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Archive for April, 2015

Insight into Iraq in Seierstad’s bio of Anders Breivik

Monday, April 27th, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — another example of what I call “landmines in the garden” ]

I wouldn’t have picked a bio of Anders Breivik as a likely source for insights into Iraq, but Åsne Seierstad‘s bio, One of Us, provides one all the same… first quoting the Qur’anic sura Al-Anfal (upper panel, below) in her epigraph to a chapter —

SPEC DQ Al-Anfal

— then commenting on that quotation (lower panel, above) a page later.


What interests me here is Seierstad’s last sentence as quoted in the lower panel:

By naming the campaign of extermination after a sura of the Qur’an, the Iraqi government sought to legitimate its executions as a war against believers.

We have seen jihadists quote scripture often enough to suggest they have divine sanction for their acts of violence. Here it was Saddam Hussein in 1988 whose interpretation of the Qur’an provided that sanction. And I emphasize the word “interpretation” since Sura 8, Al-Anfal (The Spoils of War), was received shortly after the Battle of Badr, which it is understood to describe in detail, and its applicability by analogy to completely different circumstances such as Saddam’s campaign against the Kurds (and also, as Wikipedia notes, Assyrians, Shabaks, Iraqi Turkmens, Yazidis, Jews, and Mandeans) is indeed interpretive and subjective rather than “authoritative”.

Saddam Hussein’s “authority” in Quranic exegesis would be questionable at best — so long as one was not overheard questioning it in Iraq at the time.

Specifically, the very next verse of Al-Anfal clarifies the context. It does not say “When you find the unbelievers living in their villages and towns” — it says:

O believers, when you encounter the unbelievers marching to battle, turn not your backs to them.

But it is a little late for anyone to presume to give Saddam Hussein lessons in the book he once ordered written in his own blood, least of all myself.


My overall point here is that the world’s scriptures in general offer paths towards paradise, pardes, pardis — a tranquil garden or orchard. Not infrequently, though, they also contain texts which can blow up in our faces if read not in historical context but with contemporary violent intent.

Landmines in the Garden.

Caveat lector.

Earthquake in Nepal

Monday, April 27th, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — more grief for an already grieving world ]

SPEC DQ Nepal quake

I have a particularly dear friend in Nepal. My heart and prayers go out to her, to all those she knows and loves, and to the Nepalese people.

BTW, those are the Swayambhu stupa’s “buddha-eyes” that you see in the little box joining the two panels of my DoubleQuote. I understand the temple complex sustained some damage in the quake.

Sunday surprise: a couple of apocalyptic footnotes

Sunday, April 26th, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — because they don’t deserve posts of their own, but I can’t resist posting them anyway ]

Krasheninnikov prophecies about antichrist and mark of the beast:

Russian Orthodox adolescent Vyatcheslav Krasheninnikov said the following.

  • Airplanes that go down are hit by demons because they need the airspace to fight Jesus.
  • Dinosaurs live under our level. They will get out through sinkholes and lakes.
  • There will be hole to the abyss in China with radiation.
  • With blood transfusion, sins transfer.
  • Boiled water is dead.
  • Scientists will make a device that will allow people to see demons in the dark.
  • Icons of Jesus will be on the nose of airplanes: similar in submarines.
  • So much for Russia. In the US, meanwhile…

    President Obama at the White House Correspondents Dinner said:

    Michele Bachmann actually predicted that I would bring about the biblical end of days. Now, that’s a legacy. That’s big. I mean, Lincoln, Washington, they didn’t do that.


    There are plenty of serious things to be said about apocalypses secular and sacred — but the end of the world is also an endless source of the quirkiest imaginative leaps and punchlines.

    i though Scott in particular might enjoy the prediction about the noses of airplanes and submarines…

    BRIEFING: some religious aspects of the Armenian Genocide:

    Saturday, April 25th, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — my latest for LapidoMedia ]

    Here’s my latest for LapidoMedia, a UK organization which supports journalists with resources on the religious background of current events:


    What’s in a name?

    by Charles Cameron – 24th April 2015

    Pope Francis with Karekin II, Catholicos of the Armenian Apostolic Church. Photo: Gregorio Borgia/AP via Washington Post

    A HUNDRED years ago, an estimated 1 million to 1.5 million Armenians, along with or followed shortly by other minorities including Kurds, were killed or otherwise deprived of their lands and homes by the Ottomans in an event that for sheer horror compares with the genocides of Hitler and Pol Pot. 

    Today, 24 April 2015, marks the centenary of start of the Armenian Genocide, known in Armenian – and also in US Presidential English – as Metz Yeghern, literally The Great Evil or Crime.

    We are faced, therefore, with the Shakespearean question – does genocide by any other name smell quite so foul?

    Both Jewish and Muslim traditions counsel that the needless taking of one human life is equivalent to the extinguishing of a world, as reported in the Talmud and referenced in the Qur’an – how much more so, the attempt to extinguish an entire culture?

    For the Armenians, the genocidal nature of the events of 1915 is not in doubt. Turkey, on the other hand, is less willing than Germany was after the WWII Shoah to admit to so horrendous a crime – and President Recep Tayyip Erdo?an thus pressured the White House not to use the English term ‘genocide’.

    In deference to Turkish geopolitical pressure, President Obama opted for the equivalent Armenian term, Metz Yeghern, taking considerable heat from those who viewed his choice as a cop-out.

    The politics are well known. What is less known is the role religion plays in the event. To understand the religious dimension of the genocide, and by extension of Armenian sentiment condemning President Obama’s decision, we must understand the importance of Christianity to the Armenian people, and the changing relations between Christians and Muslims in Anatolia across the centuries.

    Vicken Cheterian, in Open Wounds: Armenians, Turks, and a Century (Hurst, 2015), writes: ‘Religion and language are the two markers of Armenian identity. For many centuries, the identity of the Armenians was closely intertwined with membership of the Armenian Apostolic church, one of the religious communities of the Ottoman Empire.’


    To read the rest — inclouding some philosophical thoughts on suffering I am glad to see included — go to the LapidoMedia site: BRIEFING: Armenian Genocide: what’s in a name?

    In which John Horgan presents a DoubleQuote

    Friday, April 24th, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — taking a very brief break from Bach for once — but Kanye? ]

    In what I’d term a DoubleQuote in the Wild, Dr John Horgan uses a simple textual and visual juxtaposition to good effect:


    The juxtaposition here “works” because “the American Dream” textually links the two images the way a rhyme does at the end of this couplet, a long-time favorite of mine, translated by J. V. Cunningham from the Latin of John Owen:

    Life flows to death as rivers to the sea,
    And life is fresh and death is salt to me.

    Thus there’s a bond first established verbally between Adam Gadahn and Kanye West, two people we might not otherwise think of together — and in thinking of them together, we open a wide range of possible associations, including a sort of parallel match between Kanye and another American jihadist, Omar Hammami — like Kanye, a rapper — also mentioned in JM Berger‘s piece today about Gadahn’s life an death. And from there our thoughts can fan out to Anwar Awlaki, and his son, Abdulrahman Awlaki, or to Deso Dog, the German jihadist rapper.

    In a word, the juxtaposition is provocative: thought-provocative.


    And what of the American Dream? Wikipedia currently defines it thus:

    The American Dream is a national ethos of the United States, a set of ideals in which freedom includes the opportunity for prosperity and success, and an upward social mobility for the family and children, achieved through hard work in a society with few barriers. In the definition of the American Dream by James Truslow Adams in 1931, “life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement” ..

    The idea of prosperity hrough hard work, it seems to me, has much in common with the Puritan ideal, captured by Ning Kang of the School of Foreign Languages, Qingdao University of Science and Technology, in these words:

    Puritanism shaped the Americans’ national character – acquiring wealth through hard work and thrift

    American Puritans linked material wealth with God’s favor. They believed that hard work was the way to please God. Created more wealth through one’s work and thrift could guarantee the God’s elect. The doctrine of predestination kept all Puritans constantly working to do good in this life in order to be chosen for the next eternal life. God had already chosen who would be in heaven or hell, but Christians had no way of knowing which group they were in. Those who were wealthy would obviously be blessed by God and in good standing with Him. The work ethic of Puritans was the belief that hard work was an honor to God which would lead to a prosperous reward.

    Is that about right? I’m not much of a puritan myself, but it seems to me that the aspect of the dream that has to do with purity gets lost when the American Dream becomes a Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy and the metric of success and prosperity equates to a Kardashian spouse — while on the other side, purity in the form of burqas and “religious police” is the fetish that drives the Salafi-jihadists: Consider this, from an IBTimes report:

    Isis chief executioner found beheaded with cigarette in his mouth

    The corpse showed signs of torture and carried the message “This is evil, you Sheikh” written on it. The severed head also had a cigarette in its mouth. It is unclear who carried out the decapitation but the message was obvious.

    Islamic State’s (formerly known as Isis) ban on cigarettes is one of its signature polices. It has imposed a strict set of Sharia laws barring the use of drugs, alcohol and cigarettes in the territories it has conquered across a swathe of Iraq and Syria.

    IS has declared smoking “slow suicide” and demands that “every smoker should be aware that with every cigarette he smokes in a state of trance and vanity is disobeying God”.


    Contemplating John’s DoubleQuote, then, it seems to me that Gadahn has the puritanical streak in the original dream, adapted to its contemporary Islamist form, while Kanye has much of the prosperity side, largely detached from any kind of asceticism in preference for bling — but with a laudable concern that that bling not be derived from child labor, slavery, etc:

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