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Sent to Coventry and much else besides

Monday, September 2nd, 2013

[ by Charles Cameron — shall we say, not a great enthusiast for war? ]
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This image of Winston Churchill in the bombed out ruins of Coventry Cathedral is almost a self-referential paradox in itself, if you still believe the canard that he knew the Germans were going to bomb Coventry that night, and did nothing about it to avoid divulging allied knowledge of the German ENIGMA code.

It it walks like a canard and quacks like a canard…

For a rebuttal of the suggestion that Churchill knew Coventry would be the target that night, see Sir Martin Gilbert, Coventry: What Really Happened [pdf, pp. 32-3] — the post-literate can listen to this Angry History podcast instead.

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As an aside, I wonder what Churchill had in mind when he coined his celebrated mot about Russia:

It is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma; but perhaps there is a key.

According to Wikipedia, the Poles had delivered their early Enigma-breaking theories, tools and sample cryptologic bombs to British military intelligence in Warsaw on 25 July 1939. Churchill’s broadcast, The Russian Enigma, was given on 1st October 1939.

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And another aside, while we’re here — just to note that conspiracy theories are often among the gaseous components of a fog of war…

On the other hand, conspiracy theories can often be revealing of popular and or archetypal hopes and fears. In the present case, the anxiety revolves around situations such as that invoked by Caiaphas’ claim “It is expedient for us, that one man should die for the people“.

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Coming at the destruction of Coventry Cathedral from another angle…

I have mourned before the losses at Bamiyan and Monte Cassino:

Here’s what’s happened to the Green Mosque or Mazjid Sabz, famous for its dome (upper panel only, lower panel h/t Bilal Sarwary), in the course of fighting in Afghanistan — the country whose oldest mosque it is:

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And yet prayer continues:

FWIW, the lower panel image (above) is from a Christian Science Monitor article titled Israeli settlers respond to mosque burning allegations — the caption reads in part:

Palestinian men pray Monday near a burnt part of the carpet in a mosque that was damaged in the West Bank village of Beit Fajjar near Bethlehem. Palestinians accused Jewish settlers of setting fire to the West Bank mosque on Monday

The upper panel image, as far as I can determine, shows the continuing celebration of Mass in a German church after Allied bombardment in World War II.

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It is at least worth pondering the words of these Trappist sisters in Azeir, Syria…

They came to Azeir to continue in spirit the work of the monks of Tibhirine, about whom I wrote, giving extensive background and the entire text of Fr. de Chergé‘s great, final testament here. The sisters write:

Today we have no words, except those of the Psalms that the liturgical prayer puts onto our lips in these days:

Rebuke the Beast of the Reeds, that herd of bulls, that people of calves…oh God, scatter the people who delight in war…Yahweh has leaned down from the heights of his sanctuary, has looked down from heaven to earth to listen to the sighing of the captive, and set free those condemned to death…Listen, God, to my voice as I plead, protect my life from fear of the enemy; hide me from the league of the wicked, from the gang of evil-doers. They sharpen their tongues like a sword, aim their arrow of poisonous abuse…They support each other in their evil designs, they discuss how to lay their snares. “Who will see us?” they say. He will do that, he who penetrates human nature to its depths, the depths of the heart…Break into song for my God, to the tambourine, sing in honor of the Lord, to the cymbal, let psalm and canticle mingle for him, extol his name, invoke it…For the Lord is a God who breaks battle-lines! … Lord, you are great, you are glorious, wonderfully strong, unconquerable.

We look at the people around us, our day workers who are all here as if suspended, stunned: “They’ve decided to attack us.” Today we went to Tartous…we felt the anger, the helplessness, the inability to formulate a sense to all this: the people trying their best to work and to live normally. You see the farmers watering their land, parents buying notebooks for the schools that are about to begin, unknowing children asking for a toy or an ice cream…you see the poor, so many of them, trying to scrape together a few coins. The streets are full of the “inner” refugees of Syria, who have come from all over to the only area left that is still relatively liveable…. You see the beauty of these hills, the smile on people’s faces, the good-natured gaze of a boy who is about to join the army and gives us the two or three peanuts he has in his pocket as a token of “togetherness”…. And then you remember that they have decided to bomb us tomorrow. … Just like that. Because “it’s time to do something,” as it is worded in the statements of the important men, who will be sipping their tea tomorrow as they watch TV to see how effective their humanitarian intervention will be….

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Flags, shrouds, martyrs and the Fallen

Saturday, August 17th, 2013

[ by Charles Cameron — burial flags, shrouds on the unknown, and the black banner seen from a new angle ]
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I feel grief.

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We are, by now, all too well aware of the cost of war in lives. Sometimes those lives are of unknown souls, perhaps belligerents, perhaps partisans, perhaps peace-makers, perhaps simple souls caught in the cross-fire…

Caitlin Fit Gerald has a suitable memorial for those recently dead in Egypt, which I won’t reproduce here because I would make her already scaled-down images even smaller and less impressive if I did — click through to The Dead, When The Dying Is Done, then click again to see the images at better scale.

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Sometimes the dead are our foes.

What interests me particularly on this occasion is seeing the Sunni Islamist black banner in what is for me a new context — draped like the Shi’ite flag of Islamist Hezballah on the martyrs of their faith.

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It raises for me another question: Hezbollah and the Salafi jihadists alike term their dead “martyrs”. We honor ours no less, wrapping them in symbols of that greater cause for which they gave their lives — “country” — and call them “patriots” to distinguish their cause, and “heroes” to salute their courage.

Yet they gave their lives. To indicate and honor this, we call them “the Fallen” — and perhaps in its quiet way it is enough.

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Further dangers lurking “in the kitchen of your mom”

Thursday, August 1st, 2013

[ by Charles Cameron — for our bizarre humor section, and featuring the word beer-goggled ]
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These two headlines from today’s findings struck me as painting a dark picture of the dangers hidden in even the brightest of kitchens these days:

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I’ll have to admit that I was torn, though — that penis and toaster headline cried out to be paired with another — illustrate illustrating between them the follies prevalent in my country of origin, and the necessity of parental guidance for its denizens:

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Sources:

  • The Atlantic Wire, Google Pressure Cookers and Backpacks
  • The Guardian, Do try not to get your penis stuck
  • NBC News, Drunken Brits fall foul of a pigeon
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    My own roots are Scottish, so I was particularly proud to see the paras in the Drunk Brits piece which read:

    The video showed a clip from security cameras at Scotland’s Edinburgh Waverley station in which two men dressed in kilts – possibly supporters of Scotland’s rugby or football teams – on a platform.

    One tries to kick out at a pigeon but misses and his momentum causes him to fall onto the tracks in front of a stationary train.

    “The pigeon will always win when you are beer-goggled,” the caption says, using a slang term for the altered perceptions of a drunk.

    I even learned a new hyphenated word in all this mad kerfuffle: will wonders never cease?

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    Turkey and the unicorn

    Monday, June 17th, 2013

    [ by Charles Cameron — i don’t do much in the way of cat pics, so here’s a timely geopolitical unicorn for you ]
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    What with the Whole Wired World looking a bit both “1984” and “Brave New” this week, and with Turkey clearly itching to up its rep as an authoritarian state, you might not think this would be the week a Turkish customs official would stamp a unicorn’s passport…

    What can I tell you? Someone did. A Turkish customs official allowed this young British girl, Emily Harris, into Turkey by stamping her unicorn’s passport.

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    If I was Recep Tayyip Erdogan — and I’m not, and unlikely yo be any time soon — I might want to give that man a medal for providing the one news item this week favorable to the Turkish tourist trade — at a time when images of tear gassings in hotels and water cannonades in parks can hardly be helping the country’s image as an attractive place to visit.

    Seriously — Public Diplomacy, one child’s passport at a time.

    And while you’re at it, quit gassing hotels with children in them, will you? It’s barbaric.

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    Human beings a whole lot more interesting than expected

    Thursday, June 6th, 2013

    [ by Charles Cameron — human beings are a whole lot more interesting than was previously thought, evidence suggests ]
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    First, you should know that the English Defence League is, by its own account, “an inclusive movement dedicated to peacefully protesting against Islamic extremism.”

    Now read on..

    Or as Qur’an 49.13 puts it:

    O mankind, We have created you male and female, and appointed you races and tribes, that you may know one another.

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    The Gospel suggests, Matthew 5.44:

    Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you…

    and I am put in mind of this pair of images, both of which feature people I learned about for the first time in just the last couple of days:

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    Rev. Will D Campbell is the one shaking hands with Rev. Ralph D. Abernathy after the MLK assassination, in the top panel of the DoubleQuote above. He was a rare man — as the NYT puts is, “one of the few white clerics with an extensive field record as a civil rights activist” — which naturally reminds me, too, of my own mentor, Fr. Trevor Huddleston.

    C.P. Ellis was a Ku Klux Klan leader until he met civil rights worker Ann Atwater, with whom he is pictured immediately below Abernathy and Campbell.

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    Wait, there’s more —

    The first pair of images, above, comes from the UK, and the second pair from the US. So what’s the difference?

    Apparently, the Brits serve tea while the Americans sip whiskey

    Abernathy’s reverend friend is the gentleman described in the lower panel here, the one who drinks whiskey with Klansmen. Go figure: love trumps hate.

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    To get the full charge of these various stories, you might want to read:

  • Woolwich Attacks: Muslim Leaders At York Mosque Invite EDL In For Tea
  • EDL March With Muslims In Ipswich In Memory Of Lee Rigby
  • Rev. Will D. Campbell, Maverick Minister in Civil Rights Era, Dies at 88
  • The Ann Atwater approach
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    Of course, the type of beverage you offer on these occasions must depend to some extent on the dietary habits and restrictions of both parties…

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