Belmont Club


The Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia has recently decreed that all churches in the Arabian Peninsula must be destroyed. “The Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia is the most senior and most influential Sunni Muslim religious and legal authority in Saudi Arabia … His main role is to give opinions (fatwas) on legal matters and on social affairs. The Saudi court system is heavily influenced by the opinions of the Grand Mufti.”

The Grand Mufti seems to have missed President Obama’s “New Beginning” Cairo speech. On that occasion the newly elected President showcased his personal knowledge of that faith. He said, “Islam has a proud tradition of tolerance. […] That is the spirit we need today. People in every country should be free to choose and live their faith based upon the persuasion of the mind and the heart and the soul.”

It’s not working out that way. But which of his pronouncements is? The “New Beginning” speech in Cairo contained 7 parts dealing with solutions to “violent extremism, the Israeli/Palestinian dispute, nuclear weapons (with a reference to Iran), democracy, religious freedom, rights of women, and economic development.”

It’s fair to that President Obama got the religious freedom part of his speech wrong. What is worse he got everything wrong. Al-Qaeda has now expanded to Africa. The last remaining democracy in the region, Lebanon, is about to go under the Syrian tsunami, the ‘Peace Process’ is at a standstill, Iran is going to get the bomb in a year, women are back under the veil. The Arab Spring has sprung.

And as for economic development the Christian Science Monitor writes that the West must either feed Egypt or watch ‘bread riots’ break out. Shell out boys, shell out.  Dan Murphy of the CS Monitor wrote: “Bread riots or bankruptcy: Egypt faces stark economic choices”. Maybe Egypt can have both bankruptcy and bread riots. If anyone can do it, Morsi can. The good news, one of Murphy’s experts concludes, is that people will learn they can starve under Islamic regimes.

President Morsi’s government recently announced a rationing plan for subsidized bread that it claims won’t affect the poor. But few are convinced that the plan won’t either jack up prices or reduce availability of the bread that is now sold at one-quarter to one-fifth of its production cost.

Beyond the bread, more tough choices lie ahead. Morsi’s room to maneuver, however, is shrinking. Political turmoil has frozen high-level decisionmaking, even as the Egyptian pound has plummeted and foreign creditors look askance.

While it’s been a long-held theory that Islamist movements like Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood can easily come to power in Muslim-majority states, they often lose public support as they fail to manage the economy to their citizens’ satisfaction.

“In one way, what’s happening might be good, so people can see that they’re inept, they’re politicians like everyone else, and they get booted out,” says Erin A. Snider, a postdoctoral fellow at Princeton University in Middle Eastern political economy. “But it’s going to be very ugly in the interim … and it’s going to make them incredibly resistant to admitting defeat.”

Snider predicts it’s going to be a rough ride. And the good news, Snider reminds us, is that the ride is going to be rough. Because then the Egyptians will learn the truth and the truth will set them free.

Obama is batting zero for seven from “New Beginning”. How could he get it so wrong? Reflecting on the Grand Mufti’s pronouncements, blogger Raymond Ibrahim takes the media to task for a failure of imagination:

Imagine what would happen if a Christian counterpart to the Grand Mufti, say the Pope, were to declare that all mosques in Italy must be destroyed; imagine the nonstop Western media frenzy that would erupt, all the shrill screams of ‘intolerance’ and ‘bigot,’ demands for apologies if not resignation, nonstop handwringing by sensitive politicians, and worse.

But they don’t see it. There will be no outrage. Ibrahim cites lack of imagination as why they keep missing things. But surely Ibrahim has the wrong “Imagine”. The operative “Imagine” should be: “Imagine there’s no churches / It’s easy if you try / No synagogues or suches / It’ll happen by and by /”

More fundamentally that the Western media cannot envision the Pope in the Mufti’s place because  they cannot imagine the manifest facts trumping their cherished illusions.

For it didn’t take a genius to see the famine, the war or the growing intolerance loom and come closer. It came preceded by a brass band. Any damned fool could see it coming. Anyone at least, who did not choose a particular kind of blindness;  a determined sort of obtuseness, or make a supreme effort not to see what there was to see.

You had to really work at getting it so completely and hopelessly wrong. Who said the President was lazy? It takes talent to be so thoroughly off-base. That is the kind of failure of imagination the media suffers from, not a simple inability to transpose the Grand Mufti on to the figure of the Pope. It is the failure to see the facts in front of their face.

And now there may be dire consequences not only for the two million Filipinos living in Saudi Arabia, apparently beyond the writ and reach of the UN Article 18, but also for the Sunni and Shia; the Alawites and Maronites; the Druze and the Jews. There will be dire consequences all around. And they will continue to multiply until by some supreme effort the media and the political elites manage to reacquire imagination.

In 1500, Hieronymus Bosch finished a painting titled The Seven Deadly Sins and the Four Last Things. In it the artist depicted actions and their consequences.

Four small circles, detailing “Death of the sinner”, “Judgement”, “Hell”, and “Glory”, surround a larger circle in which the seven deadly sins are depicted: wrath at the bottom, then (proceeding clockwise) envy, greed, gluttony, sloth, extravagance (later, lust), and pride in scenes from everyday life rather than allegorical representations of the sins … in the pride scene, a demon is shown holding a mirror in front a woman.

We don’t acknowledge consequences any more. We don’t see demons either. But if we did we might inquire into the relationship between cause and effects.

In almost every catalog of the Seven Deadly Sins “pride (Latin, superbia), or hubris (Greek), is considered the original and most serious of the seven deadly sins, and the source of the others. It is identified as a desire to be more important or attractive than others, failing to acknowledge the good work of others, and excessive love of self (especially holding self out of proper position toward God).”

Sounds like politics to me; sounds like what happens when you don’t acknowledge reality; when your information store gets corrupted. It’s a description of when your imagination fails to reach the level even of your sight. When you’re too big to fail. Too smart to learn. The modern word for “pride” is believing your own bulls**t.

And the cure for Pride is ironically what Snider believed would cure the Egyptians of their attachment to Islam: failure; grinding, humiliating failure. “In Dante’s Divine Comedy, the penitents were forced to walk with stone slabs bearing down on their backs to induce feelings of humility.” That’s the good news. It’s also the bad news.

The Three Conjectures at Amazon Kindle for $1.99

Storming the Castle at Amazon Kindle for $3.99

No Way In at Amazon Kindle $8.95, print $9.99

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