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Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists

Tuesday, September 29th, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — what color does a chameleon turn in a hall of mirrors? ]



There’s an interesting ascetic aesthetic in photography which prefers black and white to full spectrum color, but the black and white in question has a rich spectrum of its own, a continuum of shades of grey between black and white poles. Not so with black and white choices of the sort President Bush proposed when he said:

Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists.


Some of the nuances to consider:

David Kilcullen on this video at 48.55:

A lot of families in Afghanistan have one son fighting with the government, and another son fighting with the Taliban. It’s a hedging strategy.


In Syria, many families face a terrible dilemma

In recent months I have noticed a trend of some families sending at least one of their children to join ISIL because that was the only way for them to generate an income in the family.


And then this:

U.S. Soldiers Told to Ignore Afghan Allies’ Abuse of Boys

Rampant sexual abuse of children has long been a problem in Afghanistan, particularly among armed commanders who dominate much of the rural landscape and can bully the population. The practice is called bacha bazi, literally “boy play,” and American soldiers and Marines have been instructed not to intervene — in some cases, not even when their Afghan allies have abused boys on military bases, according to interviews and court records.



Is the CIA undercounting civilian deaths from drone strikes?

Determining the number of civilian casualties under such circumstances is a difficult task — even for the human rights groups that devote significant resources to doing so. If the CIA is simply counting zero civilians killed in operations where it can’t say for certain who the agency is even firing at, that doesn’t inspire much confidence in their numbers.
assumed to be combatants.


And then there’s the paradox, found even in scripture:

The Synoptic Gospels attribute the following quote to Jesus of Nazareth: “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters” (Matthew 12:30), as well as its contrapositive, “Whoever is not against us is for us” (Luke 9:50; The Synoptic Gospels attribute the following quote to Jesus of Nazareth: “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters” (Matthew 12:30), as well as its contrapositive, “Whoever is not against us is for us” (Luke 9:50; Mark 9:40)


As I said at the top of this post —


No man’s land, one man’s real estate, everyone’s dream?

Monday, August 17th, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — borders and distinctions from Trump to Revelation, plus one ]

Donald Trump‘s “three core principles of real immigration reform”:

1. A nation without borders is not a nation.


G Spencer-Brown wrote of his book. Laws of Form, “The theme of this book is that a universe comes into being when a space is severed or taken apart” — or as Heinz Von Foerster rephrased him, “Draw a distinction and a universe comes into being”. Indeed, his book opens with the words:

We take as given the idea of distinction and the idea of indication, and that we cannot make an indication without drawing a distinction.

He writes:

Distinction is perfect continence.

That is to say, a distinction is drawn by arranging a boundary with separate sides so that a point on one side cannot reach the other side without crossing the boundary. For example in a plane a circle draws a distinction.

Similarly, Gregory Bateson defines an idea as “A difference or distinction or news of differences”.


Borders are both physical and metaphysical: the border between the physical and the metaphysical passes through human beings, who are themselves both metaphysical and physical.

Borders may thus be heeded or ignored.

Smugglers don’t necessarily ignore them, they may take them very seriously, as do those who police them. Birds, however, ignore them, fishes, lizards, languages..

There are would-be states that straddle national borders, as the Basque peoples straddle the border between France and Spain:

Basque France Spain 600

There are also would-be states that literally erase national borders, as in the case of IS bulldozing thw border between Iraq and Syria:

Iraq Syria Border 600

Thus while borders may be tidy in separating one from a second, they are also untidy in straddling them, neither one nor two, yet (like Janus) both.. They are, in short, thresholds, limina. And so wahat we know of liminality applies to them. I have discussed tthis previosuly on Zenpundit in Liminality II: the serious part — suffice it to say here that limiality is a condition that exacerbates, intensifies.


The anthropologist Mary Douglas, in her book Purity and Danger: An Analysis of Concepts of Pollution and Taboo, quotes Leviticus 19.19:

You shall keep my statutes. You shall not let your cattle breed with a different kind; you shall not sow your field with two kinds of seed; nor shall there come upon you a garment of cloth made of two kinds of stuff.

Why these disjunctions? Dougles notes the repeated refrain in just such contexts:

Ye shall therefore be holy, for I am holy

and points out that Ronald Knox correctly — if “rather thinly” — translates this:

I am set apart and you must be set apart like me

She then tells us:

Holiness means keeping distinct the categories of creation. It therefore involves correct definition, discrimination and order.

noting that:

The word ‘perversion’ is a significant mistranslation of the rare Hebrew word tebhel, which has as its meaning mixing or confusion.

and concludes

ideas about separating, purifying, demarcating and punishing transgressions have as their main function to impose system on an inherently untidy experience. It is only by exaggerating the difference between within and without, above and below, male and female, with and against, that a semblance of order is created.


The upper image, below, is taken from my recent post on Matrioshka cartography, and waas taken in turn from Say goodbye to the weirdest border dispute in the world in the Washington on August 1st..

SPEC DQ maps

… while the lower image is from Welcome to Liberland, the World’s Newest Country (Maybe) in the New York Times Magazine, dated Aug 11


Lydia Kiesling, in her post Letter of Recommendation: Uzbek in the NYT magazine today, writes:

National borders can be risibly at odds with reality, especially in Central Asia, where Turks, Mongols, Persians and others roved and mingled, where ‘‘Uzbek’’ was, for a time, more of a descriptive antonym of ‘‘Tajik’’ — no­­madic versus settled — than an ethnic classification.

And why not?

They are, after all, distinctions drawn in the mind, lines drawn on paper. Thus the Sykes-Picot map:

Sykes_Picot_Agreement_Map_signed_8_May_1916 600

Sykes was quite clear about the “lines dorawn on paper” part. He is reported to have said:

I should like to draw a line from the e in Acre to the last k in Kirkuk

The map, in other words, is not the territory: the map is a map.

To take another instance of importance in today’s world, the Durand Line:

Durand_Line_Border_Between_Afghanistan_And_Pakistan 600

Not only is the map not the territory in this case — it can be seen, as one-time Afghan president Hamid Karzai said, as “a line of hatred that raised a wall between the two brothers” — Afghanistan and Pakistan.


Sympathies which exist across borders can be potent forces for their dissolution. In a poem titled “Their Eyes Confer Fire” written in the 1980s about Basque country, I wrote

We have
little time,
Marie explained,
for those
who, because
it is hard
to draw
across actual
carve up
this earth on

France, Spain:
we disdain
boundaries, borders,
and border guards.

A canny reader noted that the entire poem could be read not as a description of the Basques as they exist in reality, but as a paean to the corpus callosum joining the two hemispheres of the brain — and thus the two modes of cognition of which I so recently wrote.


Returning to Lieberland, or Gornja Siga as the locals call it, we learn:

Gornja Siga has come, over the last few months, to assume an outsize role in the imagination of many — not only in Europe, but also in the Middle East and in the United States. Its mere existence as a land unburdened by deed or ruler has become cause for great jubilation. There are few things more uplifting than the promise that we might start over, that we might live in the early days of a better nation. All the most recent states — South Sudan, East Timor, Eritrea — were carved from existing sovereignties in the wake of bitter civil wars. Here, by contrast, is a truly empty parcel. What novel society might be accomplished in a place like this, with no national claim or tenant?

Consider one sentence alone as the key to that “outsize role in the imagination”:

There are few things more uplifting than the promise that we might start over, that we might live in the early days of a better nation.

The apocalyptic yearning here and its kinship with the Amrican dream are hard to miss — it is like a conflation of Matthew 5.14:

A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid.

with Revelation 21.1-2:

And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea. And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.



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

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