Other segments from the episode on October 17, 2017
DATE October 17, 2001 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
PROGRAM Fresh Air
Interview: Karen Armstrong gives a history of early Muslim
TERRY GROSS, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.
We're going to take a look at the history of the extremist edge of Islamic
fundamentalism by focusing on one of its originators, Sayyid Qutb. He was
recently described in The New York Times as the intellectual grandfather to
Osama bin Laden and his fellow terrorists. Khatab was an Egyptian who was
born in 1906 and was executed in 1966 because the government believed he was
part of a network of terrorist cells which was plotting to assassinate
President Nasser. Khatab disseminated his political and religious ideology in
a best-selling book.
My guest, Karen Armstrong, is a scholar of the religions of the world. Her
books include "Islam: A Short History," and "The Battle for God: A History
of Fundamentalism in Islam, Judaism & Christianity." She lives in London and
is currently a visiting scholar at Harvard.
You describe Said Khatab as the founder of Sunni fundamentalism. You say
almost all radical Islamists have relied on the ideology that he developed.
Now he studied Western literature as a young man. He was a literary critic.
What radicalized him?
Ms. KAREN ARMSTRONG: A number of things. At first, he was really
passionately interested and involved in Western culture, Western literature
and, indeed, in secular politics. Khatab was not a sort of
foaming-at-the-mouth fundamentalist. He was not even particularly involved in
religious politics at all, though he always loved the Quran. He'd learned the
Quran by heart at the age of 10--when he was 10 years old and he always said
that the Quran was the load-star of his life, but, gradually, he began to
become disenchanted with the West.
First, there was the colonial activity of European powers like Britain and
France in North Africa and in the Middle East. He began to be sickened by the
way that the European powers were invading Muslim countries and taking them
over and rather humiliating the Muslim people there. He disliked, too, the
support that was being given to the state of Israel by the colonial powers, by
the United States, because--not because he'd got anything much--at that point
any much against Judaism, but because it was going to mean that Palestinians
would lose their homes.
But really crucial was a visit that he had made to the United States.
GROSS: This was in 1948. He was here from 1948 to 1950.
Ms. ARMSTRONG: That's right. And he had a sort of study period here. And
he was really rather disgusted by a lot of Western culture. He found it very
sort of materialistic and pragmatic. There seemed to be no sort of spiritual
element in American public discourse. And he looked around at all these bars
and nightclubs and casinos and there were immodestly dressed women there.
There were lewd films, pornographic films, in his view, being shown and he
just sort of felt that this was a trivial society; that it didn't seem to have
the richness and depth that he'd associated with Western society when he was
studying literature. But still, that was not what turned Khatab into a
radical. His first targets were not Western targets at all, but Muslim
governments, so-called Muslim governments.
GROSS: He joined the Muslim Brotherhood in 1953. What was the Muslim
Brotherhood at the time he joined it?
Ms. ARMSTRONG: The Muslim Brotherhood at the time that he joined it was
predominantly a welfare organization. It was a reform movement which was
trying to bring the fruits of modern society to the population, to the vast
bulk of the population. The Muslim Brothers, for example, provided clinics
for the people. They provided a lot of schools and colleges. They founded
businesses and factories to give Muslims jobs, but with better working hours,
better insurance, better facilities for prayer, for example, than was
provided by the secular government.
You have to understand that the process of modernization in the developing
Muslim countries, especially those which have been colonized or occupied in
some way by Western powers has been a very difficult one. It tended to split
society down the middle. There would be a small elite who would have a
Western education, who would understand how such institutions as democracy and
parliament worked. They understood the process of secularization, but most of
the population of Egypt, a very poor country, didn't have this advantage and
they saw their country being changed, their cities being changed in ways that
were--that made the whole thing unrecognizable to them and rather frightening.
The Muslim Brothers were predominantly concerned to bring the fruits of
modernity to the people and begin to educate them in the new Western ethos,
but keeping their Islamic faith going alongside it because that provided some
very important and healing continuity.
GROSS: The Muslim Brotherhood became a much more radical and much more
anti-Western organization. How did that happen?
Ms. ARMSTRONG: Well, I think we've got to be clear that the--it was only a
tiny proportion of the Muslim Brotherhood which turned to terror, but there
was a lot of radicalism in the air. Most of the political parties had
developed a kind of extreme terror wing and the Muslim Brotherhood, which is
a huge, massive organization; vast. And it, too, developed its radical wing.
Now the problem was that the Brotherhood was far too powerful for President
Nasser. He was promoting a secularist government and the Brotherhood had huge
appeal. It was the only Muslim party that was able to appeal to all sectors
of the population; to the very poor, to the professional classes, as well as
to the rich because of its Muslim emphasis. Islam was something that
everybody could understand and appreciate. Egypt is a very religious country.
And Nasser's secularism and socialism didn't have those grassroots with the
bulk of the people, and so Nasser was determined to crush the Brotherhood.
And they gave him a perfect opportunity. They handed him the opportunity on
a plate when one of these extremists in the Brotherhood attempted to
assassinate the president in 1956. And then Nasser could move and eliminate
the Brotherhood. And he did so in a way that was absolutely decisive for
radicalizing Said Khatab.
GROSS: Well, Said Khatab was arrested in, I think, 1954, two years before
Ms. ARMSTRONG: Yes, because Nasser...
GROSS: ....attempt on Nasser.
Ms. ARMSTRONG: Nasser was continually rounding up members of the Brotherhood.
Now Said Khatab had gone into the camp as a moderate. He was still by no
means a radical person. He was a reformer. He wanted to perhaps reform
Egyptian society along Islamic lines, but certainly wasn't envisaging any kind
of radical extreme or fundamentalist activity, but in the camp he had a sort
of--he recoiled in horror from what was happening to his own country.
GROSS: What are some of the ways in which he was radicalized while he was in
Ms. ARMSTRONG: Well, in prison he looked around. He saw that about 1,000 of
the brothers had been executed by the regime. He saw young men being
subjected, as I say, to mental and physical torture and he said this has all
the marks of what he called the jahiliyyay. Now the jahiliyyay is a term used
by Muslims to describe the society in Arabia before the coming of Islam.
It's--the term really means `the age of ignorance,' jahiliyyay. And it was
the Prophet Muhammed, when he brought Islam to the Arab people, replaced the
pagan establishment of Mecca, which--with his own Muslim rule.
Now the jahiliyyay was a term that everybody just used to apply to this period
of pre-Islamic Arabia. It has overtones of a sort of ignorant barbarism, but
nobody before Said Khatab had dreamt of applying the term jahiliyyay to people
who were professing Muslims. That is what Khatab did. He said, `This
government by--of President Nasser is jahiliyyay. It is part of the
jahiliyyay.' Even though Nasser was--said he was a Muslim, even though Nasser
in his speeches, you know, he was--would use Islamic terminology when it
suited him. He said, `Nevertheless, his--this government bears all the marks
of this ignorant barbarism. It's jahiliyyay. And we must fight this, just as
the Prophet Muhammed fought the jahiliyyay of his own day.'
GROSS: By saying this, he basically opened the door--or helped open the door
to overthrowing Muslim governments.
Ms. ARMSTRONG: That--he was giving a green light to say that it was a Muslim
duty to fight against your own governments. Now it's very important to
recognize that fundamentalism in all faiths, whether it's Jewish, Christian
or Muslim, nearly always begins with an internal dispute. Fundamentalists
begin by attacking or denouncing their own fellow countrymen, their own
co-religionists. It's only at a later stage that some of them then turn to a
foreign foe, to an outsider. And so Khatab, here, was in the line of
mainstream fundamentalism in saying, `Now it is a duty for us to overthrow
this disgusting regime, which is cruel. It's tyrannical. It is persecuting
Muslims. Here we all are in jail.'
And at this time, too, the late 1950s, 1960s, Nasser was getting very
belligerent about being extremely secular and was determined to push religion
into a subordinate position. And he was making it his avowed intention to
replace any allegiance to church--and really separate what we would call
church and state. And, again, this seemed part of this whole barbarous
way--means of fighting religion.
GROSS: You say that Jihad was a central part of Khatab's vision. How did he
Ms. ARMSTRONG: Well, for Khatab, Jihad was `holy war.' He based his whole
ideology on the life of the prophet and he said that in the life of the
prophet, God had revealed a divine program and this was the only way to bring
your society into line with God's laws. And one of the important things that
the prophet did was stage four. The fourth and final stage of this divine
program was a holy war against Mecca, against the jahiliyyay, the pagan,
corrupt, barbarous society of Mecca. And so for Khatab, Jihad really had
come to mean `holy war' and--which it does not do. Jihad, traditionally, has
had a much vaguer, wider range of connotations in the Muslim world.
GROSS: And so how did he define it?
Ms. ARMSTRONG: For Khatab, instead of seeing Jihad as a struggle, an effort
that Muslims must undertake on all fronts--moral, social political and
educational, intellectual, spiritual--he saw it simply in terms of fighting a
war. First, Muslims must dedicate themselves and create a vanguard of
committed individuals, a special party dedicated to the overthrow of the
jahiliyyay, the governments such as Nasser's.
Second, they must create--they must retreat from that society and create
special enclaves of pure faith where they will bond together and prepare
themselves for the coming struggle. And then, finally, they will fight a
dedicate war on all fronts.
Now Khatab didn't give specific guidelines about how this war could be
fought because he saw this program taking place over a very, very long period
of time. There must be an intense preparation and it must be a religious
preparation, a spiritual preparation, as well as just gathering a few arms
and guns. And--but he was utterly convinced that this Jihad, this struggle,
this war would be successful because God had said that this was the way to go.
GROSS: My guest is Karen Armstrong. Her books include "Islam: A Short
History," and "The Battle for God: A History of Fundamentalism." We'll
talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
GROSS: My guest is Karen Armstrong. She's a scholar of monotheistic
religions. Her books include "Islam: A Short History" and "The Battle for
God," which is a history of fundamentalism in Islam, Christianity and
We've been taking about Said Khatab, who you say was the--basically, the
founder of Sunni Islamic fundamentalism. Let's talk about one of his
influences, Abdul Allah Moudoudi(ph), who lived from 1903 to 1979. He was a
Pakistani journalist and politician who was published in Egypt. What were his
Ms. ARMSTRONG: Moudoudi was also very upset about the West, about Western
influence in countries such as India; what was going to become India and
Pakistan. He had no enthusiasm for the idea of a sort of separate,
secularized Pakistani state, but what he wanted to see was a dedicated
struggle against the encroachment of the West. This was--the West was seen
very much as a colonial, divisive force. I mean, the West was in India; had
been in India since the 18th century since the British invaded there. And he
felt that Muslims had encountered hostile societies before and they had done
so, Moudoudi said, by relying on Islam, and they must now oppose the
secularistic ethic of the West by an increased, renewed appreciation of their
religious routes. And--but what he--what Moudoudi did, which was quite new,
was make--put Jihad, the idea of a military, militant struggle, a holy war,
right in the center of his system; because of the present emergency with the
Western powers, until the crisis was over Jihad was the main duty of the day.
GROSS: And another thing he said that probably influenced Khatab; you say
that he--that Moudoudi feared that Islam was about to be destroyed. He saw
democracy as usurping the power of God, and he argued that an Islamic state
should be totalitarian because it subjects everything to the rule of God.
Ms. ARMSTRONG: Yes. And, again, because you have to understand democracy
doesn't have quite the same positive ring for somebody born in
British-controlled India, this--he had a much more totalitarian view, but
because it would all--everything must be under the rulership of God. Yes, I
mean, this was a coercive theology, but not--and even though he had a strong
influence on Khatab, Moudoudi--and was the forerunner to Said Khatab--he never
hit the same popular note. And I think he lacked the popular touch of Khatab
because Khatab brought the Prophet Muhammed into this.
GROSS: And was Moudoudi published? Was his--were his ideas disseminated?
Mr. ARMSTRONG: Oh, yes. Moudoudi was a well-known writer, journalist and
lecturer, indeed. And his books were, indeed, widely disseminated. And
people were beginning to think along these lines. There had been, up until
the--about the 1920s, a real enthusiasm for Western culture in the Muslim
world, but by the 1930s, '40s, this enthusiasm was beginning to sour as they
saw Britain and France setting up protectorates and colonies--a new kind of
colonies and treating the subject population in a rather dismissive manner;
not allowing them to take their destiny into their own hands.
Moudoudi felt that this was a great crisis; that Islam was in danger. Every
single fundamentalist movement that I've studied in Judaism, Christianity and
Islam, is convinced that modern secular society is the enemy of religion and
wants to wipe it out, so they are--they feel that they're fighting--Moudoudi
certainly felt was the Muslims were fighting with their backs to the wall
against a hideously powerful force and that they must exert all their efforts
to counter this great threat to religion.
GROSS: Moudoudi was Pakistani. Was he ever imprisoned for his beliefs?
Mr. ARMSTRONG: No, and he--but he--and he did sort of go over to Pakistan
and get sort of--was involved with the new government there, even though this
was not the kind of Islamic state that he had envisaged at all. And he was
responsible, very much, for forming the kind of Pakistani revolts that we're
seeing right now against America. The Jamiat-e party vanguard, really,
was--which we--are responsible for a lot of these anti-American
demonstrations. A lot of the demonstrations we're seeing now against the war
in Afghanistan would be--have been deeply influenced by Moudoudi's ideology.
GROSS: Karen Armstrong is the author of "The History of God" and "Islam: A
Short History." She'll be back in the second half of the show.
I'm Terry Gross and this is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross back with religion scholar Karen
Armstrong. Her books include the best-seller, "A History of God," "Islam: A
Short History," and "The Battle for God: A History of Fundamentalism." We're
talking about the history of Islamic fundamentalism by focusing on the life of
one of its ideological fathers, Said Khatab of Egypt.
Let's get back to Said Khatab, who you say founded Sunni Islamic
fundamentalism. He was executed in 1966 under the regime of Nasser. Was this
part of a larger execution of Muslim extremists?
Ms. ARMSTRONG: No. Nasser stepped in and said he wanted Khatab executed.
Personally, he took--this was a special initiative of Nasser's. The following
year, 1967, saw a major change in the region, however. Khatab died just too
soon to see this. The Six Day War in Israel really changed the whole region
and on both sides of the conflict. On the Israeli side, as well as on the
Arab side there was a religious revival and this was just the kind of
atmosphere in which the ideology of Khatab could take strong root.
GROSS: Nasser's Egypt was defeated by Israel in the Six Day War in June of
1967. How did that defeat further radicalize the extremist fringe of Islam
Ms. ARMSTRONG: Well, it radicalized everybody because it was a dreadful,
devastating defeat and it seemed to discredit all the nationalist, socialist
kind of ideologies that people such as Nasser had been espousing. These
ideologies, people thought, had just made Egyptians and Arabs weak. They'd
been completely flattened by this dreadfully humiliating retreat--defeat. And
so people began to turn back to Islam. They said, `Let's go back to our
roots. Let's get rid--throw out all these foreign, imported ideologies which
have never done us much good. Most of the people have never understood them,
anyway. Let's go back to our roots, to Islam, to what it was like, what our
culture was before the advent of the West in our countries.' And this much
the same process started to happen in Israel after their devastating
experience in the 1973, October, war. And there was a religious
fundamentalist revival in Israel, too.
GROSS: Nasser, when he was the president of Egypt, clamped down on Islamic
fundamentalist groups. Many people in those groups were put into prison.
Many were executed. After Nasser, when Sadat became the president of Egypt,
what was his approach to the Muslim Brotherhood?
Ms. ARMSTRONG: Well, Sadat realized that he had quite a job on his hands to
be as popular as Nasser. And he decided to strike a more religious note. So
he let all the Muslim Brothers out of jail. And they came back into society,
many of them radicalized by Khatab's ideas and so they were a lot of extreme
young men around. Sadat also encouraged the new groups that were developing
in the universities; young groups of students who were organizing and
regrouping as part of this huge, religious revival in the Middle East after
the Six Day War. And he gave them a great deal of encouragement. And it was
a young man who had been in one of these groups--student groups who was
responsible for Sadat's assassination.
This passes an important message to us. It's very dangerous to ignore
fundamentalist movements and to think they don't matter and they'll just go
away. We've just had horrible evidence to see what happens when we do that,
but it's also very dangerous to try to exploit them or use them for our own
ends. This is what happened to Sadat. He courted these groups and then they
turned almost into a Frankensteinian monster that killed him.
GROSS: Let's look at how Khatab's philosophy is being used today. Now Osama
bin Laden is not Egyptian. He grew up in Saudi Arabia and he was born into
the Wahhabi sect of Islam, but his number two, or the person who is believed
to be his number, Ayman al-Zawahri...
Ms. ARMSTRONG: Mm-hmm.
GROSS: ...he is Egyptian. And I'm wondering if listening to these statements
by bin Laden or by the spokesperson of bin Laden's group, if you've been
hearing any resonance with Khatab and his writings?
Ms. ARMSTRONG: I hear resonance to Said Khatab all the time in bin Laden's
statements and his texts. He talks about a vanguard. He talks about these
hijackers as God has created a vanguard. That's Khatab's ideology. He
talks--he's been saying the world is now divided into two camps, one for God,
one against God. This is exactly Khatab's ideology. He's talking about a
Jihad very, very strongly in Khatabian terms and he's also absolutely
convinced, like Khatab, that this is God's plan, not just a human plan--God's
plan and it's bound to be successful. So I hear resonances all the time. It
may not--these movements, of course, have their own life. They all sort of
develop and expand and change under the influence of events, but, certainly,
the stamp of Khatab is on this.
GROSS: Do you think that bin Laden and al-Qaeda have taken Islamic
fundamentalism to a new extreme with the terrorist attacks that we believe
they're responsible for and even in the kind of rhetoric they're using?
Ms. ARMSTRONG: All fundamentalism in Judaism, Christianity and Islam is
becoming more extreme right now. And we're almost getting what I would call
post-fundamentalist groups; people who believe they're going beyond the
fundamentalism that erupted so strongly during the 1970s into a new, more
desperate phase. And I think something like this is happening here.
I've been very puzzled by the behavior of the hijackers. I think we know that
Mohamed Atta was drink--the Egyptian who drove the first plane into the World
Trade Center was drinking vodka before he got onto the plane. Now that is an
extraordinary act. I cannot think of a single--alcohol, of course, is
forbidden by--in Islamic law. No Muslim fundamentalist that I've been
acquainted with or studied would ever dream of going to Allah in paradise with
vodka on his breath.
Some of the fundamentalists were--the one who was driving the plane that
crashed in Pennsylvania was well-known to frequent the nightclubs in Hamburg
and had non-Muslim girlfriends. Now no fundamentalist that I know of would go
anywhere near a nightclub. Nightclubs are part of the jahiliyyay. They're
part of the corrupt society that Khatab recoiled from in such horror when he
witnessed them in the United States. It's almost as--like a sort of nihilism
here; as though fundamentalism is moving into what we call an antinomian
GROSS: What does that mean?
Ms. ARMSTRONG: It means that you ignore all law and sort of trample on all
values. If you are killing and massacring thousands of innocent people,
you've lost all sense of law. And in various moments of history when people
are feeling extremely desperate, this religious extremism--and there are
various examples of this in the past--can tip over into a complete nihilism,
where all law, even your sacred religious law, is something that you trample
on in your desire to get to a new phase. I'm not saying that this is
happening; just to register a puzzlement that the behavior of these hijackers
was like--was nothing like the people whom we classically define as Muslim
fundamentalists who live very orthodox lives, disciplined lives of prayer and
would never dream of drinking alcohol or going anywhere near a nightclub.
GROSS: This is probably--this observation I'm about to make is probably no
more than very cheap psychoanalysis, but it has struck me that is--you know,
is it possible that someone like Mohamed Atta is at war with himself; you
know, that he has all these impulses to drink, to have sex and he's fighting
these impulses; he blames the West for it. And because he sees these impulses
in himself, he's just so upset and outraged by it that he wants to kill the
West to kill that impulse in himself?
Ms. ARMSTRONG: Yes. I think that--I don't think that's cheap psychobabble
at all. I think it's--I don't. I think it's an acute observation. To commit
an act like that, you must be doing extraordinary violence to, you know, even
your basic instinct of self-preservation. And history is full of examples of
the way, when we're unhappy with ourselves, when we feel torn with our--among
ourselves, when we don't know whether we're religious or secular or, as many
people in the Islamic countries who do feel split and that they belong in
neither East, nor West; this kind of conflict is very often projected onto the
Christians did this way back at the time of the Crusades, when we were
fighting a brutal holy war in the Middle East against Muslims, something which
in no way could be justified by the peaceful gospel of Jesus Christ. There
was a--we were, in a sense, at war with our Christian selves, but we then
said, `It's Islam that is the violent, intolerant faith and we must fight it
to the death and that it's the enemy.' So there's a projection going on
Similarly, much of the classical Western phobia about Jews was similarly based
on worry--varied anxiety about Christian behavior, Christian beliefs. And I
think you're quite right. There's something of that sort going on here; that
people, especially in developing countries, who are torn, as I say, between
East and West, tend to project all that hatred onto an enemy that they can
define and feel and categorize as absolutely evil and, therefore, out of the
caste of any form of human consideration.
GROSS: My guest is Karen Armstrong. Her books include "Islam: A Short
History" and "The Battle for God: A History of Fundamentalism." We'll talk
more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: My guest is religion scholar Karen Armstrong, author of "Islam: A
Short History" and "The Battle for God." We're talking about the history of
I want to read you something that Andrew Sullivan recently wrote in The New
York Times magazine and get your reaction to it. He wrote, `Most interpreters
of the Quran find no arguments in it for the murder of innocents, but it would
be naive to ignore in Islam a deep threat of intolerance toward unbelievers,
especially if those unbelievers are believed to be a threat to the Islamic
world. There are many passages in the Quran urging mercy toward others,
tolerance, respect for life and so on, but there are also passages as violent
as this, quote, "And when the sacred months are past, kill those who join
other gods with God wherever you shall find them and seize them, besiege them
and lay wait for them with every kind of ambush." And this, "Believers, wage
war against such of the infidels as are your neighbors and let them find you
rigorous."' Your reaction?
Ms. ARMSTRONG: My reaction is yes, the--parts of the Quran were revealed
when Muhammed and his Muslim community were fighting a deadly, all-out war.
They were facing the prospect of extermination and so they were fighting for
their lives. And--but what these texts--people who quote these texts very
often neglect the words that immediately follow in almost every case, which
says, `But if the unbelievers are not attacking you, you are forbidden by God
to attack them. Allah is merciful. Peace is always better.'
Now this is a very complicated question and I think we've got to sort of
really unwrap this. We've been hearing a lot of these texts bandied around,
but we've got to bear in mind that in our own Scriptures we have
very--Christian-Jewish Scriptures we have some very ferocious passages, but
because we know so much more about Judaism and Christianity, we don't assume,
take these passages out and say that, therefore, there is an essential
incitement to violence in Judaism or Christianity.
In the Torah, the most sacred part of the Jewish Scriptures, the--God
commands the people of Israel to drive the Canaanites out of the Promised
Land, to destroy all their religious symbols and to make no treaty with them.
Now a tiny proportion of Jewish fundamentalists use these texts to justify
harrying the Palestinian people in the present conflict, but nobody would say
that these texts are typical of Judaism.
Similarly, Jesus, in one passage, says, `Do not think that I have come to
bring peace on Earth. I have come not to bring peace, but the sword. I have
come to set whole family members against one another and to set up real
conflict.' Now no one quoted this text at the time when Christian Serbs
massacred 8,000 Muslims in Srebrenica, so, you know, we mustn't put
Islam--because of our ignorance of Islam, just draw out these isolated texts
and assume that they are typical of the whole--of the Quranic scripture, the
bulk of which is all about mercy, justice, compassion, courtesy, kindness,
politeness. And that's the overwhelming impression of the Quran, not these
isolated passages, which even in the actual verses that were quoted there by
Andrew Sullivan are immediately succeeded by exhortations to peace, mercy and
to make peace where, `as soon as the enemy sues for peace,' says the Quran,
`you must make peace with them and agree to any terms.' So this was
revolutionary in 7th century Arabia.
GROSS: Do you feel like we're living through a religious war where--I mean,
I think it's fair to say that the leaders of the United States and I think
most of the people of the United States don't see themselves as making war
against Muslims, but, rather, against terrorists.
Ms. ARMSTRONG: Mm-hmm.
GROSS: But the Islamic terrorists, who are creating war against the United
States and other parts of the West, do seem to see this as a religious war--a
religious war in which everyone in the United States is a target.
Mr. ARMSTRONG: Yes, and I--but don't lets forget the backlash we've seen in
countries like America and the United Kingdom, where people have been
attacking mosques and Muslim women who were wearing the hijab on the streets.
And so, you know, there's a certain amount of, you know, `all Muslims are bad'
in our own countries. It's so not, I'm glad to say, among our governments
who--and I've been really impressed and grateful that President Bush, like
Tony Blair, has been saying, `We are not fighting a war against Islam.' This
is something new, this carefulness, this--to distinguish between terrorism and
Islam. This is a new and hopeful development on the part of our leaders and
I'm delighted to see it.
Do I feel that we are--yes, I do. I don't see it as a war of Islam against
Christianity or a clash of cultures. This is a far more--a struggle within
societies where sectors of Muslim society are at war with one another, just
as in the United States there is--this is the case. Not in the United
Kingdom, however, where there is no interest in religion; where nobody is
seeing this as a religious war; where before, while I--where people have been
ringing me up in London and saying, `This shows that religion should all be
stopped by force of law, you know. It's just awful and evil.' So in the
United States, which is a religious--very religious society, now lots more
Americans are going to church, I believe, than they did before September the
11th, so there's a heighten religiosity in the country, but we've got to make
sure it's good religion. Not all religion's good. It can be really bad,
awful, immoral religion like the religion of the hijackers. And if any
Christian feels that it's a holy thing to attack a mosque or a woman wearing
the hijab, then they--this is rotten religion.
GROSS: Religion scholar Karen Armstrong. Her books include "Islam: A Short
History" and "The Battle for God: A History of Fundamentalism." She's
currently a visiting scholar at Harvard.
This is FRESH AIR.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Review: Ran Blake's new jazz CD called "Sonic Temples"
TERRY GROSS, host:
Ran Blake is one of the most subtle of jazz pianists, influenced by low-key
singers like Chris Connor and Jean Lee(ph), as well as by blues and gospel
piano and orchestral harmony. Sometimes in his music, Blake tries to capture
the dark, psychological and emotional shadings of Hollywood film noir;
stories of quiet men who may find themselves cornered by circumstance. Jazz
critic Kevin Whitehead says Blake's new album is a bit like that. Here's Ran
Blake on David Raskin's noir theme for the film "Laura."
(Soundbite of theme for "Laura")
Ran Blake is one of the most introspective of jazz musicians, a master of
nuanced touch and shaping notes with foot pedals. He has a knack for making
old chord changes and blues licks sound rarefied and mysterious all over
again. He really pushes contrast between light and dark or loud and soft
passages, but he can get so absorbed in details he may lose track of time.
Other pianists use a bassist and drummer to keep their tempos true. Blake
rarely does. His new album, "Sonic Temples," is his first with a conventional
rhythm section in 15 years.
(Soundbite of "Black Coffee")
WHITEHEAD: Ran Blake on Sarah Vaughan's hit, "Black Coffee," laced with a
little "Heartbreak Hotel." Adding bass and drums can create problems for
Blake, as well as solve them, since a rhythm section adds more than just
rhythm. A bass player hems in a pianist's left hand, as two players down
below tend to muddy the bottom. And even a light splash of cymbals can
interfere with delicate high notes. Beyond that, this bassist and drummer
seek to engage Blake in conversation, or at least make him speak up. They
don't just roll out a carpet for him. That assertive approach works
sometimes, but it can also backfire with an introvert like Blake. His
laid-back stylings can sound more reticent than ever and make him recede into
(Soundbite of music)
WHITEHEAD: There's an extra musical subtext that may shed light on Ran
Blake's low profile here. His two-CD "Sonic Temples" was conceived by his old
friend and champion Gunther Schuller, who produced it for his G.M. label.
Schuller picked the tunes from among his own favorites and chose the rhythm
section, his sons Ed on bass and George on drums. Now those are two fine and
sensitive players who grew up with Blake's music and sound very good together,
but when you factor in tunes by and dedications to various Schullers and guest
shots by a Schuller in-law on alto saxophone, Blake's in the awkward position
of guest of honor at someone else's family reunion, but that predicament suits
him somehow. Fascinated by psychological complexity, Ran Blake illuminates
problems that may arise on either side when you try to draw a shy person out.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: Kevin Whitehead reviewed "Sonic Temples" by Ran Blake on the G.M.
GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.
We'll close with music from Loudon Wainwright's new CD. He'll perform on our
show later this week. This song is called "I'm Not Gonna Cry."
(Soundbite of Louden Wainwright III music)
Mr. LOUDON WAINWRIGHT III: (Singing) I'm not gonna cry today. I won't shed
a tear. Even if some milk is spilt, I won't dilute my beer. I won't use a
tissue. My pillow will stay dry. And I won't need a shoulder 'cause I'm not
gonna cry. I'm not gonna snivel. No, I'm not gonna sob. Both my eyes will
remain dry and I won't have to daub them. Move me with a tragedy. Just go
ahead and try. Play me a tearjerker, but I'm not gonna cry.
I'm not gonna weep today. I will not wet my cheek. I'll count to 10 and I'll
hold it in. I'm not gonna leak. Now I'm not gonna lose it, though I may want
to die. They say it's good to let it out, but I'm not gonna cry. I'm not
gonna blub today and I'm not gonna bawl. And I'm not gonna fall apart, even
if you call me. I couldn't cry for 40 years, I was too tough a guy. Now I
can do it anytime...
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.