Capsule Review: The Tankies by Ennis and Ezquerra

“The Tankies” is a set of three linked comics from Dead Reckoning Press about a crew of the Royal Tank Regiment (whose motto  “From Mud, Through Blood, to the Green Fields Beyond.” gets regular play in the comic); in the first comic a British tank crew led by corporal Stiles in a Churchill tank fight their way out of Normandy on D-day, outgunned by German Tigers (who they outnumber many times over, but who are not going to give the Brits an easy victory). There is a great cast of characters, including a bird watching colonel, a priest who recovers bodies from destroyed tanks and will not let the tankies help him because he knows how terrible and demoralizing the sight of a tank crew roasted alive inside their tank can be, and corporal Stiles himself, the archetypical “old hand” who knows a trick or two and will not be beaten.

The same crew (now in a Sherman Firefly) star in the second comic in February 1945 as the allies roll across Germany but continue to face more resistance than the circumstances would suggest. This one is a classic one-on-one tank duel as the British crew hunt a King Tiger led by a fanatical SS officer who is still shooting his own men if they refuse to fight on; but the biggest emotional impact comes when German civilians get caught in the middle and a child loses his mother to the British crew while collecting firewood.

The final comic has Stiles (now a Sergeant) commanding a Centurion (at last a tank better than the competition) in Korea as the Chinese attack in the battle of the Imjin river. There is no tank versus tank combat here, just masses of Chinese infantry swarming over the tanks trying to destroy them with primitive pole charges and sticky bombs while the tank crews hunker inside and “de-louse” neighboring tanks with their machine guns.

The comics are fabulously drawn and very well written. And there is an excellent afterword that gives more background about the battles where these comics are set and discusses how and why the Germans fought so hard so late in the war. It also describes the real life events that inspired some of the more unbelievable or strange things described in the comics (the colonel taking a walk in the open under fire, the priest who recovers bodies, the shell down the barrel, the swarming Chinese infantry being “de-loused” off tanks and suchlike). I had not read “war comics” since my teen years, but am thoroughly enjoying the ones I have seen from Dead Reckoning in the last few years. This set by Carlos Ezquerra (a late-great titan of the comics industry) and Garth Ennis captures the horrors of tank warfare in a way that mere prose rarely can. If you are interested in tanks, world war two or just a good war comic, this is well worth a look.

  • Publisher : Dead Reckoning (March 15, 2021)
  • Language : English
  • Paperback : 256 pages
  • ISBN-10 : 1682475972
  • ISBN-13 : 978-1682475973

Fringe Harbingers of Enlightenment – Literary Experiment of Ibn Tufayl

Being among the earliest readers and admirers of Brown Pundits, it was an honor when Omar Sahib invited me to write here few months ago. Since I blog about diverse topics (like most of you), I hesitated that something might come across as irrelevant.  I’ll keep sharing my thoughts on various topics from time to time. Just starting with a piece on Ibn Tufayl’s Hayy Ibn Yaqzan.

It is hard to imagine a young kid finishing high school without ever coming across The Life and Adventures of Robinson Crusoe?  Written in 1719 by Daniel Dafoe, it is among the claimants of the auspicious stature of first English novel, and widely believed as a true travelogue upon its inception.  However, there is seldom a casual reader who can trace the legend back to the 17th century roots of literary tradition with an autodidact character at its center; and few are aware about the Arab-Spanish mentor of this optimism in human reason and contemplation, Ibn Tufayl (d. 1185).

Almost six hundred years between Dafoe and him, we know very little about the life of Ibn Tufayl, except that he was a polymath, serving as a physician and adviser of Sultan Abu Yaqub Yusuf (d. 1184) of the Almohad dynasty ruling Morocco and Spain. It is unfortunate that his complete interdisciplinary work is lost, except his philosophical experiment involving an isolated autodidact, named Hayy Ibn Yaqzan; literally translated as Alive, Son of the Awake.

It is the story of a boy, the nature of whose existence is shadowy to an extent that there are two completely rivaling accounts of his origins. One account ascribes his origin to spontaneous generation from matter; the other is necessarily a legendary human drama in which a royal infant somehow grows up away from society and culture. Being isolated from all intelligent life, he gradually becomes conscious, thereby discovering shame, jealousy, aspiration, desire, eagerness to possess and practical reasoning. He experiences love through affection of his foster doe, and death, as it ultimately departs.

To know is necessarily an obligation for Hayy Ibn Yaqzan. Desperately seeking meaning, his search guides him to explore various disciplines such as anatomy, physiology, metaphysics and spirituality. He deduces the presence of God through contemplating  the unity of cosmos and its boundedness; and in his ascetic code of conduct, he seeks satisfaction and salvation.

After thirty-five years of isolation, he finally meets Absal, a hermit refugee from a land of conventional religious believers. In Absal, Ibn Tufayl modeled a religious divine who has learnt many languages to gain mastery of scriptural exegesis. Absal’s first reaction is a deep sense of fear for his faith as he encounters an exotic being. As they interact well, Absal endeavors to teach Hayy to speak and communicate, in order to make him aware of knowledge and religion.

However Absal soon discovers that Hayy is already aware of the truth, to envision which, Absal’s own intellect bears nothing except revealed symbols.

Judging Absal’s good intentions and the veracity of his message, Hayy proselytize to this religion and Absal introduces Hayy to his people. As Hayy gets familiarized with civilization, two basic questions continue to puzzle him in great deal. First, why people must need symbols to assimilate and express the knowledge of the ultimate truth; and why can’t they just experience the reality more intimately? Second, being completely oblivious to practical religion, he continued to wonder why there is an obligation to indulge oneself in rituals of prayer and purity.

He keeps on wondering why these people consume more than their body needs, possess and nurture property diligently, neglect truth by purposefully indulging in pass-times and fall an easy prey to their desires. He finally decides to accompany Absal to his land, thinking that it might be through him that people encompass the true vision and experience truth rather than believing it with their seemingly narrow vision.

What follows is a tale of a neophyte philosopher teaching ordinary people to rise above their literalism and open another eye towards reality. His interlocutors on the other hand, recoil in their apprehensions and being intellectual slaves to their prejudices, close their ears. He consequently realizes that these people are unable to go beyond their usual appetites. He also grasps that masses of the world are only capable to receive through symbols and regulatory laws rather than being receptive to unstained and plain truth. Both men eventually return back to their isolated world but this time Hayy as the teacher and Absal as his disciple. They continue searching their ecstasies until they met their ends.

CHT167325 Robinson Crusoe Building his First Dwelling, 1930 (colour litho) by Myrbach-Rheinfeld, Felicien baron de (1853-1940); colour lithograph; Private Collection; (add. info.: Robinson Crusoe construit sa maison); Archives Charmet; German, in copyright until 2011

Ibn Tufayl’s singularly survived legacy extends in diverse dimensions and its canvas is vast. Its theological and philosophical themes were employed and transformed throughout the various phases of European enlightenment.

It isn’t just one curious aspect that many centuries later, the metaphysically preoccupied Hayy Ibn Yaqzan is transformed into a shipwrecked sailor, predominantly occupying himself with inventions and utilitarian exploration of nature. As Malik Bennabi – an acute observer of modern condition – observes, the genius of both the narratives lies in characterizing the solitude of their respective protagonists. In this respect, time for Robinson Crusoe is essentially a concrete cyclic happening of acts, such as work, food, sleep and work again.

Nov. 4. This morning I began to order my times of work, of going out with my gun, time of diversion, viz., every morning I walked out with my gun for two or three hours, if it did not rain; then employed myself to work till about eleven o’clock; then eat what I had to live on; and from twelve to two I lay down to sleep, the weather being excessive hot; and then in the evening to work again. The working parts of this day and of the next were wholly employed in making my table; for I was yet but a complete natural mechanic soon after, as I believe it would do anyone else.[1]

This is pretty much the condition of a modern individual where the void of solitude is filled with work, each of us occupied mechanically with the object at the centre of our world of ideas, diligently busy in constructing our own proverbial tables.

On the other hand, what fills Hayy’s solitude is an overwhelming amazement, the adventure starting by experiencing wonder in the ultimate nature of life and death of his beloved foster-mother, the gazelle.

When she (the gazelle) grew old and feeble, he used to lead her where there was the best pasture, and pluck the sweetest fruits for her, and give her them to eat. Notwithstanding this, she grew lean and continued a while in a languishing condition, till at last she died, and then all her motions and actions ceased. When the boy perceived her in this condition, he was ready to die for grief He called her with the same voice, which she used to answer to, and made what noise he could, but there was no motion, no alteration. Then he began to peep into her ears and eyes, but could perceive no visible defect in either; in like manner he examined all the parts of her body, and found nothing amiss, but everything as it should be. He had a vehement desire to find that part where the defect was, that he may remove it, and she return to her former state. But he was altogether at a loss how to compass his design, nor could he possibly bring it about.[2]

Thus, it is ultimately in the nature of failure to identify this defective part where Ibn Tufayl tries to locate an ineffable reality beyond the material.  

Ibn Tufayl’s philosophical romance has been regarded as one of the pioneer autodidactic works surviving from medieval scholastic tradition [3]. But besides being an influential narrative   with rich literary possibilities and themes such as those transformed by a modernist like Dafoe  it was a precursor to important medieval interactions between the schools of Thomas Aquinas and Averroists, and invited modern appraisals from mathematician rationalists like Gottfried Leibniz [4].

Voltaire and Quakers admired it for its appeal to reason, and Bacon, Newton and Locke were possibly influenced by it to various degrees too. Traces of Ibn Tufayl’s original literary pointers are also found in Rousseau’s Emile, Kant’s Ground of Proof for a Demonstration of God’s Existence, Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels and Darwin’s Origin of Species among others.

Especially in the context of Muslim tradition, its contemporary value lies in rich possibilities to bridge gaps between reason and revelation. It lays down a perpetually self evolving construct where reason and reflection are the essential keys to the doors of  timeless revelation. Ibn Tufayl’s voice still echoes loud, struggling to tell us that rejecting either would imply rejecting a part of truth.

_________________________________________

  1. Daniel Dafoe, Robinson Crusoe, Penguin Classics 2003
  2. Lenn Evan Goodman, Ibn Tufayl’s Hayy ibn Yaqzan: a philosophical tale, 1972.
  3. There have been attributions to an earlier work involving similar but limited themes to Avicenna.
  4. Samar Attar, The Vital Roots of European Enlightenment: Ibn Tufayl’s Influence on Modern Western Thought, 2010

Review: Magic in Islam by Michael Mohammed Knight

This is an old capsule review I wrote a few years ago. I have been busier than usual and not writing at all, so I decided to post some old reviews..

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A hot mess of a book, but still worth reading. Michael Knight is now a postmodern conventionally educated scholar, and that is beginning to show. He has obviously read VERY widely and the book contains countless extremely interesting tidbits about magic and magical ideas in Islamicate tradition. But all of this wonderful research is embedded within a curious postmodern framework that can be off-putting and irrelevant to the story. The story he COULD have told is the story of magic and related ideas in the history of Islam and Islamicate culture. THAT story would have been a fascinating and interesting tour through a history that is not well known, especially to outsiders and Western-educated Muslims (like us). And he provides some of that and that is why the book is worth reading. But he is also eager to “correct” our supposed misconceptions about religion and history and too much pleading takes up too much space in this book. Then again, many people seem to want that kind of “mandatory re-education/rectification of names”, so maybe you will like that part too. But personally, I would have preferred more historical details, fewer lectures about orientalism and “the clash of civilizations”.
Best new bit of information for me: that Ibn ul Arabi claimed he had sex with the Arabic letters in paradise. I wish i knew more about the context of that particular quote. But like many fascinating little details in the book, Michael mentions it and moves on. He has clearly read a lot, I wish he had spent more time presenting the information he has collected and less time lecturing us about how “opening space for new fields of knowledge potentially decenters traditions of jurisprudence, even forcing increased opening of an Islam outside normative Muslim legal traditions” and suchlike. Sure, that would be nice. But let us hear the story first, then we can figure out what it means for magic to be (as he describes it) “deconstructive”.
Not that I disagree with his project of “engagement and deep intersection”, just that I wanted more of the facts, less of the postmodern interpretation.

Capsule Review: Homeland Elegies by Ayad Akhtar

This is a very well written book and Ayad Akhtar has clearly come a long way from his debut novel (American Dervish) in terms of style and writing skill. The story is OK but did not really work for me. The book is said to be semi-autobiographical and I found that hard to get past. Is this his story or not? We are not supposed to ask that question, but somehow i kept getting stuck on it (perhaps because I have lived in Brookfield and have some vague notion of where he is from). But mostly I was disappointed by the narrator’s somewhat sophisticated but still very “inside the bubble wokeness”. He presents himself as someone willing to “go there” and talk about (and intelligently criticize/analyze) everything but it turns out that he is skeptical of everything but “super-elite wokeness”, which he seems to accept as just the not-so-simple truth about our world. I expect that well-off second generation desi kids will identify with a lot of what the narrator goes through (real or imagined) but that seems to be a rather narrow demographic. For the rest of us, the insights are less than advertised.
Still, he is, as you might expect from Ayad Akhtar, ready to get into hot topics (including Islam, oral sex, parent problems, racism) with all guns blazing, which can be fun. And his summary of partition and Pakistan is pretty good, and some of the other essay-like digressions (such as his explanation for the ills of late capitalism and what Robert Bork had to do with it) are also interesting; whether they are true (or useful) is not equally clear. if you are a second generation desi or are so intensely woke that think-pieces in “The Guardian” generally seem wise to you, then this is your book. But even if you are not, it is worth a quick read.

Book Review: The Wellington Experience

Book Review – The Wellington Experience: A Study of Attitudes and Values Within the Indian Army by Colonel ® David O. Smith

 Hamid Hussain

David Smith’s book The Wellington Experience is a detailed study of Indian army’s prestigious Command & Staff College that trains armed forces officers for higher ranks. This book is based on interviews of American army officers who attended Command and Staff College at Wellington in India spanning over four decades. Foreign Area Officers (FAO) of US army spent a year at Staff College.

Colonel David Smith is familiar with Indian and Pakistan armies in view of his professional background.  He has been a South Asia hand at Pentagon and Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA) for over two decades. In his professional career, he interacted with number of Indian officers and familiar with the terrain.

This study looks at functioning of Staff College and evolution of its curriculum to train Indian armed forces officers for higher ranks. It also looks at professional and social attitudes and threat perceptions of Indian officers.

The major conclusions of the study are conventional thinking, adhering to staff college solutions to problems, lackluster attention to joint operations and ambiguity about China. However, the most crucial finding is lack of understanding of nuclear dimension of future conflicts with Pakistan. This factor has been noted by other observers of Indian army.  In the aftermath of devastating terrorist attack in Mumbai in 2008 by Pakistan based militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), the shocked Prime Minister Manmohan Singh asked his National Security Advisory Board for options. Ministry of Defence (MOD) Simulation and Wargaming Center suggested a surgical strike on training camps of LeT in Pakistan controlled Kashmir. Prime Minister asked what was the probability of a Pakistani response? The army officer said around 75-80%. Prime Minister then asked what is the probability that these attack-counterattack dynamics leading to Pakistan escalating to nuclear counter-strike? The officer replied about 30%.  Political leadership stopped right there as it was too high a risk.

Smith’s work provides an outside perspective of training of Indian army officers at mid-career level and attitudes of officers.  It is perspective of a little over two dozen American officers who spent only a year at one institution.  It is supplemented with input from US government officials and US Defence Attachés in Delhi.  This is main limitation of the study.  US officials and officers view India and its neighborhood through American security interests while India has a different take on security challenges of its neighborhood.  Despite such limitations, it is a very methodical and in depth evaluation of existing instructional norms and pointing to areas of improvement for training of officers for higher ranks.

This study confirms what many observers of Indian army know that conventional thinking is the bedrock of Indian army culture.  Unorthodox thinking and critical evaluation of existing doctrines is discouraged, and curriculum and training encourage conformism.  It provides a window to otherwise opaque world of Indian military officer corps training.  This study can be valuable if Indian high command sees it as a friendly criticism of weaknesses of an eminent teaching institution.  Dynamic institutions improve by introspection and course correction.

David O. Smith.  The Wellington Experience: A Study of Attitudes and Values Within the Indian Army (Washington D.C: Stimson Center), 2020

Acknowledgements: Author thanks input from many informed individuals well informed about the subject matter. 

 

Hamid Hussain

[email protected]

24 January 2021

 

Defence Journal, February 2021

Browncast: Keerthik Sasidharan, author of The Dharma Forest

Another BP Podcast is up. You can listen on LibsyniTunesSpotify,  and Stitcher. Probably the easiest way to keep up the podcast since we don’t have a regular schedule is to subscribe at one of the links above.

Would appreciate more positive reviews!

In this episode I talk to Keerthik Sasidharan, an author and columnist whose debut book “The Dharma Forest” just came out in India in December 2020. Release in the US is awaited. We talk about his book, the Mahabharata, Indian tradition and whatever comes to mind.. Image result for keerthik sasidharan

The Dharma Forest

Capsule Review: The Ultimate Goal by Vikram Sood

Sood, Vikram. The Ultimate Goal: A Former R&AW Chief Deconstructs How Nations and Intelligence Agencies Construct Narratives (p. 22). HarperCollins Publishers India. Kindle Edition.

The author is an intelligence professional who was the chief of RAW, but the book has nothing to do with RAW; it is mostly a description of how great powers generate and propagate their national narratives and why India can and should do the same. Fans of Noam Chomsky will be pleasantly surprised to find many familiar themes when discussing Western narrative building, though I assume most leftists will react less positively to the Indian portion, labeling it as at least mildly “sanghi”. In any case the book is always interesting because it is chock full of interesting anecdotes and nuggets of information (for which the author provides appropriate footnotes). Whether you agree with the somewhat Machiavellian (for lack of a better word) analysis, you will still get to read some fascinating stories. it is also well written and professionally edited. Well worth a read.

For a flavor of the book, see the following excerpts:

That message must be indigenous and not borrowed. India, too, as it becomes a bigger player on the world stage and given its civilizational history, must have its own narrative, its own version of history and values. Respect comes from not only the way a country wields its strength, tackling both the stronger and the weaker, but also from how it tells its story.

when Nixon and Kissinger were making overtures to Mao Zedong, and Rockefeller wanted to get Chase Manhattan an entrée into China. Rockefeller sought Kissinger’s advice, who suggested that the former get in touch with Huang Hua, China’s permanent representative at the UN, to get permission to enter China. Eventually, one fine day, a Rockefeller representative handed over a bag containing US$ 50,000 in cash at the Roosevelt Hotel to Huang Hua. No receipts were necessary and, soon after that, the Chinese mission opened an account with Chase Manhattan. Rockefeller was able to make several trips to China,

There would inevitably be conspiracy theories about these groups, but the fact is that the rich and powerful need a common and exclusive shelter for safety and networking. The CFR and TC, as well as others, fulfil this role. The superclass and these organizations draw strength from each other, and this need not be conspiratorial beyond the obvious of protecting and enhancing their turfs. The rich and the elite give these organizations an aura, where they mingle with the high and mighty from the government and being a member of these organizations enhances the exclusivity of the superclass. This is also where the power of the ‘revolving door’, which enables lateral movement from crucial departments of administration and the legislature to appropriate corporate slots and vice versa, during changes of government, is apparent.

The Trilateral Commission was more an exclusive elite club of powerful men and women who ran the world and were citizens of the United States, Europe and Japan. They were politicians, corporate heads, former and would-be presidents of the US, senior cabinet ministers, heads of intelligence, World Bank governors, strategic thinkers, media heads backed by the might of those like David Rockefeller and his favourite strategic thinker of the day, Zbigniew Brzezinski.

Soon after the fall of Baghdad, Rumsfeld rushed there as a conqueror to congratulate and thank the troops. He praised the armed forces as photographs appeared of rapturous Iraqi crowds pulling down Saddam’s statue in Firdos Square in celebration of their ‘liberation’. The truth was that the US army’s psychological warfare unit had hired some Iraqis to remove the statue.

The story of Russia’s political warfare unfolds with Donald Trump’s announcement on 16 June 2015 from Trump Tower, New York, that he would be contesting the next presidential elections. Many Americans received this news with misgivings and others with derision. One newspaper even ran with the headline ‘Clown Runs for Prez’.23 His countrywide rating was abysmal, and he had to pay audiences to show up at his rallies. No one really gave him a chance at making it even to the nomination as a Republican candidate. That day in 2015 was probably also the day that the final phase of Russian active measures moved from a low gear to full throttle.

Sood, Vikram. The Ultimate Goal: A Former R&AW Chief Deconstructs How Nations andIntelligence Agencies Construct Narratives (p. 131). HarperCollins Publishers India. Kindle Edition.

Review: Advent of the Algorithm

An old review I wrote (back in 2002) for the magazine Herald.

” The algorithm is …the second great scientific idea of the West. There is no third.”

This sentence at the very beginning of the book should warn us that this is not going to be science writing in the Asimov vein. Dr. Berlinski once boasted that he can be accused of many things, but shrinking from controversy is not one of them. A professor of mathematics, a novelist, something of a poet and the successful author of “a tour of the calculus”, Dr. Berlinski is also famous for his very public insistence that Darwinian evolution does not add up; that something is missing from the story and the high priests are engaged in a cover-up. In “the advent of the algorithm” he sets out to tell us about the algorithm: “a procedure, written in a symbolic vocabulary, that gets something done step-by-step without the need for any intelligent assistance”. But he ends by questioning the ability of science to explain the mind: the intelligence that fashions and uses these algorithms and infuses them with meaning.

The book begins and ends with Gottfried Leibniz. Between inventing the calculus, imagining the monads and carrying out his diplomatic duties, Gottfried Leibniz also laid the foundations of mathematical logic and the science of computing. He is followed by Guiseppe Peano, Gottlieb Frege, George Cantor and others, till we get to the great David Hilbert and his challenge to mathematicians to show that mathematics is consistent, complete and decidable (in principle, if not in practice). Within a few years, Kurt Godel was able to show that this is not possible. After an explanation of Godel’s revolutionary result, Alonzo Church, Alan Turing, Emil Post, Claude Shannon and others are introduced and the reader learns about the developments in logic and mathematics that form the foundations of our modern digital world.

Berlinski’s explanations of these developments are lucid, even brilliant, and someone with little mathematical knowledge beyond high school should still be able to understand what he is saying. But he does not want to stop at the bare bones of the theories. He is determined to give his readers a hint of the larger import of these matters, and he presses into service a number of stories, asides and literary flourishes. Sometimes the prose is so purple, it throbs and begs to be deflated, but the overall effect is not unpleasant. Here is a typical fragment about Liebniz:

“And then, by some inscrutable incandescent insight, Leibniz came to see that what is crucial in what he had written is the alternation between God and Nothingness. And for this, the numbers 0 and 1 suffice.

Twinkies and Diet Coke in hand, computer programmers can now be observed pausing thoughtfully at their consoles.”

And here are the last days of Hilbert in Nazi Germany:

“Hilbert closed his remarks with words that were later inscribed on his tombstone: we must know. We will know.”

“We realize now that that was the last time those words could have been uttered without irony…the mathematicians who had heard his voice and fallen under his command had scattered, some going to the US or South America or even China, others, for all their sophisticated and intellectual cunning, finding themselves packed in freight cars, grinding their way to some place in the east.”

This powerful and humane sense of history and tragedy is accompanied by an almost wicked sense of humor and an absolute unwillingness to submit to fashionable opinion. The stories and asides are generally delightful, though the author could easily have spared us his own amorous adventures and multiple marriages without any loss to the book. The math is challenging, but not overwhelming and worth the effort to understand it. In the last chapters, he takes on the issue of whether the mind is simply an algorithm, albeit a very sophisticated one? The question is not if the mind uses algorithms or if many of its functions can be reduced to algorithms (it does, and they can). The 300-pound gorilla in the room is consciousness: an algorithm is merely symbols, manipulated according to rules (themselves strings of symbols) but an intelligence creates those symbols and assigns them meaning. When the mind sees, something is seen by someone. Who is this someone who sees? Berlinski knows that even the scientists do not know the answer to that. The attack on scientific monotheism in the last chapters may upset those who suspect that such “attacks from within” will provide ammunition to those who wish to bludgeon us into more extreme monotheisms of their own. But Berlinski believes that doubt has brought us this far, it is too late in the day to stop. All the emperors are naked, why should the emperor of science get special treatment? And so he ends with Heraclitus:

”you could not discover the limits of the soul, not even if you traveled down every road. Such is the depth of its form”

The Koran; a very short introduction

An old review I happened to revisit today. It was written for the Pakistani news-magazine Herald in 2002,  you can see a reference to “colonization of the Middle East” which indicates it was a different era and a different me 😉

The Koran (in the OUP “Very Short Introductions” series,) Oxford 2000.

The Koran: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions Book 13) by [Michael Cook]

Pious Muslims may feel that in the presence of the text and its commentaries, they do not need Professor Michael Cook’s “very short introduction” to the Koran. The pious may also wish to stay away because Professor Cook was once associated with the notorious “Hagarene hypothesis” (put forth in the 1977 book: Hagarism: The Making of the Islamic World by Patricia Crone and Michael Cook) though he has since backed away from some of the more extreme claims of that book. But “The Koran, a very short introduction” turns out to be a very witty and interesting book, full of insights that the most pious Muslim will find informative and stimulating. Continue reading “The Koran; a very short introduction”

Book Review: Friendly Fire by Ami Ayalon

From Dr Hamid Hussain

Book Review – Friendly Fire by Ami Ayalon

Hamid Hussain

“As you prepare your breakfast, think of others
(do not forget the pigeon’s food).
As you conduct your wars, think of others
(do not forget those who seek peace).
As you pay your water bill, think of others
(those who are nursed by clouds).
As you return home, to your home, think of others
(do not forget the people of the camps).
As you sleep and count the stars, think of others
(those who have nowhere to sleep).
As you liberate yourself in metaphor, think of others
(those who have lost the right to speak).
As you think of others far away, think of yourself
(say: “If only I were a candle in the dark”).”                   
  Mahmoud Darwish

Ami Ayalon’s book is a compilation of an autobiography including his own personal journey from a warrior to a peacemaker and a review of Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  He narrates his adult life fighting for Israel’s security as naval and internal security officer.  He builds his case to his country men that he is not advocating two state solution as a favor to Palestinians but sees this as the only solution to preserve Israel as a Jewish democratic state.  He fears that continued occupation of Palestinians will end up Israel as ‘a dystopian society that is tyrannical for those under our boots, and toxic and self-defeating for all’.

Ami has the audacity of hope in a very depressing situation.  My own two trips to Israel and Palestinian territories were focused on visiting Crusader era and First World War era landmarks related to Indian army.  However, I interacted with number of Israelis and Palestinians and found hardening of attitudes on both sides.  Tech savvy Israeli youth are focused on advancing their careers and number of young Palestinians making every effort to get away from what to them is a large prison and seek a better life away from their homeland.  Both these groups don’t care much about everyday politics. Israeli society and politics have taken a sharp right turn.  They are using a single verse of Bible in the Book of Genesis 15:18 ‘To your descendants I give this land’ as a property deed for Jewish people and view Palestinians as mere squatters and holders of a stolen property.  If this is the basis of the claim then they have to quote the whole verse that “On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abraham and said, “To your descendants I give this land, from the Wadi of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates”.   Will they simply be happy with the half of the covenant and not go for the whole inheritance from Nile to Euphrates?

Palestinians are rapidly losing the hope of a two state solution in view of expanding Jewish settlements and rest of the Arab world moving on with their lives.  This impasse has given rise to many trends, but two prominent ones are two extremes of a single state where they will try to get their rights based on universal democratic principles and the other extreme of a continued war until final victory over Jews.

In 1981, when Ami was attending a course at US Naval War College, a Pakistani Colonel approached him and told him that ‘Don’t permit the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to become a contest between Judaism and Islam.  Don’t lift the lid off that Pandora’s box.  We can live with Israel, and your fight with the Palestinians is of no interest to Pakistan.  Just don’t fool around with the Islamic holy sites or use religion to justify your claims.  That would tear apart the entire world”.  Thirty years later, Ami saw both sides taking refuge in religion from their fears. As head of Shin Bet, for the first time, Ami had to run informants among hardline religious settlers and haul them in for interrogation.  Ami has understood this dilemma that ‘the way we understand our history is the barrier to a real compromise because it controls our actions and fears, and therefore our future”.  The religious right of Jews and Muslims are thumping their scriptures to claim holy land.  Jewish Rabbis and Muslim Imams are arguing about who are the chosen people of the Lord and resigned to the coming Armageddon.  I reflected on these claims when I was visiting Megiddo; the place where this Armageddon is supposed to take place.

Ami is not a leftist or a peacenik.  He is a realist who is willing to sit with opponents whether right wing religious fellow Israelis or Palestinians to understand their point of view.  He comes on the peace table with stellar credentials.  His whole life was spent as a warrior.  He was a naval commando and commanded elite naval commando force Flotilla 13, served as chief of Israeli navy and head of internal security Shabak (Shin Bet).  Later, in pursue of peace, he joined politics and became member of Israeli parliament Knesset.

He brings hope to his people as well as Palestinians.  He is not alone in this endeavor. In 2012, he helped Israeli documentary film maker Dror Moreh that was considered as coup when five former Shin Bet heads sat in front of camera and reviewed the policies of internal security.  They concluded that continued occupation of Palestinian territories was bad for Israel.  The film The Gatekeepers was the best documentary film in Academy Awards nominations.  Over two hundred former senior security officials from Israeli Defence Forces (IDF), Mossad, Sin Bet and police have formed an organization named Commanders for Israel Security.  They see two state solution as a guarantee for Israel security. Ami has made the correct diagnosis that ‘We’re so trapped behind our own walls; we can’t see what seems obvious to outsiders’.  Israelis don’t’ need goyim (non-Jew) to tell them what is good for them? They need to listen to fellow Israelis who spent their lives defending the country.

“Tombstones break,

words pass, words are forgotten,

lips that uttered them turn to dust,

languages die like people, and other languages are resurrected,

gods in the heavens change,

gods come and go.

Prayers remain forever.”                               Yehuda Amichai

 

Ami Ayalon with Anthony David.  Friendly Fire: How Israel Became Its own Worst Enemy and the Hope for Its Future (Lebanon, New Hampshire: Steer Forth Press), 2020

Hamid Hussain

[email protected]

25 October 2020

Defence Journal, November 2020