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Significance of the Kiswah in Riyadh

Sunday, May 21st, 2017

[ by Charles Cameron — oh, but it’s just a backdrop ]
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When ABC News describes the room in which President Trump addressed King Salman of Saudi Arabia and the leaders of 50 Muslim nations in Riyadh this morning, they mentioned that it was “an ornate room that featured 11 chandeliers and six giant video screens.” Okay, but to my eye the scene was dominated by a great black and gold panel of the Kiswah [above], the ornate cloth, renewed once yearly, which covers the Kaaba in Mecca, the point in this turning world to which all Muslims turn in prayer, and around which they revolve in pilgrimage.

I spent some time searching for a decent press photograph or media mention of this Kiswah panel, without success — the chandeliers are clearly more important to media sensibilities than the veil of Islam’s most central shrine, to which all mosques are oriented.

**

I am reminded of Tim Furnish‘s comment yesterday, pointing out that the Time magazine cover showing the Kremlin (below) had airbrushed out the crosses atop the onion domes of St. Basil’s Cathedral —

— domes which Time referred to, in a further display of ignorance, as minarets.

Why are we so appallingly oblivious to religious symbolism, when it plays so major a role in communicating meaning? What tells us more about a cathedral than the cross which surmounts it? Which more completely dominates that conference chamber in Riyadh — the colorful array of flags, or the great panel of the Kiswah mounted above them?

Why do we so consistently airbrush religion out of the picture?

Nationality is no object, money talks

Saturday, May 13th, 2017

[ by Charles Cameron — whether Russian or Chinese, European or American, the wealthiest are, d’oh, world citizens ]
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Arrangements have been made..

What’s fairly interesting here is the role the purchase of real estate plays in moving indivudals to where their money would like to go.

Sources:

  • Bloomberg, EU Passports for Sale in Sunny Cyprus Lure Rich Russians’ Cash
  • WaPo, PoliticsChina pitch by Kushner sister renews controversy over visa program
  • Guest Post: Impressions of Easter 2017, Rural Russia

    Wednesday, April 19th, 2017

    [ by Mark Osiecki — posted by Charles Cameron ]
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    I found this semi-private post by my friend Mark Osiecki quite wonderfully written, insightful as to mood in rural Russia, and deeply moving.

    In my mind, the arches formed where religion and science meet are among the loftiest in the “hundred gated cathedral of kind” that Hermann Hesse wrote of in his novel Magister Ludi, aka The Glass Bead Game, and this post, with its arch between engineering and eucharist, strikes me as a fine example of the possibilities. With Mark’s permission, I’m reposting it here.

    **

    Feodor and I.

    Nearly identical in age, we arrived essentially simultaneously into this existence, but within parallel universes…his The Cold War Soviet, mine The Cold War United States. But we laboured professionally within a common belief system…his sect, nuclear physics and reactor-powered plants, mine mechanical engineering and heavy industrial process. Despite our governments’ endeavoring to differentiate their brands of benevolent service to us, we moved in remarkably similar worlds.

    The Engineering, after all, is united in its own universal mysticism.

    Therein reside incantations…rich in their use of sigmas, alphas, rhos, thetas… symbology universally recognized by all trained congregants. On our respective sides of this planet, we would re-contrive those classical formulae with ritualistic rigor, condense the results into icon-like drawings and present them to sage masters who would ask us “Will this work? Can persons walk under or past this without peril? Is this for the greater good?” We were trained to curtly answer “yes”, of course, confident in our interpretation of The Commandments as bestowed by a Euclid, a Newton, an Euler, a Moore, an Ohm perhaps. Sadly, though, we plied this belief system with the knowledge that it had all too often been deployed not in fact for the greater good but rather to release the great unseen forces hidden within those incantations into enormous, physically destructive effects, eventually bringing grievous harm and agonizing death to many.

    But we, we rationalized, incantated for some greater utility. After all, the greater people somehow desired and benefited from the results of our labours. And thus, we and those consuming the products of our work were able to sense no complicity in the release of such destruction.

    *

    The Supreme Soviet, one day, stopped.

    The Engineering continued despite that passage, but The Orthodoxy – a disallowed belief system – somehow immediately re-emerged adjacent to The Engineering despite the Soviet’s travails over many generations to erase all sentimentality for it. One day soon thereafter, it occurred to Feodor that his inclination towards incantation and application of Commandments could be deployed via The Orthodoxy, also towards the greater good. Thus, he abruptly refocused his faith towards a new set of Unseeable Phenomena, got educated in it, and got to work.

    So now, this Easter’s eve in a tiny rural chapel bounded only by hovels and two cemeteries, my friend Feodor is working. It’s 3:30am on what began as a blustery Saturday night, and we are gathered in the middle of nowhere. Two hundred or so consumers of his work have assembled before him in a space where a certificate next to the front door declares its legal capacity of 60. Half of the congregants – people of my generation or older – had come to this belief system after the collapse of the Supreme Soviet un-disallowed it. The rest, mostly younger, were born into it. Now, we here are compressed together, so tightly that we are slightly deforming each other. Every time the person in back of me waves her right arm in signing The Cross – once every thirty seconds or so over several hours – she caresses that image onto my back. My pelvis is in warm, intimate contact with the back of the person in front of me. Were the man next to me attempt to reach in his pocket, I would feel every nuance of that movement, as though his wriggling fingers were en route to one of mine.

    Group confessions were jointly said earlier this evening, but this compacted mass of believers is not static. Folks come and go. Most will stay for the entire five-hour fete, with an overflow crowd cresting just about now. A cantor announces that if anyone missed the earlier confession, they may step forward and Feodor will somehow work them in during the balance of the service. If you have ever studied fluid dynamics and observed images or videos of how temperature difference diffuses through a dense medium, you would recognize a similar visual phenomenon here. The contrite shimmy their way forward but you don’t actually see them. Rather, you see the reactions of those already-confessed souls parting to make way for them…a glance over a shoulder, a twist of a torso, a fluttering open of normally closed eyes.

    The service, despite its playing out in a language I struggle to grasp, is at least structurally familiar to me. Readings from testaments are performed, a consecration is rendered, praises are sung. A cleansing remorse is conveyed and then sensed as accepted. I take refuge in that familiarity. As the night passes to morning, a subtle crescendo of hopefulness builds within… this certain, family-given sense of being, communicated via a belief couched in the unbelievable.

    **

    Thanks you, Mark.

    Tommy the Russkie Tank-tank

    Sunday, April 16th, 2017

    [ by Charles Cameron — A Russian tanker-toy saga ]
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    Another contribution to the maxcro / micro, war / games displays in my mental cabinet of wonders:

    I’m sorry, this was about the only screen-grab I could manage that showed both the toy tank and its war-fighting seniors. In the children’s story, the toy tank gets left at the tank museum overnight, and is shocked and awed by the realities of which it is but a simulacrum — the OT 76, T 72, and most particularly the T-14 Armata super-tank.

    The equation war : war games :: T-14 : toy tank eiher understates the significnce of the T-14 or exaggerates that of the toy — but equations between simulacrum and reality lie at the heart of such philosophical excursions as Baudrillard‘s Simulacra and Simulations, with its phony epigraph, a simulacrum of a quote from Ecclesiastes:

    The simulacrum is never that which conceals the truth—it is the truth which conceals that there is none.

    In the case of this children’s book, we can postulate another equation: Russia : propaganda :: factory : advertising.

    But see for yourself, some of the details are hilarious:

    Muslim Abu Walid al Shishani, also Trump’s hair

    Friday, April 7th, 2017

    [ by Charles Cameron — also critique of jihadist fatwas — with hat-tips to Pundita & JM ]
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    Pundita posted a photo today under the heading Al Qaeda celebrating Trump for bombing Syrian air base:

    She got the image from the collection here:

    **

    The image Pundita posted is of Muslim Abu Walid al Shishani, and those aren’t actual wigs, they’re photo-enhancements — here’s the original photo, from a research site “documenting the involvement of Russian-speaking foreign fighters in the Syrian conflict”:

    **

    Reading that site’s material on Shishani, I came across these very interesting paragraphs, with their unadorned descritption of how young jihadists misuse jihadist scholars and their rulings. From Nohchicho’s Interview with Muslim Shishani:

    Alhamdulillah, in Syria there are a lot of great scholars who have a sea of knowledge, and when you ask them a question of any difficulty, they explain it so beautifully and distinctly, giving ayats, hadith and the history of the Companions, that there is no doubt. But I also noticed that these scholars are very far removed from what is actually happening here. They don’t participate in the activities of the jamaats, even when they are part of them. They are not aware of the subtleties of the jamaats’ programs, they mainly deal with questions of nikah [marriage], divorce and such matters. The main issues of the jamaat get solved by the students of these scholars. [The scholars] get remembered only when a jamaat needs a fatwa to legitimize its questionable actions.

    The situation gets presented like this: Sheikh, I’m in the desert, I didn’t eat a thing for many days. There are pigs not far from here, and if I don’t eat their meat, then I’m going to die. What should I do? And of course the Sheikh gives an affirmative answer. And then they ask that he announce it publicly so that others don’t reproach them, and then they start using this fatwa even when they just get hungry. And the whole problem is that the Sheikh isn’t up to speed with what is really going on.

    Having gotten to know the scholars and the situation, I realized one thing: if you want to know the truth, then ask the scholars the scope of the Sharia in the particular case, where Allah’s pleasure is, and stick to it as far as possible within your situation. And a scholar’s fatwa basically depends on how you present your situation to him. It depends on your conscience.

    When we ask Sharia questions to a fighter, military questions to politicians, and political questions to Sharia experts, we will always run into mistakes. But if we learn to ask questions to specialists in their relevant fields, and if these experts don’t get into issues outside their competence, then it’s going to be easier for us to reach the truth.

    **

    I’d welcome any info about Muslim Abu Walid al Shishani’s affiliation — Junud al-Sham, if that still exists? AQ? ISIS? This is the first time I’ve run across him.


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