1 of 2: Muslim Brotherhood Looks West to 3.2 Billion Dollar IMF Loan (2.17.2012)

This article provides a lean but excellent history of the Muslim Brotherhood, who are rapidly becoming a major player in the Middle East.  Historically, they have showed strict allegiance to Sharia Law.  For brief articles on what Sharia law is, please see:  http://www.religioustolerance.org/islsharia.htm

http://www.cfr.org/religion/islam-governing-under-sharia/p8034

http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2002/02/0212_020212_honorkilling.html

An excellent, more in-depth look can be found in this recent book:  Boykin, Lt. General William, Frank J. Gaffney, Jr. and 17 others.  Shariah:  The Threat To America:  An Excercise in Competitive Analysis (Report of Team B II).  Center For Security Policy, 2010.

See also:  Muslim Brotherhood Resource Update from 20 April 2013.

The main fear involved is whether the Muslim Brotherhood, ruling through strict adherence to Sharia Law, would force their beliefs on adherents to other faiths within their countries as well as tourists to these countries.  Another fear concerns those within Sharia Law who see Israel as the “Little Satan” and America as the “Great Satan.”  These radical elements seek direct confrontation leading to serious destruction within the Middle East, in fact, provoking bloodshed in order to bring about their Twelfth Imam,  invoking an Armageddon on purpose.  For a brief look into the Twelfth Imam, please see:  http://www.ashbrook.org/publicat/guest/05/vonheyking/twelfthimam.html  in which the author states:  Western observers need to be able to understand the ideological and religious overtones of the current situation in Iran.  Ahmadinejad’s peculiar references to the Twelfth Imam are no mere eccentricity to be taken lightly.  Nor do they seem to be the rhetorical ploy of a politician manipulating the excitable masses (as some have interpreted Saddam Hussein’s embrace of Islamism in the later part of his rule).  Minimally, Ahmadinejad’s speeches and actions portend a constitutional crisis for the Iranian regime.  Maximally, there are times when one should take bombastic statements not as double-talk, but for what they are.”

In the below WSJ article, the author quotes these stats:  “A Gallup poll conducted between April and December of last year showed 54% of Egyptians placed jobs and economic development as their top priority, while less than 1% cited implementation of Islamic law.  The results were consistent across all political parties, even Islamist ones.”

Contrary to this article, my next post, 2 of 2: Muslim Brotherhood Looks Away from West to Governance by Sharia Law (2.22.2012), includes a Reuters article from five days later, stating evidence showing that the Muslim Brotherhood may be talking out of two sides of their mouths:  “Secularists in both countries [Egypt and Tunisia] warned voters against trusting the Islamists and these subtle changes could have come straight from a secularist playbook on how Islamists would gradually insert more religion into the political and legal systems. . . . Lying between the two countries, Libya is also transforming its political system after ousting Muammar Gaddafi but has not yet held elections or begun work on a new constitution.”

As country after country within the Middle East turn to Sharia Law, with Israel a tiny island within, most of western oil reserves at stake as well as even more bloodshed, how the world understands the intentions of these fundamentalist Islamic conquerers from the Arab Spring is crucial.  –SB

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970204062704577220454030969184.html?KEYWORDS=muslim+brotherhood

The Wall Street JournalAsia Business

FEBRUARY 17, 2012, 10:25 P.M. ET

Muslim Brotherhood Looks West in Bid to Revive Egyptian Economy

By CHARLES LEVINSON

CAIRO—Last month, the Muslim Brotherhood received a phone call from the International Monetary Fund.  Egypt was hurtling toward economic collapse, and IMF officials had decided they couldn’t push ahead with a $3.2 billion loan without buy-in from the country’s new political heavyweights.

After 80 years as an underground movement with many members in jail, the Brotherhood found itself at a historic moment.  Its decision would likely make or break a loan package believed vital by many Western officials and by Egypt’s own business community.

There has been deep distrust in Egypt of the IMF, fueled by a general suspicion of Western meddling and foreign invasions in the 18th and 19th centuries to collect debts.  Many Egyptians believe that the Western-style economic reforms of recent years enriched a handful of wealthy regime cronies and did little for regular people.

BROBIZ_2

David Degner for The Wall Street JournalEssam El-Haddad, a foreign-policy adviser.

Yet the Brotherhood recently ended up giving tentative approval to the $3.2 billion IMF loan.  “All of a sudden, we found ourselves for the first time and after a very, very short learning process, asked to take a position that would affect everybody’s lives,” said Essam al-Haddad, the Brotherhood’s new senior adviser on foreign affairs.

Since the Brotherhood was legalized after the toppling of President Hosni Mubarak last February, the group has tried to remake itself.  A year ago it was a secretive group dominated by elders who had spent much time in Egyptian jails, and little time in Western capitals.  Today, after winning a plurality of the seats in recent parliamentary elections, it stands at the cusp of being Egypt’s new ruling class.

Hard reality is steering that transformation.  Confronted with a badly sinking economy, the Brotherhood doesn’t have the luxury of harping endlessly about Zionist conspiracies, American hypocrisy, or bikini-clad tourists—not if it wants to put Egypt back together again.

Tourism revenue dropped by at least one-third since the uprising, according to government statistics.  And billions of dollars of annual foreign investment—which peaked at $13.7 billion in 2007—were almost entirely choked off.

“Egypt is running smack into an economic wall,” said Karim Sadek, a managing director at Citadel Capital, a Cairo-based private-equity firm.

The Brotherhood in Egypt

See a timeline of the Muslim Brotherhood.

A Gallup poll conducted between April and December of last year showed 54% of Egyptians placed jobs and economic development as their top priority, while less than 1% cited implementation of Islamic law.  The results were consistent across all political parties, even Islamist ones.

“Their supporters want the economy fixed, not religious solutions,” said Dalia Mogahed, head of the Abu Dhabi Gallup Center, which conducted the poll.

Skeptics worry that once the Brotherhood is entrenched in power, the group’s social agenda will come back to the fore. They say that could particularly be the case if the Egyptian economy continues to decline.

“It’s a big fear that, if they can’t fix the economy, they’ll try to instead clean up society,” said Heba Morayef, an Egypt researcher with Human Rights Watch.

Indeed, there are competing views in the movement on how closely to tie itself to the West.  Even as some Brotherhood members have courted Washington, the movement’s Deputy Supreme Guide, Rashad Bayoumi, recently excoriated U.S. Ambassador Anne Patterson for having a “miserable past” in her previous posting in Pakistan.  His comments were widely reported in the Egyptian press.

Then there is the Salafi Nour Party, a hard-line Islamist party, which won a surprising 27% of the vote in the recent parliamentary elections.  With the Salafis threatening to undermine the Brotherhood’s traditional Islamist base, members may fear opening up too much to the West.

“Do you trust the Muslim Brotherhood?  I don’t know,” said a senior Western diplomat.  “They have different faces.  They are conservative, they are historically anti-Western, but they are also very strategic and don’t seem interested in rocking the boat at the moment.”

[BROBIZ_p1]

For now, many Brotherhood members are on a charm offensive.  In recent weeks, they have attended a cocktail party at the residence of Ambassador Patterson and been feted as guests of honor at a British Embassy reception for U.K. companies doing business in Egypt.  Some Brotherhood members even criticized the military-backed government’s recent crackdown on foreign-funded nongovernment organizations, including the indictments of 16 American civil society workers.

The crackdown on the groups, accused of working illegally in Egypt to destabilize the country and receiving illegal foreign funding, plunged U.S.-Egypt ties to their lowest point in decades.

The Brotherhood has received multiple delegations of foreign investors, including J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. and Morgan Stanley.  The Brotherhood is meeting with executives from leading U.S. corporations that operate in Egypt, including oil and gas producer Apache Corp., Coca-Cola Co., General Electric Co. and General Motors Co.

The meetings are part of a broad, tentative rapprochement between the West and the Islamist forces coming to power as part of the Arab Spring.  Advocates of engagement with the region’s Islamists have maintained that integrating these movements into politics is the surest means of moderating them, and now that thesis is suddenly being tested on a broad stage.

There was an earlier test.  In 2002, Turkey’s Islamist Justice and Development Party came to power after a year in which that country’s economy had shrunk by 5.7%, inflation had soared 55%, and the Turkish lira had lost 51% of its value.

The Islamic party oversaw the implementation of a stringent IMF austerity package, opened up the country to foreign investment, and sold off state-run companies.  In the decade since, Turkey has seen consistent growth and is one of the strongest emerging markets in the world.  The party also changed Turkey’s foreign policy, shifting away from its former close allies in Israel and the West.

The Brotherhood frequently cites the Islamist party in Turkey as a governance model it hopes to emulate.

Leading the charm charge for the Brotherhood is a new crop of polished Brotherhood businessmen.  They wear tailored suits and Burberry ties, tote leather-encased iPads, and speak fluent English.

Mr. Haddad, the Brotherhood’s foreign-affairs adviser, earned an M.B.A. in England and has impressed Western diplomats, investors and Egyptian businessmen with his grasp of economic and global affairs.

Another new face is Hassan Malek, a furniture importer who is heading the Brotherhood’s Businessman Development Association, which will try to boost foreign investment.

BROBIZ_ALT

David Degner for The Wall Street JournalThe Brotherhood’s Business Development Association meets with a Turkish delegation.

How much sway these pragmatists will ultimately carry in an organization long dominated by conservative elements remains to be seen.  But Mr. Malek’s rise suggests that some of the movement’s heavyweights are firmly behind the recent pro-West and pro-business outreach.  Mr. Malek is the right-hand man and longtime business partner of Khairat Shater, the Brotherhood’s second in charge, and a leading candidate for prime minister if the Brotherhood tries to form a government down the road.

Mr. Malek and Mr. Shater were released from prison in March 2011.  A few weeks later, Mr. Malek received an anxious phone call from J.P. Morgan Chase.  “The Muslim Brotherhood will meet us?” the caller nervously asked, according to Mr. Malek’s account.  Of course he would, said Mr. Malek.

“We had lots of questions for them,” said Mr. Malek.  “Will you deal with us?  How will you invest in Egypt?  What are your criteria for where and how much you invest?  What is your analysis of our economy?”  A J.P. Morgan official confirmed the meeting.  The problem is that almost everyone’s analysis of the Egyptian economy is pretty grim right now.  Short of cash, the military government turned to local banks for loans and began spending down Egypt’s $43.7 billion stockpile of foreign reserves.  Those reserves now sit at $13.6 billion, less than three months’ worth of imports, according to the central bank.

As ratings firms downgraded Egypt four times over the past year, the government has had to pay wary lenders steadily higher interest rates, which have jumped to 15% from 9% a year ago.  As they heard such appraisals, said Ahmed Heikal, chairman of Citadel, the private-equity firm, “the Brothers became very sensitive to the concerns of institutional international investors.”

BROBIZ_jmp

One concern was what the Brotherhood’s Islamist agenda might do to tourism, an industry worth $13 billion a year to Egypt and employing 11% of the work force.  During the recent campaign for parliament, some Brotherhood candidates advocated banning alcohol sales and forcing Western tourists to cover up on Egypt’s beaches.

When Essam el-Eryan, a member of the movement’s leadership bureau, met with an influential Egyptian business association in January, he was bombarded with worried questions about the future of tourism in Egypt, according to several people present.

A few weeks later, in early February, Mr. Eryan met with tourism operators.  He had a surprising message:  “He said very clearly:  beer and bikinis are OK,” a businessman who attended recalled.  Mr. Eryan couldn’t be reached to comment.

No one believes the Brotherhood is suddenly pro-bikinis and beer.  But it is hard to find a member willing to publicly denounce such vices nowadays.  “We can’t tell people how to dress when they can’t put food in their stomach,” said Mr. Haddad.

The group has toned down its public stance on America as well.  When Washington tapped Ms. Patterson to be the new ambassador to Egypt shortly after the uprising last year, Mr. Malek strode up to her the first chance he got at a reception at the Turkish ambassador’s house and asked for a meeting at the U.S. Embassy.  She agreed.

The relationship between the U.S. and the Brotherhood has grown.  Before the uprising, the Brotherhood rarely met U.S. officials and when it did it was with low-level diplomats.  In the past year, U.S. officials and Brotherhood officials say there have been dozens of meetings between the two sides.

After the movement’s parliamentary win, Ms. Patterson visited the movement’s supreme guide, Mohammed Badie, at the organization’s modest headquarters in Cairo’s Manial neighborhood.

If Washington is softening its view on the Brotherhood, there are signs the Brotherhood is hearing more of what Washington has to say.  At the cocktail party at Ms. Patterson’s residence in mid-January, a half-dozen leading Egyptian businessmen pressed two skeptical Brotherhood members, Messrs. Haddad and Malek, on the need for Egypt to accept the IMF loan, according to several people present.  The members didn’t partake when cocktails were served, but they impressed those in attendance.

“They kept asking, ‘Should we go for the IMF loan or not,’ and of course, we were all saying, ‘Yes, yes, yes!’ ” recalls Hisham Fahmy, the director of the American Chamber of Commerce in Egypt.  “And they were like, ‘OK, why?’ ”

As for the Brotherhood, the IMF loan began looking more like a lifeline than a Western plot.  “There was real skepticism inside the group” about any money coming from the IMF, said Mr. Haddad.  “On the other hand, we also know we need IMF expertise in how to reform our economy, how to close tax loopholes, deal with budget deficits, etc.”

As they prepared for the IMF meeting, the Brotherhood’s economic and political leaders hunkered down in late January in their headquarters, according to Mr. Haddad, who said he was there.  For hours they hashed out one of the first big policy positions the group would take.

The Brotherhood came out in support of the loan in principle.  Members said they had yet to be given access to the government’s books, without which they didn’t feel they had sufficient information to take a definitive position.

That satisfied the IMF, and a loan package is now widely expected to be approved within weeks, say people familiar with the negotiations.

“It’s been an extreme crash course for us and it came to a head that day,” said Mr. Haddad.  “Remember, for 60 years we were working underground and now we’ve come out into the light and are staring directly into the sun.  We’re all blinking and rubbing our eyes, like the Chilean miners.  To adapt to this takes time and we don’t have time.

Write to Charles Levinson at charles.levinson@wsj.com

2 of 2: Muslim Brotherhood Looks Away from West to Governance by Sharia Law (2.22.2012)

Please also see  1 of 2: Muslim Brotherhood Looks West to 3.2 Billion Dollar IMF Loan (2.17.2012)  for this exploration into understanding the nature and importance of the Muslim Brotherhood as relating to whether or not they represent a threat to the West.  An introduction to the two articles is presented there.

An excellent, more in-depth look can be found in this recent book:  Boykin, Lt. General William, Frank J. Gaffney, Jr. and 17 others.  Shariah:  The Threat To America:  An Excercise in Competitive Analysis (Report of Team B II).  Center For Security Policy, 2010.

See also:  Muslim Brotherhood Resource Update from 20 April 2013.  –SB

Reuters Africa

http://af.reuters.com/article/libyaNews/idAFL5E8DMA4J20120222?sp=true

Tunisia, Egypt Islamists signal bigger religion role

Wed Feb 22, 2012 4:50pm GMT

* Islamists in both countries strike more Islamic tones

* Tunisia drafts new constitution, Egypt prepares prez vote

* New focus comes after months of reassuring comments

By Tom Heneghan, Religion Editor

PARIS, Feb 22 (Reuters)- After months of reassuring secularist critics, Islamist politicians in Tunisia and Egypt have begun to lay down markers about how Muslim their states should be — and first signs show they want more religion than previously admitted.

Islamist parties swept the first free elections in both countries in recent months after campaigns that stressed their readiness to work with the secularists they struggled with in the Arab Spring revolts against decades-long dictatorships.

With political deadlines looming, the Tunisian coalition led by the reformist Islamist Ennahda party and the head of Egypt’s influential Muslim Brotherhood both made statements this week revealing a stronger emphasis on Islam in government.

Popular List, an Ennahda coalition member tasked with writing Tunisia’s new constitution, announced on Monday its draft called Islam “the principle source of legislation” — a phrase denoting laws based on the sharia moral and legal code.

On Tuesday, Egyptian Brotherhood leader Mohamed Badie said his group wanted a president with “an Islamic background.”  That term is vague, but not as vague as the conciliatory “consensus candidate” talk heard from most parties until now.

Secularists in both countries warned voters against trusting the Islamists and these subtle changes could have come straight from a secularist playbook on how Islamists would gradually insert more religion into the political and legal systems.

TAKING GHANNOUCHI AT HIS WORD

Ennahda leader Rachid Ghannouchi, a leading reformist Muslim thinker during his years in London exile, reassured secularists last year by agreeing with them that the first article of Tunisia’s constitution should remain unchanged.

The article, which said Tunisia’s language was Arabic and religion Islam, was “just a description of reality … without any legal implications, he told Reuters in November.  “There will be no other references to religion in the constitution.”

In the draft constitution, Islam is described as Tunisia’s religion “and the principal source of its legislation.”

“Using Islamic sharia as a principle source of legislation will guarantee freedom, justice, social equaliy, consultation, human rights and the dignity of all its people, men and women,” it says.

Mentioning sharia means all laws must be consistent with Islam, a condition found in many constitutions in Muslim countries.  This can be interpreted broadly, or strictly if those vetting the legislation impose a narrow reading of Islam.

Reaction in Tunis to the draft has been muted so far because Ghannouchi is planning a news conference on Thursday where he will probably have to declare Ennahda’s position on it.

Hachmi Hamdi, who supported Ennahda before forming Popular List, said the draft was more Islamic than expected because “the public that voted for us is a conservative public that wants sharia as the principle source of the constitution.”

EGYPTIAN PRESIDENTIAL POLITICS

In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood has decided not to present its own candidate for the presidential election due in June and argued until now that it wanted a candidate acceptable to all.

Even Emad Abdel Ghaffour, head of the leading Salafi Islamist Nour Party, told this to Reuters two weeks ago.  He said the sharia mention in Egypt’s constitution should be retained without being tightened, as more hardline Salafis have urged.

But Badie told the daily newspaper of the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party on Tuesday that “the candidate must have an Islamic background.”

“It’s clear now the Brotherhood are willing to throw their weight into the ring …to support someone who is in line with Islamic values and is sympathetic to Islamic law,” said Shadi Hamid, an expert on Islamist groups based at the Brookings Doha Center.  “That will have major implications for the race.”

Badie’s comments seemed to rule out Brotherhood support for Amr Moussa, a former Egyptian foreign minister and Arab League secretary general seen as one of the frontrunners.

Lying between the two countries, Libya is also transforming its political system after ousting Muammar Gaddafi but has not yet held elections or begun work on a new constitution.

The chairman of the ruling National Transitional Council, Mustafa Abdul Jalal, has said Tripoli would take sharia as the source for its laws.  Hundreds of Libyan Muslim Brothers and Salafists rallied last month to demand sharia law.

(Reporting By Tom Heneghan)

© Thomson Reuters 2012 All rights reserved

My Travels: 2. Ruins of Megiddo, Ruins of Mortal Power

photobucket – iam733

I wrote this college essay, “Ruins of Megiddo, Ruins of Mortal Power,” in March 1990 at the age of thirty-five.  It was based on my 1985 and 1988 travels to Israel, specifically to tel Megiddo.  I’ve updated it a bit to reflect present-day relevance.

Now an archaeological site, it’s name in Hebrew is har Magedon, which translates to “mountain of Megiddo.”  Har Magedon is known most universally as Armageddon.

A tel is a mound of earth that has formed over the ruins of an ancient city, or over the ruins of many cities, each on top of the other.  The cities within tel Megiddo were destroyed and rebuilt twenty times before being covered for ages by the wind and earth.  Nearby this tel, in the Valley of Jezreel, the Israeli Air Force sends fighter planes into the skies over the ancient ruins.  It has been feared since the time of the biblical prophets that har Magedon (Armageddon) will be the site of our world’s final destruction.

Dr. Carl Rasmussen

Ruins of Megiddo, Ruins of Mortal Power

Stephen Bort/1990,2012

The fields of the valley of Jezreel, among the northern hills of Galilee, the southern hills of Samaria, the eastern Jordan Valley and the western Mediterranean Sea have the appearance of a chessboard.  Squared fields of early emerald-green wheat alternate with squares of reddish-brown, iron-rich soil.  Too much blood has darkened the brilliance of these colors.  Throughout 3458 years of recorded history, beginning with the siege of 1468 B.C. by Egypt’s Pharoah Thutmose III, mortal powers have clashed on this fertile battlefield that lies strategically at the crossroads of the three continents of Africa, Asia and Europe.  This battlefield is known universally as Armageddon (har Magedon in Hebrew, meaning “mountain of Megiddo”).

This tel bears more of a resemblance to a grass-covered mound of earth than to a mountain.  The walled city of Megiddo, first settled about 3500 B.C., destroyed and rebuilt twenty times and finally abandoned in 332 B.C., lies in ruin within the mound.  Tel Megiddo is like a scab over a chronic wound in the earth’s surface persistently forming from the blowing dust, the creeping grass and time.  Archaeologists opened the wound in 1905, again in 1925, three times in the 1960’s and then again in 1971.  They probed and analyzed the exposed contents, recorded and published their findings and expanded scientific and historical knowledge toward a fuller understanding of the people who once inhabited the varied levels of life and commerce.  For those who have ever walked among the ruins, there are other dimensions that rise like spirits to one’s mind.  Manifest in the ruins of Megiddo are three characteristics of the mortal power that has passed and continues to pass through human hands.  Power is ephemeral, like a daylily whose colorful flowers bloom with dawn and fade at sunset.  It survives only until a greater power blooms and conquers.  Power is segretative, dividing people into classes.  Power is prodigal, exploiting the class-imposed people.  It’s destructive and wasteful of human life.

Whatever magnitude of strength a ruling power attained within Megiddo, a stronger power always developed, challenged the rule and seized control.  The twenty sandwiched layers of ruins, containing limestone blocks cut from nearby quarries, gold jewelry, carved ivory figurines and fragments of oven-fired clay pottery attest to the appearance of twenty adversaries, each of greater strength than the previous.  The space between the twentieth and the first layers has a height of only fifty feet.  Pottery fragments found in the space and carbon-dated have revealed that the settlement of Megiddo began with Chalcolithic caves of 4000 – 3000 B.C. and ended with the Persian abandonment of the site in 332 B.C.  Since then, control of power over Megiddo and the valley of Jezreel has successively passed from the Persians to the Greeks, the Romans, the Arabs, the Crusaders, the Turks, the British and currently the Israelis.

Systems of power within Megiddo divided the people by class and privilege.  An earthen path ascends from the lower fields to the gate complex continuing upwards to the palace area, the highest level of the mound.  The mixture of pottery fragments with common field stones throughout the lower fields indicates that most of the ancient people of Megiddo had lived outside of the walls.  The field stones along with goat skins had formed their shelters.  Artifacts of monetary value were only found higher up the path and beyond the gate.  Collections of gold jewelry and carved ivories were discovered within the walls and near the gate.  A woman’s purse dating to the time of the ruins was found in a hollow portion of the outer wall.  Composed of leather, the purse contained a mirror, a comb, a mascara brush, two colors of mascara and charm amulets.  At the highest level of the inner-city are massive limestone blocks outlining the 92-foot-by-69-foot foundation of the palace area and governor’s residence.  Skirting the outline are the remains of the grain silo and water system, both within walking distance of the palace.  During days of intense heat, the cool Mediterranean breezes pleasure best at this height.

Struggle for daily existence and fear of invasion were the fruits of power within Megiddo.  From the vantage point of the palace area, looking down, the uphill climb from the lower fields to the grain silo and water system is observable.  The ruins of the granary consist of a 36-foot-diameter circular wall of stones descending into the mound about twenty-three feet along with two stone staircases following the circular form.  One descends to the bottom (for depositing the grain) and the other ascends to the top (for returning to the fields).  The ruins of the water system include a 230-foot underground tunnel extending into the city from a natural spring and a 98-foot descending shaft joining the tunnel near the inside of the west wall.  A staircase leads halfway down the shaft.  From here, the workers who were in need of water had to lower their urns by rope and then pull the full urns up.  During sieges, the granary and water system were not accessible to the people who lived outside of the walls and the secure gates.  Sieges have been known to last for as long as three years.  The pottery fragments that are scattered throughout the fields are all that remain of the people who lived outside of the walls.  They were always the first to die, left without grain or water and exposed to massacre, rape and slavery by the invading army.  Eventually, the blood of the elite inside of the walls was also spent in the soil of the valley of Jezreel as the new power mercilessly secured its control.

In the thousands of years that have passed, only technology seems to have changed in the pursuit of mortal power.  Today, in the skies overhead, U.S. designed jet fighters from the Israeli Air Force soar directly over Megiddo, banking to the right above the ruins and gliding downward to the Air Force Base in the valley.  The deafening roar of the low-flying jets drowns out all other sounds.  Heat-seeking missiles are clearly visible under-wing, like poised arrows.  The ruins tremble during the arrogant, earth-shaking fly-by’s.  The transience of the jet fighters piercing into and out of one’s range of senses mirrors the nature of the power that has passed among the many rulers of Megiddo.  The lucrative science of U.S., Soviet and Chinese weaponry renews mortal power while madmen like Assad and Ahmedinejad goad us ever closer to Armageddon.

References:

Ben-David, Shemaya.  Megiddo:  Armageddon.  1979.

Brubacher, Gordon.  “Seven Generalizations About a Tel,”  “The Daughters of Megiddo” and “Guided Tour of the Ruins of Megiddo.”  Lectures tape-recorded by myself at Megiddo, Israel:  March 23, 1988.

O’ Conner, Jerome Murphy.  The Holy Land:  An Archaeological Guide from Earliest Times to 1700.  Oxford:  Oxford U.P., 1986.

For an outstanding historical fiction of how civilizations rise and fall within a single site, eventually falling and becoming a tel, I highly recommend:  Michener, James.  The Source.  New York:  Random House, 1965.

My Travels:  1.  Thoreau’s “Walking” (1862)

My Travels:  3.  Corpus Christi, Texas

My Travels: 1. Thoreau’s “Walking” (1862)

Sunrise at the summit of Mt. Sinai

The above photo was taken in 1985 at the summit of Mt. Sinai, in the Sinai Desert, which was in Egyptian hands at that time.  I’m the thirty-year-old bearded one in the background.  We began the climb at about 2 a.m. that morning and arrived at the top in time to watch the sunrise, take photos and meditate in silence for a while.

I still to this day will not let go of the running shoes that I was wearing that morning.  Maybe it says something more that, coming from America, I was wearing running shoes to walk some of the holiest of earthly paths, this one sacred to Islam, Jews and Christians alike.  I’ve since purchased “walking” shoes.

I’ve been fortunate to have traveled quite a bit in my life, so I thought I would use this blog to elaborate some, not only on my specific travels, but on the idea of travel itself.  There is only one writing, in my mind, that I could possibly begin this path with, and that is the essay, “Walking,” by Henry David Thoreau.

According to the 2007 anthology entitled The American Idea:  The Best of The Atlantic Monthly, edited by Robert Vare, “Walking” was “adapted from a favorite lecture that Thoreau had first given at the Lyceum in Concord, Massachusetts, eleven years before” its June 1862 publication in The Atlantic Monthly.  Thoreau, sadly, died one month before seeing his essay published.  This writing is, “in the opinion of many Thoreau scholars,” according to Vare’s introduction to the essay, “the author’s quintessential essay . . . arguably [his] most fervent declaration of faith in the moral primacy of the natural world.”

According to Phillip Lopate, the editor of the 1995 anthology, The Art of the Personal Essay, Thoreau “fixes on a subject that is close to the very nature of essay writing: walking.”  He continues, “An essay is akin to taking a mental stroll.  Thoreau loved excursions of all kinds.  Here he celebrates the free-flowing, unstructured nature of the walk, a kind of basic research of the mind, which he connects with the virtue of wilderness and keeping some land uncultivated.

My own love of this essay could very well begin and end with its first two paragraphs (which I will share in a moment), except that the whole essay is essential reading.  But it’s the meandering sentences of these first two paragraphs that focus so colorfully for me, as light through a prism, the very heart of what it means to take off on foot — whether REALLY on foot, or simply in the mind.  He begins with a cosmically simple definition of the word sauntering:  –SB

I have met with but one or two persons in the course of my life who understood the art of Walking, that is, of taking walks, — who had a genius, so to speak, for sauntering:  which word is beautifully derived “from idle people who roved about the country, in the Middle Ages, and asked charity, under pretence of going a la Sainte Terre,” to the Holy Land, till the children exclaimed, “There goes a Sainte Terre,” a Saunterer,–a Holy-LanderThey who never go to the Holy Land in their walks, as they pretend, are indeed mere idlers and vagabonds; but they who do go there are saunterers in the good sense, such as I mean.  Some, however, would derive the word from sans terre, without land or a home, which, therefore, in the good sense, will mean, having no particular home, but equally at home everywhere.  For this is the secret of successful sauntering.  He who sits still in a house all the time may be the greatest vagrant of all; but the saunterer, in the good sense, is no more vagrant than the meandering river, which is all the while sedulously seeking the shortest course to the sea.  But I prefer the first, which, indeed, is the most probable derivation.  For every walk is a sort of crusade, preached by some Peter the Hermit in us, to go forth and reconquer this Holy Land from the hands of the Infidels.

It is true, we are but faint-hearted crusaders, even the walkers, nowadays, who undertake no persevering, never-ending enterprises.  Our expeditions are but tours, and come round again at evening to the old hearthside from which we set out.  Half the walk is but retracing our steps.  We should go forth on the shortest walk, perchance, in the spirit of undying adventure, never to return, — prepared to send back our embalmed hearts only as relics to our desolate kingdoms.  If you are ready to leave father and mother, and brother and sister, and wife and child and friends, and never see them again, — if you have paid your debts, and made your will, and settled all your affairs, and are a free man, then you are ready for a walk.

Lopate, Phillip, ed.  The Art Of The Personal Essay:  An Anthology from the Classical Era to the Present.  New York:  Anchor Books, 1995.  pp 479-504.

Vare, Robert, ed.  The American Idea:  The Best of The Atlantic Monthly:  150 Years of Writers and Thinkers Who Shaped Our History.  New York:  Doubleday, 2007.  pp 431-444.

My Travels: 2. Ruins of Megiddo, Ruins of Mortal Power

My Travels:  3.  Corpus Christi, Texas