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Orlando & Charleston: Lawfare raising questions

Friday, June 17th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — “Orlando Thoughts Towards a Better Taxonomy of Mass Violence” and “White Hate but Islamic Terror?” ]
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Recommended readings:

Two pieces from the Lawfare blog offer us plenty to chew on regarding our categorization of violent acts, triggered by Orlando and Charleston, Thomas Mair and Dylann Roof.

Benjamin Wittes
, Orlando Thoughts Towards a Better Taxonomy of Mass Violence:

I have been struck, however, by the range of people who have seen confirmation of their particular worldviews in this horrific event, some plausibly in my view, some not:

  • To the LGBT community, understandably enough, it’s about violence against gays.
  • For many Latinos, a salient fact is that the victims were overwhelmingly Latino, many of them Puerto Rican.
  • To those who believe our society is too heavily armed, this latest mass shooting proves they were right about gun availability.
  • For those who believe our society is insufficiently armed, this latest mass shooting proves they were right about more good guys needing guns.
  • For those who are anxious about foreign terrorism, the shooter’s claimed allegiance to ISIS places this on the long list of attacks and attempted attacks by ISIS and Al Qaeda and those they inspire.
  • To the Trumpists and others who don’t like Muslims, it’s all about Islam more generally.
  • To those who have a problem with immigration, well, the shooter is the child of immigrants from Afghanistan.
  • Apparently it’s also about the surveillance debate.
  • I even saw one tweet—the logic of which I admit I could not follow—blaming the incident on white supremacy.
  • I’m pretty sure that the shooter’s aim was not to validate anyone’s preexisting political stance.

    and:

    To be sure, sometimes legal path dependencies do arise out of our categories. Most importantly, the criminal laws on material support for terrorist groups don’t apply to domestic terrorist organizations, only designated foreign terrorist organizations. And the law presumptively treats as terrorism those crimes committed with bombs, but does not do the same with crimes committed by domestic individuals or groups with guns. (For an excellent explication of these points, see this piece by Jane Chong.)

    But the more important impact of our taxonomical confusion, in my view, is intellectual, not legal: We just don’t know what to call an incident of (a) mass murder (b) by means of a gun (c) in which motive is unclear or mixed but involves clear elements of (d) bigotry, (e) mental illness, and (f) expressions of affiliation with a foreign terrorist group. And because we don’t know how to describe it, we also don’t know what aspects of it to prioritize in responding and preventing future such events.

    One interesting question is why we care? It’s a crime; it’s a tragedy; it’s big. Why do we fight over what to call it?

    There’s more, naturally, and I recommend the whole piece.

    **

    Wittes also links specifically to another, earlier Lawfare post..

    Jane Chong, White Hate but Islamic Terror? Charleston, Hate Crimes and Terrorism Per Quod:

    Netizens have taken particular interest in contrasting the immediate reaction to Charleston with the immediate reaction to the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings. Presumably these two attacks have emerged as fertile subjects for comparison partly because of the early dearth of evidence that either alleged perpetrator had official ties to or an operational role in a designated terrorist organization.

    South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham is among those who have been singled out for his disparate treatment of Charleston and Boston. Commenting on what the Charleston shooting might signify for his home state, Senator Graham described Roof as “one of these wacked out kids” and stated, “I don’t think it’s anything broader than that.”

    This presents a sharp contrast with the views Graham espoused back in 2013 on the appropriate treatment of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev: “This man, in my view, should be designated as a potential enemy combatant and we should be allowed to question him for intelligence gathering purposes to find out about future attacks and terrorist organizations that may exist that he has knowledge of, and that evidence cannot be used against him in trial. That evidence is used to protect us as a nation.”

    Judd Legum of Think Progress cited the Senator’s statements as a glaring example of our collective insistence on seeing violence motivated by Islamic extremism as a systemic threat while minimizing right-wing supremacist violence as the work of individual madmen. As Charles Kurzman and David Schanzer noted in a New York Times op-ed the day before the Charleston attack, such bias is particularly indefensible given the data: Attacks carried out by Muslim Americans account for 50 fatalities in the thirteen and a half years since 9/11, while plots by right-wing extremists have resulted in 254 fatalities between 9/11 and 2012.

    The conflation of terrorism with Islamic extremism is an undeniable error. But distinguishing Boston and Charleston need not unequivocally boil down to bias of this particular kind.

    Chong continues:

    Consider President Obama’s reactions shortly after each attack—reactions that, if read in isolation, might seem to reflect this bias. On April 16, 2013, the day after the Boston bombings, President Obama delivered a speech in which he stated the following:

    [G]iven what we now know about what took place, the FBI is investigating it as an act of terrorism. Any time bombs are used to target innocent civilians it is an act of terror. What we don’t yet know, however, is who carried out this attack, or why; whether it was planned and executed by a terrorist organization, foreign or domestic, or was the act of a malevolent individual. That’s what we don’t yet know.

    Now contrast this with President Obama’s speech last Thursday, one day after the attacks in Charleston, which nowhere made mention of terrorism:

    The FBI is now on the scene with local police, and more of the Bureau’s best are on the way to join them. The Attorney General has announced plans for the FBI to open a hate crime investigation. We understand that the suspect is in custody. And I’ll let the best of law enforcement do its work to make sure that justice is served.

    Superficially speaking, there are at least two ways to read the administration’s initial decision to investigate one attack as a terrorist act and the other as a hate crime. A critic might contend that President Obama, like Senator Graham, appears to have untenably reserved the terrorist designation for Muslim extremists. Alternatively, we could take President Obama’s words at face value and recognize the weapon of choice as a critical factor in how a massacre tends to be classified when facts remain sparse and the evidence is still forthcoming. Those words again: “Any time bombs are used to target innocent civilians it is an act of terror.”

    And so our inquiry evolves. Is Dylann Roof being widely portrayed as a hater and not a terrorist because, based on the available evidence, he is a white supremacist and not a Muslim extremist? Or is it because his weapon of choice was a gun and not a bomb?

    Again, I’d encourage you to read the whole piece.

    **

    As an addendum, if you want some thoughtful consideration of Thomas Mair, the (alleged) killer of the British MP Jo Cox, you way want to read Barth’s Notes on the topic:

    Richard Bartholomew, Some Notes on Claims about Thomas Mair

    Recommended Reading

    Wednesday, April 27th, 2016

    [by Mark Safranski / “zen“]

    Top Billing! James C. Bennett “Brexit and Beyond:  Why Americans Should Support British Exit  From the European Union, and What Could Come Next

    ….However, the argument for Remain from the standpoint of American interest, whether articulated by Obama or academics, depends on a foreign policy world view that is probably well past its sell-by date.  It continues to pin its hopes on the emergence of a federal United States of Europe as a strong, even co-equal partner in the world that, unlike its current scattered member-states, can afford the economic and military measures needed to help the US maintain world order.  And it continues to hope that Britain will be a strong voice within such a Federal Europe for a pro-American policy.  Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, back in the 1950s, famously described Britain as having “lost an empire, but not yet gained a role.”  Leading a uniting Europe in a pro-American direction has always been the US State Department’s idea of what that role could be.

    What is wrong with those assumptions?  Just about everything.

    To begin with, the idea of a united Europe that would be genuinely federal, which is to say anything other than an empire of one culture over the others, is highly unlikely if not chimerical.  To the extent Europe today works, it is an empire of Germans, with the French as their lieutenants, over the rest.  The Germans try to be polite about it, unless money is at stake, but the reality is a bit too visible for comfort these days.  The British who believe in the idea of their place in a federal Europe, tend to work as lieutenants to the Germans on economic matters, and allies of the French on security matters, except where it comes to cooperation with the US, where they have only minor allies from Eastern Europe, who do not count for much in Brussels.

    Scholar’s Stage – Sunzi on ISIS

    ….In the piece “The Radical Sunzi” I argued rather forcefully that the key to understand the Sunzi is realizing that it was not written in a vacuum. Much of it was written as a direct response to common attitudes of the time, which depicted war as a ritualized contest of heroes, and the conquest and conduct of war were treated as religious rites. Less time separated the China of the Sunzi from the China of Aztec-style human sacrifice than separated the Greece that produced Thucydides’s rationalist vision of war from the Greece that created the honor-driven duels of the Homeric epics. It is difficult to say if the Sunzi simply reflects a change in norms that was sweeping through ancient Chinese society, or if it was actually one of the causes of it. In any case, the change itself is clear. Before the Sunzi violence was justified as a sacral act, and it was employed mostly on for the purpose of personal honor; after the Sunzi violence was justified as a central pillar of statecraft, used mostly on the grounds of cool realpolitik. [7]

    That is the context for the quotation above. When the Sunzi says that the best victory is the victory achieved without recourse to warfare at all, it was attacking the idea that victory and it’s glories were the purpose of war. When it says that a country conquered intact is better than a country ravaged by conquest, he is suggesting that ravaging is not a worthy end in and of itself. The unspoken subtext of this passage is that decisions in war should all be judged on the basis of interest (or ‘profit,’ the Chinese word used here is li ?) of the ruling house. The Sunzi may well have been the earliest voice in recorded history to argue that generals must use cost-benefit analysis to decide on whether or not to embark on any new campaign. 

    The idea that military force should be used rationally to accomplish national interests; that if possible it is better to achieve those same aims without war; and that every campaign should be subjected to a rigorous calculation of potential costs and benefits are so obvious to modern military planners that most of these ideas are simply assumed, not argued. They do not need to be argued because everyone already accepts them as the baseline for new discussion. When the Sunzi was originally etched into bamboo, however, this was not true. The idea that violence should be used as a rational instrument of policy was a new and radical idea. …

    Queenofthinair –On the Platonic Form of Garrison Obedience and Garrison versus Combat: Are there different standards for Obedience? 

    ….In garrison contexts, is there more bureaucracy and micromanaging? Is the appearance of obedience more important here because of how that looks relative to civilian ‘masters’ especially in terms of career promotions and procurement issues?  Here is the idea that what really matters is the appearance of obedience and the sense of predictability and control that comes with that. As a mother, I wonder if this is like wanting to my kids to behave when we go to church, so others will think well of me and trust me in other matters.

    In combat, it would seem that there  is more fluidity and changes in circumstance where the individual has to interpret how an order is to be carried out given conditions on the ground.  This seems to be what the above quote is referring to and seems to be an idea with intuitive appeal. War is not predictable or controllable in the ways that we might expect of civilian life or even a garrison context, so wouldn’t it make sense that we make allowances here for some disobedience? But then how does that jive with the conventional idea that obedience is so important under fire to keep people from harm and to achieve the mission?  At the very least, there seems an interesting tension here.

    ….In combat, might is not be the case that results matter? If disobedience leads to good results then it is forgiven or tolerated, if not approved? If this is the case, this raises other  questions about the grounds for the moral obligation to obedience in the military. It cannot be an absolute or even general obligation, it might be a conditional obligation?         Are we willing to say: One ought to be obedient, unless disobedience produces a greater good? Are we willing to give individual members of the military the discretion to decide this? How do you train for this?

    Admiral William McRaven – A Warrior’s Career Sacrificed for Politics

    The Diplomat – Is China Gearing up for Another People’s War?

    Global Guerrillas –The Return of Great Power War

    The Strategy Bridge – #Reviewing Shanghai 1937 and Nanjing 1937

    Small Wars Journal – Time to Bring Counterinsurgency to Molenbeek

    John Hagel – The Big Shift in Business Models

    Cicero Magazine – How Wars Are Fought Again in Memory

    LifeHacker – Exploring the Myth of the Scientific vs. Artistic Mind

    That’s it.

    On analogical mountains — & pitons that portend enlightenment

    Saturday, April 2nd, 2016

    [ by Charles Cameron — carrying French mountaineering coals to a mountaineering Frenchman ]
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    As imagination can reach farther than spacecraft, so analogical mountains are at a higher elevation — indeed, a higher octave — than physical ones:

    Tablet DQ rurp mt analogue


    René Daumal
    ‘s brilliant novel Mount Analogue was uncompleted, and fittingly so, at his death — the peak of the book’s arduous ascent being by necessity wordless.

    Thete’s nothing non-Eucidean or metaphysical about Chouinard‘s RURP, however — it’s a piton so small that if you dare hang your life on it, you might well expect to achieve enlightenment. I was given mine as a keepsake by a hitchhiker on his way to try the lower slopes of Everest, while I was taking the hippie route through Turkey and Iran to Afghanistan, Pakistan and India in the early seventies. And yes, I confess I use it for exclusively analogical mountaineering.

    **

    This DoubleQuote is for my long-time boss and friend Victor d’Allant, who tweeted today:

    Salut!

    Umberto Eco, RIP

    Saturday, February 20th, 2016

    [ by Charles Cameron — he was a man of word, wit and wisdom ]
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    The world was chastened last evening to learn of the passing from among us of Umberto Eco.

    **

    Zen has long admired Eco, as readers here will know, if for no other reason then as the original exponent of the concept of the antilibrary, here described by Nassim Nicholas Taleb in his book, The Black Swan:

    The writer Umberto Eco belongs to that small class of scholars who are encyclopedic, insightful, and nondull. He is the owner of a large personal library (containing thirty thousand books), and separates visitors into two categories: those who react with “Wow! Signore professore dottore Eco, what a library you have! How many of these books have you read?” and the others — a very small minority — who get the point that a private library is not an ego-boosting appendage but a research tool. Read books are far less valuable than unread ones. The library should contain as much of what you do not know as your financial means, mortgage rates, and the currently tight real-estate market allows you to put there. You will accumulate more knowledge and more books as you grow older, and the growing number of unread books on the shelves will look at you menacingly. Indeed, the more you know, the larger the rows of unread books. Let us call this collection of unread books an antilibrary.

    beato liebana

    My own taste, as you know, runs to th apocalyptic, and I have long lusted for his sumptuous edition for Franco Maria Ricci of the Beatus of Liebana commentary on the Book of Revelation. I am grateful to discover I do have in my possession the second issue of FMR magazine, with Eco’s essay Waiting for the Millennium (pp 63-92) containing a number of the plates from that larger work.

    It was blog-friend Laura Walker who alerted me to Eco’s passing, with the graceful comment:

    He is the best ambassador of the Middle Ages – thought, aesthetics, philosophy, humor, humanity – it’s as if he sends his works from there..

    Indeed. We lament his passing.

    On the horrors of apocalyptic warfare, 1: its sheer intensity

    Wednesday, February 17th, 2016

    [ by Charles Cameron — first in a series of four posts on the central theme of a proposed book ]
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    Saint Michael Fighting the Dragon

    In a previous post, I introduced my work on a book proposal concerning Coronation: The Magic and Romance of Monarchy. The second book proposal I’ve put together, which is also currently in the hands of an agent and making the publishing rounds, is titled Jihad and the Passion of ISIS: Making Sense of Religious Violence.

    **

    We now have, I believe, a strong undertanding of the Islamic State and its origins in such books as Stern & Berger, ISIS: The State of Terror, Jason Burke, The New Threat, Joby Warrick, Black Flags: The Rise of ISIS, and Weiss & Hassan, ISIS: Inside the Army of Terror. Delving directly into the key issue that interests me personally, the eschatology of the Islamic State, we have Will McCants‘ definitive The ISIS Apocalypse. My own contribution will hopefully supplement these riches, and McCants’ book in particular, with a comparative overview of religious violence across continents and centuries, and a particular focus on the passions engendered in both religious and secular movements when the definitive transformation of the world seems close at hand.

    What follows is the first section of a four-part exploration of the horrors of apocalyptic war.

    **

    I’ve attempted to give a sense of those passions in my post So: how does it feel at World’s End? — invoking Sylvia Plath‘s extraordinary couplet:

    By the roots of my hair some god got hold of me.
    I sizzled in his blue volts like a desert prophet.

    That’s the intensity of the feeling aroused, I’d suggest, in the throngs who followed Muhammad Ahmad al-Mahdi to Khartoum, and Winston Churchill in his book The River War, conveys the intensity of their jihad in these words:

    the force of fanatical passion is far greater than that exerted by any philosophical belief, its function is just the same. It gives men something which they think is sublime to fight for..

    Churchill is really pretty astounding on the topic of the Mahdi — a messianic figure in a religion he characterized as laying dreadful curses on its votaries inclouding “the fanatical frenzy, which is as dangerous in a man as hydrophobia in a dog”, and a warrior of whom he said that a future Arab historian should place him “foremost among the heroes of his race”.

    Here is another Churchillian description of that “fanatical frenzy”:

    Then came the Mahdi .. it should not be forgotten that he put life and soul into the hearts of his countrymen and freed his native land of foreigners. The poor miserable natives, eating only a handful of grain, toiling half-naked and without hope, found a new, if terrible magnificence added to life. Within their humble breasts the spirit of the Mahdi roused the fires of patriotism and religion. Life became filled with thrilling, exhilarating terrors. They existed in a new and wonderful world of imagination. While they lived there were great things to be done; and when they died, whether it were slaying the Egyptians or charging the British squares, a Paradise which they could understand awaited them.

    **

    Let me make the general point more explicit. Dr Tim Furnish, a frequent commentator on these pages and author of Holiest Wars: Islamic Mahdis, Their Jihads, and Osama bin Laden, opens his book as I have cited frequently with this analogy:

    Islamic messianic insurrections are qualitatively different from mere fundamentalist ones such as bedevil the world today, despite their surface similarities. In fact, Muslim messianic movements are to fundamentalist uprisings what nuclear weapons are to conventional ones: triggered by the same detonating agents, but far more powerful in scope and effect.

    Will McCants makes it very clear in his The ISIS Apocalypse that the Islamic State as we currently encounter it is a caliphal movement rather than a Mahdist one, in other words that it is in an earlier stage of the same process leading eventually to the Mahdi’s arrival — although its propaganda, quoting its “founding father” Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, is clearly apocalyptic…

    **

    Up next: On the horrors of apocalyptic warfare, 2: to spark a messianic fire


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