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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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    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.

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    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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    Black Banners in the Washington Post

    Wednesday, August 20th, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron -- the one point missing IMO in an otherwise fine piece ]
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    In WaPo, under the header How the violent Islamic State extremists got their signature flag, Abby Phillip tackles what I believe is a very significant question, that of the black banners, but doesn’t mention their “end times” significance:

    Since the Islamic State began consolidating territory in its bloody campaign over the last year or so, it has gone from relative obscurity to global notoriety — and so has its flag.

    The black-and-white banner is not only being flown in Iraq and Syria, where the group has claimed a “caliphate,” but also in London — and now, apparently, New Jersey and outside the White House.

    Mark Dunaway — a Garwood, N.J., resident who converted to Islam about 10 years ago — seemed to have no idea that the flag he was hanging outside his house was associated with a violent militant group that’s on the march in the Syria in Iraq.

    “I hang it every Friday and every Ramadan which ended not too long ago and I keep it up a little longer than I normally do,” Dunaway told FoxNews.com. “I guess some people saw it and got offended so I took it down. I do not support any militant group or anything like that.”

    Dunaway removed the flag from the front of his house, replacing it with one for an American football team, the San Diego Chargers, according to NJ.com.

    “I understand now that people turn on CNN and see the flag associated with jihad, but that’s not the intention of that flag at all,” Dunaway told NJ.com. “It says ‘There is only one god, Allah, and the prophet Muhammad is his messenger.’ It’s not meant to be a symbol of hate. Islam is all about unity and peace. I am not a part of any group like that, and I’m not anti-American. I love my country, but I am a Muslim.”

    Dunway did not respond to requests for comment on Thursday and Friday.

    Putting aside the question of whether he had ever heard of the Islamic State or seen the flag flown in photos accompanying dozens of media reports in recent years, the real history of the flag is fairly recent and inextricably linked to jihad.

    So how does an unsuspecting New Jersey man end up with a flag associated with a brutally violent militant group? Well, for one thing, you can buy the Islamic State’s flag on eBay for a mere $20, as of this writing.

    [ .. more .. ]

    That’s all okay, that’s interesting. But there’s one salient aspect of the “black banner” story that’s missing from Ms. Phillip’s account — the hadith which claims that an army with black banners will sweep victoriously from Khorasan (roughly, Afghanistan / Iran) to Jerusalem in the Islamic equivalent of the Christian “end times” war culminating in the battle of Armageddon.

    The important thing here is that the black flag signals belief that the army and war in question are those associated with the Mahdi, Islam’s end times awaited eschatological figure.

    **

    It’s very easy for us to overlook the Mahdist / end times aspect of IS and other jihadist rhetoric, because we tend to dismiss end times belief as somehow quaint and outdated. I’ve been suggesting it’s more like an undertow that may catch us unawares if we don’t pay attention.

    I’ve written quite a bit about this myself [eg 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 -- see also Aaron Zelin's On flags, Islamic History and Al-Qaida.]

    The meaning attaching to symbols morphs over time, sure, and the “black banners” hadith may or may not be the “central” meaning of the flag with shahada and seal, now strongly and almost exclusively associated with the IS attempt at a caliphate — but the IS magazine Dabiq in its first two issues (1, 2) makes that end times connection pretty clear, even if the flag itself doesn’t.

    This kind of end times appeal is always something to be particularly watchful of.

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    DoubleQuotes as claim and refutation: Ukraine

    Friday, August 15th, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron -- DoubleQuotes as an alternative to "on page 16, below the fold"]
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    All too often when mass media are caught propagating falsehoods, the apologies and refutations if any get buried away in an obscure corner where few of those who saw the original claim will run across the correction. This tweeted DoubleQuote in the Wild gives “equal time” to claim and refutation:

    **

    So there’s another useful use for the DoubleQuotes format -=- and my hat’s off to Mannfred Nyttingnes.

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    DoubleQuoting hashtags on Gaza

    Friday, August 15th, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron -- don't be fooled by the pretty colors, what you see is just a mass of data points artfully displayed ]
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    Here’s a fascinating graphic from the quantitative mode of analysis:

    I really don’t have much to say about this, except that if a prayer is fired off each time the hashtags #prayforgaza and #prayforisrael are posted, the divine listening apparatus must be a stereo system.

    **

    Source:

  • Gilad Lotan, Israel, Gaza, War & Data: Social Networks and the Art of Personalizing Propaganda
  • Lotan’s article is worth reading. Here’s the point that interested me most:

    Haaretz accommodates the most connections on both the pro-Palestinian and pro-Israeli sides of the graph, having the highest betweenness centrality. Compared to all other nodes in the graph, Haaretz is most likely to spread throughout the wider network. It has the most potential for bridging across biases and political barriers.

    Lotan closes with a plea for us all to “be more thoughtful about adding and maintaining bridges across information silos online”. May it be so.

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