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Point counter point: Aaron Zelin & Phillip Smyth

Sunday, February 21st, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — a simple jeu d’esprit ]
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It’s actually rather sweet, and possibly a matter of GMTA, but Aaron Zelin and Dan Byman both favor a word I’m fond of myself: archipelago.

SPEC DQ Zelin Byman

**

Aaron noted the commonalities of topic and phrasing, and tweeted:

to which Phillip Smyth responded:

**

Phillip’s example of imitation / flattery involves a pun on the name of the Prophet’s first battle, that of Badr:

SPEC DQ Smyth George

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Please note that there is absolutely nothing to be gained from these juxtapositions but sheer delight — there’s no “actionable intelligence” therein — yet two extremely sharp analysts nevertheless find them of sufficient interest to exchange tweets about them.

An eye for symmetries, similarities, parallelisms and oppositions will not always come up with useful correlations, but it’s nonetheless an aspect of mind that’s close to both creativity (see Arthur Koestler) and what bin Laden analyst Cindy Storer (in Manhunt) called “magic” —

not the analysts doing it, but other people who didn’t have that talent referred to it as magic.

**

Sources:

  • Aaron Zelin, The Islamic State’s Archipelago of Provinces
  • Daniel Byman, The Islamic State Archipelago

  • Phillip Smyth, Hizballah Cavalcade: Breaking Badr
  • Suzannah George, Breaking Badr
  • The useful analysis is in the sources, and the useful description of analytic magic is currently easily accessible at the 9’14” point in HBO’s Manhunt on YouTube.

    Glenn Beck one-two

    Thursday, February 18th, 2016

    [ by Charles Cameron — defending someone i don’t much like ]
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    I’m no fan of Glenn Beck, who talks quite a bit about Islamic apocalyptic and has been known to confuse Twelvers (the major branch of Shia Islam) with the Hojjatieh society (an anti-Bahai movement banned by the Ayatollah Khomeini), which is more or less like talking about Christianity and confusing the Catholic Church with the Legionnaires of Christ (which fell from grace under Benedict XVI, see also the note at the foot of this post).

    **

    Anyhow, HuffPo carried a slightly frantic article headed Glenn Beck Thinks God Killed Antonin Scalia To Help Ted Cruz Get Elected President, and while the headline may be accurate, the body of the text attributed the following thought to God, not Beck:

    I just woke the American people up. I took them out of the game show moment and woke enough of them up to say, look at how close your liberty is to being lost. You now have lost your liberty. You replace one guy, and you now have 5-4 decisions in the other direction. Just with this one guy, you’ve lost your liberty — so you’d better elect somebody that’s going to put somebody on (the Supreme Court) because for the next 30 years, if you don’t, the Constitution as you know it… the Constitution is hanging by a thread. That thread has just been cut, and the only way that we survive now is if we have a true constitutionalist.

    If you listen to what Beck actually said:

    I think you might conclude, as I do, that he could have been referring to himself, and specifically perhaps to this portion of his earlier presentation in suppoort of Ted Cruz:

    **

    The religious resonances of the current election season are truly remarkable.

    My question:

    Does the still small voice truly require a megaphone?

    **

    Note:

    The Legionnaires of Christ received new statutes under Pope Francis in 2014

    Juxtaposition: Christian and Islamic apocalypticisms

    Monday, January 25th, 2016

    [ by Charles Cameron — being the revised version of the second part of my previous post ]
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    In an earlier post, rightly critiqued by evangelical pastor-writer-filmmaker Joel Richardson, I conflated Christian and Islamic “divine law movements” with Christian and Islamic “apocalyptic movements”. They are, as Joel pointed out, not the same, though perhaps somewhat related. I have left the first part of that post, dealing with “divine law”, standing, under the original title Juxtaposition: Qutb & Bahnsen.

    Here is my revision of the second part of that post, in light of Joel’s comment. It concerns the similarities and differences between Christian and Islamic “apocalyptic movements”, with special attention to the question of violence or nonviolence on the part of their followers.

    **

    Firts, let’s be clear that Sunni hadith — of which there are very many, and of which some are considered sahih (authentic) and some daif (dubious), &c — can be found to support the idea that the Mahdi’s coming will be violent. The particular hadith favored by the Islamic State is an obscure one, but it supports that point and is used by IS to suggest divine sanction for their own violent actions:

    The Last Hour would not come until the Romans would land at al-A’maq or in Dabiq. An army consisting of the best (soldiers) of the people of the earth at that time will come from Medina (to counteract them). When they will arrange themselves in ranks, the Romans would say: Do not stand between us and those (Muslims) who took prisoners from amongst us. Let us fight with them; and the Muslims would say: Nay, by Allah, we would never get aside from you and from our brethren that you may fight them. They will then fight and a third (part) of the army would run away, whom Allah will never forgive. A third (part of the army). which would be constituted of excellent martyrs in Allah’s eye, would be killed and the third who would never be put to trial would win and they would be conquerors of Constantinople.

    The various black banners from Khorasan hadith, often used in Al-Qaida recruiting, similarly describes the Mahdi as a warrior-messiah:

    Ibn Majah and Al-Hakim recorded that the Prophet said, “If you see the black flag coming from Khurasan, go to them immediately, even if you have to crawl over the snow, because indeed amongst them is the Caliph al-Mahdi .. and no one can stop the army until they get to Jerusalem.”

    FWIW, Harun Yahya is the only Sunni source I’ve run across for the doctrine that the Mahdi’s activities will be non-violent:

    Hazrat Mahdi (as) is a man of peace who evades war. Hazrat Mahdi (as) will make the morality of the Qur’an dominate the Earth not by war but by love and the remembrance of Allah. That Hazrat Mahdi (as) will dominate the world by means of peace and love, which is one of his attributes, is related in the hadith as follows:

    People will seek refuge in the Hazrat Mahdi (as) as honey bees cluster around their sovereign. He will fill the world that was once full of cruelty with justice. His justice will be as such that HE WILL NOT WAKE A SLEEPING PERSON OR EVEN SHED ONE DROP OF BLOOD. The Earth will return to the age of happiness.

    Almost all Sunnis who believe in the coming of the Mahdi believe also that he will come to establish peace by means of warfare.

    **

    Here likewise is a Shia view of the issue:

    Since the objective behind the uprising of Hadrat al-Mahdi is the establishment of divine government throughout the world and the elimination of tyranny and tyrants, it is natural that the Imam will face many difficulties and obstacles in realizing this objective.

    By conducting military operations, he has to remove those hurdles along the way and overrun one country after another so as to prevail in the east and west of the world and establish the government of divine justice on earth.

    The Mahdi, in this view, will again be a warrior-messiah. The question remains open as to whether his would-be followers can themselves hasten his coming by violence, or whether they must await hiom peaceably. Tim Furnish has addressed this question with specific reference to the use of nuclear weapons.

    **

    Since there is presently considerable concern about the potential violence of an Islamic Mahdist movememnt — Tim Furnish, for instance, has written, “Muslim messianic movements are to fundamentalist uprisings what nuclear weapons are to conventional ones” — Joel Richardson has made the difference between Muslim expectation of the Mahdi and Christian expectation of the Second Coming of Christ explicit, writing:

    I explained to my host that unless a supernatural man bursts forth from the sky in glory, there is absolutely nothing that the world needs to worry about with regard to Christian end-time beliefs. Christians are called to passively await their defender. They are not attempting to usher in His return. Muslims, on the other hand, are actively pursuing the day when their militaristic leader comes to lead them on into victory. Many believe that they can usher in his coming.

    Perhaps it is worth noting that Joel Richardson’s quote, above, suggests that in his view at least, Christians will not take up the sword until the Second Coming of Christ, and that from Harun Yahya’ statement it is unclear whether there will be bloodshed along the way to the Mahdi’s reign of justice and peace.

    Intriguingly enough, Richardson and Yahya have met:

    **

    As I said in the earlier version of this post, I’d welcome comments from Joel Richardson, who has commented here on ZP before, Adnan Oktar, and / or Ceylan Ozbudak — especially in clarification of any points I have left obscure or gotten wrong. Thanks.

    Apocalypse soon from Lapido, McCants from Sources & Methods

    Thursday, September 10th, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — my latest for LapidoMedia gives Sunni, Shia background, & importantly the shift from Zarqawi to Baghdadi — followed by a chaser from Will McCants ]
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    My latest from Lapido, opening paras:

    TO SENIOR military officers, intelligence analysts and policy-makers, blood and guts are more real than fire and brimstone.

    To the followers of ISIS – which now calls itself the Islamic State – however, not only do the concepts of hell fire and the gardens of paradise seem real, the hope of heaven and fear of hell are powerful recruiting tools, morale boosters and motivating forces.

    While the battlefield is real to them, to lose one’s life on that battlefield is viewed as victory, and as martyrdom rewarded with a painless death, avoidance of Judgment Day and a direct passage to paradise.

    And that vivid expectation of paradise is accompanied by a sense that in any case, ‘the end is nigh’.

    That is why the ‘caliphate’ established by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has named its English-language magazine after the town of Dabiq.

    Indeed, Dabiq’s first issue opens with a quote from Abu Musa’b al-Zarqawi, the brutal founder of the group that became the Islamic State:

    ‘The spark has been lit here in Iraq, and its heat will continue to intensify – by Allah’s permission – until it burns the crusader armies in Dabiq.’

    The town of Dabiq is obscure enough that you won’t find it indexed in David Cook’s Contemporary Muslim Apocalyptic Literature, nor in French diplomat-scholar Jean-Pierre Filiu’s Apocalypse in Islam.

    Will McCants, in his book The ISIS Apocalypse: The History, Strategy, and Doomsday Vision of the Islamic State due out later this month, quotes a leader of the Syrian opposition as saying, ‘Dabiq is not important militarily.’

    And yet Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, like Abu Musa’b al-Zarqawi before him, makes it a centrepiece of his strategy and propaganda.

    Read the whole thing on the LapidoMedia site

    **

    Will McCants gave a useful response in his Sources & Methods podcast interview yesterday, at the 35.00 mark — answering a question about apocalypticism in IS:

    I think it’s really important in terms of attracting foreign fighters from the west. If you think about what gets a foreigner motivated to leave their home and travel to an insanely violent conflict zone, there are few things that might motivate people more than the belief that the end times are right around the corner. So I see a lot of that apocalyptic propaganda from the Islamic State really directed towards foreign fighters. But also you know in the Middle East, after the Iraq war in 2003, apocalypticism began to get a lot more currency than it used to have. You know, before the war, apocalypticism among Sunnis was really kind of a fringe subject as compared to the Shia, for whom it’s been an important topic for centuries – for modern Sunnis, they kind of looked down on it, that’s something that the Shia speculate on, but that’s not really our bag. The US invasion of Iraq really changed the ways that Sunni’s thought about the end times. And then with the Arab Spring coming, and all the political turmoil that followed in its wake, it’s given an apocalyptic framework far more currency than it ever had as a way to explain political upheaval in the region.

    Listen to the whole thing at Sources and Methods.

    We’re a legacy industry in a world of start-up competitors

    Wednesday, August 26th, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — Ambassador Husain Haqqani and Daveed Gartenstein-Ross at Chautauqua ]
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    chautauqua haqqani daveed

    **

    From the outset, when cheers went up for Daveed’s birthplace, Ashland, Oregon, and Ambassador Haqqani’s, Karachi — and for the brilliant meeting of the minds that is Chautauqua — it was clear that we were in the presence of two gracious, witty and informed intelligences, and the seriousness of the conversation between them that followed did nothing to reduce our pleasure in the event. Daveed called it “easily the best experience I have ever had as a speaker.”

    I’ll highlight some quotes from each speaker, with the occasional comment:
    **

    Amb. Haqqani:

    None of the countries except Egypt, Turkey and Iran, none of the countries of the Middle East are in borders that are historic, or that have evolved through a historic process. And that’s why you see the borders a straight lines. Straight lines are always drawn by cartographers or politicians, the real maps in history are always convoluted because of some historic factor or the other, or some river or some mountains.

    You’ll see how neatly this fits with my recent post on borders, No man’s land, one man’s real estate, everyone’s dream?

    And now that whole structure, the contrived structure, is coming apart.

    Then most important part of it is, that this crisis of identity – who are we? are we Muslims trying to recreate the past under the principles of the caliphate .. or are we Arabs, trying to unify everybody based on one language, or are we these states that are contrived, or are we our ethnic group, or are we our tribe, or are we our sect? And this is not only in the region, it’s also overlapping into the Muslim communities in the diaspora..

    **

    If Amb. Haqqani emphasized the multiple identities in play in the Arabic, Islamic, Sunni, Shia, Sufi, and tribal worlds in his opening, Daveed’s emphasis was on the failure of the post-Westphalian concept of the nation state.

    Daveed G-R:

    In the economic sphere there’s this thing that is often called “legacy industries” – industries that fit for another time, but are kind of out of place today. Think of Blockbuster Video, once a massive, massive corporation.. that’s a legacy industry. So when Ambassador Haqqani talks about how it’s not just in the Middle East that we have this crisis of identity, I think the broader trend is that the Westphalian state that he spoke about, the kind of state that was encoded after the Peace of Westphalia, looks to a lot of people who are in this generation of the internet where ideas flow freely, it looks like a legacy industry.

    Why do you need this as a form of political organizing? And what ISIS has shown is that a violent non-state actor, even a jihadist group that is genocidal and implements as brutal a form of Islamic law as you could possibly see, it can hold territory the size of Great Britain, and it can withstand the advance of a coalition that includes the world’s most powerful countries including the United States. And what that suggests is that alternative forms of political organization can now compete with the nation state.

    **

    The Ambassador then turned to the lessons we should take from 1919’s US King–Crane Commission, reporting on the break-up of the Ottoman Empire — they concluded that it gave us

    a great opportunity — not likely to return — to build .. a Near East State on the modern basis of full religious liberty, deliberately including various religious faiths, and especially guarding the rights of minorities

    — down to our own times.

    Amb. Haqqani:

    What we can be sure of is that the current situation is something that will not be dealt with without understanding the texture of these societies. So for example, when the United States went into Iraq without full understanding of its sectarian and tribal composition, and assumed that, all we are doing is deposing a dictator, Saddam Hussein, and then we will hold elections and now a nice new guy will get elected, and things will be all right -– that that is certainly not the recipe. So what we can say with certainty in 2015 is .. over the last century what we have learnt is: outsiders, based on their interests, determining borders is not a good idea, and should certainly not be repeated. Assuming that others are anxious to embrace your culture in totality is also an unrealistic idea.

    The sentence that follows was a stunner from the Ambassador, gently delivered — a single sentence that could just as easily have been the title for this post as the remark by Daveed with which I have in fact titled it:

    Let me just say that, look, he ideological battle, in the Muslim world, will have to be fought by the likes of me.

    Spot on — and we are fortunate the Ambassador and his like are among us.

    **

    Daveed then turned to another topic I have freqently emphasized myself.

    Daveed G-R:

    The power of ideas – we as Americans tend not to recognize this when it falls outside of ideas that are familiar to us. So one thing that the US has been slow to acknowledge is the role of the ideology that our friend and ally Saudi Arabia has been promulgating globally, in fomenting jihadist organizations.

    And one of the reasons we have been slow to recognize that. I mean one reason is obvious, which is oil. .. But another reason has been – we tend to think of ideas that are rooted in religion – as a very post-Christian country – we tend to think of them as not being real – as ideas which express an ideology which is alien to us –as basically being a pretext, with some underlying motivation which is more familiar to us. That it must be economics, or it must be political anger. I’m not saying those are irrelevant, they’re not – but when Al-Qaida or ISIS explains themselves, taking their explanation seriously and understanding where they’re coming from – not as representatives of Islam as a whole, but as representatives of the particular ideology that they claim to stand for – we need to take that seriously. Because they certainly do.

    **

    Amb. Haqqani:

    The world is not a problem for Americans to solve, it’s a situation for them to understand.

    This makes a nice DoubleQuote with Gabriel Marcel‘s more general aphorism:

    Life is not a problem to be solved but a mystery to be lived.

    **

    Toward the end of the discussion, Daveed touched on some ideas of recurrent interest to Zenpundit readers..

    Daveed G-R:

    Looking at the US Government, questions that I ask a lot are: Why are we so bad at strategy? Why are we so bad at analysis? Why do we take such a short term view and negate the long term?

    He then freturned to the issue of legacy industries and nation-states:

    Blockbuster is a legacy industry. And the reason why legacy industries have so much trouble competing against start-up firms, is because start-ups are smaller, it’s more easy for them to change course, to implement innovative policies, to make resolute decisions – they can out-manoeuver larger companies. And so larger companies that do well adapt themselves to this new environment where they have start-up competitors. Nation-state governments are legacy industries. Violent non-state actors are start-up compoetitors.

    — and had the final, pointed word:

    We’re a legacy industry ina world of start-up competitors.

    **

    Having offered you these tastes, at this point I can only encourage you to watch the whole hour and a quarter, filled to the brim with incisive and articulately-stated insights:


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