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Gaming the Islamic State three ways from Sunday

Thursday, July 16th, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — what hipbone thinking / gaming could and should bring to the natsec table ]

I have just been browsing the Institute for the Study of War‘s report on its ISIS wargame, and thought I’d wargame ISIS a bit myself, using my DoubleQuotes game.


The ISW report, in its 32 pages, barely mentions religious drivers, features one use of the word “apocalyptic” in a pretty non-specific sentence that implies nothing about what that word implies in terms of religious instensity — “ISIS intends to expand its Caliphate and eventually incite a global apocalyptic war” — and generally focuses on everything but “knowing” the enemy..

If they’d invited me and added a round or three of DoubleQuotes during a coffee break, I’d have been grateful for the coffee and the visit to DC, and very quickly played these two double-moves:

For wide context:

SPEC DQ Taiping IS

Upper panel: the Taiping Rebellion, an apocalyptic (in the true sense) movement in China, 1850 to 1864, with between 20 million and 30 million dead — as a reminder that apocalyptic movements can have, ahem, far-reaching consequences.

Lower panel: Refugees fleeing the Islamic State, a movement whose apocalyptic (in the true sense) strategy includes a focus on great end-times battle to be fought at Dabiq in Syria, Dabiq being the name of their English lnaguage magazine.

Read into the record in support of these two visuals:

  • Jonathan Spence, God’s Chinese Son: The Taiping Heavenly Kingdom of Hong Xiuquan
  • William McCants, The ISIS Apocalypse: The History, Strategy, and Doomsday Vision of the Islamic State
  • And with narrower focus:

    here, on the brutality levels permitted in two rival jihadist groups in Syria:

    SPEC DQ IS vs Jabhat

    Upper panel: the Islamic State brutally executes British aid worker Alan Hemming

    Lower panel: AQ affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra points out that he was under an offer of protection binding on all Muslims.

    There would be background reading to explore and expand that DoubleQuote too. But the main point is: the contest of ideas, not simply that of troop movements and materiel, would have been part of the picture.


    The Atlantic Council has also held two wargaming sessions on IS [1, 2], but again the insights to be gained into the Islamic State’s end-times motivations and their implications are almost nonexistent:

    ISIS carries the seeds of its own destruction primarily because it has an extremely small constituency within Islamist populations around the world, an apocalyptic vision, an unsustainable strategy of us-against-theworld, and a failed governance project.

    And that’s about it.


    McCants’ presentation at the Boston conference, and his forthcoming book (above), both make it clear that the apocalyptic stress of today’s “caliphate” has morphed significantly from the more immediate apocaypticism in IS’ Zarqawi-era predecessor, Al Qaeda in Iraq.

    And for a nuanced understanding of time-urgency in apocalyptic rhetoric, Stephen O’Leary‘s Arguing the Apocalypse: A Theory of Millennial Rhetoric is the definitive work.

    So when do we start introducing ideational war (and/or peace) games alongside our games of brute force?

    And how do you factor esprit, morale, and “angels, rank on rank” (Quran 8.9, 89.22) into troop movements and so forth?

    Hint: they’re force-multipliers.

    Jabhat al-Nusra rebukes Islamic State for killing Alan Henning

    Friday, July 10th, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — I hav to say, the senseless death of Alan Henning makes me very sad ]

    In the first issue of its magazine, al-Risalah, Jabhat al-Nusra attacks al-Baghdadi’s supposed caliphate.

    Jabhat al Nusra vs IS

    The item that caught my eye, though, was a section in the article Khilafa One Year On titled The Murder of Alan Henning. We read:

    Next, we have the murder of Alan Henning, a forty-seven year old British humanitarian aid worker in Syria, who was abducted by the ‘Islamic State’ and beheaded on camera. Although he was a disbeliever, we mention his case here because he was under the protection of the Muslims. Abu Salaam al-Britani, an aid worker who worked alongside Henning, pleaded to Baghdadi to have him released:

    “I appeal and request in general to all of the members of ad-Dawlah al-Islamiyyah and specifically to Shaykh Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and Abu ‘Ali al-Anbari to release Alan Henning as he had been given an Amana (security) from two sets of believing parties. Henceforth in the light of the Shari’ah he is considered a Mu’ahid and it is impermissible to harm him…”

    A footnote at this point leads us to Al-Britani’s A personal account of Alan Henning and the covenant of security (Amana) afforded to him by Muslims, in which we read the full version of al-Britani’s appeal. Following a detailed account of this “wonderful man called Alan Henning”, he writes:

    From your brother in Islam Abu Salaam al-Britani,

    I appeal and request in general to all of the members of ad-Dawlah l-Islamiyyah and specifically to Shaykh Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and Abu ‘Ali al-Anbari to release Alan Henning as he had been given an Amana (security) from two sets of believing parties henceforth in the light of the Shari’ah he is considered a Mu’ahid and it is impermissible to harm him.

    The first Amana was given by me and the rest of the brothers travelling in the aid convoy. We reassured and informed Alan he will be safe and not harmed as he is with a group of Muslims who are going deliver aid to the people of Syria.

    The second Amana was given by indigenous people of ad-Dana they had sent several men to escort us once we entered Syria through the Bab al-Hawa border crossing. They assured us all we will be under their protection and escorted us to the town of ad-Dana.

    I ask you by Allah to honour these covenants as our Lord said in the Qur’an

    “O you who believe, honour your covenant (‘uqud)”

    [Surat Al-M?’idah, Ayah 1]

    The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) also said:

    “If anyone kills a ‘Mu’ahid’ ‘i.e. a person guaranteed protection’ without a just cause, Allah will prevent him from even smelling the fragrance of Paradise”.

    [Sahih Sunan an-Nasai No .4422].

    The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) also said:

    “On the Day of Judgment, I will be protesting against anyone who oppresses a ‘mu’ahid’ ‘i.e. a person guaranteed protection’, belittles him, charges him to do things beyond his ability, or extorts anything from him.

    [Sahih Sunan Abi Dawud, No. 2626]

    Any Muslims is entitled to give protection on their behalf, and that this type of protection can be given to the non-Muslim by any individual from the Muslims whether a male or a female, a nobleman or a poor, a righteous or an evil-doer.

    Ash-Shaybani said in as-Siyar, vol.1, pg.175:

    “The security covenants that a free Muslim man, whether virtuous or immoral, gives are binding to all the other Muslims because of the Hadith, “Muslims are equal in respect of blood. They are like one hand over against all those who are outside the community. The lowest of them is entitled to give protection on their behalf.” The meaning of “protection” is the security covenant whether it is temporary or permanent.

    Zaynab, the daughter of the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him), granted protection to her husband Abu al-‘As bin Rabi’ah, and the Prophet (saw) approved of her protection.

    It was reported that Umm Hani said:

    “I granted asylum to two non-Muslim relatives of mine, and then Ali bin Abi Talib (may Allah be pleased with him) came upon them to kill them. So I told him, you are not going to kill them unless you kill me first! Then, I locked my door on them and went to the Messenger of Allah (saw) and told him about what happened.

    He (saw) said: “Ali is not allowed to kill them. We grant asylum and protection to the ones you have granted asylum and protection.

    Considering the powerful significance of Ali bin Abu Talib — born in the Kaaba, the son-in-law and cousin of the Prophet, distinguished at the Battle of Badr and subsequent battles, victor in his duel with Amru ibn Abd Wudd, fighter with the sword Zulfiqar of whom it was said, “There is no brave youth except Ali and there is no sword which renders service except Zulfiqar”, named “Lion of God” by the Prophet, fourth of the Rashidun Caliphs and also first Imam of the Shiites — this last is indeed a powerful citation.

    I don’t intend to draw any conclusions here, just to say that this reminds me of OBL’s reproof of Faysal Shahzad in his letter to Atiyya, which I discussed in my post, Key bin Laden para raises translation and other questions.

    Those demned Sunni Shiites

    Friday, April 17th, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — for those unused to the word, and potentially troubled by it, demned is a cussword much favored by The Scarlet Pimpernel ]

    The Prophet said “War is deceit” according to Sahih al-Bukhari, the most highly respected collection of ahadith — as did Sun Tzu before him, writing “All warfare is based on deception” according to one translator. I shouldn’t have been surprised, therefore, by this reversal of understanding reported by journo Richard Engel, captured, then released, then very surprised himself by what he later discovered about his captors:

    SPEC DQ the Sunni Shiites


  • Both quotes, which we can call “before” (upper panel) and “after” (lower panel) are drawn from Richard Engel’s New Details on 2012 Kidnapping of NBC News Team in Syria
  • DoubleQuote from the Wilds of Syria

    Wednesday, March 18th, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — it’s not only HM Government (FCO) that can wield a nifty DoubleQuote ]

    Consider this:


    DoubleQuote use n+3:

  • with satirical intent
  • Two new “must read” books

    Monday, March 2nd, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — Hamid & Farrall, Stern & Berger, full reviews coming up shortly ]

    Farrall & Berger


    I recently received a review copy of Mustafa Hamid & Leah Farrall‘s breakthrough book, The Arabs at War in Afghanistan, courtesy of the publisher, Michael Dwyer of Hurst, and will be writing it up once I’ve finished devouring it:

    A former senior mujahidin figure and an ex-counter-terrorism analyst cooperating to write a book on the history and legacy of Arab-Afghan fighters in Afghanistan is a remarkable and improbable undertaking. Yet this is what Mustafa Hamid, aka Abu Walid al-Masri, and Leah Farrall have achieved with the publication of their ground-breaking work.

    The result of thousands of hours of discussions over several years, The Arabs at War in Afghanistan offers significant new insights into the history of many of today’s militant Salafi groups and movements.


    An almost unbelievable and very welcome collaboration.




    Jessica Stern is terrific, while JM Berger is not only one of our ablest analysts, but also a good friend. This book will be an eye-opener.

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