Previous posts in this discussion:
PostHow Could Mosul Fall? (Bienvenido Macario, USA, 06/13/14 4:13 am)
I came across this report yesterday. It says that in Mosul, US-trained and equipped Iraqi troops were dropping their weapons and leaving their posts. The Iraqi army had some $15 billion worth of weaponry that included IA-407 helicopters, M-1 Abrams tanks, C-130 fixed-wing aircraft and 300 hellfire missiles.
I have a very good idea why the Iraqi soldiers have no motivation to fight. The US is not coming back to help them, now that Saddam's 550 metric tons of "yellow cake" have been shipped to Canada after the war. Indeed there were no WMDs, just raw materials for a potential 142 nuclear bombs.
One analyst said there must be collusion between the US-trained Iraqi troops and the jihadists. I think more of desertions due to lack of morale and the absence of a national leader to unite Iraq's various ethnic groups.
I was surprised that Francisco Wong-Díaz is unfamiliar with WAIS discussions on the Iraq War. In recent postings, Robert Whealey and John Heelan summarized the dominant tone of the discussions.
See: How did 800 ISIS fighters Rout 2 Iraqi divisions?
Jun. 12, 2014
JE comments: Military strategists will be closely studying Mosul. The article above concludes that the 30,000 heavily armed Iraqi regulars had no "cohesion" or will to fight. This is obvious. I'd like to know more about the tactical and intelligence aspects. (Why, a cynic might ask, does the US so often pick the losing horse in factional wars?)
Mosul represents the "coming of age" of ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria), whose fighters in both countries number no more than 10,000. After taking Iraq's second-largest city, their numbers and morale will increase. What do we know about ISIS? Do they have the stated goal of reviving an Islamic UAR, comprising Iraq and Syria? What about Egypt?
Syria, History, and the (Re)Conquest of the Middle East; on ISIS/ISIL
(A. J. Cave, USA
06/14/14 3:18 AM)
JE asked for WAISer thoughts on ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria). I published a piece on that group (now called ISIL, The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) in February.
For those who missed it, I am sure someone can dig up the link to the full article. [See below--JE.]
As I said, "The stakes are high. There is neither the political will nor (politically correct) shortcuts--only hard choices the system players historically have been and continue to be incapable of making."
There is not much more to add to that. Sigh!
Here is the relevant section:
The military engagement of the American-led coalition forces in Iraq (punitive expedition for the 11 September 2001 attack on the US) didn't have the expected outcome of being welcomed by the Iraqis as liberation. Christian missionaries followed the troops and to the dismay of the western allies, Islamic volunteers openly and secretly poured in from any and all directions to repel the crusaders. The unexpected outcome of the war was the formation of a flood of Islamic groups of various sizes, capabilities and motives to rid the pious Muslim world of the infidel western occupation.
One of those groups that was formed in Iraq in the early days of the Second Gulf War (2003-2011) as the Iraqi arm of the notorious al-Qaeda, expanded into the northern Syria in early 2013. Over the years they have learned through trial and error and plenty of bloodshed, and their most recent reincarnation as ISIS seems to be deadlier than what the world has experienced to date.
ISIS-the Islamic State of Iraq and the greater Syria-is headed by a shadowy Iraqi (sometimes called the Ghost) with a PhD in Islamic Studies and a $cool million American price tag on his head (dead or alive). He prefers the alias of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi to his own Arabic name to forge an imaginary direct bloodline to Abu Bakr and signal his single-minded plan of (re)forming a new Arabian caliphate, stretching from Iran to the Mediterranean and Egypt-roughly the former conquered territories of the Muslim Arab Umayyad Dynasty of the 7th-8th century CE. Abu Bakr (ruled 632-634 CE) was the father of the infamous child-bride Aisha and the eldest father-in-law of the Prophet, who became the first al-khalifah (meaning successor). He united the warring Arab tribes and set their path toward Arabian imperialism.
While the (hit and run) strategy of al-Qaeda is to target the West and western way of life, the (grab and hold) strategy of ISIS is to build critical mass by moving into war-torn Arab towns and villages and set up shop by taking over governmental functions-like providing food, water, shelter, health care, electricity, establishing (Sharia) law and order, and firing squads to carry out executions of the enemies of God almighty--the poor villagers and pretty much anyone else who doesn't want to join the ghost and his murderous mercenaries.
The one who is hearing the faint footsteps of ISIS loud and clear is IRI--the Islamic Republic of Iran. They see themselves, as the defenders of (Shi‘a) Islam, in the upstart ISIS, the defenders of the (Sunni) Islam--Shi‘a Muslims being roughly about 15% of the greater majority. Posturing against the great west is a game of words, playing with ISIS is a game of thrones. Even al-Qaeda is steering clear of ISIS for now.
I suspect that the new Iranian foreign policy of roses and tweets is probably not so much motivated by a new-found yearning to reestablish old diplomatic ties with the wild Wild West, but as a defensive shield against the rise of a whole new breed of enemies (the likes of ISIS with even less regard for human lives and rights) they know they cannot deflect with warm words or defeat with cold swords.
Both sides know the bloody history of the Arab civil wars of the formative decades of Islam when one of the battle tactics of the secular caliphs was tying sacred Qur'ans to their spear points to confuse their (Muslim) opponents and defend their legitimacy to rule over the newly minted Arabian empire. And the hapless children growing up in war zones without hope will play their part in the reenactment of history--a circular death trap.
Iranians made their political bed when they made an enemy out of their only regional ally with a decent army--Israel--and their best long-distance ally, the United States of America, but now the likes of ISIS are robbing them of a good night's sleep by planning to match IRI head for head and verse for verse in a total war for the (re)conquest of the old caliphate. My guess is that the Chinese and the Russians would not want to involve themselves in the messy internal politics of Islam.
Iraq and Syria with predominately Shi‘a governments (at least in theory) are the test grounds, and even if (Sunni) ISIS is pushed back by other Islamic factions or governments (or both), the idea of an Islamic re(conquest) of the Middle East is likely to stick around for a while.
JE comments: Here is A. J. Cave's original essay, which appeared on the Payvand website on February 22nd:
See also this WAIS posting from 24 February:
We had focused on ISIS/ISIL in the context of the Syrian civil war, and now Iraq has become the site of that group's biggest success. A. J. Cave gives us a clear picture of how ISIS/ISIL operates, by setting up shop permanently in war-torn regions, and providing services, infrastructure, and harsh governance. This strategy, I would think, would also make it vulnerable to military reprisals. We shall see.
A. J. mentions the fact that Iran and the US have both found an enemy in ISIS/ISIL. Could this potentially lead to some kind of cooperation? A. J. is doubtful, but nothing inspires nations to put aside their differences faster than a common threat.
I cribbed this map from Wikipedia. The red areas in Iraq and Syria are presently under control of ISIL. It's already a huge chunk of territory:
More on Islam and an Islamic State (IS/ISIS)
(A. J. Cave, USA
08/30/14 3:59 AM)
This is a continuation of my previous post(s) on ISIS, later ISIL, now IS (simply: Islamic State). Terminology is important, since who a caliph is and what ruling over the "Islamic State" or Caliphate (or Caliphate) means, are now open to debate and discussion.
The senseless slaughter in the Middle East that is unfolding continuously through graphic news (either on various media outlets or on the web) with people literally tearing each other into pieces under the guise of religion is, of course, horrifying. And the (mostly) western response to do something (that something being unleashing the full might of the US military in the region) to stop the massacre is, I suppose, understandable.
The expected general reaction also points to a continuing lack of (internalized) knowledge about Islam (a religion), Qur'an (Muslim scripture), Caliph (Commander of the faithful), Caliphate (the Arabian Empire), Arab history (and by extension ancient Persian and modern Iranian history), Ottomans, Muslims (now mostly non-Arabs), Shari'a (Islamic Law), Islamic culture (a patchwork of various cultures and civilizations conquered by Arabs during their expansionist phase), Sunni and Shi'a split, various schools of Sunni Islam (Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi'i, Hanbali and its offshoot Wahhabi), various sects of Shi'a Islam (Alawi, Isma'ili, Zaidi, Twelver). And the list goes on and on.
It is interesting that in the face of what has (and hasn't) happened in Iran, Iraq, Syria, Palestine, Afghanistan, Egypt, Libya, and other places, there is still this lingering romantic notion that somehow the United States has a magic bullet left in its arsenal that can quickly and easily (and painlessly) right a bundle of wrongs, and somehow the installation of a western-backed democracy, multitude of political parties, and fictional free elections can turn the killing fields back into the Garden of Eden or the ancient Cradle of Civilization.
The high concept of a "Divine Mandate" given to the "Rulers" of United States by the Baha'i Prophet sounds impressive, but in the context of time and place, this mandate was a part of a bigger campaign of legitimization, and similar letters (mandates) were sent to the contemporary world religious and political leaders, among them, Pope Pius IX, Great Britain's Queen Victoria, the Ottoman Sultan Abdul-Azzis, the Persian King Nasser-eddin (or Naser-al Din) Shah of the Qajar Dynasty (my own clan). Those who are a little familiar with the early history of formation of Islam know that according to tradition, Prophet Muhammad sent messengers (words) to the two competing superpowers of the time, the Sasanid Persian king of kings (Khosrow II, 591-628) and the (eastern) Roman Byzantine emperor (Heraclius, 610-641), asking (or ordering) them to convert to Islam (or else).
It was the liquidation of the Sasanid Empire by Heraclius that opened the door wide open to the spread of Islam eastward of the Arabian Peninsula.
There is probably no need to learn a lot about this major "other," but we all (including myself) ought to know a little more than nothing. The United States is young and the world is old. Just like all youngsters, we have an obsession with wealth and celebrity, and a general disregard for history and the elders, and that is reflected in our national politics and in our global policy.
I can't accurately and adequately write about Islam and Muslims (over a billion and growing, with about 650 million of them being non-Arabs, who just want this bloody mess and the bad publicity to go away), due to the limits of my own knowledge and understanding.
However, the majority of writings on Islam and Muslims (by both insiders and outsiders) range from apologia to turn Islam into a peaceful religion to academia damning with faint (politically correct) praise, not to offend anyone looking for another excuse to go postal. Once the bloody territorial conquests of the Bedouin Arabs of the 7th century under the banner of Islam turned into a religion, the general body of western (mostly Christian) scholarship accumulated about and around it has largely been attempts to discredit it by pointing to its various "flaws" in the eyes of the beholders. Some modern Muslim writers are doing the same, but generally they tend to stay away from dragging the "People of the Book" through theological mud.
So, let me cut through the clutter. The three Semitic Abrahamic religions, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, covering roughly half of the world's population, are not and are not meant to be complimentary and compatible. Christianity was informed by Judaism, and Islam was informed by both (as well as later by Zoroastrianism). Even Judaism was informed by earlier religions of the more ancient Mesopotamia. While there are some similarities between the Abrahamic religions, there are fundamental differences and all the interfaith efforts to align them into a harmonious melody are noble and well-meaning, but are mostly motivated by recent political events. That doesn't mean that people can't peacefully live side-by-side. They have. They are. And they will continue to do so. Chances of a new "Arab Caliph," even with stellar theological credentials, to gain any traction among the greater Muslim majority is about zero.
Chances of (sane) Muslim answering the call to jihad or to move under an Arab "Islamic State" is even less. Arabs did not ingratiate themselves to the peoples they conquered by various means (threat of death, high taxation and financial ruins, and blatant cultural and social humiliation), and most were glad to get rid of them many centuries ago.
Even though I have advocated on behalf of the children who are caught in this killing zone, I don't think blanket bombing of IS (if we knew where and when) would solve anything. What it would likely do, is to replace one set of brutal combatants with another set of more committed combatants raising the stakes in bloodletting.
While what is happening in the Middle East has (immediate and instant) global impact, it has to be left to the regional players to hammer out. There is no "one" Arab nation, and massive oil wealth is concentrated among a handful of ruling elites who are spending their money on acquiring the traditional global assets that can increase their wealth. There is no (and hasn't been) compelling reason (yet) to spend this wealth locally and regionally in a meaningful way for the benefit of their subjects. There is more Arab money circulating in UK nightclubs than in Middle East schools.
Arabs and the current Middle East of their making are used to bloodshed, and UK and other western countries, as well as China, are better investments with much lower risk and volatility. It is simple economics, until the cost becomes too great--when the armed "rebels" arrive at the gates of Arabian palaces. There is simply not much else to do for the majority of the under-educated and unemployed young population of men (and increasingly women).
Rebel, in the historical Islamic context, has a very specific meaning. It means other Muslims. Since Muslims are not supposed to (at least in theory) kill other Muslims, the loophole has been to call them: rebels. They can kill each other, and the one who wins, is the one favored by God. Rebels cannot be taken into slavery, like the infidels--what Arabs call all non-Muslims.
As I had mentioned, the Islamic Republic of Iran cannot fight ISIS (or IS) by proxy, as they have done by supporting various Arab factions against Israel. According to the western media reports, IRI is beginning to build up military strength along their northern and northwestern borders. There is nothing I could find on Iranian News websites, but there is no good reason to doubt this. IRI continues to demand (at least publicly) the removal of US sanctions before engaging in any military alliance with US against IS.
Traditionally most Arabs have had marginal (and I am exaggerating) interest in any history or heritage pre-dating Islam (calling it the Age of Ignorance), even destroying Islamic sites related to the Prophet, under the guise of iconoclasm. So more historical sites have been destroyed, looted, and plundered than any other time, even during the previous wars in the region. For all practical purposes, Aleppo (ancient Halab) is gutted. There are various individuals and organizations who are keeping an eye on the massive destruction of cultural heritage, but there isn't much more they could do than wait.
JE comments: An extremely informative followup to A. J. Cave's post of June 14th: http://waisworld.org/go.jsp?id=02a&objectType=post&o=85850&objectTypeId=73762&topicId=129
A. J. doesn't offer the easy solution, but she teaches a powerful lesson: those who do have the easy solutions are ignorant of the region's history and present-day complexity.
I hope A. J. will send us an additional comment on the IRI and the Iranian people's views of the IS threat.
Armstrong's *The Battle for God*
(John Heelan, UK
08/30/14 1:39 PM)
As a coda to A. J. Cave's interesting analysis of Islam today, I recommend Karen Armstrong's book The Battle for God: Fundamentalism in Judaism, Christianity and Islam (2014), which compares, contrasts and charts the growth of modern fundamentalism in the three monotheist religions.
The history of the split between Sunnah and Shiism over the years is very interesting, as is the attempted Quranic separation between religion and state politics, e.g. Imam vs caliph. (I would be grateful if historian A. J. could confirm or otherwise Armstrong's allegation that the first eleven Shi'a Imams were assassinated on the orders of contemporary caliphs leading to the creation of the Hidden Imam [The Occultation] myth believed by Shi'as.)
JE comments: My fundamental question on Fundamentalism: why now? Or more broadly, why in the last 35 years or so? I suppose Armstrong addresses this topic in her book (which first came out in 2000).
Sunni-Shi'a Divide; Response to John Heelan
(A. J. Cave, USA
08/31/14 4:07 AM)
To address John Heelan's questions (30 August), the big divide between the Sunni and Shi‘a Muslims has been over who is or was the legitimate ruler of Muslims, and whether that ruler is a secular or a spiritual leader. As such, there is no rational way to bridge the irreconcilable differences.
But technically there is no real separation of "church" and "state" in Islam, since the Prophet was both the founder of the religion, as well as the ruler of his followers.
"Fundamentalism" has a very specific meaning to Protestant Christians. Both "Fundamentalism" and "Reformation" in Islam (almost being one and the same) are not new and actually can be traced to early military defeats suffered by the Muslim Arab armies. The military defeat caused a crisis of fate: if they were the chosen ones, why were they defeated by infidels? The theological spin was modeled after the ancient Hebrew prophets: it was because they had deviated from "pure" Islam of the Prophet and the salvation was to return to their roots.
The fourth Sunni Caliph and the first Shi‘a Emam (or Imam) was ‘Ali ibn Abi Taleb, the cousin of the Prophet and his son-in-law. The Twelve Shi‘a Emams were sons and successors of Ali and Fatima (Fatemeh in Persian). They were all killed (in battle or by poison) ordered by various Arab rulers of succeeding dynasties.
Here is the back story from my book: an idol-worshiper's guide to god-stan (2012):
Before his death, Prophet Muhammad did not name any successors. So, his followers were divided into two camps: one favored the election of the most capable Arab based on merit to lead them, and the other favored a dynastic succession through ‘Ali, who was the first male convert to Islam (at the age of 10 according to tradition). ‘Ali was in his early 30s, so he was overlooked for his young age.
The succession fell to Abu Bakr (632-634), the eldest father-in-law of the Prophet and the father of the infamous child-bride ‘A'isha, who was declared al-khalifah (caliph, meaning: successor). The revelations of the Prophet were scattered among the memories of the followers and pieces of writings. Abu Bakr embarked on the unification of the Arab tribes and the collection of memories, leaves, bones, and flat stones that were to become the foundation of the (Noble) Qur'an.
The second caliph, ‘Umar (‘Umar ibn ‘Abd al-Khattab, 634-644), another father-in-law of the Prophet, embarked on a campaign of territorial expansion under the banner of tribal unification and was assassinated.
The third caliph, ‘Uthman (‘Uthman ibn ‘Affan, 644-656) was married to a step-daughter of the Prophet, and after her death married her sister. During his time, by 650 CE Qur'an was finalized into a collection of 114 suras (chapters), organized according to length. There was murmuring in the market that ‘Uthman had destroyed all variant Qur'anic verses in favor of what he believed to have been revealed to the Prophet. He was assassinated too.
The first three conquering Arab caliphs, who had successfully unified the Arab tribes under the pretense of the new religion, were related to the family of the Prophet by marriage.
By the time ‘Ali became the fourth caliph in 656, Arabs were knee-deep in astounding loads of looted wealth, bribery, flattery, nepotism and civil war for supremacy. They had reverted back to their old ways. Arabs had always been divided based on tribal loyalties, but with all the wealth and power came the first major civil war, called fitna in Arabic. ‘Ali prevailed in a number of battles, but he was assassinated in 661 by one of his own supporters during the morning prayer, when he tried to make peace among hostile Arab warring clans. He was reportedly fearless in battle and thoughtful in tribal politics. He lived through bloody battles to die of brutal politics.
There were 4 caliphs. The rest who came after and called themselves "caliph" were no more than "amirs" or "sheiks"--secular elders and rulers of Arabian Empire, starting with Umayyads, the same Arabian clan who had first vigorously opposed the Prophet and driven him and his early followers out of the city of Mecca, and had later converted out of commercial convenience rather than heart-felt conviction.
Umayyads followed in the footsteps of other empires: they were tax-collectors, brutal when betrayed, and merciless when challenged.
In 680, the last surviving son of ‘Ali and Fatima (only daughter of the Prophet), the princely Husayn, the last hope to put the caliphate back on track, was summoned to Medina to swear an oath of allegiance to Yazid I (680-683) son of Mu‘awiya, the next hereditary ruler of the Umayyad clan in Mecca. To eliminate competition from Hasan ibn ‘Ali, the eldest son of ‘Ali and Fatima, Mu‘awiya had agreed that after his death the next "caliph" would be elected from the most qualified among Arabs.
But Hasan had died in 669 and Mu‘awiya had appointed his own son to succeed him, assuming no one would dare to question his choice. Husayn did.
Husayn ibn ‘Ali (626-680) and most of a rag-tag band of family, friends and followers, a few hundred, including 72 warriors, were massacred in cold blood by about 5,000 fighters of Yazid on the plain of Karbala on their way from Mecca to the city of al-Kufa (60 miles south of Baghdad). The massacre came after three days of barring the travelers, from newborn babies to old women, from drinking water who had already started to die from dehydration under the scorching sun. It was against the Arabian tribal code of honor to block access to water during war.
According to the well-known Shi‘a legend, when Husayn asked for access to water from Euphrates River, the reply was an arrow to the throat of his infant son he was holding in his arms at the time. He himself was killed later by the spear of an Arab who did not fear the wrath of the Messenger of God. The head of the grandson of the Prophet was cut off and taken to Yazid's governor, who slapped the face.
The massacre and the martyrdom of the grandson of the Prophet and his kith and kin ordered by Yazid became the bloody sword that split Islam forever.
According to the Shi‘a tradition, one of the wives of Emam Husayn and the mother of the great-grandson of the Prophet, the youngster Fourth Emam, ‘Ali ibn Husayn Zayn al-‘Abidin, who had survived the Karbala massacre due to convalescing in a tent, was Šahr-bânu, a Persian Sasanid Princess who had been taken as a prisoner of war (slave) to Arabia when the Royal House of Sasan had been destroyed, and rescued from slavery and taken as a wife by the grandson of the Prophet.
When the Eleventh Emam, Hasan al-‘Askari, was killed (probably poisoned) in the ninth century (874) without a son and heir, rumors started circulating that his son, Muhammad al-Muntazari had gone into hiding until it was safe for him to return. It was a religious response by the ranking faithful to a chaotic political period to stabilize the volatile situation and keep the followers together. Shi‘a had already fractured after the pacifist Seventh Emam, thought to be the last.
Rumor turned into theology when the Twelveth (12th, Twelfth) Emam became the Hidden Emam to return in the fullness of time to restore the kingdom of God, adding a messianic dimension to the religion--following the Zoroastrian belief in a messiah (called: Saoshyant).
Naturally it has become a lasting tradition that has been more abused than used since then, by the messiah wannabes and opportunists pretending to be the hidden Emam or his long-lost kinsmen.
Sufism was rooted in a mixed marriage of Aristotelian philosophy and Muslim theology almost incomprehensible to outsiders. And so Shi‘a became the official religion of the Persian Dynasty of the Safavids in the fifteenth century.
The real reason, however, was more practical politics than devotional piety: it was a differentiator from the rival Muslim kingdoms. In the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries the sprawling world of Islam was divided between the Ottoman Turks, the Safavid Persians and the Indian Mughals.
JE comments: An excellent historical overview. WAISer Vincent Littrell has also posted several times on Twelver Shi'a and the Hidden Imam.
The Sunni-Shi'a rift, like the numerous Christian schisms over the ages, has much more to do with the secular than the spiritual. Want more? Here's the Amazon link to A. J.'s an idol-worshiper's guide to god-stan (all lower case, I believe):
Poisoning the Shi'a Imams; on Narjis
(Massoud Malek, USA
09/02/14 3:50 AM)
After Imam Ali was killed, his son Hasan succeeded him, but after six months, Hasan was forced by Muawiya to relinquish his caliphate in his favor.
Muawiyah wished to pass the caliphate to his own son Yazid, and saw Hasan as an obstacle. So he promised one of Hasan's wives, Jaada, a gold reward and the hand of his son Yazid, if she would make use of her intercourse with Hasan by rubbing his penis with a poisoned handkerchief. Jaada received the gold after Hasan's death; but Yazid, on being asked to marry her, replied, "she just killed the Prophet's grandson, how can she act well towards me?" It is also reported that during his illness, Hasan said: "Five times before, they have given me poison to drink, and this is the sixth time that they poison me!" An efficient way to kill someone.
Sunni extremists, such as IS, believe that Yazidis worship Yazid ibn Muawiya, the deeply unpopular second caliph of the Umayyad dynasty. The name has nothing to do with Yazid, but is taken from the Persian word "izadi," which means "worshipper of god." Kurds and Iranians call them Izadis. It is unfortunate that they are known as Yazidis everywhere else.
Hasan al-Askari, the eleventh Imam, was born in 864 AD, the year when Rome was sacked by Muslims during the great conquests of Islam. Most of his life he was under house arrest by the caliphs of the time; he was only 28 when he died. After the death of Hasan al-Askari, his followers believed the impossibility of the death of the Imam without an apparent known issue. Later some of them admitted his death, but added that he will return to life soon.
According to another source, during the rule of Al-Mutamid, poison was given to the Imam, mixed with some fruit. He left only one son, whose name was Muhammad and was only five when his father died.
The Caliph Al-Mutamid himself attended the funeral prayer. When they all lined up and were ready to commence the prayers, Imam's brother Jaafar stood in front of the people to lead the prayer. Before he could commence the prayer, a five year-old boy came out of the house, went near his uncle, and said, "set aside uncle, only an Imam can lead the funeral prayer of an Imam." His uncle Jaafar stepped aside and the boy led the prayers. Immediately after the end of the prayer he went inside of his house and was not seen by his pursuers, including the Caliph himself.
Narjis, the granddaughter of the Roman Caesar Bardas, was the wife of Hasan al-Askari and the mother of the twelfth Imam, Mahdi. Her mother was a descendant of Simon-Peter, the companion of Jesus. It is said that Narjis made herself a slave so that she might travel to Arabia, to marry Hasan al-Askari, who appeared in her dreams.
According to the man who bought her for Hasan al-Askari's father, Narjis said:
"One night, I had a dream, in which Jesus appeared with his disciples at a palace, where Muhammad, Ali, and all his descendants came into the palace. Jesus went forward to embrace Muhammad, who said, Oh Spirit of God, I have come to seek the daughter of your disciple Simon for my son Hasan al-Askari. A few days passed and I had another vision; Fatima, the daughter of the Prophet and Mary, the mother of Jesus, came to me and explained that Hasan al-Askari could not come to me unless I become a Muslim. This I accepted; after that, I saw Hasan al-Askari in my vision. In one of my dreams, he told me that my father was planning to send an army against the Muslims and that I should disguise myself and some of my women servants; and arrange to go along with the army. I did this and before long some of the Muslim army guards captured us, and I became a slave."
JE comments: Now that's a syncretic dream! Narjis is reportedly the mother of the Twelfth Imam; as such she must be celebrated among the Shi'a. Does she hold any importance in the Sunni belief system? A woman who bridges Christianity and Islam, Narjis could be a useful figure for interfaith dialogue and understanding.
(Robert Gibbs, USA
09/03/14 5:33 AM)
Massoud Malek's assertion that Sunni's view Ezidies (Yazidis/Jazidis/Isidies) as worshipers of Yazid mistaking the western spelling of Yazidis is incorrect. Sunnis as well as Shi'as view the Ezidies (incorrectly) as devil-worshipers, which for them justifies the at-will murder and genocide of these people in Iran as well as Iraq.
Sadly, the Eizidies/Yazidis are a disappearing culture. Even if they were not hunted as they are now, by the end of this century (if not sooner) they will become a small footnote in the history of the region.
JE comments: Bob Gibbs and I had a phone conversation last week on the spelling of Yazidi/Ezidi, a culture which few in the outside world had heard of until the horrors of this year. Wikipedia prefers Yazidi, but also admits the variants Yezidi, Ezidi, and Yazdani. Regardless of the orthography, these people practice a religion as old as it is threatened. My question: why can't Iran celebrate its ancient autochthonous religions? Besides the Yazidi, I have in mind the Zoroastrians.
(Massoud Malek, USA
09/04/14 9:10 AM)
Robert Gibbs (3 September) is wrong to say that Izadis are persecuted in Iran, because there is not a single Izadi in Iran.
Wikipedia is not always reliable, which is why I always check the source of anything I see in Wikipedia.
According to BBC, "The ongoing [IS] persecution in [the Yazidi] heartland of the Mt Sinjar region west
of Mosul is based on a misunderstanding of their name. Sunni extremists,
such as IS, believe it derives from Yazid ibn Muawiya (647-683), the
deeply unpopular second caliph of the Umayyad dynasty. Modern research,
however, has clarified that the name has nothing to do with the
loose-living Yazid, or the Persian city of Yazd, but is taken from the
modern Persian 'ized,' which means angel or deity. The name Izidis
simply means 'worshippers of god,' which is how Yazidis describe themselves."
Yazd is a city in Iran and the center of Zoroastrians. As the BBC points out, the Yazidi faith has nothing to do with Yazd. I asked my brother who is a famous archeologist in Iran and published about 30 books, about the Yazidis. He told me that the prophet Zardosht could have been born in the west of Iran, so there were many Zoroastrians in that area, but then, they were exposed to Mitraism, Christianity, and Islam, so several different faiths appeared in that region. Izadis, for example, baptize their children.
Not a single Persian website calls the Izadis "Yazidis"; this is a western invention. Yazid, who fought with Imam Hussein and killed his family, is hated by Shias, but Iranians do not relate Izadis to Yazid.
JE comments: I too made the mistake to assume a Yazidi/Izadi presence in Iran, but we're all going through a learning curve about this culture. Now my understanding is that this religion originated in Persia, but now the largest communities (per Wikipedia), are in Iraq, Germany, Syria...and Russia. Georgia and Armenia also have significant Yazidi populations.
(A. J. Cave, USA
09/05/14 2:24 AM)
As far as I know, Yezidism (or Yazidism) is not a Persian (Iranian) religion. Yezidis are mostly ethic Kurds or Kurdish-speaking people, living in Northern Iraq (or what has been known as Northern Iraq roughly since the Sykes-Picot agreement in 1916).
They are rather obscure, and I don't know much about them. They have a website: http://www.yeziditruth.org/ and anyone who is interested can read more about them and their religion.
According to this website, Yezidis consider their religion the oldest in the world, having originated in India. It could have been related or rooted in the ancient Indo-Aryan religions--one of them being the Mazdaean religion, better known as Zoroastrianism after Prophet Zarathushtra (Greek: Zoroaster).
Yezidi is reportedly derived from ez Xwede dam, meaning: "I was created by God," or alternatively: "Follower of the true path."
There are elements from Mithraism, Mazdaism, Christianity, Islam Sufism (Persian and Turkish), and probably other religions in Yezidism. They consider themselves to be descendants of the Biblical Adam (but not Eve).
The confusion with Mazdaeans/Zoroastrians of Iran comes from the similarity of Kurdish word "Yezidi" to the Avestan word "Yazata," meaning: divine or divinity.
The charge of devil worship comes from the Yezidi worship of Tawsi Melek, the Peacock King (translated here as angel). This deity rules the world on behalf of God. The Persian word for peacock is taa'vous which is similar to Kurdish tawsi, or tawuse.
There is a new monograph on them, titled: The Yezidis: The History of a Community, Culture and Religion (2014, I.B. Tauris, http://tinyurl.com/q7geabm ), by Birgul Acikyildiz, an Art History Professor at the newly minted Turkish Mardin Artuklu University. She was formerly a Research Fellow of Oriental Studies at the University of Oxford, so the information should at least well-researched.
Yezidis show up in Arab history around 11th century. There is no doubt that they have an ancient religion and tradition, and as a people they are on the verge of extinction by the Islamic forces.
JE comments: We're learning a great deal about this heretofore overlooked culture, the Yazidi. (There must be six or more different spellings, but to assist the users of the WAIS search engine, I'll standardize it to Yazidi. This is the Wikipedia variant which also prevails in the English-language press. Note, however, that the website above prefers Yezidi.)
Here's a curiosity sticking in my rib: how can you be a descendant of Adam but not Eve?
- Does the United States Have a "Magic Bullet"? Baha'u'llah's Letters (Vincent Littrell, USA 09/01/14 9:26 AM)
This is in response to A. J. Cave's thoughtful and well-written recent postings, in particular her essay of 30 August.
The bottom line here is that I'm clarifying my previous post about how difficult the US role is as a leader for future world order. I'd also like to provide some clarification on the import of Baha'u'llah's letters to the kings.
I suspect A. J. was responding to my last post when she mentioned "this lingering romantic notion that somehow the United States has a magic bullet left in its arsenal that can quickly and easily (and painlessly) right a bundle of wrongs, and somehow the installation of a western-backed democracy, multitude of political parties, and fictional free elections can turn the killing fields back into the Garden of Eden or the ancient Cradle of Civilization."
If A. J. was responding to my last post in this Forum, then I think she misread it, because what she says above was not what I was saying.
From my understanding of the Baha'i perspective, the "magic bullet" is spiritualized world leadership based on the principle of the oneness of mankind. This magic bullet of leadership is what is needed to guide the human race to the political realization of the higher-order fundamental reality of mankind's essential oneness. Of course, pure military power won't be the end in all this, though it will help alleviate genocidal conditions and spikes of gross barbarity in the near term.
What is needed is the use of all elements of national power to lead the world. There is no "quick and easy" in this regard. There is process and implementation of grand strategy that takes into account the reality of the human condition as being transcendent to traditional notions of national interest and sovereignty. There is containment of barbarity and aggression through both military and non-military means. There is military intervention with precision to prevent mass atrocities. There is using all elements of power to give punch to great documents like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and to advocate for another major conference to enhance and update this great universal document. There is using persuasion and diplomacy and ceaseless repetition in this regard in leading the United Nations towards reform to give human rights enforcement a greater play in the tug-of-war against absolutism. There is a refusal to accept the right of the forces of barbarity to do what they do in the name of religion, and a willingness to act across a spectrum of varying levels of action to protect narratives of true religion that can be found through interfaith agreement. As part of world leadership, there is supporting the leaders of the great religions to come together and condemn barbarity in religion's name and set standards of conduct in global-level interreligious discourse, giving it the support of the UN and world governments. (I have already mentioned in this Forum Catholic theologian Hans Kung's efforts to create a Global Ethic with the backing of the 1993 Parliament of World's Religions that convened at the UN.)
There are diplomatic actions, military actions, internal administrative actions, use of economic power, the power of information and public diplomacy, the power of good in religion to include religious spirituality and prayer, uplifting conditions of women, and other levers to be used to erode and undermine the global chaos and bring order. All this takes powerful leadership and ceaseless endeavor.
In the realm of the military, reform is necessary to bring synergy and unity to strategies associated with traditional use of heavy conventional force with concepts of "population-centric" warfare. (I discussed this earlier in this Forum, and consider it essential to irregular warfare and counterinsurgency success.) All this is necessary for countering extremist narratives and failed-state governance in wide swaths of the Muslim world. This of course highlights the requirement to bring civilian policing and civil governance into synergy with military operations. Traditional concepts of warfare need to change, and to some degree they are changing, with recognition of concepts like hybrid war, stability operations, evolving counterinsurgency methodologies, and increasing doctrinal inclusions of civil affairs concepts like policing and educational support. Traditional concepts of military leadership are in need of change in Western militaries to meet the requirements of modern war. The politicization of generalship (so well discussed in recent scholarship like Thomas E. Ricks's The Generals) and the erosion of the highly ethical spirit of the warrior in the fighting forces of the West is a huge issue. The warrior spirit is being supplanted by the spirit of politicized bureaucracy in the upper echelons of the great military forces of the United States, to the detriment of broad operational capacity and clear decision-making in so many arenas, to include the erosion of important concepts like "truth to power."
Part of the necessary American leadership is the need to have a president who understands the military, recognizes the requirement for substantive change in the military, to include abolishing the type of careerism that feeds the narcissistic mindset. This narcissistic careerism so prevalent in the high spheres of the US military erodes true leadership and even traditional military core values. A president or Secretary of Defense needs to come to power who has deep experience with military culture, respects the military and its traditional values, understands its flaws, understands where war of the future is heading, and comes in to "clean house" of narcissistic careerism and politicized bureaucracy. "Truth to power" needs to be put back into place.
What I write about here has not a hint of romance. Nor is it easy. It requires the United States of America to step up and lead. I have read in the Baha'i writings that though the United States has a special destiny in the future world order, it can lose it if it doesn't address its corrosive internal problems to include what Baha'is believe is the United State's most challenging issue, that of racial prejudice. The United States must conquer the problem of racial prejudice if it is to progress in the sight of God. But I believe the US is being given time by God to address these issues too.
Anyway, another issue:
A. J. Cave stated: "The high concept of a 'Divine Mandate' given to the 'Rulers' of United States by the Baha'i Prophet sounds impressive, but in the context of time and place, this mandate was a part of a bigger campaign of legitimization, and similar letters (mandates) were sent to the contemporary world religious and political leaders, among them, Pope Pius IX, Great Britain's Queen Victoria, the Ottoman Sultan Abdul-Azzis, the Persian King Nasser-eddin (or Naser-al Din), Shah of the Qajar Dynasty (my own clan)."
I found A. J.'s point interesting. She mentions what Baha'is refer to as Baha'u'llah's "letters to the kings." I admit I was surprised to see the above comment, as I was going to bring these letters up to respond to Eugenio Battaglia's post calling Baha'u'llah's commands to the presidents and rulers of the Americas "blasphemy." In the Baha'i theology, Baha'u'llah's letters to the kings are far more than just an attempt at "legitimization." They are, from the Baha'i perspective, flat-out announcements of who Baha'u'llah was to the great leaders of the world in clear and unequivocal terms in fulfillment of past prophecy. They were, I think, a trumpet blast (as mentioned in the Qur'an), and a call to these great leaders to turn their faces to the divine and to hearken to the fulfillment of whom they awaited in the promises of "a return" of past revelation. From the Baha'i perspective this is powerfully heady stuff, being far more than legitimization; rather, they were command!
In the Baha'i view there were direct consequences for these particular leaders for rejection or ignoring of Baha'u'llah's powerful appeal to them personally. The only ruler Baha'is know who actually responded to Baha'u'llah's letter with at least some respect was Queen Victoria, who said something to the effect (and I paraphrase instead of quote), "if this is truth it shall endure." From the Baha'i perspective this response resulted in God allowing the monarchy of England to continue. All the others to whom Baha'u'llah wrote and either outright rejected it, or ignored him and their powers to varying degrees, were soon stripped in different ways--but ultimately through the divine will. Even though the Papacy still exists, unlike the other rulers (excepting the British monarchy), the fall of Pope Pius IX after Baha'u'llah wrote him and what that meant for the papacy itself is rather spectacular.
Also, the quote I referred to in my last post in this Forum from Baha'u'llah to the rulers of America in the Kitab-i-Aqdas were not part of Baha'u'llah's letters to the kings. That they were in the Kitab-i-Aqdas itself, the "most holy book" of Baha'u'llah's revelation, implies to me a difference in "tactical" intent of those writings, though broadly speaking the message was likely the same but without the warning. The command to the rulers of the Americas in the Aqdas as opposed to being in the letters to the kings, implies to me that this was of even greater spiritual and commanding import in broad terms, but less directly commanding in immediate terms. Whereas there was command to the presidents of America in the Aqdas, they were not written as a letter. A letter as I see it implies a direct response. As I see it, God by placing his commands to the American presidents in the Kitab-i-Aqdas was giving them more time. Such a cushion wasn't being given to other rulers. That is my own supposition though, and I could be wrong.
I'll conclude with a quote from Baha'u'llah's letter to Pope Pius IX to give an idea of the tone of command. Keep in mind the writings of Baha'u'llah even in their original Arabic and Persian are extremely rich. They are as I understand it in the most high form of religious writings. Many Baha'is today do have challenges with their comprehension. From the Baha'i perspective, the writings of Baha'u'llah are written with a majesty befitting the rank of Baha'u'llah as God's vice-regent on earth, not in the style en vogue with normal men at particular places and times.
To Pope Pius IX:
"O Pope! Rend the veils asunder. He Who is the Lord of Lords is come overshadowed with clouds, and the decree hath been fulfilled by God, the Almighty, the Unrestrained. Dispel the mists through the power of thy Lord, and ascend unto the Kingdom of His names and attributes. Thus hath the Pen of the Most High commanded thee at the behest of thy Lord, the Almighty, the All-Compelling. He, verily, hath again come down from Heaven even as He came down from it the first time. Beware that thou dispute not with Him even as the Pharisees disputed with Him without a clear token or proof. On His right hand flow the living waters of grace, and on His left the choice Wine of justice, whilst before Him march the angels of Paradise, bearing the banners of His signs. Beware lest any name debar thee from God, the Creator of earth and heaven. Leave thou the world behind thee, and turn towards thy Lord, through Whom the whole earth hath been illumined."
The entire letter is here:
I'll address the Sunni/Shi'a divide in another post.
JE comments: Popes are not eager to take religious admonitions from anybody, and from Pius IX's perspective, Baha'u'llah was an upstart from the Muslim lands. But the "letters" are of great interest, especially the Baha'i belief that Victoria's response ensured the survival of the British monarchy.
To shift gears, I've gleaned from my readings in military history that narcissistic careerism is as old as warfare itself (US Civil War, WWI, WWII). Is there really any "pure" military ethos that can be but "back into place"?
I'll end with a quote from this week's WAIS reading assignment, Eisenhower's "Military-Industrial Complex" speech: "In meeting [crises], whether foreign or domestic, great or small, there is a recurring temptation to feel that some spectacular and costly action could become the miraculous solution to all current difficulties."
Sounds to me like a warning against "magic bullets." But Vincent Littrell is calling for something far more complex, bold... and compassionate.
- Does the United States Have a "Magic Bullet"? Baha'u'llah's Letters (Vincent Littrell, USA 09/01/14 9:26 AM)
- The Yazidi (A. J. Cave, USA 09/05/14 2:24 AM)
- The Yazidi/Izadis (Massoud Malek, USA 09/04/14 9:10 AM)
- The Yazidi (Robert Gibbs, USA 09/03/14 5:33 AM)
- Poisoning the Shi'a Imams; on Narjis (Massoud Malek, USA 09/02/14 3:50 AM)
- Sunni-Shi'a Divide; Response to John Heelan (A. J. Cave, USA 08/31/14 4:07 AM)
- Armstrong's *The Battle for God* (John Heelan, UK 08/30/14 1:39 PM)
- More on Islam and an Islamic State (IS/ISIS) (A. J. Cave, USA 08/30/14 3:59 AM)