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In which one might look to Boko Haram for a suitable husband?

Sunday, June 25th, 2017

[ by Charles Cameron — oy, there’s nuance, even among one’s enemies ]
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Consider:

The media’s portrayal of jihadi groups’ horrific rule in the Sahel is a double-edge sword in the fight against these armed movements. On the one hand, their typical coverage provides a classic and possibly efficient form of war propaganda, which calls for unity against the common enemy.

But on the other hand, the depiction of Islamist presence and political influence as unequivocally oppressive misses some critical points: namely, the jihadis’ interest in managing their use of coercion rather than just unleashing it; and their ambition to govern aspects of life through both violent and non-violent ways, sometimes in accordance with local customs.

That’s what you’ll find under the subhead Easy narratives vs. difficult thinking in an African Arguments post titled Mali: The stoning that didn’t happen, and why it matters. That’s almost a disappointing headline, isn’t it? I mean, what? — was there nobody there who was without sin to cast the first stone?

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The idea that there was a stoning — in Mali, which I for one have never visited and was not even remotely thinking about until that headline popped up in my news feed — had a sort of immediate appeal, a frisson, of the type that characterizes clickbait. So I clicked.

Stonings, however, are abhorrent in my culturally conditioned view, and it’s fairly convenient for me to abhor them at a distance when indulged in by those I like to think of unkindly, the damn jihadists.

The thing of it is, there was no stoning.

That’s a hard thing to report, however. Breaking news — no stoning occurred near Aguelhoc in northern Mali — Christiane Amanpour reports!

Reporting that there has been a stoning, on the other hand, by jihadists — those damn jihadists — that’s not only easy to report, it’s welcome news. Somehow. Despite, or perhaps because of, our abhorrence of stoning — as a punishment for adultery — by, and this is the final twist in our abhorrence, those jihadists.

That’s welcome news, even if stoning is unwelcome, as are jihadists, and even if there was no stoning, despite them.

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Even if sharia law is not the monolith we tend to think it is — and, returning to that African Arguments post — specifically to those punishments “which are mandated and fixed by God and are applicable in cases of fornication, apostasy etc”:

Questions over these penalties (known as had, plural hudud) were debated at length in 2012 when allied Islamist movements occupied Mali’s three main northern regions: Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) in Timbuktu; the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) in Gao; and Ansar Eddine in Kidal.

At that time, judiciary decisions were delegated to local Islamic judges (cadis). Crucially, there were many differences in the application of hudud across these three regions. For instance, there were multiple cases of amputations for robbery in Timbuktu and Gao. But in Kidal, Ansar Eddine agreed with local Islamic judges that sentences would be maintained in line with local customs that historically prefer detention over physical punishment.

Oops. As the writers go on to note, there was actually one stoning for adultery in Aguelhoc in 2012, though the one-time leader of the Ansar, Iyad Ag Ghaly, apparently didn’t know about it. And:

Such complexities and variations between regions supposedly governed by the same Shariah provisions demands additional investigation. Why would hudud, a pillar of political and social legitimation across jihadi movements, be suspended in some places but not others?

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Okay, now I don’t really know who the Ansar are, and if you’d told me they are Malian jihadis and Iyad Ag Ghaly is or was their leader, I wouldn’t off the top of my head imagine he would disfavor huhud pubishments — as mandated by Allah — in favor of detentions.

But Boko Haram.

I’ve heard of Boko Haram, they don’t like western education, and they abducted the Chibok and other girls, marrying some and selling others into sexual slavery, if that’s a valid distinction. They too are, in a word, abhorrent.

And then I read this, in the same article:

In the Lake Chad area, several organisations – including The International Crisis Group – have documented that a significant number of young Kanuri women have voluntarily joined Boko Haram in order to find a suitable husband or benefit from new economic opportunities. For some women living in particularly impoverished rural areas, joining the jihadi insurgency may be more attractive, at least to start, than their daily routine in the strict patriarchy of rural villages.

The idea of members of Boko Haram as suitable husbands somehow hadn’t occurred to me. But then I’m not a young woman, nor even a local.

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If what I’ve written thus far interests you, I’d encourage you to read the whole article. There was no stoning in Aguelhoc, despite the reports in Agence France-Press (reporting from Bamako) and Radio France Internationale (reporting from Paris), picked up by Le Monde and The Guardian.

In sum:

Most media accounts depict an unequivocal reign of terror under Islamist rule in northern Mali. But field interviews reveal a more ambiguous situation in which egregious violence by radical groups coexists with a non-violent governance agenda and willingness to deliver services.

In central Mali, jihadi movements forcibly gather local population to preach. They also regularly assassinate those perceived to be collaborating with state officials and foreign armed forces. But at the same time, these groups provide mobile justice courts in places where judges have long been absent. They advocate for the suppression of land rights that benefit a tiny and contested aristocracy. They offer much-needed protection to cattle herders during seasonal migrations. And the simplified marriage procedures they impose allow youths to escape elder’s control over marital engagements.

How much simpler the world is, if we see it from a distance.

Rwanda cognition – and a *key* question

Sunday, March 19th, 2017

[ by Charles Cameron –the key question arises from the final quote ]
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[source page unavailable ]

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Mark Gilchrist, the Australian serving officer who brought us Why Thucydides Still Matters, has a new post — the first of three — up at Strategy Bridge in which he explores The Twilight Between Knowing and Not Knowing — an appropriately liminal title — specifically, the difficulties involved in recognizing genocide. It’s a fascinating if harrowing article, and I’m going to cherry-pick some quotes for your attention..

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the world’s diplomats were accustomed to dealing with wars – they were not, and did not try to become, accustomed to the requirements of dealing with genocide.

So, between politics and (its continuation) war, at least ne liminal condiciton: genocide.

You’ve got to sow the seeds of hysteria in the population, and that takes time…

How far back can we date the current wave of hysteria in the population — from a liberal and from a conservative perspective, or other?

Dallaire deployed without knowledge of the history and culture of Rwanda or relevant intelligence about the stakeholders, agendas or general situation on the ground. This inhibited his ability to understand the massacres that occurred

Ooh, anthropology, and — dare we say it — (dark) religion.

it failed to recognise the importance of the rise in anti-Tutsi rhetoric in the Rwandan media, which was instrumental in furthering the extremists’ genocidal aims through the psychological preparation of the Hutu population.

Are we monitoring the rise of anti-x rhetoric (foreign and domestic)? How’s it going?

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Here’s the stunning cognitive takeaway!!

The scale of the barbarity was almost incomprehensible to Western observers – UNAMIR troops included – which resulted in eyewitnesses often finding themselves in denial about what was unfolding around them. The troops made themselves believe that high-pitched screams were gusts of wind, that the rabid packs of dogs were feeding on animal remains and not human carcasses, that the smells enveloping them emanated from spoiled food and not decomposing bodies. Barnett argues that this fantasy is reminiscent of Primo Levi’s observation about the Holocaust that ‘things whose existence is not morally comprehensible cannot exist.’ This is particularly so for Western troops who are trained to think and act within the bounds of a moral and ethical behavioural framework that can obscure their ability to recognise the evil that others may be capable of.

Blindness, denial. The grand question raised by this article and by the Rwandan experience goes way beyon Rwanda to our cognitive incapacities and their potentially disastrous repercussions in general.

No worries, ma — it’s only a gust of wind.

Laura Seay on Invisible Children and the LRA

Friday, March 3rd, 2017

[ by Charles Cameron — for your convenience, Laura Seay’s tweet-streak updating us on the LRA, reformatted as prose — though by no means prosaic ]
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Foreign Policy @ForeignPolicy

Five years after its “Kony 2012” video broke the internet, Invisible Children is waging covert war against the LRA. http://atfp.co/2ljVz6A

Laura Seay @texasinafrica

This isn’t the full extent of the crazy, naive things IC, Bridgeway, & Laren Poole have undertaken in the last few years. There’s more. And the “more” is capital-I Insane.

I’ve been researching the anti-LRA efforts as part of my book project on how advocacy movements affect US policy in Africa. The US has spent over $1 billion on the anti-LRA mission since 2011. The LRA is now tiny, ~150-250. Whether Kony is still alive is unknown. Innocent people still suffer as a result of the LRA’s much-decreased activity. No doubt about that. But is this the best way to spend $1 billion? Especially given how many other armed groups in the region do far more harm to civilians?Could the skills of the 100 US Army Special Operations Forces posted to the CAR mission to “advise” the UPDF be put to better use elsewhere?

These are not easy questions & there aren’t easy answers to them. And there’s the issue that 5 1/2 years in, we still haven’t caught Kony or eradicated the LRA. At what point do we cut our losses & give up? The folks who are still working on these efforts have been passionately & deeply engaged on the LRA crisis for 10-15 years. They got what they wanted: global attention, abundant funding, a military mission (in which they are deeply involved). And it hasn’t worked. But some dangerous precedents have been set, particularly re the role of private charitable foundations funding a foreign military.

No matter how good their intentions, foundations aren’t accountable to anyone. Nor can foundations control how the UPDF will use training & equipment they provided in the future or in other situations. It’s a risky game. And it won’t be the foundations who suffer the consequences if things go wrong down the line. AFRICOM also can’t control what the UPDF will do with the skills they’ve developed while working alongside US Army Africa. Ideally, the UPDF leaves the mission with more professional soldiers with strong capacity & ethics. But again, we can’t control that. It’s messy with no clear “right” answer.

I think the anti-LRA movement will be remembered as a cautionary case about the role of advocacy movements in shifting US policy. Advocacy movements shouldn’t get all that they want. Their wishes need to be tempered by expert & local opinion. And US charitable foundations should not be allowed to fund foreign military activity. Period.

Seymour Papert, RIP

Wednesday, August 3rd, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — on a somewhat personal note ]
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Seymour Papert, photo by L. Barry Hetherington, via Papert’s NYT obit

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Seymour Papert, artificial intelligence pioneer and one-time research colleague of Jean Piaget who was keenly interested in bringing children, education and computers together, has died.

The Jewish paper, Foward, has an obit which touches me personally, since it turns out that Papert knew and learnjed much from my own mentor, Trevor Huddleston. Key graphs from the obit:

Another activity that became more than a pastime was improving life conditions for his black neighbors in South Africa. Daniel Crevier’s “A. I.,” a history of machine intelligence, notes that Papert grew up in an otherwise all-black area. Papert acquired further insight and sensitivity into the issue of racism from lengthy discussions with Father Trevor Huddleston, an anti-apartheid Anglican clergyman who often collaborated with Jewish activists sharing his views, notably the artist Hyman Segal of Russian Jewish origin, who illustrated Huddleston’s 1956 anti-apartheid study, “Naught For Your Comfort.”

As Desmond Tutu told an interviewer last year, Huddleston visited him regularly “when I nearly succumbed to tuberculosis. He taught me invaluable lessons about the human family; that it doesn’t matter how we look or where we come from, we are made for each other, for compassion, for support and for love.” This interfaith belief impressed young Papert as well, who like other South Africans of his generation was stunned when Huddleston did simple things like politely greeting black people in the street, acknowledging them as fellow human beings; one such recipient of unexpected civility was Desmond Tutu’s mother. In high school, Papert tried to arrange evening classes for illiterate black domestic servants, an activity strictly forbidden by the apartheid government.

Ever a logical thinker, Papert asked why black Africans were not permitted to attend white schools. The response was because of the threat of infectious disease, to which Papert replied that black servants prepared food and cared for children of the same white families, so the thought process at the basis of apartheid was clearly illogical.

For my own recollections of Fr Trevor, see:

  • Between the warrior and the monk (ii): Fr Trevor Huddleston
  • Between the warrior and the monk (iii): poetry and sacrament
  • h/t Derek Robinson

    From the Forgiveness Chronicles: Rwanda

    Wednesday, June 15th, 2016

    [ by Charles Cameron — a reminder from 2014 — for those who preach love, for those who preach mercy ]
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    Rwanda detail
    Dominique Ndahimana, Perpetrator (left); Cansilde Munganyinka, Survivor

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    Dominique Ndahimana:

    The day I thought of asking pardon, I felt unburdened and relieved. I had lost my humanity because of the crime I committed, but now I am like any human being.

    Cansilde Munganyinka:

    After I was chased from my village and Dominique and others looted it, I became homeless and insane. Later, when he asked my pardon, I said: ‘I have nothing to feed my children. Are you going to help raise my children? Are you going to build a house for them?’ The next week, Dominique came with some survivors and former prisoners who perpetrated genocide. There were more than 50 of them, and they built my family a house. Ever since then, I have started to feel better. I was like a dry stick; now I feel peaceful in my heart, and I share this peace with my neighbors.

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    Rwanda

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    Another perpetrator / survivor pair:

    François Ntambara

    Because of the genocide perpetrated in 1994, I participated in the killing of the son of this woman. We are now members of the same group of unity and reconciliation. We share in everything; if she needs some water to drink, I fetch some for her. There is no suspicion between us, whether under sunlight or during the night. I used to have nightmares recalling the sad events I have been through, but now I can sleep peacefully. And when we are together, we are like brother and sister, no suspicion between us.

    Epiphanie Mukamusoni:

    He killed my child, then he came to ask me pardon. I immediately granted it to him because he did not do it by himself — he was haunted by the devil. I was pleased by the way he testified to the crime instead of keeping it in hiding, because it hurts if someone keeps hiding a crime he committed against you. Before, when I had not yet granted him pardon, he could not come close to me. I treated him like my enemy. But now, I would rather treat him like my own child.

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    Source:

  • Pieter Hugo, Portraits of Reconciliation: 20 years after the genocide in Rwanda
  • photos by Susan Dominus

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