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Fire and Fury — a fair or unfair borrowing?

Saturday, August 12th, 2017

[ by Charles Cameron — how can anyone accurately judge the rage of another — and what happens if we simply can’t, but need to take precautions against it? ]
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President Trump certainly spoke of visiting “fire and fury” on the DPNK as quoted by the Economist in its DeafCon page (upper panel):

The question is whether the use of the phrase to headline a piece on the Alt-Right torchlight protest at UVa (lower panel) is appropriate or not?

  • Does it trivialize the serious matter of potential nuclear war by applying Trump’s phrase to a mere few hundred protesters,
  • or does it rightly intuit that the fury and fire of the Trump-Bannon platform — as applied to the DPNK nuclear program — is of the same cloth as the fury and fire of the protesters, and thus entirely applicable and appropriate?
  • **

    For the second time today:

    Metaphors, analogies, parallelisms, paradoxes — my stock in trade — are delicate matters, and should be treated with care.

    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 ]
    .

    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.

    **

    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.

    “KarlreMarks” Sharro moves on

    Wednesday, March 1st, 2017

    [ by Charles Cameron — from Abu A and Abu B to Steve and Donnie ]
    .

    Karl Sharro is a Middle Eastern architect and satirist based in London, whose two modes of “simply” explaining the Middle East I presented a while back. His third view envisions ISIS as a board game, and asks Who can devise the most convoluted way to wipe out the Islamic State?

    **

    Anyway, KarlreMarx has two jihadist ezxtremists he’s been tracking for some while — Abu A and Abu B:

    Outside Sharro’s fevered imagination, ISIS does indeed have an air force — of weaponized drones.

    Suicide? No, martydom — and individual ISIS members are as expendable as their goals are lofty:

    Sometimes, to be honest, those goals make little sense..

    — and besides, eclipses are signs of impending apocalypse..

    **

    Time rolls on, however — and Sharro has shifted his target. As he put it in a tweet today, “I decided to retire Abu A and Abu B and replace them with another radicalised pair”:

    Steve and Donnie — two’s company.

    We shall see what we shall see..

    A couple or so couples

    Saturday, February 18th, 2017

    [ by Charles Cameron — gathering these things the way an obsessed squirrel gathers nuts ]
    .

    I’d say there’s nothing more thought-provocative than running across an unexpected parallelism or opposition — and the closer the parallel the better. Once thought has been provoked, though that’s just the starting point — it needs to run its course with the appropriate caution and rigor. Here, then, are some parallelisms I’ve run into recently, for your provocation.

    **

    The Dilletante’s Winterings, Michael McFaul’s easy, broken parallel:

    Michael McFaul, the former US ambassador to Russia, has a blog on the site of Ekho Moskvy, the independent radio station based in Moscow. Commenting on the appointment of Steve Bannon to the National Security Council, he wrote:

    It’s the equivalent of Putin appointing Alexander Dugin to the [Russian] Security Council and telling generals Bortnikov [head of the FSB] and Gerasimov [head of the general staff] to only attend when they are needed.

    **

    Craig Whiteside (2016) The Islamic State and the Return of RevolutionaryWarfare, Small Wars & Insurgencies, 27:5, 743-776, DOI: 10.1080/09592318.2016.1208287:

    This paper starts by comparing the Islamic State to the Vietnamese communists in a revolutionary warfare framework..

    I didn’t find a single-sentence assertion of this parallelism, not am I expert in revolutionary warfare — but manynof our readers here on Zenpundit are, so I’ll leave the critical appraisal of this proposition to you-all..

    **

    Defense One, So, American Mass Shooters and Islamic Terrorists Do Have Something in Common:

    Like radical Islamic groups, white supremacist and other right-wing terrorist groups offer people (especially men) who feel isolated and disempowered a chance to feel important and welcome. It’s the same psychological phenomenon, different culture war. And thus the KKK gains new recruits along with ISIL.

    **

    And for good measure… not, you understand, that I understand it —

    Metod Saniga, Algebraic Geometry: a Tool for Resolving the Enigma of Time?

    An illustrative example of such a temporal dimension is provided by a specific linear, single-parametric set (so-called pencil) of conics in the projective plane. This set of conics is found to nicely reproduce the experienced arrow of time when the projective plane is affinized; it simply suffices to postulate that each proper conic of the pencil stands for a single temporal event, and relate three distinct kinds of (proper) affine conic, viz. a hyperbola, a parabola and an ellipse, with the three different kinds of temporal event, viz. the past, present and future, respectively..

    Time, as St Augustine noted, makes sense — until you try to figure out what sense it makes.

    Strategy and Prometheus Unbound

    Wednesday, February 8th, 2017

    [Mark Safranski / “zen“]

    Senior Counselor to the President and Chief Strategist, Steve Bannon

    Steve Bannon has been very much in the news lately, as one might expect of a former Breitbart editor turned closest adviser to the President of the United States. Much of this has been political fare by friends and foes (ok, mostly foes). We have read debates about his ideological worldview, the exact nature of Bannon’s (and Breitbart’s)  ties to the sinister Alt-Right, his rank in the White House pecking order, Bannon’s vision of realignment of American politics, populism, ethnonationalism, executive orders, the books he reads and so on. Charles has already weighed in here but I am not delving into these things today.

    Less attention, though usually also accompanied by outrage, have been stories on foreign policy and national security. Nevertheless, the media gave wide play to Bannon’s comments about potential war with China, possible civilizational partnership with Putin’s Russia and most notably, Bannon being given a permanent invitation to meetings of the Principal’s Committee of the National Security Council. Most Democrats and many national security professionals believed Bannon, as a political adviser,  had no business being seated on the NSC by historical standards. While this is true, it is not a very credible argument in light of the previous administration’s decision to make a mere campaign speechwriter with no prior experience an unusually powerful Deputy National Security Adviser.

    I think the criticisms based on customary protocol arguments miss the mark by a country mile.

    We are all familiar with the ancient Greek myth of the Titan Prometheus. It was Prometheus, whose name meant “forethought”, who defied the gods to give Man the gift of fire – a gift that unleashed the immense creative powers of mankind. For this affront to the gods’ authority, Prometheus was severely punished. Zeus binds Prometheus to Mount Caucasus where an eagle tears out his liver each day. A torment Prometheus endures for ages until the coming of Hercules.

    Strategy in American national security is much like Prometheus. Potentially useful as a creative force, sometimes employed like the gift of fire as a useful tool in a small way, most often inert, bound immobile to the rock of policy as politics savagely tears out the liver of anyone posing a strategy that might prevent a foreign policy crisis from becoming a debacle. The truth is that the gods, or in this case the established political class, much prefer a predictable and orderly debacle under their stewardship than a messy win for America with unpredictable second and third order effects.

    In fairness, most of the time, stability while accruing small losses is preferable for a global hegemonic power like the United States to disruptively embarking upon large risks to its position in order to win small gains. So long as the international system is strategically designed to sustain hegemony, occasional losses can be a cost of doing business until the system or parts of it no longer appear to be working. Or until political support wanes at home.

    The objection to Bannon (aside from his politics) is that a domestic political strategist should not be involved in the NSC. David Axelrod and Valerie Jarrett were not. Karl Rove wasn’t.  James Carville, Lee Atwater and innumerable other key political White House staffers never sat on the NSC. However, I don’t think Steve Bannon was invited to attend NSC Principal Committee meetings in that role. Nor was he “replacing” the DNI or CIA Director or the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. They were not “replaced” but as customary bureaucratic constraints on policy formulation they were intentionally removed.

    I think Steve Bannon – whose prior professional efforts at a high level were all about creating and articulating a vision – is really the Trump administration’s grand strategist.

    And he’s unbound.

     

     


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