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Archive for January 22nd, 2013

Mali: the wider context, the right now and the longue durée

Tuesday, January 22nd, 2013

[ By Charles Cameron — cross-tagging some useful resources from natsec bloggers with another from a bright historian friend ]


Daveed Gartenstein-Ross‘s Globe and Mail piece The War’s in Mali, But the Danger is International from almost a week ago gave a global context to the conflict, while his more recent Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and Al Qaeda’s Senior Leadership on Gunpowder & Lead addresses the issue of relations between AQIM and AQ senior leadership.

Zeroing in, we have a 4-part series on the jihadist actors in Mali from Andrew Lebovich, posting on Jihadica:

  • Primer on Jihadi Players in Algeria and Mali, Pt. 1: AQIM
  • Primer on Jihadi Players in Algeria and Mali, Pt. 2: Belmokhtar & Those Who Sign with Blood
  • Primer on Jihadi Players in Algeria and Mali, Pt. 3: Movement for Tawhid and Jihad in West Africa
  • — and there’s one more in the series still to come which has now been posted:

  • Primer on Jihadi Players in Algeria and Mali, Pt. 4 (Final): Ansar al-Din
  • **

    And by way of cross-fertilization of immediacy with history, here’s the key Mali para from The Slightly-More-Longue Duree by my friend, Swarthmore historian Tim Burke, on Easily Distracted:

    I would never for a moment want to fall back on a pure restatement of ibn Khaldun’s famous interpretation of the history of northern Africa (and the world) and say, “See, this is just pastoralist nomads versus settled agriculturalists and city-dwellers”. But there is a much more specific history that has considerable depth and antiquity to it that involves relationships between Berber-speaking Tuareg pastoralists, Fulani pastoralists, and the settled agricultural societies of the Niger River; between North African states and Sahelian states; between cities and their rural hinterlands; between Islamic cultures and non-Islamic ones. That all matters not just as contemporary sociology but as deep and structurally recurrent history, as a series of patterns and concepts that can be consciously recited by contemporary combatants but that also can be the structural priors of how they mobilize for and imagine conflicts.

    Tim’s conclusion:

    To talk about deeper histories is not to explain current conflicts as destiny, or to put aside a whole host of material, economic, geopolitical and cultural issues with much more immediate explanatory weight. But somehow I feel as if we have to give people struggling to understand what’s happening (and what to do about it) the permission to consider all of the history, as well as the guidance to help them to weigh its importance in context.

    Rabbis, Islam & End of Days II, also 2013 Mahdism Update, II

    Tuesday, January 22nd, 2013

    [ by Charles Cameron — continuing my updating of Mahdist issues, also surprising parallels and oppositions ]

    By the time you’ve learned the various signs of the times — pre-, mid- and post-trib rapture dispensationalist, preterist, Mormon, I dunno, ecological, Sunni, Shiite — the list, like Tolkien‘s Road, goes ever on — who’s on which side, and who might be somebody else’s something — you may feel as confused as I do.


    The very first sentence of Tim Furnish‘s book, Holiest Wars: Islamic Mahdis, their Jihads and Osama bin Laden — which I may never tire of quoting — reads:

    One man’s messiah is another man’s heretic.

    I was rereading the amazing section on the Gharqad tree in Anne Marie Oliver and Paul Steinberg‘s book, The Road to Martyrs Square, the other day, and noticed on p. 21 yet another intriguing variant on Furnish’s point:

    Even before the intifada, the figure of the Dajjal was equated by many Islamists with the Jewish Moshiach, the Messiah, as when the highly influential Pakistani Islamist Malauna Maududi claimed in the 1960s that “the stage has been set for the emergence of the Dajjal who, as was foretold by the Holy Prophet (PBUH), will rise as a ‘Promised Messiah’ of the Jews.” By the late intifada, the equation was commonplace in the West Bank and Gaza. When the Lubavitcher Hasidim in the early 1990s began to refer to Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson as the Messiah, the claim had considerable effect on Palestinian Islamists. Some actually began to include Schneerson on their list of False Prophets, referring to him as “the Antichrist Liar.”


    Compare this, however, with the Muslim Harun Yahya‘s willingness to declare his expectation of the King Messiah / Moshiach in the screen-cap below. Yahya is presumably referring to the same salvific end-times figure he elsewhere refers to as the Mahdi.

    Here we have the reverse possibility to the one Furnish points to — it certainly looks as though here, one man’s Messiah is another man’s Mahdi. On one of his websites, King-Messiah.com, Yahya makes the identification of these figures from two traditions explicit:

    And “King Messiah” is a particularly interesting phrase for Yahya to use — among other things, it’s the term some followers of the late Lubavitcher Rebbe Schneerson use to describe their rebbe.


    As I pointed out two days ago in Expecting the unexpected: Rabbis, Islam, and the End of Days, there’s a whole lot going on here, and it takes patience to tease all the strands out…

    One of these days I’ll have to put together an extended list of messiah / mahdi correspondences — and prophet / false prophet and christ / antichrist correspondences between competing eschatologies, too, both within specific religions and across them.

    I suspect Ayatollah Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr was thinking along similar lines to Yahya when he wrote the paragraph I quoted towards the end of The Messianic Mahdist Moebius strip — or maybe Maze?:

    The Mahdi is not an embodiment of the Islamic belief but he is also the symbol of an aspiration cherished by mankind irrespective of its divergent religious doctrines. He is also the crystallization of an instructive inspiration through which all people, regardless of their religious affiliations, have learnt to await a day when heavenly missions, with all their implications, will achieve their final goal and the tiring march of humanity across history will culminate satisfactory in peace and tranquility. This consciousness of the expected future has not been confined to those who believe in the supernatural phenomenon but has also been reflected in the ideologies and cult which totally deny the existence of what is imperceptible. For example, the dialectical materialism which interprets history on the basis of contradiction believes that a day will come when all contradictions will disappear and complete peace and tranquility will prevail.

    The Iranian scholar Muhammad Ali Shumali, whom I also quoted, said much the same:

    Imam Mahdi is not a saviour for [just] the Shias. Imam Mahdi is a saviour for all mankind…


    Parallels and oppositions…

    My language here will probably not be precise enough for mathematicians or logicians — but isn’t the thing that most closely resembles another thing its exact opposite?

    And to give this already twisty rope yet another twirl… not in terms of apocalyptic, but of Jewish / Muslim relations more generally…

    Here’s Pastor John Hagee — the preacher who was so far right that Sen. John McCain rejected his endorsement in the 2008 presidential campaign — talking with Rabbi Daniel Lapin about Muslims being blessed, and how their five-times-daily prayers are particularly listened to by God:

    These unpredictable “outlier” nuances and their attendant shocks and surprises are ongoing…


    The “signs” graphic at the head of this post is from a post titled Preparing for the Second Coming on LDS Why? — you can download their answers for teens in Chapter 12 of the book The Big Picture. It begins:

    Imagine it’s a bright and sunny afternoon, and as you drive down the road with your parents you look up and notice that the sky looks different than normal. The clouds are luminescent, bright, and heavenly. Suddenly, without warning, the sky seemingly bursts open and the veil between heaven and earth is split. Trumpets start sounding from the sky, and you see above you the most glorious being your mind could ever conceive of descending out of heaven and touching down on earth — Jesus Christ in all His glory…

    That’s a sign that might be hard to miss…

    Mindlessness and Mindfulness

    Tuesday, January 22nd, 2013

    In the midst of writing a lengthy post, it may eventually become my longest, about Socrates.

    There’s no assurance that volume will equate with importance – most likely, the opposite. The post began as a book review and then grew to two books, then I reversed course and started over; it has been unusually slow going because the subject matter has forced me to stop periodically and uncomfortably rethink my assumptions – and then pick up new books. In one sense, there’s no hurry. After all, Socrates will still be just as relevant or not when I finish blogging about him than when I began. On the other hand, the spirit of our times calls out for Socrates’ techne logon, his “craftsmanship of reason”, so I keep plugging away at it.

    The flip side to this intense focus has been an increasing desire for a little mindless entertainment. So, I started watching Sons of Anarchy of my iPad, Season One. So far, It’s fun:

    The theme and setting is interesting and the characters and plot are generally more credulity-stretching than even The Soprano’s in their twilight seasons, but Sons of Anarchy fills the bill in terms of entertainment.Boardwalk Empire, is also supposed to be very good, even better, but one at a time.

    What do you use as a diversion?

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