Saturday, 12 November 2016

CounterPunch, me and Shahbazi against Mark Koslow and the Maryamiyyah

Original CounterPunch piece now parked on scribd, here.

Mark Koslow's site

See Azal-Koslow correspondence here (updated 27 November 2016).

Also published on, here.

In early November 2016 I published a piece with CounterPunch about the Maryamiyyah Sufi Order entitled "Sufism in the service of Empire: The Case of the Maryamiyyah" [1]. As a courtesy, I sent a copy of it to Mark Koslow since I had quoted him and his site. He wrote to me almost immediately, saying:

From: Mark Koslow
Date: Wed, Nov 2, 2016 at 5:39 PM
Subject: RE: An article exposing Schuon & co
To: "N.W. Azal"

Mr or Ms.? Azal:

Interesting. Mostly well done. It has problems. There was no murder attempt on Guenon. That is imaginary. Guenon was paranoid and made up stuff like that, Also Abdollah Shahbazi is a conspiracy theorist and makes stuff up too. Can you correct that mistake? I am not sure what you motive is in writing this,. As to Dugin and Nasr, I am unaware they have communicated, but I would like to see evidence that that actually happened. Do you have any?

I am not at all interested in helping the war of Islam against the US or vice versa.   It is one ideology verses another, “free” market capitalism v, Islam-- and I see you are taking sides in this too. I would prefer not to be used in this way. I find both sides of this to be foolish. I care about science and individuals, not parties and groups. I wish you had sent me this before you published it.
Mark Koslow

Now, I was specifically warned about Koslow by several different people independently of each other because of his history of getting into nasty, acerbic confrontations with people for no reason over email, people who are even ostensibly on his side regarding the Schuon cult. One recent correspondent described him in these terms: "Koslow is a congenital extremist firebrand. When I first met him he was a fanatical Orthodox Christian, later a fanatical Maryamiyya faqir, and after that a fanatical atheist" (private correspondence, November, 2016). 

Be that as it may, my experience with Koslow showed him to be a dyed in the wool racist, an Islamophobe and Iranophobe suffering from many of the stereotypes about Iran, Islam and our times. For example, he kept pressing me on the issue of the Syrian war, excoriating Assad and the government of Syria with the typical canards of mainstream Western media talking points, and when he didn't like the responses I gave him -- such as the conflict being far more nuanced and complicated than such biased simplisticisms where the exclusive locus of blame is placed on the Assad government -- he became irate, no mind that the opposition to the Assad government is composed predominantly of takfiri terrorists and radical Salafist Islamists (which Koslow ostensibly decries).

That said, the specific issue with Koslow and myself that developed over email (and quickly escalated, with Koslow becoming increasingly more and more racist in his responses) is because he has a  bee in his bonnet regarding Iranian historian Abdollah Shahbazi, a notable independent Iranian scholar of our times whose publications and writings are widely respected in Iran and abroad. In 2014 Shahbazi published a detailed and copiously annotated book on the Maryamiyyah entitled maryamiyyah: az frithjof schuon ta seyyed hossein-i-nasr (Tehran: 1393 solar).

The book is painstakingly researched as well as copiously annotated, utilizing the files of Cyril Glasse, those by Koslow himself and others to make its case: files that the Maryamiyyah has aggressively sought to suppress for years and sued to keep under the tightest wraps from public scrutiny in Anglo-American jurisdictions (particularly from servers based in those jurisdictions), since it is questionable whether the law in jurisdictions outside of the Anglo-American (Five-Eyes) sphere would allow them to use defamation and copyright laws in such a way.  Shahbazi especially sought out many of the survivors of the Schuon cult dispersed around the world and interviewed them one by one. The result is a fair and relatively objective study based on the aforementioned interviews, the primary as well as secondary sources, which as an overall study in many instances surpasses Mark Sedgwick's Against the Modern World (Oxford: 2004). Whereas Sedgwick's excellent book surveyed the whole landscape of the neo-Traditionalist movement, Shahbazi's monograph instead focuses strictly on the Maryamiyyah itself with its checkered history, expanding and delineating many, many points Sedgwick's book either glossed over or was otherwise silent on. As a side note (and due to one of Koslow's specific canards in email to me accusing Shahbazi of being a "conspiracy theorist"): Shahbazi stands among few contemporary Iranian researchers who has proven the so-called Dolgoruki or Dolgorukov memoirs to be a fraud, a fact for which he has even been cited by Baha'is such as Mina Yazdani [1]. So given this, Koslow's accusation is quite bizarre. Moreover, Koslow does not read Persian, therefore he has no access to Shahbazi's corpus of writings, and as such he has no way of objectively ascertaining what Shahbazi's critical views may be on any of number of subjects he has written and published about. In his own personal experience with Koslow, Shahbazi informed me that Koslow would take items he had google translated from Shahbazi's website and elsewhere, then come back and lambast him over email based on the inaccurate translations offered by Google Translate from Persian into English! The basis of Koslow's entire diatribe against Abdollah Shahbazi appears to rest on this alone.

Koslow's main gripe is over the question of Rene Guenon's demise. Based on the interviews he conducted and some of the material in the public domain put out by European Guenonians themselves (as can be found on the site, in his book (103-4) Shahbazi articulates the rumors regarding Guenon's possible murder at the hands of the Maryamiyyah in Cairo during 1951. He also quotes and translates letters by Guenon at the time claiming Martin Lings was spying on him for Schuon. Be that as it may, it should be emphasized here that this specific question was not first broached by Abdollah Shahbazi at all. It is in fact one numerous European Guenonians have themselves articulated going back to the 1950s, and apparently it is an issue that surviving members of Guenon's own family have likewise spoken to. Whatever one's opinion about it, to which Koslow's opinion is obviously in the negative, proper historiography (as opposed to the politicized historiography prevalent among certain Anglo-American circles in the Ivory Tower) demands that the matter be detailed and cited -- which Shahbazi did. Shahbazi also lives in Iran, is a prominent member of Iranian intellectual circles, and so can objectively deal with this matter without the fear of the Maryamiyyah's recriminations, its lawyers or the posse of its glaze-eyed cultist followers harassing him as they have done with numerous others in the United States, Britain and elsewhere in the Anglo-American sphere.

That said, on Friday, 11 November 2016, the editor-in-chief of Counterpunch forwarded me the following email sent to them by Mark Koslow only a few hours after I had told Mark Koslow to cease writing to me. To wit,


From: "Mark Koslow" <>

Subject: Counterpunch and false accusation of murder

Date: November 10, 2016 at 6:50:37 PM PST

Dear Counterpunch

But I wish to complain about a false accusation of murder of a guy named Rene Guenon by your magazine allowed in a recent article.  It occurred in this article written by a Wahid Azal. Here:

Wahid writes in your magazine that:
“One recent study published in Iran suggests that Guénon’s premature death in Cairo in 1951 may have even been somehow orchestrated by the Maryamiyyah itself, thus making of Guénon’s demise possibly a murder at their hands since, had he lived longer, Guénon’s rivalry with Schuon would have certainly proven deleterious to Schuon and the Maryamiyyah’s long-term political interests”:

I am not a friend of the Schuon cult but I know a lot about the facts in this matter, and Guenon died of the effects of self abuse, due to smoking three packs a day,as well as other physical ailments. Guenon was certifiably paranoid and accused all sorts of people of trying to kill him because it made him sound very important, when he wasn’t.

This false accusation comes Wahid Azal via the self admitted conspiracy theorist in Iran named Abdollah Shahbazi.  Shahbazi is a totally untrustworthy source who deliberately tries to magnify conspiracy theories of just this kind. Azal informed me of this article and sent me a lot of nonsense about how great Assad is, among other far right Islamic nonsense. My suggestion would be that you not air this sort of nonsense in a public forum and that you fact check more carefully outrageously false slanders like this before you publish them. The recent example of a journalist for Rolling Stone using false accusation of rape is bad enough. I would hate to see you sued by the Schuon cult, who these people falsely claim committed murder. I suggest you publicly retract the article and distance yourself from the author.

I wish to say clearly that I am not threatening you at all. I have no particular objection to what you do and am usually on the left side of things, politically. I do not care about this article much, other than to think it very badly done.  It is an example of very poor journalism. Please get better writers. However,  I do know the Schuon cult very well and know they will not hesitate to sue you if they see a way to do it. You should err on the side of caution in this case, and get a better fact checker.

No, this is not a letter you may publish.

Mark Koslow in Ohio


A few hours later, CounterPunch took the article down, after it had already been there for over a week, not to mention after it had already been vetted by its editors before being published on 2 November 2016. I immediately wrote to its editor-in-chief querying why the article had been taken down, and they responded by saying that it was currently being vetted by its lawyer until further notice. Now, it is reasonable for an outfit like CounterPunch to be weary of lawsuits. However, the real question here is this: why is Mark Koslow (once noted as being the Maryamiyyah's arch-enemy) now acting in their interests and phrasing veiled threats of lawsuits at CounterPunch? Beyond Koslow personally, this course of events is quite familiar to all who have ever dealt with the subject in any critical way since we are dealing with a powerful cult with longstanding connections to the American deep state and the Beltway NeoCon establishment.

I will be opening another blog in due time  and will be dumping a copy of the entire correspondence with Mark Koslow on to it (see above, and here). This blog entry here and that one will  serve as a public warning to any Maryamiyyah dissidents or ex-members from dealings with Mark Koslow, since an individual of his seriously volatile temperament in our times -- and in a toxic society like that of the United States -- can quite easily be recruited (whether duped, blackmailed or otherwise) by the very same people he has spent a lifetime railing against. That said, my article "Sufism in the service of Empire: The Case of the Maryamiyyah" has done its work, exposing yet again the vulnerabilities of one of Empire's many trojan-horses. As a result of the current controversy, the Maryamiyyah and its acolytes have also given the piece and its author the notoriety they were desperately attempting to squelch.
[2] See Chapter 11 "The Confessions of Dolgoruki:  The Crisis of Identity and the creation of a Master Narrative," in  (ed. Abbas Amanat) Iran Facing Others: Identity Boundaries in a Historical Perspective (New York: 2010).