Forthcoming

March 20; 7:45 am, B Nimri Aziz begins a new radio commentary on events around the globe and in the USA. Listen in at 99.5 fm, or online www.wbai.org where we are livestreamed.

March 8, Women's Day Radio Specials  10-11 am on WJFF Radio, 90.5 fm, and 11:am on WBAI, 99.5 New York: B. Nimri Aziz interviews director Amber Fares about her new film "Speed Sisters" --a profile of 5 Palestinian car racers. Orther segments are from 2009-2010 interviews with professional women in Damascus Syria, Nadia Khost and Nidaa Al-Islam.

 

 

As a Black writer, I was expected to accept the role of victim. That made it difficult in the beginning to be a writer.      James Baldwin

I often feel that there must have been something that I should’ve done that I didn’t do. But I can’t identify what it is that I didn’t do. That’s the first difficulty. And the second is, what makes you think you’re it?   

         Harry Belafonte, activist and singer at 89

 

It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble; It's what you know for sure that just ainst so.

Mark Twain

 

You can't be brave if you've only had wonderful things happen to you.

Mary Tyler Moore

 

 You can’t defend Christianity by being against refugees and other religions

Pope Francis:

 

"I don't have to be what you want me to be". Muhammad Ali

 

"The Secret of Living Well and Longer: eat half, walk double, laugh triple, and love without measure"  attributed to Tibetan sources

 

 

 

Recent audio posts include interviews with Rumi interpreter Shahram Shiva, London-based author Aamer Hussein, South African Muslim scholar, professor Farid Esack, and Iraqi journalist Nermeen Al-Mufti's brief account of Kirkuk City history. Your comments on our blogs are always welcome.

 

 

 

Select Books

Fields of Blood: Religion and The History of Violence

by Karen Armstrong
Reviewed by BN Aziz

British author Karen Armstrong’s latest book is necessarily ambitious. Today when so much misinformation dominates the public debate over religion (we mean Islam, of course) and its relation to politics, serious efforts to explore their interconnection is daunting.

Comparative religion scholar Armstrong is known for tackling big subjects. Her "History of God" was a daring work that invited the public to reach further than their own faith. Her studies on Buddha  and Muhammad were no less ambitious. Now we have an even more daring adventure, "Fields of Blood: Religion and the History of Violence".

"Fields of Blood" seems audacious at a time when Islam and violence are in the forefront of our minds and government policies. Outrage at the killings in Paris and the consequent debates over what constitutes free speech, while necessary and healthy, are polarizing our communities and putting Muslim leaders (and Islam) on the line. (I could find only a single reference to Armstrong in this recent debate. Perhaps she feels this book says it all.)

Fields of Blood begins at the dawn of human history with a review of ancient Sumer, moves through Indus civilization of 4000 years ago, Chinese progress from the earliest records, Hebrew history, the rise of Christianity, across the Roman and into the Byzantine Empire. In each period Armstrong draws on mythology as well as documented history to understand how war fuses with religious ideals and symbols.

In a 2014 interview with Salon.com, Armstrong  summarizes--“Religion was part of state-building, and a lot of the violence of our world is the violence of the state. Without this violence we wouldn't’t have civilization. Agrarian civilization depended upon a massive structural violence. In every single culture or pre-modern state, a small aristocracy expropriated the serfs and peasants and kept them at subsistence level.” There is hardly an era when Armstrong can find they are not handmaidens. It seems Armstrong is reluctant to attribute a causal relation. She demonstrates that religion itself does not give rise to warfare, although expansionist ambitions may foster an upsurge in religious faith.

In her review of modern history, Armstrong suggest that the establishment of secular states may itself have given rise to a particular kind of religiosity, fundamentalism.

“Blaming religion”, Armstrong argues, “allows Westerners to ignore the essential role that violence has played in the formation of our own societies — and the essential role that our societies have played in seeding violence abroad.”

The book’s final chapters concentrate on how religion may ‘fight back’, manifest as a ‘holy terror’; she offers examples which, when we’re faced with today’s attacks, we overlook; e.g. the 1978 Jonestown Guyana suicide of 913 Americans, the 1995 Oklahoma bombing, and the assassination of Anwar Sadat. Armstrong proposes that perhaps the death wish embedded in acts of terror

“suggests a flaw in the purely secular ideal that eliminates holiness from its politics—the conviction that some things or people must be “set apart” from our personal interests. The cultivation of that transcendence –be it God, Dao, Brahman, or Nirvana—had at its best, helped people to appreciate human finitude. But if the nation becomes the absolute value (in religious terms, an “idol”), there is no reason why we should liquidate those who appear to threaten it.” (p 341, "Fields of Blood")  

Armstrong proceeds to today’s all-too-familiar clashes--what is widely known as global jihad—emerging from the Muslim East. She offers background to the rise of religious leadership in Iran, Afghanistan and Palestine which we’d do well to review since media sources and contemporary books largely ignore critical details of American and European role in that history. Confronted by her arguments, we are compelled to reread the long history of religion and imperial interests offered in the first half of this book.

Still, how can attacks by individuals and groups against western symbols of liberty end? Even if our leaders and academics accept the West’s responsibility for the anger and retaliatory acts now directed at it, the West seems to lack the moral capacity to invent a humane response to halt this cycle. Can we really admit, as Armstrong suggests that “we are all implicated in this violence”?

"Fields of Blood" is not an easy read. But Armstrong has done the homework for us, assembling an overwhelming wealth of facts that is worth our attention; they can at least help us bring balance to the current debate. END

 



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poem Hacked By Mido Jo
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poem Qur'an Surat Al-Shams
from 'Approaching The Qur'an', CD.

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Book review
Rajia Hassib's
In The Language of Miracles
reviewed by BNAziz.

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