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Lind on “the Navy’s Intellectual Seppuku”

Saturday, February 22nd, 2014

William Lind had a very important piece regarding an extraordinarily ill-considered move by the Navy brass:

The Navy Commits Intellectual Seppuku 

The December, 2013 issue of the Naval Institute’s Proceedings contains an article, “Don’t Say Goodbye to Intellectual Diversity” by Lt. Alexander P. Smith, that should receive wide attention but probably won’t. It warns of a policy change in Navy officer recruiting that adds up to intellectual suicide. Lt. Smith writes, “Starting next year, the vast majority of all NROTC graduates will be STEM majors (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) with minimal studies in the humanities … As a result of the new policy, a high school senior’s best chance of obtaining a Navy scholarship is to apply for Tiers 1 and 2 (engineering, hard sciences, and math), since CNO guidance specifies that not less than 85 percent of incoming officers will come from this restricted pool.”

….The engineering way of thinking and the military way of thinking are not merely different. They are opposites. Engineering, math, and other sciences depend on analysis of hard data. Before you make a decision, you are careful to gather all the facts, however long that may take. The facts are then carefully analyzed, again without much regard for the time required. Multiple actors check and re-check each others’ work. Lowest-common-denominator, committee-consensus decisions are usually the safest course. Anything that is not hard data is rejected. Hunches have no place in designing a bridge.

Making military decisions in time of war could not be more different. Intuition, educated guessing, hunches, and the like are major players. Hard facts are few; most information is incomplete and ambiguous, and part of it is always wrong, but the decision-maker cannot know how much or which parts. Creativity is more important than analysis. So is synthesis: putting parts together in new ways. Committee-consensus, lowest-common-denominator decisions are usually the worst options. Time is precious, and a less-than-optimal decision now often produces better results than a better decision later. Decisions made by one or two people are often preferable to those with many participants. There is good reason why Clausewitz warned against councils of war.

Read the whole thing here.

Rarely have I seen Lind more on target than in this piece.

Taking a rank-deferential, strongly hierarchical organization and by design making it more of a closed system intellectually and expecting good things to happen should disqualify that person from ever being an engineer because they are clearly too dumb to understand what resilience and feedback are. Or second and third order effects.

STEM, by the way, is not the problem. No one should argue for an all-historian or philosopher Navy either. STEM is great. Engineers can bring a specific and powerful kind of problem solving framework to the table. The Navy needs a lot of smart engineers.

It is just that no smart engineer would propose to do this because the negative downstream effects of an all-engineer institutional culture for an armed service are self-evident.

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Ahrar-ul-Hind, Ghazwa-e-Hind?

Thursday, February 13th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron — in which the “second shoe” of Islamist eschatology will land on India ]
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Bill Roggio, over in Long Wars Journal a day or two ago, posted an article titled Pakistani jihadists form Ahrar-ul-Hind, vow to continue attacks. In it, he introduces the group, Ahrar-ul-Hind:

A new global jihadist group that is unwilling to negotiate with the Pakistani government has announced its formation and vowed to continue attacks in the country despite the outcome of ongoing peace talks. The group, which is calling itself Ahrar-ul-Hind, said its goal is the establishment of sharia, or Islamic law, and that the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan are still “our brothers” despite separation from the group.

Ahrar-ul-Hind emailed two statements to The Long War Journal on Feb. 9: one from its spokesman, and another that outlined its “aims and objectives,” according to the SITE Intelligence Group, which translated the communiques. Ahrar-ul-Hind has also posted both statements on its Facebook page.

He has much more to say about it, but what caught my eye was one observation in particular:

In the statement announcing its “aims and objectives,” Ahrar-ul-Hind threatened to wage war on the “Indian subcontinent” and beyond, with the ultimate goal of imposing sharia worldwide.

“We aim to carry an armed struggle on the Indian subcontinent with an aim to establish Islamic Shariah in the whole world,” one bullet announced.

A final, significant detail:

Mansour identified Ahrar-ul-Hind’s emir as Maulana Umar Qasmi

**

Readers of Zenpundit will be familiar with the idea of a Pakistani jihad aiming to take over India — the Ghazwa-e-Hind, about which we have written, among other posts:

  • One hadith, one plan, one video, and two warnings
  • So many browser tabs, so little time
  • Pakistan’s Strategic Mummery
  • Khorasan to al-Quds and the Ghazwa-e-Hind
  • In the last of those I quote from a discussion Ambassador Haqqani had with Bill Roggio:

    And then the other part is this famous Ghazwa-e-Hind, and the Pakistani groups use it – actually, just as jihad is the war, a holy war or war for religious purposes, ghazwa is a battle — and there is ostensibly a saying of prophet Muhammad that before the end times, the final, biggest war between good and evil and between Islam and kufr is going to take place in Hind, which is India, which is the land east of the river Indus.

    So Khorasan takes care of what is today Afghanistan and some parts of central Asia, and all of that – it means a lot to people who believe in it, these end times prophecies etcetera. So one of the unwritten books it has been my desire to write, I wrote a piece on it once, an article I think, which said, that, you know, Americans pay a lot of attention to their own end time prophecies, but getting into that whole theater, they have totally neglected this.

    And so far as recruitment is concerned I am totally agreeing with you, that failure in Afghanistan is going to be a big boon for both. The TTP — the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan — and the Pakistani groups are going to start saying, Right, now is the time to start recruiting, and fighting in that famous Ghazwa-e-Hind –let’s get ready for that. And the Arab groups are going to say, Ah, salvation is coming by joining up with the folks who are fighting in Khorasan.

    You might say there are two “shoes” to the end times jihad — one foot marching from Khorasan / Afghanistan with Jerusalem its objective, the other marching from Pakistan to take India. We have discussed the “army with Black Banners from Khorasan” theme, too, in these pages:

  • Iran or Afghanistan? The Black Flags of Khorasan…
  • Ali Soufan: AQ, Khorasan and the Black Banners
  • The matter of the Black Banners and Benghazi
  • Twitter combat, al-Shabaab, black banners, Tahrir and more
  • An army in Sham, an army in Yemen, and an army in Iraq
  • Those black banners / AQ flags, revisited
  • and pointed to Aaron Zelin, writing on al-Wasat:

  • On Flags, Islamic History, and al-Qa’ida
  • I am always on the alert for news of that second shoe…

    **

    Many people treat Syed Zaid Zaman Hamid, the loudest proponent of the Ghazwa, as a joke — there’s even a satirical blog attacking him — but our blog-friend Omar Ali put things in perspective in a comment here not so long ago:

    The major mistake of Western (and Western educated Pakistani left-liberal academics) is to regard this nonsense as so nonsensical that no sane person could possibly take it seriously.

    Manan Ahmed, a Pakistani historian blogging at Chapati Mystery, describes him as having:

    from most accounts, secured a niche similar to Glenn Beck in Pakistani media – combining ultra-nationalism with a taste for finding Zionist or Hindu involvement in the Pakistani sphere.

    And the “500 Most Influential Muslims” listing for 2013-14 includes him:

    One of the most influential television personalities in Pakistan, Zaid Hamid is a security consultant and strategic defence analyst by profession. He is also a popular political commentator, and is the founder of Brass Tacks, a Pakistani think tank on global politics. Hamid also hosts ‘BrassTacks with Zaid Hamid’ on News1 Channel Although he has been deemed by some as a conspiracy theorist, he maintains a substantial audience.

    **

    It is unlikely that Zaid Hamid would be enthusiastic about Ahrar-ul-Hind, since they are a TTP offshoot and Hamid has decried the TTP as khwarijites, ie sectarian extremists — and also because Hamid clearly sees himself as the leader of the Ghazwa, and Maulana Umar Qasmi, the emir of Ahrar-ul-Hind, is not Syed Zaid Zaman Hamid.

    Nevertheless, the appearance of a group specifically not affiliated with Hamid, but preaching the Ghazwa, may in fact represent a more serious and bdeadly version of Hamd’s vision — for as Omar Ali notes:

    What Zaid Hamid is saying is just an extreme version of the mainstream Paknationalist framework.

    **

    Also of possible note in this context is the late, brilliant, not always reliable Syed Saleem Shahzad‘s interview with Ilyas Kashmiri in Asia Times [Note: 2 pp.], in which the following exchange took place:

    “So should the world expect more Mumbai-like attacks?” I [Shahzad] asked.
    “That was nothing compared to what has already been planned for the future,” Ilyas replied.

    Once again, Bill Roggio noted this particular exchange (making this a triple hat-tip) — though his focus was more on Kashmiri’s interest in the American “far enemy” — in his report on LWJ, Asia Times interviews al Qaeda commander Ilyas Kashmiri.

    Addendum:

    Tying Ilyas Kashmiri and AQ’s 313 Brigade more closely into the “Ghazwa e-Hind” context from an Indian perspective, we have this article from Rediff News in 2009:

    Ilyas Kashmiri’s Ghazwa-e-Hind plans to spread terror in India
    Last updated on: October 16, 2009 20:47 IST

    Dreaded terrorist Ilyas Kashmiri runs Al Qaeda’s 313 Brigade. A few weeks ago the United States declared that Kashmiri had been killed in a drone attack. However, Kashmiri resurfaced with an interview to Asia Times this week, declaring he had survived the attack.
    In the interview Kashmiri said the 26/11 Mumbai attacks were nothing compared to what was really planned. While India has maintained that the attacks were masterminded by the Lashkar-e-Tayiba, Kashmiri’s statement has come as a surprise.

    Syed Saleem Shahzad, chief of Asia Times’s Pakistan bureau who interviewed Kashmiri, told rediff.com that the 313 Brigade is Al Qaeda’s commando force which trains youth for terrorist operations.

    Indian Intelligence Bureau sources suspect Kashmiri is planning terror strikes on the lines of the Mumbai attacks, but much larger in scope.

    Kashmiri’s statements indicates that the 313 Brigade was involved in the Mumbai attacks. Indian intelligence sources believe that while the Lashkar undertook a major part of the operation, including identifying the terrorists who participated in the attack, the 313 Brigade was also involved.

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    R2P Debate Rising ( Part I.)

    Friday, February 7th, 2014

    I thought I would call the attention of the readership to a debate that has been ricocheting around different social media platforms on R2P (Responsibility to Protect“). I have dealt with the topic several times in the past, related to the ideas of Anne-Marie Slaughter, but not much recently until Victor Allen, over at The Bridge, put up an enthusiastic post:

    Strong State, Weak State: The New Sovereignty and the Responsibility to Protect

    The Responsibility to Protect doctrine represents a leap forward in accountability for states and does not infringe upon their sovereignty, as states are no longer held to be completely self-contained entities with absolute power over their populations. Rather, there is a strictly defined corpus of actions that begin the R2P process?—?a process that has different levels of corrective action undertaken by the international community in order to persuade, cajole and finally coerce states into actively taking steps to prevent atrocities from occurring within their boundaries. That R2P does not violate sovereignty stems from the evolution of sovereignty from its Westphalian form in the mid 17th century to the “sovereignty as responsibility” concept advanced by Deng, et al. Modern sovereignty can no longer be held to give states carte blanche in their internal affairs regardless of the level of suffering going on within their borders. This does not diminish state agency for internal affairs, but rather holds them responsible and accountable for their action and inaction regarding the welfare of their populations…

    Victor’s post deserves to be read in full.

    I did not agree with Victor’s framing of the legal character of state sovereignty, to put it mildly, nor his normative assessment of R2P.  Mr. Allen also described R2P somewhat differently than I have seen from other advocates, but I was less concerned by that as the concept does not seem to be presented with consistency by the community of  R2P advocates and theorists. Having seen similar theoretical debates over the years about angels dancing on pins over 4GW, constructivism, EBO, Network-centric Warfare, OODA,  Clausewitz’s remarkable trinity,  nuclear deterrence, preemptive war, COIN,  neoconservatism, free market economics, the agrarian origin of capitalism in England, Marxist theory etc. I am not too worried if Victor’s interpretation in its specifics is not ideologically perfect. It is representative enough.

    I responded to Allen’s post somewhat crankily and with too much brevity:

    R2P: Asserting Theory is not = Law 

    ….As far as premises go, the first point is highly debatable; the second is formally disputed by *many* states, including Russia and China, great powers which are permanent members of the UN Security Council; and the third bears no relation to whether a military intervention is a violation of sovereignty or not. I am not a self-contained entity either, that does not mean you get to forcibly enter my house.

    That R2P does not violate sovereignty stems from the evolution of sovereignty from its Westphalian form in the mid 17th century to the “sovereignty as responsibility” concept advanced by Deng, et al. Modern sovereignty can no longer be held to give states carte blanche in their internal affairs regardless of the level of suffering going on within their borders.

    Academic theorists do not have the authority to override sovereign powers (!) constituted as legitimized, recognized, states and write their theories into international law – as if an international covenant like the Geneva Convention had just been contracted. Even persuading red haired activist cronies of the American president and State Department bureaucrats to recite your arguments at White House press conferences does not make them “international law” either – it makes them “policy” – and that only of a particular administration. 

    This riff  set off something of a reaction on Facebook in private groups and on Twitter as Mr. Allen, who I am sure is a fine gent, has a large set of common colleagues with me, some of whom are Boydians and all of whom are sharp strategic thinkers. Consequently,  Victor’s post(s) as well as mine and a later follow up by a “Leonidas Musashi” ( great nom de guerre)  made it into a high caliber defense forum as well as other sites online. My spleen-venting provoked the following rebuttal at The Bridge:

    R2P: A Spectrum of Responses 

    ….Safranski’s final point about sovereignty as carte blanche seems to be a stealth argument for the principles of R2P:

    States always could and did take military action in self-defense when disorders in neighboring states threatened their security or spilled over their border outright.R2P seeks to minimize harm caused by disorder through early action taken prior to conflicts spilling over borders that can potentially cause larger conflagrations, but more importantly, it recognizes that atrocities can happen entirely within the confines of a state, and that the international community will not allow them to continue unchecked. This recognition is easily seen in the rhetoric and discussions regarding rebels in both Libya and Syria. Libya is admittedly a flawed example of the use of R2P, with second-order effects seen in the Russian and Chinese opposition to UN-sanctioned stabilization operations in Syria, but that concern for the population first and the state second were common facets to both bear mentioning in the debate and illustrate the shifting nature of intervention and sovereignty. This shift is exemplified in the contrast between discussions in the UN General Assembly regarding Kosovo/East Timor and Syria: “most of the 118 states that mentioned Syria at the UN General Assembly in 2012 expressed concern about the population, up from less than a third who invoked Kosovo and East Timor in 1999… It is clear that a fundamental shift has taken place regarding humanitarian intervention and that more and more states embrace the broad values expressed by R2P.” (“Democracy, Human Rights, and the Emerging Global Order: Workshop Summary,” Brookings Institution, 2012)

    Again, I caution about reading posts in full.

    Here in this rebuttal Victor doubled down, which I admire because that is interesting, but with which I agree with even less because he seems to be far removed from how the world really works in terms of international relations, not merely in practice, but also in theory as well.  That said, his response deserves a much more serious reply than my first post evinced. I have been fiddling with one ( I seem to be moving slowly these days) but another voice – “Leonidas Musashi” – has entered the debate at The Bridge with a sharp retort against Allen’s conception of R2P:

    Responsibility to Protect: Rhetoric and Reality 

    ….My main observation, however, is that the discussion thus far has been focused more on a “right” to protect than a “responsibility” to do so. The arguments indicate that a state has a responsibility to protect its people but takes for granted that third parties somehow inherit this responsibility when the state cannot fulfill it. There is a missing explanation here. The need to justify such efforts may seem callous, but a nation’s highest moral order is to serve its own citizens first. Such an explanation would certainly be a legitimate demand for a mother that loses a son who volunteered to defend his nation, or for a government entrusted by its people to use their resources to their own benefit. While it is often stated that the international community “should” intervene, explanation of where this imperative comes from is not addressed other than by vague references to modern states being interconnected. But this implies, as previously stated, a right based on the self-interest of states, firmly grounded in realistic security concerns, rather than any inherent humanitarian responsibility to intervene. Instability and potential spillover may very well make it within a nation’s vital interests to intervene in another country and pursuing humanitarian and human rights goals within the borders of another state may well be in a nation’s secondary interests. But if this is the case, the calculus of the political leadership will determine if pursuing this goal is worth the cost/potential costs – as has been done in such cases as North Korea, Iran, Zimbabwe, Tibet and Syria. In either case, the decision is determined by what is in the nation’s interests, a reality that makes R2P not a mandate, but a merely a post hoc justification for interventions that do occur.

    Leonidas makes many good points, in my view, but the intellectual fungibility of R2P as a concept, its elastic and ever evolving capacity to serve as a pretext for any situation at hand is the most important, because it is potentially most destabilizing and threatening to other great powers with which the United States has to share the globe. In short, with great responsibilities come greater costs.

    In part II. I will lay out a more methodical case on the intellectual phantom that is R2P.

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    Thoughts on CNAS “Preparing for War in the Robotic Age”

    Friday, January 24th, 2014

    [by Mark Safranski, a.k.a. “zen“]

    My reading at CNAS, which had once been frequent, declined with the waning of the Abu Muqawama blog. While formerly I usually scanned through CNAS reports on a regular basis after reading what Exum and his commenters had to say, toward the end I only visited when Adam and Dan had new posts up.

    At the gentle nudging of Frank Hoffman, I decided to read the latest CNAS product;  I’m pleased to say with the release of ” 20YY:Preparing for War in the Robotic Age by Robert Work ( CNAS CEO and former Undersecretary of the Navy) and Shawn Brimley (CNAS Executive V.P. and former NSC Strategic Planning Director) CNAS has rolled out an intellectually provocative analysis on an important emerging aspect of modern warfare.

    Work and Brimley have done a number of things well and did them concisely (only 36 pages) in “20YY”:

    • A readable summary of the technological evolution of modern warfare in the past half century while distinguishing between military revolutions,  military-technical revolution and the the 80’s-90’s  American “revolution in military affairs“.
    • .
    • A more specific drill-down on the history of guided munitions and their game-changing importance on the relationship between offense and defense that flourished after the Gulf War. 
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    • An argument that the proliferation of technology and information power into the hands unfriendly states and non-state actors is altering the strategic environment for the United States, writing:
    • .
    • “Meanwhile in the 13 years since the last 20XX game, foreign nation-state C41, surveillance and reconaissance systems, and guided munitions-battle network capabilities have become increasingly capable.  Indeed, these systems now form the very robust and advanced “anti-access and area denial”  (A2/AD) capabilities envisioned in the 20XX game series. The effect has been that the dominance enjoyed by the United States in the late 1990’s/2000’s in the area of high end sensors, guided weaponry, space and cyberspace systems and stealth technology has started to erode. Moreover the erosion is now occurring at an accelerated rate.”
    • .
    • Positing the near-future global proliferation of unmanned, autonomous, networked and swarmed robotic systems replacing( and leveraged by diminishing numbers of) expensive manpower and piloted platforms on the battlefield and altering the age-old relationship between a nation’s population base and the traditional calculation of its potential military power.
    • .
    • An argument that “warfare in the robotic age” will mean substantial to fundamental shifts in strategic calculation of deterrence, coercion, the use of force, operational doctrines and the evolution of military technology and that the United States must prepare for this eventuality.

    This report is well worth reading.  In my view there are some areas that require further exploration and debate than can be found in “20YY”. For example:

    • While the power of economics as a driver of unmanned, autonomous weapons is present, the implications are vastly understated. Every nation will face strategic investment choices between opting for simple and cheaper robotic platforms in mass and “pricing out” potential rivals by opting for “class” – fewer but more powerful, sophisticated and versatile robotic systems.
    • .
    • The scale of robot swarms are limited primarily by computing power and cost of manufactureand could be composed of robots from the size of a fly to that of a zeppelin. As John Robb has noted, this could mean billions of drones.
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    • The US defense acquisition system and the armed services are ill-suited for fast and inexpensive introduction of robotic warfare technology – particularly if they threaten to displace profitable legacy platforms – as was demonstrated by the CIA rather than the USAF taking the lead on building a drone fleet.  Once foreign states reach parity, they may soon exceed us technologically in this area. A future presidential candidate may someday warn of  a growing ” robot gap” with China.
    • .
    • Reliance on robotic systems as the center of gravity of your military power carries a terrific risk if effective countermeasures suddenly render them useless at the worst possible time (“Our…our drone swarm….they’ve turned around…they are attacking our own troops….Aaaaahhhh!”)
    • .
    • The use of robotic systems to indiscriminately and autonomously kill is virtually inevitable much like terrorism is inevitable. As with WMD, the weaker the enemy, the less moral scruple they are likely to have in employing lethal robotic technology.
    • .
    • For that matter, the use of robotic systems by an authoritarian state against its own citizens to suppress insurgency, peaceful protest or engage in genocide against minority groups is also highly probable. Is there much doubt how the Kim Family regime in north Korea or Assad in Syria would make use of an army of “killer robots” if they feel their hold on power was threatened?
    • .
    • International Law is not currently configured for genuinely autonomous weapons with Ai operating systems. Most of the theorists and certainly the activists on the subject of  “killer robots” are more interested in waging lawfare exclusively against American possession and use of such weapons than in stopping their proliferation to authoritarian regimes or contracting realistic covenants as to their use.

    All in all “20YY:Preparing for War in the Robotic Age provides much food for thought.

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    Materials from the Archive 2: Adam Elkus interview

    Tuesday, January 14th, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron — capturing another item now vanished from its original URL ]
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    Aother repost of a web-page I occasionally want to link to, but which has disappeared into the mists, saved only by the Internet Archive, god bless ‘em.

    This second one comes from the Abu Muqawama blog, lately of CNAS, and features an interview Adam Elkus did with me — extremely handy when presenting my work to possible funders, publishers etc — thanks agan, Adam!

    **

    Interview: Charles Cameron

    July 31, 2013 | Posted by aelkus – 3:15pm

    Periodically, I’d like to give Abu M readers some exposure to interesting thinkers they may not otherwise read. I’m leading off the first interview with Charles Cameron. It’s hard to exactly summarize his interesting career. Though his work on religious thought and apocalypticism has the most relevance for Abu M readers, he also is a game designer and Herman Hesse aficianado. He specializes in rapid-fire blogged juxtapositions of interesting connections in the news, which you can read over at the Zenpundit archive. I was most interested in Cameron’s unique style of analysis, which may have utility to people interested in things like Design and applied creative thinking for security subjects.

    Adam Elkus: Your blogging is very reliant on pictorial juxtapositions and connections between disparate things. How did you come to this method, and what is it useful for?

    Charles Cameron: I think we’re moving pretty rapidly from an era of textual to a time of graphical thinking — and I’d tie that in to some extent with the arrival of cybernetics. Cause and effect can be represented by a straight line, cause effect and feedback needs to be a loop. So there’s a return to the visual and the diagrammatic, visible all over the place from sidebars in major news media to Forrester’s systems diagrams, the OODA loop, Social Network Analysis and PERT charts to Mark Lombardi’s paintings — that’s high science to mass media to museum-grade art. More generally, we see that the network rather than the line is the underlying form for everything from the internet to Big Data….And if you look back, you’ll see that all this picks up on themes we haven’t seen since the Renaissance.

    Another way I see it is in terms of polyphony. If you want to model all the voices in a conflict, all the various stakeholders in a problematic situation, you need a notation, a way of representing their various tensions and interactions — a way to score their polyphony. And polyphonic & contrapuntal music is the closest analog we have — JS Bach is going to be the master here.

    Creative insight, and indeed all thought, depends on analogy (Hofstadter; Fauconnier & Turner; Koestler) — so my Hipbone/Sembl Games and DoubleQuotes are designed to procure & explore creative/associative leaps & the fresh insights they bring, and nothing else. This is more a poet’s mode of thought than an engineer’s mode, & underused in heavily tech oriented analysis. The necessities of visual thinking also point me toward a humanly readable graph with “the magical number seven plus or minus two” nodes, with the nodes themselves not single data points but rich & complex ideas in compact form (nasheed, flag, logo, anecdote, video clip, quote), with multiple-strand, discipline- and silo-jumping juxtapositions between them.

    Almost all of the above is prefigured in Hermann Hesse’s Nobel-winning novel, The Glass Bead Game, which has been my central intellectual inspiration for at least the last two decades.

    AE: You study apocalyptic tropes in religious movements. Which vision of apocalypse do you find most disturbing?

    CC: Well, first I should say that I’m not talking about the current pop-culture trope of nuclear-devastated landscapes and zombie invasions. I’m talking religious “end times” beliefs, aka eschatology, cross-culturally, and with specific attention to those with violent potential.  Religion is often pigeonholed under politics, as though it’s just a veneer and everything can be satisfactorily explained without considering, eg, that it treats life after death as, if anything, a more powerful motivator than life before it — so we miss the turning point that “end times” thinking represents, with its implication that the current war is the final test on which you will be judged pass/fail by the One who created life, death and you yourself…

    Broadly, I pay particularly note to unforeseen apocalypses, clashing apocalypses, and fictitious apocalypses. Muslim (Mahdist) apocalypticism was widely ignored because we knew so little about it, until well after 9/11 – yet the hadith saying the Mahdi’s victorious end times army with black banners will sweep from Khorasan (plausibly: Afghanistan) to Jerusalem has long been a major lure in AQ propaganda — while its correlate, the Ghazwa-e-Hind, is still largely dismissed. By clashing apocalypses I mean what happens when rival apocalypses mutually antagonize one another, as when the Mahdi is equated with Antichrist in Joel Richardson’s writings, or when Judaic, Christian and Islamic apocalypses clash over Israel and the Temple Mount — probably the driest tinder in the world right now, And by fictitious apocalypses, I mean the ones influentially but mistakenly portrayed in works of best-selling fiction such as the Left Behind series, or Joel Rosenberg’s far more engaging politico-religious novels.

    AE: How has the study of apocalyptic tropes and culture changed (if it has at all) since 9/11 focused attention on radical Islamist movements?

    CC: USC’s Stephen O’Leary was the first to study apocalyptic as rhetoric in his 1994 Arguing the Apocalypse, and joined BU’s Richard Landes in forming the (late, lamented) Center for Millennial Studies, which gave millennial scholars a platform to engage with one another. David Cook opened my eyes to Islamist messianism at CMS around 1998, and the publication of his two books (Studies in Muslim Apocalyptic, Contemporary Muslim Apocalyptic Literature), Tim Furnish’s Holiest Wars and J-P Filiu’s Apocalypse in Islam brought it to wider scholarly attention — while Landes’ own encyclopedic Heaven on Earth: The Varieties of the Millennial Experience gives a wide-angle view of the field in extraordinary detail.

    I’d say we’ve gone from brushing off apocalyptic as a superstitious irrelevance to an awareness that apocalyptic features strongly in Islamist narratives, both Shia and Sunni, over the past decade, but still tend to underestimate its significance within contemporary movements within American Christianity. When Harold Camping proclaimed the end of the world in 2011, he spent circa $100 million worldwide on warning ads, and reports suggest that hundreds of Hmong tribespeople in Vietnam lost their lives in clashes with the police after moving en masse to a mountain to await the rapture. Apocalyptic movements can have significant impact — cf. the Taiping Rebellion in China, which left 20 million or so dead in its wake.

    AE: What advice do you have for people looking to understand esoteric secular and religious movements relevant to national security and foreign policy?

    CC: Since “feeling is first”, as ee cummings said, to “know your enemy” (Sun Tze) requires an act of empathy, the ability to feel how the enemy’s feelings must feel. That’s not an easy task for the rational secular mind, but to get a sense of the apocalyptic feelings of the jihadists, I’d recommend reading Abdullah Azzam’s Signs of the Merciful in Afghanistan, with its tales of miracle upon miracle, considering the impact of those narratives on pious but unlettered readers sympathetic to the idea of jihad…

    Pay no attention to pundits. For real expertise, follow twitter and blogosphere, not Fox or CNN. Read widely.  Read above your pay grade, see what the experts think are most significant distinctions. Look for similarities in own tradition and explore the differences — read Rushdoony on Christian Dominionism and C Peter Wagner on the New Apostolic Reformation to compare with the Islamist narrative.

    Look for blind spots, and focus on them — they’re as important as the rear view mirror is when driving.  Watch for undertows, movements in the making. Read comments sections, which will contain more unvarnished truth than is entirely comfortable.  Notice where disciplines (or silos) intersect — learning which applies in two disciplines is at least twice as valuable as learning that only occurs in one. Read where worldviews collide. Lastly, I’d ask you to explore any tradition, whether you think it’s idiotic or not, until you know what’s most beautiful in it — so that, again, you see it with empathy & nuance, not just in black and white…

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