Saturday, April 25, 2015

My skin has turned to porcelain, to ivory, to steel

"My skin has turned to porcelain, to ivory, to steel."
George R.R. Martin, A Storm of Swords, Sansa Stark

Friday, April 24, 2015

You'll find truth in your looking glass, not on the tongues of men.

"You'll find truth in your looking glass, not on the tongues of men."
George R.R. Martin, A Feast for Crows
I look to Nature to tell me the truth because men rarely do.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Why some humans are attracted to Jihadism and ISIS

What is the attraction to Jihadism?
I. The Search for Identity. When it comes to some Jihadis especially those who have been third culture kids growing up in a country and having two identities can cause an identity crisis and tension. They may feel the drive to search for what the “real” or dominant identity is and feel compelled to prove that identity.
II. The Search for Meaning. What can be better than being at the center of the stage of a Cosmic Drama? Jihadism offers this and no secular gang can offer such cosmic significance. To be part of a great narrative that gives one ultimate purpose and meaning is something that humans are attracted to. To be certain and to be central in the grand story of the Universe and existence is not a bad recruiting tool.
III. The Search for Justice. Grievances can be real (Assad’s crimes or other Tyrants) or perceived (middle class western recruits). Whether they be real or perceived to a human perceived is just as real. Not only those who are displaced and marginalized but those who feel displaced and marginalized.
IV. The Search for Asabiyyah. The great Muslim historian and philosopher Ibn Khaldun gave the term Asabiyyah for social cohesion, group feeling, and solidarity. It is the factor that gives one group the ability to rise over other groups that have little or lesser Asabiyyah. That is why a couple thousand ISIS members can take over Mosul from a larger and better funded military at the time. The Iraqi army had little Asabiyyah and ISIS had a good deal of it.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

It is easier to ignore the facts than to change the preconceptions

"We want the facts to fit the preconceptions. When they don't, it is easier to ignore the facts than to change the preconceptions."
Jessamyn West

Friday, April 3, 2015

The Shadow of Josephus: Tyrants and Terrorism 2000 years ago

CNN report from Aleppo Syria:
These are people who suffer any one -- or all -- of the following litany of afflictions daily: Barrel bombs -- randomly dropped, crudely made devices intended to maim, kill and terrify; warring rebel militia, also fighting with the regime; radical Islamic groups; shortages of food and water; people cutting down whatever trees they can find for fuel. Kidnapping is now the major hazard. After months of hospitality and risking themselves to assist journalists, rebels now find their ranks bedevilled by radicals and criminals who see foreign media often as a form of currency to help with boosting funds or dealing with another scourge: ISIS. This is the nightmare of being caught between a regime trying to besiege them on one side, and on the other, the evil of ISIS trying to impose their radical worldview.
Josephus, The Jewish War:
"The whole of Syria was filled with hopeless confusion, and every city was divided into two camps, the survival of the one depending on the destruction of the other. The days were spent in bloodshed, the nights-still more terrible-in fear."
"Every town was seething with turmoil and civil war, and as soon as the Romans gave them a breathing-space they turned their hands against each other...Faction reigned everywhere, the revolutionaries and zealots with the boldness of youth silencing the old and sensible."
"For Zealots they called themselves, as if they were devoted to good works, not zealous for all that was vile - vile beyond one was prepared to resist, as it was obvious that the Zealots would be very difficult to tackle."
"The group who supported the high priest Ananus were convinced that it was impossible to stay in the city unless they rid her of the terrorists, the Zealots that unless they triumphed they would be spared no punishment."
"Another type of bandit sprang up in Jerusalem, known as Sicarii. These men committed numerous murders in broad daylight and in the middle of the city. Their favorite trick was to mingle with festival crowds, concealing under their garments small daggers with which they stabbed their opponents. When their victims fell, the assassins melted into the indignant crowd, and through their plausibility entirely defied detection...many were murdered every day. More terrible than the crimes themselves was the fear they aroused, every man hourly expecting death, as in war."
"The faction fight in Jerusalem had broken out again; a three cornered fight now, as one party had split in two...We should not be far wrong if we described this as a faction within faction, like a maddened beast driven by lack of other food to devour its own flesh."
"Miserable was the plight of women and children."
Niccolò Machiavelli:
So in all human affairs one notices, if one examines them closely, that it is impossible to remove one inconvenience without another emerging
Remove a tyrant and underneath it is the rot of extremism and factions. The Tyrannical authoritarianism of Caligula and Nero helped set the stage for Jewish Extremism to rise in Judea. The brutal Tyranny of Saddam Hussein and Assad combined with the removal of Saddam by the United States set the stage for reactionary groups to rise. Maliki and Shia militias abused their position against the Sunni's in reaction to Saddam's previous brutal rule. Assad's violence against his people's aspirations fed into the Jihadi narrative of the unjust taghut who can only be fought by Jihadism.
Put it this way terrorist fish feed on the brutality of Tyrants and swim in the disenfranchisement of the people.
"The people resemble a wild beast, which, naturally fierce and accustomed to live in the woods, has been brought up, as it were, in a prison and in servitude, and having by accident got its liberty, not being accustomed to search for its food, and not knowing where to conceal itself, easily becomes the prey of the first who seeks to incarcerate it again."
Niccolò Machiavelli
Anyone who studies present and ancient affairs will easily see how in all cities and all peoples there still exist, and have always existed, the same desires and passions.” Niccolò Machiavelli
Reading Josephus (The War of the Jews) highlights the fact that religious fanaticism existed long before the Islamic extremists in the late 20th century or the Christian wars between Catholics and Protestants. It also reminds the reader that Imperial ambition and brutal Dictators have existed long before the present powers who seek greater security through greater power.
Common elements of this Ancient and Modern Drama are:
1. Imperial intervention in the Middle East
2. Monotheistic Religious Zealots
3. Moderates stuck between Tyrants and religious zealots
4. Terrorism
5. Factions
6. Rome’s inability or refusal to understand Monotheistic sensibilities along with the Fanaticism of certain elements within Monotheism.

Global gaps

The comment below is limited (many groups are being attacked including Muslim groups) and has its exceptions (and does not negate the importance of gay rights or religious freedom debate) however it does underline the dichotomy and disconnect of geo realities on the ground in different parts of the globe:
Christians and Liberals in the west worry about gay marriage and cakes.
Christians and Liberals in the east worry about being murdered and imprisoned.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

The Roman Poet Horace quotes

Horace died on 27 November 8 B.C. at age fifty-seven.
"ridentem dicere verum / quid vetat" - What's wrong with someone laughing as they tell the truth?
"est modus in rebus, sunt certi denique fines / quos ultra citraque nequit consistere rectum" - there is a middle ground in things; there are, finally, definite boundaries, on either side of which Right is unable to take a stand
In short: whether a peaceful old age waits for me or death circles with black wings, rich, poor, at Rome, or if thus chance bids, an exile, whatever the complexion of my life, I will write.
"you can't stand your own company for an hour, you are unable to make good use of your leisure and, a fugitive and a wanderer, you avoid your very self, seeking one minute to drink away, the next to sleep away your troubles"
Hopeful in adversity, cautious in success is the heart well prepared for the opposite lot; Jupiter brings back the shapeless winters; he also takes them away; and not, if things go badly now, will it always be so: sometimes Apollo wakes his silent muse with his cithara; he doesn't always stretch his bow.

Friday, March 20, 2015


The Egyptian god Amun was depicted with ram horns. The ram was revered in ancient Egypt in matters of fertility and war. Rams were considered a symbol of virility due to their rutting behavior. The horns of Amun may have also represented the East and West of the Earth, and one of the titles of Amun was "the two-horned." Alexander was depicted with the horns of Amun as a result of his conquest of ancient Egypt in 332 BC, where the priesthood received him as the son of the god Amun, who was identified by the ancient Greeks with Zeus, the King of the Gods.
The Temple of the Oracle (Temple of Amun) at the Siwa Oasis in Egypt

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

The Lost Eye

When I was a young child living in Kijabe Kenya we had a drought in the valley below which caused the African Buffalo to migrate up to our mountain where our little town was.
It was a good thing in the beginning because President Moi had recently released a lot of criminals from Prison and some of them had formed gangs that came to our area and broke into some houses terrorizing the community. When the African Buffalo came in to the neighborhood the criminals went away.
The African Buffalo are known to be strong and aggressive animals in Kenya. Even to some Masai Warriors it is more honorable to take down a Buffalo than a Lion.
As a child at night we made sure to get in our cars because of the Buffalo out at night. You could see their eyes at night light up. My Father would take me around in the car at night searching for Buffalo in Kijabe. As a child it was exciting for me and I loved seeing them up close.
One Buffalo you could always spot because he had only one eye. We called him “The Lost Eye.” He was an old Bull and the rumor was that his eye was knocked out by a spear from a Masai warrior. He was alone, wounded and aggressive. For me he was bigger than life. He captured my imagination.
I remember at night in Kijabe(which means place of the wind) the wind howling and the deep darkness of the night outside my window. As I lay in my bed I imagined the Lost Eye out there standing in the darkest corner of the darkest night unfazed.
Think about the elemental drama that has gone on in Nature that Humans have never seen. The drama, the courage, the heroes, and the tragedy that is experienced by wild animals that have never been seen by human eyes.
One day after school I heard that the Army had been called to take out The Lost Eye. It took heavy weapons. I ran down to the lower part of Kijabe where they had killed him. The locals were cutting him up to share his meat around. His massive and noble head was sitting on a tree stump.
I approached it slowly and stared at his head in awe. He died in a blaze of bullets. A worthy death for a warrior animal such as The Lost Eye. Life for this beast had been brutal and tough and here alone in the historic Rift Valley he fell. Against the world and nature he was brought down but not without a fight.
After that I grew up being enamored with the African Buffalo. It happened to be our school mascot in Kijabe as well. The African Buffalo fighting off the mighty Lions till the very end even when outnumbered.
A Stoic and tough animal that looked its enemies and death face to face every day.
Protecting the weak among you and fighting till the very end in a world without mercy.
Montaigne was right animals have something to teach humans about this world we live in.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Obama ignores the Assad Factor in the Rise of ISIS

SHANE SMITH, VICE NEWS: "One of the biggest questions that I had was how did they become so popular so fast? How did they get so many foreign fighters from America, from the U.K., from Scandinavia, from all over the world, go there, outstrip al Qaeda, almost overnight. So, a, how did they become so popular out of nowhere? And then, b, how do we stop them?"
PRESIDENT OBAMA: "ISIL is direct outgrowth of al Qaeda in Iraq which grew out of our invasion which is an example of unintended consequences which is why we should generally aim before we shoot."
What about Assad? Maliki? Takfiri ideology being financed and spread in communities? These are important factors in the rise of ISIS as well and to ignore them is intellectually weak.
Taking aim at Bush and shooting down the whole complex story is not being honest with the evolution of ISIS.
President Obama's desire to be completely absent from the narrative for the growth and rise of ISIS has led him to turn away from complexity and nuance and embrace a simplistic narrative. He turned to the very simplicity he and his administration often accuse his critics of. He shot down a holistic and nuanced view out of political expediency.
To be sure the invasion of Iraq by the Bush administration was an important factor and variable in the development of ISIS. However it was not the only factor or variable. Assad's response to the Arab uprising in his own country was vicious and brutal. The sectarian corruption of Maliki in Iraq was also a factor.
Assad even used chemical weapons on his own people with no effective response from President Obama or the international community. Assad bled Syria red and President Obama and the international community did nothing of consequence. Assad's violent response to his people and the World's lack of response was an important variable in the rise of ISIS.
There are unintended consequences to invading Iraq but there also unintended consequences to Assad's blood bath in Syria.
Tyrants and Terrorists have a symbiotic relationship. There are many examples of this in history. The most recent being Assad and ISIS. Assad in the beginning enabled ISIS because it would strengthen his position on the need for security as well as discredit the opposition. Terrorists groups use the Tyrant as an example of the corrupt and unjust regime or ruler who must be confronted with religious zeal and extremism. The death and destruction from Assad was also an important factor in the rise of ISIS and ignoring this is to ignore the full weight of Assad's crimes against humanity.
There are many factors that go back even farther than the US invasion of Iraq. The ideology of Islamism, Salafism, and Takfirism, which is often ignored as a factor has been growing and has been supported by countries like Saudi Arabia for many years and that is a factor as well that should not be ignored. There are geopolitical and proxy wars many years back that helped set the stage as well.
See previous post here.
Geopolitics, invasion, ideology, Assad's violence, Maliki's corruption are all part of the complex causation of the rise of ISIS and to turn to a simplistic narrative by President Obama is disappointing and partisan.
Vox has a good article explaining the many factors in the rise of ISIS. See here.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Irony is the weapon of the minority and less powerful in society

"Irony is the glory of the slave."
"Woe unto the defeated, whom history treads into the dust." ~Arthur Koestler, Darkness at Noon
Those in Power like to make sacred that which supports their power. To be beyond criticism.
Religion whether polytheistic religion or monotheistic has often been used as a tool to power and to protect from criticism once in power. The Divine right of Kings for example.
The expression and freedom of humor, irony, satire, and criticism is important in confronting power whether that power is religious or state power.
Can one Faith be critical of another Faith? What about the Prejudice and bigotry against polytheists and disbelievers? It is ok to insult polytheists, humanists, atheists, and animists? Is it a one way street where the dominant faiths get to have protection from insult and criticism but minority beliefs do not?
As judgmental as religion can be and the bigotry it can produce it is rather ironic that the major religions are asking not to be judged or criticized.
It is precisely because religion is axiomatically given privilege in much of society that groups like ISIS have been able to rise so quickly and why it is tempting for them to attach themselves to religious language and its status.
That is the tragic irony that the Obama administration never has understood or confronted. Religion like all ideologies must be able to be criticized and welcome challenges and not given a special place of privilege. Otherwise you give groups who seek power the temptation to attach themselves to religion because of its privileged place.
The more privilege they give religion the more the zealots will want that privilege and power.
When you think of the crushing of other faiths in history... It is like a company getting to the top of the mountain and creating a monopoly destroying the path to the top for others. At the top it decides to destroy the path up the mountain so no other faith or idea can climb where it is. Changing the rules once your idea or faith is at the top of the mountain is the way power tries to crush dissent and competition.

Friday, February 27, 2015

ISIS and Takfiri Totalitarianism - The war on cultural diversity and history

"They forbid rational speculation, and strive to kill their adversaries. This is why truth became thoroughly silenced and concealed." Al Razi 854 CE
By now it should be clear that ISIS and other extremist groups like them are not standard bearers of Eastern culture against the West but are at war with diversity in the East itself. They are destroying the rich history and diversity of the East. The Buddha statues blown up by the Taliban. The destruction and defacing of ancient Mesopotamian history. The war on Zoroastrian, Yazidi, Shiite, Sufi and Christian peoples in the East. They cannot tolerate the diversity of the present much less the diversity of the past. They cannot appreciate ancient Babylonian, Persian, Assyrian, Sumerian, Indian, Greek, and Egyptian culture because for them they are all pagans and ignorant polytheists.
They cannot appreciate the House of Wisdom in Baghdad during the Islamic golden age that studied Aristotle and other philosophers engaging in dialogue on diverse ideas.
As the great Muslim philospher Ibn Rushd stated,"After logic we must proceed to philosophy proper...we have to learn from our predecessors, just as in Mathematics and Law. Thus it is wrong to forbid the study of ancient philosophy."
Ibn Sina stated "I devoted myself in studying the texts - the original and the commentaries - in the natural sciences and metaphysics, and the gates of knowledge began opening for me."
The ideology of ISIS has some roots in Salafi and Wahhabi teaching which pulls from a narrow fundamentalist version of Islam which cannot tolerate diversity either in ideas or history. There is an outright hostility and bigotry towards those that are deemed Infidels, Pagans, Polytheists, Apostates, Disbelievers, Kafir. It is the bigotry against diversity and doubt. The hateful fear of the disbeliever. Infidelophobia.
The Islamic world must not only accept Christians and Jews, the people of the book. In the long term a robust human rights and liberty demands that infidels and apostates are also accepted as fellow human beings not threatened with intimidation and violence for having a different idea or opinion on metaphysics. There is a cognitive dissonance with some Western Liberals who are engaged with right wing reactionaries in the West who show bigotry towards those who are different including Muslim minority communities in the West. At the same time in Muslim majority countries there are right wing reactionaries who take hold of a narrow version of Islam that shows bigotry against infidels, disbelievers, and religious diversity.
Both of these challenges and attacks on diversity are going on in the global picture but some Western Liberals have a hard time with seeing both of these realities in their minds and being able to fight the Islamophobia in the West and at the same time fight the Infidelophobia in other parts of the Islamic world. To be pluralistic is to fight for Muslim minorities in the West who are being unfairly attacked and at the same time fight for religious minorities, disbelievers and liberal Muslims in Muslim majority countries who are being unfairly attacked. People must understand specific geopolitical realities around the world to get the big picture.
Can the world be consistent with enlightenment values in the West and the East at the same time? The answer to the excess of Western colonialism is not Theocracy and Monotheistic Totalitarianism but rather real self determination.
Malala Yousafza, who was shot by the Taliban in the head but still lives to fight for education for girls in Pakistan, stated, "This is Education. This is Knowledge. It can neither be Eastern nor Western."
There is also a cognitive dissonance with some Christian fundamentalists in the West who are against theocracy in the Muslim world but show some sympathy for theocratic movements in the Christian world. Theocracy whether it be Muslim or Christian is not a good way to govern human beings who often have different views and ideas on metaphysics. If there is going to be religious freedom and human rights it must include Christian, Muslim, Jew, Polytheists, and Disbelievers. Pluralism must be the umbrella ideal to allow for such diversity.
Pluralism accepts the reality that humans are going to have different beliefs and opinions and as long as it does not impede on your rights let a person believe and opine as they wish. Melville wrote in Moby Dick,"...and Heaven have mercy on us all - Presbyterians and Pagans alike - for we are all somehow dreadfully cracked about the head, and sadly need mending."
This diversity and pluralism is hated by ISIS and other groups who think they can create a Utopia where their ideology reigns supreme with no dissent or doubt. To create a Utopia you must sacrifice the blood of those different than you and cleanse the world of cultural history and diversity. If the world does not stand up to Totalitarian Monotheism and the rhetoric and teaching coming out of Takfiri ideology that dehumanizes polytheists, religious minorities, and apostates then prepare for more cultural destruction and genocide. It took a World War to stop Totalitarian Nazi ideology, what will it take to stop the Totalitarian Takfiri ideology?
Anemic Post modernism and relativism will be no match for muscular, purposeful, and simplistic ideologies like Monotheistic Totalitarianism. It will take a return to the flexibility and virtue of the civilizations of antiquity and a return to the Enlightenment ideals and passion that has been covered over by the malaise of post modernism and nihilism in the West. If the modern world does not find a transcendent unifying ethic that allows for pluralism it will pay a heavy price in blood and further destruction.
If this does not happen I agree with the philosopher John Gray's cynical outlook when he stated, “In the long term, the Google generation, the liberals, will be swallowed up and erased from history.”

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Among the Ruins - Christian Sahner - Oxford University Press

Among the Ruins - Christian Sahner - Oxford University Press

Christian C. Sahner is an historian of the Middle East. He graduated from Princeton University and the University of Oxford, where he was a Rhodes Scholar. He is completing his doctorate at Princeton, focusing on the role of non-Muslims in Islamic societies. Sahner's writing has been published in The Times Literary Supplement and The Wall Street Journal, among other publications.