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Tamerlan Tsarnaev end times videos I: the Mahdist video, pt 3

Monday, April 22nd, 2013

[ by Charles Cameron — closing out my account of the Mahdist video — with much from Tim Furnish, and pointers to Wajahat Ali and JM Berger ]

Blog-friend Dr Timothy Furnish covers most of what I’d wanted to say about the final section of the Mahdist video I’ve been on about lately [1, 2, 3] — its last section is largely devoted to footage of jihadists-in-training — so I’ll save myself time and effort and simply drop in five (of Tim’s thirteen) paragraphs that deal with the video below… But first..

Here’s the woman taken in adultery clip from Mel Gibson‘s Passion, which the Mahdist video adapts to its own dramatic purposes:


As I indicated above, Tim Furnish has a long and detailed post up at History News Network — here are those five paragraphs:

The video that Tamerlan Tsarnaev had linked on his social media sites has been described (by “Mother Jones,” among others) as an “Al Qaeda prophecy” — but that observation, while perhaps necessary, is woefully insufficient. The idea of forces bearing “black banners” coming from the eastern part of the Islamic world into the Middle East proper (and further West) to conquer fi sabil Allah, “in the path of Allah,” is almost as old as Islam itself — enshrined in a number of hadiths, “sayings” attributed to Islam’s founder Muhammad. There are literally thousands of hadiths, in both Sunni and Shi`i collections, second in Islamic doctrinal authority only to the Qur’an itself, dealing with topics ranging from the mundane (how to bathe like Muhammad) to the bizarre (drinking camel urine is recommended). Much of Islamic eschatology — theorizing about the end of the world — derives from these alleged sayings of Muhammad; in particular those dealing with al-Mahdi, “the rightly-guided one” sent by Allah to make the entire world Muslim (with help from the returned prophet `Isa, or Jesus) before the end of time by militarily establishing a global caliphate. (I examine these subjects in my book Holiest Wars, pp. 11ff, as well as, with even more detail, in my doctoral dissertation “Eschatology as Politics, Eschatology as Theory: Modern Sunni Arabi Mahdism in Historical Perspective,” Ohio State University, 2001, pp. 68ff.)

The video which Tamerlan Tsarnaev favored specifically draws upon this tradition — which, again, is not particular to al-Qaeda [AQ] but, rather, is part of the entire Sunni world’s patrimony. (The Twelver Shi`is, while believing even more fervently in the Mahdi, have different hadiths and beliefs about him — most notably, that he has already been here as the 12th Imam descended from Muhammad, disappeared but never died in the 9th c. AD, and will return, perhaps soon).

This video — almost the entirety of which is backgrounded with a soundtrack of Arabic Muslim chanting — is entitled “The Emergence of Prophecy: Black Flags from Khorasan” and opens, unsurprisingly, with the flag (or banner) in question: a jet-black one emblazoned in white with the shahada, the Islamic “profession of faith” which says “there is no god but Allah and Muhammad is his messenger.” This is followed by slow-motion clips of marching jihadists with AK-47s as the voice over by Imran Hosein Nasr — a prominent cleric who opines often on Islamic eschatology and Mahdism — warns that “they demonize as a terrorist anyone who supports Allah.” A disclaimer then appears, cautioning that “the Muslims pictured herein may not be the people of prophecy” but rather images (or, presumably, types) thereof as well as that some of the sourced hadiths are authentic, but some are weak. (Hadiths are classified, by Muslim scholars, as: sahih, “verified;” hasan, “sound” but not certain; and da`if, “weak,” and quite possibly fabricated.) A hadith from Abu Huraira that “great wars will occur” is illustrated with shots of what appear to be U.S. airstrikes on Iraq. Ibn Majah’s hadith that “Allah will raise a non-Arab army with better weapons who are better riders” is then adduced, followed by a gloss that these will conquer “Constantinople.” Since a great non-Arab Muslim army already conquered that city in 1453 — the Ottoman Turks — one is hard pressed to see how this “prophecy” is still to be fulfilled. Then a hadith from Muslim b. al-Hajjaj is cited: “some will come from the east who will make the caliphate … easy for Imam Mahdi,” as well as one from Ibn Hanbal advising that “if you see black banners from Khurasan, go to them because the Mahdi will be among them.” This is followed by several minutes explicating, with maps, Khurasan as an area encompassing eastern Iran, western and northern Afghanistan, as well as portions of Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and, most notably for the Tsarnaevs, Kyrgyzstan (but not, at least, Secretary of State Kerry’s “Kyrzakhstan”).

There is also a fascinating exegesis of another hadith from al-Hajjaj that “the last hour will not come until 70,000 from Bani Ishaq will attack and conquer Constantinople,” after which al-Dajjal — the Islamic “Deceiver,” or leader of evil, who will be killed by Jesus — will emerge: these “sons of Isaac” are said to be Jews who had relocated to Khurasan at some point, and proof for this is provided via the “Jewish scholar” Simcha Jacobovici, former host of the TV show “The Naked Archaeologist.” (Why an Islamic eschatological film would attempt to include Jews — usually depicted in such venues as, at best, nefarious — in the Mahdi’s army is curious. Perhaps the intent is more to stress Islam’s link to the Hebrew Scriptures, and thus attract Christians? Or could it be a way of ameliorating Islamic anti-Jewish tendencies?)

In perhaps the same vein, al-Hajjaj is cited to the effect that Jesus will join the Mahdi’s ranks. This is illustrated with a (pirated?) clip from the movie “The Passion of the Christ” — namely, the scene where Jesus saves the woman caught in adultery, a rather counterintuitive choice. Following Jesus (or at least his sandal, which is all we see), clips resume of marching jihadists brandishing weapons and carrying the black flag. Then a hadith from al-Tirmidhi is proffered, to the effect that these black banners will, eventually, reach Jerusalem; curiously, however, the Dome of the Rock rather than al-Aqsa mosque is shown. This is immediately followed by the hoary video, from shortly after 9/11, of AQ jihadists running an obstacle course in their Converse, embellished with more Imran Hosein Nasr voice-over, asserting that “no one can stop that jihad. When you see that army coming from Khurasan, [like] the Prophet said, go and join that army — even if you have to crawl over ice.” Then a smorgasboard of jihadist eschatological imagery follows: Taliban or Uzbek tribesmen on horses; black banners; jihadists praying with weapons shouldered. As the video winds down, an unidentified, black-clad, bearded Muslim — likely intended as a Mahdist figure — intones “the flags from Khurasan are on their way. Allah will honor his religion and demean the disbelievers. History is repeating itself, as with Muhammad conquering [pagan] Mecca. The polytheists hate it.” (Polytheists, in this Islamic worldview, include Christians — for the Trinity is mischaracterized as three deities.) The very final screen shot informs the viewer that the “real undercover enemies” are the Illuminati, the Freemasons and the New World Order.


Furnish titles his HNN post — which I recommend you read in full — The Ideology Behind the Boston Marathon Bombing. It’s not entirely clear to my eye whether that ideology (for Dr. Furnish) is Islam as a historical phenomenon, contemporary political Islamism of the jihadist kind, or its specifically Mahdist expression — I believe he sees all three as intricately inter-related.

That’s an extremely nuanced issue, and not one that can be fully addressed by either one of us in a single blog-post, as I think Dr Furnish would agree. By way of showing that Islam by no means begins and ends with the Tsarnaev brothers, I’d suggest you also read playwright Wajahat Ali‘s I am not the Tsarnaevs. The reality is that Islam is as varied as the people, places and times in which it is practiced.

Christians too, in times past, had their Crusaders — and their St Francis.


Tim Furnish also has a brief post on his MahdiWatch blog, pointing to his HNN piece — and I could only wish HNN permitted him to post illustrations, since the image of Abbasid “black banners” he posts at MahdiWatch is definitely of interest…

A stunning find!!


One other article appeared recently that I’d like to draw your attention to.

JM Berger, another friend of this blog, has an important extended piece on Chechnya-related radicalism in Boston over several decades, now up at Foreign Policy: Boston’s Jihadist Past.

Again, highly recommended.

Get Out Your Godwin’s Law-O-Meter

Sunday, February 7th, 2010

HNN is running a symposium on Jonah Goldberg’s recent book, Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left, From Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning:

While I know a great deal about the historical period in question, I have not read Goldberg’s book, so I am not going to comment on his core proposition except to say that IMHO, I tend to find arguments that the intellectual roots of Fascism and Nazism are located exclusively on one side of the political spectrum are flatly and demonstrably wrong. Goldberg’s polemical thesis though, yields a hysterical reaction because he is jubilantly shredding the hoary (and false) assertion of the academic Left, going back to the pre-Popular Front Communist Party line of the 1930’s, that Fascism is a form of radicalized conservatism and a secret pawn of big business capitalism.

Therefore, the following series amounts to an intellectual food fight between Goldberg and (mostly) a band of clearly enraged Leftist professors. Enjoy!:

HNN Special: A Symposium on Jonah Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism

After all, who doesn’t like an intemperate, online argument about Nazs? 🙂

    Nixon vs. The Neoconservatives?

    Friday, December 11th, 2009


    Some interesting, if oddly interpreted, background at HNN on Fritz Kraemer, the influential hardliner and  intellectual mentor of Henry Kissinger and Al Haig, and Kraemer’s influence in American foreign policy:

    Luke A. Nichter: Who Was Fritz Kraemer? And Why We Should Care.

    Whether Vietnam, Iraq, or now Afghanistan, wars come and go, but the real battle is a philosophic one between two sects of conservatives. In The Forty Years War: The Rise and Fall of the Neocons from Nixon to Obama, authors Len Colodny and Tom Shachtman challenge readers to examine the role of a little-known Pentagon figure named Fritz G.A. Kraemer. Colodny and Shachtman argue that Kraemer was the leading intellectual behind what became known as the neo-conservative movement, witnessed by the fact that Kraemer influenced so many high-ranking conservative figures over the course of  six decades.….This meeting was probably the only one to have occurred during the Nixon presidency in which Nixon and Kissinger permitted a rigorous debate, in the Oval Office no less, over the merits of not just Vietnam policy, but Nixon foreign policy more generally. Kraemer knew the issues well enough that both Nixon and Kissinger were forced to defend themselves to someone who represented an increasingly disenchanted sect of conservatives. Kraemer believed, as other conservatives did, that the conduct of Nixon foreign policy had became tainted by short-term political considerations, and that politicians had acted as a restraining influence on military leaders who believed they were capable of achieving a military victory.. 

    The Nixon Quartet

    ….At the heart of the dance was a fundamental philosophic difference between Kraemer’s ideologically purist, militarist, anti-diplomacy stance, and Nixon’s quintessential pragmatic stance.  Kissinger and Haig were caught between these antipodal poles.  Kraemer had “discovered” Kissinger in 1944 at Camp Claiborne, had superseded his goal of becoming an accountant and readied him intellectually for Harvard.  As Kissinger would later acknowledge, “Kraemer shaped my reading and thinking, influenced my choice of college, awakened my interest in political philosophy and history, inspired both my undergraduate and graduate theses and became an integral and indispensable part of my life.”  In the Pentagon in 1961, Kraemer had similarly discovered Haig, and recommended him for greater responsibilities in the office of Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara.  At the moment of entering the White House in 1969, both Kissinger and Haig subscribed largely to Kraemer’s tenets.…..There’s much more to the story of this quartet, including Haig’s efforts to push Nixon up the plank toward resignation, and how those who detested Nixon’s foreign policies became the neocons in the Ford and Carter years, when they continued and magnified their efforts to undermine those presidents’ Nixonian foreign policies.

    The two articles have a lot of interesting snippets of information but I am finding the ideological spin to be strange. The neoconservatives moved from the Left to the Right, starting roughly in this period, but they would not be identifiably so until the mid to late 1970’s. Nor are most of the conservative figures like Alexander Haig in the neoconservative group. When Haig was Secretary of State under Ronald Reagan, his relationship with the administration’s actual neoconservatives like Jeanne Kirkpatrick was very poor ( they were also poor with the administration’s moderates). The authors, in my view, are also overestimating Kraemer’s influence on Richard Nixon, who entered office with a firm vision of his foreign policy objectives.

    Nevertheless, of serious interest to the Nixon scholar.

    D’Este on Churchill at HNN

    Saturday, January 31st, 2009

    Military historian Carlo D’Este had an inspiring piece up at HNN last week on Sir Winston Churchill, drawn from his book Warlord: A Life of Winston Churchill at War, 1874-1945:

    The Power of Oratory: Why Churchill is Still Relevant

    ….From the time he became prime minister, until December 1941, when Pearl Harbor brought the United States into the war, Churchill’s strongest weapon was oratory. As a young army officer stationed in India in 1897 he wrote that: “Of all the talents bestowed upon men, none is so precious as the gift of oratory.”

    His speeches of 1940 become legendary, not only for their magnetism but more importantly for their effect on public morale. To counter both the disastrous news in France and to put to rest any notion that Britain might capitulate, Churchill delivered one of his many patriotic speeches to Parliament on June 18 that was also broadcast by the BBC. He made no effort to sugarcoat the extent of the dire situation Britain faced. The struggle that lay ahead from the air and likely from invasion would be met with every means and would be rebuffed. Of Hitler and the nations now under the Nazi jackboot, he said, “If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be free . . . But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States . . . will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age … Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that, if the British Empire and Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will say, ‘This was their finest hour.’

    Read the rest here.

    Churchill was an inordinately creative military leader, deeply interested in all facets of warfare from intelligence to technological innovations in armaments ( famously a proponent of the development of the tank in WWI) to military tactics. The amphibious landing at Gallipoli was a disaster but Normandy a generation later, despite Churchill’s misgivings, was a providential success. When in political disgrace – mostly undeserved – as a result of Gallipoli, Churchill did not retire to the shadows but donned a uniform and went to the Western Front ! Moreover he demonstrated there exemplary bravery under fire.

    Can anyone imagine a politician doing that today? Or the public expecting him to do so ?

    In the Second World War, in 1940 -1941, Churchill was the  indomitible rock upon which Western civilization rested. A lesser man as Prime Minister would have taken easy terms from Hitler and made Great Britain a satellite empire of the Greater German Reich, akin to the Phonecians’ relationship to ancient Persia. Few people alive today realize how dire the situation was in the Spring of 1941 and how close liberal democracy came to vanishing from history. 

    Thanks to Churchill and the bravery of the RAF, the West had a chance to catch it’s breath.

    Reassessing Ronald Reagan

    Tuesday, April 29th, 2008

    Perhaps it is the passage of time, or comparisons with the nixonian pugnacity of the Bush II administration, but liberal-left historians have begun to reassess the presidency of Ronald Reagan, a man they reviled at the time in apocalyptically bitter terms. Or condemned as a cipher, a “B movie actor” or in the words of Clark Clifford, “an amiable dunce” ( arrogant and corrupt, Clifford demonstrated his own intellectual brilliance as a political fixer and respectable front man for BCCI, an institutional vehicle for transnational organized crime networks and rogue states, avoiding Federal prosecution only due to advanced age and ill health).

    The release of historical documents and Reagan’s private papers has undermined the “sleepwalking through history” meme, forcing historians to revise earlier opinions. Sean Wilentz, noted historian and a fervent liberal Democratic partisan, is acknowledging Reagan’s significance ( while still condemning all the policies that constituted “Reaganism”). At one time, among a majority of historians, this would have been tantamount to heresy:

    Yet, by 2008, the surge of conservative politics that Reagan personified had survived brief interruption and temporary reversal and, like it or not, defined an entire political era–an era longer than that of either Thomas Jefferson or Andrew Jackson, longer than the Gilded Age or the Progressive Era, and as long as the period of liberal reform that stretched from the rise of the New Deal to the demise of the Great Society.

    ….Reagan did have a knack, though, for peaking when it counted: during his reelection year in 1984 and in his final year in office. He also proved a shrewd operator regarding the two issues he cared about most–taxes and the cold war. His two major tax cuts, in 1981 and 1986, redistributed wealth upward to the already wealthy and sent deficits soaring. He ultimately secured his chief objective, which was to skew the progressive tax system. It is almost impossible to imagine the top marginal rate on personal income ever climbing back up to 70 percent (the figure when Reagan was elected). That change alone has dramatically curtailed the possibilities for liberal government….

    Perhaps in 2029, they’ll even be saying a kind word for George W. Bush.

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