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Youssef Rakha on ISIS, Hollywood, Islam

Monday, May 25th, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — stumbling across a new writer, and taking both note and notes ]
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I recently came across the Egyptian writer Youssef Rakha. He asked me to “add him to my network” on LinkedIn, I checked his profile out and discovered he was a highly respected novelist, we exchanged a few words, his novel The Book of the Sultan’s Seal arrived from Amazon today, and sometime in the last 48 hours I ran across his LA Review of Books article, ISIS, Hollywood, Islam — which contained the phrase:

striking how similar al-Hayat Media Center’s logo is to Al Jazeera’s

Al-Hayat is the outfit that publishes the Islamic State megazine, Dabiq.

**

So I did a due-diligence DoubleQuote:

SPEC DQ logos al jazeera al hayat

And as far as one who does not read Arabic can see, I see.

Two questions arising: correlation or causation? imitation is the sincerest form of flattery?

**

Also of particular interest in Youssef Rakha’s LARB piece, this fierce horror-film-critique of the IS film, A Message Signed with Blood to the Nation of the Cross — the one with the beheading of Coptic Christians by the sea:

I noted that the video is so cinematic it comes across as make-believe. I noted that the Copts were historically against the Crusades. I noted that the ISIS fighters in the film are too herculean to be Middle Eastern, that their victims are the blue-collar breadwinners of indigent families in underdeveloped provinces of my country, guilty of nothing more than the religion of their birth. I noted that they ended up dying where they had gone to — economically — survive.

But I have given you a sip and a taste — read the whole thingthe man can think! the man can write!

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.

**

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.

**

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…

**

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:

**

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.

**

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.

**

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).

**

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

Paris, Charb quotes Zapata or Sartre — or Hobbes?

Sunday, January 25th, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — chasing a wild, but eventually mummified and golden, goose ]
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quote-it-is-better-to-be-the-widow-of-a-hero-dolores-ibarruri

**

Richard Landes wrote a piece on Paris the other day for the LA Times Review of Books’ Marginalia blog, in which he said:

In the words of the martyr in chief, “Charb,” taken up as the manif’s motto: “Better to die standing than live on one’s knees.”

Indeed, in an interview with Le Monde, Charb is quoted as having said:

Je n’ai pas de gosses, pas de femme, pas de voiture, pas de crédit. C’est peut-être un peu pompeux ce que je vais dire, mais je préfère mourir debout que vivre à genoux.

Stéphane Charbonnier — Charb — the editor of Charlie Hebdo, lived those words. But was he quoting?

**

There’s a passage in Joseph Heller‘s Catch 22:

“They are going to kill you if you don’t watch out, and I can see now that you are not going to watch out. Why don’t you use some sense and try to be more like me? You might live to be a hundred and seven, too.”

“Because it’s better to die on one’s feet than live on one’s knees,” Nately retorted with triumphant and lofty conviction. “I guess you’ve heard that saying before.”

“Yes, I certainly have,” mused the treacherous old man, smiling again. “But I’m afraid you have it backward. It is better to live on one’s feet than die on one’s knees. That is the way the saying goes.”

“Are you sure?” Nately asked with sober confusion. “It seems to make more sense my way.”

“No, it makes more sense my way. Ask your friends.”

**

The quote has been attributed, with greater or lesser validity, to:

  • Albert Camus
  • Jean-Paul Sartre
  • In Australian jest, it has been attributed to Thomas Hobbes:

    In the December 1982 edition of Rolling Stone, Thomas Hobbes published a scathing review of Midnight Oil’s ‘10-to-1’ album. Midnight Oil, Hobbes claimed, were corrupting Australian youth with such politically incendiary tracks as ‘Short Memory’ and ‘US Forces’. But it was the lyrics to ‘The Power and the Passion’ with which Hobbes took particular issue, writing:

    We hear that “It’s better to die on your feet than to live on your knees”. How foolish! What vainglory! Who penned such rot? Was it Hirst, Moginie or Garrett? Have The Oils taken leave of their senses? Anybody who has lived through the English Civil War and who can ratiocinate knows that the opposite is true. Standing up for political ideals can only lead to political subversion, civil unrest and, ultimately, civil war. And with civil war comes a return to the State of Nature — a state in which all persons, upright, kowtowed and procumbent, face the constant threat of death; a state in which, as I have argued elsewhere (see my Leviathan (Bohn, 1651)), life for all is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short”. All things considered, therefore, it’s better to live on one’s knees than to die on one’s feet.

    In this entry I’ll give a few working examples of political idealism and political realism before moving onto Hobbes’ criticism of the former and his argument that domestic peace and commodious living require us to forfeit our political ideals lest they undermine the sovereign’s authority.

    **

    Jennifer Speake, in A Dictionary of Proverbs, attributes the quote to Dolores Ibarruri, La Pasionaria, in a speech given on September 3rd, 1936. La Pasionaria was a Basque, and a Republican in the Spanish Civil War, to whom the similar but so different quote at the head of this post is also attributed. Speake goes on to list Emiliano Zapata as another to whom the quote is often attributed, and to list various later uses.

    And hey, the quote has also been attributed toL

  • Che Guevara
  • **

    Okay, so who actually died on his knees? Tutankhamun, apparently:

    The pharaoh’s injuries have been matched to a specific scenario – with car-crash investigators creating computer simulations of chariot accidents. The results suggest a chariot smashed into him while he was on his knees – shattering his ribs and pelvis and crushing his heart.

    Tutankhamun 602

    Sisi followup: two publications of significant interest

    Friday, January 16th, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — SH Nasr’s The Study Quran and the Diyanet collection of ahadith ]
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    Quran & Ahadith

    **

    In a recent post I quoted President Sisi‘s speech calling for “a revolution” in Islamic thinking about “that corpus of texts and ideas that we have sacralized over the centuries” and which is now “antagonizing the entire world”. I would like to bring your attenbtion here to two publications which may well provide support for such a rethinking: SH Nasr’s The Study Quran and the Diyanet collection of ahadith

    **

    The Study Quran:

    I have seen some of the proofs of this Quran, and it strikes me that once it is published (in Fall this year) it is likely to be the resource of record for anyone lacking in depth Arabic language skills and knowledge of Islamic thought across history. Superb, and very auspiciously timed.

    From their prospectus:

    In The Study Quran, renowned Islamic scholar Seyyed Hossein Nasr and a team of editors address the deeper spiritual meaning of the Quran, the grammar of difficult passages, legal and ritual teachings, ethics, theology, sacred history, and the place of various passages of the Quran in Muslim life.

    For the first time, both Muslims and scholars will have a clear and reliable resource for looking up the history of interpretation for any passage in the Quran—together with a new, accurate English translation.

    From the book itself:

    The Quran is the constant companion of Muslims in the journey of life. Its verses are the first sounds recited into the ear of the newborn child. It is recited during the marriage ceremony, and its verses are usually the last words that a Muslim hears upon the approach of death. In traditional Islamic society, the sound of the recitation of the Quran was ubiquitous, and it determined the space in which men and women lived their daily lives; this is still true to a large extent in many places even today. As for the Quran as a book, it is found in nearly every Muslim home and is carried or worn in various forms and sizes by men and women for protection as they go about their daily activities. In many parts of the Islamic world it is held up for one to pass under when beginning a journey, and there are still today traditional Islamic cities whose gates contain the Quran, under which everyone entering or exiting the city passes. The Quran is an ever present source of blessing or grace (barakah) deeply experienced by Muslims as permeating all of life.

    Inasmuch as the Quran is the central, sacred, revealed reality for Muslims, The Study Quran addresses it as such and does not limit it to a work of merely historical, social, or linguistic interest divorced from its sacred and revealed character. To this end, the focus of The Study Quran is on the Quran’s reception and interpretation within the Muslim intellectual and spiritual tradition, although this does not mean that Muslims are the only intended audience, since the work is meant to be of use to various scholars, teachers, students, and general readers. It is with this Book, whose recitation brings Muslims from Sumatra to Senegal to tears, and not simply with a text important for the study of Semitic philology or the social conditions of first/seventh-century Arabia, that this study deals.

    **

    The other publishing venture of great interest in this context is Turkey’s Diyanet project for a contemporary selected edition of the Hadith.

    Emran El-Badawi, co-director of the newly formed International Qur’anic Studies Association, told the Christian Science Monitor in 2013:

    Change is certain to come to the Islamic world, not just to the streets of Cairo or Istanbul but deep within Islam’s religious tradition as well. The Turkish Directorate of Religious Affairs, called the Diyanet, recognizes this with its seven-volume revision of the Hadith – which is the source of Sharia law and second only to the Quran.

    Thousands of the prophet’s sayings and traditions were circulated and eventually collected in the centuries after his death in 632. The sheer size of Hadith collections and their archaic 7th century Arabian context have made the texts too intractable for many Muslims today. This is the challenge which the six-year Turkish Hadith project, with its selections and interpretive essays, seeks to overcome.

    The central issue surrounding the Hadith, as with other foundational religious works such as the Bible, is whether it should be read literally or in a historical context and for its inspired message. A literal reading, for instance, may seek to justify medieval practices like severing the hands of thieves or allowing underage marriage. An inspired interpretation would see them as historical practices absent the kind of rule of law that democracies like Turkey have today.

    The question for Turkey’s new multi-volume set is whether its contemporary interpretations can be widely appreciated by the Islamic community, or whether they will be considered too avant-garde – the fate of previous modern interpretations.

    Elie Elhadj, in his post A Turkish Martin Luther: Can Hadith be Revised? on on Joshua Landis‘ Syria Comment blog wrote in 2010:

    The Indian Islamic thinker Muhammad Ashraf observed that it is curious that no caliph or companion found the need to collect and write down the Hadith traditions for more than two centuries after the death of the Prophet (Guillaume, Islam, 1990, 165). Ignaz Goldziher concludes “it is not surprising that, among the hotly debated controversial issues of Islam, whether political or doctrinal, there is none in which the champions of the various views are unable to cite a number of traditions, all equipped with imposing Isnads” (Goldziher, Muslim Studies, 1890, Vol. II., 44). John Burton observes, “the ascription of mutually irreconcilable sayings to several contemporaries of the Prophet, or of wholly incompatible declarations to one and the same contemporary, together strain the belief of the modern reader in the authenticity of the reports as a whole” (Burton, An introduction to the Hadith, 1994, xi).

    Leaders of Turkey’s Hadith project say successive generations have embellished the text, attributing their political aims to the Prophet Muhammad (BBC, February 26, 2008).

    And Tom Heneghan, Religion Editor for Reuters noted in 2013:

    The collection is the first by Turkey’s “Ankara School” of theologians who in recent decades have reread Islamic scriptures to extract their timeless religious message from the context of 7th-century Arab culture in which they arose.

    Unlike many traditional Muslim scholars, these theologians work in modern university faculties and many have studied abroad to learn how Christians analyse the Bible critically.

    They subscribe to what they call “conservative modernity,” a Sunni Islam true to the faith’s core doctrines but without the strictly literal views that ultra-orthodox Muslims have been promoting in other parts of the Islamic world.

    As to its likely influence, in Egypt and thus (I infer) on Sisi’s project, Heneghan offers this hint:

    “Among intellectuals in Egypt, there is a welcome for this new interpretation which they think is very important for the Arab world to be exposed to,” said Ibrahim Negm, advisor to Egypt’s grand mufti, the highest Islamic legal authority there.

    **

    I haven’t seen any reference as yet to the preparation of an English translation.


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