Posts Tagged ‘Sufism’

Two South Asian Rock Bands

December 6, 2016

This is a little break from politics. Looking around the Net, I found a number of Rock/ Heavy Metal bands from India and Pakistan. Here’s two of them. This Punkh, a Hindi band, performing with the German robot rockers, Compressorhead.

And this is The Nuke, a band from Pakistan, performing their track, Waaday (Promises).

I don’t speak either Hindi or Urdu, and so have no idea what the lyrics mean. However, the music’s good, solid Rock and they both have the genuine spirit and aesthetic. I’ve put them up because they both contradict western perceptions of these nations’ culture. Unless you have some contact with these communities, you simply don’t expect either country to have anything in the way of Rock music. My guess is that most people in Britain would think of Ravi Shankar and sitar music, Bollywood, and possibly Bhangra in connection with Indian music. As regards Pakistan, most of our impressions of the area are reports of terrorism and Islamic militancy. There have, however, been concerts over here of Pakistani musicians performing traditional Sufi music. This shows an entirely different side of these nations’ culture and their music.

Advertisements

Tolstoy’s The Law of Violence and the Law of Love

January 24, 2016

Tolstoy Law Love

(Santa Barbara: Concord Grove Press, no date)

As well as being one of the great titans of world literature, Leo Tolstoy was a convinced anarchist and pacifist. The British philosopher and writer, Sir Isaiah Berlin, in his book, Russian Thinkers, states that Tolstoy’s anarchist beliefs even informed his great work, War and Peace. Instead of portraying world history as being shaped by the ideas and actions of great men, Tolstoy’s epic of the Napoleonic Wars shows instead how it is formed by the actions of millions of individuals.

The writer himself attempted to put his own ideas into practise. He was horrified by the poverty and squalor, both physical and moral, of the new, urban Russia which was arising as the country industrialised, and the degradation of its working and peasant peoples. After serving in the army he retreated to his estate, where he concentrated on writing. He also tried to live out his beliefs, dressing in peasant clothes and teaching himself their skills and crafts, like boot-making, in order to identify with them as the oppressed against the oppressive upper classes.

Tolstoy took his pacifism from a Chechen Sufi nationalist leader, who was finally captured and exiled from his native land by the Russians after a career resisting the Russian invasion. This Islamic mystic realised that military resistance was useless against the greater Russian armed forces. So instead, he preached a message of non-violent resistance and peaceful protest against the Russian imperial regime. Tolstoy had been an officer during the invasion of Chechnya, and had been impressed by its people and their leader’s doctrine of peaceful resistance. Tolstoy turned it into one of the central doctrines of his own evolving anarchist ideology. And he, in turn, influenced Gandhi in his stance of ahimsa – Hindu non-violence – and peaceful campaign against the British occupation of India. Among the book’s appendices is 1910 letter from Tolstoy to Gandhi. I also believe Tolstoy’s doctrine of peaceful resistance also influence Martin Luther King in his confrontation with the American authorities for civil rights for Black Americans.

Tolstoy considered himself a Christian, though his views are extremely heretical and were officially condemned as such by the Russian Orthodox Church. He wrote a number of books expounding his religious views, of which The Law of Violence and the Law of Love is one. One other is The Kingdom of God Is Within You. Tolstoy’s Christianity was basically the rationalised Christianity, formed during the 19th century by writers like David Strauss in Germany and Ernest Renan in France. In their view, Christ was a moral preacher, teaching devotion to a transcendent but non-interfering God, but did not perform any miracles or claim He was divine. It’s similar to the Deist forms of Christianity that appeared in the 18th century in works such as Christianity Not Mysterious. While there are still many Biblical scholars, who believe that Christ Himself did not claim to be divine, such as Geza Vermes, this view has come under increasing attack. Not least because it presents an ahistorical view of Jesus. The Deist conception of Christ was influenced by the classicising rationalism of the 18th century. It’s essentially Jesus recast as a Greek philosopher, like Plato or Socrates. More recent scholarship by Sandmel and Sanders from the 1970’s onwards, in works like the latter’s Jesus the Jew, have shown how much Christ’s life and teaching reflected the Judaism of the First Century, in which miracles and the supernatural were a fundamental part.

In The Law of Violence and the Law of Love, Tolstoy sets out his anarchist, pacifist Christian views. He sees the law of love as very core of Christianity, in much the same way the French Utopian Socialist Saint-Simon saw universal brotherhood as the fundamental teaching of Christianity. Tolstoy attacks the established church for what he sees as their distortion of this original, rational, non-miraculous Christianity, stating that it’s the reason so many working people are losing their faith. Like other religious reformers, he recommends his theological views, arguing that it will lead to a revival of genuine Christianity. At the same time, this renewed, reformed Christianity and the universal love it promotes, will overturn the corrupt and oppressive rule of governments, which are built on violence and the use of force.

Among the other arguments against state violence, Tolstoy discusses those, who have refused or condemned military service. These not only include modern conscientious objectors, such as 19th century radicals and Socialists, but also the Early Church itself. He quotes Christian saints and the Church Fathers, including Tertullian and Origen, who firmly condemned war and military service. For example, Tertullian wrote

It is not fitting to serve the emblem of Christ and the emblem of the devil, the fortress of light and the fortress of darkness. One soul cannot serve two masters. And besides, how can one fight without the sword, which the Lord himself has taken away? Is it possible to do sword exercises, when the Lord says that everyone who takes the sword shall perish by the sword? And how can a son of peace take part in a battle.

Some scholars of the Early Church have argued that its opposition to military service was based on opposition to the pagan ceremonies the soldiers would have to attend and perform as part of their duties. As believers in the only God, these were forbidden to Christians. Nevertheless, despite his condemnation, Tertullian admits elsewhere that there were Christians serving in the Roman army.

Other quotations from the Church Fathers make it clear that it was opposition to the bloodshed in war, which caused them to reject military service. Tolstoy cites Cyprian, who stated that

The world goes mad with the mutual shedding of blood, and murder, considered a crime when committed singly, is called a virtue when it is done in the mas. The multiplication of violence secures impunity for the criminals.

Tolstoy also cites a decree of the First Ecumenical Council of 325 proscribing a penance to Christians returning to the Roman army, after they had left it. He states that those, who remained in the army, had to vow never to kill an enemy. If they violated this, then Basil the Great declared that they could not receive communion for three years.

This pacifism was viable when the Church was a small, persecuted minority in the pagan Roman Empire. After Constantine’s conversion, Christians and the Christian church entered government as Christianity became the official religion. The Church’s pacifist stance was rejected as Christians became responsible for the defence of the empire and its peoples, as well as their spiritual wellbeing and secular administration. And as the centuries progressed, Christians became all too used to using force and violence against their enemies, as shown in the countless religious wars fought down through history. It’s a legacy which still understandably colours many people’s views of Christianity, and religion as a whole.

This edition of Tolstoy’s book is published by the Institute of World Culture, whose symbol appears on the front of the book. This appears from the list of other books they publish in the back to be devoted to promoting mysticism. This is mostly Hindu, but also contains some Zoroastrian and Gnostic Christian works, as well as the Zohar, one of the main texts of the Jewish Qabbala.

Pacifism is very much an issue for your personal conscience, though it is, of course, very much a part of the Quaker spirituality. Against this pacifist tradition there’s the ‘Just War’ doctrine articulated and developed over the centuries by St. Augustine, Thomas Aquinas and other theologians and Christian philosophers. This examines and defines under which circumstances and for which reasons a war can be fought, and what moral restrictions should be imposed on the way it is fought. For example, combatants should not attack women, children and non-combatants. Despite this, the book is an interesting response to the muscular Christianity preached during the days of the British Empire, and which still survives in the American Right. Many Republicans, particularly the Tea Party, really do see Christianity as not only entirely compatible with gun rights, but as a vital part of it. Bill O’Reilly, one of the anchors on Fox News, has stated that Christ would fully approve of the shooting of violent criminals, even in circumstances others find highly dubious. These include some of the incidents where teh police have shot unarmed Blacks, or where such resistance from the suspect may have been the result of mental illness and the cops themselves were in no danger. In the Law of Violence and the Law of Love, you can read Tolstoy’s opinion of the official use of lethal force, and his condemnation of the capitalist statism O’Reilly and Fox stand for.

Sufi Poem on the Value of All Religions

January 23, 2016

I found this poem by the Arab Sufi poet, Ibn Farid, who lived from 1182 to 1235 in the anthology of religious texts, Sacred Books of the World, by A.C. Bouquet (London: Pelican 1954). The Sufis are Islamic mystics, like the Whirling Dervishes of Turkey. There are a number of different Sufi orders, rather like the monastic orders and lay brotherhoods of Christianity, and the Whirling Dervishes are just one of them.

The Sufis have a reputation for religious tolerance and syncretism. The teachings and practices of various orders may include elements drawn from the other religions around them. It’s also been claimed that where Islam has been spread peacefully by their preaching, rather than jihad, relations between Muslims and the non-Muslim population are much more peaceful and amicable.

The poem below is on the value of the other, non-Muslim religions, and illustrates this spirit of tolerance and syncretism.

Virtually no hand but mine tied the infidel’s girdle: and if it be loosed in acknowledgement of me, ’twas my hand that loosed it.

And if the niche of a mosque is illuminated by the Qu’ran, yet is no altar of a church made vain by the Gospel:

Nor vain are the books of the Torah revealed by Moses for his people, whereby the Rabbis converse with ~God every night:

And if a devotee fall down before the stones of an idol-temple, there is no reason for religious zeal to take offence;

For many a one who is clear of the shame of associating others with God by means of idolatry, is in spirit a worshipper of money.

The warning from Me hath reached those whom it hath sought, and I am the Cause of the excuses put forth in every faith.

Not in any religion have men’s eyes been awry, not in any sect have their thoughts been perverse.

They that heedlessly fell in love with the Sun lost not the way, forasmuch as its brightness is from the light of My unveiled splendour. And if the Magicians adored the fire – which a history tells us was not quenched for a thousand years –

They intended none but Me, although they took another direction, and did not declare the purpose they had formed.

They had once seen the radiance of My light, and deemed it fire, so that they were led away from the True Light by the rays.

And but for the screen of existence, I should have said it out: only my observance of the laws imposed on phenomena doth keep me silent.

So this is not aimless sport, nor were the creatures created to stray at random, albeit their actions were not right.

Their affairs take the course according to the brand of the Names; and the wisdom which endoweth essence with diverse attributes caused them to take that course in consequence of the Divine Decree.

ISIS really hate the Sufis, considering them part of the juhailiyya, or age of non-Muslim darkness and barbarism that afflicts everyone except them. The Sufis are especially despised for their fatalism, their believe that whatever happens is due to the Will of Allah, and Daesh are doing their level best to exterminate them, along with other persecuted religious groups, in Iraq and Syria.

And no wonder, if their great poets offer a way of religious dialogue, mutual understanding and peaceful coexistence. All ISIS and al-Qaeda have had to offer is hate, repression and bloodshed. A hatred that’s also expressed in the racism and bigotry of Western clowns like Donald Trump.

Let’s hope the way of peace and tolerance, like that expressed by Ibn Farid, prevails against the people of violence and butchery.

ISIS Executes Its Executioner For Smoking

April 7, 2015

This is yet another video from The Young Turks internet news show. In it, the anchors John Iadarola and Cenk Uyghur discuss the bizarre killing by the terrorists of one of their chief executioners. The man was found beheaded, with a cigarette stuffed into its mouth, and the words ‘This is evil, you sheikh’, scrawled on the body.

They link the death to an edict promulgated by the organisation denouncing smoking as a ‘slow way of committing suicide’, and warning that smoking and getting into a trance state is ‘disobedience against God’. The Turks make the point that if ISIS are serious about enforcing the death penalty, then they’re going to have to kill 70 per cent of the Middle Eastern population as ‘everyone smokes out there’. They also make the point that ISIS’ standards are so high, they’re completely unrealisable. If the regime continues on its path of executing everyone for even the most trivial of crimes, then eventually it’ll just implode as they murder and butcher their way through their own members.

Now the Turks are right in that it is highly ironic that ISIS should have executed their executioner. It probably couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy. But he committed far worse crimes than merely enjoying a ciggie. This actually looks to me like part of a sectarian campaign against Sufism.

The word ‘sheikh’ has a number of meanings. Apart from that of tribal chief, it’s also used in Pakistan to describe the bonded labourers working in the brickyards. They’re the lowest caste of Pakistani society. It clearly doesn’t mean that here, though there might be a similar meaning in Arab society, of which I’m unaware. However, it also means the leader of a Sufi order.

Sufism is Islamic mysticism. Its organised in a series of orders roughly similar to the monastic orders in Roman Catholicism and their confraternities for the laity. They are under the spiritual directions of sheikhs, or saints, who may be believed to have supernatural or mystical powers themselves. These orders aim at achieving ecstatic union of the individual with God, using methods like chanting, music, dancing and sometimes other, more extreme methods. The whirling dervishes of Istanbul are probably the best known example of a Sufi order in the West. Other orders may juggle hot coals, or slash themselves with swords in the belief that the sheikh presiding over the ceremony has the power to heal.

When I studied Islam at College, I was taught that most Muslims today belong to a Sufi order. When it emerged in the 7th century or so, Sufism was intensely controversial within Islam, and its followers often viciously persecuted as heretic. The ecstasies experienced by the Sufis in the dhikr, or ‘circle’, the term given to their mystical worship, was seen as violating the commandment in the Qu’ran against becoming intoxicated. It’s the passage that bans Muslims from drinking alcohol. In past centuries the passage was also cited in debates over whether it was permissible to use coffee, because of its effect as a stimulant.

I’ve blogged before about the possible influence of Wahhabi Islam in the destruction of tombs by ISIS. Sufi rituals are frequently conducted at the graves of the orders’ founders, a practice which is condemned by the Wahhabis. The Islamic reformers Rashid Rida and Sayyid Qutb also hated Sufism, because they believed it was the source of the fatalism that prevented Islam from once again becoming a great power.

The judicial murder of ISIS’ judicial murderer thus strikes me not so much as a punishment for smoking, but as part of a crackdown on Sufi mystics. In several of the videos I put up yesterday, the point was made in that ISIS does not only persecute and kill non-Muslims, but also other Muslims, simply because their beliefs don’t match those of ISIS. One of the videos was a news report from RT reporting on the murder of opposition ulema – Muslim clergy – in Syria. So far 20 of them have been murdered, and 800 mosques closed by the terrorists.

This is further proof that ISIS are intent on killing everyone, Muslim and non-Muslim, in their quest for power. The westerners, who join them, won’t just be complicit in murdering and butchering Christians and Yezidis, but also for the mass killing of their co-religionists.

The Grand Vizier’s Letter Permitting Excavation of the Assyrian Monuments in Iraq

March 18, 2015

I’ve put up several pieces this week commenting on and condemning ISIS’ destruction of archaeological, cultural and religious treasures, including their smashing of the Assyrian museum exhibits at Mosul. I described how Layard himself experienced problems and setbacks when a relief of the winged bull was uncovered, as the local people feared that they had disturbed the remains of Nimrod himself. Layard managed to allay such fears through contacting the local authorities and explaining what the precise situation was and that no remains of any person sacred to Islam was being desecrated.

The British government under prime ministers Canning and Robert Peel, were also keen to gain official support for Layard’s excavations from the Ottoman Turkish authorities. They were successful, and on 5th May 1846, the Grand Vizier of the Turkish Empire sent this letter to the Pasha – governor – of Mosul.

There are, as your Excellency knows, in the vicinity of Mosul quantities of stones and ancient remains. An English gentleman has come to these parts to look for such stones, and has found on the banks of the Tigris, in certain uninhabited places, ancient stones on which there are pictures and inscriptions. The British Ambassador has asked that no obstacles shall be put in the way of the above-mentioned gentleman taking the stones which may be useful to him, including those which he may discover by excavations … nor of his embarking them for transport to England.

The sincere friendship which firmly exists between the two governments makes it desirable that such demands be accepted. Therefore no obstacle should be put in the way of his taking the stones which … are present in desert places, and are not being utilised, or of his undertaking excavations in uninhabited places where this can be done without inconvenience to anyone; or of his taking such stones as he may wish amongst those which he has been able to discover.

(in H.W.F. Saggs, The Might That Was Assyria (Sidgwick and Jackson 1984) 305)

There are serious issues with the conduct of archaeology in many parts of the world, such as imperialism, and the use of archaeology for nationalistic or propagandistic pieces. Saddam Hussein certainly used his restoration of Iraq’s ancient monuments to bolster his Ba’ath regime. Babylon, or at least one of its ziggurats, was ‘restored’ using modern bricks, stamped with his name. Hence, perhaps, the resentment of the Islamist militants for the remains of that ancient civilisation.

Layard and the early excavators, however, were interested only in uncovering the great monuments and remains of what was a lost civilisation. They were not interested in attacking Islam, and were careful to assure the Turkish authorities that they were not.

And ISIS have shown that they don’t just smash pre- or non-Islamic works. They have also attacked Muslim shrines and institutions such as the Mosque of the Prophet Sheth/ Seth in Iraq, and the grave of a Sufi saint and the medieval Islamic library in Timbuktu.

They are the enemies of adabiyyat, literature and culture, regardless of whether it is Arab, Islamic or otherwise. And their destruction impoverishes all the world’s culture.

ISIS’ Destruction of Muslim Cultural Treasures in Timbuktu

March 17, 2015

Yesterday I put up a number of pieces on ISIS’ destruction of irreplaceable cultural treasures, seen in the smashing of ancient Assyrian artefacts in a museum in Mosul and the destruction of an Islamic shrine of Adam’s son Seth, revered in Islam as the prophet Sheth. The Islamist terror group hasn’t confined its destruction of items and monuments of immense cultural heritage to Iraq.

This is a report from Euronews from 29th January 2013, reporting how, when they were expelled from Timbuktu, they smashed one of the important local graves, and set fire to the local library, in the hope of destroying the priceless books and manuscripts within.

ISIS’ Attack on the Graves of the Sufi Saints

This was a calculated attempted to destroy Mali’s peculiar Islamic culture, and its rich intellectual heritage that is only just beginning to be discovered and truly appreciated by Western scholars. And it shows clearly what ISIS would like to do to other Muslim nations and their cultures, including those in the West, simply for not following what they consider to be the correct interpretation of Islam.

The desecration of the ancient grave looks to me like an attempt to destroy an aspect of Sufi worship, which is strongly rejected in Wahhabi Islam. Sufism is a form of Islamic mysticism, in which the practitioner attempts to achieve union with the Almighty through a series of spiritual exercises. These can include singing and dancing. There are a number of different Sufi orders, some of whom may differ widely from orthodox Islam. The famous whirling dervishes of Turkey are one Sufi order. These orders are under the guidance of a sheikh, the term given to their spiritual head. The orders’ founders are revered as saints, their graves are frequently the sites of veneration and special ceremonies.

I was taught at College that most Muslims in fact belong to a Sufi order. Sufi mysticism was practised not only in the Near East, but also amongst European Muslim communities in the former Ottoman Empire. Many of these communities were converted to Islam through their preaching, and in particular that of the Bektashi order, who served as the chaplains to the Ottoman forces. Unfortunately, this aspect of the traditional Islamic heritage of the Balkan nations has been under attack, not only from Non-Muslim nationalists, but also from Islamic fundamentalists from elsewhere in the Dar al-Islam. I can remember reading years ago in the Independent how graves in Muslim cemeteries in some of the Balkan countries had been destroyed as part of a fundamentalist attack on monuments and practices they considered non-Muslim.

There are British Muslims, who perform religious rites to venerate the graves of religious leaders in this country. If ISIS had their way, the worshippers and mystics at these shrines, who follow the traditions of their orders, would find their beliefs and practices banned and suppressed. Just as ISIS would kill and maim their non-Muslim friends and fellow citizens.

Timbuktu’s Ancient Heritage of Learning

As for the destruction of the library, Timbuktu was one of the richest towns in West Africa during the Middle Ages because of its position on the major gold trading route. So rich was the country, that when the ruler of Mali went on the pilgrimage to Mecca, the Hajj, in the 12th century, he took so much gold with him that it sent Egypt into recession.

Mali was not only rich, but cultured. Timbuktu was a university town, where the Islamic texts and doctrines were studied and copied. Not only that, but its scholars were also interest in the secular sciences that were pursued by Muslim scientists during the Middle Ages. One of the books shown to the Beeb’s Aminatta Forna in her programme on Timbuktu’s lost library was a scientific text arguing for a heliocentric model of the solar system. That’s the same model as proposed independently in Europe by Copernicus, in which the Earth goes round the Sun, rather than the usual medieval notion of the Sun and the planets going round the Earth.

Forna’s programme was a fascinating documentary on the sheer wealth of the city’s and Mali’s medieval culture and learning. It’s also on Youtube. Here it is below. It’s nearly an hour, so not short, but well worth watching.

The modern Arabic word for literature is adabiyyat, which I understand is derived from adab, meaning manners, but also ‘culture’. ISIS in their destruction of the world’s cultural heritage and learning have shown themselves to be its enemies, both those of Muslims and non-Muslims. And if they continue, the world will be a much poorer place.

Tolstoy’s Prediction of the First World War

April 27, 2014

As I’ve mentioned before, this is the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War, and already the BBC has put on a season of programmes commemorating the conflict. I’ve blogged on Michael Gove’s criticism of the negative view of the First World War, which he feels denigrates the courage and patriotism of the soldiers. He attacked the Beeb’s comedy series, Black Adder Goes Forth, as an example of this, and compounded his argument with knee-jerk Tory anti-intellectualism by claiming that the view was promoted by ‘Left-wing intellectuals’. A number of bloggers have attacked this diatribe, including Mike over at Vox Political. It has also provoked a response from the creators of graphic novels, who are putting together several albums presenting the horrific reality of the conflict as a response to Gove’s Right-wing patriotic view of the War.

Many people in Europe in the late 19th and first decade of the 20th centuries were very much aware of the looming threat of world conflict. One of those who foresaw it and its mass carnage was the great Russian novelist, Leo Tolstoy. As well as a writer, Tolstoy was a pacifist Anarchist. He hated the horrors of modern, industrial society and the state that oppressed the Russian poor. He saw the solution in the abolition of the state and traditional peasant society, to the point where he gave up much of his life style as a Russian aristocrat to live, dress and work like a peasant. As a young man, he had, like many other noblemen, been a soldier and had fought in the wars to conquer Chechnya and the Caucasus. He had been highly impressed by ideas of a Chechen Sufi leader, who, when his nations’ attempts to resist the Russians through armed force were repeatedly suppressed, rejected violence and advocated instead a policy of non-violent civil disobedience. Tolstoy himself rejected violence, and took up the Sufi leader’s ideas. In turn, Tolstoy’s advocacy of the policy influenced Gandhi in his own campaign against British rule in India.

Tolstoy also campaigned on behalf of the Doukhobors, a heretical Russian Christian sect, that also rejected violence. It was due to Tolstoy’s support and that of British Quakers that the sect emigrated from Russia to settle in Canada.

He promoted his Anarchist and pacifist ideals in a series of books, What Then Must We Do?, The Kingdom of God is Within You and The Restoration of Hell. They also influenced his magnum opus, War and Peace. This was written to show that history was not made by a few great men, but by the actions of millions of ordinary people. Lionel Kochan discusses Tolstoy’s ideas, his criticisms of contemporary society, and prediction of the coming War in his Russia in Revolution (London: Paladin 1970). Tolstoy attacked just about every aspect of contemporary society, including science, the press, religion, state education, and the state as a system of organised crime itself. Kochan writes:

Tolstoy, no doubt, showed little, if any, awareness of the deep-rooted complexity of the evils he stigmatized; no doubt, also, his positive doctrine was thin enough – the gospel of universal love, undogmatic Christianity, sexual abstinence, non-resistance to evil, the renunciation of tobacco and alcohol – for all that his later work constitutes an anarchist programme of profound strength. His unbridled criticism of society and its values, his corrosive and derisive scepticism, made him an anarchist more anarchic, a nihilist more nihilistic and a revolutionary more destructive than any whom Russia had yet brought forth – far more consistent and humanistic than Bakunin, far more hard-headed than Kropotkin.

What is science? He asked. Had it done anything of value to human life in determining the weight of Saturn’s satellites? What was universal suffrage? A means whereby the prisoners elected their own gaolers. Had industrialism raised the standard of living? Then look at the slums and doss-houses of Moscow. Tolstoy derided division of labour as a device for turning men into machines, book-printing as a medium for communicating ‘all the nasty and stupid things that are done and written in the world’, and reform for teaching people ‘that though themselves bad they can reform bad people’. What did the church do but maintain idolatry ‘in the most literal sense of the word – worshipping holy relics and icons, offering sacrifices to them and expecting from them the fulfilment of the worshippers’ wishes’? What did compulsory education do but ‘teach the savage superstition of patriotism and the same pseudo-obligation to obey the state’? What was the press but a means for ‘exciting feelings of mutual hostility between the nations’? What were the governments of the time, despotic and liberal alike, but – and her Tolstoy quotes Herzen’s phrase – ‘Genghis Khans with telegraphs’? The modern state was a mechanism so interlocked and interdependent that it became impossible to discriminate between the guilty and the innocent: ‘Some people demand the perpetration of a crime, others decide that it shall be done, a third set confirm that decision, a fourth propose its execution, a fifth report on it, a sixth finally decree it, and a seventh carry out the decree.’ Tolstoy’s apocalyptic vision of a state given over to destruction culminates in an anticipation of the imminent First World War:

‘The bells will peal and long-haired men will dress themselves in gold-embroidered socks and begin to pray on behalf of murder … The editors of newspapers will set to work to arouse hatred and murder under the guise of patriotism and will be delighted to double their sales. Manufacturers, merchants, and contractors for army stores will hurry about joyfully in expectation of doubled profits … Army commanders will bustle here and there, drawing double pay and rations and hoping to receive trinkets and crosses, stripes and stars, for murdering people. Idle ladies and gentlemen will fuss about, entering their names in advance for the Red Cross and getting ready to bandage those whom their husbands and brothers are setting out to kill – imagining they will be doing a most Christian work thereby.’

Kochan criticises Tolstoy for not understanding how enthusiastic and patriotic Russian servicemen initially were for the War. However, he then goes on to quote the great writer’s prediction of the condition of the soldiers in the War’s later stages, men who

‘will trudge where they may be driven, stifling the despair in their souls by songs, debauchery and vodka. They will march, freeze, suffer from hunger, and fall ill. Some will die of disease, and some will at last come to the place where men will kill them by the thousand. And they too, without knowing why, will murder thousands of others whom they had never before seen, and who had neither done nor could do them any wrong.’

For Tolstoy, the coming world war would ‘devour in a year more victims than all the revolutions of a century’. (pp. 157-8).
I strongly disagree with most of Tolstoy’s criticisms of contemporary society. He was, for example, wrong about science not benefitting humanity. it clearly has and had, most obviously in the improvements in medicine, that appeared in the 19th century. And printing and the press have increased knowledge and much good around the globe, despite the fact that they can often be used for evil. Having said that, he does have a point with the Sun, Daily Mail, and Express.

It will, however, be interesting to see if the BBC or anyone else, in their programmes on the Great War, mention Tolstoy’s prediction.

As a pacifist Anarchist, Tolstoy’s political views were strongly disapproved by Paul Johnson in the Spectator. In one of his articles in that journal he described the great novelists as somehow – I’ve forgotten quite what he wrote – being responsible for the Russian Revolution and Stalin’s tyranny. He never described how this was so. He simply asserted it, and went on. The only thing Tolstoy had in common with Stalin is that they were both radicals, who revolted against the Tsarist state. And possibly that they both had military careers. Apart from that, Tolstoy hated everything that Stalin stood for – militarism, an oppressive, coercive state, brutality and murder. And Tolstoy himself was far from unique in wishing to see a radical reform or overthrow of contemporary society. By 1905 the Tsar’s reluctance to establish any kind of constitutional reforms had pushed most sections of the Russian society in opposition. Even the Union of Unions, made up members of the liberal profession – doctors, lawyers, vets, scientists, engineers, teachers, university professors – not the usual bomb-throwing nutters – were advocating the use of violence if all else failed. There was another writer called, Tolstoy, Alexey, who survived into the Stalin era to write pieces praising the dictator. It looks like Johnson confused the two due to the same surname. But Leo Tolstoy would have been utterly opposed to the old thug.