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Actions speak louder than.. ahem, narratives

Monday, July 20th, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — pondering the use of narratives to “counter violent extremism” ]

I’m pondering the use of narratives to “counter violent extremism”, and have been thinking about letting this post consist of its title and the government-sponsored words:

This Page Intentionally Left Blank

I’m hoping this post will find its place in the comments section, in other words. If the opposing party — whether that means, effectively, IS, salafist-jihadis, the Ikhwan, or Islamists in general — pushes a narrative about US actions towards the Islamic world, can a narrative alone succeed at pushing back? What actions can we show that refute the simple form of that narrative? What actions might we take in future that would appear to affirm it? To refute it?

Are we so busy thinking about counter-narratives that we allow our actions to undercut our words?


Come to that, is the appeal of IS really its apocalyptic theology (which is what I mostly address), its success as a military force (which may be down to the presence of ex-Baathist military in high positions of command), its critique of US policy in respect of the Islamic world (dictatorships included), the prospect of adventure (and perhaps concubines?) in foreign lands, or, as Prof Andrew Silke would have it, altruism?

The key message is that you have got to see the terrorists as they see themselves if you genuinely want to understand why people are getting involved. If you talk to terrorist themselves, they portray themselves as altruists – they see themselves as fighting on behalf of others, whether it’s the IRA fighting on behalf of the Catholic community in Northern Ireland, or if it’s Islamic State fighting on behalf of the Muslim ummah.


I suspect there’s a lot to be said here, and the floor is open. I’m eager to hear your voices..

Interfaith support for the restoration of burned churches

Friday, July 17th, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — good news, whether in Hebrew, Greek, Arabic or English ]

Today’s DoubleTweet:

Duly noted, duly grateful.

DoubleTweeting Islam, yesterday

Friday, July 17th, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — a quick, trick question ]

It is still too early to say what specific kind of inspiration, guidance or affiliation (IS? AQ? other?) the Chattanooga shooter may have had, but two tweets yesterday speak volumes about individuals and large bodies of believers. Question:

Is any religion with over a billion members monolithic?




Hey, that was a trick question. The Christian Church can reasonably claim to be monolithic, having been founded, as Matthew 16.18 puts it, on a Rock:

And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

Nevertheless, even Christians come in many shapes and sizes, isn’t it?

The Boston IS and Apocalyptic Conference

Thursday, July 16th, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — I was (unexpectedly) almost totally deaf at the time, so the videos of the conference allowed me a second go-around, for which I’m profoundly grateful ]

CMS Landes 602
Richard Landes, opening the Boston conference


With what I hope will turn out to be the wisdom of a fool, I am going to propose the importance of (a) Richard Landes‘ now defunct Center for Millennial Studies at Boston University, and (b) its recent resurgence as a single and singular conference on Apocalyptic Hopes, Millennial Dreams and Global Jihad.

Bear with me, I’m an enthusiast.


Gregory Bateson died thirty-five years ago July 4th, the day I started writing this post — a fact I only know because I’m inclined to associate the Boston Conference as one of the great cross-disciplinary and initially underestimated conferences alongside the early Macy conferences on Cybernetics, in which Gregory Bateson was so significant a partner — or the seminal Eranos Conferences attended by the friends of CG Jung.

The Macy conferences ushered in the computer age, the Eranos conferences celebrated the highest level of cross-cultural and cross-disciplinary exchanges between psychologists, philosophers, religious scholars and physicists — while the Millennial Studies conferences focused on a studiously ignored area of knowledge that has swung into heightened significance via the arrival on scene of Al-Qaida and the Islamic State.


Participants, Macy and Eranos:

The Macy Cybernetics Conferences included such participants as William Ross Ashby, William Grey Walter, Kurt Lewin, J. C. R. Licklider, Warren S. McCulloch, Margaret Mead, Oskar Morgenstern, F. S. C. Northrop, Walter Pitts, I. A. Richards, Claude Shannon, Heinz von Foerster, John von Neumann, and Norbert Wiener.

The Eranos Conferences included presentations by Carl Gustav Jung, Rudolf Otto, Mircea Eliade, Wolfgang Pauli, Karl Kerényi, Erich Neumann, Henry Corbin, G van der Leeuw, Louis Massignon, Gilles Quispel, Hellmut Wilhelm, Hugo Rahner, Erwin Schrödinger, Gershom Scholem, Heinrich Zimmer and Martin Buber.

In each case, the ideation was intensely and deliberately cross-disciplinary, and the importance of the series of conferences only widely apparent at a later date.


Participants, Center for Millennial Studies:

In the case of the Boston conference on Apocalyptic Hopes, Millennial Dreams and Global Jihad, the series in whicb it partakes is that of the new defunct Center for Millennial Studies, an extraordinary organization which studied millennial movements from the Dead Sea Scrolls via the Taiping Rebellion (20-30 million dead), and the Siege of Mecca (1979 CE), to Aum Shinrikyo, Waco and Y2K — with implications for future events at least as far as the 2000th anniversary of the crucifixion in the 2030s and the start of the next Islamic century in the 2070s.

Among the attendees at this year’s conference were Richard Landes, William McCants, Graeme Wood, Timothy Furnish, Cole Bunzel, Jeffrey M. Bale, myself, David Cook, JM Berger, Itamar Marcus, David Redles, Paul Berman, Charles Strozier, Brenda Brasher, Mia Bloom and Charles Jacobs. Husain Haqqani was expected to attend and intended to speak about the Ghazwa e-Hind but couldn’t make it, and Ayaan Hirsi Ali cancelled her appearance for security reasons as a result of the Garland, TX, shooting the day before.

Speakers at previous CMS conferences included, in additiopn to some of the above, Steven O’Leary, Michael Barkun, Albert Baumgarten, Chip Berlet, Bruce Lincoln, Moshe Idel, Michael Tolkin, Gershom Gorenberg, Damian Thompson and Robert Jay Lifton.


You can see the entire series of CMS 2015 Conference videos

  • here
  • In particular and given my own special interests, I recommend the talks by

  • Will McCants (on IS eschatology)
  • Cole Bunzel (on the 1979 Mahdist assault on Mecca), and
  • David Cook (on Islamic apocalyptic and Boko Haram)
  • You can follow those up with such friends and worthies as Tim Furnish, JM Berger, and (on Palestinian messaging) Itamar Marcus — Itamar’s brilliant presentation shifted my thinking on the Israeli-Palestinian question by about ten degrees.

    My own contribution is

  • here
  • **

    My recent discombobulations (see previous post) and an over-busy writing schedule have prevented me from posting separately on each of the talks at the conference, which I had hoped to do — but McCant’s forthcoming book will soon be with us, and this brief introduction (and my three reading lists) will hopefully provide background while we await it.

    The book I brought with me, for (heh!) light reading, was A. Azfar Moin‘s The Millennial Sovereign: Sacred Kingship and Sainthood in Islam. Path-breaking, scholarly, intelligent, unfailingly curious, written with grace — a true delight!

    Forgiveness and Mercy: more recent words..

    Thursday, July 16th, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — adding angles to an existing series of posts on a crucial (pun fully intended) topic ]

    I’m doing some catch-up on uncompleted posts here, and today I’d like to add two comments I ran across a while back to the two posts I’ve already written on forgiveness:

  • Some recent words from the Forgiveness Chronicles
  • More recent words from the Forgiveness Chronicles
  • Given time, I’d probably edit these down a bit, but (a) I got unceremoniously dumped from my abode less than a week ago, with two hours to move my library and my life, courtesy of the landlord’s violation of safety codes — or perhaps courtesy of someone’s opportunity to make a bundle in real estate by closing down two hotels, who knows? — and (b) I therefore no longer have my library to hand, and am backed up in terms of my writings, so..


    Without further ado and with little or no editing, here are the voices of:

  • Anthea Butler, The decision to forgive is rooted in faith. The desire to forget is rooted in racism:

    or many people, the forgiveness offered to Dylann Roof, the man charged with killing of nine black members of Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, at his arraignment by the families of his victims is impossible to understand – and worthy of veneration. “I forgive you” said Nadine Gardner, daughter of slain church member Ethel Lance. “I will never ever hold her again. But I forgive you, and may God have mercy on your soul”.

    But how could someone forgive such a heinous crime so quickly, so easily? The answer lies in part with Christian interpretation of the New Testament, a history of racialized violence and the civil rights movement.

    Black churches taught us to forgive white people. We learned to shame ourselves

    Forgiveness is a spiritual practice and biblical mandate from the New Testament that many American Christians engage in as a part of their faith. Familiar scriptures (such as Jesus forgiving the Romans while hanging on a cross, or saying that forgiveness should be given 70 times seven) are staples of Christian teaching and theology. Forgiveness is enshrined in the Lord’s prayer – forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors. These scriptures point to the power of forgiveness not only as a way to absolve transgressions, but to ensure that the person extending forgiveness will be forgiven of theirs. For many Christians, these teachings form the foundation of their Christian faith, even when that forgiveness can be difficult to give.

    Historically, narratives of forgiveness were part of both the anti-slavery movement and the civil rights movement in America. Uncle Tom’s Cabin, for instance, was based loosely on the life of the Rev Josiah Henson, who forgave his master that wanted to sell him and beat him after Henson begged him not to.

    I fell down and clung to his knees in entreaties. Sometimes when too closely pressed, he would curse and strike me. May God forgive him!

    These slave narratives in the 19th century were designed to put forth messages of Christian love and mercy, even in the face of the masters’ violence and cruelty. For many slaves and subsequent free black people, forgiveness was also a way to protect themselves from continued racial violence. A well placed “I forgive you” served as protection for vulnerable African Americans in a violent racist environment by calling out to oppressor and oppressed’s shared religious faith.

    In the 20th Century, the non-violent “soul force” that Martin Luther King Jr taught was a combination of Hinduism and Christianity. Forgiveness became a big part of the civil rights movement, juxtaposed against the violence of protesters and law enforcement. King described forgiveness in one of his early sermons as a pardon, a process of life and the Christian weapon of social redemption. In MLK’s words, “forgiveness is not an occasional act, it is a constant attitude”

    History and scripture are just the foundations for the stunning words of forgiveness from the families of those murdered at Emmanuel AME, expressions apparently driven by sincerity and theChristian witness of the surviving family members. However, forgiveness deployed in the context of American race relations become part of the ritual of what I call racial forgiveness.

    Racial forgiveness is different than a theological premise; it is a cultural ritual in America which functions to atone for the past racism (as with the apologies from various denominations, such as Southern Baptists, in the 1990s) or in an attempt to provide African Americans a way to move forward and acknowledge historic and recent racial pain. These public acts of racial forgiveness are important, but they can also bring about ritual forgetting when co-opted by individuals or groups with little interest in atonement.

    This ritual forgiveness and forgetting is one of the reasons America’s conversation on race is stilted, disingenuous, and dangerous. In a culture of ritual forgiveness and forgetfulness, no one is called to account for historic deeds done against others, and history is viewed as a malleable story to support the forgetting. That is why the conversation about the Confederate Flag and its meaning are simply swept away as a “cultural matter” or history, when the reality is that the flag was a symbol of resistance to the Union and, later, used as a way to continue the culture of the Confederacy and terrorize Africans Americans.

    Forgiveness unfortunately, can birth forgetting: by the time the arraignment ended, the ritual forgetfulness had already begun. Politicians like Jeb Bush claimed not to understand why the shooter would want to kill black people and conservatives claimed that the shooting “was an attack against Christians”.

    How long will forgiveness and the subsequent forgetting be a means to derail sustained efforts to confront racism in America? For black people, there is no forgetting of the history of American racism, or the complicity of Christians in that history. When a white man walks into a black church, sits for an hour, and then allegedly shoots nine black people dead, no amount of forgiveness given for his murderous act by the families of the dead can absolve America of its violent history of racism, no matter how much those complicit in that racism might hope for it.


  • Buzzfeed, Here Is What Dzhokhar Tsarnaev Said To His Victims In Court:

    “I’d like to now apologize to the victims and the survivors,” Tsarnaev said.
    “If there is any lingering doubt, I did it along with my brother.”
    As he spoke in courtroom, he began to cry.
    “I am sorry for the lives that I have taken, the suffering that i have caused you, the damage that I’ve done.”
    “Immediately after the bombing, of which I am guilty of, there is little doubt about that. I learned their faces, their names.”
    Tsarnaev also thanked the jury and his attorneys.
    “Made my life the last two years easy. I cherish their companionship,” Tsarnaev said about his defense team.
    He concluded his speech by asking for mercy for himself and his brother.
    “I am Muslim. My religion is Islam,” Tsarnaev said.
    “I ask allah to have mercy on me my brother and my family. I ask Allah to have mercy on the Umah. Thank you.”


    If there’s anything in particular here to take note of — and I’m not sure we should generalize from such a tiny sample — it’s Butler’s use of forgivess terminology and Tsarnaev’s corresponding use of mercy.

    Forgivness is taught in the Christian Lord’s Prayer, while The Merciful in Islam is one of the great and beautiful Names of God.

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