Charles Cameron is a three-time finalist in the Art of the Future Project’s writing contests for his stories “News Enhancement In An Info Overloaded Age,” “War In Heaven,” and “No Clue”. Progenitor of the game Sembl, he can be found on Twitter @hipbonegamer and at strategy blog Zenpundit.com, where he is the managing editor. He is currently working on a book on religious sanctions for violence titled “Landmines in the Garden.”
August asked me to write a few words for the Art of the Future audience about the importance of understanding theology and faith in our headlong rush toward technological solutions to global problems.
Religious faith is a major driver in many serious problems around the world, terrorism not least among them, but it’s not easily understood by the largely secular policy elites of the western world. Understanding its full force requires both an appropriate level of scholarship, which is rare enough, but also a level of empathic understanding. I’ve tried in my own analytic work to focus on our blind spots – the emotional intensity of religious commitment, particularly in the context of what then-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Martin Dempsey called ISIS’ “apocalyptic, end–of-days strategic vision” among them.
My book choices reflect this interest – and the selection of books on St. Francis in my accompanying illustration zero in on that saint’s unique relationship with Islam, and his meeting with the Sultan Malik al-Kamil at Damietta in Egypt – a highly pertinent episode for our times.
Top Five Books:
Mustafa Hamid & Leah Farrall, The Arabs at War in Afghanistan. Respectful enemies – he, a friend of UBL and Mullah Omar, she, a counter-terrorism expert for the Australian Federal Police – debate and confer across battle lines to draw a detailed picture of AQ structure and history. A unique collaboration.
William McCants, The ISIS Apocalypse. The key to ISIS’ intensity has to do with what then-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Dempsey called their “apocalyptic, end-of-days strategic vision.” McCants masterfully reveals that apocalyptic driver, and the somewhat obscure scriptures on which it is based.
SH Nasr, ed., The Study Quran. With enemies such as ISIS and AQ that are given to quoting scriptural texts, it is important to have a reputable, non-sectarian translation and scholarly commentary on the Quran. This is that book.
Hegghammer & Lacroix, The Meccan Rebellion: The Story of Juhayman al-‘Utaybi Revisited. A slim volume, a delight to hold in the hand, and packed with detailed scholarship on what is arguably the seed moment of contemporary Jihadism.
John Kiser, The Monks of Tibhirine. This book, and Christian de Chergé’s astonishing letter to the jihadists who would shortly martyr him, is an eloquent testament to values we should cherish in a time of brutality and hatred.
The One That Shaped Me The Most:
Hermann Hesse, The Glass Bead Game. The human mind, attuned to variety and complexity yet primed to understand complex matters in binary terms, tends to hold war and peace as poles apart. Musically speaking, war is equivalent to discord, peace to harmony. The musical technique of counterpoint, so central to Bach, plays “voices” against one another in a manner that recognizes their variety and individuality and allows for discord while constantly working to resolve it harmoniously. It thus offers us an analogy for the constant interplay of warlike and peaceable motivations, both within the individual human and among the world’s societies and cultures – an invaluable overview of the natural condition. Hesse’s novelistic Game shows analogy rather than linearity as the key to creative insight, and offers a contrapuntal play of ideas as the overarching architectural structure for comprehending a world of conflict and resolution. It won the Nobel.