How Leo Strauss and a Great African American Jazz Critic Came to Parallel Conclusions about the Limits of Liberalism

Sept. 24 2021

Like Theodor Herzl before him, the German Jewish scholar Leo Strauss formed his ideas about politics after witnessing the failure of the “liberal solution” to what in the 19th century was called “the Jewish question.” That is, granting Jews equality before the law in Germany, Austria, or France failed to eliminate anti-Semitism. Aryeh Tepper sees a similar line of reasoning vis-à-vis racism in the U.S. in the writings of Albert Murray, one of America’s foremost writers on jazz. But the parallels go deeper:

Strauss championed liberal education, whose aim he identified as “reminding oneself of human excellence, of human greatness.” Murray would have nodded in agreement. . . . Most importantly for our story, both thinkers celebrated the virtue of fortitude, or resilience. They were acutely aware of the abiding reality of bigotry—for Strauss, anti-Semitism, for Murray, racism—but it didn’t define their self-perception.

On confronting bigotry, Murray in effect picked up where Strauss left off. And in his writings on music, literature, and culture, Murray offered a sustained reflection on facing adversity in a liberal democratic context—a heroic response that implicitly extends and elaborates Herzl’s recognition that “the enemy is necessary for the highest effort of the personality.”

Murray’s fundamental approach is to cast the challenges one faces in life as opportunities for heroic action: “We’re supposed to live life as if the dragon exists in order to make heroes.” This principle remains true even if the dragon happens to be a bigot. Fighting bigots is a given (that’s how you become a hero), but protesting their existence? Murray isn’t interested: “To protest the existence of dragons (or even hooded or unhooded Grand Dragons for that matter) is . . . naïve.” Naïve, because dragons are a part of life, and protesting isn’t going to change the (Grand) Dragon’s ways.

Murray was well aware that his heroic view cut against the grain of attitudes that were beginning to penetrate the liberal mainstream. Those attitudes don’t embrace stress and strain—struggle—as the condition for self-discovery and self-realization.

Indeed, Murray criticized the approach of the “social science-oriented” thinkers who sought to rid life “of ambivalence, complexity, and strife.” Yet, also like Strauss, Murray was a critic of the liberalism of his day who never abandoned his basic faith in liberal democracy.

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More about: African Americans, Anti-Semitism, Leo Strauss, liberal democracy, Racism

How the Death of Mahsa Amini Changed Iran—and Its Western Apologists

Sept. 28 2022

On September 16, a twenty-two-year-old named Mahsa Amini was arrested by the Iranian morality police for improperly wearing a hijab. Her death in custody three days later, evidently after being severely beaten, sparked waves of intense protests throughout the country. Since then, the Iranian authorities have killed dozens more in trying to quell the unrest. Nervana Mahmoud comments on how Amini’s death has been felt inside and outside of the Islamic Republic:

[I]n Western countries, the glamorizing of the hijab has been going on for decades. Even Playboy magazine published an article about the first “hijabi” news anchor in American TV history. Meanwhile, questioning the hijab’s authenticity and enforcement has been framed as “Islamophobia.” . . . But the death of Mahsa Amini has changed everything.

Commentators who downplayed the impact of enforced hijab have changed their tune. [Last week], CNN’s Christiane Amanpour declined an interview with the Iranian president Ebrahim Raisi, and the Biden administration imposed sanctions on Iran’s notorious morality police and senior officials for the violence carried out against protesters and for the death of Mahsa Amini.

The visual impact of the scenes in Iran has extended to the Arab world too. Arabic media outlets have felt the winds of change. The death of Mahsa Amini and the resulting protests in Iran are now top headlines, with Arab audiences watching daily as Iranian women from all age groups remove their hijabs and challenge the regime policy.

Iranian women are making history. They are teaching the world—including the Muslim world—about the glaring difference between opting to wear the hijab and being forced to wear it, whether by law or due to social pressure and mental bullying. Finally, non-hijabi women are not afraid to defy, proudly, their Islamist oppressors.

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Read more at Nervana

More about: Arab World, Iran, Women in Islam