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Definitely my “Best Book” of 2014

Monday, February 23rd, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — I’m posting this not just to recommend Brown’s book, but also to make a significant excerpt from it readily available on the net ]
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Misquoting Muhammad cover

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One book I received this year has given me a greater depth of understanding than any other by a wide margin. That book is Professor Jonathan AC Brown‘s book, Misquoting Muhammad: The Challenge and Choices of Interpreting the Prophet’s Legacy.

Brown is a Muslim, a professor at Georgetown, and author of Hadith: Muhammad’s Legacy in the Medieval and Modern World. His book Misquoting Muhammad — not his choice of title, btw — lays open the varieties of interpretive possibility in dealing with the Qur’an and ahadith with comprehensive scholarship and clarity. In light of the upsurge in interest in Islamic and Islamist religious teachings occasioned by Graeme Wood‘s recent Atlantic article, I asked Prof. Brown’s permission to reproduce here the section of his book dealing with abrogation and the rules of war.

Here then, with his permission, is an extract from Misquoting Muhammad. I hope it will prove of use both here and to others beyond the circle of Zenpundit readers. Spread the word!

The whole book is worth reading, the whole of this extract is worth reading — but the section within the extract that I particularly recommend is the passage which begins with “Abrogation brought into sharp contrast” (p.100) and ends with “but were those who died not also my servants?” (p. 103).

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By way of a bonus, here’s a related DoubleQuote:

SPEC DQ hadith & midrash

Midrash Source:

  • Rabbi David Levi, JTS Torah Commentary
  • Life imitates art: the eavesdropping TV

    Monday, February 9th, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — an excellent example of a DoubleQuote in the Wild ]
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    Excellent use of a DoubleQuote in the Wild from Parker Higgins:

    However: I don’t believe Orwell was recommending the kind of future he depicted. Neither does Parker Higgins, and neither do you.

    So why are we rushing headlong into Orwell’s dystopia?

    Early Endorsement

    Thursday, February 5th, 2015

    [by Mark Safranski, a.k.a “zen“]

    Stalin: Volume I. Paradoxes of Power 1878-1928 by Stephen Kotkin

    I’ve read quite a bit about old Uncle Joe.

    Most of the major biographies of Stalin sit on my shelf, including those from Adam Ulam, Roy Medvedev, Robert Tucker, Simon Sebag Montefiore, Dimitri Volkogonov and other historians more obscure. I’ve read extensive commentaries about the Kremlin Mountaineer from Robert Conquest, Richard Pipes, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn,  Milovan Djilas, George Kennan, Nikita Krushchev, Leon Trotskii, Amy Knight, Vyacheslav Molotov, Anton Antonov-Oveseenko, Al Resis, Pavel Sudoplatov, Walter Bedell Smith, Eric Hobsbawm, Herbert von Dirksen, Anatoly Dobrynin and various biographers of Churchill, Truman, FDR, Hitler and Mao. I’m not a Soviet expert, but for a layman, I can throw down rather well on Josef Stalin and his Soviet system.

    So, with that in mind, if you are a Russian history buff or Soviet studies person you need to run, not walk, to get yourself a copy of Stalin: Volume I. by Princeton historian Stephen Kotkin.

    It is simply that good!

    Theory and Practice, Ideal and Real, War and Peace

    Monday, January 26th, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — hoping to introduce my many friends in the peace and light camp to my many friends in the carry a big stick camp, with a view to furthering mutual understanding ]
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    A confluence in my infostream this morning:
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    cantilever
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    Let’s start with this brilliant example of theory (the diagram of the cantilever principle, above) and practice (the human demonstration, below). In the above instance, at least, the theory works out in practice. BTW, I think this image qualifies as a DoubleQuote in the Wild.

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    There’s a problem when things just don’t work out that way, however, and Cardinal Richelieu nails it:
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    Richelieu quote
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    I’m afraid the recently past century amply bears out Richelieu’s point.

    Theory is often too simple to match practice, and attempts to fit the real world into a crippling procrustean box of its own devising.

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    I might not have taken an interest in these two tweets, if I hadn’t also read Ahmed Humayun‘s post, The Politics of Barbarism, on 3 Quarks Daily today, and blog-friend Omar Ali‘s comments in particular.

    Humayun’s piece is essentially a precis and analysis of Abu Bakr Naji‘s The Management of Savagery, a book, incidentally, which has as much to do with management as it does with savagery.

    But to get to the point which interests me, one Raza Husain commented that in place of recent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq:

    A trillion dollars on development work, schools, hospitals, roads, power plants, would have been money better spent and possibly just as helpful to the American economy if not to the arms industry in particular.

    to which Omar responded:

    A trillion dollars spent through what state apparatus? protected by what army? under which laws? (not saying it cannot be done, but those questions need answers first, otherwise how will the money actually get spent where you want it spent?)

    And that’s it, right there.

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    Richard Grenier paraphrased George Orwell nicely when he wrote:

    people sleep peacefully in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf

    If I was to DoubleQuote that, my pairing quote would be from John Adams:

    I must study Politicks and War that my sons may have liberty to study Mathematicks and Philosophy. My sons ought to study mathematics and Philosophy, Geography, natural History, naval Architecture, navigation, Commerce and Agriculature, in order to give their Children a right to study Painting, Poetry, Musick, Architecture, Statuary, Tapestry and Porcelaine.

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    The Ideal and Real are, respectively, Theory and Practice, and we need, we are constituted to need both — and yet our discourse all too often promotes one (shorthand: peace) or the other (shorthand: war), without looking at how each can serve and illuminate the other.

    For my purposes, it is essentially peace that is the objective, and war that should (where and when needed) serve it: but it is justice, as in peace with justice, that is the necessary third term bringing peace and war (to include revolution?) into their constantly shifting alignment.

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    If one group of people chants peace, peace, while another prepares for, and makes, war — without justice rather than profit being its central motivation and the arbiter of its outcomes — there’s little chance of mutual understanding. The peaceables will think the warlikes lack “moral” sense, the warlikes will think the peaceables lack “common” sense, each side will seem senseless to the other — and the wheel will continue to turn.

    What I would like to see — to foster — is deliberation, debate, discourse between these two camps, the idealists and the realists (and I use those terms without their technical senses as terms of art), those who would seek peace and those who would protect them from violence.

    Because humanity is half-angelic, half-bestial, and the question is how the angelic can best deploy against the bestial. Or as Naji has it, against Savagery.

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    There are two distinct scenarions that I try to bear in mind, in one of which an archipelago of islands is seen in a seascape, while the other shows a number of lakes in a lanscape of mountains, hills and valleys.

    The only difference between them, as I envision them, is the water level.

    Raise the water level, and the lakes join to become a sea in which the isolated remaining hill and mountain tops have become islands — lower the water level, and the islands become the hills and mountain tops of a landscape, with the sea now diminished to a congeries of lakes and pools in its valleys.

    The quest, here, by analogy, is for optimal levels of protective violence to obtain and sustain a widespread and liveable landscape of peace.

    Your thoughts?

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    Image sources:

  • Cantilever, via BoingBoing
  • Richelieu, via the Economist
  • New Article at Pragati: Diplomatic Warfare?

    Tuesday, January 13th, 2015

    [by Mark Safranski, a.k.a. “zen”]

    I have a new article up at Pragati: The Indian National Interest. A review of Warrior Diplomat by Michael G. Waltz

    Diplomatic Warfare? 

    ….Waltz, now the president of Metis Solutions, brings to the table a powerful juxtaposition of perspectives on the Afghan war. As a Department of Defense civilian official, he served variously as an Interagency Counter narcotics Coordinator in the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) developing strategies to combat opium trafficking in Pashtun regions, as the Pentagon’s Afghanistan Country Director, as the Special Adviser to Vice President Dick Cheney on South Asia and Counterterrorism and finally, as an adviser on negotiations with the Taliban to the deputy assistant secretary of defense in the Obama administration.

    This is “making policy at 50,000 feet”, briefing and advising senior administration officials on national policy formulation and implementation. No contrast could be more dramatic with Waltz’s alternate role as a Green Beret company commander living among Pashtun tribal villagers, drinking tea with tribal elders, working with village police chiefs, engaging in brutal firefights with Haqqani network insurgents, disarming IEDs and delivering medical care to remote Afghan districts. Like few other officers, Waltz could see the life or death impact of policy he had helped craft on his own soldiers, Afghan farmers, and the Taliban enemy; but at other times, the blindness of policy or its complete irrelevance to the often ugly ground truth of counterinsurgency warfare.

    Though the story of Waltz’s gritty experience in combat looms large in Warrior Diplomat, he also lays out a hard analysis regarding the self-created problems that impaired the American war in Afghanistan, including a paucity of resources, the incapacity of NATO partners, a muddled strategy, bureaucratic and political risk aversion and micromanagement of military operations down to the smallest units, a stubborn refusal to confront Pakistan over Taliban sanctuaries and announcing an early withdrawal date from Afghanistan. There is an additional subtext to Waltz’s story; the transformation of the legendary Green Beret Special Forces, intended to work autonomously in small groups training and fighting with indigenous forces, to ‘conventionalised’ units of ‘door-kickers’ who spend enormous amounts of time on powerpoint slides, making fruitless requests for helicopters or artillery support and fighting the timidity and capriciousness of Waltz’s own chain of command.

    Read the rest here.

    Some of you may have read American Spartan or my earlier review of that book. The stories of Michael Waltz and Jim Gant are not the same but the setting, their operational environment, largely was. Some of the frankly preposterous, Catch-22 restrictions with which Waltz struggled mightily to comply while effectively circumventing may illuminate some of the unspoken reasons why Jim Gant took a different path.

    I cannot say it was the objective of the US Army and ISAF to prevent effective COIN operations in Afghanistan in writing their regulations and ROE, but it might as well have been


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