Of Green Bananas

If I were Amr Adeeb, host of the — apparently popular — Egyptian talk show “Cairo Today,” I’m not sure I’d be buying any.

The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung has an article in today’s edition about a rant Adeeb recently went on.  He took the opportunity to speak some home truths about Islam.  Not “extremists” or “people who are abusing the name of Islam,” or such claptrap, but Islam itself.  His co-host, Emad El-Din Hussein, tried to stem his tirade, without success.

They were right in the middle of their show, and, almost like those first rancid burps and watering mouth you get right before you begin to vomit up everything you’ve eaten since last Tuesday afternoon, he bubbles up:  “This won’t make many people happy, but these perps were quite clearly Muslims.  Everyone is saying these terrorists weren’t Muslims.”  Then the first projectile irruption:  “No!  You lie!  They are Muslims and they are among us!”  His co-host interjects:  “But who taught these attackers?  Where do the Muslims in Britain and France get it from?”

Another plume erupts, spattering the far wall of the room with great gobs of stinking Truth:  “They get it from Islam!  These horrible things come from our religion; our religion is full of these inhuman things.”  His co-host tries the PC-approved approach:  They were individual perps.  Not true, counters Adeeb.

Suspicious, perhaps, that the inevitable post-mortem investigations and revelations will reveal her to be an imbecile, co-host then trots out the canard that These Poor Muslims are Just Being Misused.  Adeeb coats the carpet eight inches deep in Honesty, well over his co-hostess’ dainty shoes:  “Nonsense.  This is an integral part of Islam.  We grow up with these lessons, that is a part of our diseased psyche.  For these people it is OK to kill non-Muslims.  Don’t tell me that the IS aren’t Muslims; no one can misuse you when you are healthy.”

And it goes on:  “Why does this only happen with Islam?  Always it’s us, Islam.  We have a problem with our religion.  We cannot live in harmony with our religion.  Wake up finally and recognize this reality.”

Adeeb and his wife are both television co-hosts, and very popular it seems.  They came to prominence in the latter days of Mubarak’s regime, and were vehemently opposed to his Muslim Brotherhood-sponsored successor, Mursi.  When Mursi was toppled they were vocally supportive of it.  Wonder what they’d have to say about our would-be president’s Muslim Brotherhood operative whom she keeps at her side.

I don’t speak the language, but this appears to be the video of his rant.

This is what “speaking truth to power” sounds like.  Not the crybully whine of Someone Chalked a Political Candidate’s Name on the Sidewalk and now I Have to go Suck my Thumb in my Safe Space.  Not piling on some plumber who dared suggest that a candidate’s promise of re-distributive Marxism might not be a good idea.  In going off as he did, Adeeb did neither more nor less than quite literally render himself a marked man.

Given how Islam reacts to people who dare — even indirectly — to suggest it may, in the language of the American kindergarten, “have issues” (ask Salman Rushdie if you don’t believe me, or Ayan Hirsi Ali), were I this ol’ boy I’d make sure I re-ran all the background checks on my personal security detail.  I’d update my estate planning documents.

And I might reconsider whether I wanted to buy that next bunch of green bananas.

Oh, Well, but Other Than That, Mrs. Lincoln

What’s the play actually about, anyway?

Sometimes you come across something that, almost in passing, so glaringly reveals an underlying truth about its subject matter that it takes your breath away.

This week some random guys who adhere to no identifiable ideology or religion just randomly decided to light off a couple of bombs in Belgium.  It was a bad week for workplace violence, in other words.  And in other news, the president enjoyed yukking it up at the ballgame with a murderously oppressive regime.  But I digress.

In follow-up to the Brussels bombings, this article ran in USA Today.  The headline sort of tips the author’s hand:  “The Quran’s deadly role in inspiring Belgian slaughter,” by a fellow identified as Nabeel Qureshi.  From his self-description and how he relates his family background, he seems to be one of those adherents of the Religion of Peace that is being referred to on that silly “Coexist” bumper sticker.  His father spent a career in the U.S. Navy, starting as a seaman and retiring as a lieutenant commander (which, by the way, tells you his father must have been pretty hot stuff, to make it that far up from that far down).  “As a Muslim growing up in the United States, I was taught by my imams and the community around me that Islam is a religion of peace. My family modeled love for others and love for country, and not just by their words.”

All to the good.  I’d have no problem with him, or his family, for my next-door neighbors, any more than I’d object to any other American family.

But let’s let Comrade Qureshi tell it himself:

“As a young Muslim boy growing up in the 1980s and 1990s, it was impossible for me to look up a hadith unless I traveled to an Islamic library, something I would have never thought to do. For all intents and purposes, if I wanted to know about the traditions of Muhammad, I had to ask imams or elders in my tradition of Islam.”  That is, as he notes, no longer the case.  Just as the Bible’s translation into the vernacular enabled the masses to access for themselves just what exactly scripture has to say about any particular thing, without the interposition of the clerisy, so today’s Muslim masses can look it up for themselves.

And just what are they finding?  Why, they’re finding the same things that Qureshi did, once he no longer was reliant upon his elders and imams.  “Yet as I began to investigate the Quran and the traditions of Muhammad’s life for myself in college, I found to my genuine surprise that the pages of Islamic history are filled with violence.”

Do what?

“When everyday Muslims investigate the Quran and hadith for themselves, bypassing centuries of tradition and their imams’ interpretations, they are confronted with the reality of violent jihad in the very foundations of their faith.”  “The Quran itself reveals a trajectory of jihad reflected in the almost 23 years of Muhammad’s prophetic career. As I demonstrate carefully in my book, Answering Jihad: A Better Way Forward, starting with peaceful teachings and proclamations of monotheism, Muhammad’s message featured violence with increasing intensity, culminating in surah 9, chronologically the last major chapter of the Quran, and its most expansively violent teaching. Throughout history, Muslim theologians have understood and taught this progression, that the message of the Quran culminates in its ninth chapter.”  [N.b.  The foregoing quoted language has links in it over at the USA Today website.]

Qureshi then pulls a few chestnuts out:  “Surah 9 is a command to disavow all treaties with polytheists and to subjugate Jews and Christians (9.29) so that Islam may ‘prevail over all religions’ (9.33). It is fair to wonder whether any non-Muslims in the world are immune from being attacked, subdued or assimilated under this command. Muslims must fight, according to this final chapter of the Quran, and if they do not, then their faith is called into question and they are counted among the hypocrites (9.44-45). If they do fight, they are promised one of two rewards, either spoils of war or heaven through martyrdom. Allah has made a bargain with the mujahid who obeys: Kill or be killed in battle, and paradise awaits (9.111).”

According to Qureshi, the implications of Surah 9 are acknowledged by modern Muslim theologians.  “Muslim thought leaders agree that the Quran promotes such violence.”  And there’s the rub:  The most potent recruiting tool and mechanism for radicalization available to ISIS is . . . just quoting the foundational documents of their religion.  “With frequent references to the highest sources of authority in Islam, the Quran and hadith (the collection of the sayings of the prophet Muhammad), ISIL enjoins upon Muslims their duty to fight against the enemies of Islam and to emigrate to the Islamic State once it has been established.”

And that, folks, peels away quite a bit of bullshit that’s being peddled by self-loathing Westerners.  The “extremists” among the Muslims have the theologically better argument of their “moderate” or assimilated co-religionists.  That is the irreducible fact that stares us in the face over the shards of glass and spattered bits of airline customers.

Pity the Muslims don’t have the theological equivalent of modern U.S. Supreme Court jurists to explain to them that all those words simply don’t mean what they say.  No, when ISIS wants to convince a young Muslim man that his most solemn duty is to fight, kill, and maybe die in order to subjugate practitioners of any religion other than strict-form Islam, they perversely go out and just show him the actual words and have the temerity to suggest to him that they mean precisely what they say.

Deconstructionism, in other words, hasn’t made very deep inroads into Islam.

A couple of quick points.  Islam appears to be enjoying something of the same process that Christianity went through, at least in its early phases, with the Reformation.  There was a reason, after all, why for so long either translating the Bible into the vernacular, or even possession of a translated Bible was a capital offense.  Literally.  Get caught with a Wyclif Bible and they’d make short work of you.  Step 1 of the Reformation was therefore what is now known as “disintermediation.”  It’s really not much more than the same process as online commerce.  The internet has largely dissolved the barriers between the ordinary Joe on the “Islamic Street” and the authoritative pronouncements of his faith’s founding documents.  Generally disintermediation is a very good thing.  Anything which undercuts the ipse dixit hierarchy of any one group (priests, imams, broadcast network news shows, judges) over another, by providing the people that walked in darkness direct access to ultimate authority (Holy Scripture, the Koran, multiple independent news sources, or the actual words of constitutions and statutes) is to be praised on that ground alone.  I’ll state that as a categorical.

So what is to be done if the ultimate authority commands, in pretty plain language, behaviors such as we have seen in Brussels, Paris, New York, Madrid, London, and so forth?

I honestly don’t know.  It seems to me that the fellow quoted by Qureshi has a long, hard slog ahead of him, and whether the thing is to be done at all must be seen as wholly questionable:  “Maajid Nawaz, co-founder of the Quilliam Foundation in the United Kingdom, has said, ‘We Muslims must admit there are challenging Quranic passages that require reinterpretation today. … Only by rejecting vacuous literalism are we able to condemn, in principle, ISIS-style slavery, beheading, lashing, amputation & other medieval practices forever (all of which are in the Quran). … Reformers either win, and get religion-neutral politics, or lose, and get ISIL-style theocracy.’ In other words, Muslims must depart from the literal reading of the Quran in order to create a jihad-free Islamic world.”  By his own words he may well be chasing a will-o-the-wisp.  What Nawaz calls “vacuous literalism” the boys of ISIS can call “the words’ plain meaning,” without strained or sophistical reading.  And slavery, beheading, lashing, amputation, and “other medieval practices” are “all . . . in the Koran.”  Well, of course they are; that’s what makes it so straightforward to convince the jihadisti that they are commands of Allah. Just read the damned words, boy, and make up your mind for yourself.

And what is this about creating a “jihad-free Islamic world” in the first place?  If jihad is part of the central framework of Islamic existence in this world, then how can you excise it and still call what you’re left with “Islamic”?  I recall once, a number of years ago, this billboard alongside the interstate in a city near where I live.  It was from one of these First Church of What’s Happening Now, where Christianity is on offer as a practical therapeutic lifestyle option.  The billboard encouraged the wanderer to come discover “a non-religious path to God.”  That is an oxymoron plain and simple, folks.  It seems as though what Qureshi is positing is the same sort of oxymoron.

The Protestant movement’s most powerful arguments rested on the elemental fact that, once translated and accessible, Holy Scripture was seen not to provide authority for quite a bit of what had grown to encrust the Roman Catholic church as an institution.  The problem today is that what the ISIS recruiters are propounding can be seen to be very much in the Koran, in exactly as many words as they’re saying.

Islam is not, in other words, a Religion of Peace, not on its own terms, read in the ordinary sense of the words actually used, without contorting them into their opposites.

The situation outlined by Qureshi makes it doubtful whether anything like a Protestant Reformation can ever be in the cards for Islam.  Accomplishing that would require millions of Muslims all over the world to believe in the in-most recesses of their hearts that the ordinary words of the foundational texts just do not mean what they so obviously say.  How do you convince people of an argument the unspoken subtext of which is: “Mohammed didn’t know what he was talking about”?  My understanding of Islamic dogma is that the Koran’s words are not actually those of the prophet, but rather of Allah himself.  Quite different from even the most literalist Christian fundamentalist, believing every word in the King James Version to be divinely inspired.  To “interpret” the Koran in a way which would allow peaceful coexistence requires you to accept either that, to some extent, Mohammed was a false prophet because he failed accurately to transmit Allah’s pronouncements, or alternatively, that Allah knowingly allowed his words to be mis-transcribed.  How can either of those suggestions be acceptable to a devout Muslim?

Not all problems have solutions.  I very greatly fear that Islam is among the problems that don’t.

And This, Dear Children, is Why You Must Travel

Or at least read about different places, times, and peoples.

Here is a chart published over at The Washington Post.  It breaks down alcohol consumption by adult Americans into deciles, according to “number of drinks per week.”  It’s an interesting chart, not only for the reasons obviously being pushed by the newspaper (“if you do much more than sniff a cork, you’re a drunk”), but for several others.

For starts, it demonstrates pretty well what the article refers to as the “Pareto Law.”  I’ve not heard that particular expression, although I am familiar with the concept of “Pareto efficiency.”  I have heard of the concept before, expressed as the “long tail” effect, which applies not only in purchases of consumer goods but across pretty much all human activity.  According to the Pareto Law, it seems, the top 20% of purchasers of a particular class of consumer goods generally account for 80% of all sales of those goods.  Do you have a friend who’s got not just one or some, but all the most recent versions of Apple’s i-this-that-and-the-other? He’s the guy they’re talking about.  The article presents this pattern in the alcoholic beverage industry as being of peculiar concern, because if you drink that much (so as to get into the 80th percentile or higher) “you almost certainly have a drinking problem.”

By the way, I love that expression: “a drinking problem.”  According to what standard?  Different people’s bodies tolerate different levels of alcohol consumption.  Different other life behaviors affect how well your body tolerates different levels of alcohol consumption.  Different patterns of alcohol consumption affect what alcohol does to your body.  All of those factors also affect in profoundly different ways how your consumption of alcohol affects your life, your work, your patterns of friendship, how you perceive and deal with the world you move through.  And on and on.  But for some reasons Americans just love them the notion of “a drinking problem.”  I know someone who is, with a few pretty glaring exceptions, of unusual discernment and reasoning capacity.  And yet this person parrots without batting an eye the old saw that “if you have more than four drinks ‘at one sitting,’ that’s ‘binge drinking.'”  To which the only possible response is, “Bullshit!”  What’s “a sitting,” for starts?  Is it without getting up from the same table?  Is it at the same event?  Or does it mean just sitting down to watch a football game and drinking four beers over the course of the three or so hours it takes for a professional football game on television?  And is four Miller Lite “beers” the same as four George Dickels?  Anyone who asserts they are equivalent is not entitled to be taken seriously on the subject.

My point is not that it’s not possible to drink indisputably too much, too frequently.  It’s certainly not that doing so over any length of time is going to harm the drinker and very likely those around him, in some physical or moral manner.  My point is that all this pseudo-scientific “measurement” nonsense is exactly that: pure bullshit, from start to finish (here’s a link to a National Institute of Health article, in which much is made of exceeding the “recommended limit” on drinking”; on what scientifically defensible basis is that “recommended limit” based?).  It’s like the notion of a “best college.”  Are there colleges that are undeniably better than others by most relevant standards?  Of course.  But is there a “best college”?  Anyone who asserts there is such an animal and he knows which one either is lying to you, or he is so foolish that you are within your rights to question whether he’s smart enough to judge a college in any event.  As Thomas Sowell pointed out decades ago, the question to investigate (and it does take digging; a lot of digging to find the answer, because the education industry goes to outrageous lengths to hide such information) is not, “Which is the best college?” but rather, “Which is the best college for this student?”  The same with “a drinking problem.”  You simply cannot answer the question whether someone drinks too much by reference to counting the “number of drinks” per day, or per week, or per month, relative to some manufactured-from-whole-cloth “recommended limit,” and then declaring that if that number is greater than X, he has “a drinking problem.”  You have to ask whether that person drinks too much for his own life.  But that doesn’t make for very large research grants, does it, or for splashy headlines, or invitations to let an opinion in a 30-second spot on the evening news show?

So just what does this chart show?

It shows how little Americans drink, most of all.  Fully 30% of American adults drink exactly nothing alcoholic during the course of a week.  Go find another Western country in which that is the case.  Remember, “nothing” is a pretty stiff standard to meet.

Another 30% of adults drink (on average) less than one “drink” per week.  That’s per week, Gentle Reader.  So if you have a single glass of wine on Friday night with your wife, congratulations!  You drink more than 50% of the American adult population.  If you on top of that have one (count it! one) beer at the turn, and then — O! the dissipation!! — a second beer at the 19th hole on Sunday afternoon, that makes three “drinks” per week, and you are north of the 60th percentile.

Now let’s suppose each day during the week you have a single glass of wine with your supper each evening (you know, like the damned doctors tell you is good for you), then a single beer while watching television over the balance of the evening.  That’s ten “drinks” per week; you’re above the 70th percentile.  And now let’s add those two (you lush!!) beers at your Sunday golf round (up to twelve now), or maybe while bowling on Saturday evening, or perhaps after working outside all day long.  And now let’s add in, at some point during the 168 hours comprising that week, another four random Miller Lite “beers.”  That’s sixteen “drinks” in the course of a week.  You may well never have had, depending on whether you were eating at the time, any measurable blood alcohol content at all.  But you’re above the 80th percentile now.  You drink more than 80% of all other American adults.

I spent two full years living in Germany as an exchange student, among Germans.  I have travelled there in the interim.  I have also travelled, although much less, in a not unrespectable portion of the balance of Europe.  And I read, and have read, copiously about other places, peoples, and times.  And I’m here to tell you, three “drinks” per week doesn’t even get you in the gates in the vast majority of other cultures, other places, other times.  Fifteen “drinks” per week likewise won’t raise an eyebrow, particularly not if it’s in the form of beer, “in the manner of a Christian” (to borrow one of my favorite Charles Sibthorp expressions).  At least as of 25 years ago breweries in Germany still either by law or custom were obliged to provide their employees with a liter or two of beer per day, which had to be consumed on premises and during working hours (back in the day the draft horses delivering the barrels also got a daily ration).  And how about France, where a half-bottle of wine with lunch is neither more nor less than what any civilized man would expect?  Or Italy?  How about Eastern Europe, where alcohol consumption is more skewed towards hard liquor (and beer, of course, as well)?

And let’s go back in time, Gentle Reader, to a time when only a fool would drink the water anywhere outside a pristine forest.  Wine and beer were what you drank because the water would kill you.  Literally.

I categorically refuse to recognize behavior at levels indulged in by hundreds of millions of people all over the world, places which are highly civilized, pretty damned prosperous by any historical measure, and overall desirable places to live as being either aberrational or objectionable.  Period.  I likewise refuse to consider those levels of behavior, when indulged in across centuries of civilized culture, as being objectionable.  Period.

Let’s look at that 90th percentile and up, the tenth decile.  It’s hard to imagine consuming ten “drinks” per day, on average.  On the other hand, there’s a huge difference between the 15.28 “drinks” per week averaged within that ninth decile (80th to 89th percentiles) and the 73.85 of the tenth decile.  It’s almost a factor of five, in fact.  Which suggests to me that there is a curve hiding in there somewhere.  I’d be mighty curious to see the numbers of the constituent percentiles of that last, highest decile.  Because if the pattern of the long tail still holds within that last decile, then the bulk of that 73.85 “drinks” per week is accounted for by the very top-most percentiles.  According to the U.S. Census Bureau, as of this writing the U.S. population is just over 323.1 million.  As of 2014, the gross U.S. population was estimated at 318,857,056, of which 82,135,602 were ages 19 and down, leaving 236,721,454 ages 20 and up, which I’m going to suggest is a usable proxy for “adults” in that drinking study.  Ten percent of that is 23.672 million people, a lot of people.  But if my hunch is correct that we’re looking at long tail pattern, then maybe only about 3% of the people are still accounting for the vast majority of whatever it is we’re interested in looking at, in this case alcohol consumption.  Three percent of “adults” still works out to 7.1 million people, which is a lot of people to round up.

On the other hand, if my hunch is right (and I’d be very surprised if I’m all that far wrong) it means that 97% of “adults” are consuming “drinks” at a rate which, except in the fevered imaginations of the National Institute of Health, The Washington Post, and this breathless fellow who wrote the book referenced in the WaPo article, just aren’t and have never been viewed as being at all out of the ordinary in the balance of the world, either now or at any point in recorded human history.

Perhaps what this chart and its attendant newspaper article are really telling us is that in a population of 323.1 million people, even a pretty large number of people with undeniably destructive behaviors still works out to be a fart in a hurricane as far as the societal scope of the problem represented.  But that the huckster and the demagogue can easily make it out otherwise.  And that we as citizens and voters would be very well-advised to examine very closely all such sermons and exhortations.