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Grand Theft Caliphate / Daesh

Friday, October 24th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- an oriental carpet video game, would you believe it? -- and one from IS ]
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GTA Daesh headlights

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The intersection of war and games is a fascinating one. You may recall the Stone Throwers game, built at the start of the Al-Aqsa Intifada, and set against the backgrop of the al-Aqsa mosque:

The Stone Throwers Game 2000

It’s a pretty primitive pro-Palestinian game built by a sympathetic Syrian, and you can still play it here.

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Far more sophisticated — and utterly unrelated to propaganda, unless and until malicious UFOs attack us in droves — is the 2002 Carpet Invaders game devised by artist Janek Simon:

janek simon carpet invaders game

An Eastern prayer rug ‘lies on the floor’. As opposed to real prayer rugs, its design is not fixed. Using a gamepad, the beholder can fight against the rug by attacking parts of its design. Those who manage to destroy them all go on to a higher level. Playing this game could prompt reflection; this is, after all, a new battle against a rug whose design was once full of significances that have, in the meantime, been suppressed and degraded to the role of decoration. In a perverse way, the game restores life to this ornamentation by turning it into a hostile being that must be destroyed in combat.

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Then there’s Hezbollah‘s game, Special Force, from 2003. Shown here is a screen shot from Special Force 2, 2007:

specoial Force 2 Hezbollah Game

There’s an interesting article about this game by a video game designer with a degreee in Arabic studies, and you can play the various parts of his explanatory walkthrough here.

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Countering it, there’s Amir Lotan‘s far simpler game Nasralla, which uses a Google Earth map of Southern Lebanon as the backdrop for a whack-a-mole game in which the player takes out the head of the head of Hezbollah:

Amir Lotan's game Nasralla

You can play it here.

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  • Craig Detweiler‘s book, Halos and Avatars, has a chapter on Islamogaming.
  • The Israeli Center for Digital Art has collated a fine set of introductions to “Forbidden Games” with Middle Eastern implications.
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    Ah, but past is prologue, as the spear-shaker noted. Here’s about the Caliphate game as promised in the title. The story seems to have broken about a month ago…

    GTA Daesh

    It is not clear to me yet whether the YouTube video of Grand Theft Auto: Salil al-Sawarem which is going the rounds is simply a machinima made from a game of GTA, or video of an actual IS / Daesh game —

    Here’s Fiona Keating in IB Times:

    The Isis video is entitled “Grand Theft Auto: Salil al-Sawarem”, which roughly translates in Arabic as “the sound of swords coming together”.

    According to Arabic journalists, Isis’s media wing stated that the game aims to “raise the morale of the mujahedin and to train children and youth how to battle the West and to strike terror into the hearts of those who oppose the Islamic State.”

    “It’s ironic that they are using Western games to demonstrate their wrongly guided hatred towards them,” said Mufaddal Fakhruddin, an editor at the Middle Eastern branch of video games and entertainment site IGN.

    Ironic? Not unless flying western jetliners into western skyscrapers is ironic — or capturing weapons we’ve supplied to their “moderate” opponents, and using them against us.

    GTA Daesh 1

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    Source:

  • Al-MonitorThe Islamic State’s media warfare:
  • IS even produced a game that resembles all aspects of its war against its enemies featuring similar terrain to areas the group is fighting in and audio that reflects its ideology. The game that Al-Monitor inspected is a modification of “Grand Theft Auto” and still has the original logo on it.

    “These materials are essential for IS’ recruitment campaigns,” Kayed said. “It’s the best propaganda for their ideas.”

    Mentions:

  • Al Arabiya, Grand Theft Auto: ISIS? Militants reveal video game
  • News.com.au, Islamic State adapt Grand Theft Auto game into ‘virtual jihad’ recruitment drive for kids
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    The new AQ magazine: miracles from Khorasan

    Monday, October 20th, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron -- there's a similar report from Oliver Cromwell's New Model Army, fwiw ]
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    I have commented before on the use of miracle stories by Abdullah Azzam as quoted in Inspire magazine, and an African equivalent found in Gaidi Mtaani, the Shabaab magazine, to engage the devotion and loyalty of pious troops: Resurgence magazine continues the tradition.

    Hasan Gul

    Here for your edification from the new AQIS magazine Resurgence, are two examples, drawn from the life and martyrdom of Hasan Gul, known to the Washington Post, and likely many ZP readers, as Hassan Ghul.

    The first as to do with the miraculous preservation of his life:

    When Shaykh Khalid Habib, the military head of Al Qaida in Khurasan, was martyred, brother Hasan Gul was with him. The Shaykh (may Allah have mercy on him) was inside the car, while he was standing outside. He had just extended his hand to open the door of the car when a missile fired from a drone hit the car. Allah (swt) miraculously saved his life. He was thrown several feet away by the explosion. His shin bone was fractured as a result. Several days later, when I met him he showed me a coin that had been in the upper pocket of his shirt, just above his heart at the time of the drone attack. A small shrapnel of the missile had hit the coin, because of which the coin had been bent inwards. Allah (swt) prevented the shrapnel from piercing his heart with this small coin. Verily, when Allah (swt) decrees life for His slave, no one can give him death!

    It seems plausible that the same mercy was extended to one of Cromwell‘s soldiers in the English Civil War, if one may trust James Waylen’s 1880 The House of Cromwell and the Story of Dunkirk:

    An account of the pocket-Bible printed by Cromwell’s order for distribution among his men was some time back published by Mr. George Livermore of Cambridge, Massachusets, who possesses one of the only two copies known to exist, the other being in the Brit. Mus. Library. .. That such a book was really in use, we learn from Richard Baxter who relates the story of a soldier receiving a shot near the heart, the fatal force of the bullet being arrested by its lodging in the Bible which he carried in his breast. And a very thin Bible it was too, being comprised in a sheet folded in 16mo. An entire Bible, even in the most compact form then known, would have been far too bulky and far too expensive.

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    The second deals with the pleasant scent that Azzam had previously noted was a mark of the martyr — here’s the same motif as applied to Hasan Gul:

    Last year in October, when he left his house on a motor bike, American drones assassinated him. His body was shredded to bits by a direct missile hit and his remains were scattered over a large area. When some Mujahid brothers reached the site of the attack, they faced the problem of searching for and gathering the bits and pieces of his body. However, Allah (swt) made this task easy for them. A large part of his body was easily found. An ethereal fragrance that was simply not of this world was coming from this dismembered part of his body. This extremely beautiful fragrance was smelt by all the brothers present at the scene. The brothers then decided to locate his body parts with the help of this scent. All the brothers had to do was to follow this fragrance to find a part of his body. All the parts of his body exuded this fragrance without any exception. Thus the fragrance of Hasan Gul’s blood led to the remains of his body. May Allah be pleased with him and grant him the company of the Prophets and the righteous. Ameen!

    Again, I refer you to my post Of war and miracle: the poetics, spirituality and narratives of jihad for comments on similar reports in Catholic and Arthurian literatures.

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    But let’s return briely to that Bible story — there’s really quite an extended history of these reports.

    Consider the American Civil War veteran of the Fourth Iowa Cavalry Division, whose daughter wrote:

    At another time a bullet hit the New Testament he was carrying in his shirt pocket and glanced off. This sweetheart, who later became his wife, had given him the New Testament when he entered the service.

    Or the Army Cyclist Corps despatch rider whose life was saved by a still-extant “combined Bible, prayer book and hymnal” near Arras, France, in 1915:

    bible-saved life

    Or Pfc. Brendon Schweigart, who claims only that when a sniper’s bullet found the Bible in his shirt pocket in Iraq, it:

    definitely prevented more serious injury, because if it wouldn’t have been there, it would have ricocheted off my bullet-proof plate and more than likely would have gone back into my chest, causing more damage.

    Indeed, the “Bible stopped the bullet” tale has enough variants that Mythbusters once tested it with a 400-page Bible, albeit not one with a metal cover…

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    Because, yes, metal-covered Bibles were given to GIs in World War II with the cover inscribed “May this keep you safe from harm” — no doubt with the hope and prayer that if need be, the metal covering would indeed prove a protective “breastplate of righteousness”:

    Heart shield bible

    In fact, the 1943 “Heart Shield Bible” depicted is on sale now on eBay, at a current asking price of $21.49.

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    It’s no dcoubt a bit of a stretch, but I believe that when you “encourage” miracles by providing metallic holy pocket-books for protective use on the battleield, it’s an example of what Max Weber famously called the “routinization of charisma”.

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    Language as tripwire: the Khorasan Group and the active and passive voices

    Thursday, October 9th, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron -- first in a series in which the language makes a difference ]
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    There is this business of the so-called “Khorasan Group”.

    Two paragraphs of CENTCOM’s news release, Sept. 23: U.S. Military, Partner Nations Conduct Airstrikes Against ISIL in Syria, mention the phrase “Khorasan group”. The first of these reads:

    Separately, the United States has also taken action to disrupt the imminent attack plotting against the United States and Western interests conducted by a network of seasoned al-Qa’ida veterans – sometimes referred to as the Khorasan Group – who have established a safe haven in Syria to develop external attacks, construct and test improvised explosive devices and recruit Westerners to conduct operations. These strikes were undertaken only by U.S. assets.

    Notice the use of the passive voice: the group is “sometimes referred to as” the Khorasan Group. This is either skillful linguistic obfuscation or bureaucratic linguistic ineptitude, and I tend to vote for the latter, because so few people know how to write decent Ebglish any more, while those that do can easily be paid to forget.

    The passive voice doesn’t tell us who does the referring — who refers to the group as the Khorasan Group. It might be Americans in intelligence circles, in the Department, in the media — it might be other Syrians, intercepts from Jabhat Nusra communications or AQC — or the “group” themselves.

    As recipients of the CENTCOM news release, however, and by means of that passive voice construction, we just don’t know.

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    And perhaps it matters.

    Perhaps it matters because the place named “Khorasan” has a distinctive meaning in Islamic eschatology. It is the place of origin of the army with black banners that will sweep victoriously down to Jerusalem, either led by the Mahdi or coming to his aid. While there is a province in Iran still called Khorasan, a far greater area including parts of Iran (Masshad, eg), Afghanistan (Herat, Balkh), Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan was designated Khorasan in earlier times, and both AQ and Iran have used the hadith about the army from Khorasan in support of their own activities.

    Plenty of water has passed under the bridge since that CENTCOM press release two weeks ago, and I’m not going to link to all the wise and foolish articles that have explored the nature of the group — but journalist Jenan Moussa has seen internal memos of the group that was attacked under the name “Khorasan Group”, and the name is not one they have viven themselves:

    So why is the Administration using a loaded apocalyptic term to describe what seems in effect to be a group of AQC fighters sent to fight under the aegis of Jabhat al-Nusra?

    Language matters, place-names matter, and the use of the passive voice only confuses what should be clearly understood.

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    Comparisons: ISIS and WBC, KKK

    Tuesday, September 23rd, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron -- humor, comparison, elucidation, analytic necessity, apocalyptic, and the matter of the Mardin fatwa ]
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    SPEC ISIS WBC KKK

    For many Muslims, these two comparisons explain simply and effectively just how divergent from their understanding of Islam the jihadists are.

    This in no way takes away from the idea that if we are to understand IS and AQ, we need to consider their nature as specifically “end times” driven religious movements.

    For the point of divergence, I recommend Sh. Hamza Yusuf‘s comments on the “Mardin Fatwa” of Ibn Taymiyya, in this clip from his address in Oxford’s Sheldonian:

    I’d be interested in further details / discussion on the Mardin fatwa topic.

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    Sources:

  • Yasira Jaan, tweet
  • Clay Jones, Claytoon
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    Some very welcome news: JM Berger & Jessica Stern

    Wednesday, September 17th, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron -- forthcoming book announced ]
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    JM Berger at Intelwire frames it like this:

    ISIS: THE STATE OF TERROR

    Jessica Stern and J.M. Berger co-author the forthcoming book, “ISIS: The State of Terror,” from Ecco, an imprint of HarperCollins. The book, which will debut in early 2015, will examine the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, how it is transforming the nature of extremist movements, and how we should evaluate the threat it presents.

    Jessica Stern is a Harvard lecturer on terrorism and the author of the seminal text Terror in the Name of God: Why Religious Militants Kill. J.M. Berger is author of the definitive book on American jihadists, Jihad Joe: Americans Who Go to War in the Name of Islam, a frequent contributor to Foreign Policy, and editor of Intelwire.com.

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    JM also tweeted:

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    For another angle on Berger & Stern’s thinking, see their recent joint contribution to a round table at Politico:

    A counterterrorism mission—and then some.
    By J.M. Berger and Jessica Stern

    When the Obama administration sends mixed messages about whether its campaign against the Islamic State insurgent group is war or counterterrorism, there is a reason, if not a good one. As explained by President Obama last week, the United States plans to employ counterterrorism tactics against a standing army currently preoccupied with waging war.

    In many ways, our confrontation with the Islamic State is the culmination of 13 years of degraded definitions. Our enemies have evolved considerably since Sept. 11, 2001, and none more than ISIL, which has shed both the name and the sympathies of al Qaeda. The Islamic State excels at communication, and it has succeeded in establishing itself as a uniquely visible avatar of evil that demands a response. But on 9/11, we began a “war on terrorism” that has proven every bit as expansive and ambiguous as the phrase itself implies. It is a symptom of our broken political system that we require the frame of terrorism and the tone of apocalyptic crisis to take even limited action as a government.

    Ultimately, it’s hard to escape the feeling that our policies still come from the gut, rather than the head. And ISIL knows exactly how to deliver a punch to the gut, as evidenced by its gruesome hostage beheadings and countless other atrocities. Its brutality and open taunts represent an invitation to war, and many sober strategists now speak of “destroying” the organization.

    Bin Laden once said, “All that we have to do is to send two mujahideen to the furthest point east to raise a piece of cloth on which is written al Qaeda, in order to make the generals race there.” Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the emir of ISIL, may be counting on just that response, and for the same reason—to draw the United States into a war of supreme costs, political, economic and human.

    A limited counterterrorism campaign may insulate us from those costs, but it is not likely to be sufficient to accomplish the goals laid out by the president. ISIL is a different enemy from al Qaeda. It has not earned statehood, but it is an army and a culture, and more than a traditional terrorist organization. Limited measures are unlikely to destroy it and might not be enough to end its genocidal ambitions. Our stated goals do not match our intended methods. Something has to give — and it’s probably the goals.

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    I reviewed JM’s previous book for Zenpundit, and mentioned Jessica Stern‘s work, which I greatly admire, in my post here, Book Review: JM Berger’s Jihad Joe. Their upcoming collaboration promises us an insightful, foundational, and must-readable analysis — richly nuanced, clearly presented, and avoiding the pitfalls of panicky sensationalism to which so much current reportage is prone.

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