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The new AQ magazine: miracles from Khorasan

Monday, October 20th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- there's a similar report from Oliver Cromwell's New Model Army, fwiw ]
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I have commented before on the use of miracle stories by Abdullah Azzam as quoted in Inspire magazine, and an African equivalent found in Gaidi Mtaani, the Shabaab magazine, to engage the devotion and loyalty of pious troops: Resurgence magazine continues the tradition.

Hasan Gul

Here for your edification from the new AQIS magazine Resurgence, are two examples, drawn from the life and martyrdom of Hasan Gul, known to the Washington Post, and likely many ZP readers, as Hassan Ghul.

The first as to do with the miraculous preservation of his life:

When Shaykh Khalid Habib, the military head of Al Qaida in Khurasan, was martyred, brother Hasan Gul was with him. The Shaykh (may Allah have mercy on him) was inside the car, while he was standing outside. He had just extended his hand to open the door of the car when a missile fired from a drone hit the car. Allah (swt) miraculously saved his life. He was thrown several feet away by the explosion. His shin bone was fractured as a result. Several days later, when I met him he showed me a coin that had been in the upper pocket of his shirt, just above his heart at the time of the drone attack. A small shrapnel of the missile had hit the coin, because of which the coin had been bent inwards. Allah (swt) prevented the shrapnel from piercing his heart with this small coin. Verily, when Allah (swt) decrees life for His slave, no one can give him death!

It seems plausible that the same mercy was extended to one of Cromwell‘s soldiers in the English Civil War, if one may trust James Waylen’s 1880 The House of Cromwell and the Story of Dunkirk:

An account of the pocket-Bible printed by Cromwell’s order for distribution among his men was some time back published by Mr. George Livermore of Cambridge, Massachusets, who possesses one of the only two copies known to exist, the other being in the Brit. Mus. Library. .. That such a book was really in use, we learn from Richard Baxter who relates the story of a soldier receiving a shot near the heart, the fatal force of the bullet being arrested by its lodging in the Bible which he carried in his breast. And a very thin Bible it was too, being comprised in a sheet folded in 16mo. An entire Bible, even in the most compact form then known, would have been far too bulky and far too expensive.

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The second deals with the pleasant scent that Azzam had previously noted was a mark of the martyr — here’s the same motif as applied to Hasan Gul:

Last year in October, when he left his house on a motor bike, American drones assassinated him. His body was shredded to bits by a direct missile hit and his remains were scattered over a large area. When some Mujahid brothers reached the site of the attack, they faced the problem of searching for and gathering the bits and pieces of his body. However, Allah (swt) made this task easy for them. A large part of his body was easily found. An ethereal fragrance that was simply not of this world was coming from this dismembered part of his body. This extremely beautiful fragrance was smelt by all the brothers present at the scene. The brothers then decided to locate his body parts with the help of this scent. All the brothers had to do was to follow this fragrance to find a part of his body. All the parts of his body exuded this fragrance without any exception. Thus the fragrance of Hasan Gul’s blood led to the remains of his body. May Allah be pleased with him and grant him the company of the Prophets and the righteous. Ameen!

Again, I refer you to my post Of war and miracle: the poetics, spirituality and narratives of jihad for comments on similar reports in Catholic and Arthurian literatures.

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But let’s return briely to that Bible story — there’s really quite an extended history of these reports.

Consider the American Civil War veteran of the Fourth Iowa Cavalry Division, whose daughter wrote:

At another time a bullet hit the New Testament he was carrying in his shirt pocket and glanced off. This sweetheart, who later became his wife, had given him the New Testament when he entered the service.

Or the Army Cyclist Corps despatch rider whose life was saved by a still-extant “combined Bible, prayer book and hymnal” near Arras, France, in 1915:

bible-saved life

Or Pfc. Brendon Schweigart, who claims only that when a sniper’s bullet found the Bible in his shirt pocket in Iraq, it:

definitely prevented more serious injury, because if it wouldn’t have been there, it would have ricocheted off my bullet-proof plate and more than likely would have gone back into my chest, causing more damage.

Indeed, the “Bible stopped the bullet” tale has enough variants that Mythbusters once tested it with a 400-page Bible, albeit not one with a metal cover…

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Because, yes, metal-covered Bibles were given to GIs in World War II with the cover inscribed “May this keep you safe from harm” — no doubt with the hope and prayer that if need be, the metal covering would indeed prove a protective “breastplate of righteousness”:

Heart shield bible

In fact, the 1943 “Heart Shield Bible” depicted is on sale now on eBay, at a current asking price of $21.49.

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It’s no dcoubt a bit of a stretch, but I believe that when you “encourage” miracles by providing metallic holy pocket-books for protective use on the battleield, it’s an example of what Max Weber famously called the “routinization of charisma”.

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REVIEW: The Orientalist by Tom Reiss

Monday, August 4th, 2014

[by Mark Safranski, a.k.a. "zen"]

The Orientalist by Tom Reiss 

Some biographies are as much about the era or the milieu as the man. The Orientalist is one of them.

This is not to say that Tom Reiss has written a bad book. On the contrary, it is an enlightening and informative one, even for someone well read in the history of Russia and Germany in the twentieth century, will find that The Orientalist has a rich store of little known anecdotes. In an effort to unlock the mystery of “Kurban Said“, the alleged author of the modern Azeri national epic, Ali and Nino: A Love Story, whose identity is hotly disputed, Reiss became a cultural archaeologist excavating the graveyards of Empires, Tsarist, Wilhemine and Ottoman. It was a search that brought Reiss to a remarkable character, Lev “Essad Bey” Nussimbaum, who had narrowly escaped the Bolshevik CHEKA, made fame and fortune as a literary freebooter in Weimar Germany only to sink into obscurity during WWII, dying in poverty and illness in Fascist Italy.

Lev, who was the son of a millionaire Russian-Jewish oil magnate from Baku, was a cultural chameleon, reinventing himself numerous times, converting to Islam, passing himself off variously as Muslim prince, a Transcaucasian “Wild Jew”, Orientalist scholar, monarchist and anti-Communist writer, briefly a literary star on Germany’s radical far Right. Even in the early days of the Third Reich, despite accusations of being a “Jewish story-swindler”, the many anti-Soviet books of “Essad Bey” were warmly endorsed by Josef Goebbels’ Ministry of Propaganda for reading by the Nazi Party faithful. The famous individuals who reputedly crossed Lev’s path are remarkable - Joseph Stalin, Fyodor Vinberg, Vladimir Nabokov, Walter Benjamin,  Giovanni Gentile, Walter Mehring,  Benito Mussolini, Egon Kisch, George Sylvester Viereck, Grand Duke Cyril Romanov, Max Brod, Stefan Zwieg, Hertha Pauli, and Ezra Pound among others.  “Essad Bey” was the denouement of the respectable intellectual tradition of 19th century Orientalism, particularly that of Jewish European scholars and ethnographer-explorers. Lev Nussimbaum was less a Martin Buber (whom Lev knew) than he was the Karl May of the East, a dime store mythologizer of  Transcaucasia, old Qajar Persia and Islam for popular audiences accustomed to a tabloid press.

Essad Bey as a character reflects the contradictions and juxtapositions of an interwar Europe, especially Germany, ravaged by the Great War and Communist Revolution in ways that would be highly improbable today.  Lev was a talented writer, a  Jewish refugee who was an exponent of Islam and an admirer of Fascism, more glib than insightful, more clever than wise, at home playing the outsider but his place never secure. When the official black sedans of the Fascist secret police rolled up to an ailing Lev’s hotel and found him dead, villagers assumed the OVRA men where there to arrest “the Muslim”; in reality, it was to take Lev to make wartime propaganda broadcasts for Italy in Persian.

Recommended.

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Seventy Years Ago…..

Friday, June 6th, 2014

Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force! You are about to embark upon a great crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of liberty loving people everywhere march with you. In company with our brave Allies and brothers in arms on other fronts, you will bring about the destruction of the German war machine, the elimination of Nazi tyranny over the oppressed peoples of Europe, and security for ourselves in a free world.

Your task will not be an easy one. Your enemy is well trained, well equipped and battle hardened, he will fight savagely.

But this is the year 1944! Much has happened since the Nazi triumphs of 1940-41. The United Nations have inflicted upon the Germans great defeats, in open battle, man to man. Our air offensive has seriously reduced their strength in the air and their capacity to wage war on the ground. Our home fronts have given us an overwhelming superiority in weapons and munitions of war, and placed at our disposal great reserves of trained fighting men. The tide has turned! The free men of the world are marching together to victory!

I have full confidence in your courage, devotion to duty and skill in battle. We will accept nothing less than full victory!

Good Luck! And let us all beseech the blessings of Almighty God upon this great and noble undertaking.

– Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, June 6, 1944   

My fellow Americans: Last night, when I spoke with you about the fall of Rome, I knew at that moment that troops of the United States and our allies were crossing the Channel in another and greater operation. It has come to pass with success thus far.
And so, in this poignant hour, I ask you to join with me in prayer:

Almighty God: Our sons, pride of our Nation, this day have set upon a mighty endeavor, a struggle to preserve our Republic, our religion, and our civilization, and to set free a suffering humanity.

Lead them straight and true; give strength to their arms, stoutness to their hearts, steadfastness in their faith.

They will need Thy blessings. Their road will be long and hard. For the enemy is strong. He may hurl back our forces. Success may not come with rushing speed, but we shall return again and again; and we know that by Thy grace, and by the righteousness of our cause, our sons will triumph.

They will be sore tried, by night and by day, without rest-until the victory is won. The darkness will be rent by noise and flame. Men’s souls will be shaken with the violences of war.

For these men are lately drawn from the ways of peace. They fight not for the lust of conquest. They fight to end conquest. They fight to liberate. They fight to let justice arise, and tolerance and good will among all Thy people. They yearn but for the end of battle, for their return to the haven of home.

Some will never return. Embrace these, Father, and receive them, Thy heroic servants, into Thy kingdom.

And for us at home – fathers, mothers, children, wives, sisters, and brothers of brave men overseas – whose thoughts and prayers are ever with them – help us, Almighty God, to rededicate ourselves in renewed faith in Thee in this hour of great sacrifice.

Many people have urged that I call the Nation into a single day of special prayer. But because the road is long and the desire is great, I ask that our people devote themselves in a continuance of prayer. As we rise to each new day, and again when each day is spent, let words of prayer be on our lips, invoking Thy help to our efforts.

Give us strength, too – strength in our daily tasks, to redouble the contributions we make in the physical and the material support of our armed forces.

And let our hearts be stout, to wait out the long travail, to bear sorrows that may come, to impart our courage unto our sons wheresoever they may be.

And, O Lord, give us Faith. Give us Faith in Thee; Faith in our sons; Faith in each other; Faith in our united crusade. Let not the keenness of our spirit ever be dulled. Let not the impacts of temporary events, of temporal matters of but fleeting moment let not these deter us in our unconquerable purpose.

With Thy blessing, we shall prevail over the unholy forces of our enemy. Help us to conquer the apostles of greed and racial arrogancies. Lead us to the saving of our country, and with our sister Nations into a world unity that will spell a sure peace a peace invulnerable to the schemings of unworthy men. And a peace that will let all of men live in freedom, reaping the just rewards of their honest toil.

Thy will be done, Almighty God.

Amen.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt, June 6, 1944 

The men who landed at Normandy seventy years ago when they were young saved the West from Nazi tyranny. They are now all very old and for the most part, frail and far fewer of them will be with us ten years hence to commemorate the eightieth anniversary of D-Day. They were not like the fabled generation of the Civil War, their only peers in American history, whose “hearts were touched by fire”. The GI Generation, unlike their great- grandfathers were not kindled by fire, they were summoned by duty; danger appeared of the greatest order and they shouldered the burden and defeated the enemy utterly.

Utterly. How many in all history can make that boast from the Walls of Troy to the villages of Paktia?

Furthermore, they were not conquerors with a bloody sword bearing chains for slaves, but liberators whose victory changed the course of world history for human freedom.

Even fewer can boast of that.

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Krishna, Oppie and the Bomb

Wednesday, May 28th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- following a lead from Adam Elkus, a little more on the (Hindu) theological side of the Trinity test ]
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WHen Oppenheimer saw the first nuclear fireball — apart from those supposedly recorded in legend, the sun in the sky, and presumably a whole heavenly host of stars — at the Trinity test in Alamogordo, July 16, 1945, he famously quoted the Indian scripture, Bhagavad Gita, either in his head or out loud:
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This post is to give those who may be interested a brief update on the relevance of that quotation.

I am grateful to Adam Elkus for pointing us to this post on Restricted Data, Oppenheimer and the Gita, which in turn led me to Dr Hijaya‘s paper, The Gita of J. Robert Oppenheimer in the Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society.

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I have a side note of caution here. Dr Hijaya notes in the Acknowledgments at the end of his paper:

Sanskrit is Greek to me, and Hinduism a mystery. Therefore I am immensely indebted to two scholars who provided me not only with translations of the language but also with innumerable insights into the philosophy: Peter M. Scharf, classics department, Brown University, Providence, R.I.; and Roy W. Perrett, philosophy department, Massey University, Palmerston North, N.Z.

Drs Scharf and Perrett both appear to be well qualified to have advised Dr Hijaya in matters Sanskrit, which seems si=gnificant since — among other things — Oppie himself had studied Sanskrit seriously, and was not simply quoting a line he’d picked up on a cursory reading of the text in some English translation.

Like Dr Hijaya, I have no knowledge of Sanskrit, and like him I relied on the help of other scholars, and particularly Chandra Das, in writing my own commentary on Oppie, various scriptures and the bomb, What Sacred Games? My post for a bloggers’ roundtable on nuclear weapondry in different religious contexts may also be of interest — The religious and apocalyptic background to nuclear policy making.

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Put into a nutshell, Dr Hijaya notes that the warrior Arjuna is unwilling at first to partake in the battle of Kurukshetra against an army that includes family, friends, and mentors. Krishna, who speaks with divine authority as the avatar of Vishnu, instructs him that it is his dharma or vocation as a warrior to fight, that he should perform actions because they are his to perform, without concern for their results, and that all those who will die in the battle are effectively already dead, since that is the divine will.

From a mortal perspective this is a hard truth to bear, but from the perspective of Vishnu it is appointed, necessary, all part of the divine lila or play — a concept the western Neoplatonist Plotinus expressed thus:

Men directing their weapons against each other- under doom of death yet neatly lined up to fight as in the pyrrhic sword-dances of their sport – this is enough to tell us that all human intentions are but play, that death is nothing terrible, that to die in a war or in a fight is but to taste a little beforehand what old age has in store, to go away earlier and come back the sooner. … Murders, death in all its guises, the reduction and sacking of cities, all must be to us just such a spectacle as the changing scenes of a play; all is but the varied incident of a plot, costume on and off, acted grief and lament. For on earth, in all the succession of life, it is not the Soul within but the Shadow outside of the authentic man, that grieves and complains and acts out the plot on this world stage which men have dotted with stages of their own constructing.

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One of the topics that should have been mentioned in that 7,000 word post and (irresponsibly?) wasn’t, is the first Indian nuclear test, which if I recall was officially termed “the Buddha’s smile” — an irony both devastating and delicious!

In a follow up post to be completed as time allows, I hope to address that issue.

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Still center of the burning world

Monday, May 19th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- a bookish Brit myself, I could easily see myself in either one of these pictures ]
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One trouble with my DoubleQuotes format is that it conforms any images or texts to its own size: there are times when a larger font size in text — or a larger version of an image, allowing greater detail to be seen — would be preferable, as in the case of these two photos from the Blitz:

and:

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The first has been nicely described by Eileen A. Joy in her book-in-progress, Postcard from the Volcano: Beowulf, Memory, History:

Consider the well-known photograph taken of Holland House in London of September 1940, the morning after a German air raid had devastated the house, but had somehow left the library walls, with their shelves of neatly arranged books, mostly intact. This was the period of the Blitz, when the German Luftwaffe bombed London and other English cities continuously for months, hoping to make Britain vulnerable to a land invasion. Holland House, the remnants of which now form part of an open-air theater, was built in 1605 for Sir Walter Cope. It was one of the first "great houses" of Kensington, and during England’s Civil War it was occupied by Cromwell’s army.The photograph shows three men in bowler hats who appear quite comfortable, even calm, as they browse and select books from the tidy stacks, while all around them lie the bombed-out ruins of the house, its roof smashed to pieces, its charred beams exposed, ladders and chairs and other assorted pieces of furniture crushed under the rubble. But the browsers appear oblivious to the terrors of the night before and the chaos surrounding them on all sides. They are the very image of scholarly repose, of quiet study and reflective contemplation, and the symmetry of the books and shelves are the very picture of order in the midst of disorder. Outside, but also inside, lies a world on the brink of apocalypse, what Churchill called "the abyss of a new dark age" (Winston S. Churchill, The Second World War: Their Finest Hour [Boston, 1949], 2: 225-26).

The photograph provides an image of the fetishization of the text, or document, of the ways in which history attaches itself, not to the social disturbances and crises surrounding it on all sides, but to the ruins of the past, and even more so, to the orderly archive of the narratives of those ruins. In that austere repository of the bound volumes of fabula and historia — the library — the scholar seeks the world of lived human experience but encounters instead one of its chief symptoms — writing.

The second is one Zen just used as the header for his most recent Recommended Readings. The Atlanti, which appears to have done the requisite research, titles this image:

A boy sits amid the ruins of a London bookshop following an air raid on October 8, 1940, reading a book titled “The History of London.”

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So, question:

Is it the love of books we see illustrated in these two photos — or British aplomb?

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