“want” from cold river: poems by joan larkin, october 1997
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I shed my skin
like the trees shed their leaves
and stand naked before you -
nothing but the thoughts
swaying with the wind, shaking
in the cold, with the seasons
I bloom, I grow, I die.
the skies may disappear and the
Earth may cease to exist
but my love remains
naked, before you;
with the seasons, it is re-born
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how do people have the energy to hold grudges for a long time? I barely have the energy to drag myself out of bed
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Vladimir Nabokov, from Letters to Véra
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'Mount Sinai was covered with smoke, because the Lord descended on it in fire. The smoke billowed up from it like smoke from a furnace, and the whole mountain trembled violently.'
- Exodus 19:18
I was having dinner with some friends when religious subjects came up. At this point, with these friends, it's inevitable that religion will be discussed, but it always seems to be spun in a Christian vs. Muslim narrative (which for me is a little difficult being the only Muslim at the table). The topic this time was Mount Sinai. Admittedly, I didn't know much about it, and I can't claim even now to know too much about it, so I nodded my head, said "uh-yuh, yep" in all the right places and thought I would do some reading on it later on.
What they said was that Mount Sinai was of significance to Christians and Jews (they missed Muslims off this list, but to Muslims too) because of which Saudi Arabia keeps the area fenced and guarded, and that in fact they try to deny that the area cordoned off is actually Mount Sinai to keep people from it. However, now that people have drones and satellites and are able to confirm what the area looks like, they can no longer deny it and are opening it up for tourists to visit. I took this with a pinch of salt.
In the Bible, Mount Sinai (Har Sinai)*(1) is the mountain where the Ten Commandments were given to Moses by God. The actual location of Mount Sinai as described in the Bible remains disputed, but many believe it to be in the deserts of Saudi Arabia. Like other desert archeological sites, Mount Sinai's relics are well preserved by the constant climate. In all the Saudi Arabian desert, only this mountain peak contains the scorched rock as described in the Bible.
'... He took what they handed him and made it into an idol cast in the shape of a calf, fashioning it with a tool. Then they said, "These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt." When Aaron saw this, he built an altar in front of the calf.'
- Exodus 32:3-5a
At the base of Mount Sinai, large boulders form an alter-like structure that is 30 feet tall and 30 feet wide, that have drawings of a bull god. One of the rocks has etched on it what is believed to be the oldest inscription of a Menorah. It is believed that this altar is where the golden calf was erected and worshiped after the Israelites grew impatient waiting for Moses' return from the mountain.
This area has been fenced and guarded by the Saudi government. I couldn't comment on if this is because the Saudi government don't want Christians and Jews, or any other people, to know about this site, or to deny its existence etc. But one thought did come to mind as I was reading up about it: it reminded me of the Chauvet Cave in France.
The Chauvet Cave contains the earliest known cave paintings, believed to date back to 30,000 BCE (determined by radiocarbon dating). Because of the conditions within the cave, the paintings have been well preserved but allowing people inside causes the temperate and humidity to rise, which damages the paintings. To avoid deterioration of the paintings, the cave has been closed to the public. This isn't because of a French conspiracy to deny the existence of the cave or the paintings but only to preserve a historical artefact.
The final thing they said was that it was obvious that the Saudi government were trying to keep the location of Mount Sinai hidden, because the general public aren't allowed to take photos of anything there. To this, my mind wandered back to the countless galleries I have visited over the years where I wasn't allowed to take photos of works, not to deny the existence of it but because the 'owner' didn't want me to. It's rather probable that the Saudi government is in fact trying to keep the location hidden and people away, but this may be for preservation of the site.
I won't argue one way or the other about the wishes of the Saudi government, but there may be answers that don't spin things in such a religious frame.
*(1) In the Book of Deuteronomy, this is described as taking place at Mount Horab, but scholars believe that Mount Horab and Sinai are one and the same thing.
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Hélène Cixous, Hyperdream (tr. Beverly Bie Brahic)
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It's too cold to wear a dress today but I woke up with a lump in my throat, pining after a life I saw in a dream. In my dream, I wear a dress and daisies in my hair. I walk through a field of wild flowers. But this isn't a dream. We warm up with pots of lemon and ginger tea, and wait for the Sun's return, she forgot to kiss us goodbye.
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Waves of Terrorism
There have been four historical 'waves' of terrorism (Rapoport, 2004). What characterises a wave is that they last roughly forty years - which is the length of a generation (this is because people are most active between the ages of twenty and sixty). Typically, terrorist groups tend not to go from one wave to another and remain within their forty year span. The wave does not end because the terrorists have moved on but rather because they grow too old to remain active within their movement, and the later generations tend not to be quite so interested.
1. Anarchist Wave
The Anarchist Wave is thought to be the birth of 'modern terror' originating with anarchist groups in Russia in the 1880s, who aimed to liberate society. This wave was strengthened and facilitated by progress made in transport and international communication between individuals, which allowed this energy to become international. In this case, the anarchist movement and ideology propagated to Europe, US, Asia, the Balkans etc.
The Russian anarchists specialised in assassinating prominent officials and heads of state. The assassins would often be killed in the process, which was viewed as an early form of 'suicide attack'. The attacks were mostly targeted violence, unlike attacks in the modern age. This period because known as the 'Golden Age of Assassination'.
2. Anti-Colonialism/Nationalism Wave
Rapoport identifies the triggering of this wave as the Versailles Peace Treaty, which put an end to World War I. The Treaty broke up the old empires and stated that a country or state can decide to be part of the empire or can opt out (principle of national self-determination).
In the UK, the IRA were prominent during this period. Ireland was suffering from poverty at the time, so people left seeking better lives and employment opportunities (with a large number of Irish people travelling to the US). Securing jobs in their new places of residency, they sent portions of their income back to Ireland to support the 'liberation fights' or terrorists. This diaspora and financial support of groups remained all throughout the 20th century. In this way, terrorism became transnational and state sponsored.
3. The New Left
The Vietnam War is thought to be the precipitating event. New tactics emerged in this wave, including plane hijackings, and hostage taking. The terrorists were no longer the poor and impoverished, but typically people who are financially stable and well off, fighting for the poor, and people who could not fight for themselves. They adopted an ideology that was a combination of nationalism and Marxist revolutionary principles.
4. Holy Terror
The triggering of this wave was a culmination of a number of events that occurred in 1979: the Islamic Revolution in Iran, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and the beginning of the new century in the Islamic calendar (I will do a separate post discussing all of these events in detail and the consequences). This wave was known as 'holy terror' (Hoffman, 1993). For the first time, religion is the main driver behind terrorism in the 1990s and beyond. Major religions and cults are represented by terrorists in this period, including Hamas, Aum Shinrikyo, American Christian Patriots, Branch Davidians, Yoga Amir etc.
Because religion is the motivator, it is difficult to negotiate with these terrorists. For them, there is nothing to negotiate; the demands are transcendental. There are new and different values, morality, world views, and mechanisms of legitimacy (Hoffman, 1998). If Rapoport is correct, the Fourth Wave should end around 2025.
It is thought that the fifth global wave will be far-right (right wing) terrorism (Auger, 2020). In the five years leading to 2020, there has been a 320% increase in right-wing terrorism globally. Far-right ideology may be mixed with other ideologies including (Christian) religious fundamentalist, national liberation/separatism, anti-state ideology etc. If trends continue as they are, this will be the next wave of terrorism.
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I was told that you can never die
if a writer falls in love with you
so here I sit, saving a life.
my mother says to pull myself together,
to stop writing
and save myself first,
that this intimate relationship between my pen and paper
will lead to nothing
so I no longer know
whether to be happy or scared
when I put down my pen
how you got all over my hands.
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I raise my hands to my face
and whisper prayers into them
so quiet, hushed
only God hears them.
I feel the warmth of your name
in my breath
and its softness on my tongue
as it brushes the roof of my mouth;
I hold love in these hands.
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I leave the bed only to make pots of lavender, lemon and honey tea. It warms my being to the core of my soul, and reminds me of the sweetness of life. We clasp the glass firmly between both hands, our fingers embracing each other, feeling the softness of our own skin for - what feels like - the first time.
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“My heart is lost; the beasts have eaten it.”
— Charles Baudelaire, from Conversation in “The Flowers Of Evil” [translated by James McGowan]
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the sky is gloomy and makes threats of pouring down with rain, so we dare it. we dare it to show us what it's capable of, to bring it down with all its might. we live for the sound of rain hitting the window as we wrap up at the desk with a hot drink. we work best as we shelter from a storm knowing we are safe.
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“I don’t know what I want, only that I’m desperate for it, that I can’t stop asking.”
— Kim Addonizio, from “The Singing”
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“I’m not too gone to be healed, am I? I’m not too gone am I?”
— Alice Notley, from In The Pines: Poems; “In The Pines,”
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Jane Austen’s Novels
The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.
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I was reading today about the different kinds of language that we possess, such as our heritage language (which is the one we inherit) and liturgical language (this is the language that is normally reserved for worship e.g. Latin, Arabic etc.). I came across Fishman (1972) who said that our mother tongue is 'an aspect of the soul, if not the soul itself made manifest' and it made me really stop and think about the beauty of the mother tongue and how sad it is that so many languages are fading.
As a very young child, my grandfather taught me how to read and write in both English and Bengali. Later in the year 2000, my mother and I moved to the UK when I was getting ready to turn six (which meant I was a grown up, right?); I felt like the luckiest person to have both languages at my disposal.
My cousins, however, who were born in the UK to immigrant parents speak very little Sylheti - not enough to hold a conversation. Their mother, who left her country and family to give her children a better life, speaks little English - again, not enough to hold a conversation. So they don't really speak. The passing down of Sylheti in their family tree ended with my aunt. As people migrate and mix cultures and societies, we adopt languages that are more beneficial and helpful to us, usually English. But we don't just adopt languages, we lose some too. My mother tongue is dying slowly but I love it, from the way the lips and tongue form sounds to the phrases and idioms we use.
Whenever I go to collect exam results or anything else even remotely important, my mother always says that I shouldn't bring home a gura'r enda or in English: a horse's egg (since horses don't lay eggs, she's telling me not to come home with nothing). I didn't realise this was characteristic of my language and culture until I started using it with my friends and they just didn't get it. It didn't work. It's meant to be said in Bengali. It belongs in Bengali.
My mother tongue is my soul. I will keep it alive.
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— Richard Siken, I had a dream about you
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It was stated that a coup was enacted in Myanmar today. Since I have no knowledge of the Myanmar system of government, the history of the country, and the subsequent events that led to this action, this is nothing more than a fleeting news title. In 4 minutes after I finish writing this I will not give a shit, unless the news decides this is something I should continue to learn about. Thousands and thousands of hours of study could be given to this single moment, and yet it is here and gone before I can even take a breath to understand it.
This comes at a time that I have been reeling over the importance that we give to the News and media. Isn’t it funny how much we depend on them for our knowledge? We seem to forget that when we were young and taught to write things for the first time we were told to think about who our audience is, and what our purpose is. Is this any different to the questions news outlets ask themselves? I think not.
Everything and everyone has a purpose and an audience.
Sadly, I too know very little about Myanmar and yesterday’s coup. I know little about the history and government too, except the little snippets that I, too, have absorbed from the media when they tell me I ought to listen. “Pay attention,” they say “look at the genocide of the Rohingya people”, “they’re moving to your country, they’ve found home in Bangladesh”, but what after this? I too am guilty of being lazy intellectually sometimes and taking snippets of news as and when they’re presented to me. But I’d like to think I’m getting better at this.
I apologise for this rant. I’ve been discovering so much dishonesty and bias in the news lately - now that I’ve bothered to open my eyes - and it’s very difficult for me to not draw this back to my PhD!
I leave everyone with this: how much do we question the news and media, and their facts and analysis? They, like everyone else, have an agenda. Choose wisely what you absorb.
And thank you for sending this. A moment of reflection on our human condition is always welcome.
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Han Kang, Human Acts (translated by Deborah Smith)
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