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Scots

Tuesday, September 16th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- of the Camerons of Erracht ]
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2Tim4 602

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With all the current talk of Scottish Independence, and given my own myopic focus on matters scriptural and theological, I thought it might be apposite to post a few verses from the New Testament in the braid tongue of my forefathers before me.

Happening across the logo at the top of this post while googling, I thought I’d bring you a taste of Chaptir Fowr of Second Timothy;

I chairge ye, i’ the presence o’God, and Christ Jesus wha is to judge the leevin and the deid, and by his shinin-forth and kingdom,

Gie oot the word! Press ye in season and oot o’ season; convince, rebute, entreat, wi’ a lang-tholin and doctrine.

For thar wull be a time whan halesome teachin they winna thole : but, conform to their ain desires, and haein a yeuck i’ their lugs, wull gaither-up teachers to theirsels;

And wull turn awa frae hearin the truth, and turn agley to glaikit tales.

But be ye watchfu’ in a’ things, thole afflictions, do the wark o’ an evangelist, fulfil yere service.

For I am bein offer’t, and the time o’ my settin-free is at haun.

The gude-fecht hae I fouchten, the race hae I run, the faith hae I keepit!

From The New Testament in Braid Scots, with a glossary of Scottish terms rendered by Rev. William Wye Smith. My copy is of the 1924 printing.

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I’m not qualified to vote, which is probably a good thing — but I’ll certainly be interested to see what my clanfolk and kinfolk decide this Thursday…

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Maajid Nawaz and the Hadith Qudsi

Thursday, September 11th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- coded signalling, or "a nod is as good as a wink" ]
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Maajid-Nawaz 602

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Maajid Nawaz‘s An Ex-Radical’s Open Letter to ISIS Fighters: Quit Now While You Can! just published by The Daily Beast gives us an invaluable insight into the way a Muslim can skilfully address the “foreign fighters” who have migrated to join ISIS. His final paragraph contains the words:

.. you take one step to the good, we will all make leaps towards you.

What interests me about this is its close correspondence to the end of a Hadith Qudsi, or narration recounting in the Prophet’s own words, some truth that God revealed to him in person:

Abu Hurairah (RA) reports that Nabi (SAW) in a Hadith Qudsi narrated that Allah Ta’ala says:

I treat My slaves according to his expectations from Me. I am with him when he remembers Me; and if he remembers Me in his heart, I remember him in My heart; and if he remembers Me in a gathering, I remember him in a better and nobler gathering (of angels). If he comes closer to Me by one span, I go closer to him an arm’s length; if he comes towards Me an arm’s length, I go towards him two-arm’s length; and if he comes to Me walking, I run to him.

Anyone familiar with the hadith will recognize the allusion, and in fact Nawaz’ referencing it in this way can be considered akin to George W Bush‘s use of the phrase –

there’s power, wonder-working power, in the goodness and idealism and faith of the American people

— in his State of the Union address, 2002 — knowing that while those words would slip past most Americans without holding any special significance, to those familiar with the hymn “There is Power in the Blood” it would strike a distinctively Christian note.

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In Dog-Whistle Politics, Coded Communication and Religious Appeals, Bethany Albertson gives other instances, citing Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton as well as Bush, and quoting the religion scholar Bruce Lincoln as saying of Bush:

Aware that he must appeal to the center to secure reelection, he employs double-coded signals that veil much of his religious message from outsiders ..

It’s interesting to see a Muslim (and a politican, too, for Nawaz is currently running as the Liberal Democrat candidate for the seat of Hampstead and Kilburn at Westminster) using the same rhetorical form of coded messaging.

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All of which puts a new spin on the words:

He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.

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Of impassioned distinctions and lines traced on maps

Wednesday, August 13th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- in which the muj from Khorasan talk even more about the erasing of national boundaries than the soldiers of the IS caliphate ]
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Before there were maps, there was terrain, some of it populated, and various populations spoke various languages and identified themselves and each other in various complex ways. And then there were maps.

Heinrich Bunting, world map with Jerusalem at the center, naturally, 1581

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Maps certainly have a logic to them, but it is not always the logic of the populations who actually live, think, and care in the terrain depicted.

In this post, I am going to explore various writings on national boundaries and the recently-announced and mapped caliphate, starting with the mildest, and building in a crescendo to the opinions of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and the Mujahideen in Khurasan.

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Owen Bennett-Jones writes in The London Review of books:

As for borders, it is no longer outlandish to consider the possibility of an Alawite redoubt in western Syria and of Kurdish self-rule: a de facto independence that would change not only Iraq but also Turkey, Syria and Iran. Israel and the Western powers are already voicing concern about what might happen in Jordan. No doubt they will all resist demands to recognise any attempted changes to national boundaries. But that may lead to a growing divergence between the international system regulating relations between states and the reality on the ground.

This seems a bit pallid to me, for reasons you’ll uderstand when you read a Taliban writer pon the same topic below.

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The topic is also apparently a live one for scholars. The University of Southern California and the Project on Middle East Political Science have just issued a Call for Proposals for participants in their Rethinking Nation and Nationalism Workshop, to be held at USC, February 6, 2015:

The Arab uprisings of 2011 have shown that questions of physical boundaries and national identities long seen as resolved may in fact be open to reconfiguring. Insurgencies spanning Syria and Iraq and the (re)assertion of regionalism in Libya are only the most violent of the processes currently underway challenging long-established physical national frontiers. Embattled regimes have produced new national narratives to legitimate their rule, while sectarian and Islamist movements have taken on new manifestations. Refugee movements triggered by these conflicts and longer-standing processes of migration within, into, and out of the region have led to large communities of nationals established outside the countries of their citizenship.

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Col. Pat Lang, a warrior with a feel for the region — he introduced the study of Arabic at West Point — just today posted On identity and the state in the Middle East, his response to a friend’s off-blog comment:

I think what you (Origin) miss in this is that these countries are not really post Treaty of Westphalia nation-states. They were created by the colonial powers in the image of European countries that more resemble that model. In fact, these Middle East countries are inhabited by disparate groups of people who self-indentify within their group or perhaps withing several groups they belong to. These peoples do not identify with the state in which they live unless they happen to be run it. Thus, the Kurds feel no actual loyalty to the thing the British called “Iraq.” They are quite willing to cooperate with other Sunni people, in this case Sunni Arab tribes who are also indifferent or hostile to the government in Baghdad now that it is run by their ancestral enemies, the Shia Arabs. The Kurds would not lift a finger to help “Iraq” if they were left alone in their mountains. What they yearn for first last and always is Kurdish independence. The same situation exists in Jordan a country that is in essence a “reservation” for Sunni Arabs. It has been that since it was created by the Brits in payment of a World War One obligation to the Hashemits Emir Abdullah. This obligation originated in Abdullah’s support for the British during the war. When Iraq was under Sunni rule Jordan supported Iraq. Shia run “Iraq” means nothing to Jordan. The same this is true around the region.

IS is different from all these states. It does not recognize the legitimacy of the notion of countries at all and seeks a world wide theocratic state beginning in the Middle East.

The mozaic of all these groups that exists on the ground in the Middle East does not fit the boundaries of the Sykes-Picot world created after WW1. Come to grips with that.

Now that’s “getting warmer” as kids say in a game of hide and seek.

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And the Caliphate?

They simply and eloquently bulldoze frontiers:

Residents near the border with Syria, where ISIL has exploited civil war to seize wide tracts of that country’s east, watched militants bulldozing tracks through frontier sand berms – as a prelude to trying to revive a medieval entity straddling both modern states.

The words of their Amirul-Mu’minin Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi are quoted in the caliphal magazine Dabiq, issue 1 p. 7:

O Muslims everywhere, glad tidings to you and expect good. Raise your head high, for today – by Allah’s grace – you have a state and Khilafah, which will return your dignity, might, rights, and leadership.

It is a state where the Arab and non-Arab, the white man and black man, the easterner and westerner are all brothers.

It is a Khilafah that gathered the Caucasian, Indian, Chinese, Shami, Iraqi, Yemeni, Egyptian, Maghribi (North African), American, French, German, and Australian. Allah brought their hearts together, and thus, they became brothers by His grace, loving each other for the sake of Allah, standing in a single trench, defending and guarding each other, and sacrificing themselves for one another.

Their blood mixed and became one, under a single flag and goal, in one pavilion, enjoying this blessing, the blessing of faithful brotherhood.

If kings were to taste this blessing, they would abandon their kingdoms and fight over this grace. So all praise and thanks are due to Allah.

and again on p. 8:

Whoever was sleeping must now awaken. Whoever was shocked and amazed must comprehend. The Muslims today have a loud, thundering statement, and possess heavy boots. They have a statement that will cause the world to hear and understand the meaning of terrorism, and boots that will trample the idol of nationalism, destroy the idol of democracy and uncover its deviant nature.

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Finally, we come to another set of jihadis who identify themselves in their magazine Azan as the Mujahideen in Khurasan — whose own Amir al-Mumineen is Mulla Umar.

One Muhammad Qasim devotes and entire article to the issue of nation states vs the Ummah in Azan, issue 5 pp 12-15. It is titled Destroying the Country Idol and subheaded:

Consequences of adopting the Nation-State Concept:

• Destruction of Unity
• Creation of Nationalistic Armies

Curiously, the second section focuses on Clausewitz (1832?) rather than Westphalia (1648) — but I’ll leave discussion of that question to our historians.

Qasim begins by quoting two Qur’anic ayat:

Truly! This Ummah of yours is one Ummah, and I am your Lord, so worship Me (Alone). [21:92]

and

hold fast, all of you together, to the Rope of Allah (i.e. this Quran), and be not divided among yourselves .. [3:103]

and suggests:

The “nation state” has destroyed the unity of the Ummah and split it into bits and pieces, entirely vulnerable to the plans of the Kuffar. The great Mujahid leader, Shaykh Dr. Ayman Al-Zawahiri (HA) sums up the Muslim loss in a few impeccable words:

My free and honorable brothers, who are eager to help Islam and liberate Palestine! We must read history and comprehend its lessons. Palestine was lost when the Khilafah fell and we were dominated by secularism and territorial nationalism which has torn us apart and continues to tear us apart.

The body of his article then continues:

One of the fundamental interests of the West and the Zionists, and indeed, one of the necessities of their existence, is that they divide us by spreading the principles of the secular nationalist nation state and homeland among us, so that we become crumbs that they can easily devour. As a result of this ethnic and territorial nationalism, we broke apart after the fall of the Khilafah into more than fifty helpless vassal states.

The reviver of Jihad, Shaykh Abdullah Azzam (RA) said:

Sykes and Picot created borders for us. They said to us, Jordan ends here at ar-Ramtha, and Syria begins after Ar-Ramtha, and Jordan begins after Harat Ammar. And Kuwait? Here it is! The city of Kuwait, the “state” of Kuwait… And the state of Qatar is a single city. And so is the state of Bahrain. And Lebanon? Here it is… the size of a coin. That’s the state of Lebanon. And here is Syria. Listen, this is your land and your birthplace, and love of one’s homeland is part of faith. And so on… And so we have begun to think in an “Islamic way” which is in truth not an Islamic way but rather, a territorial way of thinking daubed with Islam.

The Jordanian in Ar-Ramtha sees the resident of Dara’a [across the Syrian border] being slaughtered in front of him by the Nusayrites; yet, he does not even bat an eyelid, move a muscle, or take an extra heartbeat; nor is he prepared to open the borders. Why? Because Islam ends at Ar-Ramtha; and he has nothing to do with Islam in Dara’a. But when a Jordanian in Al-‘Aqaba winces in pain, you’ll find the same person (from Ar-Ramtha) up in arms, although the distance between Al-‘Aqaba and Ar-Ramtha is more than 600 km, while the difference between al-Ramtha and Dara’a is less than 6 km.

This isn’t an Islamic attitude; this isn’t the attitude of ”Truly! This Ummah of yours is one Ummah, and I am your Lord, so worship Me (Alone).” [21:92]

This isn’t the global outlook of Islam which says:

India is ours and China is ours
And the earth is ours and all is ours
Islam has become our religion
And the entire world is our homeland
The constitution of Allah is our religion
And we have made our hearts its home

All Muslims are united upon true faith in Allah (swt), His Messenger (pbuh) and His Final Book. However, these false lines have been etched upon us on the basis of which entire political, military, economic and cultural institutions have been established that seek division between the Pakistani and the Indian, between the Egyptian and the Turk, between the Chechen and the Uzbek. There is no reality in these divides. As has been emphasized earlier in the article, in Islam, divide between humanity is upon faith, upon love for Allah (swt) and His Messenger (pbuh). So, we as an Ummah must take practical steps to defeat this divided mentality and erase these map lines physically that indoctrinate the Ummah into believing in this false separation.

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It’s impressive iMO to see those whose loyalty is to Mullah Omar publishing in greater detail on this topic than those whose loyalty is to the self-proclaimed caliph of IS. Maybe they’ll submit their article as a proposal for that conference at the University of Southern California, you think?

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Happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stones 2: a Christian perspective

Wednesday, August 6th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- on the godliness of collateral child slaughter, viewed from the perspective of "turn the other cheek" ]
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Suffer the little children to come unto me, Lucius Cranach the Elder

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At this point I would like to turn directly to our psalm, and specifically to its use and interpretation in my own tradition, that of Anglican Christianity: I hope to provide a further post on its Judaic context and understanding shortly.

Psalm 137 is the one that begins, in the Anglican Book of Common Prayer translation:

By the waters of Babylon we sat down and wept *
when we remembered thee, O Sion.
As for our harps, we hanged them up *
upon the trees that are therein.
For they that led us away captive required of us then a song, and melody, in our heaviness *
Sing us one of the songs of Sion.
How shall we sing the Lord’s song *
in a strange land?

The question here is of the relation of music to grief: How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?

Tomás Luis de Victoria set the Latin of this portion of the psalm to ethereal music, as we hear in this perormance of Super Flurmina Babylonis by Harry Christophers and The Sixteen:

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The Psalm in question is a lamentation, a cry of despair, as one can easily tell from the tone of the Anglican setting sung by the choir of King’s College, Cambridge, below — and yet its ending contains what I can only call a vindictive edge — remembering that vindictive, before it gains any other meaning, has a meaning that is cognate with vindication:

If I forget thee, O Jerusalem *
let my right hand forget her cunning.
If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth *
yea if I prefer not Jerusalem in my mirth.
Remember the children of Edom, O Lord, in the day of Jerusalem *
how they said, Down with it, down with it, even to the ground.
O daughter of Babylon, wasted with misery *
yea, happy shall he be that rewardeth thee, as thou hast served us.
Blessed shall he be that taketh thy children *
and throweth them against the stones.

With the words at your disposal, I invite you to listen closely to this austere and beautiful rendering of the whole psalm by the choir of King’s:

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The freshly-minted Anglican Bishop of Leeds, the Rt Rev Nick Bains, blogged just a few days ago:

Psalm 137 is not a comfortable song; nor is it a song for the comfortable. It ends with a shrill cry of pain and hatred: “God, I wish you’d take the children of my enemies and smash their heads against the rocks.” But, it isn’t there to justify an ethic. It isn’t there to suggest it is right to think such awful things of other people’s children. It is there for two reasons: first, to confront us with the reality of how deep our own human hatred can go, and, secondly, to tell us not to lie to God (thinking he can’t handle that reality or the depths of human despair).

Cranmer — the blogger who takes his name from the martyred Protestant Archbishop of Canterbury whose great gift to the English language was precisely the language of the Book of Common Prayer — quoted Bishop Bains, and had this to say of Psalm 137:

Such laments take us to the depths of helplessness and forsakenness. They are cries of distress when there is nowhere to turn: God has abandoned us and our enemies mock and scorn – or terrorise, persecute and murder. Impulsively but genuinely we want their children to be fatherless and their wives to become widows (Psalm 109:8f). And we hope to God that their bastard offspring don’t grow up to be another generation of murderous devils.

But Jesus said, Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven (Mt 19:14).

Those who are taught resentment and loathing will not easily find Jesus or enter the kingdom. Violence breeds violence and hate engenders hate. The way of Christ is peace. In our secular polis this may seem like sheer folly. But it is a choice we make in the hope and anticipation that God’s love will finally prevail through the way of the cross, despite our inability to see how this may be possible when warring hearts are filled with grievances and pain.

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As I prepare to turn from Christian to Judaic consideration of this psalm in my final post in this series, I would like to quote the words of the rabbi, Jesus — himself surely an appropriate transitional figure between Judaism and Christianity:

You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous….

In saying these things, is Jesus teaching a distinctly Christian doctrine, or preaching as a Jewish teacher among Jews?

It’s a fine question. The book of Proverbs 25.21 reads: “If your enemy is hungry, give him bread, if he be thirsty, give him water… — and the 1906 Jewish Encyclopedia comments on Jesus’ remark that it might better be translated thus, in line with Jewish teaching:

Ye might deduce from this verse that thou shalt love thy neighbor and hate thine enemy, but I say to you the only correct interpretation is, Love all men, even thine enemies.

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Rape as Strategy: Gaza and London

Thursday, July 24th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- at least three ways of looking at a pair of tweets ]
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If there can be Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird, there are at least three or four ways of looking at these two tweets:

The similarities are eerie, the differences are enormous.

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You could, I suppose, look at it as an Israel to London comparison, although I don’t think that approach would be particularly insightful. Or gang-members vs academics, which might be a little more interesting. I’d suggest, however, that the first way many people will read the comparison above will be as a statement about the Israeli-Palestinian situation: London fades into the background, a professor’s (from my POV intermerate) statement of a seemingly intractable problem gets equated with an actual gangland threat and praxis:

On that reading, the juxtaposition is an indictment of the Israeli side in the current Gaza conflict. And that’s a huge pity, because the professor’s words were specifically not about “what should be done” but about “what it would take” to do the job — in this case, of getting suicide bombers to refrain from killing themselves and others.

So from my POV the second reading, which critiques the first (IMO appropriately) is of a comparison between what in my diagram I’ll call “thought experiment” and “threat, tactic” — the latter word indicating that the threat is one that is carried out in practice, ie in the form of selective, vengeful, punitive rape of the daughters and sisters of enemies:

Here is a little more of the context — note the professor’s disclaimer, “I’m not talking about what we should or shouldn’t do. I’m talking about the facts”:

“The only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped.” This assertion was made by Middle East scholar Dr. Mordechai Kedar of Bar-Ilan University about three weeks ago on an Israel Radio program. “It sounds very bad, but that’s the Middle East,” added Kedar, of Bar-Ilan’s Department of Arabic. [ .. ]

“You have to understand the culture in which we live,” said Kedar. “The only thing that deters [Hamas leaders] is a threat to the connection between their heads and their shoulders.” When presenter Yossi Hadar asked if that “could filter down” the organization’s ranks, Kedar replied: “No, because lower down the considerations are entirely different.

Terrorists like those who kidnapped the children and killed them — the only thing that deters them is if they know that their sister or their mother will be raped in the event that they are caught. What can you do, that’s the culture in which we live.”

When Hadar said, “We can’t take such steps, of course,” Kedar continued: “I’m not talking about what we should or shouldn’t do. I’m talking about the facts. The only thing that deters a suicide bomber is the knowledge that if he pulls the trigger or blows himself up, his sister will be raped. That’s all. That’s the only thing that will bring him back home, in order to preserve his sister’s honor.”

Now, is that a valid disclaimer — or a slippery slope?

Mileages, I fear, will differ greatly on the answers to that question.

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But wait.

What if you’re not a partisan of the Palestinian or Israeli side, but of a humanity long weary of wars but seemingly woven into them by nature and nurture — warp and woof on the loom of history?

What if you’re a woman?

I’m not a woman, and it is only through the promptings of friends like Elizabeth Pearson and Cheryl Rofer that I eventually get around to looking at this particular juxtaposition — and other analytic complexities as appropriate — with an eye to gender differences.

Here the picture may overlay one or both of the previous ones — or obliterate their carefully-drawn distinctions completely. The picture is this:

Wives, of course, too, aunts, nieces — wherever it hurts, whoever the adversary is honor-bound to protect.

And some will say, that’s the nature of war! — and not be entirely wrong.

What a world. And in it, across time, the minds and hearts that gave us the books of Isaiah and Job, the masses of Bach and Beethoven, the Mezquita of Cordoba and the Taj Mahal, Abhinavagupta and Chuang Tzu, Gell-Mann and Francis Crick

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Sources:

  • Guardian: Gangs draw up lists of girls to rape as proxy attacks on rivals
  • Haaretz: Israeli professor’s ‘rape as terror deterrent’ statement draws ire
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