The Sacrifice

The boy clung to his father’s cloak like mud.
For it was the feast, and Hajar was at work
Toiling over the pots and staying out
Of Sarai’s way. The embittered crone hated her
And hated too the boy, the apple
Of Abram’s eye, the son she couldn’t bear.
Hajar was young, and she was beautiful,
Most beautiful among the lambs, he said,
Most beautiful of those he chose to bed.

Rounding a thicket, Abram spied a ram–
‘Father’, said Ismail, ‘Our God is great’.
‘Great yes’, the father said, ‘but never sate–
This year he asks still more of us than rams.’
The old man touched Ismail’s hair and sighed.
‘For what is given, so much is required!’
But Ismail knew the old man’s moods and that
Sometimes he heard voices sounding in his ears,
And that this madness was upon him now.

‘Abba’, he said. ‘You hear the voice again?
It is Sarah’s voice–not God’s –who hates me more
Than Philistines, than Canaanites and snakes–
And curses me and shakes her knotty hand
And beats my mother when you cannot see.’

‘This time, said Abram again,’God requires much more.
Lie down my child, our sacrifice is near.’

The boy leant against a rock and found it soft.
He did not see his father draw the knife
From out its sheath or circle it towards heaven
(As the laws of sacrifice require). He slipped
A rope around the filial wrists
Another round his ankles, jerked them tight
And woke the boy. ‘Abba, by God, what will you do?’ he cried.

Abraham danced in circles, spanned
Ismail’s face with his ancient hand and sang
‘Our God is great, and God demands your blood.
O my son, O Ismail. my only dearest son,’
And brought the knife plumb leftward
Against the boy’s pale throat, from left
To right, one slice would do the trick:
Ismail dead (imagine) God satisfied at last,
And Sarah full of joy to get the news.

But then awakening from his deathly trance
Abram heard the voice as what it was:
Not God’s command but Sarah’s jealous plea
‘Kill him, kill Ismail, kill Hajar too–for me’.

Farewell Palmyra: On the Cruelty of Hypocrites and Thieves

One of the anomalies of ISIS is its cowardice in the face of success.

Wherever it came from and wherever it ends, there’s no doubt any longer than its claim to be the true Islam is bullocks.

One way of testing ISIS’s bravado is to look at its agenda. It doesn’t have one, except the acquisition of territory already islamicized and islamicized for a millennium. It is the agenda of a bully stealing candy from a child merely because it can and it wants it. It exists in the interstices of civil war (Syria) and a failed or failing state, Iraq. Its work had been done for it before it rolled into town with its ragtag militants blasting, beheading and raping their own people or executing in droves the members of sects traditionally protected by Islamic rulers: Chaldeans, Assyrian Christians, Yazidis and Mandaens, to name a few.

Their bravery consisted of preying on innocent and essentially passive Shi’a and moderate Sunni populations by insisting they weren’t pious enough, not orthodox, and therefore not fit to live. It is the kind of bravery we normally associate with street gangs who pick fights with gangs in the same neighborhood because the gangs across town are bigger and smarter.

The real index of ISIS cowardice however is opportunism. Once their ready supply of western heads had been exhausted, they turned to relics, antiquities, and cultural shrines:

Nimrud was a city in the Assyrian kingdom, which flourished between 900 and 612 BCE. Decimated.

Assyrian King Sargon II built a palace at Khorsabad between 717 and 706 B.C. Gone.

The museum and library in Mosul, Iraq’s second largest, destroyed and looted, the books torched.

The tomb inside a Sunni mosque called the Mosque of the Prophet Yunus, revered by both Muslims, Jews and Chriustians as the Old Testament figure, Jonah, destroyed.

Hatra. sstablished by the successors of Alexander the Great and dating back to 300 B.C., and the capital of an early Arab kingdom. The city withstood the attacks of successive armies, including those of the Roman empire. Pillaged and leveled.

And now Palmyra, an ancient city that exists in reports dating back to the seceond millennium BCE. Palmyra was fragile and deserted, a living and quiet monument to its biblical, Seleucid and Islamic past.

Its rape and destruction can only be compared to a robber stopping long enough in his crime to sexually assault the grandmother upstairs who is physically unable to prevent him from stealing her silverware.

It has to be true that many Muslims see the work of ISIS as imponderable and weird. A larger number find it embarrassing and contemptible. Many do not care, and a further number probably think that the ISIS warriors are finishing what the Prophet started.

Except the prophet did not start this. His raids against cities and towns were, for the early believers, holy warfare against the people he and his closest followers regarded as uncivilized and pagan: the people of the dar al-H’arab. True, Islamic iconoclasm and the conversion of churches and basilicas, like Hagia Sophia, to mosques were part of the triumphalism of Islam during the caliphates. But it is also true that Christians, Jews, and Zoroastrians (and other minorities) were granted dispensations for living peacably among the true believers.

It’s precisely this contempt for the concept of the moral duty of the true believers that ISIS warriors now exemplify. Pseudo-warriors of the pseudo-leader of a make-believe caliphate, pushing the false vision of an Islamic past that never existed onto the front pages. This is not holy war. It is not a defense of the right path or the true doctrine, or the sunnah of the Prophet.

The destruction of silent, ancient relics, the remnants of a past that predates Islam, is an attempt to suppress the claims of history against a religion that, in its extremist form, insists on living in a cruel, unholy and violent time-warp. To the extent that ISIS is the front line in this program resistance is not possible, or even sensible: Like Carthage of old, it must be destroyed.