Notes and quotes: the Subintroductae, M Gandhi

July 7, 2010

Some while back, I put together some notes (a collection of quotes and a brief, informal bibliography) on the curious early Christian phenomenon of the Subintroductae for my friend Stephen O’Leary of USC — I thought they might be of interest in the case of Michael Travesser (see the second quote below) — and a little while later on Stephen’s suggestion, I made a shorter compilation of quotes regarding Mahatma Gandhi’s somewhat similar practice.

Recently another friend, William Benzon, has written a post about bundling, which in my view is a related phenomenon — and wishing to be able to point him to these materials, I decided to post them here…

____________________________________________________________

THE SUBINTRODUCTAE

QUOTES:

> To The Pure All Things Are Pure

Titus 1:15,16

*

I had already gone to bed, and she made her way into my house and came into my bedroom. She told me that God had put it upon her heart very strongly to come and lie naked with me. I considered this for a time, and then asked the young lady to ask her parents if it was alright for her to do that. She went and asked her parents and came into my room again a couple of nights later after I had gone to bed, on July 31st. I asked once more if she had spoken with her parents and she told me then that her dad said that he trusted me. I took that to mean that he trusted me to do the right thing with her and not to violate her. So she took off her clothing and I held her, and placed my hand on her heart, and we spoke for awhile…

> Michael Trevasser, Lord Our Righteousness Church, Wayne and His Naked Virgins

*

For when physical affections are destroyed and tyrannical desire extinguished, then no hindrance will any longer stand in the way of men and women being together, because all evil suspicion will be cleared away and all who have entered into the kingdom of heaven can lead the politeia of the angels and the spiritual powers.

> St John Chrysostom, Adversus eos nqui apud se habent subintroductas virgins, 13, in Migne, PG [Patrologiae, Graeca], vol 47, 514, quoted in David M. Scholer, Women in Early Christianity: A Collection of Scholarly Essays, Taylor & Francis, 1993.

*

It seems that there was in the first full rush of the Church, an attempt, encouraged by the Apostles, to ‘sublimate’. But the experimenters did not call it that. The energy of the effort was in and towards the crucified and Glorified Redeemer, towards a work of exchange and substitution, a union on earth and in heaven with the love which was now understood to be capable of loving and being loved. In some cases it failed. But we know nothing – most unfortunately – of the cases in which it did not fail, and that there were such cases seems clear from St Paul’s quite simple acceptance of the idea. By the time of Cyprian, Bishop of Carthage in the 3rd Century, the ecclesiastical authorities were more doubtful. The women, sub-introductae as they were called – apparently slept with their companions without intercourse; Cyprian does not exactly disbelieve them, but he discourages the practice. And the synod of Elvira (305) and the Council of Nicea (325) forbade it altogether. The great experiment had to be abandoned because of Scandal.

Tolstoy put the crude objection in the Kreutzer Sonata, and Cyprian more or less agreed. “But then excuse me, why do they go to bed together?” Both wise men were justified as against a great deal of sentimental lust and sensual hypocricy. But even Cyprian and Tolstoy did not understand all the methods of the blessed spirit in Christendom. The prohibition was natural. Yet it seems a pity that the Church, which realised once that she was founded on a Scandal, not only to the world, but to the soul, should be so nervously alive to scandals. It was one of the earliest triumphs of “the weaker brethren,” those innocent sheep who by mere volume of imbecility have trampled over many delicate flowers in Christendom.

> Charles Williams, The Descent of the Dove: A Short History of the Holy Spirit in the Church,

*

But if any man think that he behaveth himself uncomely toward his virgin, if she pass the flower of her age, and need so require, let him do what he will, he sinneth not: let them marry. Nevertheless he that standeth steadfast in his heart, having no necessity, but hath power over his own will, and hath so decreed in his heart that he will keep his virgin, doeth well.

> 1 Corinthians 7:36, 37

*

Individual saints, such as St. Scothine, St. Mel, St. Kentigern, the Anglo-Saxon St. Aldhelm and Robert of Abrissel, all recognized as saints by the very Church which condemned syneisactism, lived in consortio mulierum. Moreover, the fact that St. Patrick condemned the practice probably bespeaks its existence, and the great chastity of the Celtic saints certainly is not inconsistent with their living with women. Although Achelis overstates his case in saying that the early Celtic Church was characterized by the practice of syneisactism, the number of stories of the saints, clergy, and lay ascetics living with the virgines clearly demonstrates that the practice cannot have been as foreign to Celtic Christianity as is often presented.

> Roger E. Reynolds, Virgines Subintroductae in Celtic Christianity, The Harvard Theological Review, Vol. 61, No. 4 (Oct., 1968), pp. 547-p 549.

*

Cyprian of Carthage offers a startling analogy calculated to frighten such couples into submitting to (his) episcopal authority: if a human husband saw his wife reclining next to another man, would he not take his sword in hand? What then will Christ think when he sees his dedicated virgin lying with another? Christ will use the “spiritual sword” of divine punishment against her on the Day of Judgment, Cyprian concludes.

> Elizabeth A. Clark, The Celibate Bridegroom and His Virginal Brides: Metaphor and the Marriage of Jesus in Early Christian Ascetic Exegesis, Church History 77:1, March 2008, 1 – 25.

*

VIRGINS ‘WITHOUT LICENCE’ – THE ‘SUBINTRODUCTAE’

Some took steps to make the daunting path easier to follow. The virgin who sinned with her ‘attendant’ may well have been one of a breed that aroused much ire and contention in the more severe Fathers: that of the virgins subintroductae or agapetae. These women set up a virginal lifestyle, lived in conjunction and cohabitation with a member of the opposite sex in what amounted to a partnership: ‘the cohabitation of the sexes under the condition of strict continence, a couple sharing the same house, often the same room, and sometimes the same bed, yet conducting themselves as brother and sister’ (Bailey 1959:33) – a situation understandably open to suspicion. These virgins have been accredited by historians of their phenomenon with ‘the earnest desire to keep [the vow of continence]‘ (Achelis 1926:177) – but were all too frequently not so accredited at the time.

The advantages of such a system, if sincerely practised, are evident. Lone women shrinking from the rigours of fending for themselves could have, as well as a companion, an agent to carry out their business, thereby avoiding the need for the going abroad so much complained of in virgins. Frequently one of the pair would be better off and provide for the less fortunate partner, thus acquiring merit and making life easier for a fellow Christian. They could assist each other in material ways, inspire each other, and, ideally, avoid the pitfalls open to those who became tired or deceived or lonely through isolation in their struggle. [ … ]

The suspicions to which these partnerships laid themselves open are obvious; Chrysostom, though conceding that many of them were sincere in their beliefs and had retained their bodily purity, nonetheless was convinced that only sexual desire, however unacknowledged, could so permanently bind a man to a woman, for ‘why else would a man put up with the faults of a woman?

> Gillian Cloke, This Female Man of God: Women and Spiritual Power in the Patristic Age, AD 350-450, Routledge, 1995

*

AGAPETAE (agapetai, beloved).
In the first century of the Christian era, the Agapetae were virgins who consecrated themselves to God with a vow of chastity and associated with laymen. In the beginning this community of spiritual life and mutual support, which was based on St. Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians (ix, 5), was holy and edifying. But later it resulted in abuses and scandals, so that councils of the fourth century forbade it. The origin of this association was very probably that these virgins, who did not live in community, required laymen to look after their material interest., and they naturally chose those who, like themselves, had takes a vow of chastity. St. Jerome asked indignantly (Ep., xxii, ad Eustochium) after it had degenerated, Unde in ecclesias Agapetarum pestis introit? A letter St. Cyprian shows that abuses of this kind developed in Africa and in the East (Ep., iv., Ed. Hartel). The Council of Ancyra, in 314, forbade virgins consecrated to God to live thus with men as sisters. This did not correct the practice entirely, for St. Jerome arraigns Syrian monks for living in cities with Christian virgins. The Agapetae are sometimes confounded with the subintroductae, or woman who lived with clerics without marriage, a class against which the third canon of the Council of Nice (325) was directed.
The word Agapetae was also the name of a branch of the Gnostics in 395, whose tenet was that the relations of the sexes were purified of impropriety if the mind was pure. They taught that one should perjure himself rather than reveal the secrets of his sect.

> A’Becket, J.J. (1907). Agapetae, The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Retrieved October 4, 2008 from New Advent.

*

CHAPTER XV: THE MORES CAN MAKE ANYTHING RIGHT AND PREVENT
CONDEMNATION OF ANYTHING

576. Bundling. One of the most extraordinary instances of what the mores can do to legitimize a custom which, when rationally judged, seems inconsistent with the most elementary requirements of the sex taboo, is bundling. In Latin Europe generally, especially amongst the upper classes, it is not allowed that a young man and a young woman shall be alone together even by day, and the freer usage in England, and still more in the United States, is regarded as improper and contrary to good manners. In the latter countries two young people, if alone together, do not think of transgressing the rules of propriety as set by custom in the society. Such was the case also with night visits. Although the custom was free, and although better taste and judgment have abolished it, yet it was defined and regulated, and was never a proof of licentious manners. It is found amongst uncivilized people, but is hardly to be regarded as a survival in higher civilization. Christians, in the third and fourth centuries, practiced it, even without the limiting conditions which were set in the Middle Ages. Having determined to renounce sex, as an evil, they sought to test themselves by extreme temptation. It was a test or proof of the power of moral rule over natural impulse. “It was a widely spread custom in both the east and the west of the Roman empire to live with virgins. Distinguished persons, including one of the greatest bishops of the empire, who was also one of the greatest theologians, joined in the custom. Public opinion in the church judged them lightly, although unfavorably.” “After the church took on the episcopal constitution, it persecuted and drove out the subintroductae. They were regarded as a survival from the old church which was disapproved. The custom that virgins dwelt in the house with men arose in the oldest period of the Christian church.” “They did not think of any evil as to be apprehended.” “In fact, we have only a little clear evidence that the living together did not correspond in the long run to the assumptions on which it was based.” The custom was abolished in the sixth century. “Spiritual marriage” was connected with the monastic profession and both were due to the ascetic tendency of the time. “From the time when we can clearly find monastic associations in existence, we find hermits living in comradeship with nuns.” We are led back to Jewish associations. The custom is older than Christianity. The custom at Corinth was but imitation of Jewish “God worshipers” or “Praying women.” The Therapeuts had such companions. Their houses of worship were arranged to separate the sexes. Their dances sometimes lasted all night. In the Middle Ages several sects who renounced marriage introduced tests of great temptation. Individuals also, believing that they were carrying on the war between “the flesh” and “the spirit” subjected themselves to similar tests. These are not properly cases in the mores, but they illustrate the intervention of sectarian doctrines or views to traverse the efforts to satisfy interests, and so to disturb the mores.

577. Two forms of bundling. Two cases are to be distinguished: (1) night visits as a mode of wooing; (2) extreme intimacy between two persons who are under the sex taboo (one or both being married, or one or both vowed to celibacy), and who nevertheless observe the taboo.

578. Mediæval bundling. The custom in the second form became common in the woman cult of the twelfth century and it spread all over Europe. As the vassal attended his lord to his bedchamber, so the knight his lady. The woman cult was an aggregation of poses and pretenses to enact a comedy of love, but not to satisfy erotic passion. The custom spread to the peasant classes in later centuries, and it extended to the Netherlands, 527Scandinavia, Switzerland, England, Scotland, and Wales, but it took rather the first form in the lower classes and in the process of time. In building houses in Holland the windows were built conveniently for this custom. “In 1666-1667 every house on the island of Texel had an opening under the window where the lover could enter so as to sit on the bed and spend the night making love to the daughter of the house.” The custom was called queesten. Parents encouraged it. A girl who had no queester was not esteemed. Rarely did any harm occur. If so, the man was mobbed and wounded or killed. The custom can be traced in North Holland down to the eighteenth century. This was the customary mode of wooing in the low countries and Scandinavia. In spite of the disapproval of both civil and ecclesiastical authorities, the custom continued just as round dances continue now, in spite of the disapproval of many parents, because a girl who should refuse to conform to current usage would be left out of the social movement. The lover was always one who would be accepted as a husband. If he exceeded the limits set by custom he was very hardly dealt with by the people of the village. The custom is reported from the Schwarzwald as late as 1780. It was there the regular method of wooing for classes who had to work all day. The lover was required to enter by the dormer window. Even still the custom is said to exist amongst the peasants of Germany, but it is restricted to one night in the month or in the year. Krasinski describes kissing games customary amongst the Unitarians of the Ukrain. He says that they are a Greek custom and he connects them with bundling.

579. Poverty and wooing. Amongst peasants there was little opportunity for the young people to become acquainted. When the cold season came they could not woo out of doors. The young women could not be protected by careful rules which would prevent wooing. They had to take risks and to take care of themselves. Poverty was the explanation of this custom in all civilized countries, although there was always in it an element of frolic and fun.

580. Night wooing in North American colonies. All the emigrants to North America were familiar with the custom. In the seventeenth century, in the colonies, the houses were small, poorly warmed, and inconvenient, allowing little privacy. No doubt this is the reason why the custom took new life in the colonies. Burnaby says that it was the custom amongst the lower classes of Massachusetts that a pair who contemplated marriage spent the night together in bed partly dressed. If they did not like each other they might not marry, unless the woman became pregnant. The custom was called “tarrying.” It was due to poverty again. Modern inhabitants of tenement houses are constrained in their customs by the same limitation, and the effect is seen in their folkways. The custom of bundling had a wide range of variety. Two people sitting side by side might cover themselves with the same robe, or lie on the bed together for warmth. Peters defended the custom, which, he said, “prevails amongst all classes to the great honor of the country, its religion, and ladies.” The older women resented the attempts of the ministers to preach against the custom. Sofas were introduced as an alternative. The country people thought the sofa less proper. In the middle of the eighteenth century the decline in social manners, which was attributed to the wars, caused the custom to produce more evil results. Also the greater wealth, larger houses, and better social arrangements changed the conditions and there was less need for the custom. It fell under social disapproval and was thrown out of the folkways. Stiles says that “it died hard” after the revolution. In 1788 a ballad in an almanac brought the custom into popular ridicule. Stiles quotes the case of Seger vs. Slingerland, in which the judge, in a case of seduction, held that parents who allowed bundling, although it was the custom, could not recover.

529581. Reasons for bundling. A witness before the Royal Commission on the Marriage Laws, 1868, testified that night visiting was still common amongst the laboring classes in some parts of Scotland. “They have no other means of intercourse.” It was against custom for a lover to visit his sweetheart by day. As to the parents, “Their daughters must have husbands and there is no other way of courting.” This statement sums up the reasons for this custom which, not being a public custom, must have varied very much according to the character of individuals who used it. Attempts were always made to control it by sanctions in public opinion.

> William Graham Sumner, Folkways: A Study of Mores, Manners, Customs and Morals, Courier Dover Publications, 2002.

*

There is also evidence from a variety of sources for women living continently with their husbands in marriage, apparently without suspicion. However, when virgins lived with continent men, as they did in large numbers throughout the early church, the practice came to be challenged and condemned by church fathers and councils alike. The earliest condemnation of virgines subintroductae, as the women were called, came in 268 at the Council of Antioch and was followed by restrictive canons produced in 300 at Elvira, in 317 at Ancyra, and in 325 at Nicaea. Basil and Cyprian both wrote epistles against the practice, and Jerome mentions “those women who appear to be, but are not, virgins” several times. The author of the two pseudo-Clementine epistles to virgins, dating from the fourth century, also condemns subintroductae, as do Eusebius of Emesa, Gregory of Nyssa, and Gregory of Nazianzius. But none of these condemnations is as rhetorically rich as those produced by John Chrysostom in his two pastoral letters against the practice of cohabitation of virgins and continent brothers. All of these attempts to proscribe the practice reinforce the conclusion that it was a practice to which many virgins (and brothers) adhered. Whether virgins broke their vows of chastity in living with men, as some church leaders claimed, cannot be ascertained from the evidence. Yet it is clear that women found it a desirable arrangement in which they continued to participate at least well into the seventh century.

Hie evidence for the ages of women devoting their chastity to God varies, though many appear to have done so early in life. Palladius tells of Talis, a woman who followed the ascetic life for eighty years, of Taor, who was a virgin for sixty years, and another virgin, unnamed, who was ascetic for sixty years as well. Macrina was twelve when she decided to remain a virgin; Olympias was widowed at nineteen and refused to remarry; Blesilla, Paulas daughter and Eustochium s older sister, began her ascetic life at her widowhood at twenty; Melania the Elder, widowed at twenty-two, pursued asceticism, and her granddaughter, Melania the Younger, renounced the world at twenty, after seven years of marriage. Such early marriages and widowhoods were quite common in the Roman period, as marriage, within the aristocracy at least, was the standard method of sealing pacts between families and assuring that a legitimate heir existed for the passing on of property. The marriage often occurred between an older man and a young girl, sometimes younger than twelve.

Despite the fact that girls were considered ready for marriage at such a young age, they were by no means thought to be capable of making decisions for themselves, and the decision to renounce the world and to guard one’s virginity was not often met with encouragement from parents and other family members.

> Castelli: Women’s Sexuality in Early Christianity 81 [need to verify pages]

*

ARTICLES

Elizabeth Castelli, “Virginity and Its Meaning for Women’s Sexuality in Early Christianity,” Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion 2:1 (Spring 1986): esp. 86–88;

Elizabeth A. Clark, John Chrysostom and the “Subintroductae”, Church History, Vol. 46, No. 2 (Jun., 1977), pp. 171 – 185

Elizabeth A. Clark, The Celibate Bridegroom and His Virginal Brides: Metaphor and the Marriage of Jesus in Early Christian Ascetic Exegesis, Church History 77:1, March 2008, 1 – 25.

Roger E. Reynolds, Virgines Subintroductae in Celtic Christianity, The Harvard Theological Review, Vol. 61, No. 4 (Oct., 1968), pp. 547-566

BOOKS

Hans Achelis, Virgines Subintroductae: Ein Beitrag zum VII Kapitel des I. Korintherbriefs, Leipzig, 1902

Derrick Sherwin Bailey, The Man-Woman Relation in Christian Thought. London: Longmans, 1959 — may be the same as:

Derrich [sic] Sherwin Bailey, Sexual Relation in Christian Thought (New York, 1959)

Virginia Burrus, The Sex Lives of the Saints: An Erotics of Ancient Hagiography, Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004.

Gillian Cloke, This Female Man of God: Women and Spiritual Power in the Patristic Age, AD 350-450, Routledge, 1995

Dyan Elliot, Spiritual Marriage: Sexual Abstinence in Medieval Wedlock, Princeton University Press, 1995

David M. Scholer, Women in Early Christianity: A Collection of Scholarly Essays, Taylor & Francis, 1993

Roland H A Seboldt, Spiritual Marriage in the Early Church: A suggested Interpretation of i Cor. Cor. 7:36-38.

William Graham Sumner, Folkways: A Study of Mores, Manners, Customs and Morals, Courier Dover Publications, 2002

Charles Williams, The Descent of the Dove: A Short History of the Holy Spirit in the Church, Longman, Green and Co., 1939, current ed Regent College

_____________________________________________________________

MOHANDAS GANDHI

WOLPERT, GANDHI’S PASSION

Gandhi was testing the “truth” of his faith in the fire of “experience.” His had always been a practical philosophy, an activist faith. He appears to have hoped that sleeping naked with Manu, without arousing in himself the slightest sexual desire, might help him to douse raging fires of communal hatred in the ocean of India, and so strengthen his body as to allow him to live to 125 in continued service to the world.

[ … ]

He felt so troubled about Manu’s anxiety and listlessness that he wrote to his old Calcutta comrade Satis Chandra Mukerji, seeking his opinion. A young girl (19) who is in the place of a granddaughter to me by relation shares the same bed with me, not for any animal satisfaction but for (to me) valid moral reasons. She claims to be free from the passion that a girl of her age generally has and I claim to be a practised brahmachari. Do you see anything bad or or unjustifiable in this juxtaposition?” Mukerji chose not to answer that question. Manilal Gandhi, however, was shocked when he heard the news. “Do not let the fact of Manu sleeping with me perturb you. I believe that it is God who has prompted me to take that step,” his Bapu replied.

Stanley Wolpert, Gandhi’s Passion: The Life and Legacy of Mahatma Gandhi, Oxford University Press US, 2002, pp 228-9

*

BRAHMACHARYI OR A PRETENDER?

Brahmacharya is a common practice for the yogi who wishes union with the Divine. For, the sex impulse is understood to be one of Nature’s greatest impediments to attaining that Superconscious Bliss. Having this to aspire to makes it unlikely for one to return to prior indulgences in any form. Thus it was a shock to many when, a couple of years prior to his death, it became public knowledge that Gandhi was doing experiments related to the sex impulse, seemingly in order to determine whether he had any sexual desires left. The most controversial practice was his taking to bed – although sexual encounters were denied – of the younger women in his ashram, including his grandniece Manu. It was this practice with Manu that forced Gandhi to write to his son: “Do not let the fact of Manu sleeping with me perturb you.” His son was not the only one of his inner circle to become concerned by his practices. Gandhi also had to respond to colleague J.B Kripalani, sending a letter to convince him of his position:

Manu Gandhi, my grand-daughter, as we consider blood relations, shares the bed with me, strictly as my very blood…as part of what might be my last yajna. This has cost me dearest associates…You as one of the dearest and earliest comrades…should reconsider your position in the light of what they have to say…I have given the deepest thought to the matter. The whole world may forsake me but I dare not leave what I hold is the truth for me. It may be a delusion and a snare. If so, I must realize it myself. I have risked perdition before now. Let this be the reality if it has to be.

One of Gandhi’s followers, Nirmal Kumar Bose, discussed the matter in depth in his book, My Days with Gandhi, writing:

From a serious study of Gandhiji’s writings, I had formed the opinion, which was perhaps not unjustified, that he represented a hard, puritanical form of self-discipline, something which we usually associate with medieval Christian ascetics or Jain recluses. So, when I first learnt in detail about Gandhiji’s prayog or experiment, I felt genuinely surprised. I was informed that he sometimes asked women to share his bed and even the cover which he used, and then tried to ascertain if even the last trace of sensual feeling had been evoked in himself or his companion.

News of Gandhi’s experiments spread to other yogis, two of whom – Swami Anand and Kedar Nath Kulkarni – came to visit and discuss with him his methods, which they were opposed to:

Question: The irreparable harm, if you weaken the foundation of the moral order on which society rests and which has been built up by long and painful discipline, is obvious. But no corresponding gain is apparent to us to justify a break with established tradition. What is your defense? We are not out to humiliate you or to score a victory over you. We only wish to understand.

Gandhi: No moral progress or reform is possible if one is not prepared to get out of the rut of orthodox tradition. …The orthodox conception of the nine-fold wall of protection in regard to brahmacharya is in my opinion inadequate and defective. I have never accepted it for myself. In my opinion, even striving for brahmacharya is not possible by keeping behind it. … If you admit the necessity and desirability of reform, of discarding the old, wherever necessary, and building a new system of ethics and morals suited to the present age, then the question of seeking the permission of others or convincing them does not arise. A reformer cannot afford to wait till others are converted; he must take the lead and venture forth alone even in the teeth of universal opposition. I want to test, enlarge and revise the current definition of brahmacharya, by which you swear, in light of my observation, study and experience. Therefore, whenever an opportunity presents itself, I do not evade it or run away from it. On the contrary, I deem it my duty – dharma – to meet it squarely in the face and find out where it leads to and where I stand. To avoid the contact of a woman, or to run away from it out of fear, I regard as unbecoming of an aspirant after true brahmacharya. I have never tried to cultivate or seek sex contact for carnal satisfaction.

Gandhi was definitely right in his view that sometimes it is necessary to break with tradition, and that reformers are not ones to wait for others to follow them. But even if orthodox conceptions of nine-fold walls are not for everyone, Gandhi had still forgotten the higher purpose behind brahmacharya. His “enlarged” idea of brahmacharya was to put oneself in potentially sexual situations to see how much sexual feeling there was left in him, leading him to make this astonishing statement:

Thousands of Hindu and Moslem women come to me. They are to me like my own mother, sisters and daughters. But if an occasion should arise requiring me to share the bed with any of them I must not hesitate, if I am the brahmacharyi that I claim to be. If I shrink from the test, I write myself down as a coward and a fraud.

The ability to avoid sexual impulses while lying in bed with thousands of women – whether at once or one at a time – was not the original intent behind brahmacharya. Brahmacharya was not meant to be a continual negation (even though negation is needed at first); it was done to bring about a true transformation in nature, leading to that higher delight. And brahmacharya went further than the simple avoidance of the sex act, whether done by running away or in bed with a naked woman. The brahmacharyi was to remove the sexual urge not only in the physical act, but also within the mind as well, for as Lord Krishna said, “One who restrains the senses of action but whose mind dwells on sense objects certainly deludes himself and is called a pretender.”

Thus sex is to be removed from the mind as well as the elimination of the physical act and its mechanical impulses. To simply repress alone is not enough, because these urges can still remain subconsciously for some time. So Gandhi is on the right track when he denounces the tendency to run away, because life in the mountains may not by itself remove subconscious sexual urges. However, the ascetic life can present a better opportunity to transform the nature than what Gandhi chose to do, which was to sleep naked with a girl every night. Because even though – and this is if we take his word for it – there was no sexual interaction, Gandhi would admit to Swami Anand and Kedar Nath that the urges still remained:

I do not claim to have completely eradicated the sex feeling in me. But it is my claim that I can keep it under control.

To simply have it under control means that a lot more work is needed, because the brahmacharyi must eventually remove this lower attachment to realize the greater Truth.

Brahmacharyi or a Pretender?
Agneya Panja

Update: mild stroke, Abu Walid correspondence

June 21, 2010

Please forgive the multi-friend posting — I wanted to get this update out to a great many friends & colleagues old and new…

On Tuesday evening [15 June] I was released from hospital after a “very minor” stroke which occurred on Friday evening [11th]. It’s about as gentle a warning shot as one could hope for, and I intend to respond appropriately in terms of diet, exercise, etc.

The stroke itself sent my left arm into spasm, and I had the curious experience of my nervous system / phantom limb withdrawing from that arm like a very quickly receding tide — this was not painful, but being an innately curious fellow, I found it both intriguing and unexpected. I was pretty scared during the 40 seconds the spasm lasted, and again when it reoccurred as I was being brought into the hospital, but after a battery of EEG, EKG, MRI and CAT scans, the doctors decided I was fit to be loosed again on the unsuspecting American public, and I’m now back at home with the family of Chris and Ed Worden in Chicago, where I’m a house-guest while doing a bunch of writing.

Other things have been moving along, too.

Some while back, the Australian Federal Police’s top specialist in al-Qaida, Leah Farrall, opened an online dialog with an Egyptian Taliban strategist and frequent critic of bin Laden, Abu Walid al-Masri.

I wrote their conversation up on Howard Rheingold’s blog, SmartMobs.

Leah then invited me to make my own comments to Abu Walid, which she posted on her All Things Counterterrorism blog, while Mark Safranski put it up on his blog, Zenpundit, where I’m a regular guest poster. I hope some of you will read this piece, which comes as close to a statement of my values — for myself and the planet — as anything I have written.

Abu Walid recently posted his response to me, in Arabic, and I now have a translation up at Zenpundit.

I hope you will read Abu Walid’s post, too, both because I find his emphasis on chivalry quite remarkable, and because as Leah observes:

These letters may not change anything, but they are important because in mass media sometimes only the most controversial and polarising views tend to make it into the news. I think person to person contact, especially via mediums like this, can go some way to providing opportunities for all of us to discover or be reminded that there is more than one viewpoint and along with differences there are also similarities. Contact like this humanizes people, and in my book that’s never a bad thing.

I’d encourage you to post your own comments on these exchanges if they interest you.

There’s more, too — the extraordinary generosity of my friends Chris and Ed Worden, with whom I am staying, my boys, Emlyn and David, who make me very proud, my work moderating online events for the Skoll Foundation’s SocialEdge website, poems, DoubleQuotes, some renewed stirrings of interest in the HipBone Games, and so forth.

That’s the update for now…

Charles

The conquest of Romiyya / Rome

April 7, 2009

From the point of view of eschatology, it is interesting that the lead article of the first issue of the English-language Jihadist magazine “Jihad Recollections” from Al-Fursan Media should deal with the conquest of Rome — which is here interpreted to mean the United States.

Sheik Yusuf al-Qaradawi, in a fatwa cited by MEMRI, clearly views the relevant hadith as referring to the Italian capital — and, one might add, seat of the Bishop of Rome:

The Prophet Muhammad was asked: “What city will be conquered first, Constantinople or Romiyya?” He answered: “The city of Hirqil will be conquered first’ — that is, Constantinople. . . . Romiyya is the city called today “Rome,” the capital of Italy. The city of Hirqil was conquered by the young 23-year-old Ottoman Muhammad bin Morad, known in history as Muhammad the Conqueror, in 1453. The other city, Romiyya, remains, and we hope and believe [that it too will be conquered]. This means that Islam will return to Europe as a conqueror and victor, after being expelled from it twice — once from the South, from Andalusia, and a second time from the East, when it knocked several times on the door of Athens.

*
But then this business of using one place-name as a metaphor for another is something we also meet in Christianity, where Martin Luther for instance declares “I know that the Papacy is none other than the kingdom of Babylon” identifying the latter city with Rome … while less classically and more recently, Gary DeMar (End Times Fiction, p. 128) identifies “mystery Babylon” with Jerusalem, Grant Jeffrey (War on Terror: Unfolding Bible Prophecy, p. 127) reads it as literally the Babylon that Saddam Hussein was, at the time of writing, rebuilding, and David Wilkerson holds Babylon to be the United States (cited by Michael Evans in The American Prophecies, p. 36).

So: does the conquest of Romiyya mean the capture of the Holy See — and thus the Islamic defeat of Christendom — or the conquest of Wall Street?

*

For a tangential comment on the presence of a distinguished naval historian’s work in the same article, see my blog post today at hipbone out loud.

The journal itself can be downloaded here

See Jarret Brachman’s page-by-page analysis starting here

Combat breathing and military occupation

June 21, 2008

In “Fear Factor”, his review of Amanda Ripley’s fascinating-sounding The Unthinkable: Who Survives When Disaster Strikes, published in City Journal 21 June 2008, John Robb writes:

… in complex disasters, the biological-fear response can slow thinking so severely that it can kill you.

We can counter fear, however. The best method, FBI trainers say, is to get control of your breathing. “Combat breathing” is a simple variant on Lamaze or yoga training — breathe in four counts, hold four counts, exhale four counts, and repeat. It works because breathing is a combination of the somatic (which we control) and the autonomic (which we can’t easily control) nervous systems. Regulation of the autonomic system deescalates the biological-fear response and returns our higher-level brain functions to full capacity. So one of the best ways you can prepare yourself to overcome fear in a crisis is as simple as a meditation, Lamaze, or yoga class.

I find it fascinating and also sensible that yogic / meditative techniques are now taught by members of the law enforcement community:

Training under stress also will help officers learn to control their arousal level. As their physiological agitation escalates, so might their susceptibility to perceptual and memory distortions. Thus, learning to control arousal level can help reduce distortions. Therefore, officers should receive training in and regularly practice ways to control arousal levels in high-stress situations. One process, the combat breathing technique, has proven highly effective in this area.

Alexis Artwohl, “Perceptual and memory distortion during officer-involved shootings”, FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, Oct, 2002

This reminds me of Richard Strozzi Heckler’s In Search of the Warrior Spirit: Teaching Awareness Disciplines to the Green Berets, now in its fourth edition.

What fascinates me even more, though, is the discovery that “combat breathing” is a term that was already in use before it was applied to breathing techniques for controlling one’s emotions in crisis conditions. Frantz Fanon coined the term, as far as I am able to determine, to describe the elevated level of frustration under which occupied peoples go through their daily lives.

In writing about Algeria in A Dying Colonialism, Fanon writes (p.65):

There is not occupation of territory, on the one hand, and independence of persons on the other. It is the country as a whole, its history, its daily pulsation that are contested, disfigured, in the hope of a final destruction. Under these conditions, the individual’s breathing is an observed, an occupied breathing. It is a combat breathing.

From this point on, the real values of the occupied quickly tend to acquire a clandestine form of existence. In the presence of the occupier, the occupied learns to dissemble, to resort to trickery.

We might do well to consider Fanon’s words in relation to the occupation of Iraq, as perceived by those who have no cause to welcome it.

*

Again I am reminded — and this is peripheral to the issue of breathing techniques in combat, but germane to that of religious sanctions for violence — of Gary North’s comment in an appendix (p. 846) to R.J. Rushdoony’s The Institutes of Biblical Law. North suggests that much of what Christ taught his disciples was intended to ease them through the Roman occupation, and would no longer have force once that occupation could be ended:

Nevertheless, this one fact should be apparent: turning the other cheek is a bribe. It is a valid form of action for only so long as the Christian is impotent politically or militarily. By turning the other cheek, the Christian provides the evil coercer with more peace and less temporal danger than he deserves. By any economic definition, such an act involves a gift: it is an extra bonus to the coercing individual that is given only in respect of his power. Remove his power, and he deserves punishment: an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth. Remove his power, and the battered Christian should either bust him in the chops or haul him before the magistrate, and possibly both.

This “dominionist” strand of contemporary Christian thinking — of which Rushdoony’s book is the theological centerpiece, and which exerts some influence on the Christian right as a whole — thus holds Christianity to be a great deal fiercer and more intransigent than a reading of the Beatitudes might lead one to believe.

I somehow don’t think

Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who insult you and persecute you

makes a whole lot of sense if you tag on the words “and keep your fingers crossed” at the end.

Grace notes / addenda

June 16, 2008

Re: Obama for Mahdi?

I’d like to acknowledge here that, as my friend Dr. Timothy Furnish pointed out to me today, he already picked up on and addressed the “Obama for Mahdi” issue in a post on his MahdiWatch blog back on April 17th:

Mahd[i] about Obama

As we’re all painfully aware of by now, some of Barack Hussein Obama’s liberal legions of supporters harbor messianic expectations about him–and I’m not referring just to journalists.  Over on the other side of the political spectrum, there are evangelical Christians who have seasoned their eschatological stew with Mahdist spices, and in fact kicked things up a notch by claiming that the Mahdi of Islam will be the Antichrist of Christianity.  It was probably inevitable that these two ideological currents would eventually flow together, as evidenced by emails to this site recently:

“Barack HUSSEIN is probably Islam’s mahdi….. 1400 year old Islamic prophecy says this mahdi will be named HUSSEIN.. I have reference for this…The masses have called b. Obama the messiah… Say he walks on water, the chosen..etc..The entire world is for Obama…looks like anti Christ to me.. And the mahdi to muslims….

This 12th imam named HUSSEIN  will promise peace, unity, brotherhood hood and the kingdom of god on earth.. OBAMA HAS PROMISED THIS TO AMERICANS… while he gives all America’s money to the u.n. And Muslim nations.. Obama plans for USA to enforce the  U.N.s law forbidding defamation against  religions.. This will stop the real truth about Islam lies and will cause persecution and death among Christians, etc… This man is not what he appears to be and America will know it soon.. Not to mention the fact Obama was a Muslim when he was 6 to 10 years old … and even took the shahada recently in the presence of a newspaperman…. Taking the shahada is the only requirement to become Muslim. And Obama knows this … He wears Muslim garb.. And..  His so called  church is pro Islamic and and anti-white, anti-American and anti-Christian..”

There you have it.  A vote for BHO is a vote for the Mahdi.  Someone alert Ahmadinezhad — and the Clinton campaign!

Re: Literal and metaphorical hijackings

I’d also like to note that a commenter on a blog I follow recently used the word “hijack” to refer to the Sojourners trend within evangelical Christianity, writing of Rev. Tony Campolo:

Exactly what was the Lord’s reaction when faced with the mixture of warm and cold with regard to the Laodicean church? It’s about time we learned what the Lord was saying and stop allowing people like Campolo and his ilk to hijack Christianity.

And if that’s not enough, there’s always…

From the publicity materials:

The newest facet in the War on Terror involves a little known Islamic messianic figure ― ”the Mahdi.” A key earmark of this mysterious religious leader is “hiding” himself away.

Osama bin Laden, hidden away somewhere, directs worldwide terrorist operations against “infidels.” He has a seemingly endless army of Islamist followers. Likewise, the Iraqi Shi’ite rebel leader Muqtada al-Sadr calls his followers the “al-Mahdi Army.”

The Twelfth Imam, the Shi’ite Mahdi, is hidden, right? He’s in what is termed ghayba, or occultation. He has been in ghayba since 864 CE, and entered what is called the greater ghayba in 940 CE, a little more than a thousand years ago. And Osama bin Laden has been hiding, too, right? And he has an army. Therefore Osama must be the Mahdi…

Or might it be Muqtada al Sadr?

It helps to know the difference between Sunni (al-Qaida and bin Laden are Sunni) and Shi’ite (the Twelfth Imam and Moqtada are Shi’ite), and between hiding out (for a few years) in the Pashtun areas astride the Pakistan-Afghan border, and going into occultation (for more than a millennium) in the ‘alam al-mithal, a world not of this world…

Obama for Mahdi?

June 15, 2008

Another diversion into the arcana of eschatology, with no particular violence implicated.

We’ve had discussions of Obama as Messiah:

Source URL here

and discussions of Obama as Antichrist:

Source URL here

That’s a nice “pair” of bookends, to be sure — but it by no means exhausts the possibilities. There are some legitimate concerns and more moderate positions that are intermediate between those two poles. And while the ones that seem perceptive to one group may seem obtuse to another, the territory they cover is worth examining through the lens of religious rhetoric.

There’s Paul Krugman in the New York Times suggesting that the Obama campaign back in February of this year seemed “dangerously close to becoming a cult of personality“(which is still quite far from a “messianic cult”). There’s Mark Morford’s recent San Francisco Chronicle article titled,perhaps by a whimsical editor, “Is Barak Obama an Enlightened being?” Morford suggests that “Barack Obama isn’t really one of us”, and indeed that “many enormously smart, wise, spiritually attuned people” have been “blown away” by Obama’s “sort of powerful luminosity, a unique high-vibration integrity” (which is coming a bit closer to the messianic cult bit).

*

What’s behind all this? There’s a para-religious phenomenon here, I’d argue, a translation of political content into religious vessels, perhaps — in a January news report in the Sacramento Bee, “one of the campaign’s key strategies” was described by an Obama team trainer as “telling potential voters personal stories of political conversion.” And that in turn reminds me of the remarkable description of working in the Obama campaign penned by Ginger Lapid-Bogda, which I received from Tom Atlee of the Co-Intelligence Institute, a slightly different version of which can be found on the rio grand-i-o blog.

I wanted to share just a little of my experience working in the Obama campaign because it very much relates to OD [organizational development]. I don’t do anything so very important, yet there is a sense in the air that everything anyone does matters and is deeply appreciated. I do phone banking and help them with provisions for the West Los Angeles office. But anything I do is met with amazing gratitude from people there, and I feel deeply grateful for being able to contribute. This is a very resonant exchange: gratitude for gratitude with absolutely no fakeness or overly-sweet quality.

It is such a bottom-up system, essentially driven by the vision of what this country can be, much more than being centered solely around Obama, although his approach is deeply shared. It is an amazing example of a vision and principle-driven self managing structure and system in which everyone does whatever is needed. And what is needed can change every hour, yet nothing feels unfocused or chaotic. It is truly a self-organizing system. The big office provides some guidelines, a few protocols, some materials, a few suggested tactics that are highly strategic, but people in this office — and it is just one of many throughout the country — just figure out what to do and then do it amazingly.

Of course, it is a thrill but only because it feels important. Everyone is a volunteer, all supplies, furniture, etc, are donated, many are exhausted, but no one gets difficult or crabby. It is amazing what a sense of purpose does.

The volunteers are as diverse a group as I’ve ever seen working together — age, race, gender, social class, profession, education. That is a lot of what makes it so thrilling. It’s like experiencing the change we’re trying to create. We’re a virtual team in which parts of it are in one another’s physical presence, others are not, and the team members change from day to day. Most of the volunteers, no matter their age, have never been involved in any campaign before so this high-performance is not based on experience.

For me, the most important principle followed is that the end does not justify the means. It is akin to a transformation from the more Machiavellian era we have been operating in for many decades to one that is working from a high level of conscious awareness. They are very process oriented and believe that if the processes used (the means) are not consistent with the ends that are desired, the ends will never materialize because they will be too compromised and tarnished by the process.

Dr. Lapid-Bogda is describing the campaign in “organizational development” terms, but what comes across to me is the sense of what Victor Turner would call communitas — an exhilarating sense that hierarchy has been dissolved and that as a result the ideal is hovering in the atmosphere, in the room, so close as to be tangible. That feeling — and it is indeed a heady one — can be found in peace marches, in communes, it was present among the early Franciscans, and with it, great things are sometimes possible.

Having a leader also helps — someone who can plausibly be portrayed with a halo in an age that wears them lightly, a charismatic personality, to borrow Max Weber’s phrase.

And Obama is nothing if not charismatic… The London Telegraph introduced him to readers who might be unfamiliar with him in January 2007 as “the charismatic senator with near rock-star status” and “the new Jack Kennedy” — and short of messiah-status, JFK is hard to beat.

Still, it is important to note that Barack Obama acknowledges and makes light of this sort of thing himself — I’m assuming he spoke with a mixture of sophistication, self-deprecation and charm when he told and audience of Ivy Leaguers:

My job this morning is to be so persuasive … that a light will shine through that window, a beam of light will come down upon you, you will experience an epiphany, and you will suddenly realize that you must go to the polls and vote for Barack.

In summarizing the above, I’d say the “Obama is Messiah” and “Obama is Antichrist” memes are almost parodistic exaggerations of an insight that does ring true of Obama — that he is a charismatic leader attracting followers through the hope of major changes in the way the world goes about its business, an almost-apocalyptic hope of better things to come.

Which is not necessarily any more apocalyptic, however, than George Bush Sr’s comments about a “New World Order” — which horrified evangelicals in its own day” — and his “thousand points of light”.

*

That might seem like quite enough — but I have saved the richest irony for last. Because out there in the same clash of rival apocalypticisms which gave us Sheikh Safar al-Hawali writing a book based on Hal Lindsey style Christian apocalyptic about the Mahdi and Joel Richardson writing a book about the Mahdi as antichrist, we now have one further level of rhetoric to contend with.

We now have to consider the implications of Obama as Mahdi –

Source URL here

This image, blending Obama’s features in along with thise of Osama, is intriguing and, I suggest, more than a little confused.

The Twelfth Imam is one of the specifically (“Twelver”) Shi’ites’ titles for the Mahdi, the messianic figure in much of Islam – identifying him with Abu’l-Kasim Muhammad, born 860 CE, the twelfth in the line of Shi’ite Imams, who is supposed to have gone into “occultation” while young, and whose re-appearance is widely expected and indeed longed for, eg by President Ahmadinejad of Iran.

Osama bin Laden, on the other hand, like his erstwhile mentor Sheikh al-Hawali, would reject out of hand any Shi’ite Mahdist claimant to the role of Mahdi…

And so it goes.

Child soldiers, “brown-brown”, and intensity in combat

June 14, 2008

As the association of the word “assassin” with both the Ismaili sect of Islam and the word “hashishin” suggests, intoxicants and religion are not necessarily foreign to one another… nor to violence… even though our “disciplined” minds might tend to sort such things separately.

With that in mind, I am permitting myself to stray a little farther that usual in this post…

*

I was intrigued to take a look at Paul Kan’s Drug Intoxicated Irregular Fighters: Complications, Dangers and Responses today. It’s an important and easily overlooked issue he’s raising, but I want to zero in on one point.

In his paper, Kan mentions “white powder” in connection with a child soldier’s statement on p.13:

Before battles, I was given white powder which was mixed with rice. It made me brave; it made me think I could do anything.

Kan doesn’t mention what the white powder was at that point, but he’d earlier mentioned the use of “brown-brown” on p.9 in connection with RUF forces in Sierra Leone — simply noting in parenthesis “(heroin)”.

I don’t believe “brown-brown” does in fact refer to heroin. In his testimony before the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Human Rights and the Law Hearing on “Casualties of War: Child Soldiers and the Law,” April 24, 2007, Ishmael Beah, the author of “A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier”, stated:

Our commanders gave us drugs – marijuana, cocaine, and Brown Brown: a concoction of cocaine and gunpowder — before battles to anaesthetize us to what we had to do.

In an interview with UN Radio, Beah told Derrick Mbatha:

You mix cocaine with gun powder. When you sniff it at first it hurts inside of our nose but as time goes on you get used to it. But the potency is greater than just cocaine itself. And these things altogether numb you to everything. You have no have no sympathy. You actually begin to enjoy what was happening once you are in.

That’s a discrepancy worth clearing up.

[It is perhaps worth noting here that the RUF which Kan mentions in connection with brown-brown are the very forces which had killed Beah's parents and against which he himself was fighting.]

*

That said, I welcome Kan’s paper, believing that intensity in mind-and-heart is a key element in the understanding of conflict — and hence of conflict-resolution.

I am, however, left wondering whether the “greater potency” which Beah claims for cocaine mixed with gunpowder is pharmacological in nature, or primarily the result of magical thinking — such that the ingestion of gunpowder confers “explosive” power in the same way that in some cultures, eating the flesh of a brave enemy (or ancestor) imbues a warrior with their courage.

We are close to the issues of ritual and sacrament here, and the territories of the cultural anthropologist and depth psychologist, as well as the student of comparative religion.

And paradoxical though it might seem, I take “you have no sympathy” to be a deeply religious statement.
___

A tip of the hat to Zenpundit, whose blogpost Addicted to War: Armed to the Teeth and High as a Kite alerted me to Kan’s paper.

Literal and metaphorical hijackings

June 11, 2008

We have just been discussing some recent uses of the word “hijack” in a religious studies listserv I’m on, and this is an extended version of a post I made there today.

*

There seem to be several usages and issues here that need to be considered separately.

The word itself as applied metaphorically to contemporary, violent Islam may have been “close to the tip of the tongue” because its literal referent was in fact the method used in 9/11, viz the hijacking of commercial aircraft.

Rudi Giuliani implied as much when he said at the Republican Convention:

We stood face to face with those people and forces who hijacked not just airplanes but a religion and turned it into a creed of terrorism dedicated to eradicating us and our way of life.

quoted by Robert Spencer, Rudy Giuliani and the ‘hijacking’ of Islam, WorldNetDaily, September 02, 2004.

The “central” use is that in which alQ or the wider jihadist movement is described as “hijacking” Islam.

This motif of “hijacked Islam” is frequently used, it appears to myself and others, to suggest that “real Islam” isn’t “like that” — when from shortly after the Hijra, it has in fact included fighting (Badr, eg), as prescribed in the Qur’an. Indeed, both Yusuf Ali and Shakir translate Anfal 8.2 to indicate that God inspired angels fighting alongside Islamic forces by saying he would put “terror” (Pickthall has “fear”) into their enemies’ hearts — in retrospect, an interesting choice of words.

Qur’an, Anfal 8.12:

I will instil terror into the hearts of the Unbelievers…” (Yusuf Ali )
I will throw fear into the hearts of those who disbelieve. (Pickthall)
I will cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieve. (Shakir)

That usage to describe jihadists as “hijacking Islam” does seem to make an assumption about what Islam is or should be, and whereas Muslims of various persuasions may find it fits their narratives, it seems a somewhat presumptuous and possibly misleading usage when somewhat casually uttered by non-Muslims as a catch-phrase.

Then there’s the (more accurate, I suspect) usage with which the BBC reports that “Extremists ‘hijack Islam’s image’” — emphasis here on the image:

The West’s image of Islam has been hijacked by extremists, delegates at the recent News Xchange broadcasting conference in Amsterdam heard.

Peter Feuilherade, Extremists ‘hijack Islam’s image’, BBC Monitoring, in Amsterdam, 15 November 2005

The term can also be used to refer to specific doctrines, such as suicide bombing — as in the case of the Ihsanic Intelligence monograph, The Hijacked Caravan: Refuting Suicide Bombings as Martyrdom Operations in Contemporary Jihad Strategy, which notes, relevantly:

… prior to 1989, the issue of suicide bombing was never debated amongst Sunni scholars due to the absolute illegitimacy of the acts …

Ihsanic Intelligence, The Hijacked Caravan, (July?) 2005

It seems to me that the issue of which specific doctrines are “mainstream”, which “arguable” and which “illegitimate” — from a variety of perspectives — is a topic we should be monitoring, along with the more general issue of the hijacking of Islam as a faith.

And speaking of faith, I also think it’s worth noting that Barack Obama has used the word in yet another and wider context. At the 50th UCC General Synod, as reported by Laurie Goodstein in the NYT,

Mr. Obama used his 45-minute speech to recall the church’s and many others’ proud history of involvement in the American Revolution and the abolition and civil rights movements. “But somehow, somewhere along the way, faith stopped being used to bring us together,” Mr. Obama said. “Faith started being used to drive us apart. Faith got hijacked.”

Laurie Goodstein, Faith Has Role in Politics, Obama Tells Church, New York Times, June 24, 2007
Senator Obama’s UCC General Synod speech

*

Each of us may “red flag” certain words that alert us to potential quibbles and hidden meanings. The DOD, for instance, recently flagged “jihad” and “jihadist”:

In dealing with Islamic extremists, the West may be giving them the advantage due to cultural ignorance, maintain Dr. Douglas E. Streusand and Army Lt. Col. Harry D. Tunnell IV. The men work at the National Defense University at Fort Lesley J. McNair in Washington, D.C.

The two believe the right words can help fight the global war on terror. “American leaders misuse language to such a degree that they unintentionally wind up promoting the ideology of the groups the United States is fighting,” the men wrote in an article titled “Choosing Words Carefully: Language to Help Fight Islamic Terrorism.”

A case in point is the term “jihadist.” Many leaders use the term jihadist or jihadi as a synonym for Islamic extremist. Jihad has been commonly adapted in English as meaning “holy war.” But to Muslims it means much more. In their article, Steusand and Tunnell said in Arabic – the language of the Koran – jihad “literally means striving and generally occurs as part of the expression ‘jihad fi sabil illah,’ striving in the path of God.”

This is a good thing for all Muslims. “Calling our enemies jihadis and their movement a global jihad thus indicates that we recognize their doctrines and actions as being in the path of God and, for Muslims, legitimate,” they wrote. By countering jihadis, the West and moderate Muslims are enemies of true Islam.

Jim Garamone, Loosely Interpreted Arabic Terms Can Promote Enemy Ideology, American Forces Press Service, June 22, 2006

I see the idea here, but don’t subscribe to it because terms of opprobrium are so often appropriated by groups under attack — Quaker, Shaker, Unitarian, Yankee, Tory, Whig and Queer being examples. In this case, the suggested alternative to “jihad”, “irhab” (unholy war, terrorism) has already been appropriated in this way by Younes Tsouli, the online jihadist / irhabist whose net nics included Irhabi007 — with a tip of the hat to Bond, James Bond, shaken not stirred.

So I don’t put much stock in outsiders triumphantly meddling with the way languages they don’t speak are used.

But “hijack” — that’s an American word, and this Limey feels close enough to the Cousins in spirit to red flag it, in non-literal use in discussing terrorism and Islam, as a word worth surveilling — erm, watching.

Osama against fanaticism

June 4, 2008

From MEMRI:

Statements made by bin Laden in an October 2007 audio recording provide further evidence that the notion of infallibility has taken root among the jihadis. Bin Laden condemns this new trend, saying:

I [address] the jihad fighters [in Iraq] in order to oppose the growing [tendency] that has appeared among them, [namely the tendency] to assign great weight to the orders of the group and its commanders, to the extent that some of them have come to regard these orders as [representing absolute] truth. In practice, they regard [these orders] as infallible, even though they believe, in theory, that infallibility is a virtue that only Allah’s Messenger possesses. A person [who holds such a view] becomes a fanatical [follower] of his group and its commanders, instead of obeying a Koranic verse or a hadith from the Sunna of Allah’s Messenger.

http://memri.org/ftp/publicdocs/InfalliableJihadists_final.pdf, p. 9.

*

Note that this is in effect a call for religious obedience, which is promoted as more significant than [military] obedience to the orders of a superior officer.

Theocratic command and control.

Eldorado looking more like Waco by the day

April 17, 2008

I hadn’t seen these photos — the ones I had seen showed ladies in long dresses and their young children being shepherded into school buses…

These photos, obtained by The Associated Press from church attorney Rod Parker of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, were purportedly taken Thursday, April 3, by an unidentified member of the FDLS and released Tuesday, and show an armored personnel carrier on property neighboring the Yearning For Zion ranch near Eldorado, Texas. Photos of the state raid on a West Texas polygamist sect show law enforcement officers, looking for a teenage girl and evidence of sexual abuse, came prepared for an armed confrontation.

(Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints/AP Photo)

This really does begin to look uncomfortably like Waco, eh?

Meanwhile, the Russians have sent a priest familiar with the Book of Revelation to speak with the Orthodox group awaiting the Last Day in a cave…


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.