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Which is mightier, the pen or the sword?

Friday, August 22nd, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- an open question to our readers, and a koan for strategists ]
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It is one of the world’s great questions, and a central koan for strategists: which is mightier, the pen or the sword? I found it posed yesterday in two cartoons memorializing the journalist James Foley in British newspapers.

The sword was made in Britain, The Times suggests.

According to The Independent, the pen is mightier.

Sources:

  • sword
  • pen
  • **

    To the sword goes the short term, vicious victory — but it was and is the pen, surely, whose power was so persuasive that the sword was brought out to defeat it, and the pen, surely, that will triumph in the end.

    James Foley, RIP. Daniel Pearl, RIP.

    The tragic irony is that both journalists worked for a better understanding of Islam as a peaceable religion, and were brutally murdered in Islam’s name for their pains.

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    Vexillology 2

    Thursday, August 21st, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron -- in response to a comment by Zen on a previous post -- swastikas, anarchist flags, Gadsden flags, black banners, and their various variants ]
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    Yesterday, in response to my piece on Black Banners in the Washington Post Zen commented:

    Funny how no one mistakes the meaning of a flag with a swastika or a hammer and sickle.

    I pretty much agree. Most of us — with occasional exceptions – recognize the swastika as the detestable symbol of Hitler‘s National Socialists or Nazis, right?

    **

    And yet there are nuances — and it was in search of those that I sent myself off on one of those wild goose chases to which the internet entices us. My response got so long in fact, and so heavily illustrated, that I decided to make it a post of its own.

    The Nazi swastika is pretty straightforward — except that it can be confused with an ancient Hindu symbol of Life, Love and Light..

    found in pujas or worship ceremonies,

    associated with Lord Ganesh,

    from which Rudyard Kipling no doubt drew his own use of a swastika imprint on his books,

    although he later withdrew it,

    Kipling was so disgusted by the Nazis and the sight of their flag that he removed the swastika, a Hindu symbol of good luck, from his bookbindings. It had been his trademark for nearly forty years but it was now ‘defiled beyond redemption’

    and in Buddhism, for instance decorating the throne of the Dalai Lama,

    in the design of US Naval dormitories in Coronado,

    in old-style greetings cards,

    and a kabbalistic diagram:

    **

    Ah, but it also has many variants:

    the Maru ni Hidari Mannji crest, from Japan,

    the symbol of the Slavic Union,

    the National Power Unity Party of Latvia,

    the Syrian Social Nationalist Party,

    National Unity of Russia,

    Russia’s National Socialist Movement,

    the Tohokai Party flag,

    the Golden Dawn, from Greece,

    the Dutch National Socialist movement,

    and Swedish National Socialist Bloc,

    Action Front Nationalist, Germany,

    and the Afrikaner Resistance Movement, S Africa,

    reminiscent of this flag of the Isle of Man,

    not to be confused with that of the Isle of Women:

    **

    You might think Anarchist flags would be pretty simple, eh? Red and black triangles..

    except that this shouldn’t be confused with the right-wing Nation flag from Belgium:

    Interesting anarchist variants apparently include the Anarcho-feminist flag,

    the Eco-anarchist,

    and the Market-anarchist,

    illustrated here,

    and sometimes, apparently, in conjunction with..

    .. the Gadsden flag:

    which will be familiar to Tea Partiers and Chicago Boyz.

    **

    I found or was pointed to most of the images above by the three Political Flags of Extremism pages, to which I am grateful.

    Now, as to the Black Banners — Wikipedia has an entry on The Black Standard, showing diferent variants of the black banner (or raya) — notably these three:

    The simplest version — the one Muhammad carried into battle,

    next, the flag with shahada used by AQ,

    and finally the version associated with al-Shabaab and most recently the “Islamic State” caliphate:

    There are doubtless many more, some official and some the work of individuals, and exactly which versions have ben recorded in use by which groups is beyond my scope to say.

    **

    My real point, my real answer to Zen’s comment isn’t to agree or disagree with him, just to say that both group flags and logos and which groups they’re attributed to, with what exact shades of meaning, can be a tricky business.

    When the US Embassy in Cairo was attacked on September 11th 2012, the “caliphate” was not yet in existence, and the black flag visible in this photo was labeled “the al-Qaida flag”:

    It wasn’t even the only black banner there:

    To add yet a further touch of symbolic mashup, you can also see an Anonymous / Guy Fawkes / Vendetta mask in both pictures.

    In any case, back then the “shahada with seal” was an al-Qaida flag, and this week, Abby Phillip called that same style of flag the “signature flag” of the Islamic State in her WaPo article this week.

    As Heraclitus famously said, panta rhei — all is flux.

    And a tip-of-the-hat to Lewis Shepherd for a reminder of that great word, vexillology!

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    Ferguson: tweets of interest 2

    Wednesday, August 20th, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron -- a follow up -- noticeable individual protesters and foreign commentary ]
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    I began the first part of this double post with a strange confluence of religious and political groups — The Nation of Islam, Black Panthers and Moorish Temple — in Ferguson. I’ll begin this one with an interesting pairing of gangs — Crips and Bloods, standing together in Ferguson to prevent looting:

    **

    There are some interesting individuals protesting in Ferguson, and some comments from “far flung corners of the globe” — as if the globe had quarters and someone had flung them, far, presumably, from here.. Some of these individuals and foreign commentators you may admire, some you may intensely dislike: I’m providing data points, your conclusions are up to you.

    For instance, you might well feel some admiration for this old lady and her commitment to voicing her own moral perspective:

    but find the following tweet, sharing at least the overall thrust of that perspective, less appealing:

    Or not. Opinions differ.

    **

    Here’s another venerable protester:

    And another view from abroad, represented in this case by Tibetan monks in exile who have traveled to Ferguson to join the protests.

    **

    Then there are those who would takr advnatage of the situation to score points — the Ayatollah Khamenei, for instance:

    I haven’t found a similar tweet for Egypt or N Korea, but they may be out there…

    **

    Amnesty International has a similar critique of US foreign policy, but unlike Khomaini’s Iran, isn’t in the business of runnig a repressive state…

    It’s surely noteworthy that “Ferguson” is the first occasion to my knowledge in which Amnesty has been sufficiently disturbed to send observers to a situation in the US.

    Amnesty, too, has its detractors, as witness a flurry of tweets responding to the one above, one of which, from Allen McDuffee, was picked up by Buzzfeed and widely quoted — while being hastily removed from the CSIS site itself:

    That dispute, at any rate, appears to have ended amicably enough:

    And so it goes.

    **

    One last thing? That molotov cocktail allegedly thrown by a protester at the police in Ferguson? Apparently it was a police tear gas cannister being returned to sender. Not that there haven’t also been molotovs in Ferguson — as DoubleQuoted here:

    In fact, peace with a dash of violence seems to be quite a common cocktail itself these days…

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    Ferguson: tweets of interest 1

    Wednesday, August 20th, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron -- the extraordinary cast of players surrounding Ferguson, not forgetting Marvin Gaye ]
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    There’s a whole lot going on that, while not central to the face-off between public and police in Ferguson, is “constellating” around it, and worth our attention in any case. I’ll begin with the most interesting pairing of religious groups in Ferguson — the Moorish Temple, alongside the Nation of Islam — alongside the Black Panthers, whose interests are purely political AFAIK:

    It’s interesting that according to WND — not necessarily a source I’d expect to find this sort of thing in — Missouri Highway Patrol Capt. Ron Johnson “has had some words of high praise for some people he said helped get the violence under control for one night” in Ferguson:

    It was Malik Shabazz, formerly with the New Black Panthers, and now with Black Lawyers for Justice, and his team, including members of that group as well as the Nation of Islam. [ .. ]

    During a news conference held by Johnson in Ferguson, Shabazz started explained that it was his team who had shut down traffic, chased the people away and prevented rioting for a single night last week.

    Johnson credited him with accomplishing exactly that.

    “First of all, I want to say that those groups he talked about that helped us Thursday night, he’s absolutely correct and when I met with the governor the next day I said I do not know the names of those groups. But I said there were gentlemen in black pants and black shirts and they were out there and they did their job.

    “And I told that to the governor, and I’ll tell that to the nation,” Johnson said. “Those groups helped, and they’re a part of this.”

    For more on the Moorish Science Temple, see Peter Lamborn Wilson‘s Lost/Found Moorish Time Lines in the Wilderness of North America [part 1 and part 2]

    The Moorish Temple, Panthers and Nation of Islam all converging on Ferguson is impressive. Apparently missing from this picture? The Scientologists. Louis Farrakhan of NOI has recently been recommending Scientology to his NOI followers [1, 2, 3], in yet another example of strange bedfellows…

    **

    Okay, — on the face of it, the single most ironic tweet I’ve seen about Ferguson would have to be this one:

    — and that’s unfortunate, because KaBoom‘s Playful City USA idea is a good one, and Ferguson deserves kudos for implementing it:

    In 2012, Ferguson was recognized as a “Playful City, USA” for its efforts to increase play opportunities for children. The city of Ferguson hosts Sunday Parkways, a free community play street event in neighborhoods on Sunday afternoons. Streets are closed to cars in order to allow residents of all ages and abilities to play in the streets.

    Closing down streets to traffic so people young and old can play in them isn’t enough, however — when they’re also closed down for the sorts of other reasons we’ve been seeing in Ferguson recently.

    **

    One pair of tweets that caught my eye showed almost the same exact moment, captured from two angles that must have been almost perpendicular to one another — a pairing that would have made an interesting DoubleQuote all by itself. The first is from Bill Moyers:

    while the second was addressed to him by another observer:

    That second photo is the work of Scott Olson of Getty Images, a photographer who was himself arrested and then released in Ferguson, as part of the police vs press stand-off which has been a secondary motif in this whole affair.

    **

    There are words painted on the PO box in that last photo that somehow made their way unfiltered onto at least one TV report, but one of them is NSFW. Three tweets from Yamiche Alcindor of USA Today delicately obscure the offending phrase with suitably placed asterisks, and indicate that as Congreve said, “Music hath charms to soothe a savage breast, to soften rocks, or bend a knotted oak” — but can also arouse them.

    In this case, the arousing came first, the calming second — kudos to polite police:

    — with kudos, too, to Marvin Gaye:

    **

    I’ll close part 1 of this double post with an interesting example of a DoubleQuote in the Wild:

    Coming up next in part 2: noticeable individual protesters and foreign commentary

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    A weed if named a rose might smell less sweet

    Wednesday, August 20th, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron -- diplo cover-stories east and west, & a very funny movie ]
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    I wanted to recommend the Bertrand Tavernier film Quai d’Orsay, available at Netflix under the name The French Minister, in any case — but couldn’t resist this DoubleQuote betweet news and cinematic art:

    The film is a quintessentially French diplo equivalent of the political bureaucracy and chicanery found in the UK and US versions of House of Cards, with the formidably unpredictable, Heraclitus-quoting Minister of the English language title apparently based on Dominique de Villepin.

    My news source is The Australian, Japan may pursue whaling in north Pacific despite Antarctic unlawful ruling, although there has been plentiful coverage of the situation.

    No particular conclusion about a pattern of fishy political denialism — just some amusement about art imitating life.

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