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Religious aspects of the conflict in Yemen – no easy answers

Wednesday, April 22nd, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — an attempt to make it clear how complex the various religious affiliations in the Yemeni conflict are ]
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My latest piece for LapidoMedia, briefing journalists on religious aspects of contemporary news, is now posted there under a slightly modified title:

BRIEFING: The roots of conflict in Yemen – no easy answers

by Charles Cameron – 22nd April 2015

Credit: screencap from PBS Frontline, The Fight for Yemen

Credit: screencap from PBS Frontline, The Fight for Yemen

THE prophet Muhammad is recorded as saying: ‘When disaster threatens, seek refuge in Yemen.’

He spoke those words after he and his small band of followers had been driven out of Mecca, and before it was clear that their emigration – the Hijra – to Medina would prove the success that turned the tide in favor of the new religion. Not surprisingly, then, religion means much to the Yemeni people and Yemen much to pious Muslims.

Indeed, less than a minute into the April 2015 PBS Frontline special on Yemen, reporter Safa Al Ahmad is told by a Houthi informant ‘Our borders are the Holy Quran and the Islamic and Arab world’.

In an article titled The Middle East’s Franz Ferdinand Moment: Why the Islamic State’s claimed attack in Yemen could spark an Arab World War, JM Berger of Brookings gives us context:

‘The crisis in Yemen is one of the more complicated stories to emerge from a complicated region. It involves a cyclone of explosive elements: religious extremism, proxy war, sectarian tension, tribal rivalries, terrorist rivalries and US counterterrorism policies. There is little consensus on which element matters most, although each has its fierce partisans.’

Berger offers the bombing of two Sanaa mosques on March 20 as his candidate for the spark that ignited the current situation in Yemen – just as the bombing of the Shiite al-Askari Mosque in Samarra was a turning point leading to all-out sectarian civil war in Iraq.

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Since Lapido commissioned this piece, they deserve your clicks: please read the rest of the article on the Lapido site.

What’s next for the moon?

Monday, April 20th, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — Christian eschatology and an Islamic proof of the Quran and Prophet ]
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SPEC DQ prophetic moons

One wonders, what’s next for the moon?

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Anwar al-Awlaki reported that the moon split in two at the Prophet’s request —

— but that was more than a millennium ago.

Boston: Apocalyptic Hopes, Millennial Dreams and Global Jihad

Sunday, April 19th, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — “The now defunct Center for Millennial Studies at Boston University (1996-2003) brings to the public one final conference on apocalyptic beliefs” ]
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If this was a movie, I’d say the speakers at this conference were a “stellar cast”! Will McCants, Graeme Wood, Cole Bunzel, Timothy Furnish, David Cook, JM Berger, Husain Haqqani.. Paul Berman and Ayaan Hirsi Ali..

I participated in several of the old Center for Millennial Studies conferences that Richard Landes organized around the turn of the millennium, and they were intense academic highlights for me. I thought it very short-sighted when CMS funding was cut after the turn of the year 2000, agreeing with Dr Landes that millenarianism was unlikely to go away any time soon — and AQ, and IS even more so, have more than proven his point — hence this “final” conference.

If you can attend, by all means do — highly recommended. I’m delighted to have been invited to attend myself, and hope to keep Zenpundit readers well informed.

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Apocalyptic Hopes, Millennial Dreams and Global Jihad: May 3-4, 2015, Boston University

Sponsored by the BU History Department and Scholars for Peace in the Middle East

Most Westerners associate the terms apocalyptic and millennial (millenarian) with Christian beliefs about the endtime. Few even know that Muhammad began his career as an apocalyptic prophet predicting the imminent Last Judgment. And yet, for the last thirty years, a wide-ranging group of militants, both Sunni and Shi’i, both in coordination and independently, have, under the apocalyptic belief that now is the time, pursued the millennial goal of spreading Dar al Islam to the entire world. In a manner entirely in keeping with apocalyptic beliefs, but utterly counter-intuitive to outsiders, these Jihadis see the Western-driven transformation of the world as a vehicle for their millennial beliefs, or, to paraphrase Eusebius on the relationship between the Roman Empire and Christianity: Praeparatio Califatae.

The apocalyptic scenario whereby this global conquest takes place differs from active transformative (the West shall be conquered by Da’wa [summons]) to active cataclysmic (bloody conquest). Western experts have until quite recently, for a wide range of reasons, ignored this dimension of the problem. And yet, understanding the nature of global Jihad in terms of the dynamics of apocalyptic millennial groups may provide an important understanding, both to their motivations, methods, as well as their responses to the inevitable disappointments that await all such believers. The now defunct Center for Millennial Studies at Boston University (1996-2003) brings to the public one final conference on apocalyptic beliefs, co-sponsored by the BU History Department and Scholars for Peace in the Middle East (SPME).

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Schedule:

*All events will take place in the Stone Science Building (645 Commonwealth Ave), room B50

Sunday, May 3

10:00-12:00 Introduction:

1. Richard Landes, “Globalization as a Millennial Praeparatio Califatae: A Problematic Discussion
2. William McCants, Brookings Institute: “ISIS and the Absent Mahdi: Studies in Cognitive Dissonance and Apocalyptic Jazz”
3. Graeme Wood, Yale University, Atlantic Monthly: “On the Resistance to seeing Global Jihad as Apocalyptic Movement”

12:00-1:30 Break for Lunch

1:30-3:30 Panel II: The Millennial Goal: Global Caliphate

1. Cole Bunzel, Yale U.: ISIS: From Paper State to Caliphate: Hotwiring the Millennium
2. Timothy Furnish, Independent Scholar: “Varieties of Transformative (non-violent) Jihadi Millennialism
3. Jeffrey Bale: Monterey Institute of International Studies, “The Persistence of Western ‘Mirror Imaging’ and Ideological Double Standards: Refusing to Take Islamist Ideology Seriously

4:00-5:30 Panel III: Case Studies in Apocalyptic Jihad

1. David Cook, Rice University: “ISIS and Boko Haram: Profiles in Apocalyptic Jihad”
2. JM Berger, Brookings Institute, “The role of communications Technology in mediating apocalyptic communities”
3. Mehdi Khalaji, Washington Institute of Near East Policy: “Apocalyptic Revolutionary Politics in Iran”

Monday, May 4

10:0-12:00 Panel IV: Conspiracy Theory and Apocalyptic Genocide

1. Itamar Marcus, Palestinian Media Watch, “Anti-Semitism, Conspiracy Theory and Apocalyptic Global Jihad”
2. Charles Small, “Ideology and Antisemitism: Random Acts or a Core Element of the Reactionary Islamist Global Jihad?”
3. Richard Landes, BU, “Active Cataclysmic Apocalyptic Scenarios, Demonizing and Megadeath: Taiping, Communists, Nazis, and Jihadis.”
Comments: David Redles, Michael Barkun

12:00-1:30 Break for Lunch

1:30-4:00 Final Panel Discussion

Paul Berman, Independent Scholar
Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Independent Scholar
Jessica Stern, Harvard University
Husain Haqqani, Hudson Institute
Charles Strozier, John Jay College
Brenda Brasher, Tulane University

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Selected Work

Ayaan Hirsi Ali
Read “Those Who Love Death: Islam’s Fatal Focus on the Afterlife” from Heretic (2015) Here

Jeffrey Bale
Read “Islamism and Totalitarianism” (2009) Here
Read “Political Correctness and the Undermining of Counterterrorism” (2013) Here

J.M Berger
Read “The ISIS Twitter Consensus” (2015) Here
Professor Berger’s latest book, coauthored with Jessica Stern, ISIS: State of Terror, can be purchased Here

Paul Berman
Read “Why is the Islamist Death Cult So Appealing?” (2015) Here

Cole Bunzel
Read “From Paper State to Caliphate: The Ideology of the Islamic State” (2015) Here

Medhi Khalaji
Read “Apocalyptic Politics: On the Rationality of Iranian Policy” (2008) Here

Richard Landes
Read “Enraged Millennials” from Heaven on Earth: The Varieties of the Millennial Experience (2011) Here

William McCants
Read “The Sectarian Apocalypse” (2014) Here

Jessica Stern
Read “The Coming Final Battle” from ISIS: State of Terror (2015) Here

Charles Strozier
Professor Strozier’s book, The Fundamentalist Mindset can be purchased Here

Graeme Wood
Read “What ISIS Really Wants” (2015) Here

April 19th anniversaries & Hegghammer’s “terrorist culture”

Sunday, April 19th, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — Thomas Hegghammer has an important new piece out, and today’s anniversaries offer an insight into why it’s important ]
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Waco OKC

upper panel: the end of the siege of Mt Carmel, Waco, TX, 19 April 1993
lower panel: aftermath of the Oklahoma City bombing, OKC, 19 April 1995

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The bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City took place twenty years ago today. Defense attorneys for Timothy McVeigh, who was execute for the atrocity, suggested to the court that the bombing took place on the date set for the execution of Richard Snell, who had earlier plotted to blow up the same building. From the Denver Post:

A white supremacist executed 12 hours after a bomb ripped through the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building “was the driving force” behind a plot to bomb the building 12 years earlier, according to a government memo filed by Timothy McVeigh’s lawyers.

The report was filed in U.S. District Court as McVeigh’s attorneys attempted to bolster their appeal of his conviction and death sentence with arguments that people other than McVeigh may have been involved in the bombing.

Richard Wayne Snell was mad at the Internal Revenue Service in 1983 and wanted to blow up the Oklahoma City building as revenge for IRS agents raiding his home, Fort Smith-based federal prosecutor Steven Snyder told the FBI in June 1995.

April 19 1995 was also the second anniversary of the final holocaust in the siege of the Branch Davidian compound at Waco, Texas. Mc Veigh himself told reporters Lou Michael and Dan Herbeck in a letter:

If there would not have been a Waco, I would have put down roots somewhere and not been so unsettled with the fact that my government … was a threat to me. Everything that Waco implies was on the forefront of my thoughts. That sort of guided my path for the next couple of years.

Furthermore, in their book, American Terrorist, Michael and Herbeck report:

The date he chose for the bombing was significant in two ways. Not only was it the second anniversary of the Waco raid, just as important to McVeigh, April 19, 1995, was the 220th anniversary of the Battle of Lexington and Corncord, the “shot heard ’round the world” that began the war between American patriots and their British oppressors. To McVeigh, this bombing was in the spirit of the patriots of the American Revolution, the stand of a mpodern radical patriot against an oppressive government.

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I hope to put a post up in which I excerpt from and comment directly on Thomas Hegghammer‘s Wilkinson Memorial lecture shortly. I have been in internet hell recently, having difficulty accessing this site to edit and post, and given the date I thought it would be appropriate to post this first, however, as an example (to my mind) of what Hegghammer is talking about.

April 19 — today’s date — was triply significant to McVeigh, then, in a way that corresponds closely to Hegghammer’s definition of jihadi culture:

I define jihadi culture as products and practices that do more than fill the basic military needs of jihadi groups. This is very close to what the anthropologist Edmund Leach called “technically superfluous frills and decorations.” [ .. ]

Now think of a jihadi group. It has certain “basic needs”, such as the capacity to deploy violence and the ability to muster material resources. These needs can, conceivably, be fulfilled in a minimalist, no-frills fashion: you train, fight, raise funds, purchase weapons, write a communiqué, get some sleep, repeat the next day. To put it simply, these are the “functionally essential” elements of rebellion; everything else is culture.

The Oklahoma City bombing was held on a date that meant a great deal to Timothy McVeigh – in terms of Waco, in terms of the shot heard around the world – and on the very day of the execution of a noted white supremacist who had plotted to bomb the Murrah building, and who lived to see McVeigh destroy it shortly before he died.

Putting that another way, we can see the workings of a sort of poetic appropriateness – akin to “poetic justice” – from McVeigh’s point of view, in destroying the Murrah building on this particular day. The timing is not, in Hegghammer’s terms, “functionally essential” — it is cultural.

And what Leach called the “frills” and Hegghammer “culture” may be easily overlooked because the no-frills functional essentials seem at first glance more important –- but such things are not inessential to McVeigh, nor to Hegghammer’s jihadists who sing anasheed and write poems.

They’re essential – to the terrorists, and to our understanding of terrorism.

That’s why today is important – and Hegghammer’s lecture, likewise. I hope to return to a fuller exploration of his text as soon as my computer woes are ended.

The arc of the moral universe: two versions

Saturday, April 18th, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — MLK and Cardinal George ]
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SPEC DQ ML Card George

Both Martin Luther King, Jr and Francis, Cardinal George, know how to turn a well-turned phrase. Both make strong statements, and although they seem to take opposite tacks on the surface, I’m not sure that in the long view they conflict.

Cardinal George died yesterday, may he rest in peace.


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