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Lizz Pearson on Boko Haram & gender, BBC4

Saturday, April 19th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- burn the boys & let the girls get married? -- ]
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Federal Government College, Buni Yadi, Nigeria, torched by Boko Haram Feb 2014. Photocredit: AP

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Lizz Pearson pulls all the right details together to paint a vivid and nuanced picture of Boko Haram and their actions and attitudes with regard to gender differences in an interview with Woman’s Hour on BBC4. It’s a stunning story:

This is something that has developed really in the last year, and it’s an explicit evolution, really, in the tactics of Boko Haram. The abductions earlier this week in Chibok have made the headlines because of the scale which is particularly audacious, but they have been kidnapping and abducting schoolgirls and other women really since 2013. [ … ]

The Nigerian government began at the end of 2011 to arrest and detail women and children related to senior leading members of Boko Haram. This is perceived by Boko Haram as a very provocative act. Women are not regarded as combatants by Boko Haram, but they are a way of getting at an enemy, of humiliating an enemy, and they have become pawns, really, in this conflict, in a way that they have been used, both by the Nigerian government security forces in terms of the arrests of women related to Boko Haram — there’s no reason to arrest them for anything they’ve done themselves — and in Boko Haram’s response.

For Shekau, the leader of Boko Haram, this has been a real grievance, and has motivated him in making many statements in video messages of his intention to, in retaliation, kidnap and abduct Christian women and women related to government officials.

So far the strategy is different. It’s right that the Taliban has been explicitly targeting girls and with execution. With Boko Haram it’s a bit different. They have in fact been sparing women from execution in contrast with the Taliban policy. There was an attack, for example, on a school in Yobe state in February in which they similarly drove into the school in a convoy of jeeps, very heavily armed, everyone was asleep, they were very vulnerable. They locked the dormitories of male students, set fire to those dormitories, and then slit the throats of many men that they found escaping through the windows — but in this instance they spared the women, they said explicitly, Go home, get married, don’t come back here. In that sense they’re not executing them, but they do have this policy now that Shekau has explicitly ordered, of abducting women instead.

That’s some excellent background — and surprising nuance — to bring to our understanding of the 107 young women recently abducted from their school in Borno State by Boko Haram.

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Ms. Pearson doesn’t mention it, but I suspect there’s a Qur’anic verse somewhere in back of Boko Haram’s notion of retaliation — the same verse which I noted provided the framework for a major bin Laden speech, Qur’an 2.194:

For the prohibited month, and so for all things prohibited, there is the law of equality. If then any one transgresses the prohibition against you, transgress ye likewise against him. But fear Allah, and know that Allah is with those who restrain themselves.

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The “western” mindset sees certain actions as acceptable and others as unacceptable, and international law and various treaties set forth the accompamnying ruleset. Much of Islamic law sets similar limits, eg concerning the treatemnt of prisoners of war, but this verse — like Torah verses about “an eye for an eye” — specifies a diferent method of assessing what is and is not permitted — one which permits the otherwise impermissible on those occasions on which it has been visited upon one.

In essence, the rule becomes mirroring — with moderation.

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That a particular class of actions taken by one party in a conflict may in this way serve as a grant of permission for the same treatment to be returned is a feature of human psychology as well — and may be something worth bearing in mind in considering the introduction of any new class of methodologies or targets in warfare or politics. Do as you would be done by…

What I do may appear to me to be an action: what I may miss is that it is also a potential invitation.

I’m not sure whether that’s so obvious as to be a tautology, or so obscure as to bear frequent repetition. It’s certainly an aspect of human nature, variously formalized as tit for tat or proportionality — and in Islam, it is embedded both in scripture and in cultural understanding, in Qur’an 2.194.

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Landmines in the Garden: religious violence and peace-making

Tuesday, April 1st, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- describing one of two books I am currently working on -- your comments invited ]
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I’m currently working on two book proposals for a publishing start-up a couple of friends of mine are putting together, and wanted to keep interested ZP readers informed. One proposal is titled Landmines in the Garden: religious violence and peace-making, and the other Coronation: the magic of monarchy. In this post, I want to say a little about landmines in the garden.

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Ali parlays with Amru bin Abd al Wudd prior to their duel, illumination from Bal'ami MS

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In what seems to have been my eighth guest post here at at Zenpundit, I introduced readers to the Duel of Ali ibn Abu Talib with Amru ibn Abd Wudd. It’s a story that interests me a great deal, appearing as it does in Muslim lore in Jalaluddin Rumi‘s Mathnawi among other sources — and with a variant form recounted by Joseph Campbell, who makes of it a Samurai story

What I find so fascinating about the story as Rumi and others tell it is that is shows us what are called the “greater jihad” or struggle against one’s selfish nature happening in the context of the “lesser jihad” or war to defend the fledgling Muslim community. It is often claimed that the ahadith which depict these two jihads, with Muhammed obseerving that warriors returning from battle are returning from the lesser to the greater, are of late date and/or dubious provenance, and (tho no expert) I am inclined to accept that claim. Nevertheless, this story vividly illustrates the relation between them — and is one that has been used by Muslim sources more than once to restrain potential and wannabe jihadists from a foolish and dangerous impulse…

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The story of the duel between Ali ibn Abu Talib and Amru ibn Abd Wudd is one in which a great Muslim warrior, Ali, interrupts an act of war (killing an enemy in the course of the “lesser jihad”) because he finds himself filled with angry pride (a condition that is unacceptable in terms of the “greater jihad” of the struggle for purity).

I find it striking that both the Muslim intellectuals / theologians of Ihasanic Intelligence, in “The Hijacked Caravan: Refuting Suicide Bombings as Martyrdom Operations in Contemporary Jihad Strategy” [p. 13], and the Muslim film-maker Kamran Pasha, in his episode of Sleeper Cell [Season 2 episode 4}, offer this tale of Ali and Amru as illustrating the erroneous thinking of AQ and its collowers.

I strongly recommend the sermon and subsequent discussion that Kamran Pasha puts into the mouth of his visiting Imam in that episode, which can be seen here:

— and note in particular how Pasha explicitly connects this story of Ali with the issue of the greater and lesser jihads.

If both the writers of a scholarly treatise and the writer of a popular television series use the same story to convince their fellow Muslims, it seems plausible that the story in question may in fact powerfully and appropriately serve such a purpose as deradicalization — while emanating from within the culture and context of Islam itself.

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I shall be using that story as the narrative heart of my book, which will explore both religious violence and peace-making.

The cover I’d like for the book is this one, since it emphasizes the peaceable side of things — the terrorist side is only too clear, and in my view requires balancing from the side of the peace-makers:

My over-arching theme will be that religions offer us Pardes, Paradise, Firdaws — a garden or orchard of peace — but that buried within their scriptures and narratives there are texts which, if triggered, can be interpretetd as offering divine or transcendent sanction for violence — hence, landmines in the garden.

I am all for the identification and avoidance of landmines.

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Here, then, is my “executive summary” for the book:

War and peace are getting more, not less, religious as we move from the second into the third millennium.

Somewhat to the surprise of those who felt sure the world was growing ever more secular as time went on and the marvels of science and technology prevailed over myth and magic, it seems as though religion is enjoying an upswing — and while this might seem no more than a mild sociological curiosity for many of us, for those concerned with threats to national and international security and peace, it’s a major problem.

And it’s a far more intractable problem than it needs to be, because we have a blind-spot with regard to religious violence: we either don’t see it at all, thinking it’s all just politics as usual, wearing a religious mask — or we think it’s all religion’s fault, or all the fault of one religion in particular — someone else’s religion, one we don’t much like at all. What we don’t see is the whole picture.

There are robust industries proclaiming that religion is responsible for all the woes of our times, and that Islam is responsible for terrorism in particular — and a powerful lobby, backed by US presidents of both parties, that argues that Islam is a religion of peace and that al-Qaida and its offshoots have “hijacked” that peaceable religion for purely political reasons.

In truth al-Qaida is but one expression of Islam — a religion as widespread and diverse across centuries and continents as Christianity or Buddhism — but by no means representative of all that Islam has to offer the world.

In this book, we shall explore the strands of violence, warfare and terrorism to be found across all the major religions — Buddhist killings of Muslims in Myanmar, Sikh separatist assassinations in India, Christian vs Muslim militias in Africa (with touches of cannibalism on both sides), Hindu mobs razing a Muslim temple, Jews attacking the al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem and the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron… and the call, in each of these religions, for moderation and peace.

Christian contemplatives, Islamic Sufis, Taoist masters, Hindu yogis, Tibetan lamas, and Jewish mystics find common cause in a self-surrender to a power greater than themselves, a power which offers love as its highest goal, seeks justice balanced with mercy, and has compassion as its practical expression in the world. These religions do not merely teach peace, they show us how to find it in ourselves, and how to practice it in our lives.

The great and glorious beauties that the various religions have brought into this world offer us fruits of that contemplative love, foretastes of the Garden, the Paradise all religions proclaim. But there are landmines in that Garden. If we are to come to grips with the perils of religious terrorism and hate, we must understand religion’s potential for both violence and peace.

My book will refute the myths, expands our horizons, and offer reconciliation, beauty and hope.

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Your comments and suggestions for the book are most welcome.

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Update on the Ghazwa-e-Hind

Thursday, March 20th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- okay, now Jane's has some detailing on the Ghazwa ]
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When I was eight or nine years old and a schoolboy whose father was a captain in the Royal Navy, a copy of Jane’s Fighting Ships was the most desirable — and unattainable — object in the physical world.

Sixty years on, I’m looking at a 6pp. abridged version of an article in Jane’s Intelligence Review Idownloaded the other day. It is titled Recruitment drive – Islamist groups urge India’s Muslims to join jihad — and I find it’s talking about a topic I feel is easily overlooked — or laughed away — the Ghazwa-e-Hind.

Zen and myself have written about the Ghazwa:

  • One hadith, one plan, one video, and two warnings
  • So many browser tabs, so little time
  • Pakistan’s Strategic Mummery
  • Khorasan to al-Quds and the Ghazwa-e-Hind
  • Early notes on the first issue of the jihadist magazine, Azan
  • Ahrar-ul-Hind, Ghazwa-e-Hind?
  • The topic is compelling, but what Zen calls the “mummery” of its televangelical proponent Zaid Hamid — blog-friend Omar Ali simply calls it “nonsensical” — tends to obscure the potential seriousness of the idea — backed as it is with variants on the “black banners from Khorasan” hadith favored by AQ recruiters in Afghanistan and invoked as far afield as Somalia…

    So when a Jane’s analyst sees fit to mention it, I perk up.

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    Here are the passages from the Jane’s report that mention the Ghazwa:

    The group’s two addresses and Umar’s video have the same Islamic references, citing verses from the Quran and jihadist mythology depicting the “black flag of the Khurasan [a historic reference to parts of Afghanistan and areas of Central Asia]” piercing the heart of India, seemingly indicating that this new anti-India jihadist wave is originating from Afghanistan and Pakistan. The mythology cites an army from Khurasan waging the Ghazwat-ul-Hind (meaning the ‘Battle of India’ in Arabic) – also cited as Ghazwa-e-Hind in Urdu – for the re-establishment of the khilafa (the Islamic caliphate).

    and:

    Jihadist discourse regarding India frequently cites a hadith (a report of the deeds and sayings of the Prophet Muhammad), stating, “Allah has saved two groups of the Ummah from hellfire; the group that will invade Al-Hind [India] and the group that will be with Isa Ibn-e-Maryam [Jesus] in Damascus.” This seems to be one of the key doctrinal factors behind the renewed jihadist surge against India.

    Proponents of a unified global ummah have long perceived that India, as a geographical and demographical entity, should be part of the khilafa, and Al-Qaeda and other affiliated jihadist organisations fully endorse this view and the Ghazwat ul-Hind concept. The concept is surprisingly unifying when considered across the relevant spectrum of Islamist militant groups in Pakistan and Afghanistan, from transnational jihadists such as Al-Qaeda to nationalist Islamist actors such as the Taliban, Pakistani sectarian groups such as Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), and Kashmir-centric jihadists such as Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM).

    In a March 2010 edition of JeM’s Urdu-language weekly publication Al-Qalam , Pakistani cleric Mufti Asghar Khan Kashmiri claimed that the ongoing Ghazwat ul-Hind (referring to the Kashmiri insurgency) was a continuation of a series of battles begun by the Prophet Muhammad. Senior Harakat-ul-Jihad-ul-Islami (HUJI) commander Ilyas Kashmiri vowed in October 2009 to wage Ghazwat ul-Hind against India, before his reported death in an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) missile strike in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) in June 2011. Similarly, in a February 2011 speech, Lashkar-e-Tayyiba (LeT) leader Hafiz Muhammad Saeed threatened, “If freedom is not given to the Kashmiris, then we will occupy the whole of India, including Kashmir. We will launch Ghazwa-e-Hind.” The Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has also released a number of statements threatening India. In January 2013, then TTP commander Wali-ur-Rehman Mehsud warned that once the group had established an Islamic state under sharia in Pakistan, its focus would turn to India and the establishment of an Islamic state there. One month later, TTP commander Asmatullah Muawiya threatened that Kashmir would become the next battlefield for militants following the scheduled withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan in 2014.

    What Jane’s doesn’t appear to mention that I find significant, is that the Ghazwa-e-Hind spoken of in the ahadith is essentially an “end times” event, taking place simultaneously with the Mahdist army marching from Khorasan to al-Quds…

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    Oh, and believe me, I have made sure a copy of Jane’s Fighting Ships of World War II (cheaper than the $1,000 current issue) has made its way into the hands of my younger son…

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    Jottings 16: updates on Religion & Crimea

    Saturday, March 15th, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron -- some more reasons to take note of the religious aspects of the Ukraine / Crimea / Russia situation ]
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    It’s not as though I can keep on top of the situation, but I can at least jot down for you some URLs that will exphasize the significnce of religious feelings and structures in the events unfolding…

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    Cover, Mara Kozelsky, Christianizing Crimea: Shaping Sacred Space in the Russian Empire and Beyond

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    Mara Kozelsky, in her book illustrated above, appears to be the go-to person for detailed background. Her Washington Post blog post, Don’t underestimate importance of religion for understanding Russia’s actions in Crimea gives us a quick overview:

    Orthodox Christian nationalism has been on the rise in Russia from the collapse of the Soviet Union. The close relationship between Russian church and state is everywhere evident, from the persistent refusal to allow the pope onto Russian soil, the ejection of the Salvation Army from Moscow in 2001 and the subsequent restrictions placed on Protestant missions. Patriarch Kirill has inserted himself more visibly in Russian politics than his predecessor, Patriarch Aleksei. The prosecution of Pussy Riot for performing in an Orthodox church as well as dismaying anti-homosexual legislation reflects a new stage in the evolution of Russia’s deeply conservative Orthodox identity. As the so-called “Cradle of Russian Christianity,” Crimea fits into this trajectory too.

    Theocratic notions of Russian identity date to the Byzantine theory of Symphonia, in which the church and the state should ideally function as distinct but harmonious entities. Early Russian Tsars who portrayed themselves as divine right rulers, and Russian state theorists promoted Moscow as the Third Rome. After the fall of Rome to Visigoths and then Byzantium to the Ottomans, it was left up to Russia, according to this idea, to preserve the one true faith. As Western governments separated church from state, Russia moved in the other direction. Nicholas I (1825-1855), the Tsar famous for suppressing the Hungarian Revolution and fighting the Crimean War, summarized Russia’s church-state identity in the phrase “Orthodoxy, Autocracy, Nationality.” This trinity became the guiding concept of Russian national identity through the Russian Revolution of 1917.

    Crimea sits at the heart of both the Third Rome idea and Nicholas I’s nationality platform, because it was on the peninsula that Byzantium passed the mantle of Orthodoxy to Russia. In the ancient Greek colonial city of Chersonesos, the Byzantine emperor baptized the Kyivan Rus Prince Vladimir. Prince Vladimir’s conversion has been described by an early Russian nationalist as “the most important event in the history of all Russian lands,” because the conversion “began a new period of our existence in every respect: our enlightenment, customs, judiciary and building of our nation, our religious faith and our morality.”

    As you’d expect, there’s more.

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    Picking up, we have a Religion News Service piece from Sophia Kishkovsky: Ukrainian crisis may split Russian Orthodox Church:

    Russia has prided itself on its revival of Orthodox Christianity after decades of Soviet persecution, but a war with the Ukraine could splinter the Russian Orthodox Church.

    That church has its roots in Kiev, where Prince Vladimir baptized his people as Christians in 988, an event viewed as a cornerstone of Russian and Ukrainian identity. It has even deeper roots in Crimea, where, according to legend, Vladimir was himself baptized by Byzantine emissaries.

    The Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate, which has 12,500 congregations, is the largest of three Orthodox churches in Ukraine.

    But while it has some degree of autonomy, with a Synod of Bishops that elects its own members, the church’s leader, currently Metropolitan Onufry of Chernovtsy and Bukovina, although elected by the synod, has to be approved by Moscow.

    In his sermon at the end of the service at Christ the Savior Cathedral in Moscow on Friday (March 14), Kirill, who has been known for his support of Russian President Vladimir Putin, suggested that Ukraine has a right to self-determination.

    But he also stressed that it must not be trapped into a spiritual division from Russia.

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    And you may or may not have seen this already, but there’s also a potential jihadist angle to complicate things even further, as explored almost a week ago in a Financial Times piece by Guy ChazanTatars warn Russia risks provoking jihadi backlash in Crimea:

    Mustafa Jemilev, a member of the Ukrainian parliament, said a number of militant Tatars had approached him to say they would fight the Russians.

    “We have Islamists, Wahhabis, Salafis … groups who have fought [with the opposition] in Syria,” he said in an interview in Simferopol, the Crimean capital. “They say: ‘an enemy has entered our land and we are ready’. We can’t stop people who want to die with honour,” he said, making he clear he did not endorse a jihadist campaign.

    The warning underscores the potential dangers facing Moscow as it tightens its grip on Crimea. A referendum on whether Crimea should become part of Russia has been scheduled for next Sunday. Annexation of Crimea would not only exacerbate the east-west crisis triggered by Russia’s occupation of the peninsula, but could also deepen ethnic and religious divisions in Crimea itself, increasing the risk of communal strife and even armed conflict, local leaders say. Opposition to Russia is most intense among the Crimean Tatars, a Muslim minority who number about 280,000 and make up roughly 12 per cent of the region’s population.

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    h/t Cheryl Rofer

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    Go or No Go?

    Friday, March 14th, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron -- from the Crimea to jihad, via "perhaps the most famous move in the history of go" ]
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    As usual, my interest here is not in the geo-polemics of the affair, which I leave to others, but in the formal properties of the presentation. In this case, the form in question is a type of map I’m inclined to call a surround, threat or seige map depending on circumstances. Here, juxtaposed as is my style, are two versions:

    Zen posted the upper image on this blog earlier today, and I saw it around the same time I found the lower image in my Twitterfeed.

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    What each of these maps shows is an area x surrounded by the forces of y, with different emphases in the two cases — and note the ironic caption of the second!

    What they remind me of is a Go board, in which each side is, so to speak, surrounding, threatening or besieging the other, simultaneously.

    In 1846 in what I gather is one of the classic games of Go, a youngster named Shusaku played against a renowned master, Gennan Inseki, st one point in the game making a single move — which gave its name to the game as a whole — known as the ear-reddening move:

    marked black stone is the famous ear-reddening move, perhaps the most famous move in the history of go

    Note how distant that move is from other pockets of play, and how central to the game as a whole.

    As Arno Hollosi and Morten Pahle at Sensei’s Library describe the Ear Reddening Game

    This move is called the ear-reddening move. Gennan’s disciples were watching the game and not one of them doubted that Gennan would win. But a doctor, who also had been watching the game, thought that Gennan would lose. When pressed for an answer he replied: I don’t know much about the game, but when Shusaku played B1 [ie: the marked move] Gennan’s ears flushed red. This is a sign that he had been upset.

    B1 is a profound move having influence in all four directions. It expands black’s moyo at the top, it helps the four black stones below, it reduces the influence of white’s strong position to the right, and it also has an eye on white’s moyo on the left side. In short B1 is the central point for attack and defence.

    Eventually Shusaku won this game by 2 points after 325 moves.

    Gennan’s disciples read, or attempt to read, the board: the doctor reads the mind in a rush of blood to the ears.

    That too is an interesting move — in another game entirely.

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    In an article in tomorrow’s The Economist subtitled To understand war, American officials are playing board games, brought to my attention today by PaxSims, we find this comment –

    Board games can also illuminate the most complex conflicts. Volko Ruhnke, a CIA analyst, has designed a series of games about counterinsurgency. For example, Labyrinth: The War on Terror, 2001-? (sold by GMT Games of California) models “parallel wars of bombs and ideas”, as one reviewer puts it, on a board depicting much of Eurasia and Africa.

    — fascinating to me because “wars of bombs and ideas” are what we have, and while a whole lot of effort goes into modeling “wars of bombs” it’s my impression that “wars of ideas” get far less attention.

    Something I hope, in my own small way, to rectify.

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    But to get back to borders and surroundings?

    The issue is a perennial one. Only today I was reading David Cook’s Understanding Jihad, on page 29 of which we find that the concept of the jihadist martyr as occupying the uppermost layers of paraise in the afterlife was extended, as time and events progressed, to include those who merely lived in (dangerous) border territory:

    Cities are also associated with privileges of this nature — for the most part, cities in dangerous locations, such as those close to the Byzantine border, along the Mediterranean Sea (subject to regular Byzantine raids), in northern Persia facing the mountainous and unconquered area of Tabaristan, and in Central Asia. In all cases, those Muslims who guard the frontiers are assured either the rank of martyrs or the privileges of intercession after their deaths. It seems clear that the issue of intercession was a very powerful incentive for people to live in what would otherwise be undesirable locations.

    Plus ça change…

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