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Book Recommendation: Ancient Religions, Modern Politics

Wednesday, August 27th, 2014

[by J. Scott Shipman]

ancient religion

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ancient Religions, Modern Politics, The Islamic Case in Comparative Perspective, by Michael Cook

Charles Cameron recently had a post here at Zenpundit, Which is mightier, the pen or the sword?  Frequent commenter T. Greer recommended this volume in the comment section and I ordered immediately. My copy arrived this morning and I had some quiet time and a bit of commuting time to devote to Cook’s introduction and the first few chapters. This is a very good treatment of roots of Islam and how those roots affect today’s political climate. Cook divides the book into three large parts: Identity, Values, and Fundamentalism. The comparative element is his use of Hinduism and Latin American Catholicism when compared in scope and influence to Islam.

Here are a couple of good pull quotes from the Preface:

I should add some cautions about what the book does not do. First though it has a lot to say about the pre-modern world, it does not provide an account of that world for its own sake, and anyone who read the book as if it did would be likely to come away with a seriously distorted picture. This is perhaps particularly so in the Islamic case—and for two reasons. One is that, to put it bluntly, Islamic civilization died quite some time ago, unlike Islam which is very much alive; we will thus be concerned with the wider civilization only when it is relevant to features of the enduring religious heritage. (emphasis added)

Cook’s emphasis on shared identity is one of the best and most cogent descriptions I’ve found:

“…collective identity, particularly those that really matter to people—so much so that they may be willing to die for them. Identities of this kind, like values, can and do change, but they are not, as academic rhetoric would sometimes have it, in constant flux. The reason is simple; like shared currencies, shared identities are the basis of claims that people can make on each other, and without a degree of stability such an identity would be as useless as a hyperinflated currency. So it is not surprising that in the real world collective identities, though not immutable, often prove robust and recalcitrant, at times disconcertingly so.”

In the same comment thread where T. Greer recommended this Ancient Religions, Charles called Cook’s work his opus. Based on the few hours I’ve spent with the volume and the marginalia, Charles was characteristically “spot-on.”

Published in March of this year, this is a new and important title. With any luck, I’ll complete the book and do a more proper review sometime soon.

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The Cockroaches of War. And of Jihad

Wednesday, August 6th, 2014

[by Mark Safranski, a.k.a "zen"]

John Robb had a cool post on the ultra-radical takfiri insurgency ISIS/ISIL and their self-proclaimed SunniCaliphate“, the Islamic Statewhom he gave as an example of “the cockroaches of war”:

ISIS Opens The World’s Biggest Bazaar of Violence

ISIS is a marketplace — a freewheeling bazaar of violence – and it is rapidly expanding.   

So far, it’s been very successful:

  • it operates freely in an area bigger than most countries (and it has lots of oil),
  • it has been attracting the participation of a growing number of organizations and individuals, and
  • it’s financially successful and self-funding (it’s already made billions of $$ from oil, crime, bank robberies, and more).

This success is due to the fact that ISIS isn’t trying to build a “state.”  It’s not a government. 

….This bazaar was built for one purpose:  perpetual expansion and continuous warfare.

To keep things running, ISIS offers a minimalist, decentralized governance.  Day-to-day life is governed by a simple, decentralized rule set: Sharia Law.

Participation is open to everyone willing to live under Sharia and able to expand the bazaar to new areas.

The strategies and tactics ISIS uses are open sourced.  Any group or individual can advance them, as long as they can demonstrate they work.  

Weapons and other technologies needed for war are developed, shared and sold between participants and the pace of development based on previous examples is very quick.

Making money through criminal activity is highly encouraged.  Mercenary work is encouraged.  

Read the whole post here.

ISIS recently captured a town in Lebanon and Iraq’s largest dam, adding to the dams they already control in Syria. More importantly, ISIS fighters outsmarted a Kurdish Peshmerga equivalent of a battalion, using artillery and snipers, to force the Kurds to withdraw from the town of Sinjar where they have begun persecuting the Yezidi minority. This is significant as the fearsome Peshmerga are no pushovers. To put this in perspective, this was a military feat by ISIS that Saddam’s vaunted Republican Guard had great difficulty accomplishing without air support. It also reveals the Kurds may have some deficiencies with their logistics and operational level leadership (allegedly, the Peshmerga ran out of ammunition).

Absurd mummery about “Caliph Ibrahim” aside, as a fighting force and religious-political movement, ISIS has momentum and possesses the initiative. Despite their flamboyant cruelty, ISIS is attracting jihadis to a broken Iraq the way disaffected and radicalized German ex-soldiers swarmed into Freikorps units after the Great War. Reportedly, more British citizens have signed up with ISIS this year than have joined Britain’s territorial Army. Part of the reason is that ISIS, despite its obvious extremism and malevolence, is fighting successfully at the moral and mental levels of war and not merely the physical.

The strategist Colonel John Boyd described the purpose of fighting at the moral level of war as follows:

Essence of moral conflict

Create, exploit, and magnify
• Menace:
Impressions of danger to one’s well
being and survival.

• Uncertainty:
Impressions, or atmosphere,
generated by events that appear
ambiguous, erratic, contradictory,
unfamiliar, chaotic, etc.

• Mistrust:
Atmosphere of doubt and suspicion
that loosens human bonds among
members of an organic whole or
between organic wholes.

•Idea:

Surface, fear, anxiety, and

alienation in order to generate

many non-cooperative centers of
gravity, as well as subvert those
that adversary depends upon,
thereby magnify internal friction.

*Aim:

Destroy moral bonds
that permit an organic
whole to exist

To be a politically attractive force at the grand strategic level while doing morally reprehensible  things at the tactical level on a regular basis is no small strategic feat. Not a unique or impossible one though; both the Nazis and especially the Communists were able to continue to attract credulous Western supporters despite voluminous evidence of crimes against humanity and genocide (Communism still has western apologists in the media and academia). ISIS uses extreme violence but does so strategically with a vision of Caliphate to – 1)  to split Iraqi society into Sunnis vs. everyone else and split Sunnis into those who support ISIS and those who are “apostates” like the Shia, and are deserving of death; and 2) to destroy the Western concept of nation-states, replacing Iraq, Syria, Lebanon with a borderless Caliphate to rule over the Ummah.

The ISIS message is simultaneously highly exclusive (extreme Salafi version of Sharia) as well as wholly universal. This – along with identifying the Shia as the enemy force -allows ISIS to fold in a large array of disaffected, angry, rival Iraqi Sunni factions under the aegis of their movement while still attracting a global swarm of jihadi volunteers.  Compare this with the self-isolating messaging and behavior of HAMAS who, despite fighting the “Zionist enemy” Israel, are thoroughly despised in the region by most of their natural Arab state allies, the Palestinian Authority and even the radical jihadi groups. Nor is HAMAS able to escape moral damage from committing war crimes in the eyes of the international community the way ISIS escapes harm from committing worse ones ( Not only do they escape moral costs, ISIS flips their atrocities into a net positive by terrorizing the potential opposition and looking self-confidently defiant of world opinion in Islamist eyes).

In ISIS, Global Guerrilla strategy is fusing with the penultimate radical jihadi ideology.

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Christian takfiri, you think? Bible-studies game-changer mebbe?

Wednesday, June 11th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- introducing Theodore, Son of Shoebat ]
.

I do rather like Ted / Theodore Shoebat‘s Crusading Christian header image, I must admit:

And see that Lady in the banner, top right? That’s the Blessed Virgin Mary. We shall return to Her.

**

Here’s the thing.

After attacking Glenn Beck (!!) for suggesting that Muslims, as well as Jews and Christians, have an interest in the Temple Mount / Noble Sanctuary in Jerusalem, evangelist Theodore Shoebat, son of Walid Shoebat, asks this question:

Do people like this truly believe that when Christ establishes His kingdom that he will enact a policy of toleration for other religions?

And answers:

Isaiah proclaims this about Christ’s coming:

And the loftiness of man shall be bowed down, and the haughtiness of men shall be made low: and the LORD alone shall be exalted in that day. And the idols he shall utterly abolish. And they shall go into the holes of the rocks, and into the caves of the earth, for fear of the LORD, and for the glory of his majesty, when he ariseth to shake terribly the earth. In that day a man shall cast his idols of silver, and his idols of gold, which they made [each one] for himself to worship, to the moles and to the bats; To go into the clefts of the rocks, and into the tops of the ragged rocks, for fear of the LORD, and for the glory of his majesty, when he ariseth to shake terribly the earth. (Isaiah 2:17-21)

Christ will make His law the only law, without any toleration for falsehoods including Islam and Mormonism.

Okay?

**

Here’s that very same Ted Shoebat, speaking on “The Virgin Mary and Warfare”:

Shoebat apparently can’t even recite the Magnificat correctly, which doesn’t exactly inspire confidence in his piety or scholarship, and he also conflates Eve and Mary in retelling the Genesis story — although…

**

Well, let me digress. Viewing the Virgin Mary as the “second Eve” is a Christian trope found in the early fathers. Irenaeus, Adversus Haereses, for instance, comments:

The knot of Eve’s disobedience was loosened by Mary’s obedience. The bonds fastened by the virgin Eve through disbelief were untied by the virgin Mary through faith.

This trope is an analogy by opposition as much as by likeness, and beautifully conveyed in this image from a medieval missal, which I trust will lighten an otherwise depressing post:

Missal of Bernhard von Rohr, Archbishop of Salzburg ca.1481

But to return to Shoebat, as we regretfully must…

**

Other posts on Ted Shoebat’s Crusading Christian site include:

  • Putin: A Modern Day Constantine
  • Why The Jehovah’s Witnesses Must Be Abolished
  • The US Constitution Is Self-Destructive
  • And here’s the appeal:

    GET MY NEW DVD SERIES ON CHRISTIAN MILITANCY FOR ONLY $15

    For too long Christianity has been watered down in our modern day as a pacifist faith with no inclination of fighting evil. But is the Church here to be weak and useless? Theodore Shoebat, in this shocking and riveting four hour two disk DVD set lecture series, passionately shows how Christianity is not here to be feeble, but for warfare, to be militant against tyranny and the forces of darkness.

    Theodore Shoebat gives a very rich and detailed history on how from the earliest centuries of Christianity to now, the Church is here to fight the devil and his army.

    There is value-added, too:

    You will not be dissatisfied after watching this lecture, and Bible studies will forevermore never be the same again.

    You think? Forevermore never?

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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 ]
    .

    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.

    **

    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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    Norway’s “cultural Christian” crusader revisited

    Friday, May 30th, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron -- a minor incongruity? -- Breivik and Wallander ]
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    **

    This is a quick (I wish) note about something that caught my eye — a character in the British (Kenneth Branagh) version of Wallander is decribed as a “cultural Christian” when he’s in significants way about as far from what Anders Breivik meant when he called himself a “cultural Christian” as one can imagine.

    The question this raises for me is whether the phrase has a single clear meaning — and the English Wallander series simply mangled it — or whether perhaps in Scandinavian society it has a wider meaning, and Breivik was limiting it for his own purposes. Let’s start with Wallander:

    **

    The novel Before the Frost, by Henning Mankell, opens with a Prologue about Jim Jones and his Peoples’ Church in Guyana where 909 people died in 1978 after “drinking the Kool-aid” — meaning both a cyanide laced drink with bullet chasers for any who were reluctant to participate, and the alternate and aberrant version of Christianity which Jim Jones preached — but no mention that I can see of Heaven’s Gate, the group led by Marshall Applewhite which suicided in 1977 to attain a “level of existence above human” in the trail of the comet Hale-Bopp.

    .

    .

    No matter, there’s a Heaven’s Gate reference (see above) in the Kenneth Branagh version of Before the Frost, in Wallander, series 3 episode 3, which is the version that caught my eye, and gave rise to this post.

    **

    We thus have two clear historical “cult suicide” references, each adding a touch of realism to a narrative that begins with the burning of some swans, and in the TV version includes a Bible with the Book of Revelation heavily marked up, and at least one tract –

    .

    .

    — about Leviticus 20.13, which reads:

    If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.

    — a narrative which ends with a series of self-immolations by members of a wayward church, each one accompanied by a “confession” that the member in question is dying to atone for some specific sin committed by others, accompanied by such words as:

    Two of them were burned alive in the fiery lake of burning sulphur, the rest of them were killed by the sword that came out of the rider on the horse. And all the birds gorged themselves on the flesh. I confess to murder. I am sacrificing myself for the sins of others. I am doing this in the name of Him who was dead and rose again.

    Note that it wasn’t swans that were “burned alive in the fiery lake” in the original context. The King James Version gives Revelation 19 verses 20-21 as reading:

    And the beast was taken, and with him the false prophet that wrought miracles before him, with which he deceived them that had received the mark of the beast, and them that worshipped his image. These both were cast alive into a lake of fire burning with brimstone. And the remnant were slain with the sword of him that sat upon the horse, which sword proceeded out of his mouth: and all the fowls were filled with their flesh.

    **

    The group portrayed here as “culturally Christian” in this episode of the Wallander series is a group with a fixation on the inerrancy not only of the Biblical text but of their own particular and peculiar interpretation of it and their own aberrant and abhorrent way of expressing that interpretation.

    How different that is from Anders Breivik‘s version of “cultural Christianity” in his Manifesto, prepared before the 2011 slaughter of 77 in Oslo and Utoya, Norway.

    Section 3.139 of Breivik’s 2083 European Declaration of Independence, Distinguishing between cultural Christendom and religious Christendom – reforming our suicidal Church, reads:

    A majority of so called agnostics and atheists in Europe are cultural conservative Christians without even knowing it. So what is the difference between cultural Christians and religious Christians?

    If you have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and God then you are a religious Christian. Myself and many more like me do not necessarily have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and God. We do however believe in Christianity as a cultural, social, identity and moral platform. This makes us Christian.

    A majority of Christians, especially liberal, humanist Christians oppose the doctrines of self defence. I believe that self defence is a central part of Christianity as documented in another part of this book. The modern day pacifist Christianity is among other things a result of our current regimes and their deliberate influence of the Church. They castrated and made the Church impotent and irrelevant, we will rejuvenate it by implementing our own reforms. But pragmatism will be the basis for which direction we chose to go. A strong church (on certain areas) is essential for the unity of our European countries.

    It is essential that we preserve and even strengthen the Church and European Christendom in general (by awarding it more political influence on certain areas), when it comes to the moral, cultural and social aspects of society. It should even be granted monopoly on certain areas to strengthen European cohesion/unity. This does not mean that we will continue allow the feminist-liberal, humanist faction of the Church to propagate its pacifist-humanist (suicidal) views/anti self defence doctrines. The Church must be anti-pacifist in the manner that it actively preaches self-defence and even support preemptive strikes as a mechanic to safeguard either Christian minorities in Muslim dominated areas or even Europe itself. We must ensure that a sustainable and traditional version of Christendom is propagated. This will involve that we take decisive steps to disallow the liberal leaders of the church to prevent them from committing suicide. We must ensure that the churches of Europe propagate an values that are sustainable and that will even contribute to safeguard Christian European values long term. European Christendom and the cross will be the symbol in which every cultural conservative can unite under in our common defence. It should serve as the uniting symbol for all Europeans whether they are agnostic or atheists.

    The pacifist/suicidal Christians must never be allowed to dominate the church again which one of the reasons why I personally believe that the protestant Church in Europe should once again should reform to become Catholic (Nordic countries, the UK, Germany, Benelux etc). Re-introduction of cultural and Church aspects relating to honour should be the core of our objective when reforming the Church. My hope is that the future nationalist leadership in Western European countries will agree. At the very least, we must support the conservative, anti-pacifist cultural Christian leaders and ensure that they are able to influence the European churches. There must however be clear distinctions. The Church must not put any limits whatsoever on issues relating to science, research and development. Europe will continue to be the world’s center for research and development in all areas, strengthened by a predictable and “unchangeable” cultural framework. This again will considerably strengthen European and societal cohesion and therefore contribute to sustainable societies where harmony, progress, freedom and the furtherance of mankind are the primary civilisational pillars.

    No Biblical inerrancy there — indeed, Breivik’s “cultural Christianity” is entirely compatible with a similar version of Hinduism, which he also endorses. It is Islam that he perceives as a threat, repulsed from Christendom once by Charles Martel at the Battle of Tours, and again at the Gates of Vienna — with Europe now exposed to a third wave of assault by its own fondness for muticuluralism and its resulting inability to perceive the very real threat that Islam in his view represents…

    **

    Breivik’s “The Church must not put any limits whatsoever on issues relating to science, research and development” is a far cry from Wallander’s sect, a member of which was booted out of the school where he taught, for attempting to present the creationist view in a biology class…

    So. Breivik is Norwegian, and wrote his manifesto in English. Henning Mankell, the author of the Wallander novels, is Swedish, and his novels have been brought into Enlgish and transformed into dramatic scripts for the TV Series. I don’t believe the words “cultural Christian” are to be found in the English translation of the novel, Before the Frost. But I do think I’ll be checking closely to see what meaning of the phrase is intended, if I run across it again in my studies of new religious movements, terrorists and other outliers.

    It appears to be somewhat more ambiguous than I’d thought at first.

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