“Radical” Islam: Livin’ on the Edge, or Stuck Squarely in the Middle, of the Religion?

My friends at Three Kraters Symposium asked me to write something for them–and I responded with this article which exposes the vacuity of the term “radical” Islam, as well as the fatuousness of the claim that anti-Jewish attitudes in Islam derive from the Nazis.

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There is absolutely NOTHING “radical” or “extremist” about this flag, even though ISIS and similar groups use it.  The flag says “there is no deity but Allah, and Muhammad is his messenger.” That’s the credo of 1.6 billion Muslims. 

Gondolin After the Fall: History, Myth or Legend?

As some may know, I like writing about Middle-earth almost as much as the Middle East—more, in fact, since for all its horrors the former is fictional.

Or is it?

In 2016 Oloris published my High Towers and Strong Places: A Political History of Middle-earth.  (The companion volume, Bright Swords and Glorious Warriors: A Military History of Middle-earth, should be out next year—Eru willing.) I’ve also published several related articles: one on Tolkien’s Middle-earth story which discusses the Incarnation taking place there; and another on why he has Men (not Elves or Dwarves) killing dragons.

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Not Gondolin–but Osgiliath (Gondor’s capital before Minas Tirith). 

The underlying premise of both my Tolkien books is to treat the Secondary World of Middle-earth as realistic enough to merit Primary (Real) World treatment.  Tolkien himself made a number of statements justifying such an approach: “This history is supposed to take place in a period of the actual Old World of this planet” (The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, p. 220); also “Mine is not an ‘imaginary’ world, but an imaginary historical moment….” (Ibid., p. 244).

Most directly, in terms of embedding Middle-earth’s history into that of our world, he said the following:

[I]f it were ‘history,’ it would be difficult to fit the land and events (or ‘cultures’) into such evidence as we possess, archaeological or geological, concerning the nearer or remoter part of what is now called Europe; though the Shire, for instance, is stated to have been in this region. I could have fitted things in with greater verisimilitude, if the story had not become too far developed, before the question occurred to me. I doubt there would have been much gain; and I hope the, evidently long but undefined, gap in time between the Fall of Baradu-dûr and our Days is sufficient for literary credibility, even for readers acquainted with what is known or sumised of ‘pre-history.’ (Ibid., p. 283).

Tolkien goes on to elaborate, in a footnote on that same page, on the “gap” between the fall of Sauron’s fortress and the 20th century:

I imagine the gap to be about 6000 years: that is we are now at the end of the Fifth Age, if the Ages were of about the same length as S.A. [Second Age] and T.A. [Third Age—at the end of which, in the year 3019, the War of the Ring was fought.] But they have, I think, quickened; and I imagine we are actually at the end of the Sixth Age, or in the Seventh. 

I had thought I had read everything Tolkien had had to say on relating Real World history to that of Middle-earth (besides all of Tolkien’s writings, peruse the legions of others listed in the 11-page bibliography to High Towers).

But I was wrong. In the latest (and probably last) volume of his works, The Fall of Gondolin (2018), there is this striking passage:

Glory dwelt in that city of Gondolin…and its ruin was the most dread of all the sacks of cities upon the fact of Earth. Nor Bablon, nor Ninwi, nor the towers of Trui, nor all the many takings of Rum that is greatest among Men, saw such terror as fell that day…. (p. 111).

Gondolin was the grandest Elf city of the First Age, a hidden fortress armed against the might of Morgoth, the satanic and original Dark Lord of Middle-earth with whom the Elves were at war (and for whom Sauron, the scourge of the Second and Third Ages, was but an aide-de-camp).  Its location was betrayed by an Elf traitor and an enormous army of Orcs, Balrogs (one of which dragged Gandalf off the bridge in Moria) and dragons then destroyed it, along with most of its inhabitants.

It is fascinating that Tolkien’s narrator for this epic story—set some 6500 years before the events of The Lord of the Rings—refers to events from the Real World: the fall of Troy (Trui) to the combined Mycenean Greek forces, which took place about 1200 BC; the destruction of Nineveh (Ninwi), the capital of the Assyrian Empire, about 612 BC;  the conquest of Babylon (Bablon) by the expanding Persian Empire in 539 BC; and the capture and sack of Constantinople (Rûm) by the Crusaders in 1204 AD, and its final demise at the hands of the Ottoman Turks in 1453.  As far as I know, this is the only time in Tolkien’s writings he so straightforwardly connects the histories of Earth and Middle-earth.  Why would Tolkien write this (and his son and editor, Christopher, include it) except to imply that Gondolin was as real a place as Troy, Nineveh, Babylon or Constantinople?

“Rûm,” by the way, is the Arabic name for the Eastern Roman/Byzantine Empire–for Constantinople writ large, as it were.  Tolkien’s usage of the Muslim Arab, and later Ottoman, term for this city and empire is another fascinating aspect of this passage from The Fall of Gondolin.

As noted above, Tolkien dated the fall of Sauron in Third Age 3019 to about 4000 BC.  That would date the Fall of Gondolin to approximately 10,540 BC.  The Göbekli Tepe civilization of southern Anatolia is dated to around 9000 BC.   Perhaps the fathers of Men did have dealings with the exiles from Valinor.

Trump’s New Counter-terrorism Strategy: The One-Eyed Man is Still King

Last week the Trump Admnistration released its new “National Strategy for Counterterrorism,” [NSCT], a 25-page document outlining the President’s plan to “secure our Nation and prevail against terrorism.”

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In order to understand its content and significance, we need to know context—first and foremost the Obama’s Administration’s analogous agenda, disseminated in 2011 (which was, in its turn, a modification of the George W. Bush Administration one put out in 2006).  This 19-page text focused almost exclusively on “al-Qa`ida and its affiliates and adherents” (passim) with only a few one-off mentions of other groups (Lashkar-e Tayyiba, al-Shabab, Hizbullah, HAMAS and Colombia’s FARC).  The main methodology for defeating AQ was said to be via “broad international coalitions” (p. 4) focusing on Pakistan; in fact, it claimed that  “[w]e will defeat al-Qa`ida only through a sustained partnership with Pakistan” (p. 13).  Perhaps the most glaring flaw was the misplaced hope that AQ and its ideology had “met a devastating rebuke in the face of nonviolent mass movements” (p. 9) in the Middle East—the predicted once-and-future “Arab Spring.”  The most striking element of this Obama-Brennan concoction is that the word “Islam” is mentioned only once in the entire document—and that only to disparage AQ as “a distorted interpretation of Islam” (p. 3).

Although the Trump plan does share a few key points with Obama’s (protecting America and the homeland; stopping terrorists from acquiring weapons of mass destruction or WMDs; countering terrorist ideology), it differs significantly in several aspects—for which we should be thankful, because as Obama’s second term wound down even liberal foreign policy outlets could discern madness, and not much method, in his CT program.   In an implicit rebuke of Obama’s drone-them-all-and-let-Allah-sort-them-out approach, Trump’s states that “we must do more than merely kill or capture terrorists. We must dismantle…networks and sever the sources…that sustain them” (p. I).   The current administration also classifies the need to defeat “radical Islamist terrorism”  in the same category with our success over “oppression, fascism, and totalitarianism in previous wars” (p. II). And in fact this document mentions “radical Islamist terrorism” 16 times throughout—a welcome change from the Obama-Brennan pretense that Islam has nothing to do with the 76% (51/67) of terrorist groups waging jihad fi sabil Allah on the US State Department list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations.  But that phrase “radical Islamist terrorism” is problematic in its own right: it is not “radical” to fight and kill non-Muslims (as I explained at length in an explicatory blogpost earlier this year); and “Islamist” is a misleading and indeed redundant term, insofar as it commonly means “an advocate or supporter of Islamic militancy or fundamentalism”—since the literal meaning of Islamic texts across space and time, as well as the vast majority of Sunnis (Islam’s largest branch), support Islamic fundamentalism and, often, militancy. “Islamist” in this sense truly simply means “Islamic” or “Muslim”—but even this John Bolton-inspired CT agenda won’t say that.

In fact, Trump’s CT “strategery” too often echoes Obama’s dhimmi attitude.  Besides the plentiful parroting of “radical Islamist terrorism,” we read of such terrorists’ “depraved goals” (p. 1) and the vacuous “violent extremist ideologies” (passim), as well as, in the President’s introductory letter, “twisted ideologies that purport to justify the murder of innocent victims” —all phrases which should be cast back into the oblivious and mendacious chasm whence they came.  How on earth can “strategic communications” (p. 2) aimed at undermining terrorist “radicalization and recruitment” (p. 5) be successful when our leadership—even in a maverick, non-PC administration—cannot bring itself to actually name our enemy? Our enemy is not a distortion of Islam—it is literalist Islam itself, as spelled out in the Qur’an and Hadiths and used for centuries as the motivation to wage jihad and conquer Christians, Hindus and anyone else unwilling to convert.

The chart on p. 5, illustrating “strategic objectives,” “end states” and “lines of effort” is clear and useful.  And this NSCT is adamant that the primary goal of the Trump Administration is to protect the USA itself and her citizens, while not neglecting working with allies to help them protect themselves from the likes of ISIS, AQ and Iran, which “remains the most prominent state sponsor of terrorism” (p. 9).   Other groups also pose a threat, notably Boko Haram, Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan and Lashkar-e Tayyiba—but, seemingly in an effort to include non-Muslim groups, the Nordic Resistance Movement, National Action Group (UK), and the Sikh Babbar Khalsa movement in India (p. 9).  It is worth noting that none of these three organizations appears on the State Department FTO list; and while Babbar Khalsa has enaged in violence, even killings, in the past neither the NRM nor NAG seems to have done so.  Perhaps these three groups are indeed CT problems; but there is scant data to suggest that any of them constitutes a threat even remotely approaching the aforementioned Islamic ones.

Trump’s NSCT also makes clear his intentions to keep Gitmo open as a terrorist detention facility (p. 14).  It also, logically, lays out the need to protect “critical infrastructure” from “cascading effects” across infrastructure types (p. 19).  The document’s penultimate section is on “Counter Terrorist Radicalization and Recruitment” (pp. 21-22), which states that the US will “seek to promote voices of pluralism and tolerance” (p. 21)—here, let me help you, Mr. President, with a plan for this I devised nine years ago—and “demonstrate that [radical Islamist terrorists’] claims are false….” (p. 21).  But, as I said earlier: when you can’t, or won’t, truly understand those claims or the context whence they arise—how can you possibly refute them?

In its “Conclusion,” Mr. Trump’s new CT agenda trumpets that “[t]his [document] marks a shift in America’s approach to countering and preventing terrorism” and that henceforth “[w]e will lead with our principles and a clear-eyed understanding of a constantly changing operating environment” (p. 25).  I have no doubt the folks in his administration will foreground American principles far more than the ones under Obama did. But this latest NSCT is far from clear-eyed—in fact, in its stubborn refusal to acknowledge the civilizational clash that Islam engenders with all the rest of the world, particularly the Christian parts, Trump is at best one-eyed.

But in a  world of blind leaders, the one-eyed man is still king. Hail to the King, baby!

 

Misunderestimating Mahdism in Malaysia

Six years ago I broke down the latest Pew study on the planet’s Muslims, pointing out that a large minority–as much as 42%–professed belief in the imminent coming of the eschatological Mahdi.  (This minority included Sunnis as well as Twelver Shi`is–contra conventional “wisdom” that only sects of Shi`ism adhere to Mahdism.)  My bottom-line take was this:

Several real-world policy ramifications for the U.S. State and Defense departments, as well as the IC (Intelligence Community), can be drawn from this Pew study. First, a civilization laden with eschatological expectations AND a historical track record of militant movements motivated by messianic leaders, infused with intolerance toward its own schismatics, convinced of ongoing problems with demonic entities and witches and in thrall to a literalist reading of a violent religious text might not be amenable to rational actor theory in international relations. Second, political consolidation and/or jihadist movements led by self-styled Mahdis should be considered as real possibilities in the twenty-first century, especially as we approach key dates such as the hundred year mark from the dissolution of the Ottoman caliphate (2024) or the year 1500 of the Muslim calendar (2076) — since Mahdism, historically, clusters around such important dates which spark attempts to create rival caliphates, often violently. 

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Iranian Muslims praying for the Mahdi to come (from my trip to Iran, 2008).

I could say I hate being right–but that would be a lie.  Earlier this month, according to “Channel News Asia,” Malaysian authorities arrested members of a group called “Asoib” (Arabic `asa’ib, “gangs, troops, bands”) who “planned to team up with another terror group in a Middle Eastern country to launch attacks….” Police Inspector-General Mohd Fuzi Harun “said that the Asoib group had misinterpreted the hadith…on Imam Mahdi, an Islamic redeemer who is believed to appear before the end of the world. ‘They…believe Imam Mahdi will appear in Mecca this year. This group will then team up with Imam Mahdi’s ‘army’ to fight secular countries and fight ‘the evil person,’ said Fuzi.” Another source said that “the men had planned to head to Yemen before proceeding to Saudi Arabia.”

Malaysia is 61% (Sunni) Muslim and has a reputation for being “moderate“–despite officially banning the practice of Shi`ism.  Yet even there, apocalyptic Islamic beliefs are clearly extant. And it’s amusing that that country’s top gumshoe takes it upon himself to explicate Islam–and in doing so gets things wildly wrong.  Having read all the relevant Arabic hadiths on the Mahdi, I can attest that his appearance in Mecca and subsequent formation of an army to battle secularism and a major “evil person”–by which was probabably meant the Dajjal, the “Deceiver” (Islam’s antichrist)–meshes almost exactly with “prophet” Muhammad’s sayings on the topic.  Asoib’s contention that the Mahdi will manifest this year is more edgy prognostication than a “misinterpretation,” for Islam’s “rightly-guided one” will come; it’s just the timetable that’s moot.

This Malaysian Mahdist movement may appear more of a nuisance than a real threat; but as I also pointed out a few years ago, it’s just a matter of time before the variegated strands of eschatological thought in the world’s second-largest religion come together to pose a definite danger to the rest of the world.

Addendum (9.29.18): Here’s a story entitled “Malaysian state to cane a third woman for infringing Islamic law,” which further undercuts the claim that Malaysia is somehow “moderate” in its Islam.

 

 

 

 

 

Six Rock Songs about The End of the World

Eschatology has been the be-all and end-all (pun intended) of my academic research for some two decades now.  My Ohio State Department of History doctoral dissertation (2001) and two of my four books have dealt with Islamic beliefs about the apocalypse. But I’d been fascinated with the End Times long before learning about the Mahdi and the Dajjal—probably since I was about 10 years old, when I used to gaze in fear at the 10-headed beast of Revelation illustration found in the back of my great-grandparents’ King James Bible.  Besides, what’s of more ultimate importance than when and how the world ends, and our eternal fate after death?

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The Last Judgment (from Orthodoximages.com).

I’m also a huge fan of rock music, from classic to hard.  Two of my favorite Sirius XM stations are “Classic Vinyl” and “Classic Rewind”—along with the “70s,” “Deep Tracks”  and of course the Beatles channel.  For the last several months, however, the U2 channel mainly played in my truck—until Sirius swapped it out for the “Dave Mathews Band” one. Damn you! Damn you all to hell!  (And I mean both Sirius and DMB.) However, “Ozzy’s Boneyard” also sometimes makes my presets, and listening to the heavy metal songs there introduced me to music about the apocalypse to which I’d never paid much attention.

Herewith, then, are my six favorite eschatological rock/metal songs, based on lyrical content and on music. Why only six? Because 666 would just be too damned many.

  • Iron Maiden, “The Number of the Beast.” Released in 1982, the single was a top ten hit in many European countries but not in the US, although the album of the same name reached #33 on the US Billboard chart, hitting platinum (at least 1 million in sales) status. The song starts with verses from the book of Revelation spoken by the late actor Barry Clayton (supposedly because Vinent Price cost too much). The salient reference is from Revelation 13:18: “Here is wisdom. Let him who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man: his number is 666.”  (The numbering derives from applying numerical values to Greek letters; in so doing John the Apostle may have been referring covertly to the Christian-persecuting Roman emperor Domitian.) The lyrics supposedly resulted from a dream one of the band members had after watching one of the Omen movies about the Antichrist: “In the mist dark figures move and twist/Was all this for real, or just some kind of hell?” “666 the number of the beast/Hell and fire spawned to be released.” “I’m coming  back/I will return/And I’ll possess your body and make it burn.” “I have the fire/I have the force/I have the power to make my evil take its course.”  Sung by Bruce Dickinson, often in his operatic voice, over pulsating—if repetitive—guitars, the song might make you take St. John’s apocalypse seriously, even if you aren’t a Christian.  By the way: I’d always wondered about the difference between “hard rock” and “metal.” A few years ago, a co-worker (at US Special Operations Command, of all places!) who moonlighted as the bass player in a metal band told me the difference: in hard rock, you can understand the sung lyrics; in metal, you might understand some of them; in heavy metal, there’s just screaming. (But then, where does that leave “thrash metal?”)  So by that metric, Iron Maiden is doing hard rock.  Also: lead singer Bruce Dickinson fences epee—quite well. And of course he’s sinister (left-handed)!

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The “Four Horsemen of the Rock Apocalypse,” from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Cleveland, OH (my picture, July 2017): Mick, Elvis, Jeff and Keith, I believe.

  • Metallica, “The Four Horsemen.” This song was from the band’s 1983 debut album, Kill’em All which, despite peaking at only #66, sold over 3 million copies. (Why did I choose this tune, and not the band’s “My Apocalypse?” Read the lyrics.  “My Apocalypse” is not about the End of Time, but a personal catastrophe.) Metallica turns the Horsemen of Conquest, War, Famine and Pestilence of Revelation 6:18 into Time, Famine, Pestilence and Death—although referring to them as the “quartet of deliverance” does seems to put the band squarely on the side of evil.  There are some other, great lines in this song: “The sound of hooves knocks at your door/Lock up your wife and children now/It’s time to wield the blade.” “Now is the death of doers of wrong/Swing the judgement hammer down/Safely inside armor, blood guts and sweat.”  Much of this 7:13-long song is guitar work; but while the (allegedly) “Sweet Home Alabama”-inspired middle solo is engaging, the rest of the “solos” are high-speed, thrash-mode riffing—which is not my cup of tea.  And face it: James Hetfield is just not the quality lead singer that Bruce Dickinson is.  Still, the subject matter of this song is dead-on for my tastes, and thus for this post.
  • Black Sabbath, “After Forever.” This track came from the band’s third album, the 1971 double-platinum Masters of Reality.  Perhaps Black Sabbath’s most explicitly Christian song, it severely undercut their reputation as Satan-friendly.  “After Forever” failed to chart as a single—but then, Black Sabbath never had a single that hit the US top 40 (although a number did in the UK).  Really a hard rock, not a metal, song, Ozzy sings Geezer Butler’s lyrics: “Is Christ just a name that you read in a book/When you were at school?” “Would you like to see the Pope/On the end of a rope/Or do you think he’s a fool?” (A good question, here in 2018, with the ongoing revelations of Pope Francis failing to act against sex predators in the Roman Catholic clergy.) “I think it was true/It was people like you/that crucified Christ.” “Perhaps you’ll think before you say that God is dead and gone/Open your eyes just realize that he’s the one/The only one who can save you from all this sin and hate.” OK, it’s not explicitly, or even primarily, about the Apocalypse—but it IS about the Last Judgement and how to escape consignment to the Lake of Fire.  And the flip side is “Fairies Wear Boots!”
  • Wishbone Ash, “The King Will Come.” This was a cut from the progressive rock band’s third and most successful album, Argus—which reached #3 in the UK but failed, like every other Wishbone Ash album (despite selling over half-a-million copies, and stellar reviews), to hit the top 40 in the US. I came reluctantly to admit the talent of this band—having to overcome some deep-seated prejudice. Back in 1974, my high school chum Mark Gray and I drove to a record store in Covington, Kentucky (just across the Ohio River from Cincinnati) to get copies of Elton John’s (first) greatest hits album. The dude working at the store must have come from Hippie Central Casting: long hair and Lennon-esqe glasses, emerging from behind a bead curtain.  And there was also a miasma of incense in the air.  (At least I think it was incense.)  When told we were looking for Elton’s latest album, Sir Tokes-A-Lot grimaced and implored “have you ever tried Wishbone Ash?” We declined, purchased EJ, and backed away slowly, never making bloodshot eye contact.  Well, thanks to Sirius XM’s “Deep Tracks,” I’ve come to see the error of my ways and the unintentional wisdom of that gentle, if addled, holdover hippie. Wishbone Ash is a damned fine band, with excellent musicanship and profound lyrics—especially on the topic at hand. “The King Will Come” opens with 1:30 of guitars, layering up from acoustic to electric, and reaching rather hard status before the lyrics finally begin. (Indeed, the band was seminal in developing “twin-lead guitar harmonisation later adopted by bands such as Thin Lizzy and Iron Maiden.”) While there are no overt references to Revelation, the End of the World is described in just a handful of exquisitely harmonized lyrics. “In the fire, the king will come/Thunder rolls, pipe and drum/Evil sons/ overrun/Count their sins—Judgement comes.”  “The checkerboard of nights and days/Man will die, man be saved/The sky will fall, the earth will pray/When judgement comes to claim its day.” Like Metallica’s 7 minute-plus offering, much of Wishbone Ash’s is guitar work—but whereas the former wields a musical Claymore, the latter brandishes a rapier and dagger.  Metallica’s apocalypse screams in like an asteroid, Wishbone Ash’s sneaks up like a thief in the night—which makes it no less threatening.  Addendum: I called my old high school buddy Mark tonight, and he reminded me that the name of the aforementioned record store was the Lemon Starship.  Groovy!
  • U2, “The Wanderer.”  This was the last track on U2’s 1993 #1 album Zooropa, with Johnny Cash singing lead. On this album, continuing their practice on the previous Achtung Baby!, U2 veered heavily into electronic/Euro-dance music.  On this specific song, accordingly, there’s a (synthesized) bass part, minimal drumming, almost no guitar and some electronic instrumentation. The Man in Black sings about wandering through a post-apocalyptic wasteland, “under an atomic sky/Where the ground won’t turn/and the rain it burns/like the tears when I said goodbye.”  Some of the lyrics clearly reflect the still-resonating end of the Cold War, while others refer to Biblical themes. “I went drifting through the capitals of tin/Where men can’t walk or freely talk/And sons turn their fathers in.” “I went out walking/with a Bible and a gun/The world of God lay heavy on my heart/I was sure I was the one.” “Now Jesus, don’t you wait up/Jesus I’ll be home soon/Yeah I went out for the papers/Told her I’d be back by noon.”  In the middle of the song is a spoken part by Cash, reminiscent of St. Augustine’s Confessions: “I went out there/In search of experience/To taste and to touch/And to feel as much/As a man can/Before he repents.”  This song will make you think—about mortality, and about The End.  It’s Ring of Fire meets A Canticle For Leibowitz (one of the greatest science fiction novels ever written).  And not only did it relaunch Cash’s career—the year after this he released American Recordings—but, as my sons told me, “The Wanderer” was used as musical background for one of the Fallout post-apocalypse video games.

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The Mount of Olives’ Garden of Gethsemane, from my trip there, 2003.  When Judas betrayed Jesus with a kiss, it probably wasn’t this manicured.

  • U2, “Until the End of the World.”  The single greatest song referencing the topic ever written—although, to be fair, the lyrics are not actually apocalyptic; rather, they describe the betrayal of Christ by Judas, building from the Last Supper to His arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane. The track is found on 1991’s Achtung Baby!, U2’s second-best selling album (18 million).  It was never released as a formal single, although it did come out as a “promotional single” on the US Rock and Album track charts.  “We ate the food/We drank the wine/Everybody was having a good time/Except you, you were talking about the end of the world.”  These lyrics reflect Judas’ presence at the Last Supper (Matthew 26:17-26; also Mark 14:12-21 and Luke 22:7-16).  “In the garden I was playing the tart/I kissed your lips, and broke your heart.” (U2 also sings about the betrayal of Christ in “Pride:” “one man betrayed with a kiss.”) The Gospel reference is Matthew 26: 47, 48 as well as parallels in Mark and Luke. The last verse sounds like a heartfelt, albeit belated, regret by Judas for his damned perfidy: “Waves of regret, waves of joy/I reached out for the one I tried to destroy/You—you said you’d wait till the end of the world.”  This is also one of U2’s best rock songs, with The Edge going more for a rock guitar sound and less the quasi-acoustic effect.  Although clearly Christian in content—as is to be expected with U2, several of whose members are overtly Christian—the first verse makes me think, every time I hear it, of Islamic eschatology.  “Haven’t seen you in quite a while/I was down the hole just passing time”–which could easily be referring to the Twelfth Imam of Shi`i Islam who will emerge from a well behind Jamkaran Mosque in Qom, Iran.

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The hole/well whence the Twelfth Imam al-Mahdi will emerge is behind that Jamkaran Mosque.  Pictured also: Infidel Great Satanist researcher. 

There you have it: my half-dozen favorite rock and metal (?) songs about this topic.  What say you?

Dictator or Deliverer? Applying Shakespeare to Trump

“I stole all courtesy from heaven and dressed myself in such humility that I did pluck allegiance from men’s hearts.”—Henry IV Part 1, Act 3, Scene 2.

American actors, as most of us know, are overwhelmingly liberal; one estimate is that only perhaps 1% of Hollywood’s entertainment industry is made up of conservatives. (Even the “NY Times” admits as much—although it tries mightily to prettify the reasons for such bias.)  Clint Eastwood is a legendary force in movie-making, as both actor and director; but even his unabashed, outspoken libertarian-conservatism gets lost amidst the PC rants of Tinseltown, epitomized by Robert Di Niro’s boorish and jejune tantrums.

What about British actors, particularly Shakespearean ones?  Checking the backgrounds of 15 well-known UK thespians famous for appearing in the Bard’s plays (a “top 14” list, as well as Benedict Cumberbatch), less than half–only six—give evidence of being decidedly Left: Mark Rylance, Ian McKellen, Patrick Stewart, Derek Jacobi, Vanessa Redgrave, and Cumberbatch.  So perhaps the London stage is not as politically tendentious as Los Angeles film sets.  It would seem the same is not true of young Americans doing Shakepeare, however—at least based on personal experience.  Some years ago I played Leonato in a production of Much Ado About Nothing at the college where I taught at the time. Most of the cast was comprised of college students or young actors and actresses who had recently graduated.  Not surprisingly, many were—as I recall from conversations with them—quite liberal.  (In fact, some seemed shocked that a conservative faculty member liked Shakespeare, much less had the ability to memorize lines.)  In addition, my wife and I regularly attend the excellent versions of Shakepeare’s plays put on by Atlanta’s superb Shakespeare Tavern.  I’ve gotten used to the bio notes of actors—usually, but not only, the recent college grads—proclaiming that they “punch Nazis” or support LGBT.  (My automatic response to such virtue signalling is to order another ale and, while drinking, wonder bemusedly whether anyone who majored in theater arts has ever actually been in a real fight.)

So, then, actors are overwhelmingly liberal, Shakespearean ones arguably less so.  But what about those who write on Shakespeare? Well, college faculty overall are also overwhelmingly liberal or “progressive,” by a factor of over 11:1.  In English departments, where the Bard is still sometimes studied, at least 8 of 10 professors self-identify as liberals and fewer than 1 in 10 as conservative.  (At least that’s better than my own academic field, history—where “liberals outnumber conservatives by a 33 ½ to 1 ratio”).  And only about 7% of journalists are conservatives.  So when the greatest playwright in the history of the human race is adduced, in books or articles, to support a political agenda, one can safely predict that Will’s heroes will probably be Democrats, and his villains Republican—a tradition going back to the Left’s typecasting of Nixon as Richard III.

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The Tower of London Keep, from our trip there, spring 2018.  Bodies are buried about the grounds, although the building lacks a secret tape recording system.

Typical of the academy’s weaponizing of Shakespeare against conservatives is Stephen Greenblatt’s anti-Trump screed disguised as scholarship: Tyrant: Shakespeare on Politics (Norton, 2018).  Without even naming the current American President, the eminent Shakespeare scholar and Harvard professor makes it clear that The Donald is Jack Cade,  who led a lower-class revolt in Henry VI’s time.  But wait! He’s really as depraved as Richard III. Or as murderous as Macbeth. Or as crazy as King Lear. Or as self-absorbed as Coriolanus. Or more likely, a million times worse than all of them put together (to paraphrase The SimpsonsKent Brockman, reporting on “Krisis at Kamp Krusty”). Herewith is a sampling of Greenblatt’s thinly-diluted venom. “Populism may look like an embrace of the have-nots, but in reality it is a form of cynical exploitation” (p. 35).  “[A]n effective demagogue” is “the master of voodoo economics” (p. 37).  Like Cade, the modern leader of fraudulent populism “promises to make England great again” (p. 41).  But like Richard III, “he can devote himself to bullying those who possess the natural endowments he lacks” (p. 58).  Macbeth, unlike Richard, finally realizes the emptiness of his deeds and life, but Greenblatt insists that “[i]t is difficult to picture the tyrants of our times having any such moment of truthful reckoning” (p. 111).  Trump, like Lear, is an “impulsive narcissist” who “should not have control even of a very small army” (p. 118).  Only the Fool—“the equivalent of a late-night comedian”—can speak truth to his power (p. 118). Coriolanus, like the other patricians of ancient Rome, only wants small amounts of wealth to “trickle down” (p. 161) to the scorned plebians. “In civilized states, we expect leaders to have achieved…a minimal level of self-control…. Not so Coriolanus: here we are dealing instead with and overgrown child’s narcissism, insecurity, cruelty, and folly…” (pp. 165-66). Is there any doubt whom Greenblatt sees as Coriolanus’ modern incarnation?  Or this, when dissecting Coriolanus’ defection to the Volscians after he is defeated for consul: “It is as if the leader of a political party long identified with hatred of Russia…should secretly make his way to Moscow and offer his services to the Kremlin” (p. 178).  It’s not just Shakespeare, it seems, who is “[m]aster of the oblique angle” (184).  But Greenblatt lets the mask slip—intentionally, no doubt—in his “Acknowledgments:” “Not so very long ago…I sat in a verdant garden in Sardinia and expressed my growing apprehensions about the possible outcome of an upcoming election. My historian friend…asked me what I was doing about it. ‘What can I do?’ I asked. ‘You can write something,’ he said. And so I did” (p. 192).

Journalists and other progressive politicizers of the Bard who can’t afford to vacation in bucolic Mediterranean settings are less circumspect, but no less convinced, that Trump is a Shakespeare-level despot-villain.  Googling “Trump dicatator” produces 28.5 million results. (My hands-down favorite: “Trump’s Dictator Chic,” about how his taste in furnishings is somehow Mussolini-esque.) Peruse the many articles—some thoughtful, many not—on this topic and you’ll see that Greenblatt had already identified the primary possible Bardian analogs for President Trump: Richard III, Macbeth, Lear, Coriolanus.  None of them—with the possible exception of Lear, who was of course insane—is a sympathetic figure. So the Left’s scribblers, who wield Shakespeare with all the subtlety of a broadsword, give us Trump as conniving, twisted pedicide; murderous usurper; mad monarch; infantile traitor—or some poisonous combination thereof.

Trump as Lear never really works, unless one subscribes to the ludicrous notion that the 45th President is indeed insane. Macbeth is a flat-out killer, a category which might suit Vladimir Putin (at least in his past KGB career) but not Trump. Richard III is a better fit—albeit in ways that the Left might not like—insofar as he, like Trump, “though…neither good nor merciful…is every endearing thing else. He is brave, witty, resourceful, gay, swift, disarmingly candid with himself, engagingly sly with his enemies” (as per John Palmer, Political and Comic Characters of Shakespeare, Macmillan & Co., 1965, p. 65; I will rely heavily upon this splendid work in the rest of this essay).  “He never sins, for sin implies a breach of the moral law accepted by the sinner. Richard has his own code. To that he is always faithful and so lives happy as the day is long” (p. 85).  Sound familiar?  Stormy Daniels may not be Lady Anne, but one might well see Trump’s “success” with the former in much the same register as Richard’s with the latter.  Of course, Richard’s (alleged) murder of his nephew Edward V’s young sons has no parallel in the career of Trump,  “a recognisable type of public person who wins our sympathy by conducting himself with a refreshing candour” but does not “kill little children in their beds” (p. 101).  “What we like and admire about Richard”—and Trump—“is that he knows, as the politicians seldom know, precisely what he is doing. He presents the situation for what it is and makes no bones about it. We relish his exposure of a truth which in various forms and disguises is a matter of common observation (p. 101).  Still, the differences between Richard III and Donald Trump are greater than the similarities.  Trump has no bodily deformity driving his psyche, and in the final analysis Richard III is simply evil—despite the “sinister magnificence” of his intelligence and eloquence—in a way that only the most infected with Trump Derangement Syndrome would ascribe to the President. Among recent Presidents, Bill Clinton would appear to be more of in the mold of Richard III than Trump, it might well be argued–with his roguish charm, keen intellect and total lack of a moral center.

The proud, arrogant yet adolescent Roman commander Caius Marcius Coriolanus is the other major Shakespeare political figure of whom Trump is often said to be an epigone.  Coriolanus is perhaps the Bard’s most overtly political play (Palmer, p. 250) and while “finely praised, but little loved” (p. 308) in England (and, presumably, the US) has proved popular in France (p. 307).  Of course, the protagonist (insofar as he fits that definition) is a war hero, quite unlike Trump—and the tribunes Brutus and Sicinius who oppose his election as consul “are not concerned with the motives of Marcius [Coriolanus]…but with the dangers inherent in his character…” (p. 260).  Coriolanus is incensed when he is rejected for the office, not in “protest against the political dishonesty of the course to which he is invited” but solely because of the affront to his “personal dignity” (p. 279).  The self-righteous general then defects to Rome’s mortal enemy Volsci, and to his antagonist Tullus Aufidius—who eventually has Coriolanus killed, after the Roman refuses to conquer his own city.  While Greenblatt and Bill Kristol might see Aufidius as Putin, the reality is that Trump has never betrayed his country in such fashion.  To find a Coriolanus analog in American history, we might have to go back to Benedict Arnold—for no President really exhibits such Shakespearean characteristics.

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Always talking of Crusading, but never doing it: Henry IV (from Wikipedia, public domain).

I propose another view of Trump, also mining Shakespeare, but one far less negative: as Henry IV.  But to grasp the logic of that, we must first examine his rival and erstwhile superior: Richard of Bordeaux, or Richard II.  Henry and Richard were cousins, each with a legitimate claim to the throne; the latter, who actually ruled for years before being deposed, was according to Shakespeare “unfitted to rule…coping ineffectually with men of the world who adapt themselves to the event” (p. 121).  Richard II “is concerned with public affairs and the kind of men [and women!] who in every generation delude themselves into the belief that they are making history” (p. 121).  The proximate cause for Henry’s rebellion is King Richard’s seizure of the former’s estate. But as John Julius Norwich explains at some length in Shakespeare’s Kings (Viking, 1999), Richard’s reign was marked by “quite alarming arrogance, self-indulgence and irresponsibility” (p. 73) and “blind devotion to his favourites” (p. 74), such as Robert de Vere, Earl of Oxford and, for a time, Thomas Mowbray, Earl of Nottingham—with whom Henry famously quarrels in the play.  Even the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381 failed to change Richard’s behavior, epitomized by “continuing to spend money like water and resorting to tantrums at the first breath of criticism” (p. 78).  Richard banishes Henry, who then returns with an army to…what? At first, he “gives no sign of his purpose—and for an excellent reason. He is that most dangerous of all climbing politicans, the man who will go futher than his rivals because he never allows himself to know where he is going” (Palmer, p. 134).  But Henry and his forces move toward London, gaining supporters as they go, until he sees that “[h]is chance has come and he seizes it” (p. 161)—and thus the throne.  Richard, meanwhile, retreats into self-pity and victimhood, blaming everyone and everything but himself for the loss of the throne which was his by divine right. Ultimately, “Richard failed because he had no principles at all….(p. 177).  Richard is the most self-centered character in all the Bard’s canon, and the one least able to communicate with, and understand, the common man (p. 178).

And who is today’s Richard II? Why, Hillary Clinton, of course.  Her toxic mix of self-entitlement and political maladroitness is perfectly Richardian, even if she never actually achieved the pinnacle of power. Remember, most polls and much of the public expected her to demolish Trump in the 2016 election.  President Obama said that Hillary was “the most qualified Presidential candidate ever,” and while her divine right to the office was not quite articulated, we were told that those who voted for Trump would reserve themselves a “special place in hell.”  Hillary had barely lost the 2008 Democrat nomination, remember, to Obama. So by November 2016 “Narcissus [was] already absorbed in the contemplation of [her] royal image” (Palmer, p. 152).  Trump did not win due to Russian “collusion” but because Hillary, like Richard II, was “dangerously unpopular” with large segments of the population–including, most tellingly, many blue-collar Americans who had voted previously for Obama in Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin–enabling Trump, like Henry, to “rally virtually the whole country to his banner” (Norwich, p. 3)–a major factor which the play Richard II really does not explain, leaving the readers/crowd to assume “Bolingbroke” was only motivated by the king’s unjust dispossession of his lands.

So Hillary’s coronation was stymied by Trump’s march to the Presidency, which unfolded very much in the mold of Shakespeare’s Henry IV, as his character is revealed in Richard II and in Henry IV Part I.  But which Henry of Lancaster presages Trump best? That of “a long-headed conspirator, consciously bent on obtaining the crown from the outset…deliberately advancing step by step to the achievement of his purpose?” Or, instead, “a man who…appears to be borne upwards by a power beyond his volition”—in whom “there is no premeditation…no indication of a deep design.” Rather, there is a third portrayal, even more apt: that of a “political opportunist” who “instinctively adapts himself to the moment.  His intentions remain obscure, even to himself, till they are in effect fulfilled. He thus conveys the impression that he is just as much the victim of necessity as master of the event….” (p. 136).  The fates, it seems, guided his steps, from the Trump Tower escalator to the Oval Office.

From real estate mogul to reality TV star to President of the most powerful country in human history—Trump has risen even further than Henry of Lancaster.  The two formidable characteristics that drove Henry’s political triumph are shared by Trump: an instinct for doing the right thing at the right time; and the ability to connect with those below his socioeconomic class.  What Norwich said about Henry vis-à-vis Richard equally applies to Trump in respect to Hillary : “his easy charm was a far cry from Richard’s cold and haughty majesty” (Shakespeare’s Kings, p. 118).

In the final analysis, one must admit, enlisting Shakespeare in any political cause is a quixotic quest, not least because “[h]is main concern was not so much with the politics as with the men who made them” (Palmer, p. viii).  Still, it’s a labor of love to turn the table on liberals who hack at conservative politicians with Shakespearean broadswords. I’ve tried to employ, on the contrary, a Bardian rapier against Hillary and the Left.  Let me know if I’ve succeeded.

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Stage combat weapons at The Globe, London (from our family trip there, spring 2018).  Note the abundance of exquisite Elizabethan rapiers!

Coda: 

Here’s a fun quiz on the “Shakespeare & Beyond” blog: “if Shakespeare characters were running for President, who would you vote for?” I got Henry V! Deus vult!

Losing Your Head For (Not Over) Islam

I was just pulling together links to some of my media appearances for a friend when I found one to the fall 2014 interview of yours truly by the inestimable Dr. Bill Bennett, when he still hosted his “Morning in America” radio show.  It’s on the place of beheadings in Islamic doctrine  and history, and whether ISIS was, and is, aberrant in its practice of decapitation. Here’s the link (I start at 28:17, after Hugh Hewitt’s intro).

Mobeheading

Ali (nephew and son-in-law of Muhammad) beheading the mocking poet al-Nadr b. al-Harith at “the Prophet’s” order.  This 14th c. Ottoman miniature is archived at zombietime.com .

 

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.

TurkeyMahdi

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 favoring of 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 kind. 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