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The Boston IS and Apocalyptic Conference

Thursday, July 16th, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — I was (unexpectedly) almost totally deaf at the time, so the videos of the conference allowed me a second go-around, for which I’m profoundly grateful ]
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CMS Landes 602
Richard Landes, opening the Boston conference

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With what I hope will turn out to be the wisdom of a fool, I am going to propose the importance of (a) Richard Landes‘ now defunct Center for Millennial Studies at Boston University, and (b) its recent resurgence as a single and singular conference on Apocalyptic Hopes, Millennial Dreams and Global Jihad.

Bear with me, I’m an enthusiast.

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Gregory Bateson died thirty-five years ago July 4th, the day I started writing this post — a fact I only know because I’m inclined to associate the Boston Conference as one of the great cross-disciplinary and initially underestimated conferences alongside the early Macy conferences on Cybernetics, in which Gregory Bateson was so significant a partner — or the seminal Eranos Conferences attended by the friends of CG Jung.

The Macy conferences ushered in the computer age, the Eranos conferences celebrated the highest level of cross-cultural and cross-disciplinary exchanges between psychologists, philosophers, religious scholars and physicists — while the Millennial Studies conferences focused on a studiously ignored area of knowledge that has swung into heightened significance via the arrival on scene of Al-Qaida and the Islamic State.

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Participants, Macy and Eranos:

The Macy Cybernetics Conferences included such participants as William Ross Ashby, William Grey Walter, Kurt Lewin, J. C. R. Licklider, Warren S. McCulloch, Margaret Mead, Oskar Morgenstern, F. S. C. Northrop, Walter Pitts, I. A. Richards, Claude Shannon, Heinz von Foerster, John von Neumann, and Norbert Wiener.

The Eranos Conferences included presentations by Carl Gustav Jung, Rudolf Otto, Mircea Eliade, Wolfgang Pauli, Karl Kerényi, Erich Neumann, Henry Corbin, G van der Leeuw, Louis Massignon, Gilles Quispel, Hellmut Wilhelm, Hugo Rahner, Erwin Schrödinger, Gershom Scholem, Heinrich Zimmer and Martin Buber.

In each case, the ideation was intensely and deliberately cross-disciplinary, and the importance of the series of conferences only widely apparent at a later date.

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Participants, Center for Millennial Studies:

In the case of the Boston conference on Apocalyptic Hopes, Millennial Dreams and Global Jihad, the series in whicb it partakes is that of the new defunct Center for Millennial Studies, an extraordinary organization which studied millennial movements from the Dead Sea Scrolls via the Taiping Rebellion (20-30 million dead), and the Siege of Mecca (1979 CE), to Aum Shinrikyo, Waco and Y2K — with implications for future events at least as far as the 2000th anniversary of the crucifixion in the 2030s and the start of the next Islamic century in the 2070s.

Among the attendees at this year’s conference were Richard Landes, William McCants, Graeme Wood, Timothy Furnish, Cole Bunzel, Jeffrey M. Bale, myself, David Cook, JM Berger, Itamar Marcus, David Redles, Paul Berman, Charles Strozier, Brenda Brasher, Mia Bloom and Charles Jacobs. Husain Haqqani was expected to attend and intended to speak about the Ghazwa e-Hind but couldn’t make it, and Ayaan Hirsi Ali cancelled her appearance for security reasons as a result of the Garland, TX, shooting the day before.

Speakers at previous CMS conferences included, in additiopn to some of the above, Steven O’Leary, Michael Barkun, Albert Baumgarten, Chip Berlet, Bruce Lincoln, Moshe Idel, Michael Tolkin, Gershom Gorenberg, Damian Thompson and Robert Jay Lifton.

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You can see the entire series of CMS 2015 Conference videos

  • here
  • In particular and given my own special interests, I recommend the talks by

  • Will McCants (on IS eschatology)
  • Cole Bunzel (on the 1979 Mahdist assault on Mecca), and
  • David Cook (on Islamic apocalyptic and Boko Haram)
  • You can follow those up with such friends and worthies as Tim Furnish, JM Berger, and (on Palestinian messaging) Itamar Marcus — Itamar’s brilliant presentation shifted my thinking on the Israeli-Palestinian question by about ten degrees.

    My own contribution is

  • here
  • **

    My recent discombobulations (see previous post) and an over-busy writing schedule have prevented me from posting separately on each of the talks at the conference, which I had hoped to do — but McCant’s forthcoming book will soon be with us, and this brief introduction (and my three reading lists) will hopefully provide background while we await it.

    The book I brought with me, for (heh!) light reading, was A. Azfar Moin‘s The Millennial Sovereign: Sacred Kingship and Sainthood in Islam. Path-breaking, scholarly, intelligent, unfailingly curious, written with grace — a true delight!

    More recent words from the Forgiveness Chronicles

    Sunday, June 21st, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — a follow-on to my earlier piece about Coptic Christians and their forgiveness of IS butchery ]
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    From the courtroom in the Dylann Roof matter in Charleston:

    Lest we forget, from Copts in the wake of the mass martyrdom in Lebanon:

    I am in awe.

    Hipbone update & request for your vote!

    Wednesday, June 17th, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — 3 Quarks Daily, Boston Apocalyptic conference, LapidoMedia, World Religions and Spirituality Project, Bellingcat, Loopcast, Pragati, Sembl ]
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    First, please vote!

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    [ Note added: voting is now closed: my story received the fifth highest tally of votes out of 45 entries, and is now up for consideration by the 3QD editors in the next round — many, many thanks! ]

    My story, War in Heaven, is in the running for the 3 Quarks Daily Arts & Literature Prize. 3 Quarks Daily is a great aggregator site, I’m honored to have made the cut so far, and would love to make it to the next level. My entry is #33 in the alphabetical list here, and votes can be cast at the bottom of the page. Networking for votes is all part of the game, so I’m hoping you’ll vote — & encourage your friends to go to that page & vote my entry up.

    If you haven’t read it, here’s my story. It was a finalist in the Atlantic Council‘s Scowcroft Center Art of Future Warfare Project‘s space war challenge, in association with War on the Rocks.

    There’s even a Google Hangout video in which Atlantic Council Non-Resident Senior Fellow August Cole, who directs the Art of Future Warfare project, interviews the contest’s winner and finalists, myself included. August’s book, Ghost Fleet: A Novel of the Next World War, is in the running for next great Tom Clancy like techno-thriller.

    You’ll find plenty of other good entries at the 3QD contest page, and daily at 3QD as well — as I say, it’s excellent in its own right, and one of the richest contributors of varied and interesting posts on my RSS feed.

    **

    Then, in no particular order — check ’em all out —

    The Boston conference on Apocalyptic Hopes, Millennial Dreams and Global Jihad:

    To my way of thinking, the critical thing to know about the Islamic State is its “apocalyptic, end-of-days strategic vision” as Martin Dempsey put it — and the implications of that statement, both in terms of strategy and of recruitment & morale. That’s what the Boston conference focused on, and that’s why I think it was no less significant for being sparsely attended. In a series of future blogs I hope to go over the videos of the various presentations and spell some of their implications out — Will McCants‘ book, The ISIS Apocalypse, is due out in September, and I’d like to have filled in some background by then.

    Here, though, as I’m giving an update on my own doings, is my presentation — an attempt both to tie together some of the strands of the panel I was commenting on (but could barely hear, but that’s a tale or another day), and to express my sense of the importance of apoclyptic thinking, not merely as an intellectual exercise but as an emotional and indeed visceral relaity for those swept up in it:

    The other speakers were Richard Landes, WIlliam McCants, Graeme Wood, Timothy Furnish, Cole Bunzel, Jeffrey Bale, David Cook, J.M. Berger, Itamar Marcus, Charles Jacobs, David Redles, Mia Bloom, Charles Strozier, Brenda Brasher and Paul Berman — quite a stellar crew.

    **

    My two latest pieces for LapidoMedia, where I’m currently editor:

    ANALYSIS: Understanding the jihadists through their poetry and piety
    12th June 2015

    YOU might not think that ‘what jihadis do in their spare time’ would be a topic of much interest, but it’s one that has been under-reported and is just now breaking into public awareness.

    Much of the credit for this goes to Robyn Creswell and Bernard Haykel for their current New Yorker piece, Battle lines: Want to understand the jihadis? Read their poetry.

    But behind Creswell and Haykel’s piece lurks a striking presentation given by the Norwegian terrorism analyst Thomas Hegghammer at St Andrews in April.

    Hegghammer’s Wilkinson Memorial lecture was titled Why Terrorists Weep: The Socio-Cultural Practices of Jihadi Militants…

    Read the rest

    I’m still intending to do a longer and more detailed write-up for Zenpundit on Hegghammer’s highly significant lecture.

    Today:

    The Bamiyan Buddha lives again

    A CHINESE couple, dismayed by the Taliban’s destruction of Bamiyan’s two Buddha statues, has brought the larger of the statues back to life.

    Locals and visitors can once again see the Bamiyan Buddha through the use of laser technology – this time not in stone but in light.

    Carved into the great cliff face towering over the fertile valley of Bamiyan in Afghanistan, two Buddha statues stood for centuries.

    In 2001 the Taliban dynamited the statues, built in the Sixth century in the Gandhara style, the larger of them standing 55 metres tall.

    It was not the first attack against them.Lapido aims to provide (mostly secular) journalists with insight into the religious & spiritual values behind current events.

    Read the rest

    I stood there, atop the Bamiyan Buddha: it’s personal.

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    At the World Religions and Spirituality Project at Virginia Commonwealth University, I’m one of two Project Directors for the JIHADISM Project. We’re very much a work in progress, aiming to provide a resource for scholarship of religion as it relates to jihadism.

    **

    Justin Seitz made a post titled Analyzing Bin Ladin’s Bookshelf on Bellingcat, to which I responded, and we had a back-and-forth of emails &c.

    Justin then gave our discussion a shoutout at The Loopcast

    — the immediate context starts around the 30 min mark, and runs to around 35 — and followed up with a second Bellingcat post, Analyzing Bin Ladin’s Bookshelf Part 2 — in which he quoted me again. Key here is his remark:

    a human with domain expertise is always going to be in a better position to make judgement calls than any algorithm

    Agreed — & many thanks, Justin!

    Bellingcat — definitely an honor to get a shoutout there,

    **

    Pragati: The Indian National Interest Review

    My latest on Pragati was my review of JM berger & Jessica Stern’s ISIS: the State of Terror, which I’ve already noted & linked to here on ZP.

    Up next, my review of Mustafa Hamid & Leah Farrall‘s The Arabs at War in Afghanistan

    **

    And last but not by any means least…

    Cath Styles’ new Sembl slideshow:

    It’s a terrific feeling to see the next runner in a relay race take off from the handover… Cath is getting some high praise for her work on Sembl for the museum world, including the following:

    Sembl incredibly succesfully mixes competitive and collaborative play, creativity and expression, and exploration and inspiration. It’s the sort of game you think about when you’re not playing it, and it’s the sort of game that helps you see the world in new ways.

    Paul Callaghan
    Writer, Game Developer, Lecturer at Unversity of East London

    Meanwhile, I’m still quietly plugging away at some other aspects of the HipBone / Sembl project.

    Sunday second surprise: Ferdinando Buscema

    Sunday, January 25th, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — from Tesla to St Augustine is a short creative leap ]
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    I recently received a LinkedIn invite from one Ferdinando Buscema, who described himself to me as a Glasperlenspieler, a player of the Glass Bead Game. I must say that pleased me, there’s a quiet humility there that calling oneself Magister Ludi or Master of the Game would lack. He’s a player, I’m a player, let’s play.

    Here’s the BoingBoing video he sent me when I accepted his invite:

    Not for nothing does Ferdinando call himself a Magic Experience Designer.

    **

    As you’ll see, in the video Ferdinando very warmly recommends Erik Davis‘ book TechGnosis: Myth, Magic & Mysticism in the Age of Information — which has also been highly praised by the likes of Howard Rheingold, Hakim Bey, Mark Dery, Bruce Sterling, Terence Mckenna, and Mark Pesce, to which intriguing list you may add myself.

    Erik and I began a never-completed HipBone game many years ago — it was around the topics of Hanibal Lecter, his recreational collection of church collapses, and the origins of the Memory Palace in Simonides‘ encounter with the gods Castor and Pollux — and Erik mentions the HipBone Games briefly in his book. At the moment, I owe him an update on the games, which I’ll post here at Zenpundit in due course.

    It was a particular delight for me, then, to see Ferdinando’s obvious and full-throated praise of Erik’s stunning book in his video, followed up by equal praise of Ramon Llul — one of those writers in the Hermetic tradition whose work precedes not just the Bead Game but much of today’s science, from digital computers via genetics to genetic algorithms and cryptography.

    **

    Ferdinando’s third treasure turned out to be Nikola Tesla, and in particular the remark he made about his mode of creativity. I hadn’t come across this remark before, but it cried out for DoubleQuotation with a remark of St Augustine’s, which I have carried with me since I first read of it in Dom Cuthbert Butler‘s book, Western Mysticism, back in my teens better than half a century ago.

    Here, then, are the two luminous / numinous quotes, from Tesla and Augustine, DoubleQuoted by me for Ferdinando as an offering on first meeting:

    SPEC DQ Tesla Augustine

    **

    It doesn’t hurt, of course, that the word “ictus” which Augustine uses also features in the context of Gregorian Chant, where it indicates the almost simmultaneous touchdown of a bird on a branch and its takeoff on a new curve of flight. I had the honor to learn the word from Dom Joseph Gajard, choirmaster at the Abbey of St Pierre de Solesmes — then and I suspect now the center of the world’s musical paleography and liturgical perormance of the chant, and in my teens my favorite vacation and retreat — under whose cheironomic hand I had the good fortune, once, albeit without much skill, to sing..

    And so the beads are dropped into the lake: we watch as their ripples ripple out and intersect..

    Qur’anic recitation of Commander Abu Usamah al-Maghribi

    Sunday, January 11th, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — analysis of religious violence requires the skilled use of both mind and heart if it is to comprehend passion with clarity ]
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    There is a lot of discussion of the complex relationship between religion and politics — presumably including the continuation of politics by other means — these days.

    Here Abu Usamah al-Maghribi of ISIS, the immediate precursor of IS, recites the Qur’an:

    This clip, incidentally, nicely illsutrates the dilemma facing those poor folks at YouTube who are responsible for determining what videos should be withdrawn for breach of their user contract. On the one hand, it shows a militant leader encouraging his subordinates towards martyrdom, while on the other it is something quite other, turned to that purpose: a recitation from the revealed scripture of a global and diverse religion, one and a half billion people strong…

    **

    The text of the recitation is that of the Qur’an, Sura 9, 38-39:

    O you who have believed, what is [the matter] with you that, when you are told to go forth in the cause of Allah , you adhere heavily to the earth? Are you satisfied with the life of this world rather than the Hereafter? But what is the enjoyment of worldly life compared to the Hereafter except a [very] little.

    If you do not go forth, He will punish you with a painful punishment and will replace you with another people, and you will not harm Him at all. And Allah is over all things competent.

    The reciter, Abu Usamah al-Maghribi, was killed last year by fighters from Jabhat al-Nusra.

    **

    I’m not sure that language alone can ever quite sort the different strands that rise and fall in the human beings involved, nor that the distinction we draw between heart and mind is even close to a subtle enough instrument to account for human process. What I want to present here, though, is not an answer or even the suggestion of an answer to such questions, but a vivid evidence of the coexistence of militant intent with religious fervor.

    After years of monitoring and reporting on religious violence, it is not its existence but its potential for overwhelming sincerity that I would like to communicate, so that we do not underestimate it — our analysts being, as John Schindler put it in his brilliant piece, Putin’s Orthodox Jihad, “mostly secularists when not atheists” — and thus liable to pay matters of religious passions little or no attention.

    More on Schindler’s piece shortly.


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