Women of Afghanistan

"In Mazar stands the Tomb of Rabia Balkhi, a beautiful, tragic medieval poetess. She was the first woman of her time to write love poetry in Persian and died tragically after her brother slashed her wrists as punishment for sleeping with a slave lover. She wrote her last poem in her own blood as she lay dying. For centuries young Uzbek girls and boys treated her tomb with saint-like devotion and would pray there for success in their love affairs. After the Taliban captured Mazar, they placed her tomb out of bounds. Love, even for a medieval saint, was now out of bounds."

from the book Taliban, by Ahmed Rashid


The Early Days of Osama bin Laden

"I felt outraged that an injustice had been committed against the people of Afghanistan. It made me realise that people who take power in the world use their power under different names to subvert others and to force their opinions on them. Yes, I fought there, but my fellow Muslims did much more than I. Many of them died and I am still alive."
- Osama bin Laden

After the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, the CIA actively encouraged resistance -- funneling arms and capital to guerrilla insurgents through Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency. The "Arab-Afghans" were a legion of volunteers from a dozen nations who, together with Osama bin Laden, joined in the noble quest to uphold the dignity of both the Afghan people and the Muslim world. These mujahedin were hailed by Ronald Reagan as "freedom fighters." Later, remnants of these "freedom-fighters" were to become the network of Al-Qaeda.


Old English: Some Etymology

The Word Weird
This has a good root in Old English's wyrd, a word whose bit of linguistic philosophy has no modern equivalent. Loosely, it refers to both the material of fate and the active process of weaving it: the past composes it, our will entwines with it, it pushes the world towards a pattern, but is itself woven by events. Mm... in my head I imagine wyrd as this very mysterious noun who is god of auxiliary verbs -- then I picture the water geyser coming out of Donnie Darko's chest.

But it's more fascinating when you're falling asleep in a dark lecture hall, listening to a bespectacled chief. Imagine: Having just finished a tale of Beowulf's dragon, he pauses to sip his lukewarm coffee, then leans in with the spark of child and quietly remarks how curious it is that the advent of Christian empire, with its kingdoms of heaven and neurotic anxieties, erased away the Early Medieval, beautifully stoic idea of nothing being eternal. What long sentences I write. But kindness (however selective) as state policy -- Jesus, I do owe you some thanks.

Anyway, the modern definition of 'weird' derives from the Norse mythology of the Three Norns: Urðr (wyrd), Verðandi (to be), Skuld (shall) -- better known as The Three Fates or The Wyrd Sisters. From their uncanny appearance has appeared the 'weird' of this day, as in, your face is weird.

The Word Hell

Also from Nordic mythology, Hel is the woman who rules over the cold, misty abode of Helheim, underworld for the unheroic. It's only a borrowed name, but point in fact -- the whole concept of Hell is borrowed from old culture. This totally describes my problem with Christianity: it believes that it owns all human history, but without properly acknowledging or appreciating what that diverse history is made of, and then tries to monopolize the universe in that ignorance and flippant disregard. I resent it, even though I know it's very childish: the sky isn't my sky, and none of history is mine either. But calmly letting religious Darwinism take its course is a lot more difficult when you have a tiny world of your own to protect.

Roman Republic: The Catiline Conspiracy

But at power or wealth, for the sake of which wars, and all kinds of strife, arise among mankind, we do not aim; we desire only our liberty, which no honorable man relinquishes but with life.
- Caius Manilus, rebel general, Conspiracy of Catiline XXXIII

In 62 BC, noble-born Lucius Sergius Catilina capitalized on the grievances of the agrarian class: debt, poverty, lack of voice in government, and organized these disgruntled men into an army to overthrow the Roman Senate. The plot was foiled by Cicerco (Catiline's successful rival for the consulship), and the rebel army ran around for a little until confronted. But "when the battle was over, it was plainly seen what boldness, and what energy of spirit, had prevailed throughout the army of Catiline; for, almost everywhere, every soldier, after yielding up his breath, covered with his corpse the spot which he had occupied when alive. A few, indeed, whom the praetorian cohort had dispersed, had fallen somewhat differently, but all with wounds in front," says Sallust. "Catiline was found far away from his own soldiers among the corpses of his enemies. It would have been a glorious death if he had thus fallen fighting for his country," says Florus. Historians are convinced of his bravery, but will forever be skeptical about the sincerity of his ideals.

The story etched itself into me after rushing in late to my Ancient Mediterranean discussion with a mind full of this strange leader who was his own bravest soldier, only to find all the other students denouncing him as a depraved demagogue. So what! I can't know what kind of person I would have been in those times, but with such a stale Senate in power, I would have wanted to fight together with him.

Sallust's opinion I have to account for, but Cicero is something like an asshole.

His delight, from his youth, had been in civil commotions, bloodshed, robbery, and sedition...His insatiable ambition was always pursuing objects extravagant, romantic, and unattainable.
- Sallust, historian, Conspiracy of Catiline, V

...Nor do I believe that there ever existed so strange a prodigy upon the earth, made up in such a manner of the most various, and different and inconsistent studies and desires.

Cicero, asshole, Pro Caelio V