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Greed can do it as easily as Religion — or Time Itself

Sunday, July 22nd, 2018

[ by Charles Cameron — the passing of time is theft is the passing of all things ]
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Here’s a quick stop-motion movie of the Temple of Bel, Palmyra, in four powerful frames.

The Temple was originally gloriously decorated..

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That’s Palmyra’s divine triad: Baalshamin, with the Moon god Aglibol on his right and the Sun-god Yarhibol at left, discovered at Bir Wereb, near Palmyra, 60 cm high (Louvre, Paris) (photo: Emmanuel PIERRE, CC BY-SA 3.0)

The Temple was, in fact, until recently, an impressive ruin..

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That’s the Temple of Bel, Palmyra, Syria, in a photo by Bernard Gagnon, GNU license.

But then ISIS used explosives for a sacred demolition..

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Credit for this and the final image goes to Reuters

…and now there’s not much remaining of the glory..

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End of film, end of story — setup for the point I want to make.

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Stuff gets made or born, stuff lives or exists.. stuff dies, fades, crumbles, evaporates.. sometimes stuff is reboorn, salvaged, gets a second life..

Consider the great temple of Angkor Wat, buit by Khmer artists, partly destroyed by centuries of weather and overgrowth, pock-marked by the bullets of insurgents & army.. now given a second life as a tourist destination.. Consider Tibetan mandalas, chalked out in detail, painstakingly painted in sand, then swept away, proof of impermancence..

Well?

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The establishment of monotheism in Egypt was accompanied by royal command with the destruction of what we might now call religious and cultural works —

In rebellion against the old religion and the powerful priests of Amun, Akhenaten ordered the eradication of all of Egypt’s traditional gods. He sent royal officials to chisel out and destroy every reference to Amun and the names of other deities on tombs, temple walls, and cartouches to instill in the people that the Aten was the one true god.

— in a manner that calls to mind some of ISIS excesses, their destruction of the Temple of Bel, for a recent and striking instance.

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Indeed, places of worship have not infrequently been torn down:

Lord what work was here! What clattering of glasses! What beating down of walls! What tearing up of monuments! What pulling down of seats! What wresting out of irons and brass from the windows! What defacing of arms! What demolishing of curious stonework! What tooting and piping upon organ pipes! And what a hideous triumph in the market-place before all the country, when all the mangled organ pipes, vestments, both copes and surplices, together with the leaden cross which had newly been sawn down from the Green-yard pulpit and the service-books and singing books that could be carried to the fire in the public market-place were heaped together.

That’s from England — which suffered under Cranmer (Reformation) and Cromwell (Civil War), both of them politically influential Puritans.. who between them made ruins of many British abbeys — think Glastonbury, Fountains, Walsingham..

Well, all that’s background, simply to establish that time’s river allows for the buildup by a wide variety of means and sweeping away of all manner of things animate and ootherwise, in a continual flux, a continual emergence, a continual impermanence..

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But my point, remember?


Photo credit: via Trib Live

My point is that the thief of Pittsburg’s unique and valuable book antiquities deprives us of treasures of the mind in much the same way that ISIS does with its explosives in Palmyra. In the latter case: impassioned religion; in the former: simple greed.

Appraisers discovered missing items and books that had been “cannibalized,” with entire portions removed, according to the affidavit.

and the alleged thief:

is charged with theft, receiving stolen property, dealing in proceeds of illegal activity, conspiracy, retail theft, theft by deception, forgery and deceptive business practices.

Items of high value and greed, idolatry and iconoclasm — the cutting up of books from the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh including a copy of Newton’s Principia is nend ot in the too different from what ISIS’ Kata’ib Taswiyya batallion did to Palmyra.

Not too different, either, from the activities of Tibetan monks.. or, I suppose, wind, rain, and a thousand years..

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Percy Bysshe Shelley:

I met a traveller from an antique land,
Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal, these words appear:
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

The new bad boy in girls’ lives, & other complex natsec issues

Tuesday, May 8th, 2018

[ by Charles Cameron — Trump hits Iran-ball hoping to put N-Korea-ball in the pocket? ]
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Bad boy?

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Consider this:

The drivers of various significant natsec behaviors from a natsec perspective, can be pretty hard to characterize, pin down, and model. To take just today’s example (well, yesterday’s):

  • WaPo, MS-13 is the new bad boy in girls’ lives
  • Think about it, just skim the surface, and it’s obvious. Of course, MS-13 would be the new bad boy in girls’ lives. But what does that mean? Who has mapped the way in which girl’s lives might require or enjoy bad boys, and how gang identity, and thus by entension the game itself, might fulfill that requirement, that need.

    How true was it that ISIS or AQ was in its day the bad boy in girls’ lives?

    It seems pretty obvious Mick Jagger was bad boy in girls’ lives, back when Paul McCartney was the boy those same girls could bring home to meet the parents.

    Is extremism always the bad boy in girls’ lives?

    And once we’ve wondered about a few exmples, we need to reflect on the ornery nature of individual human psychology.

    **

    God says, “But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die” — and what’s the very next thing the fledgling humans do?

    Or as Wallace Black Elk said to me, “stolen watermelon tastes best.”

    Those two are fairly straightforward, the message is simply “humans are liable to do the exact opposite of what might be intended or predicted. But then there’s this, anecdotal to be sure, but I can voich for it myself:

    In my early thirties, I made my way cross-country to Inia along the hippie trail, and in the midst of majestic mountains in Iran, I got out of the van, did a headstand, and made a vow to give up smoking. I climbed back into the van, and ten minutes later had another cigarette. Ah, but I didn’t bite my nails — up to that time a long-established habit — for almost a decade..

    Go figure. There’s a logic there, but it involves a sidestep. Or, as they say, some wires got crossed.

    And it gets worse.

    **

    Blaise Pascal‘s observation in his Pensées (1623-1662) opens the possibility that any number of undertows may suddenly erupt and sweep us off in unforeseen directions:

    Le cœur a ses raisons que la raison ne connait point. The heart has its reasons of which reason knows nothing

    **

    Or to give you a vivid example of the same pattern of process torn from this day’s news — and threatening thousands of Hawaiian householdsL

    On April 30, the floor of a crater on top of the Kilauea volcano collapsed, sending its pool of lava back underground and causing small earthquakes. Scientists predicted the magma would travel elsewhere and push its way back to the surface somewhere in the East Rift Zone.

    They were correct.

    Days later, the ground split open on the east end of Leilani Estates, exposing an angry red beneath the lush landscape. From the widening gash, molten rock burbled and splashed, then shot dozens of feet in the air.

    The Hawaii County Civil Defense Agency called it “active volcanic fountaining.” Some residents said it was Pele, the Hawaiian volcano goddess, coming to reclaim her land. About 1,700 Leilani Estates residents were ordered to evacuate amid threats of fires and “extremely high levels of dangerous” sulfur dioxide gas.

    Soon, another such fissure had formed a few streets to the west. Then another, and another. For days, hot steam and noxious gases rose from the vents, before magma broke through, with some lava fountains shooting as high as 330 feet into the air — taller than the tip of the Statue of Liberty torch.

    At least 12 fissures have been reported in and around Leilani Estates, according to the county civil defense agency. Lava spouted along the vents and oozed through the neighborhood, leaving lines of smoldering trees in its wake and igniting cars and buildings.

    So far, lava has destroyed at least 35 structures, 26 of which were homes, the agency said Monday night.

    The world, like the min, is full of surprises.

    **

    King Canute, I was taught as a young boy, set his throne on the beach at low tide and forbade the waters to come in. This Hawaii resident had much the same idea..

    **

    And we would like to know how Iran will respond to Trump withdrawing from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. And China. what Admiral Stavdridis calls “the knock-on effect with North Korea”. Saudi Arabia.The game is one of recriprocal Nuclear Dominoes, and exactly how they’ll fall is..

    Well, here are a few headlines to chew on:

  • Ha’aretz, From Doomsday to Delay: 5 Scenarios Ahead of Trump’s Decision on the Iran Nuclear Deal
  • Independent, Donald Trump’s decision on the Iran nuclear deal could have a disastrous ripple effect on the fight against terrorism
  • Atlantic, The Three Crises Sparked by Trump’s Withdrawal From the Iran Deal
  • Toss a coin, Roll the dice. Or maybe pray to Pele for a favorable outcome for you and yours, no guarantees..

    Jessica Dawson on Relationships with God and Community as Critical Nodes in Center of Gravity Analysis

    Friday, April 13th, 2018

    [ by Charles Cameron — An important article, meaning one with which I largely, emphatically agree ]
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    Let me repeat: Jessica Dawson‘s piece for Strategy Bridge is an important article, meaning one with which I largely, emphatically agree — a must-read.

    **

    Prof Dawson writes:

    There is a blind spot in U.S. joint doctrine that continually hinders operational planning and strategy development. This blind spot is a failure to account for critical relationships with a person’s conception of god and their community, and how these relationships impact the operational environment.

    Let’s just say I was a contributing edtor at Lapido Media until its demise, writing to clue journos in to the religious significance of current events:

  • Lapido, Venerating Putin: Is Russia’s President the second Prince Vlad?
  • Lapido, ANALYSIS When laïcité destroys egalité and fraternité
  • Lapido is essentially countering the same blind spot at the level of journos, and hence the public conversation.

    **

    I haven’t focused on the relationship with community, but I have written frequently on what von Clausewitz would call “morale” in contrast with men and materiel. Prof Dawson addresses this issue:

    Understanding religion and society’s role in enabling a society’s use of military force is inherently more difficult than counting the number of weapons systems an enemy has at its disposal. That said, ignoring the people aspect of Clausewitz’s trinity results in an incomplete analysis.

    Indeed, I’ve quoted von Clausewitz on the topic:

    Essentially, war is fighting, for fighting is the only effective principle in the manifold activities designated as war. Fighting, in turn, is a trial of moral and physical forces through the medium of the latter. Naturally moral strength must not be excluded, for psychological forces exert a decisive in?uence on the elements involved in war.

    and:

    One might say that the physical seem little more than the wooden hilt, while the moral factors are the precious metal, the real weapons, the finely honed blade.

    **

    And Prof Dawson is interested in “critical nodes” and the mapping of relationships, vide her title:

    Relationships with God and Community as Critical Nodes in Center of Gravity Analysis

    :

    This too is an area I am interested in, as evidenced by my borrowing one of my friend JM Berger‘s detailed maps in my post Quant and qualit in regards to “al wala’ wal bara’”:

    That’s from JM’s ICCT paper, Countering Islamic State Messaging Through “Linkage-Based” Analysis

    Indeed, my HipBone Games are played on graphs as boards, with conceptual moves at their nodes and connections along their edges, see my series On the felicities of graph-based game-board design: twelve &c.

    **

    My specific focus, games aside, has been on notions of apocalypse as expectation, excitation, and exultation — in my view, the ultimate in what Tillich would call “ultimate concerns”.

    As an Associate and sometime Principal Researcher with the late Center for Millennial Studies at Boston University, I have enjoyed years of friendship and collaboration with Richard Landes, Stephen O’Leary and other scholars, and contribuuted to the 2015 Boston conference, #GenerationCaliphate: Apocalyptic Hopes, Millennial Dreams and Global Jihad

    **

    I could quote considerably more from Jessica Dawson’s piece, but having indicated some of the ways in which her and my own interests run in parallel, and why that causes me to offer her high praise, I’d like quickly to turn to two areas in which my own specialty in religious studies — new religious movements and apocalyptic — left me wishing for more, or to put it more exactly, for more recent references in her treatment of religious aspects.

    Dr Dawson writes of ISIS’ men’s attitudes to their wives disposing of their husbands’ slaves:

    This has little to do with the actual teachings of Islam

    She also characterizes their actions thus:

    They are granted authority and thus power over the people around them through the moral force of pseudo religious declarations.

    Some ISIS fighters are no doubt more influenced by mundane considerations and some by religious — but there’s little doubt that those religious considerations are anything but “pseudo religious”. Will McCants‘ book, The ISIS Apocalypse: The History, Strategy, and Doomsday Vision of the Islamic Stat traces the history of ISIS’ theology from hadith locating the apocalypse in Dabiq through al-Zarqawi and al-Baghdadi to the loss of much of the group’s territory and the expansion of its reach via recruitment of individuals and cells in the west.. leaving little doubt of the “alternate legitimacy” of the group’s theological claims. Graeme Wood‘s Atlantic article, to which Prof Dawson refers us, is excellent but way shorter and necessarily less detailed.

    On the Christian front, similarly, eschatology has a role to play, as Prof Dawson recognizes — but instead of referencing a 2005 piece, American Rapture, about the Left Behind series, she might have brought us up to datw with one or both of two excellent religious studies articles:

  • Julie Ingersoll, Why Trump’s evangelical supporters welcome his move on Jerusalem
  • Diana Butler Bass, For many evangelicals, Jerusalem is about prophecy, not politics
  • As their parallel titles suggest, Trump’s decision to move the US Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem — which received a fair amount of press at the time that may have mentioned such a move would please his evangelical base, but didn’t explore the theology behind such support in any detail — has profound eschatpological implications.

    Julie Ingersoll’s book, Building God’s Kingdom: Inside the World of Christian Reconstruction, is excellent in its focus on the “other side” of the ceontemporary evangelical right, ie Dominionism, whose founding father, RJ Rushdoony was a post-millennialist in contrast to La Haye and the Left Behind books — his followers expect the return of Christ after a thousand year reign of Christian principles, not next week, next month or in the next decade or so.

    Sadly, the Dominionist and Dispensationalist (post-millennialist and pre-millennialist) strands in the contemporary Christian right have mixed and mingled, so that it is hard to keep track of who believed in which — or what!

    **

    All the more reason to be grateful for Prof Dawson’s emphasis on the importance of religious knowledge in strategy and policy circles.

    Let doctrine (theological) meet and inform doctrine (military)!

    The Passion for Freedom Quartet

    Sunday, January 14th, 2018

    [ by Charles Cameron — slyly smiling ]
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    London had an exhibit titled Passion for Freedom:

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    The idea was to support freedom of speech. But then some rabbit and squirrel toys from the blissful land of Sylvania were encroached upon by the ISIS-flag-waving MICE-IS terrorists, and the British police felt the tableaux showing them —

    — might be problematic, so they intervened, freezing the free speech in its tracks:

    In Isis Threaten Sylvania, rabbits, mice and hedgehogs go about their daily life, sunning themselves on a beach, drinking at a beer festival or simply watching television, while the menacing figures of armed jihadis lurk in the background. “Far away, in the land of Sylvania, rabbits, foxes, hedgehogs, mice and all woodland animals have overcome their differences to live in harmonious peace and tranquility. Until Now,” reads the catalogue note. “MICE-IS, a fundamentalist Islamic terror group, are threatening to dominate Sylvania, and annihilate every species that does not submit to their hardline version of sharia law.”

    The decision to remove the work from Passion for Freedom came after the Mall Galleries consulted the police, who raised “a number of serious concerns regarding the potentially inflammatory content of Mimsy’s work”. The gallery cited a clause in the exhibition contract which allowed it the right to request removal of an artwork.

    The Guardian, Artwork showing Sylvanian Families terrorised by Isis banned from free speech exhibition

    **

    Of course, ISIS can’t afford to let a bunch of MICE-IS clowns represent them without some come-back, so today Jihadology, Aaron Zelin‘s brilliant counter-terrorism website, brought news of ISIS-in-India’s response: a thirteen-page theological wallop named, appropriately enough, Passion for Freedom

    — In this ponderous tome, Muhammad Miqdaad asserts:

    Passion for freedom is an innate nature of Human beings. There is a hunger for freedom inside us; no sane person will accept others’ slavery willingly. For freedom, we’ve fought wars in all ages; so this is the case today and will remain the same in the future.

    The citizens of Sylvania would no doubt agree.

    **

    And so their story, disallowed from featuring in a freedom of speech exhibit, has now been liberated, and may be purchased as a baby book:

    **

    Let Freedom Ring!

    The Barcelona Response

    Monday, August 28th, 2017

    [ by Charles Cameron — from a half-million-strong march to the hug of a victim’s father and an imam, Barcelona and Spain repond to terror with nobility and grace ]
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    Telesur‘s headline read Nearly 500,000 March for Peace in Barcelona, and their subhead:

    Marchers, on Saturday, displayed signs and banners with various slogans. Some read, “No to Islamophobia,” “The best response: Peace,” and “I’m not afraid.”

    The march:

    A makeshift shrine to those killed in the attack:

    A monarch visits the survivors of terror:

    NPR reports on the celebration of Mass in La Sagrada Familia, Barcelona:

    Mass Held In Barcelona To Honor Victims Of Terror Attacks

    Spain’s King Felipe and Queen Letizia and other dignitaries attend a solemn Mass at Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia Basilica on Sunday for the victims of the terror attacks that killed 14 people and wounded over 120 in Barcelona, Spain.

    **

    We remember the sacred magnificence of the ritual setting, Antonio Gaudi‘s Basilica of the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, in which this Mass was offered:

    And Spain’s considerable Moorish history, exemplified by the Mezquita of Cordoba:

    **

    We witness the profound gesture of the father of the youngest victim, as reported by Daily Sabah, Europe:

    Father of youngest victim of Spain attacks hugs imam in defiance of terror, Islamophobia

    The father of the youngest victim of last week’s tragic terror attacks in Cambrils and Barcelona hugged a local imam in an emotional protest against terror and Islamophobia.

    Xavier Martinez, who lost his three-year-old son Xavi in the attack on Las Ramblas avenue, embraced Spanish imam Driss Salym in the town of Rubi, near Barcelona on Friday. The video of the two hugging, defiantly showing unity and compassion, was widely shared on social media.

    Here is the BBC’s video:

    **

    Oof, the imam’s tears at the end of that clip.

    Many cities have shown their resilience when attacked, and we are proud of them: Barcelona best of all.


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