Twenty Egyptian jihadists have issued a statement calling upon Sunnis to launch attacks in Shiite-led countries in response to the Assad regime’s offensive in Qusayr, a city in western Syria near Homs. The chief signatory on the statement is Mohammed al Zawahiri, the younger brother of al Qaeda emir Ayman al Zawahiri.
I’ve been having some conversations on Twitter recently in which I’d been verifying my own sense that Hezbollah‘s ethos and imagery of martyrdom would presumably extend beyond the poppies and doves depicted here to include also the martyrdom of Husayn at Kerbala, and I’m grateful to Phillip Smyth for his confirmation and elaboration on that theme.
Somehow in my wanderings, I came across this video, in which Ayatollah Sayed Hadi al Modarresi, a senior Shia cleric, bookends his even more senior Sunni counterpart the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia, Sheikh Abdul Aziz al-Sheikh, with his own commentary, speaking from the very heart of Shia passion — the shrine of Imam Husayn in Kerbala.
The Ayatollah challenges the Grand Mufti’s assertion that Husayn erred in refusing his oath of obedience to Yazid, thus bringing his own death upon himself at the ensuing battle of Kerbala:
Things that impressed me:
The simple but rhetorically effective use of one video quoted within another.
The incredible passion of the crowd in Kerbala, which the poster called to our attention with a note saying:
Keep watching to see the fury of the audience..
The half-accusatory, half-conciliatory way in which the Grand Mufti expressed himself, with phrases that suggested Husayn — may God be pleased with him — was in error, while asking God to forgive him…
and in response, the Ayatollah’s use of the imagery of the “red line”:
If the Long War Journal piece shows us an aspect of the current situation, this stunning video offers us a window into the passions such events are poised to arouse.
[ by Charles Cameron -- Omar Bakri Muhammad, al-Muhajiroun, Tom Jones and The Hour -- also: hot-wiring the apocalypse, I think not ]
As we all know by now, it turns out that the primary Woolwich suspects were associated with al-Muhajiroun. Accordingly, a couple of days ago I watched John Ronson‘s recently reposted documentary about their sheikh, Omar Bakri Muhammad, titled Tottenham Ayatollah Revisited. Bakri is about as far from an ayatollah as two peas can get inside a single pod, but never mind, here’s the video:
At the 13.56 mark, Bakri is preparing to negotiate arrangements for a rally he hopes to hold in a venue that hosts a variety of events, and what I’d say is a majorly weird exchange between the director and Bakri is captured on film:
The rally is scheduled between a Tom Jones concert and a show called The wonderful World of Horses. Omar has never heard of Tom Jones, and he is shocked to discover that women throw their underwear onstage.
“Oh my God, is that a sign of the Hour, a sign of the Hour?”
“Of course, people start take off their, you know, their own knickers and their underwear, that is sign of the Hours.”
Now, I happen to think Bakri is joshing about not knowing Tom Jones, but the form his joshing takes is interesting.
The Hour in question would be the Hour mentioned in the Quran:
They will question thee concerning the Hour, when it shall berth. What art thou about, to mention it? Unto thy Lord is the final end of it. Thou art only the warner of him who fears it. It shall be as if; on the day they see it, they have but tarried for an evening, or its forenoon. [Q 79.42-46]
They will question thee concerning the Hour, when it shall berth. Say: ‘The knowledge of it is only with my Lord; none shall reveal it at its proper time, but He. Heavy is it in the heavens and the earth; it will not come on you but suddenly!’ They will question thee, as though thou art well-informed of it. Say: ‘The knowledge of it is only with God, but most men know not.’ [Q 7.187]
and — perhaps most interestingly:
Those that believe not therein seek to hasten it; but those who believe in it go in fear of it, knowing that it is the truth. Why, surely those who are in doubt concerning the Hour are indeed in far error. [Q 42.18]
Hey. we’re in apocalyptic time again… Here’s my question:
We read quite often of the possibility that the Iranians — or Al-Qaida — might wish to “hot-wire the apocalypse” or “hasten the coming of the Mahdi”. I’d read that last verse as strongly suggestive that “hastening” might put one in the category of disbelief.
Is that an argument that has been offered against the idea, in either Sunni or Shi’a circles?
[ by Charles Cameron -- on a brief random walk through YouTube, an ambulation for a sedentary soul -- nothing serious, I promise ]
Back when I was a wee lad at Oxford there was another wee lad, also of a poetic disposition, named Heathcote Williams. For some reason, the other evening I stumbled on a clip of Heathcote performing the role of a psychiatrist in a movie I haven’t seen, but will probably keep an eye out for.
Here’s that (somewhat ob)scene:
Well, I’m the nomadic type, and my eye somehow strayed from there to this:
Okay? I get the sense I’m on a roll here, Salma Hayek is compellingly beautiful, and so I compulsively gamble away a few more minutes of my precious time, and find… You’ll forgive me, I hope, and see this clip through to the end, because in its own light-hearted way it’s about miracles.
And as you know, I have theological interests:
So that was my evening’s delectation a couple of days ago, delivered here today for yours.
If, however, you are willing to take a grander leap into anti-monarchical, pro-poetic, anti-theological polemic, you might take a look at Heathcote’s fiery account of Shelley, his volatile predecessor at Oxford, in seven parts beginning on YouTube here: Shelley at Oxford.
Heathcote takes the liberty of speaking his mind, and consequently several of my own sacred cows get scorched to steak along the way — you have been warned.
[ by Charles Cameron -- not good branding, not Islamic, dumbstruck? -- not a whole lot else to say ]
Commander Abu Sakkar / the Farouq Brigades logo
Let’s take the bald facts first:
Commander Abu Sakkar of the Farouq Brigades, Free Syrian Army, had himself videotaped this month cutting open and seeming to eat the flesh of a just-killed Syrian soldier loyal to President Assad — to send a message. According to a New York Times “Lede” blog-post, he preceded this act with the words:
I swear to God, soldiers of Bashar, you dogs — we will eat your heart and livers! … God is great! Oh, my heroes of Baba Amr, you slaughter the Alawites and take their hearts out to eat them!
His rhetoric as reported speaks of eating the heart: in the event, it is a portion of lungs that he eats, or mimics eating.
This has to be seen in many contexts — one of them, the branding of the Syrian rebels in general and the Farouq Brigades in particular.
Twelve activists in an office in Reyhanli, Turkey near the border run Farouk’s Facebook page, web site, and Twitter account. They’re working on the TV channel, which Mr. Awad says they’ve envisioned as a tool to resocialize fighters off the battlefield.
“The regime will fall one day,” he says. “We have 20,000 fighters–they all won’t stay fighters. They will put down their weapons, and need to integrate into the world. TV, radio, these things will help.”
The media office’s latest brand offering? A three-dimensional version of the Farouk logo, which will be used in videos and other online material.
“The guys complained the logo wasn’t nice enough,” Mr. Awad said, laughing. “They wanted a 3D one.”
Moralizing about someone eating the flesh of a deceased enemy is pretty easy to pull off — unless one still thinks it’s a potent way to acquire one’s enemy’s courage, which is now something of a curiosity in the anthropologist’s cabinet of concepts. Here, dug up from the section on Homeopathic Magic of a Flesh Diet in Sir JG Frazer‘s 1922 edition of The Golden Bough, now long out-dated, is the picture as it used to be seen:
When Basutos of the mountains have killed a very brave foe, they immediately cut out his heart and eat it, because this is supposed to give them his courage and strength in battle. When Sir Charles M’Carthy was killed by the Ashantees in 1824, it is said that his heart was devoured by the chiefs of the Ashantee army, who hoped by this means to imbibe his courage. His flesh was dried and parcelled out among the lower officers for the same purpose, and his bones were long kept at Coomassie as national fetishes. The Nauras Indians of New Granada ate the hearts of Spaniards when they had the opportunity, hoping thereby to make themselves as dauntless as the dreaded Castilian chivalry.
Even as a cannibal delicacy, the white man’s heart seemed to have special virtue! As I say, though — that’s all a little out of date.
Eating one’s enemy, however, is a distinctly un-Islamic behavior, whatever century we’re in. One early Islamic narrative concerns Hind bint ‘Utbah avenging deaths in her own family by eating the heart of a great Muslim warrior, dear to the Prophet — far from being an example of what is permitted in Islam, she’s an example of what Muhammad was up against by way of enemies in the early days of his preaching:
Hind Bint `Utbah, the wife of Abu Sufyaan, ordered Wahshiy to bring her Hamzah’s liver, and he responded to her savage desire. When he returned to her, he delivered the liver to her with his right hand, while taking the necklaces with the left as a reward for the accomplished task. Hind, whose father had been killed in the Battle of Badr and whose husband was the leader of the polytheist army, chewed Hamzah’s liver hoping to relieve her heart, but the liver was too tough for her teeth so she spat it out and stood up shouting her poem:
For Badr we’ve paid you better
In a war more flaring than the other.
I was not patient to revenge the murder of
`Utbah, my son, and my brother.
My vow’s fulfilled, my heart’s relieved forever.
Hind did eventually become a Muslim — but on account of this very event, was never fully included among “the Companions of the Prophet”.
I don’t want to moralize over Commander Abu Sakkar‘s act, not having been in his shoes — but it is vile under pretty much any moral standard you might choose. A problem arises, though, when one attempts to use it to justify one side or another, in a conflict in which brutality of one kind or another seems to be present on both sides. As Sakkar himself told a Time correspondent:
You are not seeing what we are seeing, and you are not living what we are living. Where are my brothers, my friends, the girls of my neighborhood who were raped?
Abu Sakkar is just one man, and there are many other armed fighters in Syria who reject such sectarian actions and would be horrified by the mutilation and desecration of a corpse — let alone an act of cannibalism. But he is a commander in a decisive battle in Syria — hardly a marginal figure.
Zenpundit is a blog dedicated to exploring the intersections of foreign policy, history, military theory, national security,strategic thinking, futurism, cognition and a number of other esoteric pursuits.