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October 29, 2006

Scientific Iranian ?

When neocon talking heads tire of railing at Atlantic elitists , they often turn their wrath further East to berate  Islamofascism. The existance of violent  cults within pious sects is nothing new , but the ratio of true believers to raving nutters tends to remain mercifully small.  Listening to talk radioís pitch rise  as it declares  a forever escalating present danger, one cannot but wonder what alarms them so.

Could it be the cramped reflection of their own cant as they hold up their small mirrors to Islam? Emphasizing  that  Islamic reactionaries have the whip hand in Iran, and that Wahabism impels  Al Qaeda , they  scarcely ever mention that  Muslims kill far more of their coreligionists than infidels every year. Yet despite the virtual Thirty Years War on the Islamic side of the monotheistic divide talk radio's spectrum of proffered  metaphors ranges from The Crusades and Lepanto to the gates of Vienna being besieged anew by the Grand Turk.

The sheer din of bellicosity in the no-spin zone drowns out the voices of memory. Few on Fox want us to recall that the Ottomans awakened the Enlightenment by pounding on the rusty gates of the Holy Roman Empire, or that the Islamic lock on oriental trade both drove, and was in turn broken by the age of exploration it inspired. The neocons also face a paradox in trying to simultaneously emphasize postmodern nuclear ambitions and dreams of reviving a dark age Caliphate. While it is clear that not all of our contemporaries are living in the same century, a millennium ids a bit of a stretch.

This historical confusion tends to obscure massive expanses of cultural turf as well. Two dozen centiries ago ,Hellenistic civilization spread eastward from Alexandria to Afghanistan, and it was from out of the East that the light  of  the West was rekindled. Five centuries after the Library of Alexandria burned,  Europe recovered  much  its Classical heritage from works of authors like Aristotle and Democritus  transcribed  in  Egypt and Mesopotamia and borne across Africa to enrich the bookshelves of Visigothic  Spain .

What goes around, comes around.  Were the  blogosphere according to Drudge  to use the tools Google gave it , professor  Vali Nasr of  the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School  maintains they   would discover that after our alphabet and the characters common to China and Japan, the third most common script on the Web is Persian.  I suspect his definition , but there are 1.2 billion Muslims about , and there is no contesting that the wave of tape recorded  Farsi eloquence the Ayatollah rode to power  has crested not into a nation of turbaned ditto heads, but an uncensored blogosphere 80,000 uncensored Iranian voices strong. Over 11% of Iranians are on line and their numbers are exploding at 2,900% a year.

This  breakout may prove  harder to contain than  uranium enrichment, for Teheran is as far a cry culturally from the Talibanís illiterate turf  as Hollywood is from Waco  .The self appointed guardians of  Khomeiniís revolution have  reason for alarm at  what  wired  young city slickers are reading  .In the wake of madrassic curricular reform, Emmanuel Kantís works, Nasr reports  , have been  translated into Persian more often  than any other western philosopher .

History is a giddy thing, Before they can get on with the Clash of Civilizations, it seems cultural conservatives, Christian and Islamic, have old scores to settle- and commercial opportunities to seize. To many  Shia in  Iran , occupied  Iraq  looks increasingly like  Easter Europe after the collapse of communism - a happy hunting ground for real estate as ell as a theater of cultural intervention . There are parallels on our own doorstep. A generation ago, the Marxist revolution in Latin America made the Catholic right tremble, but now it is Spain that is the commercial and diplomatic beneficiary of the Ayatollah Fidelís failed revolution, and Right to Life conservatives rejoice at the rollback of abortion in El Salvador and Nicaragua.

Nobody in Teheran seems to give a hoot about stem cells, but then neither did anyone in Baghdad when Harun al Rashid sat on the Abbasid throne. Some in the West may only remember that era in terms of the Arabian Nights, but we all live in a world t transformed by an Islamic scientific revolution that ended before the Renaissance began. After the rise and fall of the Salafism that ended  Islamís innovative glory days , the uncertain future of Wahabi fundamentalism raises the possibility of  economic and technological modernity  rather than imposed democracy  leading  formerly Ottoman  nations into the future - Ankaraís lead may prove more appealing  in the long run than Washington.

Algebra and chemistry are not neocon strong suits - witness the dim scientific twilight of the no spin zone and the serial antics of Rush and the Discovery Instituteís many fans and acolytes in the administration and on K Street. But while science is being denied a place at the faith-based table, educational reform in Teheran is transforming a new Shia generation.

Ignorance may be blissful in the one room, one book  rote learning schools turning out Talibanis on Pakistanís  Northwest Frontier , but  Iran actively aspires to literacy at all levels, young women included. It is transforming the academies of Qum that educate the erstwhile Islamic  Revolutionís new cadres from divinity schools to  near replicas of the  Hautes Ecoles that grind out  the very differently deformed professionals that govern  a nation where nuclear power is the electrifying  norm of modernity.  We had better get used to the ayatollahís failure to stop what the Shah started with Americaís blessing - modernity co-exists with fundamentalism in Iran today, just as it does here and in many other nations.

The conflict  between not just sects, but  intellectuals and approaches to the inevitability of technical progress  constitutes a culture war within Islam .Compared to it , Al Qaedaís recrudescent dreams of Caliphal glory  may prove as much  a sideshow as  Japanís archaic militarism. Though  terrifying  in  Pearl harborís aftermath-  the God Emperorís warlike  mandate was older even  than Islam,  a decade later it had vanished , replaced by the unanticipated  rise of Red China. As history accelerates, talk of Thirty or Hundred Years Wars comes cheap, but while insurgencies remain interminable, Americaís new specialty in terms of military praxis is invasions executed in weeks. Five years later, we should never forget that like all  the days that have lived  in infamy before it,  9-11 was just 24 hours long.


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