Tag Archives: Israel

“Song of Saul Before His Last Battle” by Lord Byron

“Suicide of Saul” by Pieter Bruegel the Elder

Warriors and chiefs! should the shaft or the sword
Pierce me in leading the host of the Lord,
Heed not the corse, though a king’s in your path:
Bury your steel in the bosoms of Gath!

Thou who art bearing my buckler and bow,
Should the soldiers of Saul look away from the foe,
Stretch me that moment in blood at thy feet!
Mine be the doom which they dared not to meet.

Farewell to others, but never we part,
Heir to my royalty, son of my heart!
Bright is the diadem, boundless the sway,
Or kingly the death, which awaits us today!

To understand this poem, you should be familiar with the biblical story of the death of Saul, as told in I Samuel 31. Saul is leading a battle against the Philistines, and things do not go well for the Israelites. Saul’s sons are slain, and the warriors flee. So Saul decides to take his own life, rather than be abused and killed by the “uncircumcised.”

Byron sees this as the ultimate heroic act, to sacrifice yourself rather than compromise your ideals. There is nothing weak about Saul’s decision to take his own life. It is totally an act of courage and bravery.

So why would this be so important to Byron? There are a couple possibilities. He could be expressing his unwavering commitment to a romantic love, vowing to die rather than allow another to pierce his heart. But I think a more plausible interpretation is that Byron is asserting his staunch adherence to his artistic ideals. Byron has a clear vision of his poetry and what he wishes to convey through his works. He would rather die than compromise his artistic integrity and create baser works intended for the Philistine masses.

I confess I looked online to see what others thought about this poem, and really did not find any out there, so these are just my personal thoughts on the poem. Feel free to let me know if you have a different impression of what Byron was trying to express. I would love to hear your thoughts. Cheers!

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Jews in the Qur’an

I have been struggling with the mixed messages in the text regarding people of the Jewish faith. At some points, God affirms His covenant with the Israelites and states that the Qur’an is intended to reaffirm what was handed down through the Torah. But then there are other passages that are highly critical of the Jews, and if taken out of context, are easily used to justify anti-Semitic sentiments.

Here is an example of where God speaks favorably in regard to the Jews.

Children of Israel, remember how I blessed you. Honour your pledge to Me and I will honour My pledge to you: I am the One you should fear. Believe in the message I have sent down confirming what you already possess.

(p. 6)

Compare the previous passage with the following excerpt.

How evil their practices are! Why do their rabbis and scholars not forbid them to speak sinfully and consume what is unlawful? How evil their deeds are! The Jews have said, ‘God is tight-fisted,’ but it is they who are tight-fisted, and they are rejected for what they have said.

(p. 74)

Finally, Jews are depicted as being the most hostile toward Muhammad and the followers of the faith.

You [Prophet] are sure to find that the most hostile to the believers are the Jews and those who associate other deities with God;

(p. 75)

So having read the introduction to the text, I am aware of the importance of the context of these passages. My understanding (and I am not a scholar, so it is just my limited understanding) is that the text is critical of a certain group of Jews who aligned themselves with the Arab Meccans who persecuted Muhammad and his followers. It is unfortunate that snippets of text are pulled and used out of context to justify ideologies, which I believe happens way too often. And this goes for other religious texts too, such as the Bible and the Torah. Human history is brimming with instances where quotes were cherry-picked from these texts to justify what I would consider non-spiritual acts.

In all fairness, the text is also critical of Christians and Pagans. I’m not sure I whether I will explore those aspects of the text. Honestly, there are some spiritual and inspiring passages that I have noted which I would like to focus on in future posts. I’d much rather look at the positive and spiritually uplifting aspects of the text. That said, I will try to get another post up soon. Cheers!

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Initial Thoughts on the Qur’an

I’m about halfway through the Qur’an and I’ve been taking notes, waiting, and thinking about the text before starting to write. At this point, I feel ready to share some initial thoughts on the text. Let me start off by saying, though, I am not a religious scholar, just someone who is interested in all spiritual texts. My thoughts are just my own impressions and I hope they do not offend anyone. It’s certainly not my attention. I just felt that I could not participate in discussions without having first read the text myself.

The first thing that struck me about the text is the emphasis on being mindful of God. Throughout the text, God tells people to be mindful of him and to remember the things that God did in the past.

Children of Israel, remember how I blessed you. Honour your pledge to Me and I will honour My pledge to you. I am the One you should fear. Believe in the message I have sent down confirming what you already possess. Do not be the first to reject it, and do not sell My messages for a small price: be mindful of Me.

(pp. 7 – 8)

It is told that those who are mindful of God will receive blessings for doing so.

If the people of those towns had believed and been mindful of God, We would have showered them with blessings from the heavens and the earth, but they rejected the truth and so We punished them for their misdeeds.

(p. 101)

In addition to being mindful of God, God promising to punish those who do not follow his laws is another recurring theme in the text so far.

Many messengers before you [Muhammad] were mocked, but I granted respite to the disbelievers: in the end, I took them to task—how terrible My punishment was!

(p. 156)

While there are some beautiful and inspiring passages, which I will explore in future posts, much of what I have read so far has been God dictating what a person should and should not do, accompanied by promises of blessings for obedience and the threat of eternal punishment for those who do not adhere to the scripture. I personally have difficulty believing in an all-powerful God who metes out punishment to those who do not adequately worship him. So I read this from the perspective of karma, that those who incorporate spiritual values into their lives will reap spiritual rewards, and those who follow the more negative paths will have to deal with the consequences that manifest as a result of their actions. For me, that is the underlying spiritual message in regard to God’s blessings and punishment.

Thanks for stopping by, and I will try to get another post up soon.

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Salman Rushdie – Public Events, Private Lives: Literature and Politics in the Modern World

Rushdie_UNCA

I have a confession to make: I have not read any of Salman Rushdie’s books… yet. But this will be changing soon. Last night I went to see the author give a public lecture at the University or North Carolina – Asheville, and I have to say, he was one of the more inspiring writers I have had the privilege of hearing speak.

He touched on a lot of current issues regarding politics, social trends, and the role of literature in these changing times. He openly criticized Donald Trump, censorship, and the proliferation of misinformation, or “truthiness,” associated with the internet and the digital age. But there were two themes in his lecture that resonated with me on a deep level: the trend among students to attempt silencing ideas that challenge their established beliefs, and the role of the novel in bringing “news” to readers.

Regarding students silencing ideas, this is something about which I often think, particularly regarding the BDS movement (boycott, divestment, sanctions) directed against Israel. I have heard horrific stories about professors, speakers, artists, etc., being shouted down, threatened, and silenced on campuses for expressing their support for Israel, all under the guise of support for the oppressed Palestinians. What Rushdie asserted in his lecture is that this is essentially censorship, and it is censorship perpetrated by the group of people who should be most vehemently opposed to the censorship of ideas. Rushdie claims that it is the responsibility of artists and professors to challenge the established beliefs and to open for discussion ideas that are uncomfortable and sometimes contradictory to one’s personal beliefs. I’m paraphrasing here, but he basically said that students who claim they do not feel safe when forced to consider challenging ideas have no place in a university and should instead be in a pizza parlor, where they will be safely sheltered from having to listen to ideas that contradict their way of thinking.

The other part of his lecture I found fascinating concerned the role of the novel in presenting news to the modern reader. This puzzled me at first until Rushdie elaborated. He claimed that with the demise of print newspapers, the reading public no longer has access to legitimate news sources, that digital news sources have yet to be able to fill that gap. Instead, we get opinions as opposed to reporting. I would counter that print newspapers have historically been biased also, but I could accept that news media has become more opinion-centric as of late. Then Rushdie went on to explain how literature and the novel provide a side of the news that is lacking in usual coverage, which is the human side, the internal aspect of living in an increasingly smaller world. The way we can understand what it is like to be in situations is through literature. He used the example of The Kite Runner which provides a deeper insight into life in Afghanistan than any news story showing explosions and statistics of how many were killed. His words resonated with truth. My belief in the power of art and literature was validated and boosted.

I left the lecture excited to read, to write, and to discuss ideas. I also left with a newly bought copy of Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children tucked under my arm. And while the book has been temporarily placed on my sagging shelf, I suspect that I will be reading this one before the others that have been patiently waiting for me to open their covers.

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“And Did Those Feet in Ancient Time” by William Blake

Image © Jeff Japp

Image © Jeff Japp

And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon England’s mountains green:
And was the holy Lamb of God,
On England’s pleasant pastures seen!

And did the Countenance Divine,
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here,
Among these dark Satanic Mills?

Bring me my Bow of burning gold:
Bring me my Arrows of desire:
Bring me my Spear: O clouds unfold!
Bring me my Chariot of Fire!

I will not cease from Mental Fight,
Nor shall my Sword sleep in my hand:
Till we have built Jerusalem,
In England’s green & pleasant Land.

I have not written in a while because I have been traveling in Israel. I had an opportunity to visit the Holy Land so in spite of the images of danger and unrest that are prevalent in the media, I could not pass on the chance to explore the area that is central to the three major western religions. I spent about ten days there and it was an amazing experience. The image above is a picture I took from atop the Mount of Olives looking down on the Temple Mount and the Old City of Jerusalem. So, it should not surprise you that the first thing I read upon returning home was Blake’s poem which is part of the Preface to his larger work, Milton.

In this poem, I believe Blake is using Christ as a symbol for divine poetic genius. During the first two stanzas, Blake ponders whether the divine inspiration visited England, particularly London, a place he sees as dark, dismal, and a place where people are enslaved in the drudgery of factory life that was part of the Industrial Revolution.

The last two stanzas are what I find the most interesting about this poem. He invokes symbols from biblical text to represent creative inspiration, summoning the divine presence to guide him in his artistic endeavor. When he states “I will not cease from Mental Fight, / Nor shall my Sword sleep in my hand:” he making a vow to struggle internally and never lay down his pen (the pen is after all mightier than the sword) until he has succeeds in bringing the divine presence to England and transforms the country into a land of beauty and spirituality.

The trip to Israel was a moving experience for me, especially since I am so interested in spirituality, art, and history. In my sojourn there, I was immersed in all of these things. It will take some time to fully process the experience, but reading and writing always help me to internalize major events in my life.

Cheers and blessings.

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“Love America and March for Peace” by Umberto Eco

UmbertoEco

Image Source: The Guardian

 

This essay is included in Turning Back the Clock and for me highlights the issue of people’s tendency to see complex issues as clear and simple. There is a new paradigm where individuals are expected to support one side or the other, regardless of any grey area that may exist. Examples: If you do not support the US war on terror, then you are an ISIS sympathizer. If you support Israel, then you are a fascist that supports the oppression of Palestine. If you do not condemn the officer who shot Michael Brown in Ferguson, then you are obviously a racist. This is all a manifestation of what I personally like to call the “football team” mentality. People pick a team or side and support their “team” regardless of what they or the opposing side does. Nowhere is this clearer than in politics nowadays. Support for political parties is more polarized than it’s ever been.

As Eco points out, this mentality leads to deeper social divides.

At the heart of these painful but not yet bloody rifts, you hear statements every day that lead inevitably to racism, of the type “All those against the war are allies of Saddam,” but also “All those who think the use of force is justified are Nazis.” Shall we try to think about this?

(Turning Back the Clock: p. 32)

It seems that individuals love to label other groups as “Nazis” to emphasize that these opposing groups are crossing some moral boundary. The problem that I see in doing this is that it diminishes the memory of the atrocities that were actually perpetrated by the Nazis. For example, after a recent Supreme Court decision overturning a ban on gay marriage, the City Council here in Asheville displayed a rainbow flag to show support. Opponents of marriage equality immediately condemned the members of City Council and called them Nazis because they acted without their approval. Personally, I see no correlation between City Council’s hanging of a banner and the crimes committed in Nazi Germany.

This is all connected to the “with us or against us” mentality, where any opposition or questioning is immediately condemned.

These few observations are sufficient, I hope, to suggest that the situation in which we find ourselves, precisely because of the gravity, does not admit of clear-cut divisions or condemnations of the kind “If that’s what you think, then you are the enemy.” This too is fundamentalism. You can love the United States, as a tradition, as a people, as a culture, and with deep respect due to those who won on the field the rank of the world’s most powerful country. You can be deeply touched by the injury America suffered in 2001, but without denying the need to warn Americans that their government is making a mistake and that they should see our position not as a betrayal but as frank dissent. Not warning them means trampling on the right to dissent—the exact opposite of what we learned, after years of dictatorship, from our liberators of 1945.

(ibid: pp. 35 – 36)

I hope that this trend of vilifying those whose opinions differ changes soon. It’s very destructive and prevents human progress, and progress is essential. If we are not moving forward as a society, then we are most likely moving backwards.

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“Some Reflections on War and Peace” by Umberto Eco

TurningBackTheClock

While in Paris this past spring, I visited the famous Shakespeare and Co. bookstore. While I was there I purchased a copy of Umberto Eco’s Turning Back the Clock: Hot Wars and Media Populism. I began reading it the other day, fully expecting that I would read through the book and then write a review of it. I discovered that the book is actually a collection of essays written by Eco and after reading the first one realized that my original plan would not do this book justice. Hence, I decided to write individual blog posts specific to essays in the book.

“Some Reflections on War and Peace” is the first essay and it explores what Eco sees as the two types of warfare: paleowar, which is traditional war fought on a defined front against a clear enemy; and neowar, which is war where the identity of the enemy is uncertain and there is no front.

Eco asserts that the first Gulf War marked the advent of neowar and a shift in the general psychology and public view of warfare. It was no longer acceptable to simply wipe out an enemy, regardless of collateral damage. Global media has increased public sensitivity to war and the casualties associated with it.

The Gulf War established two principles: (1) none of our men should die and (2) as few enemies as possible should be killed. Regarding the death of our adversaries we saw some hypocrisy, because a great number of Iraqis died in the desert, but the very fact that no one emphasized this detail is an interesting sign. In any case neowarfare typically tries to avoid killing civilians, because if you kill too many of them, you run the risk of condemnation by the international media.

Hence the employment and celebration of smart bombs. After fifty years of peace due to the cold war, such sensitivity might strike many young people as normal, but can you imagine this attitude in the years when V1s were destroying London and Allied bombs were razing Dresden?

(Turning Back the Clock: pp. 14 – 15)

Eco seems very critical regarding media’s role regarding neowar. He uses 9/11 as a prime example. In this case, the media actually aided bin Laden in achieving his goals, which is to spread fear and uncertainty.

Bin Laden’s aim was to impress world public opinion with that image, and accordingly mass media talked about it, showed the dramatic rescue operations, the evacuations, and the mutilated skyline of Manhattan. Did they have to repeat this news item every day, for at least a month, with photographs, film clips, and the endless eyewitness reports, broadcasting over and over the images of that wound before the eyes of all? It is hard to give an answer. Sales of newspapers with those photos went up, television channels that offered continuous repeats of those film clips enjoyed improved ratings, the public wanted to see those terrible scenes replayed, perhaps to feed its indignation, perhaps sometimes to indulge an unconscious sadism. Maybe it was impossible to do otherwise, but the fact remains that in this way the media gave bin Laden billions of dollars’ worth of free publicity, showing every day the images he had created, sowing bewilderment among Westerners, and giving fundamentalist supporters a reason for pride.

(ibid: p. 18)

Eco makes another astute observation regarding how media influences the public’s opinion regarding war. People in the West often side with a group not because they believe in a cause, but because they oppose war as it is being presented via international media. A perfect example of this is the Israeli – Palestinian conflict. One could argue that many Palestinian supporters side with them not because they agree with their ideology, but because they feel a sense of outrage at the images which they are exposed to.

Within the ranks of the West, pro-Islamic groups would be formed not out of faith but out of opposition to the war, and new sects would arise that reject the West, Ghandians who would put down their tools and refuse to collaborate with their governments, fanatics like the Davidians in Waco who (without being Muslims) would unleash terror campaigns to purify the corrupt Western world. In the streets of Europe, processions would form of desperate, passive supplicants waiting for the Apocalypse.

(ibid: p. 25)

The later part of the essay deals with the possibility of peace on a global scale. Eco is not optimistic. He asserts that conflict is part of human nature, and while we would like to envision a return to a peaceful state, mirroring that of the Edenic state, the sad fact is that humans have never enjoyed a prolonged state of peace.

I don’t believe that on this earth men, who are wolves preying on their fellow men, will attain global peace. Basically, Fukuyama was thinking about this peace with his idea of the end of history, but recent events have shown that history repeats itself, and always in the form of conflict.

(ibid: p. 29)

While this view of war and peace seems dismal, Eco ends the essay on a note of optimism. While global peace may never be possible, peace on a local level is certainly within our grasp. And I would augment this by asserting that if enough people worked towards local harmony, this could have a rippling effect across a wider plane.

Our only hope is to work on local peace.

(ibid: p. 30)

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