April 1, 2010
April 1, 2010
April 1, 2010
Last January, courtesy of YouTube, millions of viewers around the world watched Turkey’s prime minister lose his cool. Speaking on a panel on Gaza at the usually punctilious World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Recep Tayyip Erdogan capped a series of recent tirades against Israel—he had alternately decried its “inhumane” actions against innocent Palestinians during Operation Cast Lead and demanded its ejection from the United Nations—with an outraged response to Israeli President and co-panelist Shimon Peres’s defense of the military campaign in the Strip. When moderator David Ignatius of the Washington Post repeatedly cut short Erdogan’s attempts at a rebuttal, the Turkish premier stormed offstage, declaring this his last appearance in Davos. Israel quickly shifted into crisis-management mode, with Peres insisting to reporters afterward that the spat was “nothing personal.” Turkey, he claimed, remained an important ally of the Jewish state. Erdogan, by contrast, donned a kaftan of indignation. “My responsibility,” he proclaimed to flag-waving supporters upon his arrival in Ankara, “is to protect the honor of the Turkish nation.”Unfortunately, the Turkish premier’s theatrics were merely another maneuver in a surprise offensive that left Israelis smarting at their treatment by a supposedly key partner in the region. Just weeks before Davos, Erdogan had openly snubbed prime minister Ehud Olmert’s conciliatory overtures, and refused foreign minister Tzipi Livni’s offer to fly to Ankara for a visit. In October of last year, Turkey barred Israel’s air force from participating in a routine nato exercise in what Erdogan admitted was an act of protest against Israel’s handling of the Gaza campaign. That same month, Turkey’s state television aired an inflammatory series showing IDF soldiers in Gaza killing Palestinian babies and lining up civilians before a firing squad. This past November, Erdogan remarked that he would rather host Omar al-Bashir, indicted for orchestrating crimes against humanity in Darfur, than meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.Judging by its initial response to Turkey’s series of below-the-belts, Israel seemed content simply to absorb the blows—and try and avoid further injury. Indeed, instead of expressing outrage, Israel rushed to put out the fire. Defense Minister Ehud Barak warned the Israeli government against harming the country’s fragile relations with Turkey, insisting it was a central player in the region and that it would be “inadvisable to be drawn into criticizing it.” Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon played down the effects of Turkey’s decision to exclude Israel from its air drill, telling reporters that “Turkey has been and remains an important strategic anchor of stability.” For his part, Minister of Industry, Trade, and Labor Binyamin Ben-Eliezer flew to Ankara that month bearing assurances that Israel did not object to Turkey’s renewed role in peace talks with Syria.To be sure, for a brief moment early this January, Israel’s Foreign Ministry volleyed—albeit clumsily, being out of practice. Following the broadcast of yet another anti-Israel series, this time depicting Mossad agents as baby-snatchers, Deputy Foreign Minister Ayalon summoned Turkish ambassador to Israel Ahmet Oguz Celikkol to his office for a taped dressing down. When Ankara responded furiously, Israeli government officials, politicians, and media rushed to excoriate the ministry’s uncouth conduct and assuage Turkish ire. After Peres reportedly convinced Netanyahu that a written apology was in order, a humiliated Ayalon was forced to declare that in the future, he would “clarify [his] position by more acceptable diplomatic means.”For better or worse, then, Israel has decided not to make an issue of Turkey’s mistreatment. So determined, in fact, has Israel been to prevent any further deterioration in relations between Jerusalem and Ankara that no politician or diplomat saw fit to point out, either to his Turkish counterpart or the community of nations, that baseless accusations of genocide should probably not emanate from the country responsible for the extermination of the Armenian population of the Ottoman Empire during World War I—to say nothing of the ongoing and oftentimes brutal suppression of Kurdish nationalism in its southeast.Sadly, Israel’s sheepishness toward Turkey is far from unique. It is, rather, a symptom of a much larger problem, one reflective of a mentality unbefitting a sovereign state. Put simply, Israel’s leadership has failed to grasp the crucial distinction between diplomacy and lobbying, or between conducting foreign policy and attempting to sway others in one’s favor. The Jewish state has instead opted for a politics of submission and accommodation, one that not only harms its reputation abroad, but also, and perhaps more dangerously, demoralizes its citizens at home.
April 1, 2010
Later this spring, a team of scholars at Germany’s Berlin-Brandenberg Academy of Sciences will complete the first phase of what will ultimately be an unprecedented, two-decade effort to throw light on the origins of the Koran.
The project, called the Corpus Coranicum, will be something that scholars of the Koran have long yearned for: a central repository of imagery, information, and analysis about the Muslim holy book. Modern research into Islam’s origin and early years has been hampered by the paucity and inaccessibility of ancient texts, and the reluctance of Muslim governments in places like Yemen to allow wide access to them.
But, drawing on some of the earliest Korans in existence — codices found in Istanbul, Cairo, Paris, and Morocco — the Corpus Coranicum will allow users to study for themselves images of thousands of pages of early Korans, texts that differ in small but potentially telling ways from the modern standard version. The project will also link passages in the text to analogous ones in the New Testament and Hebrew Bible, and offer an exhaustive critical commentary on the Koran’s language, structure, themes, and roots. The project’s creators are calling it the world’s first “critical edition” of the Koran, a resource that gathers historical evidence and scholarly literature into one searchable, cross-referenced whole.
Critical editions — usually books rather than websites — are a commonplace in academia. University bookstores do a brisk business in critical editions of the world’s best-known literary works, from “The Iliad” to “Hamlet” to “Das Kapital.” As labor-saving devices for scholars and teaching aids for students, they can be invaluable. Presenting a novel or manifesto or play in its historical context helps readers to see the ways it was shaped by contemporaneous events and local attitudes, how it was built from the distinctive cultural building blocks at hand. Embedding a work in critical commentary — and critical editions often include essays that are sharply at odds with each other — gives readers a sense of the richness of possible readings of the text.
But the form takes on a special significance with holy books, where millions of people order their lives in accordance to what they see as divine language. Standard versions like the King James Bible or the regularized Cairo Koran (the version, first printed in 1924, that most Muslims have today) help to unite the faithful in one common reading of their holy book. A critical edition, on the other hand, by its nature, highlights the contingency of a text’s creation and gives readers the tools to interpret it for themselves.
Among Koranic scholars, there’s a great deal of excitement about the Corpus Coranicum, which will help them make better sense of a text that — despite the fact that millions regularly recite from it and live their lives according to its precepts — remains something of a historical and theological puzzle.
April 1, 2010
In 1973, historian Carl Degler was combing the University archives, gathering research for a book on the history of the family. Sifting through the papers of Dr. Clelia Duel Mosher, who taught in Stanford’s hygiene department around the turn of the 20th century, he came across a mysteriously bound file. Degler nearly put it aside, figuring it was a manuscript for one of Mosher’s published works, mostly statistical treatises on women’s height, strength and menstruation. But instead, he recalls, “I opened it up and there were these questionnaires”— questionnaires upon which dozens of women, most born before 1870, had inscribed their most intimate thoughts.
In other words, it was a sex survey. A Victorian sex survey. It is the earliest known study of its type, long preceding, for example, the 1947 and 1953 Kinsey Reports, whose oldest female respondents were born in the 1890s. The Mosher Survey recorded not only women’s sexual habits and appetites, but also their thinking about spousal relationships, children and contraception. Perhaps, it hinted, Victorian women weren’t so Victorian after all.
Indeed, many of the surveyed women were decidedly unshrinking. One, born in 1844, called sex “a normal desire” and observed that “a rational use of it tends to keep people healthier.” Offered another, born in 1862, “The highest devotion is based upon it, a very beautiful thing, and I am glad nature gave it to us.”
The survey’s genesis—like its rediscovery—was a fortuitous accident. Mosher started it in 1892 as a 28-year-old biology undergraduate at the University of Wisconsin; she had been asked to address a local Mother’s Club on “the marital relation” and as a single, childless woman seems to have used data collection to fill gaps in her knowledge. Afterward, Mosher continued conducting surveys until 1920, using variations on the same form and amassing 45 profiles in all. Yet Mosher never published or drew more than cursory observations from her data. She died in 1940, and the survey was entirely forgotten when Degler unearthed it.
“I remember I was so surprised when I first opened it and saw what was there,” recalls Degler, 89, the Margaret Byrne Professor of American History, emeritus. “I said to the librarian there, ‘Did anyone ever use these papers before?’ I was sure that they’d been used before. [The subject] was something that was so instantaneously interesting at this point. And they said no, no one ever had looked at any of the papers, and certainly not at that survey. That’s one of the great experiences of my life as a historian…”