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Ferguson: tweets of interest 1

Wednesday, August 20th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- the extraordinary cast of players surrounding Ferguson, not forgetting Marvin Gaye ]
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There’s a whole lot going on that, while not central to the face-off between public and police in Ferguson, is “constellating” around it, and worth our attention in any case. I’ll begin with the most interesting pairing of religious groups in Ferguson — the Moorish Temple, alongside the Nation of Islam — alongside the Black Panthers, whose interests are purely political AFAIK:

It’s interesting that according to WND — not necessarily a source I’d expect to find this sort of thing in — Missouri Highway Patrol Capt. Ron Johnson “has had some words of high praise for some people he said helped get the violence under control for one night” in Ferguson:

It was Malik Shabazz, formerly with the New Black Panthers, and now with Black Lawyers for Justice, and his team, including members of that group as well as the Nation of Islam. [ .. ]

During a news conference held by Johnson in Ferguson, Shabazz started explained that it was his team who had shut down traffic, chased the people away and prevented rioting for a single night last week.

Johnson credited him with accomplishing exactly that.

“First of all, I want to say that those groups he talked about that helped us Thursday night, he’s absolutely correct and when I met with the governor the next day I said I do not know the names of those groups. But I said there were gentlemen in black pants and black shirts and they were out there and they did their job.

“And I told that to the governor, and I’ll tell that to the nation,” Johnson said. “Those groups helped, and they’re a part of this.”

For more on the Moorish Science Temple, see Peter Lamborn Wilson‘s Lost/Found Moorish Time Lines in the Wilderness of North America [part 1 and part 2]

The Moorish Temple, Panthers and Nation of Islam all converging on Ferguson is impressive. Apparently missing from this picture? The Scientologists. Louis Farrakhan of NOI has recently been recommending Scientology to his NOI followers [1, 2, 3], in yet another example of strange bedfellows…

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Okay, — on the face of it, the single most ironic tweet I’ve seen about Ferguson would have to be this one:

— and that’s unfortunate, because KaBoom‘s Playful City USA idea is a good one, and Ferguson deserves kudos for implementing it:

In 2012, Ferguson was recognized as a “Playful City, USA” for its efforts to increase play opportunities for children. The city of Ferguson hosts Sunday Parkways, a free community play street event in neighborhoods on Sunday afternoons. Streets are closed to cars in order to allow residents of all ages and abilities to play in the streets.

Closing down streets to traffic so people young and old can play in them isn’t enough, however — when they’re also closed down for the sorts of other reasons we’ve been seeing in Ferguson recently.

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One pair of tweets that caught my eye showed almost the same exact moment, captured from two angles that must have been almost perpendicular to one another — a pairing that would have made an interesting DoubleQuote all by itself. The first is from Bill Moyers:

while the second was addressed to him by another observer:

That second photo is the work of Scott Olson of Getty Images, a photographer who was himself arrested and then released in Ferguson, as part of the police vs press stand-off which has been a secondary motif in this whole affair.

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There are words painted on the PO box in that last photo that somehow made their way unfiltered onto at least one TV report, but one of them is NSFW. Three tweets from Yamiche Alcindor of USA Today delicately obscure the offending phrase with suitably placed asterisks, and indicate that as Congreve said, “Music hath charms to soothe a savage breast, to soften rocks, or bend a knotted oak” — but can also arouse them.

In this case, the arousing came first, the calming second — kudos to polite police:

— with kudos, too, to Marvin Gaye:

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I’ll close part 1 of this double post with an interesting example of a DoubleQuote in the Wild:

Coming up next in part 2: noticeable individual protesters and foreign commentary

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Yezidis / Yazidis: more gleanings

Sunday, August 10th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- continuing on from Yezidis / Yazidis: first gleanings with a diverse set of data points ]
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Here, to get us started, is some Yezidi music which I downloaded to give myself an insight into the heart of the Yezidi and our common humanity: music as touchstone.

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To recap my previous post on the Yezidi / Yazidi:

The Yezidi / Yazidi are a theologically fascinating group, and it’s a pity that their Peacock Angel has been misinterpreted by Muslims and others on many occasions as equivalent to the Islamic Iblis / Christian Devil. Like Iblis / Devil, the Peackock Angel Melek Taus is ordered by God to bow down to Man / Adam, and refuses to do so — but here’s where the narratives divide. In the Yezidi telling, Melek Taus had been forewarned by God *not* to bow down to Man, since Man was a creature and not God (defined as the proper object of worship). So in the Yezidi view, the Peacock Angel was obedient, not disobedient, good, not bad — but because Muslims when they hear the story conflate Melek Taus with Iblis, they consider the Yezidi to be worshipping the Devil — and thus fair game for numerous rounds of persecution across the centuries, with the current caliphal phase being the worst and arguably likely to be the last.

Furthermore…

The various conspiracies, fictions & hermetic adaptations of Yezidi religious thought (in Gurdjieff, Crowley, Gnostic/Templar circles, HP Lovecraft and his source, E. Hoffmann Price‘s The Stranger from Kurdistan) spring from the same misunderstanding of the role of Melek Taus. In their own rights they are interesting, but as revelations about Yezidi thought, not so much.

Matthew Barber of the University of Chicago, whose twitter stream I recommended in my earlier post, has been blogging from the ground in Iraq on Landis’s Syria Comment blog — recommended.

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Here’s an interesting interview on the History and Genocide of the Yezidis, which points out among other things just how difficult it is to get an accurate picture of Yezidi thought:

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Pat Lang, blogging at Sic Semper Tyrannis, comes at the issue of US military asistance with both an appreciation of local culture and a keen sense of military feasibilities:

Another awkward truth is the fact that getting the tens of thousands of Yazidis down off their mountain will require creation of a land bridge to Kurdish Syria or Turkey. (It is just too far to expect too be able to move all those civilians to the Kurdish mountsins in the east.) To build such a land bridge would require the participation of thousands of soldiers with heavy equipment, functioning logistics and lots of air support. Who would provide that, the pesh merga? Not! They lack the men, the equipment and the air support.

US air is still flying off an aircraft carrier in the Gulf. This is very far away and the distance, in itself, lmits the amount of air power that can be projected. It limits it a lot! If the administration is serious about the Yazidis or the Kurds they will have to start operating from Batman and Incirlik in Turkey as well as Irbil and Suleymaniyah in the KRG or start using heavy bombers like the B-52.

I make no claim myself as to the correctness of Col. Lang’s estimate, lacking the competence to agree or disagree with him. I simply have the impression that on topics of logistics, he is usually (unusually) well-informed.

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On a less tasteful note…

At least one embodinment of far-right US Christianity had to get the Yezidi wrong, mistaking them for devil worshippers:

and:

I don’t doubt that there are many more factors in Pres. Obama’s seemingly reluctant decision to intervene at this point than the somewhat dubious one suggested here. My point, however, is that Bryan Fischer is simply echoing the caliphate’s own misinterpretation when he claims the Yezidi are devil-worshippers — and the caliphate is hardly the best authority on Yezidi theology to follow…

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FWIW, on the differences in IS treatment of Christians and Yezidis, the Christian Science Monitor has this:

Unlike Christians, who have been told they must either pay a religious tax or convert to Islam to avoid death, the Yazidis are considered by Sunni militants to be infidels who deserve extermination.

“We believe that what they have done may be classified as genocide and a crime against humanity,” Gyorgy Busztin, the deputy special representative in Iraq of the UN secretary general, tells the Christian Science Monitor. “Regrettably the information indicates that they are not even given the choice of life or conversion but they are being treated as a group to be eliminated from the face of the earth.”

The persecutions, killings and explusions of Christians from the ancient churches of the Middle East is terrible enough: I had not expected to find horrors even worse..

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Last but likely not least, here is a video documentary in two parts I ran across with further Yezidi background, including several clips from the scholar Philip Kreyenbroek, whose books I’ve recommended.

Part 1:

and Part 2:

Note particularly here Prof. Kreyenbroek’s assertion in the first two minutes of Part 2 that the “honor” stoning of the young woman Du’a Khalil Aswad, which brought considerable negative world press attention to the Yezidis in 2007, was uncharacteristic of Yazidi culture, and clearly instigated by pro-Saddam political forces intent on smearing the Yezidi good name.

Here we find ourselves, as so often, at the level of group hatred — but also at the level of individual humans, their aspirations and their griefs.

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Happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stones 2: a Christian perspective

Wednesday, August 6th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- on the godliness of collateral child slaughter, viewed from the perspective of "turn the other cheek" ]
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Suffer the little children to come unto me, Lucius Cranach the Elder

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At this point I would like to turn directly to our psalm, and specifically to its use and interpretation in my own tradition, that of Anglican Christianity: I hope to provide a further post on its Judaic context and understanding shortly.

Psalm 137 is the one that begins, in the Anglican Book of Common Prayer translation:

By the waters of Babylon we sat down and wept *
when we remembered thee, O Sion.
As for our harps, we hanged them up *
upon the trees that are therein.
For they that led us away captive required of us then a song, and melody, in our heaviness *
Sing us one of the songs of Sion.
How shall we sing the Lord’s song *
in a strange land?

The question here is of the relation of music to grief: How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?

Tomás Luis de Victoria set the Latin of this portion of the psalm to ethereal music, as we hear in this perormance of Super Flurmina Babylonis by Harry Christophers and The Sixteen:

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The Psalm in question is a lamentation, a cry of despair, as one can easily tell from the tone of the Anglican setting sung by the choir of King’s College, Cambridge, below — and yet its ending contains what I can only call a vindictive edge — remembering that vindictive, before it gains any other meaning, has a meaning that is cognate with vindication:

If I forget thee, O Jerusalem *
let my right hand forget her cunning.
If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth *
yea if I prefer not Jerusalem in my mirth.
Remember the children of Edom, O Lord, in the day of Jerusalem *
how they said, Down with it, down with it, even to the ground.
O daughter of Babylon, wasted with misery *
yea, happy shall he be that rewardeth thee, as thou hast served us.
Blessed shall he be that taketh thy children *
and throweth them against the stones.

With the words at your disposal, I invite you to listen closely to this austere and beautiful rendering of the whole psalm by the choir of King’s:

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The freshly-minted Anglican Bishop of Leeds, the Rt Rev Nick Bains, blogged just a few days ago:

Psalm 137 is not a comfortable song; nor is it a song for the comfortable. It ends with a shrill cry of pain and hatred: “God, I wish you’d take the children of my enemies and smash their heads against the rocks.” But, it isn’t there to justify an ethic. It isn’t there to suggest it is right to think such awful things of other people’s children. It is there for two reasons: first, to confront us with the reality of how deep our own human hatred can go, and, secondly, to tell us not to lie to God (thinking he can’t handle that reality or the depths of human despair).

Cranmer — the blogger who takes his name from the martyred Protestant Archbishop of Canterbury whose great gift to the English language was precisely the language of the Book of Common Prayer — quoted Bishop Bains, and had this to say of Psalm 137:

Such laments take us to the depths of helplessness and forsakenness. They are cries of distress when there is nowhere to turn: God has abandoned us and our enemies mock and scorn – or terrorise, persecute and murder. Impulsively but genuinely we want their children to be fatherless and their wives to become widows (Psalm 109:8f). And we hope to God that their bastard offspring don’t grow up to be another generation of murderous devils.

But Jesus said, Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven (Mt 19:14).

Those who are taught resentment and loathing will not easily find Jesus or enter the kingdom. Violence breeds violence and hate engenders hate. The way of Christ is peace. In our secular polis this may seem like sheer folly. But it is a choice we make in the hope and anticipation that God’s love will finally prevail through the way of the cross, despite our inability to see how this may be possible when warring hearts are filled with grievances and pain.

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As I prepare to turn from Christian to Judaic consideration of this psalm in my final post in this series, I would like to quote the words of the rabbi, Jesus — himself surely an appropriate transitional figure between Judaism and Christianity:

You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous….

In saying these things, is Jesus teaching a distinctly Christian doctrine, or preaching as a Jewish teacher among Jews?

It’s a fine question. The book of Proverbs 25.21 reads: “If your enemy is hungry, give him bread, if he be thirsty, give him water… — and the 1906 Jewish Encyclopedia comments on Jesus’ remark that it might better be translated thus, in line with Jewish teaching:

Ye might deduce from this verse that thou shalt love thy neighbor and hate thine enemy, but I say to you the only correct interpretation is, Love all men, even thine enemies.

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Gaza now stretches all the way to Disneyland

Thursday, July 31st, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- on the hopelessly interdisciplinary nature of reality ]
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There really is no limit to the diversity of strands which go into a complex tapestry such as that of Gaza.

Jean-Pierre Filiu has written, and Hurst will shortly publish, his History of Gaza. Mark Levine, University of California, Irvine, sums up both the book and the timeliness of its publication in his blurb:

Anyone familiar with Jean-Pierre Filiu’s scholarship knows well his talent for taking complex historical processes and bringing their relevance for the present day to the front burner. Never have such skills been more needed than in addressing the still poorly understood history of Gaza. And Filiu succeeds admirably. Providing a wonderful synopsis of a century’s worth of history, his discussion of the more direct roots of the present violent dynamics, beginning with the “crushed generation” of the Six Day War and continuing through the travails of Gaza’s burgeoning hiphop scene, demonstrates just how historically and culturally rich remains this much abused land. A clear must-read for all those seeking to think outside the existing outdated prisms for studying history, and the future of Gaza and Palestine/israel writ large.

Filiu himself:

Considering the appalling reality of life in contemporary Gaza, a broader view of the current situation can only be taken from the perspective of history, with an attempt to set aside the disorientation, the horror and the hatred that the present situation has engendered. The ‘Gaza Strip’, as it is today, is not so much a geographical entity as the product of the tormented and tragic history of a territory where the majority of the population is made up of refugees who have already attempted to escape other torments, and other tragedies. Gaza’s borders have closed in on those who have fled there: the refugees born within the territory have been destined to remain confined within it, a fate they also share with all of those who have dreamed of leaving it. Neither Israel nor Egypt wanted the ‘Strip’ to exist: it is a territorial entity ‘by default’.

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When Filiu wrote his earlier book, Apocalypse in Islam, he knew the realities of the situation demanded he research pop culture as well as classical sources in Qur’an and ahadith — and devoted 8 full-color pages to illustrations of 21 book-covers like these:

It’s not surprising, then, that he covers “the travails of Gaza’s burgeoning hiphop scene” in this one — but the point I wish to make is more general. If we are to grasp the complex realities of today’s and tomorrow’s trouble-spots, we need to be aware of trends that impinge on our disciplinary foci — “national security” and so forth — from an unprecenented array of other areas. Many of our nat-sec authors, bloggers and tweeters, bloggers, authors and pundits are aware of these areas — Dan Drezner, for instance,eploicates international affairs via a trendy meme in his — but it’s the use of such memes by those the analysts study that’s most significant.

Thus Daveed Gartenstein-Ross wrote a year ago regarding the Boston bombing:

Tamerlan listened to all kinds of music, including classical and rap, and used the email address The_Professor@real-hiphop.com. In fact, a few years ago he had planned to enter music school. AP (Apr. 23) shows that Tamerlan’s interpretation of Islam guided his eventual avoidance of music. Six weeks after Tamerlan had told Elmirza Khozhugov, the ex-husband of his sister, about his plans to enter music school, they spoke on the phone. Elmirza asked how music school was going. Tamerlan said that he had quit, and explained that “music is not really supported in Islam.”

and more recently in The Lies American Jihadists Tell Themselves on FP:

The first “homegrown” jihadist whom most Westerners learned about was John Walker Lindh, a young man who traveled to Afghanistan to join the Taliban prior to the 9/11 attacks. Lindh, before his turn toward radical Islam, used to post regularly on hip-hop message boards in the adopted persona of a racially-conscious black hip-hop artist (Lindh is white, from the wealthy northern California region of Marin County).

And thus also, Disney characters now show up in anti-Hamas propaganda… echoing an image of Samantha Lewthwaite we’ve seen here before:

The truth is, pop culture, high culture, scholarship, propaganda, truths, myths and lies are all hopelessly entangled in how we think about the world, and while our thoughts may prefer certain disciplines or “silos” to others, the world itself is no respecter of silos, but is interdiscipoinary to the core.

We had best get used to it.

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Rape as Strategy: Gaza and London

Thursday, July 24th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- at least three ways of looking at a pair of tweets ]
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If there can be Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird, there are at least three or four ways of looking at these two tweets:

The similarities are eerie, the differences are enormous.

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You could, I suppose, look at it as an Israel to London comparison, although I don’t think that approach would be particularly insightful. Or gang-members vs academics, which might be a little more interesting. I’d suggest, however, that the first way many people will read the comparison above will be as a statement about the Israeli-Palestinian situation: London fades into the background, a professor’s (from my POV intermerate) statement of a seemingly intractable problem gets equated with an actual gangland threat and praxis:

On that reading, the juxtaposition is an indictment of the Israeli side in the current Gaza conflict. And that’s a huge pity, because the professor’s words were specifically not about “what should be done” but about “what it would take” to do the job — in this case, of getting suicide bombers to refrain from killing themselves and others.

So from my POV the second reading, which critiques the first (IMO appropriately) is of a comparison between what in my diagram I’ll call “thought experiment” and “threat, tactic” — the latter word indicating that the threat is one that is carried out in practice, ie in the form of selective, vengeful, punitive rape of the daughters and sisters of enemies:

Here is a little more of the context — note the professor’s disclaimer, “I’m not talking about what we should or shouldn’t do. I’m talking about the facts”:

“The only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped.” This assertion was made by Middle East scholar Dr. Mordechai Kedar of Bar-Ilan University about three weeks ago on an Israel Radio program. “It sounds very bad, but that’s the Middle East,” added Kedar, of Bar-Ilan’s Department of Arabic. [ .. ]

“You have to understand the culture in which we live,” said Kedar. “The only thing that deters [Hamas leaders] is a threat to the connection between their heads and their shoulders.” When presenter Yossi Hadar asked if that “could filter down” the organization’s ranks, Kedar replied: “No, because lower down the considerations are entirely different.

Terrorists like those who kidnapped the children and killed them — the only thing that deters them is if they know that their sister or their mother will be raped in the event that they are caught. What can you do, that’s the culture in which we live.”

When Hadar said, “We can’t take such steps, of course,” Kedar continued: “I’m not talking about what we should or shouldn’t do. I’m talking about the facts. The only thing that deters a suicide bomber is the knowledge that if he pulls the trigger or blows himself up, his sister will be raped. That’s all. That’s the only thing that will bring him back home, in order to preserve his sister’s honor.”

Now, is that a valid disclaimer — or a slippery slope?

Mileages, I fear, will differ greatly on the answers to that question.

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But wait.

What if you’re not a partisan of the Palestinian or Israeli side, but of a humanity long weary of wars but seemingly woven into them by nature and nurture — warp and woof on the loom of history?

What if you’re a woman?

I’m not a woman, and it is only through the promptings of friends like Elizabeth Pearson and Cheryl Rofer that I eventually get around to looking at this particular juxtaposition — and other analytic complexities as appropriate — with an eye to gender differences.

Here the picture may overlay one or both of the previous ones — or obliterate their carefully-drawn distinctions completely. The picture is this:

Wives, of course, too, aunts, nieces — wherever it hurts, whoever the adversary is honor-bound to protect.

And some will say, that’s the nature of war! — and not be entirely wrong.

What a world. And in it, across time, the minds and hearts that gave us the books of Isaiah and Job, the masses of Bach and Beethoven, the Mezquita of Cordoba and the Taj Mahal, Abhinavagupta and Chuang Tzu, Gell-Mann and Francis Crick

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Sources:

  • Guardian: Gangs draw up lists of girls to rape as proxy attacks on rivals
  • Haaretz: Israeli professor’s ‘rape as terror deterrent’ statement draws ire
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