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Sheikh Imran Hosein on Islamic Apocalyptic, sorta

Sunday, September 7th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- shifting the eschatological focus from Syria to Ukraine, with thanks to Stephanie ]
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Stephanie Chenault pointed those of us who follow her FB page to an amazing video by Sheikh Imran Hosein, of whom I have written more than once [eg: 1, 2]:

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Here’s a taste…

We are now moving towards the Malhama (Great War) prophesied by Nabi Muhammad (Sallallaahu ‘Alaihi Wasallam). If you do not have Islamic Eschatology (knowledge of the end times) you will go to work in the morning, face the morning traffic, come home in the evening, face the evening traffic, have your Biriyani for dinner, watch TV until you go to sleep. And you will have absolutely no knowledge whatsoever that you are standing on the door of the Malhama (Great war/World War 3); that’s where we are today with our scholars of Islam (no knowledge about the reality of the world today). It is sad for me to speak these words. Once the Malhama (World War 3) takes place, we don’t have as Muslims any significant role to play in the Malhama. No, we don’t have Nuclear weapons. When these Nuclear weapons explode, that’s going to give us the Dukhan (Smoke, one of the major signs of the last day). Most of mankind will die. But they (angels) must be saying up there; most of mankind deserve to die. Israel is calculating; the rump that will be left behind would be easier for Israel to rule (the world). And it will be very convenient for Israel if the two powers (NATO alliance and Russian alliance) destroy each other…”

If you’ve read my article on Dabiq 3, you’ll know that it too talks about the Great Final War — but with a perspective that focuses on Syria and Iraq rather than Russia and the Ukraine. In this respect, the Islamic State hews far more closely to the traditions and strategic playing out of the end proposed by Abu Musab al-Suri in his Global Islamic Resistance Call [excerpt linked is from Brynja Lia's book] and described in concentrated detail in pages 186-193 of J-P Filiu‘s Apocalypse in Islam.

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The video purports to be about Islamic Eschatology, certainly, while in fact it “connects the dots” between Sheikh Hosein’s own version of that eschatology and current events as he sees them. It is a fascinating piece, with Sh. Hosein towards the end admitting that he is the only Muslim scholar holding his particular view.

This view makes the Ukraine and Russia / Rom central to the events now unfolding, rather than al-Sham / Syria and Iraq, and puts great emphasis on an alliance between Islam and Orthodox Christianity, with Russia as the bastion of Orthodoxy. “Thank god for Vladimir Putin,” Hosein says at around the 1 hour mark.

You really have to hear the whole thing to appreciate it — and must then understand that a second 80 minute tape could describe an entirely different Sunni Islamic end times scenario, Abu Musab’s for instance, while an umpteenth ones might offer a Shiite version, etc etc.

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Some high points, with approximate times in the video for reference:

  • 38 Islam the religion did not come to conquer the world. It never came to establish its rule over the world. But it most certainly came to liberate the world from oppression.
  • 45-48 Constantinople and the Orthodox & Islamic alliance, alliance with western Christian prohibited.
  • 51 Dajjal’s Ottoman empire teaching perpetual, unjust, bogus jihad against Rum to rule the whole world
  • 56 Cathedral of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople turned into a masjid in conflict with Allah’s command
  • 58 For centuries Dajjal was at war attempting to prevent Islamic-Orthodox alliance — also Russia is Rum
  • 1 hr 03 Why the importance of Crimea becoming part of Ukraine
  • 1 hr 11 The Black Sea as eschatological focus.
  • BTW, that comment about perpetual jihad to conquer and rule the entire world being a bogus doctrine receives some pretty strong repetition!

    Sh Hosein also offers us a number of interesting asides along the way:

  • 36 where he explains what “incline to peace” means not just ceasing from battle but also giving back all “fruits” of aggression and oppression
  • 42 where he suggests that those “closest to you in love and affection” (Q 5.82) is a predictive, futuristic verse.
  • I can’t do more than note these particular points in passing, but any one or two of them might make a ine and detailed post.

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    For the basic “signs of the times” which are what we normally think of as basic Muslim eschatology, see Sh. Hosein’s own page.

    For further research, the basic readings on Islamic eschatology are:

  • J-P Filiu, Apocalypse in Islam
  • David Cook, Studies in Muslim Apocalyptic
  • David Cook, Contemporary Muslim Apocalyptic Literature
  • The best account of Mahdis and Mahdist movements:

  • Timothy Furnish, Holiest Wars
  • You may also find some of my own early posts helpful for background:

  • Apocalyptic Vision: Guest Post by Charles Cameron
  • Guest Post: Iran or Afghanistan? The Black Flags of Khorasan
  • Guest Post: Connecting the Dots: Light on Light
  • — or perhaps Filiu’s recent posts in French, which Google can translate somewhat less than clearly:

  • L’État Islamique agit comme un rouleau compresseur
  • L’Etat islamique ou les chevaliers de l’apocalypse djihadiste
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    Dabiq issue 3 part 1- Hijrah

    Friday, September 5th, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron -- a pilgrimage with no return -- IS as the victorious group, the saved sect, the strangers ]
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    dabiq 3

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    Hijrah is emigration for religious purposes, pilgrimage on a one-way ticket, and the archetypal Hijrah, that which was made by the Prophet and his followers from Mecca to Medina in 622, gives the Islamic calendar its starting date. The Islamic State has dedicated the third issue of Dabiq to the topic of hijrah, viewed in the shade of the Prophet’s hijrah as the emigration of Muslims from around the world to participate among the forces of the “caliphate” in the final jihad:

    Contemplate – may Allah have mercy upon you – the states that existed throughout history, both the Muslim states and the mushrik states. Were any of them established by the emigration of poor strangers from the East and the West, who then gathered in an alien land of war and pledged allegiance to an “unknown” man, in spite of the political, economic, military, media, and intelligence war waged by the nations of the world against their religion, their state, and their hijrah? And in spite of the fact that they did not have any common “nationality,” ethnicity, language, or worldly interests, nor did they have any prior acquaintance!

    This phenomenon is something that has never occurred in human history, except in the case of the Islamic State! And nothing like it will ever occur thereafter except in relation to it; and Allah knows best.

    and:

    But if you were to go to the frontlines of ar-Raqqah, al-Barakah, al-Khayr, Halab, etc., you would find the soldiers and the commanders to be of different colors, languages, and lands: the Najdi, the Jordanian, the Tunisian, the Egyptian, the Somali, the Turk, the Albanian, the Chechen, the Indonesian, the Russian, the European, the American and so on. They left their families and their lands to renew the state of the muwahhidin in Sham, and they had never known each other until they arrived in Sham!

    Having stressed the uniqueness of the Islamic State in this way, the writer then makes it clear that this unique event is happening precisely because we are in the tun-up to the final battle:

    I have no doubt that this state, which has gathered the bulk of the muhajirin [ie: those who have made hijrah] in Sham and has become the largest collection of muhajirin in the world, is a marvel of history that has only come about to pave the way for al-Malhamah al-Kubra (the grand battle prior to the Hour). And Allah knows best.

    and:

    And what a tremendous favor it is from Allah to guide one to the Islamic State and grant him companionship with its muhajirin, those who plunge into the malahim (the great battles prior to the Hour)!

    Not surprisingly, therefore, significance is given to the location of the Islamic State in Greater Sham. A major section is headed:

    Sham is the Land of Malahim

    and in it, we read:

    Then, these nuzza’ gathered in Sham, the land of malahim and the land of al-Malhamah al-Kubra. Allah’s Messenger (sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) has informed of battles that will occur in places within Sham and its vicinity, such as al-Ghutah, Damascus, Dabiq (or al-A’maq), the Euphrates River, and Constantinople (which is near Sham), as well as Baytul-Maqdis (Jerusalem), the gate of Lod, Lake Tiberius, the Jordan River, Mount Sinai, and so on.

    The immediately following sentence, as Tim Furnish pointed out, contains the first explicit reference to the Mahdi in an issue of Dabiq:

    And he (sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) linked this blessed land with many of the events related to al-Masih, al-Mahdi, and the Dajjal.

    The following hadith detailing the site of the final battle — compare Har Megiddo in Christian scripture — is then quoted:

    Abud-Darda’ (radiyallAhu ‘anh) said that Allah’s Messenger (sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) said, “Indeed the camp of the Muslims on the day of al-Malhamah al-Kubra will be in al-Ghutah, next to a city called Damascus, one of the best cities of Sham” [sahih – reported by Imam Ahmad, Abu Dawud, and al-Hakim].

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    The group of foreigners from around the world coming to al-Sham is also described as “strangers” — a term with its own reference both to the earliest companions and to the latest among fighters in the final battle:

    Ibn Mas’ud (radiyallahu ‘anh) said that the Prophet (sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) said, “Verily Islam began as something strange, and it will return to being something strange as it first began, so glad tidings to the strangers.” Someone asked, “Who are the strangers?” He said, “Those who break off from their tribes” [reported by Imam Ahmad, ad-Darimi, and Ibn Majah, with a sahih isnad].

    The earliest Muslims were strange because they were few among their fellow-tribespeople of Mecca, the latest because they are a comparatively small vanguard — favorite term of bin Laden’s — among all those hundreds of millions who today call themselves Muslims — but also and specifically because they come from “strange” lands. There’s even an echo of I Peter 2.9 in the New Testament here:

    But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light..

    Think also of John 15,16:

    Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you.

    And indeed of Israel in the Torah, eg D’varim / Deuteronomy 14.2:

    For thou art a holy people unto HaShem thy G-d, and HaShem hath chosen thee to be His own treasure out of all peoples that are upon the face of the earth.

    In all of these verses, the sense of “chosenness” is almost palpable: IS is strumming an ancient and powerful chord here.

    But what does it mean, in a specifically Islamic and apocalyptic context, to be “strange” and “chosen” in this way? Another paragraph from Dabiq gives us further insight:

    Shaykh Hamid at-Tuwayjiri (rahimahullah), in commenting on some of the narrations about the tribulations and battles in Sham, said, “In these narrations is evidence that the bulk of at-Ta’ifatul-Mansurah (the victorious group) will be in Sham near the end of times, because the Khilafah will be there. They will continue to be there clearly upon the truth until ..

    I’ll leave the “until” for later, and simply report some ahadith here that concern the “victorious group” and the “saved sect”:

    It was reported from ‘Awf ibn Maalik who said: the Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said:

    “The Jews were divided into seventy-one sects, one of which is in Paradise and seventy are in the Fire. The Christians were divided into seventy-two sects, seventy-one of which are in the Fire and one is in Paradise. By the One in Whose hand is the soul of Muhammad, my Ummah will be divided into seventy-three sects, one of which will be in Paradise and seventy-two will be in the Fire.” It was said, O Messenger of Allaah, who are they? He said, “Al-Jamaa’ah.” [Sunan Ibn Maajah, no. 3982]

    That’s one of numerous variants on the same message. And another hadith connects the “victorious group” specifically with the “saved sect” thus:

    They are in this world “The Victorious Group” [at-Taa'ifah al-Mansoorah] and in the hereafter “The Saved Sect”. [al-Firqah an-Naajiyyah]

    Furthermore, Muhammad ibn al-Uthaymin, in his Methodology (Minhaaj) of Ahlus-Sunnah wa-l-Jamaa’ah makes the connection with the end times explicit:

    There will always be a group of my Ummah victorious upon the truth, until the last of them fight against Ad-Dajjal.

    Abu Dawud 3:11, cited in Tafsir Ibn Kathir: (abridged) Vol 9 p.88

    The foreign fighters, then, will be strangers because foreigners, strange because they will be few compared to the masses of the indifferent and quiescent, select, victorious, saved, “on the truth” — they will be a “vanguard” and also a “remnant” — participating on the field of battle during the battles leading up to the final great Battle of the End Times.

    Again, this is a powerful chord to strike in the hearts of the young, the uncritical — those who got in search of jihad in al-Sham, buying copies of Islam for Dummies before they leave..

    So those who left their tribes – the best of Allah’s slaves – rallied together with an imam and a jama’ah upon the path of Ibrahim. They gathered together in the land of malahim shortly before the occurrence of al-Malhamah al-Kubra, announced their enmity and hatred for the cross worshippers, the apostates, their crosses, their borders, and their ballotboxes, and pledged allegiance to the Khilafah, promising to die defending it.

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    Hold on, there are two more matters in this first take on Dabiq issue 3 that I’d like to mention, one having to do with faith and the unseen, the other with something not unlike current dispensationalist notions of the Rapture.

    As to faith, Dabiq notes:

    Allah has praised the believers for their belief in the unseen, as He said, {They believe in the unseen} [Al-Baqarah: 3]. The companions of the Prophet (sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) believed in both what they witnessed and what they could not see, for they believed in Allah and the Day of Judgment without seeing either of them, and they believed in the Prophet (sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) having seen and witnessed him. The revelation would descend [upon him] in their company, and they would see the signs and witness the miracles.

    Taking up the comparative mode again, there are echoes here of Hebrews 11.1:

    Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.

    and John 20.29:

    Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.

    It’s my understanding that Muhammad would have been acquainted with Nestorian Christian monks, one of whom predicted his prophethood. Just how their “one person, two natures” theology and / or scriptures may have influenced him (and his teachings on the crucifixion in particular) I don’t know, but would certainly be interested to learn…

    So.. Dabiq continues with more in this same line of ahadith, once again tying in the last days of the victorious group with the first days of the Companions and earliest generations of Islam:

    The last part of this ummah believes in what the first part of the ummah believed in of the unseen, and believes in what the first part of the ummah believed in as eyewitnesses. This latter belief is their belief in the Prophet (sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam), for they do not see the Prophet (sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam), and because of that they’ve become the most wondrous people in faith, as reported [in the hadith] of Ibn ‘Abbas (radiyallahu ‘anhuma) that Allah’s Messenger (sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) said, ‘The most wondrous people in faith are a people who come after me and believe in me without having seen me, and they attest to my truthfulness without having seen me. So they are my brothers’ [reported by Imam Ahmad]” [Ma’ani al-Akhbar].

    Once again, powerful and ancient memes are given a new and powerful interpretation and application.

    The second point has to do with a divine force that lifts the righteous above the fray, so that only those who have earned some measure of divine wrath remain on earth — shades of the Rapture as described in the Left Behind series!

    As you may recall, up above, I quoted:

    They will continue to be there clearly upon the truth until ..

    and said I would pick up the sentence later. The whole sentence reads:

    They will continue to be there clearly upon the truth until Allah sends the pleasant breeze and it takes the soul of every person who has faith in his heart, as preceded in the sahih narrations that the Prophet (sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) said, ‘Until the command of Allah comes while they are upon that [condition]’” [Ithaful-Jama’ah].

    This is certainly another strong apocalyptic meme — the physical and / or metaphysical safeguarding of the faithful few in a time of wrath and destruction. And Dabiq hammers it home repeatedly:

    In another narration, “So it [the breeze] grasps them under their armpits, taking the soul of every believer and every Muslim. And there will remain the worst of the people, having intercourse as donkeys do [in front of other people as they watch]. So it is upon them that the Hour will be established” [Sahih Muslim].

    And in another narration, “Allah will send a cold breeze from the direction of Sham, so no one will remain on the face of the earth with so much as the weight of a mustard seed of goodness or faith in his heart except that it takes him. Even if one of you were to enter into the center of a mountain, the breeze would enter into it, until it takes him. Then there will remain the worst of the people, who have the agility of birds (in their haste to commit evil and satisfy their lusts) and the wits of vicious, predatory animals (in their hostility and oppression of one another). They do not know any good, nor do they denounce any evil” [Sahih Muslim].

    This pleasant breeze takes the souls of the believers everywhere on the earth: al-Hijaz, Iraq, Yemen, Sham, and so on. It will be sent forth a number of years after the demise of the Dajjal and the passing away of the Masih ‘Isa (sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam).

    Shaykhul-Islam Ibn Taymiyyah (rahimahullah) said, “Islam in the end of times will be more manifest in Sham. [ .. ] So the best of the people on the earth in the end of times will be those who keep to the land of Ibrahim’s hijrah, which is Sham” [Majmu’ul-Fatawa].

    I’m not as impressed as others by the supposed “slickness” of the magazine, but the argumentation as illustrated here deserves careful consideration and appropriate rebuttal from qualified scholars.

    **

    That concludes page 10 of this 42 page magazine. Whether I’ll post more on the remaining pages remains to be seen. And no doubt there are strands that I have missed here, which Tim Furnish may address.

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    What to do About ISIS? Constructing Strategy, Weighing Options

    Friday, August 29th, 2014

    [by Mark Safranski, a.k.a. "zen"]

    ISIS or the Islamic StateCaliphate” is the focus  of a great deal of discussion and demands for action from the United Statesand also inactionfrom many quarters.

    What is to be done?

    That is a famous question.  In matters of geopolitics and strategy, it is more fitting to begin with “Should something be done?”. We need to define the problem before rushing toward solutions. What is ISIS/ISIL/IS  and does it threaten the United States and American interests?:

    An evolving offshoot of al Qaida, ISIS is a more radically takfiri, more ambitious and more impatient  jihadi/irhabi offspring than it’s parent. The so-called Islamic State holds sway over considerable Sunni Arab territory in both Syria and Iraq with a makeshift capital at Ar-Raqqah, Syria. Theologically, ISIS is the most extreme Islamist movement to arise since the GIA near the tail end of their 1990′s insurgency in Algeria, regarding the Shia and less radical Sunnis as apostates, deserving of death.  They have carried out genocidal massacres of Yazidis and Shia prisoners of war, tortured and mutilated prisoners and executed noncombatants and hostages like reporter James Foley. Ominously, ISIS may also be an apocalyptic movement, not merely a radical takfiri one, making it far less risk averse, even brazen, in its offensive operations and more intransigently fanatical on defense.

    ISIS has been popularly described as an unholy mixture of “al Qaida, the Khmer Rouge and the Nazis”  and also as a terrorist army” by General David Petraeus. While it is true that their ranks probably contain the cream of the world’s Salafi terrorist-jihadi current, terrorism in the form of assassinations and suicide bombings has only been adjunctive to insurgent tactics and conventional combined arms operations. ISIS has shown impressive small unit discipline, the capacity to engage in maneuver warfare with heavy arms against the Kurds, Syrian Army, the Iraqi Army and rival Syrian rebel groups and even special operations skills. ISIS has moved aggressively on the physical, mental and moral levels of war to amass territory for their “caliphate” and consolidate their power and continues to advance, despite being rebuffed from Irbil by the Kurds and US airpower. ISIS is heavily armed with large quantities of advanced modern American and Russian weapons captured from the Iraqi and Syrian armies and is equally well funded, possessing in addition to significant revenue flows, the control of numerous dams and oilfields. Finally, in addition to their manifold war crimes, crimes against humanity and acts of genocide, ISIS has also made broad, if vague, threats to strike New York, Chicago and Americans generally.

    ISIS in a sense is the dream of jihadi strategist Abu Musab al-Suri come to life and gone from strength to strength. If they do not have al-Suri in their ranks, they have his playbook and do not seem to shrink from employing stratagems and speed to achieve surprise.

    Having assessed their capabilities, I think it is reasonable to conclude that ISIS is a threat to American interests because they are destabilizing the region, threatening the security of American allies and are regularly causing a grave humanitarian crisis far beyond the normal exigencies of war. It is less clear that they are a direct threat to the security of United States and to the extent that ISIS terrorism is a threat, it is a  modest one,  though greater to Americans and US facilities overseas. The caveat is that the strength and capabilities of ISIS have already grown faster and qualitatively improved more than any other non-state actor in the last forty years and are on a trajectory of further growth. ISIS is unlikely to be better disposed toward American interests if it grows stronger. CJCS General Dempsey, correctly attempted to convey all of these nuances in his remarks to reporters without overstepping his role into advocating a policy to shape our strategy, which is the responsibility of his civilian superiors.

    This brings us to the cardinal weakness in post-Cold War American statesmen – an unwillingness to do the intellectual heavy lifting that connects policy and strategy by making the choice to articulate a realistic vision of political ends that are the desired outcome of a decisive use of military force.  The result of this aversion (which is bipartisan – I am not picking on the Obama administration here) is that a strategy is not formulated, much less executed and the military then attempts to remediate the strategic gap with the sheer awesomeness of its operational art. That does not usually work too well, at least on land, because contemporary American civilian and military leaders also do not like to inflict the kind of horrific mass casualties on the enemy that, even in the absence of a real strategy might still cripple through sheer attrition  the enemy’s will or capacity to fight.  The American elite today, in contrast to the generation of FDR, Eisenhower and Truman, have no stomach for Dresden – but defeating Nazis sometimes requires not just a Dresden, but many of them and worse.

    However, let’s assume the best, that the Obama administration will, having learned from Libya, Iraq and Afghanistan, construct a strategy to use force to accomplish victory – gaining coherent, specific and realistic political objectives. The President, having refreshingly admitted that there is no strategy at present, has freed up his subordinates to create one rather than digging in and defending the current policy that lacks one. Since the administration and nearly everyone else on Earth agrees that ISIS , in addition to being moral monsters, is a threat to at least some degree. the questions then become:

    • How much of a threat is ISIS to American interests or security?
    • What do we want the political end state to be in the Mideast if/when the threat of ISIS is contained, diminished or destroyed?
    • What is it worth to us to accomplish this outcome in light of our other, competing, American interests, in the region and globally?

    Once those important questions are answered, the military leadership will have the proper policy guidance to give the administration the best possible advice on how military force could secure their aims or be used in concert with other elements of national power civilian leaders might wish to employ, such as diplomacy, economic coercion or covert operations. Moving forward without answering these questions is an exercise in flailing about, hoping that using sufficient force opportunistically will cause good geopolitical things to happen.

    I will not venture to say how or if administration officials will answer such questions, but there are some broad military options the Pentagon might offer to further a strategy to contend with ISIS. Some suggested possibilities and comments:

    These options are not all mutually exclusive and in practice some would blend into others. No option is perfect, cost free or without trade-offs. Attempting to find the strategy with no risks and no hard choices is a policy to engage primarily in ineffectual military gesticulations insufficient to actually change the status quo in Iraq and Syria ( and the eternal default strategy of domestic political consultants and career bureaucrats playing at foreign policy).

    DO NOTHING:

    Doing nothing, or non-intervention is vastly underrated as a strategy because it is passive. However, most of the greatly feared, worst-case scenarios will fail to materialize as predicted because the actors about whom we harbor grave suspicions usually become bogged down by their own friction, miscalculations, internal politics and chance. This is why calling every foreign menace, great and small, the next “Hitler” has lost much of its charge. Run of the mill tyrants and corrupt dictators simply are not Adolf Hitler and their crappy, semi-developed, countries are not to be equated with turning the industrial heart of Europe into a war machine. Avoiding a needless war of choice is usually the smarter play from an economic and humanitarian standpoint.  The drawback to this option is that every once in a while, the menace really is another Hitler, a Bolshevik Revolution or a less than existential threat that nevertheless, is politically intolerable for numerous good reasons.  ISIS barbarism probably falls into the latter category and doing absolutely nothing becomes risky in the face of a fast-rising aggressor and probably politically untenable at home.

    CONTAINMENT:

    Containing a threat with a combination of coercion, non-military forms of pressure and  limited uses of armed force short of all-out warfare is designed to prevent further expansion until the adversary loses the will or capacity to remain a threat. This defensive posture was the successful American grand strategy of the Cold War against the Soviet Union and is frequently invoked as a less costly alternative for proposed interventions. Admittedly, the idea of keeping Islamist radicals bottled up in a “Sunnistan” composed of the Syrian desert and northern Iraqi towns until they starve or are overthrown and murdered by locals has a certain charm.

    Unfortunately, this option is not likely to work because the underlying analogy is extremely poor.  Containment worked in part because Soviet insistence on maintaining the USSR as a totalitarian “closed system” made them exceptionally vulnerable to Containment’s pressure which allowed them no lasting way to resolve their internal economic and political contradictions. ISIS is not the Soviets and their Caliphate is not a closed system, or even yet, a durable state.  Their jihadi cadres can melt away across borders and new recruits can make their way in, as can contraband, money and information. Physically containing ISIS would do nothing toward discrediting their ideas; more likely, their continued existence in the face of powerful Western and Arab state opposition would validate them.  In any event, sealing off ISIS would require the unstinting, sustained, cooperation of  Iran, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, the Gulf states, Turkey, the Assad regime, the Kurds and a large deployment of American troops. This is probably not doable except on a very short term basis as a prelude to a “final offensive” like the one that crushed the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka.

    PROXY WARFARE:

    Enlisting foreign local allies, be they loyalist paramilitaries or state military regulars of various countries offers numerous advantages as well as drawbacks. It provides boots on the ground that we can’t afford, while irregulars like Kurdish Peshmerga and Shia militiamen would be highly motivated to fight. The Kurds are also (relatively speaking) well disciplined and trained compared to building units by throwing together ragtag tribesmen and down on their luck Iraqi townsmen looking for a paycheck. Adding overwhelming American airpower to the mix would greatly improve the fighting power of irregular light infantry, as was demonstrated recently when Kurdish and Iraqi forces repeled ISIS from Iraq’s largest dam. Proxy warfare offers a fairly decent chance to roll back ISIS but the downside is that proxies also have their own agendas and would range from “mostly but not entirely reliable” (Kurds) to “freebooting death squads” (Shia militias). As in Afghanistan, we would soon find our proxies were also in the pay of Iran and Saudi Arabia and attempting to play one patron off against the other. Recognizing Kurdish independence would most likely be part of the deal (not a bad thing in my view) which would require repudiating a decade of failed nation-building policy in Iraq ( also not a bad thing) and accepting partition.

    LIMITED WARFARE: 

    Limited warfare is often disdained because it can seldom produce a resounding victory but it is useful in playing to strengths (ex. relying on a robust air campaign) while  limiting exposure to risks and costs.  Overwhelming firepower can be applied selectively to prevent an adversary’s victory and impose punishing costs, eating up their men and material. Limited warfare works best in conjunction with simple and limited political goals and military objectives and poorly with grandiose visions ( like turning Afghanistan into a liberal democracy and haven of women’ rights). Limited warfare on land, particular grinding counterinsurgency wars that go on for years on end with no clear stopping point, are very difficult for democracies to sustain politically. The electorate grows weary and the troops come home, often short of a permanent political settlement. The likely preference of the administration, if it chose this option, would be an air campaign coupled with drones, CIA covert action and SOF, working in conjunction with local allies.

    MAJOR WARFARE:

    For existential threats, go heavy or go home. This is the Weinberger-Powell Doctrine in pursuit of a decisive battle that does not merely defeat but crushes the enemy and compels him to submit to our will.  It would be extraordinarily expensive in blood, treasure and opportunity costs as the United states military is ill-prepared to re-deploy the bulk of the Army and Marine Corps to Iraq, supported by carrier groups in the Gulf. It is highly questionable that ISIS, whose fighters number somewhere between 10,000 – 20,000 would stand up and try to fight such an mammoth expedition head-on. They would retreat to Syria and dare us to invade that country also or go underground. It is also dubious that American leaders have the kind of iron-hearted will to fight what Gary Anderson accurately describes as “a combined arms campaign of extermination“. ISIS by contrast, demonstrates daily that it has no such scruples restraining them.

    GRAND COALITION:

    This differs from the previous option only in that it would bring all or most of the aforementioned armed enemies of ISIS together to corner and annihilate the menace once and for all. It makes eminent strategic sense but the ability to bring together so many incompatible parties and weld them into a coordinated military campaign requires political-diplomatic wizardry on the order of genius to pull off. It also requires a much greater sense of fear of ISIS than even their ghoulish brutality has generated so far to bring together Saudi and Shia, Turk and Kurd, Alawite and Sunni rebel, American and Iranian, as military allies.

    The Obama administration faces a difficult dilemma in pondering the problem presented by ISIS. I don’t envy them but their task will grow easier and a resultant strategy more likely successful if they are willing to make ruthless choices in pursuit of bottom-line, clearly-defined American interests.

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    Of impassioned distinctions and lines traced on maps

    Wednesday, August 13th, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron -- in which the muj from Khorasan talk even more about the erasing of national boundaries than the soldiers of the IS caliphate ]
    .

    Before there were maps, there was terrain, some of it populated, and various populations spoke various languages and identified themselves and each other in various complex ways. And then there were maps.

    Heinrich Bunting, world map with Jerusalem at the center, naturally, 1581

    **

    Maps certainly have a logic to them, but it is not always the logic of the populations who actually live, think, and care in the terrain depicted.

    In this post, I am going to explore various writings on national boundaries and the recently-announced and mapped caliphate, starting with the mildest, and building in a crescendo to the opinions of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and the Mujahideen in Khurasan.

    **

    Owen Bennett-Jones writes in The London Review of books:

    As for borders, it is no longer outlandish to consider the possibility of an Alawite redoubt in western Syria and of Kurdish self-rule: a de facto independence that would change not only Iraq but also Turkey, Syria and Iran. Israel and the Western powers are already voicing concern about what might happen in Jordan. No doubt they will all resist demands to recognise any attempted changes to national boundaries. But that may lead to a growing divergence between the international system regulating relations between states and the reality on the ground.

    This seems a bit pallid to me, for reasons you’ll uderstand when you read a Taliban writer pon the same topic below.

    **

    The topic is also apparently a live one for scholars. The University of Southern California and the Project on Middle East Political Science have just issued a Call for Proposals for participants in their Rethinking Nation and Nationalism Workshop, to be held at USC, February 6, 2015:

    The Arab uprisings of 2011 have shown that questions of physical boundaries and national identities long seen as resolved may in fact be open to reconfiguring. Insurgencies spanning Syria and Iraq and the (re)assertion of regionalism in Libya are only the most violent of the processes currently underway challenging long-established physical national frontiers. Embattled regimes have produced new national narratives to legitimate their rule, while sectarian and Islamist movements have taken on new manifestations. Refugee movements triggered by these conflicts and longer-standing processes of migration within, into, and out of the region have led to large communities of nationals established outside the countries of their citizenship.

    **

    Col. Pat Lang, a warrior with a feel for the region — he introduced the study of Arabic at West Point — just today posted On identity and the state in the Middle East, his response to a friend’s off-blog comment:

    I think what you (Origin) miss in this is that these countries are not really post Treaty of Westphalia nation-states. They were created by the colonial powers in the image of European countries that more resemble that model. In fact, these Middle East countries are inhabited by disparate groups of people who self-indentify within their group or perhaps withing several groups they belong to. These peoples do not identify with the state in which they live unless they happen to be run it. Thus, the Kurds feel no actual loyalty to the thing the British called “Iraq.” They are quite willing to cooperate with other Sunni people, in this case Sunni Arab tribes who are also indifferent or hostile to the government in Baghdad now that it is run by their ancestral enemies, the Shia Arabs. The Kurds would not lift a finger to help “Iraq” if they were left alone in their mountains. What they yearn for first last and always is Kurdish independence. The same situation exists in Jordan a country that is in essence a “reservation” for Sunni Arabs. It has been that since it was created by the Brits in payment of a World War One obligation to the Hashemits Emir Abdullah. This obligation originated in Abdullah’s support for the British during the war. When Iraq was under Sunni rule Jordan supported Iraq. Shia run “Iraq” means nothing to Jordan. The same this is true around the region.

    IS is different from all these states. It does not recognize the legitimacy of the notion of countries at all and seeks a world wide theocratic state beginning in the Middle East.

    The mozaic of all these groups that exists on the ground in the Middle East does not fit the boundaries of the Sykes-Picot world created after WW1. Come to grips with that.

    Now that’s “getting warmer” as kids say in a game of hide and seek.

    **

    And the Caliphate?

    They simply and eloquently bulldoze frontiers:

    Residents near the border with Syria, where ISIL has exploited civil war to seize wide tracts of that country’s east, watched militants bulldozing tracks through frontier sand berms – as a prelude to trying to revive a medieval entity straddling both modern states.

    The words of their Amirul-Mu’minin Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi are quoted in the caliphal magazine Dabiq, issue 1 p. 7:

    O Muslims everywhere, glad tidings to you and expect good. Raise your head high, for today – by Allah’s grace – you have a state and Khilafah, which will return your dignity, might, rights, and leadership.

    It is a state where the Arab and non-Arab, the white man and black man, the easterner and westerner are all brothers.

    It is a Khilafah that gathered the Caucasian, Indian, Chinese, Shami, Iraqi, Yemeni, Egyptian, Maghribi (North African), American, French, German, and Australian. Allah brought their hearts together, and thus, they became brothers by His grace, loving each other for the sake of Allah, standing in a single trench, defending and guarding each other, and sacrificing themselves for one another.

    Their blood mixed and became one, under a single flag and goal, in one pavilion, enjoying this blessing, the blessing of faithful brotherhood.

    If kings were to taste this blessing, they would abandon their kingdoms and fight over this grace. So all praise and thanks are due to Allah.

    and again on p. 8:

    Whoever was sleeping must now awaken. Whoever was shocked and amazed must comprehend. The Muslims today have a loud, thundering statement, and possess heavy boots. They have a statement that will cause the world to hear and understand the meaning of terrorism, and boots that will trample the idol of nationalism, destroy the idol of democracy and uncover its deviant nature.

    **

    Finally, we come to another set of jihadis who identify themselves in their magazine Azan as the Mujahideen in Khurasan — whose own Amir al-Mumineen is Mulla Umar.

    One Muhammad Qasim devotes and entire article to the issue of nation states vs the Ummah in Azan, issue 5 pp 12-15. It is titled Destroying the Country Idol and subheaded:

    Consequences of adopting the Nation-State Concept:

    • Destruction of Unity
    • Creation of Nationalistic Armies

    Curiously, the second section focuses on Clausewitz (1832?) rather than Westphalia (1648) — but I’ll leave discussion of that question to our historians.

    Qasim begins by quoting two Qur’anic ayat:

    Truly! This Ummah of yours is one Ummah, and I am your Lord, so worship Me (Alone). [21:92]

    and

    hold fast, all of you together, to the Rope of Allah (i.e. this Quran), and be not divided among yourselves .. [3:103]

    and suggests:

    The “nation state” has destroyed the unity of the Ummah and split it into bits and pieces, entirely vulnerable to the plans of the Kuffar. The great Mujahid leader, Shaykh Dr. Ayman Al-Zawahiri (HA) sums up the Muslim loss in a few impeccable words:

    My free and honorable brothers, who are eager to help Islam and liberate Palestine! We must read history and comprehend its lessons. Palestine was lost when the Khilafah fell and we were dominated by secularism and territorial nationalism which has torn us apart and continues to tear us apart.

    The body of his article then continues:

    One of the fundamental interests of the West and the Zionists, and indeed, one of the necessities of their existence, is that they divide us by spreading the principles of the secular nationalist nation state and homeland among us, so that we become crumbs that they can easily devour. As a result of this ethnic and territorial nationalism, we broke apart after the fall of the Khilafah into more than fifty helpless vassal states.

    The reviver of Jihad, Shaykh Abdullah Azzam (RA) said:

    Sykes and Picot created borders for us. They said to us, Jordan ends here at ar-Ramtha, and Syria begins after Ar-Ramtha, and Jordan begins after Harat Ammar. And Kuwait? Here it is! The city of Kuwait, the “state” of Kuwait… And the state of Qatar is a single city. And so is the state of Bahrain. And Lebanon? Here it is… the size of a coin. That’s the state of Lebanon. And here is Syria. Listen, this is your land and your birthplace, and love of one’s homeland is part of faith. And so on… And so we have begun to think in an “Islamic way” which is in truth not an Islamic way but rather, a territorial way of thinking daubed with Islam.

    The Jordanian in Ar-Ramtha sees the resident of Dara’a [across the Syrian border] being slaughtered in front of him by the Nusayrites; yet, he does not even bat an eyelid, move a muscle, or take an extra heartbeat; nor is he prepared to open the borders. Why? Because Islam ends at Ar-Ramtha; and he has nothing to do with Islam in Dara’a. But when a Jordanian in Al-‘Aqaba winces in pain, you’ll find the same person (from Ar-Ramtha) up in arms, although the distance between Al-‘Aqaba and Ar-Ramtha is more than 600 km, while the difference between al-Ramtha and Dara’a is less than 6 km.

    This isn’t an Islamic attitude; this isn’t the attitude of ”Truly! This Ummah of yours is one Ummah, and I am your Lord, so worship Me (Alone).” [21:92]

    This isn’t the global outlook of Islam which says:

    India is ours and China is ours
    And the earth is ours and all is ours
    Islam has become our religion
    And the entire world is our homeland
    The constitution of Allah is our religion
    And we have made our hearts its home

    All Muslims are united upon true faith in Allah (swt), His Messenger (pbuh) and His Final Book. However, these false lines have been etched upon us on the basis of which entire political, military, economic and cultural institutions have been established that seek division between the Pakistani and the Indian, between the Egyptian and the Turk, between the Chechen and the Uzbek. There is no reality in these divides. As has been emphasized earlier in the article, in Islam, divide between humanity is upon faith, upon love for Allah (swt) and His Messenger (pbuh). So, we as an Ummah must take practical steps to defeat this divided mentality and erase these map lines physically that indoctrinate the Ummah into believing in this false separation.

    **

    It’s impressive iMO to see those whose loyalty is to Mullah Omar publishing in greater detail on this topic than those whose loyalty is to the self-proclaimed caliph of IS. Maybe they’ll submit their article as a proposal for that conference at the University of Southern California, you think?

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    Balancing acts & mirror images: 1

    Friday, August 1st, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron -- first in a series of (at least) three posts, mostly about Gaza ]
    .

    There are a whole lot of uses of balancing acts & mirror images around these days on Twitter and elsewhere, and without prejudice I’d like to repost some of them. Individual items of this kind may be designed to “take a side” — but with any luck, presenting a slew of them together will encourage a more thoughtful response.

    First up, one that compares and contrasts the Gaza situation with that in Syria:

    Why the double standard is a great question to ask, but I’m not sure any one answer will be the right one. The juxtaposition of the two death tolls, however, clearly provokes thought. And besides, as the Reverend Dean of St Pauls, John Donne saith:

    any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee

    **

    Here’s a “mirror image” with built in asymmetry that is clearly used to convey an Israeli point regarding Hamas:

    This gains its psychological force as argument precisely from the symmetry between the two sides — and from the way in which that symmetry is broken.

    And here’s a variant that I posted earlier, to much the same effect:

    **

    Here’s a “twinning” of tweets that I put together myself, providing what may be a less obvious symmetry, and again one that takes us ourside of Gaza, though not out of the neighboirhood entirely. There’s this:

    And then there’s this:

    As I say — remembering as I say it, specifically, the injunction to “love thy neighbor” — it’s all in the same neighborhood.

    **

    Really, the number of ironies, paradoxes, mirror-images and so forth cropping up in my Twitter feed these days is overwhelming.

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