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I do so hate it when people speak foreign

Tuesday, May 24th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — the Pakistani politician Imran Khan and Alec Station’s Mike Scheuer think (somewhat) alike ]
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I do so hate it when people speak foreign, and am happy when bilinguals tweet the relevant quotes in regular language:

**

Imran Khan, who is being quoted from this interview as saying “George Washington was a terrorist for the English & freedom fighter for Americans” is a Pakistani cricketer (captain of the team that won the 1992 World Cup, and credited with 3807 runs batting and 362 wickets bowling in Test matches) turned politician (founder of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party which governs Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, formerly the North West Frontier Province) — and philanthropist (founder of a cancer hospital, and more).

Comparisons, they say, are odious — and you may well think it odious to compare Osama bin Laden with George Washington.

What, though, if the comparison is between Imran Khan and Michael Scheuer, who in the runup to 9/11 was the chief of Alec Station (ie the CIA’s Bin Laden Issue Station). In his first book, Through our Enemies’ Eyes, published anonymously in 2002, Scheuer wrote:

I think we in the United States can best come to grips with this phenomena by realizing that bin Laden’s philosophy and actions have embodied many of the same sentiments that permeate the underpinnings of concepts on which the United States itself is established. This can be illustrated, I think, with reference to the writings or actions of such seminal figures in our history as John Brown, John Bunyan, Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry, and Thomas Paine.

and:

Bin Laden’s character, religious certainty, moral absolutism, military ferocity, integrity, and all-or-nothing goals are not much different from those of individuals whom we in the United States have long identified and honored as religious, political, or military heroes, men such as John Brown, John Bunyan, Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry, and Thomas Paine. I do not argue that these are exact analogies, but only that they are analogies that seemed pertinent as I researched bin Laden.

and again, specifically:

A final analogy I found useful in thinking about Osama bin Laden in a context pertinent … Professor John L. Esposito drew me to this analogy in his fine book The Islamic Threat. Myth or Reality?, as did the editors of the respected Pakistani newspaper Nawa-i-Wakt. In his book, Esposito warned that when Americans automatically identify Islamist individuals and groups as terrorists, they forget the “heroes of the American Revolution were rebels and terrorists for the British Crown,” while the editors of Nawa-i-Waqt lamented that “it is unfortunate that the United States, which obtained its independence through a [revolutionary] movement is calling Muslim freedom fighters [a] terrorist organization.”

Like him or not as he currently presents himself and his opinions, Scheuer was plausibly the person best situated to explain bin Laden to an American audience back in 2002 — and today’s Imran Khan and yesterday’s Michael Scheuer seem to have a major analogy for assessing & explaining bin Laden in common…

After IS, what next? — the missing (apocalyptic) strand

Monday, May 23rd, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — four recent tweets, some lines of inquiry, & no certain conclusion, no date certain ]
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The four recent tweets that set me off..

**

There are a multitude of voices now raising the question After ISIS< What Next? They can be heard from as far back as October 2014, onwards:

  • Al Arabiya English, What comes after ISIS’ defeat?
  • Foreign Policy, What Comes After the Islamic State Is Defeated?
  • Lexington Institute, What Do We Do The Day After ISIS Is Defeated?
  • The National Interest, We Defeat ISIS. Then What?
  • The Telegraph, What happens once Isil is defeated?
  • Wilson Center, Iraq: Now and After ISIS
  • The [Huffington] World Post, The Middle East after ISIS
  • and most recently:

  • The Atlantic, The Hell After ISIS
  • If IS continues losing territory, as suggested in the tweets above, this question can only gain in force.

    **

    I have been following Islamic eschatology since 1998 or thereabouts, when I met David Cook, and I thought that what was at that time an eerily unappreciated question had at last made its way into informed consciousness after..

  • 2002, David Cook, Studies in Muslim Apocalyptic
  • 2005, David Cook, Contemporary Muslim Apocalyptic Literature
  • 2011, J-P Filiu, Apocalypse in Islam
  • 2014, Martin Dempsey, speech: IS has “an apocalyptic, end-of-days strategic vision”
  • 2015, Jessica Stern & JM Berger, ISIS: The State of Terror
  • 2015, Graeme Wood, What ISIS Really Wants
  • 2015, Will McCants, The ISIS Apocalypse
  • But no, the question I’m interested in has not been raised:

    Is there a more potent form of apocalyptic movement than the two we have most recently seen?

  • a Mahdist movement, one focused on the army with black flags from Khorasan — AQ
  • a Caliphal movement, one focused on the establishment of the rightly-guided kingdom — IS
  • **

    Four hints:

    It seems to me that you can have a Caliphal (kingdom based), or a Mahdist (leader based) movement, and that the Caliphal approach, should IS be a clear failure as a global quasi-state, will be exhausted for quite some time — and that since AQ, to the extent that it is or was an apocalyptic movement, was one that looked to a future Mahdi, the only route “up” from either one would be the declaration of an actual Mahdi-claimant with armed insurrection to follow.

  • The worst messianic movement, in terms of fatalities, would still be China’s 19th Century Taiping Rebellion, 20-30 million dead. Strangely enough, Gordon of Khartoum was involved.

  • The most recent and widely notable Mahdist rebellion was the Sudanese one that killed Gordon, led initially by Muhammad Ahmad al-Mahdi.

  • The next highly plausible date for the appearance of a Mahdi would be at the start of the next Islamic century, 1500 AH / 2076 BCE, since ahadith suggest a Mujaddid or Reformer will be sent every 100 years, and there have been assertions that the Ummah will not endure longer than 1,500 years (see here eg)
  • My guess is that we’ll have a cooling-off period in terms of Islamic apocalyptic if IS is seen to fail — but as they say, mortal mind cannot know the time of the end, and Allah knows best.

    Aymen al-Zawahiri, al-Sham and ISIS as Khawarij

    Friday, May 20th, 2016

    [ by Charles Cameron — a highest-intensity insult in the jihad among jihadists ]
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    A significant article is announced:

    Both Will McCants and Cole Bunzel have recommended this article, so you may already have seen it.

    **

    Okay, I understand that there are various viewpoints, and hence various different people will make different choices as to which is the key paragraph here. For many, it will be Zawahiri‘s focus on al-Sham.

    Indeed, Zawahiri’s new geographic focus happens to align itself with what Abu Musab al-Suri proposed in his Global Islamic Resistance Call — published, perhaps a tad presciently, more than a decade ago in 2004/5 — that (in J-P Filiu‘s phrase, Apocalypse in Islam, p. 189):

    It is self-evident to him that the “country of Sham” — Greater Syria, including Lebanon, Palestine, and Jordan — looms as the apocalyptic theater par excellence, and that al-Qaida’s strategic conception of global jihad must be reoriented to take into account this final clash.

    **

    From my own POV, as someone whose interest is in movements in religious thought, this is the key paragraph:

    Zawahri did deliver at least one message aimed at the jihadist base, affirming that the IS’s members are “Khawarij,” a historical Muslim sect of hyper-extremist deviants. Labeling the Islamic State group as such has been controversial within Salafi-jihadism — theorist Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi has resisted it — in part because it requires jihadists to act on the Prophet Muhammad’s prescription for dealing with the Khawarij: “qatl Ad,” or total extermination. Zawahri has now come down firmly on one side of this intra-jihadist debate.

    On which topic, see also my November 2015 post here on Zenpundit: Is the Islamic State Islamic? The Yes and No of the matter, and this, from JM Berger in 2014:

    Of Blood and Bride

    Tuesday, May 10th, 2016

    [ by Charles Cameron — concerning the tidal pull of two words on the emotions, in considering Hamzah bin Laden’s recent message ]
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    quote-blood-sin-and-desecration-of-the-race-are-the-original-sin hitler

    **

    In the Jewish book of Leviticus [17.11], we find:

    For the soul of the flesh is in the blood and I have assigned it for you upon the altar to provide atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that atones for the soul.

    For Christians, the early Church father Tertullian has the appropriate quotation:

    Plures efficimur quotiens metimur a vobis? semen est sanguis Christianorum.

    This translates to “We multiply whenever we are mown down by you? the blood of Christians is seed” and is often quoted in the form “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.”

    The American equivalent comes from Thomas Jefferson‘s Letter to William Stephens Smith of November 13, 1787, and is no doubt familiar to ZP readers:

    The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is it’s natural manure.

    The terrible significance of “blood” to the Nazis is illustrated by the Hitler quote at the top of this post.

    **

    In the beginnings of the jihad fought by the Al-Qaida and its secessionist successors in the Islamic State, Abdullah Azzam‘s words are foundational. In a document which has been titled Martyrs: The Building Blocks of Nations — shades of Tertullian and Jefferson — Azzam writes of both blood and ink:

    The life of the Muslim Ummah is solely dependent on the ink of its scholars and the blood of its martyrs. What is more beautiful than the writing of the Ummah’s history with both the ink of a scholar and his blood, such that the map of Islamic history becomes coloured with two lines: one of them black, and that is what the scholar wrote with the ink of his pen; and the other one red, and that is what the martyr wrote with his blood. And something more beautiful than this is when the blood is one and the pen is one, so that the hand of the scholar which expends the ink and moves the pen, is the same as the hand which expends its blood and moves the Ummah. The extent to which the number of martyred scholars increases is the extent to which nations are delivered from their slumber, rescued from their decline and awoken from their sleep.

    Again — though I cannot say for certain who gave that title to this compilation of Azzam’s words — we see the importance of blood as the prime sacrificial element on which a world is built.

    Indeed, one commonly cited hadith found in the collection of Bukhari states:

    Anyone who is wounded in the path of Allah comes on the Day of Resurrection when [his] color is the color of blood, [but] his scent is the scent of musk.

    **

    I trust I don’t have to belabor the reasons why the word “bride” — particularly in combination with the word “blood” — is also fraught with enormous archaic, archetypal pulling-power. If we are in any doubt, we should consider the ravishing bridal poetry of the Tanakh’s Song of Songs which is Solomon’s:

    Thou hast ravished my heart, my sister, my bride; Thou hast ravished my heart with one of thine eyes, With one bead of thy necklace. [Song of Solomon, 4.9]

    — not to mention the eucharistic “bridal supper of the lamb” in that most poetic, visionary, and well-nigh inscrutable book of the New Testament, the Revelation of John of Patmos:

    Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honour to him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready. And to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints. And he saith unto me, Write, Blessed are they which are called unto the marriage supper of the Lamb. And he saith unto me, These are the true sayings of God. [Revelation 19. 7-9]

    and in the fullest and final revelation of that revelatory book:

    And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea. And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away. [Revelation 21.1-4]

    **

    Bear this double call of “blood” and “bride” on the emotions in mind, utilizing whichever of the above examples strikes the deepest chord in you to confirm their trance-like appeal, as you consider this message from Bin Laden‘s son, Hamzah, issued just a day or two ago:


    Thomas Joscelyn posted a breakdown of the message content at Long Wars Journal yesterday:

  • Osama bin Laden’s son says jihad in Syria key to ‘liberate Palestine’
  • I trust this post of mine will add to our understanding of the emotional force on which Bin Laden’s son is appealing.

    Review: The Rule of the Clan

    Wednesday, April 20th, 2016

    [by Mark Safranski / “zen“]

    Rule of the Clan by Mark Weiner

    I often review good books. Sometimes I review great ones. The Rule of the Clan: What an Ancient Form of Social Organization Reveals about the Future of Individual Freedom  by Mark S. Weiner gets the highest compliment of all: it is an academic book that is clearly and engagingly written so as to be broadly useful.

    Weiner is Professor of Law and Sidney I. Reitman Scholar at Rutgers University whose research interests gravitate to societal evolution of constitutional orders and legal anthropology. Weiner has put his talents to use in examining the constitutional nature of a global phenomena that has plagued IR scholars, COIN theorists, diplomats, counterterrorism experts, unconventional warfare officers, strategists, politicians and judges. The problem they wrestle with goes by many names that capture some aspect of its nature – black globalization, failed states, rogue states, 4GW, hybrid war, non-state actors, criminal insurgency, terrorism and many other terms. What Weiner does in The Rule of the Clan is lay out a historical hypothesis of tension between the models of Societies of Contract – that is Western, liberal democratic, states based upon the rule of law – and the ancient Societies of Status based upon kinship networks from which the modern world emerged and now in places has begun to regress.

    Weiner deftly weaves the practical problems of intervention in Libya or counterterrorism against al Qaida with political philosophy, intellectual and legal history, anthropology, sociology and economics. In smooth prose, Weiner illustrates the commonalities and endurance of the values of clan and kinship network lineage systems in societies as diverse as Iceland, Saudi Arabia, Kenya, India and the Scottish highlands, even as the modern state arose around them. The problem of personal security and the dynamic of the feud/vendetta as a social regulator of conduct is examined along with the political difficulties of shifting from systems of socially sanctioned collective vengeance to individual rights based justice systems. Weiner implores liberals (broadly, Westerners) not to underestimate (and ultimately undermine) the degree of delicacy and strategic patience required for non-western states transitioning between Societies of Status to Societies of Contract. The relationship between the state and individualism is complicated because it is inherently paradoxical, argues Weiner: only a state with strong, if limited, powers creates the security and legal structure for individualism and contract to flourish free of the threat of organized private violence and the tyranny of collectivistic identities.

    Weiner’s argument is elegant, well supported and concise (258 pages inc. endnotes and index) and he bends over backwards in The Rule of the Clan to stress the universal nature of clannism in the evolution of human societies, however distant that memory may be for a Frenchman, American or Norwegian. If the mores of clan life are still very real and present for a Palestinian supporter (or enemy) of HAMAS in Gaza, they were once equally real to Saxons, Scots and Franks. This posture can also take the rough edges off the crueler aspects of, say, life for a widow and her children in a Pushtun village by glossing over the negative cultural behaviors that Westerners find antagonizing and so difficult to ignore on humanitarian grounds. This is not to argue that Weiner is wrong, I think he is largely correct, but this approach minimizes the friction involved in the domestic politics of foreign policy-making in Western societies which contain elite constituencies for the spread of liberal values by the force of arms.

    Strongest recommendation.


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