Center for Strategic Communication

[ by Charles Cameron — the geometry of two miracle stories from Abdullah Azzam ]

SPEC DQ Azzam honey & vinegar

These two tales are taken from Abdullah Azzam, Signs of ar-Rahman in the Jihad of Afghan.


Binary oppositions seem to be basic to the human thought process, and this simple, elegant observation has in turn given rise to a number of interesting philosopphical explorations, some of which are expressed perhaps most powerully in diagrams. I am thinking here of the medieval square of opposition — as in this diagram taken from Georg Reisch, Margarita Phylosophica tractans de omni genere scibili, Basel 1517:

square_of_opposition SEMBL

Algirdas Greimas developed his semiotic square from this medieval diagram —


— and defines his square as the “visual representation of the logical articulation of any category”. In his “Towards a Theory of Modalities”, Greimas writes:

the terms manifestation vs. immanence .. can be compared profitably with the categories surface vs. deep in linguistics, manifest vs. latent in psychoanalysis, phenomenal vs. noumenal in philosophy, etc.

Then there’s Levi-Strauss and his triangle, essentially a variant on the same idea, applied by LS in his magnificent 4-volume Mythologiques to a wide range of myths — here’s the basic triangle for the first volume, The Raw and the Cooked:

LS culinary_triangle


What Reisch, Greimas and Levi-Strauss are all doing lies in its own distinct area of “visual thinking” at the confluence of logic, algebra, geometry and conceptual graphs — the same area my own DoubleQuotes and the HipBone and Sembl games are found in.

When people think about narrative — and it is or should be as hot a topic in strategy and counterterrorism as it is in myth, story-telling, film and their various related forms of criticism — they tend to think linearly, from beginning to end, noting the emotional expansions and contractions, the narrative shifts, the crescendos before the climax and its resolution.

My own style of thinking leans more to the atemporal or synchronic, which in turn is closer to the logical-algebraic-geometric-graphical mode of visual expression. Thus, for me, the “myth of Narcissus” is not a story-line but a geometry, a narrative formulation of the concept of reflection, or “bouncing back”. To adapt the Levi-Strauss triangle to the Narcissus narrative, then, we have:

Reflection triangle

while the two Azzam miracle tales in my DoubleQuote at the top of this post give us:

Azzam triangle

This in turn can become a square if we allow the four coordinates to be wine (intoxicant, bad), water (sobriety, good), vinegar (sour, bad) and honey (sweet, good). We notice here that water (sobriety, good) is the fourth which hovers unmentioned over the twin tales, just as Jung argued the dogma of the Assumption of the Virgin into heaven was the “fourth” which “completed” — nb, this is from a psychological perspective — the celestial Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

It remains for Jalaluddin Rumi to transcend the duality of halal (sobriety) and the haram (intoxication) in his praise of his master, Shams of Tabriz:

In Shams al-D?n-i Tabr?z? you will discover a heart which is at once intoxicated and very sober.


In what sense or senses are Azzam’s two tales two, and in what sense are they one and the same?

Sources & suggested further readings include:

  • The Raw and the Cooked: Mythologiques, Volume 1
  • Anthropology for Beginners
  • Structure, Sign, and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences
  • The Dual and the Real
  • Semiotics for Beginners
  • Semiotics and Language
  • Visual Memory (handbags!)
  • Punctualization: Law and Greimas
  • Square of Opposition
  • Visualizing knowledge
  • Signs of Ar-Rahman
  • Mystical Poems of Rumi