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Browsing in bin Laden’s library II

Thursday, May 21st, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — following up on Browsing in bin Laden’s library ]

Marcy Wheeler at Salon reports of the ODNI’s Bin Laden’s Bookshelf (expanded form, .pdf) that “the categorization imposed by ODNI” consists “largely of overlapping categories of English-language materials worthy of a Jorge Luis Borges short story.

Categories include:


The Borges “short story” referenced here isn’t in fact a short story but an essay, The Analytical Language of John Wilkins, which includes a classification system “which doctor Franz Kuhn attributes to a certain Chinese encyclopaedia entitled ‘Celestial Empire of benevolent Knowledge'”. Borges’ spurious taxonomy divides the animal kingdom into the following categories:

(a) belonging to the emperor,
(b) embalmed,
(c) tame,
(d) sucking pigs,
(e) sirens,
(f) fabulous,
(g) stray dogs,
(h) included in the present classification,
(i) frenzied,
(j) innumerable,
(k) drawn with a very fine camelhair brush,
(l) et cetera,
(m) having just broken the water pitcher,
(n) that from a long way off look like flies.

Nicely observed, Marcy.


Of particular personal note considering my interest in games:

Under the heading “Documents Probably Used by Other Compound Residents” we find listed:

  • Delta Force Extreme 2 Videogame Guide
  • Game Spot Videogame Guide
  • One wonders (idly) whether ODNI cannot believe OBL would play such games, or whether that classification was arrived at on the basis of the location in the compound where these materials were found.

    And given my interest in religion:

    Under the heading “Think Tank & Other Studies”:

  • Program for the Study of International Organizations (PSIO), “Hizb ut-Tahrir: The Next Al-Qaeda, Really?” by Jean-Francois Mayer (2004)
  • And under the heading “Other religious documents”:

    a treatise on Christianity by one Monqith Ben Mahmoud Assaqar PhD, titled Was Jesus crucified for our atonement? — which opens with the following (presumably post-doctoral) statement of scholarship-to-date:

    Praise to Allah (S.W) , the cherisher and sustainer of the worlds, and may peace and blessings be upon all of His messengers. In our previous parts of this series “True guidance and light series”, we have concluded and confirmed a plain truth, which is that the Holy Bible, as we have seen, is man work, and not the word of Allah (S.W) in any way. Thus, Christians cannot present it as evidence for any of their creeds or events, including the crucifixion and the Atonement.

    FWIW, reading this treatise will likely not have helped OBL in his quest for interfaith understanding.

    Role reversal — well, not quite

    Sunday, May 10th, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — an astute PR move, i think — but still a slaughter of captives ]

    It’s usually the men in balack (IS) who execute the men in orange (Copts) — upper panel, below — but this time there has been a reversal of the color code, with the men in orange (Jaysh a-Islam) executing the men in black (IS) — lower panel.

    SPEC DQ role reversal

    I think the Jaysh’s choice of orange jumpsuits on this occasion was likely in deliberate and ironic commentary on the IS images, as indeed the IS choice was a deliberate choice echoing the jumpsuits of Guantanamo.

    Note, though, that those executed in the upper panel were Christians, while the Jaysh is a Muslim outfit giving IS a taste of its own medicine. The Coptic Christians, by contrast, have been remarkably forgiving, treating the e=xecution of their own as a cause for gratitude at the faithfuoness of their martyrs.

    A parallel between New Testament and Qur’an noted

    Saturday, May 9th, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — picking up on a point in conversation with Itamar Marcus ]

    There’s a Qur’anic passage that is often quoted by opponents of Islam to suggest the Prophet acted lecherously and composed certain Qur’anic verses to grant himself divine authorization for sleeping with those with whom he would not otherwise have had the right to sleep. I don‘t presume to sit in judgment of the Prophet here, nor intend to get into the discussion of cross-cultural sexual morality. I take scriptures as scriptures with respect, and my interest is solely in the wording by which Allah instructs the Prophet, in the Qur’an, at 66.1 – here quoted in the upper panel in AJ Arberry’s translation:

    SPEC DQ Peter and Muhammad

    The lower panel – and again, I don’t intend to get into the spirituality of Jewish dietary restrictions – comes from a passage in the New Testament book of Acts (10. 9-16), in which Peter in a vision refuses to eat food he considers unclean, and is reproved by God for considering ritually impure what God is declaring pure.

    What interests me here is that in each case we see a divine “loosening” of a previously “tight” behavioral injunction.

    It is probably wise, too, to remember that dietary morality in Judaism in the time of the Acts of the Apostles may well have been taken as seriously as sexual morality in the time of the Sunna and Companions of the Prophet: different cultures in different centuries weigh such things very differently from the secular (and sometimes puritanical / salacious) western mind of today.


    Let us look at the context of the remark made by God to Peter in a vision, taking that context in two stages. The immediate story of Peter, God and the pure / impure food is found in verses 9-16 of Acts, chapter 10:

    Peter went up on the roof to pray. He became hungry and wanted something to eat; and while it was being prepared, he fell into a trance. He saw the heaven opened and something like a large sheet coming down, being lowered to the ground by its four corners. In it were all kinds of four-footed creatures and reptiles and birds of the air. Then he heard a voice saying, “Get up, Peter; kill and eat.” But Peter said, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is profane or unclean.” The voice said to him again, a second time, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.” This happened three times, and the thing was suddenly taken up to heaven.

    There are various translations of the verse I highlighted in the DoubleQuote, verse 15, as you might expect — and they could probably be graded from “easily digestible” to “venerable and archaic” with varying degrees of nuance in between. Thus The Living Bible (TLB, a paraphrase) has:

    The voice spoke again, “Don’t contradict God! If he says something is kosher, then it is.”

    which at least tells us it’s kashrut the passage is talking about. But for utter simplicity it’s hard to beat The Message:

    The voice came a second time: “If God says it’s okay, it’s okay.”

    So. Peter felt himself unauthorized to kill and eat something “unclean” and God rebukes him for imposing on himself a restriction God himself claims he is free from, telling him that the visionary food is in fact pure.

    The Orthodox Jewish Bible translates the verse (Gevurot 10.15):

    And the bat kol came to Kefa again for a second time, “What Hashem made tahor (clean), you should no longer regard as tameh (unclean).”

    — noting a reference to Bereshis (ie Genesis) 9.3.


    But there’s a context to that context, too, and it’s fascinating in part because it indicates that Peter’s vision contains not a literal but a metaphorical meaning and morality. Peter himself is confused once he returns to his senses. And then all becomes clear…

    The whole event takes place while a Roman centurion’s messengers are approaching Peter, who then accompanies them at their request to the centurion’s house, where Peter says (verse 28):

    Ye know how that it is an unlawful thing for a man that is a Jew to keep company, or come unto one of another nation; but God hath shewed me that I should not call any man common or unclean.

    So the understanding of ritual purity in respect of food is, in the vision, a metaphor for a parallel understanding of ritual purity in respect of tribe and humanity.

    It is only then, for the first time, the Christian gospel or kerygma is preached to one who is not a Jew, and Christianity becomes universal (“catholic”) whereas previously it had preached solely within a Jewish context, ie as a school within Judaism.

    Unsurprisingly, for Christianity this is a radical point of departure and redefinition.

    And it is notably accomplished by vision and metaphor — not by text or literal interpretation.

    BRIEFING: some religious aspects of the Armenian Genocide:

    Saturday, April 25th, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — my latest for LapidoMedia ]

    Here’s my latest for LapidoMedia, a UK organization which supports journalists with resources on the religious background of current events:


    What’s in a name?

    by Charles Cameron – 24th April 2015

    Pope Francis with Karekin II, Catholicos of the Armenian Apostolic Church. Photo: Gregorio Borgia/AP via Washington Post

    A HUNDRED years ago, an estimated 1 million to 1.5 million Armenians, along with or followed shortly by other minorities including Kurds, were killed or otherwise deprived of their lands and homes by the Ottomans in an event that for sheer horror compares with the genocides of Hitler and Pol Pot. 

    Today, 24 April 2015, marks the centenary of start of the Armenian Genocide, known in Armenian – and also in US Presidential English – as Metz Yeghern, literally The Great Evil or Crime.

    We are faced, therefore, with the Shakespearean question – does genocide by any other name smell quite so foul?

    Both Jewish and Muslim traditions counsel that the needless taking of one human life is equivalent to the extinguishing of a world, as reported in the Talmud and referenced in the Qur’an – how much more so, the attempt to extinguish an entire culture?

    For the Armenians, the genocidal nature of the events of 1915 is not in doubt. Turkey, on the other hand, is less willing than Germany was after the WWII Shoah to admit to so horrendous a crime – and President Recep Tayyip Erdo?an thus pressured the White House not to use the English term ‘genocide’.

    In deference to Turkish geopolitical pressure, President Obama opted for the equivalent Armenian term, Metz Yeghern, taking considerable heat from those who viewed his choice as a cop-out.

    The politics are well known. What is less known is the role religion plays in the event. To understand the religious dimension of the genocide, and by extension of Armenian sentiment condemning President Obama’s decision, we must understand the importance of Christianity to the Armenian people, and the changing relations between Christians and Muslims in Anatolia across the centuries.

    Vicken Cheterian, in Open Wounds: Armenians, Turks, and a Century (Hurst, 2015), writes: ‘Religion and language are the two markers of Armenian identity. For many centuries, the identity of the Armenians was closely intertwined with membership of the Armenian Apostolic church, one of the religious communities of the Ottoman Empire.’


    To read the rest — inclouding some philosophical thoughts on suffering I am glad to see included — go to the LapidoMedia site: BRIEFING: Armenian Genocide: what’s in a name?

    What’s next for the moon?

    Monday, April 20th, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — Christian eschatology and an Islamic proof of the Quran and Prophet ]

    SPEC DQ prophetic moons

    One wonders, what’s next for the moon?


    Anwar al-Awlaki reported that the moon split in two at the Prophet’s request —

    — but that was more than a millennium ago.

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