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Situation Room, echo chamber

Friday, April 7th, 2017

[ by Charles Cameron — does the Syria strike compare with the Abbottabad raid? ]
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The Mar-a-Lago situation room, in a White House photo in which “President Donald Trump receives a briefing on the Syria military strike from the National Security team, including Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of Defense James Mattis, and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff via secure video teleconference .. White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer stated that this image has been digitally edited for security purposes”:

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This closely echoes an earlier White House photo, from within the White House itself, in which “Vice President Joe Biden and President Barack Obama, along with members of the national-security team, receive an update on the mission against Osama bin Laden in the Situation Room of the White House on May 1, 2011. Please note: a classified document seen in this photograph has been obscured”:

A photographic DoubleQuote for sure!

Hey, even that bit about “Sean Spicer stated that this image has been digitally edited for security purposes” rhymes conceptually with “a classified document seen in this photograph has been obscured”..

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— and a very deliberate echo, no doubt, on the photographer’s part.

Should we be comparing seating arrangements, person by person? You’ll note at least that Trump sits at the head of the table, Obama quietly off to the side..

Muslim Abu Walid al Shishani, also Trump’s hair

Friday, April 7th, 2017

[ by Charles Cameron — also critique of jihadist fatwas — with hat-tips to Pundita & JM ]
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Pundita posted a photo today under the heading Al Qaeda celebrating Trump for bombing Syrian air base:

She got the image from the collection here:

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The image Pundita posted is of Muslim Abu Walid al Shishani, and those aren’t actual wigs, they’re photo-enhancements — here’s the original photo, from a research site “documenting the involvement of Russian-speaking foreign fighters in the Syrian conflict”:

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Reading that site’s material on Shishani, I came across these very interesting paragraphs, with their unadorned descritption of how young jihadists misuse jihadist scholars and their rulings. From Nohchicho’s Interview with Muslim Shishani:

Alhamdulillah, in Syria there are a lot of great scholars who have a sea of knowledge, and when you ask them a question of any difficulty, they explain it so beautifully and distinctly, giving ayats, hadith and the history of the Companions, that there is no doubt. But I also noticed that these scholars are very far removed from what is actually happening here. They don’t participate in the activities of the jamaats, even when they are part of them. They are not aware of the subtleties of the jamaats’ programs, they mainly deal with questions of nikah [marriage], divorce and such matters. The main issues of the jamaat get solved by the students of these scholars. [The scholars] get remembered only when a jamaat needs a fatwa to legitimize its questionable actions.

The situation gets presented like this: Sheikh, I’m in the desert, I didn’t eat a thing for many days. There are pigs not far from here, and if I don’t eat their meat, then I’m going to die. What should I do? And of course the Sheikh gives an affirmative answer. And then they ask that he announce it publicly so that others don’t reproach them, and then they start using this fatwa even when they just get hungry. And the whole problem is that the Sheikh isn’t up to speed with what is really going on.

Having gotten to know the scholars and the situation, I realized one thing: if you want to know the truth, then ask the scholars the scope of the Sharia in the particular case, where Allah’s pleasure is, and stick to it as far as possible within your situation. And a scholar’s fatwa basically depends on how you present your situation to him. It depends on your conscience.

When we ask Sharia questions to a fighter, military questions to politicians, and political questions to Sharia experts, we will always run into mistakes. But if we learn to ask questions to specialists in their relevant fields, and if these experts don’t get into issues outside their competence, then it’s going to be easier for us to reach the truth.

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I’d welcome any info about Muslim Abu Walid al Shishani’s affiliation — Junud al-Sham, if that still exists? AQ? ISIS? This is the first time I’ve run across him.

Trump, Flynn and immunity

Friday, March 31st, 2017

[ by Charles Cameron — tweets, and how they become, for me, a problem in number theory ]
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The initial question is, should I pair this:

with this:

Or this:

— or the last two with each other?

Such are the hazards of imprisonment within the DoubleQuote system — two, when three or more are available and relevant, becomes a constraint rather than a facilitation. So would any other positive integer — and god save us from the irrationsals!

Daveed Gartenstein-Ross in Foreign Affairs #2, more directly to his point

Sunday, March 5th, 2017

[ by Charles Cameron — following up on Daveed Gartenstein-Ross in Foreign Affairs, my oblique analysis and more pertinent to the point he’s making ]
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Daveed is illustrating a pretty significant pattern with his latest article in Foreign Affairs, The Coming Islamic Culture War, subtitled What the Middle East’s Internet Boom Means for Gay Rights, and More:

These paragraphs:

Today, a new type of discursive space—one that will foster a very different set of ideas—is opening up in the Muslim world. In April 2011, Bahraini human rights activists created one such space when they launched the website Ahwaa, the first online forum for the LGBT community in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. Esra’a al-Shafei, one of the website’s founders, was modest about the site’s ambitions, explaining that Ahwaa was intended “as a support network” for the “LGBTQ community” as well as a resource for those “who want to learn more by interacting with [LGBT] people.”

Although little-noticed at the time, Ahwaa’s seemingly innocuous project was in fact revolutionary. Homosexuality in the MENA region is not only stigmatized but generally criminalized and banished from the public sphere. The creation of an online platform where LGBT people could candidly discuss the issues affecting their lives, such as romantic relationships or the tensions between Islam and gay rights, was thus a direct challenge to deeply inscribed cultural and religious norms. Indeed, Ahwaa heralds a wave of challenging ideas that, fueled by rapidly rising Internet penetration, will soon inundate Muslim-majority countries.

Online communications, by their nature, give marginalized social and political groups a space to organize, mobilize, and ultimately challenge the status quo. In the MENA region, online spaces like Awhaa will give sexual minorities the ability to assert their identity, rights, and place in society. So too will the Internet amplify discourses critical of the Islamic faith, or of religion in general, and solidify the identities of secularists, atheists, and even apostates. The rise of these religion-critical discourses will in turn trigger a backlash from conservative forces who fear an uprooting of traditional beliefs and identities. The coming social tsunami should be visible to anyone who knows what signs to look for.

Into the black swirl of geographical regimes that give no room for questioning — gay, political, religious, or whatever — a white circle of online discussion and possibility blossoms —

Shielded by the relative anonymity of online communications, marginalized individuals of all stripes can discuss intimate and controversial issues. The Internet, furthermore, allows like-minded people from disparate corners of the world to find one another and create virtual communities. An atheist living in rural Egypt, for example, may not know anyone else who shares his views. But when he goes online, he will find millions of people who do.

— and as it blossoms, the black swirl of repressive backlash again threatens it.

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Likewise, though this does not happen to be Daveed’s point, into the white swirl of western democratic societies a black circle of illiberalism opens — the internet providing a networking space for anti-Semites and other far right groups they would previously lacked —

Today, the Internet is a powerful and virulent platform for anti-Semitism — hate towards Jews that has a direct link to violence, terrorism and the deterioration of civil society. Hitler and the Nazis could never have dreamed of such an engine of hate. [ .. ]

The Internet allows anti-Semites to communicate, collaborate and plot in ways simply not possible in the off-line world.

— and this blossoming extends into the Trump camp, as JM Berger suggested

New developments and new propaganda items are a constant part of the ISIS landscape, whereas content in white nationalist networks tends to be repetitive, with few meaningful changes to the movement’s message, landscape, or political prospects. A notable exception to this is Donald Trump’s presidential candidacy, which has energized white nationalists and provided new talking points and opportunities for engagement. Trump’s candidacy is likely driving some portion of movement’s recent gains on Twitter.

And again likewise, this blossoming begins to be threatened by its own backlash — the blossoming of internet speech within contrary geographical cultural norms cuts both ways. It’s almost apocalyptic — that internet space blossoming can open up cracks in what David Brooks called “the post-World War II international order — the American-led alliances, norms and organizations that bind democracies and preserve global peace” — to which Steve Bannon is vehemently opposed.

Apocalyptic? Whether we’re speaking of Daveed’s “coming Islamic culture wars” or Brooks’ “international order” there are signs of the times to be seen. As Daveed says —

The coming social tsunami should be visible to anyone who knows what signs to look for.

— and in closing —

Regardless of their ultimate outcome, however, signs of the coming Islamic culture wars can already be discerned. Western observers have long overlooked or misinterpreted social trends that have swept through Muslim-majority countries. This is one trend that they cannot afford to miss.

A quick ouroboros caught on the fly

Sunday, March 5th, 2017

[ by Charles Cameron — Benjamin Wittes twice, also a pointer to Clint Watts ]
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Benjamin Wittes and Quinta Jurecic at the Lawfare blog have an above-my-unpaid-grade examination of the Presidential oath of office — and what happens when, in the case of a given President, it falls into widespread disrepute: What Happens When We Don’t Believe the President’s Oath? Just the fact that this question is being raised is remarkable. For my purposes, though, it’s the mention of leaks about leaking — a serpent bites tail concept, and hence a signal of potential significance — that I want to capture in passing:

All this culminated rather comically in a recent State Department memo by acting legal advisor Richard Visek condemning leaks and advocating that department employees instead make use of State’s internal dissent channel—a memo which itself promptly leaked to the press. Similarly, when press secretary Sean Spicer demanded to examine the phones of White House staffers to check for leaking and ordered staffers not to speak to the press about the meeting, Politico quickly got hold of the story.

I’d been meaning to find a suitable leak about leaking serpent for a while now, and Wittes’ article affords me this opportunity.

Once again, the self-reflexive form is, as Doug Hofstadter showed us in Gödel, Escher, Bach, a signal of likely special interest. In this regard it resembles such other forms as chiasmus (mirroring, eg “By the word of the LORD were the heavens made; and all the host of them by the breath of his mouth”).

O happy day, here’s a chiasmus from Aeschylus, entirely apt to Wittes’ post:

It is not the oath that makes us believe the man, but the man the oath.

Wittes has a follow-up post, Ten Questions for President Trump, today. Also of note, Clint Watts‘ tweet-streak today beginning here:


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