Ronald Reagan had many great lines. “There you go again” was one of his best, and most-used. Against Carter in 1980, Mondale in 1984, and probably every time Sam Donaldson shouted one of his inane questions.
Yes, even given that agreeing on lies is how the Democrats do history now, this constant untruth is not only appalling but injurious to the body politic. And rather than deconstruct Biden’s mendacious malarkey yet again, allow me to list, and link to, my numerous previous articles over at The Stream which do so. In these you’ll find not just opinion, but terrorism data that demonstrates the ludicrousness of Biden’s propaganda.
Mostly I write about the Middle East/Islamic world on this blog. But every so often my inner Tolkien fanatic emerges. Last fall I had published, in the Sonder magazine, an essay entitled “The Value of Family in Middle-earth” (pp. 45-51). You can find it here. It’s a bit of a departure from my usual geopolitical analysis of both real and fictional worlds.
Moi with my book on Middle-earth political history beneath Tolkien’s
portrait at The Eagle and Child Pub, Oxford, 2018.
It was twenty years ago today, George Bush said conquest is the way. The second President Bush followed in his father’s footsteps and did him one better–or perhaps worse. Adducing Saddam’s alleged WMDs and support for terrorism, as well as the need to spread democracy in the Islamic Middle East, Bush sent our military in to take out Saddam and remake the Iraqi political system. Then he claimed “Mission Accomplished.” Well, was that true?
Once again, I’ve dropped the ball on my blog–this time, for just over three months. Since last December, however, I have published 10 articles over at The Stream, on topics to include Iran’s nuclear ambitions, the World Cup, the national reparations movement, the war in Ukraine, Vladimir Putin’s worldview, Chinese spy balloons, and aliens. In fact, I am just three articles away from my 100th at that site.
But now for something completely different. Driving home from Divine Liturgy this morning, I caught part of the excellent “Millennium of Music” show on Sirius XM channel 76, hosted by Robert Aubry Davis. Today he was playing the latest album by Alexander Lingas and Cappella Romana: A Byzantine Emperor at King Henry’s Court: Christmas 1400, London (Available here, as well as on Amazon Music.) The group performs music written for the visit of Byzantine ruler Manuel II Palaiologos to England for several months in the winter of 1400-01, seeking aid against the encroaching Ottomans from King Henry IV. The chants are of course in both Greek and Latin, and simply wonderful. (Cappella Romana also did the equally mesmerizing Lost Voices of Hagia Sophia.)
By the way, I did a long post on Henry IV last May, as I’ve always found him fascinating. And I was fortunate enough to be cast as Henry in a local community college production of Henry IV Part 1 last summer–about which I wrote an article.
Yours truly as Henry IV, July 2022. No rebels were actually harmed in the making of this play.
In 2018 I wrote a very long post entitled “Six Rock Songs about the End of the World.” I’ve been meaning to do a follow-up one, but never found a good reason. Well, now I have. Yesterday, driving between university teaching gigs, I heard a Fleetwood Mac song, “Revelation.” I’m not sure how I missed it all these years; but perhaps it being from 1973, before the band became a household name in the late 70s, is the reason. Also, it was written and sung by Bob Welch, in the pre-Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham days. In any event, this post will cover that song and three others that portray eschatological elements: “Apocalypse Please” by Muse; “Today is the End” by Ozzy Osbourne; and “The Man Comes Around” by Johnny Cash.
“Revelation” was on Fleetwood Mac’s pedestrian Penguin album. It’s an upbeat, acoustic- and electric-guitar driven song, musically–which rather belies its subject matter. “He had all the mountains/under his command/You know that he had all the cities/In his two hands/Yes, and he had control of the four winds/And the hunger of the starving man.” And “He controlled the brimstone/and eternal fire….you know the lord of light is laughing.” The final stanza warns “On a Sunday morning/with a voice that’s cold/the future gives a warning/of the fire that burns below.” But although it purports to be about the final, apocalyptic book of the Bible, Welch’s song is more ambient than specific about Revelation.
“Apocalypse Please” is on the English progressive rock band Muse’s 2003 album Absolution. I confess (pun intended) that I had never listened to an entire song by this group until today. The song is almost symphonic, with lots of piano; quite amazing vocals by Matthew Bellamy, too. It’s supposedly mocking “religious fanatics” who wish for the Apocalypse. “Declare this an emergency/Come on and spread a sense of urgency/And pull us through/And this is the end/the end of the world.” Also “Proclaim eternal victory/Come on and change the course of history.” Then we get “this is the end of the world” sung repeatedly. It’s even less specific about the Apocalypse than “Revelation.” Rather disappointing lyrically, albeit impressive sonically. If you want to skip church, or reading your Bible, and try to learn about The End from these songs–get used to disappointment.
We’re on grittier eschatological ground with the revived Prince of Darkness: Ozzy Osbourne. When he was with Black Sabbath, they did a number of such tunes, notably “Electric Funeral,” and “After Forever” (which I covered in my aforementioned previous blogpost). Solo Ozzy didn’t wax overly eschatological, but he started turning back in that direction with his excellent 2020 Ordinary Man album. (Here’s my review of every track on that album.) His latest, 2022’s Patient Number 9, has songs with themes of life, death and religion, but none that are overtly about the end of the world. However, Ordinary Man does: “Today is the End.” Ozzy sings “The sun is black/the sky is red/And it feels like/today is the End/the kids are running/As fast as they can/Could it be that today is the End?” These lyrics are not much more detailed than Fleetwood Mac’s or Muse’s–but coming out of Ozzy, and delivered against a wall of electric guitars, they sound much more ominous.
The fullest rendering of St. John’s vision of the world’s end is provided by Johnny Cash, in “The Man Comes Around” (from his 2002 album American IV: The Man Comes Around–the last one before his death). This is one of only two songs on the album written by the Man in Black himself. It opens with Cash speaking some of the opening verses from Revelation chapter 6. Then he sings lyrics mixing images from throughout the entire book of Revelation. “Hear the trumpets, hear the pipers/One hundred million angels singing/Voices calling, voice crying/Some are born, some are dying/It’s Alpha’s and Omega’s kingdom come.” There’s more: “‘Til Armageddon, no salaah, no shalom/Then the father hen will call his chickens home/The wise men will bow down before the throne/And at his feet they’ll cast their golden crowns/When The Man comes around.” The final verses are, again, spoken by Cash: “And I heard a voice in the midst of the four beasts/And I looked and behold, a pale horse/And his name that sat on him was Death/And Hell followed with him.” The music is mostly Cash just by himself on guitar, before other musicians (Mike Campbell of “The Heartbreakers,” and Billy Preston, most famously) come in. Cash’s delivery is much more chilling than even Ozzy’s theatrics, including the infamous oral bat beheading.
This is almost certainly because Johnny Cash was a true believer in the Alpha and Omega Himself: Jesus Christ. I’m not sure the same can be said about Bob Welch, Matthew Bellamy or even Ozzy Osbourne.
I’ve now written 87 articles, over the past few years, for The Stream. And not just on the Middle East/Islam and Middle-earth. Other topics I’ve covered include the Ark of the Covenant, UFOs, “domestic” and international terrorism, domestic politics, Russia, Martin Luther, Orthodoxy and–of course–eschatology.
In various writings and interviews over the last two decades, I’ve mentioned (usually in passing) my experiences with academia, the government and media in terms of discussing Islam. Over the years I’ve seen opportunities to do so decrease, as the powers-that-be in those realms have increasingly opted for favoring, indeed protecting, the world’s second-largest religion and its adherents at the expense of intellectual and historical honesty. What follows is a compressed narrative of what I’ve encountered in this regard.
Some years ago, I interviewed at a large university in Georgia for a job as a full-time professor of Middle East history. I made the cut to the final three candidates—then got savaged. I was accused of being “too conservative.” Why? I had published articles that dealt with the history of Islam honestly. Such as one on beheading in that religion, which traced Islamic decapitation’s theological and historical roots going back to Muhammad. No one could question my research, which included examining the relevant Qur’anic texts in Arabic, as well as famous Muslim scholars’ views. No, simply discussing an inconvenient truth of Islam was deemed “conservative.” Of course, I didn’t get the job.
More recently, I was hired by the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey (CA) to teach seminars on my research specializations: “Jihad, Apocalypse and Terrorism.” I pulled in education (my dissertation topic was Islamic apocalyptic movements, using Arabic sources) and expertise (work at US Special Operations Command) to examine the relationship of these three topics across space and time. But after teaching the seminar twice, I was axed. Why? Muslim students complained that I was “too critical of Islam.” Despite knowing that the nexus between the concept of jihad, Islam’s End Times beliefs, and modern terrorist groups was the very point of the seminar.
Earlier this millennium I lectured regularly at two different government venues: Joint Special Operations University and the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center. The instructional blocs included history of terrorism, background on the Islamic world, and American foreign policy in the Middle East. After several years at JSOU and FLETC, I was disinvited. Why? The JSOU senior NCO informed me that Pakistani students, in particular, had complained that my history of terrorism bloc was—you guessed it—“too critical of Islam.” This despite it covering many others kinds, as well. FLETC officials blamed politics: they told me that the Obama Administration had directed the cessation of any instruction that mentioned “jihad” at all. It’s rather difficult to examine Islamic history when one of its central precepts is ruled off-limits.
The media, as is commonly known, overwhelmingly favors Islam. Journalists regularly present that religion and its adherents as perpetually victimized, and attack those who bring up jihad and Islam’s penchant for violence as “Islamophobes.” (While ignoring the actual persecution of Christians.) For many years, Fox News was an exception to that tendentious trend. For example, Catherine Herridge interviewed me about the Ft. Hood shooting jihad by Major Nidal Hassan. I appeared on several ISIS specials, such as 2014’s “Greta Investigates: ISIS” and 2016’s “War Stories: Fighting ISIS.” And even, to his credit, the late Alan Colmes’ radio show. The latter, however, demonstrated just what those of us who speak and write honestly about Islam are up against. Colmes wanted to discuss ISIS. But he spent the entire segment arguing with me. Every time I brought up some aspect of Islamic theology that ISIS adduced to support its violence, Colmes would reply “but what about the Crusades?” As if what French knights did 900 years ago was still an issue. More importantly, since 2016, neither I nor any other non-Muslim who can knowledgeably discuss Islam’s history of violence appears regularly on Fox News Channel. So the mindset of Shepard Smith’s producer (then still on FNC), who told me before appearing on that show that I was “not to bash Islam,” has won out there.
Academia, the military, the media: all have largely silenced any voices critical of Islam. But the original source of this stranglehold is higher education, whence come the Leftist edicts to defend Islam and Muslims as perennial victims of colonialism, white privilege, and the American military. And that has repercussions far beyond America’s colleges. This ahistorical mindset has helped empower our government to engage in the farce that “white supremacists,” not jihadists, are the greatest terrorist threat. Reality, it seems, is just a dream (or maybe a nightmare) to such people. And unfortunately this is no longer just an academic question. Even discussing Islam’s “bloody borders,” as the late political scientist Samuel Huntington wrote, is verboten in many venues. Not only does that make accurate analysis of what’s going on in Iran, Yemen, Nigeria and many other parts of the Islamic world practically impossible. It makes all of us, Muslims included, less safe by willfully ignoring the major cause of modern terrorism.
Forgive my invoking Earth, Wind & Fire on the very last day of September. But better late than never. At least I’m back to blogging after a summer hiatus.
This past month eschatological themes in the Islamic world (re)surfaced. On September 11th, Egyptian security forces arrested a chap in the Red Sea governate who had taken to calling himself the “Awaited Mahdi” on Facebook. This was in the port city of Safaga. One of his posts read “praise be to God and thanks be to God, Lord of the Great Throne, who chose me and made me one of the messengers to the worlds to raise [the] flag of Muslims, return people to the religion of Islam, eliminate unbelievers and criminals, and liberate al-Aqsa Mosque.” Of course, the Egyptian government stated that this fellow had a “prior criminal record” and “psychological issues.” One could of course say the same thing about any of the dozens (at least) of self-styled Mahdis who led such movements in the Dar al-Islam across the centuries–even the ones who succeeded in taking power. In fact, this man’s political agenda greatly resembles prior ones, especially in his stated desire to return Muslims to their religion, and to “eliminate unbelievers”–non-Muslims, that is. Had the authorities of the time been able to preemptively apprehend, say, Muhammad Ahmad the 1880s Sudanese Mahdi or Muhammad al-Qahtani, the Saudi Mahdi of 1979, those apocalyptic jihads might have been short-circuited. So, see? Facebook is sometimes a force for good. At least outside the USA.
Further to the northeast, in the Islamic Republic of Iran, the ayatollahs are blaming some rogue followers of the Hidden Imam for stirring up at least some of the anti-government protests going on there. The IRGC (Iranian Republican Guards Corps, the regime’s praetorian guard) “has identified and arrested 12 people belonging to two organized riots teams in the northern Iranian province of Gilan.” According to Tehran’s official press organs, “the groups, which styled themselves the Anonymous Soldiers of the (Twelfth) Imam Mahdi, were aiming to attack sensitive government and law enforcement facilities and reignite violent protests across Gilan province.”[Gilan is northwest of Tehran, bordering the Caspian Sea.]
So far we have heard that the riots center around women protesting wearing of the hijab, and that the proximate cause was the suspicious death of one protestor, Mahsa Amini, in police custody. But perhaps the ayatollahs’ regime is being hoist by its own petard: if the Twelfth Imam, who will someday emerge as the eschatological Mahdi, is egging on opposition to the ayatollahs, how can they possibly hope to survive? Note, too, that like in Egypt the apocalyptic fervor emanates from a coastal area. So while some like it hot the Mahdi, whether Sunni or Shi’i, seems to like it cool.
In late 2020 I self-published The COIN of the Islamic Realm: Insurgencies & the Ottoman Empire, 1416-1916. Despite it being the ONLY study of its kind–one that looks at the COIN of the world’s most powerful Islamic state across space and time–it’s been largely ignored. Why? Well, I sent a copy to Joint Special Operations University (where I used to lecture on terrorism) and their reviewer deemed it “too political” for even a review. No explanation as to what my particular scarlet letter was–although I suspect it was that I dared to 1) point out that most of the groups on the State Department (and other governments’) terrorist list are Muslim ones; and 2) defend the Trump Administration’s approach to the topic. That’s too bad. One would think that policy-makers and students of COIN would find valuable an examination of how a Muslim polity responded to attacks, both ideological and kinetic, by co-religionists within the Empire. But because I dare speak the truth, and don’t knee-jerk condemn the 45th POTUS, my research is not worth considering.
Remind me who it is that’s “too political?”
In any event, two stalwart and perceptive experts did take time to read my book, and review it. Last year strategy maven Zenpundit did so on his site. His approach is geared toward COIN as a policy. Then a few weeks ago Dr. John Zmirak allowed me to do an overview of the book at The Stream, under the title “How Islamic Regimes Keep Control Over Christians and Muslims Radicals.” John’s questions to me probed more the historical and cultural aspects of the Ottomans in terms of their domestic policies against marginalized groups. Together, these two reviews present an accurate and fair assessment of my book, and I thank both of these men for doing that.