Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes: Looking through the darkly painted mirror; Disasters of War, Witches’ Sabbath, and the Colossus

Madrid, Spain 1793:               

 The chill of the night air was thick with the sweet smell of burning wood, smoky leaves, and the familiar aroma of roasted vegetables, black pork, and paella, which hung in the air like a veiled fog in the Spanish autumn evening.  The stars cut through the night sky, revealed their beauty, not of starlight but all things imaginable, luminous, and unseen by the human eye, like a trick of the light.  From afar, a single candle flickers and illuminates the house window of Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes.  The calm of the night air becomes anxious by sounds of gasping and coughing from inside the house where Goya is facing down in his cot, suffering from the heat of fever, soaked in sweat, and it is here, Goya experiences feverish and delirious dreams.  Whispering to himself softly, and repeatedly, “My name is Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes, the greatest painter in all the Kingdom of Spain,” once more Goya begins to dream, again, and again.

Starry, starry night, mysterious sprites, dancing as muses throughout the night, with the moon so bright, oh Iberian moonlight, call the ancient ones and show them all that is not of daylight.

Goya laughs in his sleep and whispers, “Spain the crossroads of enchantment, my homeland of superstitions, has she not learned anything from the years of the enlightenment?  I Goya, the greatest painter in all of Spain will paint them for what they are.  I will paint them their world, a world of ignorance, superstitions, fear, and terror.”

 Goya continues to dream and finds himself walking down old and ancient Roman Hispania country road in the middle of the night with a mere candle lantern, stars in the night, so bright.  As Goya approaches the steep of a hill, rubs his eyes in disbelief; he suddenly drops to his knees not to be discovered, as at the top of the hill, three witches in flight, floating in mid-air, hovering high above the peak of the hill, holding their victim in the night, feasting on a poor soul’s life.  The victim’s body was as if draping silk cloth in their embrace.  Goya could hear crying, and his hands began to shake as the crying becomes louder and louder.

 Below the hovering witches, a dark silhouette formed, an old peasant appeared, hunched down, head covered only to see the narrow path ahead down the hill, and signs with his hands to ward off the evil eye.  The witches and their victim dissipate into thin air and no longer a reality.  The peasant and his crying donkey are obvious now in the candlelight as they come down the hill.  Goya stops the old peasant and asks, “What is your donkey’s name, old man?” The peasant replies,” his name is Ignorance, my friend, and yours?” Goya shakes his head and then grins widely while wiping his eyes.

 The old peasant turns his head back towards Goya, and calmly states, “I cannot hear your answer, I cannot hear you, my friend.”  Goya whispers back to the old peasant, “I sense something unnatural, something haunting.”  Goya wakes up out of his dream with sweat beaded on his forehead, and stumbles frantically around the room, banging tin cups, plates, or anything he could get his hands on to make noises, but only detects an unnatural and haunting silence.  The haunting silence was not a dream but a muse of a deep and dark human truth.

Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes (b. 1746 – d.1828)    Goya was born in Fuendetodos, Spain, a village slightly south of Zaragossa in the providence of Aragon.   Goya’s parents were Jose Francisco de Paula Goya, and he was a tradesman, a master gilder.  His mother, Gracia Lucientes, and she would also mother Goya’s siblings, Rita (b.1737), Jacinta (b.1743), Mariano (b.1750) and Carmelo (b.1752).  Later Goya’s family moved to Zaragossa, and there at age 14, he studied under José Luzán y Martinez (b.1710 – d. 1785).   Goya, before long moved to Madrid, in 1763 joined the studio of the brothers of Francisco (b.1734 – d.1795) and Ramón Bayeu y Subías (b.1746 – d.1793) where he met Josefa Bayeu (d.1812), their sister.   For a brief two-year period, Goya visited and studied in Italy in 1770, after two failed attempts in drawing competitions at the Real Academia des Bellas Artes in San Fernando.  In 1773, he married Josefa, and their life together characterized by a series of pregnancies and a number of miscarriages.  Her nickname was “Pepa” and she gave Goya seven children to him, only one of which lived past infancy and into adulthood; Xavier Goya (b.1784).

 Goya artistically matured under later reign of the House of Bourbon of King Charles III and King Charles IV during the Spanish Enlightenment, and then under Ferdinand VII.  In addition, with the exception of the brief five years (1808 – 1813) of the House of Bonaparte of Joseph I.  In 1786, Goya became a court painter to the Spanish Crown; portrait commissions by the Spanish aristocracy mark these early works.  Also during this period 1774, Goya developed a relationship with Anton Raphael Mengs (b. 1728 – d. 1779) through the Royal workshops.  Mengs asked Goya to create a number of Rococo style tapestry cartoons designed for the royal palace.  Throughout his life and career, Goya was a secretive man, although letters and writing survived, we know comparatively little about his external and internal thoughts, other than his paintings and prints, and these are powerful biographical artifacts of the man, as we come to know as Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes.

Into Silence of Darkness:

 In 1793, Goya suffered a severe and unknown illness, which left him completely deaf.  However, the onset of deafness was not an obstacle in Goya’s ability to social climb, in 1795, appointed to Director of the Royal Academy, and in 1799 Goya became Primer Pintor de Cámara, the highest rank for a Spanish court painter.  However, his works became progressively darker and pessimistic about the world around him, his canvas works, mural painting, printmaking, and drawing began to reflect bleak outlook on the psychological and social-political level.   The onset of deafness also had a deep physiological impact on Goya, as deafness would be life-changing.  From this point, his work evolved into a dichotomy of light and dark works of art.  Like a two-sided coin, where one side of the coin is external, representational, commissioned works of portraiture of royals and the highborn, while the other side of the coin, portrayed a darker, internalized, emotional, intellectual, imaginative, and social-political works of art.

Goya, Napoleon, and the Peninsular War:

 In 1807, Napoleon invaded and occupied Spain.  Goya remained in Madrid during the Peninsular War, and the terror of the war changed Goya’s work and his outlook on human behavior.  Goya was perceptive enough to stay out of the politics of harm’s way, by holding his cards to his chest, and only displayed cards that were in his best interest.  Goya pledge allegiance to Bonaparte, and painted for the French power elite and highborn.  In 1811, Goya was awarded the Royal Order of Spain.  In the autumn of 1814, Napoleon’s grip on Spain was brought to an end, and a new King was installed, Ferdinand VII, who was unlike his father Charles IV, who was a true believer in the Enlightenment.  Ferdinand VII was the complete opposite of his father and became an absolute monarchy during the reign, which set the stage between two political adversaries, it was the Liberals versus the Monarchist, a political struggle that dominated his time

  During the same period, Goya produced “Disasters of War” along with other works from his mid-career period includes the Los Caprichos and Los Disparates print series, and a variety of paintings depicting insanity, mental asylums, witches, fantastical creatures, religious and political corruption, all that were private observations, anxieties, and fears of a culture of ignorance and superstition.  Not to mention, the fate of Goya’s own physical and mental state to endure.  Toward the end of his career and life, Goya continues to produce boldly with the so-called, Black Paintings of 1819–1823, applied oil on the plaster walls of his house the “Quinta del Sordo” (house of the deaf man) signifying his isolation, and disillusion with the Spanish political and social life.  In 1824, Goya left Spain for the French city of Bordeaux, accompanied by his maid and companion, Leocadia Weiss.  There he completed his last and final series, La Tauromaquia.  Soon after, Goya suffered a stroke, which left him paralyzed on his right side and failing eyesight.  Goya died in Bordeaux, France on April 16, 1828, at age eighty-two.  Spain would never forget one of their greatest artists, Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes; his body re-interred in Spain in 1901, moved beneath the floor of the Royal Chapel of San Antonio de la Florida in Madrid, Spain.

 Before the life and times of Goya, Hieronymus Bosch (c.1450 – d.1516) and Pieter Brueghel the Elder (c.1525 – d.1569) both Renaissance period painters, also come to mind into the historical window of view, as they dealt into the subject matter of imaginative, otherworldly, and unsavory depiction of hellish human landscapes as social-religious acceptable doctrines of their day.  However, this was not the case with Goya, his subversive works without a doubt put his life on the line with the Spanish Inquisition more than once.  If it was not for his royal and aristocratic connections to pull strings, one could only speculate the outcome from the judicator of the inquisition, and the impact of such an adjudication of the inquisition on the life and physical works of Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes.

 Critics and historians alike often described Goya’s works during his black period as journey into his private madness and psyche of deafness, but his canvas work, murals, printmaking, and drawings speak of another truth of ages, a deep, dark human truth of ignorance, superstitions, corruption, slavery, fear, war, and terror.  Goya was artistically matured master of iconic imagery; he used the ideals of the enlightenment as the symbolic framework or the iconology in his dark paintings, murals, printmaking, and drawings.  Goya was indeed recognized as a great artist by both the Spanish and French aristocracy of his day for his portrait work.  However, what ultimately transports Goya’s artistic reputation over historic time, are the continued and collective interests of his darker masterpieces, and his ability to transport his most inner thoughts of the social-political world around him, in a unique and highly personalized visual form, with cryptic, iconic, and subversive symbolism of the enlightenment. Goya’s critical and moral eye paints an age of colossal turbulence, disasters, and ignorance, reminding future generations to come; they too are not exempt from deep and dark human truths.

Disasters of War:

 Long before the age of photography and the development of war photography, there was Goya’s master plates and prints, Disasters of War (Los desastres de la guerra), a series of 82 prints created between 1810 and 1820, which never were published during his lifetime. The original name for the series derived from his handwriting from the proofs, “Fatal consequences of Spain’s bloody war with Bonaparte, and other emphatic caprices (Fatales consequencias de la sangrienta guerra en España con Buonaparte, y otros caprichos enfáticos).”  The series of plates portray Goya’s persistent memory of the Peninsular War from 1808 to 1814, and the subsequent setbacks to liberal causes following the restoration of the Bourbon monarchy in 1814.  At age 62, Goya began work on the plates, and the series of Disasters of War divided into three thematic grouping; war, famine, political-cultural vignettes.  The final plates kept in safe storage and not published until 35 years after his death, in 1863.

 Some surmise the protracted gap in publishing the series only then, after his death was considered politically safe for distribution, with public exposure to criticizing both the French, and restored Spanish monarchy of the Bourbons.  Goya’s true intention to publish the series is indeed unknown, but the rationale of the protracted publishing date seems as reasonable counsel, considering the possible risks to Goya, and his patrons.  The Disasters of War represents a deep, dark, human truth about human aggression and its terror. The human narrative of human aggression and its associated outcomes has shaped the human genome, transformed human migration patterns throughout history as we know it today, including our humanity of ethnic, cultural, religious, political, and national identities. The theater of human aggression becomes more complex in the role it plays, as the facts are played out over time in transforming the world of humans. Such aggression and counter-aggression become the collective mark in our DNA, and human consciousness.  Like the natural world, we swim in a Darwinian ocean of natural selection, leaving survival of the fittest, for the better or worse.

Seeds of Conflict:

 Embedded in Human DNA are small amounts of Homo neanderthalensis Mitochondrial DNA, and such findings are based on the research performed by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the Joint Genome Institute in 2006.  The published findings and evidence point to Homo sapiens and Homo neanderthalensis life cycles overlapped, and interbreeding occurred.  No one knows exactly what led to the extinction of the Homo neanderthalensis. What we do know that Homo neanderthalensis came out of Africa into Eurasia, and then migrated from Eurasia to the far reaches of Western Europe into mostly the regions of France and Spain, then succumbed to extinction.  In many ways, Homo neanderthalensis was equally or more prepared for survival than their counterpart Homo sapiens.  Homo neanderthalensis had short, robust, stocky build, were courageous, and fearless hunters.  They exhibited the ability to use tools, made clothes, jewelry, hunting apparatuses, took care of their sick, wounded, and buried their dead.  Their cave art in France and Spain are legendary powers of observations.

 So why did Homo neanderthalensis succumbed to extinction? There are two primary hypotheses debated in the scientific community as to the demise of Homo neanderthalensis, failure in adaptation to climate change, and the other, competing for resources along with Homo sapiens in an ever-changing environment. Although, there is no significant evidence in the fossil record linking climate change directly to the demise of Homo neanderthalensis, however, climate change is indeed considered one of the usual suspects, and contributing factors, over longer periods of time.  If human history is any indication, the latter of natural selection and survival of the fittest for competing resources appears more plausible for Homo neanderthalensis extinction.  As competition between Homo sapiens and Homo neanderthalensis for resources such as water, food, reproduction, safe habitats, and from the elements, all become the catalyst for conflict, leading to other risks, such as the dangers of migration and the challenges of adaptation, where if unsuccessful in migration and adaptation, the probability of extinction of the genetic line becomes a reality.

 Competition is no stranger in the natural world for all other species, so why would Homo sapiens and Homo neanderthalensis be exempt from the successes and failures of natural selection? Aggression and counter-aggressions are elements required for incremental evolutionary change and adaptation; sink or swim.  Could have not the traits of aggression and counter-aggression thinking have given our early Homo sapiens ancestors an edge over Homo neanderthalensis? Along with Homo sapiens’ instincts to take fewer risks relative to Homo neanderthalensis, by lowering Homo sapiens’ mortality rates comparatively?  There is a lot said about Homo sapiens’ ability to adapt to changing environmental resources as both hunters and gathers but could have Homo sapiens been more successful procreating at much higher rates, in the end, overcame Homo neanderthalensis by the numbers?

 The narrative of Homo neanderthalensis is one comprised of both facts, and conjecture, simply because we do not know if the extinction of Homo neanderthalensis was by climate change, disease, genocide, starvation, cannibalism, or inability to adapt to dire changes over time.  The correlation of the human haplogroup migration patterns over thousands of years along with the historic record mirrors the story of human struggles, conflicts, and branches that terminated with extinction.  The same human narrative or algorithms appear cycling over, and over again; aggression and counter-aggression, habitat change, migration, adaptation, competition for resources, and the inevitable disasters of war. Goya’s disaster of war is a reminder, an allegorical vision, of all that humans are capable of that is basic or primal, embedded as inherited markers that come along in time, and recorded in our (SNP) single nucleotide polymorphism through our human genome.  If not Goya, art, or history satisfies the question, and then look no further but to the present.

Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and the Levant:

 For some, the loss of art, culture, and history, is inability to view the present or even visualize the future, for others, the art, culture, and history are threats to their control, and ability to force their covenant upon others, as facts, and empirical thinking can be critical to all religions and governing bodies.  When terror and madness of the disasters of war are placed into a contemporaneous view, not as art, but as historical significance, then take an empty vessel, add the mixture of religion, ignorance, malice, and desire for power, and stir violently.  Behold you have the current nation-states of Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraq, with cooperation to fuel regional conflict and civil war from Iran, Egypt, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, United States, Russia, and Turkey.

In the cradle of the Levant and surrounding regions, the birth of Abrahamic religions began and developed into the doctrines of the scripts, the Old Testament, New Testament, and the Quran.  Today, the internal struggles within, and between the Abrahamic religions, and more specifically to the more isolated and smaller demographic segment populations within the sects of Islam, has transpired into a sadistic amalgamation of terror, and what can only be described as a disaster of war in Syria, and the greater Levant region.   Religious righteousness combined with acts of amorality, reckless brutality, murderous cowardliness, intolerance, and disdain of human life as precious and God-given, are the precise words that come to mind describing of Muslim violence against other Muslims, Christians, Jews, Kurds, and other ethnicities. Such barbaric acts we are witnessing in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and the greater region, are categorically acts of terror, and to a finer degree, genocide.  Here in this region, are the sins of disasters of war.  As the deliberate intent of religious and ethnic cleansing by the perpetrators that pretentiously use the mantra of the defenders of an Abrahamic sect of religion, by malice, senseless acts of murdering of innocent and defenseless civilians of all ages, regardless of Abrahamic code.

 The perpetrators of these acts are demographically young to middle-aged men with no legitimate economic prospects, but turn to crime and declension, creating disasters of war on all that oppose their power, and control, all for a paycheck or the love of money.  Acting with a sense of false bravado with their murderous acts in places like Aleppo, Mosul, Al-Raqqah or wherever, to perpetuate their unholy terror.  They peculate their religion, stealing and taking scripts out context to justify their crimes, with acts of terror such as murder, suicide bombings, torture, starvation, thievery, slavery, and prostitution, all with the intent to create a pseudo-nation-state.  No legitimate followers of the Abrahamic tradition or eastern religion for that matter condone such sins; such is the murderous and immoral cowardliness in the face of God and the heavens.  Oh wisdom lost in antiquity, in Spain’s Islamic Golden Age, where all three of Abrahamic faiths were unified, Christian Monks, Jewish Rabbis, and Muslim Imams of the Abrahamic scripts were of one mind in Abrahamic code, and together they prayed, collaborated, and respected each Abrahamic faith.  Of this antiquity of Abrahamic union of three, they leave us with this line of code; there are seven levels of ascension or declensions of human will, four sectors of the heavens, one God.

Saladin and Richard I, the Lionheart:

 Long ago in time, paralleled in this same ancient region of the world, An-Nasir Salah ad-Din Yusuf ibn Ayyub (صلاح الدين يوسف بن أيوب) or historically known as Saladin to the West (b.1137 – d. March 1193), was born in the city of Tikrit, which now in modern-day Iraq.   Saladin came from a family of Sunni Muslims, and of Kurdish ancestry, served as Emir and Sultan of Egypt, conquered Syria, Yemen, and parts of North Africa.  Saladin considered a legendary and prominent military figure in Muslim, Arab, Turkish, Kurdish, and European histories.  It was during this period in history (11th through 15th centuries), during the age of the Crusades, the first major clashes between the Arab Islamic world and the European cultures began.  It was the Third Crusade (1189–1192), where the fight for Jerusalem, a sacred place of the people of scripts, of the rock, was at the spiritual and emotional heart for all Arab Christians, Copts, Jews, Muslims, and European Christians.  The battles that ensued during the Third Crusade also culminated into disasters of war, both Christian and Islamic armies were far from perfect in the eyes of a divine morality or God, as many lives were lost, with little gained, other than the history of mortals made.

 Richard I, the Lionheart of noble pedigree, indeed, as the King of England (son of Henry II of England and Eleanor of Aquitaine), a shrewd military leader, who led by example in battles, and earned the moniker, the Lionheart, as no man could meet the vigor, strength, and swiftness of his sword in the heat of battle. Only to find the silence of death waiting.  Also to his credit, Richard the Lionheart was above average strategic military thinker, and negotiator.  His decision-making was paramount, calm, and calculated, with the ability to size up the terrain, and the situation quickly.   Unlike Guy of Lusignan (c. 1150 – d. 1194) or Conrad of Montferrat (d. 1192), Richard the Lionheart used his wits, and ability to leverage military know-how with negotiations to create outcomes that his enemies had settle for compromise or choose more painful situation that would result in a greater loss of freedom, control, and resolve. It was of an extraordinary time, extraordinary place, where Saladin and Richard the Lionheart exhibited moments of legendary leadership under inconceivable political, ethical, human, and mortal challenges, with an unparalleled use of the military power of the era.

 When Saladin captured Jerusalem (Siege of Jerusalem -1187), he followed the Abrahamic tradition of kindness and cleansed the city of Jerusalem with rose water, not with the blood of Christians, Copts or Jews.  Saladin’s act of cleansing the city with rose water was not only a powerful and epic Abrahamic metaphor but also perhaps a well-informed use of power.  Saladin often showed kindness to the populations he conquered regardless of the differences in faith.  During the Battle of Arsuf, Saladin observed Richard the Lionheart fall off his horse and sent two of his horses to him so he could continue to fight as a noble or when Saladin heard that Richard the Lionheart sick with fever, he sent fruit and snow for water to drink.  It was not only an act out of admiration of Richard the Lionheart as a leader but Saladin keenly understood the power and greatness of Abrahamic kindness as a real and practical use of power; as such power, will influence the future to come.

 In the end, Richard the Lionheart and Saladin both realized the sobering realities of the conflict; the battles were beginning to take a toll on their armies, and degrading their power, and control.  For Richard the Lionheart trouble was brewing back home in England, his brother was undermining his power as King of England, while the conquest of Jerusalem was becoming unsustainable reality.  For the first time, Saladin began to face the slipping away of the control and respect of his army.  In September 1192, Richard the Lionheart and Saladin signed the Treaty of Jaffa, a three-year truce between the two armies.  The treaty guaranteed safe passage of Christians and Muslims through Palestine, stating that the Christians would hold the coast from Tyre to Jaffa, however, the rest of the lands of Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and the Levant region, including Jerusalem was left to Muslims’ control.  Despite Jerusalem’s stormy historical past with the ebb and flow of religious control of the city between the Abrahamic faiths, it is the legacy of Saladin and Richard the Lionheart where precedence was set (September 1192).  In that conflict can be negotiated and managed under the Abrahamic code, and today the world recognizes the City of Jerusalem as the rightful home to all three Abrahamic faiths, Christians, Jews, and Muslims.

Back to the Future to Syria:

 It is here in Syria and the Levant region, 725 years or more since the Crusades; we see age-old conflicts with improvident deaths, and destruction, along with a mutative twist of disasters of war.  In Syria, the war raging on is a civil war, complicated with a multitude of competing for political-religious factions, and outside global interests.  To better, understand contemporaneous political and religious schism among the Arab, Persian, and Turkish states, one must turn the page back, to the historic and spatial context of five centuries of the Ottoman Empire, with the overlap with European culture, in which 19th century Orientalism became the narrow imperialistic European lens of all cultures Middle Eastern, East Indian, and Asian.  Edward Said’s notable critique of Orientalism as an imaginary occidental view of Islamic culture resonated with many in the Islamic world long before Said’s book of the same title in 1978.

 After World War II, the Islamic world in the Middle East was fluid and search of an Arab-Islamic identity, which led to the development of Arab-Islamic nationalism in the mid-twentieth century with the rise of Gamal Abdel Nasser (جمال عبد الناصر حسين) of Egypt.  Nasser became the architect of the 1952 Revolution, and in 1954 assumed Egyptian leadership to bring a socialist style government to replace archaic Ottoman style monarchy as a form of a modern governing institution.  Nasser nationalized the Suez Canal in 1956, which became to be the victory-rallying point for Arab-nationalism in the region.  This began new threads of Arab socialist-style governments led by Ba’ath Party such as in Iraq under Saddam Hussein, and in Syria under Bashar al-Assad.  Now in the twentieth-first century, the complex threads of Arab Nationalists, Socialists, and Islamists have weaved a bloody tapestry in the Syrian civil war, where realities of death, torture, rape, cruelty, and inhumanity are beyond Abrahamic code and human comprehension.

Theater of the Syrian Civil War:

Total Casualties in Syria Based on Minimum Estimates: 
•    Estimates range from over 100,000 to 150,000 killed (the Year 2014)
•    Over 9 Million humans displaced
•    Chemical weapons attacks on civilian areas
•    Barrel bombing civilian areas
•    Widespread use of rape as a weapon of war
•    Summary executions of prisoners, including children
•    Mutilation and display of corpses, including crucifixion
•    Torture, including of children

Bashar al-Assad Regime
Military forces fighting for President Bashar al-Assad are Syrian Armed Forces, Al-Quds Force, Basij Militia, National Defense Forces, and Hezbollah.   Assad’s core Syrian supporters are from the Alawite minority.
Ideology: Baathist, Secularist, Arab Nationalist
Supporting States: Russia, Iran
Goals: Preserving Assad’s regime

Syrian Armed Forces:
Commander: Fahd Jassem al-Freij
What: The National Armed forces of the state of Syria
Goal: Preserving the Assad regime
Side: Regime
Component Groups: Infantry, Artillery, Tanks, Air Force
Estimated Strength: 220-280,000, Artillery, Air Power (Russian MiGs)
Strengths / Tactics: Dropping barrel-bombs on civilian areas

Additional Information: Syrian Armed Forces have complete domination of the air, and have perpetrated human rights abuses. The Syrian Air force mostly consists of Russian supplied MiGs.

Al-Quds Force and Basij Militia (Iran)
Commander: Qasem Soleimani
What: Iranian Revolutionary Guard’s Special Forces and Paramilitary Support Units
Goal: Iranian regional hegemony
Side: Assad Regime
Ideology: Shiite Islamist, Iranian Nationalist
Component Groups: Al-Quds Force, Basij Militias
Estimated Strength: Quds Force 15,000 total, Basij Militias unknown
Strengths / Tactics: Elite infantry force, superior training, and military intel

Additional Information: The Al-Quds force is the elite unit of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, set up after 1979 to safeguard the Islamic Republic. The Islamic State of Iran has sent IRG unit to secure Iranian interests in propping up Assad.  Aside from battlefield support, Iran also supplies weapons, intelligence, training, and strategic advice. They do not merely serve as soldiers, but have input on a higher strategic level, to what extent are their strategic activity is unknown about the secretive force, but its strength is estimated at around 15,000 men in total, how many are in Syria is generally unknown. What is known the Basij supports them, fiercely loyal paramilitaries that serve under the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.

National Defense Forces (NDF) and Allied Paramilitary Groups:
Commanders: NDF unknown, Others: Mihrac Ural
What: Militia groups supporting Assad’s regime. NDF is the best known and largest.
Goal: Maintaining Assad’s regime
Side: Regime
Ideology: Shiites, Alawites, Baathists, Sunnis, Communists, Christians
Component Groups: NDF, Ba’ath Brigades (BB), TSR, Others
Estimated Strength: 100,000 for the NDF, BB 10,000
Strengths / Tactics: Brutal, guerrilla tactics

Additional Information:  The NDF militia groups are units that have been organized and formed into the National Defense Force in support of Assad.  These militias provide infantry to support the army. Due to fears over the loyalty of the army and the risk of defections, Assad typically sends regular units into battle alongside loyal militias such as Suqur al-Sahara (The Desert Falcons). An assortment of other militias and paramilitary organizations utilized as auxiliaries in the field.  Pro-Assad militias come from a variety of sects and political strands. The Baath Brigades, the military wing of the ruling Baath Party formed Assad’s core power base.  Estimated strength of the National Defense Force stands at around 100,000 men.

Commander: Hassan Nasrallah
What: Lebanese Shi’ite terrorist group formed to fight Israel
Goal: Supporting Iran/Assad strategic alliance
Side: Regime, Iran
Ideology: Shiite Islamism
Component Groups: None
Estimated Strength: 20,000-30,000 (25% full-time active)
Strengths / Tactics: Well-trained, disciplined fighting force that turned the tide for the Regime at Qusayr and Yabroud battles

Additional Information:  Originally founded to fight Israel in Southern Lebanon, the Shiite militia force joined the conflict in 2013. Its name translates to “Party of God.” Assad, a long time backer of Hezbollah, and allows Iran to ship weapons to the terrorist group through Syria.  Hezbollah forces provided much-needed reinforcements that have been instrumental in recent regime gains, in particular in recapturing the strategically important town of Qusayr in 2013, and recently Yabroud. It is widely regarded as being more powerful than the Lebanese army is. There are fears that Hezbollah’s involvement will drag heavily divided Lebanon into the war. The US State Department has classified the group as a foreign terrorist organization.

The Rebels:
Who:  Collection of unrelated militia forces fighting against President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, which consists of Sunni Islamists, secularist forces, Kurdish, and other militias.
Supporting States: Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey, (to a lesser degree the USA and European countries)
Goals:  Removing Assad from power is their central goal.  The Sunni Islamist aim in the Syrian Civil War is the creation of an Islamic state, while Kurds aim for complete autonomy.

Islamic Front:
Commander: Ahmed Issa al-Sheik (from Suqour al-Sham)
What: A coalition of Islamist brigades
Goal: The removal of Assad and later creation of an Islamic State, Jihad
Side: Rebels, Islamists. Cooperates with Jabhat Al-Nusra
Ideology: Sunni Islamism
Component Groups: Ahrar as-Sham, Suquor al-Sham Brigades, The Tawhid Brigade, The Haq Brigade, The Ansar al-Sham Battalions, The Islam Army
Estimated Strength: 40,000 to 70,000 (March 5th)
Strengths / Tactics: Syria’s most powerful insurgent bloc, slightly more moderate Salafi Islamism than Nusra or ISIS

Additional Information:  “Syria’s most powerful insurgent bloc” formed as a merger between various Islamist factions that share the goal of establishing an Islamic State. A coalition of Islamist brigades has a semi-unified command. Tensions have existed between the Islamic Front, and ISIS Groups were rankled by ISIS’s brutal application of Islamist principles and extreme violence. In particular, a series of high profile murders, especially the murder of a commander from Ahrar as-Sham and seizures of weapons depots by ISIS fighters provoked fellow Jihadis. The coalition fights variously against ISIS, Assad’s force and factions of the Free Syria Army (FSA). On and off it has cooperated with FSA banner coalitions such as the Syrian Revolutionary Front. Frequently, however, battalions have refused to fight their fellow Jihadis in ISIS, and have allowed FSA banner brigades such as those in the SRF to endure the most of the fighting.

Jabhat Al-Nusra:
Commander: Abu Mohammed al-Joulani
What: Al Qaeda’s official affiliate in the Syrian conflict
Goal: Global Islamic caliphate, Jihad
Side: Rebels, Islamists.
Ideology: Sunni Islamism
Component Groups: None
Estimated Strength: 15,000-20,000
Strengths / Tactics: Suicide bombings

Additional Information:  Al-Qaeda’s official affiliate in the Syrian Civil War, Nusra is one of the most effective and feared fighting forces in the war. They swear loyalty personally to al-Qaeda leader Sheik Zawahiri. They have (officially) prioritized defeating the regime over creating an Islamic state, leading to disagreements with ISIS, which does the opposite. It still maintains the long-term Islamist goal of establishing an Islamic Caliphate in the Levant. Their fighters are a combination of guerilla fighters from Iraq with experience fighting American soldiers and local Jihadists. Better funding and resources allowed Nusra to gain recruits at the expense of them cash-strapped Free Syria Army. ISIS and Nusra split in mid-2013 when Zawahiri called on ISIS to disband, and they refused. They are allied with the Islamic Front and work together occasionally with FSA units such as the SRF.

Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (AKA: ISIS, ISIL, DAESH):
Commander: Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi
What: Terrorist group establishing the state, formed from the Islamic State of Iraq
Goal: An Islamic state in parts of Iraq and Syria, Global Islamic caliphate
Side: Rebels, Islamists
Ideology: Sunni Islamism
Component Groups: None
Estimated Strength: Reliable estimate unavailable
Strengths / Tactics: Brutality, implementation of sharia

Additional Information:  The most notorious of Syria’s many factions, this Sunni Islamist group seeks to establish an independent state in western Syria and northern Iraq.  Formed out of al-Qaeda in Iraq, called the Islamic State of Iraq, they initially entered the Syrian Civil War to support the Islamist cause there. Extreme violence and brutality in enforcing Sharia law have been the hallmarks of its presence. Recently they displayed the crucified bodies of their enemies in Raqqa.  Its Emir, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, had a personal dispute with the leader of Jabhat al-Nusra and with al-Qaeda head Sheik Zawahiri which resulted in the group being expelled from al-Qaeda. ISIS then stopped providing Iraqi oil revenues to Nusra.  It is currently engaged in fighting Kurdish militias, Nusra and other brigades flying FSA banners. ISIS is comprised mostly of foreigners and very few ethnic Syrians.  It has been accused of betraying the revolution to further its ends and of collaborating with the regime.  ISIL (Daesh), propped up by a local ‘ansar’ network (helpers) that provides logistical and local support.

Free Syrian Army (FSA):
Commander: Various, officially Abdul-Ilah al-Bashir. Syrian Revolutionary Front (SRF)- Jamal Ma’aruf
What: Umbrella of broadly secularist rebel forces formed mainly from Syrian army deserters
Goal: End of the Assad regime, democratic state
Side: Rebels
Ideology: Broadly secularist, some Islamist elements/sympathies
Component Groups: Supreme Military Council, Syrian Revolutionary Front (SRF), Euphrates Islamic Liberation Front, others
Estimated Strength: Reliable estimate unavailable
Strengths / Tactics: Western-backed official opposition, comparatively poor funding (under National Coalition of Syria).

Additional Information:  The oldest of the Syrian rebel factions, formed in the early days of the war primarily out of defectors from the Syrian army. They do not operate as a unified army rather they are a loose group of battalions and coalitions that fight under the broad banner of the FSA. They have suffered heavy losses both to regime forces and ISIS, whom they have been fighting but remain a central component of the rebel forces. Their exact numbers are unknown. Fresh defections from the Syrian army have bolstered their ranks over the course of the war. Defections are estimated in the ‘tens of thousands.’  Some FSA brigades swear loyalty to the Supreme Military Council. They have received limited aid from the west. In response to the merger of the Islamic Front, a loosely western aligned coalition called the Syrian Revolutionary Front formed under the FSA banner, commanded by Jamal Ma’aruf. The Euphrates Islamic Liberation Front is another FSA banner coalition. On occasion, these groups have fought the Islamic Front and Jabhat al-Nusra and have joined both against ISIS and the regime.

Popular Protection Units (YPG) and Allies:
Commander: Sipan Hemo
What: Kurdish and allied militia groups in northeastern Syria, some Christian allies
Goal: Kurdish autonomy
Side: Against Islamists, aim for autonomy from Assad regime and Turkey
Ideology: Kurdish Nationalist, Christian Syriac Military Council (SMC)
Component Groups: YPG, Syriac Military Council
Estimated Strength: 40,000-50,000
Strengths / Tactics: Re-opening schools, driving out ISIS and Nusra

Additional Information:  Kurdish militia groups such as YPG have been fighting to protect their areas in the north of the country from both the ravages of war.  YPG recently joined by the Syriac Military Council, a Christian militia group that predominantly has focused on driving out ISIS, who enforced brutal Sharia law under their control, as well as kidnapping local leaders, and vandalizing Sufi mosques. They have also fought Nusra and other groups from the Islamic Front. YPG’s goals are to unifying and protecting Kurdistan that is affiliated with the Kurdish Democratic Union Party and the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) that operates in Turkey.   No calls have been made been for an independent Kurdish state.

Source and Credits: The Clarion Project

Oh, Gabriel, Where Does Beauty Lie?

 No one knows how long or what the outcomes will be of the disasters of the Syrian Civil War.  What the future holds for the Mid-East, and the Levant will indeed be significant in many ways, either for better or worse, as we are now beginning observe the initial transformation.  Will there be a road to Damascus moment, is hard to say with the given the current stalemate in place.  As history is our guide, absolute authoritarian institutions or entities are not sustainable in the longer view, and even less so in the future, as the likes of Bashar al-Assad and Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, will come to pass, and perish, in time.  As for both Bashar al-Assad and Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, they have forgotten the values of Saladin, by cleansing their homelands with hate, retaliation, blood, and not with rose water, charity, and the Abrahamic codes of kindness, mercy, pity, grace, forgiveness, gratitude, refuge.

 Over four million Syrian, Iraqis, and Afghanistan refugees have clearly rejected ISIL (Daesh) and Sharia Law, with millions wanting to emigrate to the West where they have more freedoms, and economic opportunities for their families.  Gulf countries including Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Bahrain have offered zero resettlement places to Syrian refugees. Russia the state sponsor of the Assad regime has also offered zero resettlement places for Syrian refugees, and their humanitarian aid pales to their military assistance to Assad in the Syrian civil war, counted in innocent civilian deaths.  Although the United States has contributed more than $5.1 billion in Syrian humanitarian assistance, however, the United States under the Obama Administration could have provided the essential diplomatic and military leadership in the Syrian region much sooner.

 The concepts of Sunni-Islamic states and Shia-Islamic states in the Middle East will not be going away as Egypt, Sudan, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen, are all such examples.  As tragic as the Syrian Civil War is, there are opportunities to transform the Middle East region where Shiites, Sunni, Kurds, Copts, Christians, Jews, other religious ethnicities, can all thrive economically and peacefully together or in some cases exist autonomously in the region but this will require the extraordinary political imagination, moral strength, courage, and intellect of many.  Post Script: What the Assad Regime, Russian State, Islamic State of Iran, and Hezbollah bring in terms of brutality to the Syrian people; the Trump administration is equally morally inept in intellect, historical, and cultural understanding.  Oh Gabriel, where does beauty lie?

in sha’ Allah – ان شاء الله

New Works on Paper 2016: Five Variations on the Disasters of War  © Richard Anthony Peña

Witches’ Sabbath:

 In the late seventeen hundreds, Goya began a series of paintings of witches as social-political protest and commentary against the Spanish Inquisition, the Church-State, Royalist, populist values, and belief in superstition. During the Spanish Inquisition, and in the rest of Europe, the Church-State was active in witch hunting, such as the Basque witch trials, and elsewhere in Europe. The Duchess of Osuna, Doña María Josefa Alonso-Pimentel y Téllez-Girón (b.1752 – d.1834) who was a Spanish aristocrat, known for her patronage of artists, writers, and scientists, commissioned the series of the witchcraft paintings in 1798.  The Duke and Duchess of Osuna were one of Goya’s most important patrons and supporters of the Spanish Enlightenment.

 The superstition of witches and witchcraft has been around as long as the time of classical antiquity, where witchcraft historically, has been defined as necromancy to paganism to heresy throughout the ages, and along the way, many innocent women have suffered greatly and died at the hands of this terrible ignorance, and superstition. This terrible ignorance and ancient superstition of witchcraft in many ways became an archaic form of social control and persecution of women.  A more contemporaneous and universal form of this terrible ignorance is the transformational state of misogyny.

 The fight against misogyny has been long and historic one, but the fight continues for womankind around the world; developed and developing countries.  Women in developing countries around the world face contemporary slavery and forced-labor, bondage from indebtedness, forced or servile marriage, human trafficking, commercial sexual exploitation, lack of access to education, and healthcare.  Many women and specifically girls under age 15 in developing countries face years after years of giving birth, a situation similar to the constant cycle of animal husbandry, which put them at higher risks of maternity mortality.  Major complications account for 75% of all maternal deaths in developing countries; bleeding, infections, high blood pressure (pre-eclampsia and eclampsia), and complications from delivery.  One mother dies every 2 minutes in the world.  It is no surprise; the death of a mother has a devastating effect on her children, her family, and her community.  The implications of a mother’s death for girls are particularly great, often leading to a continued cycle of poverty and poor health.  Children without mothers are unlikely to receive proper nutrition, healthcare, and education.  Women are not only the caretakers of the world, but the superglue of the human family, and from a world cultural perspective, women have played a role in the shaping of modern culture’s refinement, from classical antiquity to twentieth-first century.

Sappho, Cleopatra, Mary Magdalene, Boudicca, Hildegard of Bingen, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Joan of Arc, Mirabai, St Teresa of Avila, Gracia Mendes Nasi, Elizabeth I, María Josefa Alonso-Pimentel y Téllez-Girón, Catherine the Great, Mary Wollstonecraft, Jane Austen, Margaret Fuller, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Queen Victoria, Florence Nightingale, Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Blackwell, Emily Dickinson, Emily Bronte, Marie Curie, Helena Rubinstein, Helen Keller, Eleanor Roosevelt, Anne Frank, Annie Besant, Simone de Beauvoir, Dorothy Hodgkin, Rosa Parks, Indira Gandhi, Golda Meir, Amelia Earhart, Raisa Gorbachev, Sophie Scholl, Wangari Maathai, Rosalind Franklin, Betty Williams, Mother Teresa, Shirley Anita St. Hill Chisholm, Jane Goodall, Shirin Ebadi,  Aung San Suu Kyi, Benazir Bhutto, Zaha Hadid, Malala Yousafza

 The underlying influences of the feminization of culture in predominant patriarchal societies around the world often become nuanced and understated, then acknowledged.  In some developing countries, where there is suppression of feminization as a form of social-political control, dormancy takes place, but the feminine narrative is still very much alive and well with the spirit of life itself.  The struggle for global feminization faces many challenges for cultural, social-political, and economic parity in both developing and developed countries.  Only when patriarchal cultures transform to realize the value and importance of feminization in becoming highly developed, educated, technologically advanced societies, is an imperative and futuristic necessity.

 Why is the global feminization of culture important?  From the beginning of history and along with the unfolding of the human narrative, the loss of art, culture, and history prevents us from truly understanding who we are as a species with X chromosome, it prevents us to view the present or even visualize the future with resolve.  The feminization of culture has elevated the arts, literature, science, as well as social-political changes, creating stable societies that embrace the ideals of beauty, truth, justice, liberty, and such ideals are major pillars of advanced societies with representative forms of democracies, whereas these ideals are well-known feminine personifications and iconic representations of vision.

 One day in the future may present the human race with a catastrophic crisis that will challenge the very existence of the humans; such as pandemic diseases, biological and radioactive contamination, asteroid impact, or other unforeseen threats to the stability of civilized humanity.  When more women around the world become educated in the arts, sciences, and social-political sciences, we increase our overall global intellectual capacity to innovate, create solutions, and solve problems or threats.  Increasing our odds and probabilities of having more Marie Curies of the world thinking of new ideas and solutions to not just global problems but to a means of a higher quality of life by lowering birth rates in over-populated countries, reducing maternity mortality, malnutrition, disease, poverty, and slavery.  Yes, there is more to the global feminization than the morality and the cultural impact of it all; there is a significant economic and productivity impact as well.  Should such a sea change fully occur, we will see global economic expansion in the likes we have never measured before as the majority of women around the world become educated, monetarily independent, politically, and technologically free to contribute to the global economy, nevertheless, this time, all of humanity will benefit.

The Colossus:

 A painting traditionally attributed to Goya, which goes by several names such as El Gigante (The Giant), El Pánico (The Panic), La Tormenta (The Storm), and more popularly known as El Coloso (The Colossus).  Art experts estimate The Colossus was painted between the years of the Peninsular War (1808 – 1812).  The provenance of work begins with the estate inventory of Josefa Bayeu, Goya’s wife, where after her death, the painting awarded to Xavier Goya, their son in 1812; the markings of a white X and the number 18, painted by Goya as a way to inventory and distinguish paintings for his son’s inheritance.  It is not clear how Miguel Fernández Durán de Pinedo y Bizarrón became the owner of the painting, which inventoried in his estate, however, the painting was passed on to his great-grandson.  The painting became the property of the estate of Pedro Fernández Durán and his mother, Paula Bernaldo de Quirós.  The painting entered the ownership of the Prado Museum in 1931 as part of the important legacy and collection of Don Pedro Fernández Durán estate.

 There are a number of interpretations of this painting called Colossus, however, the conventional knowledge and analysis references the Peninsular War and the Napoleonic occupation; describing the Colossus walking through the valley, with his legs obscured behind the mountainous horizon line with his fist elevated towards the sky in defiance, and eyes closed, blind like the Philistine giant Goliath.  In the shadow of the Colossus, lies the valley foreground, the villagers are in a panic, complete chaos breaks out, rape and violence left to the human imagination.  The horses and the bulls run out and away from the center of the paintings, giving a sense of the fear, while the donkey remains calm and still.  Nigel Glendinning (1930-2013), noted authority on the history of Spanish art and, in particular, the works of Francisco de Goya, references Goya’s painting to a poem written by Juan Bautista Arriaza, called Pyrenean Prophecy, published in 1810.  The poem represents the Spanish people as a giant arising from the Pyrenees to oppose the Napoleonic invasion.  However, Goya created a number of works that were thematic of giants like the burnished aquatint etching with the same name, El Coloso (1814-1818) and the lithograph, Gran Coloso Dormido (1824-1828).

Very few artists and works of art that can transcend the values and analysis of their time, capable of meditation of intrinsic and timeless values that haunt the past, present, and the future.  Goya’s Colossus is indeed one of those masterpieces, as there is another interpretation, which is a deep, dark, secret to behold, for the Colossus is real my friends, not real in physical presence but in spirit. The Colossus quietly sits at the edge of the horizon, brooding, pondering, and waiting to walk the lands, where the winds of his spirit stir up chaos, anger, and senseless violence in the hearts of men.  The Colossus, the great provocateur, willingly employed, witnessed tens of thousands of battles and the great disasters of wars from antiquity to the present; Colossus encouraged and nurtured Homo sapiens to endure hardships of pride. If you still do not believe that Goya’s Colossus is real, then look again my friends, to Syria, Iraq, and the Levant, to see the Colossus’ handy work, where chemical weapons attacks, barrel bombing, use of rape as a weapon of war, executions, mutilation, display of corpses, crucifixion, torture, and killing of innocent civilians and children.  It is here in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, the Levant, Pakistan, Yemen, Africa, the world; the Colossus makes men intoxicated on their arrogance, hate, ignorance, and misogyny where the Colossus knows no religions or God.

#Goya “The sleep of reason produces monsters”

Sources:  BBC, Harvard Divinity School, Maternity Worldwide, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York Times, Prado Museum, The Clarion Project, The Global Slavery Index, UN Refugee Agency, Walk Free Foundation, Wikipedia

All Rights Reserved, Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes: Looking through the darkly painted mirror; Disasters of War, Witches’ Sabbath, and the Colossus © Richard  Anthony  Peña 2016

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