2016-02-20

On the horrors of apocalyptic warfare

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by Neil Godfrey

quote_begin By the roots of my hair some god got hold of me.
I sizzled in his blue volts like a desert prophet.

— Sylvia Plath, quoted by Charles Camerson in So: How Does It Feel at World’s End?, an exploration into the eschatological lure of ISIS.
quote_end

Charles Cameron is blogging about a book of his that is hopefully will be published soon: Jihad and the Passion of ISIS: Making Sense of Religious Violence. The first of these blog posts is On the horrors of apocalyptic warfare, 1: its sheer intensity.

Cameron builds on a number of works that I have posted about here on Vridar, so I am looking forward to his own contribution. He writes:

We now have, I believe, a strong understanding of the Islamic State and its origins in such books as Stern & Berger, ISIS: The State of Terror, Jason Burke, The New Threat, Joby Warrick, Black Flags: The Rise of ISIS, and Weiss & Hassan, ISIS: Inside the Army of Terror. Delving directly into the key issue that interests me personally, the eschatology of the Islamic State, we have Will McCants‘ definitive The ISIS Apocalypse. My own contribution will hopefully supplement these riches, and McCants’ book in particular, with a comparative overview of religious violence across continents and centuries, and a particular focus on the passions engendered in both religious and secular movements when the definitive transformation of the world seems close at hand.

What follows is the first section of a four-part exploration of the horrors of apocalyptic war.

Cameron draws upon a dramatically colourful Winston Churchill account to convey the power of the Mahdi on the imaginations of followers in his day.

In his second post On the horrors of apocalyptic warfare, 2: to spark a messianic fire he encapsulates the sense of apoclyptic fervour in a passage from another book on my “to-read list”, Richard Landes’  Heaven on Earth: The Varieties of the Millennial Experience:

For people who have entered apocalyptic time, everything quickens, enlivens, coheres. They become semiotically aroused — everything has meaning, patterns. The smallest incident can have immense importance and open the way to an entirely new vision of the world, one in which forces unseen by other mortals operate. If the warrior lives with death at his shoulder, then apocalyptic warriors live with cosmic salvation before them, just beyond their grasp.

I’m looking forward to the remainder of Charles Cameron’s series.

enddays

 

 

3 Comments

  • Paxton Marshall
    2016-02-20 01:24:27 UTC - 01:24 | Permalink

    Who is apocalyptic and who isn’t? The Germans in ww2 were. The US? Britain? Russia? Maoists?

    • Neil Godfrey
      2016-02-20 01:45:39 UTC - 01:45 | Permalink

      Interesting question. I don’t know yet much about Charles Cameron’s views but he has written:

      Let me make the general point more explicit. Dr Tim Furnish, a frequent commentator on these pages and author of Holiest Wars: Islamic Mahdis, Their Jihads, and Osama bin Laden, opens his book as I have cited frequently with this analogy:

      Islamic messianic insurrections are qualitatively different from mere fundamentalist ones such as bedevil the world today, despite their surface similarities. In fact, Muslim messianic movements are to fundamentalist uprisings what nuclear weapons are to conventional ones: triggered by the same detonating agents, but far more powerful in scope and effect.

      He also writes:

      An expectation of the Mahdi’s coming – present enough in AQ some years back that AQ Central issued a caution against its people making premature claims concerning the Mahdi; present in IS but distanced by the possibility of a sequence of Caliphs preceding the Mahdist moment [cf McCants, Appendix 4]; and overall present to a considerable degree in the Islamic countries Pew polled in 2012:

      The survey also asked respondents about the imminence of two events that, according to Islamic tradition, will presage the Day of Judgment: the return of the Mahdi (the Guided One who will initiate the final period before the day of resurrection and judgment) and the return of Jesus. .. In nine of the 23 nations where the question was asked, half or more of Muslim adults say they believe the return of the Mahdi will occur in their lifetime, including at least two-thirds who express this view in Afghanistan (83%), Iraq (72%), Turkey (68%) and Tunisia (67%).

      A qualification is in order here. The British scholar Damian Thompson has shown in his remarkable study, Waiting for Antichrist, that it is possible for people to express expectation of a messianic “soon coming”– and still save for the college tuition of children who would presumably arrive at college age during the epoch of the “new heaven and new earth”. Expressing expectation, then, in a soon-coming Mahdi as much as a soon-coming Christ, does not necessarily imply “on the edge of one’s seat” expectation in real time. It is, however, suggestive…

      I draws distinctions I am not clear about, and blurs two concepts in a way I am also not sure about. Fundamentalists and Apocalypticists; believers in the return/appearance of Christ/Mahdi yet there is something “suggestive” here nonetheless . . . .

      Still to find out more. (I recall what it was like to belong to an apocalyptic sect for a while and recall well some of the feelings he describes. — Hence, perhaps, some of my own questions about some of his thoughts.)

      But I decided I need to read at the very least one more book before getting into this topic in any sort of depth, and it’s waiting in my Kindle queue — Heaven on Earth: The Varieties of the Millennial Experience by Richard Landes. . . .

      Which eventually brings me to the relevance of this comment to yours! 😉 Landes has a chapter “Genocidal Millennialism: Nazi Paranoia”.

  • Bee
    2016-02-20 09:25:35 UTC - 09:25 | Permalink

    The apocalypse unfortunately, is read as involving massive physical destruction and mega deaths.

    To disarm that, and to try to prevent this from becoming a self fulfilling prophesy, I frame the apocalypse as a metaphor. For the day we grow up – and see that religion, its heaven, was a myth.

    In that moment, as foretold, the old idea of earth and heaven, collapses. But there’s no need for physical destruction. It’s just a metaphor for the destruction of childhood, religious delusions.

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