RE: Islamic beliefs and their memetic sources

From: Lawrence DeBivort (
Date: Sun 10 Nov 2002 - 23:04:14 GMT

  • Next message: "RE: Post-Saddam Iraq?"

    You have got to look behind the occasional headline, to the normal practice, and not look at single localities, but to the patterns that generally exist, as per my KKK example.

    Salman Rushdie. This was about what was perceived as apostasy and death
    (that doesn't make it right of course), and not ordinary slander. And it was a local fatwa, not picked up by any of the rest of the Muslim world, if I remember correctly. It was as if some local minister pronounced someone sinful, but the rest of the church essentially ignores it. Not that Rushdie would find much comfort in that, of course. But your point is intriguing, and I'll ponder it a bit, and think about memetic drift and the memetic origins of Islam law. And I agree that it is not a matter of people being nice or friendly or not.

    I will disagree with your assertion that 'an eye for an eye' runs throughout Islam (see the example of Salah Iddin [Saladin]] for some demonstration of the point and his treatment of the Crusaders that he had defeated), but I think you will have to dig a bit to persuade yourself that that may be the case. Talking with Muslims directly may be the best way to do that....

    Cheers, Lawry

    -----Original Message----- From: []On Behalf Of Grant Callaghan Sent: Sunday, November 10, 2002 4:52 PM To: Subject: Re: Islamic beliefs and their memetic sources

    Greetings, Grant,
    >Thanks for the summary of the Hamurabi Code. It bears virtually no memetic
    >resemblance to Muslim beliefs. Islamic beliefs are generally descended
    >memetically from Christian, Jewish, and Arab Bedu beliefs. Aisha,
    >wife and quite influential in his intellectual and spiritual life and in
    >recording of his sayings and practices, was Christian. Jesus and Abraham
    >are among the prophets accepted and deeply honored by Muslims. Some Muslims
    >believe that the kaaba was built by Abraham and his son.
    >One of the principles of Islam is 'No revenge; no harm for harm.'
    >Restitution is the preferred way of rectifying a wrong, and there is a
    >monetary equivalence associated with many crimes or types of harm that
    >people can do to each other. A criminal can offer restitution and if
    >accepted by the victim or the victim's family, the crime and its need for
    >punishment is considered satisfied. This is quite different from the
    >'eye-for-an-eye' belief that we associate, for example, with Judaic law.
    >I'm not sure where Christianity comes out on this. Can someone fill this
    >What does 'turn the other cheek mean", in a criminal context? Perhaps
    >Jeremy can outline this?
    >As with many popular religions, practice varies from place to place, and
    >often for the worse. For instance, tribal Bedu law persists in some parts
    >Arabia, and shows itself most dramatically in things like amputation of a
    >thief's hand. But I would liken this to the KKK lynchings and cross
    >burnings that permeated the US South not too long ago. Dramatic, but
    >exceptional. I have had the fortune to live in several cultures, and have
    >found that Muslim culture generally produces a society in which integrity,
    >modesty, kindness, hospitality, and spirituality are prized. I have also
    >found this true of some branches of Judaic culture, and in a few Christian
    >cultures, e.g. Amish and Mennonite.
    >Can you draw any parallels with the Asian cultures you are familiar with?
    >There are several sources I can recommend for those interested in finding
    >out more about Islam:
    >1. Visit a local mosque (Muslim, not Black Muslim) and introduce yourself
    >the local imam.
    >2. Karen Armstrong's ISLAM
    >3. Isma'il al-Faruqi's THE CULTURAL ATLAS OF ISLAM
    >4. John Esposito's OXFORD HISTORY OF ISLAM
    >and, on fundamentalism, whether, Jewish, Christian or Muslim, Karen
    >Armstrong's superb THE BATTLE FOR GOD
    >On Dec. 18, 2002, PBS will broadcast a program on Muhammad and Islam. I
    >seen some preview material on it, and I think it will be VERY good.
    >I can recommend many more sources to anyone interested.
    >Islam has been so maliciously portrayed in the US that it is a miracle
    >Americans can understand anything at all about it, or have any curiosity
    >left with which to pursue the matter.
    >Best regards,
    >-----Original Message-----
    >From: []On Behalf Of
    >Grant Callaghan
    >Sent: Sunday, November 10, 2002 1:04 PM
    >Subject: RE: Post-Saddam Iraq?
    > >
    > >It is so much easier to make enemies than friends, in life as in
    > >international relations. The real measure of a government's proficiency
    > >that ability to make friends.
    > >
    > >Cheers,
    > >Lawry
    > >
    >While pursuing my interest in the sources of memes I ran across this
    >about Hamurabi's code. If you remember I broke the line of conflicting
    >memes into the Persian line and the Greco-Roman line. Tell me if this
    >sounds familiar in the memes of the Muslim thought of today.
    >1700 BC: Hammurabi's Code
    >This Babylonian king came to power in 1750 BC. Under his rule, a code of
    >laws was developed and carved on a huge rock column. The expression "an eye
    >for an eye" has come to symbolize the principle behind Hammurabi's code. It
    >contains 282 clauses regulating a vast array of obligations, professions
    >rights including commerce, slavery, marriage, theft and debts. The
    >punishments are, by modern standards, barbaric. The punishment for theft
    >the cutting off of a finger or a hand. A man's lower lip was cut off if he
    >kissed a married woman. Defamation was punished by cutting out the tongue.
    >If a house collapses because the builder did not make it strong enough,
    >killing the owner, the builder was put to death. If the owner's son died,
    >then the builder's son was executed.

    >Thanks for the summary of the Hamurabi Code. It bears virtually no memetic
    >resemblance to Muslim beliefs.

    I find your conclusion hard to accept in light of the fact that Saudi Arabia, which prides itself as being keepers of the faith cut off the hands of theives and other draconian punishments such as beheading for crimes that would only draw a jail sentence in most western countries. The eye-for-an-eye runs through the middle east and Israel, if not in law at least in practice.

    It might be worth while to compare the laws that various groups in Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and other countries say are dictated by the Koran with those of Hamurabi. There is also a large body of contract law from that period that could bear looking at.

    When I say the memes of the past and the memes of the present are comparable, I don't mean they are exactly the same -- too much time has gone by for that to be true, but you can see the echos of the past in the traditions and practices of the people who practice Islam. Look, for example at Hamurabi's defamation punished by cutting out the tongue (usually a death sentence in a time before antibiotics) and the fatwa on Salman Rushdie for defaming Mohamed in his book. Where did that attitude about defamation in the culture come from? Do you think it was something reinvented in our time rather than passed down from Hamurabi's time?

    I know you have an interest in standing up for people you identify with because you have lived among them, but the things you can see in the laws and attitudes of many Muslim countries and the way people interpret the Koran are echoed in the words inscribed on that column. You only have to read the newspapers from those areas to see it.

    I'm not talking here about how nice people are as individuals. What I'm talking about is how governments in countries carry out the process of governing. I can, for example, still see echos of the Confucian ethic in modern China. The Communists act more like the Mandarins of the Ching Dynasty than they do bearers of the traditions of Marxist philosophy. In fact, the people in china often refer to them as Mandarins. That article I sent you about China yesterday could be duplicated in the actions of people in Shanhai in 1948 when the Communists took of the Chinese mainland from the Kuomintang party. Now, half a century later, nothing much has really changed.



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