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Of morale and angels, Kiev and Ragnarok

Saturday, January 17th, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — not to mention crushing Khomeini, lubing your M16, and that Afghan powerpoint ]
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Andrei Rublev, The Archangel Michael

Andrei Rublev, The Archangel Michael

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In my previous post, Of morale, angels and Spartans, I raised the question of how our increasingly visual and graphical age could visually represent morale. I noted that the Muslims outfought a larger force at the Battle of Badr, and that the Qur’an suggests that this was because thousands of “angels, ranks on ranks” fought alongside them.

Dave Schuler suggested the Archangel Michael — which sent me all over in search of a suitable representation. The icon above, by Andrei Rublev, is the most profound and beautiful work I was able to find, but hardly serves our purpose.

I ran across a politically explicit comntemporary image in which the Archangel wears Airborne insignia:

Archangel-Michael--airborne

— but it was this image from the Maidan in Kiev that came closes to the sense of military power in angelic form —

Archangel Michael Kiev Maidan

— although I’m not sure that military power or prowess is necessarily the same as morale or esprit de corps…

**

Synchronistically — or coinidentally, as sceptics would say — Justin Erik Halldór Smith headed his blog post Ragnarök on the Seine today with an image of Peter Nicolai Arbo‘s Wild Hunt, or Aasgaardreien. Here’s a detail:

Aasgaardreien Peter Nicolai Arbo Wild Hunt detail

And here’s “the big picture”:

Aasgaardreien Peter Nicolai Arbo Wild Hunt 602

That’s probably closer to “amok” than to “esprit de corps” — although the relationship between them is worth pondering.

**

I’m still not convinced that contemporary minds will “get” morale from any graphic image yet devised.. I can’t help remembering the M-16 manual I picked up one day at a library sale or flea market, titled The M16A1 Rifle: Operation and Preventive Maintenance:

Treat your rifle like a lady

My guess, however, is that we’ll wind up with something closer to this:

Powerpoint for McChrystal

**

Image sources:

  • Andrei Rublev, icon of Archangel Michael
  • Archangel Michael, Especial Forces graphic
  • Sculpture, Archangel Michael, Kiev
  • Peter Nicolai Arbo, Aasgaardreien
  • M16 manual, DA Pam 750-30
  • Powerpoint, Afghanistan Stability
  • The photo of the Kiev St Michael is by Mstyslav Chernov, used under CC-BY-SA-3.0 license
  • DoubleTweet: equal-opportunity spoils of war

    Friday, January 9th, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — as their respective flags testify, both Sunni and Shia benefit from our involuntary largesse ]
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    **

    And yes — from here on out, DoubleTweet will be my term for DoubleQuotes formed of two tweets — particularly if, as here, they include visual elements and won’t fit my usual DoubleQuotes template.

    Politics, Religion and Apocalypse #n+3

    Thursday, January 8th, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — in brief: Zuma, Mugabe, Ahmadinejad, Chavez and Saint Paul ]
    .

    I keep on thinking we’ve seen enough, but no: the heady blend of statacraft and religion — all too often, apocalyptic, “end times” religion — just keeps on cropping up. Here are three more DoubleQuotes, these ones centering around President Jacob Zuma of South Africa, with scattered flashes of Robert Mugabe, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Hugo Chavez and Saint Paul.

    One:

    SPEC DQ Mugabe Zuma

    Two:

    SPEC DQ Ahmadinejad Zuma

    Three:

    SPEC DQ Zuma St Paul

    **

    I’m way behind after ten or so days of a cough and cold, yesterday I was more or less up and about, and today feels normal with mild residuals, so I’m trying to get this post out at last, and won’t make any comments about the specific pairings — except to say that my long-running obsession with matters eschatological seems to lead me into the far corners of almost everything.

    Which considering how déclassé and generally marginal a topic “the end times” is generally assumed to be, makes me feel both very fortunate and somewhat astonished. Go figure.

    Of border crossings, and the pilgrimage to Arbaeen in Karbala

    Saturday, December 13th, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron — as one headline put it, 20 Million Shia Muslims Brave Isis by Making Pilgrimage to Karbala ]
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    You may remember IS / Daesh bulldozing the berm separating Syria and Iraq (upper image, below) not so long ago:

    SPEC border crossings

    Putting that into perspective is this image from the border between Iran and Iraq (lower image, above), as millions of pilgrims queue up there on their way to Karbala for Arbaeen, the final day of the Shia’s forty days mourning for Imam Hussein.

    **

    At a time when the sectarian anti-Shia brutalities of Daesh / IS are capturing the attention of many in the west, the presence of Christian priests participating in the Arbaeen proceedings (upper panel, below)) echoes Pope Francis’ recent gesture in offering his prayers in the Blue Mosque in Istanbul:

    SPEC christians at arba'een

    The enormous turnout for Arbaeen in Karbala this year — those gathering at the shrine are reported to number 17.5 million (lower panel, above) — can be seen as a mark of Shia solidarity and devotion in the face of possible violence from Sunni jihadists.

    **

    One tweeter posted this image of a road sign seen along the pilgrimage route early in the forty-day period of mourning:

    If it rains Daesh, we will still visit Hussein

    The sign reads: If it rains Daesh, still we will visit Hussein!

    **

    Sources:

  • Guardian: Isis breach of Iraq-Syria border merges two wars into one ‘nightmarish reality’
  • Iraq Live Update: Iran-Iraq border crossing … Millions queue to go Karbala

  • Shafaqna: Christian priests in the holy shrine of Imam Hussein (AS)
  • Iraq Live Update: Largest prayer congregation in the world

  • IB Times: 20 Million Shia Muslims Brave Isis by Making Pilgrimage to Karbala for Arbaeen
  • Sunday surprise: the country western / blues of Hafez

    Monday, December 8th, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron — at the heart not of the political entity, Iran, but of the Persian culture and people, can be found a king’s ransom in poetry and song ]
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    The sensual and the spiritual meet, melt, meld, merge, and dare I say it, emerge to suit each reader of the poetry of Hafez, Sufi poet and mystic — at times erotic, at times ecstatic, the yearning for the beloved sounding in both registers in his poetry, as in the Song of Songs, which is Solomon’s.

    These versions, by James Newell, capture the spirit of Hafez far better IMO than the frankly best-sellerized and thus trivial versions of Ladinsky. The most sophisticated translator of Hafez now living is probably Dick Davis, who has this to say in an essay intriguingly titled On Not Translating Hafez:

    The second obvious problem faced by a translator inheres in those parts of a text which have clear cultural resonance for the original audience and very little or absolutely no resonance for the linguistic community of the target language. An obvious example of this for translators from almost any Persian text from the sixteenth century on is the lore of Shi’i Islam, an intimate knowledge of the main features of which is automatically assumed by most post-fifteenth-century Persian authors, though this is of course a knowledge almost entirely lacking in the linguistic communities of the West. When we turn to Persian poetry such cultural problems can be particularly intrusive. There is the fact that after the thirteenth century virtually all Persian poetry has at least a tinge of Sufism to it, if it is not outrightly mystical in intent, and mysticism is not a subject accorded particular importance by the poetry of the major Western languages. [ .. ]

    A subdivision of this mystical problem is the set of ideas metaphorically expressed in Persian poetry by wine, drunkenness, the opposition of the rend (approximately “libertine”) and the zahed (“ascetic”), and so forth. None of these notions have any force whatsoever in the Western literary tradition. It would never occur to a Western poet to express the forbidden intoxications of mysticism by alluding to the forbidden intoxications of wine, for the simple fact that the intoxications of wine have never (if we exclude the brief and local moment of prohibition in the United States) been forbidden in the West. The whole topos of winebibbing and the flouting of sober outward convention, so dear to Persian Sufi poetry, can seem in earlier translators’ work to be little more than a kind of rowdy undergraduate hijinks, and in more recent versions it can take on the ethos of Haight-Ashbury in the late sixties. But in both cases the deeper resonances of the topos are not obvious for a Western audience: they have to be explained — and to explain a resonance is like explaining a joke; when the explanation is over, no one laughs, except out of pained politeness, and no one is moved.

    Here’s a song in which the world-renouncing side of things comes axroo forcefully…

    I wrote a poem of my own in somewhat similar spirit yesterday, not too long after listening to that one, and offer it here in counterpoint, with Madhu especially in mind:

    Lend me at least an echo
    .

    If you’re not listening to my poems
    how shall I possibly know I’m still alive?
    It’s when your heart stops
    just for a moment
    that my heart begins to race,
    when your breath catches
    that my breath can return to my heart.
    You kill me. I call to you,

    nightingale to rose or whatever,
    lover to beloved,
    thorn, petal, throat, branch —
    are you nowhere,
    and how can I follow?
    Let me know it was you sang my song.

    And okay, here’s a third and last Hafez version by James Newell:

    **

    Dr Newell’s bio can be found here — and yes, in addition to playing with the likes of Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Mose Allison and John Mayall, he does indeed hold a doctorate from Vanderbilt. His doctoral dissertation, should you care to read it, is on the ethnomusicology of the Qawwali

    Which brings me just the opportunity I need to close this post with Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan singing his signature qawwali, Allah Huu.

    To the best of my understanding, Allah is simple the Arabic term for God, just as Dieu is in French — used by mambers of any religion or done who wish to reference the Deity — while the word Hu in Sufism references the breath or spirit — pneuma in Greek, prana in Sanskrit, spiritus in Latin — the wind that “bloweth where it listeth” of John 3.8.

    Huu:


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