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Browsing in bin Laden’s library II

Thursday, May 21st, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — following up on Browsing in bin Laden’s library ]
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Marcy Wheeler at Salon reports of the ODNI’s Bin Laden’s Bookshelf (expanded form, .pdf) that “the categorization imposed by ODNI” consists “largely of overlapping categories of English-language materials worthy of a Jorge Luis Borges short story.

Categories include:

**

The Borges “short story” referenced here isn’t in fact a short story but an essay, The Analytical Language of John Wilkins, which includes a classification system “which doctor Franz Kuhn attributes to a certain Chinese encyclopaedia entitled ‘Celestial Empire of benevolent Knowledge'”. Borges’ spurious taxonomy divides the animal kingdom into the following categories:

(a) belonging to the emperor,
(b) embalmed,
(c) tame,
(d) sucking pigs,
(e) sirens,
(f) fabulous,
(g) stray dogs,
(h) included in the present classification,
(i) frenzied,
(j) innumerable,
(k) drawn with a very fine camelhair brush,
(l) et cetera,
(m) having just broken the water pitcher,
(n) that from a long way off look like flies.

Nicely observed, Marcy.

**

Of particular personal note considering my interest in games:

Under the heading “Documents Probably Used by Other Compound Residents” we find listed:

  • Delta Force Extreme 2 Videogame Guide
  • Game Spot Videogame Guide
  • One wonders (idly) whether ODNI cannot believe OBL would play such games, or whether that classification was arrived at on the basis of the location in the compound where these materials were found.

    And given my interest in religion:

    Under the heading “Think Tank & Other Studies”:

  • Program for the Study of International Organizations (PSIO), “Hizb ut-Tahrir: The Next Al-Qaeda, Really?” by Jean-Francois Mayer (2004)
  • And under the heading “Other religious documents”:

    a treatise on Christianity by one Monqith Ben Mahmoud Assaqar PhD, titled Was Jesus crucified for our atonement? — which opens with the following (presumably post-doctoral) statement of scholarship-to-date:

    Praise to Allah (S.W) , the cherisher and sustainer of the worlds, and may peace and blessings be upon all of His messengers. In our previous parts of this series “True guidance and light series”, we have concluded and confirmed a plain truth, which is that the Holy Bible, as we have seen, is man work, and not the word of Allah (S.W) in any way. Thus, Christians cannot present it as evidence for any of their creeds or events, including the crucifixion and the Atonement.

    FWIW, reading this treatise will likely not have helped OBL in his quest for interfaith understanding.

    A dozen or more books on NRMs, apocalyptic, and violence

    Wednesday, April 29th, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — biblio post #2 in preparation for the Boston conference – background on new religious movements and violence ]
    .

    Assuming I’m right that Islamic eschatology is now swinging into focus, and since my interest in the topic was sparked by David Cook at a 1997 Millennial Studies conference, I first recommended monitoring scenarios with global impact involving Bin Laden in an October ’98 job application, and have been more or less doing that myself ever since, most recently via Zenpundit posts, I think it might be helpful to follow up my list of books on Islamic eschatology with one on eschatological movements across the continents and centuries.

    Eschatologically driven movements are by no means all violent — think of the Quakers and Shakers, and more recently the Chen Tao group, eg — but when violent or faced with violence, they can be peculiarly explosive, hence Tim Furnish‘s often quoted and and perhaps only somewhat over-emphatic remark:

    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.

    **

    General introductions:

  • Robert Jay Lifton, Superpower Syndrome: America’s Apocalyptic Confrontation with the World
  • Richard Landes, Heaven on Earth: The Varieties of the Millennial Experience
  • Robert Jay Lifton’s book is short and powerful, published in 2003, and opens with the following claim:

    The apocalyptic imagination has spawned a new kind of violence at the beginning of the twenty-first century. We can, in fact, speak of a worldwide epidemic of violence aimed at massive destruction in the service of various visions of purification and renewal. In particular, we are experiencing what could be called an apocalyptic face-off between Islamist forces, overtly visionary in their willingness to kill and die for their religion, and American forces claiming to be restrained and reasonable but no less visionary in their projection of a cleansing warmaking and military power. Both sides are energized by versions of intense idealism; both see themselves as embarked on a mission of combating evil in order to redeem and renew the world; and both are ready to release untold levels of violence to achieve that purpose.

    Richard Landes’ book, longer, richer in detail, and more recent than Lifton’s, explores numerous millennarian movements with an extraordinary breadth of scholarship. The unrivalled best introduction to the topic, but a weighty tome in at least two senses, you have been warned.

    **

    The Oxford Handbook of Millennialism

    Editor Cathy Wessinger writes:

    The Oxford Handbook of Millennialism (2011) has chapters on the wide range of millennial phenomena in numerous locations in the world. These include discussions of millennial groups and movements that become involved in violence in different ways.

    Jean Rosenfeld is author of the chapter on “Nativist Millennialism”; Melissa Wilcox wrote “Gender Roles, Sexuality, and Children in Millennial Movements”; John Walliss wrote the chapter on “Fragile Millennial Communities and Violence”; David Cook wrote the chapter on “Early Islamic and Classical Sunni and Shi’ite Apocalyptic Movements”; Rebecca Moore is author of the chapter on “European Millennialism”; Scott Lowe wrote the chapter of “Chinese Millennial Movement”; Rosalind Hacket is author of “Millennial and Apocalyptic Movements in Africa”; Garry Trompf wrote “Pacific Millennial Movements”; Michelene Pesantubbee is author of “Native American and Geopolitical, Georestorative Movements”; Jon R. Stone wrote “Nineteenth- and Twentieth-century American Millennialisms”; David Redles wrote “National Socialist Millennialism”; Robin Globus and Bron Taylor wrote “Environmental Millennialism”; Michael Barkun wrote “Millennialism on the Radical Right in America”; Yaakov Ariel is author of “Radical Millennial Movements in Contemporary Judaism in Israel”; and Jeffrey Kenney wrote “Millennialism and Radical Islamist Movements,” and there are many other chapters ..

    The Table of Contents is available at The Oxford Handbook of Millennialism – Catherine Wessinger – Oxford University Press

    Much appreciated, Cathy!

    **

    Specific treatment of violence:

  • Jeffrey Kaplan, ed, Millennial Violence: Past, Present and Future
  • Cathy Wessinger, ed, Millennialism, Persecution and Violence: Historical Cases
  • Michael Barkun, ed, Millennialism and Violence
  • Robbins & Palmer, ed, Millennium, Messiahs and Mayhem: Contemporary Apocalyptic Movements
  • Kaplan’s book is notable for its presentation of the FBI, Canadian CSIS and Israeli official documentation on the violent possibilities associated with the turnover from 1999 to 1000 CE.

    **

    Various:

  • Charles Strozier, Apocalypse: On the Psychology of Fundamentalism in America
  • Damian Thompson, Waiting for Antichrist: Charisma and Apocalypse in a Pentecostal Church
  • Hall, Schulyer & Trinh, Apocalypse Observed: Religious Movements and Violence in North America, Europe and Japan
  • John Gray, Black Mass: Apocalyptic Religion and the Death of Utopia
  • Particularly important to my understanding of end times thinking is Damian Thompson’s book on a London church, which describes in detail the ways in which parishioners’ world views may incorpoorate disparate elements not present in the church’s official teaching — but available in the church bookstore — and the dg=egree to which congregants ca n affirm the “soon coming” with their lips, while behaving in day to day life as though their grandchildren’s grandchildren will still have the same supermarkets available from which to obtain their milk and groceries.

    **

    Classics:

  • Norman Cohn, The Pursuit of the Millennium: Revolutionary Millenarians and Mystical Anarchists of the Middle Ages
  • Stephen O’Leary, Arguing the Apocalypse: A Theory of Millennial Rhetori
  • Cohn’s is the brilliant book that introduced the theme of millenarian thinking to western scholarship, showing plausible links between the medieval eschatology of Abbot Joachim of Fiore and both Marxist and Nazi ideologies. O’Leary’s is the foundational work on apocalyptic rhetoric.

    **

    Case studies:

  • Tabor & Gallagher, Why Waco?
  • Jayne Seminaire Docherty, Learning Lessons from Waco
  • Stuart Wright, ed, Armageddon in Waco: Critical Perspectives on the Branch Davidian Conflict
  • Tabor and Gallagher show that events Waco could have turned out very differently had the FBI been willing to listen to eschatologically informed scholars who were in dialog with David Koresh. Docherty is excellent on the dialog necessary between law enforcement and religious scholarship for a peaceable resolution of future clashes with “true believers” in an end times ideology.

  • Robert Jay Lifton, Destroying the World to Save It: Aum Shinrikyo, Apocalyptic Violence, and the New Global Terrorism
  • Ian Reader, Religious Violence in Contemporary Japan: The Case of Aum Shinrikyo
  • Lifton’s is among the best narratives of the Aum Shinriku attempt to poison the Tokyo subway system. Reader’s is a scholarly tour-de-force on the religious roots of Aum’s violence.

  • Jonathan Spence, God’s Chinese Son: The Taiping Heavenly Kingdom of Hong Xiuquan
  • Vincent Shih, The Taiping Ideology: Its Sources, Interpretations, and Influences
  • Again, Spence offers the narrative, Shih investigates the details of Taiping ideology.

  • Michael Barkun, A Culture of Conspiracy: Apocalyptic Visions in Contemporary America
  • James Aho, This Thing of Darkness: A Sociology of the Enemy
  • Kerry Noble, Tabernacle of Hate: Seduction into Right-Wing Extremism
  • Contemporary American extremism. Two of various possible books from Barkun and Aho. Kerry Noble’s book is a classic inside view / case study of a violent movement, the Covenant, Sword & Arm of the Lord, and its complex prophet.

    **

    I requested the help of a group of scholars of new religious movements as I was formulating this list, and will include some of their helpful comments and urther reading suggestions in a follow up post. I haven’t counted, but I may have exceeded two dozen recommendations in h]this post alone/. The topic is not only well-researched in NRM circles, but also IMO signally important at this time.

    A dozen or so books on Islamic apocalyptic

    Wednesday, April 29th, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — since this topic is at last swinging into focus ]
    .

    It is my impression that Islamic apocalyptic has finally surfaced as a significant contributor to those interested in questions of contemporary national security — first, through CJC Martin Dempsey‘s 2014 comment that IS has “an apocalyptic, end-of-days strategic vision”, second, through Graeme Wood‘s article What ISIS Really Wants in the Atlantic, third, through the publication of Stern & Berger‘s ISIS: the State of Terror, and fourth (as yet upcoming), Will McCants’ The ISIS Apocalypse: The History, Strategy, and Doomsday Vision of the Islamic State.

    While we’re reading Stern & Berger and waiting for McCants book, though, I thought it might be useful to compile a couple of lists of relevant books, first (here) on Islamic apocalyptic, and second (soon) on the complex relationship between apocalypticism (of whatever stripe) and violence (soon).

    Here’s my list, with comments, of books on Islamic apocalyptic:

    **

    First choice:

  • Jean-Pierre Filiu, Apocalypse in Islam
  • My Jihadology review gets into some detail, but the book is superb. From the concluding pages:

    For the moment, only the Iraqi militia known as the Supporters of the Imam Mahdi has actively sought to translate the rise of eschatological anxiety into political action. Yet one day a larger and more resourceful group, eager (like Abu Musab al-Suri) to tap the energy of the “masses” as a way of achieving superiority over rival formations, may be strongly tempted to resort to the messianic gambit. An appeal to the imminence of apocalypse would provide it with an instrument of recruitment, a framework for interpreting future developments, and a way of refashioning and consolidating its own identity. In combination, these things could have far-reaching and deadly consequences.

    **

    Overviews:

  • Richard Landes, Heaven on Earth
  • Heather Selma Gregg, The Path to Salvation
  • Landes’ book gives an impressive, nay encyclopedic, tour of apocalyptic movements across time and space, excluding Judaic and Christian versions to make space for his expansive survey across time and space (featuring, eg, the Xhosa cattle-slaying of the 1850s), and concludimng with a chapter on contemporary Islamist apocalyptic. Gregg’s slimmer olume is an information-packed tour of “religious violence from the Crusades to Jihad” and from Jerusalem to Ayodhya.

    **

    Varieties of Islamic apocalyptic:

  • David Cook, Studies in Islamic Apocalyptic
  • David Cook, Contemporary Muslim Apocalyptic Literature
  • David Cook’s high-level scholarship explores ancient and contemporary Islamic apocalyptic texts in detail. It was David who introduced me to the topic in the late ’90s at a Center for Millennial Studies conference, not unlike the one David, JM Berger, Will Mcants, Tim Furnish, myself and others will speak at on IS and apocalyptic in early April.

    **

    For specific angles on the issue:

  • Timothy Furnish, Holiest Wars: Islamic Mahdis, Their Jihads, and Osama bin Laden
  • Anne-Marie Oliver & Paul Steinberg, The Road to Martyr’s Square
  • Thomas Hegghammer & Stephane Lacroix, The Meccan Rebellion
  • Gershom Gorenberg, The End of Days
  • A Azfar Moin, The Millennial Sovereign
  • Joel Richardson, The Mideast Beast
  • Furnish discusses the history of Mahdist movements; Oliver and Steinberg write a passionately engaging narrative of life in Gaza, with special focus on suicide bombers and Hamas street propaganda; Hegghammer and Lacroix cover the Mahdist revolt that kicked off the new Islamic century in Mecca, getting into theological details that resonate to this day; and Gorenberg covers the three competing apocalypticisms of Judaism, Christianity and Islam with respect to the Temple Mount / Noble Sanctuary in Jerusalem, which he terms “the most hotly contested piece of real estate on earth”. Azfar Moin’s book gives an account of the quasi-Mahdism of Safavid Iranian and Mughal Indian kingship, in which sufi notions of sanctity and courtly notions of royalty mix and mingle — simply mind-boggling. And Joel Richardson views Islamic apocalyptic through Christian apocalyptic eyes.

    **

    For Shi’ite eschatology:

  • Abdulaziz Sachedina, Islamic Messianism
  • cf Sachedina’s translation of Ayatullah Ibrahim Amini‘s Al-Imam al-Mahdi, The Just Leader of Humanity
  • Abbas Amanat, Apocalyptic Islam and Iranian Shi’ism
  • **

    Reading Islamic scriptures in and out of context:

  • Jonathan Brown, Misquoting Muhammad: The Challenge and Choices of Interpreting the Prophet’s Legacy
  • It is all too easy to cherry pick quotes to show that Islam is peaceful, warlike or whatr have you: Dr Brown shows us how variously the texts can be interpreted, tus opening the door to a more cautious, context-driven and historically aware of what we read in opposing contemporary polemics. Brilliant.

    **

    In a following post, I shall list books predominantly from the religious studies area, as various authors examines violence in new religious movements, many of which are millenarian / apocalyptic in orientation.

    Recommended Reading

    Wednesday, April 15th, 2015

    [by Mark Safranski, a.k.a. “zen“]

    Have not done this in a while as real life has eaten most of my blogging time, but here goes with a focus on Friends of Zenpundit!

    Adam Elkus, is writing on tech and society for Slate:

    ….Tesla’s Elon Musk and the famous astrophysicist Stephen Hawking have become standard-bearers for the growing fear over artificial intelligence—but perhaps the most fascinating element here is that their warnings focus on hypothetical malicious automatons while ignoring real ones. Musk, in a recent interview, mused aboutwhether we would be lucky if future robots enslaved us as pets. Yet today humankind is imperiled by a different type of bot onslaught from which there is no escaping, and Musk has not sounded the alarm. Perhaps that is due to the fact that the artificial menace behind this rise of the machines is not really anything we would consider to be “artificial intelligence.” Instead, to survey the bot armies marching across the Internet is to marvel at the power of artificial stupidity. Despite bots’ crudely coded, insectoid simplicity, they have managed to make a lot of people’s lives miserable.

    Charles already noted Cheryl Rofer, also a long time friend, haassessments of the Iranian nuclear deal at Nuclear Diner and at Mother Jones:

    ….The extent of Iran’s past activity on nuclear weapons was relegated to the IAEA by the P5+1 throughout the negotiations, and is a lesser provision in the fact sheet. Do we have to know all Iran’s dirty secrets to police a future agreement? Probably not.

    The Supreme Leader issued a tweet stream that seems to give his blessing for a deal to go forward, but his words were unclear enough that domestic hardliners could seize on them in an attempt to scuttle the deal. Iran’s President Rouhani has voiced his support. In Israel, even the general who bombed the Osirak reactor thinks it’s a good deal.

    Thomas P.M. Barnett is blogging a little again after a very long hiatus where he was helping get Wikistrat up, running and growing. After connecting through the good offices of Critt Jarvis, Tom Barnett had a very significant influence in the evolution of zenpundit, particularly in inspiring my research interests to move from straight diplomatic history and foreign policy to a deep dive into strategy and grand strategy. On that note, I recommend you check out How to Become a Grand Strategist (unpublished):

    There are four fundamental reasons why American grand strategy matters more right now than any other nation’s grand strategy.

    The first is that the American example is provided the source code for this era’s version of globalization, which superseded the colonial model of world integration previously pursued by the Eurasian imperial powers.  These United States represent the oldest and most successful multinational economic, political and security union on the planet, a collection of states whose integration has been so successful and so deep that we forget the fantastic journey that brought us to this present state of being.  We should not, because it is our essential gift to world history, currently finding its replication—finally—in the European context from which we sprang.  The success of that model, the European Union, has made it the second great source code for the future of globalization.  By both improving on and falling short of the original, it provides the world a much-needed contrast (i.e., “go slow” globalization compared to our “go fast” model) in these tumultuous economic times. 

    The second reason is that America currently serves as the sole historical bridge between settled Europe’s post-military, post-nationalistic achievement of stable identity and rising Asia’s pre-military, pre-nationalistic pursuit of the same.  In other words, while Europe has evolved past the great sources of 20th century conflict (militarism, nationalism, ideologies in general), Asia’s emerging powers—save for Japan—are rapidly approaching these historical phases, largely clinging to the hope that comprehensive marketization of their economies alone will so integrate their societies with the larger world as to render these traps obsolete.  The trade-off, however, is substantial for the planet as a whole, because in so rapidly integrating with the global economy, Asian nations have turbo-charged globalization’s dynamics to the point of resurrecting fears of zero-sum competitions among great powers for resources, markets and military allies in the decades ahead.  They’ve resurrected the specter of empires.

    Dave Schuler at The Glittering Eye has a very appropriate post, given what haunts us on Wednesday Our Lousy Tax System 

    ….Since the ratification of the 16th Amendment in 1913 when Congress was granted the power to levy a tax based on income, something previously denied it, we’ve done a major overhaul of our tax system roughly every 20 years. Our last overhaul was thirty years ago or, in other words, we’re overdue. Our income tax system is like a ship. Just as a ship accumulates barnacles over time and must be hauled into drydock to be cleaned, our tax system accumulates breaks, loopholes, and so on. That’s no accident. It’s called “constituent service”. It’s built into our system of government.

    Put me down in the “complete change” column. I honestly don’t see how any progressive worthy of the name could defend our present tax system or any conservative worthy of the name would want to keep it. However, I would also put FICA, i.e. the “payroll tax”, and the corporate income tax under the ax

    Congratulations to BJ Armstrong, Editor of 21st Century Mahan, for receiving the General Roy S. Geiger Award by the Marine Corps Heritage Foundation for his WOTR article,“The Answer to the Amphibious Prayer: Helicopters, the Marine Corps, and Defense Innovation.”

    Congratulations to Jonathan Jeckell who received a DoD award while seconded to The State Department, presented by another Friend of ZP, Dr. Francis Park!

    In other news….

    Martin van Creveld is blogging and has a new book out, Equality: The Impossible Quest

    That’s it!

    New Books, On China and Neighbors

    Tuesday, April 7th, 2015

    [by J. Scott Shipman]

    china books

     

    Imperial China, by F.W. Mote

    Mountains of Fame, John W. Wills (not pictured)

    Liao Architecture, by Nancy Steinhardt

    The Seven Military Classics of Ancient China, by Ralph D. Sawyer

    Inner Asian Frontiers of China, by Owen Lattimore

    Empires of the Silk Road, Christopher I. Beckwith

    The Perilous Frontier, by Thomas Barfield

    The Horse, The Wheel, and Language, by David W. Anthony

    3,000 Years of Chinese Statecraft, by Dennis Bloodworth

    The Imjin War, by Samuel Hawley

    The Tyranny of History, by W.J.F Jenner

    The Wars for Asia 1911-1949, by S.C.M. Paine

    Hard Road Home, by Ye Fu (not pictured, and a specialty publisher with great customer service Ragged Banner Press)

    After the first of the year I commenced yet another “modern” assessment of China as a potential adversary, and had not gotten too far before the author attempted to channel ancient Chinese history to explain current Chinese policies. The author’s confidence and specious use of history made me aware of just how illiterate I am in that portion of the world. I don’t know about you, but when I’m faced with a known gap and seam in some area of knowledge, I do a (fill in the blank) study. (I’ve done studies on central Africa, cognition, neuroeconomics, strategy (which seems on-going), and naval tactics to name a few.) My normal process is to find a syllabus from someone I trust or admire, or ask my network to offer five or six must read books on the topic. T. Greer at Scholar’s Stage, is a well known to the readers here at Zenpundit as a commenter and very knowledgeable on Chinese history. He recommended most of the books in the list above.

    Sawyer’s Seven Military Classics was already in my library, and often read as a reference. Also I’d read large chunks of Empires and Horse, Wheel, Language (these books were already in my library, too, and are very complementary in their approach). And while the Imjin War book is focused on Japan, someone on Facebook suggested the addition. The only books purchased new was the Imperial China volume by Mote and Imjin. The remainder were purchased used and cost less than $75 total on the secondary market (I use both Amazon and ABE.com).

    I’m a little more than a third through Imperial China, and while it is textbook, Mote’s writing style is engaging and exhaustive. Halfway through Mountains of Fame; it has been my go-to travel book—hence I forgot to include in the picture as the volume remains in an unpacked bag from a recent trip. I have read the introductions to all of these titles and by far the Paine book seems the most intriguing—I love the writing style. The only two likely to be relegated to the anti-library are the architecture book and the volume by Lattimore.

    So, along with Zen, what new books are you reading?


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