Monday, August 29, 2016

A Time for Reflection

A Mighty Pig Thinker

My family and I took a small trip out of The City this weekend to The Place of The Very Wise Pig, where I received advice direct from the horse's mouth, so to speak, as you can see in the above photo, in which The Very Wise Pig strikes an incontrovertibly Rodinesque pose for the camera, or thinks he does, this pig, the thinker . . .

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Sunday, August 28, 2016

Peachy Keen Analysis and Brew!

Forbidden Peach

Some readers may recall that Salwa Khoddam and I co-wrote an article titled "The Peach in Milton's 'Paradise Lost,' Marvell's 'Garden,' and Eliot's 'Prufrock'" in which we argue the following:
The article investigates the peach as symbol of the forbidden fruit in Milton's "Paradise Lost," Marvell's "Garden," and Eliot's "Prufrock." Milton focuses on the fruit's appearance as "downy," Marvell refers to the peach as "curious," and Eliot worries that to "dare" to eat a peach could disturb the universe. Milton's choice of "downy" fits the peach better than what we would now call an apple. Marvell's choice of "curious" fits the Christian world's long-held belief that curiosity was the vice that led Eve to try the forbidden fruit. Eliot's choice of "dare" fits Eve's having "dar'd" to eat the forbidden fruit in "Paradise Lost," for daring to eat the fruit can disturb the universe, as, for example, Eve's eating did. These three points are supported by context, analysis, explication, connections, etymology, and more. Noted in passing are a few brief references in art and literature to the peach as the forbidden fruit, and these are treated merely to show that such identification is not unheard of. More important are the connections drawn between the fruit in the three poems, for such connections are the focus of this paper.
I'd like to think that this article written by Salwa and me influenced Red Rock's decision to brew a peach-flavored ale, but the article probably had nothing to do with that.

Anyway, for those interested in the work of the spirit, here's a brief description of the "Forbidden Peach" brewing process, along with a few ratings . . .

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Saturday, August 27, 2016

Daniel Pipes: "Ban the Burqa, Allow the Burkini"


Writing for the Philadelphia Inquirer (August 23, 2016), Daniel Pipes advises, "Ban the Burqa, Allow the Burkini," and he starts with a remark that I myself might have written:
France has been seized by a silly hysteria over the burkini, prompting me to wonder when Europeans will get serious about their Islamist challenge.
Pipes is right - this burkini phobia is serious silliness. Here's why he's right:
This development[,namely, banning the burkini,] astonishes me, someone who has argued that the burqa (and the niqab, a similar article of clothing that leaves a slit for the eyes) needs to be banned from public places on security grounds. Those formless garments not only hide the face, permitting criminals and jihadis to hide themselves but they permit the wearer to hide, say, an assault rifle without anyone knowing. Men as well as women use burqas as accessories to criminal and jihadi purposes. Indeed, I have collected some 150 anecdotes of bank robberies, abductions, murders, and jihadi attacks since 2002; Philadelphia has become the Western capital of burqas and niqabs as criminal accessories, with at least 34 incidents in 9 years.

In contrast, the burkini poses no danger to public security. Unlike the burqa or niqab, it leaves the face uncovered; relatively tight-fitting, it leaves no place to hide weapons. Men cannot wear it as a disguise. Further, while there are legitimate arguments about the hygiene of large garments in pools (prompting some hotels in Morocco to ban the garment), this is obviously not an issue on the coastal beaches of France.

Accordingly, beach burkinis should be allowed without restriction . . . . So, my advice: focus on these real problems and let Muslims wear what they wish to the beach.
Pipes is clearly right. This focus on the burkini is a distraction. The burkini is not a secuity risk. Banning it will only bring ridicule upon France and weaken attempts to ban the burqa and niqab, both of which are security risks. Focus on the real threats!

UPDATE: Burkini ban overturned by France's highest court!

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Friday, August 26, 2016

Isis will fall in Mosul . . .

Seth J. Frantzman with Peshmerga
Frantzman Website

Seth J. Frantzman, writing for The Spectator (August 27, 2016), informs us that "Isis will fall in Mosul," and asks, "But what happens then?" before offering a hint, namely, that "Inside the coalition against Islamic State, a quieter battle is being waged for the fate of northern Iraq." But let's see why Frantzman thinks ISIS is on its last legs in Mosul:
At night, the temperature around the Islamic State-held city of Mosul drops to around 80°F. At the Bashiqa front line, 15 miles northeast of the city, it would feel pleasant and almost calm, were it not for the steady sound of exploding shells. Most of life is tea and cigarettes . . . 'It's so peaceful you can't imagine what's happening - it's surreal,' says Allan Duncan, a former soldier with the Royal Irish Regiment who volunteered to join the Kurdish peshmerga here two years ago in order to fight Isis. 'You almost forget that things are so close to the end. 'Soon, the waiting - amid an abiding fear of attacks with suicide trucks, armoured like something out of Mad Max - will be over. The final assault on Mosul[,] . . . taken by Islamic State two years ago, is expected to end Isis's control of significant [Iraqi territory]. Isis certainly seems to sense that the endgame has begun, and is responding with its customary brutality. It has been killing deserters, and relying on ever-younger recruits. Last month a massive car bomb killed 323 in a Shia district of Baghdad during Ramadan . . . . [But] Bahram Yassin, the peshmerga commanding officer, oversees 7,000 men along 30 miles of front line, and seems eager to move. It's thought that Islamic State leaders are already fleeing the city for Syria. 'People are deserting Isis now - their morale is very low and we are ready to attack them,' he says. 'We now know that they have no advanced weapons' . . . . For two years now Isis has run [Mosul,] this once rich and powerful city and the diverse areas around it, destroying its museums and expelling minorities. From the sandbagged positions overlooking Bashiqa, you can see the city lights glowing in the distance. Life seems to go on. Iraqi flags are said to be flying in some neighbourhoods; it's rumoured that locals are set to rise up against Isis.
I can imagine that most of those under the rule of ISIS find little reason to regret its passing. The Sunnis may have been privileged, compared to other groups, but that advantage was merely the privilege of the most privileged in a prison.

With the loss of territory, eventually all of its territory, ISIS will devolve into yet another of Islamism's many terrorist groups - let's call them "terrorists without territory" (TWTs, pronounced "twits") - so we will not have heard the last of them.

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Thursday, August 25, 2016

Jihadists motivated by religion!

ISIS Jihadists
Google Images

John Geddes, writing for the Canadian magazine Macleans (August 15, 2016), asks "What motivates a Canadian jihadist?" and finds that "A study stresses real religious zeal, not loners seeking a way out":
A new study based on interviews conducted over social media with foreign fighters in Iraq and Syria raises doubts about the commonly held notion that young men in North America and Europe who are drawn to violent Islamic extremism must be marginalized loners . . . . Three university researchers who contacted dozens of jihadists from abroad in Iraq and Syria, including some Canadians, say they seemed to be drawn mainly by the religious ideas . . . behind jihadism. Rather than being isolated individuals who self-radicalized in front of their computer screens, the report says they usually found mentors . . . . In the working paper entitled Talking to Foreign Fighters: Socio-Economic Push versus Existential Pull Factors, the researchers caution against assuming that radical Islam appeals only young men on the edges of society . . . . They suggest previous academic studies have put too much weight on those "push" factors - the problems and frustrations in the lives of young men who turn to extremist Islam . . . . "Based on what we are hearing in interviews with foreign fighters . . . we think more attention and significance should be given to the repeated affirmations of the positive benefits of being jihadists" . . . . In the working paper, they write that the foreign fighters they contacted "run the gamut from troubled youth with personal problems to accomplished young men and women from stable backgrounds" . . . . [T]he paper points to the importance of influential radical voices who carry some form of religious authority . . . . The report repeatedly stresses the finding that, based on what fighters themselves say, they are "pulled" to Iraq and Syria by religious ideas, rather than being "pushed" by the realities of their lives in the West . . . . [T]he researchers conclude, "we think their religiosity is pivotal to understanding their motivations."
More research that takes religious motivation seriously needs to be done. The converts among the foreign fighters for ISIS might know little about Islam, but they are radicalized by religious leaders who do know their religion very well.

For those readers interested in more than the excerpts above, see the article.

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Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Nigerian Romance Literature Revisited

Mugun Zama!
by
Anty Bilkisu Funtua
Photo from BBC

My recent post on "Subversive Literature in Nigeria - Romance Novels vs. Islamism" keeps getting page views. I'm no power blogger, so the numbers aren't overwhelming, but they are of interest to me because that post is one of my most popular.

I therefore post this revisit today to see if it will be equally popular.

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Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Partial Preface to Poems


I mentioned - if memory fail me not - that I'm putting my poems together for publication. Well, my old friend Natalie Macris agreed to supply a preface, and here are some excerpts from what she wrote:
Years ago, my friend Jeff told me he had started to write some poetry. He remembers showing me a few lines and me teasing him about writing "dirty poems," but I recall being more encouraging. We were in our twenties, students at Berkeley - why not dabble in poetry? . . . Not long after that first mention of his poems, Jeff read some of them to me. I don't know much about poetry, I thought, but these seem very good . . . . In what seemed like just a matter of months, Jeff won the university's Roselyn Schneider Eisner Prize in Poetry, and I was watching my friend standing on a stage under a spotlight, reading his work to an auditorium full of people.
Yeah, that's more or less how it happened. When I get the collection arranged and formatted, I'll post the full preface.

Meanwhile, I do have a novella you can read . . .

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Monday, August 22, 2016

Justin Schmidt: I hurt myself today . . .

Justin Schmidt with Tarantula Hawk
Google Images

I recently read an article by Avi Steinberg on "The Connoisseur of Pain" (NYT, August 20-21, 2016), a title given to entomologist Justin Schmidt, for having gotten stung so many times in his work on Hymenoptera, for constructing a Pain Scale for Stinging Insects, and for talking about the pain so much, I expect:
Within minutes of our first meeting, and more or less in response to my saying good morning, Justin Schmidt began lamenting our culture's lack of insect-based rites of passage. He told me about the Sateré-Mawé people in northwestern Brazil, who hold a ceremony in which young men slip their hands into large mitts filled with bullet ants, whose stings are so agonizing they can cause temporary paralysis; when initiates pass the test, they're one step closer to becoming full members of society.

Schmidt believes we could learn something from this. By trade, he is an entomologist, an expert on the Hymenoptera order - wasps, bees and ants - but his interest in this insect ritual was not merely academic. He has two teenage boys, and, on this particular morning at least, I found him wondering whether they might benefit from a pain ritual to help introduce them to adulthood.

"I mean, it wouldn't kill them," Schmidt said. "And I think that may be the key to the whole thing: It can't kill you and yet something very real is happening."
Something very real? That sounds much like the song "Hurt" by Nine Inch Nails:
I hurt myself today
To see if I still feel
I focus on the pain
The only thing that's real
The needle tears a hole
The old familiar sting
Try to kill it all away
But I remember everything
If you care to hear the song, click here, or the cover by Johnny Cash, which is better. Anyway, I would advise against that stinging sort of initiation - it'd get you charged with child abuse! But the main point is true. More than anything else, pain teaches us what is real, and even - if we believe Dylan - what is beautiful: "Behind every beautiful thing, there's been some kind of pain." By the way, the rest of Steinberg's article on Schmidt and his work is well worth reading.

Entomology, incidentally, was my 4-H project way back when I was a teenager, and I did get stung in that pursuit . . .

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Sunday, August 21, 2016

Muslim Cleric Issam Amira Insists that Islam is Rightfully Mighty Intolerant

Mighty Intolerant
Memri

In a Memri Report for June 18, 2016 (Clip No. 5626, [Transcript]), we learn that the Palestinian Cleric Issam Amira, speaking at Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa Mosque, insists that "Islamic Strategy Dictates Hostility towards Infidels, [and that] Tolerance Is Un-Islamic":
"[F]riendship [with] and tolerance toward infidels are unacceptable"[, and] "the strategy in Islam is hostility toward non-Muslims . . . . The notion [of tolerance] is very dangerous . . . . What kind of tolerance is possible with these [unbelieving] people? There is only one kind of punishment for those [unbelieving] people: to stop them, to wreak vengeance upon them, and to teach them a lesson. This is not achieved through tolerance, negotiations, or kindness. It is achieved only though might . . . . [This word] means forcefulness, ruthlessness, and hostility . . . . [As for the] young men [who] want to wage Jihad. Do you think you're doing them a favor by preventing them from reaching Paradise, and by keeping them here, where they live as half-men? There should be hostility toward infidels . . . . [Y]ou should be hostile toward them. The strategy in Islam is hostility toward non-Muslims."
This is certainly Islamist rhetoric, full of hostility toward all non-Muslims - not just Western infidels, rather ALL non-Muslims - but it's also, unfortunately, not far from mainstream discourse in too much of the Arab Muslim world these days.

Memri, by the way, is an excellent resource for those of us who don't know the languages, so if you're one of us ignoramuses, then go here and get yourself subscribed.

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Saturday, August 20, 2016

When Domestic Political Rhetoric Harms Foreign Policy Objectives

Obama and Hillary Founded ISIS!
MEMRI TV Clip No. 5623

Anyone who keeps up with what goes for political analysis in the Middle East knows that the discourse is full of conspiracy theories shaped to explain how the US is at fault for everything wrong with the Muslim Arab world.

One particularly egregious, widespread conspiracy theory in the Middle East is that the US founded the Islamic State.

This is false, of course, but when a candidate in this year's election makes the same claim,and even doubles down on the claim (before watering the claim down a week later), the conspiracy theorists in the Middle East feel themselves powerfully confirmed in their belief that the primary intention of the US in the Middle East is to sow discord and reap the destruction of Arab societies.

For more on this MEMRI report, see this video and its transcript.

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