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Bin, Brennan and Baghdadi: how many heads hath a snake?

Saturday, November 15th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron — even after death, snakes can bite you — plus a quick look at someone Baghdadi may have termed an “effeminate pilot” ]
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For Baghdadi, the Saudis are the head of the snake:

According to Juan Cole:

A voice recording has surfaced, attributed to Ibrahim al-Samarra’i, the leader of the brutal terrorist group Daesh (which the US calls ISIL or ISIS). .. This voice recording may not actually be by the Daesh leader (it has not been authenticated) .. He called Saudi Arabia “the head of the snake.”

To be more precise, the official translation of the passage in question addresses the “sons of al-Haramayn” — the Land of the Two Sanctuaries — and says:

the serpent’s head and the stronghold of the disease are beside you. Thus, draw your swords and break their sheaths.

The full English text reads:

So O sons of al-Haramayn .. O people of tawhid .. O people of wala and bara .. the serpent’s head and the stronghold of the disease are beside you. Thus, draw your swords and break their sheaths. Divorce the Dunya, for there will be no security nor rest for Al Salul and their soldiers after today. There is no place for the mushrikin in the peninsula of Mohammed (sallallahu alayhi wa sallam). Draw your swords.

Interestingly, the same paragraph then describes the order in which three of the Islamic State’s enemies should be attacked:

Deal with the rafidah [Shia] first, wherever you find them, then Al Salul [the House of Saud] and their soldiers before the Crusaders and their bases. Deal with the rafidah, Al Salul, and their soldiers. Dismember their limbs.

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For John Brennan, bin Laden was the decapitated snake’s head:

Facing in the opposite direction. John Brennan also used the phrase as Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism in a White House presser of May 2, 2011:

I think the accomplishment that very brave personnel from the United States government were able to realize yesterday is a defining moment in the war against al Qaeda, the war on terrorism, by decapitating the head of the snake known as al Qaeda.

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Before there was Brennan, Bin Laden said the US was the head of the snake:

Ali Soufan, in his book Black Banners, p 31, writes:

Bin Laden used the phrase “head of the snake”

— see also JM Berger‘s GI Joe, p 102. And they’re backed up by Chapter 2 of the 9-11 Commission Report:

By 1998, Bin Ladin had a distinctive appeal, as he focused on attacking America. He argued that other extremists, who aimed at local rulers or Israel, did not go far enough.They had not taken on what he called “the head of the snake.”

and that chapter’s footnote 18:

See, e.g., Intelligence report, interrogation of Zubaydah, Oct. 29, 2002; CIA analytic report, “Bin Ladin’s Terrorist Operations: Meticulous and Adaptable,” CTC 00-40017CSH, Nov. 2, 2000.

In CTC 00-40017CSH, Nov. 2, 2000, p 4, we can read:

Bin Laden has characterized the United States as “the head of the snake.”

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But to get back to the recent message from al-Baghdadi — he also said:

The Jews and Crusaders are not in need of effeminate pilots from the soldiers of the Gulf rulers, nor are they in need of their planes, the story of their participation in the crusade is just a media farce.

I suspect that’s a swipe at Major Mariam Al Mansouri, whose image appears in the tweet at the top of this post.

FWIW, I personally don’t think “effeminate” is the right word for Maj. Al Mansouri.

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And tell me, how many lives hath a snake?

Okay, I’m closing this post with a hint for those of us who can’t resist a good analogy ..

Hey, you gotta love “nature”:

Just because you’ve cut the head off a venomous snake, that doesn’t mean that the snake is done with you. One Santa Cruz homeowner learned that after he decapitated a rattlesnake that wandered into his garage and the head kept on going.

National Geographic has a video of Thomas Scott cornering the snake and then chopping off its head. But it’s what happens afterward that’s strange. The snake’s head, zombie-like, keeps on moving and keeps baring its deadly fangs. According to the segment, a rattlesnake’s head can still deliver a venomous bite up to an hour after it’s been decapitated. Because we didn’t need more reasons to fear snakes.

Here’s the part of the video that National Geographic seems to have omitted — best turn off the sound to avoid the weird “MacDonald’s Farm” soundtrack:

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Sanctified payback, blowback

Friday, August 29th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron — so IS is using waterboarding? meditating on copycattism as a jihadist strategy ]
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1902waterboarding

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Here’s the basic news, from Adam Goldman and Julie Tate, Captives held by Islamic State were waterboarded, in the Washington Post today:

At least four hostages held in Syria by the Islamic State, including an American journalist who was recently executed by the group, were waterboarded in the early part of their captivity, according to people familiar with the treatment of the kidnapped Westerners.
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James Foley was among the four who were waterboarded several times by Islamic State militants who appeared to model the technique on the CIA’s use of waterboarding to interrogate suspected terrorists after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

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Some have tried to downplay the implied similarity:

“ISIL is a group that routinely crucifies and beheads people,” said a U.S. official, using one of the acronyms for the Islamic State. “To suggest that there is any correlation between ISIL’s brutality and past U.S. actions is ridiculous and feeds into their twisted propaganda.”

In this case, sadly, correlation is almost certainly causation, in the sense that the Qur’an permits the otherwise impermissible when one takes an action in war against enemies who have previously taken the same action against one.

And we have taken the action of waterboarding:

Three CIA detainees — Khalid Sheik Mohammed, Abu Zubaida and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri — were waterboarded while held in secret CIA prisons. Mohammed, the self-proclaimed mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, was waterboarded 183 times, according to a memo issued by the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel.

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Others have vaguely waved their hands in the direction of the idea that what we do may rebound on us:

Critics of waterboarding have said for years that the practice endangered Americans, putting them at risk of being subjected to the same brutal treatment at the hands of the enemy.

“Waterboarding dates to the Spanish Inquisition and has been a favorite of dictators through the ages, including Pol Pot and the regime in Burma,” Democratic Sens. Dianne Feinstein (Calif.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (R.I.) said in an op-ed in 2008. “Condoning torture opens the door for our enemies to do the same to captured American troops in the future.”

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But there’s more specificity to it than that.

I suppose I first caught on to it when Osama bin Laden said:

And as I looked at those demolished towers in Lebanon, it entered my mind that we should punish the oppressor in kind and that we should destroy towers in America in order that they taste some of what we tasted and so that they be deterred from killing our women and children.

and I was instantly reminded of Qur’an 2.194, which contains the phrase in the Pickthal version:

And one who attacketh you, attack him in like manner as he attacked you.

Yusuf Ali translates the whole verse thus:

The prohibited month for the prohibited month,- and so for all things prohibited,- there is the law of equality. If then any one transgresses the prohibition against you, Transgress ye likewise against him. But fear Allah, and know that Allah is with those who restrain themselves.

But I’ve said all this before, talking about that speech of OBLs in more detail in Close reading, Synoptic- and Sembl-style, for parallels, patterns.

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Finally, waterboarding is not the only procedure that our own actions have opened us up to in this sense:

François said Foley was subjected to mock executions — something suspected al-Qaeda operative Nashiri also endured while being held in a secret CIA prison, according to a report by the inspector general of the CIA. The Justice Department did not sanction mock executions.

There’s plenty of room for innovative brutality on the part of IS, even without this kind of divine sanction — but it still might be useful for us to be aware of Qur’an 2.194 when considering psssible second-order effects of our own tactics, eh?

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Jottings 13: on matters of porcine theology

Wednesday, February 19th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron — with a sidelong glance at anti-Imperialist cows ]
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The pig: both trayf and halal

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The news was in an AP post headed Pig heads in boxes sent to Jewish targets in Rome:

Italian police say they are searching for the sender of pig heads to Rome’s main synagogue, the Israeli Embassy and a city museum hosting an exhibit on the Holocaust. Police headquarters said Saturday the anti-terrorism squad was handling the case. The pig heads arrived in three separate boxes, all sent by a delivery service unaware of the contents. The deliveries were made Friday, three days before an international memorial day for Holocaust victims.

Joel Richardson at Joel’s Trumpet draws our attention to a significant parallel:

One might see echoes here of the acts of Antiochus IV Epiphanes, the Greek monarch, who in the second century B.C., sacrificed a pig on the altar in the Jewish Temple, criminalizing the very practice of Judaism.

What troubles me here is the powerful, implicitly apocalyptic emotion such a parallel draws on.

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But if Jews can be targeted with pork, so can Muslims — and I also think it is worth pondering the practice of greasing bullets with pork fat, in the hope that this will consign any Muslims killed with such bullets to hell, pork being a haram or forbidden food in Muslim theology.

Jihawg Ammo makes a sales point of this idea. As WND put it a few months back in New Ammo cancels free ticket to Paradise:

A company in northern Idaho has come up with a culturally sensitive approach. Jihawg Ammo has developed a proprietary system for infusing ballistic paint with pork. The special pork-infused paint is then applied to the bullets of loaded ammunition. The inclusion of pork in the paint makes the bullets haraam, or unclean. Under the strictest interpretations of Islamic law, anyone who comes in contact with any haraam item is then unclean and must engage in a cleansing ritual.

The objective of Jihawg Ammo is not to insult Muslims, nor even to send a terrorist to Hell. The objective is to serve as a deterrent – to place the promise of instant passage to Paradise into doubt. Without the promise of Paradise, how many Muslim literalists would be willing to lay their lives – and eternal souls – on the line to engage in acts of terrorism?

Likewise, a gun oil whose manufacturer claims his product was on the bullets used to kill bin Laden is advertised as demoralizing terrorists:

SILVER BULLET GUN OIL, is a HIGHLY EFFECTIVE Counter-Islamic terrorist force multiplier. SILVER BULLET GUN OIL was designed specifically to put Demoralizing FEAR and TERROR into SUPPOSEDLY “Fearless” Islamo-Fascist terrorists. It was created with the “TRUE BELIEVER” in mind. According to the Koran, Allah states, “Any of my followers contaminated by swine at the time of his death will be denied entry to my paradise forever, I HATE THE STENCH OF SWINE.”

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The Islamic theology is bad, however, and the pork coating ineffective…

I’ve used the USC database and searched the Quran for such a sentence without success. There are by my count six references to swine in the Quran, at 2.173, 5.3, 5.60, 6.145 and 16.115, all of them refer to the eating of swine flesh, none of them talk about death, and in each case the point is made that Allah is merciful and forgiving to those who consume pork flesh “without wilful disobedience”. It thus seems unlikely that any “TRUE BELIEVER” would be terrified of dying from a contaminated bullet, especially since the jihadist martyr is forgiven all sins and feels no pain beyond a pinprick at the moment of death…

As I posted elsewhere recently:

Gen. Pershing, as I recall, is said to have shot Muslims with pork-fat-coated bullets and / or buried them and poured pig’s entrails on their bodies in the belief that these actions would somehow make them unfit for heaven. Snopes, the usual place I turn to fact check dubious stories, has a page on this idea called Pershing the Thought, and calls the story “undetermined”.

I’d like to add that the idea itself, which has also been used recently to market fancy pork-coated bullets to US troops, has no basis in Islamic theology. You simply cannot get more authoritative theological guidance on things Muslim than the Qur’an itself, in which we find (Qur’an 2. 173):

These things only has He forbidden you: carrion, blood, the flesh of swine, what has been hallowed to other than God. Yet who so is constrained, not desiring nor transgressing, no sin shall be on him; God is All-forgiving, All-compassionate.

The whole story looks to be a rumor attached to a falsehood… It wouldn’t even work!

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What cannot be doubted, however, is that evidence suggesting the US military might be coating bullets with pig-fat so as to deny paradise to mujahideen can be used, and is in fact used, as evidence for the notion that the Unites States is at war with Islam – an idea that is a powerful aid to jihadist recruitment.

It is a claim that both Presidents Bush and Obama have explicitly denied — and that bin Laden himself made in his 1998 declaration:

All these crimes and sins committed by the Americans are a clear declaration of war on Allah, his messenger, and Muslims.

It’s the basic AQ argument: show that Islam itself is under attack by the United States, and it follows that every able-bodied Muslim has an obligation to defend it.

And that’s not just an obligation on some Muslims — it’s an kndividual obligation, fard ayn.

Here’s Abdullah Azzam on the subject, in his Defence of the Muslim Lands: the First Obligation after Iman, Chapter 3, “Fard Ayn and Fard Kifaya:

Jihad by your person is Fard Ayn upon every Muslim in the earth. …
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Neglecting the jihad is like abandoning fasting and praying, more than that, neglecting the jihad is worse in these days. We quote from Ibn Rushd: “It is agreed that when jihad becomes Fard Ayn it takes precedence over the Fard of Hajj.”

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And beef?

Allegedly the British bullets that sparked the Sepoy Rebellion / First War of Indian Independence were coated with both pig and cow fat — in hope of offending Muslim and Hindu alike.

Me? I’m mostly vegetarian…

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Jottings 12: KSM’s “non-violence” refers to preaching, not fighting

Tuesday, February 18th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron — not an aha! but a d’oh! moment ]
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This, from the Huffington Post last month:

The mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks now says that the use of violence to spread Islam is forbidden by the Quran, a major shift away from the more militaristic view he had put forward previously.

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s thinking is detailed in a first-of-its-kind 36-page manifesto obtained by The Huffington Post. In a departure from his previous stance, which led the Guantanamo Bay prisoner to tell a military commission, “it would have been the greatest religious duty to fight you over your infidelity,” KSM, as he’s known in intelligence circles, instead seeks to convert the court to Islam through persuasion and theological reflection, going so far as to argue that “The Holy Quran forbids us to use force as a means ofconverting” and that reaching “truth and reality never comes by muscles and force but by using the mind and wisdom.”

I saw various versions of this tale — from the LA TimesKhalid Shaikh Mohammed issues ‘nonviolence’ manifesto:

The Koran, Mohammed wrote, “forbids us to use force as a means of converting” others, and “truth and reality never comes by muscles and force but by using the mind and wisdom.” Those statements clash with his earlier braggadocio in saying he plotted the Sept. 11 attacks and personally beheaded Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, and in calling for young Muslims around the world to embrace violence.

— and from Andrew Cohen, explaining in The Atlantic why the manifesto may have been made available in the first place:

Perhaps the feds welcome Mohammed’s shifting interpretation of the Quran, which he now says prohibits violence as a means of spreading Islam.

However, I very much doubt that’s what’s going on.

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The true meaning of KSM’s writing may be a little different from the reading given to it by the press. Here’s an actual quotation from the manifesto:

It is my religious duty in dealing with any non-Muslims to invite them to embrace Islam.

The Counter Jihad gets this bit right, I think, in a post titled KSM’s Prison Communiqués Part II: Wartime Religion of Peace Propaganda:

In point of fact, Islamic law teaches that, before waging offensive jihad, Muslims must first invite nonbelievers to accept the truth of Islam. Doctrinally, this summons to Islam is a necessary precondition to waging violent jihad. There are numerous examples of bin Laden and Zawahiri (bin Laden’s deputy and now the leader of al Qaeda) issuing public statements calling on infidels to accept Islam.

It’s a one-two sequence. Before engaging in acts of war, the jihadist must first make a peaceful and indeed graciously phrased invitation to convert to Islam… in the words of the Qur’an, 16.125:

Invite (all) to the Way of thy Lord with wisdom and beautiful preaching; and argue with them in ways that are best and most gracious: for thy Lord knoweth best, who have strayed from His Path, and who receive guidance. Q 16.125

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The result, in the case of KSM’s manifesto, is an appeal that blends Murray Gell-Mann‘s quarks…

Everything that turns in the universe, from the smallest quarks to the largest supernovas are worshipping God, just as Muslims in Mecca circulate around the Kaba, counterclockwise. If you have Mecca TV channel just look for one hour how people from all around the world travel in circles like any electron or moon or earth or sun or any star or galaxy does. Try to record the picture for 15 minutes and then fast forward the picture then repeat it again, then ask yourself who told Abraham (PBUH) and these people a thousand years ago to imitate the laws of the Universe and nature. The answer will be He Who created these trillions of galaxies and human beings and made ?xed laws for all, but granted humans free will in order to test them.

— with the fifth century AD Neoplatonism of Proclus Lycaeus:

Just as in the dialectic of love we start from sensuous beauties to rise until we encounter the unique principle of all beauty and all ideas, so the adepts of hieratic science take as their starting point the things of appearance and the sympathies they manifest among themselves and with the invisible powers. Observing that all things form a whole, they laid the foundations of hieratic science, wondering at the first realities and admiring in them the latest comers as well as the very first among beings; in heaven, terrestrial things according both to a causal and to a celestial mode and on earth heavenly things in a terrestrial state….

What other reason can we give for the fact that the heliotrope follows in its movement the movement of the sun and the selenotrope the movement of the moon, forming a procession within the limits of their power, behind the torches of the universe? For, in truth, each thing prays according to the rank it occupies in nature, and sings the praises of the leader of the divine series to which it belongs, a spiritual or rational or physical or sensuous praise; for the heliotrope moves to the extent that it is free to move, and in its rotation, if we could hear the sound of the air buffeted by its movement, we should be aware that it is a hymn to its king, such as it is within the power of a plant to sing…

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Interestingly enough, KSM also quotes Matthew 5.44-45a:

But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven…

— and in a letter to Rory Green, a British Christian who had written inviting him to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ, he responds:

I appreciate your deep concern regarding my worldly and hereafter life … You asked me to repent from my sins. For your own information, I never stop.

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Let’s just say, it pays to peer beneath the surface.

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Gaming the Connections: from Sherlock H to Nada B

Sunday, December 29th, 2013

[ by Charles Cameron — the game of Connect the Dots in play and practice ]
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CIA's (now ret'd) Nada Bakos examines the Al Qaida board in the HBO docu, Manhunt

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Manhunt, the HBO documentary, does what (not having been there and seen that at the time) appears to be a decent job of recreating some of the cognitive stratregies employed by CIA officers in the OBL hunt. The one I’m interested in here is the building of a “link chart” or cognitive map — law enforcement “evidence board” — the idea being (a) to note known connections visibly, and (b) to encourage the mind to make intuitive leaps that reveal previously unknown connections between nodes… or “dots”.

Sophisticated software does this sort of thing algorithmically with regard to (eg) network connections via phone-calls, but the human mind is still better than AI at some forms of pattern recognition, and that’s the aspect that interests me here.

Aside:

For more on the cognitive significance of the link chart in Manhunt, see my post Jeff Jonas, Nada Bakos, Cindy Storer and Puzzles.

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Benedict Cumberbatch‘s Sherlock lays out the way it works –

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Okay, so one way to visualize connections is to make a fairly random collage of relevant photos, names, dates and places, and tie it together with links of string or ribbon. That’s the equivalent of what in HipBone games terms we’d call a “free-form” game, and it works well for the “divergent”, initial brainstorming phase of thought. But it does little to bottle its own energy, to focus down, to force the mind — in the no less powerful “convergent” phase — into perceiving even more links than occur spontaneously in building the link chart in question.

HipBone‘s preformatted boards take the cognitive process to that second stage. They work on one of the most powerful ingredients in creativity: constraint. Business writer Dave Gray of Communication Nation puts it like this:

Creativity is driven by constraints. When we have limited resources — even when the limits are artificial — creative thinking is enhanced. That’s because the fewer resources you have, the more you are forced to rely on your ingenuity.

But that premise doesn’t just hold true for business problem-solving — it’s at the heart of creative thinking at the Nobel level, too, in both arts and sciences. Consider mathematician Stanley Ulam, writing in his Adventures of a Mathematician:

When I was a boy I felt that the role of rhyme in poetry was to compel one to find the unobvious because of the necessity of finding a word which rhymes. This forces novel associations and almost guarantees deviations from routine chains or trains of thought. It becomes paradoxically a sort of automatic mechanism of originality…

Here’s how the poet TS Eliot puts it:

When forced to work within a strict framework the imagination is taxed to its utmost – and will produce its richest ideas.

A Hipbone Gameboard such as the Waterbird, Dartboard, or Said Symphony board is chosen precisely to challenge the mind with third, fourth and fifth rounds of “creative leaps” — thus adding both divergent and convergent cognitive styles to this form of graphical analysis.

That’s my point here — and a plug for HipBone-Sembl style thinking.

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I can’t resist adding a couple of instances in which the meme of “connecting the dots” via a link chart or evidence board has crept from TV series that I enjoyed into the world of games — this first one based on the terrific French detective series, Engrenages, retitled Spirals for British consumption:

— and this one for fans of the US TV series, Breaking Bad:

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