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Snopes for CIA in al-Sham, Onion for State in Russia?

Thursday, October 9th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- perhaps it's time we took the evident upside-downness of the world more upside-down-seriously ]
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icon of St Vladimir Putin

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I’ve run across death by crucifix twice this week, once in an episode of Sons of Anarchy, and once in what purported to be an image of a Christian girl repeatedly raped and gruesomely killed by ISIS — but which turned out to be an anti-Islamic propaganda piece photo-shopped from a promotional video by Canadian special effects artist Remy Couture, who was apparently looking to improve the “realistic” quality of horror movies — Snopes ferreted out the details

It might be good if CIA inserted Snopes in ISIS-held territory, to verify stories like this one, from Niqash:

war of flags: extremists in mosul disguise civilian houses to fool air strikes

Abu Omar decided to leave his house in Mosul and take his family to other accommodation. The reason? A member of the Sunni Muslim extremist group known as the Islamic State climbed onto the roof of his home recently and planted one of the group’s distinctive black flags there. The flag makes his family and his home a target for allied air strikes, Abu Omar, as he wished to be known for security reasons, told NIQASH.

But when his family tried to leave, they were shocked to find that fighters from the Islamic State, or IS, group told them that they couldn’t leave.

At a meeting in Abu Omar’s house in the Al Arabi neighbourhood of Mosul, he says he feels sure that his family will be killed now.

Sadly, Abu Omar and his family are not the only ones to get a black IS flag on their property. There are dozens of other families who are facing a similar situation around Mosul.

If true, this is a curious abuse of the “black banners from Khorasan” about which I’ve frequently posted. If untrue, it’s an interesting propaganda smear that might just give the “caliphate” ideas… but who, at this distance, can tell?

Snopes could be a real asset in situations like this ..

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To be honest, hwoever, it would take a select group of reporters from the Onion working for State’s hashtag diplomacy unit to beat the one-woman campaign to recognize Vladimir Putin as a saint — see the icon at the head of this post.

The story is told thus in a recent Time magazine blog-post:

According to Der Spiegel, a sect of the Russian Orthodox Church based in the village of Bolshaya Elnya believes Putin is a reincarnation of St. Paul. The similarity apparently lies in the fact that Paul the Apostle persecuted Christians before sainthood, just as Putin did some unrighteous things as a Soviet KGB officer.

Led by Mother Fotina, who considers herself a reincarnation of Joan of Arc, the female followers in the village spread out prayer mats at a homemade altar in a functional three-story brick building – called the Chapel of Russia’s Resurrection – and pray for the success of their (political) patron saint.

“God has appointed Putin to Russia to prepare for the coming of Jesus Christ,” said Fotina. “He has the spirit of a czar in him…Every day we’ve prayed for him to return to the Kremlin.”

And once again, BTW, we get that “end times” theme cropping up..

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Zeynep: Failure of Imagination as an Existential Threat

Saturday, September 27th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- @zeynep nails it on imagination ]
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Zeynep Failure of Imagination

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The always readable Zeynep Tufekci has a post up with the above header, but it’s not the main thrust of her post, fascinating & deeply personal as that is, but the audacity of that subhead — “Failure of Imagination as an Existential Threat” — that gets me.

That subhead has so so so many potential applications. Brava, brava!

Now, tell me again, who in the natsec arena takes imagination seriously?

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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 ]
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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.

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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
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    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 ]
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    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.

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    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 ]
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    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.

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    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.

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    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.

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