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What the Dickens? Symbolic details in Inspire issue 3

by Charles Cameron
It’s easily missed. It’s part of the “small print” that most small-format paperbacks carry on the copyright page:

The sale of this book without its cover is unauthorized. If you purchased this book without a cover, you should be aware that it was reported to the publisher as “unsold and destroyed.” Neither the author nor the publisher has received payment for the sale of this “stripped book.”

Here’s the picture that AQAP took of the copy of Dickens’ novel Great Expectations they inserted into one of their bombs recently – which they then published in issue 3 of their English language magazine Inspire:


And here’s the explanation that accompanies that photo, in a piece titled “The Objectives if Operation Hemorrhage” by their “Head of the Foreign Operations Team”:

This current battle fought by the West is not an isolated battle but is a continuation of a long history of aggression by the West against the Muslim world. In order to revive and bring back this history we listed the names of Reynald Krak and Diego Diaz as the recipients of the packages. We got the former name from Reynald de Chatillon, the lord of Krak des Chevaliers who was one of the worst and most treacherous of the Crusade’s leaders. He fell into captivity and Salahuddeen personally beheaded him. The name we used for the second package was derived from that of Don Diego Deza, the Inquisitor General of the Spanish Inquisition after the fall of Granada who along with the Spanish monarchy supervised the extermination and expulsion of the Muslim presence on the Iberian Peninsula employing the most horrific methods of torture and done in the name of God and the Church. Today we are facing a coalition of Crusaders and Zionists and we in al Qaeda of the Arabian Peninsula will never forget Palestine. How can we forget it when our motto is: “Here we start and in al-Aqsa we meet”? So we listed the address of the “Congregation Or Chadash”, a Gay and Lesbian synagogue on our one of our packages. The second package was sent to “Congregation B’nai Zion”. Both synagogues are in Chicago, Obama’s city.
We were very optimistic about the outcome of this operation. That is why we dropped into one of the boxes a novel titled, Great Expectations.

They may not have read the book or seen the movie, as Ibn Siqilli comments at the link above, but they do have long memories and/or a taste for history, and they are indeed sending signals with small details like the fictitious names of their addressees.


This is in line with one of the basic premises of Islamic thought: that the world we inhabit is a world of ayat or symbols (the singular is ayah, and the word is also used to refer to the verses of the Qur’an, each of which is viewed as a symbolic utterance). Here, for instance, is a passage from Fazlun Khalid’s paper, Islam and the Environment, from the website of Jordan’s Royal Aal al-Bayt Institute for Islamic Thought:

The Qur’an refers to creation or the natural world as the signs (ayat) of Allah, the Creator, and this is also the name given to the verses contained in the Qur’an. Ayat means signs, symbols or proofs of the divine. As the Qur’an is proof of Allah so likewise is His creation. The Qur’an also speaks of signs within the self and as Nasr explains, “… when Muslim sages referred to the cosmic or ontological Qur’an … they saw upon the face of every creature letters and words from the cosmic Qur’an … they remained fully aware of the fact that the Qur’an refers to phenomena of nature and events within the soul of man as ayat … for them forms of nature were literally ayat Allah”. As the Qur’an says, “there are certainly signs (ayat) in the earth for people with certainty; and in yourselves. Do you not then see?” (Adh-Dhariat, 51:20, 21).


BTW, I don’t think Penguin (or, for that matter, Charles Dickens) got paid for that book… whatever their expectations may have been.

7 Responses to “What the Dickens? Symbolic details in Inspire issue 3”

  1. Leavening the Loaf of Time « The Committee of Public Safety Says:

    […] watchmen or ramming planes into significant architecture on one hand is better or whether sending many parcel bombs through the mail and boiling the frog through a thousand paper cuts is a better tactical arrangement is unclear. […]

  2. Bryan Alexander Says:

    Nicely done, Charles.So did the Christian churches own the West’s version of ayat until the 1920s or so?

  3. Charles Cameron Says:

    I’m not sure quite what you’re asking, Bryan, but this hymn may contain a partial answer:

    Who Runs May Read:
    THERE is a book, who runs may read,
      Which heavenly truth imparts,
    And all the lore its scholars need,
      Pure eyes and Christian hearts.

    The works of God above, below,
      Within us and around,
    Are pages in that book, to show
      How God himself is found.

    The glorious sky, embracing all,
      Is like the Maker’s love,
    Wherewith encompass’d, great and small
      In peace and order move.

    The moon above, the Church below,
      A wondrous race they run,
    But all their radiance, all their glow,
      Each borrows of its sun.

    The Saviour lends the light and heat
      That crowns his holy hill;
    The saints, like stars, around his seat,
      Perform their courses still.

    The saints above are stars in heaven—
      What are the saints on earth?
    Like trees they stand whom God has given,
      Our Eden’s happy birth.

    Faith is their fix’d unswerving root,
      Hope their unfading flower,
    Fair deeds of charity their fruit,
      The glory of their bower.

    The dew of heaven is like thy grace.
      It steals in silence down;
    But where it lights, the favor’d place
      By richest fruits is known.

    One Name, above all glorious names,
      With its ten thousand tongues
    The everlasting sea proclaims,
      Echoing angelic songs.

    The raging fire, the roaring wind,
      Thy boundless power display:
    But in the gentler breeze we find
      Thy spirit’s viewless way.

    Two worlds are ours: ’t is only sin
      Forbids us to descry
    The mystic heaven and earth within,
      Plain as the sea and sky.

    Thou, who hast given me eyes to see
      And love this sight so fair,
    Give me a heart to find out thee,
      And read thee everywhere.

  4. Charles Cameron Says:

    There’s an excellent analysis of the latest issue of Inspire out at FreeRadicals which includes a Dickens-to-al-Awlaki connection that I’m ashamed to say I’d read and forgotten:
    Al-Awlaki posted a series of book reviews featuring books he’d read in prison a while back, and expressed considerable anthusiasm for Dickens:

    I read Hard Times thrice. So, I ordered more Charles Dickens and read Tale of Two Cities, Great Expectations, Oliver Twist, and his masterpiece: David Copperfield. I read this one twice.
    What fascinated me with these novels were the amazing characters Dickens created and the similarity of some of them to some people today. That made them very interesting. For example: the thick and boastful Mr. Josiah Bounderby of Coketown was similar to George W. Bush; Lucy’s father, Mr. Gradgrind, was similar to some Muslim parents who are programmed to think that only Medicine and Engineering are worthy professions for their children; the amazing cruelness of Stephen Blackpool was similar to some people who appear on the surface to be decent and kind human beings; and Uriah Heep was similar to some pitiful Muslims today.

    You can find a perceptive comment by Seth Hettena here, and Awlaki’s whole series of book reviews archived here.

  5. Bryan Alexander Says:

    "Two worlds are ours: ’t is only sin/Forbids us to descry…" Charles, that poem is a good example of what I was thinking of – namely, that Christianity constituted the West’s ayat until recently, from about 300 to 1900 or so.  If someone in Christian Europe or the post-columbian Americas looked for "spoor of the divine" in everyday life, Christianity owned the grounds of that quest.Think of Phil Dick’s VALIS vision, and the two routes that he would have taken in the Christian ayat period: prophet or heretic.

  6. Charles Cameron Says:

    And to a large extent, Christianity would have been the ruling paradigm, yes — but things get more interesting when you make the idea of looking for "spoor of the divine" as inherently having to do with (a) pattern recognition [the divine alphabet repeats itself] and (b) synchrony 9the repetitions may cross realms, may indeed cross the supposed "cartesian divide" between body and mind.
    An example of the first would be the sort of insight captured in this quote from Gyorgi Kepes, New Landscape in Art & Science:

    Seen together, aerial maps of river estuaries and road systems, feathers, fern leaves, branching blood vessels, nerve ganglia, electron micrographs of crystals and the tree-like patterns of electrical discharge-figures are connected, although they are vastly different in place, origin, and scale. Their similarity of form is by no means accidental.

    An example of the second would be the synchronicity of Junbg’s patient’s dream of a golden scarab, and the unexpected appearance of a golden scarab hitting against a cabinet window in Jung’s room while he was helping the patient explore the dream — the impact of the sudden event then opening both participants into a (psychologically fruitful) discussion of the symbolic meaning of scarabs, gold, aurum non vulgae, etc.
    Which brings me to a second observation, that alchemy would have been another "route into the mystery" in Christian medieval times, free of the usual dogmatic strictures.
    And indeed, nature herself could teach in non-dogmatic fashion, and perhaps arrive at more profound conclusions than verbal scripture (though the Book of Job, written by someone who had clearly studied nature richly and deeply, is hard to beat) — or so it would seem from this comment taken from Bernardus Sylvestris (12th c):

    What I know of the divine sciences and Holy Scripture, I learnt in woods and fields. I have had no other masters than the beeches and the oaks. Listen to a man of experience: thou wilt learn more in the woods than in books. Trees and stones will teach thee more than thou canst acquire from the mouth of a magister.

    I have further reflections on what’s in effect “the divine calligraphy” in my Meditations for Game players.

  7. Charles Cameron Says:

    If I’m going to proceed in this direction, I should also include this passage, which I stumbled across today a few hours after writing the above, from Galileo:

    Philosophy [nature] is written in that great book which ever lies before our eyes. I mean the universe, but we cannot understand it if we do not first learn the language and grasp the symbols in which it is written. The book is written in the mathematical language, and the symbols are triangles, circles and other geometrical figures without whose help it is humanly impossible to comprehend a single word of it, and without which one wanders in vain through a dark labyrinth.

    I find this a somewhat limited view, I must confess: as a poet, I am accustomed to readings that offer more than one level of access to a given text…

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