The 2020 Democrat Presidential Field: Sovereigns of True Melancholy

A year ago I wrote a very long (and quite well-researched, if I may say so) post looking at Shakespeare’s plays and finding fitting analogs for both Trump and Hillary Clinton.  Since it was such fun, I did a similar one comparing the current crop of Democratic Presidential aspirants to characters in the Bard’s oeuvre. It published this past week over at The Stream, entitled “What Fools These Democrats Be.”  Check it out.  (And if you click on my photo there, it will take you to the other 11 articles of mine which they’ve run so far.)

By the way: the title of this post is from Antony and Cleopatra, Act IV, Scene 9). 

I leave you with a picture of me as Elizabethan-era highwayman Robert Middleton from the play Thee & Thou put on by the Pumphouse Players, Cartersville, GA in February 2019.  (The excellent R. Clay Thompson as the Bard himself is berating me.) And yes–that’s a wig.



False, Red and Black Flags in Islam

This past week I did two radio interviews.  One was a 70″-long discussion with my good friend Pete Turner on his “Break It Down Show” about two topics: patriotism-nationalism and then the Middle East, focusing on Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons and whether the ayatollahs have any desire to use them to “hotwire the apocalypse.”  (The answer is “no,” as anyone who follows me will already know–which makes the attempt to paint Iran’s leadership as apocalyptically suicidal a false flag one).  The other was with my Colorado friend at KNUS AM 710, Denver, Peter Boyles.  He and I discussed the US’ forever war in Afghanistan.

Analyzing Iran and Afghanistan started me thinking about Khurasan (or Khorasan)–the ancient geographical region straddling modern Iran, Afghanistan and Turkmenistan whence came the Abbasids, in 750 AD, bearing their black flags. These banners exploited eschatological hadiths and empowered the Abbasid movement to conquer the Umayyads and set up a caliphate that came to be known as the “Golden Age” of Islam.


Khurasan, c. 9th century AD, under the Tahirid Dynasty (from “Abdallah ibn Tahir al-Khurasani,” Wikipedia). 

The Abbasids’ original flag was, it seems, a purely black one.  Their successors, the Seljuks, added the shahadah (“there is no god but Allah, and Muhammad is his messenger”)–as shown in this illustration, center-right:


“A troop of spectators on horseback and with inscribed banners…from al-Hariri of Basra….” (from “Islamic Flags,” Wikipedia). 

Here’s the flag of the modern “Islamic Republic of Afghanistan” (from “Flag of Afghanistan,” Wikipedia):


Here’s the top text, isolated.  It reads “there is no god but Allah and Muhammad is his messenger;” and below that “Allahu akbar,” “God is great[est].”


Here’s the flag of the modern Islamic Republic of Iran (taken from “Flag of Iran,” Wikipedia):


That calligraphy in the green and red fields actually reads “Allahu akbar” (albeit with the second word in Arabic turned on its side):


And of course what’s on the ISIS flag? The same shahadah as on the Seljuk or Afghan (or Saudi) flags–but seemingly written by someone just starting madrasah:


From “Black Standard,” Wikipedia.

And in a more overtly eschatological vein, here’s the flag of the Mahdist State of the Sudan, 1881-1898 (from “Mahdist State,” Wikipedia):


An excellent close analysis of this and various other flags of the state established by the Sudanese Mahdi, Muhammad Ahmad, can be found here.  But I want to zero in on the last two lines of the one above:


The first line reads…wait for it…”there is no god but Allah, and Muhammad is his messenger.”  Surprised? I think not.

The second one kicks things up a notch, eschatologically (and heretically), however: “Muhammad al-Mahdi [is] the khalifah of the messenger of Allah.” Of course, few outside Sudan in the late 19th century believed that. But it does show how seamlessly End Times belief in Islam can be grafted onto extant, established beliefs.

So is it a red flag day in the Islamic world, at present? Or a black flag one?  Both, it seems, as there is little difference between them.

Let’s just hope we don’t see a Mahdist flag day any time soon. We won’t in Iran–but we might from ISIS or elsewhere in the Sunni world.

(And if you’ve not yet done so: listen to U2’s “Red Flag Day” from their latest album, Songs of Experience.)



Formics & Muslims & Crows–No Lies.

Ender’s Game is one of the greatest science-fiction novels ever written.  Don’t let the mediocre 2013 movie version, which even Harrison Ford couldn’t save, fool you.  There’s a reason the book (which came out in 1985) is on the suggested reading list by the Commandant of the Marine Corps University.  Set a century or so in the future, the book describes how humanity barely survived an attack by intelligent insectoid aliens, then turned the tables and waged interstellar war to take the fight to the Formics, or “Buggers.”  Desperate for innovative leadership, Earth starts training young boys and girls as soldiers and commanders–eventually producing Andrew “Ender” Wiggin, a military genius who leads not just the defeat of the aliens, but (unwittingly) the destruction of their home planet and entire species.

Orson Scott Card, the author, wrote several sequels; but in recent years, he has worked with Aaron Johnston on several prequels.  The latest, The HiveVolume Two of the Second Formic War came out last month–and I read it in two days.  The insights into warfare in these books are staggering (hence it making the USMCU reading list).  One in particular in this latest volume struck me:  “The first rule of war is to understand your enemy. Not just her supplies and weapons and objectives, everything we can see and calculate. But also her psyche, her motivations, her fears. Everything that is in her mind. For it is only in the pursuit of that understanding that armies can identify the enemy’s weakness and vulnerabilities” (p. 115). [“She” is used because the astute protagonists of the book correctly figured out–in the face of official military intelligence opposition–that the aliens were led, indeed controlled, by a Hive Queen.]

I observed something quite similar in a 2014 blogpost on my old website, which wound up in my book Sects, Lies and the Caliphate, pp. 145-146: “One of my favorite movies of all time is the 1972 atypical Western Jeremiah Johnson, starring Robert Redford.  Johnson is a mountain man somewhere in the Rocky Mountains…in the mid-19th century, fighting the elements, bears, wolves and of course Indians…. At one point Johnson is asked to guide a U.S. Cavalry unit and a Protestant minister through a sacred Crow Indian burial ground, in order to relieve a band of trapped American settlers. Johnson replies that doing so could be dangerous because the area is “big medicine.” Reverend Lindquist sneers “you don’t believe that!?” To which the mountain man retorts “it doesn’t matter; THEY do!” Of course, Sun Tzu said much the same 2500 years ago: “if you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles.” And the Chinese strategist’s The Art of War is on the recommended reading list of the aforementioned USMCU, West Point and the Chief of Naval Operations.

Yet here we are, 18 years after Islamic terrorists carried out the worst attack on the US since Pearl Harbor, and much of the military brass (and even more of the intelligence community) still acts as if Islam has nothing to do with jihad.  Just a few years ago the head of US Special Operations Command, MG (then) Michael Nagata, said regarding ISIS: “We have not defeated the idea. We do not even understand the idea.” More recently, in 2018, former Trump Administration National Security Adviser (and Army Lieutenant General) H.R. MacMaster stated that ISIS and other such terrorists were actually “irreligious criminals” who had “perverted” Islam. Such willful blindness, alas, did not end with the dhimmistic Obama Administration.


The first translation of the Qur’an into French, 1647; this was the basis of the first English translation, two years later.  So for 370 years we’ve had the Muslim holy book available–yet some STILL don’t understand what motivates ISIS? [Source: Wikipedia, “Orientalism in Early Modern France.”]

President Trump, to his credit, bucks this trend–to a certain extent.  In his administration’s National Strategy for Counterterrorism, Trump’s writer(s) at least mention “radical Islamist terrorism” some 16 times.  Obama’s analogous document has only one reference to Islam at all–and that is to disparage al-Qa`idah as a “distorted interpretation” thereof (p. 3).  This is why, in a long analysis of Trump’s NSCT, I refer to him as the one-eyed man being, nonetheless, king.  Some grudging acknowledgement of reality is better than total blindness.

In the “Enderverse,” humans–and particularly the institution of CentCom, which heads the war defending Earth–must learn, first and foremost, to accept that one entity controls the invaders. In Jeremiah Johnson, the Army unit’s refusal to heed the warnings of the mountain man who understands, even if he does not agree with, the Crow Indians’ beliefs leads to death.  (Watch the movie, if you’ve never done so).  And as long as US government officials, military and civilian, insist that we can learn nothing about the psyche and mind of Muslim terrorists from the very sources they constantly proclaim as their authorities–the Qur’an, the Hadiths, the career of Muhammad, and Islam’s history of violence–we might continue to win battles, but we will not triumph in the overall war.