Islamisamizdat

Shaykh Daoud’s Blog

Archive for June 2008

Considering Injustices

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I suppose we all have something evocative that touches a nerve, and sums things up for us. To me, and about what has been inflicted on southern Africa, it is the song Sarie Marais.

I grew up with this song. People used to sing or hum it at home. We used to sing it at Boy Scouts’ camp fires. And it was generally a popular tune, vaguely associated in my mind with the early years of the twentieth century.

The story of the song is in itself a saga. It is, of course, a love song of sorts. The setting appears to be the Second Boer War about 1900, from the reference to British troops as die Kakies (“the Khakis”), and the hero has to flee from them “far across the sea” (ver oor die see wegstuur).

The girl likely ended up in a concentration camp from the inference in the chorus O bring my t’rug na die ou Transvaal, daar waar my Sarie woon…(“O bring me back to the old Transvaal, there where my Sarie lived…”); and died there, as thousands of women and children did, and was buried on the farm, which is what the Afrikaners did: daar onder in die mielies by die groen doring boom, daar woon my Sarie Marais (“down there in the mealies by the green thorn tree, there lives my Sarie Marais”).

Fortunately, none of my family was involved in the Boer Wars, although my grandmother’s eldest brother very nearly was. He was kicked on the shin by his horse and spent some time in hospital during which his regiment shipped to the Cape; so he went to America instead.

The two Boer Wars left deep scars both among the British and the Afrikaners. In a way it is an acknowledgement of how deeply the British themselves were affected by what was done, and how the Afrikaner farmers fought, that the song became so popular in a sad sort of way; and that the Royal Marines Commandos adopted it in 1953 as their particular march.

Even the use of the term Commando is a recognition of the Boers, because that is how they organised themselves – into horse-born Commandos armed with Mauser rifles, who struck swiftly and with daring. Their marksmanship was legendary, and the casualties sustained by British and Australian troops were high, as can be gauged from a read-up of the Battle of Spion Kop (Slag van Spioenkop) fought in January 1900.

The British invented the concentration camp during the Boer War. The idea perhaps was sound enough in theory, and was used in a more sensitive way during the Malayan Emergency (1948-1960) with the kampong baharu/new village programme. The families of the Afrikaner farmers were rounded up and concentrated in these camps away from the areas of operations, thus denying succour to the Commandos.

The tragedy was that logistically the British in southern Africa were incapable of administering these camps properly, and when contagious epidemic diseases started spreading they were unable to contain them or to treat them and so thousands of women and children died both of sickness and starvation. It was a shameful atrocity brought about by incompetence and indifference.

And yet, despite all, the South Africans, even the Boers, became a vital part of the British Empire and Commonwealth, and fought bravely in both the First and Second World Wars. My mother’s brother, who was a regimental medical officer with a Sikh battalion of the 8th (Indian) Infantry Division, used to remember being relieved at Monte Cassino by a South African division and how they marched forward past them with pride.

Sarie Marais really did live, although some time before the Second Boer War. She was born Sara Johanna Adriana Maré at Uitenhage, Cape Province, on 10 May 1840. She married Louis Jacobus Nel in 1857 at Pietermaritzburg and died, aged 37, and was buried on their farm Welgegund, near Stanger, KwaZulu-Natal, near the Drakensberg. One of her sons was Dominee Paul Nel, who was the field chaplain of one Commando under General Louis Botha, and the song was supposedly produced to honour him.

It is an adaptation of a song from the American Civil War, “Sweet Ellie Rhee”, which was included in a song album called the Cavendish Song Book that Ella de Wet, the wife of Botha’s military attaché Nicolaas Jacobus de Wet, used to play and sing on the piano. The adapted song for a long time was actually called My Sarie Maré and was relatively recently changed to Sarie Marais.

As we watch helplessly the appalling tragedies in southern Africa unfolding before us, and see uncomprehendingly our politicastro leaders doing nothing, or nothing very much of consequence, I wonder what and why was done to these peoples? If one follows that line of thinking too far one begins to feel that the catalogue of incompetence and support for the wrong people may not actually have been accidental; one begins to question just whose agenda has been served. And that verse from Souratu-l Isra that begins la tufsidunna fi-l ardi marratayn… keeps echoing in my mind.

Why was Bishop Muzorewa not supported, and Rhodesia-Zimbabwe handed over to the vicious thug Robert Mugabe? We knew exactly what he was like, and what his Zanu-PF would do. A first cousin of my mother’s spent many years in Umtali, and latterly in Harare, and told us all about Mugabe. He died this year very angry at the British government.

Why was Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi and Inkatha not supported; why was De Klerk coerced into handing over power to the Xhosa-dominated ANC? Because behind Mandela was a nasty coteries of extremely unpleasant people. We now see the consequences of that unfolding all over South Africa. Was it really about control of the gold fields, like Iraq involved oil?

And to me Sarie Marais sums it up. And forever the hero will sing

O bring my terug na die ou Transvaal
Daar waar my Sarie woon
Daar onder in die mielies by die groen doring boom
Daar woon my Sarie Marais.

But her grave stone has fallen over now, and the grave is neglected. And no-one is growing mealies anymore, and the thorn tree has died. What did we do? How will we answer for it?


Written by Daoud Rosser-Owen

June 28, 2008 at 5:34 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Beaton’s Prayer

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The Beatons were a clan of physicians who flourished in the area of the Kingdom of Dalriada (which eventually became the “Lordship of the Isles and the Kingdom of Man”) – essentially the region of Scotland and Northern Ireland occupied today by Argyll and Bute, the mid and southern Hebrides, and the Ulster counties east of the Bann Rivers – centred on Loch Finlaggan on the Island of Islay.

By the Middle Ages, the Beatons seem to have settled largely around Skye, via Armagh, but most islands and clans had Beaton physicians who dispensed a sophisticated medicine using Al-Razi’s Pharmacopoeia and Ibn Sina’s Qanoun. They had acquired their skills, it would appear, in Islamic Spain.

This prayer is famous in Gaelic Scotland, largely because of the incongruous, but evocative, phrase “mar an t-uisge air druim a’ gheòidh”/”like the rain on the goose’s back”. I have taken some liberties with the translation, substituting “the Unseen” for sìthichean. This word appears usually as “the fairies”, but it doesn’t really mean that: the best translation would probably be “the Jinn”, as the sìdhe and its inhabitant sìthichean in Celtic belief correspond fairly closely to that world identified as such in Islam. But it’s a good prayer, and one that Muslims could happily use:

Ùrnaigh a’ Pheutanaich

(grace said by Farquhar Beaton, who fl c 1750-c 1850)

O Thì bheannaichte, cùm ruinn, agus cuidich leinn, agus na tuiteadh do ghràs oirnn mar an t-uisge air druim a’ gheòidh. An uair a bhios fear ‘na éiginn air gob rubha, cuidich féin leis; agus bi mun cuairt duinn air tìr, agus maille ruinn. Gléidh an t-aosda agus an t-òga, ar mnathan agus ar pàisdean, ar spréidh agus ar feudal, o chumhachd agus o cheannas nan sìthichean, agus o mhì-rùn gach droch shùla. Bitheadh slighe réidh romhainn, agus crìoch shona air ar turas.

Beaton’s Prayer

O Blessed One, provide for us, and help us, and let not Thy Grace fall on us like the rain on the goose’s back. When a man is in danger on the point of a promontory, do thou succour him; and be about us on land, and along with us. Preserve the old and the young, our womenfolk and our children, our sheep and our cattle, from the power and from the dominion of the Unseen, and from the malice of every evil eye. Let a smooth path be before us, and a happy end to our journey.

Written by Daoud Rosser-Owen

June 28, 2008 at 1:18 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Warnings from the Poet of Empire

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Rudyard Kipling

MacDonough’s Song

Whether the State can loose and bind
In Heaven as well as on Earth:
If it be wiser to kill mankind
Before or after the birth –
These are matters of high concern
Where State-kept schoolmen are;
But Holy State (we have lived to learn)
Endeth in Holy War.

Whether The People be led by The Lord,
Or lured by the loudest throat:
If it be quicker to die by the sword
Or cheaper to die by vote –
These are things we have dealt with once,
(And they will not rise from their grave)
For Holy People, however it runs,
Endeth in wholly Slave.

Whatsoever, for any cause,
Seeketh to take or give
Power above or beyond the Laws,
Suffer it not to live!
Holy State or Holy King –
Or Holy People’s Will –
Have no truck with the senseless thing.
Order the guns and kill!
Saying – after – me:-

Once there was The People – Terror gave it birth;
Once there was The People and it made a Hell of Earth.
Earth arose and crushed it. Listen, O ye slain!
Once there was The People – it shall never be again!

Recessional

God of our fathers, known of old,
Lord of our far-flung battle-line,
Beneath whose awful Hand we hold

Dominion over palm and pine –
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget – lest we forget!

The tumult and the Shouting dies;
The Captains and the Kings depart:
Still stands Thine ancient sacrifice,
An humble and a contrite heart.
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget – lest we forget!

Far-called, our navies melt away;
On dune and headland sinks the fire:
Lo, all our pomp of yesterday
Is one with Nineveh and Tyre!
Judge of the Nations, spare us yet,
Lest we forget – lest we forget!

If, drunk with sight of power, we loose
Wild tongues that have not Thee in awe,
Such boastings as the Gentiles use,
Or lesser breeds without the Law –
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget – lest we forget!

For heathen heart that puts her trust
In reeking tube and iron shard,
All valiant dust that builds on dust,
And guarding, calls not Thee to guard.
For frantic boast and foolish word –
Thy mercy on Thy People, Lord!

In common with many Britons, I share a remote attachment to the places of our Empire: I have kinsmen buried there, from Delhi Ridge to The Frontier, Karachi and Chittagong. I have good friends in Malaysia and Singapore, the scene of my End of Empire service to ‘God, Queen, and Country’. I have cousins, some fairly remote, in Australia, Canada, and New Zealand; and clansmen and women in the Carolinas. And I was brought up with Rudyard Kipling, from the “Mowgli Stories” in The Jungle Book, through “The Elephant’s Child” and others in The Just So Stories, to his “Barrack Room Ballads” and other poems.

Rudyard Kipling would generally be considered the poet of the British Empire par excellence; but, contrary to popular belief, he was far from being a jingoist or a racist. He was born and spent his early years in India and, in common with thousands of his fellow countrymen and women, was as a result always something of an outsider ‘back home’ and maintained an enduring love of the sub-continent. He lived for a while in America. During his early twenties he worked as a journalist back in India again. And perhaps his most typical work is the somewhat autobiographical Kim, rather than The Jungle Book in spite of Disney and Hollywood. Politically he was a sort of Tory (that is ‘Tory’ as opposed to ‘Conservative’ – an outlook that, though not being libertarian, shares a lot with ‘Minarchism’), though many of his views can’t be so easily pidgeon-holed.

T. S. Eliot, the American poet who adopted Britain as his home and was also politically a Tory of a kind, published an Essay in appreciation entitled “Rudyard Kipling” on 26 September 1941. In it he wrote, “we must [recognise] that for Kipling the Empire was not merely an idea… it was something the reality of which he felt. And in his expression of his feeling he was certainly not aiming at flattery of national, racial or imperial vanity, or attempting to propagate a political programme: he was aiming to communicate the awareness of something of which he felt that most people were very imperfectly aware. It was an awareness of grandeur, certainly, but it was much more an awareness of responsibility… [but he] had always been far from uncritical of the defects and wrongs of the British Empire…”

Several of his poems are warnings, or possibly rebukes, to the more jingoistic and Social Darwinist of his fellow countrymen. MacDonough’s Song is one such. The Gods of the Copybook Headings, published in 1919 after the trauma of the First World War in which his only son had been killed, is another.

Kipling’s famous poem – some might call it a hymn, according to Eliot – Recessional, published in The Times to commemorate Queen Victoria’s Jubilee in 1897 drew outrage down on his head at the thought of the likely ‘mortality’ of the Empire. But all of these deserve to be considered afresh in the Brave New World of America’s Empire for the warnings against imperial hubris that they contain.

Taking as given that Kipling was a believer in the British Empire, “but held a firm belief in what it should and might be”, his poetry shows that criticism, rebukes, and warnings do not of themselves add up to disloyalty or lack of patriotism – something that seems to have conceptually passed by many in American politics, media, and academia.

He was quite a devout man, in a somewhat eclectic way, and was deeply aware of the mortality of it all, and that there are always consequences: we will have to give account of ourselves and our actions on the Day of Reckoning. In 1934, he wrote for The Pageant of Parliament the metaphysical poem, inspired by the old Catholic hymn “Non Nobis Domine!” (‘not to us, O Lord’), that uses that title. It aims to pull us up short, and to remind us just to whom is the praise and glory.

‘Non Nobis Domine!’

Non nobis Domine!
Not unto us, O Lord!
The Praise or Glory be
Of any deed or word;
For in Thy Judgment lies
To crown or bring to nought
All knowledge or device
That Man has reached or wrought.

And we confess our blame –
How all too high we hold
That noise which men call Fame,
That dross which men call Gold.
For these we undergo
Our hot and godless days,
But in our hearts we know
Not unto us the Praise.

O Power by Whom we live –
Creator, Judge, and Friend,
Upholdingly forgive
Nor fail us at the end:
But grant us well to see
In all our piteous ways –
Non nobis Domine!
Not unto us the Praise!

Written by Daoud Rosser-Owen

June 28, 2008 at 12:46 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Starting Again

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It’s nearly 1st July 2008.

I stopped posting the blog islamisamizdat sometime last year, and eventually deleted it from blogspot. There were various reasons for this, some of them personal and familial. I wasn’t very happy with blogspot either, and so I’m hoping that WordPress works better.

Anyway, I’m now starting it again at a new home. Please give some feed-back to my posts, or those of guest writers. It’s quite frustrating to feel that one is writing and no-one is reading, and so it helps to know that someone has read what has been written – even if they disagree with it, it’s nice to know that too. So please give your comments: I’d like them to be helpful, and not shilling or off-the-wall stuff (both of which I’ll moderate and delete). They don’t have to be agreeing – I’m quite happy to entertain disagreement – but I would like them to be polite and civilised.

Written by Daoud Rosser-Owen

June 28, 2008 at 1:53 am

Posted in Uncategorized