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The Said Symphony: moves 16 – 17

[ by Charles Cameron – extended analytic game on Israeli-Palestinian conflict — continuing ]

Move 16: Pigs

Move content:

Dehumanizing by bestializing.

Here is a cartoon – I believe from al-Watan – it is about the mildest image I could find that is reflective of the theme of this move: the association of the Jews, Israelis, Zionists, and/or the State of Israel with pigs aka swine in some Arab and/or Muslim sources… and more generally, the practice of dehumanizing one’s enemies by portraying them as animals, beasts…

The Hilali-Khan translation of the Qur’an, 5:60 reads:

Those (Jews) who incurred the curse of Allah and his Wrath, and those of whom (some) He transformed into apes and swine.

This is a translation which was sponsored by the Saudi government and made freely available by them. It is also interspersed with paranthetical notes expanding on the original text. Thus of the 8 parallel English versions of this ayah found in the Leeds Qurany Tool site, only the Hilali-Khan translation quoted above includes the word “Jews” – an addition that derives from the interpreters’ desire to clarify the meaning as they see it, a desire found also in the same translation at 8.60, where “And make ready against them all you can of power, including steeds of war” is followed “(tanks, planes, missiles, artillery)” – tanks, planes, missiles and so forth being a little too modern for the original Arabic to have specified them.

The word “Jews” is also lacking in the original Arabic — but the context makes it clear that “People of the Book” (both Jews and Christians included) are being addressed, and that it is when they turn away from the One God and, as the Old Testament prophets would say, “go whoring after false gods” that the wrath and curse falls upon them.

What it means – whether it should be applied to a sub-group of Christians and Jews at the time of the Prophet or to the entire Jewish race today, and whether it is to be read in a literal or metaphorical sense – it is certainly widely taken in a literal sense as applying specifically and literally, today, to the Jews, in Israel.

Jerusalem is exposed to every vagabond, and its parts belong to every nomadic traveler – and this since the settlers, the rabble descendants of apes and pigs began defiling the parts of Jerusalem … Allah, we have entrusted you with the throats of the Jews; Allah, count them and kill them one by one, do not leave even one of them upon the land of Palestine.

The Quranic quote with which I opened this move, the Al-Aqsa (Hamas) TV quote above, and many other similar jibes and curses against the Israelis / Jews can be found in this PalWatch study of the Demonization of Jews/Israelis.

And one report in the official PA daily newspaper al-Hayat al-Jadida describes Palestinian Christians also participating in this kind of dehumanization:

The spring carnival has retained its [Palestinian] flavor in towns such as Bethlehem, Beit Sahour and Ramallah… with the demonstrations of the Scouts, songs, dances, and popular Palestinian hymns about Christian-Islamic unity and internal Christian unity. These hymns carry meaningful messages, in response to the Israeli prohibition [to enter Jerusalem], as seen in the calls of the youth who lead the procession of light, waving swords and not caring if anyone accuses them of Antisemitism: … ‘Our master, Jesus, the Messiah, the Messiah redeemed us, with his blood he bought us, and today we are joyous while the Jews are sad,’ and, ‘Jews, Jews! Your holiday is the Holiday of the Apes, while our holiday is the Holiday of the Messiah.’


A furious anti-Semitism, backed by claims of scriptural sanction, is one of the drivers of the Middle East impasse…

It is not the only option. Thus Muhammad Asad, in his Message of the Qur’an, notes:

Contrary to many of the commentators who take this reference to “apes and swine” in a literal sense, the famous tabi’i Mujahid explains it as a metaphorical description (mathal) of the moral degradation which such sinners undergo: they become wildly unpredictable like apes, and as abandoned to the pursuit of lusts as swine (Manor VI, 448). This interpretation has also been quoted by Tabari in his commentary on 2:65.


Three links are claimed:

To Netanyahu’s leopard, in the sense that Israeli and Palestinian, Jewish and Islamic scorn and hatred form an echo chamber in which viewing the other, the opposite number, the enemy as an animal dehumanizes them – a necessary prerequisite for killing them, as Sebastian Junger recently noted with regard to the US military in the Washington Post:

of course they have dehumanized the enemy — otherwise they would have to face the enormous guilt and anguish of killing other human beings

To moral equivalence – because comparing and contrasting Netanyahu’s remark with the many Palestinian quotes describing Jews as “these pigs on the face of the earth” and so on raises the question of moral equivalence – with a vengeance – each side claiming the moral high ground, the right to speak of the other as if speaking of animals, of their others as less than human, and to kill…

For lighter reading, this time on the possible moral equivalence between pigs and other treif creatures — for example, eagles — see: Is Pig More Unkosher Than Other Animals? — a view from Chabad.

And to Bob Dylan, because after such verbal abuse the mouth needs washing out, and the original naming of animals by Adam is the source of poetry – and in his song Man Gave Names To All The Animals on the album Slow Train Coming, Dylan restores a lost innocence to the animals and their naming:

He saw an animal leavin’ a muddy trail
Real dirty face and a curly tail
He wasn’t too small and he wasn’t too big
“Ah, think I’ll call it a pig”


The Said Symphony is a fugal work, and it is only natural that its themes will recur. This business of throwing animal names around has been with us for quite a while, and Jerusalem herself has been assailed in this way, by Muslim and Jew, across at least a millennium.

From Apocalypse City, Colin Thubron‘s review of Montefiore‘s Jerusalem: The Biography in the New York Review of Books, January 12th, 2012:

Moreover, the city itself—alternately desolate or bitter and divided—has outraged generations of believers. “A golden goblet full of scorpions,” wrote the tenth-century traveler Muqaddasi, who yet loved Jerusalem; while Amos Oz called it “a black widow who devours her mates while they are still penetrating her.”

Our games of language, war and peace are ages older than we ourselves, or our grandfathers, grandmothers…

And sometimes, just sometimes, the hatred backfires.

Omar bin Laden, son of Osama, turned against his father and his father’s ways in part because of his own childhood affection for a baby monkey which was run over and killed by one of his father’s workers:

We were furious, failing to understand how anyone could deliberately harm such a cute little creature who did nothing but bring much needed gaiety into our lives. Imagine our shock when we learned that the ex-warrior gleefully told everyone who would listen that the baby monkey was not a monkey at all, but was a Jewish person turned into a monkey by the hand of God. In his eyes, he had killed a Jew!My entire body shook when I heard such ridiculous talk. I was young and admittedly unsophisticated, but I was a rational thinker who knew that monkeys were not Jews and that Jews were not monkeys. One had nothing to do with the other.

Like many Arab children, I was aware of the enormous dislike, and even hatred in some cases, between Muslims and Jews and between Muslims and Christians. Children are not born with prejudice, however, so although I knew that many Muslims considered Jews their bitter enemies, my thoughts did not go in that direction.

I was even more astonished when I was later told that it was my father who had convinced the veteran of the ridiculous Jew/monkey theory.

Source: Omar and Najwa bin Laden with Jean Sasson, Growing Up bin Laden.


Move 17: Revelation

Move content:

In general, revelation is the unknown becoming known, the hidden secret speaking / showing itself.

Thus Judaism is founded on revelation:

Judah ha-Levi, accordingly, is in full accord with the spirit of Judaism when he declares the revelation on Sinai to be the great historical fact upon which the Jewish faith, as far as it is a truth revealed, rests (“Cuzari,” i. 25, 87, 97; iv. 11); and this is also the rabbinical view. “The Lord appeared to the people of Israel on Sinai face to face in order to pledge them for all generations to come to remain true to Him and worship no other God.” The Lord spoke with every single Israelite on Sinai, so that each heard Him say, “I am the Lord thy God”; as it is said, “the Lord spoke with you face to face in the mount out of the midst of the fire” (Deut. v. 4). He appeared to them in differing aspects (“panim” = “countenance”)—now with a stern and now with a mild face, corresponding to the varying relations and attitudes of men and times (Pesi?. R. 20-21; Mek., Beshalla?, Shirah, 3).

Thus also ‘Ibn Arabi, the Islamic mystic and scholar commonly known as the Greatest Sheikh, quotes a hadith qudsi revealed to him:

I was a hidden treasure and I loved to be known; so I created the creatures and made Myself known to them; so they knew Me.

It was revelation that gave him this insight, and revelation is the mode of knowing by which we gain theophanic knowledge of the divine.

More specifically, Revelation is the final book of the Christian Bible, Omega to the Alpha of Genesis, setting forth the revelation of things unseen which was given to John on the Greek isle of Patmos… and it is with that book chiefly in mind that I play this move.

See also Son House‘s John the Revelator. Depeche Mode‘s very different variant of the same song attacks apocalyptic fear and trembling, and can be seen on YouTube in what is described as an unofficial video, accompanied by some astonishing examples of contemporary apocalyptic imagery, see above.

Links claimed:

To Netanyahu’s leopard: because opposite Netanyahu’s comment about the Palestinian leopard that “has sunk its teeth in our flesh, in the flesh of our children, wives, our elderly” we may place this, from the Book of Revelation, 13.2:

And the beast which I saw was like unto a leopard, and his feet were as the feet of a bear, and his mouth as the mouth of a lion: and the dragon gave him his power, and his seat, and great authority.

To the pause (fermata):

We are used in this modern era of shock and awe to the impact of the explosive, the raucous, the noisy, the very loud – but there are few things as impressive as silence, which is why one of the most extraordinary verses in the Book of Revelation is 8.1:

And when he had opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven about the space of half an hour.


In Greek, the Book of Revelation is known as the Apocalypse – “apocalypse” simply meaning “the revealing of what was hidden”.

Our modern use of the term “apocalyptic” to refer to terrible times of destruction, fictional or prophesied, stems from the fact that the vision of John of Patmos as described in the book of that name foresees times of terrible destruction (it’s hard to beat “every island fled away and the mountains were not found” for global catastrophe) before God’s kingdom is established and the “holy city, new Jerusalem” descends from heaven “prepared as a bride adorned for her husband” (2.12).

I am grateful to my friend Stephen O’Leary, author of Arguing the Apocalypse, Oxford, 1994, for pointing me to the leopard in Revelation 13.2 and thus suggesting this move to me.

One Response to “The Said Symphony: moves 16 – 17”

  1. Michael Robinson Says:

    Move 17: Revelation 

    What sprang immediately to my mind was Durer’s woodcut,  Saint John Devouring the Book from The Apocalypse, c. 1497—98.
    The text on the verso, German or Latin , Revelation 10 vv1-10
    (AV) And I saw another mighty angel come down from heaven, clothed with a cloud: and a rainbow was upon his head, and his face was as it were the sun, and his feet as pillars of fire:
     2And he had in his hand a little book open: and he set his right foot upon the sea, and his left foot on the earth,
     3And cried with a loud voice, as when a lion roareth: and when he had cried, seven thunders uttered their voices.
     4And when the seven thunders had uttered their voices, I was about to write: and I heard a voice from heaven saying unto me, Seal up those things which the seven thunders uttered, and write them not. … And I went unto the angel, and said unto him, Give me the little book. And he said unto me, Take it, and eat it up; and it shall make thy belly bitter, but it shall be in thy mouth sweet as honey. ….
     10And I took the little book out of the angel’s hand, and ate it up; and it was in my mouth sweet as honey: and as soon as I had eaten it, my belly was bitter.
     11And he said unto me, Thou must prophesy again before many peoples, and nations, and tongues, and kings.

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