zenpundit.com » blogosphere

Archive for the ‘blogosphere’ Category

Some wrenchingly sad news, 3: the possibility of rescue revisited

Wednesday, September 17th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- there is possibility, there is hope -- concluding post in this series ]
.

I am not the one to calculate the logistical, strategic, or tactical implications here, nor the possibility of unexpected consequences and negative feedback, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t end this series by offering you Barber‘s glimpse from the ground of what might be feasible.

The possibility of rescue, redux:

Despite the enormous challenge of responding to such a monumental tragedy, the possibility exists of freeing a very large number of those kidnapped in a short time. I’m referring to around 2,000 kidnapped Yazidis currently imprisoned in towns and villages in the vicinity of the Sinjar mountains.

Specifics of available intel:

Just south of Sinjar are a number of sites where kidnapped Yazidis are being held. Through phone conversations with captured victims, Yazidi leaders in the Dohuk governorate who are working on the problem have been able to get counts and exact locations for most of them. In over a dozen primary holding sites within at least six separate towns, approximately 2,000 Yazidis are trapped. Most of these contain just women, but at least one site contains entire families that have been kidnapped, including male members.

A helicopter assault:

Most of these kidnapped people know where they are. They’re in familiar territory, not far from Sinjar. If their captors were subjected to an aerial campaign — an intense helicopter assault on IS targets for as little as a half-hour — most of these people would be able to flee. The attacking force wouldn’t even be required to regain control of these towns, they would only need to occupy the moderate numbers of IS fighters in the area. The window of distraction would allow many to escape.

Failing which…

What I do know is that without greater US air support, 1) Sinjar will not be regained by Kurdish forces and the people of Sinjar will not be able to return home, and 2) large numbers of Yazidi women who might otherwise be freed will continue to be sold by IS jihadists as sexual objects.

The plea:

Sinjar is the population center for the largest segment of Yazidi people in the world. The Yazidi religion is also inextricably linked to holy places in Sinjar. If they are unable to return, it will do lasting damage to one of the Middle East’s last non-Abrahamic minorities, and thousands of victimized women will remain enslaved in 2014. Let’s do what it takes to get these people safely home and free of the most selfish form of evil I’ve personally witnessed in my life.

**

Matthew Barber’s post is a remarkable one, and I recommend those interested should read it in full:

  • Matthew Barber, If the U.S. Wanted To, It Could Help Free Thousands of Enslaved Yazidi Women in a Single Day
  • Share

    Some wrenchingly sad news, 2: nuanced theological implications

    Wednesday, September 17th, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron -- some surprising twists here, if you think of IS as entirely lacking compassion or religious and moral consideration ]
    .

    I am going to take the religious issues out of their original order to create a smoother reading experience with regard to the theological surprises in Barber’s article.

    Barber’s perplex:

    I have also been perplexed by the question of IS’ methods and behavior and have felt a need to understand the fact that they work according to specific ideals and a strict religious code for behavior, yet often seem to act outside of what such a code would permit. They are not alien creatures but human agents with aspirations of state building who even demonstrate acts of compassion.

    Once again, religion turns out to be crucial to a full understanding.

    We tend to treat IS — not surprisingly considering their barrage of beheadings videos and other publicized horrors on social media — as utterly unconstrained thugs and brutes. There’s no denying the brutalities, but a more sophisticated reading finds some relevant background in Abu Bakr Naji‘s book, The Management of Savagery, as Will McCants, lately of CTC West Point and now at Brookings, explains.

    Booty, both literal and metaphorical:

    First, it is worth noting that the taking of captured women as slaves / booty does have religious precedent:

    The philosophy underpinning the taking of Yazidi slaves is based in IS’ interpretation of the practices of Muslim figures during the early Islamic conquests, when women were taken as slave concubines—war booty—from societies being conquered.

    It’s hideous, it’s “medieval” if you like that term, but it does have arguable religious precedent.

    People of the Book vs Polytheists:

    Taking the brutality as a given, then, what are we to make of the preferential treatment afforded Christians vis-à-vis Yazidis?

    Though they have robbed them of their wealth, IS has not targeted the Christian community in the same way that they have the Yazidis. As “People of the Book,” Christians are seen as having certain rights; Yazidis, however, are viewed by IS as polytheists and are therefore seen as legitimate targets for subjugation and enslavement, if they do not convert to Islam.

    Acts of Compassion:

    This is perhaps the aspect of Barber’s piece which is most unexpected, and as such deserves our consideration. It is a part of the puzzle, after all is said and done, and our reflexive disgust at the many other brutalities of IS should not blind us to it:

    Christians who fled one Iraqi town described to me how IS fighters provided food for their elderly and disabled Christian relatives who were not able to flee, and then later transported them to an area near Kirkuk where they would be able to rejoin their relatives.

    The question:

    Barber poses the question — to himself, to the analytic community, and to all of us:

    How are we to reconcile these humane instances of goodwill with the apparent criminality and destruction that is so pervasive with IS?

    The answer:

    The answer is not yet in:

    Many discussions will continue regarding the similarities and differences between IS’ methods and the actual practice of the early Islamic community. Historical context will be discussed by scholars, and God’s intentions will be parsed out by those with a theological bent.

    The situation, therefore:

    But regardless of how our contemporaries interpret the past, IS’ attempts to recreate and relive a period in which slaves were taken in war have shattered families that now reel in pain after their children have been snatched away from them.

    The imperative:

    The imperative to relieve such gross suffering, if it is possible to do so without causing suffering that is even greater in so doing, is the topic of the third and last post in this series, in which I’ll post extracts of Barber’s assessment of the possibility of rescue.

    There is hope here, amid all the suffering and hate.

    Share

    Some wrenchingly sad news, 1: Yazidi women captured in the thousands

    Wednesday, September 17th, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron -- first of three posts collecting key points from a major article on Yazidi women, IS & possibilities of rescue ]
    .

    Today Matthew Barber posted one of the saddest stories I have read in several years of monitoring religious violence on Syria Comment, Joshua Landis‘ blog: If the U.S. Wanted To, It Could Help Free Thousands of Enslaved Yazidi Women in a Single Day. It is a very long post, so I have extracted those paras that give the basic details, touched me most deeply, or in my view call for particular comment.

    I’ll post these short excerpts under my own headings, reserve some specifically religious materials of considerable interest for a second post in the series, and close with Barber’s comments on the feasibility of a successful rescue effort.

    **

    The basic news:

    The plight of thousands of Yazidi women, kidnapped by the Islamic State (IS) during its August 3 attack on Iraq’s Sinjar mountains and in the following weeks, has received some media attention, but most people are unaware of just how far-reaching this disastrous phenomenon is.

    The significant comparison with Boko Haram:

    Boko Haram kidnapped girls in the hundreds, prompting international outcry and an online campaign demanding that they be freed; IS has kidnapped Yazidi women and girls in the thousands in a sexually-motivated campaign that has rent apart countless families and wrought unimaginable levels of pain and destruction.

    Difficulty in verification:

    During the Syria conflict there have been numerous allegations of forced jihadi marriages that have been difficult to confirm, and widely denied by IS supporters online. Many of those stories were dropped, lacking credible evidence. As the past few years in Syria have demonstrated, rumors run rampant in contexts of conflict, and the initially difficult-to-confirm cases of kidnapped Yazidi women of this summer have been treated with appropriate caution.

    Confirmation:

    Having stayed in northern Iraq all summer, I can confirm the assertions of the journalists who have written about the problem. I have worked directly with those involved in rescue efforts and have personally interacted with families whose daughters have been kidnapped and are now calling their relatives from captivity.

    I have no trace of doubt that many women have been carried off and imprisoned; the question that remains is about the numbers. Restrained estimates have posited numbers of kidnapped Yazidi women in the hundreds. However, the reality is likely to be in the thousands.

    The Possibility:

    Though the picture is grim, if the US is willing to back up its overtures of support for Iraqis and Kurds with action, we have the ability to help quickly free a large percentage of the kidnapped Yazidis.

    Cell phones:

    It is no longer a secret that many of the kidnapped women still have their cellphones with them and are calling their families. Many of their captors haven’t even taken steps to prevent this; in some cases jihadists have exploited this contact as a means to sow further terror, in other cases the new “masters” are allowing their “slaves” to have contact with family as they seek to incorporate the kidnapped woman into a slave’s household role with certain privileges and duties.

    Freelance rescue:

    It is also no longer a secret that extensive rescue operations are underway, through the participation of local Arabs and Muslims in the communities where the girls are entrapped. Some have been able to purchase girls from IS jihadists and then return them to their parents. Others have been able to escape on their own. [ .. ]

    Other kinds of rescue efforts are underway as well. A Yazidi friend I’ve been working with in Dohuk arranged for a group of gunmen to be paid to carry out a rescue operation in one Iraqi city, far to the south of Mosul, where girls had been taken. They broke the girls out of the house where they had been imprisoned by their jihadist “owner” and carried them to safety. Those who conducted the operation are Sunni Arab fighters who do not align with IS (and who are willing to conduct such an operation in exchange for compensation).

    The horror:

    One of the rescued girls was only 15 and was tortured for resisting the demands of her captor for sex. Another suffered such severe psychological trauma due to the kidnapping, subsequent rape, and being shipped across Iraq that she is now very ill.

    **

    In the second post in this series, I’ll focus in on the unexpected theological nuance Barber reveals in these Yazidi and comparable Christian abductions. I believe there’s an important — but mostly overlooked — angle here that we should be aware of — and this time it’s to do with Islam, not eschatology.

    Share

    Gaza now stretches all the way to God

    Thursday, July 31st, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron -- more on the hopelessly interdisciplinary nature of reality, all the way to Amichai, to God, no God ]
    .

    **

    In this post, I’ll offer another “entry” into the complexities of the situation in Gaza, drawing largely and gratefully on a post by Derek Gregory — presently the Peter Wall Distinguished Professor at the University of British Columbia — at Geographical Imaginations two days ago under the title Darkness Descending:

    First, Dr Gregory quotes Samuel Weber‘s book, Targets of Opportunity: On the Militarization of Thinking:

    Every target is inscribed in a network or chain of events that inevitably exceeds the opportunity that can be seized or the horizon that can be seen.

    Gregory then comments:

    The complex geometries of these networks then displace the pinpoint co-ordinates of ‘precision’ weapons and ‘smart bombs’ so that their effects surge far beyond any immediate or localised destruction. Their impacts ripple outwards through the network, extending the envelope of destruction in space and time, and yet the syntax of targeting – with its implication of isolating an objective – distracts attention from the cascade of destruction deliberately set in train.

    **

    I’m not sure who Gregory is quoting here, but the “network” gets personal, while tending to remain impersonal to the targeters:

    .. by fastening on a single killing – through a ‘surgical strike’ – all the other people affected by it are removed from view. Any death causes ripple effects far beyond the immediate victim, but to those that plan and execute a targeted killing the only effects that concern them are the degradation of the terrorist or insurgent network in which the target is supposed to be implicated. Yet these strikes also, again incidentally but not accidentally, cause immense damage to the social fabric of which s/he was a part – the extended family, the local community and beyond – and the sense of loss continues to haunt countless (and uncounted) others.

    In fact, the only thing I can think of that’s arguably both universal and more richly personal than individual persons is poetry — so I’ll let the Israeli poet, Yehuda Amichai, have the last word, as Gregory does:

    The Diameter of the Bomb
    .

    The diameter of the bomb was thirty centimeters
    and the diameter of its effective range about seven meters,
    with four dead and eleven wounded.
    And around these, in a larger circle
    of pain and time, two hospitals are scattered
    and one graveyard. But the young woman
    who was buried in the city she came from,
    at a distance of more than a hundred kilometers,
    enlarges the circle considerably,
    and the solitary man mourning her death
    at the distant shores of a country far across the sea
    includes the entire world in the circle.
    And I won’t even mention the crying of orphans
    that reaches up to the throne of God and
    beyond, making a circle with no end and no God.

    **

    Ripple image from Ripple Effect Kindness, a blog that hopes to see ripples of peace

    Share

    Of bombs and cemeteries, documents and doubts

    Sunday, July 20th, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron -- a meander of thoughts, from Gaza and Gothic via documentary style photoraphs to juxtaposition and its possible modes of reading ]
    .

    "Israel bombs the dead in Gaza cemeteries" - Jan 2009

    As the photo above documents, this strange “twist of fated” has happened before — image drawn from Bin Laden demands holy war as Israel bombs the dead in Gaza cemeteries, Daily Mail, 14 January 2009.

    Gazan Gothic.

    **

    My friend Bryan Alexander hosts the Infocult blog, where he showcases gothic elements in our daily lives. It’s a fascinating blog to follow, and a day or three ago Bryan discussed gothic elements in the shooting down of the MH17 over the Ukraine. One rebel source, for instance, reported:

    According to the information received from the people who collected the corpses, a large number of the corpses are “not fresh” – these are people who died a few days ago.

    Macabre. Gothic.

    Bryan’s post concluded thus:

    Infocult offers this hypothesis: all intense politics ultimately tend to the Gothic.

    – and that’s what brings me back again to Gaza.

    **

    I ran across Gazan Gothic redux in a Foreign Policy piece titled Ramadan in Gaza — in a paragraph that reads:

    My six-year-old nephew Bashar told me that he thinks Israelis are crazy. After an airstrike hit a cemetery, he asked me innocently, “Have they meant to kill the dead again, aunt?” I have no words to explain.

    That’s gothic for you, and could serve as a fine data point to support Bryan’s hypothesis. But wait a minute…

    **

    That morning I also read — and this had me off on quite a tangent — Arthur Lubow‘s piece, Documentary Art, in the Threepenny Review. Lubow offers a different trajectory from “intense politics” — one that ends in a form of art, not an expression of gothic.. He asks:

    What makes a documentary photograph also a work of art? When does its news remain fresh, even after the daily paper or monthly magazine that printed it has faded?

    He quotes photographer Walker Evans [Let us now praise famous men] on the difference between two kinds of “current events” photography:

    An example of a literal document would be a police photograph of a murder scene. You see, a document has use, whereas art is really useless. Therefore art is never a document, although it certainly can adopt that style.

    and writes of the photographer Bruce Davidson, two of whose books he is reviewing:

    A photograph of a shattered car in an empty field is a ghastly, violent image. The driver’s window is blown out, the seat is blood-soaked, the doors hang open like broken arms. But to comprehend the horror of this picture, you need to know things that you can learn only from a caption. This was the car that Viola Liuzzo, a volunteer civil rights worker from Detroit, was driving in Alabama when she was shot and killed by members of the Ku Klux Klan in 1965. It is, as Evans would have it, a literal document.

    Compare that to another Davidson photograph, taken six years earlier. A pretty girl with a full mane of sun-streaked blonde hair is primping in the mirror of a cigarette machine. A handsome boy alongside her is carefully rolling up a sleeve of his T-shirt. They have placed their drinks on top of the machine: a can of beer for him, a bottle of soda pop for her. In the background, other young people are heading for the lockers. The photograph was shot in Coney Island, one of a series on a Brooklyn gang called the Jokers, whom Davidson followed for almost a year in 1959. But any facts about the Jokers are extraneous to one’s appreciation of this photograph, which is all about the narcissistic eroticism of youth. The graceful crook of the feminine elbow in counterpoint to the taut extension of the boy’s arm, the tarnished reflective surface that reveals the girl’s fleeting beauty, the self-involvement and the sexual heat—these are specific to this scene, and general enough for a viewer to understand. It is documentary style.

    Further, he writes:

    If a photograph can be reduced to a sentence, its interest is fleeting. When the point is sharp and clear, the afterlife is short. .. It’s a didactic style in which the aphorism needn’t be spelled out in words. On East 100th Street, Davidson photographed a child behind a meshed window, alongside a caged bird, and a boy on a filthy mattress in an alley, almost indistinguishable from piles of strewn garbage. These are valuable as documents. But when he portrays a tiny infant with two figurines, all resting on a couch, or a young man with close-set eyes, holding a pet pigeon, he leaves enough mental space around the image for you to wonder. Like any work of art, a great photograph is suggestive but not dispositive. Its power resides in its ambiguity.

    **

    We’re seemingly a long way from Gaza here, but photographs of Gaza too can be “documents” or “documentary-style” art photos. So alongside Bryan’s hypothesis:

    all intense politics ultimately tend to the Gothic

    I’ll place my own:

    all intense politics ultimately tend to art.

    My point here is not to deny Bryan’s, but to point up the many tendencies and end points to which “intense politics” may lead simultaneously – carnage, death and grief prominent among them, and a just peace seldom indeed.

    **

    There’s a quote from the same Lubow piece about photographic juxtapositions that has application to my overall DoubleQuotes project. Describing a photo of “an African-American Freedom Rider .. surrounded by .. jeering white youths” Lubow comments:

    The black protestor and several of his tormentors are wearing the same collegiate uniform— — a button-down, light-colored Oxford shirt and dark trousers.

    The similarity of clothing worn by the warriors on both sides of the racial divide raises provocative questions. The best photographs do. Whereas (to pick up Evans’s distinction) a documentary photograph can be introduced as evidence, a good documentary-style photograph will raise more doubts than it resolves.

    Juxtapositions can point to conclusions, but they are most interesting when they “raise provocative questions” rather than scoring “conclusive” points — my DoubleQuotes included.

    Share

    Switch to our mobile site