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Love and terror, a two-way street

Wednesday, May 3rd, 2017

[ by Charles Cameron — better to fall in love and out of terror ]
. .

**

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.

**

Sources:

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

    Tuesday, May 2nd, 2017

    [ by Charles Cameron — the poor FBI gets tangled, as does President Trump with his drug of choice ]
    .

    **

    As if in answer to the question “Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?” — itself a succinct ouroboros:

    The FBI closely monitors online communities that discuss ISIS, at times running so many undercover accounts that agents end up investigating one another: An FBI policy guide, obtained and published by The Intercept, notes that online investigations have “previously resulted in resources being wasted by investigating or collecting on FBI online identities,” or employees working undercover.

    That’s from a fascinating long read in The Atlantic: How Two Mississippi College Students Fell in Love and Decided to Join a Terrorist Group. There’s a soo a quote in there, not terribly striking or controversial on its own, but useful to me as an indicator of one general context in which the Talmudic saying used to justify preemptivew strikes can be sued — a saying I’ll be exploring in a future LapidoMedia post — Get up early to kill him first (Ha-Ba le-Horgekha Hashkem le-Horgo, Sanhedrin 72.):

    American1s expect their government to prevent violence before it happens: Their shared national nightmare is the plot that goes undiscovered before an attack or the known sympathizer who gets away. Faced with such high stakes and uncertainty, the FBI is left to teeter between catching people before they act and walking along with them until they violate the law.

    Of minor note also, here’s FBI Director Comey echoing Martin Dempsey on the apocalyptuc nature of ISIS:

    ISIS, said Comey, is “putting out a siren song through their slick propaganda, through social media, that goes like this: ‘Troubled soul, come to the caliphate. You will live a life of glory; these are the apocalyptic end times. You will find a life of meaning here, fighting for our so-called caliphate. And if you can’t come, kill somebody where you are.’”

    Again, nothing particularly new, let alone actionable, here — just another possible footnote for some future writing that I wanted to capture in passing.

    **

    The FBI’s version of a-Ba le-Horgekha: Rise up early to arrest him first — indeed, there’s an eerie echo of “rise up early” in the Atlantic report’s “but the FBI arrested the pair at the airport early in the morning.”

    This is preeemptive arrest rather than preemptive killing — and again, the concept itself deserves scruitiny: how often does this preemptive approach involve entrapment, with Federal agents leading potential recruits farther down the path of radicalization than they would have traveled without Federal support ad encouragement? A fairly random sample:

    What happened next in Booker’s case illustrates what many experts say is a major shortcoming in how the US government is responding to the threat of Islamic extremism.

    Rather than viewing Booker’s alarming statements as a cry for help from a young man with recognized mental health issues, federal agents sought to build a criminal case against him.

    They introduced an undercover operative who told Booker he’d help him join the Islamic State group, but that Booker would first have to prove his devotion to the cause, according to federal documents.

    A second undercover operative was introduced, this one posing as a religious leader seeking to conduct terror attacks in the US. After months of discussions, Booker volunteered to carry out a suicide truck bomb attack at a Kansas military base. Federal agents helped him produce his own martyrdom video.

    Returning to the Atlantic piece, there’s another option:

    There may have been another path for Jaelyn and Moe. When the government or its partners identify ISIS sympathizers online, especially people without criminal backgrounds like these two, they could intervene and deter crimes from committed. This is the approach that “has risen to the top of the heap of counterterrorism issues domestically right now,” Greenberg said: what’s known in the counterterrorism world as “off-ramps.”

    **

    Oh, and there’s the human reality that a terrorism case may be a terrorism case, but the world continues to flow all around it:

    The spring after Moe was arrested, his mother, Lisa, died of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Then, last December, another member of the Dakhlalla family died: Taqwa, the 2-year-old daughter of Moe’s older brother Abdullah, suffocated in her sleep when a heater malfunctioned in her bedroom. She was just old enough to have met her young uncle before he was arrested.

    A terrorism case in the family offers no especial sanctuary from other forms of suffering.

    **

    Let’s close with another ouroboros caught in passing, this one from the New Yorker, How Trump Could Get Fired:

    Rarely venturing beyond the White House and Mar-a-Lago, he measures his fortunes through reports from friends, staff, and a feast of television coverage of himself. Media is Trump’s “drug of choice,” Sam Nunberg, an adviser on his campaign, told me recently. “He doesn’t drink. He doesn’t do drugs. His drug is himself.”

    Ouroboroi — serpents biting their own tails — are inherently noteworthy, as I never tire of saying. To have oneself as one’s drug is a fne example of the genre.

    Muslim does not equal Terrorist

    Friday, April 21st, 2017

    [ by Charles Cameron — witting or unwitting, there’s a blatant inability to make this simple distinction ]
    .

    The sane alternative:


    Sheikh Ahmadou Bamba and His Holiness the Dalai
    Lama are two role models for our century.

    **

    There’s an interesting conflation of Islam and Terrorism in a post titled 2 Faces of Islam: Why All Muslims Benefit from Terrorism from Freedom Outpost:

    While many Muslims are just as horrified by terrorism as the rest of us are, all Muslims nevertheless benefit from Islam. This is because both peaceful and violent Muslims tend to share two important goals: (1) the conversion of non-Muslims to Islam, and (2) the silencing of critics of Islam. Since terrorism helps achieve these goals, all Muslims benefit from Islam.

    This would make sense — I’m not saying I’d agree with it, merely that it would have a logical form to it that wouldn’t make me go cross-eyed — if it read [note: this paragraph edited in light of comment below]:

    While many Muslims are just as horrified by terrorism as the rest of us are, all Muslims nevertheless benefit from terrorism. This is because both peaceful and violent Muslims tend to share two important goals: (1) the conversion of non-Muslims to Islam, and (2) the silencing of critics of Islam. Since terrorism helps achieve these goals, all Muslims benefit from terrorism.

    But no: under a caption that tells us 2 Faces of Islam: Why All Muslims Benefit from Terrorism, it twice states all Muslims nevertheless benefit from Islam.

    The conflation is evident, Islam and Terrorism are interchangeable in the writer’s mind, and that interoperability is liable to find an echo in — or seep diasastrously into — the reader’s mind, too.

    **

    The actual relation between Islam and contemporary Islamist terrorism is neither “Islam is a religion of no terrorism (aka peace)” nor “Islam is a religion of terrorism (aka war)”. To get at a couple of the major nuances here, the Meccan Cantos and the Medinan cantos of the Quran suggest very different readings of what the religion was originally all about, and how it adapted to violent hostility; and in terms of contemporary Islam, not all Muslims are Salafist, and not all Salafists are jihadist fighters, but some of them most definitely and ruthlessly are.

    In addition, Islam needs to be considered both scripturally — the usual western critique — and culturally, by which I mean how Islamic belief plays out in cultural practice across time and space — a far subtler matter. SH Nasr‘s The Study Quran is a prime guide to the former, and Shahab Ahmed‘s What Is Islam?
    The Importance of Being Islamic the towering work to digest in understanding the latter.

    A useful corrective to the “Islam is a religion of war” perspective can be found in the lives and works of two proniment Muslim proponents and practitioners of nonviolence, Sheikh Amadou Bamba, founder of the Muridiyya or Mourides, and Badshah Khan, Gandhi‘s Muslim friend.

    For context around the Mourides, and in constrast with the Wahhabis of the Levanty, see Why are there so few Islamists in West Africa? A dialogue between Shadi Hamid and Andrew Lebovich.

    The inability to distinguish Muslim from Terrorist, and the violence that follows it, can truly be described as Islamophobia.

    **

    Image:

  • Sheikh Aly N’Daw, Choice, Liberty and Love: Consciousness in Action
  • Daveed Gartenstein-Ross in Foreign Affairs #2, more directly to his point

    Sunday, March 5th, 2017

    [ by Charles Cameron — following up on Daveed Gartenstein-Ross in Foreign Affairs, my oblique analysis and more pertinent to the point he’s making ]
    .

    Daveed is illustrating a pretty significant pattern with his latest article in Foreign Affairs, The Coming Islamic Culture War, subtitled What the Middle East’s Internet Boom Means for Gay Rights, and More:

    These paragraphs:

    Today, a new type of discursive space—one that will foster a very different set of ideas—is opening up in the Muslim world. In April 2011, Bahraini human rights activists created one such space when they launched the website Ahwaa, the first online forum for the LGBT community in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. Esra’a al-Shafei, one of the website’s founders, was modest about the site’s ambitions, explaining that Ahwaa was intended “as a support network” for the “LGBTQ community” as well as a resource for those “who want to learn more by interacting with [LGBT] people.”

    Although little-noticed at the time, Ahwaa’s seemingly innocuous project was in fact revolutionary. Homosexuality in the MENA region is not only stigmatized but generally criminalized and banished from the public sphere. The creation of an online platform where LGBT people could candidly discuss the issues affecting their lives, such as romantic relationships or the tensions between Islam and gay rights, was thus a direct challenge to deeply inscribed cultural and religious norms. Indeed, Ahwaa heralds a wave of challenging ideas that, fueled by rapidly rising Internet penetration, will soon inundate Muslim-majority countries.

    Online communications, by their nature, give marginalized social and political groups a space to organize, mobilize, and ultimately challenge the status quo. In the MENA region, online spaces like Awhaa will give sexual minorities the ability to assert their identity, rights, and place in society. So too will the Internet amplify discourses critical of the Islamic faith, or of religion in general, and solidify the identities of secularists, atheists, and even apostates. The rise of these religion-critical discourses will in turn trigger a backlash from conservative forces who fear an uprooting of traditional beliefs and identities. The coming social tsunami should be visible to anyone who knows what signs to look for.

    Into the black swirl of geographical regimes that give no room for questioning — gay, political, religious, or whatever — a white circle of online discussion and possibility blossoms —

    Shielded by the relative anonymity of online communications, marginalized individuals of all stripes can discuss intimate and controversial issues. The Internet, furthermore, allows like-minded people from disparate corners of the world to find one another and create virtual communities. An atheist living in rural Egypt, for example, may not know anyone else who shares his views. But when he goes online, he will find millions of people who do.

    — and as it blossoms, the black swirl of repressive backlash again threatens it.

    **

    Likewise, though this does not happen to be Daveed’s point, into the white swirl of western democratic societies a black circle of illiberalism opens — the internet providing a networking space for anti-Semites and other far right groups they would previously lacked —

    Today, the Internet is a powerful and virulent platform for anti-Semitism — hate towards Jews that has a direct link to violence, terrorism and the deterioration of civil society. Hitler and the Nazis could never have dreamed of such an engine of hate. [ .. ]

    The Internet allows anti-Semites to communicate, collaborate and plot in ways simply not possible in the off-line world.

    — and this blossoming extends into the Trump camp, as JM Berger suggested

    New developments and new propaganda items are a constant part of the ISIS landscape, whereas content in white nationalist networks tends to be repetitive, with few meaningful changes to the movement’s message, landscape, or political prospects. A notable exception to this is Donald Trump’s presidential candidacy, which has energized white nationalists and provided new talking points and opportunities for engagement. Trump’s candidacy is likely driving some portion of movement’s recent gains on Twitter.

    And again likewise, this blossoming begins to be threatened by its own backlash — the blossoming of internet speech within contrary geographical cultural norms cuts both ways. It’s almost apocalyptic — that internet space blossoming can open up cracks in what David Brooks called “the post-World War II international order — the American-led alliances, norms and organizations that bind democracies and preserve global peace” — to which Steve Bannon is vehemently opposed.

    Apocalyptic? Whether we’re speaking of Daveed’s “coming Islamic culture wars” or Brooks’ “international order” there are signs of the times to be seen. As Daveed says —

    The coming social tsunami should be visible to anyone who knows what signs to look for.

    — and in closing —

    Regardless of their ultimate outcome, however, signs of the coming Islamic culture wars can already be discerned. Western observers have long overlooked or misinterpreted social trends that have swept through Muslim-majority countries. This is one trend that they cannot afford to miss.

    Trolleys come to Terror

    Tuesday, October 18th, 2016

    [ by Charles Cameron — a western koan makes it onto German TV? ]
    .

    What Hala Jaber calls a supermarket trolley in this tweet is not what this post is about — but it sure does connect trolley and terror!

    **

    Here’s the terror side of things, in a tweet from John Horgan:

    The BBC halls it an “interactive courtroom drama interactive courtroom drama centred on a fictional act of terror” and notes:

    The public was asked to judge whether a military pilot who downs a hijacked passenger jet due to be crashed into a football stadium is guilty of murder.

    Viewers in Germany, Switzerland and Austria gave their verdict online or by phone. The programme was also aired in Slovakia and the Czech Republic.

    The vast majority called for the pilot, Lars Koch, to be acquitted.

    Here’s the setup:

    In the fictional plot, militants from an al-Qaeda offshoot hijack a Lufthansa Airbus A320 with 164 people on board and aim to crash it into a stadium packed with 70,000 people during a football match between Germany and England.

    “If I don’t shoot, tens of thousands will die,” German air force Major Lars Koch says as he flouts the orders of his superiors and takes aim at an engine of the plane.

    The jet crashes into a field, killing everyone on board.

    So, is the pilot guilty, or not guilty?

    **

    At the very least, he has our sympathy — but how does that play out in legal proceedings?

    What’s so fascinating here is the pilot’s dilemma, which resembles nothing so much as a zen koan.

    Except for the Trolley Problem:

    trolley_problem
    Image from Wikimedia by McGeddon under license CC-BY-SA-4.0

    **

    Substitute an Airbus for the trolley, 164 people for the lone individual on the trolley line, and 70,000 people for the cluster of five — and the pilot for the guy who can make a decision and switch the tracks.

    There you have it: terror plot and trolley problem running in parallel.

    To be honest, I think the full hour-plus movie is far more immersive, to use a term from game design, than the Trolley Problem stated verbally as a problem in logic — meaning that the viewer is in some sense projected, catapulted into the fighter-pilot’s hot seat — in his cockpit, facing a high speed, high risk emergency, and in court, on trial for murder.

    It’s my guess that more people would vote for the deaths of 164 under this scenario than for the death of one in the case of the trolley — but that’s a guess.

    **

    The German film scenario — adapted from a play by Ferdinand von Schirach — is indeed a courtroom drama, a “case” in the sense of “case law”. And it’s suggestive that koans, too, are considered “cases” in a similar vein. Here, for instance, is a classic definition of koans :

    Kung-an may be compared to the case records of the public law court. Kung, or “public”, is the single track followed by all sages and worthy men alike, the highest principle which serves as a road for the whole world. An, or “records”, are the orthodox writings which record what the sages and worthy men regard as principles [..]

    This principle accords with the spiritual source, tallies with the mysterious meaning, destroys birth-and-death, and transcends the passions. It cannot be understood by logic; it cannot be transmitted in words; it cannot be explained in writing; it cannot be measured by reason. It is like a poisoned drum that kills all who hear it, or like a great fire that consumes all who come near it. [..]

    The so-called venerable masters of Zen are the chief officials of the public law courts of the monastic community, as it were, and their collections of sayings are the case records of points that have been vigorously advocated.

    **

    Relevant texts:

  • John Daido Loori, Sitting with Koans
  • John Daido Loori, The True Dharma Eye

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