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Gaza: the video, Lex’s comment, my response

Wednesday, August 13th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- a powerful video with strong implications for Israel and keen insight into Gaza -- thus far the best I've seen ]
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The video:

I found this video extremely powerful. Lexington Green pointed us to it via a link in a comment on a recent post of mine, and I responded to Lex’s comment — but links, comments and counter-comments easily escape notice, and I wanted to bring the video itself — and our conversation thus far — into a post of its own, in the hope that it will receive closer attention, and that the discussion will progress from here…

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Lex’s comment, which he posted with a link to the video:

This video shows what Israel is up against, and why images of grief are not an argument for letting Hamas survive to continue to attack Israel.

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My response:

Thanks for your comment — I found the video remarkable indeed.

I see very easily how it can be read as proof that this particular woman and Hamas more generally are dedicated to the destruction of Israel. .. That’s there, in her words — and in the Hamas charter, which I’ve written about many times — but it’s far from all that I see there.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the video for me is the part where, speaking of her two daughters who died, she says “Allah gave them to me, and Allah took them away from me.” That’s of a piece with what she means when she says that life (according to her worldview) is not precious — and it’s also an exact counterpart to a central Jewish tenet: 

Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither: the Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord

As I read such sayings, that’s a lofty teaching — and she reaches for it as she thinks of her two daughters, telling us that her grief was difficult for her, but that she found comfort in this perspective — which is also Job’s perspective: Baruch haShem.

The second point of interest to me was that the conversation turned to Tisha b’Av, and thus to the Temple, the Temple Mount and Jerusalem as a whole — which is claimed in toto by both parties, even though the physician floats the suggestion of a 50/50 split. She’s unwilling to become “a heretic” — even if it costs her the life of her son.

Martin Luther King is alleged to have said, “If a man has not found something worth dying for, he is not fit to live.” I don’t know if he actually said that, and I’m not sure that I’d agree with him even if he did, but I do believe there may be things worth dying for — and as I understand her, she’s claiming that life is not precious when weighed in the balance against such things.

The problem, for me, is that she thinks the physical space of Temple Mount / the Noble Sanctuary is worth dying for. Her claim that Jerusalem is sacred to her and her companions because the Mount / al-Aqsa is where the Prophet ascended to heaven from on the night of the Miraj is as sacred in the Muslim calendar as the destruction of the two Temples is in the Jewish calendar on Tisha b’Av. The claim on Netanyahu’s side, “Jerusalem is the heart of the nation. It will never be divided,” is no less inflexible, and likewise driven by scripture, tradition and faith.

That’s the level on which the battle of scriptures, traditions and faiths is fought..

Gershom Gorenberg has called the Temple Mount / Noble Sanctuary “the most contested piece of real-estate on earth” — and Naomi Wolf just the other day ended her “open letter to Rabbi Boteach” with the suggestion:

What if “the holy land” is not a place on the globe but a way of behaving to one’s fellow man and woman? I choose that place.

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And now…

What say you all?

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Yezidis / Yazidis: first gleanings

Friday, August 8th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- piecing together some background on a remarkable and requently misunderstood faith ]
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Philip Kreyenbroek opens his book, Yezidism: its background, observances & textual tradition, with the words:

There is probably no factor that has influenced the perception of Yezidism, both in the Middle East and in the West, as much as the erroneous epithet “devil-worshipper”. In the past, when there was open hostility between the Muslim community and the Yezidis, the epithet probably did more than any theological debate to make it clear to all that the Yezidis were non-Muslims who were not entitled to any protection under Islamic Law. Moreover, it seemed to justify the severe ill-treatment to which they were regularly subjected.

Today, they are under threat of extinction by IS caliphate troops:

See also the final words of the Conflict Antiquities post, The Islamic State has not been able to destroy the Yezidi Shrine of Sherfedin.

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Kreyenbroek continues:

For Western scholars, a genuine academic curiosity about the phenomenon of devil-worship may have been blended with a romantic interest in this secretive but cleanly and friendly group of Oriental ‘pagans’, whose strange cult might contain traces of one or more of the great ancient religions of the Middle East.

This is most unfortunate, since the first emanation from God and leader of the archangels, known to the Yezidis as the Peacock Angel, Melek Taus, (see illustration at the head of this post) resembles Iblis, the fallen archangel who refused to bow before Adam and was banished for his pride in Islamic teachings, but is entirely different from Iblis in that in Yezidi tradition his refusal to bow before Adam follows a divine command and carries no negative connotation. Evil, in Yezidi culture, comes not from the Peacock Angel but from choices made in the hearts of humankind.

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My own special interest is in the varieties of end times theology.

Yezidi eschatology features both a Mehdi, or end times savior identified with the angel Sherfedin, and a Tercal, his “evil opponent” — compare the Dajjal in Islam — described in the Yezidi Qewle Tercal or Hymn of the False Saviour on p. 364 of Philip Kreyenbroek & Khalil J. Rashow, God and Sheikh Adi are perfect: sacred poems and religious narratives from the Yezidi tradition.

Other striking features of Yezidi end times belief include a forty year Sultanate of Jesus in Egypt followed by his death with the Mehdi Sherfedin at Mount Qaf (the earth’s farthest point, beyond which is the realm of the imaginal in Henry Corbin‘s exposition of Iranian sufism), subsequent reigns of Hajuj and Majuj (better known to Bible readers as Gog and Magog), and the purification of the earth by al-Hallaj (the renowned Sufi martyr and subject of Louis Massignon‘s great 3-volume opus) — after which the world will be “smooth as an egg” (Kreyenbroek and Rashow, p 365).

FWIW< the YezidiTruth site contains this much simpler preduction:

Yezidi prophecy maintains that Tawsi Melek will come back to Earth as a peacock or rainbow during a time of intense conflict, poverty, famine and distress on the Earth. He will then transmit some prayers to a holy man, probably a Faqir, who will then take them around the Earth and give them to representatives of all religions

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I’d have run across the Yezidis in Idries Shah‘s book, The Sufis, which I first read in the early 60s, but it was a 2003 article, Ancient religion is on the side of the angels, that made me curious about them, and only the tragic events of the last few days that have finally sent me searching for in-depth materials on this, one of the ealiest known religious traditions, influenced by Sufism yet predating Zoroastrianism, Christianity and Islam alike…

Kreyenbroek’s two books and Christine Allison‘s The Yezidi Oral Tradition in Iraqi Kurdistan — all hideously expensive — are now on my reading list, and for updates on the situation, I’m following Kreyenbroek @Philipgerrit and Chicago’s Matthew Barber, @Matthew__Barber, reporting from near Mosul, on Twitter.

Perhaps the most striking thing about Yezidism is that it is an essentially oral religion, and thus lacks the central doctrinal authority of a scripture and allows for wide individual divergences in interpretation — fascinating, from the POV of scholars accustomed to scripture-based religions — but I need to dig deeper into Kreyenbroek before saying much more.

I’d welcome additional pointers — historical, theological, and contemporary.

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Balancing acts & mirror images: 2

Friday, August 1st, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- second of (at least) three posts, mostly about Gaza -- high wire stuff ]
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Here are two young women poets, the hope of the world, mirroring one another in a rare balancing act that leaves neither political / military side of the Israeli-Arab conflict uncritiqued, while the humanity of both sides is respected ansd loved:

It may be that the balance here is still too young and perfect…

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Here, then, are two tweets from Gershom Gorenberg, Israeli journalist and my admired Center for Millennial Studies colleague, attempting the delicate balancing act of loving his country with intelligence and nuance:

Gershom is quoting Joshua Gutoff, who describes himself thus:

Having finally completed a dissertation on Talmud and the development of the moral imagination, Joshua (a Conservative rabbi by training), is now a professor of Jewish education. An erstwhile contributing editor at the Jerusalem Report, he is available for speaking, teaching, writing, editing…

Gutoff’s longer piece, can we talk?, is worth your consideration.

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Here’s Maajid Nawaz of Quilliam, writing under the title Palestine must be free… from Hamas at Jewish News Online:

In such a poisoned climate, we should strive to maintain a certain moral courage and razor-sharp distinctions for our own sanity, if not for others. Terrorism aims to deliberately target civilians, and benefits specifically from their death or injury as a matter of policy. Hamas has this policy.

On the other hand, recklessly killing civilians in breach of the international laws of proportionality, while issuing warnings and apologies -– and while trying to target rocket launch sites that Hamas has based in mosques and hospitals –- results in a terrible and disproportionate number of deaths. It is deeply troubling, it must stop. But it is not terrorism.

No civilian death is justified. However, laws rightly differentiate types of killing, from accidental death, manslaughter, murder, to war crimes and terrorism. We must maintain level heads and some nuance if we are to approach this poisonous debate at all.

Nawaz, too, is seeking the right balance, the mot juste to explain what is indeed a subtle question.

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Henry Siegman, an Orthodox rabbi — one time head of the Synagogue Council of America, executive director of the American Jewish Congress and senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations — now serves as president of the U.S./Middle East Project. Interviewed on Democracy Now, under the header, Leading Voice of U.S. Jewry, on Gaza: “A Slaughter of Innocents”, had this to say:

It [Israel] has what seems on the surface a justifiable objective of ending these attacks, the rockets that come from Gaza and are aimed — it’s hard to say they’re aimed at civilians, because they never seem to land anywhere that causes serious damage, but they could and would have, if not for luck. So, on the face of it, Israel has a right to do what it’s doing now, and, of course, it’s been affirmed by even president of the United States, repeatedly, that no country would agree to live with that kind of a threat repeatedly hanging over it.

But what he doesn’t add, and what perverts this principle, undermines the principle, is that no country and no people would live the way Gazans have been made to live.

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Again, the delicate balance is sought — and it interesting to see these two comments together, Nawaz the ex-Muslim terrorist sympathetic to the Israelis vs Hamas, Siegman the rabbi sympathizing with the inhabitants of Gaza…

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Sunday hilarious surprise: Eric Metaxas and Canon Andrew White

Sunday, July 6th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- if religion is neither your cuppa tea nor your hookah mixture, you can safely ignore this post ]
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Move over, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert — just this once?

Both Eric Metaxas — who “wrote the book” on Bonhoeffer – and Canon Andrew White — sometimes known as the “Vicar of Baghdad” — are simply hilarious in this interview, if you’re interested and potentially amused by the intricate varieties of religious experience within Christianity. I haven’t had this much fun watching two real people talking with one another in a long while.

And behind the delight, there’s more..

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You know me, I love echoes, symmetries, fugal restatements of a theme. I thought Canon White’s bizarre and engaging dialectics, both spiritual and ethnic, was worth a DoubleQuote:

— but you really need to hear White’s deadpan delivery of those lines to fully appreciate the humor.

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Pattern: There is no X without Y

Saturday, June 21st, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- a DoubleQuote in two YouTube videos ]
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Today I’ll offer two YouTube videos that beg to be considered together — or at least, I think they do. Why? because they each suggest an “essential ingedient” in life, and that ingredient is very different in the two cases.

First, the bad news:

That’s quite a “call to arms” — and one possible response to it is a similar call made by Joel Richardson on his Joel’s Trumpet blog:

Dear fellow Christians, I would like you all to click here to watch the latest ISIS recruitment video, and tell me what modern Christian movement or expression matches the zeal and commitment of this Satanic movement? Its going to take something far greater than what we are doing right now. Its going to take a prayer and missions movement unlike anything we have seen to date. Its going to take a return to the early Church theology of the cross and martyrdom. Its going to take a genuine Global Jesus Revolution.

That same Joel Richardson, however, also brings some good news:

I explained to my host that unless a supernatural man bursts forth from the sky in glory, there is absolutely nothing that the world needs to worry about with regard to Christian end-time beliefs. Christians are called to passively await their defender. They are not attempting to usher in His return.

So at least from Joel’s perspective, violence is not within the ambit of his Global Jesus Revolution. Others may not concur.

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Okay, now for the good news:

I suppose I not only enjoy the heck out of this video — I also wonder about it.

How similar, and how different, is the enthusiasm of the largely-Muslim Malinke tribespeople here from that of the ISIS recruits depicted in the video above? Both are of Muslim origin, one from the Sudi Marabout traditions of West Africa, and the other from brutal Zarqawist Salafi-jihadism…

Are they both joyful, or is one filled with fear and anger? And does the different in Islamic tradition explain the difference — between destruction and dance?

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