Mark is a distinguished historian of the intelligence world. He has a new book on Pius XII. "Church of Spies: The Pope’s Secret War Against Hitler"pl
Mark is a distinguished historian of the intelligence world. He has a new book on Pius XII. "Church of Spies: The Pope’s Secret War Against Hitler"pl
What a comparison.
On the one hand you have Donald Trump who scorns any and all who might be thought rivals and who uses all the PR and negotiating mockery and cruelty that are standard tools of business. It is all about him. Everything is about him.
On the other hand you have Francis who went to the conclave that elected him expecting to go home to Buenos Aires after the duty of voting had been performed. We should remember that he does not like Rome and would rather be somewhere else. He warned the conclave that they should carefully consider whether they wanted him. He knew that he would be a transformational figure and a pastor to every soul that he could touch. So far as I know he still refuses to live in the pontifical palace where he would be waited on hand and foot. Instead he lives in a guest house somewhere in Vatican City. The Fiat clown car that he rides around in is endearing in its sentiment and a marvelous contrast once again to The Donald's magnificence or triviality, however you wish to perceive him.
Francis is a man who says he wants to retire before he dies so that he can go out for a pizza with friends. The Donald is a native New Yorker who eats pizza with a knife and fork.
Francis accepts that he might be martyred on any of the many occasions when he gets out of the Fiat and plunges into the embrace of the crowd. He laughs and says he is ready so long as the end is not too painful.
Does The Donald think himself replaceable? pl
"The Islamic State’s harsh strain of Jihadi-Salafi ideology is now more popular today than ever. As long as the Islamic State maintains the trappings of an actual state in Iraq and Syria—or beyond—governing territory and dispensing justice, support for the group and its ideology will continue to grow. While the U.S.-led air campaign beginning in August 2014 has so far arrested the Islamic State’s momentum, it remains unclear whether the campaign will reverse its advance. At all events, political turmoil elsewhere in the Middle East, particularly in Libya and Yemen, is creating conditions conducive to the Islamic State’s intended expansion.
Regardless of the coalition’s long-term success, the military campaign can actually strengthen the Islamic State’s ideology by lending credence to its conspiratorial worldview: namely, the view that the region’s Shi‘a are conspiring with the United States and secular Arab rulers to limit Sunni power in the Middle East. The U.S. pursuit of a nuclear deal with Iran contributes to this perception." Bunzel
“Life on Earth is in trouble. That much we know. But how bad have things become – and how fast are events moving? How soon, indeed, before the Earth’s biological treasures are trashed, in what will be the sixth great mass extinction event? This is what Gerardo Caballos of the National Autonomous University of Mexico and his colleagues have assessed, in a paper that came out on Friday.“ (The Guardian)
This paper lacks the cautious caveats that are usually present in scientific studies. The researchers are pretty damned sure of their results and the implications of those results. The entire study along with supporting data and metrics is freely available online under the Creative Commons Attribution NonCommercial license. My guess is that the researchers feel it is too important to be merely summarized in a few sensational articles and then left to languish in an obscure scientific journal. It’s available here. This is one paragraph from the study.
“The evidence is incontrovertible that recent extinction rates are unprecedented in human history and highly unusual in Earth’s history. Our analysis emphasizes that our global society has started to destroy species of other organisms at an accelerating rate, initiating a mass extinction episode unparalleled for 65 million years. If the currently elevated extinction pace is allowed to continue, humans will soon (in as little as three human lifetimes) be deprived of many biodiversity benefits. On human time scales, this loss would be effectively permanent because in the aftermath of past mass extinctions, the living world took hundreds of thousands to millions of years to re-diversify. Avoiding a true sixth mass extinction will require rapid, greatly intensified efforts to conserve already threatened species and to alleviate pressures on their populations—notably habitat loss, overexploitation for economic gain, and climate change. All of these are related to human population size and growth, which increases consumption (especially among the rich), and economic inequity. However, the window of opportunity is rapidly closing.” (Science Advances)
Gerardo Caballos, the leader of the research team, pointed to Pope Francis’s encyclical on the environment, Laudato Si, as a sign of hope. This encyclical goes far beyond a simple message of “give a hoot, don’t pollute.” This sinner does not feel up to divining the deeper meanings of Laudato Si at the moment. That will take time and prayer. Pope Francis begins by saying the encyclical is for every living person on the planet, not just Roman Catholics. I suggest we all read it or, at least, read some of the more serious reviews. Is it mere coincidence that Laudato Si and the study on the sixth mass extinction appear within days of each other? Perhaps the timing is divine.
Laudato Si The encyclical on the Vatican website
“For 14 hours yesterday, I was at work-teaching Christ to lift his cross by the numbers, and how to adjust his crown; and not to imagine he thirst until after the last halt. I attended his Supper to see that there were no complaints; and inspected his feet that they should be worthy of the nails. I see to it that he is dumb, and stands mute before his accusers. With a piece of silver I buy him every day, and with maps I make him familiar with the topography of Golgotha."
Captain Wilfred Owen, The Manchesters
Killed in Action, 4 November, 1918
First published in "America" magazine in May, 2006.
Adam L Silverman
I thought I'd start today's roundup with some Baltimore related news, since I posted on it last night and got so many thoughtful comments.
Middle East/Middle East related:
Adam L. Silverman
The rhetorical battle between Saudi Arabia and Iran has heated up over recent events in Mecca. Iran recently suspended pilgrimages to Mecca amid allegations that two Iranian pilgrims were abused at Jeddah Airport on their way back to Iran. This is not the first time that Iran has suspended pilgrimages to Mecca - Iran took similar steps back in the 1980s in the aftermath of violence in Mecca that killed 400 pilgrims, many of whom were Iranian. There is also a parallel in the war of words between the Kingdom and the Islamic Republic. Back in 1987 there were Iranian calls for changes in who controlled Mecca. In this recent case Ayatullah Javadi Amoli has called for control of Mecca to be taken away from the Saudi's and placed under the control of "men of piety". Ayatullah Amoli is a senior and influential Iranian cleric and his choice of words is interesting. By implying that Mecca is not currently controlled by men of piety, Ayatullah Amoli is essentially accusing the Saudis of impiety. This type of charge is similar to the takfirism (anti-apostasy) practiced by al Qaeda and ISIS - both of which are extremist offshoots of the Wahabbi Islam practiced in Saudi Arabia. With his choice of words Ayatullah Amoli has basically accused the Saudis of being kafirs or apostates. That a senior Twelver Shi'a cleric would use takfiri language in his accusations against the Saudis cannot be considered a coincidence. While it is unlikely that Ayatullah Amoli's call for a change in Mecca's governance will actually bear fruit, his choice of words is a signal to the takfiri jihadis, who are exclusively Sunni, that even the Twelver Shi'a - who are themselves viewed as apostates by the takfiri - see the Saudi's as impious. As has been the case since the US initiated Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) by invading Iraq in 2003, the ongoing tumult in the Levant often produces very strange bedfellows even if it is only in the war of words.
* Image of pilgrims on Hajj at the al Haram Mosque was found here.
Please take note that in Islam there is no institutional test of authenticity in religion. Islam has no central authority. Authenticity exists in the minds of a group of Muslims who follow a particular teaching. pl
The 9/11 attackers/plotters/funders were all Sunni.
A list of Muslim Groups presently actively hostile to the US:
- The Islamic State (Sunni)
- The Al-Nusra Front (Sunni)
- Al-Qa'ida Central (Sunni)
- Al-Qa'ida in Magheb (Sunni)
- Al-Qa'ida in Arabian Peninsula (Sunni)
- Boku Haram (Sunni)
- Al-Shabbab (Sunni)
- Khorassan Group (Sunni)
- Society of the Muslim Brothers (Sunni)
- Sayyaf Group in the Philippines (Sunni)
- Taliban in Pakistan and Afghanistan (Sunni)
- Lashgar i Taiba (Sunni)
- Jemaa Islamiya (Sunni)
Got any others?
Shia forces bombed US and French facilities in Beirut in 1983. That was 31 years ago. Shia militias fought the US COIN campaign in Iraq. So did Sunni forces. Shia forces are now fighting IS in Iraq.
So, why is it that US media consistently describe the Shia as a malevolent force throughout the Islamic World?
Could it be because Israel/AIPAC and the Gulf Arabs want Iran contained as a geopolitical rival in the region? Could it be that? pl
Adam L. Silverman
I wanted to add a few thoughts to our ongoing discussion of the Saudi/Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) intervention in Yemen. While it is always good when regional intergovernmental organizations actually work, and the countries that belong to them work together, While only time will tell if this intervention is actually a good strategic move by the GCC and its member states, what is clear is that the intervention in Yemen is Saudi driven. By placing the GCC within Saudi Arabia's strategic vision for the region, the GCC and its member states may find that they can never get out from under that vision, let alone what it will require of them. This includes the need to spend Kuwaiti, Emirati, Bahraini, and Qatari blood and treasure on behalf of Saudi strategic objectives. Among those objectives is advancing their push for regional hegemony throughout the Middle East against both the Iranians and the Turks. This push has different dynamics - against the Iranians it is, at its core, a move for the Saudis to become the guarantor of Sunni Islam in the region against the major Shi'a power of Iran. In regards to the Turks it is much more about which Islam, the Wahabiyya of Saudi Arabia or the less fundamentalist, but equally politicized Sunni Islam of Erdogan and his religio-political movement. Given that Yemen's Shi'a, as COL Lang and other's have repeatedly stated, are not the Twelvers of Iran, do not fall under the authority of any of the Iranian religious authorities (or any non Zaidi Shi'a authority), regionalizing the ongoing conflict in Yemen within the Saudi/Iranian proxy war for hegemony can only make things worse.
Yemen is currently facing the same problem that many of the 20th century states - the states that emerged from colonialism or were specifically created by the colonial powers - a crisis of who is actually a member of the state and society; what should the actual boundaries be**; and what system of governance is going to be enacted and who's behalf will it govern. This is the core of the crisis in Iraq and Syria, Somalia and Nigeria, as well as Yemen and to a certain extent Ukraine. The borders and boundaries of all of these countries were drawn by more powerful states, they often bundled together groups that had previously been separate or separated groups that had been together. All of these violent crises, civil wars, and sectarian conflicts are really about state and societal formation: who is and who is not a Yemeni or Iraqi or Syrian or Somali or Nigerian; where should the boundaries between states or even different societal groups be drawn; and what form of government - secular, tribal, religious, or some combination - should be established.
* Yemeni tribal map from the University of Texas Library.
** If you pull up a tribal or ethnic map for Nigeria and West Africa, you can clearly see that the borders between Nigeria and its neighbors were drawn that subdivided tribal areas. This is also the case in many other places and is the result of attempting to impose the Westphalian state, which is a European/Western concept of the state on non-European/non-Western societies. It ignored the reality of what had to occur before the Westphalian system could actually be tried: a couple of thousands of years of European tribal and ethnic conflict; capped off by a series of serious inter-Christian disputes (Reformation, Counter-Reformation); violent dynastic disputes and civil wars. It also ignored a lot of the equivalent history among the colonized populations.
"Long did I seek her in disreputable alleys and taverns. It was more difficult to learn to do without her than to lose the taste for Greek wine. Some months after I lost sight of her, I learned by chance that she had attached herself to a small company of men and women who were followers of a young Galilean thaumaturgist. His name was Jesus; he came from Nazareth, and he was crucified for some crime, I don’t quite know what. Pontius, do you remember anything about the man?”" Anatole France
"On Friday, the Houthis and allied army units gained their first foothold on Yemen's Arabian Sea coast by seizing Shaqra, 100 km (60 miles) east of Aden, allowing them to open a new front to march on the south's main city.
Residents said a Houthi convoy of armoured vehicles, tanks and military trucks heading along the coastal road to Aden from Shaqra was attacked by warplanes before dawn on Saturday, and a number of vehicles were hit.
Local residents said the convoy had been stopped, but the Houthis were sending reinforcements to Shaqra and the advance along the main al-Mukalla-Aden road was expected to resume.
At an Arab summit in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, Hadi urged Yemen's army to protect state institutions and obey the orders of Yemen's "legitimate leadership".
He also underlined the regional dimensions of the conflict, calling the Houthis "Iran's puppet"." Reuters
There are certain peoples who are instinctively good at fighting. The Pushtuns, Somalis, Sikhs and Yemeni Zaidi tribesmen are among them. Others are not so good at fighting or joyful at the prospect of combat; Saudi hirelings of the Al-Saud "country" of Saudi Arabia, Egyptian peasant conscripts, and Sunni Yemenis of the south.
The Zaidi mountain tribesmen defeated the Egyptian Army fifty years ago. There is a large Egyptian military cemetery in San'a. The road down from the mountains to the port of Hodeida is still littered with destroyed Egyptian Army vehicles that were "killed" in guerrilla ambushes.
In the Yemen civil war of the 1960s the Saudi allies of the Yemeni monarchy carefully limited themselves to providing money, materiel and sanctuary in KSA while the Zaidi tribesmen fought a long, long, protracted guerrilla war against the Egyptians and the Sunni Republican Yemenis of the south.
Some groups shifted back and forth between the two sides. Verbal forms emerged to describe the process of turning your coat. tamalaka was the neologism for going royalist. tajamhara meant to go republican. In 1967 there was a tremendous siege of San'a, the republican capital, in which the Yemeni republicans forces were bottled up for a long time. In the end the Saudis brokered a settlement between the two sides and paid everyone off to ensure a peace.
By Patrick BAHZAD
About a month ago, the US were taken over by some kind of metaphysical frenzy. A lengthy piece about "What ISIS really wants" – published by Graeme Wood in "The Atlantic" – caused quite a stir, not just among its readers. The article focused in part on interesting facts and truths about the religious nature of ISIS and the beliefs of its followers, but the reason it probably echoed so well with "average" Americans was because of its references to the supposedly messianic and apocalyptic ideology of ISIS. Some of the observations made by the author were quite relevant, but he also missed basic clues as to real symbols the "Caliphate" is trying to conjure up. Listing up the rights and wrongs of Wood's article would be complicated and require long explanations, some of them debatable, but it seems appropriate to seize this opportunity in order to examine the points raised and analyse them from a different angle, especially regarding the article's central piece about the myth of "Dabiq".
First of all, credit has to be given to Wood for not shying away from tough questions we need to ask ourselves with regard to the rise of the Islamic State and its "Caliphate". Wood also adopted a laudable approach in the sense that he apparently tried to understand the religious rationale behind some of ISIS' actions. But however interesting and refreshing such an attempt may be in a media landscape that seems obsessed with gruesome descriptions of ISIS atrocities only, Wood's account about the motivations of the Jihadists was deeply flawed.
Trying to understand what makes ISIS fighters "tick" – that is, what they fight for and why they kill – is quite difficult when you don't get to speak to a single one of them. Talking to scholars and recruitment agents of various Jihadi movements may help, but it certainly isn't equal to tapping the source. Admittedly, in Wood's own words, getting access to such source equals almost to a "mission impossible". Nonetheless, Wood is thus compelled to put forward other components of the supposed ISIS narrative, some of which would cause head-shaking among the hard core of the group's ideologists.
An interesting but partial background piece
The highly perilous exercise Wood engaged in – that of deciphering the ISIS symbolism – put a lot of emphasis on unveiling the apocalyptic message behind the organisation's ideology. By doing so, Wood left out elements in the "Caliphate" narrative that are of much higher importance. At best, this points to a good marketing strategy for the article published by "The Atlantic", aimed at raising interest and creating a buzz among readers more familiar with messianic Christian sects rather than Takfiri and Wahhabi groups. At worst, it could be seen as part of an information war with ISIS, attempting to produce a counter-narrative about the group's real motives and interfering with its credibility among potential supporters.
As was already observed long ago by a well-known think tank working closely with the US government, one angle of the war against the Jihadi groups is to attack their ideology, the goal being to "deny extremists the high ground of Islamic politico-religious discourse", thus prevailing in the war of ideas and "empowering moderate Muslims to counter the influence of the radicals". For this reason alone, one can't dismiss the notion that something might have been at work here that didn’t just have to do with an objective and neutral description of the beliefs of the "Caliphate" supporters. The link established between the ISIS online magazine's title "Dabiq" and some obscure references to an End of time battle occurring in a place of that name raises questions as to how seriously the article was researched and what purpose it was supposed to serve in that regard.
After all, presenting ISIS as an organisation hoping for Jesus to come and save them from the Antichrist is not exactly a statement likely to encourage conversions among fundamentalist Muslims. Furthermore, describing this as a central piece in the group's ideology is quite disturbing. It is this imbalance between aspects totally ancillary to the Caliphate symbolism and basic clues that should not have escaped a trained eye that is particularly striking.
The Proclamation of a new "Caliph"
In his article, Wood mentions among other things the first sermon given by the self-proclaimed Caliph in the Great Mosque of Mosul on July 5th 2014. As a side-note, it has to be said that the aforementioned sermon actually took place one day earlier, on July 4th, during Friday Prayer. This may sound like a detail, but details matter, in particular when it comes to ISIS. Wood also fails to notice that the "Caliphate" itself was proclaimed a few days earlier, on June 29th, another symbolic date, as it was the first day of the holy month of Ramadan.
Of course, political reasons may also have played a role in ISIS and al-Baghdadi's decision to proclaim the Caliphate. The group even carried out some market research on social media prior to its decision, but failing to mention the date of June 29th and its relevance is a mistake, as it carries huge symbolic and religious weight. Al-Baghdadi's sermon may have taken place on July 5th – or rather July 4th – and it was recorded in HD resolution, but what iscrucial, is the designation of a new "Caliph" on the first day of Ramadan, the month in the Islamic calendar during which the first verses of the Quran were revealed to the Prophet (Sūrat al-ʿAlaq, verses 1-5).
Adam L. Silverman
The ongoing Islamophobic attempts to promote the crack pot idea that the US and the US government has been infiltrated by the Muslim Brotherhood has found a new host - Glenn Beck (h/t Betty Cracker at Balloon Juice). Apparently Mr. Beck is concerned that Grover Norquist is really a member of the Muslim Brotherhood and, through his membership on its board of directors, has infiltrated the National Rifle Association. He also claims that he got the NRA Executive Vice President, Wayne LaPierre, to undertake an investigation into Mr. Norquist prior to the board being reseated at the upcoming NRA Annual Meeting. While I don't agree with Mr. Norquist on much, no one deserves this.
So where does this latest bout of Islamophobia come from? It originated with former Assistant Secretary of Defense Frank Gaffney, who has been accusing Norquist of being a member/agent of the Muslim Brotherhood for several years. This included trying to get Norquist banned from attending the Conservative Political Action Committee Annual Meeting a couple of years ago, which he believes, along with the American Conservative Union and the Republican Party, have been infiltrated by the Brotherhood. How did this start, you might ask? Norquist is married to Palestinian-American woman who is also Muslim. Who cares? Apparently former Assistant Secretary of Defense Gaffney does. Gaffney's vicious anti-Muslim prejudice* has caused quite a bit of trouble over the past several years. He was able to convince former Congresswoman Bachmann that the Muslim Brotherhood had infiltrated five executive branch agencies: State, Defense, Justice, Homeland Security, and the White House. This was partially a circuitous attack on then Secretary of State Clinton as one of her then senior staffers, Huma Abedin**, was the target of Mr. Gaffney's allegations. As you can imagine hilarity ensued. And by hilarity I mean we all had to jump through our grommets answering requests for information explaining why our operations were not being soft on Islamic extremism. The amount of hours spent on this, across multiple departments, agencies, offices, and sections was a tremendous waste of resources. I spent several days helping the folks running my higher headquarters draft our portion of the answers to these requests. Now he's managed to pursue his personal vendetta against Mr. Norquist, via Glenn Beck, all the way to the NRA. Ordinarily a fight between two different types of conservatives wouldn't be of much interest, however, the Islamophobic conspiracies that Gaffney peddles contribute to the increase in prejudice and hate crimes against Muslim Americans, Muslim immigrants in the US, and those misidentified as Muslims (the Sikhs). As President Washington wrote to the Jewish community of Newport: "For happily the Government of the United States gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens, in giving it on all occasions their effectual support." Its about time that the rest of us started living up to President Washington's understanding of the US.
* Anti-Muslim prejudice is actually a form of anti-Semitism, as Islam originated as a Semitic religion among a Semitic population. Because the term has become so tightly entwined with anti-Jewish prejudice this often gets over looked.
** Ms. Abedin is married to former Congressman Weiner.
"The latest to face the militants’ wrath are the Assyrian Christians, of northeastern Syria, one of the world’s oldest Christian communities, some speaking a modern version of Aramaic, the language of Jesus.
Assyrian leaders have counted 287 people taken captive, including 30 children and several dozen women, along with civilian men and fighters from Christian militias, said Dawoud Dawoud, an Assyrian political activist who had just toured the area, in the vicinity of the Syrian city of Qamishli. Thirty villages had been emptied, he said." NY Times
"Its militants seized the museum — which had not yet opened to the public — when they took over Mosul in June and have repeatedly threatened to destroy its collection.
In the video, put out by the Islamic State’s media office for Nineveh Province — named for an ancient Assyrian city — a man explains, “The monuments that you can see behind me are but statues and idols of people from previous centuries, which they used to worship instead of God.”
A message flashing on the screen read: “Those statues and idols weren’t there at the time of the Prophet nor his companions. They have been excavated by Satanists.”" NY Times
None of this is surprising.
- For these salafist jihadis Christians are an inferior type of ahl al-kitab (people of the book). IS are required by Quran and Hadith to abstain from calling them pagans but backslide continuously into calling them polytheists because of Christian trinitarian doctrine. The practice of the early Muslim community under the Ummayad and Abbasid Caliphates was to charge Christians, Jews and other "people of the book" a capitation tax, (jizyat). This established them as dhimmi ( a protected second class community under Muslim rule). IS considers that it is merely restoring that ancient process. Christian unwillingness to submit to this regime invalidates their "protected" status for IS. IMO they are likely to kill these hostages. BTW if OFAC does not declare some of these resistance groups to be kosher (a little humor) I will have nothing to do with them (the Christians as opposed to OFAC). I have watched DoJ at work too often since 9/11 to risk anything like that. OFAC being what it is I do not expect them to do anything for these people.
- Wahhabi salafist extremists such as these are deeply wedded to their sharia concept of "shirk." This involves the sin of giving importance to material objects; art, people, institutions that in their view should be accorded only to God. From their point of view statues that may have been worshiped are the devil's work. Remember that similar people with similar beliefs destroyed those giant Buddhas in Afghanistan. This vandalism in Mosul is typical for them. pl
Adam L. Silverman
In the comments to my post yesterday, COL Lang asked for further information regarding the Dabiq Prophecy that is supposedly a major driver for ISIS. In attempting to respond to his question I started digging for more information. The prophecy appears to originate in the Kitab Al-Fitan wa Ashrat As-Sa`ah (The Book Pertaining to the Turmoil and Portents of the Last Hour) - the link includes both the Arabic and the English. The isnad, or chain of citation demonstrating provenance, is to Abu Huraira - one of Prophet Muhammed's companions and the narrator of a very large number of hadith. The Dabiq Prophecy is specifically found in Chapter 9: Pertaining to the Conquest of Constantinople and the Appearance of the Dajjal and Descent of Jesus Son of Mary (Jesus Christ). These sections follow on from earlier hadith that retell more familiar end times prophecy, such as of Gog and Magog.
From what I've been able to track down, Kitab Al-Fitan wa Ashrat As-Sa`ah, is part of a larger collection of hadiths entitled Sahih Muslim. Sahih Muslim was compiled by Muslim ibn al-Hajjaj al-Naysaburi and is considered to be one of the authoritative collections of the hadith. For more general information on Muslim eschatology, Virginia Commonwealth University's World Religions and Spirituality Project has put together a basic primer, which can be found here.
The Atlantic recently published an extended article by Graeme Woods on ISIS and its theology. Woods attempts, through his reporting, to ascertain what is it that ISIS is really on about, what does it really have to do with Islam, and what does this tell us about what ISIS is actually interested in achieving. Overall, I think Woods piece is important and thought provoking, but that it is missing some important things. The reason I think its important is that Woods both argues for taking ISIS's statements regarding Islam at face value and actually does so. This is significant in that it forces part of the discussion back to several important questions: what is ISIS's actual connection to Islam? how does this relate to the different variants of Sunni Islam in the region? how does this relate to how Sunni Muslims in other parts of the world understand their religion and how to navigate the modern world in ways that are compatible with their religion? what, if anything, can we learn by comparing and contrasting these differences?
Woods' reporting gets to some of these questions and teases the others. What he does not do, however, is directly confront that no religion is monolithic in the 21st Century. As has often been discussed her at SST, there is no single, monolithic Islam. As a result of ijma, or consensus, each Sunni community essentially establishes their own variant of Islamic Law and practice that makes sense in the context of the time and place that they live in. The only Sunni variants that downplay the role of ijma are Wahabbiya and its extremist offshoots - best represented by ISIS and al Qaeda. The ability to pull different portions of one's religious tradition, give them salience, and utilize them occurs because religion, like other forms of identity, are contextual. They have to be able to allow the adherent to navigate the world they actually live in, not just speak and respond to events that existed in the past. Every successful religion, ideology, and philosophy does this. In the case of ISIS, what they are doing is taking different pieces from the Islamic tradition, recontextualizing them, and arguing that the way to not only deal with the 21st Century, but to achieve an idealized and glorified future, is to establish a way of life that is a pastiche made up of pieces from an idealized past.
ISIS, however, does not get the last word. A number of very prominent Muslims, including many mujtahids and scholars, have come out and argued that ISIS has made a hash of Sunni tradition and practice, as well as Islamic history. Over 100 prominent Muslim scholars have even sent an open letter to al Baghdadi refuting his theological, dogmatic, and historical interpretation and presentation of Islam as incorrect and dangerous (the English translation is attached as a pdf below).
There are a couple of portions of Woods' reporting that I would like to highlight for just a moment or two. The first is that ISIS is a millennialistic/apocalyptic movement. Woods posits, based on interviews and review of ISIS's materials, that ISIS seeks to bring about and capitalize on the Islamic understanding of the end of days. While Woods is correct to argue that this is a powerful motivating force while recognizing that it can also be fragile too, I think it needs further drawing out. I wrote my master's thesis in religious studies on millenialistic/apocalyptic movements. What all of them have in common is that they do not and cannot handle failure well. Woods mentions that should the glorious Islamic triumph to be fought against Rome, which is to be fought in Syria, not occur or not be successful, this could lead to a splintering of ISIS. My masters' research indicates that, if anything, Woods is understating this reality. Every movement I looked at - for the literature and thematic review to the actual six case studies - all demonstrated just how delicate apocalyptic movements are. One of the most seminal works on the subject is entitled When Prophecy Fails for a reason. It charts several movements and what happens when the prophesied end time events failed to occur. Spoiler alert: nothing good! Whether it was the medieval Jewish messianic sect of Shabatai Zevi or the Millerites who emerged from the Great Awakening in the Burnt Over District of New York - all it takes is failing to achieve one critical event and things will fall apart. Sometimes, like the Seventh Day Adventists arising from the failure of the Millerites when the Rapture failed to occur twice, these groups survive. Other times they are brutally suppressed. Even worse is when they are resurrected like the Branch Davidians a millennialistic/apocalyptic offshoot of the Seventh Day Adventists.
The burning alive of a captured Jordanian pilot by the Islamic State (IS) was a horrific act, and deserves to be wholeheartedly condemned by everyone. It is, sadly, true that people are incinerated during war, both combatants and non-combatants. But the burning alive of Lt al-Kassasbeh was a brutal crime, since he was a prisoner of war and also because of the 'production' made of the whole miserable episode.
The IS compounded this vicious act by committing a second abomination: claiming that this punishment was administered according to the tenets of 'Islam'.
This 'Islam' that the IS adhere to is a simplistic, medieval code derived from the Wahhabi creed, which is the usual religion of Jihadis. But this creed is not the Islam that was first taught by the Prophet Muhammad in the 7th century CE. It is not even the Religion of Islam that began to be formulated some 200 years after the Prophet and, over the centuries, developed into a complex structure with many variations in different parts of the world (the usual trajectory of religions that start from a simple, fundamental ideology).
Unfortunately (for Islam and Muslims), the Wahhabi creed is spreading in the Muslim world and has become the face of Islam for many on the outside. It is important to understand how this has come about.
Adam L. Silverman
Reuters is reporting that Ahmed al Tayeb, the Grand Sheik of al Azhar University has not only condemned ISIL's burning of Lt. al Kasaesbeh, but has stated that "such a form of killing, is abhorrent under Islam, no matter the justification". In fact Sheikh al Tayeb went so far as to state that those who committed such acts deserved to be: "killed, crucified or to have their limbs amputated.
Al Azhar is the oldest, continuously operating Sunni Muslim school of higher education. It will be interesting to see exactly what, if any, effect Sheikh Tayeb's stance has. Reuters' report also includes reaction from senior Sunni clerical authorities in other parts of the Muslim world, both Arab and non-Arab. Click over to read the whole report.
* al Azhar Crest was found here: http://www.cicot.or.th/2009/images/stories/200px-Al-Azhar_University_logo_svg_png%20(PNG%20Image,%20200x287%20pixels)_1268135062853.jpg
""The revenge will be as big as the calamity that has hit Jordan," army spokesman Colonel Mamdouh al Ameri said in a televised statement confirming the death of the pilot, who was captured in December when his plane crashed over Syria.
A government spokesman said in a statement that Jordan would deliver a "strong, earth-shaking and decisive" response.
The fate of Kasaesbeh, a member of a large tribe that forms the backbone of support for the Hashemite monarchy, has gripped Jordan for weeks and provoked rare protests against King Abdullah over the government's handling of the crisis.
The king cut short a visit to the United States to return home." pl
Well, pilgrims, these fellows are really something. I told Japanese TV a while back that I thought he might already be dead but I did not expect this. It is an unusual but not unknown punishment under some concepts of Islamic law. This is usually reserved for those who try to proselytize Muslims or whose actions severely endanger the Islamic State ('ummah).
He was probably a Beni Sakhr beduin. This action by IS will consolidate tribal support for King Abdullah. Indeed. IMO it will consolidate opposition to IS across the Islamic World. It is sad that some good will come of this.
These IS crazies remind me of the Reiver characters in the SciFi TV series "Firefly." Those madmen had been driven insane by experimental government behavior changing drugs. These madmen are driven insane by the drug of their form of religion.
Tell me again what the argument is for not cooperating with the Syrian Arab Government in destroying this pestilence. pl
Adam L. Silverman
COL Lang wrote about ISIS's probing attack across Iraq's western border into eastern Saudi Arabia. Since then several interesting commentaries have been posted about what ISIS's target is. One argues that ISIS is planning on taking Mecca. Another that the goal is the oil fields. Both authors are correct, but there is a bigger strategic picture that they are missing. ISIS has three strategic objectives that have to be achieved in Saudi Arabia: 1) take the oil fields, 2) seize Mecca, and 3) weaken or overthrow the monarchy. All three of these objectives are related to Saudi Arabia's human geography combined with several other Saudi socio-cultural dynamics, such as the official religion of Saudi Arabia and the politics of and within the House of Saud.
Saudi Arabia's Human Geography Trap
Human geography is how people, places, and physical things, such as infrastrucure interact. In the case of Saudi Arabia's Eastern Province the natural resource of oil, the infrastructure for its extraction and processing, just happen to be where Saudi's Shi'a live. This can be seen in the map above. This confluence of vital natural resource and minority community has proven to be problematic in the past. ISIS's intentions to push into the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia makes this coincidence of collocation into a significant pitfall. As has been seen in Syria and Iraq, ISIS does not tolerate Shi'a Islam. This intolerance is rooted in the exact same Wahabbi Islam that is the officical religion of Saudi Arabia. It is promoted by the Saudi religious authorities, as well as members of the Saudi royal family and government. Wahhabi Islam, the theological and theopolitical offshoot of Hanbali Islam has been the unifying ideational system of Saudi Arabia from the Kingdom's creation. It is also completely intolerant of Shi'a Islam viewing it as a particularly insidious form of apostasy.2
The trap is the result of Saudi Arabia's Shi'a residing in the same place where Saudi oil can be found. Should ISIS make a push to take the oil fields, they will attempt to ethno-religiously cleanse the area of Shi'a at the same time. This is going to place Saudi Arabia in a far more difficult position than just having to protect the oil fields and infrastructure. They will have to defend the Shi'a as well. Remember, the official religion of Saudi Arabia, which is the same religion that undergirds ISIS (and al Qaeda), is intolerant of Shi'a Islam. This commonality of Wahabbi religious belief makes Saudi Arabians the most easy ISIL information target. The Information Operations (IO) campaign, and the messaging that ISIL will utilize, do not have to be explained or enforced in regards to the Saudis - its the same religious message. The only discordant note, of course, may be dealing with the declared caliphate of al Baghdadi. The sameness of the belief system is what will make defense of the Eastern Province difficult. Protecting it will require that Saudi Arabia either protect the Shi'a - in place or as internally displaced Saudis - or ignoring the plight of the Shi'a who have come under ISIS control and focusing solely on the oil infrastructure and reserves. The former provides an opportunity for ISIS to effectively target Saudi Sunnis and try to pull their support away from the Saudi government through a coordinated, theologically rooted information operation decrying the Saudi government and military for protecting apostates. The latter creates external risks for the Saudis. These include problems with its foreign supporters and patrons, such as the US, who will have human right concerns regarding the protection of the Saudi Shi'a or lack thereof. Another, more regional concern, will be in regard to Saudi's regional rival Iran, which has cast itself as the protector of Shi'a. The combination of Saudi's oil infrastructure and its Shi'a in the Eastern Province is going to add a significant complication.
While Mecca is a clear ISIS target, the real ISIS objectives are capturing the oil fields and if not taking down the monarchy, then seriously compromising it. Taking the oil fields is important as it allows ISIS to add additional petroleum resources to those they have seized in Iraq. This, in turn, will allow for further sales on the black market bringing ISIS increased revenue to fund its expansion, consolidation, and operations. Capturing the Saudi oil fields would also, essentially, destroy OPEC and the global oil marketplace as we currently know it. Saudi's recent driving of oil prices to under $50.00 a barrel had multiple drivers. One was to make it financially unprofitable to extract oil from tar sands. Once the price of oil goes below $60 to $65 dollars a barrel, tar sands extraction just is not worth it. This motivation, however, quickly gave way last Fall to trying to beggar ISIS. The lower the price of oil on the global market, the less revenue ISIS can bring in selling the oil from the seized Iraqi oil fields on the black market. Should Saudi lose control of its oil, it will lose control over OPEC, which is likely to deal a serious blow to the stability of the global petroleum market.
The monarchy is ISIS's other target. It is right now going through a somewhat rough patch. King Abdullah, who is 90, has been recently hospitalized with pneumonia. The succession has been clearly established since 2013. Crown Prince Salman is the immediate heir and Deputy Crown Prince Muqrin is second in line to the throne should something befall King Abdullah. What is interesting here is that Deputy Crown Prince Muqrin is not only the youngest of the Sons of Saud, his mother was also a Yemeni consort/concubine. This has raised some questions, both within and without the Saudi royal family, about his legitimacy. The current line of succession further isolates the remnants of the Sudairi Seven, their sons and grandsons, who had long dominated the politics within the House of Saud. The next succession is also the last one that is solely under control of the king. All future successors after Abdullah's two choices will have to be approved by the Allegiance Council, which is made up of thirty-five senior princes. While the succession has been clearly delineated, the ill health of King Abdullah creates opportunities for ISIS to further their objectives against the Kingdom.
ISIS has three different objectives it needs to achieve in Saudi Arabia. The first is taking the oil fields, which will provide ISIS with increased revenue on the black market. It will also be an additional economic weapon in ISIS's arsenal in the attempt to consolidate and expand its caliphate. The second is to drive across the country and seize Mecca. Control of the holiest city of Islam will further enhance ISIS's theocratic and theopolitical messaging, justifications, and IO campaign. Taking Mecca would also create an additional opening to further weaken or bring down the monarchy. Saudi Arabia, specifically the monarchy and the religious authorities, have always been the target of al Qaeda. ISIS, as an al Qaeda offshoot, is partially driven by the same theopolitical calculus: that Islam cannot be returned to the straight path until the House of Saud is removed and the religious authority is purged and replaced with a proper Islamic system of governance, religion, economics, and social control. It is perhaps this reality that shows just the extremism and unreality of the reactionary Islam promoted by al Qaeda and ISIS - the belief that Saudi Arabia is not properly Muslim or not Islamic enough!
2 As`ad Abu Khalil's The Battle for Saudi Arabia has one of the best written and documented histories of the creation, development, politics, and religion of the Saudi monarchy.
Abdel Fattah al-Sisi spoke at Al Azhar, the greatest university in the Arab world, a place of Islamic scholarship dating back more than a millennium.
Al-Sisi didn’t just speak to scholars though. He also addressed the Awqaf Ministry, the government’s religious department that funds mosques and Muslim imams across Egypt.
Al-Sisi is Egypt’s president and he’s also its top general. And his speech was an order. A plea, but a command as well: Islam needed to reform itself.
The problem was Islam’s violence. Islam, said al-Sisi, has become the world’s enemy. “It's inconceivable that the thinking that we hold most sacred should cause the entire Islamic world to be a source of anxiety, danger, killing and destruction for the rest of the world. Impossible!”
How was it that the religion they all loved is so hated by the rest of the world? Why is the world so Islamophobic – not in the politically correct meaning of that phrase, but in the literal meaning of that phrase. Why is the world so scared of Islam?
It wasn’t Islam, the religion, he said. It was Islam, the radical political force." Toronto Sun
Babak. We await your voice. I anticipate your unhappiness with the notion that Islam can be "reformed." Of course you are Shia and the notion of gradual adaptation to a changing world through accumulated fatwas from the senior scholars of the hawza is embedded in your version of the faith.
From the point of view of al-Sisi the largest problem is with the much larger Sunni Islamic presence because of the rigidity of the process of non-adaptation to a changing world that has been deeply characteristic of Sunni Islam for a millennium and more. The presence within the Sunni "community" of factions that hold extreme salafist opinions and who are willing to put them into action by force of arms has become a problem for the whole world..
IMO, a Sunni reformation from within religious and governmental institutions like Al-Azhar and the Ministry of Awqaf in Egypt is badly overdue.
Many people here at SST are still horrified at the level of destruction wrought upon Iraq, Pakistan, etc. by the United States. As I have written before "you ain't seen nuttin yet." The US was distracted by the false dogma of COIN in these wars, a doctrine easily accepted as a panacea by the ignorant. This doctrine sought an accomodation with local populations through "good works" but carried out in the context of a largely unadaptive world view on the part of the populations involved.
Most Americans, while willing to give such efforts a "try," really prefer overwhelming brute force and the complete destrction of enemies. The air campaigns of annhilation that we waged against Germany and Japan were not a fluke. We never really applied that level of force in the recent wars. The possibilities available are virtually unlimited.
Al-Sisi sees the danger. His call for attitudinal reform is an attempt to save his people, the Muslim people across the world.
He should be listened to. Events in France point to future degeneration of the situation of the Muslims that should give them all pause.
Al-Sisi went to Mass on Christmas as a symbol of his acceptance of the Copts as fellow Egyptians.
I am gratified to hear of his open minded approach to this deep problem. pl
Adam L. Silverman
Before we start, a brief Public Service Announcement: The odds of an American being killed in a terrorist attack is 1 in 3.5 million per year!!!!!!
As has been widely covered just about everywhere, several gunmen attacked the office of a French satirical publication early today. I highly recommend the BBC's, or really any news service's coverage other than the usual American media outlets, to get appropriate, non-hysterical, non-fearmongering coverage. As we see all too often when something happens in the US, our media goes into immediate freak out mode. While this may make for good revenue through advertisement sales, it really does not do much to inform Americans.
Several days ago in his post on James Fallow's recent article, COL Lang remarked about how easily Americans became fearful after 9-11 and how we have remained that way. We have seen that on display today by think tank fellows (h/t SteveM), retired general officers (h/t Zandar), and sitting members of the House (h/t Zandar) and the Senate (h/t Charles Pierce). Today's media coverage, the informed commentary that it contains, and American reactions will follow the same pattern that both COL Lang and Mr. Fallows lamented - more fear driving more poorly thought out policy responses. It is important to remember that the odds of an American being killed in a terrorist attack is 1 in 3.5 million per year!!!!!! Not that a little thing like facts or reality are likely to make any difference.
Finally, before the usual suspects get completely into the swing of things by claiming that Muslims never condemn other Muslims who commit terrorism or who claim their actions are somehow covered under Islam, here's the initial google search result for Muslim, and some Arab, organizations that have already condemned the attacks, even though we are still not sure, other than a witness statement of a screamed "Allahu Akbar" during the attack, who is actually responsible.
Dar al Ifta (Egypt's official fatwa issuing organization)
In Christendom, under which the Gregorian Calendar developed, New Year's Day traditionally marks the Feast of the Circumcision of Christ, which is still observed as such by the Anglican Church and the Lutheran Church. pl
"When we've been there ten thousand years,
Bright shining as the sun,
We've no less days to sing God's praise,
Than when we first begun."
“Twas in the moon of wintertime, when all the birds had fled,
That God the Lord of all the earth sent angel choirs instead
Before their light the stars grew dim
and wandering hunters heard the hymn
Within a lodge of broken bark, the tender babe was found.
A ragged robe of rabbit skin enwrapped his beauty round;
But as the hunter braves drew nigh,
the angel song rang loud and high
The earliest moon of wintertime is not so round and fair,
As was the ring of glory on the helpless infant there.
The chiefs from far before him knelt
with gifts of fox and beaver pelt
Jean de Brebeuf, S.J. Martyr and Author of
Christmas in Vietnam.
"The war went on in the central highlands. At Christmas time I decided to hold a detachment Christmas party. I mentioned this to the battalion commander of 3/525, MI Group, LTC Paul Langford during a visit by Langford to Song Be. As we discussed this, a five gallon water jug of home made “hootch” bubbled happily in a corner of my office under the beneficent warmth of an electric light. Pineapple juice, brewer’s yeast and a daily “feeding” of sugar were creating something within that obviously was alive. The application of sugar invariably produced a tempest in the bottle. The men began to think of it as a pet.
Langford ignored the bottle. “Are you going to leave someone to man each station?” he asked. “That’s all right then,” he said when assured. “Let’s not tell Group. They already think you and I are nuts.” I bought cases of Mumm’s Cordon Rouge and other goodies in Saigon, and on the appointed day mysterious personages began to arrive from all over the Border on Air America’s scheduled service. All in all, there were about twenty party goers. The province senior advisor, LTC Ray Suarez and the local CIA boss attended. There was much singing of Christmas carols, as well as a ham, a turkey and such cooked by the kitchen in the Special Forces "B" camp in town. The bald headed, middle aged light weapons man in the team was also mess sergeant. He had been a feldwebel in the Grossdeutschland and later an adjutant-chef in the 2nd REI. Like most of the men in that B Team he felt sorry for me in my exile from SF. He and several others from the B Team were at the party.
The guests sang the "Huron Carol" (in English) to humor me.
“For every boot that tramped in battle,
every cloak rolled in blood,
will be burned as fuel for flames.
For a child is born to us, a son is given...”
Isaiah, 9:1-3, 5-6
At midnight, celebration was interrupted by the sound of machine gun fire in the distance. The revelers trooped outside to see if they were going to have to fight on Christmas Eve. There were hard words concerning the ancestry of the enemy. Across the wire, across the outpost line, across the valley of no-man’s land were the crests occupied habitually by the “opposition.” From these heights there rose a stream of green, Soviet made “tracer.” The celebrants contemplated this for a minute, and then Suarez suggested a reply. An M-60 machine gun emerged from the house, and while one man fired red tracer into the air, another held the bipod above his head and another fed the gun its belted ammunition. The streams of bullets crossed in the black, star-studded sky. The VC gun fell silent, as did the American. There was a hush as warriors waited for some sign that the hope of common humanity yet lived. The VC fire resumed. Now there were three guns shooting green stars into the blackness. The MI men’s gun chattered merrily, spilling a river of shell casings into the street. Red and green filled the night. " pl
Every Christmas I post this excerpt from an autobiographical sketch I wrote once. This incident is reminiscent of the legendary football game in no man's land in 1914. The men at the party were of the Third Combat Battalion, 525th Military Intelligence Group, MACV CORDS Advisory Team 94, the CIA and the 5th Special Forces Group. The place was Song Be, Phuoc Long Province. It was 1968.
There is a statue in Charlottesville, Virginia. On the pediment is inscribed, "Love makes memory eternal."
The party-goers are long gone. Some never saw another Christmas. Some died a couple of months later when the men across the way nearly took the town.
They tried for what seemed an eternity but was actually less than a week. We killed six hundred of them in repelling their valiant effort. Some died around my house and in the streets. We buried four hundred bodies found in front of and in our (US and Vietnamese) positions. The Second Brigade of the First Cavalry Division was ordered into the fight halfway through the battle. Without them the VC would have killed or captured us all. PW survivors told us how many the enemy lost. They were of the 211th, 212th and 165th VC battalions under VC Military Region 10. By that time these units were mostly North Vietnamese in their manning. They were "foemen worthy of our steel."
God rest all these worthy gentlemen. pl
"Yemeni Shi'ite Muslim Houthi fighters backed by government forces drove the local wing of al Qaeda from one of its last strongholds in central Yemen on Friday in intense fighting that killed at least 35 people, tribal sources said.
The Houthis' Ansarullah movement has become the main political force in Western-allied Yemen since capturing Sanaa in September and then pushing south and west into the Sunni Muslim heartland of al-Bayda province, where Ansar al-Sharia has allied itself with local tribes.
Yemen has been in turmoil since 2011, to the dismay of neighboring Saudi Arabia, the world's top oil exporter, and of the Western powers who want to prevent instability in the Arabian peninsula threatening their crude supplies or giving al Qaeda a base for overseas attacks.
Tribal sources said the Houthis had met stiff resistance as they pushed towards the village of Khobza district using Katuysha rockets and heavy artillery.
They said at least 25 Houthis and 10 Ansar al-Sharia and tribal fighters had died in the fighting, which began on Thursday afternoon. Ansar al-Sharia and its allies withdrew to Yakla district, on the border with Maarib province." Reuters
Full disclosure - I was once DEFATT in Yemen at Sanaa.
A primer on some aspects of Yemen:
- Zeidi (fiver) Shia Muslims are so conservative (restrained) religiously that they are sometimes thought of as a fifth Sunni mathab. Their theology and general view of the religious sciences follow the mu'tazilite tradition. They are quite distinct from and have little allegiance to the 12er Shia in Iran, Lebanon and other scattered places.
- From a few miles south of Sanaa to the northern reaches of the country where it "borders" Saudi Arabia the country is almost altogether Zeidi Shia in population. Those people are tough little mountaineers, who are extremely tribal in their lives and who are generally aligned in two major tribal confederations, the Baqil and the Hashid. These tribal confederations are the real power in Yemen north of Sanaa. they possess a lot of military equipment that was mainly stolen from the government when officers who are members of these confederations defected back to their true allegiance taking their gear and often soldiers with them.
- The former president, Ali Abdullah Salih, is a Zeidi tribesman of the Sanhan minor tribe of the Hashid confederation.
- From Sanaa south, Yemen is primarily inhabited by much less tribal villagers who are Sunni and usually of the shafa'i mathab. These folks are the recruiting ground for AQAP, Ansar al-Sharia and similar Sunni salafi jihadi groups for whom the Zaidi tribesmen of the north are just another kind of murtadoon (heretics) to be fought to the death.
- Further complicating the mozaic of groups that is Yemen is the lingering effect of British possession of the Aden crown colony for many years. In the course of that period a lot of Yemenis from Aden attended such schools as the London School of Economics where they became both atheistical and left wing politically. Such people are still on the scene in the cities and continue to be active in the government of a united Yemen.
- The Houthis are a Zeidi Shia reformist movement that draws solely on the Zeidi population of the north. It does not have and cannot have any friendly relations with the Sunni jihadi groups of the south. The movement started in the al-houthi clan and has since spread to the two major confederations of Zeidi tribesmen. The Houthis as a cult prefer not to fight if it can be avoided and captured the capital, Sanaa, with very little violence. Salih, a Zeidi tribesman understandably sides with the Houthis as opposed to the Sunni, left oriented people now running the government of the United Yemen.
- A government of national unity has been formed among; the Houthis and their army, the national army and the nationalist/left dominated functionaries now in office in Sanaa. This coalition is actively and successfully fighting the Sunni jihadis.
The US government response to all this is to denounce the Houthis and Salih as interfering with stability and the integrity of the Yemeni state. This reflects the ignorant, obsessive, insistance of the American foreign policy establishment that "one size fits all" in terms of the norms of governance across the world with the implication that the US embassies in such countries as Yemen are actually pro-consular outposts from which the ambassador/governor guides and controls the province/country in which he/she is located. When this attitude, derived from notions of "exceptionalism," is accompanied by the IR/Poly Sci paradigm of foreign relations now so evident in the US government, the result is the noxious self-defeating environment in which US decisions are now made. pl
Translation of the Houthi logo:
"God is Great
Death to America
Death to Israel
Rejection by God of the Jews
Victory for Islam."
You should not take the words in this too seriously. This is standard populist cant in the Muslim World. pl
"The two most brutal terror groups in Syria reportedly have struck an alliance, in a deal that poses serious problems for the Obama administration’s efforts to prop up “moderate” rebel factions in the country.
The Associated Press reported Thursday that militant leaders from the Islamic State and Al Qaeda’s Syria affiliate, the Nusra Front, agreed during a meeting in northern Syria last week to stop fighting each other.
Such an accord could present new difficulties for Washington's strategy against the Islamic State. While warplanes from a U.S.-led coalition strike militants from the air, the Obama administration has counted on arming "moderate" rebels to push them back on the ground.
Those rebels, already considered relatively weak and disorganized, would face far stronger opposition if the two heavy-hitting militant groups now are working together. One official claimed the Islamic State and Nusra already have agreed to work toward destroying one prominent, U.S.-backed rebel group." foxnews
Well, pilgrims, looks like a bad day for the unicorn army and the kids in the WH and State Department. pl
The U.S. media constantly belittles, derides, or haughtily stares down its nose at Islam when it doesn’t slander it, and the media does these things hour by hour, day in, and day out. Almost all the judgments of Islam in the media are political judgments which have no basis in fact. They are made in ignorance and one wonders such judgments can be made with such facility since there has been no attempt by reporters or commentators to inform themselves of the facts of the world’s great religions. American reporters describe Islam as a shadowy, vaguely criminal menace whose reach extends to the edges of the Earth and whose presence darkens the light of the sun. It is a system that desires to enslave free men, they say. No distinctions are made between the bloodthirsty, predatory fanatics in Iraq and Syria who use Islam to gain their own self-interested ends, and a religion whose goal is to improve and enlighten human conduct and perfect the human mind. In other words, it’s a bit like saying that the Sicilian Mob is merely a form of Capitalism.
The so--called “Christian Right” in America, whose main motive is to inflame its own sense of self-righteousness, displays very little, if any, sound understanding of Christianity, and they by instinct deride Islam, and their preachers appear to be cut from the same coarse cloth of ignorance, rigid bigotry, hostility and inane dogmatisms that inhabit much of the media. I listened very briefly to a local TV broadcast where a Christian preacher described Muhammad as a kind of Arab Hitler gobbling up the countries of Belgium and Holland. Everything was conquest, everything was consolidation and slavery. My jaw dropped as I listened. Clearly, there is not in this man’s Christian nature, any hesitancy, any caution, nor any sign of wanting to respect what he did not know. His vulgar goal was to cry up Christianity and cry down Islam. One wonders what was the effect of this ignorance had on his followers. It clearly would not be a good one.
This mischaracterization of Islam is truly disgusting to anyone with any mental integrity.
One of the most interesting expositors of Islam was Sayyid “Ameer Ali (1849-1928) He makes it clear that Islam was based on sound ethical and metaphysical principles. It believed, he said,” in the unity, immateriality, power, mercy and supreme love of the Creator.” It believes in charity and brotherhood among mankind; it believes in subjugating the passions; its followers are to manifest an outpouring of gratitude for what God as created and given them since is God s generous and good; it believes in the accountability of human behavior in reference to an afterlife. (The good in God’s eyes goes to heaven, bad goes to hell.)
Col. Lang, I spent my early years at a skeptical boarding school in New England. They taught us that faith was an artifact of a more primitive time. It was to be humored but never to be taken seriously. Man had moved on, or at least that culture in New England had moved on, to better things. These were modern men with modern answers. They no longer needed the prophets to guide their lives. I have to laugh, now, when I think of that. Obamas words are a testament to that culture and how my classmates thought. We were infused with purpose, and we were intent on redeeming the world. In our own right, as his language suggests, we were no less religious than the dour pilgrims before us. Our faith was a secular one, but it was no less dogmatic. We had lost our god, but we had not lost Winthrop's creed. We were so convinced of modernism though. Our answers, unlike those who came before, were both right and universal. Indeed, we believed that backward beliefs and the shackles of primitive religions were the only obstacles to our mission. We were missionaries, but we couldn't understand that. Obama suffers from that, as do many in his circle. They do not understand the peculiar nature of their values. They do not understand that their values are the product of their culture, and can hardly be considered universal truths. They do not understand that the primitive and backwards peoples of the world will resist them, and forcefully so. - Eliot
"Despite the valiant attempts by Barack Obama and David Cameron to insist that the lawless violence of Isis has nothing to do with Islam, many will disagree. They may also feel exasperated. In the west, we learned from bitter experience that the fanatical bigotry which religion seems always to unleash can only be contained by the creation of a liberal state that separates politics and religion. Never again, we believed, would these intolerant passions be allowed to intrude on political life. But why, oh why, have Muslims found it impossible to arrive at this logical solution to their current problems? Why do they cling with perverse obstinacy to the obviously bad idea of theocracy? Why, in short, have they been unable to enter the modern world? The answer must surely lie in their primitive and atavistic religion." Karen Armstrong
Implicit in the rhetoric concerning this new phase of anti-jihadi warfare is the notion that "jihadism" is a passing phenomenon that can be destroyed and which will disappear as irrelevant to "modern" life. It is also said that jihadism is "un-Islamic," a distortion and misrepresentation of a great religion. In fact, jihadism is inherent in some views of what Islam is.
Islam, as I have often said, is a religion of laymen. It has no hierarchy, no clergy, no sacraments. There are only groups of Muslims of varying size who agree on what Islam and most especially what Islamic religious law (sharia) is. This process of forming consensus (ijma') groups is endless and inevitable. Some will say that Shia Islam has a hierarchy. It does not. In fact, The howza ("college" of Shia scholars) is merely another expression of consensus, in this case of consensus among scholars "elected" by acclamation from among their fellows. The "authority" created by such acclamation is fleeting as each man's opinions are automatically disregarded after his death. Much the same thing is true of the great Ulema (scholars) of Sunni Islam.
Therefore, for one group of Muslims, however large, to say that the consensus of some other group of Muslims is invalid or "un-Islamic" is merely vanity on a grand scale. That is particularly true if the smaller, armed and violent jihad inclined group of Muslims are willing to fight, kill and die for their views. Perfumed and elegantly dressed Muslim ladies are frquently heard expressing such disapproval of jihadis. More vanity is expressed in this. More vanity.
The spokesmen for the various parts of the US governnment are now engaged in telling the world that this unfavored group or that unfavored group are un-Islamic or the like. More vanity.
The corpus of Islamic scripture contained in the Qur'an and the wildly varying collections of hadith (traditions of the early Muslims) is so vast that it contains ample justification for any sort of view desired.
We can kill our way to a state of relative quiet in which the jihadi impulse is suppressed for some time, perhaps a long time but that is all we can do. Until the Muslims taken as a whole themselves see the futility of the unending struggle against the kuffar (unbelievers) we will always face the prospect of more violent jihad. pl
I am not looking for long winded historical discussion of these groups. Tell us how to deal with them. I will abstain from commenting for a while in order to avoid "stunting' the discourse. pl
"A caliphate (in Arabic: خلافة khilāfa, meaning "succession") is an Islamic state led by a supreme religious and political leader known as a caliph – i.e. "successor" – to Muhammad. The succession of Muslim empires that have existed in the Muslim world are usually described as "caliphates". Conceptually, a caliphate represents a sovereign polity (state) of the entire Muslim faithful (the Ummah, i.e. a sovereign nation state) ruled by a single caliph under the Constitution of Medina and Islamic law (sharia)."
Basically, one's status as a caliph is dependent on the acceptance of that status by some group of Muslims. This follows the general pattern of religio/political formation through consensual agreement.in Islamic and Arab culture. This applies in; ideas, law, government, etc.
The declaration of the caliphate of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi (Caliph Ibrahim) is a declaration of war against each and every existing Arab and Muslim government because in the presence of a supposed caliph all their governments must be viewed as illegitimate usurpations of the caliph's divinely given religious and political authority.
""Some Arab spring revolutions brought benefits but others were planned to destroy and divide countries," he said in an interview on Al-Hayat TV channel on Sunday. The West invented "corrupted" theories in order to steal the wealth of the East, El-Tayib added. "The East has not met the level of West, the gap is widening between them," he said, adding that there was a conspiracy to keep the East weak. "The West presented the clash of civilizations theory in order to provoke a clash with Islamic civilization." "There are non-Western nations with old civilizations that are capable of leading the world in a more reasonable way than the West," El-Tayib said. Western civilization is in a state of extreme moral, spiritual and religious poverty, he asserted." Ahram on Line
I should be grateful for people like this in the Islamic World. They have always made my job easier by being so predictable.
This man is the Sheikh or Rector of the Al-Azhar mosque and university in Cairo. He is arguably the most revered and followed Sunni alim or scholar among the Sunnis. His only rival would be his opposite number at Tunis. He argues that the West inspired the Arab Spring for the purpose of weakening and dividing the believers so that they would be weak and available to the West for exploitation.
This would be news to the masses that crowded Maidan al-Tahrir in Cairo and so many other squares across the region. At the same time there is a modicum of truth in his argument since the NED/R2P types in both the Bush and Obama Administrations spread money and favor across these countries in a vainglorious quest for democratization and Europeanization. That had a certain effect as it did in Syria and Ukraine.
What al-Tayyib does not want to contemplate is that the 'ulema (scholars) of the Sunnis have generally held Sunni Islam in an iron grip of thought control since the reign of al-mutawakkil,the Abbasid caliph who accepted the consensus of pietists among the 'ulema as the basis of the holy law (sharia). In Sunni Islam sharia' is the basis of all life. In some countries that experienced European colonialism there are also commercail law codes but these are in retreat before the rising tide of sharia' law.
The most depressing thing about this is that Al-Tayyib is firmly fixed in a society that is dominated by a variant of Sunni Islam that still accepts such things as female circumcision and Sisi's proud assertion that he will utterly destroy the MB, al-Tayyib's rivals (and Sisi's).
Perhaps the Egyptian monarchy was not such a bad thing. There was a functioning parliament then. Imams were kept "in line." There were real political parties and such odd things as constitutional rights.
"The directive from ISIS, citing the Islamic concept of "dhimma", requires Christians in the city to pay tax of around half an ounce (14g) of pure gold in exchange for their safety. It says Christians must not make renovations to churches, display crosses or other religious symbols outside churches, ring church bells or pray in public. Christians must not carry arms, and must follow other rules imposed by ISIS (also known as ISIL) on their daily lives. The statement said the group had met Christian representatives and offered them three choices - they could convert to Islam, accept ISIS' conditions, or reject their control and risk being killed. "If they reject, they are subject to being legitimate targets, and nothing will remain between them and ISIS other than the sword," the statement said. A group of 20 Christian leaders chose to accept the new set of rules, ISIS said." BBC
This set of restrictions was normal practise in Islamic states before colonial administrations interfered with their freedom of action. The post colonial governments have ,in the main, shrunk from re-imposing this set of restrictions. The Baath and Hashemite states never tried to restrict Christians in this way. Yes, I mean Syria among them. This is why the Syrian Christians support Assad. pl
"“You know who I freakin’ love?” gushed MSNBC’s Chris Hayes, who said he grew up Catholic but stopped attending church during his freshman year at Brown. “This new pope. Pope Francis. . . . Are you watching this guy? Because you should be. It’s early, but I’m thinking . . . best pope ever.” Of course, Hayes noted, Francis’s church still opposes “gay marriage, women in the priesthood, a woman’s autonomy over her own body.” But, hey, he explained, at least Francis isn’t “a jerk about it.”
As a practicing Catholic blogging my way around Washington for the past six years, I never imagined I’d see the often-snarky mainstream media — including some of its more liberal outposts — falling so hard for a 76-year-old celibate guy who believes that God had a son, born to a virgin, who was sent to redeem the world from sin. But that’s the Francis Effect. No surprise, then, that Time took the final, logical step: Slapping Francis on the cover of its “Person of the Year” issue is a sort of secular canonization." Tenety in the Washington Post
The heathen intelligentsia and their media running dogs have not yet figured out a man in white who drives his own old car, lives in a vatican guest house and eats with the other residents in the dining room. They want to believe he that he must be a radical reformer who is merely disguised as a Catholic priest while secretly sharing their humanist atheism.
They are wrong. Francis tries to live the Gospels. That is all. He evidently has little tolerance for obscurantist medievalism and it is likely that he will have a revolutionary impact on church administration and such annoying trivia as the obsession with fancy dress vestments and compulsively complex liturgy.
That said, it cannot be stated too often that he will never, ever change core church teaching on abortion, capital punishment and the faith expressed in the Nicene Creed.
For Catholics abortion is murder, and that is all that needs be said.
The Church will never, ever accept the practice of same sex marriage and homosexual behavior. Catholics are ruled by Revelation and the Natural Law. For Catholics homosexuality is a severe distortion of the Natural Law. End of message.
Capital punishment is the assumption by state power of the right to kill humans who are not an immediate threat to life and limb. End of message.
None of these positions prevents Catholic affection, indeed love, for brothers and sisters who are sinners in these matters. That is what Francis is trying to tell people. pl
The Arabic word used of Fundamentalist – now usually thought of as revolution-friendly -- Islam is salafiyah. Even native Arabic speakers usually translate it as “reactionary.” But the concept is far more complex. The word salafi in classical Arabicmeans a person who stands both in the rearguard and in the vanguard -- Arabic delights in such contrasts. The logic of the apparent paradox was brought out by the teachings of jurisconsults from the beginning of the “impact of the West.” In the Eighteenth century they began to search for means to protect their civilization. Some argued that “real” strength was not gained by copying the practices of the West but had to be derived from fundamentals as laid out in the Quran and elucidated in the practices of the Prophet and his intimate circle (the Hadith). Weakness, they believed, came from the innovations and perversions that encrusted Islamic thought and Islamic society in the long dark ages of decline of its power and civilization." WR Polk
From time to time some of you ask for instruction about Islam. pl
The story of the Maccabees is one often recounted in Catholic worship and it has always been a favorite of mine. pl
"The Festival of Lights' history begins almost two and a half millennia ago, when Antiochus, a Syrian king, ruled Judea. He attempted to assimilate the Jews into Greek culture, commanding them to worship Greek gods while oppressing Jewish culture and religion. One priest in particular, Mattathias, was asked to participate in a ceremony of bowing to an idol and eating the flesh of a pig, both forbidden acts. He refused, but another villager stepped forward and volunteered to do it instead. Angered, Mattathias killed the man and the officer who had asked him to take part in the ceremony. His five sons and other villagers followed suit and killed the other soldiers.
Mattathias' family went into hiding and were soon joined by a large number of Jews who wanted to fight the Greeks. A year later, Mattathias died, but before he passed away, he put his son, Judah Maccabbee, in charge. Led by Judah Maccabee and his brothers, the Jewish people, after a three-year struggle, overthrew their Syrian oppressors.
When they reclaimed Jerusalem's Temple, the Hebrews found it defiled by statues of the Greek gods and other religious artifacts. As part of their campaign of oppression, the Greeks had systematically defiled any Jewish religious item they could find. The Hebrews cleared out the foreign icons and rededicated the temple on the 25th day of Kislev. When the time came to light the N'er Tamid, the Eternal Light of the Temple, the Jews could find only one sanctified jar of oil marked with the seal of the High Priest. It was only enough to last one evening. The lamp was lit with this small jar of oil and, miraculously, stayed lit for eight days, until more oil suitable for the temple was made."
Happy Hanukkah. pl
The media are doing their best to twist Pope Franci' words to their own ends. It has long been the teaching of the Catholic Church that being gay is not sinful. The teaching is that doing gay is sinful. Nothing Francis said changes that. He said that he would not judge people for being gay. That is merely a matter of Christian charity and there is nothing new in that. He said that "the door is closed' in the matter of women priests. What he meant is that this is a matter of settled church doctrine. It was pronounced upon as a matter of great importance by John Paul II. A pope is not an absolute monarch in matters of faith and morals. He cannot simply reverse the teaching of one of his predecessors. John Paul II "locked" this in. Francis says ge wants women to have a greater role in the Church. He will need to be creative. pl
"The group's formation, exactly a month after Francis was elected, shows that the pope "listens attentively" to what the cardinals say, Rosica said. The document the cardinals are studying is the Apostolic Constitution of Pope John Paul II, known as the Pastor Bonus, which was published in 1988. CNN Vatican analyst John Allen, who's also a correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter, wrote that the news was "a signal that major reform may be on the horizon." "Strikingly, there was only one member of the Roman Curia among the eight cardinals tapped to assist the pope. The rest come from various parts of the world, with at least one representing each continent," he said. The group will be coordinated by Rodriguez, from Tegucigalpa, who speaks several languages and was himself seen as possible contender for the papacy. " CNN News
It would seem that Francis is serious. I don't know anything about the rest of thse men but O'Malley is the real deal, a reformer who refuses to live as though he were a bankster.
Constitutional reform in Rome? What a great idea that would be. A small govenment model of church organization is being discussed. Perhaps that is the meaning of Francis' use of the title "Bishop of Rome" in speaking of himself.
Well, not so fast, I'll believe some of this when I see large numbers of clerical molesters and tolerators "relaxed to the secular arm" for punishment. pl
"Pope Francis on Saturday appointed the leader of the main Franciscan order in his first nomination to the scandal-hit Vatican bureaucracy, the Holy See said in a statement, ahead of an expected overhaul of the administration. Spain's Jose Rodriguez Carballo, 59, will be number two at the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, which oversees all Catholic religious orders. The Vatican department is headed up by Brazilian cardinal Joao Braz de Aviz and is part of the Roman Curia -- the Catholic Church administration, which analysts say is badly in need of reform. Friar Carballo is minister general of the Order of Friars Minor, a post whose holder is regarded as the successor of founder St Francis of Assisi. " AFP
The prospects for a purge in the hierarchy and curia are strengthened by this appointment. The bureacratic "trick" of putting your man in as deputy to make sure your will is done is of long use.
This works well since it does not "spook" the cardinal in charge.
The next thing to look for is more of Francis's men placed in the congregations that deal with diocesan clergy and the ordinaries. pl
"Father Lombardi repeated assertions by a prominent human rights campaigner that there had been “no compromise by Cardinal Bergoglio with the dictatorship.” The debate has simmered in Argentina, with journalists there publishing articles and books that appear to contradict Cardinal Bergoglio’s account of his actions. These accounts draw not only on documents from the period, but also on statements by priests and lay workers who clashed with Cardinal Bergoglio. " NY Times
There are always anti-clericals. They hate priests . They have always hated priests. Their prejudice is dignified by its persistence. Mark Twain was among them. "Mankind will only be free when the last priest is hanged in the guts of the last king." (either "Innocents Abroad" or "A Connecticutt Yankee at King Arthur's Court")
On the other hand we have the gay lobby. These folks have been so succesfull at recruiting support from media gay people, media corporations and the congress that it has become axiomatic to say that any opposition to their program of normalization will be attacked with the fury and deceptive self assurance that is usually associated with AIPAC.
Francis does not believe that gay marriage is justifiable for his church, therefore Francis must be attacked in the most horrendous terms. Francis must be said to be a fascist and supporter of fascists. How contemptible.
I wrote here earlier that the Catholic Church needed a moderate and evangelical pope. I think that is what the Catholic Church got. He was a Jesuit priest. This has great significance. The members of the Society of Jesus are teachers and missionaries who give up the possibility of being a bishop when they become members of their community. To become a bishop they must leave the order, but they never really leave in their hearts. They are intellectuals who are known in popular culture as "God's marines." Bishop John Carroll, the first Catholic bishop in the United States began his priestly life as a Jesuit trained in Belgium.
The name choice is significant. This man rode the bus back to the clerical hotel last night. He rode the bus with his former colleagues and let his limo follow along behind. Once at the hotel, he went to his room, collected his things and went down to the front desk to pay his bill in person. When reminded that he was now the proprietor and need not pay the bill, he said that he wanted to make sure that they all pay their bills. It will be interesting to see how he has the papal apartments decorated or if he lives there at all. Vatican City is a big place, he could live anywhere within it.
The possibilities for this man to lead by example on isues of poverty and the spread of the Good News of the gospels is virtually unlimited. pl
"There are currently 118 cardinals currently eligible to take part in the Conclave - the election of the next Pope. But Cardinal Lubomyr Husar, Archbishop Emeritus of Kiev, will turn 80 before the Pope's resignation so will be excluded from voting. And, on 21 February Cardinal Julius Riyadi Darmaatmadja, the 78 year-old Archbishop Emeritus of Jakarta, ruled himself out of travelling to Rome due to the "progressive deterioration" of his vision. Sixty seven of the cardinal-electors were appointed by Benedict XVI and 61 are European - with 21 of those being Italian. " BBC
"Lubomyr Husar" is ineligible? Now THAT is a shame. I was hoping that this representative of the fabled Ukrainian Catholic Church would have a "shot" as a dark horse, or Bactrian Camel, or something, but, alas it was not to be.
Seriously, sort of, the Catholic Church needs an evangelical pastor who would address issues of church governance that stand between those who wish to be "faithful" and regular appearance in the pews.
Theology is not a serious issue. Theology is simply a matter of preferred belief whether it is Catholic, Mormon. Islamic, etc., etc. "Lapsed" Catholics by and large do not question Catholic theology. The inherent truth or untruth of transubstantiation as dogma is not what drove them from church attendance.
What they don't like is the egomaniacal, corrupt, self-serving way in which the Catholic Church has been run by many in the clergy and hierarchy. "Smells and Bells," the Epicopalians used to say of the Catholic Church. They have little reason to criticize any other church these days but "in the day" they had a point.
Is there a chance that a reincarnated Francis of Assisi or a Father Duffy type could be elected? There is no chance at all.
The College of Cardinals will elect one their own, a vatican bureacratic politician, someone who will not rock the boat. Angelo Scola should be just the man for the Holy Spirit's nod.
The Cardinal Archbishop of Scotland has said that diocesan proests should be allowed to marry. Let's see how many votes he gets. pl
The Catholic Church remains a medieval institution. The trappings of absolute monarchy, nobility, elaborate ritual and liturgy and a separation of clergy from the daily lives of the "fathful" (the people in the pews) are obstacles to the work of evangelization that lies at the heart of the Catholic Church.
The church remains dominated by a caste of celibate (if not always chaste) elderly men who think themselves above the opinions or will of lay Catholics.
Ordination of married prests, ordination of women priests, a reasonable position rearding non-abortive birth control; these are all matters of grave interest to lay Catholics but only matters of somewhat abstracted debate for the hierarchy.
The Catholic Church needs a pope who will stop "going through the motions" in the general aea of priestly misbehavior and hierarchical toleration of that behavior. You think this work of cleansing has ben accomplished? You are wrong! pl