Thursday, February 23, 2012
Professor Emeritus Peter Berger: A scholar, gentleman, and imbecile
I recall Peter Berger, a professor of religion and sociology, from my college days, when I took a lot of courses in history, philosophy and comparative religions, and also became a bibliovore on these and related subjects.
Berger's seminal study The Sacred Canopy was part of my curriculum (which was both formal in terms of assigned readings from professors, as well as informally culled from my thousands of hours spent over the years roaming the stacks of the college library), and figures as one among the many books that have been formative for my philosophical odyssey over the years -- though it ranks considerably lower, ultimately, than many others (for a partial list of books that have infuenced my outlook see this comment I deposited on the Liberated blog).
In a nutshell, the thesis of Berger's The Sacred Canopy was that a culture contructs the cosmos through a complex apparatus of mythological symbolisms, and that this cosmos is a kind of "canopy" of meaning.
His thesis was not meant to imply, simplistically, that the construction was somehow "false" or imaginary; nor that this means there is no reality. It had the subtler implication that what a culture conceives of as reality is not simply an external datum -- literally a given -- to be stumbled across or to be seen with the naked eye and then suddenly known. Rather, reality comes to be known through a complex process of language and ideas, which themselves subsist in a complex matrix extending to cross-cultural associations and contributions and founded back in time in the history of one's own culture and, in turn, its encounters with other cultures.
Thus, reality is not a simple fact existing "out there" -- it is a complex interpretation of a complex network of facts; and this interpetation is a project in which whole societies participate: it is not, nor is ever, the product of lone individuals (for no man is an island).
So far so good.
Prof. Berger developed an interesting and useful thesis (though by no means uniquely original) for provoking thought about various philosophical issues involved with sociology and anthropology.
But wouldn't you know it, when it comes to the problem of Islam, suddenly Prof. Berger turns into a blithering idiot.
I continue to remain amazed at how this happens, and how often.
Anywho, I was surprised to learn that Prof. Berger, now in his 80s, is still alive after all these years and -- like everybody and everybody's uncle -- has a blog.
But I dreaded the thought of finding out what his take is on the problem of Islam, for I've been burned too many times by other otherwise intelligent analysts on this issue, when I have found out that, concerning this one particular problem, suddenly their intelligence vanishes and they parrot the inanest politically correct hogwash.
So, Prof. Peter Berger's blog is called "Religion and Other Curiosities" Alas, I could not enjoy Berger's blog for too long, as it meandered pleasantly and intelligently on topics un-Islamic. As I dreaded would be the case, I soon stubbed my toe on this recent essay there, on the concept of "blasphemies".
And this is what I wrote as a comment there:
Peter Berger asserts (without a shred of evidence):
“By the way, the title of Rushdie’s novel refers to an obscure legend, not mentioned in either the canonical Koran or any reliable tradition…”
Berger is manifestly incorrect. Alas, it no longer surprises to find intelligent people who should know better demonstrating ignorance of Islam in one form or another (and invariably, that ignorance happens to tilt in favor of Islam).
Does Berger think al-Tabari is not part of “reliable tradition” in Islam? If so, Berger is required to present an argument in defense of such a position. In addition, does Berger think Ibn Abi Hatim, Ibn al-Mundhir, Ibn Mardauyah, Ibn Ishaq, Musa ibn ‘Uqba, and Abu Ma’shar do not represent “reliable tradition” in Islam? (The more likely consideration here is that Berger has never bothered to become familiar with these names and the Islamic tradition they represent — specifically, the tradition of one important part of Islamic texts, the Siyar (plural of “Sira”, or Biography; scil., of Mohammed.)
Meanwhile, the Koran certainly lays the ground for Rushdie’s florid extrapolation, when in chapter 22, verse 52, it says:
“We have sent no apostle, or prophet, before thee, but, when he read, Satan suggested [some error] in his reading. But God shall make void that which Satan hath suggested: Then shall God confirm his signs; for God [is] knowing [and] wise.”
The immediately following verse, 53, suggest that Allah permits this to happen in order to tempt the wicked and thus confirm their (apparently) unalterable wickedness.
Another part of Islamic tradition with which Berger seems blithely unfamiliar are the Tafasir (plural of “Tafsir” — “commentary” or “exegesis”; scil., of the Koran). One Islamic writer of Tafsir was Zamakhshari who, in commenting on the Koran verse we quoted above (22:52) wrote:
“Some say that Gabriel drew his attention to it, or that Satan himself spoke those words and brought them to the people’s hearing.”
Really, Berger should stick to his specialty and not dabble in things outside his expertise: namely, taking jabs at any Christianity that isn’t liberal or secular enough for his comfort zone.
Source: http://answering-islam.org/Responses/Saifullah/sverses.htm And an excellent source for the Koran, which provides 10 different translations into English — six of them by Muslims themselves — is here: http://www.quranbrowser.com/ P.S.:
Notice, by the way, how when discussing Jay Leno’s purported blasphemy, Berger has no problem mentioning the religion and the followers by name == “Sikhs”; but when it comes to Rushdie’s purported blasphemy, Berger suddenly can’t cough up the requisitely apt term “Muslim” and only indirectly mentions “Islam”. Notice too how he caricatures the alleged fierceness of the Sikh reaction to Leno:
“This seemingly trivial event [Leno's quip in his monologue about a Sikh temple] provoked a storm of fierce hostility by Sikhs in America and elsewhere, adding a presumably unwelcome dimension of religious hatred…”
But, of course, Berger provides no evidence to back up that luridly hyperbolic characterization of the Sikh reaction. In fact, all we get, from Berger’s own account, are prima facie entirely reasonable and mature reactions from Sikhs: “A Dr. Randeep Dhillou,” Prof. Berger informs us, “…sought to sue Leno for hate speech against a religion.” Wow. He sought to sue Leno! Oh, the enormity, the horror! Can we be safe from Sikhs?
And Berger continues his litany of the terrifying Sikh backlash to Leno:
“Vayalar Ravi, the minister in the Indian government dealing with affairs of overseas (so-called “non-resident”) Indians, called the incident “quite unfortunate and quite objectionable”...
Oh my God! What hatred drips and oozes from that language — “quite unfortunate and quite objectionable”…!!! I almost feel like I’m at a Nazi rally, or a KKK march, or… one of hundreds of mass demonstrations by Muslims all over the world over the decades (only increasing post-911) calling for the deaths of cartoonists and others who have “offended” Islam.
Berger’s not done with those terrible Sikhs.
“Another Indian minister chimed in by saying that “freedom does not mean hurting the sentiments of others”.
With that kind of chiming in, I don’t know how we can tolerate Sikhism and Sikhs… Seriously, these are perfectly reasonable responses from Sikhs, and they have every right to voice them. We may disagree that a joke constitutes religious “insult”, but we should not lump Sikhs in with the followers of one religion in the world who are routinely, regularly, increasingly, actually killing people and issuing death threats over their religion -- Islam.
To pick one example of literally thousands one could adduce out of a turban, we have the most emergent case that apparently is utterly off Berger’s radar: that of Hamza Kashgari, a 23-year-old columnist from Saudi Arabia, who merely happened to issue three TWEETS from his Twitter account in which he expressed, poetically, his ambivalence about praying for Mohammed.
For these tweets, he received over 30,000 death threats from fellow Muslims; the King of Saudi Arabia issued an order for his arrest; the Saudi Arabia’s Permanent Committee for Scholarly Research and Religious Edicts (IFTA) warned that his actions deserve “harsh punitive measures”; and the news service AFP reported that “[i]n one response, Abdullah, a lawyer, said that since Mr Kashgari was “an adult… we should accept nothing but implementing the ruling according to Islamic law” or sharia.”
And AFP went on to report what everyone should know by now (except Professors of Religion in the West, apparently):
“Insulting the prophet is considered blasphemous in Islam, and is a crime punishable by death.”
They added: “Mr Kashgari [i.e., the Blasphemous Tweeter] quickly apologised for his remarks, but the calls for his execution only multiplied….” Meanwhile, Kashgari felt his life endangered sufficiently to flee his own country; the Saudis used Interpol to track him down in Malaysia, and the government of that supposedly “moderate” Islamic country of Malaysia cooperated with the Saudis to arrest him and compel him to return to Saudi Arabia, where he could well face EXECUTION.
But Berger is too busy worrying about the mild objections of Sikhs to bother with such actual, and actually deadly, 21st-century fanaticism.
Sources for my last comment begin with this report: http://www.jihadwatch.org/2012/02/malaysia-sends-saudi-blogger-who-criticized-muhammad-back-to-almost-certain-death.html and continue with internal links successively, when the reader clicks on the phrase one sees “More on this story”. Jihad Watch is the direct source; but Jihad Watch is merely relaying the reportage from other unremarkably credible and mainstream sources, as anyone with half a brain (or one undeformed by ideology) could see within seconds.
For a couple of days, my comment quoted above remained unapproved on Berger's blog, and "awaiting moderation". However, a comment I posted three minutes later did appear published, without any problem. The only problem was that its content referred to the longer, possibly more "offensive" comment quoted above, which remained invisible. Aside from that, other comments I had posted previously on previous threads there never had to "await moderation" for days. I smelled that something was up. So I posted a third comment:
My comment which was approved makes little sense, since it is specifically referring to a previous comment I wrote earlier, but which I am told, when I visit this page, is in limbo of "awaiting moderation". Since that latter comment was posted two days ago, and the comment I posted AFTER it was published, it is reasonable to assume that it is no longer "awaiting moderation" but has already received the death knell of censorship in the name of politically correct multiculturalist sensibilities.
Meanwhile, we all are awaiting the "moderation" of Muslims.
Then: Lo and behold, the morning following my posting the above comment, I saw my first comment suddenly published after all.
Thank Allah for small favors.
(Though Muslims can thank Allah for the considerably larger favor of the continued, and prevalent, existence throughout the West -- often in positions of influence of opinion and/or policy -- of imbeciles like the distinguished Professor Emeritus Peter Berger.)