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Early notes on McCants’ The ISIS Apocalypse

Sunday, November 29th, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — a couple of grace-notes while I’m working on my review of Will McCants‘ book, The ISIS Apocalypse ]


My first note concerns the elegant way in which McCants‘ view of the changing state of IS eschatology as it has developed in practice conforms to Max Weber‘s theory of the routinization of charisma:

SPEC DQ Weber McCants

Toth, Toward a Theory of the Routinizationnof Charisma
McCants, p 147



There are four sentences that fall in series in Will McCants’s Conclusion — three of a kind followed by one with a different quality to it. Each one ends a section, and the last ends the Conclusion as a whole:

  • This is not Bin Laden’s apocalypse.
  • This is not Bin Laden’s insurgency.
  • This is not Bin Laden’s caliphate.

  • This may not be Bin Laden’s jihad, but it’s a formula future jihadists will find hard to resist.
  • The relevant pages respectively are pp. 147, 151, 153, and 159.

    Hourani / Ignatius, Clint Watts / Buddhism, Hindutva / Dhimmitude

    Sunday, November 1st, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — some unexpected and enlightening juxtapositions ]

    Three textual DoubleQuotes:

    The first, as you’ll see, consists of two brief excerpts from David IgnatiusAtlantic piece, How ISIS Spread in the Middle East, which is worth your attention as a follow up to Graeme Wood‘s What ISIS Really Wants, and mentions Soren Kierkegaard , Baywatch and the Bay of Pigs, so what’s not to like?

    SPEC Hourani Ignatius

    That’s the use of DoubleQuotes-style thinking — comparative, analogical — occurring quite naturally and informatively in a long-form essay.

    My second example is quite different, in that it features an interesting article by Clint Watts of FRPI, using the terminology of “near” and “far” enemies first introduced by Abd Al-Salam Faraj, and note the very different use of the same terms in Buddhism.

    SPEC enemies near and far

    The terms “near” and “far” used to describe enemies in Buddhism represent metaphysical rather than geographical distances — the far enemy is the polar opposite of a given virtue, while the near enemy seems at first glance to be an embodiment of the virtue in question, but is in fact an inauthentic version, to be avoided. The doctrine concerned is expressed in terms of the four Brahma Viharas or highest emotions.

    Finally, there has been a lot of talk in recent years about the Islamic term dhimmi, and I was intrigued to run across a very similar concept applied against Muslims in an early Indian discussion of whether India should be partitioned or not:

    SPEC dhimmitude

    On reflection I realized that all sorts of other groups operate along similar lines. I found this definition — note incidentally the somewhat language-game-changing remark, “A minority is defined not by being outnumbered” — in a Pearson Higher Ed textbook online:

    Minority groups are subordinated in terms of power and privilege to the majority, or dominant, group. A minority is defined not by being outnumbered but by five characteristics: unequal treatment, distinguishing physical or cultural traits, involuntary membership, awareness of subordination, and in-group marriage. Subordinate groups are classified in terms of race, ethnicity, religion, and gender. The social importance of race is derived from a process of racial formation; any biological significance is relatively unimportant to society. The theoretical perspectives of functionalism, conflict theory, and labeling offer insights into the sociology of intergroup relations.

    Immigration, annexation, and colonialism are processes that may create subordinate groups. Other processes such as extermination and expulsion may remove the presence of a subordinate group. Significant for racial and ethnic oppression in the United States today is the distinction between assimilation and pluralism. Assimilation demands subordinate-group conformity to the dominant group, and pluralism implies mutual respect among diverse groups.

    Did you read that? Frankly I’m at a loss to know whether these two paragraphs were intended as black humor, or are simply humorlessness:

    Other processes such as extermination and expulsion may remove the presence of a subordinate group.


    Of royalty and wildlife

    Thursday, August 6th, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — observing with interest the slow turning of the tides ]

    That was then:

    This is now:


    To be honest, the best graphic match would have been one between Anup Kaphle‘s imag of George V‘s kill in Nepal:

    Nepal George V hunt

    and Declan Walsh‘s picture of a Pakistani hunting party’s trove of houbara bustards —

    Pakistani Bustard hunt

    I just couldn’t resist the BBC’s amazing picture of the bustard in their tweet, though — hence my choice in the DoubleTweet above.


    Truoble in paradise for a Saudi prince:

    Fahd bin Sultan bin Abdul Aziz, the governor of Tabuk province — along with his entourage had killed 2,100 houbara over 21 days during last year’s hunt, according to an official report leaked to the Pakistani news media, or about 20 times more than his allocated quota.

    That’s from Walsh’s piece. Also:

    Cargo planes fly tents and luxury jeeps into custom-built desert airstrips, followed by private jets carrying the kings and princes of Persian Gulf countries along with their precious charges: expensive hunting falcons that are used to kill the white-plumed houbara.

    And in case a tie-in with counterterrorism might be appropriate, given my usual interests, there’s this —

    In recent times the hunts have also played a role, albeit unwitting, in the United States’s war against Al Qaeda.

    Osama bin Laden took refuge at a houbara hunting camp in western Afghanistan in the late 1990s, by several accounts, at a time when the C.I.A. was plotting to assassinate him with a missile strike.

    Squaring the circle, with a side of nostaligia?

    Thursday, June 25th, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — CIA, Osama, gaming, and I ]

    What I have in my collection, somewhere:


    and what CIA has in theirs:



    In search of our respective lost childhoods? À la recherche du temps perdu?

    To be honest, I think the gameplay in mine’s a bit more visceral.

    Hipbone update & request for your vote!

    Wednesday, June 17th, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — 3 Quarks Daily, Boston Apocalyptic conference, LapidoMedia, World Religions and Spirituality Project, Bellingcat, Loopcast, Pragati, Sembl ]

    First, please vote!

    [ Note added: voting is now closed: my story received the fifth highest tally of votes out of 45 entries, and is now up for consideration by the 3QD editors in the next round — many, many thanks! ]

    My story, War in Heaven, is in the running for the 3 Quarks Daily Arts & Literature Prize. 3 Quarks Daily is a great aggregator site, I’m honored to have made the cut so far, and would love to make it to the next level. My entry is #33 in the alphabetical list here, and votes can be cast at the bottom of the page. Networking for votes is all part of the game, so I’m hoping you’ll vote — & encourage your friends to go to that page & vote my entry up.

    If you haven’t read it, here’s my story. It was a finalist in the Atlantic Council‘s Scowcroft Center Art of Future Warfare Project‘s space war challenge, in association with War on the Rocks.

    There’s even a Google Hangout video in which Atlantic Council Non-Resident Senior Fellow August Cole, who directs the Art of Future Warfare project, interviews the contest’s winner and finalists, myself included. August’s book, Ghost Fleet: A Novel of the Next World War, is in the running for next great Tom Clancy like techno-thriller.

    You’ll find plenty of other good entries at the 3QD contest page, and daily at 3QD as well — as I say, it’s excellent in its own right, and one of the richest contributors of varied and interesting posts on my RSS feed.


    Then, in no particular order — check ’em all out —

    The Boston conference on Apocalyptic Hopes, Millennial Dreams and Global Jihad:

    To my way of thinking, the critical thing to know about the Islamic State is its “apocalyptic, end-of-days strategic vision” as Martin Dempsey put it — and the implications of that statement, both in terms of strategy and of recruitment & morale. That’s what the Boston conference focused on, and that’s why I think it was no less significant for being sparsely attended. In a series of future blogs I hope to go over the videos of the various presentations and spell some of their implications out — Will McCants‘ book, The ISIS Apocalypse, is due out in September, and I’d like to have filled in some background by then.

    Here, though, as I’m giving an update on my own doings, is my presentation — an attempt both to tie together some of the strands of the panel I was commenting on (but could barely hear, but that’s a tale or another day), and to express my sense of the importance of apoclyptic thinking, not merely as an intellectual exercise but as an emotional and indeed visceral relaity for those swept up in it:

    The other speakers were Richard Landes, WIlliam McCants, Graeme Wood, Timothy Furnish, Cole Bunzel, Jeffrey Bale, David Cook, J.M. Berger, Itamar Marcus, Charles Jacobs, David Redles, Mia Bloom, Charles Strozier, Brenda Brasher and Paul Berman — quite a stellar crew.


    My two latest pieces for LapidoMedia, where I’m currently editor:

    ANALYSIS: Understanding the jihadists through their poetry and piety
    12th June 2015

    YOU might not think that ‘what jihadis do in their spare time’ would be a topic of much interest, but it’s one that has been under-reported and is just now breaking into public awareness.

    Much of the credit for this goes to Robyn Creswell and Bernard Haykel for their current New Yorker piece, Battle lines: Want to understand the jihadis? Read their poetry.

    But behind Creswell and Haykel’s piece lurks a striking presentation given by the Norwegian terrorism analyst Thomas Hegghammer at St Andrews in April.

    Hegghammer’s Wilkinson Memorial lecture was titled Why Terrorists Weep: The Socio-Cultural Practices of Jihadi Militants…

    Read the rest

    I’m still intending to do a longer and more detailed write-up for Zenpundit on Hegghammer’s highly significant lecture.


    The Bamiyan Buddha lives again

    A CHINESE couple, dismayed by the Taliban’s destruction of Bamiyan’s two Buddha statues, has brought the larger of the statues back to life.

    Locals and visitors can once again see the Bamiyan Buddha through the use of laser technology – this time not in stone but in light.

    Carved into the great cliff face towering over the fertile valley of Bamiyan in Afghanistan, two Buddha statues stood for centuries.

    In 2001 the Taliban dynamited the statues, built in the Sixth century in the Gandhara style, the larger of them standing 55 metres tall.

    It was not the first attack against them.Lapido aims to provide (mostly secular) journalists with insight into the religious & spiritual values behind current events.

    Read the rest

    I stood there, atop the Bamiyan Buddha: it’s personal.


    At the World Religions and Spirituality Project at Virginia Commonwealth University, I’m one of two Project Directors for the JIHADISM Project. We’re very much a work in progress, aiming to provide a resource for scholarship of religion as it relates to jihadism.


    Justin Seitz made a post titled Analyzing Bin Ladin’s Bookshelf on Bellingcat, to which I responded, and we had a back-and-forth of emails &c.

    Justin then gave our discussion a shoutout at The Loopcast

    — the immediate context starts around the 30 min mark, and runs to around 35 — and followed up with a second Bellingcat post, Analyzing Bin Ladin’s Bookshelf Part 2 — in which he quoted me again. Key here is his remark:

    a human with domain expertise is always going to be in a better position to make judgement calls than any algorithm

    Agreed — & many thanks, Justin!

    Bellingcat — definitely an honor to get a shoutout there,


    Pragati: The Indian National Interest Review

    My latest on Pragati was my review of JM berger & Jessica Stern’s ISIS: the State of Terror, which I’ve already noted & linked to here on ZP.

    Up next, my review of Mustafa Hamid & Leah Farrall‘s The Arabs at War in Afghanistan


    And last but not by any means least…

    Cath Styles’ new Sembl slideshow:

    It’s a terrific feeling to see the next runner in a relay race take off from the handover… Cath is getting some high praise for her work on Sembl for the museum world, including the following:

    Sembl incredibly succesfully mixes competitive and collaborative play, creativity and expression, and exploration and inspiration. It’s the sort of game you think about when you’re not playing it, and it’s the sort of game that helps you see the world in new ways.

    Paul Callaghan
    Writer, Game Developer, Lecturer at Unversity of East London

    Meanwhile, I’m still quietly plugging away at some other aspects of the HipBone / Sembl project.

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