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Borders, limina and unity

Saturday, December 1st, 2018

[ by Charles Cameron — bulldozers and trains, more ]
.

Watersheds are natural divisions of landmasses, long predating human presence upon the earth. Borders by contrast are a human invention — a fact that is nowhere more evident than in the borders known as the Durand Line, separating Afghanistan from Pakistan, and the Sykes-Picot agreement, which divided up the Ottoman Empire into British, French and Russian spheres of influence. Durand, Sykes and Picot were respectively British, British and French gentlemen. In fact, make that a DoubleQuote (mini):

And while Pakistan recognizes the Durand line as an international border, Afghanistan does not. ISIS, disliked the Sykes-Picot line dividing Iraq and Syria enough to bulldoze it (upper panel, below)..

And then there’s the Haskell Free Library and Opera House (lower panel, above)..

**

The Haskell Library straddles the US-Canadian border, and has served as a meeting place for Iranians in the US and their relatives, hoping to visit them from the Canadian side..

The library is a relic of a time when Americans and Canadians, residents say, could cross the border with simply a nod and a wave at border agents. It was the gift of a local family in the early 1900s to serve the nearby Canadian and American communities.

“What we are so proud of is that we do have a library that is accessed by one single door,” said Susan Granfors, a former library board member. “You don’t need your passport. You park on your side, I’ll park on my side, but we’re all going to walk in the same door.”

But after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the northern border hardened, and the law enforcement presence in the area is immediately visible. And in September, a Canadian man was sentenced to 51 months in prison for smuggling more than 100 guns into Canada, some of them through the Haskell library.

Still, inside the building itself — decorated with wood paneling, stained-glass windows and, on the Canadian side, a moose head — the old ways mostly prevail. Patrons and staff freely cross the international boundary, marked with a thin, flaking black line extending across the brightly decorated children’s reading room and the main hallway.

The Library — and Opera House!! — then, erases a border more or less, in a friendly manner, while ISIS erasesd another with force. In bith cases, we can sense a distrust of or distaste for artificial separations.

**

Those who are willing to make creative leaps from political geography to the wisdom of the far Orient will recognize the imagery of Pu, the Uncarved Block in Lao Tze‘s Tao Te Ching — representing wood in its natural, uncarved state, end thus the whole, of which all entities are seeming parts, separated only by naming.

G Spencer Brown addresses the same distinction in his book, The Laws of Form — described appropriately enough by Wikipedia as “straddles the boundary between mathematics and philosophy” — between what Brown terms the Unmarked state, “which is simply nothing, the void, or the un-expressable infinite represented by a blank space.. No distinction has been made”, and the Marked State, in which one or more distinctions (Marks) have been made:

In Spencer-Brown’s inimitable and enigmatic fashion, the Mark symbolizes the root of cognition, i.e., the dualistic Mark indicates the capability of differentiating a “this” from “everything else but this.”

Spencer Brown notes that a Mark denotes the drawing of a “distinction”, and can be thought of as signifying the following, all at once:

  • The act of drawing a boundary around something, thus separating it from everything else;
  • That which becomes distinct from everything by drawing the boundary;
  • Crossing from one side of the boundary to the other.
  • .
    All three ways imply an action on the part of the cognitive entity (e.g., person) making the distinction.

    Brown notes, wryly perhaps

    As LoF puts it:

    “The first command:

  • Draw a distinction
  • can well be expressed in such ways as:

  • Let there be a distinction,
  • Find a distinction,See a distinction,
  • Describe a distinction,
  • Define a distinction,<
  • Or:

  • Let a distinction be drawn.”
  • **

    My own DoubleQuotes format both draws distinctions (being binary) and erases them by asserting parallelisms between them (unifying or uncarving, unmarking them).

    All Spencer Brown quotes above are via Wikipedia.

    **

    Okay, now there’s news of another diplomatically significant border crossing:

    That’s good — and it gives us yet another DQ:

    Connecting a prosperous free South with a totalitarian North across a border is a liminal matter, and thus inherently sacred — see my post, Liminality II: the serious part

    As we saw with the fall of the Berlin Wall, however, it is possible and maybe Trump and Pompeo — with a little help from Kim Jong-un and Moon Jae-in? — can pull it off.

    Or maybe, Dennis Rodman?

    **

    Sources, some of ’em:

  • The Guardian, Railway diplomacy
  • PRI, For some Iranian families separated by the travel ban
  • NYRB, The Map ISIS Hates — hey, this by Malise Ruthven
  • Asia Times, Afghanistan takes center stage
  • **

    Oh, ah, another couple of parallelisms, btw:

    **

    What’s the cyber border between the US and Russia?
    .

    Among the believers

    Wednesday, April 5th, 2017

    [ by Charles Cameron — a blistering documentary account of Pakistan’s Lal Masjid, jihadist focal point ]
    .

    I’ve just been watching the 2015 documentary Among the Believers, now showing on Netflix. It concerns the Red Mosque, Lal Masjid — its teachings, its encouragement of jihad, and the government siege which shut it down in 2007. The speaker denouncing the masjid is Pakistani nuclear physicist Pervez Hoodbhoy.

    Here are some screengrabs that caught my eye..

    **

    Maulana Abdul Aziz, who runs the place, speaks of his son, who was inside the Masjid during the bloody siege, and lost his life:

    He was my only son. When I was in prison, during the final part of the siege, police guards loyal to us told me that since I had only one son, they would smuggle him out of there. But I said no. I told them I was willing to sacrifice him for Allah. You know, I regret the fact that I didn’t died for Allah. They said, “What’s more important than one’s child’s life?”

    He concludes:

    What is of interest here is the amplified echo of the story of Abraham‘s willingness to sacrifice his son (variously Isaac, Ishmael)

    **

    The book the student is reading is one I mentioned a while back, in 2011’s The Black Banners of Blackwater by Maulana Umar Asim.

    **

    A new category of martyr — the madrassah. Will it cross the bridge As-Sirat? What will be its reward?

    **

    What those who protest Lal Masjid’s encouragement of jihad wish to reclaim for a happier and more toalerant Pakistan..

    The film is banned in Pakistan.

    **

    Here, to bring you some joy out of all this, is a song that I encountered on the soundtrack of this remarkable documentary, performed here as part of the splendid Coke Studios series:

    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 ]
    .

    I thought this horrific announcement:

    deserved a response of a very different order:

    **

    That’s it, that’s my response.

    **

    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.

    **

    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.

    Sunday surprise the second — the Laws of Nature and Nature’s God

    Sunday, July 3rd, 2016

    [ by Charles Cameron — wishing you all blessings on the Fourth ]
    .

    My eye was caught today by yet another disaster — which in turn reminded me of tomorrow, the Fourth of July. It’s just one example among many:

    — but it brings up again the question of whether we think in terms of “acts of God” or “laws of Nature” or — somehow — both. And that’s where thw roding of the Constitution comes in, with the phrase “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God”:

    Nature and Nature's God DQ

    **

    If I used that phrasing — “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God” — today, I might well be attempting to please or at least placate readers who variously:

  • believe in a God separate from and superior to Nature, and author of Nature’s laws
  • believe in a God essentially indistinguishable from Nature, wholly immanent, &
  • disbelieve in any kind of God, but recognize Nature as a catchall term for the Whole System.
  • I don’t suppose that would necessarily be the case in 1776, though, and wonder whether the phrase should be read as:

    the Laws — of Nature and of Nature’s God

    or:

    the Laws of Nature — and of Nature’s God

    and if the second, whether the and marks a distinction between Nature and nature’s God, or also covers the possibility of their being one and the same.

    And once we’ve cleared that up, and bearing in mind that John Donne could write “At the round earth’s imagin’d corners” — thus conflating the old, imaginative, square earth with the new, scientific, spherical one — how feasible do you think it is to hold simultaneously the idea that a given earthquake, hurricane, tsunami or volcanic eruption is an act of God and a natural disaster?

    A worldview paradox?

    **
    Sources:

  • July 4, 1776, The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America
  • November 18, 2013, Room for Debate: Natural Disasters or ‘Acts of God’?
  • Of sundry musicians and their moon walks

    Sunday, June 12th, 2016

    [ by Charles Cameron — a jeu d’esprit, really, because i already have my sunday surprise for this week lined up, and this was too much fun to miss ]
    .

    I ran across this tweet this morning from Husain Haqqani, former ambassador of Pakistan to the United States and author of Pakistan: Between Mosque and Military and Magnificent Delusions: Pakistan, the United States, and an Epic History of Misunderstanding, currently with the Hudson Institute:

    Neil Armstrong? Heard the Islamic Call to Prayer? On the moon?

    **

    Poets love the moon, almost by definition — the Chinese poet Li Po supposedly drowned while attempting (under the influence) to kiss her face in the Yellow River — so this alleged, though dubious, story was definitely too rich in possibilities for me to ignored. And the Islamic Call to Prayer? According to Nicholas Kristof in the NYT:

    Mr. Obama described the call to prayer as “one of the prettiest sounds on Earth at sunset.”

    You may or may not agree, but if you want to hear the Call and judge for yourself, you could try listening to one of these videos:

  • https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mUHDYlJHaOQ
  • https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=otdgbR3yso0
  • https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T8o6WKTQpMc
  • **

    That’s what led me to my second discovery –one which might be excused by blaming autocorrect, twice, for suggesting that Neil Young — he of the voice, upper panel below — and Louis Arnmstrong — he of the trumpet, lower panel — were each the first man to land on the moon, per (in both cases) NBC.

    Tablet DQ 600 at 75 blank Musicians on Moon

    In all fairness, it’s worth noting that other candidates for moon walks include Buzz Lightyear, Lance Armstrong, and Michael Jackson.

    **

    Sources:

  • Mix 104.1, Twitter Confuses Neil Armstrong With Lance and Louis
  • Buffalo News, Ch.4 moon landing is historic mistake; Best to avoid NBC’s “The Slap”
  • **

    None of these mistakes are critical, however, if you believe the late Srila Prabhupada, who introduced Krishna Consciousness to the United States. As someone fascinated by different cosmologies and theologies, I remember reading of Prabhupada’s claim that the moon landing was faked in a California film studio in his magazine some time in the 1970s. No longer having access to the magazine, and looking for confirmation of that memory, I found this page, Srila Prabhupadas statements about the moon landing, of considerable interest:

    Srila Prabhuapda himself said different things at different times. Sometimes he directly said they didn’t go and it was some kind of hoax. And at other times he said they didn’t go to the moon because they didn’t experience the higher dimensional nature of the moon planet, which is a rational way to harmonize the Vedic perspective with the idea of three dimensional space travel. At other times he just said the whole idea was foolish and a waste of money. He saw material space travel as a foolish attempt to reach higher dimensions which can only be reached by yogic practice.

    Bear in mind too that both Joseph Smith and L Ron Hubbard also taught their followers about significant planets that do not form part of the standard astronomical account of deep space — or the heavens, in other words.

    And Charles Williams — the brilliant Dante scholar, Arthurian poet, novelist, theologian of Romantic Love, and friend of JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis — offers a striking near-contemporary Christian example of the genre in the opening paragraph of his book, The Descent of the Dove: A Short History of the Holy Spirit in the Church.

    The beginning of Christendom, is, strictly, at a point out of time. A metphysical trigonometry finds it among the spiritual Secrets, at the meeting of two heavenward lines, one drawn from Bethany along the Ascent of the Messias, the other from Jerusalem against the Descent of the Paraclete. That measurement, the measurement of eternity in operation, of the bright cloud and the rushing wind, is, in effect, theology.

    See also my post, A metaphysical trigonometry.


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