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AQ < ISIS < Boko Haram

Monday, October 10th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — a ladder of escalation? a question of quality vs quantity? — it’s hard to judge ]



  • In single event death toll, al-Qaida has set 9/11 as the high water mark.
  • In terms of territory captured (and enslaved) ISIS had conjoint swathes of Iraq and Syria.
  • In terms of repudiation, Boko Haram has been repudiated for excessive violence by ISIS.
  • Note also that depending on whether your definition of terrorist includes state-sponsored groups, insurgents in occupied lands, etc or not, the list of “most violent” may also include the Quds Force, Haqqani Network, and Kataib Hezbollah

    And one 2014 list of The Most Violent Terrorist Groups in the World Right Now listed Al-Qaeda, Ansar al-Sharia, Hamas, Lashkar-e Taiba, Palestine Islamic Jihad, Kurdistan Workers’ Party, Abu Sayyaf Group, Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party, Hezbollah, Taliban, FARC, and Boko Haram — though the inclusion of FARC illustrates just how tricky formulating (and updating!) such lists can be..

    Wikileaks weak on graphics

    Sunday, August 7th, 2016

    [ by Charles Cameron — interested in close, not far-fetched, analogies ]

    A while back in 2011, Aaron Zelin picked up on a tweet by Aaron Weisburd and retweeted:

    the cover of Inspire 5 is remarkably similar to a wikileaks logo, e.g. http://goo.gl/2wibr coincidence I’m sure…

    I posted about it here on Zenpundit, and to me eye the match does have something to be said for it:

    wikileaks inspire


    But c’mon, baby.

    I was reading through today’s pretty harsh Intercept piece, What Julian Assange’s War on Hillary Clinton Says About WikiLeaks — amazing, considering the origins of the Intercept in the work of Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras — and came across another purported similarity, this one claimed by Assange himself.

    Only this one really just doesn’t work at all:

    wikileaks clinton


    Did Assange invent arrows?

    I’m sorry, but that’s just ridiculous.

    In any case, Hilary got it from Netflix, where they’re airing the Glenn Close series Damages, with John Goodman playing Howard T Erickson, the boss of High Star, a private security firm..

    clinton damages

    Case closed.

    Happiness in the proximity of faith and death

    Monday, August 1st, 2016

    [ by Charles Cameron — the emotional impact of faith, from a nun present at the Normandy attack to a failed suicide bomber in Syria ]

    According to this IB Times article, Tragic last words of Catholic priest killed by Isis terrorists revealed, Sister Helene Decaux, one of the nuns who was present at the killing of Fr Jacques Hamel, reported his last words thus:

    Jacques shouted at them, ‘Stop! What are you doing?’ It was then that one of them struck the first blow to his throat.

    What caught my attention more forcefully, however, was the following:

    Fearing for her life, she added: “Thinking I was going to die, I offered my life to God.” The nun then described how Petitjean and Kermiche had at first been aggressive, but quietened down after they had cut Jacques’ throat. Showing remarkable calm, Helene asked the two terrorists if she could sit down. “I asked for my cane, he gave it to me,” she said. One of the attackers asked: “Are you afraid to die?” To which the nun replied no. “I believe in God, and I know I will be happy,” Helene said. Sister Huguette Peron, who was also in the church, told Catholic newspaper La Vie: “I got a smile from the second (man). Not a smile of triumph, but a soft smile, that of someone who is happy.”

    Not only is Sister Helene happy in the face of death because she believes in death, but Sister Huguette reports that one of the attackers gave her a smile, “Not a smile of triumph, but a soft smile, that of someone who is happy.”


    Compare those two descriptions of people who are happy with this, from Murtaza Hussain‘s Intercept piece, New Documentary Pierces the Psychology of Modern Suicide Bombers:

    In a scene from Norwegian journalist Paul Refsdal’s new documentary Dugma: The Button, Abu Qaswara, a would-be suicide bomber, describes the sense of exhilaration he felt during an aborted suicide attack against a Syrian army checkpoint. “These were the happiest [moments] I’ve had in 32 years. If anyone had felt exactly what I felt at that moment, Muslims would want to go through the same feeling and non-Muslims would convert just to experience it,” he enthuses to the camera, visibly elated by his attempted self-immolation.

    Abu Qaswara’s attack failed after his vehicle was blocked by obstacles on the road placed by the Syrian military. But speaking shortly after he returned from his mission, it was clear that his brush with death had filled him with euphoria. “It was a feeling more than you can imagine,” he says. “Something I cannot describe, it cannot be described.”

    My primary purpose in recording these instances of happiness is to emphasize how strongly religious faith exerts what to the modern secular mind must be an unexpected and perhaps even unimaginable emotional impact on those who possess it. And even if the Normandy attacker’s ‘soft smile” had more to do with a blood lust slaked, the same cannot be said either for Sister Helene or for Abu Qaswara.

    If we are to understand the motivations of suicide bombers and other jihadists, comprehending not just intellectually but viscerally the emotions involved will be a task of some importance — and one for which many of our analysts will not be prepared.


    There’s a second point to be made, however. Hussain goes on to write:

    Only the few Syrians who appear in the film speak at length about their grievances over the crimes of the Syrian government. In contrast, the foreign volunteers appear largely driven by personal motivations. Liberating the local people from oppression appears at best a secondary concern. Perishing in the conflict and reaping the existential rewards of such an end takes precedence. Both Abu Qaswara and Abu Basir gave up comfortable lives to come to Syria, knowing that certain death would be the outcome of that decision. But rather than deterring them, the prospect of a rewarding death was a primary factor motivating their decision to fight.

    That para sets the scene for the following one, in which Mustafa Hamid, as reported in his book with Leah Farrall, notes how contrary this motivation is to the practical pursuit of victory:

    This impulse toward self-destruction is actually seen as selfish by some fellow insurgents. In his co-authored 2014 memoir The Arabs at War in Afghanistan, Mustafa Hamid, a former high-ranking Egyptian volunteer with the Afghan mujahideen in the 1980s, described his own frustration with many of the later waves of volunteers arriving to that conflict. “One of the negatives that emerged from the jihad, and which continues to have severe consequences today, was the tendency for the youth to focus not on success and achieving victory and liberating Afghanistan, but on their desire for martyrdom and to enter paradise,” Hamid wrote. This overriding preoccupation with becoming a martyr meant that participation in the conflict, “became individual instead of for the benefit of the group or the country where the fight for liberation is taking place.”

    That’s one of the more striking of Hamid’s observations in The Arabs at War in Afghanistan — itself an astonishing book, product of the collaboration between Hamid (aka Abu Walid al-Masri) the man who brought bin Laden‘s oath of allegiance to Mullah Omar, and Farrall, a respected scholar-analyst who was the Australian Federal Police al-Qaida subject matter specialist at the time of the Bali bombings.

    It is an extraordinary book, and one I cannot recommend too highly.

    Jabhat breaks from al-Qaida

    Thursday, July 28th, 2016

    [ by Charles Cameron — and al-Jolani is dressed to kill ]

    An insightful DoubleQuote in the Wild:

    As Shakespeare puts it, the apparel oft proclaims the man.



  • Charles Lister, Profiling Jabhat al-Nusra
  • JM Berger, Jabhat al Nusra Splits From al Qaeda
  • Just added:

  • Charles Lister, The Nusra Front Is Dead and Stronger Than Ever Before
  • D Gartenstein-Ross, Does Jabhat al-Nusra split from al-Qaeda and what does it mean?

  • A brief Trump policy statement & book-length question in response

    Sunday, July 10th, 2016

    [ by Charles Cameron — also a tweet asking for a DoubleQuote & getting one ]

    As so often, Part I of this post is a somewhat playful teaser for Part II, which is where my real interest is to be found.

    Part I, then, is about someone inquiring about two tweets Donald Trump made, asking in effect whether anyone had DoubleQuoted them:.

    I like this question because it shows that DoubleQuoting — and indeed it’s subset, DoubleTweeting — is not some lonely idea of mine, but a more general form of inquiry that I’m aiming to fashion into a specigic and teachable tool for thinking.


    As it happens, one Chris Taylor responded to Martyn’s question the next day, putting the two tweets in question together. Sadly for my purposes, he did this by screengrabbing the pair of them, thus making it impossible to click through to Trump’s two originals. I’ve therefore gone to Trump’s timeline, and present them here as they originally appeared there:

    I see this juxtaposition as having some mild merit as political argument, but mainly as a sort of nit-picky point-scoring — so I’ll leave it at that.

    For anyone who’s interested, here’s a storified compilation of Donald Trump’s tweets on Islam, Muslims and the Middle East — I haven’t verified its contents or up-to-date-ness, but ran across it in my rooting around, and thought it might be of use to some here.


    Part II is where things get interesting.

    In the DoubleQuote below, I have posted excerpts from two documents — in the upper panel, Donald Trump’s news release on the prevention of Muslim immigration, and in the lower panel, a couple of paragraphs from the Tablet magazine review of the late Shahab Ahmad‘s extraordinary book, What is Islam, published this year by Princeton UP, and described in a blurb by Harvard Law’s Noah Feldman as “Not merely field changing, but the boldest and best thing I have read in any field in years.”

    DQ tablet Trump Ahmed

    Boiled down to it’s haiku-like essence, this twofer goes like this:

  • Trump: single page, single strand statement about banning Muslims
  • Ahmad: 550 page, multiple strand question as to how to define Muslims
  • **

    It’s inevitable that much of our popular — meaning “of the people, by the people, for the people” — discussion of Islam, brought on principally by the as yet but poorly understood connection between Al-Qaida and Islam, and exacerbated more recently by the equivalent link with the (so-called) Islamic (so-called) State — is framed in headlines and soundbites.

    Such single-stranded short-form messaging cannot hope to convey much at all of reality, and to get a deeper dive into what the words Islam and Muslim point to, one could hardly do better than The Study Quran for Islam’s central scripture, Jonathan Brown‘s Misquoting Muhammad for the history and interpretation of the corpus of hadith — and Ahmad’s What is Islam for the amazing richness of the Islamic traditions across continents and centuries.


    Somewhere between the single words Muslim and Islam on the one hand, and the 550 pages of Ahmed’s erudition, aided and abetted by 44 pages of notes in small type and a substantial index on the other, there’s an awareness of rich complexity, perhaps sufficient for a 25-page essay or 125-page Oxford Very Short Introduction, that we could all benefit from applying to our political considerations of Islam in these fraught times.

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