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Through a glass, darkly

Sunday, August 20th, 2017

[ by Emlyn Cameron — On North Korea: a retrospective as preemptive strike ]
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Charles Cameron’s introduction: Regular readers may know my son Emlyn from previous contributions on Zenpundit [1, 2]. Here he wages a war of miniturization on the Korean fiefdom of Kim Jong-Un.

***


Snow falls on Kim Jong-Il‘s funeral cortege

Reflecting on the Nuclear staring contest now ongoing between the United States and North Korea, I confront mixed feelings: Obviously one must consider different strategies and engage in a pragmatic calculus; One must consider the pros and cons, the risks and rewards, and the numerous lives which might be ended or fail ever to be lived as a consequence of any policy. It is, I need not say, a very complex issue. Worse still, it is an issue of severe import to many whose lives hang in the balance.

But I find myself grappling with a less practical question and coming away irresolute: If North Korea’s brand of surreal statism could be overthrown without bloodshed or tragedy, how would I feel? Would I be proud? Pleased? Grateful? Somehow, I can’t convince myself that I would be entirely satisfied. I feel certain that any pride, pleasure, or gratitude would be alloyed with something else. And this in spite of my knowledge that such a coup would be, well, a coup, and of the welcome it would justifiably receive.

“The bloodless anticlimax to an Orwellian police state?” I hear the likely refrain, “Terrific!”

“A peaceful end to a regime which embraced not only Stalinist propagandism, but De Facto Monarchy? Still better!” The voices continue.

“And a conclusion to tantrums and ICBM rattle throwing? Who could hope for more?” Comes the triumphal call.

And yet, I am unconvinced in the recesses of my heart. That might be strange to many people, even a tad immoral, but it’s how things stand.

In order that such a stance might make more sense, I’ll admit that I have a strange affection for the turbulent little state and its Emperor’s New Jumpsuits. This probably extends from more general conflicted feelings about overt dictatorships: I am someone who deeply loves enlightenment philosophy, and cherishes my personal freedoms. I am, all the same, a morbid person, prone to fatalism, and I harbor dark anticipations about the future of humanity. Somewhere in the middle I developed a great relish for bleak wit. For these reasons, it should come as no shock that I am a great admirer of George Orwell and a fan of his writings. Perhaps like others who count themselves among his readers, I find myself emotionally torn while reading Nineteen Eighty-Four or Animal Farm; The dystopias he presents disturb me, and yet, (in spite of my philosophical leanings) a small part of me is always tugged at by a desire to relinquish the struggle of self determination, and to escape the paradox of choice by giving in to such an oppression. The terrible certainties, even of state assigned conclusions and death, speak to some tired part in me, which recognizes strain from the ongoing alertness required of anyone who wants to be the arbiter of their own affairs.

North Korea, likewise, is a natural antagonist to the individualism I hold dear, but, perhaps because of its total conviction and flagrance in opposing my worldview, I am captivated by its iconography and insular existence. I have always been fascinated by the ludicrous spectacle, the stark imagery, and the total devotion of totalitarian nations, though I revile their premises. Having one around, therefore, leaves me in rather a strange position: I desire the grip of the North Korean state on its people broken as a matter of principle, while simultaneously fearing the death of a kind of dangerous endangered species; I am struck by the feeling that the end of the North Korean state would be a victory for my values, and the loss of one of the world’s great curiosities.

A friend recently called North Korea “an Eighth Wonder of the World”, and I agree. It is a tragic wonder, dangerous rather than glorious, but a wonder none the less.

My grandfather, a conservative philosopher, referred to himself as a “sentimental monarchist”. If a peaceful end came to the militaristic regime in North Korea, my relief would be tinged with a similar kind of sentimental loss; Something interesting would be gone, and I would feel a nostalgic pang for the missing strangeness. I fancy that I would rather keep the aggressive little power, not on a map, but on a shelf. I should like to keep it in a snow globe, I think (the state already more or less frozen as it is).

I’d like a little magnified globe, not unlike the coral paperweight in Orwell’s book, in which would be held the repressive slice of 1950’s authoritarianism: Marches and missiles behind safety glass. Occasionally, on a quiet night, I might chance to hear a soft, televised threat to my safety, or a report on bountiful rations; If I felt a stab of longing for the atmosphere of suspended aggression from my parents and grand parents age, I could go to the mantle and wind the little state up by hand (rather than by tweet) and hear a tinkling anthem that takes me back; I’d like to visit the trinket now and again and watch snow fallout from a nuclear winter after I shake it, or watch tiny jackboots and smiling, slightly condescending diplomats go about their days work. Maybe the mandatorily grateful workers would even build a cardboard city for my benefit, to give an impression of plenty. And once I had seen the last settling flakes fall, I would place it back above the fire place with a feeling of having harmlessly revisited my childhood, glad of a souvenir to solidify the bittersweet memory. After all, a snow globe can cast nothing else from the mantle to the floor, nor launch beyond its translucent border.

Then again, just because I’d have the terror held safely under glass, doesn’t mean it wouldn’t continue in earnest within.

Picking up on symmetries observed

Wednesday, August 16th, 2017

[ by Charles Cameron — after Scaramucci on symmetry ]
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It’s encouraging — heart-heartening — to see Doreen St. Félix at the New Yorker picking up on An Image of Revolutionary Fire at Charlottesville:

Two points about her commentary strike my interest. The first had to do, specifically, with symmetry, an old hobby-horse of mine as you may know:

Steve Helber shot an image of peculiar symmetry, in which a man of fortitude was bearing a different light. Two men extend weapons: one is the Confederate flag, furled, hiding its retrograde design, and the other is an aerosol can, modified to eject fire. The figures stand in a classical configuration, on the diagonal, as if a Dutch master has placed them just so.

The second made reference to theology..

The composition of this photo is fiercely theological. The black man is wielding what the black theologian James Cone, quoting the prophet Jeremiah, might call the “burning fire shut up in my bones,” what James Baldwin would have identified as “the fire next time.” (Cornel West, a student of Cone, has advanced the liberatory concept of “black prophetic fire”; West travelled to the city to march with members of Charlottesville’s faith community on Saturday.) It is a pose that upsets a desire for docility; it’s a rebuke to slogans such as “This is not us” or “Love not hate.” This graceful man has appropriated not only the flames of white-supremacist bigotry but also the debauched, rhetorical fire of Trump, who gloated, earlier this week, that he would respond to a foreign threat with “fire and fury.” The resistance has its fire, too.

**

I don’t think I see that image the same way St. Félix does. She sees fire on both sides — the fires of the tiki torches in the hands of the supremacists, though they are absent from this particular pohotograph, and the fire visible in the photo, wielded by the “man of fortitude”. Using an improvised flame-thrower strikes me as, if anything, more menacing than waving a furled flag, to be honest, and even though flame-man is in the lower position, his flame makes him, in my eyes, the dominant figure in the composition — and flag-wielder, correspondingly, even though holding the higher ground, more the underdog,

While my sympathies would naturally lie with those who protest supremacism rather than those who proclaim it, this image at first saddens me with the spectacle of fire-power unilaterally vielded by the guy I’d otherwise cheer for — and it’s only when I read a little deeper —

Long said that the protest had seemed peaceful until “someone pointed a gun at my head. Then the same person pointed it at my foot and shot the ground.”)

— that I began to understand why he, rather than the supremacist, might be the one who has feeling most threatened.

**

I feel ambiguous, then, about St Félix’ reading of the photo, but grateful that someone has an eye out for form, art, symmetry, in the photo-reporting of a vile, incendiary event.

When one fantasy-come-true is proof of all the rest

Saturday, August 12th, 2017

[ by Charles Cameron — sheer gossamer speculation about the trump effect ]
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There’s a sort of weird logic to it. Trump, the fantasist extraordinaire has indeed had one of his fantasies come true, and it’s a big one — “most powerful man on earth” — akin to being heavyweight champion of the world, but moreso. POTUS says it by implication: MPMOE makes it explicit.

Give the man credit for that, and then watch as he tosses out other fantasies — like a gambler scattering coins in a fountain after a successful night at a Vegas hotel casino — and declares them all true by extension —

biggest crowd?

  • if he’s the MPMOE, must be.
  • et cetera, et cetera

  • if he’s the MPMOE, must be.
  • ad infinitum

  • if he’s the MPMOE, must be.
  • never before seen

  • if he’s the MPMOE, must be.
  • last trump?

  • **

    This really has to do with magical thinking, or poetry as it veers towards prophecy perhaps, as in “and of his kingdom there shall be no end”.

    Or so I suppose.

    **

    Footnote:

    Russian President Vladimir Putin is the most powerful person in the world right now, according to the latest ranking from Forbes. REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin

    Putin has other fantasies, too..

    So now ISIS has its own fake news

    Friday, March 10th, 2017

    [ by Charles Cameron — propaganda and, i suppose, impropaganda ]
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    **

    Publication of the last three issues of the ISIS magazine Rumiyah have been preceded or accompanied by bogus issues, thus giving ISIS its own quota of fake news. I’m of course delighted because one can compare authentic and fake versions as visual DoubleQuotes. Here are some examples from the latest issue, #7, courtesy of Charlie Winter:

    **

    MEMRI has graciously made its February report, Release Of Two Suspicious Fifth Issues Of ISIS’s ‘Rumiyah’ Magazine – Timeline, Characteristics, And Takeaways, openly available — here are the basic paras:

    On January 6, 2017, the Islamic State (ISIS) released Issue 5 of its online magazine Rumiyah. The issue, which included, inter alia, the usual threats to the West and advice for carrying out attacks there,[1] was picked up by Western media outlets and widely reported. Much less attention, however, was given to two other purported issues of the same magazine, which were released a few hours prior to the official Islamic State release of Issue 5.

    Each of the two fake issues of Issue 5 of Rumiyah appears to have a different purpose. While the first was reportedly a rogue PDF file packed with malware aimed at infecting the devices of anyone downloading or opening the file, the content of the second was surprisingly well crafted content in what appeared to be a malware-free PDF file, making the point of its release not entirely clear.

    This is not the first time that a jihadi magazine or other release is comprised, especially in light of the fierce cyber warfare being waged against terrorist groups. The most prominent example of this is the 2010 operation that aimed to undermine the first release of the Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) English-language magazine Inspire. That attack resulted in the release of two modified PDF versions of the magazine, and has had a negative impact on one of the magazine’s distribution channels as well.[2] In another incident in 2013, which also targeted AQAP, a video of the group was purposely sabotaged and a segment calling for the killing of the U.S. ambassador to Yemen at the time was removed prior to its official release.[3]

    Terrorist groups’ distribution chains and channels have evolved in the last decade. What was once a single download link posted on a password-protected top-tier jihadi forum, is now a widely distributed URL to jihadi content posted on the San Francisco-based Internet Archive (archive.org)[4] that goes viral on Twitter, Telegram, and elsewhere within minutes of its initial release. Jihadi response to suspicious content, on the other hand, has been relatively consistent during that same period, with overly cautious and even paranoid behavior characterizing many members of online jihadi circles. In fact, social media has in many ways made it more difficult to “trick” jihadis into consuming dubious jihadi content, since warnings about such content are now generated and disseminated faster and easier than ever before.

    The graphic at the head of this post is taken from a February Heavy Terror Watch post, ISIS Alleges Someone Is Publishing Fake Islamic State Magazines

    It’s all faintly hilarious / deadly serious: fake news, ISIS-style.

    My latest for Lapido: on the fall of Dabiq & failure of prophecy

    Saturday, October 15th, 2016

    [ by Charles Cameron — and detailing the scholarship of failed prophecy as context for ISIS’ upcoming loss of Dabiq ]
    .

    Here’s the opening of my piece posted two [now three] days ago on the LapidoMedia site:

    ISLAMIC STATE (ISIS) has relied on a saying of the Prophet Muhammad to recruit its impressionable young idealists to kill for God.

    But that prophecy could fail any day now, as alliance forces close in on the so-called ‘caliphate’.

    Prophet Muhammad is believed to have stated that the first great battle of the Islamic end times would come when Western forces attacked – and were defeated – at a small town in northern Syria called Dabiq.

    That should be any day now, according to ISIS’ Amaq News Agency. It issued a statement at the end of September that Turkish fire had killed a man in Dabiq, northern Syria, signalling the beginning of the end.

    amaq-agency

    The trouble is, current reports indicate that allied troops are within a few days of capturing Dabiq, thus disproving the prophecy.

    Let me say straight off — this is a complex and nuanced subject, and I hope to dig into it in greater detail shortly.

    **

    My piece had been edited — in journalism, that’s SOP — and appeared under the head and subhead:

    lapido-head

    Those are my editor’s words; my own emphasis is rather different. I don’t believe the fall of Dabiq will mean “game over” for ISIS recruiters, though I do think it will remove one major strand from their narrative — and experts are divided as ot its significance.

    The point I particularly wished to make in the article is that if and when Dabiq falls to allied forces, as seems pretty likely in the very near future, it will be a case of the type investigated by Leon Festinger in his classic, When Prophecy Fails.

    **

    The prophetic hadith on which ISIS has relied, to such an extent that it named its major English language magazine after it, says that the Roman (ie “crusader”) forces will be decisively defeated when “the Romans would land at al-A’maq or in Dabiq”.

    If my Google news feed is any good, the 21st century Battle of Dabiq hasn’t happened yet —

    dabiq-news-14th-oct-2016n

    — but it’s close, and from a military standpoint it looks as though the “allied” forces will likely defeat ISIS, which would be quite a notable defeat for ISIS’ apocalyptic rhetoric on the face of it.

    **

    Here are four people who have their respective eyes on the situation:

    Will McCants wrote the definitive treatise, The ISIS Apocalypse: The History, Strategy, and Doomsday Vision of the Islamic State. Here’s a paragraph largely drawn from that book (p. 105) as it appears in his most recent comment, ISIS fantasies of an apocalyptic showdown in northern Syria, dated October 3rd:

    The fact that Turkish Muslims, not infidel Romans, control Constantinople today and are working with the infidel Romans against the Islamic State makes the Dabiq prophecy a poor fit for contemporary events. The inevitable defeat of the Islamic State at Dabiq, should it ever confront “Rome,” would also argue against the prophecy’s applicability. But in the apocalyptic imagination, inconvenient facts rarely impede the glorious march to the end of the world.

    Imam Zaid Shakir, in Dabiq: An Argument Against ISIS in Jukly:

    One of the most powerful recruiting tools of ISIS has been its ability to create an apocalyptic appeal around the prophesized destruction of a “Crusader” army at Dabiq, a location in Northern Syria. So central has this idea been to the call of the group that they have given their propaganda magazine the name of that place –Dabiq. It is now obvious that such a confrontation and the ensuing victory of the “believers” will not occur. What is their contingency plan? Apparently, sending waves of suicidal murderers out into the world to reap a grim harvest of innocent souls.

    Tim Furnish, friend of this blog and frequent guest poster, spoke to this issue on A View from the Bunker 343: Dr. Timothy Furnish – Battle of Dabiq: First Shot in the Apocalypse or the End of ISIS? on October 9th. You can hear him on the Dabiq hadith from about the 3.23 mark. Around the 7.12 mark, Tim sets the stage:

    ISIS believes that in these battles they are fighting in Syria, particularly, and specifically in and around Dabiq, they believe they are setting off the eschatological timetable for the Islamic conquest of the world. This is what they believe. And again, this is not particular to ISIS. These ideas have been around for a long time, and they have been shared by a lot of other Muslims, it’s just that ISIS, instead of just writing books about them, pining about them, is actually going onto the battlefield and trying to make them a reality.

    The interview is a long one, and merits your attention — here I’ll just say that I summarized Tim’s point to him as “you appeared to downplay the significance of an ISIS defeat at Dabiq — did I get that right?” and he replied, “I did say that.” I’ll be interviewing Tim in further detail in the days to come, and report back.

    Lastly, Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. I quoted him briefly in my Lapido piece, but here’s his full quote in answer to my request:

    Whatever else it is, ISIS is an organization with a distinct theological outlook. It recruits using religious themes, and true believers feature prominently within its ranks. ISIS has anchored its rise and legitimacy to specific aspects of Islamic prophecy, and when its interpretation of this prophecy does not match reality, that will pose significant challenges for the organization — perhaps even existential challenges, if the group’s opponents play their cards right. (If ISIS fails, of course, that is not the same thing as jihadism itself failing.) Whether the U.S. government will be able to capitalize is a separate question, given that the U.S. shies away from messaging that touches on religious themes, and generally does not regard itself as a ‘credible voice’ in this regard.

    **

    I’d written this much at the point when Cole Bunzel‘s tweet yesterday turned up in my feed, and I quickly posted Cole Bunzel captures the Dabiq moment.

    **

    I am going to carry on here, a day later, with materials on Festinger’s When Prophecy Fails and later research along similar lines, because they offer us insight into the varieties of response that the failure of prophecy provokes in “true believers”. The simplest way to do this is to quote here the “Need to Know” coda to my Lapido piece:

    End-times prophecies have an unfortunate habit of failing.

    In Chicago, housewife Dorothy Martin persuaded her small group of followers that she had received a revelation from a planet named Clarion announcing the end of the world in a great flood on December 21, 1954.

    The earth failed to be devastated, despite her followers selling up and moving to a mountaintop to await the end – but it did trigger a research programme into ‘cognitive dissonance.’

    Martin’s small group could not accept their leader’s error, and instead went on a recruitment spree, according to expert Leon Festinger.

    Others like the Millerites in 1843 recalculate the date, and hope again.

    Jehovah’s Witnesses who have had to change the date of the Second Coming of Christ at least five times (in 1914, 1915, 1918, 1925, and 1975) are either abandoning the teaching, or spiritualizing the date.

    The Japanese sect Ichigen no Miya, ‘internalized’ the suffering its founder had predicted: He attempted to commit seppuku, but his followers intervened.

    He told them later: ‘I could see my own body as if it belonged to somebody else. I thought that I had managed to get out of my body at last, and I was greatly surprised to find that my body had changed itself into the islands of Japan and that a fire had broken out at its centre.

    ‘Then I knew that God had transferred the cataclysm to my own body. I thanked God and felt a bliss I had never experienced before.’

    That last quote in particular is pretty stunning: you can read more on the topic in Takaaki Sanada and Edward Norbeck, Prophecy Continues to Fail: A Japanese Sect, or the Introduction to Jon R Stone, Expecting Armageddon: Essential Readings in Failed Prophecy.

    **

    Another point bears mention. You’ll note that the title of Festinger’s book is When Prophecy Fails — the focus is on the failure of prophecies to be fulfilled in time, on or by a “date certain”, and most if not all of the research that has followed it takes the same form. The Dabiq prophecy, however, deals with a place, not a date — something fairly rare and little discussed in the literature..

    I mentioned this in a post to mailing-list I’m on, and Dr James Tabor of the Department of Religion, UNC Charlotte, commented (personal communication):

    This is a very important and valid point—“place” is often every bit as important, or more important, than “time.”

    Waco 1993 is a case in point, As Gene Gallagher and I show in our book, Why Waco, the key thing the FBI failed to understand was that David was not expecting any “apocalypse” in 1993—as his calculations pointed to 1995—and in Jerusalem—and that is essential—not in Waco, Texas. He thought he had to gather 144k faithful from around the world and everyone would meet in Jerusalem and fight in the final battle side by side with the Israelis.

    Of course Jerusalem, in the ancient apocalyptic things I deal with, is absolutely essential as the “place” where it all comes down.

    My friend and mentor Richard Landes (Encyclopedia of Millennialism and Millennial Movements, Heaven on Earth: The Varieties of the Millennial Experience, &c) similarly commented that the siege of Jerusalem in 1099, similarly, resulted in the disconfirmation of a place-based prophecy.

    **

    ISIS prepares for failure.

    Cole Bunzel, in his June Jhadica post, The Islamic State of Decline: Anticipating the Paper Caliphate, quoted the late Islamic State’s official spokesman, Abu Muhammad al-‘Adnani, from May 21, 2016:

    While in that statement ‘Adnani was sure to project a measure of confidence, remarking that the Islamic State is “becoming stronger with each passing day,” some of his comments betrayed the starker reality of a caliphate under siege. This was clear in the following queries: “Do you think, America, that victory will come by killing one or more leaders?” “Do you reckon, America, that defeat is the loss of a city or the loss of territory?” Responding to his own questions, ‘Adnani declared that killing the Islamic State’s leaders would not defeat the greater “adversary” — the group itself — and that taking its land would not eliminate its “will” to fight. Even if the Islamic State were to lose all its territories, he said, it could still go back to the way it was “at the beginning,” when it was “in the desert without cities and without territory.” The allusion here is to the experience of the Islamic State of Iraq, which between 2006 and 2012 held no significant territory despite its claim to statehood.

    Scripturally, the Qur’an describes the Battle of Ubud, in which the Prophet Muhammad himself was wounded, and which the Muslims lost, in Sura 3 verse 166:

    What ye suffered on the day the two armies met, was with the leave of Allah, in order that He might test the believers.

    And again, as I pointed out in April of last year, Qur’an 2:154-56 concerns those who fight fi sabil Allah, suggesting they will encounter “tests” up to and including “loss of lives” in the course of events:

    And do not say about those who are killed in the way of Allah, “They are dead.” Rather, they are alive, but you perceive [it] not. And We will surely test you with something of fear and hunger and a loss of wealth and lives and fruits, but give good tidings to the patient, Who, when disaster strikes them, say, “Indeed we belong to Allah , and indeed to Him we will return.”

    Cole Bunzel‘s latest tweet indicates that ISIS is indeed using this line of argument..

    The second issue of the ISIS magazine Rumiyah also sounds a note of preparation for defeat in the context of an article headed Paths to Victory:

    The Prophet (saw) also guided us – with great detail – to both the causes for victory and the hindrances to achieving it.

    The chief path to defeat is here said to be contention among leadership.

    Finally, Cole Bunzel’s tweet yesterday gave us the first clue as to how ISIS is responding to the almost certain defeat in real time:

    Date postponement.

    As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, Dr Stephen O’Leary has the detailed run-down on how that strategy operated in Millerite rhetoric, in the immediate and longer-term follow up to the failure of Miller’s 1844 end times prophecy — giving rise to the Great Disappointment — while led, twenty years later, to the founding of the Seventh Day Adventist church, and The Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society (Jehovah’s Witnesses) about twenty years after that.

    Twenty, forty years and counting.. and the Millerite ripples were only beginning..


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