zenpundit.com » Mahdist

Archive for the ‘Mahdist’ Category

Update on the Ghazwa-e-Hind

Thursday, March 20th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- okay, now Jane's has some detailing on the Ghazwa ]
.

**

When I was eight or nine years old and a schoolboy whose father was a captain in the Royal Navy, a copy of Jane’s Fighting Ships was the most desirable — and unattainable — object in the physical world.

Sixty years on, I’m looking at a 6pp. abridged version of an article in Jane’s Intelligence Review Idownloaded the other day. It is titled Recruitment drive – Islamist groups urge India’s Muslims to join jihad — and I find it’s talking about a topic I feel is easily overlooked — or laughed away — the Ghazwa-e-Hind.

Zen and myself have written about the Ghazwa:

  • One hadith, one plan, one video, and two warnings
  • So many browser tabs, so little time
  • Pakistan’s Strategic Mummery
  • Khorasan to al-Quds and the Ghazwa-e-Hind
  • Early notes on the first issue of the jihadist magazine, Azan
  • Ahrar-ul-Hind, Ghazwa-e-Hind?
  • The topic is compelling, but what Zen calls the “mummery” of its televangelical proponent Zaid Hamid — blog-friend Omar Ali simply calls it “nonsensical” — tends to obscure the potential seriousness of the idea — backed as it is with variants on the “black banners from Khorasan” hadith favored by AQ recruiters in Afghanistan and invoked as far afield as Somalia…

    So when a Jane’s analyst sees fit to mention it, I perk up.

    **

    Here are the passages from the Jane’s report that mention the Ghazwa:

    The group’s two addresses and Umar’s video have the same Islamic references, citing verses from the Quran and jihadist mythology depicting the “black flag of the Khurasan [a historic reference to parts of Afghanistan and areas of Central Asia]” piercing the heart of India, seemingly indicating that this new anti-India jihadist wave is originating from Afghanistan and Pakistan. The mythology cites an army from Khurasan waging the Ghazwat-ul-Hind (meaning the ‘Battle of India’ in Arabic) – also cited as Ghazwa-e-Hind in Urdu – for the re-establishment of the khilafa (the Islamic caliphate).

    and:

    Jihadist discourse regarding India frequently cites a hadith (a report of the deeds and sayings of the Prophet Muhammad), stating, “Allah has saved two groups of the Ummah from hellfire; the group that will invade Al-Hind [India] and the group that will be with Isa Ibn-e-Maryam [Jesus] in Damascus.” This seems to be one of the key doctrinal factors behind the renewed jihadist surge against India.

    Proponents of a unified global ummah have long perceived that India, as a geographical and demographical entity, should be part of the khilafa, and Al-Qaeda and other affiliated jihadist organisations fully endorse this view and the Ghazwat ul-Hind concept. The concept is surprisingly unifying when considered across the relevant spectrum of Islamist militant groups in Pakistan and Afghanistan, from transnational jihadists such as Al-Qaeda to nationalist Islamist actors such as the Taliban, Pakistani sectarian groups such as Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), and Kashmir-centric jihadists such as Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM).

    In a March 2010 edition of JeM’s Urdu-language weekly publication Al-Qalam , Pakistani cleric Mufti Asghar Khan Kashmiri claimed that the ongoing Ghazwat ul-Hind (referring to the Kashmiri insurgency) was a continuation of a series of battles begun by the Prophet Muhammad. Senior Harakat-ul-Jihad-ul-Islami (HUJI) commander Ilyas Kashmiri vowed in October 2009 to wage Ghazwat ul-Hind against India, before his reported death in an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) missile strike in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) in June 2011. Similarly, in a February 2011 speech, Lashkar-e-Tayyiba (LeT) leader Hafiz Muhammad Saeed threatened, “If freedom is not given to the Kashmiris, then we will occupy the whole of India, including Kashmir. We will launch Ghazwa-e-Hind.” The Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has also released a number of statements threatening India. In January 2013, then TTP commander Wali-ur-Rehman Mehsud warned that once the group had established an Islamic state under sharia in Pakistan, its focus would turn to India and the establishment of an Islamic state there. One month later, TTP commander Asmatullah Muawiya threatened that Kashmir would become the next battlefield for militants following the scheduled withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan in 2014.

    What Jane’s doesn’t appear to mention that I find significant, is that the Ghazwa-e-Hind spoken of in the ahadith is essentially an “end times” event, taking place simultaneously with the Mahdist army marching from Khorasan to al-Quds…

    **

    Oh, and believe me, I have made sure a copy of Jane’s Fighting Ships of World War II (cheaper than the $1,000 current issue) has made its way into the hands of my younger son…

    Share

    March 16th: Purim, or Israel vs Iran redux?

    Sunday, March 16th, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron -- still trying to cover some of the major feasts and fasts of the world's religions in calendar time, which can open on occasion into timelessness -- Chag Purim Sameach! ]
    .

    Jan Lievens, The Feast of Esther, ca 1625

    From the North Carolina Museum of Art site:

    The subject of this painting comes from the Old Testament Book of Esther. Ahasuerus (Xerxes), king of the Persians, took Esther as his queen, not knowing she was a Jew. Haman, the king’s evil minister, plotted to annihilate the Jews by issuing a decree of execution in the king’s name. Esther invited both men to a banquet in order to reveal Haman’s plot to Ahasuerus and to plead for the life of her people. The king’s anger is seen in his clenched fists; soon, Haman would meet his fate on the gallows. Although this picture was long attributed to Rembrandt, its scale, bold colors, and dramatic energy have much in common with others painted by Lievens at a time when he may have shared a studio with Rembrandt in Leiden.

    **

    I don’t want to get itno too much detail on this one, since Purim caught up with me before I’d done the necessary research to write a properly up-to-date account of its “prophetic” significance in terms of contemporary geopolitics this year — but I would like to point us a couple of years back, to PM Netanyahu’s gift of an Esther scroll to Pres. Obama:

    **

    I’ve chosen to illustrate that gift of an Esther scroll via blog headlines, then and now, from the site of Joel Rosenberg, popular Christian novelist and apocalyptic influencer of politicians, who clearly finds “signs of the times” in WaPo and NYT — essentially reading with “news / scripture” bi-focals.

    This kind of religious enthusiasm and double-reading is also present in the controversial Gen. Boykin. Accordding to a DOD report of August 5, 2004 titled Alleged Improprieties Related To Public Speaking: Lieutenant General William G. Boykin, U.S. Army Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence“, GEN Boykin gave repeated speeches in which he claimed:

    After telling the story of Esther — a biblical figure who, according to LTG Boykin, became queen of Persia and was told she had been “raised up for for such a time as this” to save her people (the Jews in Persia), LTG Boykin analogized the story to the election of President Bush who, he said, had been placed in the presidency by God. “for such a time as this” (referring to the war on terrorism).

    **

    The geopolitical influence of rival eschatologies, then, can be found in Netanyahu, Boykin, Rosenberg, and (plausibly at least) also in Khamenei… and is well illustrated in the books of the “Two Joels”:

    **

    Here’s the rub, though.

    When you view the world through apoc-specs, and then influence the policies of Powers, Principalities, Thrones and Dominions (words which have, interestingly enough, their own bi-focal meanings, temporal / terrestrial and celestial / demonic), and the world changes in unexpected ways — Ahmadinejad, with his imminent Mahdist expectation, is replaced by the far more suave and less apocalyptically aroused Hassan Rouhani — it takes some deft footwork to avoid being caught wirthout a chair when the music stops…

    As I observed in the mid-1990s:

    Bernard McGinn makes a shrewd comment on Luther’s process, in his article on Revelation in Robert Alter and Frank Kermode’s Literary Guide to the Bible:

    Earlier interpreters, such as Joachim (but not Augustine), had also claimed to find a consonance between Revelation’s prophecies and the events of Church history, but they had begun with Scripture and used it as a key to unlock history. Paradoxically, Luther, the great champion of the biblical word, claimed that history enabled him to make sense of Revelation…

    So: which direction should theologians “read” the analogy between Revelation and history in?
    Should they, like Luther, start with history and try to “shoe-horn” the Book of Revelation to fit it, or vice versa? There are two very different processes here, and the results may be correspondingly different — but when people today read accounts of Revelation which propose that the “end times” are nigh, they seldom even ask the question: which came first in the interpreter’s mind?

    **

    Without even getting into the rival eschatologies of Jewish Messianism and Islamic Mahdism, Christian eschatological interpretations themselves are a vastly obscure and complex matter — essentially a sort of verbal Rorshach blot onto which different people in different centuries and on different continents all find it only too easy to project their own circumstances and political beliefs…

    Ezekiel, for instance, is famously hard to understand:

    Is he writing about semi-mathematical angels or flying saucers?

    And what does that map — taken from one of many, many, in Clarence Larkin‘s Dispensational Truth (1918, revised 1920, mine is the 29th printing) — really mean, not in 1918 at the end of World War I, but today, almost a century later?

    I confess I have a fondness for Ezekiel. One of his visions, via the gospel song Dem Bones, gave me the name under which I developed my HipBone Games… and of course his interest as an eschatological visionary helped, too…

    **

    DoubleQuote sources:

  • Joel Rosenberg, From Ancient Persia to to Hitler’s Germany
  • Joel Rosenberg, Netanyahu gives Obama Esther Scroll
  • Share

    Pole position

    Wednesday, March 5th, 2014

    [exhumed by Lynn C. Rees]

    Pilsudski

    If a man continually blusters, if he lacks civility, a big stick will not save him from trouble but neither will speaking softly avail, if back of the softness there does not lie strength, power.

    -  Theodore Roosevelt

    One of the great strategic failures of the twentieth century was the failure to strangle Bolshevism in its cradle. For France and Britain, the failure arose from a desire to reconstitute the Russian Empire as it was before World War I with White armies, general war weariness by their populations after four years of bloody war, and a belief that no one as crazy as the Bolsheviks could endure in power. Winston Churchill warned of danger ahead but, as he was through most of his career, he was a prophet without honor in his own country on a good day and a stereotypical aristocratic English crank on a bad day. France and Britain would suffer a century of war, loss of their preeminence, and the fundamental corruption of their liberal institutions as a result.

    The motives of the United States, new to this world power thing, were weakly held at worst and ambivalently held at best. They intervened in Russia primarily for reasons of Allied/“Associated Power” solidarity, to rescue a large army raised from former Austro-Hungarian Czech POWs that needed to be shipped to the Western Front, to seize Allied arms provided to the Imperial Russian government before the February Revolution, and to protect American property. Much to the chagrin of Allied commanders, American soldiers largely focused on that mission and not on the cause of supporting Russians fighting the Bolsheviks. Stopping a Red Menace in Russia that would threaten the U.S. after 1945 was not on the American agenda. Coming home was.

    Poland did not have such a luxury. For Poland, Russia was all to close. Much as they would have wished the Atlantic to shift eastwards and separate Poland from Russia, Jozef Pilsudski, the father of Polish independence, had to have a strategy to counter a Russian empire that was right next door. The curious thing: he developed and started executing his strategy before Poland was even a state.

    Pilsudski was born in Lithuania, then part of the Russian Empire. His family was minor nobility who’d risen and fought against Russia during Poland’s habitual escape attempts from the Prison of Nations. In school, Pilsudski was subjected to Russification but only learned to hate Russia, the Czar, Russian Orthodoxy, the Russian language, and Russian culture. He went to medical school but soon involved himself in pro-Polish independence movements. As with many, this led to arrest and a Siberian vacation. He was later released, returned to Poland, took up agitation again, and was imprisoned again. Pilsudski escaped (escape from Russian prisons was surprisingly common for revolutionaries like Pilsudski, Dzerzhinsky, and Stalin) and went into exile.

    It was here that Pilsudski proposed the first version of his Promethean strategy to the Japanese after their war with Russia War broke out:

    Poland’s strength and importance among the constituent parts of the Russian state embolden us to set ourselves the political goal of breaking up the Russian state into its main constituents and emancipating the countries that have been forcibly incorporated into that empire. We regard this not only as the fulfillment of our country’s cultural strivings for independent existence, but also as a guarantee of that existence, since a Russia divested of her conquests will be sufficiently weakened that she will cease to be a formidable and dangerous neighbor.

    Pilsudski was proposing a grand strategy that echoed French strategy from Richelieu down to the bumbling Luigi Nabulione Buonaparte: keep a large neighboring proto-nation, in France’s case Germany, from being united under a state whose combined strength would constitute a mortal threat. Britain followed a similar strategy by keeping Europe divided by supporting whoever ganged up against the latest aspiring continental hegemon. In Pilsudski’s scheming, Russia, the Prison of Nations, was to be permanently checked by opening the prison’s locks and letting the prisoners out.

    Japan, aiming to disrupt rather than destroy, provided Pilsudski with just enough resources to create distractions for Russia during the 1905 Russian Revolution but not enough to gain independence. Stymied, Pilsudski removed to Austrian Poland and sat down to an intricate game. Foreseeing a general European War, Pilsudski, with Austrian connivance, started building up a Polish Legion. Officers and NCOs were trained, agents were sent into Poland to assassinate Russian officials and steal money, and troops were trained under the fiction of setting up sporting clubs and a Rifleman’s Association. When World War I broke out, Pilsudski led 12,000 paramilitaries. At a meeting in Paris in 1914:

    Pisudski presciently declared that in the impending war, for Poland to regain independence, Russia must be beaten by the Central Powers (the Austro-Hungarian and German Empires), and the latter powers must in their turn be beaten by France, Britain and the United States.

    Pilsudski formed an official Polish Legion to fight for Austria-Hungary against Russia while secretly  informing the British that his forces would only fight Russia, not Britain and France. Pilsudski gained military experience by leading his forces in several battles with the Russians on the Eastern Front. After one encounter in which the Polish Legion suffered heavy casualties in successfully defending against a Russian attack, Pilsudski was able to coax the Germans and Austrians into declaring Poland independent. Under the new Polish government established by the Central Powers, Pilsudski served as minister of war  but increasingly took an independent position as the war drew to an end. After refusing to permit the Polish Legion to swear allegiance to Germany and Austria, Pilsudski was imprisoned by the Germans, the Polish Legion disbanded, and its men incorporated into the Austrian army. But, as Germany approached Armistice Day, they decided to create mischief. They released Pilsudski from prison and sent him back to Poland in a sealed train (like Lenin).

    On Armistice Day 1918, Poland declared her independence. Pilsudski eased German troops from Poland (usefully leaving their weapons behind) and, as head of state, began organizing Poland as an independent state with its own government and army. The other leg of his strategy was revealed at this timeIntermarum. Pilsudski sought to create:

    [A] federation, under Poland‘s aegis, of Central and Eastern European countries. Invited to join the proposed federation were the Baltic states (Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia), Finland, Belarus, Ukraine, Hungary, Romania, Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia.

    Intermarum

    This federation would be an explicit counter to Germany and a rump Russia and an implicit counter to Britain and France. Curiously, in reference to the future, it would have been a kind of positive Warsaw Pact. Unfortunately for Pilsudski’s scheme, Britain and France opposed such a creature and Poland’s neighbors were too distrustful of Poland and too antagonistic towards each other to make such a pact.

    Facing the immediate impracticability of Intermarum, Pilsudski shifted to Prometheism. Observing that “All that we can gain in the west depends on the Entente—on the extent to which it may wish to squeeze Germany”, while in the east “there are doors that open and close, and it depends on who forces them open and how far.” So Pilsudski focused on extending Poland’s eastern frontier.

    This is where two of Pilsudski’s actions had a massive effect on the future of the world. When examining the situation in Russia, Pilsudski had a problem:

    Pilsudski was aware that the Bolsheviks were no friends of independent Poland, and that war with them was inevitable. He viewed their advance west as a major problem, but also considered the Bolsheviks less dangerous for Poland than their Russian Civil War opponents. These “White Russians”—representative of the old Russian Empire—were willing to accept only limited independence for Poland, probably within borders similar to those of the former Congress Poland, and clearly objected to Polish control of Ukraine, which was crucial for Pilsudski’s Intermarum project.

    This was in contrast to the Bolsheviks, who proclaimed the partitions of Poland null and void.Pilsudski thus speculated that Poland would be better off with the Bolsheviks, alienated from the Western powers, than with a restored Russian Empire [allied with Britain and France].

    The sheer craziness of the Bolsheviks, as evidenced by such actions as unilaterally declaring peace with German without German agreement, led people to underestimate them. No one that nuts, especially a movement led by coffee-house intellectuals and hippies, could possibly last long against battle hardened White Armies, backed, as they were, by the Allied Powers. So Pilsudski decided not to move against the Bolsheviks in mid-1919. If he’d attacked the Bolsheviks at that time, Polish arms would have destroyed the Bolshevik regime.

    Later, the Bolsheviks were drawn west as German forces finally withdrew from Russian territory. Their advancing forces clashed with Polish forces moving eastward. In response, following his Promethean philosophy of encouraging independence among the nationalities of the former Russian Empire, Pilsudski signed an alliance with the Ukraine. Together they attacked the Bolsheviks. After some success, the Russians, raising the specter of the ancient Polish enemy, rallied the Great Russian people and counter-attacked, driving the Poles back into Poland.

    This is where a second action of Pilsudski led to historic changes. Here I will channel Niall Ferguson from The Pity of War and conjecture that a collapse of Poland in 1920 would have allowed Bolshevik forces, as they openly proclaimed, to invade Germany and Austria. As Ferguson argued that British intervention on the continent in 1914 saved France from Germany and thus led to all the horrors of World War I and its demon spawn, Polish collapse in 1920 might have triggered an intervention that led to the Bolsheviks being destroyed. While the Reds may not of been successful in occupying Berlin or large parts of central Europe, the Weimar Republic was weak and may have crumbled under even a weak Russian attack. The prospect of Communism advancing into central Europe and threatening western Europe might have triggered a renewed and more vigorous intervention in Russia by the Western Powers, possibly with broad public support. That might have led to the suppression of the Bolshevik regime.

    This speculation is, of course, speculation. But opinion of the time, in the words of Norman Davis:

    Pilsudski had nothing of his later prestige. As a pre-war revolutionary he led his party to splits and quarrels; as a general in the WWI he led his legions to internment and disbanding; as a marshal of the Polish Army he led it to Kyiv and Vilnius, both now lost to Poles. He left the Polish Socialist Party and his Austro-German allies; refused to ally himself with Entente. In France and England he was considered a treasonous ally who leads Poland into destruction; in Russia he was seen as a false servant of the allies, who would lead imperialism to ruin. All – from Lenin to Lloyd George, from Pravda to Morning Star - considered him a military and political failure. In August 1920 all were in agreement that his catastrophic career will be crowned with the fall of Warsaw.

    As it was, Poland fought off the Russian attack under Pilsudski’s military leadership. The Poles had Russian codes and were able to listen in on their communications traffic. The result was Polish victory in the Battle of Warsaw, which featured the last decisive cavalry charges in military history. Russian forces completely collapsed and the Poles completely drove them from Poland. The Bolsheviks sued for peace and Poland’s civilian government, abandoning its Ukrainian allies over Pilsudski’s objections, made peace, and even passed on large territorial gains offered by the Russians in favor of a more compact Poland. Pilsudski’s political opponents, who controlled the government, focused on forming a Poland for the Poles, only accepting territory that contained Polish majorities or populations that could be “polonized”. Belarus and Ukraine, ironically, were partitioned between Poland and Russia. Pilsudski’s two grand strategic schemes were stymied. Poland would pursue neither a federation with an independent Ukraine nor a comprehensive policy of breaking up Russia into smaller and more manageable pieces.

    Poland lapsed into a period of internal disorder that only ended when Pilsudski led a coup that overthrew the elected Polish government. Pilsudski became dictator and bloodily restored order to Poland. Authoritarian rule allowed Pilsudski to pursue his two strategic threads. While the Polish government under Pilsudski gave support to exile organizations representing reconquered Russian nationalities, little came of it. Pursuit of Prometheism and Intermarum lapsed after Pilsudski’s death in 1935. The pursuit was utterly extinguished after the outcome the two interwoven strategic threads were meant to prevent, a two front war followed by a fourth partition, took place.

    Like many ideas, Prometheism and Intermarum experienced an unexpected reappearance in the last years of the Cold War. In the usual pattern of Special Providence, the United States achieved by accident what Pilsudski sought through design. The Soviet Union was torn down to its constituent nationalities. Even the core Russian Federation was threatened with disunion, fulfilling the ends of Prometheism. Central Europe and the Baltic states were federated under the auspices of the EU and NATO. Even though the first Bush administration sought to preserve the Soviet Union in an ironic echo of Britain and France failed policy in 1918-1919, the people of the Soviet Union took matters into their own hands and frustrated the design of sophisticated American analysts, pundits, and diplomats to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

    Current American policy favors Russia’s reassertion of control over its former territories. While Americans remain oblivious and forget about Russia’s historical ambitions, Russia’s former subjects and its neighbors are well aware of Russia’s tender mercies. If Poland is not pursuing an explicit policy of Prometheism and Intermarum, it may end up pursuing such a policy by default, irrespective of American fickleness and incompetence. It can be argued that the level of Russia’s formal or informal control over its “near abroad” means little to America’s national interests. Indeed, if the Promethean stirrings of 2005-2008 are any evidence, direct American pursuit of such a strategy may prove counter-productive.

    American strategy works best when the U.S. can stumble around and, through luck, sheer size, and incoherent friendliness, comically trip and fall on the offending party, crushing them under its bulk. A proverb shared by both America’s friends and enemies is: America: No Better Enemy, No Worse Friend. Skill and finesse are not American strengths, only occurring sporadically and accidentally.

    Poland and its neighbors should pray for their own special providence.

    Share

    My lunch with a jihadi 2: enter the Mahdi

    Wednesday, January 22nd, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron -- more food for thought -- same article, different topic ]
    .

    Here’s the part of the conversation where we hear about the Mahdi. IMO, it’s well worth your time to read it… the first part is more serious, the second part more light hearted.

    Now it was Abu Hassar who laughed right in my face. “For your government, it’s no worse a position than the one they’re in now. We used to be friends, remember, in Afghanistan, in the ‘80s. If we went from being allies to enemies that means we can go from being enemies to allies.”

    “Okay, so how does that end?” I asked. “My government arms the Islamists. Tell me how that ends?”

    “You really want to know?”

    I nodded.

    “The Prophet predicted all this,” began Abu Hassar, speaking as if from some place of deep personal knowledge. “He said it begins with the boys, writing and speaking messages of a new future in the streets.” Abu Hassar stopped and looked at Abed for a moment. In that look, it seemed Abed and the democratic activists of 2011 were the boys Abu Hassar was speaking about. “The messages spread, breeding outrage and a war fought by the men. This is what we see now. In that war, an Islamist Army rises, uniting to destroy all others. Then a tyrant is killed. This is Assad. His army will fall. Afterwards, among the Islamists, there will be many pretenders. The fighting among them will go on.”

    Abu Hassar looked down at my notepad. I hadn’t been writing anything down. This seemed to bother him. “You know all this?” he asked.

    “It’s all happening right now,” I said. “The infighting, the rise of the Islamists, how does that end?”

    “The Syrian people thirst for an Islamic State,” said Abu Hassar. “After so much war, they want justice. After Assad falls and when there is fighting among the pretenders, a man will come. He is a common man, but he will have a vision. In that vision, God will tell him how to destroy His enemies and bring peace to all peoples. That man is the Mahdi.”

    I wrote down the word: Mahdi, a heavy and dissatisfied dot above the ‘i’.

    “You don’t believe me?” said Abu Hassar.

    I stared back at him, saying nothing.

    “You think as poorly armed as we are, we can’t defeat Assad and his backers?”

    “It’s not that,” I said.

    Abu Hassar continued: “Our weapons don’t matter as much as you think. Even Albert Einstein predicted what’s happening now. He said that the Third War would be a nuclear war, but that the Fourth War would be fought with sticks and stones. That’s how we beat you in Iraq, with sticks and stones. Whether we are helped or not, this is how we will create our Islamic State even with the super powers of the world against us.”

    “So the plan is to wait for the Mahdi?”

    “He walks among us now, a simple man of the people, the true redeemer.”

    I shut my notebook. Our waiter was lurking across the room. I caught his eye and made a motion with my hand, as if I were scribbling out the bill for our lunch. He disappeared into the back of the restaurant.

    “What will you do if this is true?” Abu Hassar asked me.

    “If the Mahdi comes?”

    He nodded.

    “That means there will be a peaceful and just Islamic State?”

    Again, he nodded.

    “Then I’ll come visit you with my family.”

    “And you will be welcome,” said Abu Hassar, grinning his wide ear-to-ear grin and resting his heavy hand on my shoulder.

    We’d been sitting for hours, and it was early afternoon. Abu Hassar excused himself to take the day’s fourth prayer in a quite corner of the restaurant. Abed, seemingly exhausted from translating, stood stiffly and went to use the bathroom. I sat by myself, the empty plates of our lunch spread in front of me.

    “Syrie?” he asked, pointing to where Abu Hassar and Abed had been sitting.

    I nodded.

    Our waiter pointed to where Abu Hassar had been sitting. He stroked his face as if he had a thick and imaginary beard, one like Abu Hassar’s. “Jabhat al-Nusra,” he said.

    I shrugged.

    “Amerikee?” he asked, pointing at me, seemingly confused as to why an American would spend so much time sitting with two Syrians, especially one Islamist.

    “New York,” I said.

    He shook his head knowingly, as if to intone the word ‘New York,’ were to intone a universal spirit of ‘anything goes’.

    I handed over the money for lunch. Abed and Abu Hassar returned and we left the restaurant. Outside the gray morning rain was now gray afternoon rain. The cafés were still full of people sitting on green Astroturf lawns, sipping tea that steamed at their lips. Nothing had changed.

    We piled into the black Peugeot and returned to the road. For a while, we didn’t speak. We were tired of our own voices. There was just the noise of the broken wiper in front of me, stuttering across the windshield. Above us, the overcast sky lost its light. Below, Akçakale camp spread in all directions, as gray as a second sky. Something heavy and sad came over Abu Hassar and the heaviness of that thing came over me. He and I had spent the day somewhere else, in a different time. Now he’d go back to the camp and I’d go back to the road.

    But we weren’t there yet. With about a mile left to go, Abu Hassar put his hand on my shoulder. “So you will come visit when the war is over?” he asked.

    “Of course,” I said. “If it’s safe for someone like me.”

    “It would have to be. You would never pass for a Muslim,” said Abu Hassar. He pointed at me and spoke to Abed: “He is such a Christian, he even looks like Jesus!”

    I took a look at myself in the rearview mirror. I hadn’t shaved in a couple weeks. My face was a bit gaunt, my kinked hair a bit unkempt. “Maybe I look like Einstein?” I answered.

    As we pulled over by his brother’s shop, Abu Hassar and I were still laughing.

    “If I look like Jesus,” I said, “you look like the Prophet Muhammad.”

    Abu Hassar shook his head. “No, I don’t look like the Prophet, peace be upon him.” He opened his door and a cold breeze filled our car. I could feel the rain outside hitting my neck. Abu Hassar grabbed my shoulder with his thick and powerful hands. He pushed his face close to mine. Again he was grinning.

    “I look like the Mahdi.”

    That comment, “He and I had spent the day somewhere else, in a different time” is particularly interesting from psychological, anthropological and theological angles.

    Share

    A follow-up piece from Furnish

    Saturday, September 7th, 2013

    [ by Charles Cameron -- here Dr Furnish explores and explains the rival eschatologies afoot in the Syrian conflict ]
    .

    The New Mahdi, from http://ghareb.deviantart.com/art/Ahat-ALGhareb-107961264 via Furnish

    .

    Timothy Furnish has a new post up on Syria at his MahdiWatch blog, supplementing his recent guest post on Zenpundit, Reprehending Ignorance about Syria, in which he discussed sectarian issues, with Intervening (in Syria) Like It’s The End of the World?, in which he zeroes in on the strands of Mahdist expectation and enthusiasm on both sides of the conflict. Dr Furnish’s new post is long, so I’ll offer you some key paragraphs as a teaser, then suggest you go read the rest.

    Iraq has always been more more central to Islamic history than far-eastern or far-western peripheries like Afghanistan or Libya, albeit less so than Syria. Iraq was on the fault-line between Western and “Eastern” civilizations, going back to Roman and Byzantine times, when it was a contested buffer zone between those empires and the various Persian ones. The region of Iraq itself was divided, after the coming of Islam, into Sunni and Shi`i sections — the former often under Ottoman Turkish rule, the latter in the orbit of (or at least doctrinally sympathetic to) the Safavid , and subsequent other Shi`i, Iranian states. To this day, especially post-American occupation (which empowered the Twelver Shi`i Iraqi majority to take power), Iraq is religiously and even eschatologically important for the Twelvers of the world primarily because six of the twelve Imams’ tombs are there and, after his reappearance, the returned 12th Imam al-Mahdi will rule from Kufa, Iraq. However, despite Baghdad’s undeniable importance as a political and intellectual center from its founding in 750 AD to its demise at the hands of the Mongols in 1258, Iraq pales in importance next to Syria for the majority Sunni Muslims, particularly Arab ones.

    Syria was the first area outside the Arabian peninsula to be conquered, and not only was it taken from the superpower al-Rum (the Byzantine Christian Empire), but al-Sham, “Greater Syria” centered on Damascus included Jerusalem, the capture of which “proved” Islamic superiority to the other, corrupted monotheistic religions: Judaism and Christianity. This fervent triumphalism only intensified after the hated Crusaders were expelled from their 88-year occupation by the Syrian Kurd Salah al-Din in 1187, and the “Zionist occupation” of al-Quds (“The Holy”=Jerusalem) since 1948 is seen by many Arab (and other) Muslims are merely a temporary setback, which the Mahdi and Jesus will rectify. Thus many hadiths predict eschatological events transpiring in what the French and Brits used to call “the Levant,” the most important among them including: al-Sufyani, (a “type” of the Muslim antichrist, al-Dajjal, “the Deceiver”) will emerge from Syria; Christians will (re)conquer Syria; the Mahdi will reveal himself; the Dajjal himself appear; Jesus will return by descending into Damascus; the armies of the Mahdi and the Sufyani will battle; and Jesus will kill the Dajjal in or near Jerusalem. After all this the Mahdi and Jesus will jointly rule over a Muslim planet, and eventually both will pass away. The true end of history, and the Final Judgement, will not come for some years after that. Also: the Sunni Mahdi and the Twelver Shi`i one perform virtually the same role, the major differences being 1) the former will step onto the stage of history for the first time, whereas the latter will return from a millennium-old mystical ghaybah, or “occultation;” and 2) Sunni eschatologists prognosticate that the person whom Shi`is believe to be their 12th Imam will actually be the Dajjal—and Shi`is say the same about the Sunni Mahdi!

    Thus, Syria is the most important eschatological venue of Islam, bar none. Quoting sayings of some of their twelve Imams, at least one Iranian government official has superimposed eschatological themes on the Syrian conflict — Hujjat al-Islam (or “Hujjatollah,” a cleric ranking below Ayatollah) Ruhollah Husayniyan, who claims that the strife in Syria is the prelude to the Imam al-Mahdi’s coming and revolution. (This sort of “newspaper exegesis” has been going on for years in Tehran and Qom, actually.) And Twelver Shi`is in neighboring Iraq and Lebanon are not only enthused about this idea, but have been motivated by Mahdism to go join the fight for Bashar al-Asad and the Alawi regime over against its Sunni opponents!

    Here are Dr Furnish’s concluding words.

    While certain writers in the US obsess about Evangelical Christians trying to fit the Syrian Islamic civil war into a Christian eschatological blueprint, the truth is that they have no significant political power (and the ones I know are adamantly against President Obama’s proposed strikes on the al-Asad military) — they just like to opine, talk, and sell books. The true believers in the Mahdi, the Sufyani and the return of the Islamic Jesus — who comprise hundred of millions of Muslims, according to polling data — should be the real focus of concern, most especially those of their ranks putting their beliefs into practice in Aleppo, Dayr al-Zur and Idlib. The Obama Administration would do well to consider the apocalyptic aspect of the Syrian civil war, before committing our forces to helping those of the Mahdi or the 12th Imam.

    As I suggested earlier, now go read the whole thing.

    **

    ICYMI, I think that final phrase — “before committing our forces to helping those of the Mahdi or the 12th Imam” — is one we should read with care in light of his earlier sentence:

    Sunni eschatologists prognosticate that the person whom Shi`is believe to be their 12th Imam will actually be the Dajjal—and Shi`is say the same about the Sunni Mahdi!

    Whichever side we might commit our forces to, in other words, we’d be supporting one strain of Mahdism or the other…

    Share

    Switch to our mobile site