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After the Fall

Wednesday, May 31st, 2017

[ by Charles Cameronpostlapsarian Aleppo, in other words ]
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I don’t suppose the editors at the New York Times Magazine were intentionally making a Christian theological point with the title they bestowed on this cover story: Aleppo After the Fall. but I’ll take my apposite religious resonances where I find them.

Here’s a slightly bigger version:

How beautiful destruction can be in the early light — yet no less destructive for its beauty.

You can view the whole thing even better here — Al-Hatab Square in Aleppo’s Old City. Credit Sebastián Liste/Noor Images, for The New York Times.

Pieter Van Ostaeyen termed the accompanying article “an absolute must-read“.

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Beauty: in which, the divine may be recognized.

The Fall. Oh ah, yes, the Fall.

A Washington Post revised Middle East?

Monday, May 22nd, 2017

{ by Charles Cameron — Israel takes Saudi I kid you not ]
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This is a straight, unphotoshopped, slightly reduced screenshot from the online WaPo as it appeared in my browser today:

Ambitious peace-making!

Break it Down Show – Bill Mankins

Tuesday, May 16th, 2017

[Mark Safranski / “zen“]

An episode that will interest those who study all things Afghanistan, COIN, irregular warfare, cultural-linguistic competency, rural environments, HUMINT, insurgency, PME and similar topics,  Jon and Pete interview Bill Mankins at the Break it Down Show:

159 – Bill Mankins

“One of our most compelling guests to date. You’ve never heard Bill Mankins story and that’s about to change.  Bill gets modern combat at a level that you cannot find anywhere else. Fox News, CNN, NPR have all had a chance to get Bill to sit with them and break down the most complex social, military, religious problems anyone can imagine, and they all passed. They didn’t know a great story when it was right in front of them. Nobody but the Break It Down Show has this level of depth and quality…NOBODY The show really breaks into 3 parts.  If you want, skip ahead to Minute 51:30 and get to what Bill is working on…then go back and see why he’s the man for the job…AGAIN this level of clarity, this depth, you’re in for a treat.  Bring a bucket for when your brain explodes.”

Tune in here.

Mankins is spot on in his commentary on the overemphasis of STEM in PME vice humanities and language that provide some understanding of others.

Counter-messaging by violin, cello and cigarette

Sunday, May 7th, 2017

[ by Charles Cameron — long a chain smoker, painful on the ear when he attempted the violin, never tried the cello ]
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No, I don’t smoke any more, haven’t for more than a decade. But I still think of cigarettes as potential sacraments, as when a soldier in the trenches at the Somme passes one to his dying mate.. sacramentals, to be precise. So I can take pleasure in this conjunction of violin and cigarette in defiance of the Islamic State:

and:

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The potential for grace is more easily seen in music than in smoking, to be sure — Ameen Mokdad with his violin in Mosul surely found it, as did Karim Wasfi with his cello in Baghdad. In these times in which the President scatters bombs around the place with one hand while planning to cut funding to the National Endowment for the Arts with the other, you might like to visit the Facebook page of Karim Wasfi Center For Creativity – Peace Through Arts, or listen to one or more of these videos..

Karim Wasfi — Interviewed by NPR’s Renne Montagne:

Iraqi cellist Karim Wasfi plays music on bomb explosion site:

Karim Wasfi, cello sonata and lecture at Geneva Centre for Security Policy during Geneva Peace Week 2016:

Iraqi Violinist Ameen Mokdad Plays Concert In Defiance Of ISIS | NBC News:

Ameen Mokdad, Viaggio:

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Music as sacrament is nicely illustrated by John Eliot Gardiner‘s quoting Bach immediately after Sara Mingardo sings O selger Tag! in the DVD of Bach Cantata BWV 63, “Christen, ätzet diesen Tag”:

Wherever there’s devotional music, God with his grace is present.

Recitatives — O selger Tag! is an example — are by definition “musical declamation of the kind usual in the narrative and dialogue parts of opera and oratorio, sung in the rhythm of ordinary speech with many words on the same note”. Arias are the stellar “diva” vocal parts for solo, duet etc, and recitatives the mere handmaidens that carry us from one aria or chorus via narrative to another. How extraordinary, then, the devotion Sara Mingardo‘s musicianship manages to pour into this recitative as performed in rehearsal above!

War Books, local version

Tuesday, April 25th, 2017

[ by Charles Cameron — saved from a slush pile]
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A while back, I presumptuously submitted my effort for Modern War Institute‘s War Books Profile series, where it has languished on the slush pile for a few months now. No need to waste a decent post, though, so I’m posting it here, locally, on Zenpundit, for any who may be interested.

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Name: Charles Cameron

Brief Biography:

Charles Cameron is the managing editor of the strategy blog Zenpundit, and a past Principal Researcher with the Center for Millennial Studies at BU and Senior Analyst at The Arlington Institute. He is a three time finalist in the Atlantic Council Brent Scowcroft Center’s Art of the Future challenges, and author of the essay “The Dark Sacred: The Significance of Sacramental Analysis” in Robert J Bunker, Blood Sacrifices (a Terrorism Research Center Book). He is the designer of the HipBone family of conceptual games, and is currently working on a book on religious sanctions for violence titled Landmines in the Garden.

Top Five Books:

Mustafa Hamid & Leah Farrall, The Arabs at War in Afghanistan. Respectful enemies – he, a friend of UBL and Mullah Omar, she, a counter-terrorism expert for the Australian Federal Police – debate and confer across battle lines to draw a detailed picture of AQ structure and history. A unique collaboration.

William McCants, The ISIS Apocalypse. The key to ISIS intensity has to do with what then-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Dempsey called their “apocalyptic, end-of-days strategic vision.” McCants masterfully reveals that apocalyptic driver, and the somewhat obscure scriptures on which it is based.

SH Nasr, ed., The Study Quran. With enemies such as ISIS and AQ that are given to quoting scriptural texts, it is important to have a reputable, non-sectarian translation and scholarly commentary on the Quran. This is that book.

Hegghammer & Lacroix, The Meccan Rebellion: The Story of Juhayman al-‘Utaybi Revisited. A slim volume, a delight to hold in the hand, and packed with detailed scholarship on what is arguably the seed moment of contemporary Jihadism.

John Kiser, The Monks of Tibhirine. This book, and Christian de Chergé’s astonishing letter to the jihadists who would shortly martyr him, is an eloquent testament to values we should cherish in a time of brutality and hatred.

The One That Shaped Me The Most:

Hermann Hesse, The Glass Bead Game. The human mind, attuned to variety and complexity yet primed to understand complex matters in binary terms, tends to hold war and peace as poles apart. Musically speaking, war is equivalent to discord, peace to harmony. The musical technique of counterpoint, so central to Bach, plays “voices” against one another in a manner that recognizes their variety and individuality and allows for discord while constantly working to resolve it harmoniously. It thus offers us an analogy for the constant interplay of warlike and peaceable motivations, both within the individual human and among the world’s societies and cultures – an invaluable overview of the natural condition. Hesse’s novelistic Game shows analogy rather than linearity as the key to creative insight, and offers a contrapuntal play of ideas as the overarching architectural structure for comprehending a world of conflict and resolution. It won the Nobel.

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Reworking my list today, I might well reckon the McCants book has served its brilliant purpose, illuminating in fine detail the apocalyptic nature of ISIS theology, and substitute a no less valuable but more wide-focus tome, Shahab Ahmed’s What is Islam, which broadens our understanding by offering a comprehensive exploration of “lived Islam” across the centuries and continents, going far beyond “scriptual” Islam as understood by the fundamentalists.

Ideally, of coure, there’d be room for both McCants and Ahmed, as there is in the tiny bookshelf on my desk..


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