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Some recent words from the Forgiveness Chronicles

Tuesday, March 17th, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — is this the foolishness of men, or of God? ]
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Martyrs

Icon by Coptic artist Tony Rezk. The martyrs’ faces are the faces of Christ.

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In a CNN piece titled Coptic Christian bishop: I forgive ISIS, Angaelos, General Bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the United Kingdom, had this to say:

Q: Not long after the video released, you tweeted about the killings, using the hashtag #FatherForgive. Did you mean that you forgive ISIS?

A: Yes. It may seem unbelievable to some of your readers, but as a Christian and a Christian minister I have a responsibility to myself and to others to guide them down this path of forgiveness. We don’t forgive the act because the act is heinous. But we do forgive the killers from the depths of our hearts. Otherwise, we would become consumed by anger and hatred. It becomes a spiral of violence that has no place in this world.

Striking though that is, you might think it’s easier for a Church official to say such things in a pastoral context than it is for someone more closely involved.

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As described in a Christian Today article, a Young Iraqi girl says she hopes God will forgive ISIS — the article links to a shorter version of this video:

She’s a child, though, and children are inocent in a way that may not survive so easily into adulthood…

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But then there’s a second Christian Today article, titled Brother of slain Coptic Christians thanks ISIS for including their words of faith in murder video. Here we have close family members of those who died, expressing the same grief, the same forgivess, the same assurance, in a second video:

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In yet a third article discussing both videos, Videos showing Christians forgiving Islamic State spread through Middle East, we read:

Beshir Kamel, from the home village of 13 of the 21 Egyptians whom the Coptic Orthodox Church has now recognised as martyrs, prayed that God would “open the eyes” of their killers to be “saved”. Myriam, from Qaraqosh in Iraq, said “God loves everybody” including IS members, but “he wouldn’t let IS kill us”. Sitting in a half-built shopping mall which had become her family’s temporary home, she ended her interview by singing a song of joy about being made complete in Jesus to a tune her mother had written.

Samir said: “These clips provide a counter-shock to the horrifying videos of killings that people receive on mainstream media and to their effect on viewers. Myriam’s and Beshir’s calls are a form of resistance through forgiveness. Forgiveness is the core of the Christian message and the core of the message of SAT-7 at a time when mainstream media avoids reporting on Christians.”

This is distinctly not tit-for-tat, even at close quarters.

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I would like to close with this truly remarkable sermon, given by that same Bishop Angelaos, which sets the forgiveness we have seen above, in the context of theology, humility and witness:

Contextualizing the beheading of Coptic Christians in Libya

Monday, February 16th, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — in real estate it’s location, location, location — in thought space it’s context, context, context ]
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Timothy Furnish offers us context for the newly released video of Islamic State beheadings of 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians (screencap in upper panel, below) with two striking images of precedents, one of which I have reproduced in part (lower panel), illustrating how the Ottomans beheaded tens of thousands of Georgian Christians:

SPEC DQ christians beheaded

Furnish’s post is titled ISIS Beheadings: Hotwiring the Apocalypse One Christian Martyr At A Time.

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I am saddened to say that this is indeed part of the history of Islamic relations with Christianity.

I am happy to add, however, that it is not the whole story. In the upper panel, below, you see Muslim and Christian at a very different form of battle, as found in the Book of Games, Chess, dice and boards, 1282, in the library of the monastery of San Lorenzo del Escorial:

SPEC DQ chess and krishna

Religious tolerance in Islam is illustrated as found today in India, in this picture of a Muslim mother in full niqab taking her son, dressed as the Hindu deity Krishna, to a festival — very probably the Janmashtami or birthday celebration of the child-god (lower panel, above).

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It will be interesting to see how President Sisi repsonds to this murderous IS attack on Egyptian citizens.

Them’s the breaks, I guess

Tuesday, July 30th, 2013

[ by Charles Cameron — a quick round up of prison breaks in Iraq, Libya and NW Pakistan ]
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Mourners pray at the coffin of a victim killed during an attack on a prison in Taji, during a funeral at the Imam Ali shrine in Najaf, 160 km (100 miles) south of Baghdad, July 22, 2013 / credit: Reuters

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On July 22 2013, eight days ago, AP reported Hundreds escape in deadly insurgent attacks on Iraq prisons holding al-Qaeda militants:

Iraqi security forces locked down areas around the infamous Abu Ghraib prison and another high-security detention facility on Baghdad’s outskirts Monday to hunt for escaped inmates and militants after daring insurgent assaults set hundreds of detainees free.

Clint Watts quoted Reuters in a post titled Al Qaeda in Iraq’s Prison Break – Not Good!, two days later:

Monday’s attacks came exactly a year after the leader of al Qaeda’s Iraqi branch, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, launc hed a “Breaking the Walls” campaign that made freeing its imprisoned members a top priority, the group said in a statement.

and commented:

Well, at least we didn’t see this coming.

Laconically, AP also noted:

Jailbreaks are relatively common in Iraq

— a phrase eerily reminiscent of AFP’s comment:

Jailbreaks and prison unrest are relatively common in Iraq

from way back in 2011, in a piece which included a reference to 2006:

Zambur said this was the third attempted jailbreak from the prison.

The first was in 2006, when about 50 members of the Mahdi Army, radical anti-US Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr’s now-deactivated militia, managed to escape.

Maybe it’s never-ending, this story.

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Wind back just a year from today, though, to Bill Roggio‘s report Al Qaeda in Iraq claims nationwide attacks that killed more than 100 Iraqis in the Long War Journal, July 25, 2012:

Baghdadi had originally announced the offensive in an audiotape released on July 21, just two days before the attack; it was his first audiotape announcement since becoming emir in 2010.

“We give you glad tidings of the commencement of a new phase from the phases of our struggle, which we begin with a plan that we have dubbed, ‘Destroying the Gates.’ We remind you of your top priority, which is to release the Muslim prisoners everywhere, and making the pursuit, chase, and killing of their butchers from amongst the judges, detectives, and guard to be on top of the list,” Baghdadi said in the July 21 statement that was translated by the SITE Intelligence Group.

So there we have it: “to release the Muslim prisoners everywhere” is Baghdadi’s “top priority” for the campaign.

In the event, the targeting of that first wave of 2012 attacks was more widely drawn:

In today’s statement, the ISI said that its “War Ministry” organized the offensive and deliberately targeted the military, government agencies, and both Shia and Sunni groups that have opposed al Qaeda.
“The chosen targets were accurately distributed over governmental headquarters, security and military centers, and the lairs of Rafidah [Shi’ite] evil, heads of the Safavid [Iranian] government and its people, and its Sunni traitor lackeys [Awakening councils and Sunni political parties] who sold the religion, the honor and the land, and made the lands of the Muslims permissible along with their cities to the dirtiest people on the earth and the lowest of evils,” the statement continued.

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About three months later, on October 12, 2012 Roggio wrote in LWJ Al Qaeda in Iraq claims credit for Tikrit jailbreak:

The Islamic State of Iraq, al Qaeda in Iraq’s political front, claimed credit for a complex assault on the Tasfirat prison in Tikrit that freed more than 100 prisoners, including dozens of terrorists.

In a statement that was released yesterday on jihadist Internet forums and translated by the SITE Intelligence Group, the Islamic State of Iraq said it executed the Sept. 27 prison break. The terror group said the operation was part of its “Destroying the Walls” campaign, which was announced at the end of July by Abu Du’a, the Islamic State of Iraq’s emir. In that statement, Abu Du’a said that emphasis would be placed on efforts “to release the Muslim prisoners everywhere.”

Now that’s what you might legitimately call “first priority” targeting.

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So that’s our background, up to about a week ago when the latest Abu Ghraib prison break took place.

And since then?

Well, as reported on July 27, More than 1,000 inmates escape from Libyan prison near Benghazi in mass jailbreak — and Reuters reports:

Officials said there had been an attack on the facility from the outside, as well as a riot

Interesting.

And AP reported on the 29th, updated early this morning, Pakistani Taliban fighters overwhelmed guards in prison attack:

DERA ISMAIL KHAN, Pakistan — Prison guards said Tuesday that they were totally overwhelmed when around 150 heavily armed Taliban fighters staged a late-night attack on their jail in northwest Pakistan, freeing over 250 prisoners including over three dozen suspected militants.

It was the second such attack by the Taliban on a prison in the northwest within the last 18 months. But even so, the security forces were totally unprepared for the raid, despite senior prison officials having received intelligence indicating an attack was likely.

As Clint Watts said way up above, so say the Pakistani security folk:

Well, at least we didn’t see this coming.

A Brief Note on the Benghazi Hearings

Thursday, May 9th, 2013

There is legitimate room for debate if there could have been an effective military reaction to the attack in Libya by al Qaida terrorists that killed Ambassador Stevens and other US personnel.  One was apparently never seriously entertained  by senior White House, State Department and Pentagon officials. I think there ought to have been an effort to move heaven and earth and far, far greater willingness to inflict massive casualties on an attacking Libyan mob than existed, but in fairness to the Obama administration, a seat-of-the-pants, unsupported, undermanned response could also have been a replay of Blackhawk Down or Desert One. It’s a tough judgment call for any President.

That’s not why the Obama administration is in trouble today.

Poorly supported security and inept decision making by the State Department in Libya was likewise, disappointing but politically survivable and sadly, unsurprising.. We have seen similar bungling before and after 9/11 by most of our major national security departments and agencies at one time or another. It is a bipartisan phenomenon, albeit one we take far too lightly.

No, as damning testimony today made clear, the Obama administration is in trouble because their poor but not remarkably so handling of Benghazi was shielded by a ridiculous lie told entirely for partisan gain and to protect the overrated reputations and overweening egos of various administration bigwigs, most notably the former Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton.

Is there anyone today – anyone at all – who still believes that Benghazi occurred because of an obscure crackpot’s video on youtube?

Had the administration manfully said “This attack is a terrible tragedy and we dropped the ball but you can believe we won’t make a similar mistake tracking down the people who did this and make them pay” most Americans would have accepted that. No, not rabid partisan Republicans, but most Americans would have wanted to back the President, any President, in the wake of such terrorism which is directed, in the last analysis, at all of us.

They did not – and much of the rest of their reaction indicates that the real concern at State and the White House was and still is with the temerity of their political opponents in daring to demand they account for their actions as if we lived in a Republic or something.

In American politics, it is the self-inflicted wounds that fester and turn gangrenous

The possible unexpected consequences of intervention

Thursday, January 24th, 2013

[ by Charles Cameron — wondering whether it can ever be possible to expect the unexpected, and if so, what exactly that might mean? Libya & Mali ]
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Alex Thurston at Sahel Blog: Covering Politics and Religion in the Sahel and the Horn of Africa posted Libya and Mali, Part I today. The topic is one I am not qualified to comment on, although I’m trying to learn from those (such as AT) who are — but this sentence caught my eye and got me writing:

A failure to soberly consider the possible unexpected consequences of intervention and transition has helped chaos to develop in post-Qadhafi Libya.

I wonder if that’s a koan?

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Is it ever possible to “soberly consider the possible unexpected consequences” of anything? Consider Donald Rumsfeld‘s remark:

There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don’t know we don’t know.

Throw in the missing fourth category, supplied by somebody for Wikipedia:

Moreover, one may criticize Rumsfeld statement for omitting the most dangerous type of unknown: the “unknown known”. That is, as Mark Twain famously expressed it, “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you think you know that just ain’t so”. Indeed, Rumsfeld was really discussing an “unknown known” which provided faulty justification for the war — members of the Bush administration claimed that the Iraqi government possessed weapons of mass destruction (see Rationale_for_the_Iraq_War), but it just wasn’t so.

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Now allow for what you might call informed guess-work, what CS Peirce called abduction — I’m just now introducing my elder son to Eco & Sebeok‘s magnificent book, The Sign of Three: Dupin, Holmes, Peirce — and “non-predictive” attempts to lay out a spread of possible outcomes by means of scenario-planning, as Tom Barnett wrote in his Year 2000 International Security Dimension Project Final Report:

By “decision scenario approach,” we mean using credible scenarios to create awareness among relevant decision-makers regarding the sort of strategic issues and choices they are likely to face if the more stressing pathways envisioned come to pass.

and:

Again, none of our material here is meant to be predictive in the sense of providing a step-by-step “cookbook” approach to Y2K and Millennial Date Change crisis management. Our fundamental goal in collecting and synthesizing this analysis is to avoid any situation where US military decision makers and/or operational commanders would find themselves in seemingly uncharted territory and declare, “I had no idea . . ..”

We (myself at times included) seem to be busily employed making non-predictive predictions.

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Black swansNassim Nicholas Taleb may have been the one who most recently crept up behind us and clapped loudly to alert us to the unexpected, but Stéphane Mallarmé was there first in 1897 with the great graphical poem Un coup de dés jamais n’abolira le hasard, featured in the lower image of the pair at the top of this post.

My own “zen telegram” version, for those who neither know the poem nor read French:

A ROLL OF THE DICE

NEVER

not even when tossed sub specie aeternitatis from the depth of a shipwreck

WILL NEVER EVER ABOLISH

CHANCE

— now there’s a koan for our times — and always.

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Listen to the poets…

Hear the voice of the Bard!
Who Present, Past, & Future, sees;
Whose ears have heard
The Holy Word
That walk’d among the ancient trees…

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Sources and links:

  • Un Coup de Dés Jamais N’Abolira Le Hasard from Wikipedia
  • le début de la typographie moderne by Étienne Mineur with page images
  • Un coup de dés, French original and English translation, by AS Kline

  • See that voice of the Bard, William Blake

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