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Next notables, metaphors and bright ideas included

Sunday, December 9th, 2018

[ by Charles Cameron — next in the long series beginning with sports and game metaphors, and extending to include miscellaneous memorable items — nb, includes a Tibhirine section, Jim Gant pls note ]
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Here’s a DoubleQuote in images of considerable interest, from David Metcalfe — with the esteemed William Dalrynple DoubleQuoting goddesses in Kerala:

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Ancilliary to my interest in mapping complex realities..

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First “siege warfare” metaphor:

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Something to read alongside John Kiser‘s superb The Monks of Tibhirine: Faith, Love, and Terror in Algeria :

I would be most happy to publish any comments John Kiser has on Kyle Orton‘s blog post, Algeria’s ‘Years of Blood’: Not Quite What They Seem on ZP should he or Jim Gant notice this somewhat obscure entry..

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Good grief:

Key comment:

I will explain all in due course but for now all I want to say is be VERY careful when dabbling in spirituality, it’s not something to mess with.

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REVIEW: Commander of the Faithful by John Kiser

Friday, March 30th, 2018

[Mark Safranski / “zen‘]

Commander of the Faithful: The Life and Times of Emir Abd el-Kader by John Kiser  

A while back, I received a copy of Commander of the Faithful from friend of ZP, Major Jim Gant who had been impressed with the book and urged me to read it. My antilibrary pile of books is substantial and it took a while to work my way towards it. I knew a little about Algerian colonial history from reading about the French Third Republic, the Foreign Legion and counterinsurgency literature but the name of Abd el-Kader was obscure to me.  The author, John W. Kiser, had also written a book on the martyred Monks of Tibhirine, a topic that had previously caught the eye of Charles Cameron and made a significant impression. Therefore, I settled in to read a biography of a long forgotten desert Arab chieftain.

What a marvelous book!

Kiser’s fast-moving tale is of a man who attempted to forge from unwieldy tribes and two unwilling empires, a new nation grounded in an enlightened Islam that transcended tribal customs ad corrupt legacies of Ottoman misrule while resisting encroachments of French imperial power. A Sufi marabout who was the son of a marabout, el Kader was the scholar who picked up the sword and whose call to jihad eschewed cruelty and held that piety and modernity were compatible aspirations for the feuding tribes of the Mahgreb. There are a number of themes or conflicts in Commander of the Faithful that will interest ZP readers;

el-Kader’s political effort to build a durable, modernizing, Islamic state and Mahgreb nation from feuding desert tribes and clans

Abd el-Kader struggled to unify disparate Arab tribes and subtribes through piety, generosity and coercion while integrating Turco-Arabs and Algerian Jews who had a place under the old Ottoman regime into his new order. Jews like the diplomat Judas Ben Duran and Christian French former military officers and priests became  el-Kader’s trusted advisers and intermediaries alongside Arab chieftains and Sufi marabouts.

el-Kader the insurgent strategist and battlefield tactician

As a military leader, Abd el-Kader demonstrated both a natural talent for cavalry tactics as well as the organizational skill to build a small, but well-disciplined regular infantry with modern rifles on the European model. It is noteworthy, that while Abd el-Kader suffered the occasional reverse (the worst at the hands of a wily Arab warlord loyal to the French) the French generals fighting him all came to grudgingly respect his bravery, honor and skill. Never defeated, Abd el-Kader made peace with the French and surrendered voluntarily; all of his former enemies, Generals Lamoriciere, Damaus, Bugeaud and Changarnier interceded on al-Kader’s behalf to prod the French government to keep its promises to the Amir, who had become a celebrity POW in a series of French chateaus.

el-Kader the Islamic modernizer and moral figure

The 19th century was a time of intellectual ferment in the Islamic world from Morocco to British India with the prime question being the repeated failures of Islamic authorities in the face of European imperialism of the modern West. El-Kader found different answers than did the Deobandis of India, the Wahhabis of Arabia, the later Mahdists of the Sudan, the followers of al-Afghani or the Young Turks who began turning toward secularism. Educated in the Sufi tradition, el-Kader’s vision of Islam, while devout and at times strict, encompassed a benevolent tolerance and respect for “the People of the Book” and general humanitarianism far in advance of the times that is absent in modern jihadism.

It was Abd el-Kader, in retirement in Damascus, who rallied his men to protect thousands of Christians from being massacred in a bloody pogrom (the 1860 Riots) organized by the Ottoman governor, Ahmed Pasha, using as his instrument two local Druze warlords who were angry about their conflict with the Maronite Christians of Mount Lebanon and Sunni Arabs and Kurds enraged about the Ottoman reforms that had ended the dhimmi status of the Maronite Christians. It was the Emir who faced down and chastised a howling mob as bad Muslims and evildoers and by his actions thousands of lives were spared. Already honored for his chivalrous treatment of prisoners and his banning of customary decapitation as barbarous, the 1860 Riots cemented Abd El-Kader’s reputation for humanitarianism and made him an international figure known from the cornfields of Iowa to the canals of St. Petersburg.

Kiser, who it must be said keeps the story moving throughout, is at pains to emphasize the exemplary moral character of Abd el-Kader. As Emir, he “walked the walk” and understood the connection between his personal asceticism, probity and generosity to his enemies and the poor and his political authority as Emir. When some Arab tribes betrayed Abd El-Kader in a battle against the French, consequently they were deeply shamed and ended up begging the Emir to be allowed to return to his service. On the occasions when harsh punishments had to be dealt out, Abd el-Kader meted them not as examples of his cruelty to be feared but as examples of justice to deter unacceptable crimes that he would swiftly punish.  This is operating at what the late strategist John Boyd called “the moral level of war”, allowing Abd el-Kader to attract the uncommitted, win over observers, rally his people and demoralize his opponents. Even in defeat, realizing the hopelessness of his position against the might of an industrializing great imperial power that was France. el-Kader retained the initiative, ending the war while he was still undefeated and on honorable terms.

In Commander of the Faithful, Kiser paints el-Kader in a romantic light, one that fits the mid 19th century when concepts of honor and chivalry still retained their currency on the battlefield and society, among the Europeans as much as the Emir’s doughty desert tribesmen (if there is any group that comes off poorly, it is the Turks, the dying Ottoman regime’s pashas and beys providing a corrupt and decadent contrast to el-Kader’s nascent Islamic state). The nobility of Abd el-Kader shines from Kiser’s text, both humble and heroic in a manner that rarely sees a 21st century analogue. It is both refreshing and at times, moving to read of men who could strive for the highest ethical standards while engaged in the hardest and most dangerous enterprise.

Strongly recommended.

 

Tanglewood vs Versailles: of gardens and explanations

Friday, August 11th, 2017

[ by Charles Cameron — critiquing the star diagram, celebrating the insights of Peter Neumann and team on violent radicalization ]
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I seem to remember that my grandmother’s house and garden was named Tanglewood — and certainly, the palace and gardens of Louis XVI are known simply as Versailles!

French ornamental gardens represent one way to go about life, and English wild ramblings quite another — personally, I prefer the English way.

So..

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To be honest, I find this diagram all too neat and well-mown…

People, after all, have grievances, ideas, and needs, and are the ones who resort to violence — and indeed, grievances are ideas, and sometimes born of needs. I could go on — but a five-pointed star with kinetic arrows folded into a graphically beautiful sort of Moebius arrangement is elegant and perhaps overly simple?

Compare that gorgeous, tidy star with Will McCants‘ paragraphs:

The disappoint stems from the desire to attribute the jihadist phenomenon to a single cause rather than to several causes that work in tandem to produce it. To my mind, the most salient are these: a religious heritage that lauds fighting abroad to establish states and to protect one’s fellow Muslims; ultraconservative religious ideas and networks exploited by militant recruiters; peer pressure (if you know someone involved, you’re more likely to get involved); fear of religious persecution; poor governance (not type of government); youth unemployment or underemployment in large cities; and civil war. All of these factors are more at play in the Arab world now than at any other time in recent memory, which is fueling a jihadist resurgence around the world.

If anyone elevates one of those factors above the others to diagnose the problem, you can be certain the resulting prescription will not work. It may even backfire, leading to more jihadist recruitment, not less.

That’s more to my taste.

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None of which is to denigrate Peter Neumann‘s contributions to our understanding of violent radicalization — see for instance his subtle and compelling “Myths and Reality” presentation:

Michael Kenney on al-Muhajiroun

Wednesday, June 7th, 2017

{ by Charles Cameron — including the curious case of the Covenant of Security ]
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Michael Kenney, on the recommendation of John Horgan:

Lots of reports in the media about London Bridge attacker Khuram Butt’s “membership” in al-Muhajiroun, but this is not how network activists understand membership in al-Muhajrioun. For them it is about “intellectual affiliation,” gaining the ideological and practical knowledge they need to be competent activists. ALM is full of rotating recruits. These people come in, get exposed to the network’s ideas, radicalize to different degrees, and then often leave after a certain period of involvement, typically lasting months or years. Some leave b/c they don’t accept ALM’s interpretation of the Covenant of Security, which forbids attacks in UK, as long as their lives and livelihoods are protected. Butt may have believed that the Covenant no longer applied to him in the UK, allowing him to engage in violence in his home country. This is not ALM’s position on the Covenant, though activists emphasize this is each individual’s decision.

Here’s a description of the Covenant of Security, from a long-ago Daniel Pipes piece about the Covenant and al-Muhajiroun, titled Does a “Covenant of Security” Protect the United Kingdom?:

According to Sifaoui, it has long been recognised by the British Islamists, by the British government and by UK intelligence agencies, that as long as Britain guarantees a degree of freedom to the likes of Hassan Butt [a loudmouth pro-terrorist Islamist], the terrorist strikes will continue to be planned within the borders of the UK but will not occur here. Ironically, then, the presence of vocal and active Islamist terrorist sympathisers in the UK actually makes British people safer, while the full brunt of British-based terrorist plotting is suffered by people in other countries.

Michael Kenney, more:

To learn more about al-Muhajiroun, please see my JCR article with @steve_coulthart and Dom Wright, Structure and Performance in a Violent Extremist Network:

This study combines network science and ethnography to explore how al-Muhajiroun, a banned Islamist network, continued its high-risk activism despite being targeted for disruption by British authorities. We analyze news reports, interviews, and field notes using social network analysis and qualitative content analysis to test hypotheses pertaining to network structure and performance. Our analysis suggests that the activist network’s structural properties had important implications for its performance during three separate time periods. What began as a centralized, scale-free-like, small-world network centered on a charismatic leader evolved into a more decentralized “small-world-like” network featuring clusters of local activists connected through multiple bridges. This structure allowed the activist network to engage in contentious politics even as its environment became increasingly hostile. We conclude by discussing the implications of al-Muhajiroun’s small-world solution for scholars and policy makers.

Hearts and minds connected

Wednesday, June 7th, 2017

[ by Charles Cameron — shd be obvious, but useful to know in the battle for hearts and minds, buddhism! ]
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Hearts and minds, hearts and brains — tell me, heart, are minds and brains the same?

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Sources:

  • The National, Pat Kane: To stop terror we must look into the hearts of Jihadis
  • Lion’s Roar, Buddhist researchers find actual link between heart, mind

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