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Pro and Con, or squished?

Monday, February 20th, 2017

[ by Charles Cameron — counterpoint: giving all voices a fair hearing. even when conflicting ]
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I try to avoid taking political sides in American politics, partly because I’m a guest here and it seems only polite and wise to leave such matters to my hosts, and partly because bridge-building is the therapeutic method of choice in times of division and conflict. Keeping to a middle path may be something of a high-wire act, though, and is seldom popular wit those on either side.

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I went looking for a quote that expresses the idea that this kind of middle way can get you killed, and my friends offered me a variety of possible items including Jim Hightower saying:

There’s nothing in the middle of the road but a yellow stripe and dead armadillos.

and Mr Miyagi:

Squished!!

**

The most cerebral near-miss was this one, from Adam Gopnik writing about and quoting Camus in the New Yorker a while back:

At the Liberation, he wrote (in Arthur Goldhammer’s translation):

Now that we have won the means to express ourselves, our responsibility to ourselves and to the country is paramount. . . . The task for each of us is to think carefully about what he wants to say and gradually to shape the spirit of his paper; it is to write carefully without ever losing sight of the urgent need to restore to the country its authoritative voice. If we see to it that that voice remains one of vigor, rather than hatred, of proud objectivity and not rhetoric, of humanity rather than mediocrity, then much will be saved from ruin.

Responsibility, care, gradualness, humanity—even at a time of jubilation, these are the typical words of Camus, and they were not the usual words of French political rhetoric. The enemy was not this side or that one; it was the abstraction of rhetoric itself. He wrote, “We have witnessed lying, humiliation, killing, deportation, and torture, and in each instance it was impossible to persuade the people who were doing these things not to do them, because they were sure of themselves, and because there is no way of persuading an abstraction.”

and the most scriptural from Scott McW, Revelation 3.14-16:

And unto the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write; These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God; I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth.

Michael Lotus supplied:

There’s even a film (h/t Barbara Hope) titled In Danger and Dire Distress the Middle of the Road Leads to Death — though I haven’t seen it.

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John Messer catches the perspective I’m coming from when he comments:

One limitation perhaps is our framing of the challenge as a dichotomy rather than a 360 POV or perhaps a sphere of alternatives. In mediation one always looks for the unifying value that embraces all.

It seems harder and harder to present both sides of en ever-more-violently polarized situation without taking fire from each side — so I’d ask you to read what follows (and my posts on similar topics) as attempts at that unifying balance, rather than as statements of my own preferences.. which do exist, and no doubt can be glimpsed, but are not what I’m trying to propagate with my writings, at least thus far..

**

Consider these two opinions of Trump aide Sebastian Gorka — each the opinion of a valued friend:

and:

It was F Scott Fitzgerald who said, “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.”

Is there any room for a first-rate intelligence any more?

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Or consider this juxtaposition as a DoubleQuote expression of a parallelism between Trump and Hitler:

Is that fair comment or not?

The two phrases are indeed close parallels –n but obviously the Nazi analogy is one that (a) members of the never Trump faction feel a strong urge to explore, and (b) which is liable to close the ears of the pro Trump faction to any logic it might possess.

How do we hear both sides of so fraught an issue?

**

How do we retain awareness of that superbly humble and nuanced insight of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn?

If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?
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During the life of any heart this line keeps changing place; sometimes it is squeezed one way by exuberant evil and sometimes it shifts to allow enough space for good to flourish. One and the same human being is, at various ages, under various circumstances, a totally different human being. At times he is close to being a devil, at times to sainthood. But his name doesn’t change, and to that name we ascribe the whole lot, good and evil.

That’s the perspective I cherish.

Please see also my follow-up post..

Shahbaz Qalandar shrine bombing DoubleQuote

Saturday, February 18th, 2017

[ by Charles Cameron — qawwali vs bombing — tragic though this week’s deaths are, music, poetry, and devotion transcend death ]
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I thought this horrific announcement:

deserved a response of a very different order:

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That’s it, that’s my response.

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By way of background:

Lal Shahbaz Qalandar of Sehwan, whose shrine in Pakistan was bombed this week, was an Ismaili Shiite poet-mystic, perhaps best understood via his poetry. Shehram Mokhtar in a Master’s thesis on Qalandar writes:

His title of Shahbaz (royal falcon) is associated with him because of the mystical and spiritual heights he attained. This is reflected in his own poetry: “I am the royal falcon, that has no (fixed) place i.e. I am always in flight; I cannot be contained in any place; I am the phoenix, that cannot be restrained in any symbol or form” (Qazi, 1971, p. 26).

Further:

The third title associated with saint’s name is Qalandar. Muhammad Hussain bin Khalaf Tabrizi, the writer of a famous Persian dictionary defines Qalandar as someone “so much spiritualized that he is free from social and customary inhibitions and taboos” (Mohammad, 1978, p.7). Many other references have used terms like, “intoxicated in spirituality” to define the term Qalandar. The title of Qalandar has been associated with three saints, Lal Shahbaz, saint Bu Ali Sharfuddin of Panipat and a female saint Rabia Basri (Mohammad, 1978).

A taste of his poetry gives a taste of the man:

I am burning with Divine love every moment.
Sometimes I roll in the dust,
And sometimes I dance on thorns.
I have become notorious in your love.
I beseech you to come to me!
I am not afraid of the disrepute,
To dance in every bazaar.

Lal Shahbaz Qalandar is both transgressive – a frequently overused term, yet entirely applicable in this instance – and transcendent.

**

It’s not always easy to get a fix on Sufi poet-saints. Consider this tale of Kabir, a Muslim from Varanasi, who obtained initiation from the Hindu saint Ramanand:

One of the most loved legends associated with Kabir is told of his funeral. Kabir’s disciples disputed over his body, the Muslims wanting to claim the body for burial, the Hindus wanting to cremate the body. Kabir appeared to the arguing disciples and told them to lift the burial shroud. When they did so, they found fragrant flowers where the body had rested. The flowers were divided, and the Muslims buried the flowers while the Hindus reverently committed them to fire.

Shahbaz Qalandar’s death seems similarly shrouded in mystery – so much so that the quai-authoritative Wikipedia entry for him reports both “Died: 19 February 1275 (aged 98-99) and “Lal Shahbaz lived a celibate life and died in the year 1300 at the age of 151. “

It is his death – considered as his marriage with the divine beloved – that is celebrated at the three-day urs (literally: marriage) festival, attended yearly in Sehwan by upwards of a half-million devotees, at which the divine love is glimpsed through a dance – the dhamaal – similar in function to, though not the same as, the sama dance of the dervish order order founded by Qalandar’s contemporary, Jalaluddin Rumi. The dancers’ characteristic experience is one of divine intoxication, mast.

It was Qalandar’s shrine / tomb that was the site of the IS-claimed bombing this week.

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With appreciation & and hat-tip to Omar Ali, and condolences — also to Husain Haqqani, Raza Rumi, Pundita, and all those who live, work and or pray for a peaceable Pakistan.

Silence, populated with sounds

Thursday, February 16th, 2017

[ by Charles Cameron — A Meditation In Time Of War, you might say ]
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The DoubleQuote:

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Sources:

  • John Cage, Silence: Lectures and Writings
  • Sa’ed Atshan, A Palestinian Quaker bears witness to pacifism
  • I was brought to Atshan’s remarkable piece by Tim Burke, writing on his Easily Distracted blog today:

    My colleague Sa’ed Atshan is profoundly committed to trying to get out of the standard confinements of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. At the least if one were going to disagree with him–or accuse him–you would want to contend with the ethical biography he sets out in his Feb. 14 piece for the American Friends Service Committee. Contend with it in its particulars: that’s what he says he believes.

    Instead, here’s what we have: anonymous sites that use innuendo and arguments-by-association assembled by cowards then being used by parents at Friends Central School to manipulate its principal into declaring, “This person shouldn’t be giving a talk at our school”.

    And before you say a damn thing, I don’t like it when similar conduct is used by someone that’s “on my side”. I didn’t like it one bit when one of our students used the same kind of soft lies and pollution-by-contagion to argue against a possible graduation speaker at Swarthmore. I don’t like it period.

    Dylan’s 1980 apocalyptic

    Thursday, October 13th, 2016

    [ by Charles Cameron — delighted at his Nobel — with a quick note on antinomianism ]
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    So Bob Dylan has at last won the Nobel Prize, which has been — forgive me — a slow train coming.

    David Remnick of the New Yorker suggests we “Celebrate Bob Dylan’s Nobel Prize in Literature the obvious way: by listening” — and among his suggested selections I found this apocalyptic jewel:

    It contains quite a bit of low-key Daniel and Revelation. Dylan recalls being booed for suggesting that Russia would intervene in the Middle East just a few months before Russia invaded Afghanistan.

    I read the Bible a lot, you know, it just happens I do, and .. so it says certain things in the Bible that I wasn’t really aware of until just recently.. anyway, in the Bible it tells you specific things. In the books iof Daniel and in the Book of Revelation which just might apply to these times here, and is says there are certain wars that are soon, about to happen, I can’t say exactly when, you know, but.. pretty soon anyway..

    He goes on to mention two countries, which he identifies as Russia and China, and with regard to Russia, says:

    So anyway, I was telling this story to these people. I shouldn’t have been telling it to them, I just got carried away. I mentioned to them “well you know, watch now, because Russia is going to come down and attack the Middle East. It says this in the Bible. .. These things in the Bible, they seem to uplift me and tell me the truth. I said “Russia’s gpoing to attack the Middle East” and they just booed. They couldn’t hear that, they didn’t believe it. And a month later, Russia moved their troops into Afghanistan it was, and that whole situation changed, you know. And I’m not saying this to tell you they were wrong and I was right or anything like that, but these things that it mentions in the Bible I pay mighty close attention to.

    This is pretty much straightforward from a Hal Lindsey era Dispensationalist point of view, though the bit about Russia interfering in the Middle East fits Russia’s campaign in Syria today, thirty-seven years later, better than its 1979 invasion of Afghanistan did back then.

    Dylan then follows up with a discussion of the Antichrist, mentions Jim Jones and Hitler along the way.. and closes with a rendition of his gospel song, Slow Train Coming.

    **

    So just one technical note here on that apocalyptic aspect.

    Antinomianism is the name given to a common feature of apocalyptic rhetoric — the doctrine that the law (to include the moral law) no longer applies — so that both theft from the rich and sexual anarchism are permitted to “the pure”. Norman Cohn documents this doctrine extensively in The Pursuit of the Millennium, see particularly his chapters VII and VIII on “An Élite of Amoral Supermen” — ie the 12th century “heresy of the Free Spirit“.

    Listening to Dylan’s Slow Train with that in mind, these lyrics take on a new significance:

    Man’s ego is inflated, his laws are outdated, they don’t apply no more
    You can’t rely no more to be standin’ around waitin’

    **

    To end on a lighter note..

    Some critics of the Nobel award seem to feel that “song” is not a category that sits easily within the scope of “literature”. To put it bluntly:

    If only he’d thrown away that damn guitar, written his stuff down, and read it out loud as poetry, we might have given Orpheus the prize sooner..

    Michael Yon on the death of Thailand’s King Bhumibol

    Thursday, October 13th, 2016

    [ by Charles Cameron ]
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    king-bhumibol

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    Michael Yon on Facebook, and (illustrated) on his journal page under the heading Rivers of tears flow tonight:

    On one level, there is not much to say other than that one of the greatest leaders in history graced us for so long. He is the Father of Thailand. He was a champion of peace, freedom, and prosperity, and a good friend to America and to American people. His Majesty is loved by many Americans.

    Americans normally do not like Kings, but King Bhumibol is a great exception. Those who studied him grew to respect him, then to like him, and finally to share in the love for the King of Kings. The love for His Majesty is so immense that it could fill the Gulf of Thailand.

    Thais are among freest people on earth, thanks to His Majesty. He brought his millions of sons and daughters very far, and he taught lessons and brought inspiration to foreigners such as me.

    He was a musician, and good, and his photography was excellent. Highly educated, he visited every corner of this great country, into the deepest jungles to help villagers, into the mountains, out to the islands, down the rivers. He went everywhere. His Majesty was a man of the people. He wanted to see with his own eyes, and he did.

    Finally his body has worn out. We wish his body had lived to 110 but his body wore out. He spent it working for Thailand. But this is not the end. Only his body is gone. His Majesty is more alive now than ever before.

    Strangely perhaps, since I only knew of him from a smattering of press accounts, I too am moved to tears by the death of this man and monarch. May he rest in peace.


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