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Jottings 12: KSM’s “non-violence” refers to preaching, not fighting

Tuesday, February 18th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- not an aha! but a d'oh! moment ]
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This, from the Huffington Post last month:

The mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks now says that the use of violence to spread Islam is forbidden by the Quran, a major shift away from the more militaristic view he had put forward previously.

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s thinking is detailed in a first-of-its-kind 36-page manifesto obtained by The Huffington Post. In a departure from his previous stance, which led the Guantanamo Bay prisoner to tell a military commission, “it would have been the greatest religious duty to fight you over your infidelity,” KSM, as he’s known in intelligence circles, instead seeks to convert the court to Islam through persuasion and theological reflection, going so far as to argue that “The Holy Quran forbids us to use force as a means ofconverting” and that reaching “truth and reality never comes by muscles and force but by using the mind and wisdom.”

I saw various versions of this tale — from the LA TimesKhalid Shaikh Mohammed issues ‘nonviolence’ manifesto:

The Koran, Mohammed wrote, “forbids us to use force as a means of converting” others, and “truth and reality never comes by muscles and force but by using the mind and wisdom.” Those statements clash with his earlier braggadocio in saying he plotted the Sept. 11 attacks and personally beheaded Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, and in calling for young Muslims around the world to embrace violence.

— and from Andrew Cohen, explaining in The Atlantic why the manifesto may have been made available in the first place:

Perhaps the feds welcome Mohammed’s shifting interpretation of the Quran, which he now says prohibits violence as a means of spreading Islam.

However, I very much doubt that’s what’s going on.

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The true meaning of KSM’s writing may be a little different from the reading given to it by the press. Here’s an actual quotation from the manifesto:

It is my religious duty in dealing with any non-Muslims to invite them to embrace Islam.

The Counter Jihad gets this bit right, I think, in a post titled KSM’s Prison Communiqués Part II: Wartime Religion of Peace Propaganda:

In point of fact, Islamic law teaches that, before waging offensive jihad, Muslims must first invite nonbelievers to accept the truth of Islam. Doctrinally, this summons to Islam is a necessary precondition to waging violent jihad. There are numerous examples of bin Laden and Zawahiri (bin Laden’s deputy and now the leader of al Qaeda) issuing public statements calling on infidels to accept Islam.

It’s a one-two sequence. Before engaging in acts of war, the jihadist must first make a peaceful and indeed graciously phrased invitation to convert to Islam… in the words of the Qur’an, 16.125:

Invite (all) to the Way of thy Lord with wisdom and beautiful preaching; and argue with them in ways that are best and most gracious: for thy Lord knoweth best, who have strayed from His Path, and who receive guidance. Q 16.125

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The result, in the case of KSM’s manifesto, is an appeal that blends Murray Gell-Mann‘s quarks…

Everything that turns in the universe, from the smallest quarks to the largest supernovas are worshipping God, just as Muslims in Mecca circulate around the Kaba, counterclockwise. If you have Mecca TV channel just look for one hour how people from all around the world travel in circles like any electron or moon or earth or sun or any star or galaxy does. Try to record the picture for 15 minutes and then fast forward the picture then repeat it again, then ask yourself who told Abraham (PBUH) and these people a thousand years ago to imitate the laws of the Universe and nature. The answer will be He Who created these trillions of galaxies and human beings and made ?xed laws for all, but granted humans free will in order to test them.

— with the fifth century AD Neoplatonism of Proclus Lycaeus:

Just as in the dialectic of love we start from sensuous beauties to rise until we encounter the unique principle of all beauty and all ideas, so the adepts of hieratic science take as their starting point the things of appearance and the sympathies they manifest among themselves and with the invisible powers. Observing that all things form a whole, they laid the foundations of hieratic science, wondering at the first realities and admiring in them the latest comers as well as the very first among beings; in heaven, terrestrial things according both to a causal and to a celestial mode and on earth heavenly things in a terrestrial state….

What other reason can we give for the fact that the heliotrope follows in its movement the movement of the sun and the selenotrope the movement of the moon, forming a procession within the limits of their power, behind the torches of the universe? For, in truth, each thing prays according to the rank it occupies in nature, and sings the praises of the leader of the divine series to which it belongs, a spiritual or rational or physical or sensuous praise; for the heliotrope moves to the extent that it is free to move, and in its rotation, if we could hear the sound of the air buffeted by its movement, we should be aware that it is a hymn to its king, such as it is within the power of a plant to sing…

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Interestingly enough, KSM also quotes Matthew 5.44-45a:

But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven…

— and in a letter to Rory Green, a British Christian who had written inviting him to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ, he responds:

I appreciate your deep concern regarding my worldly and hereafter life … You asked me to repent from my sins. For your own information, I never stop.

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Let’s just say, it pays to peer beneath the surface.

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War in miniature?

Friday, August 23rd, 2013

[ by Charles Cameron -- as the Washington Post points out, this has indeed been a busy week for military justice ]
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To take just two examples:

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I have pulled these two news-tweets from the BBC out and juxtaposed them, because the charges in both cases had to do with murder, although Hasan was also found guilty of multiple additional attempted murders — but we should not forget the just-concluded trial of Bradley / Chelsey Manning, nor the pretrial hearings now under way for Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and his alleged 9/11 co-conspirators — nor for that matter the USS Cole case, which has just while I was writing this post been postponed till October.

Workplace violence? Treason? Torture? Dishonor? Death Sentence? Jihad? Martyrdom?

Comparing and contrasting these different yet related situations, we have before us what seems to me to be a war in microcosm…

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Book Review: The Hunt for KSM

Monday, May 14th, 2012

The Hunt for KSM: Inside the Pursuit and Takedown of the Real 9/11 Mastermind by Terry McDermott and Josh Meyer 

I received a review copy of The Hunt for KSM from  Hachette Book Group and was pleased to see that the authors, Terry McDermott and Josh Meyer, are investigative journalists, one of whom, Meyer, has extensive experience reporting on terrorism, while McDermott is also the author of the 9-11 highjackers book, Perfect Soldiers. So, I was looking forward to reading this book. My observations:

  • In the matter of style, McDermott and Meyer have opted to craft a novel-like narrative of their research, which makes The Hunt for KSM a genuine page-turner. While counterterrorism wonks used to a steady diet of white papers may become impatient with the format, they already know a great deal about operational methods of Islamist terror groups and the general public, who are apt to be engaged by the story, do not. While enjoying the yarn about Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the villain behind 9-11 and his downfall, the general reader picks up a great deal of important information.
  • McDermott and Meyer deserve kudos for their fair and balanced handling of Pakistan – and I say this as a severe critic of the Pakistanis. While pulling no punches about the perfidy of Pakistan’s elite, the ties of the ISI and their religious extremist parties to terrorist groups including al Qaida, they give credit where credit is due to Pakistanis who made the difference in assisting the United States and it’s investigators in tracking down KSM and his AQ associates . “Colonel Tariq” of the ISI, in particular stands out as a courageous and sympathetic figure.
  • Khalid Sheikh Mohammed emerges in the story as a master adversary, part Bond villain, part sinister clown, who confounded the efforts of the FBI and the CIA for years with his prodigious ability to organize and orchestrate geographically diverse terrorist networks, fundraising, logistical support, bombings and murder like a one-man KGB while remaining as elusive as a ghost. His abilities, daring, good fortune and defiant resilience in captivity are impressive enough in McDermott and Meyer’s telling that they unfortunately tend to overshadow the fact that KSM is an enthusiastic mass-murderer. A facet that comes out to it’s true ghastly extent only in their description of KSM personally beheading kidnapped reporter Daniel Pearl.
  • The bureaucratic bungling and stubborn infighting of the FBI and CIA, with assistance from the DoD and Bush administration on particularly stupid decisions related to the interrogation and reliance upon torture while excluding AQ experts and experienced KSM case investigators from talking to KSM, makes for a profoundly depressing read. It contrasts poorly with the dedication and sacrifice demonstrated by law enforcement agents Frank Pellegrino, Matt Besheer, Jennifer Keenan and those who aided them.

The Hunt for KSM closes with Khalid Sheikh Mohammed as he is at the present time, on trial at Guantanamo Bay, a story with a climax but not yet an epilogue.

Well written, concise yet dramatic, The Hunt for KSM is warmly recommended.

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Of Quantity and Quality II: Holocaust, torture and sacrament

Thursday, April 19th, 2012

[ by Charles Cameron -- Yom HaShoah, quality vs quantity, sacramental value of life, continuing from Q&Q I, long, intense ]
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Today is Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day.


photo credit: Joni B Hannigan

The mind is struck dumb.

Six million individuals is too vast a gathering to contemplate. Even to think of ten people we know well if they are in the room with us requires us to move from face to face, person to person, picking up where we left off with each one, perhaps with this couple or these four colleagues from a remembered journey or project.

Six million.

Six million people is more than a crowd, it’s a blur — it is, approximately, the entire population of Arizona, of Rio or Lahore, of entire nations, El Salvador, Libya or Sierra Leone.

Today we remember those who died in the Shoah, as individuals and together.

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I believe the Shoah to be one of those topics where we humans need to use the cognitive equivalent of a zoom lens – the capacity to hold magnitude in mind while exploring at the level of the individual, and to feel for the individual while not losing sight of the magnitude of the larger picture.

Consider the rabbinic opinion given in the Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 37a:

For this reason was man created alone, to teach thee that whosoever destroys a single soul of Israel, scripture imputes [guilt] to him as though he had destroyed a complete world; and whosoever preserves a single soul of Israel, scripture ascribes [merit] to him as though he had preserved a complete world.

How do you magnify that “complete world” by six million?

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Another such topic involving the individual and the group is torture.

Here the issue is, at best, not one of innate cruelty or hatred or disregard for values, but a considered weighing of alternatives — the brutal interrogation of a Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, say, against the chance to avoid a second 9/11. Torture, too, is a matter of the relationship of the many to the one, and I suspect people’s opinion of torture pretty much rests on each person’s understanding of when and indeed whether the need of the group ever trumps that of the individual.

Again, I think we need a cognitive zoom capability, if we are to begin to grasp the subtlety of the issue — and to be able to countenance those who see it differently from ourselves.

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I suggest that the core question is that of the relationship of quality to quantity — which I have argued before, is essentially the same as the deep question in consciousness, that of the relationship between (subjective) mind and (objective) brain.

Can a sheer quantity of people saved from some hateful end ever really compare to the quality — radiant suchness of the Tathagata (Diamond Sutra), image and likeness of God (Genesis) — of a single willfully tortured human?

For some people this is a no-brainer. Of course: you weigh the likely impacts, and on occasions when torturing one is liable to reveal information that saves thousands of others, do it. Reuel Marc Gerecht, lately of the CIA, posed the issue this way:

… if you had been confronted on 7 September 2001 with a captured Khalid Shaykh Muhammad or Abu Zubaydah and you knew that a major, mass-casualty terrorist strike was about to go down in the United States, and you had plenipotentiary authority for the nation’s security …

For some, it is a no-brainer. Of course not: if you treat others that way, even in the heat of battle, you’ve lost already — you’ve become what you hate. John Kiriakou, lately of the CIA, wrote:

even if torture works, it cannot be tolerated – not in one case or a thousand or a million. If their efficacy becomes the measure of abhorrent acts, all sorts of unspeakable crimes somehow become acceptable. … There are things we should not do, even in the name of national security.

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In the Egyptian scene above — taken from the Papyrus of Ani in the British Museum — judgment is rendered on a single human soul when it is weighed against the feather of Maat:

The goddess Maat, shown as a feather in the scale pan, is the deification of the concept of maat: truth, justice and cosmic order.

Is the heart light enough to balance justice herself?

The jackal-headed Anubis is weighing the heart of the supplicant as the ugly beast Ammit, known as “The Devourer,” “Bringer of the Second Death” — a hybrid monster, part lion, part hippopotamus, part crocodile — crouches by the scales drooling, waiting to gulp down the failed soul. The ibis-headed Thoth is poised to record the verdict on his slate. Various deities are ranged around the scene, serving as Judges or in other roles important to the ritual or the ideology that had developed over the span of many centuries. Overlooking this scene is the Ba — the winged representation of the personality of the deceased — perched and ready but not yet able to take flight as a risen being.

Even though Osiris is pictured at the far end of the Judgment scene, indicating the conclusion of the proceedings, his presence nonetheless dominates the scene, as a confirmation of the ultimate purpose of all this.

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Mary Qualit and Martha Quant…

A number of significant thinkers have weighed in on the scales which measure human lives… basically asking if a quality can be quantified, added, multiplied.

The philosopher Wittgenstein, in a selection of his posthumous writings, says:

The whole earth cannot be in greater distress than one soul.

The writer CS Lewis concurs:

We must never make the problem of pain worse than it is by vague talk about the “unimaginable sum of human misery.” … There is no such thing as a sum of suffering, for no one suffers it. When we have reached the maximum that a single person can suffer, we have, no doubt, reached something very horrible, but we have reached all the suffering there ever can be in the universe. The addition of a million fellow-sufferers adds no more pain.

And Arne Naess, the “father” of Deep Ecology, in his Philosophy of Wolf Policies says:

We should be careful when talking about greater suffering. Referring to a consciously experienced suffering, including simple pain, we have to do with a quality admitting degrees of intensity, but in an important sense unquantifiable and nonadditive.

Strictly speaking, experienced suffering is not additive.

In my view — or perhaps I should say, with my mind — it is hard even to fully grasp what these three distinguished and diverse folk are saying. And yet I feel as if they are bringing me a truth, bringing it right to the edge of my awareness.

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Tarek Mehanna wrote in his sentencing statement, given in court last week:

I learned about the American-led sanctions that prevented food, medicine, and medical equipment from entering Iraq, and how – according to the United Nations – over half a million children perished as a result. I remember a clip from a ’60 Minutes’ interview of Madeline Albright where she expressed her view that these dead children were “worth it.”

I can understand that, the reluctance to accept that particular policies are “worth” the loss of children. Where is Maat, to weigh such matters for us?

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Here are four quotations having to do with the value of sparrows, one way or another:

Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear ye not therefore, ye are of more value than many sparrows. — Matthew 10.29-31.

Whoever uselessly kills a sparrow, on the Day of Judgment, it will come and shout in front of the throne and say, “Oh my Lord, ask this person why he uselessly killed me.” — Hadith of the Prophet, quoted in Kazemi, Environmental Rights and the Teachings of Mahdism

There is a special providence in the fall of a sparrow. — Shakespeare, Hamlet, V.2

If a sparrow dies in Central Park, I feel responsible. – Mayor Fiorello La Guardia

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There’s a streak of paradox running through the heart of Christianity, in which two values are simultaneously present: one temporal and moral, the other atemporal / eternal and transcendent. Thus Christ can say “Before Abraham was, I am” — situating himself in both eternal and temporal realms simultaneously. Thus also, he can say of himself and his betrayal by Judas, “The Son of man goeth as it is written of him: but woe unto that man by whom the Son of man is betrayed! it had been good for that man if he had not been born.”

And thus also, in a masterful paradox, St John’s Gospel recounts how the High Priest Caiaphas argued for the death of Christ:

Then gathered the chief priests and the Pharisees a council, and said, What do we? for this man doeth many miracles. If we let him thus alone, all men will believe on him: and the Romans shall come and take away both our place and nation. And one of them, named Caiaphas, being the high priest that same year, said unto them, Ye know nothing at all, Nor consider that it is expedient for us, that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not. And this spake he not of himself: but being high priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus should die for that nation; And not for that nation only, but that also he should gather together in one the children of God that were scattered abroad. Then from that day forth they took counsel together for to put him to death.

On the one hand, Caiaphas is arguing that one troublesome young rabbi’s life is expendable if it will avoid a Roman crackdown not unlike the one that did in fact occur some forty years later, with the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE. This is, in Christian terms, a vile argument, and one respondible for the death by execution of the Christ.

On the other, though — and the brilliance of the paradox lies in the way that John weaves the two perspectives together — God thinks it preferable that he himself, incarnate, should die as a once-for-all sacrifice to save his many creatures who — and here I can’t help but hear the strains of Handel’s Messiah — like sheep have gone astray…

Putting it mildly.

So, whether you’re Christian or not — and I wouldn’t claim to be, though I’m clearly influenced — the notions of sacrifice and self-sacrifice belong in here somehow.

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I quoted the Talmudic Tractate Sanhedrin at the top of this post. The Qur’an recalls this passage in Sura 5.32:

Therefore We prescribed for the Children of Israel that whoso slays a soul not to retaliate for a soul slain, nor for corruption done in the land, shall be as if he had slain mankind altogether; and whoso gives life to a soul, shall be as if he had given life to mankind altogether.

It is my suggestion that the difference between Quantity and Quality is as profound (in Bateson’s terms, makes as great a difference as) as the difference between mind and brain, subjective and objective or inner and outer worlds — which itself revovles around the “deep problem” in consciousness.

If I’m right about this — and “right” may not be the best term in any case — then the quality / quantity issue is one facet of the great mystery at the heart of things that religion approaches and derives from, but can never fully define or express.

Morality is our attempt to work in the world with some of the insight gleaned from that mystery, and it may well be that dualistic, propositional thinking is inherently unsuited to the task.

I’d like to return at this point to a quote I’ve used here before, and find very insightful. It’s from Lin Jensen, An Ear to the Ground: Uncovering the living source of Zen ethics, and it tells us:

Judgments on right and wrong are a nearly irresistible enticement to pick sides. And that’s exactly why the old Zen masters warned against becoming a person of right and wrong. It isn’t that the masters were indifferent to questions of ethics, but for them ethical conduct went beyond simply taking the prescribed right side. For these masters, the source of ethical conduct is found in the way things are, circumstance itself: unfiltered immediate reality reveals what is needed.

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In closing, I would like to return to the issue of torture, and to offer you another quote, this one from one of the most powerful works of theology known to me, William T Cavanaugh‘s Torture and Eucharist: Theology, Politics and the Body of Christ:

by making the seeking of important answers seem like the motive for the torture, the torturer seems able to justify his brutality. No one would think of defending the sheer physical act of torture, the merciless inflicting of pain on a helpless victim. However, once we consider the verbal aspect, the question and answer which seem of such great urgency, the moral contours of torture seem less clear, and utilitarian justifications of torture become thinkable, provided the motive for the questions is of sufficient importance.

Cavanaugh is writing about those who were “disappeared” in Pinochet‘s Chile, and his broader argument is that torture is the antithesis of the sacramental nature of human identity — and here we return full circle to the “image and likeness” of the divine in the mortal, the human.

The deeper we can penetrate into the central mystery, it seems to me, the better we will be enabled to love, to understand, and to forgive.

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The Hunt for KSM

Thursday, March 15th, 2012

The Hunt for KSM: Inside the Pursuit and Takedown of the Real 9/11 Mastermind by Terry McDermott and Josh Meyer

This courtesy review copy just arrived from Machette Book Group. The authors are investigative journalists, one of whom, Meyer, has extensive experience reporting on terrorism, while McDermott is also the author of the 9-11 highjackers book, Perfect Soldiers. Thumbing through the pages, I note the authors have little time and much contempt for the cherished DoD-State canard that the Pakistani government and the ISI are an ally of the United States, which has already given me a warm feeling.

The review copy index pages are blank, something I usually see only before a book has been finalized for mass printing. Odd.

I will be reading and reviewing this soon – Shlok advises that “it reads like a novel”

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