Thursday, February 28, 2013

Terrance Lindall on "Satan's Peculiar Grace"

Terrance Lindall
WAH Center

A couple of weeks ago, Bienvenido Bones Banez gave an extemporaneous piano recital, "The Satanic Rhapsody," followed by Terrance Lindall expounding, also extemporaneously, on the "peculiar graces" of Satan in extrapolating from Bien's now-famous dictum, that "Satan gives color to the world!"

Bien's statement sounds rather disturbing, initially, but Lindall sets it within the context of the quasi-orthodox position known as the felix culpa, or "fortunate fall." The basic idea is that without Satan's role in bringing about the fall, Christ would never have taken on flesh to take on humankind's sins, but in order for Satan to 'cooperate' with God's aims -- whatever Satan's intentions -- Satan has to be graced by God with certain gifts, Satan's peculiar graces.

Lindall opens with a gambit that plays on Steve Fallon's views about John Milton's peculiar grace, and since the video was finally put up on YouTube, I took the time to transcribe Lindall's extemporaneous talk:
Milton's peculiar grace was the fact that he always wrote about himself so much, and of course he was the great inspiration for truth. He said truth on any battlefield against any foe will prevail.

Now, when Bien came here a few years ago, he inspired me with a saying of his. He said, "Satan gives color to the world." Well, what does that mean exactly? It means that all of the strife and everything in the world inspires poets, writers, artists. If you go to a museum, you'll see a lot of that. If you read a book, books from the sixteenth-century on, it's all about conflict and war, love and hatred, and all these things, competition -- well, that's Satan-inspired.

Can you imagine if this were God's perfect world, if you had everything you wanted, good food, place to rest, no problems, no pain, live forever? You could live as vegetables! Imagine that! So, Satan's peculiar grace is that he has given you something to aspire to, to compete with. He's the adrenaline rush in your blood, and he also gives you great literature talking about the struggles you have, and so that is Satan's peculiar grace. It's a grace given to you by Satan.

Also, something else in the history of religious philosophy, there was something called the "fortunate fall." Does anybody know what the fortunate fall is? Ah (pointing to man in audience), here's one scholar. The fortunate fall is . . . because man has fallen, we have been given the grace of Christ being born into the world, and Christ, of course, is sacrificing himself for your good, supposedly. He has taken all your sins upon him[self], that you might be redeemed. That's the fortunate fall of man, the fortunate fall of Adam and Eve from the garden. They had to be redeemed, and Christ did that. That's the fortunate fall.

So, just recently, I came up with a hair-raising idea. Well, every year at Christmas -- and I know some of you aren't Christians -- but every year at Christmas, we should thank Satan because Satan has caused Christ to be born into the world, so let's thank Satan as well as God for giving us Christ.

Of course, I got a letter from a professor in South Korea who said, "Why, that's hair-raising, that's nearly heretical!" And of course, it's not. And I'll tell you why. Everybody should be thinking about ideas and things. If you're Jewish or Catholic or Muslim or whatever, you should actually be thinking about your religion, not just following it, because I do believe that knowledge, supposedly given to man when Adam and Eve bit into the apple, is a good thing, and I also believe . . . I also believe that, ultimately, knowledge is the savior of mankind, whether you believe in a mythology of religion or whether you believe that religion is exactly the truth of the world, I believe man will be redeemed through knowledge.

And it's coming to understand yourself. Accommodate yourself to the world. Accommodate yourself peaceably with other men. And that's our struggle right now, accommodating ourselves with the different cultures around the world, the different religions, accommodating ourselves to build a better world. And that's what Yuko's idea is all about: Peace, Harmony, and Unity. And that's her idea. It comes from a Japanese concept, of wah, which is what WAH means, WAH Center.

And we created recently the Williamsburg Circle of International Arts and Letters, which is a very intellectual organization. We have people on it like Arthur Danto, the famous art critic, probably the most outstanding art critic or commentator of the twentieth century. He's now ninety years old. We also have the former president of St. Bonaventure University, who's probably the foremost Milton scholar, apart from Steve Fallon, and he formed the largest Milton collection in the world, of which of course I'm part. But it's an outstanding scholarly group.

Bien is one of the members, and so, it's not a thing [only] about knowledge. We're pursuing knowledge, we're finding out about how literature intersects with the arts. And you can look it up on the internet.

Meanwhile, do you have any questions?
There were questions and Lindall's further extrapolations on his concept of Satan's peculiar graces, but I didn't have time or energy to transcribe those. After I first watched the video, I wrote Lindall a note:
Good talk, Terrance. Your gestures show the peculiar grace of good public speakers. I was especially impressed that you could speak well extemporaneously despite the distractions of people walking through, people talking, and infants crying.
And I asked:
Is there a transcript?
There wasn't. There is now . . .

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Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Quino's Fall from Eden


Yesterday, Dario Rivarossa posted the link to this political cartoon by Joaquín Salvador Lavado, better known as Quino, and provided the following details:
The Original Sin seen by the great Argentine comic artist Quino. From a mid-1980s book I just happened to reread.
But Dario neglected to specify the book, so I cannot provide proper and fitting attribution. I must therefore plagiarize . . . until such time as Dario posts a redeeming comment to get me off the hook. No, I'm not identifying myself with that serpent on the pole (which I assume is no visual pun on John 3:14 and Numbers 21:4-9; cf. Genesis 3:1-24) Anyway, would that Dario could likewise unhook Adam and Eve, who have gotten themselves into a tight spot, one with significant sociopolitical repercussions, I'd wager, "for the wages of sin is death"! Or so says Paul in Romans 6:23. By the way, I've never liked this verb "is" in this verse from the King James Version of the Bible, for it seems to 'sin' against grammar. Did the KJV translation committee think that "wages" is singular? Or that such wages do not apply to their grammatical sin? Or were they simply insincere? Quite a singular reading of a plural ending, in any case!

Anyway, the Adam and Eve story gets returned to again and again, subjected to hermeneutic reinterpretations, both before and after Paul, even by me here, if one is interested in finding out . . .

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Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Grand Storybook Costume Ball!

Prime Minister Preaching
Lindall Among the Wolves
A Wily Coyote!
Not Some Saint Francis the Sissy

Artist and curator Terrance Lindall, of the WAH Center, recently announced the Grand Storybook Costume Ball:
Dear Artists of the World!

Artists from across the globe will converge on Williamsburg Brooklyn in fall 2014 for the World Art Book Exhibition!

Be One!!!

Opening with a grand storybook costume ball! Dress up as your favorite storybook character!
Imagine the fun! Show up with your main squeeze as famous literary couples: Paris and Helen, Romeo and Juliet, Darcy and Elizabeth, Dorian Gray and His Spitting Image!

There's plenty of time to prepare your costume! Why, there's even time to write your own book and create a character if none of those already available are fitting to your own character!

I wish I could attend -- I'd go as the Naif from my own novella, The Bottomless Bottle of Beer . . . or I would if I were about thirty years younger . . .

Available here . . . for any readers who might wish to attend as a character from my book.

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Monday, February 25, 2013

Vasiliy Mikheyev on a "Crucial Moment" with Respect to North Korea

Drunken Clown Kim Jong-un
Patrick Chappatte
February 13, 2013

An interesting article, "If They Fire? The Nuclear Threat Emanating From North Korea Is Coming To Be Real," (Moskovskiye Novosti in Russian, 02/18/13 (translated and released 02/20/13)), has appeared in the Korea Open Source Digest, Volume VI, Issue 35, Thursday, February 21, 2013, a rather long article by Vasiliy Mikheyev, a Korea specialist and a corresponding member of the Russian Academy of Sciences, also the deputy director of the Russian Academy of Sciences World Economy and International Relations Institute, so he appears to be a knowledgeable fellow, a man worth listening to when he suggests that we have entered a crucial moment with respect to North Korea. He offers a comparison:
The problem of Pyongyang is reminiscent of the problem of a hooligan terrorizing a crowd of the intelligentsia. They try to admonish, persuade, and educate him and to resolve the problem "only diplomatically" and so forth. But all this is until the time when the hooligan inflicts real bodily harm on one of the crowd. (page 5-17)
At that timely moment, I infer, the crowd would take collective action to beat the hooligan senseless and thereby knock sense into him. What does Mikheyev suggest? Let's see:
In regard to the DPRK the "time," it would seem, has come - this is a crucial moment in the development of the DPRK's nuclear program.

The present situation is a challenge to the principal world responsible nuclear powers (Russia, the United States, China) with common interests: preventing Pyongyang becoming the possessor of nuclear weapons. The concurrence of interests permits us to pose the issue of taking advantage of the situation for a breakthrough in the development of tripartite political and military cooperation of Russia, the United States, and China. (page 5-17)
Mikheyev even considers pinpoint missile strikes by the US and implies that Russia and China might agree to such strikes. Make of this what you will. Time will tell if he is right . . .

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Sunday, February 24, 2013

Life Itself is Good Enough . . .

My No Avatar
As Unseen on MH

Over at the Marmot's Hole, the topic of foreigners teaching in Korea was broached, and a number of commentators offered their experiences, a few of these experiences sounding quite dreadful, which then became a subject for debate and name-calling, but I went ahead and offered my own experience and thoughts anyway:
I had tenure at one university here in Korea and lost it when the university reinterpreted its rules to say that no foreigner could have tenure. I learned from a couple of Korean professors there that the reinterpretation came about because the Chinese language department wanted to get rid of a tenured Chinese woman and replace her with a Korean.

I was sorry to lose tenure and its perks, but I had never taken that status there very seriously because I thought little of a tenured spot that would be awarded before a professor had been proven a scholar by publications. The irony was that by the time I left that university, I was publishing above what was expected. I actually deserved tenure at the time it was taken away.

There is obviously massive fraud in Korea's universities. No one can deny that when we've seen three education ministers in the past decade admit to plagiarizing their doctoral thesis. But the scholarly standards are rising, and I personally know several exceptional scholars here -- and I mean Koreans -- some of them brilliant, even profound.

My life here in Korea has not been easy, but life never was. I've been on my own since 18, no financial support from family because they had none to provide, and I can sincerely state that my life here has treated me better than life anywhere I've lived. I have a standard of living that satisfies me, and my academic situation is acceptable. I'll never be the great scholar I wanted to be, but that's not entirely Korea's fault; rather, it's more my own for not following an orthodox academic path in the States and not sounding politically correct enough in my opinions to be inoffensive.

I therefore make do. Teach as best I can. Publish what I can. Not expect too much. Not give up in misfortune. Stand it like a man.
As one can see, my experience was unfortunate, but not nearly so dreadful as "The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish"! Nevertheless, one commentator, who meant well and seemed to be expressing concern, asked if I could sleep easily in Korea and be at peace with myself after my experience. I replied:
At peace? Well, not entirely, but as I grow older, I see my own faults more and more clearly, and I often find myself -- rather than others -- more to blame for my lack of success. With greater humility than I used to have, I try to handle the misfortunes and challenges that come my way.

On the more positive side, I have a wonderful wife, a Korean woman I met in Germany . . . on a train. She'd been there nearly ten years, we finished our doctorates at the same time, we got married, we saw a bit more of the world, she came close to being blown up in Jerusalem, but we eventually made our home safely in Korea because we had two kids and I needed a steady job rather than a succession of postdocs.

With my wife's language skills, I've gotten involved in the world of translating and have had the privilege of meeting Park Wan-suh and Ch'oe Yun, among others. My own writing has improved through this translation work, and I've recently written and published a novella, to no great acclaim, but such such is life. Those interested in a peek can preview it here. I'll keep trying.

And Korea is improving. I can now find good coffee, good wine . . . even good beer. Also a variety of food. Plus, there's still a lot to experience in this strange country.

Coming originally from the Arkansas Ozarks, where I did my business in an outhouse till I was five or six, slept above a dirt floor in a basement till I was about ten, and did rural-type manual jobs till I left for university at eighteen, I know that life can be a lot worse, so I can live with the way things are, and the way things are tending, here in Korea . . .
By "worse," I meant harder and poorer, not worse as a more general characterization of Ozark life, for there are many good things about growing up in the Ozarks. At any rate, the commentator then observed that I sounded a bit saddened by my Korea experience. I thought not, and reminded:
Don't miss the optimistic note in "the way things are tending" . . . but I understand your point, and I admit to lowered expectations about my career.

I do, however, expect to leave a handful of good stories behind . . . though if certain calculations concerning the Higgs Boson are correct, the universe will someday self-destruct by giving birth to a new universe, implying that any stories I write will be lost forever.

Now, that's utter hopelessness . . .
I intended that as humor, of course, just in case someone were to take me too much in earnest. I mean, our universe dies giving birth to a new one, and there's something grand about that, something higher than a shivering "heat death" or a miserly implosion.

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Saturday, February 23, 2013

Qur'an: Subject to Reason?

Only yesterday, I posted on static texts in changing times, and afterwards found this article, "Liberal Iraqi Shi'ite Scholar Sayyed Ahmed Al-Qabbanji Calls For Reason In Islam," by Yotam Feldner for Memri (Inquiry and Analysis Series Report No. 937, February 21, 2013), which says the following on the views of the liberal scholar mentioned in the title:
Al-Qabbanji's take on the Islamic religion is entirely unorthodox. In his lectures, he methodically deconstructs the Islamic perceptions of Allah, the Prophet Muhammad, the Koran, the shari'a, and all the taboos of conventional Islam. His underlying assumption is that nothing in religion can be true -- not even the Koran -- if it does not pass the litmus test of reason.

In a lecture on "Rationality in Jurisprudence," Al-Qabbanji explained the difference between his own perception of the shari'a and that of conventional Islamists. He broke down the conventional perception of the shari'a into the following five principles: The shari'a: 1) is eternal; 2) is total; 3) is beneficial; 4) is uninferable; and 5) trumps reason.
According to Al-Qabbanji, the Islamists, especially the Wahhabis, hold to these five points and maintain that:
Whenever contradiction arises, the shari'a takes precedence over reason. Al-Qabbanji explained that the Wahhabis openly adhere to this fifth principle, which is conceptualized in Ibn Taymiyyah's book The Rejection of the Conflict between Reason and the Revelation.
Al-Qabbanji argues for the precedence of reason, which demonstrates that some parts of the Qur'an are outdated:
The mere suggestion that anything in the Koran is a thing of the past defies the conventional Islamic belief that views the Koran as the literal word of God, as revealed to the illiterate Prophet Muhammad. But Al-Qabbanji rejects the concept of the Koran as the word of Allah, saying instead that it is full of untruths, contradiction, superstition, and immoral behavior. When the Koran was formed, he says, "there was not a single iota of falsehood in it. It was all true." Today, however, it must be accepted that the Koran rulings were appropriate [only] for their time. The treatment of women, justification of slavery, and jizya poll tax for Christians and Jews are frequently cited by Al-Qabbanji as examples of how the Koran's rulings were in keeping with what was deemed just and reasonable at the time, but which today are considered unjust, irrational, and immoral.
As one might expect, Al-Qabbanji has been arrested for his intriguing attempt to bring Islam into the modern world. Click on the link and read the entire article by Yotam Feldner, who has written this report as a preliminary draft of a chapter for an upcoming book on liberal Arab scholars.

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Friday, February 22, 2013

Lee Jae-min on Textual Interpretation

Professor Lee Jae-min, of Hanyang University's School of Law, writes regularly for the Korea Herald, and his recent article, "Evolutionary text interpretation" (February 20, 2013), proved very interesting for me, though he was mainly referring to legal texts, which is not my expertise:
Once codified, texts are set in stone, but the world we live in continues to change. A critical question then is, should words in these texts be understood as they were agreed upon at the time of the signing or as they are accepted at present?
He offers a contemporary example:
Suppose legislation, enacted in 1990, contains the term "cellphone." Does it mean a cellphone that we knew as of 1990, a brick-sized portable phone, and its future extensions? Or should the term also cover the new electronic products, sporting "all-in-one" digital capabilities, that we carry in our pockets and bags in 2013? This question relates to what is called "evolutionary interpretation" or "dynamic interpretation" of texts, and poses a new challenge.
I was familiar with the concept, of course, but Professor Lee expresses himself exceptionally clearly, as below, where he considers one solution:
This phenomenon is almost inevitable. Even after the words are inscribed on pages and in texts, the world where they apply continues to change. So, a gap is always there. The trouble is, the pace of change continues to quicken -- sometimes to an astonishing degree in a very short time, which means the gap becomes wider and deeper. An amendment is always a possibility, but frequent amendment is neither easy nor feasible, particularly so when the text is a grand document such as a constitution or an important treaty.
Imagine how this applies to religious texts in our rapidly changing world. One can't generally even amend them. One is left with reinterpretation. But even that takes time and seriousness of mind. Meanwhile, the world moves on. I've noticed that the recent polls in America show a decline in religion. Are Americans headed down the European path? Is the reason a fast pace of change that makes religious texts seem ever less relevant?

And are Islamism's suicide bombers the death of Islam writ small as Muslims fail to reconcile Islam with a rapidly changing world?

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Thursday, February 21, 2013

Dario Rivarossa: "BBB: Tell me narwhy"

Dario Rivarossa

I'm still reposting Dario's idiosyncratic series of artworks based on my story, and here below, Dario quotes a line:
I suddenly recalled Azazello's tooth and shivered. But I didn't think he was a vampire.

- Horace Jeffery Hodges, "The Bottomless Bottle of Beer," in Emanations: Second Sight, page 125
I agree. No vampire ever looked like that! But Azazello actually looked something like a vampire, as you can see from Terrance Lindall's rendition in the story's novella format here.

And order here.

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Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Dario Rivarossa: "Beerie Tales"

Dario Rivarossa

Here's yet another image by Dario Rivarossa that regular readers have seen before, and he quotes my story:
[Wife:] "Show me the label. . . . Shoggoth's Old Peculiar. . . . It's Irish. See the leprechauns!"

[Husband:] "Leprechauns? . . . Aren't those horns and hooves? These aren't leprechauns. They're satyrs."

- Horace Jeffery Hodges, "The Bottomless Bottle of Beer," in Emanations: Second Sight, pages 120-121
Dario quotes from the short story version, but the novella version doesn't differ on the details given above. If these exciting lines prick your curiosity, tickle your fancy, and stimulate your desire for great literature, you can still settle for less by accessing this "explosion in a cesspool" in its novella version for a preview here.

To purchase, go here.

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Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Unexpected Encounter at Hilltop: 'Hershel' and Tim

Brother Tim and Brother Shan
In Brother John's Home

My old buddy 'Hershel' (not his real given name) "Duck-and-Cover" (his 'real' surname), from back in the Ozarks, though a year ahead of me in school (and light-years in experience), ran into my brother Tim in a 'most-unexpected' place, an infamous shop just across the Arkansas-Misery state line, or as 'Hershel' tells it:
Took the poor feller some few seconds to recognize who was sayin', "Hey guy, how in the heck are ya doing?" Don't rightly know, he mighta been trying to stay undercover as he sneakily retrieved a 12-pack of Budweiser from the cooler. Wasn't gonna work though, he was clearly and transparently a Hodges. Besides, Hilltop is now in the ownership of Bruce Barker and even had it not been me recognized Tim, Bruce surely woulda.

It was good to chat with him -- I got him laughing after he said, "I heard you were living down in Calico Rock, or somewheres in Izard County." I explained how it'd been suggested to me I change my county of residence. Even without embellishments my little tale of woe had Tim and the entire sales-staff in stitches. Then I discovered Dwayne Bishop was standing behind me when he asked (too loudly in my opinion) "Was that what they were talking about on the radio when they said you'd set off an explosion in Melbourne?"

If the radio station had recently announced a Salem Schools Reunion at the liquor store, I missed that. Or maybe my internal biological clock has gotten me attuned to run out of beer at the same time everybody else from Salem runs out of beer too.
For those readers unaware, note that my hometown -- Salem, Arkansas -- lies in Fulton County, just north of the Izard County mentioned by 'Hershel,' and is a dry county, thus explaining why various denizens of Salem happened to show up simultaneously at the Missouri line liquor store, though if they bought anything (and it ain't clear they did), they surely consumed the beverages in Missouri (and slept them off there) or paid their taxes due before bringing the beverages across the state line. Though I think my brother would deserve to be fined anyway for bringing Budweiser into Arkansas!

At any rate, Bruce Barker would have made sure that everybody remain otherwise law-abiding, for that quality runs in his family, his Uncle Roy Lee having formerly served as sheriff of Fulton County (as I experienced once when caught in a gray area of the law). The other fellow mentioned, Dwayne Bishop, was a few years my junior, but if I recall, he was a big strong fellow and a friend of Brother Shan (see photo).

As for 'Hershel' . . . the 'explosion' consisted merely of fireworks (if a powerful sort) set off in celebration, not malice, so he had to change residence only out of a misunderstanding, but he will surely be long remembered in our part of the Ozarks -- whether in Izard (where he was) or Fulton (where he is) -- for all of his stories and the stories about him, both the true and the more than true!

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Monday, February 18, 2013

Dario Rivarossa: Images for "The Bad Little Boy"

Some years ago, I came up with a story for my son, En-Uk, who was about three years old, maybe three-and-a-half, and rather difficult. Indeed, that difficult age between the Terrible Twos and the Formidable Fours: the Threatening Threes! The story was composed in the telling as I rapidly racked my brains for something to get En-Uk's attention and make him behave. The story caught his attention but failed to alter his behavior. He merely insisted that he was a good boy.

Well, recently, my friend Dario had opportunity to read this story -- and was inspired to illustrate it! Here it is below, with Dario's illustrations:
The Bad Little Boy

By Horace Jeffery Hodges

Illustrated by Dario Rivarossa

Once upon a time, there was a bad little boy. If his parents told him to go to the mountain, he went to the river. If they told him to go to the river, he went to the mountain.

He never did anything that his parents wanted.

But deep down inside, his skeleton wanted to be good.

So, one night, while the bad little boy was sleeping, the skeleton unzipped his belly and ran away . . . to be good.

Next morning, when the bad little boy woke up, he found that he couldn't move.

Able to shift his eyeballs slightly, he discovered that he was completely flat.

Downstairs, his parents waited, curious why their bad little boy was getting up so late.

Finally, up the stairs they went, only to find a flat boy in their son's bed.

Not recognizing their flat boy, and not knowing what to do, they sold him to the circus, which put him in its freak show as the star attraction.

"Come see the flat freak!" the barker cried as the circus traveled the world.

Meanwhile, the skeleton was having problems of his own.

Although he tried to be good, offering to help old ladies cross the street or to change flat tires for women who couldn't, or other good deeds, even strong men ran off screaming in terror.

"Perhaps," he thought, "I should return to the bad little boy and offer a deal."

So, back he went and knocked on the bad little boy's door.

The parents answered the door, but looked aghast!

"Please," implored the good little skeleton, "hear me out. I am your little boy's skeleton."

And he explained everything. When they had heard his entire story, the parents were utterly distraught.

"You mean that we sold our own boy to the circus?" they asked.

"I will get him back," promised the skeleton, hoping to perform at least one good deed.

The skeleton searched all over the world, never seeming to arrive any place in time to rescue the bad little boy, until one day, unexpectedly, he came upon the circus in a small town.

Noticing a long line waiting for the freak show, he peeked inside the tent -- and saw the bad little boy, now a flat little boy, lying flat on a raised platform where the line was filing by.

Thinking that the boy was successful as the circus's main attraction, the skeleton considered leaving without speaking to him first.

But feeling that he should at least check, the skeleton stole into the boy's room late that night.

Awakened by the intrusion, the bad little flat boy rolled his eyes and saw his skeleton.

The skeleton explained why he had come. "So, here's the deal," he offered. "If you promise to be good, then I will crawl back under your skin. Do you want that? If so, blink."

The bad little boy blinked, and the skeleton unzipped his stomach and crawled back inside.

Together, they trekked back to their parents, who were overjoyed to have their boy again.

From that day on, the bad little boy was always good.

So, of course, they all lived happily ever after.
A longer version of this story was posted on this blog some years back, but this shorter version is the more original.

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Sunday, February 17, 2013

Dario Rivarossa: Wolf Imagery . . .

Some years back, I posted a "Just So Story" titled "Why Wolves Howl at the Moon" that explained where the moon comes from, and I recently showed my Italian friend Dario Rivarossa this little fable, which spurred his aesthetic imagination, prompting him to create three images to illustrate three of the scenes:

"Once a month, they would take the ball out and play with it.
Their games were simple -- throwing, catching, and chasing."

"In the course of time, however,
there arose a selfish wolf as leader of the pack.
He was strong and clever,
but his selfishness marred his character."

"The moon, however, belongs to no one now,
and sheds its borrowed light on the just and the unjust,
the wise and the foolish . . . the pack,
and the lonely leader of the pack."

The third image is rather mysterious . . . but that's Dario's "SighNature" style. Anyway, we'll see what comes of this little children's story if Dario feels inclined to create more images . . .

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Saturday, February 16, 2013

Enormous Cadaver Shattered by North Korean Knife!

North Korean Flag

I mentioned the other day that I receive the Korea Open Source Digest weekdays. Well, yesterday, Volume VI, Issue 31 (Friday, 15 February 2013) arrived with a wonderfully unbalanced article by a certain Tong T'ae-kwan for North Korea's Rodong Sinmun (2/14/13). Titled "Time Will Prove," it argued that North Korea was right about conducting the recent nuclear test, and the rest of the world wrong in condemning it, because the United States was misleading every other country by pretending to speak for the world through the United Nations. The best line was this one:
We can raise the knife of justice and break into pieces the enormous cadaver that tries to hide its true identity concealed underneath noisy twisted logic and its blood-smeared face borrowing the face of the UN. (page 1-24)
To write a sentence like that one -- in which a dead body uses twisted logic and a UN face mask to hide its true, bloody-faced identity until shattered by a juridical knife -- requires a special literary sort of linguistic genius! The South Koreans can only manage a poor substitute for tortured English, as with the caption from this photograph for the JoongAng Daily, "Better than tractors":

Young students stomp the ground covered
with barley sprouts yesterday in Ulju County, Ulsan,
as fresh spouts have come up with the warmer weather.
It is common practice to pack the ground
as the soil unthaws after winter.

Let that ground 'unthaw' as much as it wants, it'll never match the logic-twisting cadaver!

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Friday, February 15, 2013

Why Question Islamists? Because . . .


Violent Islamists are convinced that they're carrying out God's unsearchable will in killing infidels. In smaller numbers, and less toxic, extremist Christian are calling down God's hateful wrath on the wicked, as with the Westboro Baptist Church founded by Fred Phelps to loudly affirm that God hates gays, among other divine objects of hatred, a message taught to the impressionable children and grandchildren of Mr. Phelps, such as his now 27-year-old granddaughter, Megan Phelps-Roper, who -- as Marlena Graves tells us in "The Westboro Baptist in All of Us" (Christianity Today, February 13, 2013) -- had something not long ago to tell us all (quoting from Dugan Arnett, "Megan Phelps-Roper of Westboro Baptist Church: An heir to hate," The Kansas City Star, November 19, 2011):
She wants to make it perfectly clear that you and the rest of this filthy, perverted nation will be spending a long, fiery eternity burning in hell.
A pleasant image, reminding me of that old hymn "Some Sad Morning":
Some sad morning,
When this life is over,
I'll fry away.

In a land where
Broiling never ends
I'll fry away.

I'll fry away,
Oh gory!
I'll fry away.
In the morning.

When I die,
Bye and bye!
I'll fry away.
Well, maybe I disremember the exact words . . . but the hymn went something like that. Anyway, there's no hope of reasoning with fanatics, right?
[I]n December 2012, Megan went to the library in Lawrence, Kansas, and began combing through books on philosophy and religion. As she read, "it struck her that people had devoted their entire lives to studying these questions of how to live and what is right and wrong. 'The idea that only (Westboro) had the right answer seemed crazy,' she says. 'It just seemed impossible.'"

Megan came to terms with the idea that maybe, just maybe, Westboro might be wrong.
For that reason -- and for many others -- we need to continue posing tough question about Islam in the hope that the sharper questions might burst a few bubbles.

That sometimes happens . . .

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Thursday, February 14, 2013

Dario Rivarossa and Terrance Lindall: Two Artists Draw Blood

My Italian friend Dario continues to post his series based on my story, The Bottomless Bottle of Beer, adding these words by way of explanation:
. . . so that the blood oozed forth and, much to my wonderment, into what turned out to be a hollow pin. Upon judging it full, he stopped and held the pin out for me to accept. I took it.

"Now," instructed Mr. Em, "sign your name."

- Horace Jeffery Hodges, "The Bottomless Bottle of Beer," in Emanations: Second Sight, page 117

Earth felt the wound, and Nature from her seat
Sighing through all her Works gave signs of woe,
That all was lost.

- John Milton, Paradise Lost, IX: 782-784. This quote was a fitting key supplied by Jeffery while commenting on this picture in his turn.
In addition to these idiosyncratic images by Dario, you can also see the official images by Terrance Lindall in the published, novella version of the book, previewable in part here, and with a pre-previewable image below:

Pricking Scene
Terrance Lindall

Rather different from Dario's more spare, abstract style. If Lindall's version proves of interest, you can order the book with this scene and many more here.

As for Dario's idiosyncratic images, I've previously posted on each one, but I'm curious to see his own postings and remarks as he puts each one up on his own blog . . .

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Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Taboo Query: Islam and Violence?

Piero Gheddo

The Catholic priest Piero Gheddo openly wonders about a mystery. No, not a mystery of the Christian faith, something more mundane than that, a mystery contemplated in an article, "Tunisia in chaos: Why is Islam taboo?" (02/11/2013), published in the Catholic paper Asia News (spelling and punctuation corrected in quote):
The situation today is this: no country with a Muslim majority (and there are more than thirty) has a tolerably democratic government. Many of these are in a state of civil war: Syria, Egypt, Tunisia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Mali, Nigeria, Yemen, Sudan, Somalia. In no country with a Muslim majority is there full religious freedom for Christians and other religions. In some countries where the faithful of the Koran are sizable minority, there are separatist guerrillas and terrorism: Philippines, Thailand, India, China, Burma, Indonesia.
Father Gheddo overstates the case in some of these countries. The expression "civil strife" would describe some of the Muslim majority countries better than "civil war" does. Also, note that Nigeria is not a Muslim majority country -- there are slightly more Christians. And note that Muslims are not a minority in Indonesia! But let's not quibble over details. We know what the man is talking about, and now comes his question:
We all know the latest news, the events of that day-to-day confirm this situation. What is surprising is the fact that the West does not question, does not ask itself where the Islamic world's instability originates and how it propagates, the uprisings, guerrilla warfare, terrorism that breaks out in all or almost all Islamic countries and what can be done to get to the root of this violent extremism, this loose cannon that threatens world peace. When before World War II, Nazism was already an expanding power, the free world discussed it at the popular level, studied the ideology and visited Germany, trying to make deals, it summoned international conferences for world peace. After World War II, when International Communism began to expand, from the 40s to 1989, the danger of contagion was perceptible, measures were discussed to prevent the spread of this ideology-religion, studying the roots of Marxism-Leninism and what to do to counter its spread in the free world. Communism was a threat, it was discussed a lot.

The same does not happen with Islamic extremism, condemned by all but which remains like a mysterious object.
Gheddo doesn't explicitly answer the question, but it's one that a lot of non-Muslims must be asking. Actually, Gheddo asks two questions: 1) what is the source of Islamic 'extremism' and 2) why isn't this question being openly discussed. I have an opinion on both questions. On the latter question, the reason for official silence is political correctness. The mainstream media and governments don't generally address the question for fear of offending multicultural sensitivities, of being accused of Islamophobia, of expressing bias against a 'great' religion, or of some similar offense. Outside of the mainstream, however, the question is being discussed. For instance, in the context of the recent murder of three North Korean doctors working in northern Nigeria, I speculated on what we confront:
This is the sort of civilizational conflict Huntington wrote about, and as he also pointed out, the Islamic world has bloody borders, so we're going to be hearing, seeing, and experiencing the consequences of Islamism for a long time, until the Muslim world discovers the bitter truth that the Protestant-Catholic wars of religion taught the West, namely, that religion should be a private affair of the heart (a lesson we have to keep learning), not a scheme for transforming the world through force, though this lesson might prove harder for the Muslim world to learn since Islam is overtly political, has in its fundamental texts a scheme for ordering the world, and has always been willing to turn to war as an instrument for furthering Islamic aims -- and, yes, I know that all this isn't very politically correct to point out, but I prefer to see the world with open eyes, and I don't think that I'm alone in this attitude.
My point was that Islamism, or political Islam, will be around for a long time fomenting trouble because Islam itself is political, which means that Islamism is radicalism not at the extremes but at the core of Islam, drawing upon core texts and grounding its actions in them.

This should be obvious to everyone by now since the Islamists continually cite core Islamic sources, but as Gheddo notes, the issue is not being openly discussed.

Not yet, anyway. Not quite yet. But I think that it soon will be.

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Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Shan and Shoshanna: In Africa!

Shoshanna and Shan

This is a belated New Year's post -- a solar New Year's post -- but I only yesterday received photos to go with an end-of-the-year report (itself received on January 28, 2013!) from my brother Shan and his wife, Shoshanna, to family and friends, a report that I break into here where Shoshanna describes their Africa trip:
Culminating the year and fulfilling a life dream to visit Africa, we spent 3 amazing weeks in Zambia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, and South Africa. The first portion of the trip was spent living in Livingston, Zambia with Gertrude Akapelawa, the visionary founder of Victoria Falls University. After delivering pro-bono leadership training for 100 faculty, teachers, and staff, we headed with our backpacks on foot over the Victoria Falls Bridge across the baboon-lined border into Zimbabwe to join our Intrepid Camping Safari comrades.

For the next two weeks, we traveled with African guides through stunning countryside and coastline, stopping in small African villages and camping along the way. The final leg of the trip was spent in South Africa’s Kruger National Park, a stunningly up-close and personal encounter with leopard, lions, hyena, crocodile, monkeys, and huge herds of antelope, zebra, elephants, wildebeest, Cape buffalo, hippo, black and white rhinoceros, and giraffe. Lucky for us, it was just past birthing season, so we were privileged to see and photograph lots of animal babies hugging their mothers' sides.
Now for the photos sent by Shoshanna. First, a picture of Shoshanna, Shan, and a lady whom I take to be Gertrude Akapelawa, founder of Victoria Falls University:

Next, a photograph -- from which country, I don't know -- of two African women, the closer of the two carrying a baby in a sling on her back:

Here's a comfortable view of Victoria Falls, a view better seen enlarged, so click on the image:

Now come the animals (some of them) in the order mentioned by Shoshanna above, a fuzzy leopard first:

And next a lion, studiously ignoring the happy Intrepid Campers:

Also, a lazy lion, though one allowing himself slightly more interest in the passing safari:

And now appears -- as we all know from that eminently trustworthy source of factual information, The Lion King -- the lions' mortal enemy, the hyena:

Far better than that scurrilous creature, a baby zebra with its mother, apparently a unicorn mother zebra:

Not to mention a mother elephant and her baby, her rather big baby:

And a suspicious Cape buffalo (but where's his cape?):

Plus a hippopotamus (and like an iceberg, 90 percent is below the surface, so don't take this image at face value):

Even a rhinoceros, a black rhino (I suppose):

And finally, a condescending giraffe:

And those are all fourteen photos: people, landscapes, animals -- the sought-after African experience, I reckon -- along with Shan and Shoshanna's Africa leadership sessions, likely a wild life itself, but no photos of that, so we can only hope that my brother and his wife stop by and fill us in, and they might want to check out yesterday's blog entry on the African artist El Anatsui.

Meanwhile, I've been traveling all over the world myself, though I have no photos to share since my excursions are solely in the realm of my hyperactive imagination . . .

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Monday, February 11, 2013

El Anatsui: Gravity and Grace

Gravity and Grace
El Anatsui
Brooklyn Museum

The art critic and writer Holland Cotter has an article in the New York Times, "A Million Pieces of Home" (February 8, 2013), on the fascinating artist El Anatsui, who hails from Ghana but works in Nigeria and is currently the subject of a retrospective exhibition, "Gravity and Grace," at the Brooklyn Museum, February 8, 2013 to August 4, 2013, and most fascinating is his method for creating monumental works of art, which he developed almost by accident, as Cotter relates the story:
One day, by his own account, on a routine scavenging hunt through Nsukka, he picked up a trash bag filled with twist-off liquor bottle tops of a kind manufactured by Nigerian distilleries. Although it took him a while to realize it, he had found his ideal material: locally made, in ready supply and culturally loaded.

Liquor had come to Africa with colonialism. Production of rum propelled the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Later Africa had made a double-edged European import its own. And the history of all that was printed, in shorthand, in the brand names on the bottle tops: Bakassi, Chelsea, Dark Sailor, Ebeano.

In addition, crucially, the metal was visually magnetic. The colors - reds, yellows, silvers, golds - were bold and bright. And it was easy to manipulate, to "fold, crumple, crush," to quote the title of a documentary film on Mr. Anatsui made in 2011 by Ms. Vogel, a curator and former professor of African art and architecture at Columbia University.

Finally the bottle caps answered Mr. Anatsui's growing interest in expanding the scale of his art. Pressed flat, twisted, or cut into circles, then punctured, the caps could be wired together into panels or blocks, which were joined to form pliant, fabriclike sheets, each sheet a whole made of fragments, and, potentially at least, endlessly expandable. "When I started working with the bottle caps," he said recently during a trip the United States, "I thought I'd make one or two things with them, but the possibilities began to seem endless." The labor involved was arduous but communal, a kind of three-step performance. Studio workers in Nsukka made the initial blocks. Mr. Anatsui determined the configuration of the blocks into a larger works. Whoever installed the finished piece could hang and drape it as they pleased. No way was the only way, no way was permanent.
But don't get the idea that Anatsui is some untaught artist. He studied Western art in high school and university in what is now called Ghana, taught by European teachers in the twilight years of what was then a British colony, the Gold Coast. After leaving school, he immersed himself in Ghanaian traditions of art, seeking to indigenize himself, but he must have continued to absorb European ideas, and not only about art, for as the Brooklyn Museum informs us:
Reading French philosopher Simone Weil's 1947 book Gravity and Grace inspired Anatsui to explore the concepts of what he calls "the material and the spiritual, of heaven and earth, of the physical and the ethereal" by using a limited, contrasting color palette, as typified in this work, among his largest. The seriousness of Anatsui's project reveals itself in the limits to which he stretches his materials and process, while the title and form evoke a poetic interest in transcendence and connection.
Anatsui would appear to be an artist-intellectual since he reads Weil and applies her ideas in his artistic creations. This artwork, called "Gravity and Grace" -- inspired by Weil and inspiration for the retrospective's title -- is a rather large work of aluminum and copper wire, 145 5/8 inches by 441 inches (369.9 x 1120.1 cm), which means it's about 12 feet by 37 feet (about 3.7 x 11.2 m). Like all of these monumental works that I've seen photos of, this one seems both heavy and light, "the material and the spiritual . . . the physical and the ethereal" that Anatsui himself offers as a description of what he aims to explore.

To see more of Anatsui's works, click on the NYT's slideshow, the Brooklyn Museum's website, or Google's images.

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Sunday, February 10, 2013

Dario Rivarossa: BBB Postings

Dario Rivarossa

Back in December or so, I posted Dario's idiosyncratic renditions of several characters from my story The Bottomless Bottle of Beer, but Dario himself has only now gotten around to posting them one by one on his own blog, starting with his first illustration, BeheMoth, and since his interpretations are authoritative, I quote him here in full, including his lead-up:
Hopefully nobody will be offended by the opinion that in the recent US anthology Emanations: Second Sight the "book of revelation," or rather the revelation of the book, is Horace Jeffery Hodges' (not very) short story The Bottomless Bottle of Beer. Now also available as a separate novella illustrated by Terrance Lindall. A Milton-based history of a modern Faust who sells his soul to some strange Mr Em for a bottle of good beer that never dries up. Will our hero succeed, etc., and how? Here's a personal version of Mr Em's uncanny cat Behemoth -- playing on the word "moth" in his name.
Actually . . . a postmodern Faust. But thanks, Dario, for your kind words. I hope they are deserved. As Dario also notes, the 'short' story appears also as a novella, and as I've previously noted, previewable here and available here.

Incidentally, in asking, "Will our hero succeed?", Dario likely means "Will our hero survive?" There's just one way to find out . . .

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Saturday, February 09, 2013

North Korea's Kim Jong Un: Just a Smiling Softie of a Dictator . . .

British Association for the Study of Songun Policy
Kim Jong Un's Flaming Desire for Children to Succeed

I know you're all wondering what's going on up in the North Country, so we're today looking at an open source intelligence report's translation of a North Korean article conveyed to us courtesy of the Korea Open Source Digest (Volume VI, Issue 27, Friday, February 8, 2013), which cites the Korean Central News Agency as announcing that a "British Organization Praises Kim Jong Un" (02/07/13):
The British Association for the Study of Songun Policy posted an article headlined "Leader Kim Jong Un's smile" and a photo of him among delegates to the celebrations of the 66th anniversary of the Korean Children's Union on its website on Jan. 30.
An association of a two or three Brits? Brits who meet to study Kim Jong Un's views on the North Korean policies of songun (military first) and juche (autonomy)? But who also find time to study his smile? Sounds promising, so let's read this report on the brilliant smile of the dear, respected leader! Of course, there will be interruptions:
"Leader Kim Jong Un's smile"

The beaming image of Kim Jong Un, leader of the DPRK, is seen very often in world media, the article said, and went on: His smile is attracting many people across the world, indeed.
Hmmm . . . so when he smiles, the whole world stops and stares for a while? Could be a theme song for a decent musical! Except that this sounds more like a report on a report. 'Indeed', this reads like British English. Let's soldier on:
His smile represents the personality of a great father embracing the people and offering them love and affection.
Lovely fellow. But is he always like this? Of course! He's the soul of dependability, as reliable as a North Korean promise:
He always meets anyone anywhere and any time with a broad smile.
Anyone! Anyone at all! Even South Korean President Lee Myung-bak? Apparently. How positively consistent! A regular hail-fellow-well-met sort of guy! What else does he do?
He strokes the cheeks of children and hears their whispers.
Uh-oh . . . that rings a few bells. Children's Union, indeed! Time to rethink our impression of this guy. I wonder if that last word, "whispers," is a misspelling, i.e., replace the first "s" with "m." (Not an intentional pun on S and M!)
He has peculiar photos taken together with ordinary soldiers and people arms in arms.
Now, this is getting outright weird: peculiar photos depicting intertwined bodies -- the young, hefty dictator with his soldiers (military first!) and other unspecified persons. That ol' son of a gun! And I'd thought he was a juche sort of guy.
He always stresses the need to put the interests of the people above anything else and gives them top priority and devotes everything to them.
Yes, everything devoted, right down to the very last inch of that hefty male! All for the the people's special needs, of course!
His smile reflects his belief that it is quite possible to build the DPRK into a thriving socialist country before long.
Quite possible! Before long! Promises you can bank on! As dependable and reliable as can be.
He said it is the firm determination of the Workers' Party of Korea to make the people lead a wealthy life under socialism to their heart's content, not suffering difficulties again.
Again? Like the mass starvation of the latter 1990s? Nah, that never happened, so he must be referring to the suffering under imperialists. I trust that the members of the Children's Union understood his point. Doubtless, he whispered it to each tiny member as he stroked cheeks and drove his dictatorial point home.
His smile represents the pluck of the strong convinced of the final victory in the confrontation with the imperialists.
Pluck of the strong? Rather choosy of him to go only for the strong, but that perhaps means the soldiers from those peculiar photos mentioned above. They'd be more useful than unspecified persons in confronting imperialists:
He, his face beaming with a broad smile, inspected the island defence detachments stationed in the biggest hotspot aboard a small wooden boat without any escort ship when the U.S. and South Korea were staging a dangerous joint military exercise.
I guess he showed those imperialists and their puppets who the big boss is! Just come into my hotspot, his broad smile seemed to say.
This calm and composed image left unforgettable impressions on many people of the world.
The report forgot to mention what these impressions were, but they were unforgettable . . . if rather peculiar.
Only shining victory will be in store for the Korean people thanks to the broad smile of the leader.
A truly powerful smile, that! He must have a really good dentist. And here's the moral of this story: We can't all be dear, respected dictators over small countries, but we can all attract intertwined bodies if we only just take care of our teeth through brushing and flossing regularly and seeing our dentist twice a year.

Oh, and don't neglect to practice your own juche smile! The whole world smiles with you!

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Friday, February 08, 2013

The 'Bad' in the Good Book . . .

Eric A. Seibert
Ah, the Good Book . . .
"When she was good, she was very good indeed,
but when she was bad she was horrid."
- H. W. Longfellow

Professor Eric Seibert may soon be getting into hot water with fellow evangelicals for his views on scripture, but he raises some issues in his book The Violence of Scripture that press for resolution, as we see in this statement, "When the 'Good Book' is Bad: Challenging the Bible's Violent Portrayals of God" posted on the blog Patheos - Peter Enns: Rethinking Biblical Christianity:
The basic premise of my recent book, The Violence of Scripture, is quite simple: the Bible should never be used to harm others. One might imagine such a "profound" truth to be self-evident and hardly worthy of a book length treatment. But the sad reality is that the "good book" has been bad news for far too many people . . . . Most Christians would attribute this misuse of the Bible to faulty interpretations and misguided interpreters . . . . [U]nfortunately, the problem runs deeper than this . . . . right through the pages of Scripture itself . . . . [N]ot everything in the "good book" is either good, or good for us. I realize this may sound blasphemous to some people . . . . When the Church grandly proclaims the Bible to be the Word of God, it gives the impression that the words of Scripture are above critique and beyond reproach . . . . But this way of reading the Bible is problematic . . . . At times the Bible endorses values we should reject, praises acts we must condemn, and portrays God in ways we cannot accept . . . . Unfortunately, the Church does not often help us know what to do when we encounter problems in Scripture . . . . If we feel compelled to accept what we read at face value, and are forbidden from asking honest questions about the troublesome texts we encounter, we run the risk of using the Bible in ways that may harm others . . . . [I]f we embrace the many positive portrayals of violence in the text . . . , we may find ourselves approving of certain acts of violence and war . . . [I]f we are going to keep the Bible from harming others, we need to learn to have problems with it. We need to protest what is objectionable and condemn what is immoral. Otherwise, we run the risk of perpetuating the violent legacy of Scripture by making the "good book" behave in very bad ways.
Any readers who regularly visit this blog will quickly grasp why I've posted this excerpt on biblically sanctioned violence. I often post on Islamist violence, and I read posts by other bloggers on such violence, but I've also occasionally posted on violence in the Bible, and in reading some blogs by other bloggers who've dealt with the same issue, I've seen a distinction made between Islam and Christianity on violence, namely, that the Muslim scripture explicitly prescribes violence, whereas the Christian scripture merely describes it.

Such a resolution, however, is not quite so easy as that, for some biblical passages specifically command violence, even sacred violence, against enemies. Many Christians argue that these commands were limited to specific circumstances in the distant past and offer no model for the Church, which is commanded to be a peacemaker. Fair enough . . . but what do such commands tell us about the Christian God? That He ordered men to commit immoral acts of genocide, or at least of murder? Can such commands be justified? Are they consistent with a proper conception of God?

Professor Seibert has raised such questions -- not only in the post summarized, but also in two more, here and here -- and our critical, questioning era demands an answer, if only to suggest some way for Muslims to deal with violence in their scripture.

But not only for that . . .

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