zenpundit.com » moral high ground

Archive for the ‘moral high ground’ Category

Who would you trust more at CIA?

Monday, May 7th, 2018

[ by Charles Cameron — seeking to emphasize what may be at base a spiritual / psychological question ]
.

First, the context, courtesy Washington Post:

Trump had signaled as a presidential candidate that he would consider reestablishing agency prisons and resuming interrogation methods that President Barack Obama had banned. Trump never followed through on that plan, which was opposed by senior members of his administration including Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who was tortured while imprisoned in Vietnam, said Haspel’s Senate confirmation should be conditioned on securing a pledge to block any plan to reintroduce harsh interrogations. “Ms. Haspel needs to explain the nature and extent of her involvement in the CIA’s interrogation program,” ­McCain said.

Haspel ran one of the first CIA black sites, a compound in Thailand code-named “Cat’s Eye,” where al-Qaeda suspects Zayn al-Abidin Muhammed Hussein, better known as Abu Zubaida, and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri were subjected to waterboarding and other techniques in 2002.

An exhaustive Senate report on the program described the frightening toll inflicted. At one point, the report said, Zubaida was left “completely unresponsive, with bubbles rising through his open, full mouth.”

Internal CIA memos cited in a Senate report on the agency’s interrogation program described agency officials who witnessed the treatment as distraught and concerned about its legality. “Several on the team [were] profoundly affected,” one agency employee wrote, “.?.?. some to the point of tears and choking up.”

Haspel later served as chief of staff to the head of the agency’s Counterterrorism Center, Jose Rodriguez, when he ordered the destruction of dozens of videotapes made at the Thailand site.

Rodriguez wrote in his memoir that Haspel “drafted a cable” ordering the tapes’ destruction in 2005 as the program came under mounting public scrutiny and that he then “took a deep breath of weary satisfaction and hit Send.

**

In light of the above, who would you trust more?

Someone who has overseen torture, deeply regretted / repented of it (metanoia), and wouldn’t repeat the crime / error / sin / shame / pick your word and its accompanying implications under any circumstances — or someone who was against torture from the first?

As I understand it, Gina Haspel claims to fall in the former class, thought I’m not sure whether she views her earlier actions with regret and / or remorse — and these /// differences are important.

There’s little doubt that as an administrator of Agency business, she’d more than qualified, so our “only remaining question” is whether someone who once oversaw a black site (and destroyed potentially incriminating evidence) can be trusted never to permit CIA to practice torture, under whatever name or cover it may hide, ever again.

Does she regret / repent, or does she feign regret / repentance?

And would you expect a newspaper reporter or cable news pundit — indeed, anyone short of her confessor or Haspel herself — would know?

**

Once again, mortals must decide, and quickly — our continuing koan or paradox — while the most relevant information of all is tangled up in the knots of human psychology / hidden deep in the heart of God..

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.

 

How the outside seems, at least to me, & how different the inside!

Sunday, March 18th, 2018

[ by Charles Cameron — unenthused by current prospects of nuclear war or power plant interferencer, putinesque america, american proto-fascism, etc — yet filled with joy and wonder ]
.

I would like to do a zoom down in.

My daily reading doesn’t follow neat trails such that each article builds not just in general thrust but also in detail on the last — so please overlook the strange leaps I’ve taken here — all in a morning’s web-scan.

Enjoy the three individual essays I’ll quote, in other words, but don’t sweat the details.

**

I’ll start with Africa, as explored in George Clooney and John Prendergast‘s major Foreign Affairs piece, The Key to Making Peace in Africa, available without a paywall — because they offer an unparalleled glimpse of the conflicting values that will define our common humanity, fail or fair:


JAMES AKENA / REUTERS Government troops and tanks are seen in the eastern Congolese town of Rumangabo, July 26, 2012.

Here are the matters to weigh in our scales, captured in two of Clooney and Prendergast’s four punchily effecrive lists:

Oil, gold, diamonds, cobalt, copper, and a variety of other mineral deposits and trafficked wildlife provide immense opportunity for those in power to line their own pockets

versus:

corrupt figures .. using their forces to bomb, burn, imprison, silence, torture, starve, impoverish, kill, and rape to maintain or gain power

That’s the basic comparison, the weighing in the scales that chraacterizes the Clooney / Prendergast piece.

**

Next for a sideways extrapolation of the dark vision Gen. McCaffrey offers:

**

With a further zigzag away from McCaffrey and Putin, I’ll consider our local, USian situation in light of This is the Spanish Civil War by Jonathan Kirshner. We’re zooming in from African gazillions to mere Americo-Russian billions, financially speaking, and from out there to in here — though not yet within.


Franco arriving in San Sebastian in 1939

Comparing our Trumpian times with the beginnings of the Spanish Civil War, and with the decades-long reign of Generalissimo Franco that followed — an arguable comparison, surely — Kirshner writes:

The stakes here are not about partisan politics — Republicans now love him, but other than his plutocratic bona-fides, Trump is barely a Republican — rather, they are about what we are, and what we may become. The Trump Presidency is not normal, and it is dangerous to our democracy.

Again, the scales.

I hope it will be apparent that I am neither comparing America with Spain nor Russia, but simply offering one respected military man’s testament as a preamble to a differently focussed writer’s rant about Franco, in hope of providing a diffuse, impressionistic sense of alarm with an active sense of what the fractious breakdown of democratic and humane values can bring forth.

Steve Bannon‘s reading list, occut and radical — Julius Evola as much as Ivan Ilyin — still lurks in the background, and deserves a=n essay of its own.

**

Zooming yet further in, leaping from the nation to the individual — and who knows how the many manages to integrates the one — or the one to evade the blandishments of the many, especially its witch hunts, scapegoating and madness of crowds — I find myself in a beautiful and utterly apolitical world:

Your Inconsolable Longing Has a Name. I have left off the final word of Jack Preston King‘s essay, and will present only his first paragraphs and images:

That Feeling You Can’t Name

My mother called it “the green lace.” Every spring there was a window of just a few days where the buds on all the trees had barely begun to flower, tiny leaf-tips pushed free of supple branches, and all of Nature was briefly sheathed in the most delicate green embroidery. As warming winds signaled “the green lace” was near, the years fell like calendar pages from my mother’s face. She stood taller. She would smile and laugh easily, but at the same time seemed ever on the verge of tears. The first day “the green lace” burst forth and draped the countryside, Mom would disappear in the family car to drive backroads alone, basking in the newborn spring, weeping freely as she drove. I never witnessed that last part in person, but I find it easy to imagine. My mother was not an emotionally expressive woman. But this emotion overcame her. She couldn’t control it, and more to the point, she didn’t want to control it. It was an eruption of the sacred, to be revered in seclusion, but never denied. She loved it privately, without having to define or justify the experience to anyone.

For me, this feeling descends in Fall. A few trees turn early, adding splashes of red and gold to my morning commute. Each evening when I arrive home from work, more grass has vanished beneath a thickening carpet of leaves. The sunlight slants, and afternoons golden. Then there’s always one day, usually in mid-October, when Autumn happens. The red maple in my front yard bursts overnight into flame. I step onto my porch and the air crisps just so. My heart wells as if someone I love with abandon has returned from a long absence. I ache with longing to merge with the trees and the air, the sunlight and sky.

Joy. Sehnsucht, King calls it.

**

If you thought my leap from Africa to the US — or from Trump to Franco, Bannon to Evola, Evola to Ilyin — was a stretch too far, I invite you to cnsider how much greater a stretch the leap from outer to inner is. Yet that, in one sense, is the creative leap par excellence — the leap from exteriority to interiority..

I trust it is also a leap from darkness into dappled light.

Kneeling for the Anthem to protest lynchings

Friday, February 9th, 2018

[ by Charles Cameron — with a tip if the hat to John Gary Messer ]
.

We’re all aware of the widely publicized NFL “kneeling” protests against black deaths at the hands of police and other matters, which President Trump felt did injury to the National Anthem and all that it stands for — in the upper panel below, members of the San Francisco 49ers kneel during the National Anthem, 2017 —

Beyond the photo itself and its title, White Baseball Players Kneel in the 50’s to protest Black Lynching, the article from which this photo was taken doesn’t have much to say:

Archival photos reveal several white baseball players kneeling during the national anthem in protest of the lynching of innocent negroes and Jim Crow laws. The practice was quickly ended when the players realized that most of their fans were either KKK members or sympathizers.

**

Somone tying today’s protests back to their historical antecedent would shed an interesting light on thr current controversy, giving today’s protesters a definitive “moral high ground” precedent.. Meat for a fascinating thesis?

Something to chew on.


Switch to our mobile site