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Vexillology 2

Thursday, August 21st, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- in response to a comment by Zen on a previous post -- swastikas, anarchist flags, Gadsden flags, black banners, and their various variants ]
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Yesterday, in response to my piece on Black Banners in the Washington Post Zen commented:

Funny how no one mistakes the meaning of a flag with a swastika or a hammer and sickle.

I pretty much agree. Most of us — with occasional exceptions – recognize the swastika as the detestable symbol of Hitler‘s National Socialists or Nazis, right?

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And yet there are nuances — and it was in search of those that I sent myself off on one of those wild goose chases to which the internet entices us. My response got so long in fact, and so heavily illustrated, that I decided to make it a post of its own.

The Nazi swastika is pretty straightforward — except that it can be confused with an ancient Hindu symbol of Life, Love and Light..

found in pujas or worship ceremonies,

associated with Lord Ganesh,

from which Rudyard Kipling no doubt drew his own use of a swastika imprint on his books,

although he later withdrew it,

Kipling was so disgusted by the Nazis and the sight of their flag that he removed the swastika, a Hindu symbol of good luck, from his bookbindings. It had been his trademark for nearly forty years but it was now ‘defiled beyond redemption’

and in Buddhism, for instance decorating the throne of the Dalai Lama,

in the design of US Naval dormitories in Coronado,

in old-style greetings cards,

and a kabbalistic diagram:

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Ah, but it also has many variants:

the Maru ni Hidari Mannji crest, from Japan,

the symbol of the Slavic Union,

the National Power Unity Party of Latvia,

the Syrian Social Nationalist Party,

National Unity of Russia,

Russia’s National Socialist Movement,

the Tohokai Party flag,

the Golden Dawn, from Greece,

the Dutch National Socialist movement,

and Swedish National Socialist Bloc,

Action Front Nationalist, Germany,

and the Afrikaner Resistance Movement, S Africa,

reminiscent of this flag of the Isle of Man,

not to be confused with that of the Isle of Women:

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You might think Anarchist flags would be pretty simple, eh? Red and black triangles..

except that this shouldn’t be confused with the right-wing Nation flag from Belgium:

Interesting anarchist variants apparently include the Anarcho-feminist flag,

the Eco-anarchist,

and the Market-anarchist,

illustrated here,

and sometimes, apparently, in conjunction with..

.. the Gadsden flag:

which will be familiar to Tea Partiers and Chicago Boyz.

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I found or was pointed to most of the images above by the three Political Flags of Extremism pages, to which I am grateful.

Now, as to the Black Banners — Wikipedia has an entry on The Black Standard, showing diferent variants of the black banner (or raya) — notably these three:

The simplest version — the one Muhammad carried into battle,

next, the flag with shahada used by AQ,

and finally the version associated with al-Shabaab and most recently the “Islamic State” caliphate:

There are doubtless many more, some official and some the work of individuals, and exactly which versions have ben recorded in use by which groups is beyond my scope to say.

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My real point, my real answer to Zen’s comment isn’t to agree or disagree with him, just to say that both group flags and logos and which groups they’re attributed to, with what exact shades of meaning, can be a tricky business.

When the US Embassy in Cairo was attacked on September 11th 2012, the “caliphate” was not yet in existence, and the black flag visible in this photo was labeled “the al-Qaida flag”:

It wasn’t even the only black banner there:

To add yet a further touch of symbolic mashup, you can also see an Anonymous / Guy Fawkes / Vendetta mask in both pictures.

In any case, back then the “shahada with seal” was an al-Qaida flag, and this week, Abby Phillip called that same style of flag the “signature flag” of the Islamic State in her WaPo article this week.

As Heraclitus famously said, panta rhei — all is flux.

And a tip-of-the-hat to Lewis Shepherd for a reminder of that great word, vexillology!

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Of impassioned distinctions and lines traced on maps

Wednesday, August 13th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- in which the muj from Khorasan talk even more about the erasing of national boundaries than the soldiers of the IS caliphate ]
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Before there were maps, there was terrain, some of it populated, and various populations spoke various languages and identified themselves and each other in various complex ways. And then there were maps.

Heinrich Bunting, world map with Jerusalem at the center, naturally, 1581

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Maps certainly have a logic to them, but it is not always the logic of the populations who actually live, think, and care in the terrain depicted.

In this post, I am going to explore various writings on national boundaries and the recently-announced and mapped caliphate, starting with the mildest, and building in a crescendo to the opinions of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and the Mujahideen in Khurasan.

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Owen Bennett-Jones writes in The London Review of books:

As for borders, it is no longer outlandish to consider the possibility of an Alawite redoubt in western Syria and of Kurdish self-rule: a de facto independence that would change not only Iraq but also Turkey, Syria and Iran. Israel and the Western powers are already voicing concern about what might happen in Jordan. No doubt they will all resist demands to recognise any attempted changes to national boundaries. But that may lead to a growing divergence between the international system regulating relations between states and the reality on the ground.

This seems a bit pallid to me, for reasons you’ll uderstand when you read a Taliban writer pon the same topic below.

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The topic is also apparently a live one for scholars. The University of Southern California and the Project on Middle East Political Science have just issued a Call for Proposals for participants in their Rethinking Nation and Nationalism Workshop, to be held at USC, February 6, 2015:

The Arab uprisings of 2011 have shown that questions of physical boundaries and national identities long seen as resolved may in fact be open to reconfiguring. Insurgencies spanning Syria and Iraq and the (re)assertion of regionalism in Libya are only the most violent of the processes currently underway challenging long-established physical national frontiers. Embattled regimes have produced new national narratives to legitimate their rule, while sectarian and Islamist movements have taken on new manifestations. Refugee movements triggered by these conflicts and longer-standing processes of migration within, into, and out of the region have led to large communities of nationals established outside the countries of their citizenship.

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Col. Pat Lang, a warrior with a feel for the region — he introduced the study of Arabic at West Point — just today posted On identity and the state in the Middle East, his response to a friend’s off-blog comment:

I think what you (Origin) miss in this is that these countries are not really post Treaty of Westphalia nation-states. They were created by the colonial powers in the image of European countries that more resemble that model. In fact, these Middle East countries are inhabited by disparate groups of people who self-indentify within their group or perhaps withing several groups they belong to. These peoples do not identify with the state in which they live unless they happen to be run it. Thus, the Kurds feel no actual loyalty to the thing the British called “Iraq.” They are quite willing to cooperate with other Sunni people, in this case Sunni Arab tribes who are also indifferent or hostile to the government in Baghdad now that it is run by their ancestral enemies, the Shia Arabs. The Kurds would not lift a finger to help “Iraq” if they were left alone in their mountains. What they yearn for first last and always is Kurdish independence. The same situation exists in Jordan a country that is in essence a “reservation” for Sunni Arabs. It has been that since it was created by the Brits in payment of a World War One obligation to the Hashemits Emir Abdullah. This obligation originated in Abdullah’s support for the British during the war. When Iraq was under Sunni rule Jordan supported Iraq. Shia run “Iraq” means nothing to Jordan. The same this is true around the region.

IS is different from all these states. It does not recognize the legitimacy of the notion of countries at all and seeks a world wide theocratic state beginning in the Middle East.

The mozaic of all these groups that exists on the ground in the Middle East does not fit the boundaries of the Sykes-Picot world created after WW1. Come to grips with that.

Now that’s “getting warmer” as kids say in a game of hide and seek.

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And the Caliphate?

They simply and eloquently bulldoze frontiers:

Residents near the border with Syria, where ISIL has exploited civil war to seize wide tracts of that country’s east, watched militants bulldozing tracks through frontier sand berms – as a prelude to trying to revive a medieval entity straddling both modern states.

The words of their Amirul-Mu’minin Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi are quoted in the caliphal magazine Dabiq, issue 1 p. 7:

O Muslims everywhere, glad tidings to you and expect good. Raise your head high, for today – by Allah’s grace – you have a state and Khilafah, which will return your dignity, might, rights, and leadership.

It is a state where the Arab and non-Arab, the white man and black man, the easterner and westerner are all brothers.

It is a Khilafah that gathered the Caucasian, Indian, Chinese, Shami, Iraqi, Yemeni, Egyptian, Maghribi (North African), American, French, German, and Australian. Allah brought their hearts together, and thus, they became brothers by His grace, loving each other for the sake of Allah, standing in a single trench, defending and guarding each other, and sacrificing themselves for one another.

Their blood mixed and became one, under a single flag and goal, in one pavilion, enjoying this blessing, the blessing of faithful brotherhood.

If kings were to taste this blessing, they would abandon their kingdoms and fight over this grace. So all praise and thanks are due to Allah.

and again on p. 8:

Whoever was sleeping must now awaken. Whoever was shocked and amazed must comprehend. The Muslims today have a loud, thundering statement, and possess heavy boots. They have a statement that will cause the world to hear and understand the meaning of terrorism, and boots that will trample the idol of nationalism, destroy the idol of democracy and uncover its deviant nature.

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Finally, we come to another set of jihadis who identify themselves in their magazine Azan as the Mujahideen in Khurasan — whose own Amir al-Mumineen is Mulla Umar.

One Muhammad Qasim devotes and entire article to the issue of nation states vs the Ummah in Azan, issue 5 pp 12-15. It is titled Destroying the Country Idol and subheaded:

Consequences of adopting the Nation-State Concept:

• Destruction of Unity
• Creation of Nationalistic Armies

Curiously, the second section focuses on Clausewitz (1832?) rather than Westphalia (1648) — but I’ll leave discussion of that question to our historians.

Qasim begins by quoting two Qur’anic ayat:

Truly! This Ummah of yours is one Ummah, and I am your Lord, so worship Me (Alone). [21:92]

and

hold fast, all of you together, to the Rope of Allah (i.e. this Quran), and be not divided among yourselves .. [3:103]

and suggests:

The “nation state” has destroyed the unity of the Ummah and split it into bits and pieces, entirely vulnerable to the plans of the Kuffar. The great Mujahid leader, Shaykh Dr. Ayman Al-Zawahiri (HA) sums up the Muslim loss in a few impeccable words:

My free and honorable brothers, who are eager to help Islam and liberate Palestine! We must read history and comprehend its lessons. Palestine was lost when the Khilafah fell and we were dominated by secularism and territorial nationalism which has torn us apart and continues to tear us apart.

The body of his article then continues:

One of the fundamental interests of the West and the Zionists, and indeed, one of the necessities of their existence, is that they divide us by spreading the principles of the secular nationalist nation state and homeland among us, so that we become crumbs that they can easily devour. As a result of this ethnic and territorial nationalism, we broke apart after the fall of the Khilafah into more than fifty helpless vassal states.

The reviver of Jihad, Shaykh Abdullah Azzam (RA) said:

Sykes and Picot created borders for us. They said to us, Jordan ends here at ar-Ramtha, and Syria begins after Ar-Ramtha, and Jordan begins after Harat Ammar. And Kuwait? Here it is! The city of Kuwait, the “state” of Kuwait… And the state of Qatar is a single city. And so is the state of Bahrain. And Lebanon? Here it is… the size of a coin. That’s the state of Lebanon. And here is Syria. Listen, this is your land and your birthplace, and love of one’s homeland is part of faith. And so on… And so we have begun to think in an “Islamic way” which is in truth not an Islamic way but rather, a territorial way of thinking daubed with Islam.

The Jordanian in Ar-Ramtha sees the resident of Dara’a [across the Syrian border] being slaughtered in front of him by the Nusayrites; yet, he does not even bat an eyelid, move a muscle, or take an extra heartbeat; nor is he prepared to open the borders. Why? Because Islam ends at Ar-Ramtha; and he has nothing to do with Islam in Dara’a. But when a Jordanian in Al-‘Aqaba winces in pain, you’ll find the same person (from Ar-Ramtha) up in arms, although the distance between Al-‘Aqaba and Ar-Ramtha is more than 600 km, while the difference between al-Ramtha and Dara’a is less than 6 km.

This isn’t an Islamic attitude; this isn’t the attitude of ”Truly! This Ummah of yours is one Ummah, and I am your Lord, so worship Me (Alone).” [21:92]

This isn’t the global outlook of Islam which says:

India is ours and China is ours
And the earth is ours and all is ours
Islam has become our religion
And the entire world is our homeland
The constitution of Allah is our religion
And we have made our hearts its home

All Muslims are united upon true faith in Allah (swt), His Messenger (pbuh) and His Final Book. However, these false lines have been etched upon us on the basis of which entire political, military, economic and cultural institutions have been established that seek division between the Pakistani and the Indian, between the Egyptian and the Turk, between the Chechen and the Uzbek. There is no reality in these divides. As has been emphasized earlier in the article, in Islam, divide between humanity is upon faith, upon love for Allah (swt) and His Messenger (pbuh). So, we as an Ummah must take practical steps to defeat this divided mentality and erase these map lines physically that indoctrinate the Ummah into believing in this false separation.

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It’s impressive iMO to see those whose loyalty is to Mullah Omar publishing in greater detail on this topic than those whose loyalty is to the self-proclaimed caliph of IS. Maybe they’ll submit their article as a proposal for that conference at the University of Southern California, you think?

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Jabhat and IS “caliphate” by the numbers

Saturday, July 12th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- large numbers don't fit well into small skulls, but we do what we can ]
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Charles Lister tweeted today:

The numbers are, for my humble self, staggering.

And you can’t lose $1.5 billion if you didn’t have $1.5 billion at some point to lose.

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How about the “caliphate”?

Here’s the Jabhat vs ISIS — now IS, aka the “caliphate” — comparison:

Among other things, ISIS “made off with £256 million in cash and a large amount of gold bullion from Mosul’s central bank during its takeover of the city” as the Telegraph reported. That’s a half billion dollars, give or take.

And now IS is presumably “worth” 2 billion. Give or take.

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To put those figures in perspective, let’s compare IS today with AQ in 2001:

Business Insider calculated bin Laden‘s ROI at the time of his death at 2,514,000 to 1:

Al-Qaida pulled off the Sept. 11 attacks for approximately $500,000, according to the 9/11 Commission report. By the end of fiscal 2011 the U.S. will have spent $1.3 trillion, or 9% of the national debt, fighting the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq according to the Center for Defense Information. But when it’s all said and done the total cost of the wars will make Bin Laden’s 2,514,000:1 return at the time of his death multiply dramatically. It has been projected by Nobel prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz and others that the lifetime cost of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars will run to approximately $3 trillion, or over 20% of current federal public debt, when long-term medical care for the wounded and other costs are factored.

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And here’s the current cost comparison with Iraqi losses:

Okay?

I have to confess my mind is a little bit numb with the numbers at this point.

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If I had time and talent, I suppose I’d make theis whole thing more comprehensible, at least to people like myself, by treating dollar amounts the way XKCD treats radiation — but I don’t, so here’s my attempt to give a wider overview, sorted in ascending order of magnitude to make it easier for me to notice how $millions become $billions become $trillions.

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Sources:

  • Lister, leaked audio [edited to add: but see comment #1 below]
  • Lister, Golani admits
  • Guardian, $2bn network
  • Telegraph, ISIS’ half-a-billion-dollar heist
  • Business Insider, Bin Laden’s ROI
  • Exec Summary, 9/11 Commission Report [see under "financing"]
  • BasNews, Iraqi costs
  • CIA, GDP Iraq (2013 est)
  • CIA, GDP Syria (2011 est)
  • CIA, GDP USA (2013 est)
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    Recommended Readings, hipbone version

    Monday, June 30th, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron -- two superb pieces this week on Iraq and ISIS, deserving of a slow and grateful reading -- and a third on IS, the "caliphate" into which ISIS renamed itself just today ]
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    Peter J. Munson leads off my list with a wide-angle piece titled Iraq and the City of Man at War on the Rocks. It was the first of three terrific posts to catch my eye this week. Munson begins:

    Humans have been storytellers since time immemorial. Stories are how we make sense of our world. We reduce complex events to digestible, quite often self-indulgent, narratives. I heard one of those the other week when, speaking at a public change of command, Marine Corps Commandant General James Amos said, “If I were to give us a letter grade for Afghanistan… I’d say we did pretty darn good.” He paused, considering his words, and continued, “Iraq is going to turn out how it is going to turn out, but we sanctified the ground there. We sanctified the ground in Afghanistan…”

    Munson is by no means so sure.

    Blood and sacrifice are the key words of Munson’s piece, the blood sacrifices of so many American and allied soldiers, so many locals…

    He continues:

    One might imagine that with our blood, we purified the ground. There were certainly enough cases in which the cause of death was exsanguination. Disembodiment — a euphemism for death in a blast so violent that it resulted in the proverbial pink mist — must have also had a role in sanctification then, too. We are moved deeply and forever changed by the many selfless sacrifices that occurred on these grounds. In the end, though, most of these sacrifices came down to random pieces of bad luck that were never seen coming and nothing could have been done to avoid. Under the sun, especially the brutal, incessant sun of Mesopotamia

    A broad-sweep evaluation of recent Iraqi history follows:

    Once-routine, even cordial sectarian intermixing quickly fell apart as the extreme violence of a minority forced segregation and xenophobia. From 2004 through 2008, Iraq descended into chaos, even as over 100,000 American and coalition troops fanned out into the cities to keep the peace and kill the killers. When a fragile calm began to return, some imagined that eventually things would turn out livable.

    This is what we all hoped for. Closure. Validation. Peace. Sanctity. Humans reach for the City of God, but it is not to be had here on Earth. As Augustine wrote, “the earthly city is generally divided against itself by litigation, by wars, by battles, by the pursuit of victories that bring death with them or at best are doomed to death.” The city of man:

    desires an earthly peace… and it is that peace which it longs to attain by making war. For if it wins the war and no one survives to resist, then there will be peace, which the warring sections did not enjoy when they contended in their unhappy poverty for the things which they both could not possess at the same time. This peace is the aim of wars, with all their hardships; it is this peace that glorious victory (so called) achieves.

    There’s something deep, even timeless, about setting contemporary conflicts in the context of Thucydides or Augustine — more so, perhaps, than by reference to Clausewitz or Sun Tzu.

    Munson’s article is moving, necessary.

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    Zeroing in on current trends, Aaron Zelin‘s The War Between ISIS and al-Qaeda for Supremacy of the Global Jihadist Movement is the definitive backgrounder on its topic:

    Since the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) shot into the news after its takeover
    of Mosul, many have been confused over how to describe the group in relation to al-Qaeda,1the global jihadist organization best known for its audacious terror attacks against the West from the late 1990s through the mid-2000s. Relations between ISIS — and its prior incarnations, to be discussed — and al-Qaeda have been fraught with distrust, open competition, and outright hostility that have grown over time. The two groups are now
    in an open war for supremacy of the global jihadist movement. ISIS holds an advantage, but the battle
    is not over yet.

    Providing ample historical background for the events of recent weeks and days, Zelin focuses largely on the one-time street-thug al-Zarqawi, and pinpoints the fault-line early on when he writes:

    The indiscriminate versus strategic use of violence and takfir, most importantly that targeting the group’s Sunni base, became an important issue taken up by al-Qaeda in the following years. The main proponent of limiting takfir and knowing when to use it properly was Libi, who emphasized the sanctity of Muslim blood. [ ... ] More recently, in September 2013, Zawahiri released a pamphlet titled “General Guidelines for the Work of a Jihadi,” which codifies rules of engagement for al-Qaeda’s branches and highlights the limits and concerns that he and Libi previously raised with Zarqawi.

    Baghdadi, however, is no street-fighter — he’s a theologian-warrior. Joas Wagemakers reported a tract by the scholar Abu Hamam Bakr Bin ‘Abd al-’Aziz al-’Athari praising Baghdadi in Jihadica last September:

    Apart from al-Baghdadi’s family background, he is also a scholar of Islam according to al-Athari, having obtained an MA-degree in Qur’anic studies and a PhD in Islamic jurisprudence (fiqh) and having written a book on tawhid (the unity of God). This comination of Islamic knowledge and Prophetic descent makes him a special man indeed, al-Athari claims.

    Tim Furnish at MahdiWatch compares him to both Zawahiri and bin Laden thus:

    In addition, ISIS is, if anything, even more religious than AQ. Its leader, Ibrahim Awwad Ibrahim al-Badri, holds a PhD in fiqh, or Islamic jurisprudence (fatwa-issuing, in other words). By contrast, Usama bin Ladin was an engineer and Ayman al-Zawahiri is a medical doctor; and although both were/are profoundly Islamic in worldview and goals, they were/are laymen.

    As you know, my own special interest is in the theological side of things — so for me, those two comments add grace-notes to Aaron’s exemplary essay.

    **

    JM Berger’s ISIS Risks Everything to Declare a Caliphate brings us fully up to date with his account of today’s announcement of a Caliphate:

    On Sunday morning, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS, or ISIL, if you must) pronounced the reformation of the caliphate — the historical Islamic state that once stretched over much of the modern-day Muslim world — with ISIS emir Abu Bakr al Baghdadi as the man in charge.

    It’s arguably the boldest move yet by the group, which renamed itself simply The Islamic State. But if ISIS isn’t careful, this could be the moment when all of its gains in Iraq and Syria are squandered; when would-be allies are alienated; and when the group’s critics within the jihadi community were proven right all along.

    In the statement—released in Arabic, English, German, French, and Russian—ISIS claimed that it had fulfilled all the legal requirements for the caliphate and that all existing jihadi groups and indeed all Muslims around the world were religiously obligated to swear loyalty to the new Caliph Ibrahim (using the name provided by ISIS in the course of proving that Baghdadi has the required lineage for the title).

    Prior to this pronouncement, my assessment was that there was almost no way ISIS could exit June in worse shape than it entered the month, and that still holds. But July is beginning to look like an open question. ISIS, an al Qaeda breakaway group, had made a bold move to seize territory in Iraq that had resulted in tremendous gains in both equipment and money. Even if it lost all of the territory it gained in June, it would still retain many of those spoils, with new clout, status and physical assets to compete with the other jihadi groups operating in Syria and near the Iraq border.

    The declaration of the caliphate is a massive gamble that puts many of these gains at risk, although the potential benefits are also substantial.

    Berger then proceeds to give us “a quick rundown of the moving parts”, and notes:

    The pronouncement of the caliphate is sure to be wildly controversial on religious grounds, but ultimately it could cut either way. The backlash may harden the pro-AQ segment of the global jihadist movement against ISIS, especially with the announcement’s flat out demand that all other jihadist groups are religiously obligated to pledge loyalty to ISIS. But it will also generate some enthusiasm from footsoldiers and different segments of the global movement that see ISIS as a rising star.

    Like the other two posts recomended here, a must read IMO.

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    For another informed view, see Yassin Musharbash‘s A few Thoughts on the ISIS-”Caliphate”. Peter Neumann has some interesting comments in this Guardian piece. And my own background on earlier mentions of Baghdadi, the Dajjal and the caliphate was posted here.

    And that’s it — a week of powerful changes, and some fine reading to bring clarity out of the fog.

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    On ISIS and Crucifixion

    Wednesday, May 14th, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron -- of capital punishment, shock value and terror ]
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    Images such as the one above have been proliferating in western media recently. That specific image came from a Fox News report of April 29th titled Al Qaeda-linked jihadists accused of hanging victims on crosses — an interesting article on two counts.

    First, the al-Qaeda-linked jihadists in question are apparently ISIS –

    The executions reportedly took place Tuesday in Raqqa, where the extremist group Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIS, an Al Qaeda-linked network, has taken over the city

    – the group that refused Ayman al-Zawahiri’s guidance — in the words of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi:

    I have to choose between the rule of God and the rule of Zawahiri, and I choose the rule of God.

    — and which al-Qaeda has clearly distanced itself from:

    Al-Qaeda announces it is not linked to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, as it was not informed of its creation [and] did not accept it,” read Sunday’s statement, which criticised ISIL’s mode of operations. ISIL “is not a branch of al-Qaeda, has no links to it, and the [al-Qaeda] group is not responsible for its acts,” it added.

    That’s the first point of curiosity —

    **

    And the second?

    The said jihadists are “accused of hanging victims on crosses”. That’s intriguing wording, because it doesn’t say that they were crucified — “hung on crosses” could mean that, or it could mean no more than “displayed”… and indeed, the article gets fairly speciic about that:

    Al Qaeda-backed jihadists are hanging the bodies of executed enemies on crosses crucifixion-style in a town in Northern Syria, according to a Syrian opposition group.

    The executions reportedly took place Tuesday in Raqqa, where the extremist group Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIS, an Al Qaeda-linked network, has taken over the city, according to Abu Ibrahim Alrquaoui, who identifies himself as a founder of a group called Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently.

    it says, and:

    Alrquaoui said he witnessed the executions himself, and took photographs that have since been posted on the group’s Facebook page, and are now being circulated on the Internet.

    The series of photographs show different men bound to crosses in what appears to be a public square area, though it could not be independently confirmed that the subjects were dead or, if they were, by what means the executions had been carried out. The pictures do not show any apparent signs of the men nailed to a cross, nor are there any obvious, visible signs of fatal wounds.

    and:

    Jihadists operating in Syria have previously been accused of shooting people in the head, then affixing them to crosses. In this latest case, the ISIS charged the seven men with espionage and attempted assassination of the group’s leaders, according to Alrquaoui.

    **

    The Daily Mail, on the other hand, under the heading Syrian rebels crucified: Islamic extremists execute two men in the most public way for ‘fighting against Muslims’, states quite directly:

    Islamic extremists have publicly crucified two Syrian rebels in northeastern Syria in revenge for a grenade attack on members of their group.

    I wasn’t there, and can’t say definitively whether the man in the photo was hung on a cross as described by Fox or crucified as the Daily Mail has it.

    **

    It’s a disturbing image, either way.

    Crucifixion wasn’t something the Romans dreamed up as a particularly painful way of death for a specific subversive rabbi two thousand odd years ago, it was simply one of the forms of the death penalty back then — and if images of crucifixions happening today carry a more that usual shock value, it is because that particular form of capital punishment is not one we are accustomed to, and because the rabbi who was crucified has had tremendous cultural and personal impact.

    The people doing the crucifying in this case — whether it was death by crucifixion or death by other means with crucifixion as display — presumably don’t share that sense of impact. The Qur’an denies that Jesus himself was crucified (Qur’an 4.157):

    they did not slay him, neither crucified him, only a likeness of that was shown to them

    And crucifixion is one of the forms of severe punishment known as “hudud” prescribed in the Qur’an (5.33):

    This is the recompense of those who fight against God and His Messenger, and hasten about the earth, to do corruption there: they shall be slaughtered, or crucified, or their hands and feet shall alternately be struck off; or they shall be banished from the land. That is a degradation for them in this world; and in the world to come awaits them a mighty chastisement

    **

    I hope to say more on hudud in another post — but meanwhoile, Prof. Ali Mazrui, one of the “Muslim 500“, writing on the set of punishments mentioned in this verse, suggests“:

    If God has been teaching human beings in installments about crime and punishment, and if there were no police, prisons, forensic science, or knowledge about DNA fourteen centuries ago, the type of punishments needed had to be truly severe enough to be a deterrent. Hence the hudud. Since then God has taught us more about crime, its causes, the methods of its investigation, the limits of guilt, and the much wider range of possible punishments.

    Did the Prophet Muhammad say, “My people will never agree on error”? If so we can take it for granted that Muslims of the future will be less and less convinced that the amputation of the hand is a suitable punishment for a thief under any circumstances. This is a prediction. I have not the slightest doubt that the Islam of our grandchildren will never accept penal amputation of the hands of thieves as legitimate any longer. On such issues doctrinal liberalism converges with social moderation.

    **

    Times change, and religions with them. Deuteronomy 21:18, 21 states:

    If a man have a stubborn and rebellious son, which will not obey the voice of his father, or the voice of his mother, and that, when they have chastened him, will not hearken unto them: then shall his father and his mother lay hold on him, and bring him out unto the elders of his city, and unto the gate of his place; and they shall say unto the elders of his city, This our son is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton, and a drunkard. And all the men of his city shall stone him with stones, that he die: so shalt thou put evil away from among you; and all Israel shall hear, and fear.

    — and although there are still some Christians in America who support the stoning of recidivist rebellious adolescents on the basis of these verses, they are certainly far outliers from the mainstream in this regard.

    **

    For your further consideration:

    J. Scott Harr, Kären M. Hess and Christine H. Orthmann, in their book, Constitutional Law and the Criminal Justice System tell us:

    History records many brutal methods of execution, including being buried alive, thrown to wild animals, drawn and quartered, boiled in oil, burned, stoned, drowned, impaled, crucified, pressed to death, smothered, stretched on a rack, disemboweled, beheaded, hanged or shot. In biblical times, criminals were stoned to death or crucified. The ancient Greeks, in a much more humane fashion, administered poison from the hemlock tree to execute criminals. The Romans, in contrast, used beheading, clubbing, strangling, drawing and quartering or feeding to the lions. During the Dark Ages, ordeals were devised to serve as both judgment and punishment. These ordeals included being submerged in water or in boiling oil, crushed under huge boulders or forced to do battle with skilled swordsmen. It was presumed the innocent would survive the ordeal; the guilty would be killed by it. Later, in France, the guillotine became the preferred means of execution.

    Societies have always struggled with balancing societal needs with socially accepted means of punishment. Although today’s methods are said to be more civilized, accounts of witnesses to executions raise doubts whether progress has been made. The death penalty has been an established feature of the American criminal justice system since Colonial times, with hanging often the preferred execution, especially on the frontier. Means of execution evolved as states sought more humane ways of killing their condemned—from hangings to the first electrocution in 1890, the invention of the gas chamber in 1923, the use of the firing squad and, finally, the addition of lethal injection, now the predominant method of execution in the United States.

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