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Browsing in bin Laden’s library II

Thursday, May 21st, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — following up on Browsing in bin Laden’s library ]

Marcy Wheeler at Salon reports of the ODNI’s Bin Laden’s Bookshelf (expanded form, .pdf) that “the categorization imposed by ODNI” consists “largely of overlapping categories of English-language materials worthy of a Jorge Luis Borges short story.

Categories include:


The Borges “short story” referenced here isn’t in fact a short story but an essay, The Analytical Language of John Wilkins, which includes a classification system “which doctor Franz Kuhn attributes to a certain Chinese encyclopaedia entitled ‘Celestial Empire of benevolent Knowledge'”. Borges’ spurious taxonomy divides the animal kingdom into the following categories:

(a) belonging to the emperor,
(b) embalmed,
(c) tame,
(d) sucking pigs,
(e) sirens,
(f) fabulous,
(g) stray dogs,
(h) included in the present classification,
(i) frenzied,
(j) innumerable,
(k) drawn with a very fine camelhair brush,
(l) et cetera,
(m) having just broken the water pitcher,
(n) that from a long way off look like flies.

Nicely observed, Marcy.


Of particular personal note considering my interest in games:

Under the heading “Documents Probably Used by Other Compound Residents” we find listed:

  • Delta Force Extreme 2 Videogame Guide
  • Game Spot Videogame Guide
  • One wonders (idly) whether ODNI cannot believe OBL would play such games, or whether that classification was arrived at on the basis of the location in the compound where these materials were found.

    And given my interest in religion:

    Under the heading “Think Tank & Other Studies”:

  • Program for the Study of International Organizations (PSIO), “Hizb ut-Tahrir: The Next Al-Qaeda, Really?” by Jean-Francois Mayer (2004)
  • And under the heading “Other religious documents”:

    a treatise on Christianity by one Monqith Ben Mahmoud Assaqar PhD, titled Was Jesus crucified for our atonement? — which opens with the following (presumably post-doctoral) statement of scholarship-to-date:

    Praise to Allah (S.W) , the cherisher and sustainer of the worlds, and may peace and blessings be upon all of His messengers. In our previous parts of this series “True guidance and light series”, we have concluded and confirmed a plain truth, which is that the Holy Bible, as we have seen, is man work, and not the word of Allah (S.W) in any way. Thus, Christians cannot present it as evidence for any of their creeds or events, including the crucifixion and the Atonement.

    FWIW, reading this treatise will likely not have helped OBL in his quest for interfaith understanding.

    Browsing in bin Laden’s library

    Wednesday, May 20th, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — always interested in other people’s books, & with a keen eye for eccentric choices ]

    Steve Jackson Games Illuminati WTC card

    Steve Jackson Games Illuminati WTC card


    Every terrorism library – and every terrorist’s library, too, maybe – should have at least one conspiracist book in it, and Bin Laden’s library apparently had several – I’d likely count America’s “War on Terrorism” by Michel Chossudovsky and Confessions of an Economic Hit Man by John Perkins among them — but I’m impressed he had a copy of Michael Ruppert’s Crossing the Rubicon, my own choice for that category on account of its chapter on games.

    Interesting, too, that he had a copy of the Select Committee on Intelligence report on Project MKULTRA, “the CIA’s program of research in behavioral modification.”

    Way more interesting, though, is his seemingly owning a copy of Manley P Hall’s great opus, The Secret Teachings of All Ages – “An Encyclopedic Outline of Masonic, Hermetic, Qabbalistic and Rosicrucian Symbolical Philosophy: Being an Interpretation of the Secret Teachings Concealed within the Rituals, Allegories and Mysteries of All Ages” — the date 1928 is given in ODNI’s listing of his English language books, so I’m wondering if he had the same huge, wood-boxed early edition I once had, now retailing for $1,500.

    And then there’s the kicker. Bin Laden apparently had a copy of the article Website claims Steve Jackson game foretold 9/11 — still up on the web — see illustration above.

    That’s just too rich!

    More on Stern & Berger’s ISIS: State of Terror

    Friday, May 8th, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — hey, I recommend Stern’s earlier Terror in the Name of God and JM’s Jihad Joe, too ]

    Jessica Stern & JM Berger have a very clever title for their book — which is one of many things I didn’t get to address in my Pragati review, because there’s really a great deal to be said about IS and about the book. Let’s take a look at that title:


    ISIS: State of Terror is a triple pun really, since their book is about:

  • the specifically “state building” aspect of the Islamic State as a caliphal movement expansive across geography and concerned with hospitals, roads, policing, and how tight your jeans are
  • the state of mind we call terror, which can be understood either positively as mentioned in the Qur’anic account of the battle of Badr or negatively as the attempt to persuade by selective brutality and its generalized implications
  • an overview of IS that’s essentially a “State of the Union” style summation of where we are, how we got there and where to proceed
  • For some reason I am seeing in threes today, a trait shared by Trinitarians of course, but also by CS Peirce and George Boole.


    Okay. The Islamic State really “exists” on three braided levels:

  • as a military and political entity with peronnel, materiel, logistics, strategic aims, victories, losses — largely stuff that can be viewed by satellite or televised, largely physical, quantifiable, though with its own mental drivers — and in this sense the Baathist military minds are the force-multipliers
  • as a digital and virtual entity with “cool” computer graphics, net-savvy virality, a Naji-derived approach to war as public relations and so forth. Here, the graphics, video and net mavens are the force multipliers. And if anyone is still in doubt as to whether “virtual reality” is real, please note that IS’ virtual reality brings real human bodies half way around the world to their deaths.
  • and as a religious and eschatological entity with its own central “Dabiq” hadith — and an appeal to all the hope frustrated by all the world’s perceived injustices, taking (i) the adventurous, rebellious spirit with its naive idealism (ii) via net connectivity and virtuoso virality (iii) through and past the milpol driver and its practicalities into (iv) the enhanced divine sanction of the Great Final War of Good (brutally) ascendant over Evil. Ironic, I know, but substantially true, and there’s a sort of Moebius twist in there that brings Good to mean Evil and Evil to mean Good — Goorge Orwell would have grimly understood.
  • My point here being that to understand IS we need both “physical” and “metaphysical” eyes, and a healthy dose of online virtual savvy too. And that’s why Jessica Stern & JM Berger‘s book is an invaluable guide: it looks closely into all three realms.


    Interestingly enough, to me at least, I see my focus on Islamist apocalyptic has gone through three phases, each one having its own cluster of traditions / ahadith:

  • I began with Hamas and the Gharqad Tree traditions
  • I moved on to Al-Qaida and the traditions about the black banners from Khorasan, and
  • with the Islamic State came Dabiq the magazine and the Dabiq traditions.
  • On the horizon, still, the traditions about the Ghazwa-e-Hind. Keep your eyes peeled.

    Insight into Iraq in Seierstad’s bio of Anders Breivik

    Monday, April 27th, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — another example of what I call “landmines in the garden” ]

    I wouldn’t have picked a bio of Anders Breivik as a likely source for insights into Iraq, but Åsne Seierstad‘s bio, One of Us, provides one all the same… first quoting the Qur’anic sura Al-Anfal (upper panel, below) in her epigraph to a chapter —

    SPEC DQ Al-Anfal

    — then commenting on that quotation (lower panel, above) a page later.


    What interests me here is Seierstad’s last sentence as quoted in the lower panel:

    By naming the campaign of extermination after a sura of the Qur’an, the Iraqi government sought to legitimate its executions as a war against believers.

    We have seen jihadists quote scripture often enough to suggest they have divine sanction for their acts of violence. Here it was Saddam Hussein in 1988 whose interpretation of the Qur’an provided that sanction. And I emphasize the word “interpretation” since Sura 8, Al-Anfal (The Spoils of War), was received shortly after the Battle of Badr, which it is understood to describe in detail, and its applicability by analogy to completely different circumstances such as Saddam’s campaign against the Kurds (and also, as Wikipedia notes, Assyrians, Shabaks, Iraqi Turkmens, Yazidis, Jews, and Mandeans) is indeed interpretive and subjective rather than “authoritative”.

    Saddam Hussein’s “authority” in Quranic exegesis would be questionable at best — so long as one was not overheard questioning it in Iraq at the time.

    Specifically, the very next verse of Al-Anfal clarifies the context. It does not say “When you find the unbelievers living in their villages and towns” — it says:

    O believers, when you encounter the unbelievers marching to battle, turn not your backs to them.

    But it is a little late for anyone to presume to give Saddam Hussein lessons in the book he once ordered written in his own blood, least of all myself.


    My overall point here is that the world’s scriptures in general offer paths towards paradise, pardes, pardis — a tranquil garden or orchard. Not infrequently, though, they also contain texts which can blow up in our faces if read not in historical context but with contemporary violent intent.

    Landmines in the Garden.

    Caveat lector.

    Of books, business, and cathedrals

    Friday, April 10th, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — who knows more or less what Walter Robb of WholeFoods was getting at, but doesn’t think it adequately sums to what cathedrals have to offer ]

    This tweet by friend Victor d’Allant frankly saddened me…


    Until redeemed by the comment at the tail end of this BBC report:

    Bookstore church


    Okay, then.

    To support the crowdfunding effort to save the “temple of books that raises reading to a religious experience” — figure this out: Dominicanen gaat door!

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