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Heads up: two keepers on terrorism for later review

Sunday, May 31st, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — for global perspective ]

Hoffman Ganor 602


Hoffman and ReinaresThe Evolution of the Global Terrorist Threat: From 9/11 to Osama bin Laden’s Death offers 700 pages of densely-packed information about global, ans they do mean global, terrorism since 9-11. Contributors include Peter Neumann, Paul Cruickshank, J-P Filiu, Seth Jones, Rohan Gunaranta, Ami Pedahzur, Thomas Hegghammer, C Christine Fair.

Ganor BoazGlobal Alert, which I just received, appears to offer its own definition of the topic, then take a refreshingly clean, unsentimental look at the field.

Both are recommended.

A Very Short, but Sweet Recommended Reading

Friday, May 29th, 2015

[by Mark Safranski, a.k.a. “zen“]

I’m still alive. Work and other commitments have been overwhelming the past month or so, but Charles Cameron has ably been holding down the fort.

A trio of highly recommended posts:


Last fall I wrote a popular series of posts outlining the history of the eight decade war waged between the ChineseHan Dynasty and the Xiongnu (old style: Hsiung-nu) nomadic empire. My posts were a response to a prominent American strategic theorist who misunderstood the history of the Han-Xiongnu relations in his search for enduring patterns in China’s military and diplomatic history relevant to China’s foreign relations today. Unfortunately, this experience was not a singular event. It seems that every month some new book or article is published pushing a misleading version of Chinese history or a strained interpretation of classical Chinese political thought to shore up a new theory of what makes China tick. I could devote this blog solely to refuting these poorly sourced theories and never run out of things to write about. Despite these errors, I have a great deal of sympathy for those who pen them. They face a nearly insurmountable problem: many of the thinkers, strategists, and conflicts most important to the Chinese strategic tradition have next to nothing in English written about them. Critical works have yet to be translated, translated works have yet to be analyzed, histories of important wars and figures have yet to be written, and what has been written is often scattered in obscure books and journals accessible only to experienced Sinologists. English speakers simply do not have access to the information they need to study the Chinese strategic tradition.

This needs to change. It needs to change both for the sake of strategic theory as a discipline, which has essentially ignored the insights and observations gleaned from 3,000 years of study and experience, and for understanding the intentions of our rivals and allies in East Asia, who draw upon this tradition to decide their own political and strategic priorities. But in order to make these necessary changes we need a clear picture of where we are now. This essay attempts to provide this picture. It is not a bibliographic essay per say, for I will freely admit that I have not read all of the books and research articles I will mention below. Some titles I have only read in part; others I have not read at all. However, the goal of this post is not to review the results and conclusions of all these works, but to outline where research has been done and where more research is needed. For this purpose awareness suffices when more intimate knowledge is lacking.

Mastering 3,000 years of intellectual and military history is a gargantuan task. But in order to find the answers to some of the questions inherent in the study the Chinese strategic tradition, it must be done. I make no such claim of mastery. My expertise is uneven; I am most familiar with both the strategic thought and the actual events of the China’s classical period (Warring States through the Three Kingdoms era, c. 475 BC-280 AD), and am probably weakest when discussing the first two decades of the 20th century, a time critical to the development of the tradition but difficult to master because of the number of political actors involved, the complexity of their relations, and the great intellectual variety of the era. Despite these weaknesses I know enough to chart out the broad outlines of current scholarship, a charge most specialists in strategic theory cannot attempt and most Sinologists would not desire. These biases and proclivities have kept the two disciplines far apart; there is an urgent need for these two scholarly bodies to draw together. If this essay–which is addressed primarily to the first group but should be accessible to second–helps in some small way to bring this to pass I shall consider it a grand success.  [….]

Our wars since WWII

The local fighter is therefore often an accidental guerrilla — fighting us because we are in his space, not because he wishes to invade ours. He follows folk-ways of tribal warfare that are mediated by traditional cultural norms, values, and perceptual lenses; he is engaged (from his point of view) in “resistance” rather than “insurgency” and fights principally to be left alone.

— David Kilcullen in The Accidental Guerrilla (2011).

Most of the West’s wars since WWII have been fight insurgencies in foreign lands. Although an ancient form of conflict, the odds shifted when Mao brought non-trinitarian (aka 4th generation) warfare to maturity. Not until the late 1950’s did many realize that war had evolved again.

It took more decades more for the West to understand what they faced. Only after the failure of our occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq did the essential aspect of this new era become known, as described in Chapter 6.2 of Martin van Creveld’s The Changing Face of War (2006).

What is known, though, is that attempts by post-1945 armed forces to suppress guerrillas and terrorists have constituted a long, almost unbroken record of failure … {W}hat changed was the fact that, whereas previously it had been the main Western powers that failed, now the list included other countries as well. Portugal’s expulsion from Africa in 1975 was followed by the failure of the South Africans in Namibia, the Ethiopians in Eritrea, the Indians in Sri Lanka, the Americans in Somalia, and the Israelis in Lebanon. … Even in Denmark {during WWII}, “the model protectorate”, resistance increased as time went on.

Many of these nations used force up to the level of genocide in their failed attempts to defeat local insurgencies. Despite that, foreign forces have an almost uniform record of defeat. Such as the French-Algerian War, which the French waged until their government collapsed. […]

Octavian Manea – The Need to Understand and Conduct UW ( SWJ Interview with Colonel David Maxwell)

Interview with retired US Army Special Forces Colonel David S. Maxwell.

David S. Maxwell is the Associate Director of the Center for Security Studies in the School of Foreign Service of Georgetown University.  He is a retired US Army Special Forces Colonel with command and staff assignments in Korea, Japan, Germany, the Philippines, and CONUS, and served as a member of the military faculty teaching national security at the National War College.  He is a graduate of Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, the Command and General Staff College, the School of Advanced Military Studies at Fort Leavenworth and the National War College, National Defense University.

SWJ: Insurgency, counterinsurgency, foreign internal defense, terrorism, counterterrorism – does this spectrum of possibilities fall within the larger framework of Unconventional Warfare (UW)?

David Maxwell: Terminology is important. But since 9/11 we have embarked on an effort to rename wars, rename conflicts and come up with new doctrinal terms trying to explain old things in new ways. As Clausewitz said before you embark on a war you first must understand the war. But in America there is this tendency to first must name the war and in order to understand the war we have to name the doctrinal terms that we are going to use. We spend more time on naming than on understanding. When it comes to counterinsurgency, counter-terrorism I subscribe to Collin Gray who said that the strategist needs to understand his subject, which is not COIN, not CT, but strategy for its particular challenge in COIN or CT. I think we spend more time on arguing about COIN and CT than we really do trying to devise effective strategies to protect our national interests some of which includes either defending against terrorism through CT or helping others to conduct counterinsurgency which I still think is a very necessary capability that our military needs. Although the way we have conducted counterinsurgency in Iraq and Afghanistan must be thoroughly examined, whether this is the right or wrong way.

At the same time, seeing everything through only the lens of terrorism really misses the point. Looking at everything as a terrorism problem has hurt our strategic thinking. 9-11 was a tragic event and there are people out there that are conducting terrorist acts, trying to harm the West, the US, and western interests. But terrorism is not the only problem. Naming Al Qaeda a terrorist organization is correct from a legal point of view, but what they are really conducting is more of a form of unconventional warfare. UW is a form of warfare that has been conducted for generations and for millennia. It is part of the nature of war. The phenomena we are really facing emanates from a fundamental aspect political-military operations and that is revolution, resistance, and insurgency.  Clausewitz described the paradoxical trinity and UW falls within it. But we have this tendency trying to put everything into a box – terrorism, insurgency, hybrid conflict, conventional war, nuclear war – when we really need to look at and understand the strategies of the organizations and nation-states conducting warfare. I fear that we don’t spend enough time understanding strategy. Do we understand the strategy of ISIL, of Boko Haram? We have to do a better job of thinking strategically. And one weakness is our inability to observe and understand the strategies of our opponents. [….]

Hopefully, I will be returning to a more normal blogging schedule in a couple of weeks. I have several book reviews and other posts waiting on the backburner to either finish or write as soon as time permits

Browsing in bin Laden’s library II

Thursday, May 21st, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — following up on Browsing in bin Laden’s library ]

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.



  • 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.



  • 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.



  • 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.

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