[ by Charles Cameron — a blistering documentary account of Pakistan’s Lal Masjid, jihadist focal point ]
I’ve just been watching the 2015 documentary Among the Believers, now showing on Netflix. It concerns the Red Mosque, Lal Masjid — its teachings, its encouragement of jihad, and the government siege which shut it down in 2007. The speaker denouncing the masjid is Pakistani nuclear physicist Pervez Hoodbhoy.
Here are some screengrabs that caught my eye..
Maulana Abdul Aziz, who runs the place, speaks of his son, who was inside the Masjid during the bloody siege, and lost his life:
He was my only son. When I was in prison, during the final part of the siege, police guards loyal to us told me that since I had only one son, they would smuggle him out of there. But I said no. I told them I was willing to sacrifice him for Allah. You know, I regret the fact that I didn’t died for Allah. They said, “What’s more important than one’s child’s life?”
What is of interest here is the amplified echo of the story of Abraham‘s willingness to sacrifice his son (variously Isaac, Ishmael)
[ by Charles Cameron — do you suppose trees only prostrate before God, Q 55.6, during high winds? ]
This admirable United Nations goal gains Taliban support..
The Taliban, in turn, have the encouragement of the Prophet:
The Prophet (pbuh) said:”If the Hour is about to be established and one of you was holding a palm shoot, let him take advantage of even one second before the Hour is established to plant it.”
Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) said, “There is none amongst the Muslims who plants a tree or sows seeds, and then a bird, or a person or an animal eats from it, but is regarded as a charitable gift for him.”
Dreams were important to Muhammad and his Companions, gave guidance to both bin Laden and Mullah Omar, and are important to ISIS. They are among the “soft” aspects of jihad that we overlook at our peril (cf Thomas Hegghammer).
[ by Charles Cameron — religions taking other religions apart, stone by stone, image by image, song by song ]
Some recently converted Jehovah’s Witnesses appear to have destroyed the altars of indigenous Otomi people in Mexico, an anthopologist has stated:
Assailants have damaged an ancient Otomi Indian religious site in Mexico, toppling stone structures used as altars, breaking carved stones and scattering offerings of flowers, fruit and paintings at the remote mountain shrine known as Mayonihka or Mexico Chiquito. [ .. ]
“I don’t know what religion they belong to, but they destroyed several images that were there,” said Daniel Garcia, the municipal secretary of the nearby township of San Bartolo Tutotepec. “The thing is, there are some religions that don’t believe in using idols.”
Luis Perez Lugo, a professor at the University of Chapingo, visited the site in May and talked to residents of a nearby hamlet, El Pinal, whose residents said they had carried out the attack.
“I was there, and the Jehovah’s Witnesses said they had done it,” Perez Lugo said, noting some were recent converts to the religion who used to go to the site for Otomi ceremonies.
See upper panel, below:
In the lower panel, above, we see a detail from a National Geographic listing of sites attacked by the Islamic State. Three quick notes:
the JWs, if they were JWs, were recent converts; converts often have a zeal all their own
the IS, like the Taliban at Bamiyan, destroys ancient religious sites even if no longer in use
You already know this, but for the record — because Scripture:
In the upper panel, Jewish and Christian scriptures — from the Jewish Ten Commandments in Exodus, and St Paul‘s address to the Athenians, as recounted in the Acts of the Apostles.
In the lower panel — a hard-line contemporary Islamic commentary, citing two ahadith.
So it’s Jehovah’s Witnesses and hard-line Muslim literalists who approve of the destruction of monuments to false gods, is that what this means?
They are not alone. In the upper panel, below, recent news of the Chinese — avowed atheists — continuing their attacks on Tibetan Buddhism, this time by mandating the dismantling of Buddhism’s largest monastic university at Larung Gar:
In the lower panel, above, we see some of what remains of the great Abbey of Glastonbury, torn down during the Dissolution of the Monasteries under King Henry VIII.
Glastonbury has strong associations with Arthurian and Christian traditions:
William Blake’s dramatic poem ‘Jerusalem’ familiar nowadays as an inspirational hymn, draws on the myth that Christ himself may have visited Glastonbury with Joseph of Arimathea and ‘walked on England’s mountains green’.
The Gospels record that Joseph of Arimathea was a wealthy follower of Christ who buried Christ’s body in his own tomb after the Crucifixion.
In the Middle Ages Joseph became connected with the Arthurian romances of Britain. He first features in Robert de Boron’s Joseph d’Arimathie, written in the twelfth century, as the Keeper of the Holy Grail. He receives the Grail (the cup used by Christ at the Last Supper) from an apparition of Jesus and sends it with his followers to Britain.
Later Arthurian legends elaborated this story and introduced the idea that Joseph himself travelled to Britain, bringing the Holy Grail with him and then burying it in a secret place, said to have been just below the Tor at the entrance to the underworld. The spring at what is known as Chalice Well is believed to flow from there. In their quests King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table searched for the Grail.
Glastonbury retains its place in English hearts to this day, albeit in contemporary guise — it is the Yasgur’s Farm of England’s ongoing Woodstock — mud, sex, drugs, rock and all — the yearly Glastonbury Festival —
It is also — in the form of Blake‘s hymn “And did those feet in ancient time” — a part of such ceremonial events as the Last Night of the Proms — and Royal Weddings:
But more on Blake’s poem — known as Jerusalem, and taken from his preface to Milton a Poem — in an upcoming post, Creek willing.
Finally, what an exceptionally lovely early DoubleQUote is this, returning us to the topic of sacred places and images and their destruction:
What we have here is a page from the Chludov Psalter — ask Wikipedia for that what means, I only just ran across it in the course of writing this piece — but it’s a 9th century Byzantine prayer book, illuminated with illustrations attacking the iconoclasts — those Christians who wanted to destroy icons and other Christian images for reasons not dissimilar ton those of the Taliban.
In the illustration to the right, the miniaturist illustrated the line “They gave me gall to eat; and when I was thirsty they gave me vinegar to drink” with a picture of a soldier offering Christ vinegar on a sponge attached to a pole. Below is a picture of the last Iconoclast Patriarch of Constantinople, John the Grammarian rubbing out a painting of Christ with a similar sponge attached to a pole.
Let’s take a closer look:
Both verbally and visually, then, we have a direct comparison of the Roman soldier mocking the dying Christ, and the icon-hating Patriarch erasing Christ’s image from a wall.. And they call him the Grammarian!
But let’s proceed:
John is caricatured, here as on other pages, with untidy straight hair sticking out in all directions, which was considered ridiculous by the elegant Byzantines.
No punks, apparently, these Byzantines!
And the coup de grâce? House the sacred book in a state museum..
Nikodim Kondakov hypothesized that the psalter was created in the famous monastery of St John the Studite in Constantinople. Other scholars believe that the liturgical responses it contains were only used in Hagia Sophia, and that it was therefore a product of the Imperial workshops in Constantinople, soon after the return of the Iconophiles to power in 843.
It was kept at Mount Athos until 1847, when a Russian scholar brought it to Moscow. The psalter was then acquired by Aleksey Khludov, whose name it bears today. It passed as part of the Khludov bequest to the Nikolsky Old Believer Monastery and then to the State Historical Museum.
Last week I wrote about the tragedy of Anne Smedinghoff, who died on a patrol in Qalat Afghanistan. This is part 2 of the story–
My intention here is to illustrate HOW? rather than “what” we (Dr. Rich Ledet and I) did regarding the proper means to improve education in rural Afghanistan. I submit that our method is more reliable, predictable, measurable and can be replicated; yay scientific method.
Dr. Ledet and I leveraged an unusually strong partnership with a key Afghan political-religious leader. More than simply believing that we had a great relationship, we’d taken steps to build and validate the strength of our partnership, leveraging tools I had personally developed over years of immersion in conflict environments.
To begin with, we avoided the common US “crutch” of dominance, never assuming that we were “in charge.” Not only did we share many meals and tea with him, but we socialized with him and his family apart from any other American military elements. We also invited this leader to our dining facility to eat with us on numerous occasions. We shared our relevant reports (normally made for US elements only, these reports dealt with our evaluation of his region) with him (unclassified or FOUO) so that he could better understand our role and how the US was attempting to support him–This post is long enough already. I’ll have to come back to this particular topic later.
As a side note, I thought I had a great relationship with this leader after working with him almost daily for months. One day, he sat back, put his hand above his head and said, “I get what you are doing now. I understand that you are truly helping me with the Americans.” This breakthrough was surprising, as I thought we already had a good partnership. But I had misjudged what was previously accomplished, and the lesson I learned was that not only is trust VERY hard to earn, but also that there are different forms of trust to be accounted for when attempting to partner with leaders in conflict environments. Only after this point did I realize that I had earned an additional level of trust, and that he allowed me more latitude and access than he afforded any other American. In fact, I could come to him for advice, as he knew that I was genuinely working to support the Afghans in a way that was within the bounds of their customs.
We brought our research problem regarding education to our partner, and asked him how to best work toward a solution. He immediately identified the other elders with whom we needed to discuss and work, while providing us with the new Provincial Minister of Education’s (MoE) personal phone number (which we did not previously have on record) and advised us to mention his name when we talked. He noted that he was also attempting to work with the MoE on education in his district, and although they hadn’t always agreed, he felt the MoE was an honest man.
This process of partnering, and acquiring information about other leaders and the MoE, demonstrated a measure of trust indicating that our partner indeed valued us and our efforts. Further his validation through providing us with an introduction to other key decision-makers in the province which gave us unique access to a set of leaders that didn’t typically interact with US elements. We had truly entered through a more culturally appropriate door, as our partner trusted that we would not expose him in a negative light to the other leaders.
Once we were able to make contact with the recommended leaders, we were careful to explain the agenda, set up appointments, and accommodate their schedules as best as possible. We never showed up unannounced, or uninvited. With the safety of all involved in mind, we took time to determine their preferred place of meeting, which was critical considering that we lived on an American forward operating base, and could move in heavily protected convoys. We were remarkably “safer” than those leaders, as they lived in constant threat. We displayed a respect for their safety when we considered their venue preference. While these logistical steps seem obvious, we found this level of respect nonexistent in DoS, PRT and US forces attempting to work with local leaders, again relying on domination to achieve goals; US forces prefer to show up unannounced, unscheduled and take over the Afghan leader’s schedule as we set fit.
When we met, the recommended leaders were also accompanied by multiple religious elders. We didn’t ask them to do this, by the way, but it was something that was required in their culture. This was also an indicator to us that we approached the problem from the most culturally appropriate angle known to us (and recommended by our Afghan partner who originally set us up for success). Afghan leaders, when not influenced by Americans, will have a religious leader (mullah) present as they make decisions.
Over the course of several meetings, and after deliberation between the MoE and other family and religious leaders, we were able to ascertain what was expected in terms of US assistance. Keep in mind that what we were also doing was helping to link family, religious, and political leaders with a valid MoE backed plan to improve education throughout all of Zabul province; a critical element of creating stability wins.
These leaders never asked for money. They never asked us to build another school. They recognized that we could help, and they also wanted us to help them determine if these programs were working. They knew we had the capacity, which they knew they did not, to help them measure the success of the program.
What is most telling is that these leaders noted a lack of security, which is a common theme throughout my time in conflicted areas. Security concerns are superior, and every other effort is subordinate. This is where you need to pay attention DoS–The MoE asked that he never be seen engaging with the US at his office, as US patrols could only expose him to harm, he and other leaders wanted to reduce the amount of contact between US forces and their children for the same reason. Moreover, leaders in the district wanted us in the background, as they wanted to see the Afghan government and the MoE doing their job. They wanted the people living in Zabul Province to see the same–This is setting the stage for believable, culturally based stability win…and there is no photo op.
Our work established the beginnings of a clear plan that meets the requirements for creating stability. It satisfies a test we developed that indicates potential success when conducting non-lethal missions or operations…Is the operation Afghan inspired, Afghan led, Afghan provisioned, and sanctioned by a Mullah?
Is it possible that if DoS had bothered to teach Anne this test or heed our report, that she would still be alive?
Zenpundit is a blog dedicated to exploring the intersections of foreign policy, history, military theory, national security,strategic thinking, futurism, cognition and a number of other esoteric pursuits.