Ypres 1917: from my e-Books

I have been reading many e-Books lately. More on that later. Today I focus on one: Thomas Hope Floyd, At Ypres with Best-Dunkley .

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Lieutenant Colonel Bertram Best-Dunkley VC (3 August 1890 – 5 August 1917) was an English recipient of the Victoria Cross. I note he was before the war a teacher at Tientsin (Tianjin) Grammar School in China. At the time of his death he was with 2nd/5th Bn XX Lancashire Fusiliers.

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I found this from Thomas Floyd’s book quite memorable:

We were joined by more prisoners as we went down. German prisoners have only to be told which way to go and they go. They are quite sociable people too—many of them bright-eyed boys of seventeen and eighteen. They are only too glad to carry our wounded men back; they need no escort. We got on very well indeed with them. I suppose that in a sense we were comrades in distress, or, rather comrades in good fortune, in that we were all leaving the field of horrors behind us! Yet they were the very Boches who, an hour before, had been peppering us with those bullets. One would never have imagined that we had so recently been enemies. One of them asked for water to ‘drinken;’ so I let him have a drink from my water-bottle. About half a dozen of them drank, and they appeared very grateful.

“Germans are not half so vile as they are painted…. They are only doing their bit for their Empire as we are for ours. The pity of it is that destiny should have thrown us into conflict. It is a great pity. How fine it would be if we could let bygones be bygones, shake hands, and lead the world in peace and civilization side by side! If we can fraternize so speedily on the battlefield, why cannot those who are not shooting each other also fraternize? It is a cruel insult to humanity that this thing should go on. War is hell, and the sooner some one arises who has the courage to stop it the better. Somebody will have to take the lead some time. I myself believe in peace after victory—but we are not yet going the right way about achieving victory; and, unless Sir William Robertson speedily changes his plans, we might as well make peace. This killing business is horrible. The present policy of the General Staff is: see which side can do the most killing. A far wiser, and far more humane, policy would be to win it by strategy. I believe in out-man[oe]uvring the enemy and taking as many prisoners as possible; make him evacuate territory or surrender by corps and armies; it can be done if we go the right way about it, but this bloodshed is barbarous.

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Again London!

Just over an hour ago another outbreak of madness and death! I draw attention to my post of  March 28, 2017 and the reading there.

My reading last night continued with the excellent Graeme Wood, The Way of Strangers: Encounters with the Islamic State. I have found his What ISIS Really Wants on The Atlantic. I commend it to you as a condensed version of the book. I find him learned, convincing and enlightening.

Virtually every  major decision and law promulgated by the Islamic State adheres to what it calls, in its press and pronouncements, and on its billboards, license plates, stationery, and coins, “the Prophetic methodology,” which means following the prophecy and example of Muhammad, in punctilious detail. Muslims can reject the Islamic State; nearly all do. But pretending that it isn’t actually a religious, millenarian group, with theology that must be understood to be combatted, has already led the United States to underestimate it and back foolish schemes to counter it. We’ll need to get acquainted with the Islamic State’s intellectual genealogy if we are to react in a way that will not strengthen it, but instead help it self-immolate in its own excessive zeal…

Denying the holiness of the Koran or the prophecies of Muhammad is straightforward apostasy. But Zarqawi and the state he spawned take the position that many other acts can remove a Muslim from Islam. These include, in certain cases, selling alcohol or drugs, wearing Western clothes or shaving one’s beard, voting in an election—even for a Muslim candidate—and being lax about calling other people apostates. Being a Shiite, as most Iraqi Arabs are, meets the standard as well, because the Islamic State regards Shiism as innovation, and to innovate on the Koran is to deny its initial perfection. (The Islamic State claims that common Shiite practices, such as worship at the graves of imams and public self-flagellation, have no basis in the Koran or in the example of the Prophet.) That means roughly 200 million Shia are marked for death. So too are the heads of state of every Muslim country, who have elevated man-made law above Sharia by running for office or enforcing laws not made by God.

Following takfiri doctrine, the Islamic State is committed to purifying the world by killing vast numbers of people. The lack of objective reporting from its territory makes the true extent of the slaughter unknowable, but social-media posts from the region suggest that individual executions happen more or less continually, and mass executions every few weeks. Muslim “apostates” are the most common victims….

A few “lone wolf” supporters of the Islamic State have attacked Western targets, and more attacks will come. But most of the attackers have been frustrated amateurs, unable to immigrate to the caliphate because of confiscated passports or other problems. Even if the Islamic State cheers these attacks—and it does in its propaganda—it hasn’t yet planned and financed one….

I commend again Graeme Wood’s What ISIS Really Wants.

To take one example: In September, Sheikh Abu Muhammad al-Adnani, the Islamic State’s chief spokesman, called on Muslims in Western countries such as France and Canada to find an infidel and “smash his head with a rock,” poison him, run him over with a car, or “destroy his crops.” To Western ears, the biblical-sounding punishments—the stoning and crop destruction—juxtaposed strangely with his more modern-sounding call to vehicular homicide. (As if to show that he could terrorize by imagery alone, Adnani also referred to Secretary of State John Kerry as an “uncircumcised geezer.”)

But Adnani was not merely talking trash. His speech was laced with theological and legal discussion, and his exhortation to attack crops directly echoed orders from Muhammad to leave well water and crops alone—unless the armies of Islam were in a defensive position, in which case Muslims in the lands of kuffar, or infidels, should be unmerciful, and poison away.

The reality is that the Islamic State is Islamic. Very Islamic. Yes, it has attracted psychopaths and adventure seekers, drawn largely from the disaffected populations of the Middle East and Europe. But the religion preached by its most ardent followers derives from coherent and even learned interpretations of Islam.

At the same time we do well to remember that while this particularly vicious, indeed evil, variant of Sunni Islam is at war with us, and with much of the rest of Islam as well, most Muslims are not. All this assuming of course that what is happening in London right now is what it seems to be.

So I also commend my posts on Islam generally, and this one also from March 28:

Here is a heartening story, definitely not fake. Women formed a human chain along Westminster Bridge tonight to remember the victims of the attack on March 22. We need to “inoculate” ourselves against the likes of The Revenant with what these women have!

Participants in the Women's March, gather on Westminster Bridge to hold hands in silence, to remember victims of the attack in Westminster earlier in the week, in London

Literary map of London

With London having been on our minds lately, I thought I would share this.

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This map is both a snapshot of London’s literary history and beautiful in its own right.

More than 250 novels were mined in order to make the Literary London Map, taken from the Literary London Art Collection.

It was created by graphic artist Dex in collaboration with interior designer Anna Burles.

See also This literature map of the world is simply brilliant.

London

Cannot be avoided this morning: London terrorist attack turned tourist landmark into scene of horror and from a fellow-blogger, Stephen Liddell in London.

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Happening to the day on the first anniversary of Brussels. Terrible, but London has survived much worse, and I think it is fair to say the authorities there have been very capable and measured in their response thus far.

Attacks like this are highly unpredictable but also highly likely. While the imminent elimination of ISIS also seems likely, the ideology it represents continues and will continue. And here we must be very specific and take the trouble to transcend blanket judgments about an entire religion and a quarter of the world’s population.

My reading lately has assisted me in getting better at that. First came Gabriele Marranci’s cool anthropological take in Wars of Terror (2016). Marranci is Australian — Macquarie University in fact. You can get a feel for his work in posts like Indefinite detention for advocating jihadi violence (2015).

Next is my current Wollongong Library borrowing, Graeme Wood, The Way of Strangers: Encounters with the Islamic State (2017). It is a good read too, which helps, and I am finding it rings true with my own past encounters with the theology of advocates of what some would label extremism, in my case posted in 2004-2006 for example: Wolves in sheep’s clothing on an extremist Islamic mission.

See this Council on Foreign Relations launch of ‘The Way of the Strangers: Encounters with the Islamic State’.

ROSE: Explain for a second what a caliphate is.

WOOD: And a caliphate—a caliphate is a—it is a resurrection of an institution that most people think was—has been extinct since 1924 when the Ottoman Caliphate was abolished by the republican Turks. But it is a Muslim state that is led by one person, who is a caliph, which—a word which literally means a successor, successor usually considered to the prophet Muhammad as the political leader of Muslims all coming together.

So what ISIS—what they did by declaring a caliphate, for many of the people I spoke to, was—it’s as if they switched a light on. There was suddenly an entity that required the allegiance of all Muslims, caused them to be required, obliged individually to come to fight under the direction of the caliph.

ROSE: So, like, they send out a big bat signal, and now everybody has to come?

WOOD: It’s the ultimate jihadist bat sign, that’s right. And sure enough, you know, that’s what we observed from 2013 and then really in force once the declaration happened in 2014 up until the point where the bat sign turned out to be too dangerous to heed. Like, the Islamic State actually said, if you follow the bat sign, apparently you’re going to get killed, stopped, arrested; we’d rather you ignore it and then just attack where you are.

ROSE: You said that this is Islamic, but it’s a kind of oddball or extreme or not universally accepted operationalization of some strands of Islam. Is that basically correct?

WOOD: Yeah, it—

ROSE: And how would you gloss that?

WOOD: It’s not just that I say it. That’s what ISIS itself says, that they recognize that their interpretation is an extreme minority among Muslims. And they say that that interpretation, that means that most Muslims who have actively rejected them—which is most Muslims—are no longer Muslims. So they—

ROSE: So by definition, if you’re a Muslim but don’t agree that this is the new caliphate, you are an apostate?

WOOD: They’ve got a long list of things that they say would nullify your Islam. And these include voting in an election, any kind of worship of a grave or a saint. These—it—the list just goes on and on and on. But yeah, being persnickety about these questions is really their favorite sport, and they practice it pretty avidly.

See also the NPR interview In ‘Way Of The Strangers,’ Wood Explores Why Young People Embrace ISIS.

WOOD: Yeah. John Georgelas came from a military family. And I think there was still a sense that the way to succeed was by succeeding in a kind of American military sort of way. And so when the parents saw their kid go off in a jihadist direction, they thought of him as a follower. And yet all the Islamic State supporters I had been in touch with thought of him as their leader. So to have this impressionable kid really find his footing and become the leader of a sect within a terrorist group I think is truly inconceivable for the parents to see.

MARTIN: Yeah, a horrible kind of position for a parent to be in. You write in the book that part of the West’s misunderstanding of ISIS is a kind of refusal to acknowledge its religious roots, that there is a theology behind all of the violence.

WOOD: Yes. I think that there is a strong urge to say that Islam has nothing to do with religion, that ISIS is a bunch of psychopaths, people with blades cutting off heads wantonly. Unfortunately that’s just not true. ISIS has looked into Islamic history with historical accuracy, with intellectual rigor. And that’s part of what has produced that group as well as its Muslim opponents.

MARTIN: How do they justify the violence?

WOOD: You’ll find some who will say the violence is temporary. We are Muslims who are reviving the faith and we have to do this in a fallen world, so we’ll cut off the hands of thieves right now. But once the Islamic State is stronger and people realize this is the punishment, we won’t have to cut off hands.

MARTIN: The violence is a way to peace?

WOOD: Yes. That’s what you find with the nicer ones. The less nice ones just say this is a wonderful thing. The violence is not something that needs to be explained except to say that our scripture says it must be so. And so when it happens, we should celebrate it.

I think Wood’s book is excellent. A site he commends has connections with scholars from Princeton, among others: it is Jihadica. Well worth a look.

Jihadica is a clearinghouse for materials related to militant, transnational Sunni Islamism, commonly known as Jihadism. At the moment, much of this material is diffuse, known only to a few specialists, and inaccessible to the public and policymakers unless they pay a fee. Jihadica provides this material for free and keeps a daily record of its dissemination that can be easily searched and studied. These records are accompanied by the expert commentary of people who have the requisite language training to understand the primary source material and advanced degrees in relevant fields.

Oh and please ignore groups such as our self-appointed “patriots” and One Nation. I recently unfriended someone on Facebook after he serially commended “patriot” gatherings and the latest anti-Muslim hysteria. I really don’t need to see that stuff when there is so much better out there. Serious knowledge we need, blanket Islamophobia we surely can do without.

Update:

I do not resile from this for one moment and never will, having seen the utterly useless response of the Revenant of Oz. On Facebook I have just posted “Pauline Hanson is a useless, ignorant, egomaniacal and counterproductive heap of shit. To put it mildly!” As I said, ignore One Nation!

Next day:  If anything I was too kind to this malignant carbuncle on the Australian body politic!

Cricket: lighting up our troubled times

I love this photo from Cricket Australia of part of the crowd in Brisbane for the first test between Australia and Pakistan.

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And what a game it turned out to be! Pakistan as near as did the seemingly impossible.

Australia ultimately pocketed their predicted win but it was Pakistan that emerged with a lion’s share of the plaudits after a history-making run chase that ultimately fell bravely short.

The manner in which the first Test ended – tailender Yasir Shah run out by Steve Smith’s laser-like throw from second slip having wandered inattentively out of his crease after staving off a Mitchell Starc yorker – was in keeping with many a previous failure from this most mercurial of Test teams.

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And I really like the day-night pink ball format. It is certainly drawing the crowds, and could be the saviour of REAL cricket – five day tests.

Meanwhile look at India go! Karun Nair triple century against England fuels India to highest ever Test innings.

There’s no doubt cricket is one of old England’s greater legacies! And a bit of sanity in a troubling world.