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Landmines in the Garden: religious violence and peace-making

Tuesday, April 1st, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- describing one of two books I am currently working on -- your comments invited ]
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I’m currently working on two book proposals for a publishing start-up a couple of friends of mine are putting together, and wanted to keep interested ZP readers informed. One proposal is titled Landmines in the Garden: religious violence and peace-making, and the other Coronation: the magic of monarchy. In this post, I want to say a little about landmines in the garden.

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Ali parlays with Amru bin Abd al Wudd prior to their duel, illumination from Bal'ami MS

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In what seems to have been my eighth guest post here at at Zenpundit, I introduced readers to the Duel of Ali ibn Abu Talib with Amru ibn Abd Wudd. It’s a story that interests me a great deal, appearing as it does in Muslim lore in Jalaluddin Rumi‘s Mathnawi among other sources — and with a variant form recounted by Joseph Campbell, who makes of it a Samurai story

What I find so fascinating about the story as Rumi and others tell it is that is shows us what are called the “greater jihad” or struggle against one’s selfish nature happening in the context of the “lesser jihad” or war to defend the fledgling Muslim community. It is often claimed that the ahadith which depict these two jihads, with Muhammed obseerving that warriors returning from battle are returning from the lesser to the greater, are of late date and/or dubious provenance, and (tho no expert) I am inclined to accept that claim. Nevertheless, this story vividly illustrates the relation between them — and is one that has been used by Muslim sources more than once to restrain potential and wannabe jihadists from a foolish and dangerous impulse…

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The story of the duel between Ali ibn Abu Talib and Amru ibn Abd Wudd is one in which a great Muslim warrior, Ali, interrupts an act of war (killing an enemy in the course of the “lesser jihad”) because he finds himself filled with angry pride (a condition that is unacceptable in terms of the “greater jihad” of the struggle for purity).

I find it striking that both the Muslim intellectuals / theologians of Ihasanic Intelligence, in “The Hijacked Caravan: Refuting Suicide Bombings as Martyrdom Operations in Contemporary Jihad Strategy” [p. 13], and the Muslim film-maker Kamran Pasha, in his episode of Sleeper Cell [Season 2 episode 4}, offer this tale of Ali and Amru as illustrating the erroneous thinking of AQ and its collowers.

I strongly recommend the sermon and subsequent discussion that Kamran Pasha puts into the mouth of his visiting Imam in that episode, which can be seen here:

— and note in particular how Pasha explicitly connects this story of Ali with the issue of the greater and lesser jihads.

If both the writers of a scholarly treatise and the writer of a popular television series use the same story to convince their fellow Muslims, it seems plausible that the story in question may in fact powerfully and appropriately serve such a purpose as deradicalization — while emanating from within the culture and context of Islam itself.

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I shall be using that story as the narrative heart of my book, which will explore both religious violence and peace-making.

The cover I’d like for the book is this one, since it emphasizes the peaceable side of things — the terrorist side is only too clear, and in my view requires balancing from the side of the peace-makers:

My over-arching theme will be that religions offer us Pardes, Paradise, Firdaws — a garden or orchard of peace — but that buried within their scriptures and narratives there are texts which, if triggered, can be interpretetd as offering divine or transcendent sanction for violence — hence, landmines in the garden.

I am all for the identification and avoidance of landmines.

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Here, then, is my “executive summary” for the book:

War and peace are getting more, not less, religious as we move from the second into the third millennium.

Somewhat to the surprise of those who felt sure the world was growing ever more secular as time went on and the marvels of science and technology prevailed over myth and magic, it seems as though religion is enjoying an upswing — and while this might seem no more than a mild sociological curiosity for many of us, for those concerned with threats to national and international security and peace, it’s a major problem.

And it’s a far more intractable problem than it needs to be, because we have a blind-spot with regard to religious violence: we either don’t see it at all, thinking it’s all just politics as usual, wearing a religious mask — or we think it’s all religion’s fault, or all the fault of one religion in particular — someone else’s religion, one we don’t much like at all. What we don’t see is the whole picture.

There are robust industries proclaiming that religion is responsible for all the woes of our times, and that Islam is responsible for terrorism in particular — and a powerful lobby, backed by US presidents of both parties, that argues that Islam is a religion of peace and that al-Qaida and its offshoots have “hijacked” that peaceable religion for purely political reasons.

In truth al-Qaida is but one expression of Islam — a religion as widespread and diverse across centuries and continents as Christianity or Buddhism — but by no means representative of all that Islam has to offer the world.

In this book, we shall explore the strands of violence, warfare and terrorism to be found across all the major religions — Buddhist killings of Muslims in Myanmar, Sikh separatist assassinations in India, Christian vs Muslim militias in Africa (with touches of cannibalism on both sides), Hindu mobs razing a Muslim temple, Jews attacking the al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem and the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron… and the call, in each of these religions, for moderation and peace.

Christian contemplatives, Islamic Sufis, Taoist masters, Hindu yogis, Tibetan lamas, and Jewish mystics find common cause in a self-surrender to a power greater than themselves, a power which offers love as its highest goal, seeks justice balanced with mercy, and has compassion as its practical expression in the world. These religions do not merely teach peace, they show us how to find it in ourselves, and how to practice it in our lives.

The great and glorious beauties that the various religions have brought into this world offer us fruits of that contemplative love, foretastes of the Garden, the Paradise all religions proclaim. But there are landmines in that Garden. If we are to come to grips with the perils of religious terrorism and hate, we must understand religion’s potential for both violence and peace.

My book will refute the myths, expands our horizons, and offer reconciliation, beauty and hope.

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Your comments and suggestions for the book are most welcome.

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Between the battle lines: how it works

Saturday, March 15th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- a follow up to my earlier post Of dualities, contradictions and the nonduality, with its Yogi Berra / Andrei Tarkovsky DoubleQuote ]
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Abdul Sattar Edhi is the subject of a Telegraph piece I read today:

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Short form, excerpted from this article:

Born in 1928 and thus now more than eighty years old, Abdul Sattar Edhi “lives in the austerity that has been his hallmark all his life.”

60 years ago, he stood on a street corner in Karachi and begged for money for an ambulance, raising enough to buy a battered old van. … Gradually, Mr Edhi set up centres all over Pakistan. He diversified into orphanages, homes for the mentally ill, drug rehabilitation centres and hostels for abandoned women. He fed the poor and buried the dead. His compassion was boundless. [ ... ]

Just 20 years old, he volunteered to join a charity run by the Memons, the Islamic religious community to which his family belonged. At first, Mr Edhi welcomed his duties; then he was appalled to discover that the charity’s compassion was confined to Memons. He confronted his employers, telling them that “humanitarian work loses its significance when you discriminate between the needy”. So he set up a small medical centre of his own, sleeping on the cement bench outside his shop so that even those who came late at night could be served. [ ... ]

Mr Edhi placed a little cradle outside every Edhi centre, beneath a placard imploring: “Do not commit another sin: leave your baby in our care.” … Once again, this practice brought him into conflict with religious leaders. They claimed that adopted children could not inherit their parents’ wealth. Mr Edhi told them their objections contradicted the supreme idea of religion, declaring: “Beware of those who attribute petty instructions to God.”

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All that is by way of context for the three paras that really interest me here, which describe the impact of his non-sectarian, non-partisan — one moght almost say non-dual — approach to the fractured world in which we all live:

Mr Edhi did not distinguish between politicians and criminals, asking: “Why should I condemn a declared dacoit [bandit] and not condemn the respectable villain who enjoys his spoils as if he achieved them by some noble means?”

This impartiality had its advantages. It meant that a truce would be declared when Mr Edhi and his ambulance arrived at the scene of gun battles between police and gangsters.

“They would cease fire,” notes Mr Edhi in his autobiography, “until bodies were carried to the ambulance, the engine would start and shooting would resume.”

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There’s the narrative itself, there’s the face so beautifully carved by the living of that narrative — and there’s the insight which propels both.

For the current work of the Edhi Foundation, see here: EF provides free treatment to 3,104 patients

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

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    Heraclitus at the Vatican

    Sunday, February 2nd, 2014

    [  by Charles Cameron -- within the Vatican, feathers fly -- a second post posted at our zenpuditry site during our recent downtime ]

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    Children, at the side of Pope Francis, release doves in a symbolic prayer for peace in the Ukraine:

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    What happens next is seen in the lower panel — an almost heraldic battle of the birds, black crow against white dove. Consider, then, war and peace, as they are embodied here.

    Heraclitus it was who observed,

    What opposes unites, and the finest attunement stems from things bearing in opposite directions, and all things come about by strife.

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    A Clash of Messianisms: now let me get this straight

    Wednesday, January 15th, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron -- slightly tongue-in-cheek, intrigued at a rhetorical level, not sure who here, if anyone, necessarily believes the words they speak ]
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    Okay, let’s see now.

    • In December 2009, Israeli PM Netanyahu said, “You don’t want a messianic apocalyptic cult controlling atomic bombs. When the wide-eyed believer gets hold of the reins of power and the weapons of mass death, then the entire world should start worrying, and that is what is happening in Iran.” 
    • In April 2012, former Israeli Shin Bet intelligence chief Yuval Diskin, said “I don’t believe in either the prime minister (Netanyahu) or the defense minister (Barak). I don’t believe in a leadership that makes decisions based on messianic feelings…” 
    • In October 2013, Israeli PM Netanyahu told the UN General Assembly, “In our time the Biblical prophecies are being realized.” 
    • In January 2014, Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon is quoted as calling Kerry “obsessive” and “messianic”.
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      I told you messianism was a big deal. Now will you listen?

      At the very least, it’s heating up the rhetoric of the the quest for peace…

      So how many “wide-eyed believers” have gotten hold of “the reins of power and the weapons of mass death” at last count?

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      I coulda made at least two DoubleQuotes out of that little lot.

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