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Many people have read Graeme Wood’s cover story in The Atlantic, What ISIS Really Wants, by now. I have, and I recommend you do so as well. You’ll learn a lot. And there’s much within it that I can assent to without hesitation. It overlaps in key ways with my post from last August, The Islamic State Is Right About Some Things. It does not trade in trite but satisfying demonology (politically correct liberal, or jingoistic conservative) or vulgar Marxist analysis. Rather than fitting ISIS into a fashionable Western ideology or filtering it through an emotional reaction, Wood attempts to sketch the movement out as a phenomenon informed by its own self conception. Before you can grapple with this new beast of our age, you have to take ISIS seriously in regards to the sincerity of its beliefs, and attempt to understand them. Wood does just this. Because of the dangers of going to ISIS territory he interviews those living in Western countries sympathetic to the movement, as well as engaging with scholars who specialize in topics which might shed light upon it. In particular, I think Wood conveys the “camelpunk” aspect of ISIS, a violent version of what you can see across the Gulf monarchies. Like 9780195169263steampunk camelpunk is a mash-up of mores, aesthetics, and technologies, across disparate eras. Anyone who reads science fiction won’t be entirely surprised by the juxtapositions of social media and slavery. Many less creative and historically conscious people live under the delusion that the world that is is the only world that could have been, or that it is the only world that will ever be. ISIS’ vision and reality offer up a window into a startlingly different, and radically objectionable, alternative world.

religionexplained As a descriptive matter the piece in The Atlantic is a tour de force. But there is one aspect where I think it is misleading. Wood seems to imply that ISIS is profoundly anti-modern and neo-medieval. This is certainly their own self image, and superficially their fixations on conquest and slaving seem more fit for the 7th century than the 21st. But like fascism, another ostensibly anti-modern movement, it does not strike me that ISIS actually can be understood except as a reaction against modernity, engaging, assimilating, and co-opting. In a similar vein the attempts of the Amish and some Hasidic Jews to stop time and battle back modern innovation is a deep acknowledgment of the seductive power of modernity. Elements of the program of ISIS may seem medieval and traditional, but as a whole it is a radical movement, which is tearing a fabric in the organic development of modern Islamic tradition across its meany streams, which issue out of the evolution of the thousand year old madhhabs.

But that’s a secondary issue. The main point where I believe Wood’s a exhibits a weakness is in privileging reflection über alles. By this, I mean that as a whole humans are prone to accepting the primary causal role of reflective cognition, of beliefs avowed and rationales offered. We are confident in our conscious self control, despite a robust body of cognitive psychology which implies that much of our cognition is not under the control or constraint of rational faculties. This problem is particularly extreme among intellectuals, the very class which also attempts to understand human phenomena. Through the simple process of introspection and extrapolation intellectuals tend to reduce human action to the outcome of ratiocination, inference from eternal axioms. This is wholly inadequate to a phenomenon as complex as religion. Lutheranism is reduced to theses, Islam to Koran and the Hadith, and Judaism to the Torah. And so forth. Long time readers will know my shtick at this point. Let me highlight the particular sentence which encapsulates the disagreement I have with Wood:

The ideological purity of the Islamic State has one compensating virtue: it allows us to predict some of the group’s actions

3551889 In mathematics truths entail necessary inferences. This is generally not the case with truths in a religious sense. A simple set of distinct beliefs can imply a shockingly wide range of inferences through clever rationalizations, totally unpersuasive to outgroups, and totally persuasive to ingroups. To get a sense of what I’m talking about, observe that denominations still descend from the Millerites. That the Jews responded to their national dispossession in antiquity by blaming themselves, and not the god who had clearly abandoned them. Or consider that in Matthew 24:34 Jesus seems to make a prophecy which was falsified. Of course a little Googling will show that many “literalist” Christians have a ready explanation of what “generation” actually means. Religion is not infinitely pliable, but its adroit flexibility can be marvelous to behold. I recall years ago making the case to an Orthodox acquaintance that Jewish custom of matrilineal descent is clearly a Roman era innovation, as the sons of Joseph by an Egyptian woman were recognized as legitimate. She responded without hesitation that her rabbis had explained that in the “oral law” it was recalled that Joseph’s wife was actually adopted, and her biological mother was a Hebrew. My own supposition is that this tradition is a fiction quickly conceived to give an ancient patina to a novel practice in Roman antiquity. But, it illustrates the ease with which even the most punctilious of religious traditions in terms of text can turn the plain reading of the scripture on its head through interpretation or supplementary traditions and glosses. And that is just the clever elites. The self serving lack of ideological clarity is clear among the foot soldiers. Here’s a story from December in The New York Times of how a young boy joined, and left, ISIS:

Soon, though, he said, “I noticed things I saw that were different from Islam.”

Back home he saw the group inflict severe punishments on men who were caught smoking cigarettes, yet in the camp, he said, he saw fighters smoking. He said he saw men having sex with other men behind the tents in the desert night. And, he said, he was increasingly put off by “the way they are killing innocent people.”

41V-vYSuQrL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_ The men having sex with men no doubt have a rationalization for their behavior. The details aren’t relevant, the point is that this sort of deviation from expectation is pretty common. If it is so among the foot soldiers, the same sort of hypocrisy and lack of consistency can apply to the elite. Wood argues that ISIS is hobbled strategically by its own millenarian ideology. That its very premises ensure its refutation. True. For now. It may come to pass that there is a parting of the ways at some point within the organization, and almost certainly the suicidal faction is less likely to outlast the pragmatist wing. ISIS is composed of individuals, who exhibit variation in belief and interpretation, even if on the whole they seem rather unhinged.

So where does that leave us? In terms of policy prescriptions I’m not far from Graeme Wood. But, I’m far more open to the possibility that ISIS will mutate, evolve, and adapt. Its ideology is not set in stone, but simply the blueprint for the current era. Like all religions Islam evolves and changes with the times, in unpredictable ways, because it is the aggregate of human actions. If you think we have a good science which would allow to us to predict the future of human actions, I’ve got a bridge to sell you….

 
• Category: Ideology • Tags: ISIS, Islam 
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  1. Hipster says:

    “If you think we have a good science which would allow to us to predict the future of human actions…”

    Would be interesting for people to predict what they think ISIS will do and check back in a few years’ time.

    Why not?

    I predict ISIS will keep stewing in violence in the Syria/Iraq region, possibly engulfing Lebanon, but Jordan/Israel/Iran/Saudi Arabia/Turkey/Kurdistan will be able to contain them and basically that part of the world will be a violent hell-hole for years to come to the point that people just sort of get tired of hearing about it or caring about it, until ISIS cements some control, has already wiped out the minorities they don’t like, and that this will lead to the official breakup of Iraq while Syria’s army will continue fighting ISIS.

    Let’s see how wrong I am.

    Read More
    • Replies: @Robert Ford
    I predict they will become pirates!
    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2959848/Warning-ISIS-pirates-Mediterranean-bring-havoc-European-waters-taking-coastal-towns-Libya.html?ito=social-twitter_mailonline
    , @dave chamberlin
    What do people predict ISIS will do.

    Tha Atlantic article provided convincing evidence that the muslim world will provide thousands of fresh recruits every year to wherever in the muslim world existing government is so weak and fractured that a state of civil war is going on.

    While the rest of the world is quickly at a rate no one predicted controlling their population growth, see gap minder http://www.gapminder.org/ for graphs through time showing individual countries. The muslim world is going in the opposite direction. Simple and easy prediction. Increased population increases poverty, increases civil unrest, gives opening for violent fundamentalist groups to find a niche, downward spiral continues.

    Back to what ISIS will do. Thrive in various places where government is breaking down in the muslim world but still comprise a tiny fraction of the population. In latin america violent radical groups always gravitated to illegal activities that made money. That would be

    Narco Terrorism

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  2. Joe Q. says:

    A great deal of Rabbinical Jewish literature is an attempt to reconcile Rabbinic precepts, or practical traditions as they have been received, with the “plain reading” of the Biblical texts (explaining contradictions or more generally demonstrating how the former is derived from the latter). Much of the Talmud consists of these attempts at textual reconciliation. Razib provides one example; there are other famous ones (such as the scene where Abraham appears to prepare and serve a non-kosher meal).

    On a related note, throughout the Rabbinic literature there are threads that discourage literalist re-interpretation of the Biblical text. To study the Torah without the traditional commentaries in front of you (mostly of the medieval era) was frowned upon, borderline heresy, and this theme persists to this day — you will be very challenged to find an Orthodox printing of the Torah without commentaries.

    The importance attached to commentary and traditional explanations of challenging segments of the Biblical text provides a degree of flexibility that allows Judaism to persist, or at least moves the basis of fundamentalism from the Biblical text to more pliable Rabbinic ones. As a counter-example see the Karaite Jews, who cling to a more direct interpretation of Jewish law directly from the Torah — and whose numbers have diminished significantly over the centuries.

    Along these lines, I have often thought that Orthodox Judaism has more in common with both traditional Islam and Orthodox or traditional Catholic Christianity — all have an emphasis on ritual practice and a scriptural perspective that relies on ancient commentary and received traditions.

    ISIS may be more akin to fundamentalist or Evangelical Islam, in some ways similar in its approach to Evangelical Christianity. That ISIS uses brutal violence is a reflection of violence as it is depicted in the Koran. Calls to violence in the Jewish Bible are more limited in scope, and in any case the Rabbinic interpretation has discouraged violence through creative reinterpretation (Amalek being a classic example). One wonders what would have happened if the Christian scriptures advocated extensive violence — what would the trajectory of the Evangelical movement have been?

    Sorry for the long post, this stuff has been top of mind lately.

    Read More
    • Replies: @Razib Khan
    Calls to violence in the Jewish Bible are more limited in scope

    the scholar philip jenkins (fwiw, he leans to the conservative side on most issues, but i've found him really clear eyed overall) has done an analysis of the koran and hebrew bible re: violence. he says that the hebrew violence is worse (i.e., more violent).

    http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=124494788

    i have found the koran pretty boring and not too memorable, but i'm a little surprised anyone would say that the hebrew bible's violence is 'limited in scope.'
    , @Karl
    >> the scene where Abraham appears to prepare and serve a non-kosher meal

    the "Jewish" religion calls itself : dat-Moshe "religion of Moses"

    Moses live many hundreds of years after Abraham.

    Before Moses, there was no covenanted tribe; Moses gave the laws which DEFINED THE EXISTENCE of a covenanted tribe.

    videlicet: Abraham could not worry about "laws of kashrut"; there were not yet any such laws.

    Next time you're at a Jewish wedding, listen more closely to the vows.
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  3. Vijay says:

    “Wood seems to imply that ISIS is profoundly anti-modern and neo-medieval.”

    In your terms, do you believe “Anti-modern” in thought or actions?

    My takeaway from Wood was, in thought, they want a freeze on religion based on Koran, Hadith, and interpretations based on the life of the prophet+4 (may be only 3 to them) caliphs. I think they are quite rigid on this.

    In action, they are quite adept in using modern technology and arguments to spread the word to folowers , primarily in Europe, and MENA. The main attraction is the use of the “modern” to create a world that existed(????) between 630 and 670 AD. There may be evolution in their actions, but the goal will always be to create a Jurassic Park of Medina between 630 and 670 AD. Hence, I cannot follow what “… will mutate, evolve, and adapt”? to what? I think small changes about the mean, as we say in Calculus?

    Read More
    • Replies: @Razib Khan
    My takeaway from Wood was, in thought, they want a freeze on religion based on Koran, Hadith, and interpretations based on the life of the prophet+4 (may be only 3 to them) caliphs. I think they are quite rigid on this.

    no one knows what islam was like in the 7th century. it's a reconstruction. it's only a few steps beyond what neo-pagans do. islam as we understand really steps into full history during the early abbasids. seem patricia crone for a maximalist interp of this. the salafists aspire to that which never was, except in their minds. the wahabi and and deobandi movements in the 18th century were a rxn to the collapse of islamic gunpowder hegemonies (modern day salafism has a different more complex genealogy, though one can find its roots as far back as ibn tammiyah).

    ReplyAgree/Disagree/Etc. More... This Commenter This Thread Hide Thread Display All Comments
  4. @Joe Q.
    A great deal of Rabbinical Jewish literature is an attempt to reconcile Rabbinic precepts, or practical traditions as they have been received, with the "plain reading" of the Biblical texts (explaining contradictions or more generally demonstrating how the former is derived from the latter). Much of the Talmud consists of these attempts at textual reconciliation. Razib provides one example; there are other famous ones (such as the scene where Abraham appears to prepare and serve a non-kosher meal).

    On a related note, throughout the Rabbinic literature there are threads that discourage literalist re-interpretation of the Biblical text. To study the Torah without the traditional commentaries in front of you (mostly of the medieval era) was frowned upon, borderline heresy, and this theme persists to this day -- you will be very challenged to find an Orthodox printing of the Torah without commentaries.

    The importance attached to commentary and traditional explanations of challenging segments of the Biblical text provides a degree of flexibility that allows Judaism to persist, or at least moves the basis of fundamentalism from the Biblical text to more pliable Rabbinic ones. As a counter-example see the Karaite Jews, who cling to a more direct interpretation of Jewish law directly from the Torah -- and whose numbers have diminished significantly over the centuries.

    Along these lines, I have often thought that Orthodox Judaism has more in common with both traditional Islam and Orthodox or traditional Catholic Christianity -- all have an emphasis on ritual practice and a scriptural perspective that relies on ancient commentary and received traditions.

    ISIS may be more akin to fundamentalist or Evangelical Islam, in some ways similar in its approach to Evangelical Christianity. That ISIS uses brutal violence is a reflection of violence as it is depicted in the Koran. Calls to violence in the Jewish Bible are more limited in scope, and in any case the Rabbinic interpretation has discouraged violence through creative reinterpretation (Amalek being a classic example). One wonders what would have happened if the Christian scriptures advocated extensive violence -- what would the trajectory of the Evangelical movement have been?

    Sorry for the long post, this stuff has been top of mind lately.

    Calls to violence in the Jewish Bible are more limited in scope

    the scholar philip jenkins (fwiw, he leans to the conservative side on most issues, but i’ve found him really clear eyed overall) has done an analysis of the koran and hebrew bible re: violence. he says that the hebrew violence is worse (i.e., more violent).

    http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=124494788

    i have found the koran pretty boring and not too memorable, but i’m a little surprised anyone would say that the hebrew bible’s violence is ‘limited in scope.’

    Read More
    • Replies: @Joe Q.

    i have found the koran pretty boring and not too memorable, but i’m a little surprised anyone would say that the hebrew bible’s violence is ‘limited in scope.’
     
    By "limited in scope" I mean "limited in time and place", sorry if this was not clear. Obviously the violence described is brutal but it is directed at particular groups of people at particular times, rather than a blanket instruction destined at outsiders. And in any case the later layer of Rabbinic interpretation substantially neutralized much of this, including the death penalty. The Rabbinic treatment of the "eye for an eye" is... eye-opening.
    , @Moshe
    I would assume he means that, prescriptively, the Pentateuch only asks its adherents for violence against specific - limited - enemies/territories. There are only 8 tribes (inclusive of Amalek) that the Torah asks its adherents to fight. I haven't read the Koran in the original so I can only say that it would seem to imply that the entire world is an acceptable battlefield. Heck, "Daesh" pretty clearly sees itself as fighting against Dar al-Harb - everywhere that isn't Daesh.
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  5. Robert Ford says: • Website
    @Hipster
    "If you think we have a good science which would allow to us to predict the future of human actions..."

    Would be interesting for people to predict what they think ISIS will do and check back in a few years' time.

    Why not?

    I predict ISIS will keep stewing in violence in the Syria/Iraq region, possibly engulfing Lebanon, but Jordan/Israel/Iran/Saudi Arabia/Turkey/Kurdistan will be able to contain them and basically that part of the world will be a violent hell-hole for years to come to the point that people just sort of get tired of hearing about it or caring about it, until ISIS cements some control, has already wiped out the minorities they don't like, and that this will lead to the official breakup of Iraq while Syria's army will continue fighting ISIS.

    Let's see how wrong I am.
    Read More
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  6. Dutch Boy says:

    The usual explanation of “this generation” in Matthew is that it refers not to a specific age cohort of people but to the Jews (generation in this sense is also used in the Old Testament).

    Read More
    • Replies: @Razib Khan
    i know.
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  7. @Dutch Boy
    The usual explanation of "this generation" in Matthew is that it refers not to a specific age cohort of people but to the Jews (generation in this sense is also used in the Old Testament).

    i know.

    Read More
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  8. Joe Q. says:
    @Razib Khan
    Calls to violence in the Jewish Bible are more limited in scope

    the scholar philip jenkins (fwiw, he leans to the conservative side on most issues, but i've found him really clear eyed overall) has done an analysis of the koran and hebrew bible re: violence. he says that the hebrew violence is worse (i.e., more violent).

    http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=124494788

    i have found the koran pretty boring and not too memorable, but i'm a little surprised anyone would say that the hebrew bible's violence is 'limited in scope.'

    i have found the koran pretty boring and not too memorable, but i’m a little surprised anyone would say that the hebrew bible’s violence is ‘limited in scope.’

    By “limited in scope” I mean “limited in time and place”, sorry if this was not clear. Obviously the violence described is brutal but it is directed at particular groups of people at particular times, rather than a blanket instruction destined at outsiders. And in any case the later layer of Rabbinic interpretation substantially neutralized much of this, including the death penalty. The Rabbinic treatment of the “eye for an eye” is… eye-opening.

    Read More
    • Replies: @Lovernios X
    Is the proper interpretation of "an eye for an eye" that it is a call for proportionality? In other words, you cannot take two eyes for a tooth or a life for an eye. As such, it was a "liberal" reform from much harsher punishments, such as the Draconian system - death for every crime.
    , @jtgw
    Well, if you take the Old Testament and Koran at face value, the OT is more violent. The interesting question is then why Islam ends up being more violent than Judaism or Christianity, and for that I agree you have to thank subsequent tradition and reinterpretation of the violence in the text. It appears that for whatever reason Islam has carried out less of this kind of reinterpretation, so what was originally a less violent founding text ends up causing more violence because it is being interpreted much more literally.
    , @Razib Khan
    Obviously the violence described is brutal but it is directed at particular groups of people at particular times, rather than a blanket instruction destined at outsiders.

    but the same is said by muslims about the situation of early islam in the arabian peninsula. that's only marginally less local. a lot of the 'action' in the koran really concerns the hijaz.
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  9. @Joe Q.

    i have found the koran pretty boring and not too memorable, but i’m a little surprised anyone would say that the hebrew bible’s violence is ‘limited in scope.’
     
    By "limited in scope" I mean "limited in time and place", sorry if this was not clear. Obviously the violence described is brutal but it is directed at particular groups of people at particular times, rather than a blanket instruction destined at outsiders. And in any case the later layer of Rabbinic interpretation substantially neutralized much of this, including the death penalty. The Rabbinic treatment of the "eye for an eye" is... eye-opening.

    Is the proper interpretation of “an eye for an eye” that it is a call for proportionality? In other words, you cannot take two eyes for a tooth or a life for an eye. As such, it was a “liberal” reform from much harsher punishments, such as the Draconian system – death for every crime.

    Read More
    • Replies: @Joe Q.

    Is the proper interpretation of “an eye for an eye” that it is a call for proportionality?
     
    That is part of it. The rabbis reinterpret further and conclude that the whole passage refers to proportionate monetary compensation for damages.
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  10. Immigrant from former USSR [AKA "Florida Resident"] says:

    Dear Mr. Khan:
    After reading this and related previous post by you, I have just read the article in “Atlantic”, which you recommended, and (to be candid, unsuccessfully) tried to digest the religious aspects of the matter from all the three posts.
    .
    I have read in some particular source about the basis of the __military__ successes of ISIS, of which successes there can be no doubts.
    That source claims that it is the skeleton of Saddam Husain’s military cadres (sure, most of them being of Sunni branch of The Religion) , which decided to act in a situation, when Iraq’s Shia majority closed all the prospects for them and for “their people”, as nowadays is fashionable to say. The ISIS, according to source, was for them an opportunity to mobilize masses for the war, and the said military cadres are reasonably competent. The military supposedly tolerates (I am not sure, who tolerates whom) the talk of religious leaders, since it only helps the military in their goals to consolidate Sunni state.
    What is your opinion on this __military__ aspect of ISIS ?
    With traditional gratuitous comments, F.r.

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  11. jtgw says:
    @Joe Q.

    i have found the koran pretty boring and not too memorable, but i’m a little surprised anyone would say that the hebrew bible’s violence is ‘limited in scope.’
     
    By "limited in scope" I mean "limited in time and place", sorry if this was not clear. Obviously the violence described is brutal but it is directed at particular groups of people at particular times, rather than a blanket instruction destined at outsiders. And in any case the later layer of Rabbinic interpretation substantially neutralized much of this, including the death penalty. The Rabbinic treatment of the "eye for an eye" is... eye-opening.

    Well, if you take the Old Testament and Koran at face value, the OT is more violent. The interesting question is then why Islam ends up being more violent than Judaism or Christianity, and for that I agree you have to thank subsequent tradition and reinterpretation of the violence in the text. It appears that for whatever reason Islam has carried out less of this kind of reinterpretation, so what was originally a less violent founding text ends up causing more violence because it is being interpreted much more literally.

    Read More
    • Replies: @omarali50
    There is an easier explanation. Islam the religion we know today (classical Islam of the four Sunni schools and it's Shia counterparts) developed in the womb of the Arab empire. It is evident that it provided a unifying ideology and a theological justification FOR that empire (and in the case of various Shia sects, varying degrees of resistance or revolt AGAINST that empire), but at the very least, they grew and formed together; one was not the later product of the fully formed other. Being the religion of a (very successful and impressive) imperialist project, it's "official" mature Sunni version obviously has a military-supremacist feel to it.
    Whether the text canonized as "foundational document" does or does not fully explain the imperialism and supremacism is a red herring. The Quran is a fairly long book, but to an outsider it should be immediately obvious that you can create MANY different Islams around that book and if you did it all over again, NONE of them have to look like classical Sunni Islam. The details of Sunni Islam (who gets to rule, what daily life is supposed to look like, how non-Muslims should be treated, etc) are not some sort of direct and unambiguous reading of the Quran. Even the 5 daily prayers are not specified in the Quran. The schools of classical Sunni Islam are supposedly based on the Quran and hadith, but the Quran and the hadiths are clearly cherry picked and manipulated (and in the case of the hadiths, frequently just invented) based on the perceived needs of the empire, the ulama, the individual commentators, human nature, economics, whatever (insert favorite element here).
    So in principle, we should be able to make new Islams as needed (and some of us have indeed done so over the centuries...the Ismailis being one extreme example) and I am sure many of us will do that in the days to come as well. The Reza Aslan types are right about that (though i seriously doubt that HE can make anything lasting). In fact, in terms of practice, millions of Muslims have already "invented new Islams". Just as a random example, most contemporary Muslims do not have concubines and do not buy and sell slaves (and find the thought of doing so shocking). They take oaths of loyalty to all sorts of "un-Islamic" states and most of them turn out to be loyal at least to the same degree as their other fellow citizens of various hedonistic modern states. And so on and so forth.
    What sets them apart is their inability (until now) to publicly and comfortably articulate a theological framework that rejects medieval (aka no longer fashionable) elements of classical Sunni Islam. And this is especially a problem in Muslim majority countries. What stops them? I think apostasy and blasphemy laws (and the broader memes that uphold those laws) play a big role. King Hussein or Benazir Bhutto or even Rouhani may have private thoughts about changing X or Y inconvenient parts, but to speak up would be to invite accusations of blasphemy and apostasy. So they fudge and do one thing while paying lip service to another. Unfortunately, this means the upholders of classical Islam (and ISIS and the Wahabis are not as far from the mainstream Sunni Ulama in theory as is sometimes portrayed, though clearly they are pretty far in practice) have the edge in debates in the public sphere. This IS a serious problem. But the internet has made it very hard to keep inconvenient thoughts out of view. So there will be much churning. Eventually, some countries will emerge out of it better than others.
    ISIS itself will not. Of course, in principle, anything is possible. But we can still make predictions based on whatever model we have in our head. Like most predictions in social science and history, they will not be mathematical and precise and our confidence in them (or our ability to convince others, even when others accept most of our premises) will not be akin to the predictions of mathematics or physics. But for whatever it's worth, I don't think ISIS will settle into some semi-comfortable equilibrium. They will only destory and create chaos. And eventually they will be destroyed, though it is possible (even likely) that large parts of Syria, Iraq and North Africa could become like Somalia. Too messy, too violent and too poor to be worth the effort of colonizing even by intact nearby states. But probably not forever. The real estate is too valuable and eventually someone will bring order to it. Probably using more force and cruder methods than liberal modern intellectuals are comfortable with.
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  12. @Vijay
    "Wood seems to imply that ISIS is profoundly anti-modern and neo-medieval."

    In your terms, do you believe "Anti-modern" in thought or actions?

    My takeaway from Wood was, in thought, they want a freeze on religion based on Koran, Hadith, and interpretations based on the life of the prophet+4 (may be only 3 to them) caliphs. I think they are quite rigid on this.

    In action, they are quite adept in using modern technology and arguments to spread the word to folowers , primarily in Europe, and MENA. The main attraction is the use of the "modern" to create a world that existed(????) between 630 and 670 AD. There may be evolution in their actions, but the goal will always be to create a Jurassic Park of Medina between 630 and 670 AD. Hence, I cannot follow what "... will mutate, evolve, and adapt"? to what? I think small changes about the mean, as we say in Calculus?

    My takeaway from Wood was, in thought, they want a freeze on religion based on Koran, Hadith, and interpretations based on the life of the prophet+4 (may be only 3 to them) caliphs. I think they are quite rigid on this.

    no one knows what islam was like in the 7th century. it’s a reconstruction. it’s only a few steps beyond what neo-pagans do. islam as we understand really steps into full history during the early abbasids. seem patricia crone for a maximalist interp of this. the salafists aspire to that which never was, except in their minds. the wahabi and and deobandi movements in the 18th century were a rxn to the collapse of islamic gunpowder hegemonies (modern day salafism has a different more complex genealogy, though one can find its roots as far back as ibn tammiyah).

    Read More
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  13. @Joe Q.

    i have found the koran pretty boring and not too memorable, but i’m a little surprised anyone would say that the hebrew bible’s violence is ‘limited in scope.’
     
    By "limited in scope" I mean "limited in time and place", sorry if this was not clear. Obviously the violence described is brutal but it is directed at particular groups of people at particular times, rather than a blanket instruction destined at outsiders. And in any case the later layer of Rabbinic interpretation substantially neutralized much of this, including the death penalty. The Rabbinic treatment of the "eye for an eye" is... eye-opening.

    Obviously the violence described is brutal but it is directed at particular groups of people at particular times, rather than a blanket instruction destined at outsiders.

    but the same is said by muslims about the situation of early islam in the arabian peninsula. that’s only marginally less local. a lot of the ‘action’ in the koran really concerns the hijaz.

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  14. Joe Q. says:
    @Lovernios X
    Is the proper interpretation of "an eye for an eye" that it is a call for proportionality? In other words, you cannot take two eyes for a tooth or a life for an eye. As such, it was a "liberal" reform from much harsher punishments, such as the Draconian system - death for every crime.

    Is the proper interpretation of “an eye for an eye” that it is a call for proportionality?

    That is part of it. The rabbis reinterpret further and conclude that the whole passage refers to proportionate monetary compensation for damages.

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    • Replies: @jtgw
    So the next question is: what caused them to reinterpret passages like that? If Razib is right, even the violent passages in the Koran could be interpreted as local or historical anomalies and not to be applied to unbelievers today. That the Salafists choose to apply them in this way doesn't follow inevitably from the text, but rather from whatever other motivations are driving their ideology.

    Similarly, the Jews of Christ's time didn't hesitate to apply the Torah "literally": they actually did stone adulterers. Subsequent reinterpretation wasn't inevitable but was required by whatever else changed in Jewish society to take away the need or ability to apply the death penalty.

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  15. jtgw says:
    @Joe Q.

    Is the proper interpretation of “an eye for an eye” that it is a call for proportionality?
     
    That is part of it. The rabbis reinterpret further and conclude that the whole passage refers to proportionate monetary compensation for damages.

    So the next question is: what caused them to reinterpret passages like that? If Razib is right, even the violent passages in the Koran could be interpreted as local or historical anomalies and not to be applied to unbelievers today. That the Salafists choose to apply them in this way doesn’t follow inevitably from the text, but rather from whatever other motivations are driving their ideology.

    Similarly, the Jews of Christ’s time didn’t hesitate to apply the Torah “literally”: they actually did stone adulterers. Subsequent reinterpretation wasn’t inevitable but was required by whatever else changed in Jewish society to take away the need or ability to apply the death penalty.

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    • Replies: @Razib Khan
    the jewish rebellions against rome failed. militant judaism was not viable, at the point of gentile swords. the only option was the more pacific option. as it happens, some of the militant elements unto genocidal injunctions are being resurrected by 'national religious' elements of israeli society....
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  16. @jtgw
    So the next question is: what caused them to reinterpret passages like that? If Razib is right, even the violent passages in the Koran could be interpreted as local or historical anomalies and not to be applied to unbelievers today. That the Salafists choose to apply them in this way doesn't follow inevitably from the text, but rather from whatever other motivations are driving their ideology.

    Similarly, the Jews of Christ's time didn't hesitate to apply the Torah "literally": they actually did stone adulterers. Subsequent reinterpretation wasn't inevitable but was required by whatever else changed in Jewish society to take away the need or ability to apply the death penalty.

    the jewish rebellions against rome failed. militant judaism was not viable, at the point of gentile swords. the only option was the more pacific option. as it happens, some of the militant elements unto genocidal injunctions are being resurrected by ‘national religious’ elements of israeli society….

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  17. Anonymous says: • Disclaimer

    In classical Islam, there were numerous “rules” governing the exercise of Jihad, perhaps the most important of which is that it is called by a rightful authority, such as a caliph or imam. Contemporary jihadist took the position that circumstances had changed due to the lack of rightful authority anywhere, such that this key limitation no longer was relevant. The individual had an obligation to attack unjust systems that prevent the message from being dispersed. A similar evolution and side-stepping of tradition occurred in the area of suicide attacks. I do not know that I am comforted by the most violent and anti-modern elements of Islam being so pliable, but I do think their adherence to “tradition” should be widely disparaged. This is one reason I don’t like the word “fundamentalist” being applied outside the Christian context, though I do understand the connection.

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  18. ChrisZ says:

    The question of the status of Joseph’s sons really hinges on the issue of whether Joseph himself is to be considered exemplary in the decisive sense. A great book by Aaron Wildavsky, “Assimilation vs. Separation,” advances the argument that Joseph, at the end of the day, is a kind of negative model: an anti-type (by anticipation) of the positive model, Moses. The two are direct opposites in many ways, but architectonically Joseph is the one whose actions led the Hebrews into Egypt (and thereby slavery), and Moses is the one who led them out.

    His offspring may have been considered legitimate, but there was always a sense of an asterisk tacked on to their tribes. Maybe we’re to infer that there really was a question about the son’s status? There is a fascinating literary quality of delicacy or even silence in the Bible about matters than might be deemed unsavory, and this may be one of them. Leon Kass in “Genesis of Wisdom” is that master at probing these.

    On the Jesus quote: I incline to the conclusion that there’s no way around it, and Jesus was simply wrong. The gospels don’t unambiguously require that Jesus had precognitive abilities. Could he ask an honest question–one he didn’t know the answer to? C.S. Lewis thought he could, although obviously there are people who think otherwise.

    But what’s most interesting about the verse in question is that it’s even there in the gospels. It’s an obvious problem–however you address it–that a little editorial handling could have eliminated. However you come down on it religiously, it adds to the fascinating literary quality of the Hebrew/Christian scriptures.

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  19. matt says:

    Anybody who would like to know more about Daesh can skip Wood’s self-important flatulence and read Patrick Cockburn (you don’t even have to leave this website). Start here. Unlike Wood, Cockburn isn’t afraid of “the dangers of going into ISIS territory” and hasn’t confined himself to interviewing “those living in Western countries sympathetic to the movement….” He’s an actual journalist who’s been reporting from the region since 1979.

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  20. anonymous says: • Disclaimer

    But like fascism, another ostensibly anti-modern movement…. Many Italian Futurists who became founders of the fascist party of the early 20th century would disagree.

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  21. donut says:

    Man’s spiritual and intellectual capacities have not changed since prehistoric times. I’m sure there was an Archimedes or a Euclid and any number of other genius’ down through time . Technology is the only thing that has changed. To us in the west it’s absurd that the “primitives’ prefer their own gods and customs to the blessings that we would bring them .
    We in the US especially have been sheltered from the brutalities of human history. ISIS kills their enemies with swords and guns . We kill ours with bombs and missiles and call ourselves civilized . 150,000 people at Hiroshima in a minute . At Hamburg 42,600 civilians in a night . The only real difference between us is our ability to kill more people faster .All in a good cause though.
    I don’t object to killing our enemies if we are attacked . Hell I would exterminate them root and branch . It’s the poisonous hypocrisy that I find objectionable.

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    • Replies: @Wizzzzzz
    Absolutely agree, donut. I'm always amazed, being a naive soul, that the hypocrisy is never seen/mentioned by politicians/commentators etc. What's all the fuss about barrel bombs, for example? If I was killed by one I don't think I'd be more or worse dead than if I was killed by a 'conventional' bomb. Isael has no difficulty using phosphorus bombs in Gaza and this is ignored.
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  22. Moshe says: • Website
    @Razib Khan
    Calls to violence in the Jewish Bible are more limited in scope

    the scholar philip jenkins (fwiw, he leans to the conservative side on most issues, but i've found him really clear eyed overall) has done an analysis of the koran and hebrew bible re: violence. he says that the hebrew violence is worse (i.e., more violent).

    http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=124494788

    i have found the koran pretty boring and not too memorable, but i'm a little surprised anyone would say that the hebrew bible's violence is 'limited in scope.'

    I would assume he means that, prescriptively, the Pentateuch only asks its adherents for violence against specific – limited – enemies/territories. There are only 8 tribes (inclusive of Amalek) that the Torah asks its adherents to fight. I haven’t read the Koran in the original so I can only say that it would seem to imply that the entire world is an acceptable battlefield. Heck, “Daesh” pretty clearly sees itself as fighting against Dar al-Harb – everywhere that isn’t Daesh.

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  23. donut says:

    Is it just me or is this a really stupid headline :
    “Syrians are deeply split after years of warfare, survey finds”

    From McClatchy .

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  24. Alex M says:

    The invasion of Iraq has been the gift that just keeps on giving hasn’t it.
    From Wood

    The rise of ISIS, after all, happened only because our previous occupation created space for Zarqawi and his followers.

    But the prostitutes for the military industrial complex who planned the occupation haven’t gone away. They’re still shamelessly hookin, clamoring for all possible wars on the halls of congress and in the media. Take a look at this guy for example, Michael Weiss, who co-authored this gem.

    http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2015/02/01/how-iran-is-making-it-impossible-for-the-us-to-beat-isis.html

    It was August 2007, and General David Petraeus, the top commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, was angry. In his weekly report to then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Petraeus wrote: “I am considering telling the President that I believe Iran is, in fact, waging war on the U.S. in Iraq, with all of the U.S. public and governmental responses that could come from that revelation. … I do believe that Iran has gone beyond merely striving for influence in Iraq and could be creating proxies to actively fight us, thinking that they can keep us distracted while they try to build WMD and set up [the Mahdi Army] to act like Lebanese Hezbollah in Iraq.”

    There was no question there and then on the ground in Iraq that Iran was a very dangerous enemy. There should not be any question about that now, either. And the failure of the Obama administration to come to grips with that reality is making the task of defeating the so-called Islamic State more difficult—indeed, more likely to be impossible—every day.

    What the neocon endgame from all this fear mongering about Iran is I don’t know. But the fact that a legitimate threat such as Isis isn’t enough to deter their Iranian obsession is astounding.

    By the way,this Michael Weiss guy is

    the editor in chief of the Interpreter, an online journal that translates and analyzes Russian media

    http://www.interpretermag.com/

    He’s also a fellow at the Institute of Modern Russia, which describes itself this way

    The Institute of Modern Russia (IMR) is a nonprofit, nonpartisan public policy organization—a think tank based in New York. IMR’s mission is to foster democratic and economic development in Russia through research, advocacy, public events, and grant-making. We are committed to strengthening respect for human rights, the rule of law, and civil society in Russia. Our goal is to promote a principles-based approach to US-Russia relations and Russia’s integration into the community of democracies.

    The Institute of Modern Russia produces neutral, impartial, objective analysis such as this

    http://imrussia.org/en/opinions/2177-russian-death-squads

    However large and forceful these government-bred criminal troops become, their fate is unenviable in most cases. When their government no longer needs them or they become too powerful, posing a threat to their masters, they are cast out on the roadside.

    Tangled webs of agendas such as this guy’s make me highly skeptical of any military intervention abroad. I’m not sure whether the proponents of such interventions have an interest in resolving conflicts or whether they have an interest in controlling territory for extraction. Regarding Isis, I think that we need to realize that probably the most progressive, feasible model for a country in the region is Iran, and aligning with it would be to our benefit not only in the short term (Isis), but also in the long term (Saudi Arabia, far more backwards destabilizing regime). If only Israel would let us do that.

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  25. sprfls says:

    Here’s a very good documentary filmed by an Israeli war journalist in November/December. He embeds himself with Kurdish guerilla fighters, many of whom are women. Spoiler alert: ISIS fighters run away from the women because they won’t get their 72 virgins if they die by a woman’s hand.

    I recall years ago making the case to an Orthodox acquaintance that Jewish custom of matrilineal descent is clearly a Roman era innovation, as the sons of Joseph by an Egyptian woman were recognized as legitimate. She responded without hesitation that her rabbis had explained that in the “oral law” it was recalled that Joseph’s wife was actually adopted, and her biological mother was a Hebrew. My own supposition is that this tradition is a fiction quickly conceived to give an ancient patina to a novel practice in Roman antiquity.

    A bit OT, but gets back to population genetics. A close Jewish friend is currently making his girlfriend convert so I’ve been thinking about the whole Jewish matrilineal decent thing, and trying to reconcile it with what’s been coming out of the genetics regarding Jewish mtDNA and with history as well.

    So, how can it be that this custom traces itself to Roman times, when this is exactly the time when Jews were supposed to be marrying Roman women en masse, thus becoming “half-European” and picking up the significant “European” mtDNA seen today!? It’s always felt a little dubious to me. Razib, isn’t it difficult to tease out the differences between two populations who, even if diverged for a while, come from an nearly identical founder population? How do we know that the “Italian” mtDNA isn’t actually an uncommon Ashkenazi-specific line that goes back to the Levant / early farmers? (Asking as a technical pop genetics question, not historical one.)

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    • Replies: @Razib Khan
    So, how can it be that this custom traces itself to Roman times, when this is exactly the time when Jews were supposed to be marrying Roman women en masse, thus becoming “half-European” and picking up the significant “European” mtDNA seen today!?

    my understanding is that it's a roman custom as regards marriage and property rights (it meant that bastards of soldiers, who could not marry, were not allowed to inherit). in any case, people lie. but perhaps more realistically, you don't need majority or overwhelming admixture in a single generation, just non-trivial over say 10 generations. as long as the source pop is more numerous....

    Razib, isn’t it difficult to tease out the differences between two populations who, even if diverged for a while, come from an nearly identical founder population? How do we know that the “Italian” mtDNA isn’t actually an uncommon Ashkenazi-specific line that goes back to the Levant / early farmers? (Asking as a technical pop genetics question, not historical one.)

    yes, it is hard. OTOH, i've have to double check, but it is pretty clear that ashkenazi are a recent admixture between a southern european like group, and a levantine (say like arab xtian minorities today) group. it could be that the admixture happened in the levant with a southern european like group and a levantine group, but i doubt it. especially since mizrahi jews don't show signs of admixture, and sephardic groups show somewhat decreased % of 'european' than ashkenazi.
    , @omarali50
    I dont know where this notion of "ISIS fighters run away from women because they wont get their virgins if a woman kills them" comes from. ..You get the virgins if you die for the cause of Islam. And I find it very very hard to believe that ANY ISIS guy ran away for this particular reason.
    I suspect that some psyops genius in Centcom dreamed this up and it makes fun of ISIS to be sure, but let's not take it too seriously. This is FOX news territory, not reality.
    , @syonredux

    It’s always felt a little dubious to me. Razib, isn’t it difficult to tease out the differences between two populations who, even if diverged for a while, come from an nearly identical founder population? How do we know that the “Italian” mtDNA isn’t actually an uncommon Ashkenazi-specific line that goes back to the Levant / early farmers? (Asking as a technical pop genetics question, not historical one.)

     

    Greg Cochran has discussed this point several times:

    I’m looking at abstracts on Ashkenazi genetics from ASHG 2013 and SMBE 2014 – by the same group, with Shai Carmi as the lead author. They did 128 whole genomes, 50x deep.

    They concluded Ashkenazi Jews were about 50% Middle Eastern and 50% European. In the 2013 abstract, they were pretty specific: they estimated the European ancestry fraction at 55% , plus or minus 2%. ( In our book, we had a crude estimate of about 40% European ancestry.) They estimated the split between Europeans and Middle Easterners at about 9000 BC: which sounds about the right date for the entry of the Sardinian-like farmers. From other data (mtDNA) , and from the fact that you see almost zero WHG or ANE in Ashkenazi autosomal genes, one can conclude that the European admixture was mostly Italian, with some southern French. Very little German or Slavic – by that time serious endogamy had set in..
     
    https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2014/06/24/ashkenazi-ancestry/

    For some time, we have known that many Jewish populations had mostly-Near Eastern paternal ancestry (looking at y-chromosomes) and mostly-local maternal ancestry looking at mtDNA). Autosomal admixture studies generally agree. This is easiest to see when the host population is fairly distant from Europe or the Near East, and thus has significantly different mtDNA types: it’s obvious in the case of Indian Jews. Roughly speaking, Jewish men settled distant lands, as traders or sometimes refugees and POWs. They married local girls, and later, mostly with the advent of Rabbinical Judaism, rules emerged that forbade further intermarriage – and presto, Roberta’s your aunt.

    It’s a bit more difficult when comparing Europe and the Near East, since there has been a lot of population movement between those regions, most of it from the Near East into Europe in the form of the first farmers. So even though the mixed origin of Jewish populations (Near Eastern men and local women) was clear in a number of cases, it wasn’t so clear in the most important case, the Ashkenazi Jews, who make up most of the world’s Jews and and account for almost all Jewish intellectual accomplishment.

    But even when the same mtDNA haplotypes are found in both Europe and the Near East, the sub-haplotypes are different – the fine details clarify the story.

    Back in 2006, Doron Behar and company looked at Ashkenazi mtDNA. Four mtDNA lineages accounted for almost half: K1a1b1a, K1a9, K2a2a, and N1b. About 20% of Ashkenazi Jews have K1a1b1a mtDNA. Behar concluded that all of these lineages originated in the Near East. This was plausible for N1b (about 9% of Ashkenazi mtDNA), which is common in the Near East and rare in Europe (although it was common back in the LBK culture). He couldn’t find any closely related versions of the K1a9 and K2a2a lineages outside of the Ashkenazim – and went on to say that they probably originated in the Near East, based on nothing. He also concluded that K1a1b1a was probably Near Eastern, since the only close non-Jewish versions were found in Portugal, Italy, France, Morocco, and Tunisia: a conclusion which flew in the face of what evidence he had. It is if one knew that all the languages closely related to Russian (Polish, Ukrainian, Serbian, etc) were found in Eastern Europe, and then concluded that the Russian language must therefore have originated in South Africa.

    In other words, Doron Behar is a liar. I was going to include something about the probable origins of Ashkenazi mtDNA (mostly Italian) and Behar’s follies in the book. I wrote it up (in a little essay titled “Special K”), but space prohibited, and anyhow liars are boring.

    A new paper by Maria Costa et al (with Martin Richards as senior author) settles the issue. We have a lot more data now – more people, and more detail. Turns out that all of those major Ashkenazi mtDNA lineages originated in Western Europe – even N1b, fairly rare in Europe. The majority of the less common Ashkenazi mtDNA lineages also originated in Europe – probably mostly in Italy. Altogether, > 80% of Ashkenazi maternal ancestry is European – mostly Italian, but a bit from France and Germany as well.


    As Michael Balter cheerfully points out in Science, this result may be a bit troublesome to those that believe that Jewish identity descends through the female line. In that case, most Ashkenazi Jews – aren’t.

    I haven’t heard anyone else mention this, but logically, someone who is Ashkenazi could now decide that he and his cousins are really the true heirs of the Roman Empire, rather than a member of the Chosen People. I’m sure that wouldn’t cause any trouble.

    Doe this mean that the Palestinians have a better genealogical claim to the land of Israel than the Ashkenazi Jews? Maybe – but over the years, they’ve mixed too. They have a lot of South Arabian and African ancestry that wasn’t there 2000 years ago. That’s true of much of the Middle East – but that’s another post… I’m sure that modern DNA technology will answer this question anytime anyone cares to look, and obviously everyone will accept the verdict of Science, whatever it may be.

    Anyhow, if Italy really is the Ashkenazi urheimat, that’s not so bad. I’d trade the Judean Hills for Tuscany in a New York minute. And even if trading homelands would require some toe-to-toe combat with the Italians – how hard would that be, really?
     
    https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2013/10/08/jewish-moms/
    , @Wizzzzzz
    Re. Jewish matrilineal descent. Please don't destroy my illusions! I've always thought it was the only tiny bit of the ancient Mother Goddess cult left...
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  26. @Hipster
    "If you think we have a good science which would allow to us to predict the future of human actions..."

    Would be interesting for people to predict what they think ISIS will do and check back in a few years' time.

    Why not?

    I predict ISIS will keep stewing in violence in the Syria/Iraq region, possibly engulfing Lebanon, but Jordan/Israel/Iran/Saudi Arabia/Turkey/Kurdistan will be able to contain them and basically that part of the world will be a violent hell-hole for years to come to the point that people just sort of get tired of hearing about it or caring about it, until ISIS cements some control, has already wiped out the minorities they don't like, and that this will lead to the official breakup of Iraq while Syria's army will continue fighting ISIS.

    Let's see how wrong I am.

    What do people predict ISIS will do.

    Tha Atlantic article provided convincing evidence that the muslim world will provide thousands of fresh recruits every year to wherever in the muslim world existing government is so weak and fractured that a state of civil war is going on.

    While the rest of the world is quickly at a rate no one predicted controlling their population growth, see gap minder http://www.gapminder.org/ for graphs through time showing individual countries. The muslim world is going in the opposite direction. Simple and easy prediction. Increased population increases poverty, increases civil unrest, gives opening for violent fundamentalist groups to find a niche, downward spiral continues.

    Back to what ISIS will do. Thrive in various places where government is breaking down in the muslim world but still comprise a tiny fraction of the population. In latin america violent radical groups always gravitated to illegal activities that made money. That would be

    Narco Terrorism

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  27. omarali50 says:
    @jtgw
    Well, if you take the Old Testament and Koran at face value, the OT is more violent. The interesting question is then why Islam ends up being more violent than Judaism or Christianity, and for that I agree you have to thank subsequent tradition and reinterpretation of the violence in the text. It appears that for whatever reason Islam has carried out less of this kind of reinterpretation, so what was originally a less violent founding text ends up causing more violence because it is being interpreted much more literally.

    There is an easier explanation. Islam the religion we know today (classical Islam of the four Sunni schools and it’s Shia counterparts) developed in the womb of the Arab empire. It is evident that it provided a unifying ideology and a theological justification FOR that empire (and in the case of various Shia sects, varying degrees of resistance or revolt AGAINST that empire), but at the very least, they grew and formed together; one was not the later product of the fully formed other. Being the religion of a (very successful and impressive) imperialist project, it’s “official” mature Sunni version obviously has a military-supremacist feel to it.
    Whether the text canonized as “foundational document” does or does not fully explain the imperialism and supremacism is a red herring. The Quran is a fairly long book, but to an outsider it should be immediately obvious that you can create MANY different Islams around that book and if you did it all over again, NONE of them have to look like classical Sunni Islam. The details of Sunni Islam (who gets to rule, what daily life is supposed to look like, how non-Muslims should be treated, etc) are not some sort of direct and unambiguous reading of the Quran. Even the 5 daily prayers are not specified in the Quran. The schools of classical Sunni Islam are supposedly based on the Quran and hadith, but the Quran and the hadiths are clearly cherry picked and manipulated (and in the case of the hadiths, frequently just invented) based on the perceived needs of the empire, the ulama, the individual commentators, human nature, economics, whatever (insert favorite element here).
    So in principle, we should be able to make new Islams as needed (and some of us have indeed done so over the centuries…the Ismailis being one extreme example) and I am sure many of us will do that in the days to come as well. The Reza Aslan types are right about that (though i seriously doubt that HE can make anything lasting). In fact, in terms of practice, millions of Muslims have already “invented new Islams”. Just as a random example, most contemporary Muslims do not have concubines and do not buy and sell slaves (and find the thought of doing so shocking). They take oaths of loyalty to all sorts of “un-Islamic” states and most of them turn out to be loyal at least to the same degree as their other fellow citizens of various hedonistic modern states. And so on and so forth.
    What sets them apart is their inability (until now) to publicly and comfortably articulate a theological framework that rejects medieval (aka no longer fashionable) elements of classical Sunni Islam. And this is especially a problem in Muslim majority countries. What stops them? I think apostasy and blasphemy laws (and the broader memes that uphold those laws) play a big role. King Hussein or Benazir Bhutto or even Rouhani may have private thoughts about changing X or Y inconvenient parts, but to speak up would be to invite accusations of blasphemy and apostasy. So they fudge and do one thing while paying lip service to another. Unfortunately, this means the upholders of classical Islam (and ISIS and the Wahabis are not as far from the mainstream Sunni Ulama in theory as is sometimes portrayed, though clearly they are pretty far in practice) have the edge in debates in the public sphere. This IS a serious problem. But the internet has made it very hard to keep inconvenient thoughts out of view. So there will be much churning. Eventually, some countries will emerge out of it better than others.
    ISIS itself will not. Of course, in principle, anything is possible. But we can still make predictions based on whatever model we have in our head. Like most predictions in social science and history, they will not be mathematical and precise and our confidence in them (or our ability to convince others, even when others accept most of our premises) will not be akin to the predictions of mathematics or physics. But for whatever it’s worth, I don’t think ISIS will settle into some semi-comfortable equilibrium. They will only destory and create chaos. And eventually they will be destroyed, though it is possible (even likely) that large parts of Syria, Iraq and North Africa could become like Somalia. Too messy, too violent and too poor to be worth the effort of colonizing even by intact nearby states. But probably not forever. The real estate is too valuable and eventually someone will bring order to it. Probably using more force and cruder methods than liberal modern intellectuals are comfortable with.

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    • Replies: @Vijay
    But, does any of this matter? ISIS is not looking to recreate a sect based on Quran and Hadith, but attempting to create a nearest to 630-660 Arabia in the modern world. They can just turn the dial on the harshest parts of Quran and Hadith and employ them practically saying here it is Quran. They are not listening to a scholar saying "No, that was not what was intended". Once they say that here it is in Quran, 90% of Islam becomes quiet, and a large majority nods silently. The point is: once we go into the slope of where it is in the Quran, and then in the Hadith, there is not an easy way forward.

    "I don’t think ISIS will settle into some semi-comfortable equilibrium. They will only destory and create chaos. And eventually they will be destroyed, though it is possible (even likely) that large parts of Syria, Iraq and North Africa could become like Somalia. Too messy, too violent and too poor to be worth the effort of colonizing even by intact nearby states. But probably not forever."

    I do not see why ? Somalia exists now. What is so valuable about Syria and Iraq that they cannot exist like Somalia and Angola? You cannot say oil, because that is not true. Nigeria, Angola, even Venezuela existed with oil production on one side, and a lack of civilization. ISIS can and will grant out concessions to Russia, China, and even EU companies while running their empire on the side.

    Afghanisthan existed. Somalia exists. Angola exists. ISIS can exist too; as long as they do not get greedy and try to engage Iran, Israel and Saudi Arabia simultaneously. The fact that there are a number of "western" muslims exist that do not approve silently, does not work against it.
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  28. Karl says:
    @Joe Q.
    A great deal of Rabbinical Jewish literature is an attempt to reconcile Rabbinic precepts, or practical traditions as they have been received, with the "plain reading" of the Biblical texts (explaining contradictions or more generally demonstrating how the former is derived from the latter). Much of the Talmud consists of these attempts at textual reconciliation. Razib provides one example; there are other famous ones (such as the scene where Abraham appears to prepare and serve a non-kosher meal).

    On a related note, throughout the Rabbinic literature there are threads that discourage literalist re-interpretation of the Biblical text. To study the Torah without the traditional commentaries in front of you (mostly of the medieval era) was frowned upon, borderline heresy, and this theme persists to this day -- you will be very challenged to find an Orthodox printing of the Torah without commentaries.

    The importance attached to commentary and traditional explanations of challenging segments of the Biblical text provides a degree of flexibility that allows Judaism to persist, or at least moves the basis of fundamentalism from the Biblical text to more pliable Rabbinic ones. As a counter-example see the Karaite Jews, who cling to a more direct interpretation of Jewish law directly from the Torah -- and whose numbers have diminished significantly over the centuries.

    Along these lines, I have often thought that Orthodox Judaism has more in common with both traditional Islam and Orthodox or traditional Catholic Christianity -- all have an emphasis on ritual practice and a scriptural perspective that relies on ancient commentary and received traditions.

    ISIS may be more akin to fundamentalist or Evangelical Islam, in some ways similar in its approach to Evangelical Christianity. That ISIS uses brutal violence is a reflection of violence as it is depicted in the Koran. Calls to violence in the Jewish Bible are more limited in scope, and in any case the Rabbinic interpretation has discouraged violence through creative reinterpretation (Amalek being a classic example). One wonders what would have happened if the Christian scriptures advocated extensive violence -- what would the trajectory of the Evangelical movement have been?

    Sorry for the long post, this stuff has been top of mind lately.

    >> the scene where Abraham appears to prepare and serve a non-kosher meal

    the “Jewish” religion calls itself : dat-Moshe “religion of Moses”

    Moses live many hundreds of years after Abraham.

    Before Moses, there was no covenanted tribe; Moses gave the laws which DEFINED THE EXISTENCE of a covenanted tribe.

    videlicet: Abraham could not worry about “laws of kashrut”; there were not yet any such laws.

    Next time you’re at a Jewish wedding, listen more closely to the vows.

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  29. @sprfls
    Here's a very good documentary filmed by an Israeli war journalist in November/December. He embeds himself with Kurdish guerilla fighters, many of whom are women. Spoiler alert: ISIS fighters run away from the women because they won't get their 72 virgins if they die by a woman's hand.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ctQFgDabh1U

    I recall years ago making the case to an Orthodox acquaintance that Jewish custom of matrilineal descent is clearly a Roman era innovation, as the sons of Joseph by an Egyptian woman were recognized as legitimate. She responded without hesitation that her rabbis had explained that in the “oral law” it was recalled that Joseph’s wife was actually adopted, and her biological mother was a Hebrew. My own supposition is that this tradition is a fiction quickly conceived to give an ancient patina to a novel practice in Roman antiquity.
     
    A bit OT, but gets back to population genetics. A close Jewish friend is currently making his girlfriend convert so I've been thinking about the whole Jewish matrilineal decent thing, and trying to reconcile it with what's been coming out of the genetics regarding Jewish mtDNA and with history as well.

    So, how can it be that this custom traces itself to Roman times, when this is exactly the time when Jews were supposed to be marrying Roman women en masse, thus becoming "half-European" and picking up the significant "European" mtDNA seen today!? It's always felt a little dubious to me. Razib, isn't it difficult to tease out the differences between two populations who, even if diverged for a while, come from an nearly identical founder population? How do we know that the "Italian" mtDNA isn't actually an uncommon Ashkenazi-specific line that goes back to the Levant / early farmers? (Asking as a technical pop genetics question, not historical one.)

    So, how can it be that this custom traces itself to Roman times, when this is exactly the time when Jews were supposed to be marrying Roman women en masse, thus becoming “half-European” and picking up the significant “European” mtDNA seen today!?

    my understanding is that it’s a roman custom as regards marriage and property rights (it meant that bastards of soldiers, who could not marry, were not allowed to inherit). in any case, people lie. but perhaps more realistically, you don’t need majority or overwhelming admixture in a single generation, just non-trivial over say 10 generations. as long as the source pop is more numerous….

    Razib, isn’t it difficult to tease out the differences between two populations who, even if diverged for a while, come from an nearly identical founder population? How do we know that the “Italian” mtDNA isn’t actually an uncommon Ashkenazi-specific line that goes back to the Levant / early farmers? (Asking as a technical pop genetics question, not historical one.)

    yes, it is hard. OTOH, i’ve have to double check, but it is pretty clear that ashkenazi are a recent admixture between a southern european like group, and a levantine (say like arab xtian minorities today) group. it could be that the admixture happened in the levant with a southern european like group and a levantine group, but i doubt it. especially since mizrahi jews don’t show signs of admixture, and sephardic groups show somewhat decreased % of ‘european’ than ashkenazi.

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  30. i should be more clear. the ethnic group that sephardic jews resemble A LOT is sicilians. that’s because sicilians show clear evidence of admixture at non-trivial levels with mid eastern groups. the idea of a levantine+levantine admixture is not impossible, but seems really unlikely, since we have analogous groups in the west mediterranean….

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  31. omarali50 says:
    @sprfls
    Here's a very good documentary filmed by an Israeli war journalist in November/December. He embeds himself with Kurdish guerilla fighters, many of whom are women. Spoiler alert: ISIS fighters run away from the women because they won't get their 72 virgins if they die by a woman's hand.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ctQFgDabh1U

    I recall years ago making the case to an Orthodox acquaintance that Jewish custom of matrilineal descent is clearly a Roman era innovation, as the sons of Joseph by an Egyptian woman were recognized as legitimate. She responded without hesitation that her rabbis had explained that in the “oral law” it was recalled that Joseph’s wife was actually adopted, and her biological mother was a Hebrew. My own supposition is that this tradition is a fiction quickly conceived to give an ancient patina to a novel practice in Roman antiquity.
     
    A bit OT, but gets back to population genetics. A close Jewish friend is currently making his girlfriend convert so I've been thinking about the whole Jewish matrilineal decent thing, and trying to reconcile it with what's been coming out of the genetics regarding Jewish mtDNA and with history as well.

    So, how can it be that this custom traces itself to Roman times, when this is exactly the time when Jews were supposed to be marrying Roman women en masse, thus becoming "half-European" and picking up the significant "European" mtDNA seen today!? It's always felt a little dubious to me. Razib, isn't it difficult to tease out the differences between two populations who, even if diverged for a while, come from an nearly identical founder population? How do we know that the "Italian" mtDNA isn't actually an uncommon Ashkenazi-specific line that goes back to the Levant / early farmers? (Asking as a technical pop genetics question, not historical one.)

    I dont know where this notion of “ISIS fighters run away from women because they wont get their virgins if a woman kills them” comes from. ..You get the virgins if you die for the cause of Islam. And I find it very very hard to believe that ANY ISIS guy ran away for this particular reason.
    I suspect that some psyops genius in Centcom dreamed this up and it makes fun of ISIS to be sure, but let’s not take it too seriously. This is FOX news territory, not reality.

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  32. Vijay says:
    @omarali50
    There is an easier explanation. Islam the religion we know today (classical Islam of the four Sunni schools and it's Shia counterparts) developed in the womb of the Arab empire. It is evident that it provided a unifying ideology and a theological justification FOR that empire (and in the case of various Shia sects, varying degrees of resistance or revolt AGAINST that empire), but at the very least, they grew and formed together; one was not the later product of the fully formed other. Being the religion of a (very successful and impressive) imperialist project, it's "official" mature Sunni version obviously has a military-supremacist feel to it.
    Whether the text canonized as "foundational document" does or does not fully explain the imperialism and supremacism is a red herring. The Quran is a fairly long book, but to an outsider it should be immediately obvious that you can create MANY different Islams around that book and if you did it all over again, NONE of them have to look like classical Sunni Islam. The details of Sunni Islam (who gets to rule, what daily life is supposed to look like, how non-Muslims should be treated, etc) are not some sort of direct and unambiguous reading of the Quran. Even the 5 daily prayers are not specified in the Quran. The schools of classical Sunni Islam are supposedly based on the Quran and hadith, but the Quran and the hadiths are clearly cherry picked and manipulated (and in the case of the hadiths, frequently just invented) based on the perceived needs of the empire, the ulama, the individual commentators, human nature, economics, whatever (insert favorite element here).
    So in principle, we should be able to make new Islams as needed (and some of us have indeed done so over the centuries...the Ismailis being one extreme example) and I am sure many of us will do that in the days to come as well. The Reza Aslan types are right about that (though i seriously doubt that HE can make anything lasting). In fact, in terms of practice, millions of Muslims have already "invented new Islams". Just as a random example, most contemporary Muslims do not have concubines and do not buy and sell slaves (and find the thought of doing so shocking). They take oaths of loyalty to all sorts of "un-Islamic" states and most of them turn out to be loyal at least to the same degree as their other fellow citizens of various hedonistic modern states. And so on and so forth.
    What sets them apart is their inability (until now) to publicly and comfortably articulate a theological framework that rejects medieval (aka no longer fashionable) elements of classical Sunni Islam. And this is especially a problem in Muslim majority countries. What stops them? I think apostasy and blasphemy laws (and the broader memes that uphold those laws) play a big role. King Hussein or Benazir Bhutto or even Rouhani may have private thoughts about changing X or Y inconvenient parts, but to speak up would be to invite accusations of blasphemy and apostasy. So they fudge and do one thing while paying lip service to another. Unfortunately, this means the upholders of classical Islam (and ISIS and the Wahabis are not as far from the mainstream Sunni Ulama in theory as is sometimes portrayed, though clearly they are pretty far in practice) have the edge in debates in the public sphere. This IS a serious problem. But the internet has made it very hard to keep inconvenient thoughts out of view. So there will be much churning. Eventually, some countries will emerge out of it better than others.
    ISIS itself will not. Of course, in principle, anything is possible. But we can still make predictions based on whatever model we have in our head. Like most predictions in social science and history, they will not be mathematical and precise and our confidence in them (or our ability to convince others, even when others accept most of our premises) will not be akin to the predictions of mathematics or physics. But for whatever it's worth, I don't think ISIS will settle into some semi-comfortable equilibrium. They will only destory and create chaos. And eventually they will be destroyed, though it is possible (even likely) that large parts of Syria, Iraq and North Africa could become like Somalia. Too messy, too violent and too poor to be worth the effort of colonizing even by intact nearby states. But probably not forever. The real estate is too valuable and eventually someone will bring order to it. Probably using more force and cruder methods than liberal modern intellectuals are comfortable with.

    But, does any of this matter? ISIS is not looking to recreate a sect based on Quran and Hadith, but attempting to create a nearest to 630-660 Arabia in the modern world. They can just turn the dial on the harshest parts of Quran and Hadith and employ them practically saying here it is Quran. They are not listening to a scholar saying “No, that was not what was intended”. Once they say that here it is in Quran, 90% of Islam becomes quiet, and a large majority nods silently. The point is: once we go into the slope of where it is in the Quran, and then in the Hadith, there is not an easy way forward.

    “I don’t think ISIS will settle into some semi-comfortable equilibrium. They will only destory and create chaos. And eventually they will be destroyed, though it is possible (even likely) that large parts of Syria, Iraq and North Africa could become like Somalia. Too messy, too violent and too poor to be worth the effort of colonizing even by intact nearby states. But probably not forever.”

    I do not see why ? Somalia exists now. What is so valuable about Syria and Iraq that they cannot exist like Somalia and Angola? You cannot say oil, because that is not true. Nigeria, Angola, even Venezuela existed with oil production on one side, and a lack of civilization. ISIS can and will grant out concessions to Russia, China, and even EU companies while running their empire on the side.

    Afghanisthan existed. Somalia exists. Angola exists. ISIS can exist too; as long as they do not get greedy and try to engage Iran, Israel and Saudi Arabia simultaneously. The fact that there are a number of “western” muslims exist that do not approve silently, does not work against it.

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  33. A Palestinian guy once told me Islam is a simple populist religion for simple people, while Christianity is a complex, elitist religion. I tend to agree. Combing church and state to a high degree allows different groups to not only interpret Islam differently but also apply it differently according to the views of particular leaders and the dominant views of the local population. For example, homosexuality is illegal in populist Iran yet transsexualism is legal. In westernised Turkey both are legal, while in traditionalist Saudi Arabia both are totally forbidden.

    This also makes it very hard to predict how Islam will be interpreted in different countries and among different political factions.

    In contrast, once elites in western countries decide on a course of action, nearly all western countries do the same and it takes a long time before they will consider a U-turn to appease the masses. It’s highly unlikely for example, that a European country is suddenly going to do a U-turn on homosexuality, marriage laws or the death penalty.

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  34. A Palestinian guy once told me Islam is a simple populist religion for simple people, while Christianity is a complex, elitist religion.

    this is a standard muslim talking point. it’s false.

    1) the shia, most of all the ismailis, have rejected the idea of a priesthood of believers pretty clearly.

    2) the sunni in practice do so as well. no average believer can master the hadith. and the ulema have great power, unto life and death.

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  35. syonredux says:
    @sprfls
    Here's a very good documentary filmed by an Israeli war journalist in November/December. He embeds himself with Kurdish guerilla fighters, many of whom are women. Spoiler alert: ISIS fighters run away from the women because they won't get their 72 virgins if they die by a woman's hand.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ctQFgDabh1U

    I recall years ago making the case to an Orthodox acquaintance that Jewish custom of matrilineal descent is clearly a Roman era innovation, as the sons of Joseph by an Egyptian woman were recognized as legitimate. She responded without hesitation that her rabbis had explained that in the “oral law” it was recalled that Joseph’s wife was actually adopted, and her biological mother was a Hebrew. My own supposition is that this tradition is a fiction quickly conceived to give an ancient patina to a novel practice in Roman antiquity.
     
    A bit OT, but gets back to population genetics. A close Jewish friend is currently making his girlfriend convert so I've been thinking about the whole Jewish matrilineal decent thing, and trying to reconcile it with what's been coming out of the genetics regarding Jewish mtDNA and with history as well.

    So, how can it be that this custom traces itself to Roman times, when this is exactly the time when Jews were supposed to be marrying Roman women en masse, thus becoming "half-European" and picking up the significant "European" mtDNA seen today!? It's always felt a little dubious to me. Razib, isn't it difficult to tease out the differences between two populations who, even if diverged for a while, come from an nearly identical founder population? How do we know that the "Italian" mtDNA isn't actually an uncommon Ashkenazi-specific line that goes back to the Levant / early farmers? (Asking as a technical pop genetics question, not historical one.)

    It’s always felt a little dubious to me. Razib, isn’t it difficult to tease out the differences between two populations who, even if diverged for a while, come from an nearly identical founder population? How do we know that the “Italian” mtDNA isn’t actually an uncommon Ashkenazi-specific line that goes back to the Levant / early farmers? (Asking as a technical pop genetics question, not historical one.)

    Greg Cochran has discussed this point several times:

    I’m looking at abstracts on Ashkenazi genetics from ASHG 2013 and SMBE 2014 – by the same group, with Shai Carmi as the lead author. They did 128 whole genomes, 50x deep.

    They concluded Ashkenazi Jews were about 50% Middle Eastern and 50% European. In the 2013 abstract, they were pretty specific: they estimated the European ancestry fraction at 55% , plus or minus 2%. ( In our book, we had a crude estimate of about 40% European ancestry.) They estimated the split between Europeans and Middle Easterners at about 9000 BC: which sounds about the right date for the entry of the Sardinian-like farmers. From other data (mtDNA) , and from the fact that you see almost zero WHG or ANE in Ashkenazi autosomal genes, one can conclude that the European admixture was mostly Italian, with some southern French. Very little German or Slavic – by that time serious endogamy had set in..

    https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2014/06/24/ashkenazi-ancestry/

    For some time, we have known that many Jewish populations had mostly-Near Eastern paternal ancestry (looking at y-chromosomes) and mostly-local maternal ancestry looking at mtDNA). Autosomal admixture studies generally agree. This is easiest to see when the host population is fairly distant from Europe or the Near East, and thus has significantly different mtDNA types: it’s obvious in the case of Indian Jews. Roughly speaking, Jewish men settled distant lands, as traders or sometimes refugees and POWs. They married local girls, and later, mostly with the advent of Rabbinical Judaism, rules emerged that forbade further intermarriage – and presto, Roberta’s your aunt.

    It’s a bit more difficult when comparing Europe and the Near East, since there has been a lot of population movement between those regions, most of it from the Near East into Europe in the form of the first farmers. So even though the mixed origin of Jewish populations (Near Eastern men and local women) was clear in a number of cases, it wasn’t so clear in the most important case, the Ashkenazi Jews, who make up most of the world’s Jews and and account for almost all Jewish intellectual accomplishment.

    But even when the same mtDNA haplotypes are found in both Europe and the Near East, the sub-haplotypes are different – the fine details clarify the story.

    Back in 2006, Doron Behar and company looked at Ashkenazi mtDNA. Four mtDNA lineages accounted for almost half: K1a1b1a, K1a9, K2a2a, and N1b. About 20% of Ashkenazi Jews have K1a1b1a mtDNA. Behar concluded that all of these lineages originated in the Near East. This was plausible for N1b (about 9% of Ashkenazi mtDNA), which is common in the Near East and rare in Europe (although it was common back in the LBK culture). He couldn’t find any closely related versions of the K1a9 and K2a2a lineages outside of the Ashkenazim – and went on to say that they probably originated in the Near East, based on nothing. He also concluded that K1a1b1a was probably Near Eastern, since the only close non-Jewish versions were found in Portugal, Italy, France, Morocco, and Tunisia: a conclusion which flew in the face of what evidence he had. It is if one knew that all the languages closely related to Russian (Polish, Ukrainian, Serbian, etc) were found in Eastern Europe, and then concluded that the Russian language must therefore have originated in South Africa.

    In other words, Doron Behar is a liar. I was going to include something about the probable origins of Ashkenazi mtDNA (mostly Italian) and Behar’s follies in the book. I wrote it up (in a little essay titled “Special K”), but space prohibited, and anyhow liars are boring.

    A new paper by Maria Costa et al (with Martin Richards as senior author) settles the issue. We have a lot more data now – more people, and more detail. Turns out that all of those major Ashkenazi mtDNA lineages originated in Western Europe – even N1b, fairly rare in Europe. The majority of the less common Ashkenazi mtDNA lineages also originated in Europe – probably mostly in Italy. Altogether, > 80% of Ashkenazi maternal ancestry is European – mostly Italian, but a bit from France and Germany as well.

    As Michael Balter cheerfully points out in Science, this result may be a bit troublesome to those that believe that Jewish identity descends through the female line. In that case, most Ashkenazi Jews – aren’t.

    I haven’t heard anyone else mention this, but logically, someone who is Ashkenazi could now decide that he and his cousins are really the true heirs of the Roman Empire, rather than a member of the Chosen People. I’m sure that wouldn’t cause any trouble.

    Doe this mean that the Palestinians have a better genealogical claim to the land of Israel than the Ashkenazi Jews? Maybe – but over the years, they’ve mixed too. They have a lot of South Arabian and African ancestry that wasn’t there 2000 years ago. That’s true of much of the Middle East – but that’s another post… I’m sure that modern DNA technology will answer this question anytime anyone cares to look, and obviously everyone will accept the verdict of Science, whatever it may be.

    Anyhow, if Italy really is the Ashkenazi urheimat, that’s not so bad. I’d trade the Judean Hills for Tuscany in a New York minute. And even if trading homelands would require some toe-to-toe combat with the Italians – how hard would that be, really?

    https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2013/10/08/jewish-moms/

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  36. Luke Lea says:

    So Islam is not a religion of the book. OK. But then how do you answer an artilcle like this:

    http://sultanknish.blogspot.com/2015/02/european-colonialism-is-only-thing-that.html

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  37. Robert Ford says: • Website

    Wesley Clark on the non-linearity of it all

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  38. vxxc2014 says:

    Killing people over smoking or queering then smoking and buggering in Camp.

    Yes that’s AQIZ, ISI, ISIS aka D’aesh. Murder and Atrocity the Tribute their endless catalog of Vices pays to Virtue.

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  39. […] own understanding of what is involved in their practice and creation of religion. Razib Khan has a good post on […]

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  40. Razib, I just read Theological Incorrectness because you have commented on it favorably a number of times. Thanks. Looking at the other three books you show here, I see that they were all published in 2002. Nothing since then. Is that because 1) there’s not much new in the field since then, 2) though the field has advanced, there are no better books since then, 3) you did reading in the field a while ago and haven’t kept up? A job, a family, a blog–you must have lots of free time :)

    Would you recommend one of the three as a “next book to read”?

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  41. […] Islam Is Not a Religion of the Book – “By this, I mean that as a whole humans are prone to accepting the primary causal role of reflective cognition, of beliefs avowed and rationales offered. We are confident in our conscious self control, despite a robust body of cognitive psychology which implies that much of our cognition is not under the control or constraint of rational faculties. This problem is particularly extreme among intellectuals, the very class which also attempts to understand human phenomena. Through the simple process of introspection and extrapolation intellectuals tend to reduce human action to the outcome of ratiocination, inference from eternal axioms. This is wholly inadequate to a phenomenon as complex as religion.” – from razib. […]

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  42. Wizzzzzz says: • Website
    @donut
    Man's spiritual and intellectual capacities have not changed since prehistoric times. I'm sure there was an Archimedes or a Euclid and any number of other genius' down through time . Technology is the only thing that has changed. To us in the west it's absurd that the "primitives' prefer their own gods and customs to the blessings that we would bring them .
    We in the US especially have been sheltered from the brutalities of human history. ISIS kills their enemies with swords and guns . We kill ours with bombs and missiles and call ourselves civilized . 150,000 people at Hiroshima in a minute . At Hamburg 42,600 civilians in a night . The only real difference between us is our ability to kill more people faster .All in a good cause though.
    I don't object to killing our enemies if we are attacked . Hell I would exterminate them root and branch . It's the poisonous hypocrisy that I find objectionable.

    Absolutely agree, donut. I’m always amazed, being a naive soul, that the hypocrisy is never seen/mentioned by politicians/commentators etc. What’s all the fuss about barrel bombs, for example? If I was killed by one I don’t think I’d be more or worse dead than if I was killed by a ‘conventional’ bomb. Isael has no difficulty using phosphorus bombs in Gaza and this is ignored.

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  43. Wizzzzzz says: • Website
    @sprfls
    Here's a very good documentary filmed by an Israeli war journalist in November/December. He embeds himself with Kurdish guerilla fighters, many of whom are women. Spoiler alert: ISIS fighters run away from the women because they won't get their 72 virgins if they die by a woman's hand.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ctQFgDabh1U

    I recall years ago making the case to an Orthodox acquaintance that Jewish custom of matrilineal descent is clearly a Roman era innovation, as the sons of Joseph by an Egyptian woman were recognized as legitimate. She responded without hesitation that her rabbis had explained that in the “oral law” it was recalled that Joseph’s wife was actually adopted, and her biological mother was a Hebrew. My own supposition is that this tradition is a fiction quickly conceived to give an ancient patina to a novel practice in Roman antiquity.
     
    A bit OT, but gets back to population genetics. A close Jewish friend is currently making his girlfriend convert so I've been thinking about the whole Jewish matrilineal decent thing, and trying to reconcile it with what's been coming out of the genetics regarding Jewish mtDNA and with history as well.

    So, how can it be that this custom traces itself to Roman times, when this is exactly the time when Jews were supposed to be marrying Roman women en masse, thus becoming "half-European" and picking up the significant "European" mtDNA seen today!? It's always felt a little dubious to me. Razib, isn't it difficult to tease out the differences between two populations who, even if diverged for a while, come from an nearly identical founder population? How do we know that the "Italian" mtDNA isn't actually an uncommon Ashkenazi-specific line that goes back to the Levant / early farmers? (Asking as a technical pop genetics question, not historical one.)

    Re. Jewish matrilineal descent. Please don’t destroy my illusions! I’ve always thought it was the only tiny bit of the ancient Mother Goddess cult left…

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