War


One of the smallest American national cemeteries, this tiny cemetery is wedged between residential developments off of Georgia Avenue in the far northeast corner of the District of Columbia. The soldiers (mostly soldiers anyway) interred there were, for the most part, killed during the battle of Fort Stevens, a half mile or so distant, in 1864. Today the cemetery is an odd little oasis of green, the grass tall, the trees rambling, a rather poignant setting for the bits of nationalist piety, half bellicose, half sorrowful, that pepper the little block of green.

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The following life is a marked departure from the two previous biographies from Ṭāshkubrīʹzādah’s Shaqa’iq that I’ve translated and posted here and here. Whereas the previous two figures are depicted as mystics and having an ambiguous, even conflicted relationship with both wider society and the Ottoman state structure, the subject of today’s biography does not seem to have had such problems, working in close company with first a Mamluk Sultan and then the Ottoman Sultan. His relationship with the Ottoman state, interestingly, is also different: rather than “official” posts such as judge, teacher, or mufti, Muhammad ibn ‘Amr ibn Hamza is what we might call a “popular preacher,” or at least that is the way he is depicted here. The “people” (ahl) love him, we are told; yet it isn’t just the people who love him; the holders of the highest political power in the lands he sojourns in also love him, and he seems to return the favor.

Ibn Hamza’s life trajectory is somewhat unusual: while being from a Transoxanian family is not particularly unusual, his birthplace of Antioch does stand out. While a major city of late antiquity and the middle ages, by the Ottoman period Antioch had declined greatly due to invasion and, more importantly, the silting up of the Orontes, which crippled Antioch’s port capacity and hence value as a trade entrepot. Leaving Antioch, ibn Hamza’s career would come to move in tandem with some of the central trends of his era: increasing Ottoman power and vastly widened territory, conflict between the Sunni Ottoman state and the Shi’i Safavid state, conflict that was itself part of a wider trend of state-formation across Eurasia, often in an atmosphere of inter-confessional conflict.

This inter-confessional conflict makes up the central element of ibn Hamza’s life: participating in and indeed encouraging the war against the “heretical” Shi’i Safavids, here refered to as the Qizilbāsh (literally, the “red-heads,” after their red turbans) in reference to the religio-military group that had facilitated the Safavid rise to power. Ibn Hamza’s fight against Shi’ism takes multiple forms, most virulently as a preacher in the service of Sultan Selīm; we may wonder to what extent this anti-Shi’i stance preceded ibn Hamza’s association with the Ottoman state, and to what extent it was simply precipitated by a commitment to Sunni orthodoxy. At any rate, anti-Shi’i activity would be central to Ottoman efforts within and without the empire, a situation somewhat analogous to the Cold War of the twentieth-century between the United States and the Soviet Union. People suspected of Shi’i leanings constituted, in the eyes of the Ottoman authorities, a central threat to the Ottoman state; Sufi groups could fall under suspicion, as we see in ibn Hamza’s life (although also note that Sufism per se is not condemned, at least not in Ṭāshkubrīʹzādah’s rendering, only a particular practice of some Sufis). But it should be noted that preaching holy war against heretics was not the only concern in ibn Hamza’s life—he also seems to have been deeply concerned with the wider social and religious welfare of Ottoman society, or at least this is the impression Ṭāshkubrīʹzādah wants to give us. In addition, while not exactly a conventional scholar, he did engage in book writing and other scholarly pursuits, alongside his preaching of holy war, acting as the companion of sultans, building mosques, preaching often, mastering alchemy, raising a massive family, and apparently engaging in commerce. It is perhaps not coincidental that the appellative that comes to mind is “Renaissance man,” but a discussion of the truth that lies behind such a thought is best saved for another time.

Finally, a note on the new format I have used here: having recently discovered how simple inserting endnotes into a WordPress post is, I have therefore included explanatory notes throughout the text, which I hope will make some of the technical language and historical references clearer.

Among them is the Knowledgeable, the Noble, the Virtuous Mulla Muhyi al-Din Muhammad ibn ‘Amr ibn Hamza:

His grandfather was from Transoxiana [1] and was among the disciples of Sa’ad al-Din al-Tuftazani. He then traveled and settled in Antioch, where this Muhammad was born. He memorized the Qur’an at an early age, then al-Kanz and al-Shatabi and others, then studied fiqh [2] under his paternal uncle Shaykh Hussayn and Shaykh Ahmad, virtuous men, studying under them the principles of jurisprudence (al-usul), Qur’an, and the Arabic language. He then journeyed to Hasn Kifa and Amada, then to Tabriz, learning from its ‘ulama, busying himself there for two years, studying in Tabriz under the learned, the virtuous Mulla Muzid. He then returned to Antioch and Aleppo and remained there for a time, preaching, teaching, and issuing fatwas, his virtues becoming well known. Then he went to Jerusalem and lived nearby, then to Mekka and performed the hajj, then to Egypt. There, he heard hadith from al-Siyuti and al-Shamani, both giving him ijāzas. [3] He preached, taught, and gave fatwas, having great reception for a time, until Sultan Qāʾitbāy [4] sought him out and he appeared before him, preached to him, and wrote a book for him on fiqh titled The Conclusion, so he loved him and honoured him with great honour and rewarded him well. [The Sultan] would not give him permission to travel, so [ibn Hamza] remained in [the Sultan’s] presence until King [sic] Qāʾitbāy passed away in the year 903 [1497].[5]

Then [ibn Hamza] traveled to Anatolia (al-Rum) by way of the sea, and then made his way to Bursa, whose people loved him greatly, so he stayed there and busied himself with preaching and forbidding the wrong.[6] Then he went to the city of Constantinople and its people loved him also, and Sultan Bāyazīd [7] heard his sermon and bestowed upon him all of his wealth, and he used to send rewards to him all the time. [Ibn Hamza] wrote for him a book titled Explication of the Excellent Qualities in the Life of Our Prophet (peace and prayers of God—exalted is He—be upon him), and another book on Sufism, and was present before him, exhorting him. Then the Sultan went out on the holy frontier campaign,[8] and [ibn Hamza] was with him. Together they conquered the fortress of Methoni, and this was their second or third entrance therein.[9] Then he returned to Constantinople and remained there, commanding the right and forbidding the wrong, for he did not fear the reproach of God, and he opposed the heretics and the Sufi practice of dancing. He next returned with his family to Aleppo the Protected, and Melik al-Amra’ Khayrbek honoured him greatly and studied under him, being responsible for all of his needs, so that [ibn Hamza] did not require anything else. So [ibn Hamza] stayed there eight years, occupied with tafsir, hadith, and refuting heretics and the Rāfiḍa bearing the name of the tyrant Ardabik.[10] This sect hated him, cursing him in their assembly while cursing the Companions of the Prophet.

[Ibn Hamza] then returned to Anatolia during the reign of Sultan Selīm Khan,[11] urging him on to holy war (jihād) against the Qizilbāsh,[12] writing a book for him on the conditions and virtues of holy frontier campaigns (it is a very fine book); [ibn Hamza] then went with him to the war against this sect, preaching to the army every day during the campaign, reminding them of the rewards of holy war, especially against this sect. The Sultan honoured him and was very generous towards him. When the two armies met, fierce fighting broke out, and as eyes were averted and hearts rose into throats, the Sultan commanded [ibn Hamza] to proclaim the call (al-dawa’a). So he occupied himself with proclaiming the call, and the Sultan cried, “Amen!” So the enemy was put to flight through the help of God—exalted is He—and he journeyed to Rumelia, preaching to its people, forbidding them disobedience [towards God] and commanding them to do the obligatory deeds. So many among them were [morally] improved because of him, and he built two Friday mosques in the town of Saray [Sarajevo], as well as a neighborhood mosque there and another neighborhood mosque in Uskub [Skopje], and remained there approximately twenty years, doing Qur’an interpretation every day, converting many unbelievers. In the year 932 [1525] he went on campaign with our magnificent Sultan [13] to Ankeros, and he called to him at the time of the fighting, and the glorious conquest came as before.[14] Then [ibn Hamza] went to Bursa and dwelled there and began to build a large mosque, but passed away before its completion, on Muharram 4, 938 [August 18, 1531]; he was close to seventy years old, and was buried in the precincts of the mosque.

He beget from his loins nearly a hundred souls; he had many books and treatises on numerous arts, especially on the science of alchemy (al-kīmiyāʾ), being among those who persevere in it. He traveled to many places, was beloved by many, many souls being attracted to him. He was greatly pious, and had perfect watchfulness in his manner of eating, dress, and ritual purity. His cost of living was covered by his commercial activity, while much of his time was expended in the betterment of people through preaching, teaching, and fatwa-giving. There are few hadith mentioned in books which he did not have committed to memory; he was perfect in his Qur’an commentary (tafsir), without recourse to study or books. He used to devote himself on Fridays to commentary (tafsir) on what the preacher had recited during prayers, with perfectly elegant style, variety of aspects, and abundant knowledge, which daily amazed those who thought on it. The common people and the elite among the ‘ulama and the Sufis learned from him: he was knowledgeable, lordly, always summoning to right-guidance and good conduct; putting to death many bad innovation and bringing to life many good traditions (sunnan). People beyond the count of any but God benefited through him; such would not be possible to anyone else unless there came the like of what was sent from the grace of God [through him]—may God breathe upon his face and enlighten his grave!

Aḥmad ibn Muṣṭafá  Ṭāshkubrīʹzādah, Al-Shaqāʼiq Al-Nuʻmānīyah Fī ʻulāmāʼ Al-Dawlah Al-ʻUthmānīyah (Bayrūt, Lubnān: Dār al-Kitāb al-ʻArabī, 1975), 247-249.


[1] Lit., “what lies beyond the river,” roughly modern-day Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, part of Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan.

[2] Islamic jurisprudence.

[3] “License,” certification that one is qualified to transmit hadith (or a book or other text) from a given person via an authorized chain of transmitters.

[4] Important late Mamluk ruler, carried out extensive military campaigns and building projects; died a few years before the Ottoman conquest of Egypt. See M Sobernheim, “Ḳāʾit Bāy, al-Malik al-As̲h̲raf Abu ‘l-Naṣr Sayf al-dīn al-Maḥmūdī al-Ẓāhirī” in Encyclopaedia of Islam, Second Edition, edited by: P. Bearman; , Th. Bianquis; , C.E. Bosworth; , E. van Donzel; and W.P. Heinrichs (Leiden: Brill, 2011).

[5] Qāʾitbāy actually died in 901/1496.

[6]The second half of the phrase “commanding the right and forbidding the wrong,” a basic Islamic ethical injunction incumbent upon all believers; the exact dynamics and parameters were, however, widely debated. See Michael Cook, Commanding Right and Forbidding Wrong in Islamic Thought (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010).

[7] Sultan Bāyazīd II, ruled 886-918/1481-1512.

[8] Ghazu, literally a raid, but in this context a campaign on the Ottoman frontier, here given a sacred function (see below), hence my somewhat inelegant translation.

[9] Methoni (also known as Modon) is a heavily fortified town in Morea, Greece; it had been held by the Venetians for nearly three hundred years until its fall, mentioned here, on August 9, 1500. For photos of surviving fortifications and a plan of the town, see: Methoni.

[10] “Rāfiḍa” by this period had become a derogatory term for Shi’i Muslims in general; I have not been able to uncover to whom the name Ardabik refers.

[11] Ruled 918-926/1512-1520.

[12] That is, the Persian Safavids, relatively recently converted to Shi’a Islam.

[13] Sultan Süleymān I, ruled 926-74/1520-66.

[14] This must refer to either Süleymān’s conquest of Belgrade in 1521 or his 1525 Hungary campaign; I suspect the former, though that would mean Ṭāshkubrīʹzādah’s date is wrong.

Land-Grabbing and Climate Change in Uganda: Nothing new here, unfortunately: statism and capitalism have a long relationship, indeed inter-penetration, that has often been most exemplified in the ‘developing world.’ The creation of a particular sort of market, and a particular sort of polity, with rules, regulations, and institutions that favor the lop-sided concentration of both wealth and power: these are not ‘natural’ or inevitable processes. They must be created and enforced, at the cost of human life and livelihood. In this case, land-grabbing- designed for the profit of a multi-national and for the benefit of Ugandan state-creation both- has as part of its ideological supporting structure the ideology and practices associated with the politics and economy of global climate change. This is hardly new, either, though of more recent origin than other ideologies of state and capital.

Companies Using Immigration Crack-Downs to Turn a Profit: Not really new, either. ‘Privatization’ schemes in which states farm out their coercive activities to others, who then turn a profit, are very old. The most recent batch of ‘privatization’ efforts have seen a heavy focus on incarceration; this is merely another, even more insidious example- as the ‘criminals’ in this instance are almost all ‘guilty’ of transgressing imaginary lines on the map, and nothing else.

The Assassination of Anwar al-Awlaki: It’s not really surprising, I guess, that the drone warriors are killing Americans. The brilliance- from the point of the American state, of course- of drone warfare is the distance it places between the executing force and the state itself, not to mention domestic opinion. Warfare carried out at a great distance with minimal American personnel on the ground requires relatively little grooming of public opinion. Even if the targets are American citizens…

Grey Markets in Mexico: Oh no! What will state and capital do if people start ignoring them and creating their own markets and social spaces? Horror!

Empire of the Son: Despite the insane conspiracy theories of the right (Obama as secret liberation theology follower, Obama as secret Muslim, Obama as secret communist), the current American President is very much a product of the massive extension of American power and influence that took place during the Cold War, and continues apace today under different names and forms.

Occupation of Wall Street: ‘Only time will tell which of the above two tendencies can capture popular imagination and become dominant in the near future. Also, at this point it is a matter of speculation if the protesters manage to get large numbers of people angry enough to, say, storm Wall Street, or just degenerate into a tourist curio (much like our parliament square campers) who have the feel-good factor of ‘protest’ but offer no means of self-empowerment or solutions to changing the present state of things.’

One of These Things Just Doesn’t Belong Here: ‘People like Maddow and Schultz can make all the noises they want about “green jobs” and “walking softly on the earth.”  But it’s simply incompatible — as incompatible as matter with anti-matter — with the mid-twentieth century economic model of the Hoover Dam, the Interstate and the Detroit auto industry celebrated by people like her and Schultz.’

Venezuela From Below: This is in reality the old idea that somehow the liberation of the oppressed and exploited can be brought about from above by enlightened leaders controlling the state. What we see in the case of the Bolivarian Movement, on the other hand, is how these “revolutionary cadres” in control of the state work to coopt and control social movements. A self-managed socialist society is not likely if it isn’t a conquest won by self-managed mass organizations of the oppressed and exploited. Thus self-management has a dual character: self-management of struggles for change, and self-management of the gains won through struggle.

International Statement of Solidarity with Cuban Anti-Authoritarians: ‘Our Cuban comrades’ only sin is that they have the effrontery to contemplate (and change) their reality without waiting for promises from the Nanny State or Capital’s siren songs. They believe in a fuller life, in a community where the unhindered growth of each is the precondition and measure of the unhindered growth of all.’

More Secret US Drone Bases: ‘Instead, researchers are working on a number of software packages to take the “remote control” out of the picture and let the robots decide on their own who to lob missiles at. Researchers say this would be an important development because the robots would decide who to murder much faster than CIA targeters are liable to.

The Postville Immigration Raid: Not recent news, but worth watching. The war on migrants is one of the more disgusting aspects of state thuggery in the modern world.

I posted this poem here in 2007- at the height of the US surge in Iraq, actually. It is still all too relevant four years later. I tried to write something to post today summing up my own very small and insignificant experience of the last ten years of war and everything that has gone with it; I wasn’t able to do it, at least not today, not in one sweep. Maybe I will try again soon, in smaller installments.

Dunya Mikhail says it better than I ever could, anyway.

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How magnificent the war is!
How eager
and efficient!
Early in the morning,
it wakes up the sirens
and dispatches ambulances
to various places,
slings corpses through the air,
rolls stretchers to the wounded,
summons rain
from the eyes of mothers,
digs into the earth
dislodging many things
from under the ruins…
Some are lifeless and glistening,
others are pale and still throbbing…
It produces the most questions
in the minds of children,
entertains the gods
by shooting fireworks and missles
into the sky,
sows mines in the fields
and reaps punctures and blisters,
urges families to emigrate,
stands beside the clergymen
as they curse the devil
(poor devil, he remains
with one hand in the searing fire)…
The war continues working, day and night.
It inspires tyrants
to deliver long speeches,
awards medals to generals
and themes to poets.
It contributes to the industry
of artificial limbs,
provides food for flies,
adds pages to the history books,
achieves equality
between killer and killed,
teaches lovers to write letters,
accustoms young women to waiting,
fills the newpapers
with articles and pictures,
builds new houses
for the orphans,
invigorates the coffin makers,
gives grave diggers
a pat on the back
and paints a smile on the leader’s face.
The war works with unparalleled diligence!
Yet no one gives it
a word of praise.

Dunya Mikhail, from The War Works Hard (2004)

Distributism and the Health Care System: I’m no expert on the American health-care system; what I know is a matter of first-hand experience, anecdotal matters from those within the system, and some reading on the subject. That said, Médaille’s ideas here seem quite sound: the current system is deeply flawed, with profits and power flowing towards the top- whether state or corporate or both- with costs heavily distributed along the bottom. It is also a system in which both workers and consumers are marginalized despite their immense importance. Médaille hits on two of the biggest problems in sustaining this system: monopolization and lack of genuine workers’ control, both of which are propped up by the State and the powerful (and vocal) interests that wish for the continuation of the system. Of course, the central problem with Médaille’s analysis is one common to many radical critiques: the system is deeply entrenched, as are the mentalities that support it, both among those at the top and those spread out along the bottom.

White House Admits Some Medical Value to Marijuana: But of course, said medical value would be doled out by a State-approved company, employing a monopoly privilege that would industrialize medical marijuana and drive small-holders under.

Illegal Gardening in Detroit: One that’s been making the rounds of the internet. A reminder that even small acts of resistance- like planting your yard with vegetables instead of monoculture grass- can bring the fist of the state down…

The Great Generational Threat: To say the American public has been sold- is being continually sold- a bill of goods does not go far enough.

How Taft-Hartley Restricts Labor Rights: A nice run-down of some of the ways in which the American state’s appropriation of the labor struggle robbed it of much of its fire and potency. ‘In the 1930s organized labor, largely led by the CIO (Congress of Industrial Organizations), fought back through sit down and wildcat strikes. A wildcat strike is an unofficial strike, usually called in response to mistreatment of a co-worker. In essence, workers refuse to return until management agrees to their demands. Because slowdowns and wildcat and sit down strikes are illegal under the Taft Hartley Act, American unions face steep fines for engaging in them.  In 2011, if a worker is bullied, harassed or illegally fired by an employer, his only option is to file a grievance through the National Labor Relations Board, a process that can drag out for months or years. Because there are no real sanctions against employers, workplace bullying and harassment are incredibly common in the US.’

Libertarianism: Left or Right?: ‘Libertarians also showed their Left colors by opposing imperialism, war, and the accompanying violations of civil liberties, such as conscription and arbitrary detention. (See, for example, the writings of Bastiat, Cobden, and Bright.) Indeed, they didn’t simply condemn war as misguided; they also identified it as a key method by which the ruling class exploits the domestic industrious classes (not to mention the foreign victims) for its own wealth and glorification. Libertarianism and the anti-war movement went hand in hand from the start.’

To Live With Dignity is to Build a New World: Two parts to this story: first, the rapacious alliance of State and Capital on clear display, and their distortion of both society and markets. However, also on display is ground-level mutualism/anarcho-distributism, though I doubt those involved are too busy thinking up adjectives for themselves.  ‘The movement is ten years old. It was born in December 2002, in the midst of demonstrations in front of the Lavalle municipal government. The demonstrations were called by collective organizations in the area to demand that farms abandoned in the wake of bankruptcy caused by the economic crisis be given to the unemployed for their subsistence. Instead, municipal officials gave the information they had received from the campesinos to big business, to facilitate new businesses in the area. “That’s when we learned that we couldn’t expect anything from the state,” said a member of the UST.’

Haitian Farmers and Brazil’s Landless Worker’s Movements Work Together: Some more mutualism in action, this time between Haitian and Brazilian farmers and agrarian allies. ‘What we are doing doesn’t consist of donating things, it consists of identifying and constructing alongside Haitians. The Haitian people have to be respected and we have to get to know them, we have to speak their language. It’s very symbolic, what we are doing.’

Meet the Movement for a New Economy: Still more voluntarism (mostly- there is some flirting with the State, unfortunately, and a few whiffs of elitism, but overall encouraging stuff) and mutualism in action. ‘At the cutting edge of experimentation are the growing number of egalitarian, and often green, worker owned cooperatives. Hundreds of “social enterprises” that use profits for environmental, social or community-serving goals are also expanding rapidly. In many communities urban agricultural efforts have made common cause with groups concerned about healthy nonprocessed food. And all this is to say nothing of 1.6 million nonprofit corporations that often cross over into economic activity. For-profits have developed alternatives as well. There are, for example, more than 11,000 companies owned entirely or in significant part by some 13.6 million employees.’

Cooperative Sector Has Grown by More than 25% Since Credit Crunch: Similar news from the United Kingdom.

Come Home America: A very encouraging alliance of paleocons, progressives, and anarchists/libertarians of all stripes: ‘The people signing this letter come from all segments of the political spectrum. We are conservatives and progressives, liberals and libertarians, from the right, left and center. We are Democrats, Republicans and independents. We represent a healthy and still vital American tradition, indicated by the fact that the majority of Americans want the United States to bring the soldiers home from these counterproductive and avoidable wars.’

Cory Maye Freed After Ten Years in Prison: the Back Story: Sometimes justice does get done, even in the American judicial system. Here’s hoping Mr Maye- who was nearly executed for the crime of defending his home and family from a midnight intruder- will be able to go on and live a normal, and safe, life.

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