Monday, October 20, 2014


I'm spending the academic year at the Ruhr-University in Bochum, Germany, finishing my book on women in early Jewish magic and mysticism. I arrived in here a couple of weeks ago, and today went with a friend for a walk near the university - it was a beautiful warm day.

This first photo is of one of the university buildings. This is not a beautiful, ancient university. It was founded in 1965, and the architects built 12 big towers (one of which is below), with a huge auditorium in the middle of campus. The surrounding area is quite pretty, however.

Ruhr University Bochum
A view from the university of the Ruhr valley.
Leaves turning - view from campus.
Dahlias in the botanical gardens.
In the botanical gardens.
A stagnant pond in the gardens.

On the path down to the lake from the botanical gardens.
At the lake
Sailing on the lake

Monday, October 13, 2014

Islamic State Officially Admits to Enslaving Yazidi Women

A report in Syria Comment, published by Joshua Landis, and by Matthew Barber, confirms the reports that Yazidi women are being enslaved by ISIS.
IS has just released the fourth installment of Dabiq, an official publication that they began to produce in July. This issue, called “The Failed Crusade,” contains an article entitled “The Revival of Slavery Before the Hour,” which details how IS fighters kidnapped and distributed Yazidi women as slave concubines. The article also provides their rationale for reviving slavery, which they root in their interpretation of the practice of the earliest Islamic communities. The Islamic State has now officially disclosed that it engages in the sexual enslavement of women from communities determined to be of “pagan” or “polytheistic” origin.
Several observations on this IS article:1) The campaign to enslave Yazidi women is genocidal in that it is part of a greater effort to end the existence of the Yazidi people: 
The article states that the existence of the Yazidis is something for which God will judge Muslims: 
Upon conquering the region of Sinjar in Wilāyat Nīnawā, the Islamic State faced a population of Yazidis, a pagan minority existent for ages in regions of Iraq and Shām. Their continual existence to this day is a matter that Muslims should question as they will be asked about it on Judgment Day, considering that Allah had revealed Āyat as-Sayf (the verse of the sword) over 1400 years ago.
The Islamic State also see the enslavement project as a means of forcing Yazidis to renounce their identity and convert to Islam: 
Many of the mushrik women and children have willingly accepted Islam and now race to practice it with evident sincerity after their exit from the darkness of shirk.
Rasūlullāh (sallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam) said, “Allah marvels at a people who enter Jannah in chains” [reported by al-Bukhārī on the authority of Abū Hurayrah]. The hadīth commentators mentioned that this refers to people entering Islam as slaves and then entering Jannah.  
Abū Hurayrah (radiyallāhu ‘anh) said while commenting on Allah’s words, {You are the best nation produced for mankind} [Āli ‘Imrān: 110], “You are the best people for people. You bring them with chains around their necks, until they enter Islam” [Sahīh al-Bukhāri].
2) The Islamic State differentiates between a) People of the Book (non-Islamic religions receiving some rights and protection), b) religious groups that were originally Muslim but that have apostatized, and c) religious groups that were “originally polytheistic:”
Prior to the taking of Sinjar, Sharī’ah students in the Islamic State were tasked to research the Yazidis to determine if they should be treated as an originally mushrik group or one that originated as Muslims and then apostatized, due to many of the related Islamic rulings that would apply to the group, its individuals, and their families. Because of the Arabic terminologies used by this group either to describe themselves or their beliefs, some contemporary Muslim scholars have classified them as possibly an apostate sect, not an originally mushrik religion, but upon further research, it was determined that this group is one that existed since the pre-Islamic jāhiliyyah, but became “Islamized” by the surrounding Muslim population, language, and culture, although they never accepted Islam nor claimed to have adopted it. The apparent origin of the religion is found in the Magianism of ancient Persia, but reinterpreted with elements of Sabianism, Judaism, and Christianity, and ultimately expressed in the heretical vocabulary of extreme Sufism. 
Accordingly, the Islamic State dealt with this group as the majority of fuqahā’ have indicated how mushrikīn should be dealt with. Unlike the Jews and Christians, there was no room for jizyah payment. Also, their women could be enslaved unlike female apostates who the majority of the fuqahā’ say cannot be enslaved and can only be given an ultimatum to repent or face the sword.
3) The IS article justifies their enslavement of polytheist women through their interpretation of the practice of the early Islamic community: 
The article invokes the practice of khums originating with the earliest battles of Islam in which 1/5 of the war booty was set aside for the Prophet Mohammed (i.e. the “state”): 
After capture, the Yazidi women and children were then divided according to the Sharī’ah amongst the fighters of the Islamic State who participated in the Sinjar operations, after one fifth of the slaves were transferred to the Islamic State’s authority to be divided as khums.The enslaved Yazidi families are now sold by the Islamic State soldiers as the mushrikīn were sold by the Companions (radiyallāhu ‘anhum) before them. Many well-known rulings are observed, including the prohibition of separating a mother from her young children.
From the Islamic State’s point of view, any Muslim who tries to interpret the practice of the early Islamic community in a different way, in order to condemn the practice of slavery, speaks in direct contradiction to the Qur’an and the Prophet and has therefore left Islam:
Before Shaytān reveals his doubts to the weak-minded and weak hearted, one should remember that enslaving the families of the kuffār and taking their women as concubines is a firmly established aspect of the Sharī’ah that if one were to deny or mock, he would be denying or mocking the verses of the Qur’ān and the narrations of the Prophet (sallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam), and thereby apostatizing from Islam.
4) In the view of the Islamic State, reviving the practice of slavery is actually a desirable goal with tangible spiritual benefits. They believe that slavery helps men avoid sexual sin because it enables them to avoid prohibited forms of extramarital sex. They underscore that it is impermissible to sleep with a hired household maid (a widespread occurrence in some countries where maids who become pregnant are often punished/imprisoned), yet sleeping with one’s concubine (who will have the same duties as the maid) is permissible: 
Finally, a number of contemporary scholars have mentioned that the desertion of slavery had led to an increase in fāhishah (adultery, fornication, etc.), because the shar’ī alternative to marriage is not available, so a man who cannot afford marriage to a free woman finds himself surrounded by temptation towards sin. In addition, many Muslim families who have hired maids to work at their homes, face the fitnah of prohibited khalwah (seclusion) and resultant zinā occurring between the man and the maid, whereas if she were his concubine, this relationship would be legal. This again is from the consequences of abandoning jihād and chasing after the dunyā, wallāhul-musta’ān.

Friday, October 03, 2014

Stephen Sizer, hanging out at an antisemitic conference in Iran again

The Reverend Stephen Sizer is in the news again, and not for a good reason. He's one of the people who attended the latest Iranian conference, New Horizon, which provided a venue for Jew-haters and conspiracy theorists of all kinds. The purpose of the conference from the point of view of the Iranian regime seems to be to bolster the Iranian position in the ongoing talks on its nuclear program. Its official title was "New Horizon – The 2nd Annual International Conference of Independent Thinkers & Film Makers."

Sizer spoke on two panels. At the opening ceremony, he gave a talk entitled "Christian Jihad vs. Christian Zionism." In another panel, titled "The Mechanisms of Action of the Israeli Lobby and their Effects in Western Capitals," he reported on "The Israeli Lobby in England."

[Incidentally, Sizer has published a talk called The Christian Jihadist on his website which may provide the gist of what he talked about at the conference].

Press TV has a short video about the conference, and Sizer appears briefly, speaking at the opening ceremony, but we don't hear what he's saying. Here's a screen grab from the video, showing him speaking:

He also participated in the "Conversations" part of the conference, in a session titled "Christian responsibility against Systematic Iniquity." The other participants were Randy Short, who has appeared many times on the Iranian propaganda channel Press TV, Maria Poumier, and Marzieh Hashemi. Poumier is a French filmmaker who was the director of a movie about Roger Garaudy, the Holocaust denier. She also worked on a movie called "L'antisémite" together with the French antisemitic comedian, Dieudonné M’bala M’bala. Hashemi is an American who converted to Islam, moved to Iran, and now works for Press TV. Randy Short is a Protestant minister, but Hashemi is a Muslim, and Poumier doesn't appear to be connected to religion at all. A strange set of interlocutors for Sizer.

Sizer has also just uploaded a bizarre video to Vimeo, "Syrian Tourist Board Promo." It has to be seen to be believed, because it is so out of touch with the current reality of civil war and atrocities in Syria.

Another interesting participant was Medea Benjamin, of Codepink. She was one of only a few female participants (although from the New Horizon website it also appears that Alison Weir [not the historian] is also speaking, although she's not listed among the participants). Despite her feminist beliefs, she covered her hair with a scarf, as the Iranian regime requires of all women.

Medea Benjamin being interviewed by Iranian state TV - image is from ADL article on the conference.
She was part of a panel on "The Gaza War & BDS Movement Strategies against the Zionist Regime," and participated in two "conversations": on "Different Facets of the Resistance," along with Tim Pool and Caleb Maupin, on "Paradigms Old & New," with Ken O'Keefe, Tim Pool, and Caleb Maupin. The panel discussion also included Randy Short, and two Iranians, Vahid Jalili and Khaled Qoddumi.

Here's how O'Keefe is described on Wikipedia: "Ken O’Keefe (born July 21, 1969) is an Irish-Palestinian citizen and activist and former United States Marine and Gulf War veteran who attempted to renounce US citizenship in 2001. He led the human shield action to Iraq and was a passenger on the MV Mavi Marmara during the Gaza flotilla raid. He said that he participated during clashes on the ship including having been involved in the disarmament of two Israeli commandos."

Tim Pool has worked for Vice Media and is praised on his Wikipedia page for his use of new technology in covering event such as the Occupy Wall Street protests. It's not clear to me from reading about him why he would participate in a conference overflowing with conspiracy theorists and antisemitic nut cases.

Caleb Maupin works for the International Action Center, which still defends North Korea as a communist state. He is also a member of the Workers World Party, another Marxist-Leninist group that supports the vicious North Korean regime. The abstract of his talk at the conference can be found here. He writes, "The same banking institutions which drive the US toward war and support for Israel, are devastating the US economy. I will point to key events that I directly observed during the Occupy Wall Street protests that showed the potential for building a higher level of solidarity. I will identify the harmful role of Zionist Non-Governmental Organizations in controlling the movement’s politics, and blocking it from building a broader perspective."

Who is Vahid Jalili? A report in Alahednews on the conference cites him:
A few Iranian figures spoke during the conference among which was Vahid Jalili, the Director of Cultural Front of Islamic Revolution. He assured that "Israel" failed to establish its land from Nile to the Euphrates. He also said its army is no longer known as the invincible army, and is unable to protect itself. 
Jalili stressed on the cultural aspect of recognizing the fact that the Palestinian cause is international and humane not only Islamic and Arab. He also underlined that efforts worldwide should be joined to fighting the presence of a body that was entrenched in the Middle East.
Some media coverage:

Rosie Gray in Buzzfeed: "Antiwar Activists, 9/11 Truthers Gather In Tehran For Anti-Zionist Conference: Everyone from Code Pink’s Medea Benjamin to French comedian Dieudonné M’bala M’bala."

An article by Ben Cohen in the Algemeiner: "Anti-Semites Gather in Iran for Regime Sponsored Hate-Fest"

Meir Javendafar, "Iran Regime Returns to its Antisemitic Propaganda - Again."

An article by Elham Hashemi in Alahednews, "New Horizon Conference: In Support of World Justice." The article reports that the Islamic Jihad representative in Iran, Nasser Abu Sharif, spoke on the evils of Israel. It also reports on the session with Medea Benjamin and Caleb Maupin:
Medea Benjamin, an American political activist, best known for co-founding Code Pink assured during her speech that there is not even one congress person in the US government who is ready to say ‘I want to cut aid to "Israel", even among the progressives as they are too afraid to take the step. 
Benjamin assured that BDS; Boycott Divestment Sanctions and other movements such as Students injustice for Palestine have become very prominent and vibrant in the United States. She assured these movements raise a very important issue in supporting the Palestinian people and bringing justice to the world. The activist assured that the effort now is to direct these campaigns correctly, and to find the best targets to boycott such as the Ahava cosmetic products, which not only are made by "Israel" but also steals salts from the Dead Sea. 
Other good targets, according to Benjamin, are G4S company, BAE systems, and Soda stream which are major supporters to the Zionist entity. 
In addition, Caleb Maupin, political analyst and journalist from the International Action Center assured that the list of corporations in charge of the economic trouble the US has been facing is almost identical to that of the boycott list, hence proving boycott fruitful. He stressed that boycott is one of the real keys to a major change in the world balance that people would want to see.
A press release by the ADL - "Iranian Hatefest Promotes Anti-Semitism, Draws Holocaust Deniers and U.S. Anti-Israel Activists." See also an earlier article: "Iran New Horizon Conference Draws U.S. Anti-Semites, Holocaust Deniers." An article published on October 2, "Details Emerge On Anti-Semitic Gathering In Tehran," gives more information on the speakers.

Thursday, October 02, 2014

Views of the Old City

I went to the Old City today and was lucky enough to arrive at the Kotel area in time to go up to the Temple Mount. The times that tourists are able to go up are very limited. I was there from about 1:30-2:30 pm.

A sparrow at the Kotel

Door of the Al Aqsa Mosque with the Dome of the Rock reflected in it.

A view into Silwan

Dome of the Rock, looking towards the south.
The "Cup", the ablution fountain,
is between the Al Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock.

Rabbi Yisrael Ariel (with umbrella) walking on the Temple Mount with several other men. He is the head of the Temple Institute, which argues that the Temple Mount should be in the hands of Jews, and that the Temple should be rebuilt where the Dome of the Rock is now.

A view of the Dome of the Rock

Entrance to the Al Aqsa Mosque

The Dome of the Rock.

Floor of the Dome of the Chain

Mihrab of the Dome of the Chain

Women at one of the entrances of the Dome of the Rock

Dome next to the Dome of the Rock.

One of the stairways that leads up to the plaza of the Dome of the Rock.

Tiles on the Dome of the Rock.

One of the several olive trees on the Temple Mount.

Opening of a small building opposite the Dome of the Rock.

Marble floor at one of the entrances of the Dome of the Rock.

A minbar (pulpit where the preacher exhorts the worshippers).

Patterned stone on the wall of the Dome of the Rock.

I'm standing halfway up the stairs to the Dome of the Rock - a woman asked me to photograph her, and then she offered to photograph me.

Setting up for the perfect shot.

A venerable olive treee.

A fountain, right outside the Gate of the Chain. Rabbi Ariel and his entourage are to the left.

On the Street of the Chain.

Writing outside the home of someone who went on the hajj to Mecca.

Drawing of the Dome of the Rock as part of the decorations celebrating the hajj to Mecca.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Berlin’s Most Unsettling Memorial (New York Review of Books, 2013)

This article was published in the New York Review of Books, June 13, 2013

Jews Aren’t Allowed to Use Phones’: Berlin’s Most Unsettling Memorial

Ian Johnson

Ian Johnson
Artists Renata Stih and Frieder Schnock with a map of their "Places of Remembrance" project, Schöneberg, Berlin, 2013
Twenty years ago this month, Berlin-based artists Renata Stih and Frieder Schnock inaugurated their hugely controversial “Places of Remembrance” memorial for a former Jewish district of West Berlin known as the Bavarian Quarter. At the time, Germany had just been reunified, and it was one of the first major efforts to give permanent recognition to the ways the Holocaust reached into daily life in the German capital. The 1991 competition called for a central memorial on the square, but Stih and Schnock instead proposed attaching eighty signs hung on lamp posts throughout the Bavarian Quarter, each one spelling out one of the hundreds of Nazi laws and rules that gradually dehumanized Berlin’s Jewish population.

Today, Germany is filled with memorials and institutions dealing with aspects of the Holocaust, including Daniel Libeskind’s Jewish Museum and Berlin’s central Holocaust memorial. But Stih and Schnock’s in-your-face signs about Nazi policies, integrated into the present-day life of a residential Berlin neighborhood, remain one of the most visceral and unsettling. I recently walked through the Bavarian Quarter—which is part of Berlin’s Schöneberg district—with the artists to discuss their work and its legacy.

"Jews are banned from choral societies"

Monday, September 29, 2014

Here, There is No Why

Roger Cohen: For ISIS, Slaughter Is an End in Itself

In a famous passage from “Survival in Auschwitz,” Primo Levi relates an incident upon arrival in the Nazi death camp that captures the intersection of the human with the inhuman. He and other Italian prisoners have been held in a shed as they await their fate. Levi looks around in search of some means to quench his thirst: 
“I eyed a fine icicle outside the window, within hand’s reach. I opened the window and broke off the icicle but at once a large, heavy guard prowling outside brutally snatched it away from me. ‘Warum?’ I asked him in my poor German. ‘Hier ist kein warum,’ (there is no why here), he replied, pushing me inside with a shove.” 
There is no why here. The phrase has been reverberating in me since I watched a henchman of the organization that calls itself Islamic State behead two American journalists, James Foley and Steven Sotloff, and a British aid worker, David Haines. The men had been broken by their imprisonment. They had been hollowed out, a terrible thing to behold. How many times they must have asked themselves the why of their captivity, humiliation and torture right up to the moment when a small knife was applied, with a sawing motion, to their throats. Each of the three men died alone, unlike the Yazidis murdered in droves, the Shiite soldiers massacred, the women and children slaughtered during the advance of black-clad ISIS forces across northern Iraq. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of ISIS, has created a cult of violence that makes the elimination of all nonbelievers the cornerstone of a movement whose avowed objective is a restored Islamic caliphate but whose raison d’être is the slaughter itself.
Read the whole thing, but don't bother with the comments.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Germany's Jewish Problem

Angela Merkel, image from the FP article
If you wish to be disquieted, Foreign Policy has published an article about antisemitism in contemporary Germany - Germany's Jewish Problem: "Anti-Semitism is on the rise in Germany. But is Angela Merkel doing anything about it?"