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Picking up on symmetries observed

Wednesday, August 16th, 2017

[ by Charles Cameron — after Scaramucci on symmetry ]
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It’s encouraging — heart-heartening — to see Doreen St. Félix at the New Yorker picking up on An Image of Revolutionary Fire at Charlottesville:

Two points about her commentary strike my interest. The first had to do, specifically, with symmetry, an old hobby-horse of mine as you may know:

Steve Helber shot an image of peculiar symmetry, in which a man of fortitude was bearing a different light. Two men extend weapons: one is the Confederate flag, furled, hiding its retrograde design, and the other is an aerosol can, modified to eject fire. The figures stand in a classical configuration, on the diagonal, as if a Dutch master has placed them just so.

The second made reference to theology..

The composition of this photo is fiercely theological. The black man is wielding what the black theologian James Cone, quoting the prophet Jeremiah, might call the “burning fire shut up in my bones,” what James Baldwin would have identified as “the fire next time.” (Cornel West, a student of Cone, has advanced the liberatory concept of “black prophetic fire”; West travelled to the city to march with members of Charlottesville’s faith community on Saturday.) It is a pose that upsets a desire for docility; it’s a rebuke to slogans such as “This is not us” or “Love not hate.” This graceful man has appropriated not only the flames of white-supremacist bigotry but also the debauched, rhetorical fire of Trump, who gloated, earlier this week, that he would respond to a foreign threat with “fire and fury.” The resistance has its fire, too.

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I don’t think I see that image the same way St. Félix does. She sees fire on both sides — the fires of the tiki torches in the hands of the supremacists, though they are absent from this particular pohotograph, and the fire visible in the photo, wielded by the “man of fortitude”. Using an improvised flame-thrower strikes me as, if anything, more menacing than waving a furled flag, to be honest, and even though flame-man is in the lower position, his flame makes him, in my eyes, the dominant figure in the composition — and flag-wielder, correspondingly, even though holding the higher ground, more the underdog,

While my sympathies would naturally lie with those who protest supremacism rather than those who proclaim it, this image at first saddens me with the spectacle of fire-power unilaterally vielded by the guy I’d otherwise cheer for — and it’s only when I read a little deeper —

Long said that the protest had seemed peaceful until “someone pointed a gun at my head. Then the same person pointed it at my foot and shot the ground.”)

— that I began to understand why he, rather than the supremacist, might be the one who has feeling most threatened.

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I feel ambiguous, then, about St Félix’ reading of the photo, but grateful that someone has an eye out for form, art, symmetry, in the photo-reporting of a vile, incendiary event.

AQAP, the Trolley Problem — and child mind..

Tuesday, August 15th, 2017

[ by Charles Cameron — a new terror-tactic from the terrorists ]
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We’ve dealt with the trolley problem before here on ZP, in Trolleys come to Terror and A real-life situation not unlike the trolley problem, but with the recent online oublication of AQAP’s Inspire magazine #17, the jihadists have at last made their own view on the topic known — and if the illustration, bottom panel above, is anything to go by, this time they’re in favor of saving lives, not taking them.

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Oops — when you read the whole article, you’ll see that they’re actually recommending train derailment as a tactic, in much the same way they recommended pressure-cooker bombs and “mowing truck” assaults in earlier issues.

Damn.

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And then again, ICYMI..

Never trust anyone under the age of three..

Well, it’s a DoubleQuote, and well, it’s by Julian Assange

Tuesday, August 15th, 2017

[ by Charles Cameron — & details suggest IS/AQ and the alt-right are at least somewhat comparable ]
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Jihadists and hard right, comparables?

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Arie Perliger‘s 2012 report for West Point’s Countering Terrorism Center, Challengers from the Sidelines: Understanding America’s Violent Far-Right runs a hefty 148 pages, but it opens with two epigraphs, each of which similarly compares jihad with the ambitions of far right violent extremists:

This operation took some long-term planning and, throughout the entire time, these soldiers were aware that their lives would be sacrificed for their cause. If an Aryan wants an example of ‘Victory or Valhalla’, look no further (Thomas Metzger, Leader of the White Aryan Resistance, in response to 9/11 attacks)

… We should be blowing up NYC and DC, not waiting for a bunch of camel Jockeys to do it for us (Victor Gerhard, Vanguard News Network)

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The thing is, the mode of terror in Charlottesville, ramming pedestrians with a car or truck, itself “rhymes” with all too many earlier attacks, in a series including the 2006 attempted murder by SUV at the University of North Carolina, the 2013 incident which ended with the murder of Lee Rigby in London, incidents in Dijon, Nice, Stockholm and Westminster — not to mention one incident in Tiananmen Square, and a slew of vehicular ramming attacks across the years in Jerusalem.

The second issue (2010) of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula‘s magazine Inspire recommended the tactic:

— and while the majority of incidents listed in Wikipedia’s article on the topic were perpetrated by jihadists, the tactic has also been used against Muslims — by no means necessarily jihadists or even sympathizers themselves — in the Finsbury Park Mosque attack earlier this year.

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This brings such great repute on jihadists, islamophobes, alt-right, whomever.

Mind-blowing first paragraph, academic paper

Saturday, August 5th, 2017

[ by Charles Cameron — this motive for terror in Mumbai totally blindsided me ]
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Young Ajmal Kasab, from the village of Faridkot in the Punjab, in Mumbai, now deceased

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Consider this:

Strapped to a gurney and visibly shaken by the bloodied bodies of his fellow terrorists strewn about, Mohammed Jamal Amir Kasab, aged twenty-one, begged his police interrogators to turn off their cameras. They refused, and Kasab’s recorded confession provided the world with a glimpse into the individual motivations of the young men behind the four days of attacks in Mumbai, India. Kasab explained that he “joined the militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba only for money.”1 His was not solely an individual decision, however, and the money he earned from participating in the attacks was not intended to be discretionary income. According to Kasab, his father had urged him to join so that Kasab and his siblings could afford to marry.2 Kasab recounted that his father had told him that his participation would mean that the family would no longer be poor and that they would be able to pay the costs required to finalize a marriage contract. One of the police officers, seemingly ignoring Kasab’s response, pressed, “So you came here for jihad? Is that right?” Crying, Kasab asked, “What jihad?” Lashkar-e-Taiba deposited the promised money in his father’s account after the successful attack; for his participation, Kasab was hanged in 2012 by the Indian government. Whether his siblings were subsequently able to contract marriages as a result of the funds provided by Lashkar-e-Taiba remains unknown.

The paper, by Valerie M. Hudson and Hilary Matfess, is published by MIT Press in International Security, Volume 42 Issue 1, Summer 2017, p.7-40 under the title, In Plain Sight: The Neglected Linkage between Brideprice and Violent Conflict.

How little we know, how little we suspect, how diverse the world is, how varied the motives at play, even in matters that we study and feel we’ve grasped.

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The paragraph above stands as a fitting anecdotal confirmation of Will McCants:

The disappoint stems from the desire to attribute the jihadist phenomenon to a single cause rather than to several causes that work in tandem to produce it. To my mind, the most salient are these: a religious heritage that lauds fighting abroad to establish states and to protect one’s fellow Muslims; ultraconservative religious ideas and networks exploited by militant recruiters; peer pressure (if you know someone involved, you’re more likely to get involved); fear of religious persecution; poor governance (not type of government); youth unemployment or underemployment in large cities; and civil war. All of these factors are more at play in the Arab world now than at any other time in recent memory, which is fueling a jihadist resurgence around the world.

If anyone elevates one of those factors above the others to diagnose the problem, you can be certain the resulting prescription will not work. It may even backfire, leading to more jihadist recruitment, not less.

Love and terror, a two-way street

Wednesday, May 3rd, 2017

[ by Charles Cameron — better to fall in love and out of terror ]
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One can perhaps sympathize with the bumbling jihadist Mark Taylor, lonely in Syria and in need of female companionship: no wonder he appeals on an “Islamic marriage” datng site:

I need a righteous practicing Muslim lady who wants to do Hijrah [immigrate] here inshallah

It may be, however, that he’s the one who should be making hijrah away from Syria and jihad..

I say this because Bruce Hoffman‘s Atlantic piece from 2001 shows that love can transform terrorists into a, well, less destructive member of society. When Arafat wanted to de-fang members of Black September, he invited a hundred beautiful young women to a meet-up:

here, in a sort of PLO version of a college mixer, boy met girl, boy fell in love with girl, boy would, it was hoped, marry girl. There was an additional incentive, designed to facilitate not just amorous connections but long-lasting relationships. The hundred or so Black Septemberists were told that if they married these women, they would be paid $3,000; given an apartment in Beirut with a gas stove, a refrigerator, and a television; and employed by the PLO in some nonviolent capacity. Any of these couples that had a baby within a year would be rewarded with an additional $5,000.

I imagine Mark Taylor would face serious prison time if he did indeed return — a far cry from $3,000 and an apartment with gas stove, refrigerator, and television — but hey, conjugal visits? I dunno.

Love may lure some unfortunate women into terrorism — but it can also draw dedicated fighters out of it. It’s a mighty forceful force, is all I’m saying.

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Sources:

  • NZ Herald, Bumbling Kiwi jihadist Mark Taylor who is fighting for Islamic State in Syria
  • The Atlantic, All You Need Is Love

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