Thursday, August 25, 2016

Jihadists motivated by religion!

ISIS Jihadists
Google Images

John Geddes, writing for the Canadian magazine Macleans (August 15, 2016), asks "What motivates a Canadian jihadist?" and finds that "A study stresses real religious zeal, not loners seeking a way out":
A new study based on interviews conducted over social media with foreign fighters in Iraq and Syria raises doubts about the commonly held notion that young men in North America and Europe who are drawn to violent Islamic extremism must be marginalized loners . . . . Three university researchers who contacted dozens of jihadists from abroad in Iraq and Syria, including some Canadians, say they seemed to be drawn mainly by the religious ideas . . . behind jihadism. Rather than being isolated individuals who self-radicalized in front of their computer screens, the report says they usually found mentors . . . . In the working paper entitled Talking to Foreign Fighters: Socio-Economic Push versus Existential Pull Factors, the researchers caution against assuming that radical Islam appeals only young men on the edges of society . . . . They suggest previous academic studies have put too much weight on those "push" factors - the problems and frustrations in the lives of young men who turn to extremist Islam . . . . "Based on what we are hearing in interviews with foreign fighters . . . we think more attention and significance should be given to the repeated affirmations of the positive benefits of being jihadists" . . . . In the working paper, they write that the foreign fighters they contacted "run the gamut from troubled youth with personal problems to accomplished young men and women from stable backgrounds" . . . . [T]he paper points to the importance of influential radical voices who carry some form of religious authority . . . . The report repeatedly stresses the finding that, based on what fighters themselves say, they are "pulled" to Iraq and Syria by religious ideas, rather than being "pushed" by the realities of their lives in the West . . . . [T]he researchers conclude, "we think their religiosity is pivotal to understanding their motivations."
More research that takes religious motivation seriously needs to be done. The converts among the foreign fighters for ISIS might know little about Islam, but they are radicalized by religious leaders who do know their religion very well.

For those readers interested in more than the excerpts above, see the article.


Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Nigerian Romance Literature Revisited

Mugun Zama!
Anty Bilkisu Funtua
Photo from BBC

My recent post on "Subversive Literature in Nigeria - Romance Novels vs. Islamism" keeps getting page views. I'm no power blogger, so the numbers aren't overwhelming, but they are of interest to me because that post is one of my most popular.

I therefore post this revisit today to see if it will be equally popular.


Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Partial Preface to Poems

I mentioned - if memory fail me not - that I'm putting my poems together for publication. Well, my old friend Natalie Macris agreed to supply a preface, and here are some excerpts from what she wrote:
Years ago, my friend Jeff told me he had started to write some poetry. He remembers showing me a few lines and me teasing him about writing "dirty poems," but I recall being more encouraging. We were in our twenties, students at Berkeley - why not dabble in poetry? . . . Not long after that first mention of his poems, Jeff read some of them to me. I don't know much about poetry, I thought, but these seem very good . . . . In what seemed like just a matter of months, Jeff won the university's Roselyn Schneider Eisner Prize in Poetry, and I was watching my friend standing on a stage under a spotlight, reading his work to an auditorium full of people.
Yeah, that's more or less how it happened. When I get the collection arranged and formatted, I'll post the full preface.

Meanwhile, I do have a novella you can read . . .


Monday, August 22, 2016

Justin Schmidt: I hurt myself today . . .

Justin Schmidt with Tarantula Hawk
Google Images

I recently read an article by Avi Steinberg on "The Connoisseur of Pain" (NYT, August 20-21, 2016), a title given to entomologist Justin Schmidt, for having gotten stung so many times in his work on Hymenoptera, for constructing a Pain Scale for Stinging Insects, and for talking about the pain so much, I expect:
Within minutes of our first meeting, and more or less in response to my saying good morning, Justin Schmidt began lamenting our culture's lack of insect-based rites of passage. He told me about the Sateré-Mawé people in northwestern Brazil, who hold a ceremony in which young men slip their hands into large mitts filled with bullet ants, whose stings are so agonizing they can cause temporary paralysis; when initiates pass the test, they're one step closer to becoming full members of society.

Schmidt believes we could learn something from this. By trade, he is an entomologist, an expert on the Hymenoptera order - wasps, bees and ants - but his interest in this insect ritual was not merely academic. He has two teenage boys, and, on this particular morning at least, I found him wondering whether they might benefit from a pain ritual to help introduce them to adulthood.

"I mean, it wouldn't kill them," Schmidt said. "And I think that may be the key to the whole thing: It can't kill you and yet something very real is happening."
Something very real? That sounds much like the song "Hurt" by Nine Inch Nails:
I hurt myself today
To see if I still feel
I focus on the pain
The only thing that's real
The needle tears a hole
The old familiar sting
Try to kill it all away
But I remember everything
If you care to hear the song, click here, or the cover by Johnny Cash, which is better. Anyway, I would advise against that stinging sort of initiation - it'd get you charged with child abuse! But the main point is true. More than anything else, pain teaches us what is real, and even - if we believe Dylan - what is beautiful: "Behind every beautiful thing, there's been some kind of pain." By the way, the rest of Steinberg's article on Schmidt and his work is well worth reading.

Entomology, incidentally, was my 4-H project way back when I was a teenager, and I did get stung in that pursuit . . .

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Sunday, August 21, 2016

Muslim Cleric Issam Amira Insists that Islam is Rightfully Mighty Intolerant

Mighty Intolerant

In a Memri Report for June 18, 2016 (Clip No. 5626, [Transcript]), we learn that the Palestinian Cleric Issam Amira, speaking at Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa Mosque, insists that "Islamic Strategy Dictates Hostility towards Infidels, [and that] Tolerance Is Un-Islamic":
"[F]riendship [with] and tolerance toward infidels are unacceptable"[, and] "the strategy in Islam is hostility toward non-Muslims . . . . The notion [of tolerance] is very dangerous . . . . What kind of tolerance is possible with these [unbelieving] people? There is only one kind of punishment for those [unbelieving] people: to stop them, to wreak vengeance upon them, and to teach them a lesson. This is not achieved through tolerance, negotiations, or kindness. It is achieved only though might . . . . [This word] means forcefulness, ruthlessness, and hostility . . . . [As for the] young men [who] want to wage Jihad. Do you think you're doing them a favor by preventing them from reaching Paradise, and by keeping them here, where they live as half-men? There should be hostility toward infidels . . . . [Y]ou should be hostile toward them. The strategy in Islam is hostility toward non-Muslims."
This is certainly Islamist rhetoric, full of hostility toward all non-Muslims - not just Western infidels, rather ALL non-Muslims - but it's also, unfortunately, not far from mainstream discourse in too much of the Arab Muslim world these days.

Memri, by the way, is an excellent resource for those of us who don't know the languages, so if you're one of us ignoramuses, then go here and get yourself subscribed.


Saturday, August 20, 2016

When Domestic Political Rhetoric Harms Foreign Policy Objectives

Obama and Hillary Founded ISIS!
MEMRI TV Clip No. 5623

Anyone who keeps up with what goes for political analysis in the Middle East knows that the discourse is full of conspiracy theories shaped to explain how the US is at fault for everything wrong with the Muslim Arab world.

One particularly egregious, widespread conspiracy theory in the Middle East is that the US founded the Islamic State.

This is false, of course, but when a candidate in this year's election makes the same claim,and even doubles down on the claim (before watering the claim down a week later), the conspiracy theorists in the Middle East feel themselves powerfully confirmed in their belief that the primary intention of the US in the Middle East is to sow discord and reap the destruction of Arab societies.

For more on this MEMRI report, see this video and its transcript.


Friday, August 19, 2016

Subversive Literature in Nigeria - Romance Novels vs. Islamism

Hadiza Nuhu Gudaji
Romance Writer
(AP Photo/Sunday Alamba)
Photo Taken April 5, 2016

Michelle Faul, writing for The Big Story, reports on how "Romance novellas by women in Nigeria challenge traditions" (August 17, 2016), but these novellas are also challenging the Islamism of Boko Haram:
Nestled among vegetables, plastic kettles and hand-dyed fabric in market stalls are the signs of a feminist revolution: Piles of poorly printed books by women . . . . [that] are part of a flourishing literary movement centered in the ancient city of Kano, in northern Nigeria, where dozens of young women are rebelling through romance novels. Hand-written in the Hausa language, the romances now run into thousands of titles. Many rail against a strict interpretation of Islam propagated in Nigeria by the extremist group Boko Haram . . . . [One author, Hadiza Nuhu Gudaji, explains:] "We write to educate people, to be popular, to touch others' lives, to touch on things that are happening in our society" . . . . [Her] views have gained a recognition unusual for women in her society . . . . [because her] novellas are so popular that she is invited to give advice on radio talk shows . . . . The novellas are derogatorily called "littattafan soyayya, meaning "love literature," Kano market literature or, more kindly, modern Hausa literature. Daily readings on about 20 radio stations make them accessible to the illiterate . . . . They have become so popular that young girls call in to say they're learning to read because they want to follow more stories. That is no minor feat in a region that has more children out of school than almost anywhere on earth, . . . . [where] only one in five girls has had any formal education. Parents routinely pull 13- and 14-year-olds out of school to get married . . . . Critics say the novellas give girls unrealistic expectations, inspire rebellion and are un-Islamic . . . . The books may sound dramatic, but they often mirror life . . . . Last year, one young writer was badly beaten. Young men gang-raped another in her home after she published a book about women's rights in politics.
Talk about suffering artists! The longer article describes more of the oppression and difficulties these romance writers face, but given the widespread popularity of these romance books, Islamists might have difficulty in successfully suppressing them.

I used to laugh at this genre of literature, but not anymore. There's something in it that addresses the desires of women and opposes the totalitarianism of Islamists, and that's no mean feat!

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Thursday, August 18, 2016

Numbers and Letters: Different Histories - A Note to Andrew Sheng

Latin Alphabet: Modern and Ancient

In an interesting and informed article for The Straits Times, "Why do Chinese think differently from the West?" (August 5, 2016), Andrew Sheng explains the difficulty of being precise in Chinese, and I think he means written Chinese because he compares the use of ideogrammatic writing systems to alphabetic writing systems. Readers will want to click on over and at least peruse the article. On one point, however, Sheng errs:
Science developed in the West partly because of the alphabetic language, derived from the Arabs, which means that you can define words and meaning much more precisely, since the English language comprises today over a million words. As the philosopher Wittgenstein argued, all concepts are defined by language.
The Western alphabet was not "derived from the Arabs." The best theory is that the Phoenicians developed an alphabet around 1000 BC (or even 500 years earlier) and had by 800 BC passed the alphabet on to the Greeks, who in turn passed it on to the Latin peoples around 700 BC.

Sheng is probably confusing the history of the alphabet with the history of the decimal place-value numeral system (with zero), the latter of which did come to the West via the Arabs, but Arabs borrowed this numeral system (along with a symbol for zero) from the Hindus.

Perhaps someone who knows Sheng could direct him to this blogpost?


Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Bait and Switch on Photo of British Cartoonist Michael Heath!

You just can't trust anyone these days! The right-leaning British magazine The Spectator seemed to  promise a lefthanded look at cartoonist Michael Heath, who grew up in a communist home and whose cartoon below appeared to have some vaguely Cyrillic heading:

Left Bait

But no, uh-uh, not at all. The article we reached by clicking shows a righthanded Heath with a decidedly Western alphabet in the cartoon below!

Right Switch

Who's responsible for editing these things these days? Nobody? Well, Nobody ought to be editing like nobody's business! Okay, so we don't know if Heath is left or right, but birds of a feather do flock together:
In his drinking days in Soho with his friends at the Colony Club, Jeffrey Bernard, Lucian Freud, Francis Bacon, he was terrified of Bacon, 'the most frightening man he ever met'. But what he loved was the talk. They drank continuously, whisky and/or vodka, but always 'had something I wanted to hear. No one was allowed to boast.' But when were you drawing? 'When I was drinking,' Michael says, creating a rather shocked silence. 'I could drink and draw . . . It gives you a sort of whizz.' ('Funny is now dangerous', The Spectator, Kate Chisholm August 13, 2016)
Yeah, yeah, one does have to take an occasional whizz during a long drinking bout. But who is Chisholm quoting here:
'the most frightening man he ever met'.
Herself? Or does Heath talk about himself in the third person? He does have some interesting things to say:
What's it like working as a cartoonist after the attacks on the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo? asked Kirsty Young. 'It adds a certain frisson to your drawing,' Michael replies. 'But I never wanted to be a political cartoonist . . . I wanted to be funny . . . People take offence [anyway],' he says. 'Funny is now dangerous. But I'm not scared. Because they don’t get it.'
Right, they don't get the joke, but they do know they're being laughed at. That modicum of insight into insult makes them dangerous


Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Meow Wolf: A New Art World?

Writing for Glasstire (August 14, 2016), Rainey Knudson reports on the arts production company Meow Wolf in her article "Meow Wolf: Dawn Of A New Art World":
Meow Wolf has been getting a lot of press since House of Eternal Return opened in March. The installation has been variously described as "a high-tech storytelling gameworld;" "part haunted house and part jungle gym;" and, in the tepidly enthusiastic phrase of the writer Ben Davis, simply "Big Fun Art." It's wonderful, in the sense that it is literally full of wonder . . . . [I]t is . . . a delightful, vast, immersive fun house created by real artists. It involves, without too many spoilers, a Victorian house that has experienced what appears to be a rift in the time-space continuum and opened portals into multiple fantastical dimensions. There’s an elaborate narrative about the family that lived there, and a mystery to solve. Clues are everywhere. When you buy your ticket, you're told to plan on spending at least two hours inside. "Touch everything," they say. This art installation isn't meant to be passively experienced. It's meant to be played. [The] House of Eternal Return is at once both massive and incredibly detailed. Two leisurely visits of a couple of hours each, and I was still discovering new spaces, each crafted by an artist or a team of artists and technicians . . . . [F]reedom from the art world is the name of the game . . . . [T]he mystery at the core of its Aleister Crowley-ish narrative . . . [is] the first really ambitious project I've seen by a large group of Millennial artists that didn't feel like a bad trip to the desert.
I wonder if this 'permanent' installation owes anything to David Mitchell's novel Slade House. Probably not. The installation is in Santa Fe, New Mexico in an abandoned bowling alley, not that this fact makes any difference - though a 'bowling alley of evil' did make an appearance in his novel Number 9 Dream . . .

Here's the link again to Meow Wolf.