The BBC-Birmingham “Qur’an” Facts Fiasco

The New Oxonian

It is one of the cardinal tenets of Islam that the Qur’an was essentially “complete” in the Prophet’s lifetime and written down very soon after in the time of  Uthman before the end of the seventh century  It is a further tenet that the exact wording of the text has remained unchanged from the time of its revelation until today. A standard web-based information site offers the following standard orthodox appraisal:

“The Qur’an is a record of the exact words revealed by God through the Angel Gabriel to the Prophet Muhammad. It was memorized by Muhammad and then dictated to his Companions, and written down by scribes, who cross-checked it during his lifetime. Not one word of its 114 chapters, Suras, has been changed over the centuries, so that the Qur’an is in every detail the unique and miraculous text which was revealed to Muhammad fourteen centuries ago.” (www.islamicity.com, search…

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Revisiting the Birmingham Qur’an Debacle

A year on, the story has fallen from the headlines–largely because it is a glaring example of the central problem in Islamic historiography: Wishful thinking

The New Oxonian

“In December 2015 Professor François Déroche of the Collège de France confirmed the identification of the two Birmingham leaves with those of the Paris Qur’an BnF Arabe 328(c), as had been proposed by Dr Alba Fedeli. Prof. Deroche, however, expressed reservations about the reliability of the radiocarbon dates proposed for the Birmingham leaves, noting instances elsewhere in which radiocarbon dating had proved inaccurate in testing Qur’ans with an explicit endowment date; and also that none of the counterpart Paris leaves had yet been carbon-dated.”

quran

The case for the antiquity of the Birmingham Qur’an fragments grows weaker by the day.

As with all orchestrated media splashes,  the original story having done its work, not many people will pay attention to the unraveling of the growing mythology surrounding the discovery.

1.  It has been suggested that the two-leaf parchment fragment uncovered in Birmingham “belongs with another sixteen in Paris (BnF Arabe 328(c); as indeed they sit neatly in a lacuna in that text.”  However…

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Donald Trump’s Imaginary Band

 

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When Professor Harold Hill comes to River City, Iowa, to start a marching band he encounters a group of stubborn locals who don’t cotton to strangers but do like music. They have a barbershop quartet, a music teacher, a library whose benefactor mysteriously left the books to the librarian and the building to the city council, and  a long tradition of prescribed charity, marked by being willing to help, without really loving, one’s neighbour.

Harold Hill is a flim-flam man, a character in American  letters that goes back to folklore and the tall tales of frontier humour and reaches its apex in the story of the Duke and Dauphin in Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer. (Even the Wizard in L. Frank Baum’s Wizard of Oz is a  moral version of the species) They are frauds and hucksters pitting their wits against the dull denizens of  the flat, dull central and prairie states, and they are riverboat gamblers and snake oil salesmen and out and out thieves who drive wagons through dead-end protestant towns promising the gullible a cure for what ails them.  Their clientele are the people H L Mencken described as oblivious to facts and uninterested in detail–

No one in this world, so far as I know — and I have searched the records for years, and employed agents to help me — has ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great masses of the plain people. Nor has anyone ever lost public office thereby.

He continues, 

The mistake that is made always runs [this way]:. Because the plain people are able to speak and understand, and even, in many cases, to read and write, it is assumed that they have ideas in their heads, and an appetite for more. This assumption is a folly.

In the case of Harold Hill, he promises the people a band of festooned drummers and trombone players marching proudly through the flat streets of River City for the Fourth of July.  The problem is, the professor can’t read music, play an instrument, direct a band or deliver on any of the promises he’s made.  It’s all flim flam–as he confesses when confronted with his crooked dealing:

Oh this is a refined operation son, and I’ve got it timed down to the last wave of the brakeman’s hand on the last train outta town.

The hypocrisy of the Music Man is that it finds redemption in the idea that even if you’re hoodwinked by a total fraud and no-gooder–shucks–people deserve to dream and the fake professor at least delivers on that: The musical’s big production number turns his lie into a reality and encourages the belief that flim flam is as good as the truth, and that if you are dull-witted and gullible you still have the right to your illusions. Maybe (we are encouraged to think, as Dickens encourages us to think Scrooge will be improved by his nightmares) Harold Hill will end up on the straight and narrow, or at least not be tarred and feathered, which is the fate of Mark Twain’s characters. In anti-intellectual America everybody deserves a shot; education and training get in the way of “common sense” decision- making, and there’s not much difference between someone who talks a good game and someone who knows how to play one.

The travelling salesman and medicine man era is over.  Now we have shopping channels and internet marketing in their place. But the plain people are still pretty bloody plain and the temptation to flim-flam them out of their money or loyalty is just as great as it was in Twain’s and Mencken’s day.

snake-oil

Along comes a blast from the past: the true heir of every fraudster who had ever decorated the pages of a frontier humour magazine.  Like Professor Harold Hill, he sings his successes and promises his audiences a fantastic future where everything will be Fabulous.  Wars will be fought and won, not in the namby pamby, cautious, inconclusive way that American leaders have for the last eight or twenty …or who’s counting…or who knows where? Veterans will be taken care of. Women who have abortions will maybe be punished.  We’ll see (what do you want to hear–I’ll say it).  You want a big band? I’ll get you a big band. What kind of band do you want. It will be fabulous.  You want a wall to keep illegals out, I’ll build you the biggest damn wall you will ever see and it won’t cost you a nickel  Do you want gold T’s on it?  Fabulous.

Donald Trump belongs to a species of American humour that many people considered defunct until he reignited our passion to be hornswoggled, lied to, and persuaded that the world is reducible to the sum total of our competing prejudices and desires.

Curbside the nation is greedy for his snake oil, or seems to be.  Large sections of the country have become his Gary, Indiana or River City, Iowa.  He talks to the folks that politicians like to call folks even though many people hate the implicit dumbness of the word (I do)–the ones Mencken called the plain peoople. The ones who, because they can read and write and vote, we assume have ideas in their head, and don’t.

It is those empty heads that Trump is now cramming with his inconsistent and unworkable solutions to real time problems: the card shark who the plain folk imagine has the real story about global warming; the Las Vegas riverboat mogul who, it’s assumed, can handle foreign policy in the Middle East and strut with real leaders on the world stage. An insult comedian who knows plain people think diplomacy is bunk, that America is Number One and by God needs to stay that way.

How can an atavism like the flim flam man survive the glare of the media, of the searching eye of investigative journalism and public opinion? Easy.  The nabob media of the United States, whether conservative or liberal, is grossly ignorant because they have to sell their wares to the same people.  No one can look to them for the truth because the media have never been interested in the truth.  Mencken knew in the 1920’s that it was all about selling newspapers, and thus about stories.   Donald Trump, as a flim flam man, knows that.  The American media was made for him, not for real reporting about complex problems. Every day he strives to be a good story. And he is.

In most stories about flim flam men, the huckster gets his just deserts.   He has to because of a totally fallacious Lincolnesaque notion that a liar will lose if he tries to fool all of the people all of the time.  Put on a train, driven out of town on a rail, sent to jail, or ridiculed in the public square by the same people who, a day before, regarded him as their hero, their saviour from the grim sameness of life in River City.

But here’s the reality in Main Street America:  The citizens of this trembling democracy have elected average men, dishonest men, stupid men, cruel men and unworthy men to the office of president. The Jeffersons and Lincolns, Roosevelts and JFKs have been few and far between.  But that in iself is no surprise.  Most nations of the world can count their greats on the fingers of one hand.

The horrible thing about this event in American political history is that if this cardboard clown of a politician wins the election, it will be the first time that a known liar and fraud will be rewarded for lying his lies in such an open and consequential way and getting away with it. It is the public saying to the snake oil salesman, We know your potions are worthless, to the card shark, we know you’re cheating, to the used car salesman, we know the car you sold us was junk–but we don’t care. If he is elected, Donald Trump will reign as the pre-forgiven leader whose lies and callous indifference to truth have been wiped away by gullible and forgiving Christian yokels just as surely as Jesus wiped away their sins.

Flim Flam Donald doesn’t believe anything he is saying.   Like his literary ancestors, his feat has been to sell a bill of goods–a Brooklyn bridge, prime waterfront real estate in Florida, a $5.99 cure for angina, arthritis and obesity–to people who are ready to accept lies because the truth of politics and American democracy eludes them. Plain people like simple answers even if they are the wrong answers, and Trump’s answers are very, very simple.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Robert Ingersoll: God and Man in Peoria

The New Oxonian

‘The public’ is a very strange animal, and although a good knowledge of human nature will generally lead a caterer of amusement to hit the people right, they are fickle and ofttimes perverse.” P. T. Barnum

Robert Green Ingersoll was born in Dresden, New York, the son of a liberal Congregational (Presbyterian) father who had a knack of offending his godfearing parishioners with his unparishionable views.

Ingersoll’s father, when his son was nine years old, had succeeded in calling himself to the attention of the presbytery and landing himself and his family in Ohio, then in Wisconsin, and then in Illinois where he died with a cloudy charge of “unministerial conduct” hanging over his head. Such charges were not uncommon in the hypersensitive religious climate of the nineteenth century and the polity of  the Congregational protestant system encouraged them.

It’s hard to determine whether Ingersoll’s dismal view of Calvinist Christianity…

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Transactional Implications of the God-Concept in Islam

 

“‘Allah’ and its Discontents: Transactional Implications of the God Concept in Islam” is a three part article available at CrethiPlethi.com  In it the correlation between the historical development of Islamic doctrine, especially the doctrine of God, and behavioral patterns in islamic violence and radical Islam are scrutinized.

farkhunda

….The cause of religious violence therefore must be recognized as specifically intrinsic to Islam and not to the persecution of Islam, the defamation of Islam by its detractors and critics,[12] or grand designs against the faith of Muslims by the western powers. The inability of the extremists to decide who the enemy is or, for that matter, what the enemy wants from them is their greatest tactical and metaphysical liability. Even the Manichean dualism which used to define good and evil in the region fails to provide an explanation when Allah’s warriors start to execute their own mothers for the crowd.

This call for the violence in Islam to be called Islamic violence, or my claim that this violence is not peripheral to “authentic” Islam — thus not dismissible as “Unislamic” — but something that is inexplicable apart from Islam may seem unpeaceable or unhelpful. The injunction since the attacks of September 11, 2001 has been Do not blame the whole of Islam for the actions of a small minority.

But unless we prefer fantasy to fact, there is simply no getting around the fact that the reasons for themorbidity we see in Islam universally, but chiefly in Islamic extremism, is only comprehensible if we look for guidance to the morphology of what Islam teaches and practices. That means its theology must be scrutinized for clues as to why certain Muslims may be doing what they believe, not based on a misunderstanding of the mandates of their religion but on a faithful respect for core, if archaic, elements of Islamic theology.

As Graeme Wood has written in The Atlantic, “We are misled … by a well-intentioned but dishonest campaign to deny the Islamic State’s medieval religious nature.”[13] Yet it is simply impossible to provide a meaningful “secular” analysis or to offer political solutions to a crisis the roots of which are embedded in the religious ideology of a foreign time and place. If these doctrines are not understood for what they are, in their strict historical context, the West runs the risk of mis-explaining the crisis to itself, while its leaders offer vacuous reassurances that all religious people are (like modern liberal Christians?) men and women of good will, that Islam is a religion of peace, and that the jihadists fighting the battle are an unrepresentative minority who are doing a disservice to the core doctrines of the faith.

Here I will focus on two core elements: Islam’s radical emphasis on the immutability of a God whose apocalyptic judgement and wrath remain live and defining features, and Islam’s lack of any doctrine of corporate contrition or moral responsibility for the ummat al-Islamiyah as a whole….

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Killing History: The ISIS War on Civilization

From March 2015

The New Oxonian

Image result for nimrudOne of the key features of the book religions is iconoclasm—literally, idol smashing.  The ancient Hebrews developed a dislike for statues and images sometime in the first millennium BCE, and after occasionally reverting to worshiping them decided to prohibit them outright because their God “was a jealous god, above whom, there can be no others” (Exodus 20,4).

This was more wishful thinking than fact, since in military encounters with the many-godded nations that surrounded them Israel habitually lost to these other gods.

The Christians tried for a while to ignore their rich pagan legacy of temples and statues,  but finally succumbed to the temptation to make icons, name churches after saints, and produce thousands of images to encourage their veneration.

Image result for iconoclasm

Later, Christians in the East decided to clamp down on the practice, finding it more than a little like the idol-worship condemned in the Decalogue. And later still, during…

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How Christianity is the Perfect Religion

From 2009 as the stories then relevant will give away. And yet, and yet….

The New Oxonian

I confess to having a seasonal defective disorder about this—Christmas I mean.

I am frankly tired of news about religious extremists plotting world takeover from septic tunnels, watching deals between “good” Taliban and “pro-western” Pakistanis brokered and shredded within months by toothy politicians, depressed from smiling over my gin when MSNBC reports that a pilotless drone (no, a different entity from the United States Senate) has killed a “top level Al-Qaida leader.” (No, not bin Laden. Certainly not—but someone who knows someone who met him once. Maybe at a barber shop.)

Bored enough even to yawn at the last report of a horrific car, market, bus, mosque or school bombing somewhere in Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan. Weary to the point of dizziness at the latest decisions to send in another doomed-from-the get-so cadre of troops to “finish what we started” [sic] in Afghanistan. Innocence betrayed by the allure of travel to…

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Secularism Isn’t Atheism

The New Oxonian

Jacques Berlinerblau’s recent HuffPost religion column touches on a theme that is near and dear to the heart of this blog: the difference between atheism and its false equivalents.

In the past months (and years) I’ve occasionally commented on the highjacking of the term ‘humanism’ by atheists in search of an upmarket brand name.

As most readers will know, its combination with the term ‘secular’ to make the brew even weaker and more tasteless (e.g., by the so-called “Council for Secular Humanism,” a limb of the uniquely misnamed “Center for Inquiry”) continues to appeal to shrinking numbers of full-blooded atheists.  Increasing numbers of atheists are happy to be known as atheists; and a few of those are just as pleased to be free of the moniker “secular humanism,” which  never meant anything anyway.

But on the pretext that words and definitions matter, neither secularism nor humanism are explicitly irreligious, anti-religion, or atheistic.

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The Big Idea:

The New Oxonian

by admin Posted on December 7, 2011

 A New Oxonian Repost from December 2011

hristopher Hitchens is, of all the atheists I admire, the one I admire the most. I want him to live forever. But as that is impossible–for any of us–it’s his voice I will miss the most.

He is a journalist, a polemicist, a bad boy. But he is also a keen observer. And, though he may hide it, a well-trained philosopher. All of the so-called “New Atheists,” except for Harris, whose star sets, were Oxonians. In a group so small, you have to admit, that is unusual–until you think “Shelley.” I would even say Wycliffe, but it would take too long to explain why.

Hitch’s atheism is almost an accoutrement of his personality. He has always reminded me of the cynicism of a young Malcolm Muggeridge who would have hated the old Muggeridge, when the old Malcolm got…

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Merry Christmas from China

The New Oxonian

by admin Posted on December 25, 2011


Mother and Child

AM in China this year.

I love China. Food, people, culture, history. Public toilets, not so much. When I was in America I loved “Chinese” food. Now I love Chinese food. There may be things to criticize about China, but on average, I think it’s one of the finest countries on earth. That is an opinion, not an assertion. Believe me, I know what counts against my opinion.

Once I thought that America was the best country on earth. Then I turned fifteen. Between John Kennedy and Barack Obama, forty five years if you’re counting, there isn’t much to brag about.

But America is no longer the finest country on earth.

That’s because Americans on average are becoming dumber and dumber. The political system has become the equivalent of a hamster’s treadmill: vote ‘em in on a whim, vote…

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