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Jottings 10: The rabbi who cried Allahu Akbar

Monday, February 17th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron — expect the unexpected ]
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I can’t claim to understand Hebrew or Arabic, but the late Rabbi Menachem Froman, a leading Gush Emunim settler rabbi, can clearly be heard shouting “Allahu Akbar” at 5.37 and then repeatedly at 5.42 and following.

What’s going on?

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I wrote a while back:

I am hoping to make Jottings a continuing series of brief posts, some serious and some light-hearted, that release the toxins of fascination and abhorrence from my system rapidly, ie without too much time spent in research. Jottings — hey, my degree was in Theology, Mother of the Sciences — derives from the English “jot” — and thence from the Greek iota and Hebrew yod, see Wikipedia on jots and tittles.

Today, I hope to post four more of them. This one’s the first.

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Rabbi Froman was visiting a mosque that had been desecrated the previous day by a group of his fellow settlers, who had scribbled the phrase “price tag” and some slurs against the Prophet on the walls, then set the mosque on fire.

Harvard Professor Noah Feldman, in a Bloomberg op-ed titled Is a Jew Meshuga for Wanting to Live in Palestine? explains:

If Israelis and Palestinians agree on one thing, it’s that more settlements in the West Bank will eventually make a two-state solution impossible. Rabbi Menachem Froman, who died on March 4 at age 68, thought differently.

Froman was a proud and early settler, a founder of the hard-line Gush Emunim (“Bloc of the Faithful”), theologically committed to permanent Jewish settlement in what he considered historical Judea and Samaria. But Froman also fully accepted the idea of a Palestinian state there — in which he and his fellow settlers would continue to live as minority citizens.

Crazy, you say — as did just about everyone else in Israel, to say nothing of other settlers. Froman played up the appearance of madness by appearing in Palestinian villages in his prayer shawl, tefillin (phylacteries) and long white beard and blessing the people in Arabic and Hebrew. His acting and speaking like a biblical figure further underscored the impression that he was some sort of unrealistic prophet, whether utopian or dystopian resting in the eye of the beholder.

But why, really, is it impossible to imagine that religiously committed Jews might live under Palestinian sovereignty as citizens in the way that some Palestinian Arabs live under Jewish sovereignty in Israel proper? Looking at the standard reasons carefully, instead of just assuming their truth, can provide us with a much-needed thought experiment about the viability of the two-state solution, which looks increasingly tenuous to its supporters and critics alike.

Food for whatever that thing is that hearts and minds do.

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Related readings:

  • Yair Rosenberg, To Save the Peace Process, Get Religion
  • International Crisis Group, Leap of Faith: Israel’s National Religious and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict
  • Adam Garfinkle, If Kerry Wants To Make Peace in the Middle East, He Should Just Put God In Charge
  • **

    Allahu Akbar — God is Great. Not such an unexpected sentiment coming from a rabbi, after all?

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    Serpent logics: the marathon

    Sunday, November 24th, 2013

    [ by Charles Cameron — oh, the sheer delightful drudgery of finding patterns everywhere ]
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    I’ll start this post, as I did the previous one to which this is a sort of appendix, with a (deeply strange, tell me about it) example of the…

    Matrioshka pattern:


    That’s a piece of jewelry made out of disembodied pieces of Barbies from the extraordinary designer’s mind of Margaux Lange, FWIW.

    **

    This post is the hard core follow up to my earlier piece today, Serpent logics: a ramble, and offers you the chance to laugh and groan your way through all the other “patterns” I’ve been collecting over the last few months. My hope is that repeated (over)exposure to these patterns will make the same patterns leap out at you when you encounter them in “real life”.

    Most of the examples you run across may prove humorous — but if you’re monitoring news feeds for serious matters, my hunch is that you’ll find some of them helpful in grasping “big pictures” or gestalts, noting analomalies and seeing parallels you might otherwise have missed.

    Have at it!

    **

    Here’s another Matrioshka, from the structural end of lit crit that my friend Wm. Benzon attacks with gusto over at New Savannah:

    **

    Enantiodromia:

    You’ll recall this is the pattern where something turns into its opposite… as described in this quote from the movie Prozac Nation:

    I dream about all the things I wish I’d said.
    The opposite of what came out of my mouth.
    I wish I’d said
    “Please forgive me. Please help me.
    I know I have no right to behave this way?”

    Here are a few examples…

    Ahmed Akkari Repents Violent Opposition to Danish Cartoons Lampooning Islam:

    After a Danish newspaper published cartoons satirizing the Muslim Prophet Muhammad, Ahmed Akkari spearheaded protests that ultimately cost the lives of 200 people. Now he says he’s sorry. Michael Moynihan on what changed Akkari’s mind.

    That’s impressive!

    That one’s run of the media mill…

    And this one’s from my delightful, delicious boss, Danielle LaPorte:

    **

    A friend sent me this:

    **

    Let’s just plough ahead…

    Nominalism:

    Nominalism is the category where the distinction between a word and what it represents gets blurry — a very significant distinction in some cases —

    How’s this for naming your donkey after your President?

    Consider this one, another instance of nominalism in action, from the French justice system:

    A mother who sent her three-year-old son Jihad to school wearing a sweater with the words “I am a bomb” on the front, along with his name and ‘Born on September 11th’ on the back, was handed a suspended jail sentence on Friday for “glorifying a crime”. A court of appeal in the city of Nimes, southern France, convicted Jihad’s mother Bouchra Bagour and his uncle Zeyad for “glorifying a crime” in relation to the terrorist attacks in the United States on September 11th 2001.

    The classic nominalist image — with which I’d compare and contrast the French three-year-old with the unfortunate name and tsee-shirt — is Magritte’s cdelebrated “Ceci n’est pas une pipe”:

    And here’s one final nominalist example:

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    The spiral:

    Here’s a potential downwards spiral, for those watching India:

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    Straight parallelism:

    This one’s from Jonathan Franzen:

    And meanwhile the overheating of the atmosphere, meanwhile the calamitous overuse of antibiotics by agribusiness, meanwhile the widespread tinkering with cell nucleii, which may well prove to be as disastrous as tinkering with atomic nucleii. And, yes, the thermonuclear warheads are still in their silos and subs.

    **

    Simple Opposition:

    **

    Some of these categories seem pretty fluid — or to put that another way, some of these examples might fit with equal ease into several doifferent categories. Here’s another oppositional class:

    Arms crossed:

    From Ezra Klein and Evan Solta blogging at WaPo’s Wonkbook: The Republican Party’s problem, in two sentences:

    It would be a disaster for the party to shut down the government over Obamacare. But it’s good for every individual Republican politician to support shutting down the government over Obamacare.

    A great “values” juxtaposition:

    And hey, nice phrasing:

    **

    Here’s an example of one of the central patterns of violence and justice:

    Tit for Tat:

    [ the account this tweet came from, which was a media outlet for Shabaab, has since been closed — hence the less than euqal graphical appearance of this particular tweet… ]

    **

    And here, without too much further ado, is a whole concatenation of…

    Serpents biting their tails:

    [ … and that last one of Nein‘s appears to have been withdrawn from circulation ]

    This one I love for its lesson on biblical pick-and-choose:

    This one is also a DoubleQuote:

    when closely followed by:

    And this one really bites:

    **

    To close the series out with more of a bang than a whimper, here’s Serpent bites Tail with apocalypse & gameplay for additional spice:

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    Concerning four flags and two tees

    Wednesday, October 16th, 2013

    [ by Charles Cameron — a brief meditation on word and image ]
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    Flags have been in the news quite a bit recently. There were the Marine Corps and Confederate flags carried by the protester outside the White House in the upper panel below:

    and the flag some protesting Native American (Lakota?) grandmothers took from the white supremacists who hoped to establish a community of the like-minded in the tiny town of Leith, North Dakota — in what one account called an improv “game” of “capture the flag”.

    So that’s two protests, right there. But the title of this post suggests it will concern “four flags and two tees” — and thus far I have mentioned three flags. The fourth is the flag worn as a tee-shirt decoration by one of the Grandmothers, and as shown below (upper panel) it is in fact the flag of the American Indian Movement:

    while by way of contrast, the tee worn by the confederate-and-marine-flags chap is a logo rather than a flag — it’s a Southern Thread Men’s Special Deluxe Art Tee to be exact. As the ad says:

    Alone or under a snap front shirt or a button down, you can show your southern roots or the vintage inspired western look.

    **

    My mind is a side-winder, as you know, so all this thinking about flags and logos got me thinking too about the Logos (or Word of God) and his standard.

    When the Emperor Constantine, for better or worse, co-opted Christianity or converted to it or both, his battle cry in hoc signo vinces (or in this sign you will conquer in late Barbarian, in case that’s your maternal tongue) raised the chi-rho as the sign, ensign, or battle flag — the logo if you will — of the newly baptised Roman Empire. The chi-rho — ☧ — combining the first two letters of the Greek word Christos, and meaning the Anointed One.

    **

    Flags and mottos are consequential things. Which comes first: the image, or the word?

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    Dawn and Decadence, Innovation, & The Face of Battle — top 3

    Friday, October 4th, 2013

    [by J. Scott Shipman]

    From Dawn to Decadence, 500 Years of Western Cultural Life, by Jacques Barzun

    In a year where I’ve not been able to read as much as normal and with 89 days remaining in 2013, these three titles are the best so far. I’m not finished with Dawn, but it seems like the late Professor Barzun is an old friend (here is a video from 2010). Barzun’s opus was published when he was 93 and was almost ten years in the making. Dawn has been sitting on my shelves for four or five years and I’d started it two or three times only to get bogged down and lose interest. Well over half way finished and I’m pretty sure I’ll be rereading this title for years to come (co-blogger Lynn Rees reports he’s read it four times). Barzun’s scope covers the gamut: religion, literature, poetry, theater, painting, sculpture, philosophy, and the aristocracy/life at court. Since many of these topics are interconnected he uses an ingenious method to assist the reader in keeping up. He uses this: (<page number)(page number>) to direct the reader to something previously discussed or something he will cover later. In the text, he will recommend “the book to read is” “the book to browse is” in brackets. I’ve found this method distracting as I’ve read three books he referenced since I started… Barzun also provides generous lift quotes in the margins to give the reader a flavor for a particular writer or idea/example. If the book had a traditional bibliography, I dare say it would cover a couple hundred pages–at least. Dawn has been a pleasure I’ve been taking in small doses and am in no hurry to finish. This is the best book of the genre that I’ve read.

    Men, Machines and Modern Times, by Elting Morison

    Elting Morison’s Men, Machines is reviewed at Amazon by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich as “purely and simply one of the best books ever written on the process of innovation and the interaction of technology, culture, systems, and individual personalities.” I could not agree more. Morison’s book is a collection of essays dealing with change and man’s inherit but paradoxical reaction to it:

    Yet, if human beings are attached to the known, to the realm of things as they are, they also, regrettably for their peace of mind, are incessantly attracted to the unknown and things as they might be. As Ecclesiastes glumly pointed out, men persist in disordering their settled ways and beliefs by seeing out many inventions…Change has always been a constant in human affairs…

    From gunnery at sea to 19th Century railroads, Morison provides illustration after illustration of man, his institutions, and the almost universal resistance of both to change. Morison observes of inventors (real “disruptive thinkers’) [this was written in the early 1950’s]:

    I once collected evidence on the lives of about thirty of these men who flourished in the nineteenth century. A surprising number turned out to be people with little formal education, who drank a good deal, who were careless with money, and who had trouble with wives or other women.

    Morison devotes one essay to the characteristics and ills of a “bureau.” He describes the difficulty of getting anything accomplished within an average bureaucracy—largely because bureaucrats live for process and harmony. He says:

    Taken together, a set of regulations provides a pattern of behavior for the energies bureaus are set up to regulate….Regulations are a way of keeping a system of energies working in harmony and balance…First it is easier to make a regulation than to abolish it.

    Morison’s eighth and concluding essay provide Some Proposals for dealing with change and newness—in a word, solutions to many of the problems identified earlier. That said, only the most dedicated reader will complete the seventh (and longest) chapter, according the Morison, originally intended to be a book about the history of 19th Century American railroad innovation. Overall, I concur with Speaker Gingrich and highly recommend this title.

    The Face of Battle, by John Keegan

    A title needing no introduction at Zenpundit, I’ll only offer this title as one of the best books of the genre I’ve read. Keegan covers three battles across 500 years of history, Agincourt, Waterloo, and The Somme. In each, he brings alive the battlefield and provides the conditions faced by combatants—often up close and personal. Keegan’s scholarship, insight, and importantly, his humility in addressing a topic he admittedly had no first hand experience make this a must read for anyone in the profession of arms, and recommended for anyone seeking more insight into how we fight.

    That’s a wrap, be back soon! 

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    Teju Cole on Nairobi: death and birdsong, death and poetry

    Thursday, September 26th, 2013

    [ by Charles Cameron — on the topic of Nairobi there’s the news — and then there’s Teju Cole ]
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    Teju Cole, left, Kofi Awoonor, right -- photo credits Teju Cole & Peace FM Online respectively

    **

    We’re interested in creativity as well as natsec issues here at Zenpundit, so i thought it might be appropriate to see what a fine writer had to say about the hideous attack and siege of the Westgate mall in Nairobi — and perhaps more importantly, how he chooses to say it.

    Teju Cole is a writer (“award winning” and rightly so) whose insightful and skilfully deployed tweets caught my attention some while back, and have only increased my admiration for him over time. I followed his twitterstream along with others while the events in Nairobi were playing out, and today read his New Yorker blog post covering much the same ground in greater detail.

    What is striking to me about Cole’s approach — the approach of a fine writer, in Nairobi at the time, a friend and admirer of the Ghanaian poet Kofi Awoonor who died at the mall — is the care he takes to balance death with birdsong, death with poetry. In treating matters this way — and we can be sure he is every bit as deliberate in his use of 140 characters as he is in longer-form writings — he both gives a world of context to the small world of the mall event itself, and offers us hope to balance our despair and disgust.

    Cole is reading from his novel Open City at the National Museum at the time the attack on the mall begins:

    During the reading, as word of the attack filtered in, people answered their phones and checked their messages, but, onstage and oblivious, I continued taking questions from the audience

    **

    Here, then, I have pulled together most of the tweets Cole posted in recent days for your consideration, in the order in which he posted them… Together, they offer us a very different way to encounter tragic events from those presented by journalists or analysts.

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    Nature has entered the picture: next up will be death — the death of his poet colleague and friend, described first obliquely in the poet’s own words:

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    Then comes the first of two tweets in which Cole judiciously balances the tragically human and blithely natural worlds, including in his tweet a short soundscape in which those voices are woven together in counterpoint:

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    This one is grim — suitable, or a bit overstated, with its echo of the Holocaust? — a question best left to individual taste, perhaps:

    .
    And then his second polyphonic melding of sounds natural and human-made, joyous and terrifying:

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    He returns to his friend’s death…

    .
    And then again to birdsong, to the natural world, to the world in which the events of the past days are framed…

    **

    There is something powerfully moving about Cole’s tweeted reflections, and I believe they take their impact from the precision with which Cole himself frames and balances the horror with beauty.

    Just today, my friend Jessie Daniels posted a tweet that caught my eye:

    Teju Cole has gone from a tweet to a blog post on the New Yorker site in a matter of days. Here’s just a brief taster:

    The massacre did not end neatly. It became a siege. In my hotel room, about half a mile from the mall, I was woken in the mornings that followed by the sounds of gunfire, heavy artillery, attack helicopters, and military planes. In counterpoint to these frightening sounds were others: incessant birdsong outside my window, the laughter of children from the daycare next door. I read Awoonor’s poems, and watched a column of black smoke rise from the mall in the distance. The poems’ uncanny prophetic force became inescapable. A section of “Hymn to My Dumb Earth” reads:

    What has not happened before?
    An animal has caught me,
    it has me in its claws
    Someone, someone, save
    Save me, someone,
    for I die.

    .
    But you should really read the whole thing: Letter from Nairobi: “I will say it before death comes”.

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