Daily Archives: February 2, 2020

A non-political question: Was there a book that changed your life? – MDJOnline.com

Posted: February 2, 2020 at 6:46 pm

When a big city newspaper asked readers to share the title of a book, one influencing how you think, act or look at the world, the editors were overwhelmed by more than a thousand responses. Most readers chose fiction over non-fiction guides as windows into their thinking or as change agents to challenge their rock solid views.

Age was no definer. If Dr. Seuss, On Beyond Zebra, a fantasy alphabet for pre-schoolers, had captured you as an audience, by all means, share the story. A reader, age 70, did. For him, the Seuss alphabet, a tongue-twister and challenge to repeat, had delighted him as a 7-year-old. He was charmed, he wrote, by rolling fantasy words off his tongue: Floob for the letter F, zatz for the letter Z.

The reader of decades recalled the giggles of his childhood as he read to his own children and grandchildren. On Beyond Zebra reminded him the imaginations of the young should be encouraged by the adults in the room.

One 9-year-old wrote to the newspaper as witness to the charms of the book Eloise, the story of a savvy young girl, who, in the face of absent parents, depends on the staff at the hotel where she lives. Eloise is wise beyond her years, and, on pages depicting her life, she is living proof, for city children, family can be found, created even in a place as big as New York.

The writers letter to the newspaper affirmed the neighborhood adults in her own life as borrowed kin with kindnesses to recommend them.

In our grown-up world of realities, death is a subject we avoid. The recollection of Dr. Paul Kalaniths personal journey When Breath Becomes Air, after a diagnosis of lung cancer, led a reader to confront her aversion to serious talks with her aging parents.

After reading Dr. Kalaniths moving story, she set about asking the hard questions regarding her mothers and fathers wishes and committed to the nurture needed in the realities of their days, opening new conversation about their end-of-life questions and seeing them through their frailties with more understanding and patience.

One letter to the newspaper looked back over a lifetime of reading and singled out, of all choices, a cookbook Julia Childs, Mastering the Art of French Cooking as chapters re-ordering a life.

The readers story centered on her promising beginning, living in a city as a new bride, excited over a serious first job. She was 21, a career woman, (she thought), until she discovered she was pregnant.

It was 1964 when a woman with child was not welcomed in the corporate world. Her firm fired her, but, as a peace offering, an office manager sent her off with Julia Childs cookbook. After a miserable two months of nausea, the young wife, stuck at home, forced herself to read a chapter of the book and deal with the inner parts of a raw chicken.

By the time her baby was born, she was a serious student of French cooking, perfecting a passable souffl. Years later, she wrote of a life more loyal to weight control, but of a confidence found in mastering difficult recipes. While friendless, she dried her homesick tears and set about whipping cream in a shoebox-sized kitchen.

In an interesting twist, a reader singled out a book with a message she could not accept. For her, Ayn Rands, Atlas Shrugged read as a tome on personal self-reliance, setting aside the realities of interdependence in relationships, the need for the nurturing of children or an obligation to those lost in a busy world.

Reading the book strengthened the readers resolve to be involved, rather than self-focused. She wrote to credit the novel as a change agent in her life, one helping her to see outreach as needed connection and pushing her to speak out in her community.

I once read a small book to a grandchild, a boy, who loved any story that rhymed. Quiet as a mouse, he sat, snuggled against me, until I turned the last page, then he reached to close the book and covered his ears.

It took a while before I understood he avoided the last page of the story because he did not want it to end. None of my reasoning could change his mind. I gave up on my pleas once I remembered I had taken a paper clip to a chapter of William Styrons novel, Sophies Choice, to avoid reading the words I knew would seal the fate of two children in the plot.

The small boy to whom I read is now 18. He is still prone to stop and open a book bound and close at hand. Luckily, a future of reading promises him endless chapters, pages of words, perhaps the very ones, destined to change his life.

Judy Elliott is a longtime

resident of Marietta.

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Opinion: Ayn Rands views are nothing to celebrate – San Antonio Express-News

Posted: at 6:46 pm

Opening my newspaper last Friday, I was quite surprised by J. Gilberto Quezadas op-ed, Heed the truth in Atlas Shrugged. Although I respect differing opinions, I felt duty-bound to express my resentment against the content not the messenger.

Ayn Rands works, such as Atlas Shrugged and Fountainhead, are philosophical tracts disguised as novels. And I am sure that former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan who was one of her devoted acolytes listened to her every word while she lectured about the virtues of an unregulated free-market, rugged individualism and the elimination of social programs.

To Rand, anyone who relied on social programs (that pernicious Social Security system, Medicare, farm subsidies, public education, government pension programs, food stamps, WIC program, etc.) were, to use her term correctly, parasites.

The real heroes to Rand were those smart enough to use the capitalist system to amass great wealth, whom she considered to be paragons of virtue and superheroes of capitalism. They did not depend on handouts and were arguably prosperous because they used their reason to achieve greatness as espoused in her philosophy of objectivism.

Rands philosophy of objectivism has no redeeming purpose other than promoting the economic interests of people bankrolling it because the sole function of her philosophy is to justify wealth, explain away poverty as the result of ignorant parasites, and normalize the cruel attitude of the powerful and wealthy.

Here is what Jesus told a rich man, according to Matthew 19:21: If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.

What did Ayn Rand think of this? On The Phil Donahue Show in 1979, Rand argued that believing in God is an insult to reason and her objectivism principles.

In fact, Rand herself taught that there was no such thing as the public interests, and Social Security and Medicare only steal from creators and illegitimately redistribute the wealth.

Probably unknown to supporters of Rand is that when she reached her twilight years, she benefited from Social Security and Medicare because of mounting medical bills after surgery in 1974 for lung cancer caused by her heavy smoking. Cosmic irony has a way slapping you in the face.

If you benefit from Medicare, Social Security or even get a government pension check with free medical expenses like our U.S. senators, please dont be a hypocrite and bash Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Im sure Rand would never have said God bless America! since she was an avowed atheist.

Julian S. Garcia is a retired schoolteacher and former associate editor of ViAztlan: An International Journal of Arts and Ideas.

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‘The Wrong House Sitter’ Review: Lifetime’s thriller sustains tension by playing the female obsession card rig – MEAWW

Posted: at 6:46 pm

David DeCoteau's 'The Wrong House Sitter' is hardly the first to dip its toes into the enigmatic dark world of female obsession. For lovers of thrillers you maybe a little disappointed as it doesn't really match up to the erotic thriller genre like 'Fatal Attraction' but effectively carves a space for itself in the bountiful niche that has produced dozens of films based on fatal female obsession.

Shot in warm colors but within the confines of four walls 'Wrong House Sitter' is the story of Dan (Jason-Shane Scott) and his girlfriend Mary (Ciarra Carter). A happy working couple who are just dreaming of the life they will lead in Dan's new home. Later on, Dan encounters an innocent-looking woman in the bookstore looking for Ayn Rand's 'Atlas Shrugged'. This new acquaintance is introduced to us as Kristin Turner (Anna Marie Dobbins). She tells him she is an aspiring writer working on her first novel and is trying to sustain herself by waitressing, house sitting and dog-walking jobs.

"It will sound strange to you", (he's right about that) he begins saying on hearing her three-line resume and ends up inviting her to house sit for him while he heads to New York on an assignment given to him by his editor Deb (Vivica A. Fox). His girlfriend, Mary, is constantly traveling for work so she can't help him out here. Dan's worried that criminals might target his house if they know he's not at home and so he employs Kristin to take care of it.

'The Wrong House Sitter' builds on a simple situation (man needs a house sitter), reels the audience in slowly with the innocent woman in need of a job trope and as the tension builds pushes the audience towards a fast-paced end where the house sitter's real intentions take over (she doesn't want to leave his house anymore) and she begins to infiltrate the man's life.

Kristin can be seen staring intently at Dan and Mary while they enjoy a chat by the pool or when they are making love in their bedroom right next to her. She's installed spy cameras in each bedroom of the house and keeps tabs on them constantly. When Dan is out of sight she can be seen sniffing his clothes and hugging his bedcovers. Her plans to insert herself into Dan's life become so twisted - drugging him, taking his pictures without his permission and trying to seduce him - that it leads to actual bloodshed. Eventually, as a fallout of her crimes, she is forced to leave the house and goes on the run. Dan and his editor Deb heave a sigh of relief, elsewhere Kristin is already sizing up her next victim.

One of the movie's underlying themes is the dangers of squatters and tenants who intend to overstay their lease. Dan discusses all the probable legal and unofficial ways to counter his tenant - kicking her out and changing the house's locks. He doesn't try either. On the basis of this movie, hauling Kristin to jail would have been the wisest way to go once he learned that she's played this trick plenty of times before.

The tense encounters between Kristin and Dan, including her attempts to seduce him and make his house "our home" keeps the interest from flagging at many points. Even the way Anna Marie Dobbins' Kristin manages to outwit him every time he tries to find a way to evict his "uninvited tenant" piques our curiosity. These small moments do make up, in parts, for some of the incredulous bits in the first half of the film. First, he signs an agreement she gave him without reading it and then stays alone with her in the mansion, allowing her to toy with him despite his girlfriend's repeated pleas that he stay the night with her instead of the psychopath who has taken over the house.

Unlike other movies on female obsession such as 'Fatal Attraction,' the obsessed woman trope is not explored deeply but the meat of the film lies in Dan's desperation to get rid of his obsessed tenant. David DeCoteau and Adam Rockoff's direction and script are able to keep the momentum growing throughout the story. Music is also used effectively to sustain the tension (sexual and otherwise) between Dan and Kristin. The performances of the lead characters look half-fleshed at times but Jason's portrayal as Dan, the harrowed house owner and Dobbins' role as the scheming house sitter, in places, manage to the give the characters some depth and the film, life. Carter and Vivica as Mary and Deb respectively, lend able support to the lead duo.

The Wrong House Sitter is a Lifetime movie and a part of their Wrong Movie franchise, a set of thriller films with Wrong being an important part of their titles. However, if youre a fan of this Lifetime movie franchise, is it worth spending close to 1 hour 23 minutes on this?

We'd say yes. It exhibits the marks of a decent thriller because its still fun to watch even when you know what will happen next.

''The Wrong House Sitter' released on January 24, 8/7c on Lifetime Movie Network.

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What Happens When They Find a World War II Bomb Down the Street – Atlas Obscura

Posted: at 6:46 pm

I found out about the bomb down the street by text message on Tuesday at 4:22 p.m., just as I was locking my bike outside our sons preschool. It was a screengrab, actually: My wife had passed on a tweet from the Berlin police department with a photo of a huge archaeological excavation and construction site that we can see from our balcony in the center of the city.

A World War II bomb was found today at about 11:30 during construction work on the corner of Grunerstr. and Juedenstr. Our colleagues have blocked off the area, the bomb squad technicians are on the scene. What, my wife wanted to know, were we going to do?

This question is not as unusual as one might think, at least in German cities and others hit hard during the war. Between 1940 and 1945, Allied forces dropped 2.7 million tons of bombs on Nazi-occupied Europe. Thats about 1.25 million explosive objects in totalranging from small incendiary charges meant to set fire to wooden buildings to multi-ton blockbusters. An estimated one in five bombs dropped failed to explode, which translates to about 250,000 duds. Often, the explosive-packed shells penetrated several feet into the ground, and were later covered up by rubble and debris from other, more successful explosions.

This means many German cities are, more or less, built on top of live explosives. Western cities such as Cologne, Duesseldorf, and Bremen, which are closer to air bases in Britain and full of industrial targets, were particularly hard-hit, and bombs regularly turn up there.

Berlin, then and now the German capital, was a major target, too. Since the wars end, more than 2,000 live bombs have been recovered here. Some experts estimate 15,000 more may remain hidden under the fast-growing city. In the surrounding state of Brandenburg, the scene of bitter fighting in the last months of the war, police deal with 500 tons of munitions each year.

On my way up the stairs to the preschool, I scanned the local news. No one seemed overly alarmed. Headlines focused on the impending traffic chaos, not the 500-pound bomb itself. The street that passes the construction site is one of Berlins busiest, and nearby Alexanderplatz is a major transport node, with several subway lines and regional trains connecting in its multistory train station.

We had dinner plans and a babysitter on the way, and were going to see a drag show across town later that night. I was optimistic: As far as I could tell, only the building site itself had been closed off. Strapping my son into the box of our cargo bike, I told him wed ride home and see what the situation was.

Thinking back on the whole thing a few days later, pointing my five-year-old in the direction of a live bomb was perhaps a sign I wasnt worried enough. Defusing all these weapons, it turns out, gets trickier with time. The TNT and other explosives used in World War II munitions have no known expiration date, and their fuses get more unstable as the materials insideincluding 1940s-era plastics, capsules filled with acid, and complex mechanical timersdecay and rust.

But as we rode towards the apartment around 5 p.m., I saw neither police nor barricades. Our babysitter was waiting outside the building, and we all went upstairs. I grabbed an overnight bag and threw in some spare clothes, toothbrushes, and a Paddington Bear book. Just in case.

Within half an hour, my wife burst in with news. The police had tweeted again, this time with a map. The safety zone had been expanded to 300 meters, which included our historic neighborhood in the center of Berlin and Alexanderplatz, a massive, communist-era plaza that was the centerpiece of former East Berlin. Squinting unhappily at her phone, I saw a red line snaking right past our stoop. Wed all have to clear out while the bomb squad tackled the heavily corroded bombshell and its mechanical fuse.

Back on the cargo bike, my son and I stopped to talk with a police officer parked on the corner. In a little while theyll start knocking on doors and going through with loudspeakers, he told me, leaning out of his window into the wintry night. As soon as weve had time to clear everyone out theyll start working on the bombno way to know how long itll take. We had a head start, then.

It was getting to be dinnertime, and we decided to take a chance on a nearby pizza place. The host shrugged when I asked if they were going to stay open. Didnt they take care of that this afternoon? he asked. As far as I know were out of the blast zone. Information, it seemed, was traveling slowly.

As we ate, our phones chimed periodically with updates from a WhatsApp group of neighbors: The loudspeaker trucks were outside, hotel rooms nearby were being hastily booked. Suddenly my wife pointed out the window: Police were stringing crime scene tape outside, blocking off the plaza. Our bike was parked on the wrong side of the red-and-white barrier.

I rushed outside to move it, briefly panicking the host, who thought I was trying to skip out on the check. After some fast talking, I was allowed into the closed-off, empty plaza to retrieve it. Soon I was rolling it back under the tape, past two amused young cops. Go ahead, park it anywhere, just not in the danger zone, they called after me. Meanwhile, loudspeakers were blaring into the night: This area is now closed because of a World War bomb found nearby. Please leave.

By 8 p.m., half the area had been cleared. Anyone who couldnt afford a hotel or find someone to stay with was taken to the cafeteria of a nearby municipal building. By then we were drinking wine with friends who had offered us their guest room. Our son, apprehensive at first about leaving home and Legos so suddenly, was excited about the unexpected sleepover. School night rules were forgotten, and we stayed up long past his bedtime.

Because its 2020, we were getting live updates from the disposal scene via the police Twitter account. Once up close, the bomb squad discovered that the bomb was German, but equipped with a mechanical Russian fuse. In the final days of the war, it seems, the Red Army ruthlessly repurposed captured German munitions, arming them with Soviet detonators to rain German explosives down on the besieged German capital. Poetic justice. I poured another glass of wine.

At 9:38 p.m., another neighbor posted a message to the WhatsApp group: For some reason theyd decided to stay until police knocked on their door, and now they were on their way out. Altogether, 1,900 people had been cleared from their apartments, offices, and hotels in the space of a few hours. Bus lines were rerouted, traffic backed up, and subway service to the area canceled.

By German standards, all this was pretty minor. In 2011, an unusually dry summer revealed a 4,000-pound bomb in the middle of the Rhine River where it passes through Koblenz. Authorities hurriedly cleared 45,000 people out.

The threat is present and persistent enough that new construction projects often require permits from specialists, who sign off only after examining World War IIera aerial photography for signs of unexploded bombs. In 2017, authorities had to move 60,000 people out of central Frankfurt when a British bomb containing a 1.4-ton explosive payload was located based on aerial photos that had been taken from a spotter plane a few days after a raid. The logistics were daunting: The danger zone included two hospitals, 10 old-age homes, the citys police headquarters, the German Central Bank, and one of the countrys national libraries.

Hell, our evacuation wasnt even the biggest to take place that Tuesday. Around the time the bomb down the street from me was uncovered, 10,000 office workers in Cologne were cleared out of the city center at mid-day while technicians defused an American-made 1,000-pounder. Those of us in Cologne are pretty used to this, a police spokeswoman told the media dismissively afterwards. We dealt with 25 bombs just like this last year alone.

Still, as I went to sleep I felt a weird rush, as though after 15 years of living in Germany and writing about the countrys history, I had successfully completed a rite of passage. I was asleep around 11:45 p.m., when the bomb disposal technicians began their work. At 12:13 a.m., less than half an hour later, the device was defused. In the early hours of the morning it was transported to a forest on the edge of town, where it will be safely detonated in the next few weeks.

The next day, our son had something new to tell his friends at preschool. Meanwhile, our neighbors posted updates to the WhatsApp group one by oneand couldnt resist some commentary. It was all a little over the top. Surely there are better ways to defuse bombs nowadays, one wrote. So much work and effort, and not even a little bang. Berliners can be hard to impress.

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How can we trust the media when they lie about our community? – Forward

Posted: at 6:45 pm

Were living in an age where public trust in the media is at an all-time low. Just 21% of Americans say they have a lot of trust in the information from national news organizations.

In my community, its probably much lower. Routinely, Orthodox and haredi Jews are forced to read news reports about us that have very little correlation to reality. A perfect example of this happened this past Tuesday, when Attorney General William P. Barr visited Borough Park for a meeting with Orthodox Jewish community leaders. It was a small meeting, just a minyan sitting around a table in a tiny room, discussing the issues. It was just Attorney General Barr, the Orthodox stakeholders, a handful of DOJ staff and several members of the media (the Forward was not among them).

I was there too. So I can tell you that the story I read about in the media was not the one that transpired in that room.

If you read most of the reporting about the event, you would think what took place was a politics-driven conversation dominated by New Yorks recent bail reform law and the Orthodox Jews and Trump Administration representatives devoted to crushing it. Part of this is about the fact that Barrs office has announced it will be bringing federal charges against Tiffany Harris, a woman who was arrested for targeting and slapping multiple Orthodox women, who was released without bail thanks to the new law. But mostly, its about the fact that when it comes to the Orthodox, we just cant get a fair hearing in the media.

Take The New York Times story, which was a perfect example of this misreporting: The Times framed the entire visit through the lens of bail reform, with a headline proclaiming Barr was inserting himself into the bail reform fray.

And yet, in their very own story which was entirely about bail reform even they had to concede that Mr. Barr did not specifically mention bail reform during the meeting.

That was certainly true. Not a single person in the room even brought up bail reform, and for good reason: The federal charges against Harris were not about that. They were, to quote Barr, about lowering the level of tolerance for violence against the Jewish community by using the federal government to plant its flag and show zero tolerance.

The Times, however, was not alone. Over at JTA, Ben Sales, who was in the room during the meeting, filed a brief with an opening paragraph representing Barr as blaming the rise of anti-Semitism on what he called mutant progressivism. Of course, Barr never said that. The actual words which Sales ended up correcting after being called out on Twitter were words anyone with any familiarity with the subject matter would have recognized, were militant progressivism.

Barrs point, which was well taken, was that militant progressivism embodies a drive to reorganize society based on rationalism and animated with a passion you usually expect among religious people, casting those who oppose them as not just wrong but evil. That, Barr said, is part of the cause of the hatreds and the antipathy toward traditional communities such as the Orthodox. It has seeped into our politics, and is a cause of toxic tribalism as well as the anti-Semitism some communities are now struggling with.

It was an intelligent reading of a situation we are struggling desperately to understand and contain. How ironic that it was mutated by the words of the liberal media.

But that was not the only misrepresentation in that exchange alone. If you read the news reports, Barr reportedly attempted to push back on the idea that President Donald Trump bore any of the blame for the national rise in anti-Semitism, a notion raised by one of the participants.

This, too, did not happen. What one participant, while bemoaning the extra difficulties he sees in our polarized moment when attempting to engage in inter-community relations, did say was that he sees so many people [who] are eager to blame, frankly, the president on the change of tone in the country but I think that those people have to look into themselves to see, what am I doing to tone down the conversation?

Hardly the same thing.

The distressing thing here is that I only know all of this because I was in the room when all of this occurred. If I had not been there, I would likely have also trusted the false narrative which was being concocted by the media.

Am I really to believe things are different when Im not in the room?

So why does this keep happening to my community? People tend to lean back on things they recognize, on things that are familiar to them, and reporters are no different. Especially when reporting about Hasidic Jews, reporters are prone to misrepresent, build connections where none exists, hear things which never happened, and make incorrect assumptions all because of what fits the frame for the story they recognize and are most comfortable telling.

Even if it isnt the story that happened.

But the job of the media is to tell the story that happened even if it isnt easy for them to tell it. And the reason so many people distrust them now is that theyve been failing miserably at doing this.

Eli Steinberg lives in New Jersey with his wife and five children. They are not responsible for his opinions, which he has been putting into words over the last decade, and which have been published across Jewish and general media. You can tweet the hottest of your takes at him @HaMeturgeman.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are the authors own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Forward.

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Islamic Speculative Theology: From Classic To Modern OpEd – Eurasia Review

Posted: at 6:45 pm

Abu Hamid Muhammad Al-Ghazali in one of his famous works Al-Iqtisad Fil Ittiqad elucidated at length the role of systematic theology in Islamic scholasticism. He maintained that theologians were responsible for responding to religious innovations, combatting the insidious heresies, and presenting the creedal formulations of Islam in a philosophic idiom. To this end, Ghazali himself contributed his masterpiece Tahafa-tul-Falasafa. An expert of Ghazali, Frank Griffel in his book Ghazalis Philosophical Theology held that the Tahafat of Ghazali was a work of systematic theology couched in a philosophical idiom with an aim to defend the creedal formulation(s) of Islam.

Three centurieslater, Ibn-e-Khaldun in his famous Muqaddimah argued that theology as an independent stream of thought had outlived its utility. He held that philosophical reasoning and illuminative epistemologyhad replaced the role of theology in developing rational Islamic discourse. In agreement with the assessment of Ibn-e-Khaldun, Halverson in his book Theology and Creed in Sunni Islam proceeded further and held that theology as a creative discipline had already died by 12th century and was replaced by a series of doctrinaire creedal formulations. Did Islamic speculative theology cease to continue as a thriving intellectual force by 12th century?

The answer to this intriguing question lies in the origins of theology as an independent strand of rigorous scholarship. Muslim scholars after their encounter with the Hellenic philosophical literature, Judeo-Christian religious corpus, and the Iranian gnostic illumination felt the urge to explain their religious rituals, norms, and doctrines in a scholarly language in line with the contemporary systems of epistemology. Their attempt at elucidating the religious doctrinal system of Islam in an idiom of contemporary epistemologies led to a wide range of disagreements and paved the way for the crystallization of guilds. These guilds came into being and transformed into different independent schools by late 9th century. The emergence of theology as a stream of organized scholarly tradition can be attributed to the intellectually vibrant environment of intellectual exchange between Islam and other civilizations.

These schools or guilds of theology based their argumentative reasoning on different epistemologies. On the far right were the Hanbalites. They held that the only source of Truth was the repository of the scriptural text and the Prophetic normative practice. Closer to them were the Asharites and the Maturidites. They maintained that reason could also be invoked in the formulation of religious discourse. Even though the Quran and normative practice of the Prophet were the main sources for the guidance, the exercise of reason could only be granted as an accessory toolkit. Reason was always subservient to the tradition, according to them. On the far left were the Mutazilites. Contrary to the Hanbalites, Asharites, and Maturidites, Mutazilites postulated that the sole exercise of reason was enough for the systemization of religious doctrinal system. They held that only reason as an epistemological tool could be used in order to ascertain the validity of the Truth.

The Mutazilites laid down the foundations of rationalism in Islam, according to Abdul Karem Soroush. Central to their intellectual outlook was the exercise of reason. They maintained that tradition should be interpreted against the yardstick of rational tools. The Mutazilites eclectically summoned into use the Greek syllogism, Alexandrian sapiential disciplines, and Syriac noetic rationalism to demonstrate that a fortified Islamic edifice of rational sciences could be erected on the foundations of rationalism. The school of Mutazilites was rooted firmly in the rational grounds and was committed to the cause of rational interpretation of Islam. Islam was a rational religion with its own sense of philosophy and world-view, according to the school of Mutazilites.

Unfortunately, the school of Mutazilites lost its constituency and ceased to exist by 11th century. Even worse, the Asharites and Maturidites lost their earlier rigor and absorbed the illuminative gnosticism. Philosophy as a creative strand of intellectual inquiry soon after Ibn-e-Tufayl and Ibn-e-Rushd had already died out. Islamic theology after 12th century expressed itself either in traditionalist idiom by producing formulaic tracts on creed or in theosophic treatises geared towards spiritual illumination, Dr Fazlur Rehman reflected in his work Islam and Modernity.

In sum, Islamic theology was a rigorous exercise of reason and intellect for three centuries in the writings of Mutazilites. This particular form of theology rooted firmly in reason and sapiential systems of knowledge was characterized as speculative theology for it explored new intellectual horizons. On the contrary, the theology that came into being after the 12th century was called dialectical theology for it was nothing but a regurgitation of creeds, doctrines, and theosophic disclosures articulated in unoriginal tracts either for the defense of religion or for spiritual illumination.

This dialectical theology dominated the intellectual landscape of Islamic scholasticism for more than five centuries. Even scholars as eminent as Ibn-e- Taymiyah, Ibn-e-Qayyim, Shatibi, and Ibn-e-Khaldun were the exponents of dialectical theology. The great Iranian scholars like Mir Fendereski, Mulla Sadra, and Baqir al-Majlisi were also of the same opinion. The first scholar to have revived reason in Islamic theology was Shah Wali-ullah in the 18th century. His magnum opus The Conclusive Argument from God was the first liberal attempt at erecting the edifice of Islamic theology on rationalist grounds, Charles Kurzman argued in Liberal Islam. Sir Syed Ahmad Khan continued in the footsteps of Shah Wali-ullah and granted more room for the exercise of reason.

But it was the Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam by Allama Muhammad Iqbal that gave a definitive shape to Modern Islamic Speculative Theology. Iqbal in this classic work employed the epistemology of reason to elucidate the rationale of Islamic principles. Like the Mutazilites of medieval times, Iqbal used the modern philosophical reasoning of the West to construct a modernist interpretation of Islam. The intuitive theosophy, normative traditionalism, and gnostic illumination were subservient to reason, according to Iqbalian interpretive system of thought.

Bringing into use his innovative model(s) of reasoning, Iqbal reinterpreted the classic concepts of Ijtihad, Ijma, ahya, and Islah with an aim to invest them with modern notions of progression, continuity, and authenticity. This analytic framework, reminiscent of Mutazilite school, established a firm foundation for the school of rationalism as an epistemological source to revive and thrive. Reason, in this reconceptualization of theology and formulation of scholasticism, is not only a source, but the main source of exploratory endeavours. Hence, Iqbal in his quest for the rediscovery of innovative models of reasoning transformed the dialectical theology bereft of any creative impulse into speculative theology that was once the telltale feature of classic Islamic theology in its heydays.

In philosophical parlance, this speculative theology is a modern manifestation of medieval Mutazilism. Is Iqbal the founder of Neo-mutazilism in Islam? On perusing the Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam, one gets convinced that the emergence of Neo-Mutazilism is attributable to the intellectual oeuvre of Allama Muhammad Iqbal.

*Rehan Khan is a prospective candidate for the Ph.D. program at NYU.

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Islamic Speculative Theology: From Classic To Modern OpEd - Eurasia Review

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Black Wave: Saudi Arabia, Iran, and the Forty-Year Rivalry That Unraveled Culture, Religion, and Collective Memory in the Middle East, by Kim Ghattas:…

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Exegesis, the critical interpretation of scripture, is not an Islamic tradition, and for Orthodox Muslims like Shaheen, the Quran is the uncreated, eternal, inviolate word of God. Nasr, meanwhile, was the author of books titled Critique of Islamic Discourse and Rationalism in Exegesis: A Study of the Problem of Metaphor in the Writing of the Mutazilah.

The socially timid, bespectacled scholar was a freethinker who challenged the orthodox tradition in Islam and argued that the Quran had to be understood both metaphorically and in its historical context. He was a man of his time, eager to help his fellow Muslims apply the teachings of the Quran to the modern world. To do that, he believed that the human dimension of the Quran needs to be reconsidered. So although the Quran was indeed the word of God, Nasrs argument was that it had been revealed to the prophet Muhammad through the use of a language, a local dialect even, rooted in a specific context: the Arabic language of the Arabian Peninsula of the seventh century. If the word of God had not been embodied in human language, how could anyone understand it?

Nasr was not starting from scratch: he was building on a great inheritance that went back to the eighth century. His masters thesis had been about the Mutazilah, the rationalist Islamic movement drawing on Greek philosophy that had first stirred a big debate between reason and dogma barely two hundred years after the founding of Islam.

The Mutazilah first emerged in the eighth century, in Basra, in todays southern Iraq. They believed that while Gods speech was uncreated and revealed to the prophet, the writing of the Quran was an earthly phenomenon: words, ink, paper. Furthermore, the writing had happened well after the revelation and the death of the prophet. The Mutazilah applied reason to the study of the holy book and believed in free will. Their movement reflected the times they were living in the Abbasid era was the golden age of Islam, the time of science and philosophy, of Abu Nuwass libertine poetry about love and wine, the thousand and one days and nights of Scheherazade, and the Abbasid caliph Haroun al Rashid. Baghdads famed library, the House of Wisdom, became the repository of world knowledge, overflowing with original and translated works. At the same time in Baghdad, also under the Abbasid caliphate, was Ahmad ibn Hanbal, founder of the Hanbali school of jurisprudence: resolutely orthodox, literalist, and opposed to the Mutazilah doctrine, which had become state doctrine. His opposition landed him in jail, and his following surged. Hanbalis believed Muslims had lost their way, and as the Abbasid caliphate weakened, the followers of Ibn Hanbal became more organized, leading the fight against rationalism and anything that could distract from the purest form of the original faith, including music. They set up in fact a kind of Sunni inquisition.

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As the four major schools of jurisprudence slowly crystallized, orthodoxy also settled in. Some Sunni religious leaders believed most major religious matters had been settled and began to restrict the gates of ijtihad, independent reasoning, to give precedence to emulation. Reading, understanding, and explaining the Quran would have to rely on the body of knowledge accumulated up until thenthe Mutazilah period was over. Hanbalism would later soar and spread to Persia and the area around Palestine, where Ibn Taymiyyah was one of its stars, before declining again during the Ottoman era, under the weight of its own rigidity and intolerance. Its geographical influence would slowly be reduced to the austere interior of the Arabian Peninsula, the arid plateau of Najd, home of the first Saudi kingdomwhere Muhammad ibn Abdelwahhab took it to another level.

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Black Wave: Saudi Arabia, Iran, and the Forty-Year Rivalry That Unraveled Culture, Religion, and Collective Memory in the Middle East, by Kim Ghattas:...

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Brexit: Britain slips its moorings – The National

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The United Kingdoms departure from the European Union is like a boat setting out to sea.

First, the rope is slung off the mooring. Next, the vessel manoeuvres through the harbour, its progress delayed by engine failure, a mutinous crew, and other boats getting in the way. The sky darkens. Is sailing still wise? The captain says yes and after a final tack, the boat rounds the breakwater, leaving safety behind and confronting the open ocean.

Why use a nautical metaphor for Brexit? Because the UK is an island, and sometimes geography can help explain politics.

The UK has always thought itself to be apart from Europe, despite its formal union over the past fifty years and its shared history for the last thousand. Its sense of difference of solipsism, even is wittily expressed in an apocryphal old newspaper headline: Fog in Channel: Continent cut off.

But why does the UK feel separate?

The limitations of any island are set by the sea, but the sea also presents possibilities. It washes through national mythology and, more prosaically, defines its economy. Britain is a trading nation, in which mercantile interests have often subordinated manufacturing. The French thinker Alexis de Tocqueville linked the sea to economic liberalism. After all, island nations have an interest in free exchange and open markets. (Abu Dhabi, the island emirate, has long been a trading hub too, with a character molded as much by saltwater as by sand). It is logical that free trade theory was first developed in Britain. Risk is the raison detre of the City of London.

The sea has also bred a peculiarly liberal political tradition in Britain. For much of history, Britain has had a bigger navy than army. Water, not land, underwrote its security. Britain hasnt been ransacked by a foreign force since the Norman conquest of 1066. Britains kings and queens have rarely kept large standing armies capable of imposing absolute domestic control. A state with these characteristics is usually likely to be less centralised and more plural than one whose troops menace its streets.

Economic and political liberalism are not uniquely British. But they are entrenched sensibilities, and they derive at least in part from the curious psychology of living on a small rock in a big ocean.

That same psychology translates into an intellectual tradition predicated on doubt. Unlike much of the earths landmass, the sea is contingent, fickle, unknowable. If you depend on the sea then, to a certain extent, you forfeit power and comprehension. The people on its shores must take the world with a pinch of salt.

Consider the "empiricism" of David Hume, Britains most luminous philosopher. Hume argued that we know for certain only that which we can ourselves see, hear or touch. Until the sun rises tomorrow, I cannot be sure that it will. If someone claims something that you cannot experience yourself, then you shouldnt necessarily believe them.

The general effect of this skeptical thinking is to weaken the basis for absolute authority. If nothing can be known for sure, and if knowledge is ultimately a matter of common sense or guesswork, then anyone asserting an absolutist vision whether of destiny, revolution, or progress is suspect.

For example, the French Revolution provoked revulsion in Britain. Edmund Burke, the Anglo-Irish polemicist and arch-critic of the revolution, wrote that the destruction of the "ancien regime" by fire and sword was dangerous not just because of its output in blood, but because it reflected an unjustified faith in universal principles.

Burkes view - that it is better to trust the independent thought of ordinary people than the fever-dreams of visionaries - was influential. Subsequent British thinkers, from John Stuart Mill to Isaiah Berlin, and from George Orwell to JG Ballard, have preached the perils of totalitarianism. Britain arguably has a heightened immunity to ideology and demagogues.

So how might this explain Brexit?

The European Union was conceived to establish permanent peace in Europe. It has a providential narrative and reflects a spirit of planning and design of grand, lasting solutions which on some level challenges Britains more piecemeal approach to social organisation. And it has been driven, among others, by France and Germany.

Unlike Britains sceptics and empiricists, the greatest French and German thinkers believe that reason can illuminate timeless truths. The rationalism of Descartes holds that logic alone can supply a full understanding of the universe. Germanys most outstanding figures Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, Immanuel Kant, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Karl Marx, Friedrich Nietzsche also, in different ways, sought perfect certainty: in metaphysics, history, law or morality. These thinkers offered systematic accounts of who man really is, deep down, and what he must do to become himself.

To some in Britain, the EU resembles this sort of enterprise and that is what makes it so troubling. The EUs pursuit of harmony is its original sin. On this analysis, Britain has a freewheeling personality, while the EU yearns after order. Britain cherishes open markets and minimal government, while the EU erects "dirigiste" institutions. Britain views man as fallible, the EU sees him as perfectible.

This perceived dichotomy is, of course, false.

First, for all its regulations, the chief purpose and effect of the EU is to enable trade. The EU is the worlds biggest single market and its precepts of free movement in people, goods and services are cosmopolitan by any standard.

Second, if the EU is supposed to represent a steady march towards utopia, then it is doing badly. Most steps towards greater integration are resisted or even reversed, and many members (including the UK) benefit from significant opt-outs. EU rules sometimes seem to be honoured more in the breach than in the observance.

Finally, Britain is not as much of a breezy outlier as it thinks. Other European states (notably the Netherlands and Denmark) have similar liberal traditions, while Britains own commitment to the doctrine of laissez-faire has never been entirely pure. Moreover, the discourse behind Brexit has sometimes displayed the very dogmatism which its votaries purport to oppose. The "us vs them" narrative is flawed.

But it is nonetheless unsurprising that the first country to decisively reject the EU is the UK, the rain-swept island off its north-west coast. Britains sense of difference, inspired by its specific place in the world, has led, eventually, to its departure from the European harbour.

The country must now embrace the future alone, charting its own course on the open ocean. How well it does remains to be seen. But one thing is clear: to succeed, Britain will need to catch a fair wind and reach deep into its seafaring soul.

Sam Williams is a writer in Abu Dhabi

Updated: January 30, 2020 07:05 PM

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Brexit: Britain slips its moorings - The National

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Iran: 21-year-old Christian convert who criticized regime’s oppression of believers arrested, missing – The Christian Post

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By Leah MarieAnn Klett, Christian Post Reporter | Thursday, January 30, 2020 Iranian flag waving with cityscape on background in Tehran, Iran | Getty images/stock photo

A 21-year-old Christian convert in Iran known for highlighting the plight of persecuted believers and criticizing the countrys repressive government remains missing nearly three weeks after her arrest.

The website Article 18 reports that Fatemeh Mohammadi, also known as Mary, was among those arrested on Jan. 12 near Azadi Square. At the time of her arrest, protests were taking place in response to the Iranian governments admission of guilt in the downing of a Ukrainian passenger plane hit by two missiles.

Mohammadi was apprehended by police and transported to an unknown location. Nearly three weeks after her arrest no one has heard from the young woman.

On the day of her arrest, she published a series of tweets in which she said the Iranian people were facing soft repression, exposed only to news that the regime wanted them to read.

In her tweets, she used hashtags that, when translated, mean hard-pressed and suppression is the norm."

She added that tackling soft repression is even harder than tackling the hard repression," accusing the government of institutionalizing false beliefs through selective coverage of the news," and lies that are bigger and more repetitive make them more believable.

The Christian activist was previously arrested three other times and spent six months in prison on charges of "membership in proselytizing groups," "Christian activity," and "acting against national security through propaganda against the regime."

Just before her arrest, she was kicked out of the university she was attending for no given reason. A week later, she was arrested again.

It appears that my religious beliefs and having a prior conviction [because of Christian activities] on security-related charges, as well as my human rights activism, are the reasons for banning me from further education, she told Article 18 at the time.

The denial of basic and fundamental rights, such as the right to education, certainly can act as a pressure mechanism and is used as a lever to apply pressure on religious minorities and human rights activists in the hope that individuals will halt their activities and abandon their beliefs. Depriving me of my education is certainly intended to exert pressure upon me, and silence me.

Persecution watchdog groupOpen Doors notes that Mohammadi also boldly spoke about believers rights, including the cruel treatment she received in prison, and ran a campaign petitioning for all Christians, including converts, to be given the right to worship in a church.

When asked whether she feared for her safety, she responded that she was ready to return to prison to fight for the rights of Christians in Iran.

Earlier this year, she wrote an open letter to Irans Minister of Intelligence, accusing him of violating the Iranian Constitution by targeting Christians. In it, she questioned why Christians are prevented from talking about their beliefs with their peers, while Muslims can freely engage in propaganda at schools, universities, mosques and shrines.

Iran is ranked No. 9 on Open Doors'2020 World Watch Listof worst countries to live as a Christian.

Iranian society is governed by Islamic law, which means the rights of and professional possibilities for Christians are heavily restricted, Open Doors notes. Christians are forbidden from sharing their faith with non-Christians in Iran, and it is illegal to produce Christian literature.

According to the charity, over the 2020 World Watch List reporting period, there were at least 169 arrests of Christians, 114 of them made in one single week at the end of 2018.

Many Iranian believers (especially converts) have been prosecuted and sentenced to long terms in jail. Others are still awaiting trial. Their families face public humiliation during this time, Open Doors reports.

Last week, acourt in Iran sentenced a 65-year-old convert to Christianity to three years in prison for insulting Islamic sacred beliefs even as he is yet to be tried in the court for two other charges.

In December, Irans Revolutionary Courtsentencednine Christians to a combined total of 45 years in prison for converting to Christianity. The converts were arrested in January and February 2019.

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Iran: 21-year-old Christian convert who criticized regime's oppression of believers arrested, missing - The Christian Post

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Trapped and Voiceless: The Palestinians Depicted in Trump’s Plan – Common Dreams

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Donald Trump's "Middle East plan" has fully adopted the Israeli agenda and ignores the fundamental problem that has continued for more than 70 years.

Palestinians are not striving to improve the conditions of their imprisonment, we want the return of our refugees and the end of the occupation.

As it is, Palestinians are trapped, with very little freedom of movement and no voice to tell our side of the story. That is not going to change with this "deal", especially when the international community turns a blind eye to the reality on the ground for ordinary people.

I feel the isolation that Palestinians are subjected to most painfully when I travel. What I love most about travelling is the freedom of movement; being able to get in a car, listen to music and just set off.

But, more than 70 years after the Universal Declaration of Human Rights stipulated the right to freedom of movement, this is not something most Palestinians can contemplate.

People around the world, who may not even know they have this defined right, exercise it on a daily basis. But for those living in the Palestinian territoriesessentially a detention camp surrounded by fences, walls and military towersto try is to risk your life.

In Gaza and the West Bank, a person's ability to travel is conditional upon obtaining a permit from the Israeli government and then going on a waiting list administered by Gaza'sMinistry of the Interior. As a result, the vast majority of Gazans have not left the Strip since the Israeli blockade began in 2007. The decision to travel is usually made only in cases of extreme need, such as for urgent medical treatment.

A few months ago, I received an invitation from NOVACT, the International Institute for Nonviolent Action, which is based in Spain, to take part in a speaking tour, in conjunction with a number of other civil organisations, about the situation in Gaza. I was asked to give talks in Belgium, Germany, Spain, the Czech Republic, Italy, Finland, the Netherlands, France and Slovenia. This invitation was the reason I was granted a Schengen visa and as soon as I got it, I registered my name on the travel waiting list in Gaza.

I waited for two months.

The conversations I had with my European colleagues during this time perfectly summed up the differences in our experiences and expectations.

They needed to schedule my activities.

"On what day?" they would ask.

"I cannot say," I would reply. "It is not in my control."

"Ok, so in which week?" they would respond.

"I don't know that, either," I would tell them. "Plans can only be made when I have actually left Gaza."

"So in which month will that be?"


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"Maybe in December, maybe January. When I am able to travel, I will let you know."

When I eventually got permission to travel, the experience was one of joy tinged with sorrow that others from my country could not enjoy this simple right.

On the road from Germany to the Czech Republic, and later from the Czech Republic to Austria, I saw no borders to tell me that I was entering a new country. The only thing that informed me was the welcome message I received from my telecom provider on my mobile phone.

I could pass through European airports without registration, waiting lists or lengthy interrogations; I could disembark from a plane and head to the exit gate without being stopped by a security officer. It was a shock.

Dozens of activists I met in Europe told me they had visited Palestine. The thought that they had roamed our cities, learned about our culture, tasted our food and felt the warmth of our sun, always made me feel good. "Did you visit Gaza?" I would ask them. "No, only the West Bank," they would invariably reply, "Israel would not give us permission to visit Gaza."

Not only are Gazans locked in, but others are locked out. And this isolation is killing us and our story. When people do not know us, when they do not see our reality, the chances of them standing in solidarity with us are diminished.

During my tour of Europe, I saw first-hand what it means when Palestinians in Gaza cannot tell their story. I was repeatedly asked by people who knew nothing of the long history of Jews being an important part of the fabric of Arab society, why Arabs were so hostile to Jews.

I was probed about the role of Hamas inthe Great March of Return -peaceful Friday protests by Palestiniansand whether this was the reason the Israeli army had used excessive force against the demonstrators. I replied that, according to the OCHA, 213 Palestinians had been killed since the demonstrations began in March 2018 and more than 36,000 injured, many of whom have been left with permanent disabilities. In contrast, no Israelis had died.

I was asked why we did not just make peace with the Israelis. But peace is not something the victims of occupation, displacement and oppression can initiate, I replied.

Now, as Trump's new Middle East plan silences the voices of Palestinians, our stories, our realities, more than ever, Europe has a decision to make.

The EU has for years expressed its "deep concerns" over Israel's targeted killings and illegal settlements.But pro-Palestinian activists increasingly face censure and restrictions in European countries.

Last May, Germany passed a symbolic resolution designating the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement as anti-Semiticeven though the movement's demands are based on international law and the methods it uses are peaceful.

In December, the French parliament passed a resolution that labelled anti-Zionism a form of anti-Semitism.

Europe today faces a real test: Will it value the principles of freedom of opinion, expression and movement and the international law that underpins theseor will it help in the continued silencing and stifling of Palestinians?

If Europe and the international community get behind Trump's Middle East plana plan in which the Palestinians have no saythe answer will be clear.


Trapped and Voiceless: The Palestinians Depicted in Trump's Plan - Common Dreams

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