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JM Berger’s Extremism, from MIT Press. Brilliant.

Monday, September 24th, 2018

[ by Charles Cameron — my third JM Berger review, following reviews of Jihad Joe and ISIS: State of Terror ]
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**

I ordered a copy of JM Berger‘s Extremism months early from Amazon, having followed many of the posts in which he was formulating the insights that led to the book, and expecting a volume full of the very detailed diagrams and network analyses they contained:

Image sources:

  • ICCT, Countering Islamic State Messaging Through “Linkage-Based” Analysis
  • Intelwire, EXTREMIST CONSTRUCTION OF IDENTITY
  • **

    These diagrams, and the research that underlies them — the work of JM and his colleague, Haroro J Ingram — attest to JM’s skill at the detailed drill-down level, the equivalent of rock-face drilling in a mine. The book couldn’t be further from my expectations: it attests to an entirely different set of skills, those of simplicity, grace, and a superb command of language.

    JM has the ability to communicate directly with a lay audience at their (our) level. He neither shies away from nuance nor adds needless complications — either of which would be a form of condescension to the reader.

    JM’s writing is direct and clean:

  • Terrorism is a tactic, whereas extremism is a belief system.
  • Extremism is a spectrum of beliefs, not necessarily a simple destination.
  • Group radicalization precedes individual radicalization
  • **

    Above are three of the pull-quotes, extracted from the book’s text, that state some of JM’s basic propositions on lucid, large-print, white on black pages, scattered as needed across the book’s 167 short pages (plus glossary, notes, bibliography, further reading, index)..

  • What extremism is, how extremist ideologies are constructed, and why extremism can escalate into violence
  • That’s the core proposition of the whole work, buttressed as it is with a wealth of detailed research and analysis. And radical…

    JM’s approach is already radical in its (his) refusal to treat only one ideological or religious frame for extremism. Studying both ISIS and home grown Identity groups, those who promote violence and those who arguably foreshadow it, led JM to see extremism itself as the most fruitful category to study — not terrorism, nor Islam, not the Citizen Sovereignty movement nor alt-right, but extremism tout court.

    That broadening of the frame allows Berger a set of analytic insights that were obscured by detail in earlier, more limited studies, and his book is the elegant formulation of those insights, simply, and with a forest of scholarship in support.

    **

    JM lists Impurity, Conspiracy, Dystopia, Existential threat, and Apocalypse as central “crisis narratives” utilized by in-groups as they view out-groups — but it is the in-group-out-group distinction which is central to his thinking, its wrongness characterized by the in-group’s paranoid conspiracist suspicions of the out-group’s impurity, dystopic being the nature of the world now ruled by the out-group, and to be abhorred or saved by the in-, with existential threat and apocalypse providing the sense of time-crunch, urgency.

    All this, I say, with a simplicity and elegance which belies the originality and scholarship that undergirds it.

    Above highly recommended.

    Violence at three borders, naturally it’s a pattern

    Monday, April 30th, 2018

    [ by Charles Cameron — a quick dip into the news, the Koreas, Gaza and Israel, Tijuana and San Diego ]
    .

    At the Korean border, axes as weapons:

    In 1976, American soldiers guarding the border between North and South Korea were given what seemed like a simple task: trim a poplar tree blocking the view of a United Nations command post within the demilitarized zone, or DMZ, that had separated the two countries since the end of the Korean War.

    [ .. ]

    But after 10 or 15 minutes, a North Korean officer ordered the tree-trimming to stop. When the Americans refused, the North Koreans sent for reinforcements.

    “When they arrived … the North Koreans suddenly attacked, killing the two U.S. officers and injuring four Americans and four South Koreans,” Don Oberdorfer reported for The Washington Post. “Witnesses said the North Koreans used the axes intended for tree-trimming as their weapons.”

    The poplar incident nearly started a second war between North Korea and the United States, which launched a massive military operation that involved hundreds of troops, B-52 bombers, fighter jets and an aircraft carrier. It was dubbed Operation Paul Bunyan, after the giant lumberjack of American folklore./>

    **

    At the Israeli border, death is equal to life?

    Say what you will about root causes and immediate ones — about incitement and militancy, about siege and control, about who did what first to whom — one thing is clear. More than a decade of deprivation and desperation, with little hope of relief, has led thousands of young Gazans to throw themselves into a protest that few, if any, think can actually achieve its stated goal: a return to the homes in what is now Israel that their forebears left behind in 1948.

    In five weeks of protests, 46 people have been killed, and hundreds more have been badly wounded, according to the Gaza health ministry.

    [ .. ]

    “It doesn’t matter to me if they shoot me or not,” he said in a quiet moment inside his family’s tent. “Death or life — it’s the same thing.”

    **

    After 3,000 miles, the American border:

    A long, grueling journey gave way to what could be a long, uncertain asylum process Sunday as a caravan of immigrants finally reached the border between the United States and Mexico, setting up a dramatic moment and a test of President Trump’s anti-immigrant politics.

    More than 150 migrants, part of a caravan that once numbered about 1,200 and headed north in March from Mexico’s border with Guatemala, were prepared to seek asylum from United States immigration officials.

    But in what was likely to be one of many curves on the road, the migrants were told Sunday afternoon that the immigration officials could not process their claims, and they would have to spend the night on the Mexican side of the border.

    **

    When I was yet a boy, I was sent out with a companion, both of us armed with .303 rifles dating back to World War Zero, to guard the grounds of our school, Wellington College, named for the Iron Duke, from Frank Mitchell aka “The Mad Axeman”, named for his murder rampage, who had escaped a couple of hours earlier from Broadmoor Hospital for the Criminally Insane, named for its location and inmates, whose grounds were near our own in the scrublands near Sandhurst, the British West Point, with some sort of common geist haunting the three establishments.

    My mild afright patrolling for the Axeman — if I confronted him, should I cry out “Stand and deliver” or “Who goes there”?? — can hardly compare with the terror inspired by North Korean troops equipped with axes..

    Nor can my six year term as a boarder at Wellington, where I was once beaten — four, I think, with a bamboo cane — for doing the Times crossword puzzle in preference to my maths homework, possibly compare with the sense of confinement experienced by the Gaza Palestinians..

    San Diego beaches, however, I have some little experience of — that’s San Diego beach, US of A to the right of the border wall in the photo above; to the left of the wall, however, it’s Tijuana beach, Mexico — and as Rudyard Kipling might have said, “seldom, if ever, the twain shall meet”.

    **

    Sources:

  • WaPo, At Korean summit in DMZ, ‘deranged’ ax murders still cast a shadow
  • NYT, For Gaza Protester, Living or Dying Is the ‘Same Thing’
  • NYT, Migrant Caravan, After Grueling Trip, Reaches U.S. Border. Now the Really Hard Part
  • See also:

  • Zenpundit, The Korean border / no border dance
  • Zenpundit, Sunday surprise: thinking of the Koreas, more
  • For Jim Gant, On the Resurrection, 04

    Wednesday, April 25th, 2018

    [ by Charles Cameron — in thre “expansive” phase of this exploration ]
    .

    In her mysteriously beautiful detective procedural set in a Québécois monastery, The Beautiful Mystery: A Chief Inspector Gamache Novel, Louise Penny arrives, about midway through her tale, at this sentence:

    When Frère Mathieu brings out his bomb, the abbot brings out his pipe. One weapon is figurative, and the other isn’t.

    I’m riveted.

    **

    Because the phrase “One .. is figurative, and the other isn’t” is like a koan for me — a nut that if I could crack it would also explain such deep mysteries as:

  • “This is my body .. this is my blood” — one interpretation of “body & blood” is figurative, while the other isn’t? and:
  • “he died ..and on the third day he rose again” — one death is figurative, and the other isn’t?
  • Resurrection as myth, resurrection as history?

    **

    You might think I’m being fanciful, but just yesterday the Comey notes became accessible, and we find this exchange between the FBI Director and the President:

    The President then wrapped up our conversation by returning to the issue of finding leakers. I said something about the value of putting a head on a pike as a message. He replied by saying it may involve putting reporters in jail. “They spend a few days in jail, make a new friend, and they are ready to talk.” I laughed as I walked to the door Reince Priebus had opened.

    I trust Comey‘s “head on a pike” is figurative, and it sounds like the other — Trump‘s “putting reporters in jail” — isn’t.

    The thing about language is that it’s polyvalent, polysemous –and that inherent ambiguity is seldom more significant than when making or interpreting threats, scriptures, or poems.

    **

    So I could take this post in the direction of a discussion of the ruthless politics of Washingtom, the Kremlin, Pyongyang, Baghdad, and or Beijing..

    Or into the exegesis of the Eucharist, Resurrection, Adamic Creation stories. In matters Biblical, the question “one reading fictitious, while the other, literal, isn’t?” more or less covers the major theological division of our times..

    On this, see the Catholic Catechism (115-117) for a more Dantesque elucidation:

  • The senses of Scripture

  • According to an ancient tradition, one can distinguish between two senses of Scripture: the literal and the spiritual, the latter being subdivided into the allegorical, moral and anagogical senses. The profound concordance of the four senses guarantees all its richness to the living reading of Scripture in the Church.
  • The literal sense is the meaning conveyed by the words of Scripture and discovered by exegesis, following the rules of sound interpretation: “All other senses of Sacred Scripture are based on the literal.”
  • The spiritual sense. Thanks to the unity of God’s plan, not only the text of Scripture but also the realities and events about which it speaks can be signs.
  • The allegorical sense. We can acquire a more profound understanding of events by recognizing their significance in Christ; thus the crossing of the Red Sea is a sign or type of Christ’s victory and also of Christian Baptism.
  • The moral sense. The events reported in Scripture ought to lead us to act justly. As St. Paul says, they were written “for our instruction”.
  • The anagogical sense (Greek: anagoge, “leading”). We can view realities and events in terms of their eternal significance, leading us toward our true homeland: thus the Church on earth is a sign of the heavenly Jerusalem.
  • Two senses of Scripture: the literal and the spiritual — one is figurative, like Frère Mathieu’s bomb in Ms Penny’s novel, while the other, like the abbot’s lead pipe, isn’t?

    The Jesus of History, the Christ of Faith?

    Or all this might take another turn, with a morph into poetry..

    **

    Or history. Here’s another phrase that’s “riveting” for, I think, the same reason as that phrase “One weapon is figurative, and the other isn’t”:

    Pamphlets were both a cause and a tool of violence.

    A “cause .. of violence” — it t (a pamphlet) incites it. And “a tool of violence” — it’s (at least figuratively) a bludgeon in itself. Hm. I hope that makes sense.

    In any case, I’ve got my eye out for other examples that neatly juxtapose word and deed, as though words aren’t deeds — “speech acts” as the philosophers say. What I’m getting at, eventually, is the nature of sacrament — “an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace” — which is deeply tied up with simile, metaphor, and metamorphosis — “this is my body .. this is my blood”.

    And that quote about pamphlets? Its from a fascinating New Yorker piece, How We Solved Fake News the First Time by Stephen March, which compares fake news on the internet today with fake news in the time of the pamphleteers, and contains this remarkably “ancient and modern” observation:

    There is nothing more congruent to the nourishment of division in a State or Commonwealth, then diversity of Rumours mixt with Falsity and Scandalisme; nothing more prejudicial to a Kingdome, then to have the divisions thereof known to an enemy.

    So, -ismes were already infesting the language like kudzu grass — mixed simile? — back in 1642. And an enemy? Think Putin, ne?

    On which playful note, drawn from seven years before the martyrdom of King Charles I at the hands of the Puritans, I’ll leave you.

    For now.

    The Woman with the Golden Gun

    Friday, March 2nd, 2018

    [ by Charles Cameron — James Bond in the Sun Myung-Moon universe? ]
    .

    As you know, I’m interested in the intersection of religion and violence, and there can hardly be a more emphatic example of that intersection than a religious ceremonial for the blessing of guns — complete with the personnel of an offshoot of messiah the Rev. Sun Myung-Moon‘s Unification Church (upper image, below, worshipper with crown of bullets):

    — and their queenly leader Rev. Yeon Ah Lee-Moon (lower image, above) complete with her weapon of gold.

    **

    Ah, guns of gold.

    I would love to know the symbolic meaning of a crown of bullets — compare Christ’s crown of thorns — but the symbolism of gold…

    Gold corresponds in alchemical symbology to the sun, and silver to the moon, making the original Unification messiah Sun Myung-Moon‘s name a sweet alchemical conjunction of sun and moon, albeit in transcription from the Korean in which the names would no doubt have entirely different valences from their English versions.

    Forget the Moon, then — golden weapons are, in a sense the Aztecs might have appreciated, weapons of the sun, and adornments of sunly male royalty.

    **

    Consider in this light the golden weapon of cartel boss Ramiro Pozos Gonzalez (upper image, below):

    — far outshining Scaramanga‘s golden gun from the James Bond movie The Man with the Golden Gun — (lower image, above, by mrgarethm under CC © Gareth Milner)..

    **

    Gold, oh dear, is also the symbolic essence of wealth-as-power, ie for practical cases, money, cash, dosh — and as such, that substance the desire for which is, famously, scripturally, the root of all evil.

    Golden guns, in this sense, are desirable precisely in inverse relationship to their owner’s desire for good.

    Caveat emptor!

    **

    Sources:

  • BBC, In pictures: US gun-blessing ceremony
  • Mail, Gold plated AK-47 confiscated during arrest of Mexican cartel leader
  • International Spy Museum, Golden Gun

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