are related.

Interpretation of the Qur’an in fact begins with the Prophet himself, the primary exegete over a period of 23 years who explicated the divine intention of the revelations.


All Holy Books are subject to lexicographical and intra- and intra- textual examination and study — they were, after all, written hundreds of years ago. Comparison of verses for congruence, corroboration from other historical sources (for example, I think Jesus Christ was mentioned by one first century historian, Josephus Flavius), the treatment of scriptural ambiguities, the historical and cultural customs of the time, and so on, form an important part of theological study and hermeneutics.

Good hermeneutics, in great religious as well as canonical texts, is akin to a good constitution; the exegetical process may reveal several layers of meaning and guides for human conduct.

One passage alone may have four identifiable layers of interpretation in this schematisation: First, at base, there is the literal sense (sensus historicus), then the allegorical sense (sensus allegoricus) which explains the text with regard to other doctrines, imbuing the literal element with symbolic meaning.

Third, the sensus tropologicus or sensus moralis, or the moral application of the text to the individual reader or hearer constitutes a third layer, while a fourth level of meaning, the sensus anagogicus, draws out implicit allusions from the text of otherwise hidden metaphysical and eschatological knowledge, or gnosis.

Similarly in Islam,

“Every verse of the Koran has four kinds of meaning: an exoteric sense (zahir), an inner sense (batin), a limit (hadd), and a lookout point (muttala). The exoteric sense is the recitation (tilawa), the inner sense is understanding (fahm), the limit (hadd) is the rulings of what is permitted and prohibited, and the lookout point (muttala) is what is meant by God for the servant by (the verse). It is said that the Quran is a clear expression (ibara), an allusion (ishara), subtleties (lata’if) and realities (haqa’iq) so that the clear expression is for hearing, the allusion is for the intellect (‘aql); the subtleties are for witnessing (mushahada) and the realities are for self-surrender (istislam). There is no good in an act of worship without comprehension, nor in a recitation without pondering.”

Now it is true that there was a religious reaction against the early scholarly tradition of 19th-century Orientalism. This reaction was as a result of then-prevailing political and social factors that resulted in religion to be taken as the central force in the political history of Muslim countries. This is a circumstance understood as the cause of the then relative strategic weakness of Muslim countries in the colonial age (the British in Iraq is illustrative) and their thwarted development. Muslim elites of the 19th and early 20th centuries took recourse to religion as an ideological defence, not unlike defenses wielded by some in the Judaic and Christian faiths throughout the course of their histories.

Taken more prosaically, some of us cling to religion not in the good times, but in the bad. The reasons we take up faith are wide-ranging. Some do so out of love, some out of fear or to use as political unifiers (Holy Roman Empire) or ideological justifications (recent comments of Israel’s Chief Rabbi sanctioning killing).

The function of religion in this ostensibly more secular age has been inextricably interwoven with modernity and movements for national self-determination. Our own study necessarily entails situating it within the larger socio-historical context of the 19th and 20th centuries, the formation of nation-states, colonialism, totalitarianism, and fascism. It becomes a weapon to wield and justify base political ends (Christian fascism in Mussolini’s Italy, likewise in George W. Bush’s America), as much as a private faith matter between oneself and God.


As for the Islam-hate, I ask, did God not create one billion Muslims? Did God not create us all equal? Was Christ’s most important message and commandment “Love one another, as I have loved you”? I love Muslims as much as I love fellow Christians and my Jewish cousins, and lest we forget that only a generation ago, some misguided Whites would call other Whites who stood up for African-American civil rights as “nigger-lovers”.

war_not-_pro_life.jpgThe only “jihad” happening is the war against the Muslim and Arab world. Show me the millions of Americans dying or fleeing because of a ghastly and wholly unwarranted invasion, coming after genocidal sanctions and a first invasion a decade prior? And yet sizable numbers of gullible Americans still wrongly believe that Iraq had anything to do with Sept 11. Millions of Americans believe in a form of dispensationalism that would see rapture and end-times.

war-is-terrorism.jpgThe voice of John Adams is audible across the centuries: Liberty can not be preserved without general knowledge among people. And the dumbing down of the American populace by corporate institutions is the biggest threat to American democracy today, not Muslim “terrorists”.

The central basis of religious epistemology for all faiths is some interaction between the natural and supernatural worlds in sourcing the Divine. That divine spark persists in all of us, and I feel sorry for you that you do not see it in Muslims, and call their democratically elected leaders “beasts”.

Not much more to say, really.


5 comments on “Conversations with bigotry: on Israel, Islam and Ideologues

  1. The Imugi
    19 June, 2007

    That is incredibly well-written and well-argued, and it’s a message that really needs to be heard today. :)

    The point about Hermeneutics is especially timely. I think I would go so far as to say it’s that the hermeneutics one employs in interpreting a sacred text pretty much determines the character of one’s religion. Part of the reason why I find it so absurd whenever anybody criticizes “Islam” or “Christianity” is that there is an immense variety in interpretation! I would even say there’s really no such thing as “Christianity” or “Islam”, but instead there are *many* “Islams” and “Christianities”.

  2. peoplesgeography
    19 June, 2007

    Thanks for coming by, Imugi, and I’ve also enjoyed going over to read your posts at your blog. I think that’s a good point, any of the major religions are far from monolithic and it would be truer now to characterise them in the plural.

  3. Servant
    19 June, 2007

    Thanks Ann. Very nice refresher in comparative religion. It’s been a while. I’ve dipped into many religions and cultural narratives over the years and I have remained happily ignorant of hermeneutics as a process. I was also happily ignorant of this prolific source of Israeli fascism. I’ll try to forgive you for defiling my very soul by linking there. You should really warn people what they’re going to click on. We need an adult-proof hyperlink – something that blinks red and yellow and purple with an international warning sign for vomit ahead.

    For the sake of completeness I want to attach a link to your article to a closely related area of study to hermeneutics which many people here in the United States find extremely interesting. The field is mostly staffed by amateurs, but we are highly dedicated and very serious about our work. We like to call ourselves hermanauts in the field of hermaneutics. We focus primarily on the insightful gleanings into human nature from Jim Unger.


  4. peoplesgeography
    19 June, 2007

    :D Too funny, that’s brilliant. Thanks for the hearty laugh I’m still enjoying. That’ll keep me going for a week!

    Love the Herman link, I was new to Unger and you’ve won Herman a new admirer. Long live the Hermanauts! ;)

  5. The Imugi
    20 June, 2007

    Thanks for dropping by my site, Ann :)

    Servant, that is absolutely hilarious! I think I may have to go and join the Hermanauts myself :P

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Timely Reminders

"Those who crusade, not for God in themselves, but against the devil in others, never succeed in making the world better, but leave it either as it was, or sometimes perceptibly worse than what it was, before the crusade began. By thinking primarily of evil we tend, however excellent our intentions, to create occasions for evil to manifest itself."
-- Aldous Huxley

"The only war that matters is the war against the imagination. All others are subsumed by it."
-- Diane DiPrima, "Rant", from Pieces of a Song.

"It is difficult
to get the news from poems
yet men die miserably every day
for lack
of what is found there"
-- William Carlos Williams, "Asphodel, That Greeny Flower"