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No. 115 / 2017

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Tim Boxer



ISIS: The State of TerrorBuilding An Empire Of Death

HE millenarian group known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) is sweeping the Middle East—across Syria, Iraq, Yemen—to subjugate people and dominate territory to create an eventual global caliphate under a purer vision of the shariah umbrella.

Jessica Stern, a former member of the Clinton administration’s National Security Council and currently a lecturer on terrorism at Harvard, has teamed up with J.M. Berger, a nonresident fellow with the Brookings Institution and author of G.I. Joe: Americans Who Go to War in the Name of Islam, to explore the origins and analyze the objectives of this fast growing lethal movement. The result is a highly readable book, extremely well researched, titled ISIS: The State of Terror.

Neither air strikes, carpet bombing nor boots on the ground will check the onslaught of this brutal fundamentalist movement. The authors maintain that "the history of ISIS and al Qaeda before it show that overwhelming military force is not a solution to hybrid organizations that straddle the line between terrorism and insurgency." In fact, the rise of the extremist ISIS is the "unintended consequence of Western intervention in Iraq."

For its apocalyptic ideology ensnares disenfranchised youth the world over who flock from every corner of the globe and join the campaign to usher in the end of days. ISIS, the totally barbaric Sunni army, is in a war between true believers and apostates, between good and evil.

Troops on the ground will not succeed to stop this war. "The West has thus far failed to craft a cohesive and comprehensive response" to the ISIS black-and-white narrative.

ISIS fights much of its battle with the West on social media. Yet the West effectively owns this battlefield. Our failure is that we don’t understand and act on that fact. "Never before," the authors affirm, "has there been a war where one side controlled the operating environment. Our power over the Internet is the equivalent of being able to control the weather in a ground war—it is not a complete solution, but it should offer an overwhelming advantage if used correctly." Ecco/HarperCollins, 416 pages, $27.99 Amazon.com Price: $14.13)


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The Zohar: Pritzker EditionMysteries Of Life

HE Zohar, the paramount text of the esoteric teachings of Kabbala, primarily elucidates the Torah, the Five Books of Moses. Daniel C. Matt is halfway through his superb translation and extensive commentary of the Sefer haZohar (Book of Radiance), originally written in Aramaic in 13th century Spain. He expects to finish his extraordinary work with a total of 12 volumes.

When I first began with Genesis, the first words of the Torah ("in the beginning") opened my eyes to the fact that not everything is as it appears, not every word means what it sounds. In the beginning of what? Perhaps with "beginning."

The rabbis of the Zohar walk in the fields discoursing on the biblical text and breaking down the words of the text to clarify the meaning of "beginning" (bereshis). It took me weeks to slog through those mystical insights; eventually I realized what the word "beginning" symbolizes.

I just completed examining the sixth volume, which covers the last four chapters of Exodus (Shemos). Among the numerous subjects discussed is the number of times a man should engage in sexual union with his wife. Coupling surely occurs every night, but the wise should arrange his conjugal performance especially on Sabbath eve when he is imbued with an extra soul on that holy day. "There is protection on that night for the Holy People."

Without Matt’s clarifications in his running commentary at the bottom of every page, the mysteries that unfold from the rabbis’ discussions would be too esoteric for my humble brain. Matt, who has taught at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, as well as Stanford University and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, is an amazing decoder of the mysteries that the kabbalistic rabbis herein reveal. The Zohar: Pritzker Edition, Stanford University Press, Volume 6, 452 pages, $55.00 Amazon.com Price: $32.87)


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The Beatles and Me On Tour by Ivor Davis

The Old Days Were Better

OSE EICHENBAUM, an eminent photojournalist and teacher, blends portraits of prominent directors of film, theater and television with disarming and enchanting conversation of their art and lives. Among her 35 storied subjects are such titans of the art as Peter Bogdanovich, Mel Brooks, Hal Prince, Barry Levinson, Arthur Hiller and Robert Towne.

"I can’t say anything good about the industry today," Bogdanovich, who directed such legendary work as The Last Picture Show (1971) and Paper Moon (1973), tells her. He laments the passing of the classic Hollywood studio era, the Golden Age of Hollywood, that produced artistic work, unlike these days of independent producers who feel compelled (by money) to make nothing but blockbusters.

"Today’s pictures are all about franchises and superheroes…I think we’re in a period of decadence…What we want now are comic book heroes, escapism, and instant solutions through fictitious computer-generated fantasies. When people go to the movies today, what they see is fake and they know it…So we’ve ruined it for the audience. The magic’s gone.

Then there’s Susan Stroman, who directed The Producers (2001) which won more Tony Awards than any other musical in Broadway history. Among other matters, she talked about the importance of timing a show’s opening. She was working on Thou Shall Not, a musical based on Emily Zola’s very dark Therese Raquin, at the time the Twin Towers fell. The show closed after 85 performances because audiences were not in a mood to see a story about a murder. "But people flocked to see The Producers," she said, " because "they came for relief and to be uplifted in the same way that people went to see Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers on the big screen during the Depression."

All the interviews Eichenbaum did are just as insightful. This is a page-turner of a book; informative and gripping. Wesleyan University Press, 302 pages, $30.00 Amazon.com Price: $25.02)


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