Sunday, July 26, 2009

Swat Valley and the prospects of Islamic conquest

The normalization of life in the Swat Valley, where the inhabitants are returning to their homes after fleeing the military confrontation between the Taliban and the Pakistani Army, is a happy development. The Taliban have lost their hold on the Swat Valley, where they had managed to carve out an ultra-Islamic republic inside and with the approval of the Islamic republic of Pakistan. Does this prove militant Islam is now on the decline?

Pakistan, born from the refusal of the Indian Muslims to coexist with non-Muslims in a multicultural society, is an Islamic republic. Any Islamic militant who would like to see an uncompromising implementation of the Shari'a, may think that Pakistan is still too soft, but can at least base his campaign for an even more intensive Islamization on the existing Constitution. Islamists in Pakistan don't need revolution, they should be able to realize their goals by working within the system.

Yet, they have repeatedly made the mistake of taking up arms against the Pakistani state. Two years ago, there was the waste in human lives as a consequence of the militants' occupation of the Lal Masjid (Red Mosque) in Islamabad. Then the murder of Benazir Bhutto, expected to become Prime Minister, in Rawalpindi. And recently, the military expansion of the Taliban from the stronghold in Swat, that forced the Pakistani Government to reassert its authority and oust the Taliban from the province. The Pakistani Government had practically conceded Swat to them as a fiefdom where they could freely impose Islamic commandments to their heart's delight. That government had always been their closest ally, even through the G.W. Bush years when it had to pretend to side with the US in the "war on terror". And yet they managed to antagonize this best friend by overplaying their hand.

We have witnessed the same phenomenon in Iraq. The militants of "Al-Qaida in Mesopotamia" had American soldiers' lives for the taking. If they had focused on fighting the Americans, they could have humiliated the sole superpower far more deeply than they actually did. Instead, they started attacking Shi'ite fellow Muslims, blowing up mosques and attacking unarmed crowds of pilgrims to Kerbela. Killing Muslims by way of collateral damage in the war on the Infidels was understandable, but the Muslim masses could not tolerate the deliberate and massive killing of fellow Muslims. So, Al-Qaida lost its support base, a vital element in any guerrilla, and Iraqi tribal chieftains went over to the pro-American side.

Islamic strategists with a broad view may not be unduly worried over these lost opportunities. The Taliban may not have retained their hold on Swat, but the state that has reasserted control there, is still an Islamic Republic. Al-Qaida may not have taken power in Iraq, but the Iraqi Government is still made up of Muslims who stand by when the Christian minority is chased out and who openly rejoice at every stage in the retreat of the US Army. Nevertheless, the spearheads of the Islamic revolution have miscalculated and been defeated in their specific local objectives.

What is wrong with Muslims that they waste such golden opportunities? If you can get even the Pakistani state, the biggest sponsor of Islamic terrorism worldwide, to take up arms against you, shouldn't you realize you're objectively acting as an agent of the anti-Islamic world conspiracy of Zionists, Crusaders and Hindu idolaters? The question deserves closer scrutiny.

Meanwhile, it confirms my long-standing position that if ever we lose against the Islamic plans of conquest, it can only be due to slackness in mobilizing our brains against this not-so-talented enemy. I don't do "Islamophobia", I don't fear an impending Islamic world conquest. Not because of the rosy dogma that the whole idea of Islamic world conquest is a farcical and fanciful invention (for there are enough Muslim leaders who have affirmed just such a vision), but because the Muslim world rarely lives up to its potential. Not economically or in cultural production, of course, but not even in political and military confrontations either. Their threatening postures should not intimidate us. We are capable of outwitting them.

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Monday, July 20, 2009

May '68 and the moon landing

Last year's memorial events of May '68 have rarely paid attention to its connection with a development celebrated today, on the 40th anniversary of the first moon landing, viz. space travel.

Big anniversaries of the first moon landing on 20 July 1969 always follow the anniversaries of the wave of student revolt known as "May '68". Last year, to my knowledge, none of the numerous write-ups on that outburst of anti-authoritarianism drew attention to the decisive influence of the incipient space age on the generation concerned. Yet few developments ever were more conducive to a questioning of all certainties.

Ever since the genesis of life on earth, heaven was above and earth below. Heaven was what you looked up to, earth what you put your feet on. The natural and ineluctable contrast between heaven and earth was the model for the contrast between man and woman, parents and children, rulers and their people. When people started travelling in space, this ancient model became a bit shaky. To be sure, Newton's physics had already demonstrated that the same natural laws apply to both the heavenly bodies and the earth; that indeed the earth is a celestial body too, as much as sun and moon and stars. But now this theoretical bridging of the abyss between heaven and earth was given physical reality. When a man put his foot on a celestial body the way we have been doing on the earth, he changed many people's sense of heaven and earth. It's only natural that at such a time, they started questioning the old established relations between man and woman, master and servant, parents and children.

The signs are that the May '68 anniversaries will fade out after the 50th, and wil not survive its last participants, while the first moon landing will continue to remain a landmark in human history of the same order as the invention of the wheel.

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Sunday, July 19, 2009

Funerals hip and classical

Yesterday, Amsterdam and the whole Dutch speech community, as well as the spiritualist network worldwide, said farewell to hippie poet Simon Vinkenoog. Last Wednesday, the Flemish Catholic and the European Conservative communities buried Nucleus publisher Pieter Huys in Bruges. In their respective life's work, they had little in common except my sympathy.

Somehow, the death of good people leaves me with a peaceful feeling. Their deaths first of all draw attention to their persons and the work they have done. Otherwise you take them for granted and don't think of them, eventhough a mere thought of them is beneficial. This past week, I was drawn to reflect on two major influences on my life, though at different stages.

Simon Vinkenoog died at the full age of nearly 81. Indeed, yesterday 18 July would have been his birthday. Born and buried on the same day, that was astrology enthusiast Simon Vinkenoog for you. I guess it must have been his Cancer sun sign that made him so chaotic and so dependent on constant female attention; he married six times. Or in another view of the same data, he ran away from five of them, just as he ran away from the responsibility for his children, as well as from the taxman. Reportedly he was a loving husband as long as a marriage lasted, but not very involved as a father, except when his son had to lead him by the hand through the city of Florence while he was high on LSD.

In the sixties and seventies, he presided over the wave of hippyism that swept Amsterdam. He pioneered the reinstating of poetry as a performing art, and was all over the place in New Age publications almost until his dying breath, displaying in passing his considerable erudition in religion and philosophy. Not being much of a reader, I never read his poetry though I attended some of his performances, and had one conversation with him after his show in my hometown Leuven, ca. 1980.

As a matter of personal impression, he was a very kind man, the kind that seems unable and disinclined to do anyone any harm. Then again, many will hold it against him that he contributed mightily to the mainstreaming of marihuana in the Netherlands. Most marihuana smokers of my generation gave up the habit by age 25 or so, but Vinkenoog kept it up until the end, in spite of renouncing tobacco. He also took LSD trips once every six months, for reaffirming his roots in heaven. It didn't keep him from functioning, at least in his own unique role, nor from making a living and leading a rich family life. Many less gifted people who followed in his footsteps were not so lucky.

From the summerland up there, he may feel a bit puzzled to see himself juxtaposed with Dr. jur. Pieter Huys. This Bruges-based lawyer was a pillar of the Catholic community in his hometown, in Belgium and to some extent even on a wider scale. He certainly was a faithful husband and father of three. He had been a personal friend of Pope John Paul II and had many connections among leading thinkers and dignitaries with serious Catholic and/or conservative convictions. He published the Dutch-language monthly Nucleus, for which I wrote since 1992 till now. He was a very good man, whose strong convictions never stood in the way of an open mind, even for apostates like myself, in whom I suppose he saw at least a sincere seeker.

He also found the solution to a problem most conservative papers face: the inability to pay their contributors. They all complain that they don't have the money for that, and tell writers who expect payment: "If all of you start making demands like that, I'd have to close down this paper and then our beautiful message wouldn't be propagated anymore!" But not Huys. He paid out of his own pocket, and his resources were limited too. So as a rule, he paid those people who make a living by writing. Politicians who wrote by way of personal publicity, or civil servants and professors writing in their salaried working hours, generally contributed without payment, and that way they indirectly supported the professional writers. Equal treatment of people in unequal circumstances would not have been a just equality.

Pieter Huys was the voice of intelligent conservatism in Europe. We cannot do justice to his thought in an obituary, but no doubt we will have opportunities to discuss its relevance on upcoming occasions in the near future.

Vinkenoog's funeral ended on a flowery note with a "celebration" in the hippie colony Ruigoord. By contrast, Huys's was entirely classical, the coffin being carried out of the church under the singing of "In Paradisum". Given his stature in the Catholic community, I only thought that the Cathedral of Bruges would have been a more appropriate location than the Saint Francis parish church. But then the Belgian Church establishment isn't very good at recognizing and fittingly honouring a valuable friend.

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