The Sultan v. the Mahdi

Adnan Oktar, aka “Harun Yahya,” a well-known Turkish Mahdist sect leader based in Istanbul, was arrested yesterday by the security forces of President Recep Erdoğan’s government according to news outlets in both Turkey and the Arab world—seemingly part of Erdoğan’s liquidation of any potential opposition to his further consolidation of power in the wake of his recent electoral victory.  Turkish police are also said to be hunting down hundreds of Oktar’s followers, alleging that arms caches were found in the organization’s headquarters on the Asian side of the Bosporus.

Most news outlets highlight Oktar, accurately, as an Islamic creationist who scorns Darwin and the theory of evolution.  But two other aspects of his thought are just as prominent, and more problematic: extravagant neo-Ottomanism, and Mahdism.

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Turkish Mahdism as promoted by Oktar on his Pakistan blogspot.

Erdoğan has been accused of holding neo-Ottoman views; but even at his most megalomanical Turkey’s President probably doesn’t entertain this Oktarian vision:

TurkishIslamicUnion

Oktar’s Ottoman Empire on steroids and HGH with a shaker of delusion. From his website

Likewise, Erdoğan may see himself as a modern Sultan—but there is no evidence that he’s harboring any Muslim messianic aspirations; Oktar, however, had headed up a personality cult with followers who see him as the Mahdi, even if he won’t openly verify it.

I actually interviewed Adnan Oktar in Istanbul back in 2008.  I posted the transcript over on my now-defunct Mahdiwatch site (and seem to have lost my interview notes, alas).

However, as I explained at some length in my 2015 book Ten Years’ Captivation with the Mahdi’s Camps (pp. 235-241), Oktar resembles the much more well-known and powerful Fethullah Gülen, who heads up a massive, global system of schools and has been accused by President Erdoğan of masterminding a Turkish “deep state” which was behind the failed 2016 coup attempt.  Both Oktar and Gülen are disciples of the late Turkish Sufi thinker Said Nursi (d. 1960), who posited Islam as totally compatible with science and advocated peaceful, educational—not martial—“jihad.” But whereas Nursi and Gülen, while believing in the eschatological Mahdi, saw themselves less grandiosely as mujaddids, or “renewers,” of Islam—Oktar almost certainly sees himself as the End Times “rightly-guided one” sent by Allah.

OktarMahdibook

Oktar’s (probably ghost-written) 1,000 page tome on Jesus & the Mahdi. Even I couldn’t wade through it. 

One can see why neo-Sultan Recep I would go after Gülen’s legions, and demand his extradition from Pennsylvania. But why would Oktar, with his small coterie of followers—as attractive and surgically-enhanced as the women might be—even show up on Erdoğan’s radar?

Here are my theories:

  • Oktar is too much like Gülen—Even if the former is merely a pale imitation of the latter in terms of real influence, he’s less circumspect in behavior and, as noted already, more pretentious in his personal claims. Turkish rulers going far back into Ottoman times are not exactly tolerant of those claiming to be the Mahdi (as I will detail in my forthcoming book Enemies of the Caliphs).  Besides: maybe Erdoğan is just jealous.
  • Alternatively, Oktar’s fawning support of Erdoğan and his ruling AK Party is embarrassing—When you’re a swaggering, overbearing, tin-plated dictator, being spoken of approvingly and publicly on a regular basis by the head of an Islamic sex cult with delusions of, if not godhood, at least god-direction is not high on your list of priorities. With friends like that, the Turkish Presi…er, Sultan hardly needs enemies
  • Oktar is too pro-Israel—As the “Jerusalem Post” noted in its article on Oktar’s arrest, “[f]or years Oktar and his friends…sought to do outreach to Israel and Jewish religious leaders….as part of an attempt to promote peace and serve as a kind of model of coexistence in which Turkey would be a bridge between East and West.” This included “numerous visits to Turkey of appearances on Oktar’s programs with prominent Israelis from across the political and religious spectrum.” Needless to say, this is at loggerheads with the Turkish leader who, earlier this year, called Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a “terrorist” and Israel a “terrorist state.”
  • Because he can.

Erdoğan’s reasons for arresting Oktar and rolling up his organization are probably some combination of all of these.  Unlike Gülen, Oktar’s power seemed to lie more in silicone than schools and soldiers, and his Mahdism was wielded primarily as an aphrodisiac.  And his Mahdism, while eccentric and borderline lascivious, was at least non-jihdadist–unlike most manifestations of that belief in Islamic history.  But now he’s at the mercy of his Sultanic majesty, and if Ottoman Turkish history is any indication, that never ends well for folks like Oktar.

Where’s Your Führer Now? Fascism Claims Are Fake News.

Is there any more overused term in modern political discourse than “fascist?”  Googling the term produces 41,700,000 results. Adding  “Trump” gets over 8 million hits, the first three of which are “Madeline Albright Warns of a New Fascism—and Trump” (“The New Yorker”); “Yes, Trump is a Fascist” (“The New Republic”); “Donald Trump’s Fascist Week” (“The Daily Show with Trevor Noah”).  To be fair, it’s not just the Left throwing the term around; “Obama fascist” brings up over 2 million hits, and not a few right-wingers apply the term to Leftists, as well.

But “fascist” is deployed far more by the Left—in fact, it’s become an axiom there.  Besides the aforementioned empirical data, many of us could adduce abundant anecdotal examples. This past year, in my college world history class, I had several students who wanted to write papers arguing that “Trump is Hitler.” I am not sure any of those students could have found Germany on a map prior to my lecturing on it; but they were certain Trump would soon be growing a small mustache and putting black Americans in camps. (Needless to say, I denied the paper requests.  But I did allow students to write about Trump as Julius Caesar, and Hillary as Cleopatra—just not together, in any sense. ) At the Shakespeare Tavern in Atlanta, which my wife and I attend often, some of the thespians include “I punch Nazis” in their stage bios. And just last week I got into a Twitter feud with Josh Gates, host of the show “Expedition Unknown” which my sons and I watch religiously.  Concluding the episode on “Nazis in Argentina,” Mr. Gates said: “sadly, the specter of fascism seems to be rising again around the world.”  I tweeted to him that I found that ridiculous, and that he should stick to adventuring.  I must have struck a nerve because, much to my surprise, Mr. Gates sarcastically responded several times before the exchange petered out.

At least he was polite and non-specific in his allegations; many celebrities on Twitter and other social media are downright nasty about their conviction the world is in the throes of Trump-led fascism.  (For examples, see multiple tweets by, say, actor Ron Perlman or “journalist” Soledad O’Brien.)  Even folks who should know better—like former CIA director, retired General Michael Hayden—played the Nazi card to criticize US immigration policy.

DonaldDucktheNazi

Donald Duck is force-fed fascism in a 1943 Disney send-up of Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy and Imperial Japan. Full video is on youtube here

But is a Euro-American Fourth Reich really rising? Although I am a historian, I’ve learned from my political scientist colleagues that any honest and rational discussion requires defining terms first.  A concise and accurate list of “the 14 characteristics of fascism” by Dr. Lawrence Britt is a good paradigm to use.  Let’s examine each of these, honestly, and see whether they apply to Trump and conservatives or to Obama, Hillary and “progressives.”

  • Nationalism: Trump and conservatives clearly tout this more, over against globalism and open borders. Right 1, Left 0.
  • Disdain for human rights: the Left likes to claim human rights as their exclusive domain, but the Trump administration has not abandoned these—it’s simply shifted the focus onto, for example, persecuted Middle East Christians from predominantly-Muslim refugees. Scoreless tie.
  • Finding and scapegoating enemies: Trump and conservatives do the former, and arguably the latter, to Muslim jihadists and militant-nihilist Leftists; but “progressives,” led by Obama and Hillary, have not just identified and scapegoated anyone with a Bible and a gun but vilified half the population as “deplorable.”  1-1.
  • Favoring and “glamorizing” the military, especially via “disproportionate” funding: not to wax (Bill) Clintonian, but this “depends on what your definition of ‘disproportionate’ spending is.” Under both Obama and Trump defense spending takes up about 16% of the US budget.  And the alleged “glamorization” of the military is entirely subjective.  Another scoreless tie.
  • Sexism, opposition to abortion and homosexuality : it’s true that Trump and his supporters (including 41% of women) passed on the first female POTUS; but UN Ambassador Nikki Haley, DHS director Kirstjen Nielsen and CIA chief Gina Haspel would not agree that this administration scorns women. Also, one might ask why it’s  “fascist” to see a fetus as a human being, considering the majority of the world’s 2.3 billion Christians do so.  And despite charges of Trump being “anti-homosexual,” there’s precious little empirical evidence of such.  A draw.
  • Media control: neither side “controls” the media, but the fawning sycophancy that passed for journalism during the Obama years, to include the Hillary campaign, coupled with the incessant hatred and negative coverage of Trump, clearly demonstrates that Obama and the Left come far closer to this than the other side. Obama 1, Trump less than 0.
  • National security “obsession:” Trump’s side gets the nod here, despite Obama’s global drone-fest of terrorists, as well as he and Hillary’s mania about fictional Russian “collusion” with Trump. Remember, however: the Preamble to the US Constitution lists providing for the common defense as one of the six reasons for its existence, so in this regard one person’s “obsession” is another’s duty. Trump 1, Obama 0 (barely).
  • Mixing religion and government: despite charges of theocracy, Trump’s administration, while talking more positively about Christianity, has not forced female Cabinet officials to don The Handmaid’s Tale-style garb; and indeed, Obama’s and Hillary’s obeisance to Islam, in policy and in rhetoric, makes this one a toss-up. Statistical tie.
  • Pro corporations: manufacturing loves Trump; Silicon Valley loved, and still loves, Obama. A draw.
  • Suppressing unions: they’re still here, even under a real-estate mogul POTUS. Unions are just continuing to go the way of the dinosaurs—except for government ones, which cling to life even more tenaciously than the Jurassic Park Dead heat.
  • Scorning intellectuals, arts: the only censoring of academics in America comes from the Left, since they can’t seem to abide even the miniscule number of conservative professors that exist. And while President Trump has proposed “slashing” funding for NPR and its ilk, Congress keeps restoring it.  0-0.
  • Preoccupation with crime and punishment via police with “limitless power:” contra Black Lives Matter cop hatred and, now, the larger Left’s vilification of ICE (Immigation and Customs Enforcement), police do not have “almost limitless power” in the US. (And indeed, the bulk of BLM’s complaints about police were during Obama’s second term.) Fantasy is not reality.  No winner.
  • Rampant corruption and cronyism: Obama, Hillary and the Left win this one in a landslide via the IRS targeting conservatives, Brennan and the CIA spying on Congress, half a BILLION dollars going to shore up a handful of “moderate” Syrian rebels—and, of course, the politicization of the entire leadership of the FBI and that agency’s collusion with the Hillary campaign in the 2016 election. Obama and the Dems shut out Trump and the GOP here.
  • Fraudulent elections with “smear campaigns” against opposition candidates and “judiciaries [that] manipulate or control elections:” the Obama administration wins this one hands-down, too. This is without even delving into the DNC’s rigging its own primaries to favor Hillary and disenfranchise Bernie Sanders’ supporters. Yes, Trump ultimately won—but that was in spite of the Obama administration’s attempts to put Hillary into the Oval Office. Obama 1, Trump 0.

So Trump and the Right manifest nationalism (#1), blaming enemies (#3) and being overly concerned with national security (#7); but Obama, Hillary and the Left also impugn opponents (#3), as well as manipulate the media (#6), use government institutions against enemies and to protect supporters (#13) and try to rig elections (#14).  That’s a 4-3 advantage for the Democrats in the fascism department.

Of course, in reality—where words mean things—neither Obama nor Trump is “fascist;” that would require manifesting many more characteristics of the ideology. So the Left’s incessant  attempts to portray conservatives as such simply highlights that side’s paucity of ideas and rank emotionalism.

What about the European leaders usually adduced as “fascist:” Polish President Andrzej Duda, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz?  As with President Trump, none of them qualifies as such; and in fact they and their political parties are all in the post-war European mainstream of center-right Christian Democrats—before the Western European elites moved far Left. Duda, Orbán and Kurz are all united, mainly, in their distaste for massive Middle Eastern migration and the problems such present for their countries; none of them wishes to employ blitzkrieg to impose Polish, Hungarian or Austrian practices on the rest of Europe.

Enough with the talismanic slandering of political opponents as “fascist” and “Nazi.” People’s desires to live in peace and preserve their own nation-state and culture is neither; it’s natural and logical.  Our President and these central European leaders understand this and are turning the globalist, “progressive” tide, which is why the Left has doubled down on its führer furor.  Trump them with the truth.

Muhammad (bin Salman) Radio

My attempts to finish my new book Enemies of the Caliphs: Jihad and Islamic Counterinsurgency, 12th-20th Centuries have been stymied recently by the low-grade “walking” pneumonia which I somehow contracted last month. But I have been able, between coughing fits, to do some analysis for two different radio stations: KFUO AM 850, St. Louis and KNUS 710 AM, Denver.  The former is the flagship station for my own denomination, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, and it produces “World Lutheran News Digest” on which I appeared discussing, at length, the historical and theological ramifications of President Trump’s decision to move the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.  The latter is home to the inestimable Peter Boyles, for whom I have become something of a regular guest.  Peter has had me on four times in the last three weeks: once to cover the latest elections in Iraq and the powerful showing of Muqtada al-Sadr; and thrice–May 31, June 4, and June 6–to speculate on the abrupt disappearance from the world stage of Muhammad bin Salman, Crown Prince of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Thanks for your prayers as I wait for the steroids and antibiotics to restore my lungs to normal, God willing.  That (mainly) Ottoman COIN book isn’t writing itself.

Enemiesofthecaliphsfinalcoverasof9.21.17

The “Iran Deal” Exit Debate: Much Ado About Very Little

At 2 pm ET today, President Trump is scheduled to announce whether the US will stay in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action–commonly known as the “Iran Deal,” which the Obama Administration, UN Security Council members and Germans negotiated to, theoretically (and hopefully), slow down the Islamic Republic’s quest for nuclear power and, few doubt, nuclear weapons.

Having studied the nexus between Iranian politics and its Twelver Shi`ism for years–and having spent some time in that country–I believe that no amount of signed paperwork will deter Iran’s ayatollate from pursuing nuclear weapons.  Having them would not only give Iran even greater regional clout; it would provide “regime insurance,” such as the North Koreans obtained by developing such bombs.  And make no mistake: preservation of their vilayet-i faqih, along with attendant wealth, status and power, is what Khameini, Rouhani and the other regime supporters fervently desire.  They have absolutely no intention of using nukes against Israel in order “hotwire the apocalypse” and spark the coming of the Mahdi.  Anyone who thinks otherwise should read my still-relevant, 16-pp. 2011 paper on this topic.  Do Iranian leaders lie? Of course. It was the Twelvers, after all, who invented taqiyyah.  But short of invading the country, we really have no way of stopping Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons–and that would be even stupider than invading Iraq turned out to be.

MeJamkarancropped

Yours truly at Jamkaran Mosque, Qom, 2008. No nukes or Mahdis were found in the course of that trip–although by now the former are probably extant. 

Mossad Recruits the Mahdi!

Media in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia report that two Palestinians are on trial for working with Mossad, Israel’s intelligence agency,  and also for supporting “Daesh” (ISIS).  Besides allegedly “planning terrorist activities during the upcoming Hajj,” “[o]ne of them has also been accused of claiming to be Al-Mahdi.” Furthermore, “[t]he Mahdi claimant has also been accused of using illegal drugs, violating the Kingdom’s laws by overstaying after Hajj and giving false information about himself.” (This version of the story, dated yesterday, is up at riyadhvision.com.sa.  The one at arabnews.com originally was exactly the same–but today the information about the Mahdi claimant has been edited out.)

For anyone unfamiliar with Islamic eschatology, the Mahdi is the “divinely-guided one” described in hadiths (alleged sayings of Islam’s founder Muhammad)–not in the Qur’an–who will appear before the end of time to make the entire world Muslim via both conversion and conquest.  Dozens of major, and hundreds of minor, Muslim personalities have claimed to be the Mahdi over the last 14 centuries–as I discuss in two books on the subject: Holiest Wars: Islamic Mahdis, their Jihads, and Osama Bin Laden (2005) and Ten Years Captivation with the Mahdi’s Camps: Essays on Muslim Eschatology, 2005-2015 (2015). And this doctrine is not some arcane one, limited only to the fringes of Islam: hundreds of millions of Muslims, Sunni as well as Twelver Shi`i, profess belief in the coming of the Mahdi.

SeizureofGrandMosque1979smokerising

Smoke is always rising from…Mecca.  At least when it’s under apocalyptic assault. (Wikipedia, public domain).

Many Muslim rulers are wary, to put it mildly, of Mahdism because the doctrine has been the motivation for many of the most violent jihads in history–many, if not most, of them rebellions directed at extant Islamic authorities. The Saudis, in particular, detest Mahdist manifestations because one of them almost overthrew the House of Saud in 1979.

Observations:

Any hint of Mahdism–however deluded the person claiming it might be–causes the royal family major thawb bunching, since only Allah knows whether such might herald another Juhayman al-Utaybi, who along with his brother-in-law, the Mahdi claimant Muhammad al-Qahtani and a legion of followers, took over Mecca’s Grand Mosque in 1979 for several weeks.  The obvious vacillation over reporting the Mahdist dimension of this trial is evidence of that–but, I suspect, also demonstrates that one of the accused did indeed make such a claim, because it’s extremely doubtful that Saudi authorities would inject this element simply to highlight ISIS’ actual apocalyptic aspects.

Utaybi_001

Portrait of a failed Mahdi: Juhayman al-Utaybi, before his beheading in Jan. 1980. (Wikipedia, public domain).

In addition, the charge that Palestinians are spying for Israel has several dimensions.  The Saudis’ historical support for the former over against the latter seems to be waning with Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman [MbS], who just recently told the Palestinians to either negotiate with the Jewish state or “shut up and stop complaining.”  Bin Salman has also been moving the Kingdom toward cooperation, if not quite alliance, with Israel over against what both of them consider the greater threat: the militantly-Shi`i Islamic Republic of Iran.  So arresting two Palestinians on charges of helping Israel might represent both a warning shot to the former and an olive branch vis-a-vis Saudis who blanch at rapproachement with the “Zionists,” insofar as it implies that the Israelis are, if not stirring, at least spicing the ISIS pot.

Finally: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s recent public announcement that Iran had been lying about not trying to develop nuclear weapons (sure to overjoy the Saudis–or at least the supporters of MbS) was based on a massive trove of documents which Mossad stole out from under the ayatollahs’ noses in Tehran.  But of course if the Mahdi, now revealed to be a Palestinian Arab Sunni and not a Persian Twelver Shi`i, was working with Israeli intelligence–it all now makes sense!

More seriously: traditional Islamic eschatology, both Sunni and Twelver Shi`i, says that the Mahdi and the returned prophet Muslim Jesus will join forces to defeat the Dajjal, “Deceiver,” and his minions of unbelief (non-Muslims). Modern Sunni books often add that the Shia Mahdi will in reality be this very Dajjal, while books by the Shia make the same exact claim about the Mahdi whom the Sunnis will follow.  Sunni exegetes may have the upper hand, however, as they can point to hadiths to the effect that the false Shia Mahdi–really the Dajjal–will have as his main body of supporters “70,000 Jews from Isfahan.”

Eschatological prognostication, contra  what many journalists maintain, is not only–or even primarily–the province of American Evangelical Protestants; based on my two decades of study, it’s far more prevalent in the Islamic world. And Muslim eschatologists add a strong element of conspiracy theorizing, which usually blames “the Jews”–sometimes aided by their Christian, “Crusader” allies–for any negative development in the ummah, whether real or perceived. There were Muslims who claimed that the US invaded Iraq in 2003 in order to track down and stymie the Mahdi.   So you can be sure that linking Mossad with the Mahdi was not done by accident–whether MbS approved or not.

ArabicEschatologybooks

My shelf of Arabic books on the Mahdi, Dajjal, etc.  Don’t wait for the movies!

Blinded by the Right on the Road to Damascus?

This morning I was interviewed by the intrepid Peter Boyles on his KNUS AM 710 Denver radio show. We discussed the geopolitical situation in Syria, the alleged use of chemical weapons and the US airstrikes, as well as why President Trump seems so eager to attack al-Assad.

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Ottoman Syria, from Wikipedia (public domain)

Also: I’m finishing my new book Enemies of the Caliphs: Jihad and Islamic Counterinsurgency, 12th-20th Centuries.  A trip to England, a horrible cold, and the end of the spring university semester have all conspired to slow me down.  Insha’allah, it will be out by late May.

 

 

Twin Interpretations of Different Ummahs

Last week, for the “history and politics of terrorism” course which I am teaching this term, I re-read Rudolph Peters’ book Jihad in Classical and Modern Islam (Markus Wiener, 1996).  This short volume should be required background for anyone in any government agency interacting with any parts of the Islamic world.  Officials like former National Security Advisor LTG H.R. McMaster, in particular—noted for claiming that groups espousing and waging jihad are “unIslamic”—would benefit from Peters’ concise expositions of jihad, drawing upon the Qur’an, the hadiths (alleged sayings of Islam’s founder), and Muslim scholars across the centuries.

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A Qur’an page in Arabic, with Ottoman glosses, which I purchased in Istanbul.

As Peters points out right off the bat, “the Koran frequently mentions jihad and fighting (qital) against the unbelievers” and “[c]lassical Muslim Koran interpretation….regarded the Sword Verses, with the unconditional command to fight the unbelievers, as having abrogated all previous verses concerning the intercourse with non-Muslims” (p. 2).  (Peters, like many European scholars, uses “Koran” instead of “Qur’an.”) He also provides copious citations to the Islamic holy book, and does not simply assert that it supports jihad.  Classical interpreters also believed that jihad’s ultimate purpose is “to bring the whole earth under the sway of Islam…” (p. 3).  Sunnis and Twelver Shi`is differ in this regard insofar as the latter believe that only defensive jihad can be waged in the absence of the Twelfth Imam, the Mahdi (p. 4).  Early modernist Muslim intellectuals like the Egyptian Muhammad Abduh (d. 1905), a Sunni, also argued that defensive jihad is the only kind permitted—but in that definition included fighting to remove colonial rulers of Islamic territory (p. 6) and, by extrapolation, to any situation where Muslims are seen as oppressed.

Classical (pre-modern) Islamic thought assumed that the normal state of affairs between the dar al-Islam and the non-Muslim dar al-harb was that aptly described in the latter term: “the domain of war.”  Many 20th century Muslim scholars, however, see peace as the default position and thus make jihad something that must be justified and declared, instead of simply assumed.  Mahmud Shaltut (d. 1963), another Egyptian Sunni thinker, wrote that “’the Messenger [Muhammad] only fought those who fought him….’” (p. 113).  Whether that’s exactly true, historically, is debatable—but any limitation of Islamic holy war is better than none.  Of course, no work on jihad would be complete without discussion of the concept of “greater” v. “lesser” types thereof—the ubiquitous, in our time, claim that violent holy war is the latter, and “exerting onself for some praisworthy aim” is the former.  However, as Peters points out, the problem here is that the hadith whence this formulation comes “is not included in one of the authoritative compilations” (p. 116).  In fact, this alleged hadith does not occur in any of the six respected Sunni compilations, and many Muslim scholars deem it a a fabricated one.  And 20th century fundamentalist thinkers like the Egyptian founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, Hassan al-Banna (d. 1949), and the Indian Islamic theorist Abu A`la Mawdudi (d. 1979), condemned this “greater v. lesser jihad” trope as one “spread on purpose to weaken Muslim combativeness” (p. 118).

Regarding the issue of whether jihad is Islamic or not, Peters is clear that it most defintely is—with the caveat that “modernist authors underline the defensive aspect” thereof (p. 122), while “[f]undamentalist writers on the other hand do not depart…from the classical doctrine and emphasize the expansionist aspect” (p. 123).  Peters’ observation, writing in the mid-1990s, that “[a]t the present, most authors on jihad follow this defensive tendency, although…there seems to take place a certain radicalization towards a more fundamentalist approach” (p. 125) proved prescient, with the rise of al-Qa`idah, ISIS, and their ilk who “are of the opinion that one cannot apply the categories ‘offensive’ or ‘defensive’ to jihad” at all.  It is, rather, a “universal revolutionary struggle” (p. 130).

A very interesting point in Peters’ book is the status of the doctrine of naskh, “abrogation,” by which “it was assumed that the unconditional command to fight the unbelievers, to be found in those verses that were revealed in the latest stages of Muhammad’s life, had abrogated all other prescriptions.  The modernists, however, [or at least some of them] have rejected this method of interpretation.” (p. 125).  Thus, for example, the most famous Sword Verse, Sura al-Tawbah [IX]:5—“when the sacred months are passed, slay the idolaters wherever you find them….”—must be read contextually, in light of the immediately previous verse, as well as v. 29 of the same chapter, to the effect that the “idolaters” to be attacked are “only those Jews and Christians…that had violated their pledges and assailed the propagation of the Islamic mission” (p. 127).

In the final analysis, says Peters, “the modernist and the fundamentalist tendency represent two different reactions to Western penetration. The modernists have reacted in a defensive manner, by adopting Western values and reforming their religion in the light of these…. The fundamentalists, on the other hand, have reacted in a self-assertive manner, by rejecting everything Western and emphasizing the real Islamic values” (p. 133).

Peters’ book, for all its brevity (only 204 pages), effectively demolishes, via solid and irrefutable evidence from the Islamic sources themselves, twin canards of the Left and the Right about Islam.  On the one hand, it proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that jihad is part-and-parcel of Islam’s sacred texts, going back to its provenance, and is by no means a “hijacking” or “perversion” of that faith.  On the other hand, his showcase of relevant Islamic thinkers severely undermines the “scimitar syndrome” (p. 108), which holds that Islam is ONLY a “violent and fanatical creed”—for many (albeit not yet enough) maintain that their faith is not bound solely to the dead, and deadly, letter of the Qur’an and hadiths, as per the classical jurists.  Rudolph Peters’ Jihad in Classical and Modern Islam provides hope that Islam’s problematic literalist strain might eventually be abrogated itself by those who hold that the religion’s sacred texts, while true, do not have to be adhered to, and acted upon, exactly as written some 14 centuries ago.

Addendum (3.29.18):  It was remiss of me not to mention that Peters deals almost exclusively with Sunni expositors on jihad–and usually Egyptian ones, at that.  He says very little about Shi`ism at all, except for the mention that in the Twelfth Imam’s absence only defensive jihad is permitted.  But what about the doctrines of the other major sects, notably the Isma’ilis and Zaydis? The former, as the medieval Assassins (non-state) and Fatimid caliphate (state), have been very influential in Islamic circles; and the latter largely are coterminous with Yemen’s Houthis, who are fighting jihad currently against not just Sunnis in their own country but against the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Talking Turkey about the Mahdi

Last week, MEMRI (the Middle East Media Research Institute) reported on a story from several months earlier, which had appeared in the pro-Erdoğan newspaper Yeni Şafak (“New Dawn”), calling for the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) to form a massive Muslim military front against Israel.

New Dawn is the semi-official voice of President Erdoğan and his ruling AK Party, so ideas advanced there are, if not approved by, certainly popular within Turkey’s power elites.  Abandoning its former (pre-AK) de facto alliance with the Jewish state, Israel is now described as “an outpost of the Crusade and a dagger in the heart of Islam” which spies on Muslims for the Christian world.  In order to “liberate Palestine” the OIC, led by Turkey, could cooperate to field over 5 million men, far more than the “occupation forces” of a mere 160.000, and use them for a siege.  Turkey, with its huge army, and Pakistan, with its nuclear weapons, would serve as the leaders of this alliance.

Besides Israel’s nefarious anti-Muslim status, President Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital is presented as an affront to Muslims worldwide, lending impetus to this Islamic military alliance.

Ottomanarmy1900Wikipublicdomain

Ottoman Imperial Army, 1900 (Wikipedia, public domain).

Observations:

This development echoes two broad points which I have made in previous writings.  Most recently in these pages (“In God’s Countries,” January 16, 2018), I discussed the OIC as being the only religion-based geopolitical entity on the planet, there being no equivalent organization for the other two transnational faiths, Christianity and Buddhism.  Perhaps more saliently–and eschatologically–back in 2013 I analyzed how the OIC (and other pan-Islamic groups, such as the Muslim Brotherhood [MB], Tablighi Jama`at [TJ] and Hizb al-Tahrir [HT]) might be leveraged into a platform for an Islamic leader to proclaim himself the Mahdi (“Days of Future Mahdism Have Not Passed”–available here and in my book Ten Years’ Captivation with the Mahdi’s Camps, pp. 76-83).

Erdoğan has not expressed overtly Mahdist pretensions (yet), but as many know he certainly harbors neo-Ottoman ideas about his and Turkey’s role in the region and the world.  (Ottoman sultans often also claimed to be caliphs–and the latter title, as “successors” to Muhammad, included aspects of Islamic legitimacy which the former designation lacked.) And thus when New Dawn, in this article on creating an Army of Islam, adduces an eschatological hadith about the End Time battles between Muslims and Jews–the latter “owners of Jersualem” being unable to “find a single tree to hide behind”–we know that the formerly secular rulers of Turkey are operating in a distinctly apocalyptic register.

Heretofore I had been convinced (“Days of Future Mahdism….”) that a Muslim leader with the effrontery to try to claim not just the caliphate but the Mahdiyah would likely emerge from the ranks of a non-state, probably Arab Salafi group–a Bin Ladin, or al-Baghdadi–and piece together support from a pietist organization (like TJ) sufficient to create a “virtual caliphate” with cells of supporters across the Islamic world, but, at least initially, no official state support.

But if powerful members in the party of the President of Turkey–with its large population, modern military and distinct claim to the mantle of the Ottoman Empire–are now trying to rally the larger entire ummah around the goal of defeating, if not destroying, Israel and invoking apocalyptic imagery to do so, then Israel and the West don’t just have a political problem: we have an Islamic eschatological one.  Instead of obsession about what American Evangelical Protestants think about the End Times in the age of Trump, the media might want to examine MUSLIM beliefs about such matters.

 

 

 

 

Smart Friends in Low Places

By now many have heard of the (in)famous slandering of US military forces by California high school history teacher and erstwhile (Democrat?) politician, Gregory Salcido: “Think about the people you know who are over there…. They’re not high-level bankers.  They’re not intellectual people.  They’re the freakin’ lowest of our low.”  (Former Democrat POTUS candidate and Secretary of State John Kerry made virtually the same claim some years ago.)

As a college history professor who has to (re)teach “graduates” of public high schools, I can attest that secondary history “teachers” (especially ones who are also Left Coast politicians) are the last folks who should cast stones at others’ intelligence levels.  In fact, it’s a safe bet that the average IQ of the most-frequently deployed US military service members–US Special Forces, the ones most likely to be over there–is considerably higher than that of high school teachers.  At least one empirical analysis of public school teachers reckons that their average IQ is a resounding 104–whereas the minimum IQ to just apply for Army Green Beret training is 115 (based on data from here, as well as here, and extrapolating from info here).  Furthermore, in addition to weapons and reconnaissance and communications and airborne training, Special Forces folks also have to learn foreign languages such as Arabic, Mandarin, Baluch and Hausa.  In fact, “it takes longer to train a Special Forces soldier than it does to train a fighter pilot.” And that’s just enlisted SF; keep in mind that Special Forces officers, like all military officers, have at least a college degree–and once they reach 0-4 (Major), most of them get Master’s degrees.

So, Mr. Salcido, our highly-trained and intelligent Special Ops folks deployed overseas are not “dumb shits.” But you most certainly are included in those ranks.

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Fake News: Middle-earth Edition

Denethor Denies Falling for Fake News, Colluding with Mordor, Banning All Immigrants

Minas Tirith Monitor, Narvinyë 25, 3019 Third Age

Lord Denethor II, son of Ecthelion, Lord and Steward of the Kingdom of Gondor, responded in a press conference to accusations by members of the Parliamentary “Black Numenorean” Caucus that he was not only a consumer, but a disseminator, of fake news; and that he had, in addition, colluded with the Dark Lord himself to gain and maintain his political position.

“Nonsense. You in the media are going crazy with your conspiracy theories and blind hatred.  Plus you pay too much attention, as does my younger son, to a certain grey-bearded alarmist.  For 35 years no one ever accused me of heeding fake news–until rumors of a possible challenge to my rule from some obscure Ranger of the North, last of a ragged house long bereft of lordship and dignity, surfaced.  As for colluding with Sauron the Deceiver: we have never met, and if we did I would not shake his hand–even if he had one at this point.  Sauron has proved himself a liar for many millennia by now–so why should I believe his fake news about Mordor’s supposed massive military buildup? Moreover, why would the The Enemy want me in power, when it is well known that we descendants of Numenor ever bear the brunt of the chief hatred of the Dark Lord?”

As for who might benefit from such allegations, Lord Denethor retorted “my political enemies, who made up those stories to undermine me.  I am looking in the direction of Isengard, Saruman the White–or as I prefer to call him, Gunpowder Man. He has allies among the old Numenorean families here in Gondor.  And do not claim that I am ‘racist’ by referring to them as ‘black’–for you know full well that such is a reference to their ancestors’ ancient support for Sauron, not to their skin color.”

When pressed by Minas Tirith Palace pool reporter Fomentor, son of Fulminaterix, on his alleged addictive use of the palantir, Denethor countered that “assuming you are correct, my usage of that media platform might not be Stewardesque, but it would be late Third Age Stewardesque.  It is, after all, no longer the Second Age.  If I were using one of the ancient Seeing Stones–and I am neither confirming nor denying such–we could dispense with the Steward’s Daily Brief, which didn’t provide all that much intelligence and which Prince Imrahil–or as I like to call him, ‘Elf’–had frankly done a poor job of providing.”

Lookinginpalantirfrommybook

Denethor bristled when a  writer for the Harad Herald brought up the Steward’s ban on Orc, Easterling and Southron immigration into Gondor’s domains.  “Reports from our northern ally Rohan are that–and I quote here Eomer, heir to the throne–‘Orcs are roaming freely across our lands; unchecked, unchallenged, killing at will.’ I will not let this same tragedy befall Gondor. Orcs are banned permanently from our kingdom. And as you well know, my stop on immigration from Harad and the lands east of the Sea of Rhûn is set to last only until Midsummer’s Eve and is in no wise a permanent ban on them.  Easterlings and Southrons who come here illegally, however, will be sent back and must apply to enter through the Gondorian embassy in their respective lands.  Chain migration, especially if it involves invaders wearing chain mail, will no longer be tolerated.”

Finally, when asked about the whereabouts of his eldest son and heir Boromir, who has not been seen in months, Denethor replied that he had been sent on a classified diplomatic mission to an undisclosed location to the north and, being no wizard’s pupil, was expected to return bearing a mighty gift for the Steward.  Reports that Boromir might have been injured on the return trip were greatly exaggerated; and in fact, the worst-case scenario probably involved his simply taking an arrow to the knee.