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Mosquitoes of the mind

Saturday, October 22nd, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — or should that be Uber über alles?]
.

uber-drones
Forget billboards — motorists now have ads buzzing a few feet above their windshields — MIT Technology Review

**

There is an endless variety of possible starting points for a critique of oneself and the world. One might start from:

  • the message in a fortune cookie
  • whatever one’s parents imparted
  • whatever one rejected of what they imparted
  • Israel from the Nile to the Euphrates
  • a return to the Green Line
  • Palestine from the river to the sea
  • the sweet humility of the Magnificat
  • the fierce doctrine of Original Sin
  • the Cloud of Unknowing
  • the uncontaminated Unity of Godhead
  • the Buddha’s Noble Truth of suffering
  • the shining suchness of the Tathagata
  • something Karl Marx said, or Darwin
  • a tall tale from Chuang-Tzu
  • Lao Tzu’s unspeakable truth, unmappable path..
  • or the way someone reacted when one trod on their foot in the subway
  • Myself, I tend to go from either:

  • the Bene Gesserit adage, Fear is the mind-killer
  • or its obverse in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, Yoga is the cessation of waves in the mind.
  • **

    Which brings me to advertising.

  • Yoga is the cessation of waves in the mind.
  • Advertising is the paid attempt to capture my attention regardless of my wishes in the matter.

    In terms of the Yoga Sutras‘s goal of an unruffled mind, advertising attempts to stir up trouble — not in Syria or Afghanistan, or even in my kitchen, but within my consciousness.

    And I’m not alone in detesting this invasive behavior. “Nearly 90% of people watching timeshifted shows fast-forward the ads,” the Guardian reported in a piece titled TV advertising skipped by 86% of viewers, and while Victoria may have a secret ingredient which makes her ads memorable — I’m referring here, of course, to a recent Nobel Prizewinner — most ads are simply irritants.

    The benefit of advertising, to those whom it speaks, is that it acts as a road-sign to what we may want. It’s adverse effect is to clutter up our lives with road-signs to irrelevant and possibly offensive destinations. Apples don’t need little stickers on them proclaiming “apples by the Creator” but a discreet mention of “All purpose disinfecting cleaner by Bright Green” was quite helpful to me the other day, as I was wandering the aisles of Safeway in search of a brand they no longer carry..

    And yes. Advertising drives sales drives manufacturing drives employment drives a roof over the head for many who might otherwise find themselves in the rain. Granted.

    **

    But here come the mosquitoes.

    The image at the head of this post comes from an article titled Uber’s Ad-Toting Drones Are Heckling Drivers Stuck in Traffic.

    The unfortunate drivers in traffic jams in Mexico City are close to ground zero of an epidemic; Beelzebub, remember, is Lord of the Flies.

    The importance of Albrecht Dürer in grokking ISIS

    Thursday, October 20th, 2016

    [ by Charles Cameron — because the world of the jihadists resembles Dürer’s more than it does our own? ]
    .

    It’s extraordinary the insight that an appreciative acquaintance with Albrecht Dürer provides, in attempting to understand ISIS not just theoretically but imaginatively, and thus viscerally.

    Under the title ISIL Boasts: America will go down to defeat in the Streets of Mosul Juan Cole blogs [emphasis mine]:

    AFP is reporting that a news agency linked to Daesh (ISIS, ISIL), “A`maq,” is carrying a video of a Daesh fighter who swears that he and his colleagues will inflict a decisive defeat on the US in Iraq, as the guerrillas spread through the streets of the city. He addresses the camera saying, “As for you, America, we promise you that which our honored elders promised you, God bless them, such as Abu Mus`ab (al-Zarqawi) and Abu `Umar and Abu Hamza [etc.].”

    The threats don’t make any sense. The US does not have infantry combat troops at the front lines, and is mainly intervening with fighter jets and bombers. If you are a small guerrilla group, you really cannot match that firepower. There is no obvious way in which Daesh could inflict harm on the US in Mosul.

    How about a non-obvious way?

    **

    For the apocalyptic true believers of ISIS, these verses (ayat, which also refers to “signs”) from the Qur’an ring true today:

    When thou saidst to the believers, ‘Is it not enough for you that your Lord should reinforce you with three thousand angels sent down upon you? Yea; if you are patient and godfearing, and the foe come against you instantly, your Lord will reinforce you with five thousand swooping angels.’

    Qur’an 3.124-25

    We may have lost sight of the angels, and for that matter the dragon, the horsemen, the “woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars” and the “Lamb which is in the midst of the throne” — in our western mostly post-Christian tradition, but John of Patmos and Albrecht Durer saw them, in what we now think of as “the sky”, familiarly known in their days as “the heavens”.

    But is that our clarity or our blindness?

    **

    If we are to understand ISIS, we need an analytic framework which doesn’t automatically exclude angels from its purview — as I argued somewhat more broadly in my essay The Dark Sacred: The Significance of Sacramental Analysis in Robert Bunker‘s Blood Sacrifices [Kindle, $3.99].

    We are dealing with a subset of that culture wherein poetry is as highly valued as it is lowly valued in our own — as Shahab Ahmad tells us in What is Islam, “the poetical discourses of Muslim societies” are “the form of speech regarded as the highest register of human self-expression and social communication.”

    And we are easily blind to such things. Thomas Hegghammer, in his Paul Wilkinson Memorial Lecture at the University of St. Andrews, Why Terrorists Weep: The Socio-Cultural Practices of Jihadi Militants, writes:

    It took me a long time to even notice these things. I’ve studied jihadi groups for almost fifteen years, and for the first ten, I was addressing standard questions, like, how did group A evolve, what has ideologue B written, who joins movement C, etc. The thing is, when you study one type of group for a while, you take certain things for granted. I knew that these groups were weeping and reading poetry, but it didn’t really register – it was background noise to me, stuff I needed to shove aside to get to the hard information about people and events.

    Hegghammer goes on to comment that “soft” activities — he names weeping, reading and reciting poetry, dreaming — “pose a big social science puzzle, in that they defy expectations of utility-maximising behaviour.”

    We tend to the “utility-maximizing” end of a philosophical spectrum (running, as per my example above, from “heaven” to “sky”) but they do not.

    Oh, no. They do not.

    **

    To understand the poetics of jihad, and thus the passions it arouses, we must first glimpse the visionary faculty that is implicit in our own so easily disregarded poetry.

    Thus William Blake, in his A Vision of the Last Judgment:

    “What,” it will be Questioned, “When the Sun rises, do you not see a round Disk of fire somewhat like a Guinea?” O no no, I see an Innumerable company of the Heavenly host crying “Holy Holy Holy is the Lord God Almighty.” I question not my Corporeal or Vegetative Eye any more than I would Question a Window concerning a Sight: I look thro it & not with it.

    My latest for Lapido: on the fall of Dabiq & failure of prophecy

    Saturday, October 15th, 2016

    [ by Charles Cameron — and detailing the scholarship of failed prophecy as context for ISIS’ upcoming loss of Dabiq ]
    .

    Here’s the opening of my piece posted two [now three] days ago on the LapidoMedia site:

    ISLAMIC STATE (ISIS) has relied on a saying of the Prophet Muhammad to recruit its impressionable young idealists to kill for God.

    But that prophecy could fail any day now, as alliance forces close in on the so-called ‘caliphate’.

    Prophet Muhammad is believed to have stated that the first great battle of the Islamic end times would come when Western forces attacked – and were defeated – at a small town in northern Syria called Dabiq.

    That should be any day now, according to ISIS’ Amaq News Agency. It issued a statement at the end of September that Turkish fire had killed a man in Dabiq, northern Syria, signalling the beginning of the end.

    amaq-agency

    The trouble is, current reports indicate that allied troops are within a few days of capturing Dabiq, thus disproving the prophecy.

    Let me say straight off — this is a complex and nuanced subject, and I hope to dig into it in greater detail shortly.

    **

    My piece had been edited — in journalism, that’s SOP — and appeared under the head and subhead:

    lapido-head

    Those are my editor’s words; my own emphasis is rather different. I don’t believe the fall of Dabiq will mean “game over” for ISIS recruiters, though I do think it will remove one major strand from their narrative — and experts are divided as ot its significance.

    The point I particularly wished to make in the article is that if and when Dabiq falls to allied forces, as seems pretty likely in the very near future, it will be a case of the type investigated by Leon Festinger in his classic, When Prophecy Fails.

    **

    The prophetic hadith on which ISIS has relied, to such an extent that it named its major English language magazine after it, says that the Roman (ie “crusader”) forces will be decisively defeated when “the Romans would land at al-A’maq or in Dabiq”.

    If my Google news feed is any good, the 21st century Battle of Dabiq hasn’t happened yet —

    dabiq-news-14th-oct-2016n

    — but it’s close, and from a military standpoint it looks as though the “allied” forces will likely defeat ISIS, which would be quite a notable defeat for ISIS’ apocalyptic rhetoric on the face of it.

    **

    Here are four people who have their respective eyes on the situation:

    Will McCants wrote the definitive treatise, The ISIS Apocalypse: The History, Strategy, and Doomsday Vision of the Islamic State. Here’s a paragraph largely drawn from that book (p. 105) as it appears in his most recent comment, ISIS fantasies of an apocalyptic showdown in northern Syria, dated October 3rd:

    The fact that Turkish Muslims, not infidel Romans, control Constantinople today and are working with the infidel Romans against the Islamic State makes the Dabiq prophecy a poor fit for contemporary events. The inevitable defeat of the Islamic State at Dabiq, should it ever confront “Rome,” would also argue against the prophecy’s applicability. But in the apocalyptic imagination, inconvenient facts rarely impede the glorious march to the end of the world.

    Imam Zaid Shakir, in Dabiq: An Argument Against ISIS in Jukly:

    One of the most powerful recruiting tools of ISIS has been its ability to create an apocalyptic appeal around the prophesized destruction of a “Crusader” army at Dabiq, a location in Northern Syria. So central has this idea been to the call of the group that they have given their propaganda magazine the name of that place –Dabiq. It is now obvious that such a confrontation and the ensuing victory of the “believers” will not occur. What is their contingency plan? Apparently, sending waves of suicidal murderers out into the world to reap a grim harvest of innocent souls.

    Tim Furnish, friend of this blog and frequent guest poster, spoke to this issue on A View from the Bunker 343: Dr. Timothy Furnish – Battle of Dabiq: First Shot in the Apocalypse or the End of ISIS? on October 9th. You can hear him on the Dabiq hadith from about the 3.23 mark. Around the 7.12 mark, Tim sets the stage:

    ISIS believes that in these battles they are fighting in Syria, particularly, and specifically in and around Dabiq, they believe they are setting off the eschatological timetable for the Islamic conquest of the world. This is what they believe. And again, this is not particular to ISIS. These ideas have been around for a long time, and they have been shared by a lot of other Muslims, it’s just that ISIS, instead of just writing books about them, pining about them, is actually going onto the battlefield and trying to make them a reality.

    The interview is a long one, and merits your attention — here I’ll just say that I summarized Tim’s point to him as “you appeared to downplay the significance of an ISIS defeat at Dabiq — did I get that right?” and he replied, “I did say that.” I’ll be interviewing Tim in further detail in the days to come, and report back.

    Lastly, Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. I quoted him briefly in my Lapido piece, but here’s his full quote in answer to my request:

    Whatever else it is, ISIS is an organization with a distinct theological outlook. It recruits using religious themes, and true believers feature prominently within its ranks. ISIS has anchored its rise and legitimacy to specific aspects of Islamic prophecy, and when its interpretation of this prophecy does not match reality, that will pose significant challenges for the organization — perhaps even existential challenges, if the group’s opponents play their cards right. (If ISIS fails, of course, that is not the same thing as jihadism itself failing.) Whether the U.S. government will be able to capitalize is a separate question, given that the U.S. shies away from messaging that touches on religious themes, and generally does not regard itself as a ‘credible voice’ in this regard.

    **


    I’d written this much at the point when Cole Bunzel‘s tweet yesterday turned up in my feed, and I quickly posted Cole Bunzel captures the Dabiq moment.

    **

    I am going to carry on here, a day later, with materials on Festinger’s When Prophecy Fails and later research along similar lines, because they offer us insight into the varieties of response that the failure of prophecy provokes in “true believers”. The simplest way to do this is to quote here the “Need to Know” coda to my Lapido piece:

    End-times prophecies have an unfortunate habit of failing.

    In Chicago, housewife Dorothy Martin persuaded her small group of followers that she had received a revelation from a planet named Clarion announcing the end of the world in a great flood on December 21, 1954.

    The earth failed to be devastated, despite her followers selling up and moving to a mountaintop to await the end – but it did trigger a research programme into ‘cognitive dissonance.’

    Martin’s small group could not accept their leader’s error, and instead went on a recruitment spree, according to expert Leon Festinger.

    Others like the Millerites in 1843 recalculate the date, and hope again.

    Jehovah’s Witnesses who have had to change the date of the Second Coming of Christ at least five times (in 1914, 1915, 1918, 1925, and 1975) are either abandoning the teaching, or spiritualizing the date.

    The Japanese sect Ichigen no Miya, ‘internalized’ the suffering its founder had predicted: He attempted to commit seppuku, but his followers intervened.

    He told them later: ‘I could see my own body as if it belonged to somebody else. I thought that I had managed to get out of my body at last, and I was greatly surprised to find that my body had changed itself into the islands of Japan and that a fire had broken out at its centre.

    ‘Then I knew that God had transferred the cataclysm to my own body. I thanked God and felt a bliss I had never experienced before.’

    That last quote in particular is pretty stunning: you can read more on the topic in Takaaki Sanada and Edward Norbeck, Prophecy Continues to Fail: A Japanese Sect, or the Introduction to Jon R Stone, Expecting Armageddon: Essential Readings in Failed Prophecy.

    **

    Another point bears mention. You’ll note that the title of Festinger’s book is When Prophecy Fails — the focus is on the failure of prophecies to be fulfilled in time, on or by a “date certain”, and most if not all of the research that has followed it takes the same form. The Dabiq prophecy, however, deals with a place, not a date — something fairly rare and little discussed in the literature..

    I mentioned this in a post to mailing-list I’m on, and Dr James Tabor of the Department of Religion, UNC Charlotte, commented (personal communication):

    This is a very important and valid point—“place” is often every bit as important, or more important, than “time.”

    Waco 1993 is a case in point, As Gene Gallagher and I show in our book, Why Waco, the key thing the FBI failed to understand was that David was not expecting any “apocalypse” in 1993—as his calculations pointed to 1995—and in Jerusalem—and that is essential—not in Waco, Texas. He thought he had to gather 144k faithful from around the world and everyone would meet in Jerusalem and fight in the final battle side by side with the Israelis.

    Of course Jerusalem, in the ancient apocalyptic things I deal with, is absolutely essential as the “place” where it all comes down.

    My friend and mentor Richard Landes (Encyclopedia of Millennialism and Millennial Movements, Heaven on Earth: The Varieties of the Millennial Experience, &c) similarly commented that the siege of Jerusalem in 1099, similarly, resulted in the disconfirmation of a place-based prophecy.

    **

    ISIS prepares for failure.

    Cole Bunzel, in his June Jhadica post, The Islamic State of Decline: Anticipating the Paper Caliphate, quoted the late Islamic State’s official spokesman, Abu Muhammad al-‘Adnani, from May 21, 2016:

    While in that statement ‘Adnani was sure to project a measure of confidence, remarking that the Islamic State is “becoming stronger with each passing day,” some of his comments betrayed the starker reality of a caliphate under siege. This was clear in the following queries: “Do you think, America, that victory will come by killing one or more leaders?” “Do you reckon, America, that defeat is the loss of a city or the loss of territory?” Responding to his own questions, ‘Adnani declared that killing the Islamic State’s leaders would not defeat the greater “adversary” — the group itself — and that taking its land would not eliminate its “will” to fight. Even if the Islamic State were to lose all its territories, he said, it could still go back to the way it was “at the beginning,” when it was “in the desert without cities and without territory.” The allusion here is to the experience of the Islamic State of Iraq, which between 2006 and 2012 held no significant territory despite its claim to statehood.

    Scripturally, the Qur’an describes the Battle of Ubud, in which the Prophet Muhammad himself was wounded, and which the Muslims lost, in Sura 3 verse 166:

    What ye suffered on the day the two armies met, was with the leave of Allah, in order that He might test the believers.

    And again, as I pointed out in April of last year, Qur’an 2:154-56 concerns those who fight fi sabil Allah, suggesting they will encounter “tests” up to and including “loss of lives” in the course of events:

    And do not say about those who are killed in the way of Allah, “They are dead.” Rather, they are alive, but you perceive [it] not. And We will surely test you with something of fear and hunger and a loss of wealth and lives and fruits, but give good tidings to the patient, Who, when disaster strikes them, say, “Indeed we belong to Allah , and indeed to Him we will return.”

    Cole Bunzel‘s latest tweet indicates that ISIS is indeed using this line of argument..

    The second issue of the ISIS magazine Rumiyah also sounds a note of preparation for defeat in the context of an article headed Paths to Victory:

    The Prophet (saw) also guided us – with great detail – to both the causes for victory and the hindrances to achieving it.

    The chief path to defeat is here said to be contention among leadership.

    Finally, Cole Bunzel’s tweet yesterday gave us the first clue as to how ISIS is responding to the almost certain defeat in real time:

    Date postponement.

    As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, Dr Stephen O’Leary has the detailed run-down on how that strategy operated in Millerite rhetoric, in the immediate and longer-term follow up to the failure of Miller’s 1844 end times prophecy — giving rise to the Great Disappointment — while led, twenty years later, to the founding of the Seventh Day Adventist church, and The Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society (Jehovah’s Witnesses) about twenty years after that.

    Twenty, forty years and counting.. and the Millerite ripples were only beginning..

    October 8: ignore this till afterwards — or afterlife

    Friday, October 7th, 2016

    [ Charles Cameron — glance, okay, because it’s strange, and about tomorrow — no need to play the videos ]
    .

    Nostradamus:

    Brother Nathanael:


    Sheikh Imran Hosein:

    Illuminati:


    And:

    **

    Just dipping my toe in the strange waters of Matthew 24:36:

    But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only.

    and Qur’an 33:63:

    People ask you concerning the Hour. Say, “Knowledge of it is only with Allah. And what may make you perceive? Perhaps the Hour is near.”

    So:

  • Socrates, The unexamined life is not worth the living…
  • Christ, That they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly..
  • Anais Nin, The personal life deeply lived always expands into truths beyond itself..
  • Bob Dylan: It’s life and life only..
  • Brutal Times 02

    Sunday, October 2nd, 2016

    [ by Charles Cameron — on Kakutani, Hitler, Trump, Duterte, Aesop — and was Don Quixote a converso Jew? ]
    .

    You don’t have to be an aging Kremlinologist to read between the lines, you don’t have to be a member of the target audience to be alert for dog-whistles, you don’t need a decoder ring to catch what the Washington Post calls “a thinly veiled Trump comparison” in Michiko Kakutani‘s New York Times review of Volker Ullrich‘s new biography, Hitler: Ascent, 1889-1939.

    tablet-dq-hitler

    However..

    **

    In his essay Persecution and the Art of Writing, Leo Strauss suggests that..

    Persecution gives rise to a peculiar technique of writing and therewith to a peculiar type of literature, in which the truth about all crucial things is presented exclusively between the lines.

    Such a style may or may not be evident in Michiko Kakutani’s review, but if it is there it is skilfully done — and not, I’d guess, in fear of persecution.

    There’s a blunt equivalent now in use of social media in which, to quote but one example (others, equally or more distasteful, here):

    “skittles” has come to refer to Muslims, an obvious reference to Donald Trump Jr.’s comparing of refugees with candy that “would kill you.”

    Here, the purpose is to avoid algorithms that hunt down racist and other hateful comments on social media and expunge them — so the code words used include google, skype, yahoo and bing.

    **

    But wait. If you lob the h-word at Donald Trump, what ammunition will you have left for Rodrigo Duterte? Duterte is quite open about his admiration for Hitler.

    But Trump?

    David Duke wouldn’t mind:

    The truth is, by the way, they might be rehabilitating that fellow with the mustache back there in Germany, because I saw a commercial against Donald Trump, a really vicious commercial, comparing what Donald Trump said about preserving America and making America great again to Hitler in Germany preserving Germany and making Germany great again and free again and not beholden to these Communists on one side, politically who were trying to destroy their land and their freedom, and the Jewish capitalists on the other, who were ripping off the nation through the banking system,

    And Trump himself? From that 1990 Vanity Fair interview:

    Ivana Trump told her lawyer Michael Kennedy that from time to time her husband reads a book of Hitler’s collected speeches, My New Order, which he keeps in a cabinet by his bed. Kennedy now guards a copy of My New Order in a closet at his office, as if it were a grenade. Hitler’s speeches, from his earliest days up through the Phony War of 1939, reveal his extraordinary ability as a master propagandist.

    It’s worth noting that a few lines later, Trump declares:

    If I had these speeches, and I am not saying that I do, I would never read them.

    and that the interviewer, Marie Brenner, concedes:

    Trump is no reader or history buff. Perhaps his possession of Hitler’s speeches merely indicates an interest in Hitler’s genius at propaganda.

    **

    So. Why Trump?

    Mightn’t Kakutani simply be writing about Hitler and the new biography?

    Oh, and if you insist on her having a second target, Trump may be nearer to hand, but Duterte is, well, more overt about his leanings..

    Have you considered the Duterte possibility?

    **

    The range of uses to which “Aesopian language” — defined as:

    conveying an innocent meaning to an outsider but a hidden meaning to a member of a conspiracy or underground movement

    — can be put is enormous.

    Here, to take your mind off contemporary politics and point it towards the higher levels of literary and religious thought, is Dominique Aubier’s comment on the Quixote, from Michael McGaha, Is There a Hidden Jewish Meaning in Don Quixote?

    if one accepts that Cervantes’ thought proceeds from a dynamic engagement with the concepts of the Zohar, themselves resulting from a dialectic dependence on Talmudic concepts, which in turn sprang from an active engagement with the text of Moses’s book, it is then on the totality of Hebrew thought — in all its uniqueness, its unity of spirit, its inner faithfulness to principles clarified by a slow and prodigious exegesis — that the attentive reader of Don Quixote must rely in order at last to be free to release Cervantes’ meaning from the profound signs in which it is encoded.

    You want to read the Quixote? How about spending a few decades in the Judaica section of your local university library first?

    But then, those were brutal times.


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