zenpundit.com » nonviolence

Archive for the ‘nonviolence’ Category

Downward Spiral as a pattern in conflict — do we study it?

Friday, October 21st, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — a thoroughly impertinent riff on that saying of von Moltke ]

Hw many places could this sentence be applied to?

But the latest attacks, which appear to have been several months in the preparation, threaten to draw the entire population into a downward spiral of deadly confrontations, violent crackdowns by the security forces and toxic relations between local communities and the authorities.

It happens to come from an article about the Rohingya, Richard Horsey‘s Reality bites for Aung San Suu Kyi amid surging violence from the Nikkei Asian Review.

But how many other places might such a sentence apply to?

I ask this because we tend to focus on certain words in a sentence like this: attacks, preparation, threat, population, deadly confrontations, violent crackdowns, security forces, local communities, the authorities. Those are the forces in play, if you will. But their play follows the rules of a certain game, and that game is also named in the sentence.

Its name is downward spiral.


vatican-spiralSpiral staircase, the Vatican, Rome


What I want to suggests that we might learn a great deal if we shifted our attention from attacks, preparation, threat, population and the rest, and thought about spiral.

Spiral is the form that the attacks, preparation, threat, population and the rest — here and in those other places — takes, and as such it’s an archetype that underlies them, not just among the Rohingya, their Buddhist compatriots and Aung San Suu Kyi, but across the globe and through time itself.

Spiral as a pattern in conflict — do we study it?


If, as I suppose, von Moltke can be translated as saying, “no operating concept survives contact,” it would seem we may need to conceptualize contact, ie the complexity of relations, rather than operations, which are far more focused on us — how we “will prevent conflict, shape security environments, and win wars” — than on conflict and wars, both of which are minimally two-party affairs.

And I’m not trying to say anything so terribly new here, just to give fresh phrasing to Paul Van Riper‘s comment:

What we tend to do is look toward the enemy. We’re only looking one way: from us to them. But the good commanders take two other views. They mentally move forward and look back to themselves. They look from the enemy back to the friendly, and they try to imagine how the enemy might attack them. The third is to get a bird’s-eye view, a top-down view, where you take the whole scene in. The amateur looks one way; the professional looks at least three different ways.


sintra-castle-spiral-credit-joe-daniel-price-740x492Quinta da Regaleira, Sintra, Portugal, credit Joe Daniel Price


The sentence immediately preceding the one from the Nikkei Asia article I quoted above will hopefully illuminate hope in a pretty desperate situation:

The majority of this community and its religious leaders continue to eschew violence.


Image sources:

  • Both spiral images from the Top 10 Spiral Architecture page
  • Will you, won’t you, won’t you join the dance?

    Sunday, July 10th, 2016

    [ by Charles Cameron — protest and arrest in Baton Rouge ]

    will you won
    Reuters – Jonathan Bachman

    It is the stunning balletic quality of this image that catches my attention here, and gives this post a title drawn from Lewis Carroll‘s Lobster Quadrille in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

    Juxtaposition: Christian and Islamic apocalypticisms

    Monday, January 25th, 2016

    [ by Charles Cameron — being the revised version of the second part of my previous post ]

    In an earlier post, rightly critiqued by evangelical pastor-writer-filmmaker Joel Richardson, I conflated Christian and Islamic “divine law movements” with Christian and Islamic “apocalyptic movements”. They are, as Joel pointed out, not the same, though perhaps somewhat related. I have left the first part of that post, dealing with “divine law”, standing, under the original title Juxtaposition: Qutb & Bahnsen.

    Here is my revision of the second part of that post, in light of Joel’s comment. It concerns the similarities and differences between Christian and Islamic “apocalyptic movements”, with special attention to the question of violence or nonviolence on the part of their followers.


    Firts, let’s be clear that Sunni hadith — of which there are very many, and of which some are considered sahih (authentic) and some daif (dubious), &c — can be found to support the idea that the Mahdi’s coming will be violent. The particular hadith favored by the Islamic State is an obscure one, but it supports that point and is used by IS to suggest divine sanction for their own violent actions:

    The Last Hour would not come until the Romans would land at al-A’maq or in Dabiq. An army consisting of the best (soldiers) of the people of the earth at that time will come from Medina (to counteract them). When they will arrange themselves in ranks, the Romans would say: Do not stand between us and those (Muslims) who took prisoners from amongst us. Let us fight with them; and the Muslims would say: Nay, by Allah, we would never get aside from you and from our brethren that you may fight them. They will then fight and a third (part) of the army would run away, whom Allah will never forgive. A third (part of the army). which would be constituted of excellent martyrs in Allah’s eye, would be killed and the third who would never be put to trial would win and they would be conquerors of Constantinople.

    The various black banners from Khorasan hadith, often used in Al-Qaida recruiting, similarly describes the Mahdi as a warrior-messiah:

    Ibn Majah and Al-Hakim recorded that the Prophet said, “If you see the black flag coming from Khurasan, go to them immediately, even if you have to crawl over the snow, because indeed amongst them is the Caliph al-Mahdi .. and no one can stop the army until they get to Jerusalem.”

    FWIW, Harun Yahya is the only Sunni source I’ve run across for the doctrine that the Mahdi’s activities will be non-violent:

    Hazrat Mahdi (as) is a man of peace who evades war. Hazrat Mahdi (as) will make the morality of the Qur’an dominate the Earth not by war but by love and the remembrance of Allah. That Hazrat Mahdi (as) will dominate the world by means of peace and love, which is one of his attributes, is related in the hadith as follows:

    People will seek refuge in the Hazrat Mahdi (as) as honey bees cluster around their sovereign. He will fill the world that was once full of cruelty with justice. His justice will be as such that HE WILL NOT WAKE A SLEEPING PERSON OR EVEN SHED ONE DROP OF BLOOD. The Earth will return to the age of happiness.

    Almost all Sunnis who believe in the coming of the Mahdi believe also that he will come to establish peace by means of warfare.


    Here likewise is a Shia view of the issue:

    Since the objective behind the uprising of Hadrat al-Mahdi is the establishment of divine government throughout the world and the elimination of tyranny and tyrants, it is natural that the Imam will face many difficulties and obstacles in realizing this objective.

    By conducting military operations, he has to remove those hurdles along the way and overrun one country after another so as to prevail in the east and west of the world and establish the government of divine justice on earth.

    The Mahdi, in this view, will again be a warrior-messiah. The question remains open as to whether his would-be followers can themselves hasten his coming by violence, or whether they must await hiom peaceably. Tim Furnish has addressed this question with specific reference to the use of nuclear weapons.


    Since there is presently considerable concern about the potential violence of an Islamic Mahdist movememnt — Tim Furnish, for instance, has written, “Muslim messianic movements are to fundamentalist uprisings what nuclear weapons are to conventional ones” — Joel Richardson has made the difference between Muslim expectation of the Mahdi and Christian expectation of the Second Coming of Christ explicit, writing:

    I explained to my host that unless a supernatural man bursts forth from the sky in glory, there is absolutely nothing that the world needs to worry about with regard to Christian end-time beliefs. Christians are called to passively await their defender. They are not attempting to usher in His return. Muslims, on the other hand, are actively pursuing the day when their militaristic leader comes to lead them on into victory. Many believe that they can usher in his coming.

    Perhaps it is worth noting that Joel Richardson’s quote, above, suggests that in his view at least, Christians will not take up the sword until the Second Coming of Christ, and that from Harun Yahya’ statement it is unclear whether there will be bloodshed along the way to the Mahdi’s reign of justice and peace.

    Intriguingly enough, Richardson and Yahya have met:


    As I said in the earlier version of this post, I’d welcome comments from Joel Richardson, who has commented here on ZP before, Adnan Oktar, and / or Ceylan Ozbudak — especially in clarification of any points I have left obscure or gotten wrong. Thanks.

    Jottings 12: KSM’s “non-violence” refers to preaching, not fighting

    Tuesday, February 18th, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron — not an aha! but a d’oh! moment ]


    This, from the Huffington Post last month:

    The mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks now says that the use of violence to spread Islam is forbidden by the Quran, a major shift away from the more militaristic view he had put forward previously.

    Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s thinking is detailed in a first-of-its-kind 36-page manifesto obtained by The Huffington Post. In a departure from his previous stance, which led the Guantanamo Bay prisoner to tell a military commission, “it would have been the greatest religious duty to fight you over your infidelity,” KSM, as he’s known in intelligence circles, instead seeks to convert the court to Islam through persuasion and theological reflection, going so far as to argue that “The Holy Quran forbids us to use force as a means ofconverting” and that reaching “truth and reality never comes by muscles and force but by using the mind and wisdom.”

    I saw various versions of this tale — from the LA TimesKhalid Shaikh Mohammed issues ‘nonviolence’ manifesto:

    The Koran, Mohammed wrote, “forbids us to use force as a means of converting” others, and “truth and reality never comes by muscles and force but by using the mind and wisdom.” Those statements clash with his earlier braggadocio in saying he plotted the Sept. 11 attacks and personally beheaded Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, and in calling for young Muslims around the world to embrace violence.

    — and from Andrew Cohen, explaining in The Atlantic why the manifesto may have been made available in the first place:

    Perhaps the feds welcome Mohammed’s shifting interpretation of the Quran, which he now says prohibits violence as a means of spreading Islam.

    However, I very much doubt that’s what’s going on.


    The true meaning of KSM’s writing may be a little different from the reading given to it by the press. Here’s an actual quotation from the manifesto:

    It is my religious duty in dealing with any non-Muslims to invite them to embrace Islam.

    The Counter Jihad gets this bit right, I think, in a post titled KSM’s Prison Communiqués Part II: Wartime Religion of Peace Propaganda:

    In point of fact, Islamic law teaches that, before waging offensive jihad, Muslims must first invite nonbelievers to accept the truth of Islam. Doctrinally, this summons to Islam is a necessary precondition to waging violent jihad. There are numerous examples of bin Laden and Zawahiri (bin Laden’s deputy and now the leader of al Qaeda) issuing public statements calling on infidels to accept Islam.

    It’s a one-two sequence. Before engaging in acts of war, the jihadist must first make a peaceful and indeed graciously phrased invitation to convert to Islam… in the words of the Qur’an, 16.125:

    Invite (all) to the Way of thy Lord with wisdom and beautiful preaching; and argue with them in ways that are best and most gracious: for thy Lord knoweth best, who have strayed from His Path, and who receive guidance. Q 16.125


    The result, in the case of KSM’s manifesto, is an appeal that blends Murray Gell-Mann‘s quarks…

    Everything that turns in the universe, from the smallest quarks to the largest supernovas are worshipping God, just as Muslims in Mecca circulate around the Kaba, counterclockwise. If you have Mecca TV channel just look for one hour how people from all around the world travel in circles like any electron or moon or earth or sun or any star or galaxy does. Try to record the picture for 15 minutes and then fast forward the picture then repeat it again, then ask yourself who told Abraham (PBUH) and these people a thousand years ago to imitate the laws of the Universe and nature. The answer will be He Who created these trillions of galaxies and human beings and made ?xed laws for all, but granted humans free will in order to test them.

    — with the fifth century AD Neoplatonism of Proclus Lycaeus:

    Just as in the dialectic of love we start from sensuous beauties to rise until we encounter the unique principle of all beauty and all ideas, so the adepts of hieratic science take as their starting point the things of appearance and the sympathies they manifest among themselves and with the invisible powers. Observing that all things form a whole, they laid the foundations of hieratic science, wondering at the first realities and admiring in them the latest comers as well as the very first among beings; in heaven, terrestrial things according both to a causal and to a celestial mode and on earth heavenly things in a terrestrial state….

    What other reason can we give for the fact that the heliotrope follows in its movement the movement of the sun and the selenotrope the movement of the moon, forming a procession within the limits of their power, behind the torches of the universe? For, in truth, each thing prays according to the rank it occupies in nature, and sings the praises of the leader of the divine series to which it belongs, a spiritual or rational or physical or sensuous praise; for the heliotrope moves to the extent that it is free to move, and in its rotation, if we could hear the sound of the air buffeted by its movement, we should be aware that it is a hymn to its king, such as it is within the power of a plant to sing…


    Interestingly enough, KSM also quotes Matthew 5.44-45a:

    But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven…

    — and in a letter to Rory Green, a British Christian who had written inviting him to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ, he responds:

    I appreciate your deep concern regarding my worldly and hereafter life … You asked me to repent from my sins. For your own information, I never stop.


    Let’s just say, it pays to peer beneath the surface.

    Religions in the speech of Malala Yousafzai

    Saturday, July 13th, 2013

    [ by Charles Cameron — a speech worth close attention ]


    I bypassed several opportunities to hear or read Malala‘s speech today, until Shivam Vij tweeted that she had mentioned Badshah Khan. That caught my attention — Khan is not the most well-known of figures, but he’s one that I admire — and when I watched Malala’s speech, I found him in some pretty significant company:

    I do not even hate the Talib who shot me. Even if there was a gun in my hand and he was standing in front of me, I would not shoot him. This is the compassion I have learned from Mohammed, the prophet of mercy, Jesus Christ and Lord Buddha. This the legacy of change I have inherited from Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela and Mohammed Ali Jinnah. This is the philosophy of nonviolence that I have learned from Gandhi, Bacha Khan and Mother Teresa. And this is the forgiveness that I have learned from my father and from my mother. This is what my soul is telling me: be peaceful and love everyone.

    That’s really quite a paragraph. And if the lives and thoughts of Gandhi or Mother Theresa, Mandela or Martin Luther King, Buddha, Christ or Muhammad seem important to you, and you are unaware of Bacha or Badshah Khan, I can recommend to you Eknath Easwaran‘s Nonviolent Soldier of Islam: Badshah Khan: A Man to Match His Mountains.

    In these times of religious conflict too, it is worth noting that this young Muslim woman speaks, on her sixteenth birthday and before the UN General Assembly, of the inspiration she has received not only from fellow Muslims — from the Prophet of her own faith, Muhammad, from the Father of her Nation, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, and from Benazir Bhutto, whom she terms shahid or martyr — but also from Buddha, Christ, and Gandhi, a Hindu.


    As my regular readers know, I make a habit of noting patterns where I can find them, so I was struck by one rhetorical trope in particular within Malala’s speech:

    Dear sisters and brothers, we realize the importance of light when we see darkness. We realize the importance of our voice when we are silenced. In the same way, when we were in Swat, the north of Pakistan, we realized the importance of pens and books when we saw the guns.

    The relationship is a subtle one: darkness is juxtaposed to light not as silence is to voice but as being silenced is — while in the third clause, pens and books is to guns as darkness is to light, a powerful and thought-provoking juxtaposition.


    Malala’s speech, full text:

    Our books and our pens are the most powerful weapons

    Malala’s speech in video:

    Switch to our mobile site