The role of the Brass Crescent

I was recently asked to describe in more detail the purpose of the Brass Crescent Awards, so here are some thoughts.

The basic concept was to promote muslim voices in the blogsphere. Given the blogsphere's expanding role in influencing the traditional media, both press and punditry, I wanted to make sure that the Islamsphere did not get overlooked, and so retain a voice in shaping the influence of the blogsphere as a whole. I don't want muslim voices to be marginalized online as they pretty much have been in domestic politics or foreign policy.

The name "Brass Crescent" is a reference, like the City of Brass blog itself, to the story in The Arabian Nights' Thousand and One Tales. That story is fundamentally about the transience of the glories of a civilization past. I think that the present-day muslim world is living very much in the shadow if its own past, and that the muslim blogsphere is something truly fresh and forward thinking. In a sense, we are crafting the very foundation of a new dialouge and muslim identity, one that isn't focused so much on glories past but rather on possibilities ahead. By calling them the Brass Crescent Awards, we refer to the past, but also remind ourselves of its limitations - and garner appropriate humility as we proceed ahead.

A further observation about the byline on City of Brass blog itself, "maghrib of one age, fajr of another". I think we truly are at the fajr (dawn) of a new age, not least of which due to the Iraq war which will have undeniable consequences in shaping the future of the middle east, but also because that nascent democracy, with all the challenges ahead, is coming into being at the same time as the Islamic blogsphere and maturity of the internet medium. That has never happenned before, and as the spate of Iraqi blogs demonstrate, it is a synergy that is being exploited creatively. Recall that it was the pamphleteers in the Original Colonies who did the most to spread their message of rebellion against the British King in the 18th century; will blogs play the same role in Iran? How will the middle class in Iraq use blogs, will it help them preserve the newfound freedom from tyranny, will it help them respond and formulate their own messages and vision to compete with the Ba'athist remnants and foreign jihadis? We often pay too much attention to the forces of destruction and anarchy at work in the muslim world. The result of those forces are indeed Cities of Brass. But there are other forces at work on a much more fundamental scale whose influence upon the "historical now" will only be clear in decades' time.

And regarding the maghrib (sunset), there are numerous empires of the present day whose time may indeed be limited. Will the tyrants in the muslim world go the way of Saddam Hussein? Or even Muamar Qadafi? Both are progress, though of varying stripes. In addition, the best Islamic country in the world, the United States, is itself at a semi-existential crisis of its own. There are grave challenges ahead for the United States with regard to the direction the country has taken, and there are plenty of lessons in history for previous healthy democracies that fell from forces within rather than external enemies. That's more a tangential topic but the point is that this present day is a true historical nexus, from which everything (especially my beloved nation, America) may emerge unscathed and and stronger. But there is unquestionably some non-negligible risk now that it may not. While I am generally an optimist about America, there would be ironies indeed if the Arab world were to finally achieve constituional liberalism and the United States were to lose it a few decades hence as a result of events set in motion today, under the rhetoric of "freedom on the march". Is liberty a zero-sum game?

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