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Dune, Islam, Jihad, and the perennially missing Mahdi

Friday, June 17th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — on the proleptic brilliance of Frank Herbert’s 1965 novel, Dune ]
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who's your mahdi
image via Ian Rountree

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In Arabic and Islamic themes in Frank Herbert’s “Dune”, the writer Khalid admits “I did not read the original novels. I have watched and enjoyed the movie and the mini-series, and read summaries of the novels” — but he’s an Arabic speaker, and offers us an annotated list of Arabic bterms and phrases he encountered in his necessarily limited exposure to the Dune novels. One term which he does annotate is “Mahdi” — about which he has this to say:

In the Fremen messianic legend, ‘The One Who Will Lead Us to Paradise.’ Paul Atreides, the central figure in the Dune novel is the son of the murdered Duke, he is exiled with his mother, manages to escape, and after a confrontation with the Fremen, gains their respect, and becomes their leader in their struggle against the evil Harkonen. He is called the Mahdi. In Islam, the Mahdi (“The Rightly Guided One”) is an all human Messianic figure, who comes to “fill the world with justice” after much of the opposite. The views of Sunni Islam differ quite a bit from Shia Islam on this, but they both at least agree on this part. Mahdi si a much more central figure in Shia Islam than it is in Sunni Islam, where the concept is often denied and attributed to legends and myths.

And that’s it.

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lya Somin‘s Volokh Conspiracy piece, Radical Islamism and Frank Herbert’s Dune doesn’t mention Mahdism. Wikia’s Muad’Dib’s Jihad doesn’t either — but Wikia is a fan outlet, and fandom can be excused if it is only occasionally scholarly, it’s a form of devotion, and worthy in its own right. There’s no mention of the Mahdi in Liel LeibovitzTablet review of Jodorowsky’s failed but fascinating attempt to film Dune, What science fiction tried to teach us about Jihad, and why no one listened.

Oy: my own equivalent would be titled What science fiction tried to teach us about Mahdism, and why no one listened!

Indeed, one might hope that Ashley Andrews Learn PhD, in her Jihad: Comparing the Fremen Revolt to Contemporary Islamic State, would at least briefly mention the Mahdi, given that IS refers to the Mahdi by name in their magazine Dabiq issue 3:

And he [the Prophet] (sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) linked this blessed land with many of the events related to al-Masih, al-Mahdi, and the Dajjal.

and featured a hadith expressly about the Mahdi, though it does not name him, on the final page of issue #5:

Ibn Mas’ud (radiyallahu ‘anh) narrated that Rasulullah (sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) said, “If there were not left except a day from the dunya, Allah would lengthen that day to send forth on it a man from my family whose name matches my name [Muhammad] and whose father’s name matches my father’s name [‘Abdullah]. He will fill the Earth with justice and fairness as it was filled with oppression and tyranny.” [Sahih: Reported by Abu Dawud]

But no.

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Why do we so often miss the Mahdi?

There’s space available for a serious look at Dune in light of today’s jihadism and Mahdism, and I’d fill it if I could find the time. I thought space-time was supposed to be a single continuum, though — how come there’s space but no time?

You’ll seldom find time with no space, except when attempting to park a car..

Aymen al-Zawahiri, al-Sham and ISIS as Khawarij

Friday, May 20th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — a highest-intensity insult in the jihad among jihadists ]
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A significant article is announced:

Both Will McCants and Cole Bunzel have recommended this article, so you may already have seen it.

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Okay, I understand that there are various viewpoints, and hence various different people will make different choices as to which is the key paragraph here. For many, it will be Zawahiri‘s focus on al-Sham.

Indeed, Zawahiri’s new geographic focus happens to align itself with what Abu Musab al-Suri proposed in his Global Islamic Resistance Call — published, perhaps a tad presciently, more than a decade ago in 2004/5 — that (in J-P Filiu‘s phrase, Apocalypse in Islam, p. 189):

It is self-evident to him that the “country of Sham” — Greater Syria, including Lebanon, Palestine, and Jordan — looms as the apocalyptic theater par excellence, and that al-Qaida’s strategic conception of global jihad must be reoriented to take into account this final clash.

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From my own POV, as someone whose interest is in movements in religious thought, this is the key paragraph:

Zawahri did deliver at least one message aimed at the jihadist base, affirming that the IS’s members are “Khawarij,” a historical Muslim sect of hyper-extremist deviants. Labeling the Islamic State group as such has been controversial within Salafi-jihadism — theorist Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi has resisted it — in part because it requires jihadists to act on the Prophet Muhammad’s prescription for dealing with the Khawarij: “qatl Ad,” or total extermination. Zawahri has now come down firmly on one side of this intra-jihadist debate.

On which topic, see also my November 2015 post here on Zenpundit: Is the Islamic State Islamic? The Yes and No of the matter, and this, from JM Berger in 2014:

Glenn Beck one-two

Thursday, February 18th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — defending someone i don’t much like ]
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I’m no fan of Glenn Beck, who talks quite a bit about Islamic apocalyptic and has been known to confuse Twelvers (the major branch of Shia Islam) with the Hojjatieh society (an anti-Bahai movement banned by the Ayatollah Khomeini), which is more or less like talking about Christianity and confusing the Catholic Church with the Legionnaires of Christ (which fell from grace under Benedict XVI, see also the note at the foot of this post).

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Anyhow, HuffPo carried a slightly frantic article headed Glenn Beck Thinks God Killed Antonin Scalia To Help Ted Cruz Get Elected President, and while the headline may be accurate, the body of the text attributed the following thought to God, not Beck:

I just woke the American people up. I took them out of the game show moment and woke enough of them up to say, look at how close your liberty is to being lost. You now have lost your liberty. You replace one guy, and you now have 5-4 decisions in the other direction. Just with this one guy, you’ve lost your liberty — so you’d better elect somebody that’s going to put somebody on (the Supreme Court) because for the next 30 years, if you don’t, the Constitution as you know it… the Constitution is hanging by a thread. That thread has just been cut, and the only way that we survive now is if we have a true constitutionalist.

If you listen to what Beck actually said:

I think you might conclude, as I do, that he could have been referring to himself, and specifically perhaps to this portion of his earlier presentation in suppoort of Ted Cruz:

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The religious resonances of the current election season are truly remarkable.

My question:

Does the still small voice truly require a megaphone?

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Note:

The Legionnaires of Christ received new statutes under Pope Francis in 2014

How is history made — songs, dreams, and sermons included?

Saturday, October 17th, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — the moral arc of history from Billie Holliday via MLK to Obama — and beyond, who knows? ]
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Our topic here is foresight — prediction, prophecy, prognosis, projection.

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The Legatum Institute today tweeted a Pew Research projection of Muslim and Christian growth 2010-2050.

Pew Christian Muslim to 2050

It is now 2015, so for practical purposes, we’re thinking here about prophecies and predictions that offer what their authors hope will come close to 35-year foresight.

Short form: I don’t get it.

Obama, like him or not, Christ or Antichrist, Peace-Nobelist or Pol, is now US President and has — whatever his strengths, failings, or both — some influence on how the earth turns, which way the moral arc of the universe bends, and or what history will be seen and written once the future is present.

Short form: How does history happen?

I’ll raise that question by posting three videos along one such arc of history — and I’ll avoid the usual genre of “news” and work with song, dream and sermon.

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Describing the impact of Billie Holliday’s song, Strange Fruit, David Margolick wrote in his “biography of a song“:

An “historic document,” the famed songwriter E.Y. “Yip” Harburg called “Strange Fruit.” The late jazz writer Leonard Feather once called “Strange Fruit” “the first significant protest in words and music, the first unmuted cry against racism.” To Bobby Short, the song was “very, very pivotal,” a way of moving the tragedy of lynching out of the black press and into the white consciousness. “When you think of the South and Jim Crow, you naturally think of the song, not of `We Shall Overcome,’” said Studs Terkel. Ahmet Ertegun, the legendary record producer, called “Strange Fruit,” which Holiday first sang sixteen years before Rosa Parks refused to yield her seat on a Montgomery, Alabama bus, “a declaration of war … the beginning of the civil rights movement.”

As Shelley reported, “Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world.”

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Preaching borders on prophecy when it addresses dreams, as in Martin Luther King’s great 1963 oration, spoken decades after Abel Meeropol published Strange Fruit as a poem in 1937 and Billie Holliday recorded it in 1939:

It’s surely notable that a singer had a part in that speech, too. As Wikipedia reports, citing DD Hansen‘s The Dream: Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Speech that Inspired a Nation:

The focus on “I have a dream” comes through the speech’s delivery. Toward the end of its delivery, noted African American gospel singer Mahalia Jackson shouted to King from the crowd, “Tell them about the dream, Martin.” King stopped delivering his prepared speech, and started “preaching”, punctuating his points with “I have a dream.”

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The President of the United States is an acknowledged legislator, constrained by checks and balances that preachers and poets do not face, yet his voice too has been raised from rhetoric to song:

Here are the Here are the “three rhetorical aspects” of Obama’s speech that James Fallows singled out for special praise:

  • The choice of grace as the unifying theme, which by the standards of political speeches qualifies as a stroke of genius.
  • The shifting registers in which Obama spoke—by which I mean “black” versus “white” modes of speech — and the accompanying deliberate shifts in shadings of the word we.
  • The start-to-end framing of his remarks as religious, and explicitly Christian, and often African American Christian, which allowed him to present political points in an unexpected way.
  • Amazing Grace now takes the place of Strange Fruit, and a President that of a poet and a singer — much has changed, yet much remains.

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    My own Prior Art on prognostication:

    Recently, in Simply so much.. 02 here on Zenpundit, I pondered the nature of foresight in terms of a Marine Corps forecast:

    I’m thinking of Lise Meitner as I view the Marine Corps’ ambitiously titled Security Environment Forecast 2030-2045. Who would have thought in 1919 that Hahn, Meitner and Strassmann in 1935 would begin a program that resulted in 1939 in her 1939 paper Disintegration of Uranium by Neutrons: A New Type of Nuclear Reaction — which in turn led to Moe Berg‘s attending a lecture by Heisenberg, the Trinity test at Alamagordo, and Hiroshima and Nagasaki?

    And yet the period from 1919 (Treaty of Versailles) to 1939 (fission theorized) is only 20 years, and from 1919 to 1945 (nuclear warfare) is 26 years — equivalents, respectively, to the periods from 2015 (today) to 2035 (a third of the way into the USMC’s period of prediction) and 2041 (still within the UMSC timeline).

    That’s my attempt at a sober assessment of how difficult it is to “see ahead”.

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    My Art of Future Warfare story, War in Heaven, is set — as the contest rules required — in 2090.

    By twenty-ninety, in my fanciful hypothesis, we may well have learned how to choose which timeline we want to live along in a “manyworld” of constantly branching possibilities – “words are many, worlds are many more, if possible” I wrote, and supplied portals to worlds secular, magical, religious and fictitious:

    Forty some years from now, in the wake of John Hardy Elk’s vision and its definitive corroboration “in the external” by physicists at the CERN Diffraction Lab, Shamanism is overturning “the Enlightenment” as the preferred intellectual basis for inquiry. With its gestalt understanding of the interconnectedness not only of space and time but of chance and will, context and perspective, self and other, the Shamanic method of burrowing into deep external space “in the internal” has proven more powerful, faster, and – yes — way more creative than what are now known as the old “heavy lifting” methods of transport.

    With schools of Tibetan, Navaho, Benedictine and other forms of contemplative instruction now rapidly surpassing CalTech as the educational venues of choice, and Oxford morphing back towards its earlier life in which theology was Queen of the Sciences, a great many talented explorers have now visited realms considered impossibly “far away” even a decade earlier, the “digital” has fallen away at a time when communication between the like-minded is achieved telepathically, and “radiance bombs” vie with “dark bombs” in the end-of-century duels scattered across many galaxies in which “white” and “black” magics compete — under the law, some would say theory, of the Conservation of Moral Balance.

    Who knows? Who can really say?

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    And then there was the ChicagoBoyz Afghanistan 2050 RoundTable. Introducing the RoundTable, Lexington Green noted:

    40 years is the period from Fort Sumter to the Death of Victoria, from the Death of Victoria to Pearl Harbor, from Pearl Harbor to the inauguration of Ronald Reagan. It is a big chunk of history. It is enough time to gain perspective.

    The event, then, was pitched five years past the Marines’ forecast, though still forty years short of my War in Heaven. And once again, though more explicitly this time, I relied on the branching worlds idea.. Here, though, I attempted –- not unlike a circus performer astride two horses -– to bring together the physical and moral universes:

    Historians — on the world-line this is written from, and consequently in those cognate worldlines in which you are reading me — tend to date the by now (2050) clear shift in priorities (if not in actualization) currently emerging along these world-lines to the 2020 joint publication in Nature and Physical Review G of Dogen’s confirmation of the Everett-Klee Transformation Hypothesis, which stated (in its minimal formulation) that free choice is the mechanism by which a human individual switches tracks in a given “present moment” from a “past” world-line to a particular “future” world-line, branching “in that moment” from the first.

    We don’t, I posited, move across parallel “shadow” worlds by diving into portrait size Tarot cards, walking a kundalini-enhancing maze, or substituting the sky, landscape and other furniture of one world-line into that of another, though the great Roger Zelazny in his Amber series posits these as methods for planet-hopping.

    My suggestion: we chose which routes we take when faced with the constant bifurcations of the manyworlds by the moral choices we make.

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    And in all this I attempt, however playfully, to glimpse how the past and present might prefigure our possible and impossible futures — and how one or more of those futures may pass through the sieve of the onward-pressing present to become history

    Tomorrow (October 6th) and tomorrow and tomorrow

    Wednesday, October 7th, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — Apocalypse Tomorrow: predicting another failed prediction ]
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    The Author and Giver of all good things, as the Collect for the Seventh Sunday after Trinity calls Him, provided us with both an Authorized Version of his book (1611) and a Revised Version (1881, 1885); told the story of the earth’s creation in Genesis 1.1 — 2.3 and revised it in Genesis 2.4 — 2.24; and has now supposedly revised its ending from last week until, yes, tomorrow. From today’s Guardian:

    world will be annihilated wed oct 6 2015

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    It seems to me the Guardian is playing this, a little tongue in cheek, as a minor skirmish in the alleged Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom:

    Scientists have several theories about when Earth will be destroyed, although none of the data points to this Wednesday.

    Assuming tomorrow is much like today and further tomorrows await us, in other words, science will be vindicated, much to the discomfort of the religious, no?

    But wait — even the most starkly religious seem to be hedging their bets these days..

    “There’s a strong likelihood that this will happen,” McCann said, although he did leave some room for error: “Which means there’s an unlikely possibility that it will not.”

    Chris McCann, leader and founder of the eBible Fellowship, is the guy who, in this instance, has updated Harold Camping‘s failed predictions to provide his own.

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    It was Shakespeare‘s Macbeth who suggested somewhat bleakly that tomorrows would follow tomorrows in an unbroken stream “till the last syllable of recorded time”. And you’ll note that even that last phrase is an undated prediction, made by a fictional character on a stage within a stage..


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