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Unholy: perhaps it’s a useful word

Friday, January 30th, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — when religion casts a long and violent shadow ]
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unholy cover
cover art for the Unholy album, New Life behind Closed Eyes

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Unholy may prove to be a very useful word, I think.

It’s not secular, it’s not irreligious, it doesn’t lack for some sort of supernatural influence — in fact it fits right in with the metaphysical implications of such Biblical phrases as (Revelation 12.7):

there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels

and (Ephesians 6.12):

we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places

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Because, I am arguing, it is neither secular nor irreligious, it fits perfectly, I’d say, the kinds of situation we’re in so freuqnetly, globally, of religiously motivated group violence.

The word jihad — besides focusing entirely on Islamic variants, when in fact Buddhist, Hindu and Christian militians are also in evidence — concedes too much to those who regard their warfare as holy, divinely sanctioned, while other terms make things sound secular and almost normal, as if politics without the religious booster was all we are talking about.

BrutaL and spiritual, spiritual and brutal on both sides — in the Central African Republic, for instance:

It was March 2013 when the predominantly Muslim rebel coalition Séléka swept into the riverside capital, Bangui, from the northeast. President François Bozizé fled as a vicious campaign of looting, torture and murder got underway. Séléka leader Michel Djotodia soon proclaimed himself the successor; he would later lose control of his ranks and an attempt that fall to disband them would do little to stop the atrocities.

At the same time, groups of militias called anti-balaka had begun to form and train and retaliate against Séléka. Their name in the local Sango language means “anti-machete”; their fighters are comprised of ex-soldiers, Christians and animists, who think magic will protect them. They’re adorned with amulets to ward off attacks and fight with hunting rifles, poison-tipped arrows and machetes.

Amulets and machetes.. warriors and angels.

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Maybe we should say “unholy warriors” and “unholy wars” rather than “holy warriors” or “jihadis” — and “unholy monks” for the Burmese mobsters in saffron robes.

And I’d reserve the use of the term for situations in whiuch at least one side in a conflict openly avows religious motivation. Someone making a treaty someone else feels is foolish or dangerous simply doesn’t meet the bar.

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It’s worth considering the Unholy CD cover art alongside two other recent images:

Moebius Floating City

and:

Wild-Hunt-602

And about that top image from the Unholy album, just so you know:

UNHOLY present their Prosthetic Records debut, a metal massacre fueled with down-tuned guitars, double bass and deep grooves akin to the sounds of Entombed, Crowbar and later Carcass, with members having been in bands like Santa Sangre, Another Victim and Path Of Resistance.

Brief brief: of binding and loosing

Tuesday, January 27th, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — really just a note to myself, but you may read it over my shoulder ]
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Joas Wagemakers, blogging on Jihadi-Salafi views of the Islamic State at the Washington Post, was talking about the “caliphate” today, and as usual, I went off on my own DoubleQuoting tangent:

SPEC DQ bind and loose

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Here’s Wagemakers’s para that triggered the above:

In 2014 the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria set itself apart from most other radical Islamist groups by actually settling in a certain territory and establishing a state there. The group even declared a caliphate on June 29 and changed its name simply to the Islamic State (IS). Even al-Qaeda, which has long had similar ambitions to establish a caliphate encompassing all Muslims, has never achieved this. In its justification for the announcement of its caliphate, IS has made use of classical Islamic concepts: its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, had been vetted by a group of scholars described as “the people who loosen and bind” (ahl al-hall wa-l-aqd), was found by them to be a pious Muslim ruler who fit all the criteria for a caliph and was therefore worthy of believers’ oath of allegiance (baya).

Do I detect an echo here, between the two phrases — or is the concept of loosing and binding so basic to human experience that it crops up all over?

It’s a question at the intersection of two of my fields of special interest — depth psychology and cultural anthro — see for example Anthony Stevens, writing under the subtitle Archetypes versus cultural transmission:

Essentially, the theory can be stated as a psychological law: whenever a phenomenon is found to be characteristic of all human communities, it is an expression of an archetype of the collective unconscious. It is not possible to demonstrate that such universally apparent phenomena are exclusively due to archetypal determinants or entirely due to cultural diffusion, because in all probability both are involved. However, the likelihood is that there will be a strong bias for those phenomena which are archetypally determined to diffuse more readily and more lastingly than those that are not.

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Now go read Wagemakers.

King

Tuesday, January 20th, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — my bilingual six-letter DoubleQuote for the day ]
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SPEC DQ MLK Melek

in the upper panel, in Hebrew, the word MeLeK. I’ve put the three consonants in capitals down here, and the vowels in lower case, but it’s a three letter word as you can see above, and the letters are (from right to left) MLK.

Which is interesting.

Because in translation, it means, as does the lower panel: King.

Sunday surprise: the country western / blues of Hafez

Monday, December 8th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron — at the heart not of the political entity, Iran, but of the Persian culture and people, can be found a king’s ransom in poetry and song ]
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The sensual and the spiritual meet, melt, meld, merge, and dare I say it, emerge to suit each reader of the poetry of Hafez, Sufi poet and mystic — at times erotic, at times ecstatic, the yearning for the beloved sounding in both registers in his poetry, as in the Song of Songs, which is Solomon’s.

These versions, by James Newell, capture the spirit of Hafez far better IMO than the frankly best-sellerized and thus trivial versions of Ladinsky. The most sophisticated translator of Hafez now living is probably Dick Davis, who has this to say in an essay intriguingly titled On Not Translating Hafez:

The second obvious problem faced by a translator inheres in those parts of a text which have clear cultural resonance for the original audience and very little or absolutely no resonance for the linguistic community of the target language. An obvious example of this for translators from almost any Persian text from the sixteenth century on is the lore of Shi’i Islam, an intimate knowledge of the main features of which is automatically assumed by most post-fifteenth-century Persian authors, though this is of course a knowledge almost entirely lacking in the linguistic communities of the West. When we turn to Persian poetry such cultural problems can be particularly intrusive. There is the fact that after the thirteenth century virtually all Persian poetry has at least a tinge of Sufism to it, if it is not outrightly mystical in intent, and mysticism is not a subject accorded particular importance by the poetry of the major Western languages. [ .. ]

A subdivision of this mystical problem is the set of ideas metaphorically expressed in Persian poetry by wine, drunkenness, the opposition of the rend (approximately “libertine”) and the zahed (“ascetic”), and so forth. None of these notions have any force whatsoever in the Western literary tradition. It would never occur to a Western poet to express the forbidden intoxications of mysticism by alluding to the forbidden intoxications of wine, for the simple fact that the intoxications of wine have never (if we exclude the brief and local moment of prohibition in the United States) been forbidden in the West. The whole topos of winebibbing and the flouting of sober outward convention, so dear to Persian Sufi poetry, can seem in earlier translators’ work to be little more than a kind of rowdy undergraduate hijinks, and in more recent versions it can take on the ethos of Haight-Ashbury in the late sixties. But in both cases the deeper resonances of the topos are not obvious for a Western audience: they have to be explained — and to explain a resonance is like explaining a joke; when the explanation is over, no one laughs, except out of pained politeness, and no one is moved.

Here’s a song in which the world-renouncing side of things comes axroo forcefully…

I wrote a poem of my own in somewhat similar spirit yesterday, not too long after listening to that one, and offer it here in counterpoint, with Madhu especially in mind:

Lend me at least an echo
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If you’re not listening to my poems
how shall I possibly know I’m still alive?
It’s when your heart stops
just for a moment
that my heart begins to race,
when your breath catches
that my breath can return to my heart.
You kill me. I call to you,

nightingale to rose or whatever,
lover to beloved,
thorn, petal, throat, branch —
are you nowhere,
and how can I follow?
Let me know it was you sang my song.

And okay, here’s a third and last Hafez version by James Newell:

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Dr Newell’s bio can be found here — and yes, in addition to playing with the likes of Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Mose Allison and John Mayall, he does indeed hold a doctorate from Vanderbilt. His doctoral dissertation, should you care to read it, is on the ethnomusicology of the Qawwali

Which brings me just the opportunity I need to close this post with Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan singing his signature qawwali, Allah Huu.

To the best of my understanding, Allah is simple the Arabic term for God, just as Dieu is in French — used by mambers of any religion or done who wish to reference the Deity — while the word Hu in Sufism references the breath or spirit — pneuma in Greek, prana in Sanskrit, spiritus in Latin — the wind that “bloweth where it listeth” of John 3.8.

Huu:

For the record: al-Raymi’s Message to the American People

Tuesday, June 4th, 2013

[ by Charles Cameron — a quick, minor note ]
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You may of course already know this, but in case you don’t…

May eye was caught by the words “Your leaders are assaultive, oppressive and tyrannical” in the English subtitles to Qasim al-Raymi‘s “Message to the American People” video (upper panel, below)…

I guess it was the word “assaultive” that really caught my eye… I wasn’t looking forward to transcribing the entire video, so I went to the net to see if anyone else had done the job — which was when I realized I’d seen that same phrase before, in the latest issue, #11, of Inspire magazine (lower panel, above).

So this is just a quick note to say if you want to quote al-Raymi, there’s no need to transcribe the video, he says what he says in Inspire #11 pp. 8-9.

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I suspect we could glean quite a bit if we listened with careful ears to the phrasings used by jihadist sources when writing or speaking in English or translating into it. There are some interesting characteristic turns of phrase — I haven’t been making notes as yet, but “to proceed” is one that is often used to end the scriptural prelims and turn to the message of the day… And there was that curious phrasing in the Khorasanist video Tamerlan Tsarnaev favorited, “The word Taliqan not just mentions the Taliqan region of today only, but…”

There are many interesting ways to read a text, and reading for tone and phrasing is one of them…

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Sources, h/t to Aaron Zelin at Jihadology:

  • Al-Raymi, al-Malahim video
  • Al Raymi, al-Malahim Inspire magazine

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