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Of impassioned distinctions and lines traced on maps

Wednesday, August 13th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- in which the muj from Khorasan talk even more about the erasing of national boundaries than the soldiers of the IS caliphate ]
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Before there were maps, there was terrain, some of it populated, and various populations spoke various languages and identified themselves and each other in various complex ways. And then there were maps.

Heinrich Bunting, world map with Jerusalem at the center, naturally, 1581

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Maps certainly have a logic to them, but it is not always the logic of the populations who actually live, think, and care in the terrain depicted.

In this post, I am going to explore various writings on national boundaries and the recently-announced and mapped caliphate, starting with the mildest, and building in a crescendo to the opinions of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and the Mujahideen in Khurasan.

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Owen Bennett-Jones writes in The London Review of books:

As for borders, it is no longer outlandish to consider the possibility of an Alawite redoubt in western Syria and of Kurdish self-rule: a de facto independence that would change not only Iraq but also Turkey, Syria and Iran. Israel and the Western powers are already voicing concern about what might happen in Jordan. No doubt they will all resist demands to recognise any attempted changes to national boundaries. But that may lead to a growing divergence between the international system regulating relations between states and the reality on the ground.

This seems a bit pallid to me, for reasons you’ll uderstand when you read a Taliban writer pon the same topic below.

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The topic is also apparently a live one for scholars. The University of Southern California and the Project on Middle East Political Science have just issued a Call for Proposals for participants in their Rethinking Nation and Nationalism Workshop, to be held at USC, February 6, 2015:

The Arab uprisings of 2011 have shown that questions of physical boundaries and national identities long seen as resolved may in fact be open to reconfiguring. Insurgencies spanning Syria and Iraq and the (re)assertion of regionalism in Libya are only the most violent of the processes currently underway challenging long-established physical national frontiers. Embattled regimes have produced new national narratives to legitimate their rule, while sectarian and Islamist movements have taken on new manifestations. Refugee movements triggered by these conflicts and longer-standing processes of migration within, into, and out of the region have led to large communities of nationals established outside the countries of their citizenship.

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Col. Pat Lang, a warrior with a feel for the region — he introduced the study of Arabic at West Point — just today posted On identity and the state in the Middle East, his response to a friend’s off-blog comment:

I think what you (Origin) miss in this is that these countries are not really post Treaty of Westphalia nation-states. They were created by the colonial powers in the image of European countries that more resemble that model. In fact, these Middle East countries are inhabited by disparate groups of people who self-indentify within their group or perhaps withing several groups they belong to. These peoples do not identify with the state in which they live unless they happen to be run it. Thus, the Kurds feel no actual loyalty to the thing the British called “Iraq.” They are quite willing to cooperate with other Sunni people, in this case Sunni Arab tribes who are also indifferent or hostile to the government in Baghdad now that it is run by their ancestral enemies, the Shia Arabs. The Kurds would not lift a finger to help “Iraq” if they were left alone in their mountains. What they yearn for first last and always is Kurdish independence. The same situation exists in Jordan a country that is in essence a “reservation” for Sunni Arabs. It has been that since it was created by the Brits in payment of a World War One obligation to the Hashemits Emir Abdullah. This obligation originated in Abdullah’s support for the British during the war. When Iraq was under Sunni rule Jordan supported Iraq. Shia run “Iraq” means nothing to Jordan. The same this is true around the region.

IS is different from all these states. It does not recognize the legitimacy of the notion of countries at all and seeks a world wide theocratic state beginning in the Middle East.

The mozaic of all these groups that exists on the ground in the Middle East does not fit the boundaries of the Sykes-Picot world created after WW1. Come to grips with that.

Now that’s “getting warmer” as kids say in a game of hide and seek.

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And the Caliphate?

They simply and eloquently bulldoze frontiers:

Residents near the border with Syria, where ISIL has exploited civil war to seize wide tracts of that country’s east, watched militants bulldozing tracks through frontier sand berms – as a prelude to trying to revive a medieval entity straddling both modern states.

The words of their Amirul-Mu’minin Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi are quoted in the caliphal magazine Dabiq, issue 1 p. 7:

O Muslims everywhere, glad tidings to you and expect good. Raise your head high, for today – by Allah’s grace – you have a state and Khilafah, which will return your dignity, might, rights, and leadership.

It is a state where the Arab and non-Arab, the white man and black man, the easterner and westerner are all brothers.

It is a Khilafah that gathered the Caucasian, Indian, Chinese, Shami, Iraqi, Yemeni, Egyptian, Maghribi (North African), American, French, German, and Australian. Allah brought their hearts together, and thus, they became brothers by His grace, loving each other for the sake of Allah, standing in a single trench, defending and guarding each other, and sacrificing themselves for one another.

Their blood mixed and became one, under a single flag and goal, in one pavilion, enjoying this blessing, the blessing of faithful brotherhood.

If kings were to taste this blessing, they would abandon their kingdoms and fight over this grace. So all praise and thanks are due to Allah.

and again on p. 8:

Whoever was sleeping must now awaken. Whoever was shocked and amazed must comprehend. The Muslims today have a loud, thundering statement, and possess heavy boots. They have a statement that will cause the world to hear and understand the meaning of terrorism, and boots that will trample the idol of nationalism, destroy the idol of democracy and uncover its deviant nature.

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Finally, we come to another set of jihadis who identify themselves in their magazine Azan as the Mujahideen in Khurasan — whose own Amir al-Mumineen is Mulla Umar.

One Muhammad Qasim devotes and entire article to the issue of nation states vs the Ummah in Azan, issue 5 pp 12-15. It is titled Destroying the Country Idol and subheaded:

Consequences of adopting the Nation-State Concept:

• Destruction of Unity
• Creation of Nationalistic Armies

Curiously, the second section focuses on Clausewitz (1832?) rather than Westphalia (1648) — but I’ll leave discussion of that question to our historians.

Qasim begins by quoting two Qur’anic ayat:

Truly! This Ummah of yours is one Ummah, and I am your Lord, so worship Me (Alone). [21:92]

and

hold fast, all of you together, to the Rope of Allah (i.e. this Quran), and be not divided among yourselves .. [3:103]

and suggests:

The “nation state” has destroyed the unity of the Ummah and split it into bits and pieces, entirely vulnerable to the plans of the Kuffar. The great Mujahid leader, Shaykh Dr. Ayman Al-Zawahiri (HA) sums up the Muslim loss in a few impeccable words:

My free and honorable brothers, who are eager to help Islam and liberate Palestine! We must read history and comprehend its lessons. Palestine was lost when the Khilafah fell and we were dominated by secularism and territorial nationalism which has torn us apart and continues to tear us apart.

The body of his article then continues:

One of the fundamental interests of the West and the Zionists, and indeed, one of the necessities of their existence, is that they divide us by spreading the principles of the secular nationalist nation state and homeland among us, so that we become crumbs that they can easily devour. As a result of this ethnic and territorial nationalism, we broke apart after the fall of the Khilafah into more than fifty helpless vassal states.

The reviver of Jihad, Shaykh Abdullah Azzam (RA) said:

Sykes and Picot created borders for us. They said to us, Jordan ends here at ar-Ramtha, and Syria begins after Ar-Ramtha, and Jordan begins after Harat Ammar. And Kuwait? Here it is! The city of Kuwait, the “state” of Kuwait… And the state of Qatar is a single city. And so is the state of Bahrain. And Lebanon? Here it is… the size of a coin. That’s the state of Lebanon. And here is Syria. Listen, this is your land and your birthplace, and love of one’s homeland is part of faith. And so on… And so we have begun to think in an “Islamic way” which is in truth not an Islamic way but rather, a territorial way of thinking daubed with Islam.

The Jordanian in Ar-Ramtha sees the resident of Dara’a [across the Syrian border] being slaughtered in front of him by the Nusayrites; yet, he does not even bat an eyelid, move a muscle, or take an extra heartbeat; nor is he prepared to open the borders. Why? Because Islam ends at Ar-Ramtha; and he has nothing to do with Islam in Dara’a. But when a Jordanian in Al-‘Aqaba winces in pain, you’ll find the same person (from Ar-Ramtha) up in arms, although the distance between Al-‘Aqaba and Ar-Ramtha is more than 600 km, while the difference between al-Ramtha and Dara’a is less than 6 km.

This isn’t an Islamic attitude; this isn’t the attitude of ”Truly! This Ummah of yours is one Ummah, and I am your Lord, so worship Me (Alone).” [21:92]

This isn’t the global outlook of Islam which says:

India is ours and China is ours
And the earth is ours and all is ours
Islam has become our religion
And the entire world is our homeland
The constitution of Allah is our religion
And we have made our hearts its home

All Muslims are united upon true faith in Allah (swt), His Messenger (pbuh) and His Final Book. However, these false lines have been etched upon us on the basis of which entire political, military, economic and cultural institutions have been established that seek division between the Pakistani and the Indian, between the Egyptian and the Turk, between the Chechen and the Uzbek. There is no reality in these divides. As has been emphasized earlier in the article, in Islam, divide between humanity is upon faith, upon love for Allah (swt) and His Messenger (pbuh). So, we as an Ummah must take practical steps to defeat this divided mentality and erase these map lines physically that indoctrinate the Ummah into believing in this false separation.

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It’s impressive iMO to see those whose loyalty is to Mullah Omar publishing in greater detail on this topic than those whose loyalty is to the self-proclaimed caliph of IS. Maybe they’ll submit their article as a proposal for that conference at the University of Southern California, you think?

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The ISIS flood in my twitterstream today 1: borders & bulldozers

Wednesday, June 11th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- nightmare of the cartographers ]
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Let Yassin Musharbash have the first word:

ISIS, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria / Sham, clearly doesn’t like the separation implied by the “and” in its name. They don’t merely want it removed as a line drawn on maps, they’re actually interested in erasing it with bulldozers…

Aaron Zelin has the image:

Symbolism is powerful.

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Sykes-Picot, the Durand line — repeat after me the Gospel of Korzybski:

The map is not the territory!

— and when the two diverge, it’ll mostly be the territory that redraws the map.

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Another Sunday, another surprise

Sunday, May 18th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- the London Underground, its maps and ghouls ]
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Harry Beck designed the schematic London Underground of 1933, which has since then been brought up to date, imitated by other underground systems around the world and repurposed in various ways, including one variant by Alan Moore illustrating the traditional Judaic Kabbalah — take a look.

Here are two of the more interesting variants I ran across today, each of which can be seen at greater size by clicking on the image here — first, the blank map:

and then, the ghost map:

The blank map is fine for those who wish to test their memories of London, pursue Jungian active imagination, contemplate the Buddhist void or the Sartrean neant, feel lost in this wide world, or simply avoid the Christian overtones of such station names as “Gospel Oak” “and St John’s Wood” while navigating that great city whose cabbies — another system of transportation altogether — have The Knowledge.

More spooky is the ghost map, which shows disused stations in the Underground system — doubly underground, if you take my drift. As TS Eliot eloquently put it in The Waste Land:

I had not thought death had undone so many.

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Okay, before we go, let’s move briefly from the map to the territory.

In this case, the teritory is the interior of carriages in London Tube trains, where each particular line features a small linear map of it’s stations and its connections — and unofficial humans have been at work skilfully defacing them:

FWIW, those are images of variants on maps within territories within maps. The upper panel, above, continues today’s theme of the ghost tube — with a neat movie twist. And the lower panel — my own favored theme on this blog, the apocalypse.

Mapping the apocalypse… a post for another day.

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Of maps and territories

Monday, April 28th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- Lao Tzu with a quick boost from CS Lewis -- Tao, Logos and a line of water can be traced across the face of North America ]
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The Tao of Korzybski


The Tao of Korzybski


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I have long been an admirer of Lao Tzu, and in particular of the opening phrases of the Tao Te Ching, which Stephen Mitchell renders thus:

The tao that can be told
is not the eternal Tao
The name that can be named
is not the eternal Name.

Lao Tzu, of course, is working within a language that’s impressionistic enough to allow each word multiple resonant connotatations, and English translations of his work are correspondingly very many and varied, as we shall see.

Ursula le Guin translates those same lines:

The way you can go
isn’t the real way.
The name you can say
isn’t the real name.

We can phrase Lao Tzu’s opening lines simply thus:

The way that can be described isn’t the Way:
The name that can be pronounced isn’t the Name.

As an aside, Le Guin lets the cat out of the bag a bout “true names” in her marvelous book, Wizard of Earthsea, in which she writes:

Years and distances, stars and candles, water and wind and wizardry, the craft in a man’s hand and the wisdom in a tree’s root: they all arise together. My name, and yours, and the true name of the sun, or a spring of water, or an unborn child, all are syllables of the great word that is very slowly spoken by the shining of the stars. There is no other power. No other name.

But it’s the Way rather than the Name — not that the two can be anything other than two ways to name the One — which concerns me here, because one of the first DoubleQuotes I’m consciously aware of formulating matched Lao Tzu’s:

The way that can be described isn’t the Way

with Alfred Korzybski‘s central insight in Science and Sanity:

The map is not the territory.

That’s what I was suggesting in the illustration I’ve put at the head of this post, which dates back to the early seventies, several decades before I began developing the HipBone Games, let alone the DoubleQuotes format I now use…

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All of which would be one of those treasures I keep stashed in my heart (“where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal”) — except that the other day I stumbled on a CS Lewis quote that sheds considerable new light on Lao Tzu’s dictum:

A CS Lewis quote, illustrated

That CS Lewis quote comes from New Learning and New Ignorance, an essay Scott Shipman generously introduced me to the other day. It’s the Introduction to one of his works of literary-histporical criticism, English Literature in the Sixteenth Century Excluding Drama! And in his simple, elegant formulation –

roads and small rivers could not be made visible in maps unless their width were exaggerated

— we have an explanation of one way in which the map must indeed distort the territory if it is to be of any use, one way in which the Way cannot be shoehorned into words.

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Which brings us to the river whose width is exaggerated, just as Lewis said it would be, in the aerial photo of the continental US that I’ve placed in the DoubleQuote panel directly above the Lewis quote.

It seems [t]his creek divides the US connecting the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, to quote the title of Jesus Diaz’ fascinating article from which that image comes:

The Panama Canal is not the only water line connecting the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. There’s a place in Wyoming—deep in the Teton Wilderness Area of the Bridger-Teton National Forest—in which a creek splits in two. Like the canal, this creek connects the two oceans dividing North America in two parts. [ ... ]

The creek divides into two similar flows at a place called the Parting of the Waters … To the East, the creek flows “3,488 miles (5,613 km) to the Atlantic Ocean via Atlantic Creek and the Yellowstone, Missouri and Mississippi Rivers.” To the West, it flows “1,353 miles (2,177 km) to the Pacific Ocean via Pacific Creek and the Snake and Columbia Rivers.”

I’m not often impressed by matters of scale, but that hits my sweet spot. And it seems that fish don’t need to worry about the Panama canal and the political complexities attendant on it –

it is thought that this was the pass that provided the immigration route for Cutthroat Trout to migrate from the Snake River (Pacific) to Yellowstone River (Atlantic) drainages.

All of which fits nicely with the title of one of Alan Watts‘ books: Tao: the Watercourse Way

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In that book, incidentally, Watts — himself an Anglican priest as well as a long time Zen practitioner — has an interesting observation about the Tao:

Weiger gives Tao the basic meaning “to go ahead.” One could also think of it as intelligent rhythm. Various translators have called it the Way, Reason, Providence, the Logos, and even God…

Thomas Merton, in Zen and the Birds of Appetite, picks up the thread, telling us:

Dr. Wu is not afraid to admit theat he brought Zen, Taoism and Confucianism with him into Christianity. In fact in his well-known Chinese translation of the New Testament he opens the Gospel of St. John with the words, “In the beginning was the Tao.”

And here we’re back to CS Lewis, who wrote in a letter to Clyde Kirby, editor of A Mind Awake: An Anthology of C. S. Lewis and author of The Christian World of C. S. Lewis:

is not the Tao the Word Himself, considered from a particular point of view?

There are times when a network of ideas is so close-woven as to form an intricate virtual conversationa, a bead game, even.

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Appendix: further readings

You have been very kind to follow me thus far, but while I’m at it I’d like to drop in some readings for those who might like to engage in further exploration of Lao Tzu.

175+ Translations of Chapter 1

These include Wade-Giles & Pinyin Romanizations, plus translations and interpretations by, among others, John Chalmers (1868), James Legge (1891), D.T. Suzuki and Paul Carus (1913), Aleister Crowley (1918), Dwight Goddard (1919), Arthur Waley (1934), John C.H. Wu (1939), Lin Yutang (1942), Witter Bynner (1944), D.C. Lau (1963, 1989), Wing-Tsit Chan (1963), Timothy Leary (1966), Peter A. Boodberg (1968), Gia-fu Feng and Jane English (1972), Stephen Mitchell (1988), Thomas Cleary (1991), Ursula K. Le Guin (1998), and Jonathan Star (2001)…

Peter Boodberg’s Philological Notes on Chapter One of The Lao Tzu

These are remarkable, if for no other reason than for giving us the phrase “Myriad Mottlings’ mother”. His versiom of the opening — in what he descibes as having “little literary merit” while reflecting “to the best of my ability, every significant etymological and grammatical feature, including every double entendre, that I have been able to discover in the original”. Boodberg’s whole paper is somewhat stunning — here are the two opening lines:

Lodehead lodehead-brooking : no forewonted lodehead;
Namecall namecall-brooking : no forewonted namecall.

Comments on the Tao Te Ching using the D.C. Lau translation (Penguin Books, 1963):

Tao chapter 1

Verse 1 [see Chinese text and literal translation]: “The Way that can be spoken of/ Is not the constant way.” The Tao Te Ching begins with a pun: “Way” and “spoken of” (“said”) are the same character (Dào). So the first line says: “The Tao that can be tao-ed is not the constant Tao.” “The name that can be named…” Here the pun can be maintained in English, where “name” can be both noun and verb. The quality of a translation of the Tao Te Ching can usually be determined from the rendering of these lines. Those determined to unpack the meaning of Taoism in the translation, according to their own interpretation of Taoist doctrine, will often render these terse sentences into a paragraph, sometimes with irrecognizable renderings of the key words. The affection of a translator for Taoism cannot excuse a method that only obscures the nature of the text itself.

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Hey, I think of those first two verses of the Lao Tzu as a “pattern” in the Christopher Alexander sense, with Korzybski’s version and CS Lewis additional insight featuring as examplars of the more general principle. I thought I’d do a quick search and wind up with some of my own playful uses of those two phrases in different situations and for different audiences / readerships:

  • The pronounceable name isn’t the unpronounceable name.
  • The flow that can be capped isn’t the overflowing flow.
  • The quantity that can be counted is not the unaccountable quality.
  • The verbal formulation of x is not the x itself.
  • No way the way can be put into words.
  • The problem that can be described isn’t our actual situation.
  • The describable aint it.
  • More I grasp you, baby, more you disappear…
  • and not to put too fine a point on it…

  • the way that can be mapped is not the way to go, the meaning that can be put into words is not the final word
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    The religions: which is it to be – sibling rivalry or family feeling?

    Monday, April 7th, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron -- two images from recent Religion Dispatches posts neatly pose the question ]
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    Sources:

  • Jeremy Stolow, Will Quebec Ban Religious Symbols in Public?
  • M Sophia Newman, Are Attacks on Hindus in Bangladesh Religiously Motivated?
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    Québec officially doesn’t seem to like what it terms “conspicuous religious symbols” — including the pictured “large” crucifix, hijab, and dastar (upper panel above, top row, left to right) and niqab and kippa (bottom row, left to right).

    I suppose that’s one way to achieve uniformity — maybe peacocks should be asked to tone down their feathers until they’re more in line with pigeons, too — but it’s instructive to note that most of the folk in the Bangladeshi march for religious harmony (lower panel, above) would be banned from wearing their identifying symbols if they tried to hold a similar parade in Montréal, Québec.

    Lac Zut, alors!

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    In the tiny middle panel of my DoubleQuotes graphic, where you’ll usually find a pair of spectacles or binoculars, the Swayambunath Buddha, just outside Kathmandu, Nepal, looks on, bemused — having seen so much, so very much, of human nature.

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