I promise, this is the last time I’ll mention my latest book–at least this month. Master of “strategery” Mark Safranski, who helms the brilliant zenpundit blog, recently reviewed The COIN of the Islamic Realm: Insurgencies & the Ottoman Empire, 1416-1916. And quite favorably. (You can get it in either Kindle or paperback at Amazon.)
October 2020 proved a horrible month in France–not because of Halloween, which is only slowly becoming celebrated; but because of two horrific Islamic terrorist attacks. In the first one, a French schoolteacher was beheaded by a Chechen Muslim; in the second, an as-yet unidentified Muslim killed three people at a Catholic church in Nice, one of them by decapitation. (For background on the popularity of this mode of murder for Muslims, see my article “Beheading in the Name of Islam.”) Both sets of killings were allegedly sparked by incessant Islamic ire over the (in)famous Charlie Hebdo cartoons of Islam’s founder.
In early November a Tunisia-based terrorist group called “al-Mahdi” claimed responsibility for the murders at the church. For those new to my site, the Mahdi is the “divinely-guided one” of Islamic traditions (Hadiths, alleged sayings of Muhammad) who will come before the end of time to make the entire world Muslim, mainly by conquest. This group is believed to have ties to ISIS and/or al-Qa`ida, which makes sense, since both organizations are eschatological themselves–although the former (as I spell out at length in my book Ten Years Captivation with the Mahdi’s Camps) is more overtly so.
“Somebody’s comin’….whoa oh!”
Not to be outdone, the Iranians weighed in via regime spokesman Hujjatollah Muhammad Mousavi, who sermonized that when the 12th Imam al-Mahdi returns, he will not merely lop off a few infidel Christian heads; oh no, he will full-bore “annihilate the peoples of the West.” (Twelver Shi`is of Iran, Iraq and a few other places believe that the Mahdi has already been here, in the form of the 12th descendant of Muhammad through Ali’s progeny–and that he will return as the End Times Mahdi. Sunnis believe that the true Mahdi will emerge into history as a great Islamic warlord, but that he has not yet come to earth.)
So we’ve got that to look forward to. When I went to the annual Mahdism conference in Iran in 2008, I heard the same sort of fulminating–as I wrote about in an article in The Washington Examiner, “The Importance of being Mahdist.”
In a related story from earlier in 2020, an Iranian professor and former government official said that the Americans never made it to the moon: only after the 12th Imam comes will space travel to other worlds be possible. It’s not clear who will have the technology to do this, since he will also have wiped out all the Westerners with their spaceships. But on the plus side, Imam al-Mahdi will get rid of all diseases–so finally we’ll be able to take off these damn masks.
The contention that “the 12th Imam will wipe out all Westerners” reminded me of the classic scene in Ghostbusters where Louis Tully, possessed by the Keymaster, Vinz Clortho, tells the NYC carriage driver that “you will perish in flames, you and all of your kind!” Gozer, Vinz’s boss, does share some characteristics with the Hidden Imam. The former is an ancient deity worshipped by the Hittites and other contemporary cultures which periodically reappears in history from a nearby parallel dimension and destroys entire civilizations with a “Destructor” minion based on a particular civilization’s cultural icons; the latter is a small child who disappeared, in the 9th century AD, into a nearby parallel dimension and will reappear at some point, now post-puberty, and destroy entire non-Muslim civilizations. Who’s to say whether Gozer or the 12th Imam is more fictional–or which one makes more sense?
The nice folks at Wikistrat–the online analytical group for which I have done some work–sent out an announcement about my new book, in Q & A format. There’s also a link therein to the Amazon page where you can order it.
I explore how the Ottoman Empire, across space and time, fought off seven major groupings of insurgents. So this work is necessarily eclectic, canvassing not just Middle East and African (Sudanese) history, but military tactics, strategy, Islamic theology, Ottoman domestic politics and foreign relations, and–of course–eschatology and Mahdism. And where else would you learn that one Ottoman plan to take out an opponent involved…poisoned dates!? (No, this attempt was not thwarted by the trusty Egyptian side-kick.)
Also, on September 11, 2020 (fittingly enough), the PR department at Reinhardt University (where I teach) did a short article on this being the fifth book I’ve published.
Having spent the previous three months immersed in how the Ottoman Empire dealt with rebels, to include apocalyptic ones, I now return to examining such movements in the modern world. One comes from Bangladesh, where a certain Mustak Muhammad Arman Khan has claimed to be the Mahdi. Or at least that is according to the Counter Terrorism and Transnational Crime (CTTC) unit of the Dhaka Metropolitan Police. Khan (insert Captain Kirk scene here) has been “claiming that he is a descendant of prophet Hazrat Muhammad (pbuh) and that he has been nominated as Imam Mahdi in a dream….” He is said to have moved to Saudi Arabia in 2016, and that he “has served as the leaders of various organizations including [Ansar] Ghazwat-ul-Hind (AGH) where he was previously a soldier.” Back in May of this year the CTTC had arrested 17 members of Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), who “were trying to travel to Saudi Arabia to meet Mahadi [sic].” They were “inspired by his ideals” and “preparing to serve under him.”
Khan is a graduate of the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology. His videos are available in English and Bengali. The former lays out the usual Salafi litany of woes befalling the Muslim world, and blames most of them on the West. The latter, as near as I can ascertain from the visuals–which include the Qur’an and the written notes in Arabic–seems to take a numerological exegetical approach to the eschatological passages in the former. In neither video did I hear or read any overt claim by Khan to be the Mahdi, however. As for the two groups with which he is allegedly connected: AGH (“Helpers of the Battle of India”) is an apocalyptic-leaning jihadist group, affiliated with al-Qa`idah and the Taliban, which operates primarily in Kashmir; JMB (“Assembly of Muhajidin–Bangladesh”) is a 10,000-man strong jihadist organization that has been killing people in the name of an Islamic state since the early 21st century. It may be that the Dhaka authorities are simply trying to implicate Khan by association, in order to extradite and arrest him. But if seasoned terrorists from one or both of these groups are indeed flocking to the banner of this self-styled Mahdi, then not just South Asia and Saudi Arabia–but the whole world–has a major headache.
But an even bigger potential eschatological problem is brewing in NATO member Turkey. In January of this year, “the founder of Turkey’s influential government-linked private security firm SADAT…resigned from his role as President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s adviser weeks after telling an audience…that his company was paving the way for the coming of the Mahdi….” Adnan Tanriverdi is a retired Turkish Army Brigadier General who heads up SADAT, a Turkish military “consulting” group that fills in for the Republic’s actual military in certain foreign operations and training roles. It has been described as the President’s “shadow army.” Another source reported that Tanriverdi, whose speech was delivered at the Islamic Union Congress meeting in Istanbul in December 2019, called for a “union of Muslim states,” as well–a theme that was also pushed by keynote speaker Ali Erbaş, head of Turkey’s Diyanet (religious affairs department). And of course the Turkish participants argue that their President should head up such a Union. The conference is sponsored by a quasi-governmental organization headed by Tanriverdi, called ASSAM–which in Turkish is an acronym for “Strategic Research Center for Defenders of Justice.”
Back in 2013 I wrote an essay on how someone claiming to be the Mahdi might actually take power in the Sunni world. (It’s in my book Ten Years’ Captivation with the Mahdis’ Camps, pp. 76-83.) I posited that a self-styled Mahdi, in order to pose a viable political threat, would have to gain the support of a major transnational Islamic organization: the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, the Muslim Brotherhood, Hizb al-Tahrir or Tablighi Jama`at. We can add the Turkish-dominated Islamic Union Congress to those possible platforms.
This Turkish movement is far more serious than a deluded Bangladeshi to whom a handful of jihadists have sworn loyalty. Turkey has the second-largest military in NATO, enormous cachet in the Dar al-Islam as the heir to the Ottoman Empire, and the largest non-petro-dollar empowered economy in the Middle East. At least one of Erdoğan’s Ottoman predecessors had Mahdist aspirations. “Süleyman very likely believed, at least until his last years, in his own messianic identity.” Such a figure can be either “the protector of right religion” or “the messianic general who extends its sway over the whole earth” (Cornell H. Fleischer, “Mahdi and Millennium: Messianic Dimensions in the Development of Ottoman Imperial Ideology,” in Ottoman Philosophy, Science and Institutions (Ankara: Yeni Türkiye, 2000), pp. 49, 51). Perhaps the Turkish President sees himself as (merely) the protector of Islam–but what if his advisors convince him he’s the End of Times Muslim warlord? Tanriverdi was forced out of his public role–but was that because of disagreement with his stated eschatological beliefs, or because he simply jumped the gun in revealing them? According to Pew data, 68% of Turks expect the Mahdi to come in their current lifetime; only Afghans and Iraqis believe that at a higher rate (and the latter are Twelver Shi`is, for whom that belief is central).
It might well be that “religious faith in the ‘Mahdi’ could bring catastrophe to Turkey“–but not before bringing the same to the Middle East, and perhaps the entire world.
I went into “China Virus”/book-writing hermit mode this past March (as per my previous post). But in that five months I did also write and publish 14 articles (as of today, 8.19.2020) over at The Stream :
I haven’t blogged in five months–for two main reasons. First, the “China Virus” hit in the spring, and like many professors I had to move all my classes online–with the extra, unexpected work that that entailed. Second, once the spring university term ended, I committed myself to finally finishing that book on the Ottoman Empire’s counterinsurgency–which I did! It’s now available on Amazon, in both Kindle and paperback versions. And the paperback checks in at 289 pages, available for the reasonable price of $24.99 (while the e-book is only $9.99). If you’re at all interested in Middle Eastern, especially Ottoman, history; counterterrorism, Muslim v. Muslim jihad, and of course Islamic apocalyptic movements–this is the book for you!
My book High Towers and Strong Places: A Political History of Middle-earth is now available on Amazon Kindle.
As my periodic posts pulling in Middle-earth politics indicate, I’m a Tolkien fan(atic). Back in 2016 Oloris Publishing put out my intensely-researched book High Towers and Strong Places: A Political History of Middle-earth. But not long after, Oloris ceased operations and High Towers became unavailable except to those as rich as Smaug.
Well, I finally decided to do a hard day’s work–actually, a number of them–and republish the book myself on Amazon. And much of the heavy lifting of editing, as well as all of the formatting, was done by my wife Davina–to whom I owe (yet again) a great deal of thanks.
The book runs to 294 pages (actually 20 more than my doctoral dissertation on Islamic eschatology!) and contains almost 900 endnotes referring to over 200 sources, both primary and secondary. It’s intended for a popular audience, but academic enough to have served as a source (along with the author) for a Master’s degree at Signum University. I am still working on the successor volume: Bright Swords and Glorious Warriors: A Military History of Middle-earth.
The paperback version is available on Amazon here. The Kindle version should be up soon.
As some folks who follow my blog probably already know, Netflix recently put out the first season of a show called Messiah. It’s about a modern-day messianic leader who arises in the Middle East, comes to the US and develops a devoted following. I watched all 10 episodes and wrote a lengthy review/analysis of the show, which is available here. (If you do go read it, please be kind enough to leave a comment over the at The Stream. Thanks!)
Figure 3. Isaiah’s vision of Jesus riding a donkey and Muhammad riding a camel, al-Biruni, al-Athar al-Baqiyya ‘an al-Qurun al-Khaliyya (Chronology of Ancient Nations), Tabriz, Iran, 1307-8. Edinburgh University Library.EDINBURGH UNIVERSITY LIBRARY–published in “The Koran Does Not Forbid Images of the Prophet” by Christiane Gruber, “Newsweek,” 1.9.15.
As I’ve noted before, I’m privileged to appear periodically on Pete Turner’s excellent radio program, the “Break It Down Show.” Often this is as a commentator for album fights. (And here’s the latest one of those). But every so often Pete gets me on to discuss some aspect of Islamic civilization/history/affairs. This he did again recently, using yours truly as a foil (or actually more of an echo chamber) over against Dr. Boris Havel, a fellow Islam scholar from the University of Zagreb.
The entire show runs about 66 minutes, but it’s worth it!
With one of my Orientalist heroes in London: General
Charles Gordon, killed by Mahdists in Khartoum, 1885.