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Perhaps because I’m looking for the tauromachia

Thursday, September 15th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — Syria echoes Guernica ]
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This, from JM Berger today, offers a glimpse of Syria that is neither war, nor peace, if I might put it this way, but war longing for peace:

Irresistibly, it reminds me of this:

Isn’t that a bull’s head in cloth, hanging right above the shoulder of the leaping boy in the Syrian image — and isn’t that alnmost exactly Picasso’s swooping white head, again in cloth, just to the right of it? The illusion of their similarity is enhanced by the aspect ratio of the Twitter image from Syria, which cuts off a stretch of green in the original photo, just below the image as you see it here..

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But it may be I’m seeing this because the bullfight and tauromachia have been on my mind recently — mythic combats of man pitted agains one of his worthiest opponents. There’s an archaic resonance there that’s inmportant in some way, but the actual killing of the bull, blood in the sand, horrifies me, the animal descending from grandeur to humiliation, its bowed head propped on one horn as it awaits finality — terrible.

And I was accordingly happy to recall the less violent version of the sport, still pitting man’s skill against adversary — in the bull-leaping of Knossos:

and its latter-day practice, shown here at the San Fermin Festival in Pamplona:

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Taurus:

taup
This image comes from the fabulous Constellations of Words site.

When laïcité destroys egalité and fraternité

Wednesday, September 14th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameronlaïcité meets the banlieue, and ISIS takes note ]
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french-laicite
France: blind to religions. Graphic: Nouvel Obs

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My latest piece is up at LapidoMedia, addressing the impact of the French doctrine of blinding secularism on French Muslims — and ISIS targeting of France:

ANALYSIS When laïcité destroys egalité and fraternité

FRANCE and ISIS have a special enmity, and it is compounded by the French form of secularism, known as laïcité.

France’s colonial history and policy of state-reinforced religion blindness adds special intensity to the confrontation.

It is important to understand how particularly powerful the animosity is.

France’s contribution to the coalition attacks on ISIS in Iraq and Syria is second only to that of the United States.

While France had a thousand troops in theatre in March 2016, the UK by comparison had only 275, with Germany at 150, and Belgium at 35.

Meanwhile, close to two thousand fighters of French origin are reported to have joined ISIS forces – more than any other western European country.

Jihadist attacks in France have included the Charlie Hebdo attack in January 2015, the November attack at the Bataclan concert hall later that year, this year’s Bastille Day attack in Nice, and the gruesome killing of Fr Jacques Hamel in Normandy, also in July.

An ISIS video released in mid-August encouraged further Nice-like attacks on France.

You can read the whole piece on the Lapido site: ANALYSIS When laïcité destroys egalité and fraternité.

Uh-oh, The Times believes Dabiq is “Koranic”

Wednesday, September 14th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — the London Times gets the Qur’an wrong, let’s hope it’s not this sloppy about cricket! ]
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In an article titled Death to Cheshire florist, declares Isis magazine, London Times writers David Brown, Sara Elizabeth Williams, and Tom Coghlan write about Rumiyah, the new ISIS magazine:

Charlie Winter, a researcher who follows Isis media closely, said of Rumiyah: “Intriguingly, it features relatively little original content, suggesting Isis is having to cut corners in its media operations.”

It is not clear if the new magazine has replaced the main Isis title, Dabiq, which has appeared sporadically in recent months. Dabiq is named after a town in northern Syria where Isis believes a Koranic prophecy foretells the final victory for a Muslim army against an alliance of world armies before the apocalypse. Syrian rebel and Kurdish fighters are now less than five miles from taking the town.

“If you put out a publication about a place you no longer control it might raise eyebrows,” said Raffaello Pantucci, the Royal United Services Institute’s director of international security studies.

Okay, I’ve included the Charlie Winter and Raff Pantucci quotes because they’re both germane to the bigger question of how ISIS is faring these days. It’s the middle paragraph that disturbs me.

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Dabiq in the Qur’an?

On the contrary — it’s not even in David Cook‘s two seminal books about Islamic end-times writing, ancient or modern, nor in J-P Filiu‘s Apocalypse in Islam.

Dabiq (the town) was mentioned by Abu Mus’ab az-Zarqawi (died June 2006) in a quote featured at the start of the first issue of Dabiq, the ISIS magazine (july 2014):

The spark has been lit here in Iraq, and its heat will continue to intensify – by Allah’s permission – until it burns the crusader armies in Dabiq.

The last page features the longish hadith that backs up Zarqawi’s point — I posted the whole thing just the other day in A Tale of Two Places – Dabiq and Rumiyah. And Will McCants gives it the detailed treatment in his fine book, The ISIS Apocalypse.

But the Qur’an?

Dabiq simply isn’t there. And yet three Times writers think — let me repeat —

Dabiq is named after a town in northern Syria where Isis believes a Koranic prophecy foretells the final victory for a Muslim army against an alliance of world armies before the apocalypse.

And so Times readers get the impression ISIS is basing its worldview on the strongest possible Islamic authority, when in fact it’s using a little-known saying attributed to Muhammed by Abu Hurayrah.

Consider also that Muhammad Zubayr Siddiqi in his respected book, Hadith Literature: Its Origin, Development and Special Features (pp 19-20) comments on Abu Hurayrah — who contributed more hadith to the corpus than any other single Companion —

Bearing in mind Abu Hurayrah’s intense dedication to learning hadith, his devotion to the Prophet, and the various tests which were applied to his memory and scholarship by his contempories during his life, it appears very unlikely he himself fabricated any hadith. This does not mean, however, that material was not falsely imputed to him at a later date. The fact he narrated a uniquely large number of traditions itself did make inventing hadiths in his name an attractive proposition.

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And not a fact checker in sight.

It all kinda makes LapidoMedia‘s point, doesn’t it? We need religious literacy in journalists who deal with current events that include sugnificant religious influences..

The Republic of Bloggers, SpiralChris & Pundita

Tuesday, September 13th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — on music, art, and the double meanings of fruit, bread, wine ]
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francisco_de_zurbaran_-_still-life_with_lemons_oranges_and_rose_-_wga26062
Still-life with Lemons, Oranges and Rose, Francisco de Zurbarán, Norton Simon Museum, Pasadena

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Chris Bateman, aka SpiralChris, responded a couple of weeks ago to my own open letter to him, beginning:

Dear Charles,

The second of my five religions, Zen Buddhism, came about entirely as a consequence of a famous tale you allude to in your wonderful letter.

After quickly rocounting the tale in question — about the Zen patriarch Hui Neng and the “finger pointing at the moon” which should not be mistaken for the moon itself, he went on:

I spent a great deal of time that night meditating upon the gloriously full moon, a little about my finger, and a great deal about the space in between. Space. The space between. The space beyond. When I could be any or all of these, I went to bed. I thought to myself: How arbitrary it is that we should see ourselves as the finger, and as not-the-moon, when we might just as well consider ourselves the spaces in between – since without that, we could never be not-anything!

This lunar encounter served me well until about five years later I hit a terrifying crisis of identity when I lost faith in any ability to use words to communicate at all. I began to fray at the edges… If everyone’s words were their own symbols, how could we ever manage to communicate? Did we? Or were we just braying at each other at random, each one watching a different play on the stage we had been thrown together upon?

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That phrase “the spaces in between” is particularly interesting when you think of it as referencing the space between word and what it refers to, the word “moon” and the up-there orb, the moon. You might think, “there’s no such space between, they’re in different realms, is all” — but there is a between, it’s the relationship. And that’s what all my HipBone & DoubleQuote Games are about — the relationship (mapped along a linking line, aka an “edge”) between two concepts (“nodes”). Because relationship is the essence of their antecedent, Hesse‘s Glass Bead Game. And of all relationships, perhaps those between name and thing, finger and moon, map and territory, moon and enlightenment, are among the most fascinating.

Consider, though, the relationship between person (genetically understood) and person (memetically understood), as in the case of persons of genius or great charisma.

Hermann Hesse played the Glass Bead Game himself, he tells us, in his garden, while raking leaves into the fire, and it consisted of figures he admired, talking across th4 centuries — “I see wise men and poets and scholars and artists harmoniously building the hundred-gated cathedral of the mind.” In his book, the Game does not consist of these people, but of their ideas — disembodied, if you will.

The genetics / memetics difference shows up elsewhere in intriguing ways. Should Peter, the closest disciple, lead the church after Christ‘s death, or James, his blood brother? — that’s the Jerusalem vs Rome controversy that plays out in the background to the New Testament. Should his followers follow Brigham Young, his closest disciple, after Joseph Smith‘s death. or a family member? When Kabir, the poet-saint of India died, his Hindu followers wanted to cremate his remains, his Muslim followers to bury him — when they uncovered his body, they found (so the tale is told) that it had turned to roses, and were thus able to divide his remains and perform both ceremonies.

Family has a claim to the person, discipleship has a claim to the inspiration. Funny, that.

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Chris was responding to me as part of what he happily terms The Republic of Bloggers:

During the Enlightenment at the end of the 17th century and the start of the 18th, a disparate group of intellectuals in Europe and the United States engaged in a long-distance discourse that became know as the Republic of Letters, or Respublica Literaria. It was one of the first transnational movements, and scholars have endlessly debated its relevance and influence upon the dramatically proclaimed Age of Enlightenment it heralded. Personally, I feel no need to explain this in terms of cause and effect – the Republic of Letters was simply the written discourse of a movement that was changing the way people thought about their relationship with the world.

It is a seldom noticed fact that while anyone who can read and write could write a letter, very few actually do – and fewer still in our current era, what it is tempting to call the Age of Distraction. Letters, rather than say postcards and other friendly waves expressed in writing, involve a kind of engagement that has become rather rare these days. A letter invites a response, asks us to think about something, requests insight from another perspective… Letters are conversations at a slow enough pace to allow the correspondents to think a out what they are saying. I would like to suggest that it takes a particular kind of introvert to engage in letter writing in this sense – a quiet soul not content to bury themselves in just their solitary activities, but willing and able to reach out in words to another, similar person. I love a good conversation in a pub or bar, or at a conference, or even on a long journey, but as enjoyable as these forms of discourse may be for me they cannot adequately substitute for the pleasure of the letter.

For Chris, blog posts are the current equivaoent of letters, and what he terms The Republic of Bloggers is a latter day equivalent of the Republic of Letters of yore.

It is similar in spirit to Col. Pat Lang‘s Committee of Correspondence, Sic Semper Tyrannis, except that there all the correspondents correspond on the one blog.

The Republic of Letters is a concept I very much appreciate, and I have tried to embody it both here and in my time at the Skoll Foundation’s Social Edge platform a decade ago.

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At which point, I must introduce blog-friend Pundita, sometimes known as the Julia Childs of Foreign Policy discussion. She and I have been going back and forth on the topic of sacred music — qawwali, gospel, and so forth.

Recently, Pundita, in a post of August 31st titled O Magnum Mysterium: Why has Christianity declined so much in a land that produces the greatest Christian choirs?, responds in part to my having alerted her to Morten Lauriden‘s gloriously beautiful rendering of the Catholic chant, O Magnum Mysterium:

Look at the still-life at the top of this post. What do you see? If you tell me you see the Virgin Mary and the Mystery of her giving birth to the Christ, either you are already familiar with the painting, made famous in this era by Morton Lauridsen’s explanation of how it inspired his version of O Magnum Mysterium. Or you are steeped in the symbolism of the High Church and/or the use of Christian symbols in art.

I’m sorry but the symbolism is so abstract that those are the only ways to read Mary and the Virgin Birth into a painting of fruit, a flower, and a cup of water, although I’ll concede the symbolism could have been understood by well-educated Christians centuries ago in Europe.

Lauridsen himself did not understand the symbolism of the painting when he first saw it — a point he does not make clear to readers in his 2009 article for The Wall Street Journal about the painting It’s a Still Life That Runs Deep, and its role in inspiring his version of OMM.

That post was in response to something I’d sent her, recommending Lauridsen’s work. More “Republic of Bloggers” style communication!

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Chance reading the other day brought me to Jacob Mikanowski‘s piece, Camera-phone Lucida, in which i found:

The first society to experience the problem of having too much money and too much stuff, the Dutch had multiple genres of food-related still lifes, each dealing in a different level of luxury. They began with the humble ontbijtjes, or breakfast paintings, to the slightly more elaborate banketjestukken or “little banquets,” and on to the kings of them all, the pronkstilleven, from the Dutch word for “ostentatious.” The “little breakfasts” were the domain of simple food: a plate of herrings, a freshly baked bun, a few olives, maybe a peeled lemon for a bit of color. The atmosphere in these canvases is orderly and Calvinist. By contrast, in the pronkstilleven, the prevailing mood is one of jubilant disorder. Lobsters perch precariously on silver trays. Tables are strewn with plates of oysters, overturned tankards, baskets spilling over with fruit, scattered nuts and decorative cups. Cavernous mincemeat pies jostle with lutes and the occasional monkey.

For a century scholars have sought a deeper meaning in these and other still lifes. A half-eaten cheese stood for the transubstantiated body of Christ; walnuts represented him on the cross — the meat of the nut was his flesh, the hard shell was the wood of the cross he died on.

And so — inside or outside th Republic of Bloggers — the conversation flows..

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And if Morten Lauridsen can wring such beauty from a reading of symbolism in Zurbarán, let him do so!

Walter & Lady Tramaine Hawkins, Goin’ up yonder:

Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Allah Hoo:

Morten Lauridsen, O Magnum Mysterium:

  • Morten Lauridsen, It’s a Still Life That Runs Deep
  • A Tale of Two Places – Dabiq and Rumiyah

    Sunday, September 11th, 2016

    [ by Charles Cameron — Rumiyah is a city for sure, Dabiq not so much ]
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    The Islamic State has a new magazine out, and it’s titled Rumiyah, not Dabiq. Here’s the first inside page of the first issue of Dabiq, together with the cover of the first issue of Rumiyah:

    dabiq-rumiyah-front

    And here’s the back cover of each magazine:

    dabiq-rumiyah-back

    What’s significant here is that the names of both magazines, like bookends, refer to a significant location in IS eschatology — but not the same place, two different places. And thereby hangs my Tale.

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    The front cover of Rumiyah, the new magazine, opens with a quote from Abu Hamzah al-Muhajir, who was Abu Mus’ab al-Zarqawi‘s immediate successor as emir of Al-Qaida in Iraq (AQI), the precursor to the Islamic State:

    O muwahhidin, rejoice, for by Allah, we will not rest from our jihad expect beneath the olive trees of Rumiyah (Rome)

    Moreover, the back page of Rumiyah, the new magazine, features a hadith about Rome:

    Allah’s Messenger (saw) was asked, “Which of the two cities will be conquered first? Constantinople or Rumiyah? He (saw) replied, “The city of Heraclius will be conquered first,” meaning Constantinople (Reported by Ahmad and d-Darimi from ‘Abdullah Ibn ‘Amr).

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    By way of contrast, the first issue of Dabiq opens with a quote from Abu Mus’ab al-Zarqawi, the founder of AQI and thus “grandfather” to the Islamic State:

    The spark has been lit here in Iraq, and its heat will continue to intensify – by Allah’s permission – until it burns the crusader armies in Dabiq.

    The back page then offers this hadith concerning Dabiq:

    Abu Hurayrah reported that Allah’s Messenger (sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) said,

    “The Hour will not be established until the Romans land at al-A’maq or Dabiq (two places near each other in the northern countryside of Halab).

    Then an army from al-Madinah of the best people on the earth at that time will leave for them. When they line up in ranks, the Romans will say, ‘Leave us and those who were taken as prisoners from amongst us so we can fight them.’

    The Muslims will say, ‘Nay, by Allah, we will not abandon our brothers to you.’ So they will fight them.

    Then one third of them will flee; Allah will never forgive them. One third will be killed; they will be the best martyrs with Allah. And one third will conquer them; they will never be afflicted with fitnah.

    Then they will conquer Constantinople. While they are dividing the war booty, having hung their swords on olive trees, Shaytan will shout, ‘The [false] Messiah has followed after your families [who were left behind.]’ So they will leave [for their families], but Shaytan’s claim is false. When they arrive to Sham he comes out.

    Then while they are preparing for battle and filing their ranks, the prayer is called. So ‘Isa Ibn Maryam (‘alayhis-Salam) will descend and lead them.

    When the enemy of Allah sees him, he will melt as salt melts in water. If he were to leave him, he would melt until he perished, but he kills him with his own hand, and then shows them his blood upon his spear.”

    [Sahih Muslim]

    **

    It looks to me that Rodger Shanahan has the difference nailed in his Lowy Interpreter piece, Australia stars in first edition of new ISIS magazine:

    First is the name change; no longer is ‘Dabiq’ the title (unless this masthead continues to put out editions separately); ‘Rumiya’ [sic] (formal Arabic for Rome) has replaced ‘Dabiq’. As most marketers will tell you, when a company’s brand is on the skids then it’s time for a refresh.; the same applies to jihadists. Jabhat al-Nusra has (to date) unsuccessfully tried to re-brand itself as a non-Al Qaeda jihadist group by changing its name to Jabhat Fatah al-Sham, as its old name long ago became a dead weight on its leadership aspirations.

    With its hold on territory becoming more precarious by the day, ISIS has possibly decided that naming your social media magazine after a town that will likely soon fall out of your control would not be a good look ‘going forward’. Re-naming your publication after the centre of Christendom is a way to show what you aspire to, rather than what you have lost. It’s also in line with the late Muhammad al-Adnani’s recent claims that IS did not fight for territory as a way of extolling the virtues of continuous jihadi resistance.

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    Recent posts featuring the idea that we may be near the end of ISIS, at least as a proto-state:

  • Kyle Orton, The End of the Islamic State by Christmas?
  • Kyle Orton, Is This the Beginning of the End for the Islamic State?
  • Anthony Cordesman, Syria and Iraq: What Comes After Mosul and Raqqa?
  • Washington Post, Flow of foreign fighters plummets as Islamic State loses its edge

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