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On ISIS, Enchantment and Authoritarians against Totalitarians

DemocristianiOver on his blog, Sam Harris interviews Mark Riebling, the author of Church of Spies: The Pope’s Secret War Against Hitler. The historical ground covered is interesting—how could it not be?—but these passages, in particular, caught my attention:

Conservative, even authoritarian, religious structures can prove extremely helpful against revolutionaries who want to impose a far more radical, utopian political religion. If Sunni Islam had a hierarchy, we would see many of its leaders resist ISIS more effectively. By comparison, you are seeing the Shia capable of counteraction, not just because they are anti-Sunni, but because they have a clerical hierarchy.

The Sunni conservatives will at some point have to either fight the revolutionaries or obey them. It was similar in Cambodia under Pol Pot—finally the old-line communists in that part of the world couldn’t take it anymore. Likewise, who is now sending troops to prop up an authoritarian Assad to stop ISIS?

The former KGB agent Vladimir Putin. Which should remind us that in the former Soviet Union, glasnost and perestroika did not come from “the Russian people.” They began within the most elite ranks of the Party—the KGB. I think the pope’s secret war against Hitler should be grouped with this family of phenomena—authoritarian resistance to totalitarianism.

And this (my emphasis added):

For half a century, the Marxist myth of the New Man was fairly successful in supplanting the old stories—but the magic’s gone out of that, too. So you have, unless you are mindful, a banalization of human experience. This banality is going to tempt some people to join ISIS for excitement, for re-enchantment, for remythification.

If you join ISIS, you have a story! Your life is numinous—it’s as if you’re living in the Iliad instead of, say, just playing soccer in the dust in a Bauhaus housing project in Basra. Or you’re channeling the Teutonic Knights while you’re horsewhipping Jews in 1930s Nuremburg—I think the personal hunger is the same.

As C.G. Jung said, you can chase out the devil, but he shows up somewhere else. Which is one reason why, when Jung was an agent for US intelligence in 1944, he urged propping up political Catholicism—in fact, through the Christian-socialist parties that came to dominate Cold War Europe, whose exiled leaders Pius sheltered in the Vatican. Jung was an atheist, but he preferred Christian socialism to the atheist communism he saw coming. He predicted that the freethinking atheist would fare better under the frowning brow of the Christian myth than under the trampling boot of the communist one.

Jung was a nut, but he had moments of clarity.


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PalmyraJanice Turner:

In eliminating ancient architecture, ISIS is also destroying the architecture of minds. Until there is nothing between you and your judging, revengeful God. Not a single joyous distraction – of art or music or history or dance – to fill your heart. The work of 2,000 years gone in minutes. Nothing left but blood and sand.


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ISIS: Making the Trains Run on Time (Apparently)

ISISThe Independent

In the cities and towns across the desert plains of north-east Syria, the ultra-hardline al-Qa’ida offshoot Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isis) has insinuated itself into nearly every aspect of daily life.

The ‘Islamic State’ group, infamous for its beheadings, crucifixions and mass executions, provides electricity and water, pays salaries, controls traffic, and runs nearly everything from bakeries and banks to schools, courts and mosques. While its merciless battlefield tactics and the imposition of its austere vision of Islamic law made headlines, residents say much of its power lies in its efficient and often deeply pragmatic ability to govern…

The Independent’s jokey headline: Life under Isis: For residents of Raqqa is this really a caliphate worse than death?

The idea that fanatacism and a certain degree of efficiency are incompatible is nonsene, and this report is not a bad reminder of that, but there’s something about the language in which it is written…

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That’s all Folks

endtimesInclude me in the ranks of those who are skeptical about what the US is trying to do in Syria. This particular analysis, however, forms no part of my thinking:

Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) over the weekend accused President Obama of arming al Qaeda militants in Syria and said it was evidence “we’re in God’s end times.”

“This happened and as of today the United States is willingly, knowingly, intentionally sending arms to terrorists,” Bachmann said in a radio interview with Understanding the Times that was first reported by Right Wing Watch. “Now what this says to me, I’m a believer in Jesus Christ, as I look at the End Times scripture, this says to me that the leaf is on the fig tree and we are to understand the signs of the times, which is your ministry, we are to understand where we are in God’s end times history.”

“Rather than seeing this as a negative, we need to rejoice,” she continued. “Maranatha, come Lord Jesus, his day is at hand. When we see up is down and right is called wrong, when this is happening, we were told this; these days would be as the days of Noah.”

Okey dokey.

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Britons Abroad

Cross-posted on The Corner

Via The Daily Telegraph:

An influential British-based preacher is leading an armed gang of more than a hundred Islamist fighters in Syria, it can be disclosed. In a video posted on the internet in the last few days, Abu Basir al-Tartusi can be seen on a balcony surrounded by Kalashnikov waving rebels after apparently capturing a hilltop village in the war-torn country.

Security sources believe that dozens of British extremists, possibly as many as 50, have travelled to Syria to join the fighting and some may have been recruited by Basir. This week a junior doctor of Bangladeshi origin from, East London was charged with kidnapping two photographers in Syria, where he was said to be part of a 15-strong group of Britons.

The security services are concerned that the brutal conflict in Syria could become a “new Afghanistan” drawing in young men who return to Britain radicalised and keen to continue a fight to spread Islam.A source said the numbers were “small but increasing” and there were concerns about “who they meet and the knowledge they could gain.”

Basir, whose real name is Abdal Munem Mustafa Halima, was running classes at the al-Ansar Institute in Poplar, East London just months ago. He has his own website and his sermons are readily available on the internet. The preacher has been based in Britain since fleeing the Assad regime following an uprising in the early 1980s.

He has been compared with fellow preacher Abu Qatada and was described by one academic as one of the “most influential and most prolific radical scholars in the world right now” and by another as one of the “primary Salafi [fundamentalist] opinion-makers guiding the jihadi movement…”

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Under Cover of Revolution

Cross-posted on the Corner:

This article in the London Spectator on the plight of the Arab world’s embattled Christian minorities is worth reading in full, but this particular detail (and, no, that’s not really the word) was, to say the least, worth noting:

[A] war-within-a-war is raging in Syria. While Homs has been besieged by the army of Bashar al-Assad over the past two months, Islamist fanatics from the ranks of the rebels found time to root out the city’s 50,000 Christians and force them to flee. The Christians of Homs, having abandoned their homes and their belongings, are now sheltering in mountain villages about 30 miles from the city. They are unlikely to return.

The Catholic News Agency reports that Syria’s Christian community has suffered terrorist attacks in other cities, too. Last month, a car bomb exploded in the Christian quarter of Aleppo, close to the Franciscan-run Church of St Bonaventure. ‘The people we are helping are very afraid,’ said Bishop Antoine Audo of Aleppo, who is overseeing a Catholic aid programme. ‘The Christians don’t know what their future will hold.’

Sadly, I suspect that they do. All too well.


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