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A dozen or so books on Islamic apocalyptic

Wednesday, April 29th, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — since this topic is at last swinging into focus ]
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It is my impression that Islamic apocalyptic has finally surfaced as a significant contributor to those interested in questions of contemporary national security — first, through CJC Martin Dempsey‘s 2014 comment that IS has “an apocalyptic, end-of-days strategic vision”, second, through Graeme Wood‘s article What ISIS Really Wants in the Atlantic, third, through the publication of Stern & Berger‘s ISIS: the State of Terror, and fourth (as yet upcoming), Will McCants’ The ISIS Apocalypse: The History, Strategy, and Doomsday Vision of the Islamic State.

While we’re reading Stern & Berger and waiting for McCants book, though, I thought it might be useful to compile a couple of lists of relevant books, first (here) on Islamic apocalyptic, and second (soon) on the complex relationship between apocalypticism (of whatever stripe) and violence (soon).

Here’s my list, with comments, of books on Islamic apocalyptic:

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First choice:

  • Jean-Pierre Filiu, Apocalypse in Islam
  • My Jihadology review gets into some detail, but the book is superb. From the concluding pages:

    For the moment, only the Iraqi militia known as the Supporters of the Imam Mahdi has actively sought to translate the rise of eschatological anxiety into political action. Yet one day a larger and more resourceful group, eager (like Abu Musab al-Suri) to tap the energy of the “masses” as a way of achieving superiority over rival formations, may be strongly tempted to resort to the messianic gambit. An appeal to the imminence of apocalypse would provide it with an instrument of recruitment, a framework for interpreting future developments, and a way of refashioning and consolidating its own identity. In combination, these things could have far-reaching and deadly consequences.

    **

    Overviews:

  • Richard Landes, Heaven on Earth
  • Heather Selma Gregg, The Path to Salvation
  • Landes’ book gives an impressive, nay encyclopedic, tour of apocalyptic movements across time and space, excluding Judaic and Christian versions to make space for his expansive survey across time and space (featuring, eg, the Xhosa cattle-slaying of the 1850s), and concludimng with a chapter on contemporary Islamist apocalyptic. Gregg’s slimmer olume is an information-packed tour of “religious violence from the Crusades to Jihad” and from Jerusalem to Ayodhya.

    **

    Varieties of Islamic apocalyptic:

  • David Cook, Studies in Islamic Apocalyptic
  • David Cook, Contemporary Muslim Apocalyptic Literature
  • David Cook’s high-level scholarship explores ancient and contemporary Islamic apocalyptic texts in detail. It was David who introduced me to the topic in the late ’90s at a Center for Millennial Studies conference, not unlike the one David, JM Berger, Will Mcants, Tim Furnish, myself and others will speak at on IS and apocalyptic in early April.

    **

    For specific angles on the issue:

  • Timothy Furnish, Holiest Wars: Islamic Mahdis, Their Jihads, and Osama bin Laden
  • Anne-Marie Oliver & Paul Steinberg, The Road to Martyr’s Square
  • Thomas Hegghammer & Stephane Lacroix, The Meccan Rebellion
  • Gershom Gorenberg, The End of Days
  • A Azfar Moin, The Millennial Sovereign
  • Joel Richardson, The Mideast Beast
  • Furnish discusses the history of Mahdist movements; Oliver and Steinberg write a passionately engaging narrative of life in Gaza, with special focus on suicide bombers and Hamas street propaganda; Hegghammer and Lacroix cover the Mahdist revolt that kicked off the new Islamic century in Mecca, getting into theological details that resonate to this day; and Gorenberg covers the three competing apocalypticisms of Judaism, Christianity and Islam with respect to the Temple Mount / Noble Sanctuary in Jerusalem, which he terms “the most hotly contested piece of real estate on earth”. Azfar Moin’s book gives an account of the quasi-Mahdism of Safavid Iranian and Mughal Indian kingship, in which sufi notions of sanctity and courtly notions of royalty mix and mingle — simply mind-boggling. And Joel Richardson views Islamic apocalyptic through Christian apocalyptic eyes.

    **

    For Shi’ite eschatology:

  • Abdulaziz Sachedina, Islamic Messianism
  • cf Sachedina’s translation of Ayatullah Ibrahim Amini‘s Al-Imam al-Mahdi, The Just Leader of Humanity
  • Abbas Amanat, Apocalyptic Islam and Iranian Shi’ism
  • **

    Reading Islamic scriptures in and out of context:

  • Jonathan Brown, Misquoting Muhammad: The Challenge and Choices of Interpreting the Prophet’s Legacy
  • It is all too easy to cherry pick quotes to show that Islam is peaceful, warlike or whatr have you: Dr Brown shows us how variously the texts can be interpreted, tus opening the door to a more cautious, context-driven and historically aware of what we read in opposing contemporary polemics. Brilliant.

    **

    In a following post, I shall list books predominantly from the religious studies area, as various authors examines violence in new religious movements, many of which are millenarian / apocalyptic in orientation.

    What’s next for the moon?

    Monday, April 20th, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — Christian eschatology and an Islamic proof of the Quran and Prophet ]
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    SPEC DQ prophetic moons

    One wonders, what’s next for the moon?

    **

    Anwar al-Awlaki reported that the moon split in two at the Prophet’s request —

    — but that was more than a millennium ago.

    Boston: Apocalyptic Hopes, Millennial Dreams and Global Jihad

    Sunday, April 19th, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — “The now defunct Center for Millennial Studies at Boston University (1996-2003) brings to the public one final conference on apocalyptic beliefs” ]
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    If this was a movie, I’d say the speakers at this conference were a “stellar cast”! Will McCants, Graeme Wood, Cole Bunzel, Timothy Furnish, David Cook, JM Berger, Husain Haqqani.. Paul Berman and Ayaan Hirsi Ali..

    I participated in several of the old Center for Millennial Studies conferences that Richard Landes organized around the turn of the millennium, and they were intense academic highlights for me. I thought it very short-sighted when CMS funding was cut after the turn of the year 2000, agreeing with Dr Landes that millenarianism was unlikely to go away any time soon — and AQ, and IS even more so, have more than proven his point — hence this “final” conference.

    If you can attend, by all means do — highly recommended. I’m delighted to have been invited to attend myself, and hope to keep Zenpundit readers well informed.

    **

    Apocalyptic Hopes, Millennial Dreams and Global Jihad: May 3-4, 2015, Boston University

    Sponsored by the BU History Department and Scholars for Peace in the Middle East

    Most Westerners associate the terms apocalyptic and millennial (millenarian) with Christian beliefs about the endtime. Few even know that Muhammad began his career as an apocalyptic prophet predicting the imminent Last Judgment. And yet, for the last thirty years, a wide-ranging group of militants, both Sunni and Shi’i, both in coordination and independently, have, under the apocalyptic belief that now is the time, pursued the millennial goal of spreading Dar al Islam to the entire world. In a manner entirely in keeping with apocalyptic beliefs, but utterly counter-intuitive to outsiders, these Jihadis see the Western-driven transformation of the world as a vehicle for their millennial beliefs, or, to paraphrase Eusebius on the relationship between the Roman Empire and Christianity: Praeparatio Califatae.

    The apocalyptic scenario whereby this global conquest takes place differs from active transformative (the West shall be conquered by Da’wa [summons]) to active cataclysmic (bloody conquest). Western experts have until quite recently, for a wide range of reasons, ignored this dimension of the problem. And yet, understanding the nature of global Jihad in terms of the dynamics of apocalyptic millennial groups may provide an important understanding, both to their motivations, methods, as well as their responses to the inevitable disappointments that await all such believers. The now defunct Center for Millennial Studies at Boston University (1996-2003) brings to the public one final conference on apocalyptic beliefs, co-sponsored by the BU History Department and Scholars for Peace in the Middle East (SPME).

    **

    Schedule:

    *All events will take place in the Stone Science Building (645 Commonwealth Ave), room B50

    Sunday, May 3

    10:00-12:00 Introduction:

    1. Richard Landes, “Globalization as a Millennial Praeparatio Califatae: A Problematic Discussion
    2. William McCants, Brookings Institute: “ISIS and the Absent Mahdi: Studies in Cognitive Dissonance and Apocalyptic Jazz”
    3. Graeme Wood, Yale University, Atlantic Monthly: “On the Resistance to seeing Global Jihad as Apocalyptic Movement”

    12:00-1:30 Break for Lunch

    1:30-3:30 Panel II: The Millennial Goal: Global Caliphate

    1. Cole Bunzel, Yale U.: ISIS: From Paper State to Caliphate: Hotwiring the Millennium
    2. Timothy Furnish, Independent Scholar: “Varieties of Transformative (non-violent) Jihadi Millennialism
    3. Jeffrey Bale: Monterey Institute of International Studies, “The Persistence of Western ‘Mirror Imaging’ and Ideological Double Standards: Refusing to Take Islamist Ideology Seriously

    4:00-5:30 Panel III: Case Studies in Apocalyptic Jihad

    1. David Cook, Rice University: “ISIS and Boko Haram: Profiles in Apocalyptic Jihad”
    2. JM Berger, Brookings Institute, “The role of communications Technology in mediating apocalyptic communities”
    3. Mehdi Khalaji, Washington Institute of Near East Policy: “Apocalyptic Revolutionary Politics in Iran”

    Monday, May 4

    10:0-12:00 Panel IV: Conspiracy Theory and Apocalyptic Genocide

    1. Itamar Marcus, Palestinian Media Watch, “Anti-Semitism, Conspiracy Theory and Apocalyptic Global Jihad”
    2. Charles Small, “Ideology and Antisemitism: Random Acts or a Core Element of the Reactionary Islamist Global Jihad?”
    3. Richard Landes, BU, “Active Cataclysmic Apocalyptic Scenarios, Demonizing and Megadeath: Taiping, Communists, Nazis, and Jihadis.”
    Comments: David Redles, Michael Barkun

    12:00-1:30 Break for Lunch

    1:30-4:00 Final Panel Discussion

    Paul Berman, Independent Scholar
    Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Independent Scholar
    Jessica Stern, Harvard University
    Husain Haqqani, Hudson Institute
    Charles Strozier, John Jay College
    Brenda Brasher, Tulane University

    **

    Selected Work

    Ayaan Hirsi Ali
    Read “Those Who Love Death: Islam’s Fatal Focus on the Afterlife” from Heretic (2015) Here

    Jeffrey Bale
    Read “Islamism and Totalitarianism” (2009) Here
    Read “Political Correctness and the Undermining of Counterterrorism” (2013) Here

    J.M Berger
    Read “The ISIS Twitter Consensus” (2015) Here
    Professor Berger’s latest book, coauthored with Jessica Stern, ISIS: State of Terror, can be purchased Here

    Paul Berman
    Read “Why is the Islamist Death Cult So Appealing?” (2015) Here

    Cole Bunzel
    Read “From Paper State to Caliphate: The Ideology of the Islamic State” (2015) Here

    Medhi Khalaji
    Read “Apocalyptic Politics: On the Rationality of Iranian Policy” (2008) Here

    Richard Landes
    Read “Enraged Millennials” from Heaven on Earth: The Varieties of the Millennial Experience (2011) Here

    William McCants
    Read “The Sectarian Apocalypse” (2014) Here

    Jessica Stern
    Read “The Coming Final Battle” from ISIS: State of Terror (2015) Here

    Charles Strozier
    Professor Strozier’s book, The Fundamentalist Mindset can be purchased Here

    Graeme Wood
    Read “What ISIS Really Wants” (2015) Here

    Those demned Sunni Shiites

    Friday, April 17th, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — for those unused to the word, and potentially troubled by it, demned is a cussword much favored by The Scarlet Pimpernel ]
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    The Prophet said “War is deceit” according to Sahih al-Bukhari, the most highly respected collection of ahadith — as did Sun Tzu before him, writing “All warfare is based on deception” according to one translator. I shouldn’t have been surprised, therefore, by this reversal of understanding reported by journo Richard Engel, captured, then released, then very surprised himself by what he later discovered about his captors:

    SPEC DQ the Sunni Shiites

    Source:

  • Both quotes, which we can call “before” (upper panel) and “after” (lower panel) are drawn from Richard Engel’s New Details on 2012 Kidnapping of NBC News Team in Syria
  • The battle flags of religion

    Sunday, March 29th, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — vexilla regis prodeunt, comparative version ]
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    Two recent examples of religious iconography on the battle field.. from the Badr Brigade, outside Amerli, Iraq:

    badr brigade

    and from Pro-Russia fighters near the eastern Ukrainian city of Starobeshevo:

    Christ flag

    **

    The Vexilla regis is a hymn written by Venantius Fortunatus to welcome the procession bringing a fragment of the True Cross to St Radegunda‘s convent in Poitiers: the first line translates to “The banners of the king go forth”.

    Here it is, illustrated with battle flags flown by Catholic and Royalist troops during the War in the Vendée:

    **

    Sources:

  • Iraq
  • Ukraine

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