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Peacemaking: of serious joking and most studious play

Sunday, October 12th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- on the aesthetic element in DoubleQuotes, and peacemaking as making connections; together with Renaissance phrasing of the same ideas ]
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rice hoops
Ambassador Susan Rice on the White House court with the Israeli & Palestinian Peace Players Yesterday

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There’s a fair amount of gaming leaking into the blogging I read these days.

Col. Pat Lang at Sic Semper Tyrannis is hosting an IS/Coalition War Game [1, 2, 3], while over at PAXsims, Rex Brynen is hosting the “game developer’s diary” of Alex Langer, a McGill undergraduate who is “designing a wargame of the current Syrian civil war as a course project” [1, 2].

Both efforts are of interest, but what the PAXsims venture makes clear to me is that I have been using my Zenpundit blogging as, among other things, a “game developer’s diary” for my own game thinking, and in particular for my thoughts about the DoubleQuotes format as a playful / serious analytic tool.

Both playful and serious, because all fresh thinking requires the application of a playful spirit to serious ends — an approach illustrated by the image of Palestinian and Israeli kids on the White House basketball court at the head of this post, by the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra put together by Edward Said and Daniel Barenboim — and enshrined in the Florentine Renaissance motto “iocari serio et studiosissime” — which Marsilio Ficino, the genius behind the Florentine Renaissance, named as the core practice of Pythagoras, Socrates and Plato – “joking seriously and playing assiduously” in Edgar Wind‘s translation.

Which would among other things be the Renaissance Platonist’s answer to Scott Shipman‘s question posed here the other day, What tools do you use to boost your creativity?

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Ficino also said, “the task of Magic consists in comparing things to one another”, as quoted by Mircea Eliade in his Foreword to Ioan Couliano‘s great book, Eros and Magic in the Renaissance.

That’s precisely what my own games do, expressed in Renaissance terms, and my DoubleQuotes in particular.

In terms of theorizing about them, one point I may not have emphasized enough is that the quality of a given DoubleQuote (or move in a HipBone or Sembl game) is dependent on the aesthetics of the juxtaposition.

Let me give you a simple example, not taken from my own work but from a “DoubleQuote in the Wild” — the header illustration to a recent FP post, The Activists Assad Hates Most Are Now Obama’s Problem. FP could have used any two photos of Obama and Assad, photos of Obama on the phone in the Oval Office, say, or Assad against the background of the Syrian flag — but they chose two images that showed the two men in near-identical poses, and it’s that near-identity which gives force to the juxtaposition:

obamaassad

Likewise, I could have chosen any one of a flock of quotes to illustrate British and American forces entering Baghdad in 1917 and 2003 respectively — but the most effective way to make the point was via two quotes that very closely paralleled each other:

SPEC Baghdad

That too is fundamentally an aesthetic choice — a choice that favors the simple elegance of the tightest available symmetry.

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The image at the head of this post show Ambassador Rice on the Court with the Peace Players Yesterday

Peacemaking, too, is often a matter of bringing out the similarities between otherwise opposing forces.

As Nicholas of Cusa, Cardinal of the Roman Church, said in his De ludo globi / Of the Game of Spheres, a distant forefather to Hesse’s Glass Bead Game and thence to my own various games:

This game is played, not in a childish way, but as the Holy Wisdom played it for God at the beginning of the world.

Luditur hic ludus; sed non pueriliter, at sic / Lusit ut orbe nova Sancta Sophia Deo.

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Book Recommendation: Ancient Religions, Modern Politics

Wednesday, August 27th, 2014

[by J. Scott Shipman]

ancient religion

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ancient Religions, Modern Politics, The Islamic Case in Comparative Perspective, by Michael Cook

Charles Cameron recently had a post here at Zenpundit, Which is mightier, the pen or the sword?  Frequent commenter T. Greer recommended this volume in the comment section and I ordered immediately. My copy arrived this morning and I had some quiet time and a bit of commuting time to devote to Cook’s introduction and the first few chapters. This is a very good treatment of roots of Islam and how those roots affect today’s political climate. Cook divides the book into three large parts: Identity, Values, and Fundamentalism. The comparative element is his use of Hinduism and Latin American Catholicism when compared in scope and influence to Islam.

Here are a couple of good pull quotes from the Preface:

I should add some cautions about what the book does not do. First though it has a lot to say about the pre-modern world, it does not provide an account of that world for its own sake, and anyone who read the book as if it did would be likely to come away with a seriously distorted picture. This is perhaps particularly so in the Islamic case—and for two reasons. One is that, to put it bluntly, Islamic civilization died quite some time ago, unlike Islam which is very much alive; we will thus be concerned with the wider civilization only when it is relevant to features of the enduring religious heritage. (emphasis added)

Cook’s emphasis on shared identity is one of the best and most cogent descriptions I’ve found:

“…collective identity, particularly those that really matter to people—so much so that they may be willing to die for them. Identities of this kind, like values, can and do change, but they are not, as academic rhetoric would sometimes have it, in constant flux. The reason is simple; like shared currencies, shared identities are the basis of claims that people can make on each other, and without a degree of stability such an identity would be as useless as a hyperinflated currency. So it is not surprising that in the real world collective identities, though not immutable, often prove robust and recalcitrant, at times disconcertingly so.”

In the same comment thread where T. Greer recommended this Ancient Religions, Charles called Cook’s work his opus. Based on the few hours I’ve spent with the volume and the marginalia, Charles was characteristically “spot-on.”

Published in March of this year, this is a new and important title. With any luck, I’ll complete the book and do a more proper review sometime soon.

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Atran and Husain on Gaza

Wednesday, August 6th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- two voices of moderation with a glimmer of hope -- plus a recap of some recent posts of mine ]
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Scott Atran, Ed Husain

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Scott Atran, an anthropologist at France’s National Center for Scientific Research, John Jay College and the University of Michigan, is co-founder of ARTIS Research and author of Talking to the Enemy. Ed Husain is a senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, and the author of The Islamist. Each has recently expressed an opinion about the grievous situation in Gaza, Atran in a NYT op-ed, and Husain in a CNN interview.

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In U.S. Must Help Deal Directly With Hamas, Scott Atran points up the significance of sacred (not necessarily religious) values on both sides of the conflict in Gaza — and many others:

A chief problem in negotiations in seemingly intractable conflicts is each side’s deep commitment to sacred values that define “who I am, and who we are” as a people, and constitute the foundation of political legitimacy. In studies in world hot spots supported by the U.S. Department of Defense, my research team finds that material incentives or disincentives to force devoted actors to give up cherished values are considered vile insults, as would offers to sell one’s children or sell out one’s country, and only backfire, increasing support for violence and unwillingness to compromise.

But sacred values, especially those grounded in religious beliefs that are by nature unverifiable and unfalsifiable, can be reframed and reprioritized according to circumstances (think of myriad interpretations of biblical commandments). Even “rights” to return or settle can be reinterpreted in different ways with time, as long as people believe that the principle has been maintained.

Ed Husain, in his CNN interview, Bring Hamas to the table, also picks up on the importance of religious figures and of the need for recognition of Israel by Muslim leaders, telling us:

Arab political and religious leaders, despite historic grievances, have a duty to recognize that Israel is their neighbor. Israel is part of the mosaic of the modern Middle East. A change in tone and tenor and a public embrace of Israel by religious leaders will calm the nerves of an anxious Israeli population.

Husain also emphasizes that Hamas is both a terrorist organization and something more:

Hamas had a wide network of schools, financiers, mosques, makeshift hospitals, readily available doctors, banking services, and support for orphans and widows. We in the West deem Hamas a terrorist organization. Yes, one part of it is committed to terrorism, killing innocent civilians in the pursuit of political aims, but we are mistaken if we continue to limit our definition by one aspect of Hamas.

Unless we better understand Hamas, we cannot help halt the killings of Israelis and Arabs in the Middle East. Hamas is not a monolith, nor is it only a terrorist group: It is a social movement, with a mass membership, a popular message of resistance that resonates across the Muslim world, and a political party with which we must negotiate. [ .. ]

In the end, Israel has limited options. Peace is not possible without Hamas, and Hamas is not a simple terrorist outfit. Its political arm, its leadership inside and outside Gaza, despite their tensions, are open to indirect talks with Israel.

Atran, too, sees the possibility of a path to peace, albeit a slow and troubled one:

After pain and spleen are vented over years, grudging accommodation can emerge to stop the killing even if dreams of triumph endure.

Further, both men invoke the example of reconciliation in Northern Ireland, Atran writing:

Still, wars truly end when one side is obliterated or when enemies become nonenemies. For the latter, enemies first must talk. After spleens are vented, over years if necessary, as happened in Northern Ireland, enough grudging accommodation can emerge to stop the killing even if dreams of triumph endure. To succeed, such a process requires persistence, with strong international backing and policing.

and Husain:

Just as the British and American governments negotiated peace in Northern Ireland by reaching out to IRA terrorists through their political wing of Sinn Fein, we must tame Hamas through politics, not the failed strategy of war. [ .. ]

Hamas must be brought in. Almost 2 million people in Gaza need our support. If we fail to bring in Hamas and create a sustained peace that leads to prosperity for Palestinians and Israelis, then we must prepare for an enemy who is worse: Salafi Jihadis. And with Gaza, the popularity of the Salafi Jihadi message will spread far and wide.

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Extreme voices on both sides offer up their grim projects. Hamas in its not-yet-withdrawn Charter quotes the Gharqad Tree hadith, promising an end times war between Muslims and Jews:

The Last Hour would not come until the Muslims fight against the Jews and the Muslims would kill them, and until the Jews would hide themselves behind a stone or a tree and a stone or a tree would say. Muslim or Servant of Allah there is a Jew behind me; come and kill him; but the tree of Gharqad would not say it, for it is the tree of the Jews

— while Knesset member Ayelet Shaked reposts an opinion piece from 12 years ago by Uri Elitzur, PM Netanyahu‘s chief of staff during his first term as prime minister, on her Facebook page, with the comment “as relevant today as it was at the time”:

What’s so horrifying about understanding that the entire Palestinian people is the enemy? Every war is between two peoples, and in every war the people who started the war, that whole people, is the enemy. A declaration of war is not a war crime. Responding with war certainly is not. Nor is the use of the word “war”, nor a clear definition who the enemy is. Au contraire: the morality of war (yes, there is such a thing) is founded on the assumption that there are wars in this world, and that war is not the normal state of things, and that in wars the enemy is usually an entire people, including its elderly and its women, its cities and its villages, its property and its infrastructure.

Against such a background, I believe both Atran’s and Husain’s voices deserve serious consideration.

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Catchup: listing some of my recent posts relating to Gaza:

  • Gaza now stretches all the way to Disneyland
  • Gaza now stretches all the way to God
  • The Daily Illustrated Dante, or is that Milton?
  • Balancing acts & mirror images: 1
  • Balancing acts & mirror images: 2
  • Balancing acts & mirror images: 3
  • Tisha b’Av and Gaza
  • Happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth thy little ones 1: differing perspectives
  • Happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth thy little ones 2: a Christian perspective
  • Happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth thy little ones 3: a Judaic perspective
  • In my view, the two series are each worth reading as series.

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    Balancing acts & mirror images: 2

    Friday, August 1st, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron -- second of (at least) three posts, mostly about Gaza -- high wire stuff ]
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    Here are two young women poets, the hope of the world, mirroring one another in a rare balancing act that leaves neither political / military side of the Israeli-Arab conflict uncritiqued, while the humanity of both sides is respected ansd loved:

    It may be that the balance here is still too young and perfect…

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    Here, then, are two tweets from Gershom Gorenberg, Israeli journalist and my admired Center for Millennial Studies colleague, attempting the delicate balancing act of loving his country with intelligence and nuance:

    Gershom is quoting Joshua Gutoff, who describes himself thus:

    Having finally completed a dissertation on Talmud and the development of the moral imagination, Joshua (a Conservative rabbi by training), is now a professor of Jewish education. An erstwhile contributing editor at the Jerusalem Report, he is available for speaking, teaching, writing, editing…

    Gutoff’s longer piece, can we talk?, is worth your consideration.

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    Here’s Maajid Nawaz of Quilliam, writing under the title Palestine must be free… from Hamas at Jewish News Online:

    In such a poisoned climate, we should strive to maintain a certain moral courage and razor-sharp distinctions for our own sanity, if not for others. Terrorism aims to deliberately target civilians, and benefits specifically from their death or injury as a matter of policy. Hamas has this policy.

    On the other hand, recklessly killing civilians in breach of the international laws of proportionality, while issuing warnings and apologies -– and while trying to target rocket launch sites that Hamas has based in mosques and hospitals –- results in a terrible and disproportionate number of deaths. It is deeply troubling, it must stop. But it is not terrorism.

    No civilian death is justified. However, laws rightly differentiate types of killing, from accidental death, manslaughter, murder, to war crimes and terrorism. We must maintain level heads and some nuance if we are to approach this poisonous debate at all.

    Nawaz, too, is seeking the right balance, the mot juste to explain what is indeed a subtle question.

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    Henry Siegman, an Orthodox rabbi — one time head of the Synagogue Council of America, executive director of the American Jewish Congress and senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations — now serves as president of the U.S./Middle East Project. Interviewed on Democracy Now, under the header, Leading Voice of U.S. Jewry, on Gaza: “A Slaughter of Innocents”, had this to say:

    It [Israel] has what seems on the surface a justifiable objective of ending these attacks, the rockets that come from Gaza and are aimed — it’s hard to say they’re aimed at civilians, because they never seem to land anywhere that causes serious damage, but they could and would have, if not for luck. So, on the face of it, Israel has a right to do what it’s doing now, and, of course, it’s been affirmed by even president of the United States, repeatedly, that no country would agree to live with that kind of a threat repeatedly hanging over it.

    But what he doesn’t add, and what perverts this principle, undermines the principle, is that no country and no people would live the way Gazans have been made to live.

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    Again, the delicate balance is sought — and it interesting to see these two comments together, Nawaz the ex-Muslim terrorist sympathetic to the Israelis vs Hamas, Siegman the rabbi sympathizing with the inhabitants of Gaza…

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    Satire! Fake! Hoax! Internet! [correction on p.16 below the fold]

    Thursday, July 31st, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron -- and yes, "p.16 below the fold" is pretty much the news equivalent of "at the back of the bus" ]
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    A prime-time Dutch TV news show, De Wereld Draait Door, regularly includes a satirical segment, and the other day the segment editors spliced together a number of snippets of Netanyahu speeches to produce this clip, which they may feel represents Netanyahu’s true feelings, but which clearly isn’t what he actually said.

    As the Jewish news agency JTA noted:

    The video, made to appear genuine through seamless splicing of sound bites from previous speeches by Netanyahu, was spread by thousands of Twitter and Facebook users who advertised it under the headline “Netanyahu finally tells the truth.”

    “We are conducting these surgical operations against schools, mosques, hospitals, children,” Netanyahu is heard saying, adding, “This is something I don’t have to explain to Americans.”

    That video is satire. You may like it, you may not like it, but it is satire.

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    Here for comparison is the genuine news video on which it was partly based:

    Two friends of mine, from different areas of my social life, reposted the faked video on Facebook, one of them with the comment:

    fourth reich innit

    No it isn’t. It’s a satirical mashup of Netenyahu speeches, spliced together to make him appear to say the exact opposite of what he actually says.

    And the lady who posted the satirical video got 26,422 (and counting) people to “share” it.

    Look, anyone who can post or share that satirical video piece without noting up front that it is satire is either

  • believing Netanyahu would say such a thing as “We don’t not share your concern about civilian casualties at all .. one of the things we are doing is trying to maximize the number of civilian casualties, we prefer that” to Hilary Clinton, with world news sources watching, without a ripple of suprise or condemnation — or

  • knows it to be a smear, and is using it to stir up hatred in an already hypertense situation
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    In this case, the hatred stirred is against the Israelis. Earlier this week, two other Facebook posts by friends of mine passed along equally misleading memes whose purpose was to stir up hated for Muslims.

    There are important things that need to be said about both Israelis and Muslims in these volatile times — but stirring up hatred is hardly a route that’s likely to lead to peace.

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