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A dozen or so books on Islamic apocalyptic

Wednesday, April 29th, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — since this topic is at last swinging into focus ]
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It is my impression that Islamic apocalyptic has finally surfaced as a significant contributor to those interested in questions of contemporary national security — first, through CJC Martin Dempsey‘s 2014 comment that IS has “an apocalyptic, end-of-days strategic vision”, second, through Graeme Wood‘s article What ISIS Really Wants in the Atlantic, third, through the publication of Stern & Berger‘s ISIS: the State of Terror, and fourth (as yet upcoming), Will McCants’ The ISIS Apocalypse: The History, Strategy, and Doomsday Vision of the Islamic State.

While we’re reading Stern & Berger and waiting for McCants book, though, I thought it might be useful to compile a couple of lists of relevant books, first (here) on Islamic apocalyptic, and second (soon) on the complex relationship between apocalypticism (of whatever stripe) and violence (soon).

Here’s my list, with comments, of books on Islamic apocalyptic:

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First choice:

  • Jean-Pierre Filiu, Apocalypse in Islam
  • My Jihadology review gets into some detail, but the book is superb. From the concluding pages:

    For the moment, only the Iraqi militia known as the Supporters of the Imam Mahdi has actively sought to translate the rise of eschatological anxiety into political action. Yet one day a larger and more resourceful group, eager (like Abu Musab al-Suri) to tap the energy of the “masses” as a way of achieving superiority over rival formations, may be strongly tempted to resort to the messianic gambit. An appeal to the imminence of apocalypse would provide it with an instrument of recruitment, a framework for interpreting future developments, and a way of refashioning and consolidating its own identity. In combination, these things could have far-reaching and deadly consequences.

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    Overviews:

  • Richard Landes, Heaven on Earth
  • Heather Selma Gregg, The Path to Salvation
  • Landes’ book gives an impressive, nay encyclopedic, tour of apocalyptic movements across time and space, excluding Judaic and Christian versions to make space for his expansive survey across time and space (featuring, eg, the Xhosa cattle-slaying of the 1850s), and concludimng with a chapter on contemporary Islamist apocalyptic. Gregg’s slimmer olume is an information-packed tour of “religious violence from the Crusades to Jihad” and from Jerusalem to Ayodhya.

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    Varieties of Islamic apocalyptic:

  • David Cook, Studies in Islamic Apocalyptic
  • David Cook, Contemporary Muslim Apocalyptic Literature
  • David Cook’s high-level scholarship explores ancient and contemporary Islamic apocalyptic texts in detail. It was David who introduced me to the topic in the late ’90s at a Center for Millennial Studies conference, not unlike the one David, JM Berger, Will Mcants, Tim Furnish, myself and others will speak at on IS and apocalyptic in early April.

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    For specific angles on the issue:

  • Timothy Furnish, Holiest Wars: Islamic Mahdis, Their Jihads, and Osama bin Laden
  • Anne-Marie Oliver & Paul Steinberg, The Road to Martyr’s Square
  • Thomas Hegghammer & Stephane Lacroix, The Meccan Rebellion
  • Gershom Gorenberg, The End of Days
  • A Azfar Moin, The Millennial Sovereign
  • Joel Richardson, The Mideast Beast
  • Furnish discusses the history of Mahdist movements; Oliver and Steinberg write a passionately engaging narrative of life in Gaza, with special focus on suicide bombers and Hamas street propaganda; Hegghammer and Lacroix cover the Mahdist revolt that kicked off the new Islamic century in Mecca, getting into theological details that resonate to this day; and Gorenberg covers the three competing apocalypticisms of Judaism, Christianity and Islam with respect to the Temple Mount / Noble Sanctuary in Jerusalem, which he terms “the most hotly contested piece of real estate on earth”. Azfar Moin’s book gives an account of the quasi-Mahdism of Safavid Iranian and Mughal Indian kingship, in which sufi notions of sanctity and courtly notions of royalty mix and mingle — simply mind-boggling. And Joel Richardson views Islamic apocalyptic through Christian apocalyptic eyes.

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    For Shi’ite eschatology:

  • Abdulaziz Sachedina, Islamic Messianism
  • cf Sachedina’s translation of Ayatullah Ibrahim Amini‘s Al-Imam al-Mahdi, The Just Leader of Humanity
  • Abbas Amanat, Apocalyptic Islam and Iranian Shi’ism
  • **

    Reading Islamic scriptures in and out of context:

  • Jonathan Brown, Misquoting Muhammad: The Challenge and Choices of Interpreting the Prophet’s Legacy
  • It is all too easy to cherry pick quotes to show that Islam is peaceful, warlike or whatr have you: Dr Brown shows us how variously the texts can be interpreted, tus opening the door to a more cautious, context-driven and historically aware of what we read in opposing contemporary polemics. Brilliant.

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    In a following post, I shall list books predominantly from the religious studies area, as various authors examines violence in new religious movements, many of which are millenarian / apocalyptic in orientation.

    Recommended Reading

    Wednesday, April 15th, 2015

    [by Mark Safranski, a.k.a. “zen“]

    Have not done this in a while as real life has eaten most of my blogging time, but here goes with a focus on Friends of Zenpundit!

    Adam Elkus, is writing on tech and society for Slate:

    ….Tesla’s Elon Musk and the famous astrophysicist Stephen Hawking have become standard-bearers for the growing fear over artificial intelligence—but perhaps the most fascinating element here is that their warnings focus on hypothetical malicious automatons while ignoring real ones. Musk, in a recent interview, mused aboutwhether we would be lucky if future robots enslaved us as pets. Yet today humankind is imperiled by a different type of bot onslaught from which there is no escaping, and Musk has not sounded the alarm. Perhaps that is due to the fact that the artificial menace behind this rise of the machines is not really anything we would consider to be “artificial intelligence.” Instead, to survey the bot armies marching across the Internet is to marvel at the power of artificial stupidity. Despite bots’ crudely coded, insectoid simplicity, they have managed to make a lot of people’s lives miserable.

    Charles already noted Cheryl Rofer, also a long time friend, haassessments of the Iranian nuclear deal at Nuclear Diner and at Mother Jones:

    ….The extent of Iran’s past activity on nuclear weapons was relegated to the IAEA by the P5+1 throughout the negotiations, and is a lesser provision in the fact sheet. Do we have to know all Iran’s dirty secrets to police a future agreement? Probably not.

    The Supreme Leader issued a tweet stream that seems to give his blessing for a deal to go forward, but his words were unclear enough that domestic hardliners could seize on them in an attempt to scuttle the deal. Iran’s President Rouhani has voiced his support. In Israel, even the general who bombed the Osirak reactor thinks it’s a good deal.

    Thomas P.M. Barnett is blogging a little again after a very long hiatus where he was helping get Wikistrat up, running and growing. After connecting through the good offices of Critt Jarvis, Tom Barnett had a very significant influence in the evolution of zenpundit, particularly in inspiring my research interests to move from straight diplomatic history and foreign policy to a deep dive into strategy and grand strategy. On that note, I recommend you check out How to Become a Grand Strategist (unpublished):

    There are four fundamental reasons why American grand strategy matters more right now than any other nation’s grand strategy.

    The first is that the American example is provided the source code for this era’s version of globalization, which superseded the colonial model of world integration previously pursued by the Eurasian imperial powers.  These United States represent the oldest and most successful multinational economic, political and security union on the planet, a collection of states whose integration has been so successful and so deep that we forget the fantastic journey that brought us to this present state of being.  We should not, because it is our essential gift to world history, currently finding its replication—finally—in the European context from which we sprang.  The success of that model, the European Union, has made it the second great source code for the future of globalization.  By both improving on and falling short of the original, it provides the world a much-needed contrast (i.e., “go slow” globalization compared to our “go fast” model) in these tumultuous economic times. 

    The second reason is that America currently serves as the sole historical bridge between settled Europe’s post-military, post-nationalistic achievement of stable identity and rising Asia’s pre-military, pre-nationalistic pursuit of the same.  In other words, while Europe has evolved past the great sources of 20th century conflict (militarism, nationalism, ideologies in general), Asia’s emerging powers—save for Japan—are rapidly approaching these historical phases, largely clinging to the hope that comprehensive marketization of their economies alone will so integrate their societies with the larger world as to render these traps obsolete.  The trade-off, however, is substantial for the planet as a whole, because in so rapidly integrating with the global economy, Asian nations have turbo-charged globalization’s dynamics to the point of resurrecting fears of zero-sum competitions among great powers for resources, markets and military allies in the decades ahead.  They’ve resurrected the specter of empires.

    Dave Schuler at The Glittering Eye has a very appropriate post, given what haunts us on Wednesday Our Lousy Tax System 

    ….Since the ratification of the 16th Amendment in 1913 when Congress was granted the power to levy a tax based on income, something previously denied it, we’ve done a major overhaul of our tax system roughly every 20 years. Our last overhaul was thirty years ago or, in other words, we’re overdue. Our income tax system is like a ship. Just as a ship accumulates barnacles over time and must be hauled into drydock to be cleaned, our tax system accumulates breaks, loopholes, and so on. That’s no accident. It’s called “constituent service”. It’s built into our system of government.

    Put me down in the “complete change” column. I honestly don’t see how any progressive worthy of the name could defend our present tax system or any conservative worthy of the name would want to keep it. However, I would also put FICA, i.e. the “payroll tax”, and the corporate income tax under the ax

    Congratulations to BJ Armstrong, Editor of 21st Century Mahan, for receiving the General Roy S. Geiger Award by the Marine Corps Heritage Foundation for his WOTR article,“The Answer to the Amphibious Prayer: Helicopters, the Marine Corps, and Defense Innovation.”

    Congratulations to Jonathan Jeckell who received a DoD award while seconded to The State Department, presented by another Friend of ZP, Dr. Francis Park!

    In other news….

    Martin van Creveld is blogging and has a new book out, Equality: The Impossible Quest

    That’s it!

    New Books, On China and Neighbors

    Tuesday, April 7th, 2015

    [by J. Scott Shipman]

    china books

     

    Imperial China, by F.W. Mote

    Mountains of Fame, John W. Wills (not pictured)

    Liao Architecture, by Nancy Steinhardt

    The Seven Military Classics of Ancient China, by Ralph D. Sawyer

    Inner Asian Frontiers of China, by Owen Lattimore

    Empires of the Silk Road, Christopher I. Beckwith

    The Perilous Frontier, by Thomas Barfield

    The Horse, The Wheel, and Language, by David W. Anthony

    3,000 Years of Chinese Statecraft, by Dennis Bloodworth

    The Imjin War, by Samuel Hawley

    The Tyranny of History, by W.J.F Jenner

    The Wars for Asia 1911-1949, by S.C.M. Paine

    Hard Road Home, by Ye Fu (not pictured, and a specialty publisher with great customer service Ragged Banner Press)

    After the first of the year I commenced yet another “modern” assessment of China as a potential adversary, and had not gotten too far before the author attempted to channel ancient Chinese history to explain current Chinese policies. The author’s confidence and specious use of history made me aware of just how illiterate I am in that portion of the world. I don’t know about you, but when I’m faced with a known gap and seam in some area of knowledge, I do a (fill in the blank) study. (I’ve done studies on central Africa, cognition, neuroeconomics, strategy (which seems on-going), and naval tactics to name a few.) My normal process is to find a syllabus from someone I trust or admire, or ask my network to offer five or six must read books on the topic. T. Greer at Scholar’s Stage, is a well known to the readers here at Zenpundit as a commenter and very knowledgeable on Chinese history. He recommended most of the books in the list above.

    Sawyer’s Seven Military Classics was already in my library, and often read as a reference. Also I’d read large chunks of Empires and Horse, Wheel, Language (these books were already in my library, too, and are very complementary in their approach). And while the Imjin War book is focused on Japan, someone on Facebook suggested the addition. The only books purchased new was the Imperial China volume by Mote and Imjin. The remainder were purchased used and cost less than $75 total on the secondary market (I use both Amazon and ABE.com).

    I’m a little more than a third through Imperial China, and while it is textbook, Mote’s writing style is engaging and exhaustive. Halfway through Mountains of Fame; it has been my go-to travel book—hence I forgot to include in the picture as the volume remains in an unpacked bag from a recent trip. I have read the introductions to all of these titles and by far the Paine book seems the most intriguing—I love the writing style. The only two likely to be relegated to the anti-library are the architecture book and the volume by Lattimore.

    So, along with Zen, what new books are you reading?

    Two new “must read” books

    Monday, March 2nd, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — Hamid & Farrall, Stern & Berger, full reviews coming up shortly ]
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    Farrall & Berger

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    I recently received a review copy of Mustafa Hamid & Leah Farrall‘s breakthrough book, The Arabs at War in Afghanistan, courtesy of the publisher, Michael Dwyer of Hurst, and will be writing it up once I’ve finished devouring it:

    A former senior mujahidin figure and an ex-counter-terrorism analyst cooperating to write a book on the history and legacy of Arab-Afghan fighters in Afghanistan is a remarkable and improbable undertaking. Yet this is what Mustafa Hamid, aka Abu Walid al-Masri, and Leah Farrall have achieved with the publication of their ground-breaking work.

    The result of thousands of hours of discussions over several years, The Arabs at War in Afghanistan offers significant new insights into the history of many of today’s militant Salafi groups and movements.

    Huzzah!

    An almost unbelievable and very welcome collaboration.

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    And:

    Huzzah!

    Jessica Stern is terrific, while JM Berger is not only one of our ablest analysts, but also a good friend. This book will be an eye-opener.

    Definitely my “Best Book” of 2014

    Monday, February 23rd, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — I’m posting this not just to recommend Brown’s book, but also to make a significant excerpt from it readily available on the net ]
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    Misquoting Muhammad cover

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    One book I received this year has given me a greater depth of understanding than any other by a wide margin. That book is Professor Jonathan AC Brown‘s book, Misquoting Muhammad: The Challenge and Choices of Interpreting the Prophet’s Legacy.

    Brown is a Muslim, a professor at Georgetown, and author of Hadith: Muhammad’s Legacy in the Medieval and Modern World. His book Misquoting Muhammad — not his choice of title, btw — lays open the varieties of interpretive possibility in dealing with the Qur’an and ahadith with comprehensive scholarship and clarity. In light of the upsurge in interest in Islamic and Islamist religious teachings occasioned by Graeme Wood‘s recent Atlantic article, I asked Prof. Brown’s permission to reproduce here the section of his book dealing with abrogation and the rules of war.

    Here then, with his permission, is an extract from Misquoting Muhammad. I hope it will prove of use both here and to others beyond the circle of Zenpundit readers. Spread the word!

    The whole book is worth reading, the whole of this extract is worth reading — but the section within the extract that I particularly recommend is the passage which begins with “Abrogation brought into sharp contrast” (p.100) and ends with “but were those who died not also my servants?” (p. 103).

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    By way of a bonus, here’s a related DoubleQuote:

    SPEC DQ hadith & midrash

    Midrash Source:

  • Rabbi David Levi, JTS Torah Commentary

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