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Some very welcome news: JM Berger & Jessica Stern

Wednesday, September 17th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- forthcoming book announced ]
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JM Berger at Intelwire frames it like this:

ISIS: THE STATE OF TERROR

Jessica Stern and J.M. Berger co-author the forthcoming book, “ISIS: The State of Terror,” from Ecco, an imprint of HarperCollins. The book, which will debut in early 2015, will examine the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, how it is transforming the nature of extremist movements, and how we should evaluate the threat it presents.

Jessica Stern is a Harvard lecturer on terrorism and the author of the seminal text Terror in the Name of God: Why Religious Militants Kill. J.M. Berger is author of the definitive book on American jihadists, Jihad Joe: Americans Who Go to War in the Name of Islam, a frequent contributor to Foreign Policy, and editor of Intelwire.com.

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JM also tweeted:

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For another angle on Berger & Stern’s thinking, see their recent joint contribution to a round table at Politico:

A counterterrorism mission—and then some.
By J.M. Berger and Jessica Stern

When the Obama administration sends mixed messages about whether its campaign against the Islamic State insurgent group is war or counterterrorism, there is a reason, if not a good one. As explained by President Obama last week, the United States plans to employ counterterrorism tactics against a standing army currently preoccupied with waging war.

In many ways, our confrontation with the Islamic State is the culmination of 13 years of degraded definitions. Our enemies have evolved considerably since Sept. 11, 2001, and none more than ISIL, which has shed both the name and the sympathies of al Qaeda. The Islamic State excels at communication, and it has succeeded in establishing itself as a uniquely visible avatar of evil that demands a response. But on 9/11, we began a “war on terrorism” that has proven every bit as expansive and ambiguous as the phrase itself implies. It is a symptom of our broken political system that we require the frame of terrorism and the tone of apocalyptic crisis to take even limited action as a government.

Ultimately, it’s hard to escape the feeling that our policies still come from the gut, rather than the head. And ISIL knows exactly how to deliver a punch to the gut, as evidenced by its gruesome hostage beheadings and countless other atrocities. Its brutality and open taunts represent an invitation to war, and many sober strategists now speak of “destroying” the organization.

Bin Laden once said, “All that we have to do is to send two mujahideen to the furthest point east to raise a piece of cloth on which is written al Qaeda, in order to make the generals race there.” Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the emir of ISIL, may be counting on just that response, and for the same reason—to draw the United States into a war of supreme costs, political, economic and human.

A limited counterterrorism campaign may insulate us from those costs, but it is not likely to be sufficient to accomplish the goals laid out by the president. ISIL is a different enemy from al Qaeda. It has not earned statehood, but it is an army and a culture, and more than a traditional terrorist organization. Limited measures are unlikely to destroy it and might not be enough to end its genocidal ambitions. Our stated goals do not match our intended methods. Something has to give — and it’s probably the goals.

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I reviewed JM’s previous book for Zenpundit, and mentioned Jessica Stern‘s work, which I greatly admire, in my post here, Book Review: JM Berger’s Jihad Joe. Their upcoming collaboration promises us an insightful, foundational, and must-readable analysis — richly nuanced, clearly presented, and avoiding the pitfalls of panicky sensationalism to which so much current reportage is prone.

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Some wrenchingly sad news, 3: the possibility of rescue revisited

Wednesday, September 17th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- there is possibility, there is hope -- concluding post in this series ]
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I am not the one to calculate the logistical, strategic, or tactical implications here, nor the possibility of unexpected consequences and negative feedback, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t end this series by offering you Barber‘s glimpse from the ground of what might be feasible.

The possibility of rescue, redux:

Despite the enormous challenge of responding to such a monumental tragedy, the possibility exists of freeing a very large number of those kidnapped in a short time. I’m referring to around 2,000 kidnapped Yazidis currently imprisoned in towns and villages in the vicinity of the Sinjar mountains.

Specifics of available intel:

Just south of Sinjar are a number of sites where kidnapped Yazidis are being held. Through phone conversations with captured victims, Yazidi leaders in the Dohuk governorate who are working on the problem have been able to get counts and exact locations for most of them. In over a dozen primary holding sites within at least six separate towns, approximately 2,000 Yazidis are trapped. Most of these contain just women, but at least one site contains entire families that have been kidnapped, including male members.

A helicopter assault:

Most of these kidnapped people know where they are. They’re in familiar territory, not far from Sinjar. If their captors were subjected to an aerial campaign — an intense helicopter assault on IS targets for as little as a half-hour — most of these people would be able to flee. The attacking force wouldn’t even be required to regain control of these towns, they would only need to occupy the moderate numbers of IS fighters in the area. The window of distraction would allow many to escape.

Failing which…

What I do know is that without greater US air support, 1) Sinjar will not be regained by Kurdish forces and the people of Sinjar will not be able to return home, and 2) large numbers of Yazidi women who might otherwise be freed will continue to be sold by IS jihadists as sexual objects.

The plea:

Sinjar is the population center for the largest segment of Yazidi people in the world. The Yazidi religion is also inextricably linked to holy places in Sinjar. If they are unable to return, it will do lasting damage to one of the Middle East’s last non-Abrahamic minorities, and thousands of victimized women will remain enslaved in 2014. Let’s do what it takes to get these people safely home and free of the most selfish form of evil I’ve personally witnessed in my life.

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Matthew Barber’s post is a remarkable one, and I recommend those interested should read it in full:

  • Matthew Barber, If the U.S. Wanted To, It Could Help Free Thousands of Enslaved Yazidi Women in a Single Day
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    Some wrenchingly sad news, 2: nuanced theological implications

    Wednesday, September 17th, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron -- some surprising twists here, if you think of IS as entirely lacking compassion or religious and moral consideration ]
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    I am going to take the religious issues out of their original order to create a smoother reading experience with regard to the theological surprises in Barber’s article.

    Barber’s perplex:

    I have also been perplexed by the question of IS’ methods and behavior and have felt a need to understand the fact that they work according to specific ideals and a strict religious code for behavior, yet often seem to act outside of what such a code would permit. They are not alien creatures but human agents with aspirations of state building who even demonstrate acts of compassion.

    Once again, religion turns out to be crucial to a full understanding.

    We tend to treat IS — not surprisingly considering their barrage of beheadings videos and other publicized horrors on social media — as utterly unconstrained thugs and brutes. There’s no denying the brutalities, but a more sophisticated reading finds some relevant background in Abu Bakr Naji‘s book, The Management of Savagery, as Will McCants, lately of CTC West Point and now at Brookings, explains.

    Booty, both literal and metaphorical:

    First, it is worth noting that the taking of captured women as slaves / booty does have religious precedent:

    The philosophy underpinning the taking of Yazidi slaves is based in IS’ interpretation of the practices of Muslim figures during the early Islamic conquests, when women were taken as slave concubines—war booty—from societies being conquered.

    It’s hideous, it’s “medieval” if you like that term, but it does have arguable religious precedent.

    People of the Book vs Polytheists:

    Taking the brutality as a given, then, what are we to make of the preferential treatment afforded Christians vis-à-vis Yazidis?

    Though they have robbed them of their wealth, IS has not targeted the Christian community in the same way that they have the Yazidis. As “People of the Book,” Christians are seen as having certain rights; Yazidis, however, are viewed by IS as polytheists and are therefore seen as legitimate targets for subjugation and enslavement, if they do not convert to Islam.

    Acts of Compassion:

    This is perhaps the aspect of Barber’s piece which is most unexpected, and as such deserves our consideration. It is a part of the puzzle, after all is said and done, and our reflexive disgust at the many other brutalities of IS should not blind us to it:

    Christians who fled one Iraqi town described to me how IS fighters provided food for their elderly and disabled Christian relatives who were not able to flee, and then later transported them to an area near Kirkuk where they would be able to rejoin their relatives.

    The question:

    Barber poses the question — to himself, to the analytic community, and to all of us:

    How are we to reconcile these humane instances of goodwill with the apparent criminality and destruction that is so pervasive with IS?

    The answer:

    The answer is not yet in:

    Many discussions will continue regarding the similarities and differences between IS’ methods and the actual practice of the early Islamic community. Historical context will be discussed by scholars, and God’s intentions will be parsed out by those with a theological bent.

    The situation, therefore:

    But regardless of how our contemporaries interpret the past, IS’ attempts to recreate and relive a period in which slaves were taken in war have shattered families that now reel in pain after their children have been snatched away from them.

    The imperative:

    The imperative to relieve such gross suffering, if it is possible to do so without causing suffering that is even greater in so doing, is the topic of the third and last post in this series, in which I’ll post extracts of Barber’s assessment of the possibility of rescue.

    There is hope here, amid all the suffering and hate.

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    Some wrenchingly sad news, 1: Yazidi women captured in the thousands

    Wednesday, September 17th, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron -- first of three posts collecting key points from a major article on Yazidi women, IS & possibilities of rescue ]
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    Today Matthew Barber posted one of the saddest stories I have read in several years of monitoring religious violence on Syria Comment, Joshua Landis‘ blog: If the U.S. Wanted To, It Could Help Free Thousands of Enslaved Yazidi Women in a Single Day. It is a very long post, so I have extracted those paras that give the basic details, touched me most deeply, or in my view call for particular comment.

    I’ll post these short excerpts under my own headings, reserve some specifically religious materials of considerable interest for a second post in the series, and close with Barber’s comments on the feasibility of a successful rescue effort.

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    The basic news:

    The plight of thousands of Yazidi women, kidnapped by the Islamic State (IS) during its August 3 attack on Iraq’s Sinjar mountains and in the following weeks, has received some media attention, but most people are unaware of just how far-reaching this disastrous phenomenon is.

    The significant comparison with Boko Haram:

    Boko Haram kidnapped girls in the hundreds, prompting international outcry and an online campaign demanding that they be freed; IS has kidnapped Yazidi women and girls in the thousands in a sexually-motivated campaign that has rent apart countless families and wrought unimaginable levels of pain and destruction.

    Difficulty in verification:

    During the Syria conflict there have been numerous allegations of forced jihadi marriages that have been difficult to confirm, and widely denied by IS supporters online. Many of those stories were dropped, lacking credible evidence. As the past few years in Syria have demonstrated, rumors run rampant in contexts of conflict, and the initially difficult-to-confirm cases of kidnapped Yazidi women of this summer have been treated with appropriate caution.

    Confirmation:

    Having stayed in northern Iraq all summer, I can confirm the assertions of the journalists who have written about the problem. I have worked directly with those involved in rescue efforts and have personally interacted with families whose daughters have been kidnapped and are now calling their relatives from captivity.

    I have no trace of doubt that many women have been carried off and imprisoned; the question that remains is about the numbers. Restrained estimates have posited numbers of kidnapped Yazidi women in the hundreds. However, the reality is likely to be in the thousands.

    The Possibility:

    Though the picture is grim, if the US is willing to back up its overtures of support for Iraqis and Kurds with action, we have the ability to help quickly free a large percentage of the kidnapped Yazidis.

    Cell phones:

    It is no longer a secret that many of the kidnapped women still have their cellphones with them and are calling their families. Many of their captors haven’t even taken steps to prevent this; in some cases jihadists have exploited this contact as a means to sow further terror, in other cases the new “masters” are allowing their “slaves” to have contact with family as they seek to incorporate the kidnapped woman into a slave’s household role with certain privileges and duties.

    Freelance rescue:

    It is also no longer a secret that extensive rescue operations are underway, through the participation of local Arabs and Muslims in the communities where the girls are entrapped. Some have been able to purchase girls from IS jihadists and then return them to their parents. Others have been able to escape on their own. [ .. ]

    Other kinds of rescue efforts are underway as well. A Yazidi friend I’ve been working with in Dohuk arranged for a group of gunmen to be paid to carry out a rescue operation in one Iraqi city, far to the south of Mosul, where girls had been taken. They broke the girls out of the house where they had been imprisoned by their jihadist “owner” and carried them to safety. Those who conducted the operation are Sunni Arab fighters who do not align with IS (and who are willing to conduct such an operation in exchange for compensation).

    The horror:

    One of the rescued girls was only 15 and was tortured for resisting the demands of her captor for sex. Another suffered such severe psychological trauma due to the kidnapping, subsequent rape, and being shipped across Iraq that she is now very ill.

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    In the second post in this series, I’ll focus in on the unexpected theological nuance Barber reveals in these Yazidi and comparable Christian abductions. I believe there’s an important — but mostly overlooked — angle here that we should be aware of — and this time it’s to do with Islam, not eschatology.

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    The slow kudzu of DoubleQuotes

    Tuesday, September 16th, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron -- quietly pleased with himself & others ]
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    Lynn Rees has been using the DoubleQuotes idea here on Zenpundit, see his recent Double Quote: HTML edition.

    Leonidas Musashi has explicitly picked up on it, too:

    And while they may not know they’re doing it, the Heritage Foundation is now using the same basic technique “in the wild”:

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    It’s not quite time to get out the weed-killer yet — but watch out, the DoubleQuotes are spreading!

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