I now have a proposal making the rounds for a book exploring the nature of religious and specifically apocalyptic violence — across continents and centuries, in great religions and small sects — drawing on comparative religious, anthropological and depth psychological angles to provide context for a richer understanding of contemporary jihadism and the passion that drives it.
If you watch the two videos linked above, from which these quotes were taken, you will glimpse the stunning degree to which the use of native languages other than English permits the transmission of messages to local populations to which we are not privy, and which indeed may dangerously contradict the messages emanating from those same sources for international consumption in English.
On October 15, 1979 the members of the President’s Commission on Foreign Language and International Studies submitted their report to President Jimmy Carter. This multifaceted document of 150 pages presented 65 recommendations directed toward ameliorating what the report described as “America’s scandalous incompetence in foreign languages.” Woven into these recommendations and their supporting texts were no fewer than 70 references to study abroad, international exchanges and/or overseas experiences. The frequency with which these references appeared suggests that the members of the commission were convinced that such experiences, in and of themselves, would play a major role in altering the sorry state of affairs in which the United States found itself with respect to the learning of second languages.
How are we doing, thirty-five years on, and how will we be doing five, ten years from now?
On a lighter note:
The English language is supreme — God speaks it. As one writer on the internet notes with regard to translations of the Bible other than the King James Version:
The new versions have been translated in America, which is not a monarchy. God’s form of government is a theocratic monarchy, not a democracy. Therefore, it makes perfect sense that His word would be translated for the English speaking people under a monarchy with an English king. I know the King James Bible is the word of God because it was translated under a king.
[ by Charles Cameron — Ambassador Husain Haqqani and Daveed Gartenstein-Ross at Chautauqua ]
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The world is not a problem for Americans to solve, it’s a situation for them to understand.
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..
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:
….Because we love Carl von Clausewitz and the center of gravity concept, we need to grant them a divorce- for our sake. We tried for years to make it work, but it’s time to face reality, together they are just too abstract and confusing for us to embrace.
The center of gravity concept, a mainstay of the US military “operational art” since 1986, has never fully satisfied doctrine’s intent. According to Dr. Alex Ryan, a former School of Advanced Military Studies instructor, the concept is, “so abstract to be meaningless” Now if a ‘mainstay’ is so ‘abstract’ that subject matter experts declare it ‘meaningless’ we have a doctrinal problem. The genesis of this problem is a doctrinal foundation built on dubious authorship and editing, underdeveloped theory, imprecise metaphors, and flawed translations.  This Clausewitzian foundation, which was never very solid, is now collapsing under the weight of 21st century warfare. For this reason it’s time to end our reliance on Clausewitz’s On War as the authority on the center of gravity concept.
….Crack Four. Another problem is flawed translations. Clausewitz never used the term “center of gravity”, or in German, “Gravitationspunkt”, he used the word schwerpunkt, which means weight of focus or point of effort which is different from center of gravity, hubs or sources of power.  But it is easy to understand how an English translator when picturing this point of effort could think of a center of gravity which further illustrates the danger of metaphors. Milan Vigo in Joint Operational Warfare Theory and Practice provides a detailed analysis of the evolution of schwerpunkt from focus of effort to center of gravity which is summarized below:
Schwerpunkt – main weight or focus or one’s efforts.
Mid 19th century, schwerpunkt is associated with an enemy’s capital as the point of focus. Germans and Austrians used the word schwerpunktlinie to mean a line of main weight or effort that links one’s base of operations to the enemy’s capital. This is where the schwerpunkt as ‘the target’ understanding comes from.
Late 19th century it comes to mean a section of the front where the bulk of one’s forces are employed to reach a decision. Schwerpunkt is now the ‘arrow’ not the target. This is a subtle shift from the point of focus on a target, to the arrow or what is focused. Count Alfred von Schlieffen and German military practice used the ‘arrow’ understanding up to WW II.
Colonel J.J. Graham’s 1874 English language translation of On War mistranslated Schwerpunkt as “center of gravity”
Post World War I German military progressively adds a new meaning using schwerpunkt to mean the focus of planning efforts. This is a natural evolution of the late 19th century hybrid of ‘the arrow’ and the ‘target’ understandings.
The Bundeswehr (German Army) now uses the English term “center of gravity” while the Austrian Army uses the German term “Gravitationspunkt” which translates to “center of gravity”.
Hence, English translators took Clausewitz’s “schwerpunkt”, ‘the target or point of focus’ meaning mistranslated it into center of gravity which morphed into the source of power or ‘the arrow’ meaning.
I’m not understanding Eikmeier’s hostility to the employment of metaphor as a device for learning as it is a conceptual bridge for understanding without which human society would not have made much progress. Yes, metaphors can be misunderstood or abused but so can just about everything else. Most important ideas were either understood by or are most easily explained by metaphor and analogy.
“Center of gravity” in Clausewitzian theory is often misunderstood by non-experts or incorrectly identified in the enemy in practice in the midst of a war, but the same can be said of many other valuable concepts. Ask people to explain “gravity” itself and see how precisely scientific an explanation you receive, but that hardly means we should abandon the concept.
Regarding translation from On War, Eikmeier may have a more valid point but I am not qualified to assess it. I have a fair grasp of the political-historical context but not the linguistic and cultural nuances of early 19th century German language expression. Maybe Seydlitz89 will care to weigh in here?
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