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Love, Death, and Jihad by Pen and Sword

[ by Charles Cameron — with Wagner and Abu Dujana as examples, the cognitive sting here is in the tail — the power of a double image to engage both emotion and insight ]

Love and death.


The human mind thinks in parallelisms and oppositions.

My lords, if you would hear a high tale of love and of death, here is that of Tristan and Queen Iseult; how to their full joy, but to their sorrow also, they loved each other, and how at last they died of that love together upon one day; she by him and he by her.

Thus begins Bédier‘s version of The Romance of Tristan & Iseult as Hilaire Belloc presents it in its classic English form. The parallel there, between love and death, is found also in Freud’s binary opposition of Eros and Thanatos, which he suggests in Civilization and Its Discontents:

The name libido can again be used to denote the manifestations of the power of Eros in contradistinction to the energy of the death instinct.

and in Wagner’s Liebestod — by way of returning to Tristan and Iseult:


Likewise, there’s a parallelism between jihad by pen (jihad bil qalam) and by sword (jihad bil saif) — shown in Abu Dujana al-Khurasani‘s move from writing on the forums to martyrdom in Khost — which al-Awlaki phrases in terms of ink and blood in eulogizing Sayyid Qutb in Constants on the Path of Jihad:

We see that in our contemporary times with people like Syed Qutb. He wrote with ink and his own blood. People like Shaykh Abdullah Azzam and Shaykh Yusuf al ‘Uyayree. They wrote amazing books, and after they died it was as if Allah made their soul enter their words to make it alive; it gives their words a new life

and which appears, contrariwise, in the hadith — considered weak by some and cherished by others:

The ink of the scholar is more sacred than the blood of a martyr


Which brings me to my own parallelism of the day — a parallelism between two uses of graphical similarities, to convey powerful messages:

The upper panel shows a Yardley‘s lipstick ad that I must have seen forty years ago on the London Underground — it stunned me then, and it stuns me today to have rediscovered it on the net — which I have long thought of as a brilliant illustration of “rhyme” in images.

And the lower panel? It’s the parallelism between jihad bil qalam with jihad bil saif, extended into the cyber realm. Again, a powerful image, because when two items “rhyme” in some way that’a apparent to us, there’s an instinctive summoning of all that they mean to us close to the surface of consciousness, and other aspects of their relatedness can then become clear to us in a flash of insight.


Here’s the full Yardley’s ad, still very much as I remember it from so long ago:

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