Thursday, November 26, 2009

Historical Structures of Muslim Society

Throughout the article, three main points or necessities are discussed for the foundation of a humane society. The three necessary components found throughout not only Islam but through the whole of society are partial control, the principle of free movement, and the principle of
cultural heteroglossia. The principle of partial control similarly represents that no one power has complete dominance over the rest of the world so to speak. This is much like today's society as it consists of core states, semi-periphery states, and periphery states with institutional forms of governing.The second principle of free movement allows for people in co-existing in society can act as a lawyer then a house builder, or any other profession. Along with this came "border" which do not necessarily compatible with "umma." In other words that monarch's or rulers would have absolute control over free movement, which again in today's society has rules, yet not always followed in the overall scheme of things. The last principle is Heteroglossia which is constitutes as complex. It refers to believers of the same religion having one ideal and set of code, when in reality they have a multitude of believes all following the same religion. This definition is again applied in today's society, especially in the USA. The USA has a primarily protestant and catholic orientation. Although these religions follow many of the same believes, there is still variation throughout the same religion. The ultimate question posed in the article is do these three principles collaborate to form principles utilized in a humane society. My opinion on this matter is Yes, these principle are still in effect today. These three principles from examples of present day United States proves that the principles are necessary and important in forming a humane society, whether presented in these terms or not they are fundamental properties of human society.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Facts, Bias, and Wikipedia

(this post is for extra credit)

Firstly, the argument that all facts spring forth out of opinions seems strange. As I write this, it is a fact that a few seconds ago on my computer screen I read these words: "all facts are based on opinion" (but then again it is possible that Descartes' demon is playing tricks with me). This statement (that facts come from opinions) can be translated into the phrase: all (objective) facts are subjective. But this is a paradox because the purported argument is a universal fact.

Moving forward, a better argument in my opinion would be to say that the interpretation and presentation of facts can be (and very often are) subjective and founded on opinion. That is, the fact that water is H2O is an objective truth (or, if you object due to linguistic reasons, it is a truth that the object me exists), but how the mind interprets and presents this fact depends on the subject, not the water.

Concerning Wikipedia, I do think that many articles are biased to some degree. Some articles are flagged by Wikipedia administrators and regular editors alike as being too biased. Wikipedia makes a strong effort to ensure that its articles cite credible sources, that facts and sources are verifiable, and that articles are free from original research (which could be very biased indeed).

In brief, there are some articles on Wikipedia that contain material that is open to interpretation. For example, an article about a certain nation's political economy with the conclusion, "thus, free markets are necessary and best for a democratic and peaceful society" is certainly biased. However, Wikipedia makes an effort to suppress such assertive and bold statements, but the problem is that Wikipedia is always a step behind.

*I made this example up. Hopefully no such sentence is on Wikipedia.

-Stefan Larson

Monday, November 23, 2009

Leo Africanus- Part 4 and the Economist Articles

The last section of Leo Africanus deals yet another turn of events for Hasan. Hasan takes a new wife Maddalena who was a practicing nun. She receives permission from the Cardinal to be pardoned from the convent and from there, both she and Hasan marry and are blessed with a son. Shorly after, Hasan’s friend, the Pope, dies and his replacement Pope Adrian takes office. Pope Adrian employs a very conservative and sort of tyrannical approach with the people. He orders all men to shave their beards and puts strict prohibitions on the types of literature the people are permitted read. Hasan defies the new Pope’s orders refusing to shave his beard and reading materials that the Pope did not approve of. Following such transgressions, Hasan is arrested and imprisoned. Pope’s Adrians extreme conservatism fosters resentment from his people and his poisoned. Hasan is granted a pardon from the Cardinal and he and his family are free to settle down in Tunis.

The articles in the Economist were quite interesting and provided a non-bias perspective of the Arab World and the issues that concern them as a people and as part of the greater international stage. The first and second articles deal with the political turmoil that the Arab world currently faces. The first article highlights reasons for the political unrest. The division amongst the different nations and sections of the Arab world, the ongoing strife with Israel and the autocratic political approach that uses repression tactics to maintain power are emphasized as the three most glaring causes for the political stagnation in the Arab world. The second artlicle then discusses how the United States (mainly as a response to the Sept. 11th attacks) tries to advocate democracy as a way of quelling the instability and perceived danger that exist in the Arab world.

I really like Leo Africanus, but I found the economist articles more interesting. I was unaware of the many strides that nations in the Arab world have made in modernization. Immunizations, nutrition and healthcare was discussed as some of these improvements. I also found it extremely interesting that there the literacy rates pretty equal among the Arab population despite socio-economic status and are a lot higher than some of the rates that currently exist in “developed” nations. I enjoyed reading about this area of the world because so much of our current politics centers around the Middle East and yet all we hear is one-sided discussions through the media.

Leo Africanus- Part 3

In this part of the book, Hasan’s suffers some misfortunes as well as some triumphs. His wife Fatima and their son die during delivery and Hasan is heartbroken but resolute. At the same time, he is called into the Palace to discuss the death of Zirwali who was murdered. Although Hasan maintains that it was not he that committed the murder, he is sentenced to a two year exile. He leaves with a grand exit but loses his treasures and his guards and the guards were stricken with illness and passersby took the loot. Hasan then finds himself in Cairo which was a beautiful city, but he finds that many of the people there are stricken with a pathological epidemic that is threatening the Muslim foothold in Cairo.

One of the most interesting parts of this section is how Hasan is captured by Italians and taken back to Rome. There he is given to the Pope as a diplomat. Hasan’s intelligence and views on religion are highly regarded by the Pope and they develop a friendly relationship between them. The Pope baptizes Hasan into the Roman Catholic faith and he is then known as Leo. What I find most interesting is that Hasan allowed himself to be converted to Christianity. My question is did Hasan’s upbringing, meaning his father having two wives, one Muslim and one Christian exert any influence on his friendship with the Pope and his eventual baptism?

Leo Africanus- Part 2

The readings this week discuss Hasan’s development into becoming a man. His grandmother’s death, his sexual encounter with a slave, his marriage and then his leadership role that he assumes in the caravan once his uncle passes away. There are two parts of the story that captured my attention the most. The first was his sister’s engagement to Zarwali. Although Zarwali was a terribly abusive man, Muhammed was extremely happy and willing to let his daughter enter into a marriage that would certainly include physical and mental abuse because of the wealth of the suitor. Hasan’s maturity and moral values speak volumes as he goes toe to toe with his father and fights for his sister to be let out of her engagement. When Hasan wins this battle, it not only symbolizes his rite of passage from a boy to a man, but it endears the audience to the nobility of Hasan’s character. The second thing that captivated me was the caravan. We discussed in Before European Hegemony, the concept of markets and the need for security as traders travelled along to markets in different places. Caravans were a way in which to provide such security. The reason why this is so interesting to me is that this narrative gives such a vivid illustration of what those caravans were like with the guards and animals and merchandise all travelling together.

I really enjoy this book for a number of reasons but one reason is because it implements the ideas and concepts that we learned from previous parts of the course (e.g. caravans, religious wars) and uses the story of Hasan to relate them to the audience in a much more humanistic , descriptive and interesting way. My question pertains to the engagement of Miriam. Thinking about a movie that I’ve seen in recent years in which a woman was being physically abused but pressured by her mother to stay in the relationship due to the man’s wealth and status, I wonder how much pressure family’s truly exert on their children to marry someone of their liking. In today’s society, are there still parents like Muhammed that would try to force their children into a marriage based on wealth despite their child’s happiness and/or safety?

Leo Africanus- Part 1

This book is a narrative account of a boy’s life growing up in the ancient city of Grenada. The story begins with the boy’s parents Muhammed and Salma who are engaged. Upon learning that Salma is unable to conceive, Muhammed finds a Christian slave, Warda, with whom to procreate. Salma is extremely unhappy with this turn of events and seeks a potion to enhance her fertility. Salma succeeds and is rewarded with a son, while her husband’s other wife, Wards bears a daughter. Salma pleases her husband with the birth of their son.

The story centers on primarily on themes of religion, war and gender roles. Grenada is a religiously diverse city that is home to people of the Muslim, Christian and Jewish faith. Because religion was a major reason for persecution and warfare in that era, the story of Muhammed, Salma, and Warda coexisting in a polygamous union despite disparate religions is quite interesting. What I found most interesting however is the role of women and the value that society placed on them. The first example we have of women’s inferiority is Muhammed’s ability and desire to find a new wife because his first wife was infertile.

Although this is not surprising to me, I find it very upsetting that women have been treated subserviently throughout history. Women’s inferiority is such a pervasive concept that is unfortunately still a problem that exists in today’s global society. The second example of this is the fact that male infants were seen as blessings while girl infants were not. This perspective is again very pervasive and is a large reason why the practice of infanticide exists. Again none of this is very shocking to me as it is not new to me. However women in many other cultures have improved their status within society and the same legal rights as men. With that in mind consider the oppression and honor killings that Muslim women are subjected to currently, do you think that their position in their society has improved at all since the 15th century or has it remained largely the same?

Extra Credit Wikipedia

I believe Wikipedia is biased. I am not a fan of the idea that virtually anyone could go into an article and edit it. There have been many occasions on Wikipedia where people lied and placed myths on wiki pages. Also, celebrities are subject to lies and false details about their lives over wiki. I see why and understand why Wikipedia is not a valid source for educational papers and homework assignments. I am NOT a fan of Wikipedia, simply because of our assignment.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Extra Credit

Wikipedia is biased. I agree with someone who stated earlier that all facts are based on opinion. I think some articles can be clearly more biased than others in Wikipedia, it all depends on the article. But they are all biased to a certain degree. The only good thing about Wikipedia is that any number of people can edit an article. This makes it so that an article is not completely from one view point or one opinion, but yet it is still biased.