Thursday, September 30, 2010

Why Did Islam Become What It Is?


Sent to you by Lindsey via Google Reader:


via The Metaphysical Peregrine by rob on 9/29/10

~ "LETTERS FROM EUROPE" - by Rob (Wind Rose Hotel) ~

I have always thought that nobody who has an ounce of common sense—not to speak of sensibility and culture—cannot help but respect other people's religious beliefs, except for those which are manifestly contrary to universal human right principles. Such is, of course, my attitude toward Islam. Hence my deep appreciation for thinkers such as G.K. Chesteron, whose respect for Islam is as strong as his "humanistic" approach to life in general. Which obviously generates some kind of tension between the two needs: respect, but awareness of the most controversial aspects of Islam, with regard to its (much) less humanistic approach…

Here is an example of his, so to speak, "bivalent attitude" toward Islam. There is in Islam "a paradox which is perhaps a permanent menace," he wrote in his 1917 Lord Kitchener...

The great creed born in the desert creates a kind of ecstasy out of the very emptiness of its own land, and even, one may say, out of the emptiness of its own theology. It affirms, with no little sublimity, something that is not merely the singleness but rather the solitude of God. There is the same extreme simplification in the solitary figure of the Prophet; and yet this isolation perpetually reacts into its own opposite. A void is made in the heart of Islam which has to be filled up again and again by a mere repetition of the revolution that founded it. There are no sacraments; the only thing that can happen is a sort of apocalypse, as unique as the end of the world; so the apocalypse can only be repeated and the world end again and again. There are no priests; and yet this equality can only breed a multitude of lawless prophets almost as numerous as priests. The very dogma that there is only one Mahomet produces an endless procession of Mahomets. Of these the mightiest in modern times were the man whose name was Ahmed, and whose more famous title was the Mahdi; and his more ferocious successor Abdullahi, who was generally known as the Khalifa. These great fanatics, or great creators of fanaticism, succeeded in making a militarism almost as famous and formidable as that of the Turkish Empire on whose frontiers it hovered, and in spreading a reign of terror such as can seldom be organised except by civilisation…

Islam as "the great creed born in the desert." That's the key argument he makes to explain both what is wrong and what is the sublimity hidden in the heart of the religion of Muhammad. Two faces (what is sublime and what is "a permanent menace") of the same coin—a Weltanschauung which is son of the desert and which generates both great mystics and huge fanatics and creators of fanaticism.

But it was not until 1919 that Chesterton had the opportunity of making this perfectly clear to himself, when he left his home in Beaconsfield, and traveled backward through time to the place which is sacred to the three "religions of the Book." And his 1920 The New Jerusalem, is just a philosophical travelogue of his journey across Europe, across the desert, to Palestine.

Chesterton saw Islam as the Way of the Desert. The desert being a place of loss of perspective, and Islam personifying that loss of perspective. When the mind has grown used to the monotony of the desert, he wrote, a curious change takes place:

It may sound strange to say that monotony of its nature becomes novelty. But if any one will try the common experiment of saying some ordinary word such as "moon" or "man" about fifty times, he will find that the expression has become extraordinary by sheer repetition. A man has become a strange animal with a name as queer as that of the gnu; and the moon something monstrous like the moon-calf. Something of this magic of monotony is effected by the monotony of deserts; and the traveller feels as if he had entered into a secret, and was looking at everything from another side. Something of this simplification appears, I think, in the religions of the desert, especially in the religion of Islam. It explains something of the super-human hopes that fill the desert prophets concerning the future; it explains something also about their barbarous indifference to the past.

We think of the desert and its stones as old; but in one sense they are unnaturally new. They are unused, and perhaps unusable. They might be the raw material of a world; only they are so raw as to be rejected. It is not easy to define this quality of something primitive, something not mature enough to be fruitful. Indeed there is a hard simplicity about many Eastern things that is as much crude as archaic. A palm-tree is very like a tree drawn by a child—or by a very futurist artist. Even a pyramid is like a mathematical figure drawn by a schoolmaster teaching children; and its very impressiveness is that of an ultimate Platonic abstraction. There is something curiously simple about the shape in which these colossal crystals of the ancient sands have been cast. It is only when we have felt something of this element, not only of simplicity, but of crudity, and even in a sense of novelty, that we can begin to understand both the immensity and the insufficiency of that power that came out of the desert, the great religion of Mahomet.

And here is a generous eulogy of Islam:

In the red circle of the desert, in the dark and secret place, the prophet discovers the obvious things. I do not say it merely as a sneer, for obvious things are very easily forgotten; and indeed every high civilisation decays by forgetting obvious things.

But a second later he challenges those whom he has just praised:

But it is true that in such a solitude men tend to take very simple ideas as if they were entirely new ideas. There is a love of concentration which comes from the lack of comparison. The lonely man looking at the lonely palm-tree does see the elementary truths about the palm-tree; and the elementary truths are very essential. Thus he does see that though the palm-tree may be a very simple design, it was not he who designed it. It may look like a tree drawn by a child, but he is not the child who could draw it. He has not command of that magic slate on which the pictures can come to life, or of that magic green chalk of which the green lines can grow. He sees at once that a power is at work in whose presence he and the palm-tree are alike little children. In other words, he is intelligent enough to believe in God; and the Moslem, the man of the desert, is intelligent enough to believe in God. But his belief is lacking in that humane complexity that comes from comparison.
[Italics mine]

And a few lines below he says:

[Islam] was content with the idea that it had a great truth; as indeed it had a colossal truth. It was so huge a truth that it was hard to see it was a half-truth.

What does he mean by that? Let's follow his reasoning:

Islam was a movement; that is why it has ceased to move. For a movement can only be a mood. It may be a very necessary movement arising from a very noble mood, but sooner or later it must find its level in a larger philosophy, and be balanced against other things. Islam was a reaction towards simplicity; it was a violent simplification, which turned out to be an over-simplification. Stevenson has somewhere one of his perfectly picked phrases for an empty-minded man; that he has not one thought to rub against another while he waits for a train. The Moslem had one thought, and that a most vital one; the greatness of God which levels all men. But the Moslem had not one thought to rub against another, because he really had not another. It is the friction of two spiritual things, of tradition and invention, or of substance and symbol, from which the mind takes fire. The creeds condemned as complex have something like the secret of sex; they can breed thoughts.
The philosophy of the desert can only begin over again. It cannot grow; it cannot have what Protestants call progress and Catholics call development.
The highest message of Mahomet is a piece of divine tautology. The very cry that God is God is a repetition of words, like the repetitions of wide sands and rolling skies. The very phrase is like an everlasting echo, that can never cease to say the same sacred word; and when I saw afterwards the mightiest and most magnificent of all the mosques of that land, I found that its inscriptions had the same character of a deliberate and defiant sameness.
The ancient Arabic alphabet and script is itself at once so elegant and so exact that it can be used as a fixed ornament, like the egg and dart pattern or the Greek key. It is as if we could make a heraldry of handwriting, or cover a wall-paper with signatures. But the literary style is as recurrent as the decorative style; perhaps that is why it can be used as a decorative style. Phrases are repeated again and again like ornamental stars or flowers. Many modern people, for example, imagine that the Athanasian Creed is full of vain repetitions; but that is because people are too lazy to listen to it, or not lucid enough to understand it. The same terms are used throughout, as they are in a proposition of Euclid. But the steps are all as differentiated and progressive as in a proposition of Euclid. But in the inscriptions of the Mosque whole sentences seem to occur, not like the steps of an argument, but rather like the chorus of a song. This is the impression everywhere produced by this spirit of the sandy wastes; this is the voice of the desert, though the muezzin cries from the high turrets of the city. Indeed one is driven to repeating oneself about the repetition, so overpowering is the impression of the tall horizons of those tremendous plains, brooding upon the soul with all the solemn weight of the self-evident. [Italics mine]

Isn't that a wonderful explanation of the (abyssal) difference between them and us, whose minds have been nurtured by Greek rationality and Judaic-Christian values? This difference is also why, compared with its millennial rival, Christendom, the world of Islam had become poor, weak, and ignorant. In his What Went Wrong, Bernard Lewis asks, but does not answer, the following questions: "Why did the discoverers of America sail from Spain and not a Muslim Atlantic port, where such voyages were indeed attempted in earlier times? Why did the great scientific breakthrough occur in Europe and not, as one might reasonably have expected, in the richer, more advanced, and in most respects more enlightened realm of Islam?" One might say, Just read The New Jerusalem to get the right answers to these questions and a few others.


Things you can do from here:


Fwd: Only in My Head : George Tipping: A Remembrance

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: <>
Date: Thu, Sep 30, 2010 at 10:20 AM
Subject: Re: Only in My Head : George Tipping: A Remembrance


Wow!!!!!  What a story you told about George. He was a very special
guy and he touched a lot of hearts the same way he touched yours. Your
letter made me cry and think of all the good times we shared together
at the old Winn/Dixie and McDonalds and Jetties.

George designed and had his friend Eaton from Sunshine Surfboards
build me my first new surfboard. It was a 6'11" Sunshine Swallow Tail
single fin. George and that new surfboard changed me forever into a
better surfer and a better person. The surfboard was so fast and cut
so easy. After George had rode my board one day he did his beast to
get me to sell it to him. he said that it was the best surfboard he
had ever designed.

Right after that George moved out west and I think it was because
Goerge, Ike Smith, Pepe Steffinalle, and my self all went to the North
Jetties for a party and ended up at the Ft. George Gold course and
someone had hotwired the golf carts and about a 100 of us rode them
all night. I lost my wallet and got arrested for all the damage done
to the golf course ( $ 200,000.00 ) and they all thought that I might
tell names but I took the whole rap myself. But George moved the
Calif., and Pepe moved the Minnasota and I went to jail. I never saw
George again until the North Jetties Reunion in 2005. But the was the
same old george and we had a good laugh about the whole thing.

I loved George as a friend and I always will. He will be greatly
missed. And yes, if there is a heaven for surfers then I know Goerge
will be there tearing up the waves and living on the beach. For he was
the "ulitmate beach surfer Dude" that we all would have liked to have
been at some point in our lives.

Lindsey, Thanks for your story about George.

Steve Newmans

-----Original Message-----
From: Lindsey Swift <>
Sent: Tue, Sep 28, 2010 10:03 pm
Subject: Only in My Head : George Tipping: A Remembrance

Lindsey Swift has sent you a link to a blog:

George Tipping

Blog: Only in My Head
Post: George Tipping: A Remembrance

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Lindsey Swift

Monday, September 27, 2010

George Tipping: A Remembrance

I met George Tipping sometime around 1967 or 1968 surfing at the North Jetties of Jacksonville Beach, Florida. The jetties was a special kind of place in the 60's and 70's---very isolated, difficult to get to, but lots of good waves. Because of its isolation not many people went there in those years and the surfers and friends that did go there became bonded for life. In the late 60's and early 70's George was, in my humble opinion, the best goofy-foot at the jetties, a beautifully creative rider with powerful, concise turns, power on big waves and finesse on small waves. I was also a goofy-foot and we became good friends over the years, hung together, partied together, and mostly, surfed together. In the summer of 1969 we camped out together for two weeks at the jetties, $10.00 between us and just a couple of blankets. That was an one point we were so hungry we figured out a way to catch the small fish that were trapped in the pools of water around the rocks and ate them raw....yummy !! George was a very unique individual with a charismatic personality yet so laid-back and unmotivated in normal ways. In the years I knew George well he never worked or went to school...he just surfed and hung out !! At some point in the early 70's the first great love of my life decided to move on and I was least until I realized she had moved on to George Tipping, and it was such a great match could I be upset ? All better then!! But, eventually she moved on from George as well and I can't help but think that that affected him. Maybe if she had stayed, with her strength and character, he would have become more focused and more motivated. But then again, maybe not..... maybe he was forever locked into that iconic, laid-back "moon doggie" lifestyle of his.
At the end of the 70's, as we all moved on into marriages, family, and careers George moved out west, and I lost touch with him and only saw him a couple of times ever again. In 2003 we started the Jetty Reunions and in 2005 I managed to track George down and he came to that reunion. And guess what, he was the same George I knew all those years ago, living that iconic, laid-back "moon-doggie" lifestyle with even more outrageous stories to tell. That was the last time I saw George and a few days ago I was told that he had died in 2008 from lung cancer.
A page was turned......a story was ended.....the book was placed on the shelf  with all the Beatle books, albums with pictures of the past, maybe to be read again.....but probably not. At 62 life still goes on and memories fade.
But one final note----I have never been a religous man, and heaven and hell has never been an obvious influence in my life. But if I've been wrong, and there is a heaven, and God mysteriously forgives me for all my failures and transgressions, and I do manage to go to heaven then my idea of that heaven is the North Jetties of the 60's and 70's with all of us hanging and surfing together. And one of those mornings as I walk across the sand heading for the beach, I see the tops of the waves feathering in the distance over the rise of the flats. As I get to the beach and head to the rocks I see the waves are 2-3 foot overhead, bowling up in that perfect peak at the rocks and that long right wall, slight west wind holding up the wave. Heading into the water I see George with his surfboard lying in the sand at the waters edge, sitting back on his heels, his left hand is waxing his board and the ever present cigarette is in his right. As I approach he rises, flicks the cigarette into the water, looks at me with that iconic Tipping look....."hey Swift, waves are good, let's go surfing" !

"I'm right behind you, George."

Thanks for being my friend, George Tipping.......and we'll see you later.


Sunday, September 26, 2010

NYTimes: Forbes Article Spurs Media Soul Searching

From The New York Times:

Forbes Article Spurs Media Soul Searching

Dinesh D'Souza's article asserting that President Obama has anticolonial beliefs raises questions about opinion versus reporting.

Get The New York Times on your iPhone for free by visiting

Lindsey Swift

NYTimes: Forbes Article Spurs Media Soul Searching

From The New York Times:

Forbes Article Spurs Media Soul Searching

Dinesh D'Souza's article asserting that President Obama has anticolonial beliefs raises questions about opinion versus reporting.

Get The New York Times on your iPhone for free by visiting

Lindsey Swift

Saturday, September 25, 2010

NYTimes: Voters Moving to Oust Judges Over Decisions

From The New York Times:

Voters Moving to Oust Judges Over Decisions

Judicial elections that were designed to be as apolitical as possible are suddenly as contentious as any another race.

Get The New York Times on your iPhone for free by visiting

Lindsey Swift

NYTimes: GMAC’s Errors Leave Foreclosures in Question

From The New York Times:

GMAC's Errors Leave Foreclosures in Question

The lender's admission that it had filed dubious foreclosure documents could inspire a broad legal furor against hasty foreclosures.

Get The New York Times on your iPhone for free by visiting

Lindsey Swift

NYTimes: Gas Blasts Spur Questions on Oversight

From The New York Times:

Gas Blasts Spur Questions on Oversight

Experts say that weak oversight of the 2.7 million miles of gas pipeline in the United States has contributed to hundreds of episodes that have killed 60 people in the last five years.

Get The New York Times on your iPhone for free by visiting

Lindsey Swift