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Furnish on “ISIS: Apocalypse .. How?”

Wednesday, August 27th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- an important post with notes for Hagel & Dempsey, also my own thoughts on overlapping eschatologies ]
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Moire effect from Marvic Textiles bois-de-rose

Moiré effect from Marvic Textiles bois-de-rose

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Tim Furnish has a significant piece out today on his MahdiWatch blog, ISIS: Apocalypse…How?

What most interests me here, since I’m an eschatology watcher and it deals with what I think of as “eschatology squared” — the turmoil that results when opposing eschatologies run up against one another, creating some pretty strange intellectual moiré effects — is Furnish’s much needed comment to some of his fellow Christians:

[T]he last thing the US military or intelligence community needs is to have the genuine war against apocalypse-fired Islamic militants conflated with a narrowly Evangelical Christian view of matters. The US government is a secular, not a religious, one — and although I have repeatedly criticized the refusal of the leader of the world’s largest Christian-populated nation to do anything about global persecution of Christians, I do NOT want our forces engaged in an Evangelical Protestant “Crusade.” Furthermore, and just as (if not more) importantly, opposing and defeating the Islamic “apocalyptic strategic vision” — which is shared by groups besides IS[IS] — can only be done by analyzing said vision on its own Muslim terms, using Muslim (Arabic, Turkish and Persian) sources. Frankly, in this fight, I don’t give a damn in this context what Revelation or Ezekiel or Daniel say — it matters more what’s in the Qur’an, the Hadiths, and Islamic commentators thereupon. I say this to my Evangelical brethren: it’s not always about you and your interpretation of Christian Scripture. The rest of us (Catholic, Orthodox, Lutherans, etc.) in the fold might have something worthwhile to say on the topic, too — but this fight against IS[IS] is neither the time nor the place.

You’ll want to read the whole piece, but other things Tim covers include the actual extent of ” what al-Sham constituted in Middle Eastern history” and more generally some observations about, and comments addressed to, SecDef Hagel and General Dempsey.

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Synchronously, Richard Landes today tweeted:


I hope to hear more from him about the similarities & differences — stay tuned.

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Wikipedia describes moiré effects thus:

In mathematics, physics, and art, a moiré pattern is a secondary and visually evident superimposed pattern created, for example, when two identical (usually transparent) patterns on a flat or curved surface (such as closely spaced straight lines drawn radiating from a point or taking the form of a grid) are overlaid while displaced or rotated a small amount from one another.

Linens and silks can offer us beautiful examples of such superimposed patterns. The image at the top of this post is from Marvic Textiles and their lovely bois-de-rose fabric.

I am suggesting that when Islamic eschatologist discuss Christian eschatology, as was the case with Safar al-Hawali‘s treatment of Hal Lindsey in his Day of Wrath — or Christian eschatologists discuss Islamic eschatology, as in the case of Joel Richardson‘s book, Mideast Beast: The Scriptural Case for an Islamic Antichrist — the effect of one eschatology superimposing itself on another produces further “superimposed” patterns worth contemplating as such.

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The dapple, shimmer, dazzle

Saturday, August 16th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- the Jesuit poet GM Hopkins, on the dazzling diversity of life and the stark contrasts of mortality ]
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The poet Gerard Manley Hopkins SJ made great and frequent use of the word “dapple”. I’ll get to that word, and what I make of it, by a roundabout route.


Canyon de Chelly, in Navajo country

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Philosopher-architect Christopher Alexander in his book A Pattern Language describes the “pattern” he terms Pools of light, first by dissing “uniform illumination” — which he calls “the sweetheart of the lighting engineers” — saying it “serves no useful purpose whatsoever”, and that it “destroys the social nature of space, and makes people feel disoriented and unbounded.” The engineers’ preference for uniform lighting, he continues, “is based on two mistakes.” It is the first of these that interests me here:

First of all, the light out-doors is almost never even. Most natural places, and especially the conditions under which the human organism evolved, have dappled light which varies continuously from minute to minute, and from place to place.

Let’s call that a contemporary version of an ancient truth.

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Christopher Alexander is not alone in noticing this feature of our natural surroundings. It’s a less poetic and more prescriptive version, for instance, of the Navaho view of creation in terms of the “four cardinal lights” which play unceasingly across the gloriously striated walls of Canyon de Chelly and the lands of the Dine:

Trudy Griffen-Pierce describes the Navaho cardinal lights thus, in her Earth is my Mother, Sky is my Father: Space, Time, and Astronomy in Navajo Sandpainting:

the four cardinal light phenomena are results of the sun’s apparent daily motion. These phenomena are the four directions and the times of day and colors that are linked to them. A Navajo does not think of the east without envisioning hayolkaal, Dawn, and the white color of the sky at this time of day. Next is nahodeetl’iizh, which is usually glossed as “horizontal blue” or “blue haze” in reference to the band of relatively darker blue that lies on the horizon at midday; this light is associated with the south. Nahootsoii follows and literally means “around the area becomes yellow,” although this word is usually translated as “evening twilight”; it is linked to the west. Finally, chahalheel, darkness, is associated with the north and with the blackness of the night sky.

Here a people who live, walk in beauty, balance, peace, sa’a naghai bik’e hozho, minutely observe the play of light and shade that contitutes our “dappled” world.

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Hopkins was the first poet I read and loved — Trevor Huddleston introduced me to him — and the word “dappled” was and remains a central one in Hopkins’ poetry, a window on the way he saw the world, and thus a window on how we may see it ourselves.

Poem the first:

Pied Beauty

Glory be to God for dappled things –
   For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
      For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
   Landscape plotted and pieced – fold, fallow, and plough;
      And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
   Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
      With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
                                    Praise him.

That would almost certainly have been the poem from which I first learned Hopkins use of the word “dappled” — and it remains a touchstone for me, more than a half-century later.

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It is glorious, begins indeed with the word “glory” — and Hopkins’ world is one in which a divine glory “will flame out, like shining from shook foil” to use another phrase of his. It is the “kingdom” of the Gospel of Thomas —

the Father’s kingdom is spread out upon the earth, and people don’t see it.

— and one of those who did see it is the English poet Thomas Traherne, who wrote to his friend:

The corn was orient and immortal wheat, which never should be reaped, nor was ever sown. I thought it had stood from everlasting to everlasting. The dust and stones of the street were as precious as gold: the gates were at first the end of the world. The green trees when I saw them first through one of the gates transported and ravished me, their sweetness and unusual beauty made my heart to leap, and almost mad with ecstasy, they were such strange and wonderful things: The Men! O what venerable and reverend creatures did the aged seem! Immortal Cherubims! And young men glittering and sparkling Angels, and maids strange seraphic pieces of life and beauty! Boys and girls tumbling in the street, and playing, were moving jewels. I knew not that they were born or should die; But all things abided eternally as they were in their proper places.

I think here also of the American poet, still among us, Gary Snyder, and of one poem of his in particular, The Dazzle, from his Turtle Islamd collection:

the dazzle, the seduction the
design
intoxicated and quivering,
bees? is it flowers? why does this
seed move around.
the one
divides itself, divides, and divides again.
“we all know where that leads”
blinding storms of gold pollen.
– grope through that?
the dazzle
and the blue clay.
“all that moves loves to sing”
the roots are at work.
unseen.

The dapple, shimmer, dazzle.. the trembling of populus tremuloides, the quaking aspen in the canyon.. trembling of the Quakers before their God..

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Hopkins illustrates this exuberant, ecstatic, exhilarating sense of “dapple” in another great poem of his, The Windhover:

I caught this morning morning’s minion, kingdom of daylight’s dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in his riding
   Of the rolling level underneath him steady air…

In his poem, Duns Scotus’s Oxford he writes of the “dapple-eared lily”..

In The May Magnificat he asks:

May is Mary’s month, and I
Muse at that and wonder why:

and answers himself:

When drop-of-blood-and-foam-dapple
Bloom lights the orchard-apple
And thicket and thorp are merry
With silver-surfèd cherry
And azuring-over greybell makes
Wood banks and brakes wash wet like lakes
And magic cuckoocall
Caps, clears, and clinches all–
This ecstacy all through mothering earth
Tells Mary her mirth till Christ’s birth
To remember and exultation
In God who was her salvation.

Dapple, dapple, dapple — the outer and inner worlds, dappled, the outer and inner worlds dappled together.

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And then, as Hopkins moves towards the end of his life, and his world towards the End of Days, the dapple, the variegation, is lost, the many colors turn to black and white.

I find Hopkins’ poems in general are wrestling matches of a sort that strengthens the fortunate reader, as Jacob wrestled with an angel, just as Rilke reported:

I mean the Angel who appeared
to the wrestlers of the Old Testament:
when the wrestler’s sinews
grew long like metal strings,
he felt them under his fingers
like chords of deep music.

Poem the second is a harsh, hard poem. There is more in it of both music and meaning than I can easily wrestle from it — but these are the phrases I would pick out as delivering the central thread:

Evening strains to night .. earth her being has unbound, her dapple is at an end… let life .. wind off her .. veined variety .. all on two spools .. páck now her all in two flocks, two folds .. black, white; right, wrong .. reckon .. mind .. but thése two.. ware of a wórld where but these two tell, each off the other ..

Here, then, is the poem itself:

Spelt from Sibyl’s Leaves

Earnest, earthless, equal, attuneable, ‘ vaulty, voluminous, … stupendous
Evening strains to be tíme’s vást, ‘ womb-of-all, home-of-all, hearse-of-all night.
Her fond yellow hornlight wound to the west, ‘ her wild hollow hoarlight hung to the height
Waste; her earliest stars, earl-stars, ‘ stárs principal, overbend us,
Fíre-féaturing heaven. For earth ‘ her being has unbound, her dapple is at an end, as- 5
tray or aswarm, all throughther, in throngs; ‘ self ín self steedèd and páshed—qúite
Disremembering, dísmémbering ‘ áll now. Heart, you round me right
With: Óur évening is over us; óur night ‘ whélms, whélms, ánd will end us.
Only the beak-leaved boughs dragonish ‘ damask the tool-smooth bleak light; black,
Ever so black on it. Óur tale, O óur oracle! ‘ Lét life, wáned, ah lét life wind 10
Off hér once skéined stained véined variety ‘ upon, áll on twó spools; párt, pen, páck
Now her áll in twó flocks, twó folds—black, white; ‘ right, wrong; reckon but, reck but, mind
But thése two; wáre of a wórld where bút these ‘ twó tell, each off the óther; of a rack
Where, selfwrung, selfstrung, sheathe- and shelterless, ‘ thóughts agaínst thoughts ín groans grínd.

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Anthony Burgess, in a New York Times piece, The Ecstasy of Gerard Manley Hopkins, writes:

To Hopkins, who was almost blindingly devout, God’s glory showed itself in the intense variety of the physical world, especially when such variety was present in a single member of it. .. Dapple was a kind of tension of opposites: nothing flaccid, everything dynamic..

At the end, for Hopkins — at the end of his days, and at the End of Days — all that glorious variety of dazzle and dapple narrows and collapses into a stark yes or no: black or white, good or evil, pass or fail, quick or dead.

It is a humbling thought, for one who loves the dapple, dazzle.

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Gaza and the CAR: War and Peace

Saturday, August 16th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- different beauties ]
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The faces:

The quotes:

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The upper face is that of Knesset member Ayelet Shaked, and the upper quote is one she quoted on FaceBook a few weeks back, from an unpublished piece written 12 years ago by Uri Elitzur, a Netanyahu advisor, which Shaked endorsed saying it was “as relevant today as it was at the time”.

The lower face is that of Fr. Patrick Nainangue, and the lower quotes is from a report by Alexandra Zavis in the LA Times titled A plea for peace: conflict in the Central African Republic.

The beautiful Ms Shaked shows me one aspect of what humans are capable of, while the no less beautiful Fr. Nainangue shows me another.

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Here is the uncropped photo from which that portrait of Fr Nainangue was taken:

Its legend reads:

Father Patrick Nainangue, left, talks with imam Mamadou Goni, who found refuge from the killings at the church compound in Bossemptele. (Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times)

Beautiful.

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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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One grief, all worlds

Sunday, August 10th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- from Gaza to Mt Sinjar and beyond, the universality and singularity of grief ]
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One grief at a time is enough. It is “unbearable”, meaning that it arrives at the limit of what we single humans can possibly endure.

How can one match this father’s face at the funeral of his son — one of the four boys killed while playing on a Gaza beach — caught here (above) by photographer Hosam Salem?

How can one match these words of Yassin Suliman, speaking of his cousin, also killed in Gaza?

We buried his legs this morning and we will bury his body this afternoon.

Do the fathers and mothers of the Israeli dead feel any the less grief?

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The Talmud, at Sanhedrin 37a, tells us:

For this reason was man created alone, to teach thee that whosoever destroys a single soul of Israel, scripture imputes [guilt] to him as though he had destroyed a complete world; and whosoever preserves a single soul of Israel, scripture ascribes [merit] to him as though he had preserved a complete world.

The mention here is of a single soul “of Israel”, a phrase that many contemporary Jewish sources omit — perhaps because the immediate context indicates a that it should be taken in a universal sense, since those particular words are immediately followed by the observation that the very diversity of HaShem’s creation of humanity is evidence of his greatness:

Furthermore, [he was created alone] for the sake of peace among men, that one might not say to his fellow, ‘my father was greater than thine, and that the minim might not say, there are many ruling powers in heaven; again, to proclaim the greatness of the holy one, blessed be he: for if a man strikes many coins from one mould, they all resemble one another, but the supreme king of kings, the holy one, blessed be he, fashioned every man in the stamp of the first man, and yet not one of them resembles his fellow. Therefore every single person is obliged to say: the world was created for my sake.

Qur’an 5.32 picks up the idea and continues it:

On that account: We ordained for the Children of Israel that if any one slew a person – unless it be for murder or for spreading mischief in the land – it would be as if he slew the whole people: and if any one saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of the whole people.

Likewise, Qur’an 49.13 celebrates human diversity as evidence of the merciful intentions of the Merciful at ):

O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other (not that ye may despise (each other). Verily the most honoured of you in the sight of Allah is (he who is) the most righteous of you. And Allah has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things).

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Somewhere in my recent readings — on Gaza, Hamas, Iraq, Syria, the caliphate, the Yezidis — I found a sentence to the effect that one person’s grief is about as much as we can savor. It was a casual observation, but the same idea has been stated as a philosophical and theological proposition by Wittgenstein, CS Lewis and others: I catalogued those I knew in Of Quantity and Quality II: Holocaust, torture and sacrament.

Matthew Barber, blogging about Sinjar and the Yezidi at Joshua Landis‘ Syria Comment in a post titled Sinjar Was Only the Beginning, tells us:

In my conversation with Osman, it struck me that I was encountering the pain of just one man among several hundred thousand new refugees in the Dohuk governorate, each with a unique story.

I ask again, how can one fully and richly feel the utmost grief of a single person, and multiply it? And in circumstances where so many are bereaved at once, how can one not attempt to multiply their individual griefs?

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