• alcontali
    695
    For a starters, I would like emphasize that I really like and even much enjoy Nassim Nicolas Taleb's work on the epistemology of probability. With his publications on the subject, "Fooled by Randomness", "Black swan:The Impact of the Highly Improbable", "Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder", and "Skin in the Game", the man is clearly, and beyond any doubt, a grandee in the field.

    When he talks about religion, however, his views are just a rehash of Christian-Lebanese political tactics.

    Nassim is a Greek Orthodox, who occasionally tries to survive in the political-religious conundrum of the Middle East, more specifically, the Levant; when he is not New York, of course.

    Christian Lebanese seem to have some kind of long-standing, tacit understanding with the Hezbollah bulwark of Shia Lebanese power. The power sharing is rather systematic too:

    The 1943 National Pact, an unwritten agreement that established the political foundations of modern Lebanon, allocated political power on an essentially confessional system based on the 1932 census. Seats in parliament were divided on a 6-to-5 ratio of Christians to Muslims, until 1990 when the ratio changed to half and half. Positions in the government bureaucracy are allocated on a similar basis. The pact also by custom allocated public offices along religious lines, with the top three positions in the ruling "troika" distributed as follows: The President, a Maronite Christian. The Speaker of the Parliament, a Shi'a Muslim. The Prime Minister, a Sunni Muslim.

    The compromise obviously includes that there is no need for Christians to disavow their own religion, nor their views on the epistemology of religious law, which they are allowed to openly consider superior. They must acknowledge, however, their alliance with the local Shia power. Nassim seems to be really proficient at this game.

    So, he has even adopted the idea that any whiff of literalism amongst Sunni -- and by extension -- that probably all specifically Sunni views are ... questionable. The local Shia power obviously does not much object to Nassim declaring specific Shia views superior to specific Sunni views.

    Unlike Shiite Islam and Ottoman Sunnis, Salafis refuse to accept the very notion of minorities: infidels pollute their landscape. As we saw with the minority rule, the intolerant will run over the tolerant; cancer requires being stopped before it becomes metastatic.

    As you can see, Nassim Nicolas Taleb is even worse than Donald Trump when he starts dog whistling to his political allies. I have never managed to detect even one old blog post by Nassim in which he seeks to disparage Hezbollah. That would obviously be against his own political interests; which seek to keep alive the Lebanese political compromise. He may not much need the Sunni for that, but he clearly needs the Shia.

    Of course, Nassim finds his own Greek-Orthodox beliefs still subtly better:

    Neither Islam nor Judaism have a marked separation between holy and profane. And of course Christianity moved away from the solely-spiritual domain to embrace the ceremonial and ritualistic, integrating much of the pagan rites of the Levant and Asia Minor.

    I am quite confident that Nassim will undoubtedly also employ tactics to subtly disavow the Maronites (Latin Christians). But then again, he doesn't blog about that either. I guess that it is not a political priority for him.

    Wikipedia is much more neutral and balanced about the epistemic conundrum that the Salafi movement are trying to address:

    In legal matters, Salafis are divided between those who, in the name of independent legal judgement (ijtihad), reject strict adherence (taqlid) to the four schools of law (madhahib) and others who remain faithful to these. Salafi scholars from Saudi Arabia are generally bound by Hanbali fiqh and advocate following an Imam rather than having individuals try to interpret and understand scripture alone. Other Salafi scholars, however, believe that taqlid is unlawful. From their perspective, Muslims who follow a madhab without searching personally for direct evidence may be led astray. At the far end of the spectrum of belief, some Salafis hold that adhering to taqlid is an act of polytheism.

    So, Salafism is indeed not a religion. It is an epistemic question, about ijtihad (independent analysis) versus taqlid (adherence to authority), that is clearly not easy to resolve.

    The same epistemic question about how to do morality, actually arises in (Latin) Christianity too. Is a Christian supposed to be rather ecclesiastic, and strictly follow the infallibility of the Papacy, or should he be 100% scriptural, like Martin Luther said that he was?

    Furthermore, unlike the disparaging views that Nassim propagates, Salafi and Wahhabi are perfectly capable of subtle and even amoral politics too. Why else would Saudi Arabia gang up with the USA -- and God forbid, even Israel -- against Iran, possibly in exchange for obtaining free rein against Qatar?

    In my opinion, the Salafi become understandably radical and intolerant when you incessantly black mouth them. Nassim should know that openly disrespecting your adversaries is ultimately a losing strategy. The occasional outbreak of violence will then become inevitable. Furthermore, I personally consider the epistemic question that the Salafi investigate, to be entirely legitimate.
  • fishfry
    811
    When he talks about religion, however, his views are just a rehash of Christian-Lebanese political tactics.alcontali

    Your perspective is interesting. I enjoy his books a lot and also his irreverent and "I'm smarter than everyone else" style. On learning that he has some religious beliefs that blend in with some politics that someone has an opinion on, my instinct is to not care. I allow people to have their personal beliefs independently of my enjoyment of their professional work. Not being particularly religious myself, I'm never surprised at the kind of things religious people believe. This could be take to extremes, of course. I wouldn't be an admirer of Hitler's watercolors. But I can and do enjoy the work of many people who have views I don't subscribe to and don't feel like investing the energy to learn about. Taleb's a math guy. A lot of math people have unpopular or odd political opinions. The mathematician and prolific textbook author Serge Lange was an HIV denier of some sort. The great physicist Werner Heisenberg worked on German's atomic bomb project. Should we be troubled by this whenever we think of his famous uncertainty principle? It's a good question. These days some people believe that the Betsy Ross flag (just to pick one example that comes to mind) is racist and should be #cancelled as they say. It's in the air.
  • ssu
    1.6k
    Taleb is known for other things than being an Middle-East expert. I guess many would have a distaste of his views about what are good movies too, but we haven't heard those yet.

    In my opinion, the Salafi become understandably radical and intolerant when you incessantly black mouth themalcontali
    So, you think it's the problem that people have just black mouthed Salafists?

    Al Qaeda, Boko Haram, Al Shabaab and ISIS are Salafi movements.

    Oh how unfairly have they been treated. :roll:
  • alcontali
    695
    Al Qaeda, Boko Haram, Al Shabaab and ISIS are Salafist movements.ssu

    In the Persian Gulf states, the majority of the Salafis reside in Qatar, United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia. 46.87 per cent of Qataris and 44.8 per cent of Emiratis are Salafis. Salafis are the "dominant minority" in Saudi Arabia. The 4 million Saudi Salafis make up 22.9 per cent of the population. They are concentrated in Najd. By contrast, Bahrain has 5.7 per cent Salafis, and Kuwait has a population that is 2.17 per cent Salafis.

    Western observers and analysts, associate the movement with the jihadis who espouse violent attacks against those they deem to be enemies of Islam as a legitimate expression of Islam.


    The otherwise neutral and objective page in Wikipedia considers that point of view to be a form of black mouthing.
  • ssu
    1.6k
    But they simply are salafi movements.

    Al Qaeda might have been a tiny cabal, but you simply cannot say that about the now largely defeated ISIS with many thousand soldiers few years ago.
  • alcontali
    695
    But they simply are salafi movementsssu

    It is always possible to conjecture a link between everything and everything else. For example, scientific racists brandish selective IQ tests to support their views. Therefore, everybody who uses IQ tests is a scientific racist.
  • once
    2
    In my opinion, the Salafi become understandably radical and intolerant when you incessantly black mouth them.alcontali

    As far as I'm concerned, all salafis are radicals, just in different ways. Even quietists like al-Albani and al-Wadi'i are radicals, since their stance leads to the acceptance of tyranny. Jihadis are the inversion of that, producing excuses on the fly in order to satisfy their blood-thirst. Then there are more politically minded salafis, but most of the time these are wackos too.

    Why is it significant that Taleb does not differentiate between the various salafi sects and pays lip service to his political allies?
  • ssu
    1.6k
    It is always possible to conjecture a link between everything and everything else. For example, scientific racists brandish selective IQ tests to support their views. Therefore, everybody who uses IQ tests is a scientific racist.alcontali
    That really isn't an answer.

    The simple fact is that these types of jihadist movements are linked to the salafi movement even if not all salafists accept them.

    It's typical that a fundamentalist religious movement is by it's definition less permissive than a dominant religious school which is in service of a large multiethnic empire, as was with the 'Ottoman Sunnis', as (Taleb?) writes.

    So what's your problem with how Taleb writes/doesn't write about Hezbollah? Or is alcontali on the other side of Lebanese politics?
  • alcontali
    695
    Why is it significant that Taleb does not differentiate between the various salafi sects and pays lip service to his political allies?

    Because in the Christian-Lebanese political view, there are no fanatical radicals in Hezbollah. They do not exist in the whole of Shia Islam, including Iran. Why? Well, it's obviously politically more expedient for them to believe that.

    So, in the new political game, everybody points to everybody else's fringe groups to generalize from there.
  • once
    2
    Salafis are not a fringe group though.

    Because in the Christian-Lebanese political view, there are no fanatical radicals in Hezbollah. They do not exist in the whole of Shia Islam, including Iran. Why? Well, it's obviously politically more expedient for them to believe that.

    Even if it was true that the Christian-Lebanese political view is singular and totally uncritical of Hezbollah, what's significant about that? Why isn't this business as usual?
  • ssu
    1.6k
    So, in the new political game, everybody points to everybody else's fringe groups to generalize from there.alcontali
    That's not new. Especially in the Middle-East. Starting with the Isreali Arab conflict as a whole.

    (Btw. the most objective reporting from Lebanon I found actually in the local magazine (Finland, that is) of the Blue Berets, where veterans of UNIFIL remember events their contacts with the locals and the Israelis.)
  • Fine Doubter
    97
    Thank you Alcontali for this informative post. A reference work I followed up stated that the idea of the Salafis was to strip away as it were accreted viewpoints of commentators, which seems to be a recipe for weakening one's grasp of the original texts. Even while accepting the general existence of commentators' views as a body, one should surely feel free to accord them varying weight (or not), to differ in detail, etc., thereby bypassing any "need" to adhere rigidly to an "original" that maybe lacked interpretation.
    I have been in lots of situations where hard liners hijack a name of a group (in my case not Salafi), leaving moderates in the position of having to call themselves dissidents (e.g dissident Salafi, "real" Salafi), etc etc.
    People of principle can always cope with nuances, it's only the unprincipled that have to go the way of censorship.
    In four volumes of Taleb's that I've read I didn't think his political observations obtruded from his occasional mention of his personal background.
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