May 06, 2004

Islamic Letters I

I just got a long letter from a correspondent in Istanbul regarding a piece done by Fran Poretto. He doesn't refer to it by name but I believe it's this one which closes:

By now, Palace readers will be aware that Islam and its followers are toxic to human life.

These are strong words and I disputed the idea in comments.

In my inbox today comes a long letter from a fellow in Istanbul (or he claims to be, networksolutions can't resolve his domain). I'll intersperse my comments with his (though I didn't in the email version):

Thanks for your note on our Fran's typically fuming comments.

I'm saying this as a "nominal" Muslim (a Bosnian + Pomac Turk from
Istanbul, and an atheist). No matter what I'd say, Fran just does not
want to see the combonation of factors that characterize the so-called
"Islamic" world. He is inclined to view and assess it as if it is a
philosophy like Randian objectivism.

It is NOT. It is first and foremest an ethnically-centered creed.

1- The Christian world has remained more or less quite homogeneous for
millennia, and only recently (that is during the late colonial period
and the 20th century) has expanded itself to included non-white masses
to a considerable degree. The reason why I mention this is despite the
politically correct atmosphere's stringent rules of censorship these
days, there is a very strong racial element involved.

(If you think of me as someone like Muhammad Atta, try the car racer
Michael Schumacher. And my father looked like a replica of Burt

For example I descend from Yugoslav, Bulgarian, and Morean groups. And I
do NOT identify with most of the so-called "radical Islamic" groups in
any way whatsoever simply because they, more often than not, turn out to
be either Arab, or Pakistani, or Malaysian, or some other mon-white
group (the Mongolian race mostly excluded, being mostly highly
intelligent and reclusive people with few expansionist ideas.)

This is not a simple fact. Ethnic traditions are too strong to be
entirely bent by religion. Check out African peoples who have been
converted to Christianity.

A small bit of background on me. I grew up in the US but was born in Romania and have heavy contact with romanians acculturated in Romania. I'm on the light side myself but Romanians go from white to quite brown in the SE part of the country. I don't have any preconceptions on the skin color of muslims. Bosnia isn't that far away.

Romania was historically a meeting point of empires and the Ottoman empire played an important role in the nation's history. On the whole, it was not a good influence and the remains of it are seen to this day. As for the whiteness of the Christian world, you are simply historically mistaken. For a clue, take a look at the separate rites of the Catholic Church, such as the indian dominated Syro-Malankara. The muslim conquests were a great blow to christianity and they did serve to lighten up the religion a great deal in the average.

Just an example related to ethnicity. Most Western visitors of the
Ottoman empire frequently related stories of polygamy in outrageous
terms. Somehow they each discovered (?) that such and such a sultan had
120 wives (the magic number appears all over the place).

Then, historians got to the reality. They checked birth, marriage and
death records and see the other truth here.

a) Ottomans used the word "harem" for the part of their houses where
the womenfolk mostly resided, while men passed their time in other
parts of the house. Those Westerners probably saw let's say 20 women
(wives, sisters, daughters, etc.) in those parts and probably though
they all belonged to the owner (sultan?) of the house. Which is at
best comical!

b) Ottomans were fundamentally monogamous, because both the Asian
turkic Turks and the Balkan populations were monogamous by
tradition. In the very rare event that the husband married a second
wife, it happened on certain conditions:

i) the first wife had to fail giving the husband a son -- then,
no one thought the man could the reason;

ii) it had to be after she reached menopause;

iii) she and her family had to consent to the marriage;

iv) the man could not divorce his first wife just to marry a
younger bride, because the courts would not accept it due to
obvious social reasons (his obligation to support her and her
children for life).

v) when the marriage happened, the new bride became also the
servant of the first, as she stopped doing any housework and
only ruled the house economy.

c) The total figure practicing this form of polygamy, statistically,
was not more than 0.2% -- that is, only 2 our of every 1000 man had
more than 1 wife. Even then, only those who could "afford" taking
care of two families could practice it -- which means it was either
an aristocrat, or the richest merchant of the village.

(I happen to know my genealogy back 5 generations. That is 32
families. None of them are non-monogamous. The plain truth is, if a
man so much as hinted at such a desire, her father or father-in-law
would probably want to scrape his... err... cojones.

This is ethnicity, sir. No religious creed can possibly change it.)

Today, in the secular Turkish republic it is against the law.

The monogamy of ottoman muslims is an interesting subject and may explain some of their superior results over the unabashedly polygamous arab muslims (polygamy has some nasty social stability side effects which is the reason the US wouldn't accept Utah as a state until the Mormons banned the practice). And if you wish to challenge the reality of arab polygamy feel free to explain one Osama Bin Laden's multiple wives.
The reason I relate these to you is to point to the danger of
simplifying things to the "USA Today" level -- that is, to dump everyone
labelled Muslim into the same racial group; then to the same ethnic
group; then to the same cultural/historical background.

I agree with you that oversimplification is a danger but it is not simply a danger on the Western side. Muslims, even nominal, white muslims are just as vulnerable to glossing over significant facts as the rest of us.

I, as a South European Slavic Ottoman Muslim, do not fit into any of the
"obvious" groups that Fran has in mind.

(I don't even want to mention mind-numbingly disgusting barbarities like
female circumcision - which is only practiced by some despicably backward
primitives down in the civilizationally "niggardly" continent.)

2- Christians have paid their "civilizational evolution dues" by
shedding a lot of their brethren's blood along the way, and finally
managing to keep their creed under control.

Oh, please don't give me the "the book doesn't say so" nonsense. If
people burned people in the name of it, and nothing stopped them other
than the advance of secular legal institutions, and if the Book by
itself is not capable of stopping such acts, what good is the book, sir?

Oh yes, I know, they misunderstood it. Right. You see, misunderstanding
holy books is a very salient feature of them. For instance, even though
no one legislates it and there is no holy book supporting it, hardly
anyone doubts that 2 times 2 makes 4. Interesting, ain' it?

Oh, and there is also this fact:

Please don't point out that this is from a "Nazi" site, and all that.
That's just name calling. These are facts.

In any case, "practicing" a religion involves only the most practical
fraction/subset of that religion, which is shaped by ethnic, historical,
political, racial etc. factors. No member of my family ever mentioned
murdering any infidel; we were all taught:

- to hate is a sin; we have to love all human beings - it is only up
to God to judge them. All men are God's creation.

- to be a good believer is to not steal, not murder, not covet thy
neighbor's wife (even is she is Anna-Nicole Smith ;-}, etc. (i.e.
the ten commandments which Fran fantastically claims is not even
recognized by muslims.)

Almost all the elders in my family have been the most decent and
peaceful people I have known.

What does Fran really expect me to do? Go back to their graves, spit on
them, and tear the pages of that allegedly holy book (which, to me, is
nothing more than the schizoid rants of a paranoid and demented thug),
and burn them and never mention them again?

What exactly does Fran want, really? That millions of Muslims to rise
and convert to Catholicism? Very realistic expectation. Why didn't we
think of that.

I won't venture to speak for Fran (and how you can think that a name like Porretto is irish is beyond me) but, sorry, if you self-identify with muslims you have a responsibility to contribute to the political hygiene of your community. We all do. This doesn't have to be big actions that result in fatwas and you hiding in an undisclosed location but you have the same responsibility in this matter as the rest of us. I don't judge you personally. Collectively the muslim moderates are only now starting to get their act together. Welcome aboard, you're late but better late than never.

An illustration from the dark side of my own ethnicity so you understand this is not pointing fingers at muslims but trying to include them in the community of the responsible. In my church wandered a newly arrived romanian from the old country. This happens on a regular basis and I try to talk to them to see if they need any help, etc. (I serve on my Church's lay council). This guy knew computers (as I do) and decided to regale me with stories about how he was very good at scamming people over the 'net. I told him a story about how humiliated I've been because Romania is on a watch list of countries rich with Internet scammers and how this affects all Romanians who are in the 1st world personally. You could see the light turn on in his head. He had never considered how he was contributing to the humiliation of his own people and how, now he was in America, he was going to suffer the consequences of his 'good times' in Romania.

3- And last but not the least, the problem with the "moderate" Muslims.

I know you won't buy this, or you'll probably accuse me of "grass-roots
anti-semitism" but think before you accuse (By the way, this is Istanbul
that I'm writing from. The capitol of the Ottoman empire. A place where
a quarter of a million jews and jewish descended people live. Just as
about 16 other tribes who have all mixed and matched for 500 years

If it were not for the problem of Israel, do you believe this hightened
"sensitivity" towards Muslim would have been covering our horizon? Think
of the year 1947, for instance. Do you think people even bothered with
the label Muslim back then? Surely, this ugly reality of Islam did not
emerge last spring, did it? So, how did it all become so prominent?

Just a figure: In the year 1900 the total number of people identified as
Muslims were 148 million. Now it's around 1.2 billion. And let me break
it to you, in case you haven't noticed. The vast majority of them lead
miserable lives in abject squalor. And the reason for that of course
is... well, sorry but racial. (Check out Philippe Rushton, he'll
confirm). With average national IQ's raging between 75-85, and with such
masses all dipped in the excrement of poverty and backwardness, what do
you expect those Islamic countries to be anything but? Is Africa any
different? How about South America? When did Brazil conver to Islam, I
didn't know that?

I'm sure you get the point. And yet you, my "neo-con" friends, are
discussing the "inner ideological quality" of that bloody creed. Who
gives a shit about a bunch of "verily I say unto thee...", really? I
mean, are you serious?

Oh well, maybe Fran would want me - one from the handful among those
labelled as Muslim - who happens to know foreign languages; can program
computers in languages like C++ or Haskell; can transcribe say the
woodwind section in a Rimsky-Korsakoff opera; knows names like Rothbard,
Feynman, Dostokevsky, or Paul McCartney as his old time pals... maybe he
expects me to "come out of the closet" and turn to those pathological
maniacs in groups like Hamas and say "fuck you, suckers"? Maybe I should
draw a bull's eye on my forehead, as well; will make their job easier.

But then again, I know my words are in vain. It is none of these that is
at issue here. It is one of Mr. Francis Porretto's excessively
overproduced bodily fluids: his bile. He just wants to say "we should
whack those *motherf*$#%& in Iraq to our hearts' content."

Hey, be my guest. In fact, invent a genetic weapon that will kill all
the Arabs, Pakistanis, Aghanis, Africans, etc. that constitute the vast
body of Islam. Reduce their population to something like 30 million
(that is to those like me.) You'll see, to your amazement, that the
whole "phiolosphical" question of Islam will be solved. And then Fran
can turn to discussing his new novel and quote Ayn Rand to his heart's

But, dear friends, I beg you; just leave my father or grandmother - all
of whom were decent people - out of it and alone.

By the way, I'm not writing these to him simply because I don't want to
hear another fart from him about Muslims not being trustworthy, just
because I did not spit on my dear granny's picture (a woman who was an
aristocrat, who was brought up in one of the finest French schools in
Istanbul, who read me the African Queen herself along with hundreds of
other "universal" children's classics, taught me how to play the lute,
etc. etc.) No sir, I'm sorry but I won't be able to accomodate venerable
Mr. Porretto's darling Irish ass and defame the honorable names of my

Someone, hopefully his significant other, or maybe yours - you know,
just a "she" who is capable of bearing children, who generally have
lives worthier than ideas or creeds - should tell this man to review his
views when (if?) he has grandchildren. Then, he may understand that
there's more to life than political punditry; that there's only one
thing on a mother's and father's minds: to see their grandchildren,
which will be their only consolation for breaking their backs for a
whole life time.

My granny, and my father (a two-star general, who served in NATO), and
my uncle (who served 5 years in Prag during the '68 invasion as a
military attache for providing intelligence to NATO), and many other
members of my family were as honorable as anyone's on this forum.

Alas, until Israel relocates Palestinians outside Israel - i.e. ethnically
cleanses its territory - I'll be denied even stating this fact.

How ironic!


As for Israel, I don't accept that it's the root of the problem. Rather, I think it's an excuse that prevents muslims from looking at the reality of their situation, that if the ottomans and the persians had not warred against each other, christianity would have been extinguished. You guys were that far ahead. And today you are a huge distance behind. This is a multi-century reality, not something that can be palmed off on Israel. The tradition of dhimma agreements and muslim humiliation of dhimmis goes back far, far beyond the creation of the state of Israel. The Wahabi tradition that is the cause of so much mischief also predates Israel by a good amount and they are a highly aggressive faction inside your own religion. The key issue of Islam is its inability to create a form that is comfortable with modernity. The fanatics keep succeeding at killing off sufficient moderates that the rest of you hide away and leave the field to them. That's no way to run a successful community.

Posted by TMLutas at May 6, 2004 09:32 AM