Welcome to White Rose Magazine.

Issue XVII

Elliot Toman

How to Remember

How will the acts of October 7, 2023, be remembered years from now? The question means to ask not only what will people know of the 1,200 people killed, 5,400 injured, or the 240 hostages taken by Islamist terrorists in southern Israel. These are statistics, quantifying bodies.

But the question of how to remember, or more precisely, to memorialize the acts perpetrated and not just the statistics, we—architects and artists—must decide: is this to be a dry documentation? Or is it to be an honoring and acknowledgement of all the modes, manners, and intentions, and the resulting victims—dead or alive—of mass murder? And of whom? Of Jewish people—the Jewish People—who are defined not like any mere geographically bordered state or monolithic set of beliefs, but by our collective experience as acceptors to an ancient covenant. Such a defining feature that transcends all the ones that we’re erroneously blamed for—as a race of usurers, blood drinkers, and (European!) “colonizers” inter alia.

To the tortures, the murders, the kidnappings, and the defilements of bodies on that Sabbath morning that we memorialize, we would do well, too, to add the experiences of Jews that transpired beginning the very next day and have continued in all the weeks that followed until now. By this I refer to the rallies and “protests” that were seen in capital cities across Europe and North America.

Were they crowds protesting the rape and slaughter by ununiformed terrorists crossing furtively in the night across their border to lay waste to families in their beds, in their homes, in their kindergarten classrooms? No, these were crowds—hundreds of thousands—rallying in solidarity with “the resistance” to “free Palestine” from the “occupiers” of their “open air prison.” (Never mind that Israel hasn’t governed over Gaza since 2005 and built fences at their own border only to keep out the resulting infiltration of suicide bombers and other terrorists whose now self-governance was purchased by “land for peace.”)

They were mobs calling for “Global Intifada” posing the massacre of Israelis as a deserved “retaliation” against enforcers of “apartheid” and “genocide” (with tragic irony considering it’s Gaza, not Israel, that is forcibly devoid of any ethnic diversity and therefore closer to anything like “apartheid”; and that the killing of babies, toddlers, and unarmed, non-military adults purely because of who they are and not because of anything they’ve done is exactly what is meant by “genocide.”)

This is the what Jews in the rest of the world outside of Israel—and what the rest of the world, not just Jews or Israelis—have woken up to since October 8th.

But have we woken up? Do Jews or non-Jews—from Australia to London to Toronto—see what the object of the Global Intifada is? When the clerics and leaders of Iran—the paterfamilias of modern Jihad—call for death and the end of Israel, it is always in tandem with the call for the same for America. To be deaf to those calls, and to the proximity of the liberties and freedom-derived successes of America with those of Israel—the only free, multicultural, and progressive democracy in the Middle East—is to be asleep to the threat to all of Western civilization. This is what the massacres of October 7, 2023, laid bare, or should have.

It will no doubt fall to the success or failure of any memorial to these events to say whether we have awakened from our slumber or not. Such must be the “what” we refer to in any effective memorial being created in response to the as yet still live threat to ourselves, not merely as Jews, but—as these increasingly frightening mob demonstrations prove—to all of humanity.

It will no doubt fall to the success or failure of any memorial to these events to say whether we have awakened from our slumber or not.

Along with and as part of the questions of what?, we must also ask, by what means is this memorial? With what kind of structure will the answers be framed? Is such a construction an archive? Or is it a device for archiving, like a microscope or a card catalogue? Is it a graveyard for the antiquated and obsolete beliefs of civility? Is it a diorama with mannequins simulating a living if lost world? Is it a bronze warrior on a horse on a pedestal evoking a platonic ideal or the faux-heroism of Social Realist statuary to exalt and archtypify our personal victimhood? Or is it a reliquary full of abandoned artifacts—the swords and helmets removed from their fields of battle to reside, without context, in velvet-swagged limestone niches?

Is it lifted upon a plinth that requires effort and humility to access by climbing steps like the Lincoln Memorial? Or does it force our descent by being partially buried by bermed earth to wag a finger at our complicity like the Vietnam Memorial? Or is it an anti-monument that commends our commonality as a built-in mnemonic for our remembering lives like the folk anthems of Pete Seeger? Is it an app—downloadable for Apple or Android—like Google Calendar or Outlook—to remind us, “Tuesday: ‘Make Peace Not War’”? Will we be invited to share our feedback to improve our user experience? Such are the questions now incumbent on anyone imagining a memorial to October 7 to address.

In the written word we have the easiest job of telling the story. Immediately after the massacres of October 7, our best agreed way to characterize in words its historical significance was to say it’s “the worst thing to happen since the Holocaust.” And by the proportion of civilians to the general Israeli population killed on a single day it was called “Israel’s 9/11.” And to express both the intentionality of the perpetrators in destroying whole communities, as well to convey the coloration of its historical repetition against Jews, it’s been usefully referred to using the Yiddish-derived “pogrom.”

As we learn more about what happened by uncovering facts and writing histories, the texts can be easily (if not necessarily always reliably) updated to reflect the statistics counted and the statements issued. But in addition to the written word, and much because of its inherent inadequacy in conveying the emotional-spiritual-psychological-visceral experience of the living survivors or to prepare for future apprehension of those aspects, there is a need for a non-verbal form of accounting of the experience. And of such a non-verbal document there is perhaps a greater demand for creativity.

In a tragic irony of the Jewish People’s history, we both have much experience in the creation of similar models to look to—in story, in song, or in stone—and at the same time we lack any suitable emblem to rely upon. By virtue of each new catastrophe’s effect of compounding our reception and memory of the previous ones, no existing model seems up to the task of conveying the breadth, the effects, or the meaning of the most recent calamitous loss of life by the hands of those who seek to destroy us en masse.

In the case of terror, an attack that has as its goal not only the ending of life, but also the spreading of fear among the living, as well as the aim of eventual eradication of a whole people from their land, the event to be remembered includes the declaration of an organization’s unscrupulous will to power. How can we add this to the equation without overloading the mandate of our testimonial?

These questions are posed as a preface not to any single answer, but to suggest something of the scope of the problem at hand: when infants, the handicapped, and the elderly are murdered, how to fathom the incomprehensible? If the taking of a single life is to destroy a whole world, how to concretize what is immeasurable? When nihilism draws power to itself in order to destroy, what positive form can be given to the resulting vacuum?

To such a dilemma and instead of resolutions, I cite below only a few illustrations of attempted propositions—previously designed or implemented under different circumstances on the one hand or offered as original designs here on the other—to evoke the magnitude of the problem: The problem of how to remember and one’s susceptibility to reducing calamity to kitsch in the process.

“To be an artist means never to avert one’s eyes.”
-Akira Kurosawa

The builders of memorials—or of any architectural solution to a programmatic brief—has no choice but to (re)define the brief, the problem that is attempted to be solved. The client may think he knows the reason for his building project. But until a constructed solution is designed and then completed, the questions it sets out to answer will not be known. Memory and how to remember are two different things. Their mutual and combined formulation are yet another. If by “client” we mean the inheritors of the legacy of this history, the challenge we face in memorializing it is formidable. Akira Kurosawa said, “To be an artist means never to avert one’s eyes.” May these examples serve as a mere foothold to be transcended, without looking away.

Memorial to Niklas Graf Salm, imperial senior military commander, defender of Vienna during the first siege by the Turks in 1529, Vienna, Austria Mathias Purkarthofer 1867 | marble

Memorial to those killed in March 1919 putsch in Weimar Germany Walter Gropius, 1922 | concrete, granite

Design for monument to concentration camp victims in Mauthausen Austria Agamemmnon Makris, 1960 | bronze, granite

Reproduced ties of former railroad spur at Treblinka extermination camp, Poland, 1962 | cast concrete

Memorial to murdered jews of Europe, Berlin, Germany Peter Eisenman 1997 | cast concrete

Proposed design by the author for a memorial to the jihadic massacre of innocents in Israel October 7 2023 | actual site relocated to full scale glass enclosed vitrine, track lighting, melamine frame

Proposed design by the author for a memorial to the jihadic massacre of innocents in Israel October 7 2023 | actual site relocated to full scale glass enclosed vitrine, track lighting, melamine frame

Proposed design by the author for a memorial to the jihadic massacre of innocents in Israel October 7 2023 | actual site relocated to backlit pedestal, quartz, acrylic sheet, fluorescent tube lights

Proposed design by the author for a memorial to the jihadic massacre of innocents in Israel October 7 2023 | actual site relocated to backlit pedestal, quartz, acrylic sheet, fluorescent tube lights

Proposed design by the author for a memorial to the jihadic massacre of innocents in Israel October 7 2023 | portion of actual site mounted to damask covered wall

Hamas Did Not Invent Jihad

“When your Lord revealed to the angels: I am with you, therefore make firm those who believe. I will cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieve. Therefore strike off their heads and strike off every fingertip of them.”
—Qur’an 8:12

“Prepare against them what you believers can of military power and cavalry to deter Allah’s enemies and your enemies as well as other enemies unknown to you but known to Allah. Whatever you spend in the cause of Allah will be paid to you in full and you will not be wronged.”
—Qur’an 8:60

“Fight those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger, nor acknowledge the religion of Truth, (even if they are) of the People of the Book [Jews and Christians], until they pay the Jizyah with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued.”
—Qur’an 9:29

Most Americans and Europeans probably first heard the word jihad in 2001. It was as bizarre, foreign, shocking—indeed novel—as the idea of quotidian passenger jets roaring into office buildings.

On the one hand, it was a chilling yet exotic term Usamah bin Laden used in declaring war against America. Much more often, however, it came in the form of Westerners attempting feverishly to reframe it—at worst, mysterious; at best, innocuous, or even positive.

The mystified media

In 2002, ABC News asked “Is Bin Laden’s Concept of ‘Jihad’ Correct?” One university student in Pakistan—as if students of anything, now or then, can be trusted to be helpful—described jihad “as a personal ‘struggle and strife against the evils of society, against anything,’” and said “it has nothing to do with killing innocent people.” ABC procured even less authoritative—let alone believable—answers from students at, of all places, “the Islamic al Ashar University in Gaza.” Two “definitions they offered were ‘to do your best’ and ‘to fight against evil and for charity.’” ABC informed its readers, without qualification, that “Islamic scholars insist that for most Muslims, the most important interpretation is: an individual struggle for personal moral behavior.” Its evidence for this was one scholar’s opinion: that jihad is “a very beautiful concept which is deep in the area of spirituality.”

Sadly for the same Western media which constantly blame Israel for its enemies’ depravity, the post-9/11 love affair with the “greater” and “personaljihad is supported by neither the Islamic sources nor historical fact.

In 2007, CNN denizen Christiane Amanpour devoted multiple minutes of her (infamously anti-Israel) three-part series God’s Warriors to how true jihad consists simply of everyday American Muslims navigating their adopted country’s irrational bigotry. Jihad in its purest form, said Amanpour, was just “a public display of faith… swearing off alcohol, praying five times a day, which isn’t easy in a typically busy American life,” an American life in which Muslims feel “singled out for surveillance.” A woman she interviewed—“a jihadist, just not the sort you’re thinking of”—said that jihad was “self-struggle,” and “my jihad” was “wearing hijab in the United States.” “I mean, holy war, really? Who made that up?” she insisted. “That’s really a very bad translation. It’s a self-struggle. Living in a secular society, where you have to work to maintain your Islamic values, that’s jihad.”

Sadly for the same Western media which constantly blame Israel for its enemies’ depravity, the post-9/11 love affair with the “greater” and “personaljihad is supported by neither the Islamic sources nor historical fact.

Jihad in context

It is true that jihad means “struggle,” but not in the same way as the Hebrew word Yis’ra’el (Israel), which Rabbi Jonathan Sacks translates as “one who wrestles with God and with man and prevails.” The new name the angel of the Lord gives Jacob is to denote an explicitly spiritual dimension of struggle, since, in Genesis 32, the human patriarch has just wrestled with a spiritual being representing God. Jacob-Israel’s struggle with the angel becomes symbolic of his descendants’ struggle with their own humanity, and the God who has chosen them to bring His light to the world. As we can see from Islam’s foundational texts, and subsequent history, the so-called “radical” definition of jihad—military struggle against the Kafir (non-Muslim) by all means necessary and available—is the one borne out.

The best way to understand jihad is through its scriptural and historical context. In order to do that, the basics must be grasped first. Islam’s holy texts are comprised of a trilogy; most know of the Qur’an (believed to be the words of Allah delivered through Muhammad), but there is also the Sirah (the “life” or biography of Muhammad), and the Hadith (the many thousands of oral “traditions” preserving Muhammad’s sayings and actions). Each part of this trilogy complements the other in terms of the different types of information it provides: theological and ethical pronouncements venerated as prophetic (Qur’an), instructional stories and aphorisms (Hadith), and historical, biographical narrative (Sirah). All of them overlap somewhat, but Islam is incomprehensible without all three. It also cannot be practiced in any one portion’s absence: for example, the crucial Five Pillars of Islam originate from the Hadith, not the Qur’an.

As we can see from Islam’s foundational texts, and subsequent history, the so-called “radical” definition of jihad—military struggle against the Kafir (non-Muslim) by all means necessary and available—is the one borne out.

Furthermore, Islam, let alone jihad, cannot be understood without the person of Muhammad. Qur’an 33:21 says that “Indeed, in the Messenger of Allah you have an excellent example for whoever has hope in Allah and the Last Day, and remembers Allah often.” This—buttressed by 90 other verses—is understood to mean that Muhammad is the perfect example of conduct for every Muslim. Combined, the Sirah and Hadith form what is called the Sunnah (“way” or “path”) of Muhammad. Therefore, what Muhammad said and did are of supreme importance.

The word jihad or obvious references to its practice occur a total of 164 times in the Qur’an. From a purely statistical perspective alone, jihad is not peaceful. References to its so-called “greater” form appear nowhere in the Qur’an, and of the nearly 1,400 ahadith in the Sahih al-Bukhari collection which clearly concern jihad with or without naming it, roughly 98% are in violent contexts. When the Sirat Rasul Allah (“Life of the Messenger of Allah”), Muhammad’s sacred biography, is factored in, the situation is even clearer. Unlike the Qur’an and Hadith—non-linear collections of disconnected, decontextualized sayings—the Sirah presents the cohesive, chronological story of the world’s first Muslim, and not once in the text does CNN’s variety of jihad appear. “The apostle [of Allah],” the Sirah says, “took part personally in twenty-seven… raids” as well as many battles and military expeditions, of which there were “thirty-eight… in number” (pp. 659–660). The Sirah also duly cites the historian at-Tabari’s differing respective count of 26 and 35 military operations. Showing preference for at-Tabari’s more conservative sums—excluding the many executions and 44 known assassinations Muhammad ordered of his enemies—this comes to 61 acts of jihad between his departure from Makah in 622 C.E. and his death in 632. This roughly averages one act of jihad every few months. Moses, by contrast, only engaged in six wars, all of which—unlike in Muhammad’s case—were defensive (see Exodus 17 and Numbers 14, 21, and 31). In total, about 67% of the Sirah concerns military matters, 21% of al-Bukhari’s ahadith, and 9% of the Qur’an; taken together, roughly a third of the entire Islamic trilogy concerns jihad.

Islam, let alone jihad, cannot be understood without the person of Muhammad. Qur’an 33:21 says that “Indeed, in the Messenger of Allah you have an excellent example for whoever has hope in Allah and the Last Day, and remembers Allah often.”

Crucially, too, jihad does not necessarily have to be violent. There are four types of jihad: of money, speech, writing, and of the sword. Jihad of money, for instance, is that practiced by organizations like the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) laundering money for Hamas; entities which fund anti-Jewish campus hate groups like Students for Justice in Palestine; or Arab countries which endow anti-Israel Middle East Studies departments at universities. Those of speech and writing (completely fungible in the electronic age) refer to da‘wah (Islamic proselytism), and taqiyah, the concept of deception and propaganda in the furtherance of Islam. As Muhammad says in the Hadith, “War is deceit.” Jihad is not just physical conflict but civilizational war, utilizing all aspects of civilization in order to defeat non-Islam.

The life of Muhammad (c. 609–632 C.E.)

The Islamic scriptures document Muhammad’s evolution from an obscure preacher in Makah to the most powerful warlord on the Arabian peninsula. By the time of his death, every single Arab living within the peninsula was a Muslim. The Sirah shows us that this occurred not because Muhammad persuasively preached religion but because he became a military leader. He preached theology in his birthplace of Makah for about 13 years starting around the year 609, but failed to convert many of his pagan Arab neighbors, most of whom were members of his own tribe, the Quraish. Early in his career, Muhammad had preached some sermons which did encourage peace and charity, but, since this had not won him followers, his homilies changed. In his frustration and anger, says Ibn Kathir, one of Islam’s most admired scholars and Qur’an commentators, Muhammad began to insult the Makans’ ancestral gods and set one tribe against another. According to the Sirah (pp. 130–131), the infuriated Makans—who held a preference for religious tolerance between clans in order to secure the flow of trade—turned against Muhammad.

In the year 622, Muhammad left Makah and set out with his small band of around 150 followers for the town of Yathrib to the north. Another motive for his departure was that emissaries from Yathrib had sought his help in settling a dispute between two Arab tribes. He was also told that there were Jews there (roughly half the town’s population), who, with their knowledge of the Biblical prophets, surely would recognize his own claim to prophethood and accept Islam. When he arrived in Yathrib, however, Muhammad—whom the Qur’an indicates was illiterate (though some ahadith disagree)—was sorely disappointed. The well-educated Jews rejected him, because, among many other likely reasons, his pronouncements inaccurately recounted narratives from Tanakh’ (for obvious errata, see Qur’an 19:27–28 and 22:26, as well as Bukhari 3425). The repercussions of this rebuke remain with us to this day, for Muhammad saw the Jews’ refusal to acknowledge him as a prophet and convert to Islam as an unforgivable betrayal, as he had been counting on the “People of the Book” to affirm his prophethood. In addition to the Jews, the Arabs he found in Yathrib were no more interested in his sermons than his tribesmen back in Makah.

Jihad does not necessarily have to be violent. There are four types of jihad: of money, speech, writing, and of the sword.

As the Sirah recounts, rejected by both the Jews and his own tribesmen, without new converts, and hamstrung by his followers’ continuing poverty, Muhammad began to preach sermons of the wrath of Allah. He then declared war upon the Makans, and his followers began to rob their camel caravans (pp. 280–287). Caravans were the life-blood of Arabia, as merchants would “invest” in one by parting with some of their own possessions, hoping that they would be traded for commodities valuable enough to be bartered for food to feed their families. Therefore, Muhammad’s practice of economic warfare hit hard at the foundations of Makan society, harming innocent non-combatants who had nothing to do with his war of revenge. Thus, when the Makans heard that Muhammad’s army was heading for a particularly large caravan, they rushed to defend it. This precipitated the Battle of Badr (624), the most pivotal military event in Islamic history, where an outnumbered Muhammad achieved a great victory over the non-Muslim Arabs and was able to take their wealth for himself and his believers (pp. 292–306). He had also broken the taboo against making war upon his own people. Muhammad then ordered the bodies of the defeated hurled down a well, then shouted at the dead in the middle of the night: “O people of the pit, you were an evil kinsfolk to your prophet. You called me a liar when others believed me; you cast me out when others took me in; you fought against me when others fought on my side.… Have you found that what your Lord [Allah] promised you is true?” (p. 306)

The fear Muhammad’s victory inspired across Arabia succeeded where his religious preaching had not; crowds now flocked to his ranks, for he had proven himself a great warrior, worthy of universal awe and respect. Yathrib was later renamed Madinah (“city [of Muhammad]”) in recognition of this fact. All of the chapters in the Qur’an containing violent verses come from after Muhammad left Makah and went to Yathrib in 622, the journey called the Hijrah. The chapters (suwar) which preach the most violence and repression (such as 2, 3, 4, 5, 8, 9, 24, 98, etc.) occur in the latter part of Muhammad’s prophetic career, when he himself became a jihadist. It was in Yathrib (Madinah) that Muhammad first embraced war (jihad) as a means of gaining power and converts. In fact, 622 is the first year of the Islamic calendar: the year when Islam finally began to achieve success.

Muhammad then turned his attention to the Jews. Three Jewish tribes inhabited Yathrib and its environs: the Banu Qainuqa, an-Nadir, and Quraizah. Muhammad began to preach furiously anti-Jewish sermons: for example, Qur’an 5:60 (the infamous verse of “apes and pigs”), 5:82 (in which “You will surely find the most bitter towards the believers to be the Jews and polytheists”), and 98:6 (in which Jews, and all of Allah’s other enemies, “will abide in the Fire of Hell,” for they “are the worst of creatures”). According to the Sirah, Muhammad then laid siege to the Banu Qainuqa’s quarter of Yathrib, for they, worried by his anti-Jewish sermons, broke a non-aggression pact to which they had reluctantly agreed when Muhammad first began to dominate the city. Once the Qainuqa surrendered—their lives spared only at the behest of an Arab ally—Muhammad exiled the tribe from the city forever, but, coveting their great wealth, stole all of their valuable possessions before sending them on their way (pp. 363–364). After Muhammad ordered the assassination of an elderly Jewish poet who had criticized him in his poems after he had lost two dear Arab friends at Badr (pp. 364–369), members of an-Nadir joined with Muhammad’s Makan enemies to fight in the Battle of the Trench (627). As at-Tabari recounts in his monumental History of the Prophets and Kings, when the Muslims finally emerged victorious, the same fate meted out to Banu Qainuqa befell most of an-Nadir, with Muhammad expelling them and confiscating their property (pp. 156–160). Eventually, Muhammad came to confront Yathrib’s last Jewish tribe, Banu Quraizah, and the remainder of an-Nadir. Like an-Nadir, the Quraizah were wealthy date farmers who, in fear of Muhammad, had conspired with his enemies in self-defense. Therefore, says the Sirah, in the spring of 628, bent on plunder and revenge, Muhammad and his army attacked the oasis town of Khaibar, north of Yathrib, where the Jews were besieged within their fortresses. Unable to mount an effective counter-attack, the Jews surrendered after a siege of roughly two weeks. Muhammad ordered trenches dug in Yathrib’s central market, and ordered every single Jew who had fought in the battle be bound and beheaded before his eyes: according to differing accounts, between 600 and 900 Jewish men and boys were slaughtered that day (pp. 461–464). Muhammad then cut a deal with those Jews he neither killed nor enslaved. With all of their wealth and date palm plantations already now Muhammad’s property, the beaten, terrified Jews offered to work the plantations and hand over half of their produce and income to Muhammad at the end of each year in return for both remaining Jewish and alive. Muhammad agreed (p. 515). From this emerged the Islamic doctrine of the dhimmi. A dhimmi is a non-Muslim who, in exchange for the right to remain alive without converting, must both pay the special dhimmi tax, the jizyah (“tribute”), and submit to a long list of humiliating regulations codifying his or her religious inferiority and social status as a non-citizen semi-slave. As the Jewish women were distributed as sex slaves amongst his soldiers, Muhammad took a trophy of two teenage girls for his harem, Raihaneh bint Zaid and Safiyah bint Huyai (pp. 466, 511, 516–517). Safiyah was the new bride of Kenanah ibn ar-Rabi’, Banu an-Nadir’s treasurer. Muhammad ordered Kenanah tortured to death—in vain—for the whereabouts of the tribe’s hoard of gold and silver by means of a fire kindled upon his chest (p. 515).

It is this massacre of Jews to which supporters of Hamas refer when they chant Khaibar, Khaibar, ya Yahud! Jaish Muhammd sawfa ya‘ud! (“[Remember] Khaibar, Khaibar, oh, Jews! The army of Muhammad shall return!”) It is this massacre of Jews which established the precedent for the kidnapping, enslavement, and rape of non-Muslim women. And it is Muhammad’s hatred for Jews which imams the world over echo when they utter his blood-curdling vision of the apocalypse:

The last hour would not come unless the Muslims will fight against the Jews and the Muslims would kill them until the Jews would hide themselves behind a stone or a tree and a stone or a tree would say: Muslim, or the servant of Allah, there is a Jew behind me; come and kill him; but the tree Gharqad would not say, for it is the tree of the Jews.

(Sahih Muslim 2922)

The history of jihad (632–present)

Muhammad’s death in 632—from a wasting illness brought about after being poisoned by a Jewish woman whose husband, father, and uncle his followers had killed (Sirah, p. 516)—was only the beginning of jihad.

Muhammad’s empire consisted only of the Arabian peninsula (aj-Jazirah). His successors, however, were not satisfied with that. In fact, Muhammad himself had implored them to be dissatisfied. Armed with the commands of Qur’an 8:39, 9:33, 48:28, and 61:9, which called Muhammad’s army to make Islam the religion not just of their homeland but of the entire known world, those who assumed Muhammad’s throne proceeded to do just that. Known as the “rightly-guided ones” (Rashidun), these leaders, called khalifat (“caliphs”) dispatched their armies in all directions to capture—and colonize—territory in the name of Allah.

It is this massacre of Jews which established the precedent for the kidnapping, enslavement, and rape of non-Muslim women.

The first khalifah of the “rightly-guided” four, Abu Bakr (573–634)—the only one to die a natural death—ruled for too short a time to make much headway against the Byzantine and Persian Empires. The second, however, Umar ibn al-Khattab (c. 582–644), won dazzling victories against the Muslims’ large imperial neighbors. Severely weakened in the previous century by bubonic plague and costly wars, the Byzantines and Persians could not defend the edges of their territory. In 637, Umar’s armies conquered Jerusalem after starving the city for months. Around the turn of the following century, the Muslims built a mosque today known as the Dome of the Rock upon the Jewish Temple Mount as an emblem of Judaism’s defeat. Another mosque, the Masjid al-Aqsa, followed not long after. Then, between 639 and 646, the Arabs conquered Egypt, making the native Coptic Christians dhimmah and banning their ancient spoken language, so antique that much of it dates back to pharaonic times. Today, Christians, once the majority for centuries, make up only a tenth of Egypt’s population. Moving south, Muslim warriors quickly began seizing control of the rich trade along the Nile and advanced into the territory of the ancient black civilization of Nubia. Securing ivory and then gold from Nubia’s legendary mines rapidly progressed into enslaving large numbers of native Africans. Over the centuries, Arabs and then Islamized blacks pushed deep into the continent, reducing multitudes of non-Muslim blacks to slavery along the way. Thus began the Muslims’ more than millennium-long trade in black slaves, which would castrate untold thousands, facilitate the trans-Atlantic slave trade, and disperse around 25 million captive Africans across the planet from Brazil to China. No one may ever know how many blacks died as a result of Islam’s conquest of Africa; one rigid, low, perhaps unreliable, estimate is 120 million. It is an abomination which continues today.

Uthman (c. 573–656), third of the Rashidun, expanded the jihad east into Syria, Iraq, Persia, and what is now western Afghanistan. Persia was mostly Zoroastrian, and Afghanistan was home to thriving communities of Buddhists, Christians, and Hindus, yet Islam supplanted all with ruthless efficiency, killing at least 10 million Buddhists in the process. Muslim warriors also moved deeper into western India at this time. The eight centuries of subsequent Islamic invasions of Hindu territory, the worst beginning in the eleventh century, would traumatize India forevermore. It has been estimated that as many as 80 million Hindus died as a result of jihad between the years 1000 and 1525. Jihad even carved itself into the very landscape of Asia. The mountain range called the Hindu Kush was named for the nameless masses of Hindu slaves who died as they were marched towards Afghanistan for sale. The name “Hindu Kush” means “kill the Hindu” in Persian. And jihad is the sole reason that it today exists within the borders of Afghanistan and Pakistan, rather than India.

It has been estimated that as many as 80 million Hindus died as a result of jihad between the years 1000 and 1525.

The tenure of Ali (c. 600–661), Muhammad’s cousin and son-in-law, as the fourth khalifah was crippled by fierce civil war. He claimed that Muhammad had chosen him (a relation by both blood and marriage), not Abu Bakr, as successor. Ali, eventually “martyred” by his enemies in Kufah in Iraq, became the first “imam” of Shi‘ah Islam, whose followers later took control of Persia. From this bloody schism—a jihad within a jihad—came the Sunni-Shi‘ah split which still plagues Islam to the present.

Islamic (colonial) expansion (622–750 C.E.).

To the south in North Africa and to the east in what are now the Arab countries which encircle Israel, Muslims subjugated and destroyed more Greco-Roman-influenced Christian communities which had existed since the first century. Today, the Christian population of the Arab Middle East is in the single digits. Why? Because jihad has killed some 60 million Christians since the seventh century. 

In 711, Muslims invaded the Visigoth-ruled Iberian peninsula. The conquerors’ brutality was such that, in one incident in 715, they—according to one source—brought 30,000 slaves (many of them young girls), along with thousands of camels laden with looted riches, as tribute for the Umayad ruler of Damascus. Though there would be brief periods of relative tolerance of non-Muslims in Spain—during which the Shari‘ah was not zealously enforced—repression of Jews and Christians was much more the norm than the exception. A generation after the invasion of Spain, Muslim armies moved further into Europe, especially France. Only defeat in the Battle of Tours, exactly one century after Muhammad’s death, in 732, halted the Muslims’ gallop towards Northwestern Europe. By 750 C.E., Islam reigned from Spain in the west to modern-day Pakistan in the east. And it would only expand from there.

Today, the Christian population of the Arab Middle East is in the single digits. Why? Because jihad has killed some 60 million Christians since the seventh century.

Ottoman (colonial) expansion as of 1683.

With the rise of the Ottoman Empire, the Islamic Ummah (imperial “community” of believers) finally managed to gain a foothold in Europe. After taking the prize of Constantinople in 1453, the Turks proceeded west and north to capture Greece, the Balkans, most of modern Ukraine, all of Romania, and much of today’s Hungary. By 1683, they had reached and surrounded Vienna. Only a headlong charge by the Winged Hussars of Jan III Sobieski, the king of Poland, prevented Muslim armies from succeeding in the east where they had failed in the west at Tours.

Islam’s battles against European civilization, stretching into Central Asia (622–1918 C.E.).

Islam fought more than 500 battles against European and Christian civilization between 622 and 1918, more than 150 of which were in Spain alone. Almost none of those on the European mainland or in the Middle East and North Africa were defensive, and a great many were slave-taking operations. The bloodlust of the crusades—against Jews especially—is well-documented and correctly condemned, but it must be remembered that Muslim raiders first began attacking the European mainland in the seventh century. The First Crusade began in 1095, nearly four centuries after the Moorish invasion of Iberia. The crusades were a response to generations of military assaults across the breadth of Christendom and against Christian communities oppressed under the dhimmi system. The great crusades ended in 1291, whereas jihad continues to this day. Muslim-majority societies stretch from Senegal to Indonesia and Kazakhstan to Somalia. Most of this geographical colossus was created not through peaceful persuasion but by jihad—in other words, colonialism. In fact, one of the new United States’ very first foreign policy crises was the scourge of Muslim pirates enslaving American sailors and their passengers off the coast of North Africa, precipitating the Barbary Wars (1801–1816). The U.S. Marine Corps, itself created to stop the piracy, proudly preserves its eventual pacification of “the shores of Tripoli” in its anthem.

The Islamic Ummah today.

The great crusades ended in 1291, whereas jihad continues to this day.

Israel’s wars are the world’s

Maimonides, among the greatest rabbis of all time, said in his Epistle to Yemen in 1172 that though the Jewish people were usually allowed to practice their religion under Islam, life (as dhimmah) under their Islamic rulers, whom he calls Ishmael, was still terrible. As quoted in Joel Kraemer’s critically acclaimed biography, the soaring sage wrote that “Never has a people arisen against Israel more hurtful than [Ishmael], nor one that went so far to debase and humiliate us and to instill hatred toward us as they have” (p. 240). He wrote such words in recollection of how Muslims had driven thousands of Jews, including himself and his family, out of his native Spain in 1145 because they would not convert to Islam. Such misery, he said, could only be a divine trial.

The modern state of Israel itself was, in fact, forged in the fire of jihad. The War of Independence was a war of defiance not only against the gas chambers, but against jihad. Seven Arab armies’ bid to finish Hitler’s work was not an act of geo-political “nationalism,” but of jihad. Hamas’s ineffable crimes are not because of “land” or a “cycle of violence,” let alone are they “resistance” to “occupation.” They are because of the doctrine of jihad, one which across 14 centuries has stolen perhaps 270 million lives and terrorized humanity across six continents.

Qur’an 8:60, calling for Muhammad’s followers to “Prepare against them [non-believers] what you believers can of military power and cavalry to deter Allah’s enemies and your enemies as well as other enemies unknown to you but known to Allah,” is quoted in the constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Despite what pseudo-conservative isolationists may say, the Iranian regime is among the most dangerous on earth; apart from funding Hamas, it has been at war with the United States (the “Great Satan”) since 1979, and works madly towards a deliverable nuclear weapon. Jihad has real consequences which do not just affect Israelis. The West’s open borders and closed minds make sure of this.

We can do nothing to confront jihad—in Paris or London, Orlando or New York, Jerusalem or New Delhi—unless we understand its origin, true nature, antiquity, and its intentions. And if we are to heed the words of Qur’an 9:33—that “the religion of truth… [shall] prevail over all others”—we know that war against Jews—a people of only 15.7 million, amongst a globe of billions—is only the tip of the scimitar.

Hamas Supremacism in Boston

I walked into the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center (ISBCC) on Malcolm X Boulevard to attend a fundraising gala where three black Muslims—two radical imams and a Boston city councilor—were scheduled to appear. Frankly, I was more than a little bit nervous.

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An Introduction to the Civil War within Islam

It is overly simplistic to refer to “the Israel-Palestine conflict.” Hamas belongs to the Islamist “resistance” camp, whose ideology began to leave its stamp on the Islamic world in general, and Palestinian society in particular, during the first half of the 20th century.

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Jihad is a global “struggle,” by all necessary means—physical violence included—against the non-Muslim world.

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First, I am a Jew

For centuries this phrase has been used against us. But now many of us state it proudly, with all the pride Herzl envisioned. And those Jews who haven’t yet gotten there should now understand the tremendous gift it is to finally define ourselves, proudly.

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Blasphemy, Fatwas + Jihad

The language of Jihad is confined to the spreading of terror. It is not an invitation to a debate or civil discourse of any kind. It forsakes the presentation of ideas in favor of mob veto, the silence of intimidation.

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Jihadi Journalism

As one honest Jordanian editor noted, “fake news has a long and distinguished pedigree in the Arab world.”

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The West Must Defeat Islamism

The forces of Jihadi evil are gaining ground exponentially because the forces of good refuse to go on offense against Jihad.

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Neighborhood Bully

Well, the neighborhood bully, he’s just one man | His enemies say he’s on their land | They got him outnumbered about a million to one | He got no place to escape to, no place to run | He’s the neighborhood bully.

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Jihad: The Genocidal Force Threatening the Free World

Hamas is not interested in living in peace with Israel. Hamas wants Israel’s 7 million Jews to rest in peace and establish an Islamic state on the ruins of the Jewish state.

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Academic Fascism is Nothing New

Radical Islamist countries understand that to defeat Western democracy, they must first conquer the academy.

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Silence is Indeed Complicity

Is there any other identity group about which it would be acceptable to celebrate their mass slaughter, and campaign to bring that slaughter to your campus? What exactly are all those diversity and inclusion administrators paid to do, if not to prevent this?

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Behind Pretty Masks: The Mechanism of Jihad

There cannot be any camaraderie, fraternity, brotherhood, or co-existence with one who has an explicit intent of annihilating you. The eligibility for receiving humane treatment is to be human.

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Triad of Terror

Iran, together with Russia and China, form a Triad of Terror. Western Civilization is the common enemy that strengthens their malleable but unbreakable bonds.

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Jihadism + Nazism

The passing down of Nazi ideology from the Muslim Brotherhood to the more modern-day Islamist organizations truly casts the entire region heavily, and depressingly, under Hitler’s shadow. But it also presents a ray of hope.

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A Cancelled Professor Reflects on Academic Nazism

The only surprise: that anyone should be surprised.

Academe, and especially the American ivies, have long had a soft spot for extremist anti-Semitism. Like Hamas’s ideology today, in the 1930s, Nazism penetrated the universities throughout the “civilized” world. Because of the mass firings of Jewish professors, and on-going reports of the perversion of science and learning at German universities, on February 2, 1936, Dr. Hensley Henson, the Anglican Bishop of Durham, wrote a letter to the Times of London. It called for a boycott of the Heidelberg Celebration—an academic parallel to the 1936 Olympics organized by Goebbels—by all British universities and learned societies:

The essential solidarity of academic purpose, the broadly human interest of science, the supreme and universal claim of truth, the indispensableness of liberty in its pursuit – these are the postulates which govern the policy and practice of civilized universities, and, apart from their honest acceptance, no genuine academic fellowship can exist… …Neither the mind nor the conscience of the individual is to stand outside the manipulation and control of the totalitarian national State. The present rulers of Germany would echo the cynical speech of Lenin: “It is true that liberty is precious—so precious that it must be rationed.” This demented nationalism of the Nazis and Fascists endangers not only the peace of the world, but also the ultimate franchises of self-respecting manhood. In the victimized minorities—religious, academic, racial, and political—humanity has its true champions. That is their claim to the homage and assistance of all who value liberty. It cannot be right that the universities of Great Britain, which we treasure as the very citadels of sound learning, because they are the vigilant guardians of intellectual freedom, should openly fraternize with the shameless enemies of both. 

Bishop Henson’s call for a boycott initiated a debate deemed so important for consideration by American universities and colleges that it was immediately published in book form by Viking Press with the title Heidelberg and the Universities of America, with a foreword by Samuel Seabury, Charles C. Burlingham, Henry Stimson, and James F. Byrnes. All four men were influential lawyers; Stimson and Byrnes went on to become important members of the Roosevelt administration, Stimson as Secretary of War (1940–1945) and Byrnes as a key advisor to both Presidents Roosevelt and Truman. Stimson supported Roosevelt’s policies of supporting England and France against Germany in 1939–1941 and containing Imperial Japanese expansion. Later, he was responsible for the Manhattan Project—urged by Einstein—to build the atomic bomb, and argued successfully for the Nuremberg War Crimes trials after Germany’s defeat.

Academe, and especially the American ivies, have long had a soft spot for extremist anti-Semitism.

Henson’s call for a boycott went “viral.” The administrations at a number of ivies—including Harvard, Yale, Columbia, Vassar, and Cornell—had accepted the Heidelberg invitation routinely, only to be confronted with angry protests from some faculty, students, and alumni. An editorial entitled “The Rumor Confirmed” in the Cornell Daily Sun of March 3 typifies the negative responses elicited by news of acceptance of the Heidelberg invitation at that university:

President Farrand has confirmed Cornell’s acceptance of the German invitation to attend the 550th anniversary of Heidelberg. He has further stated that he does not regard an exchange of courtesies between two institutions of learning as involving an expression of judgment as to the policies of the political regime in Germany or as to the attitude of the German government toward the universities of that country. We understand that the President is in a very difficult position. Having accepted the invitation without due consideration, he is, so to speak, between Scylla and Charybdis. He has chosen the course of reaffirming his former position. We feel he would be wiser and better serve the interests of the University by choosing the difficult path of retraction… …It is argued that by being a party to this celebration Cornell will be honoring an institution of learning with a position of the greatest historical importance. We feel that the Heidelberg of the Hitler regime is no longer an institution of learning, and in honoring it we will not be honoring the Heidelberg of President Farrand’s student days, the Heidelberg that has for centuries stood as a prominent center of the best in culture and learning. No amount of sentiment or talk of tradition can excuse Nazi persecution of scholars and students. The Heidelberg of today is an illustration of the exorcism of academic freedom by Nazi censorship and repression.…

But—shamefully—most of the American universities crossed the picket line! Why? Firstly, money; namely financial support for faculty and student exchange programs from both German-American and German sources, such as the Carl Schurz Foundation, the DAAD (Deutsche Akademische Austauschdienst, the “German Academic Exchange Service”), and wealthy German-American benefactors. Secondly, pro-Nazi and pro-fascist professors and students. And, thirdly, the influence of some senior administrators who were themselves anti-Semitic, refusing to hire Jewish professors, whether they were “local” Jews or German-Jewish émigrés.

Regarding money—and the influence it could buy—in 1934, the German-based Carl Schurz Verein poured 60,000 RM (a very significant sum at that time)—half from Goebbels’ Propaganda Ministry and half from the Nazi Foreign Office—into the effort to influence American academe. Monies flowed from the chemical conglomerate I.G. Farben (both the German parent company and its American subsidiary) to pay for academic exchanges, travel, and awards. I.G. Farben was the same company the Nazis contracted to build a synthetic rubber factory at Monowitz-Buna within the Auschwitz camp complex, staffed mostly by Jewish slave laborers—Elie Wiesel among them. It also developed and, through its subsidiary Degesch, manufactured Zyklon-B, the tinned hydrogen cyanide crystals the SS poured into the gas chambers.

Regarding money—and the influence it could buy—in 1934, the German-based Carl Schurz Verein poured 60,000 RM (a very significant sum at that time)—half from Goebbels’ Propaganda Ministry and half from the Nazi Foreign Office—into the effort to influence American academe.

Caricature of a Nazi professor by Jewish artist Arthur Szyk, entitled “Ph.D.”

Another channel for funding was the DAAD, Nazified in 1933 under the direction of Ewald von Massow. In addition to serving as president of the DAAD, von Massow had a stellar career in the SS, rising from Untersturmführer (“junior storm leader,” the equivalent of an American second lieutenant) in 1933 to Gruppenführer (“group leader,” a major general) in 1939, only three ranks below Heinrich Himmler himself. Given this level of support, American university and college presidents were loath to break ties with German institutions. Some Vassar alumni saw the promise of scholarships as a form of bribery, writing, 

Obviously, the invitation to the Heidelberg celebration is but a transparent ruse to get foreign universities to put their stamp of approval on education in the Third Reich. In the case of Vassar, the offer of six scholarships at Heidelberg cannot, in the circumstances, be regarded as anything but a bribe and as such an insult to the intellectual integrity of the college. In the interest of Vassar’s standing and its liberal tradition we cannot stand by and see the college used as a tool by political forces which deny the very existence of freedom of thought and speech for which Vassar and the American system of education stand in the eyes to the world.

Today, the American campus organization Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) supports the dissemination of Hamas’s anti-Semitic rhetoric on approximately three hundred American campuses.

Today, the American campus organization Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) supports the dissemination of Hamas’s anti-Semitic rhetoric on approximately three hundred American campuses. We know this much about its funding: American Muslims for Palestine (AMP)—a Hamas money-laundering operation manned by the old guard from the now-defunct Holy Land Foundation (HLF) and its affiliate KindHeartsfunds SJP, which, in turn, organizes pro-Hamas protests on campuses across the U.S. SJP also receives money from organizations like Jewish Voice for Peace, the Center for Constitutional Rights, the National Lawyers Guild, J Street, and its mother organization, the Muslim Students’ Association (MSA), a major Muslim Brotherhood front group.

There is much that we still do not know about the funding for the Hamas movement in America; billionaire donors may well include the Hamas leaders themselves.

It was in the climate of anti-Semitism metastasizing onto university campuses—nurtured by identity politics, Black Lives Matter (BLM), critical race theory (CRT), diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), and the riots sparked by George Floyd’s death—that in July of 2020, the present writer was cancelled for publishing an opinion piece in the Journal of Schenkerian Studies. The crime was defending the Austrian-Jewish music theorist Heinrich Schenker (1868–1935).

There is much that we still do not know about the funding for the Hamas movement in America; billionaire donors may well include the Hamas leaders themselves.

In the article (see pp. 157–166), I had argued that Philip Ewell, a professor at Hunter College, who self-identifies as black, and his allies, tendentiously falsified music history to transform Schenker into a “white oppressor” responsible for the paucity of blacks in the field of music theory. After I pointed out that Schenker was a Jew, with all that entailed in the Austro-German context of the 1920s and ’30s and the rise of Hitler, Ewell and his cohorts pivoted to recasting Schenker as an anti-Semitic Jewish Nazi. Since Jews are “white,” and, as such, must enjoy “white privilege,” Schenkerians must have colluded to eliminate non-whites from the field of academic music theory, just as “white” Jewish Israelis have persecuted non-white Palestinians. Labeling Jews “white” and “white framing” them, as Ewell did to Schenker, is historically false and profoundly inimical to Jews who, like Schenker, value their religion and cultural heritage. Of course, as an Eastern European Jewish “other” in Vienna, Schenker was always an outsider. He and his émigré students fleeing Nazism played no part in preventing the advancement of blacks in music theory in America. Such claims scapegoating Schenker and his mostly Jewish émigré students fall under the broad rubric of the infamous Nazi phrase die Juden sind unser Unglück (“the Jews are our misfortune”). This song from 1931, An allem sind die Juden schuld (“It’s all the fault of the Jews”), explains the anti-Semitic strategy. So it was then for the Nazis, and so it is now for the Islamofascists in Hamas and their fellow travelers who cast Jews as Nazis.

Since Jews are “white,” and, as such, must enjoy “white privilege,” Schenkerians must have colluded to eliminate non-whites from the field of academic music theory, just as “white” Jewish Israelis have persecuted non-white Palestinians. Labeling Jews “white” and “white framing” them, as Ewell did to Schenker, is historically false and profoundly inimical to Jews who, like Schenker, value their religion and cultural heritage.

Like Cassandra forecasting the fall of Troy, in my rebuttal to Ewell, I had explicitly warned against the academic ideological justification for a second Holocaust of Israeli Jews: “The great danger of lending academic imprimatur to these demagogues is that it establishes the requisite ideological foundations for a second Holocaust of Israeli Jews, just as Nazi academic literature in 1920s and 1930s laid the groundwork for the (first) Holocaust” (p. 163, n. 7). I specifically pointed out the true meaning of documented anti-Semite Jasbir Puar’s book Right to Maim (2017), published disgracefully by Duke University Press, which egregiously, and falsely, claims that bodies of Palestinian children were mined for organs by the Israeli military, and that recent conflicts in Gaza were driven by organ harvesting. The teaching of this naked blood libel at Princeton and other universities has subsequently given rise to controversy. Post-October 7, 2023, through a psychotic inversion, the imaginary perpetrator of such mutilation—the Israeli Jew—now becomes the real-life victim of maiming, as realized by Hamas through decapitation, etc. Exactly as I predicted three years ago, it has come to pass that eliminationist anti-Semitism has triumphed at Columbia, at CUNY—which hired similarly well-documented Jew-hater Marc Lamont Hill (who has parroted Hamas slogans and defended Louis Farrakhan)—at Harvard, Yale, Penn, UCLA, Cooper Union, and even at my own public University of North Texas near Dallas.

Post-October 7, 2023, through a psychotic inversion, the imaginary perpetrator of such mutilation—the Israeli Jew—now becomes the real-life victim of maiming, as realized by Hamas through decapitation, etc.

My alma mater, the CUNY Graduate Center, has been designated the most anti-Semitic university in America—although, in light of recent events, it is unclear whether some other ivy-league schools now surpass it in that distinction. In today’s climate, there is a ubiquitous tendency to view everything in terms of the present, as if anti-Semitism at American universities in general, and at CUNY in particular, arose suddenly, just like Athena, fully formed, out of the head of Zeus without a long gestation period. In fact, the roots of anti-Semitism at CUNY reach back to the 1980s, and probably earlier, to black nationalist discourse in Africana Studies departments at Hunter and City Colleges, and analogous departments at some ivy-leagues. In this context, Professors of Africana Studies Leonard Jeffries and John Henrik Clarke at CUNY and Tony Martin at Wellesley College should be mentioned as influential Afrocentrists who promulgated the anti-Semitic canard that Jews were primarily responsible for the slave trade (in conjunction with Farrakhan’s Nation of Islam), and the “Black Athena” myth that Greeks stole Western culture from Africa. The historical context for Black anti-Semitism at CUNY to which I was alluding in my 2020 journal article is established by many reports, including a 1991 article from The Washington Post, “In New York, A Bigoted Man on Campus,” which describes a speech delivered by Jeffries on July 20, 1991:

Apparently the speech was just about as long as an address by Fidel Castro—two hours!—and even loonier. Ostensibly speaking to the question of Afro-centric education, Jeffries launched into a tirade against whites generally and Jews specifically [my emphasis] But if you doubt that Jeffries possesses a scholarly mind, tell that to the ranking officials of the City University of New York, of which City College is a part. Although Jeffries’ race-baiting harangues have been a familiar part of CUNY life for years, this has not prevented him from gaining both tenure and the chairmanship of his department, not to mention a following at City College as, in the Times’ description, “a popular, flamboyant lecturer.”

Clarke taught his thousands of students at Hunter that, contrary to the Jews’ claims, there was not, and had never been, an historical alliance between Blacks and Jews. From the beginning, the Jews had always betrayed the African peoples who befriended them. Already in the 1980s, Clarke defined the beast as

bicephalous, white America joined with Zionist Jews, together bent on strangling the people of color in the United States, Africa, and the Middle East. The Jews, who, according to the nationalists, had perfected the “modern evil of neo-colonialism,” now conspired with the U.S. government to deploy Zionist-Dollarism to subjugate them. This time the Satanic Jews were not driven to overthrow Christendom, to destroy the Aryan race, or even to undermine Islam and poison its prophet, but to colonize all people of color.

In a speech at Wayne County Community College, Clarke stated that “A mere handful of people [i.e., the Jews] utilized the word ‘Holocaust’ and made the entire world weep for them, making Black people forget that it was this same handful who participated in the African holocaust.” He added that the “evil” genius of Sigmund Freud, Karl Marx and Albert Einstein has “colonized” the minds of the world. We have Ewell and his friends to thank for adding Schenker and his students to this list of demonic Jews.

These claims, based upon egregious falsifications of historical facts, were debunked by scholars in the 1990s; but now, infused with a new lease on life by CRT, they have morphed into new ideological malignancies presenting, for example, in the assault on Schenker. One of the main early critics was Mary Lefkowitz, a Jewish professor of Classics at the same college as Martin. Her book, History Lesson: A Race Odyssey (2008), which Ewell attacks in his recent book, tells the story of her academic and legal battles against Martin. Lefkowitz, too, analyzed the Afrocentrists’ anti-Semitism in some detail (see her chapter “A New Anti-Semitism,” pp. 82–94). Another important critic was the black historian Clarence E. Walker, who argues in his book We Can’t Go Home Again (2001) that “Afrocentrism offers not an empowering understanding of black Americans’ past but a pastiche of ‘alien traditions’ held together by simplistic fantasies” (p. xxx).

Let us return to June 1935, where we find Bishop Henson writing in his private diary about the importance of historical truth in the battle against Nazism and Fascism, and the fact that all ideologues must censor the past. “In order to achieve its objects,” Henson observes, “Fascism has been obliged to dismiss the Past, or, when it remembers it, to slander history, which remains a silent but ever mocking observer”:

Happily, it is not entirely possible to destroy the cultural harvest of so many generations. The arts of printing and reading have made “totalitarian” and long-enduring Dictatorships impossible. If the Dictator is a well-read man they weaken even his resolution. The denunciation of democracy, for example, to the children simply arouses their curiosity. For the sake of efficiency Fascists are compelled to honour and admit intellect; and too many of them know that they have themselves not produced enough to justify the repudiation of the past. The libraries are still the organised opposition in the Fascist State. Yet the full effect of literature and history cannot be brought to bear upon the public mind. Only the parts that support the Fascist view can seep through to form the mind of the adult population and the young. Half a brain is worse than none.

If one looks up John Henrik Clarke on his Hunter College website, there is no mention of his anti-Semitism. Indeed CUNY’s “sanitization” of his biography recalls the Persilscheine (“clean bills of health”) given to ex-Nazis in West Germany: no mention of their anti-Semitic Nazi pasts ought to contaminate their biographies either.

I must add a dark post-script to this chilling account of parallelisms between the rise of Nazi ideology in the 1930s and the woke jihad in our own time.

In 1988, I visited Schenker’s grave in Vienna’s New Jewish Cemetery, the Neue Israelitische Friedhof (pictured). At that time, I had just completed my doctoral dissertation in music theory at the CUNY Graduate Center under Prof. Carl Schachter and had won an Austrian Intercountry Exchange Post-Doctoral Fellowship to spend a year studying Bruckner manuscripts in Vienna. On that visit, I recited the traditional prayer (Kaddish) over Schenker’s grave and placed a memorial stone upon it. On November 1, 2023, in the wake of the October 7 massacre and Israel’s war against Hamas, Austrian anti-Semites felt empowered to desecrate the Jewish cemetery where Schenker is buried. The cemetery walls were daubed with swastikas in bright red paint. The small chapel in the cemetery, located not far from Schenker’s grave, was burned a second time, the first by the Nazis in 1938. Valuable books and manuscripts were destroyed. If it were not enough for Ewell to deface Schenker’s spiritual and intellectual legacies with the false attribute of pro-Nazism, now his burial place must also suffer the further indignity of being branded with the swastika. Even his bones are allowed no peace.

The author standing in front of Schenker’s grave in the New Jewish Cemetery in Vienna, 1988.

The numbing symbolism of the cemetery’s desecration—once by Nazis, now by unknown barbarians in the crimson wake of an Islamic massacre, cheered on (again) by collegiate bigots—is palpable. Diaspora Jews, once secure in their hard-earned prominence in the Western world’s meritocracies, are now hounded out—unwelcome even in their graves.

A swastika painted on the wall of the New Jewish Cemetery, barely 20 feet from Schenker’s grave—November 1, 2023.

Could Juden raus, “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free [Judenrein],” and the “Jews are white oppressors” all lead to the same abyss? I fear that asking the question in first place reveals the answer.

The numbing symbolism of the cemetery’s desecration—once by Nazis, now by unknown barbarians in the crimson wake of an Islamic massacre, cheered on (again) by collegiate bigots—is palpable. Diaspora Jews, once secure in their hard-earned prominence in the Western world’s meritocracies, are now hounded out—unwelcome even in their graves.

As he watched the intensifying persecution of the Jews in Germany and Austria in the late 1930s, Bishop Henson recalled the words of Ecclesiastes 4:2–3 in the King James Version. Writing in his forward to the English translation of The Yellow Spot (1938), he lamented that

The bitter words of the Preacher of Israel rise on the memory: “Wherefore I praised the dead which are already dead more than the living which are yet alive; yea, better than them both did I esteem him which hath not yet been, who hath not seen the evil work that is done under the sun.” It is no matter for astonishment that among the German Jews suicides are now numerous.

Ominously, he added, “But the Jews are only the first victims of a Calamity—the Ice-age of the human spirit—which is coming on civilized mankind.”

The only surprise: that anyone should be surprised, especially the Jews.

Hamas on Campus

It has become increasingly clear in recent years that administrators at many of our most prestigious institutions of higher learning are lost in a fog of political correctness. Their indulgence of anti-Semitic incitement is not a surprise. It is merely the latest in a long line of politically correct failures.

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The Great Occupation Lie

The de-colonization narrative in regard to Israel is not only false but dangerous. And just as in the Soviet Union it provided the necessary support for anti-Zionism to become fully operational, it is currently being used to demonize and delegitimize the Jewish people and Israel

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The Wolf + The Fox

This poem is an exposition of an ideology that is often accepted as an embodiment of “universal brotherhood” and “peace,” but if you dig deep into the history, you would find that most exponents of this ideology considered themselves warriors of Jihad, and the primary role it has played in history is to serve as a pretty mask for extremism, terrorism, and Jihad.

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The Flow of Divine

In Conversation with Jayeeta Dutta

The iconic Bengali novel, Anand Math (The Abbey of Bliss) is an allegorical tale of revolutionaries struggling to liberate their motherland.

The story features a scene where the protagonist, weary and exhausted after years of strife and struggle, hiding in a desolate forest, expresses his angst and desire by speaking out to the woods over and over again – “Will my desire ever be fulfilled?”

As he persisted with this question, came the answer – “What can you pawn for it?”

“Even my very life” was the response.

“Life is a trifle”, was the answer. “Everyone can give it up”.

“What more have I got? What more could I give?”

The answer came: “DEVOTION”.

The Indian spiritual heritage has always maintained that giving up your life, running away from life, cutting oneself off from the whole world, are easy ways out. 

It is the hanging out there in the midst of everything, being with the whole chaos of the world, while staying centred and grounded, that is the hallmark of the Indian spiritual thought.

It is very easy to die for a cause. “Living for a cause” is a spiritual act.

In this novel, this conversation results in the protagonist falling in love with his motherland in a whole new way. He goes about describing the surreal beauty and the nurturing nature of motherland in the most exquisite way. 

That gave birth to the National Song of India, Vande Matram, which stands for “Salutation to the Mother”.

The personification of the Nation as a “Mother Goddess” gave a new dimension to India’s struggle for independence. 

This is a complete snapshot of the life-affirming spirit of Indian ethos that celebrates all aspects of life, good or bad, as a flow of the divine.

Krishna – The Purpose of Purposelessness

Jayeeta has woven disparate yarns of themes, stories and movements which are very Indian and very Kathak, with the surreality of Western classical music to create a confluence which is absolutely sacred.

Krishna, the most ‘loved’ god in the Indian pantheon, who forms the core essence of much of the cultural heritage and folk-lore in India, championed an alignment of living in this world with leading a spiritual life. 

The ultimate teachings of Krishna, compiled as the Bhagwad Gita, were imparted in a battlefield.

The core teaching of this scripture exhorts us to carry out our responsibilities without attachment to results. The essence of this teaching is to align oneself with the flow of divine, rather than acting out of individual will for specific outcomes and gains.

We always seek a reason to do things. We act to achieve specific outcome.

In Higher States of Consciousness, things just exist, actions just flow. There is no reason for any transpiration, no agenda to any action, and no intended outcomes for expressing yourself.

The action itself is the purpose of carrying out the action.

The purpose of purposelessness is the highest purpose of our existence and our actions. This is best exemplified in the Indian classical art forms.

Art as the Flow of Divine

There are many reasons that lead to creation of art.

A lot of art emerge from a place of lack, scarcity, contraction, suffocation, rules. An art form then becomes a means of surmounting a limitation.

If everybody listened to me and did my biding, I wouldn’t need anything extraordinary. Since they don’t, I learn the art of seducing others into my line of thinking, master the skill of mesmerizing them to look at things my way, develop an expertise in seeding and amplifying desires to make them want what I’m peddling out to them. 

This leads to an “art of persuasion”.

A lot of art all over the world across all times were reactions to sufferings and brutalities. People had to resort to symbolic representations, metaphors and allegories to express what they want without getting harmed.

Much of art is created to mirror the society. It presents dark shadows of our existence, and carries shock value to wake us from slumber.

Art is also created to cater to our need for kicks, thrills and a gush of adrenaline.

Art could be created to give out meaningful messages, spread awareness, and instigate people into actions.

The Indian classical art forms, however, arise not from a place of limitation or need, but from an overflowing abundance.

It is an expression of the joy, ecstasy, beauty, aesthetics and divinity that one experiences within herself. Metaphors and allegories are a device to express that cannot be expressed. The Indian classical art serenades, seduces, and mesmerizes without any effort or intention to do so.

Just as a bird cannot not sing, and a peacock cannot not dance, an Indian classical dancer cannot not perform. 

She dances to align herself to the Flow of Divine. She represents divinity in action – in a seemingly purposeless way. 

Jayeeta Dutta – Rooted and Flying High

A distinct essence of Indian heritage lies in its “inclusion”. Since all paths, howsoever divergent, lead to The One, nothing is invalid or irrelevant.

Indian art has always been known to create great confluences with other cultures. Confluences have always been considered sacred by Indians. While we consider rivers as sacred, the confluence of rivers form our most sacred places of pilgrimage.

Ghunghroos tinkling to Turkish March 

Every Indian dance form has its traditional methods, styles and accessories. The music, rhythm, costume, themes are well-defined by tradition. Kathak is mostly performed to Indian classical or light music. The heavy anklets, ghunghroo, usually tinkle to beats of Indian percussion. When you hear them tinkle to the beats of Mozart’s Turkish March, you experience the Indian urge to reach out and merge with all that’s beautiful. 

I came across a Kathak production, “The River Flows in You”, by Jayeeta Dutta, which has 7 story-telling instances, each set to iconic pieces of Western Classical Music. 

In a movement called ‘murmuration’ set to Pachelbel’s Cannon, her movements depict a large group of starlings flying together creating unique displays in the sundown sky. 

In another piece ‘Transcendence’, she recreates the story of Krishna delivering the message of Bhagvad Gita to Arjun in the midst of battlefield, while displaying his cosmic form called ‘Vishwaroopam’. 

The production also features Alice’s journey through wonderland set to Pedro Vall’s Zapateado, another theme that explores the cycles of life set to Johann Bach’s Arioso, a brilliant synchronization of melody and storytelling through the Dance of Peacock set to the Swan by Saint Saens, the strong footwork and pirouettes from Kathak, adorned with the intense sounds of anklets tingling to the rhythms of Mozart’s Turkish March, eventually culminating in a choregraphy set to Yiruma’s ‘The River Flows in You’, which narrates a traditionally popular narrative of Radha searching for her beloved Krishna.

Jayeeta has woven disparate yarns of themes, stories and movements which are very Indian and very Kathak, with the surreality of Western classical music to create a confluence which is absolutely sacred.

Jayeeta is representative of the Indian spirit of “being firmly rooted to the tradition and setting your eyes on the skies”. Fully grounded to her heritage, she grows tall into the highest skies of experimentation. From the ghats of Varanasi, to the Dora Strataou theatre in Athens, the Asia Pacific Museum at Warsaw, she has performed extensively in festivals in India and abroad.

She represents the best of traditional blending with the best of contemporary. An adept at technology too, her productions are an outpouring of intellectual brilliance and depth of thought intertwined with an artistic finesse, grace and elegance that makes it a treat to watch and contemplate through. 

Every movement of hers feels like a brush stroke that makes an indelible impact.

The serenity of her flow pulls you in powerfully, underscoring that stillness is mightier than turbulence ever could be.

It is no coincidence that the most remarkable of her productions is titled Kalantar – a Journey of Times. Her future productions include a depiction of the hardships and heartbreak of the political divide of those who are essentially one. Her production Ek Noor (One Light) is a depiction of the flow of divinity through diverse spiritual paths.

She is a direct disciple of the Kathak icon Pandit Birju Maharaj. Her devotion to her guru is a touching example of how Indians regard their Guru as divine embodiment. 

She has a wall in her home, dedicated to memories of her Guru, which she calls “the Maharaj-ji wall”. She seeks blessings from this space every time she steps out of her home, gets back in and at the beginning of any special, auspicious moment. 

NS: How do you as a Kathak artist embody the principles of Truth, Consciousness, and Beauty?  

JD: Kathak for me has been my guardian, my best friend and centre of my existence for decades. It holds mirror to my inner self and deep cleanses my mind and body to rejuvenate me every time I immerse myself to Riyaaz (deep and conscious self-practice). Even a speck of negative thought if hidden within, Riyaaz cleans it up and gives birth to a beautiful “me” every day. 

This “me” is unable to give space to any thought or wish, which is deviated from truth, wellness, compassion and gratitude. 

Beauty is born from this state of mind and is omnipresent as an embrace of selfless desire to submit. I believe most beautiful part is the feel of submission to almighty which I embody every minute when I’m at riyaaz, performing on stage, teaching a class, delivering a presentation or creating a composition.

NS: Kathak has a lot of emphasis on the idea of “Rasa”. How would you describe “Rasa”? How is “Rasa” different from entertainment?  

JD: Rasa is an intricate emotional experience of the “Rasika” (audience) who share the journey with the dancer on stage. It is the bhav (the expressive part) of a dancer’s storytelling that touches the Rasika who feels the mood within. 

My Guru Maharajji always mentioned that his body of Kathak was built by picking up content from surroundings, daily life, flora and fauna etc. He was well known for rhythmic compositions based on simple bols which pivoted on narrating short stories, e.g. depicting the gait of deer, snake, peacock, tiger, elephant or a conversation between two friends of disparate personalities, a mother hen feeding chicks, etc. 

He could easily create these expressions by reciting these rhythms, depicting movements and mesmerising the audience. 

I have seen entire auditorium rolling with laughter applauding such compositions in endless joy! 

I have seen a man tired after his hard day’s work forget all his stress and frustration and feel his mood uplifted by Maharajjis Kathak “bhav”.

It is entertaining too, but lasts beyond the moment and helps one savour the joy for a long time. 

NS:  What do “dancing” and “dance performances” mean to you?

JD: Kathak for me is pure worship and daily meditation. I do not dance to prepare for any performance. Performance when it comes up, is actually a small break of pattern of riyaaz in order to plan and arrange for the concert. 

My everyday dance, my daily prayer is an open and circular time, when I dive in without any plan. I may practice compositions to perfect them, polish an old work, recite complex bols to moderate my breathing and sense of laya (rhythm) and close my eyes and recall advices and teachings of my guru Maharajji.

A performance is like opening the door to an audience to share with them a part of me and my worship. It’s a culmination of preparing a concept I believed in, and seeing how it’s received. It’s about being connected with the world for those few hours, through the conduit of Kathak, yet staying sufficiently disconnected to maintain the same submission to almighty while on stage, as I do in Riyaaz.

The audience may think I’m dancing for them, yet I’m just being the medium through which art finds its flow. This realization is extremely satisfying and soothing.

It brings in a divine solitude, even in public.

NS: In the Indian tradition, most warriors learnt their martial skills from Gurus who were Rishis. Almost all forms of education and learning were imparted by Rishis, which makes it clear that Indians understood that learning and education is beyond skills and techniques, but involves a training of and transformation of consciousness. How did you experience this in your own training? How did you balance the learning of techniques with a mastery of your consciousness? 

JD: This is a very apt question. Most of my Kathak learning has been in line oral tradition of teaching. This included listening to stories, anecdotes, experiences, watching meditative processes adopted by senior musicians, and most importantly absorbing teachings of my Guru Pandit Birju Maharaj. 

His teachings were as much about Kathak technique as about the excavation of beauty within the form and within each one of us. He would find innovative ways to simplify complex steps, e.g. by filling a fractional gap in time-cycle with a simple phrase, etc.

Maharajji would choreograph simple number-based footwork compositions to depict a flight of a bird or waddle of a duck. His entire frame of teaching was pivoted on simplicity, relevance, modern and sustainable methods without any compromise on grammar. 

My years with Maharajji’s tutelage crafted a performer out of a dancer in me. 

I feel this touch of a legendary master in my dance journey has been extremely rewarding.

I had learnt technique long ago, and my dance had a spark of potential, but lacked the appeal of a real performer. He transformed my thinking, outlook and self-awareness in a quantum way. I can hardly recognise the me that existed before his tutelage. 

NS: You have learnt from one of the most iconic artists of recent times, Pandit Birju Maharaj of the Lucknow Gharana of Kathak, who was no lesser a Rishi of our modern times. 

How did he help shape you to become the artist that you are today?

JD: I run short of words to express my deep respect, gratitude and love for my Guru Maharajji. He was not just a Guru for my Kathak learning but a person who inspired me in every way. His deep gratitude for his ancestors who chose him as a worthy successor, his relationship with his parents, his ordeal with challenging livelihood, his constant sacrifices for Kathak that involved endless travel, his deep affection for all students, his inherent trust for humanity – everything about him inspired me.

He was a modern day Rishi who was just one of us, yet a much elevated soul.

Maharajji has chiselled many into sensitive artists and developed their sense of aesthetics. I’m grateful to have felt his touch on my dance journey, though quite late in his life. I’d constantly fly to Delhi where he lived and taught, or to other cities where he travelled to teach or perform, till pandemic hit us. 

Rather than learning his compositions, I tried to learn “how he thinks when he composes”. I tried to absorb – “Who he is? How does he thinks? What triggers his ideas? How does he give a painter like touch of color to a dull moment? How does he add climax? How does he command respect of his co-artists and musicians? How does he bow down to us, even though the entire world bows down to him?

This absorption vastly enriched me, my life and my dance.

NS: A lot of your works are very rich in tradition, but you have also produced an act “The River Flows in you” which is an amazing blend of the depths of Kathak story-telling with the musical genius of composers like Bach, Mozart, Pachelbel and more.

How did you conceive of this idea? 

How does the use of Western classical music blend with a deeply-rooted traditional form of Kathak? 

JD: I first visualised use of western classical music on my Kathak movements whenever I saw birds flying. There is a unique beauty in the flight of migratory birds which always appealed to my Kathak ang (body postures). 

Musically, it resonated with western music and I imagined how beautifully it would blend with Kathak. As an artist, I was greatly influenced by the Swan Lake ballet. I’d watched fascinating ballet choreographies and met exponents during my participation in dance conferences in Greece, Poland, Russia, Austria, etc.

Thus this experimentation of Kathak on western classical works was a normal evolution of my artistic journey. 

The classicism of the production is not in its purist forms, but the music speaks out the stories presented through dance. The blend of Western music with Indian story-telling was made possible by rhythms and expressions that built the choreography.

It took me months to choreograph each work to perfection. It started with sketching the dances on paper, and then embodying them. 

NS: You are a well-known Kathak guru in your own right. Your institute, Nahabat, is known for imparting the highest level of Kathak education, artistry and aesthetics to Kathak aspirants. What does the name “Nahabat” mean?

JD: I’m often asked why I named my second child – my Kathak institution – “Nahabat”. I feel I must share the emotion behind the name to express the culture and ethics of my institution. 

I grew up in a family strongly connected to Ramakrishna Mission (RKM) that included a spiritual bond and a personal bond between our family and the monks.

My connection with RKM was so deep that it terrified may relatives who feared I’d give up common life and become a yogi.

The Nahabat Temple at Dakshineshwar 

Nahabat was the name of a two-storied temple at Dakshineshwar (where Sri Ramakrishna lived), which housed musical instruments.

This holy musical space Nahabat was an integral part of my memory. I named my institution Nahabat to reflect the true essence of selfless and purposeful journey of music for myself and my students, and to meet the divine at every corner. 

The Nahabat ‘Shehnai’ wedding ensemble  

Nahabat is also the name for a musically blissful shehnai ensemble performance setup in Hindu marriages. As a young girl, the concept of live shehnai enchanted me. Listening to that music was the most delightful part of attending a wedding. I wanted this pure classical music to remain a melodious backdrop to our core lives, as Nahabat renders to the special occasion of uniting souls. 

Moreover, I learnt that Nahabat at Hindu marriages is often an ensemble of Muslim performers. The realization that music is above religion was enlightening. 

I later saw my Kathak Guru, an ardent Krishna bhakt, accepting musicians of other religious beliefs as his sons or daughters. His inclusivity helped me get out of residual negativity of family trauma of Bengal partition that we held for generations. 

I wished that my institution Nahabat will be a space of divine inclusivity where the only religion practiced would be music. 

NS: How would you describe your personal Kathak “Style” that you perform and teach? What factors do you emphasize on while working with your protégés? What values do you try to instil in them?

JD: I’m the sole teacher at my institution. I teach every student – child or adult, every beginner or master class. Every student is hand-crafted with care. While most students learn in person, I have taught online across US, Europe, Australia and New Zealand for over a decade. My online students are close, comfortable and have grown together. They often visit me at Bangalore to learn in person or perform in my productions.

I spend enormous time to teach unique life lesson “beyond Kathak”. My students are groomed in habits like simple dressing for Riyaaz, punctuality, regularity, device-independent learning and practice, teamwork, patience, honesty about mistakes, value traditions, respect seniors, expect and accept fairness, ensure transparency and treat dance as prayer. They learn not to be possessed by a sense of race, but be comfortable in their own journey. 

I work intensely on their foundation of footwork, rhythms, ang(body postures), hastak (hand movements), thehrav (sense of calm) and bhav (facial expressions). Respect and care for body readiness to meet the intensity of Kathak is also taken care of.

Warm-ups and cool-downs are intrinsically built into class schedule. My students’ age vary from 5 to 65 years and I customise body warm-ups to ensure a long, sustainable journey. My students have attended classes till their 8th month of pregnancy and restarted 2 months after the delivery.

I ensure that students appreciate difference between class room dancing and a stage act. At classroom we stay connected to roots and grammar with focus on mastering the technique. On stage, the focus is to make the audience feel engaged, entertained and enlightened. 

My students are part of all my ensemble productions and even travel with me for performances. Most of them call me “Didi” (elder sister), including those elder to me. We share a sisterly bond and truly care. 

My students are an integral part of my existence. When I’m no more, I’ll continue to live in the world through them. They will carry a part of me, my dance and my Guru within them, and my dreams will live on forever!

The Beloved of the Divine

Simran Godhwani: In Conversation with Navin Sinha

Photo Credit: Sarika Gangwal

Of the six prominent schools of spiritual philosophy in ancient India, three of them were what would be referred to in today’s parlance as “atheistic.”

Yoga, one of the famous “atheistic” schools, does say that “worship of God is a great tool to facilitate the union between individual and universal consciousness,” but does not need an anthropomorphic form of God as a necessary requirement of a spiritual path.

The Supreme Universal Consciousness is beyond all forms and attributes. The Indian sages—Rishis—were aware that this concept is intangible to the average human mind. You cannot connect to what you cannot conceive. To make it relatable, they identified forms of the manifest consciousness and energies as “gods” and “goddesses,” giving them tangible shapes, forms, names, attributes, and distinct personalities.

For example, when one looks at the personified form of “wealth and prosperity” as Goddess Lakshmi, with an iconography replete with richness, splendour, grandeur, and an endless shower of gold, it evokes a natural reverence for wealth and a spontaneous sense of sacredness, sanctity, and ethics to creating, sustaining, and spending wealth.

The pursuit of knowledge, learning, wisdom, art, and creativity is equivalent to worshipping Goddess Saraswati.

Every King in ancient India considered himself a representative of Lord Rama. This caused the King to perceive his royalty as a responsibility to serve his people rather than an entitlement to waywardness and brutality.

The tradition of thousands of gods and goddesses played an important role in interweaving spirituality with the everyday aspects of our lives. 

Moreover, it vastly enriched the Indian spiritual tradition and formed the basis of much of its cultural heritage. 

Krishna—the ultimate blend of the “Divine” and the “Human”

Krishna portrayed in a Kathak performance by Simran

One of the foremost icons in the pantheon of Hindu gods is Krishna

Krishna forms the subject of the bulk of Indian art and literature. Portrayed as an adorable child, a hyper-active teen, a romantic hero, the wise strategist, the ultimate mentor, annihilator of evil, the Supreme yogi, the Supreme God—the persona of Krishna is all-inclusive, versatile, and covers the entire spectrum of human existence. 

He is most well-known for extolling the importance of one’s duties and responsibilities and championing an active engagement and involvement with the world.

Krishna made it very clear that you cannot use spirituality and morality as an excuse to circumvent your commitments, nor can you pick up the path of God to abdicate your responsibilities or resort to sublime philosophies to avoid confrontations.

You cannot shut your eyes to evil, play neutral, and let the evil take center stage.

The lore of Krishna forms the most enchanting stories ever told. He plays pranks, sings, plays the flute, dances, romances, advises, mentors, fights, strategizes and wins wars, and shares the most profound spiritual insights.

This leads to compelling stories and portrayals that find a place in art, literature, music, dance, plays, movies, and all other forms of popular culture.

One such art form that has Krishna as its soul is the classical dance form, Kathak.

The sublime art of Story Telling

Photo Credit: Andy Ghosh

The word Kathak literally translates to Story Telling. Though, it does have the distinction between pure dance movements, called Nritta, and expressive story telling, called Natya

It involves elaborate role-plays, where dancers dress themselves in the costume of the character being portrayed and use props ostentatiously. 

True story telling is beyond a reporting of events. It uses events merely to trigger an interplay of emotions. 

Story telling is predominantly an unfolding of emotions rather than a delineation of events.

The references to “Once upon a time …” are a stimulation of one’s curiosity. The narration of events is used to create an experience of a melange of emotions in real time, and to create a sense of intrigue about the sequence of events that could follow. You feel totally immersed in the emotions of the protagonist, and begin to wonder about all the possibilities that could follow next.

Intrigue is a far more subtle and sublime emotion compared to suspense. Intrigue doesn’t get destroyed on revelation of the course of events. There are no “spoilers” in authentic story telling. A sublime form of story telling is the one where you could experience the same story over and over again, and go through an increasingly deeper emotional journey without a sense of staleness, discovering new layers of feelings and insights every time you revisit the story.

Unlike a utilitarian experience of drinking a glass of water to quench your thirst, great story-telling provides you the experience of drinking from a fountain, where you do not need to take in everything that is presented to you all at once, but continue to relish the joy of drinking in short spurts for an elongated period of time over and over again, depending on your ability to receive. The fountain itself never falls short of its ability to satiate you. 

The Story Telling of Kathak

The story telling of Kathak is a perfect example of the interplay of “rasa” (emotions) and “anubhuti” (experience). 

A statement, “she was waiting for her beloved,” is merely a reporting of a fact. The statement alone doesn’t convey that “waiting” may constitute a wide spectrum of emotions – longing, yearning, looking forward, anticipation, patience, impatience, surprise, shock, alertness, numbness, frustration, hope, hopelessness, being valued, being ignored, rejection, fear, worry, anxiety, etc.

A Kathak performance often picks up a small snippet of a story and portrays the intricacies of emotions involved in the unfolding of the story. A performance about a character “waiting” for her beloved may take you through the entire roller-coaster of emotions that constitute “waiting.”

Since not everyone “waits” the same way, every dancer who portrays “waiting for her beloved” may do so in her own unique and inimitable way. That makes every Kathak act unique to the performer and to the performance.

Just as Bharatnatyam has its roots in the depiction of Shiva, Kathak owes its evolution to stories from lives of Krishna. Thus, many Kathak performances manage to impart deep philosophical, spiritual, and social messages weaved in the form of story telling.

The story telling of Kathak is not a tell-tale narration of stories. A tale of a god or goddess slaying a demon, for example, is not a show of valour or pride or martial might, e.g., the story of Krishna slaying the snake-demon Kalia, where Krishna performs an exquisite dance on the head of the cobra before bringing it down, is a symbolism of Krishna making the snake aware of its own poison and poisonous acts, and eventually leading it to liberation through that awareness.

This, in turn, illustrates how the light of the divine can bring us face to face with our own shadow selves and take us beyond our own inner darkness.

A Kathak performance enacting this story would be replete with this symbolism of the annihilation of evil when the grace of the divine shines in our lives.

A Kathak performance by Simran’s troupe portraying Krishna slaying the snake demon Kalia.

A Kathak performance presents a wide gamut of emotions, but all emotions are portrayed in the overall context of a pursuit of ecstasy. The purpose of expressing and portraying an emotion of pain and agony is to transcend pain. 

A Kathak performance aims to provide momentary glimpses of the ultimate spiritual ecstasy – a sort of an experiential satori.

The artists in the Indian classical dance forms, especially Kathak, exude a degree of presence, gracefulness, and elegance, which is highly infectious. The deep immersive portrayal of emotions by a Kathak artist acts like a magnet that induces magnetism even in ordinary iron bars, creates an identical immersive experience for the audience.

A Kathak artist rides through her roller-coaster of emotions with such intensity and vividness that viewers find themselves experiencing the twists, turns, thrills, and spills of being in the same roller-coaster with her.

Through resonance, a Kathak artist influences, inspires, and transforms more effectively than anyone from any pulpit ever could.

The Beloved of the Divine

Photo Credit: Sarika Gangwal

Indian spirituality is more inclined to being “God-loving” rather than being “God-fearing.”

There is no prescribed form of the love for Divine. The love for Divine need not necessarily be parental in nature. One is free to relate to the Divine in any form of human relationships, including relating to the Divine as a “beloved.”

The tradition of gods and goddesses makes this easy and spontaneous. It is not easy to fall in love with the formless. The adorable persona of the gods and goddesses make it easy to create a personal connect. Since every god and goddess has a unique set of attributes that make them stand out, one could choose the personal deity (“ishta devta”) that one most resonates with, connects with, and falls in love with. 

A devotee falls in love with his beloved deity as one would fall in love with another human being. However, this love transcends all wants and needs. This is a love where the beloved feels complete in the relishing of her surrender to her object of love.

A beloved of the divine is not a powerless, hapless devotee trying hard to appease God in hope that one day the divine will be kind and cast a glance at her and make her day.

A beloved of the divine feels being one with the Divine every single moment of her life. She does not only worship her love, she demands, commands, admonishes, rebukes, feels annoyed, as much as one would with a human lover. She knows that love is a two-way street.

You are not the only one seeking God – God is seeking you, too. 

You are not the only one in love with God. God is madly in love with you, too. 

You are not the only one remembering God. God is remembering you, too. 

You are not the only one seeking God’s attention. God is perpetually whispering to you to catch your attention.

The story telling of Kathak is infused with this spirit of love and devotion for the divine. 

In this edition, we will speak to the Kathak icon, Simran Godhwani, who is a perfect embodiment of the spirit of the “Beloved of the Divine.

When she dances as a devotee, you can feel that God would have no choice but to give in to her love. 

When she enacts the role of a God, e.g., Krishna, she evokes awe and reverence.

In her performances, she appears so deeply immersed in love and devotion that one just cannot help but fall in love with her persona and the characters she portrays.

Up and Close with Simran Godhwani 

Photo Credit: Andy Ghosh

Simran was always fascinated by Krishna since her childhood. Inspired by stories of Krishna that she grew up listening to, and charmed by the carvings on temple walls narrating his stories, Simran’s love for Krishna and his enchanted life inspired her to take up Kathak.

Simran with the Kathak icon Pandit Birju Maharaj and her teacher Shri Murari Sharan

She started learning the dance form as a child, and was moulded into excellence by her mentors, Shri Murari Sharan, and the ultimate icon of Kathak, Pandit Birju Maharaj.

The striking aspect of Simran’s dance is the effortlessness in her movements

Her body moves on its own, driven by its own intelligence, inspired by a source beyond her conscious control or any individual “efforting.” 

Elegance is often described as achieving maximum impact with minimum effort, a goal that is often considered elusive but finds itself embodied in Simran’s dance steps in totality. The grace of her ineffable movements is not just awe-evoking in its own sphere, but leaves an equally beautiful impression on the viewers’ minds, just as the graceful movement of swan in water leaves an impression on the surface water that is equally beautiful to look at, long after the movements of the swan have ceased.         

Lost in a state of rapture while dancing, she takes you to a world where time doesn’t exist anymore. Her peace and stillness instil an equivalent peace and stillness in the minds of the audience. The movements, the pauses, the twirls, the expressions transport the viewers to a different realm in space and time. 

It is a presence that makes the audience forget all concreteness, solidity, and rough edges of their everyday experience and step into a zone of transcendence.

She has played the role of Radha, the divine consort of Krishna in many of her performances. She impersonates Krishna with equal ease. She has also portrayed historical characters, the most prominent one being Amrapali, a courtesan in ancient India who later became an ardent devotee of the Buddha.

Her natural grace and elegance led her to win the Miss Lady Star Universe beauty pageant in 2018. The pageant was also a testimony to her spirit of committing to something and going for it with an unstoppable attitude. It also showcased her ability to carry off diverse and versatile roles, makeovers, and costumes with splendid ease – something she does effectively well in her dance and life, too.

What brings this otherworldly charm and flair to her expressions, her movements, her performances, her productions, her persona, and her life?

NS: What inspired you to choose Kathak from the many Indian classical dance forms?

SG: The first aspect that attracted me to this dance form was the subtlety in which every abhinaya (role-playing) piece had to be portrayed. It had to be real, life like, as if one was living that scene/technique or emotion or that character that one was depicting. It cannot be magnified or amplified. It had to be presented as is – without any masks – as if one was the pivot of that scene, emotion, or character in real life. To arrive at that state, one has to completely immerse in that composition and render in the most natural yet in a poetic way of dance.

The other aspect that I like about this dance form, and is very unique to this dance form, is the constant interaction with the audience in a live music setting. The dancer narrates whatever she or he is going to do, then recites the bols (verbalization of the beats) in a particular rhythm cycle, and then presents it. 

So, the audience is aware and is involved in the dance as much as the dancer, one performing and the other observing how the bols are translated into the footwork patterns, expressions, and emotions. Then, in compositions like ladi, jugalbandi, upaj, etc… the audience gets an opportunity to be an active participant by either keeping the time cycle or following the clap patterns etc… The audience can applaud when a composition has concluded at the perfect beat of the time-cycle or whenever the performance touches them or excites them.  

So, there is a beautiful exchange of energy between the dancer and the audience. This allows both the dancer and the audience to be cognizant of the anubhava (experience) of the rasa (emotion) of the composition that is being presented. A divine synergy is what I would call it between the performer and the audience throughout the performance. 

NS: I have known you for over 17 years as a dancer, and I find you one of the most graceful, elegant, and aesthetic dancers that I have seen. 

Yet, if I look on social media, I find very little of you. You never post about your concerts. You never speak about yourself.

You steer away from all the adoration and adulation that is yours for the taking, if you chose to.

What drives you to give yourself entirely to an art form, dedicate your life to it, and not seek anything in return?

SG: Most of my presentations revolve around stories from the Bhagvad Gita and various ancient epics. The joy that I receive by translating these works into performances, choreographies and teaching is so colossal that I don’t feel the need to do anything more. 

Social media and other modes of publicity is distracting and takes you away from the path of complete surrender. 

The bliss, the joy, the pain, the angst, the confidence… and more I have received so much from this dance form, every day I learn a new aspect of the dance form, a new story, a new dimension within me, the workings of the divine….an entire lifetime is not enough to master this one dance form… 

I feel what more than this can I seek, what more can I ask for other than to dedicate myself entirely to this art form! The joy that I experience while dancing is immeasurable.

In all these years of trying to perfect my dance, my yearning was also to be able to completely immerse in the various compositions by not being just performance-oriented but also being aware of what was happening to me internally. With that as my goal, I surrendered completely to the divine. And with that focused awareness engulfing me, I started experiencing bliss, it started becoming more than being just an artist showcasing a piece to an audience for them to enjoy it. 

Once you surrender to the divine and experience that bliss, that joy, that pain through your art, then everything else seems very insignificant. So, I don’t feel the need to keep promoting my work, my concerts or performances through social media or any other over the top marketing techniques. These forms were done as a prayer and not as an exhibition. 

The divine will open doors and HE always has. I do not want to get preoccupied with promoting myself. All I want to do is keep performing, keep teaching, and sharing whatever knowledge of this dance form my Gurus have shared with me to the future generation with as much purity, sincerity, and humility as I can.

NS: What do “dancing” and “dance performances” mean to you?

SG: When I dance, I completely surrender to my God, My Krishna. It is a prayer, my sadhana that I offer to him in utmost humility, unconditionally devoid of any ego. A devotee offering her skill as a prayer.  When I am dancing, I am extremely joyous and immersed in every aspect of performance like my technique, character, emotion and expression. When I dance I feel I become one with myself, every element of me, within me and the being that created me.

Every Indian classical dancer has a very paramount role. Indian Classical Dance is not just about entertainment. We are not just dancers and actors narrating a story or dancing to a composition or a song. We are messengers whose duty through our performances is to share the stories from our historical epics from different texts, languages, and cultures and ensure that our rich history, tradition and culture are passed down in the most appropriate and correct manner to the future generations. Our performances do influence the minds of our audience and they do take back the stories and narratives of our dances with them. 

So, for me every presentation that I create, perform, and teach is a responsibility that I undertake to share some very valuable treasures of our country, our culture, beliefs, values, and tradition to my audience and to the future generation. The dance performances are a very powerful process which consists of a spiritual, emotional, and cultural legacy that if not treasured and passed down through the arts our culture will cease to exist. 

Photo Credit: Sarika Gangwal

NS: You have transformed every moment of your involvement with dance – practice or performance – as a prayer. That makes your entire life a process of unbroken devotion.

In your dance performances, you have played the roles of a devotee, you have played the role of Radha, Krishna, divine Goddesses (Devi), and forms of the divine. You have also played historical characters like Amrapali.

What is your state of consciousness and mindset with each of these roles? 

How do you prepare differently for each role, and what difference do you feel in each of these expressions?

SG: Every role or character essayed requires the dancer to completely immerse themselves into it. When a dancer after years of Sadhana does a character, we become one with that character and are able to imbibe the most subtle elements of that character into our performance. That is a very subconscious thing that happens. Practice helps one to perfect that. 

Every character, be it Radha, Krishna or Amrapali, requires an equal amount of dedication, practice, and involvement. However, playing a Krishna or any male character is more challenging for me as consciously I have to keep the masculinity of the characters in my mind, as a woman dancer. I have to mask the feminine nature of the body’s poise and other features. 

Nevertheless, that is where the costumes breathe in that energy to me. Once we wear the costume of a Krishna or Shiva or any other character then it becomes very easy for a performer to then slip into that character. It gives us the impetus to get into the right posture and movement as per the requirement. So, costumes are a very powerful aesthetic when we are performing dances based on characters. 

NS: The performances in your dance form, Kathak, including your own performances, have a very surreal element in them, and abound in grace, elegance, and aesthetics, that seems to be far removed from our daily lives.

Is your dance form an escape from reality?

SG: It is not an escape from reality. It is a subtle portrayal of the true nature of the character. Even while portraying a Demon, our intention is for the audience to understand the story and the moral of the story, so an unwarranted over the top portrayal is not the idea. The beauty of Kathak is to weave the stories in a dance performance as is. The visual depiction should be accurate, pleasing, entertaining, yet meaningful to the audience. The message underlying the portrayal while understanding the relevance of the character in  character-based compositions is the most critical component in a Kathak dance performance.

There are a lot of performances where we do showcase performances that showcase various aspects of our present-day life, e.g., performances based on how gadgets have dominated our lives or how social media has influenced the society to become more insecure than ever. 

I feel every story when performed with an objective of raising awareness in the minds of audiences set to an interesting narrative, music, and compilation definitely adds value to the society as they do reflect on it and sometimes influence them to make some positive amendments. 

Simran with the Kathak icon Pandit Birju Maharaj.

NS: You are associated with the Lucknow Gharana of Kathak, and you have had the privilege of learning from one of the most iconic artists of the last century, Pandit Birju Maharaj, who was no lesser a Rishi (sage) of our modern times.

How did he help shape you to become the artist that you are today?

SG: I am so grateful to God and my Guru Murari Ji due to whom I was blessed to have such close association with (Birju) Maharaj Ji and learn so much from him and be a part of his productions.

I have to share this incident: There was a dance recital where Maharaj Ji had to perform, due to some reason the organisers had not marketed the event well and as a result only around 50 members were present as an audience in a 500-seat auditorium. I was expecting that maybe Maharaj Ji may not perform or call off the event or just have his students perform. So, I went up to him and said we barely have an audience what do we do? He gave me the most beautiful answer that I can never forget till this date…. He said “Whether there are 5 or 500 I am always dancing for my Lord; then how does it matter” – and what a beautiful performance he gave that day I still cannot forget.

The man he was, the humility he had, and the way he approached dance – I have felt and experienced that he has never let the Lord go away from him even for a second. He was always composing or dancing for the Lord – even till the age of 84, I wonder, maybe even the Lord did not want to leave him. He was always able to remain in a state of consciousness and bliss throughout. 

That has been my learning to be humble, to never let the sacred fire extinguish, and to remain in the consciousness plane at all times.

NS: In addition to being an extraordinary performer and choreographer, you are a well-known Kathak guru in your own right, and you run a school of dance called Krshala.

How would you describe the “Style” of the Krshala school of dance?

What factors do you emphasize while working with your protégées? What values do you try to instil in them?  

SG: Krshala – the word itself has been derived from the spiritual words ‘Kriya – meaning movement and Shaala – meaning space’ I have created this Gurukul for my students. I tell them it’s their space where they can come and do their sadhana as and when they like not just during class timings. I am not only their teacher; I encourage them to share different aspects of their life with me. Many students who began their learning with me from when they are five are now in their early twenties, some are married but most of them have gone on to become performers, choreographers, and dance teachers. I feel very overwhelmed that this beautiful association has continued over the years and that many budding dancers are being groomed every day at my Gurukul into this beautiful art form.  

I teach the Lucknow Gharana of Kathak. And just like how my Gurus have taught me I follow the Guru Shishya Parampara. The methodology is pretty much what has been passed down to me from them. However, one of the unique aspects that I am trying to develop is the Bhakti-based Rasa of the Kathak dance form. That is more in tune to devotional and spiritual aspects that one can derive from this dance form. I believe to enjoy the beauty and bliss of this dance form one has to move toward the realm of one’s inner consciousness, spiritual seeking, and awakening of our primordial instincts of love, peace, and joy.

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