Tag Archives: france

World Religions: Islam – Lecture 11: Islam in the West

The following bits represent my notes and thoughts as I watch The Great Courses, “Great World Religions: Islam” by John L. Esposito.  A few things are worth noting:

  1. I encourage those with an interest to seek out the original source material.  You can do that on The Great Courses website.  My notes are just a pale shadow of the whole course but they might whet your proverbial whistle.
  2. These are just my notes and not an attempt to encapsulate the whole course.  As such, it should be painfully obvious that I’m no expert and at times prone to oversimplification and outright error.
  3. There is no third thing.  I just can’t stand having only two things in a list.

Lecture 11: Islam in the West

Currently about 3.3 million Muslims in the U.S. according to a recent Pew Research Study and an estimated 44 million in Europe.

In the U.S. many groups have converted to Islam from Christianity citing their forced conversion at the hands of slave owners.  Most notable of these groups is the Nation of Islam.  Formed in Detroit in 1930, the NOI represents a splinter of Islam that is more or less completely divergent from core Muslim belief.  They do not observe the five pillars and teach the superiority of the African American race and advocate for a separate Black Muslim nation.

In the mid-60s, there was a movement to align the group more with Islam proper under the leadership of Malcolm X, then a charismatic high-ranking leader in the NOI who converted to Sunni Islam.  Unfortunately, before this revolution could full take hold Malcolm X was assassinated at the hands of the NOI and eventually leadership fell to Louis Farrakhan who holds closely to the original teachings of the NOI.  The belief system of the NOI is diverse and makes for entertaining reading but I will not belabor this article with undo detail.  Suffice to say that the movement’s alignment with Scientology is not merely promotional but at least somewhat stems from shared philosophical sentiment.

Problems for Western Muslims

Previously, Western Muslims were fairly invisible but now with increases in violence they are suddenly shoved into the forefront.  Unfortunately, there seems to be little appetite for proper understanding of the religion and the majority of Westerners merely judge the whole of based on a few blurbs in the news.  For the first time, the West is forced to deal with a group that is divergent from the typical Judaeo-Christian values that it has become accustomed to and therefore judges them all as primitive and violent.

France has gone so far as to outlaw the Hijab in public under the argument that it violates the country’s secular values.  This despite the fact that no other religious icons or practices were impacted.  Since the law was passed in 2011 very few, if any, arrests have been made but the negative impact has been felt by women who report being harassed and even physically beaten by passersby on the street.

The problems for Western Muslims also fall into the more practical.  Muslims must eat Halal, food prepared and butchered according to strict Quranic guidelines but this is not always available in schools.  Holding a job can be problematic unless allowances are made for required facial hair or time off for daily prayers and Friday Mosque.  As we’ve seen in France the Hijab can be problematic as well as general bigotry and hate from the misinformed populace.  To combat these issues, many Muslims have turned to opening Islamic schools and Homeschooling just as many Christian parents do.

Series Guide

IslamView back-to-back on the YouTube Playlist
Lecture 1– Islam Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow
Lecture 2 – The Five Pillars of Islam
Lecture 3 – Muhammad-Prophet and Statesman
Lecture 4 – God’s Word-The Quranic Worldview
Lecture 5 – The Muslim Community-Faith and Politics
Lecture 6 – Paths to God-Islamic Law and Mysticism
Lecture 7 – Islamic Revivalism-Renewal and Reform
Lecture 8 – The Contemporary Resurgence of Islam
Lecture 9 – Islam at the Crossroads
Lecture 10 – Women and Change in Islam
Lecture 11 – Islam in the West
Lecture 12 – The Future of Islam


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Book Reviews: The Yellow Eyes of Crocodiles

Click the cover to visit the review on Amazon. Please vote it ‘helpful’ if you find it so!

As usual, I received this book through the kindness of some giveaway or other. In this case it appears to have been an actual GoodReads giveaway. That certainly doesn’t happen much any more!

So to begin, I realize that this book is probably in a genre more generally considered appropriate to the female gender and because of that, as a dude I’m a bit of an interloper. Despite that slight misalignment, I found this book pretty delightful. It’s complexity of character made me realize just how bad I am at keeping names straight. After 40 pages I came up short and found I had no clue who all these people were so I went back through those pages and made a nice tidy relationship diagram of who slept with whom and who was previously dating whom and which characters were, in fact, screwing like rabbits in the back storeroom. Of all these there are many examples.

On the positive side, after sorting out all the ‘whos’ in diagrammatic format, this story had quite a bit to say. The intrigues were entertaining as well as demonstrating a clear and refreshing evolution of character and story. I found myself very invested in the characters and fervently rooting for some justice at the end and for things to turn out just so. I took a couple days getting started but by half way I was staying up late and reading before work to get through it. It does get ahold of you.

On the neutral side, some of the subplots came across a bit weakly. I was tied up in most of them but others just left me rather quizzical. There are certainly high points and “meh” points. Also, in this translation some of the dialog just doesn’t come across as very Parisian. At times the characters seem more Midwestern than European and one wonders how a passage from Little House on the Prairie leaked into the novel.

One final item of note is that this book is exceptionally graphic at times. It’s not exactly pornographic but it certainly pulls no punches when it comes to who’s doing what to whom. If you’re easily offended by such things then don’t bother. Personally I found such candid talk refreshing but then again, I am a guy and we do have a different view on such things most of the time.

In summary, a grand and enthralling book that could have used just a little better translation job. It’s a quick and entertaining 430 pages.

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The Summer of France by Paulita Kincer

The Summer of FranceThe Summer of France by Paulita Kincer

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

As is the usual opening for one of my reviews, I received this book for free. This time it was part of a GoodReads giveaway. Despite the fact that it arrived at my door for the princely sum of nothing at all, I shall give my candid opinions forthwith.

Our protagonist is a life-long Midwesterner who gets the call from an uncle, living in France, to come relieve him of his duties running a bed and breakfast. He invites her for a few months… or a year…. or forever. Dutifully, she uproots her family and moves across the rolling blue ocean of the Atlantic, but not long after her arrival she realizes there’s a sinister shadow hanging over her uncle and his dark history during the war.

Kincer’s novel is reasonably well written but her characters inspire in the reader some real annoyance. Without giving too much away in my commentary, the protagonist’s husband becomes an inspired ass not long after their arrival, her children are singularly self-obsessed and our main character is hopelessly helpless in any attempt to defend herself or her family. The world seems to fall apart around her and she chugs along mindlessly in her rut until it’s far too late. This book amounts to reasonably good writing wrapped around an incredibly predictable story.

The real problem here isn’t one of execution so much as the exercise of uncountable cliche situations. In many previous reviews I have summarily dispensed with authors because they were unable to execute technically on a chosen theme. In this case, our writer is an effective one. She writes in a very readable and very engaging manner. Unfortunately, she has chosen for her book the plot of at least a dozen movies from the 1950s. Again, I feel obligated not to illuminate in specific as a reviewer for fear of spoilers, but there’s just nothing original here. One could draw each of these characters from mid-20th century sitcoms verbatim.

In summary, the author is skilled and executes a good novel. The chosen story, however, is nothing even remotely original. This is a pity but it does give one hope for the future that some innovation will be brought to obvious technical expertise.

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Books: My Life in France (and an Exhaustive List of Every Meal I Ate While There) – Julia Child

My Life in France – Julie Child

Child’s book, it should be beyond surprise, reads rather like a cookbook. The reader is dizzied with untranslated French and long lists of French foods and left wondering if the subject was that of snails or gourmet crackers or perhaps the neighbor’s cat. The text is a skillful lesson in gleaning from context quickly which passages should be read in detail and which should be merely glossed over for lack of adding anything to the narrative. No matter how assiduous I might read and reread Julia’s detailed dinner menu from December 5th of 1962, it is exceptionally unlikely that any impression will be left on my apparently impregnable mind.

Actual writing aside, one is left at the end with a vast respect for the life that Child led. Her experiences were varied, her energy and patience immense and yet she never seemed to succumb to the egotism so common in the accomplished. She acknowledged that her chosen topic was a complex one but she pursued it with a vigor and exactitude that made it accessible to the common housewife of the time. Unlike her predecessors she took the time to make sure that the recipes in her book were not only detailed enough to be executed by the uninitiated but also didn’t include those ingredients that couldn’t be obtained outside of France. Her legend as the bridge between French cooking and America seems well earned.

Overall, I’d grant the book a few stars out of five but it would be much more entertaining to someone who had more of a connection either with cooking or with French culture. It is fairly hard to dive mind-first into a book that requires so much of it to be explicitly ignored.


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