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A powerful, credible narrative?

Wednesday, April 1st, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — how about a powerful, credible foreign policy? — maybe that’s asking too much ]
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James P. Farwell‘s piece in the National Interest, Information Warfare: The Key to Destroying ISIS, claims:

A coalition of Shia militias, Iraqi government forces and anti-ISIS Suncni tribesman are making progress towards ejecting ISIS from Tikrit. What’s needed now is to capitalize on those defeats and complement kinetic action with a cohesive information war campaign driven by a powerful, credible narrative that demoralizes, divides, confuses, and frustrates ISIS members in order to blunt their effectiveness as fighters, and undermine their expectations, destroy their momentum, and quash any hope of victory in creating a sustainable Islamic State or caliphate.

A powerful, credible narrative?

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Let’s look at two recent efforts. The first was just “published from above” by the US Government:

PsyOps lealet

Here’s some context and commentary, from Al Jazeera’s DC office:

On March 16 an F-15E fighter jet dropped 60,000 copies of the above leaflet on Raqqa, the base of operations for the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL.

The image shows a “Daesh Employment Office” (Daesh is a pejorative nickname for ISIL in the Arab world).

Two ISIL recruiters, one of whom appears more monster than man, feed young men into a meat grinder with “Daesh” written in blood on its side. A sign in the upper-right corner reads “Now Serving Number 6,001″.

When asked about the intended message of the leaflet, Pentagon spokesman Colonel Steve Warren, said “If you allow yourself to be recruited by Daesh, you will find yourself in a meat grinder.”

Warren said the leaflet was created by the Army’s Military Information Support Operations, or MISO. Until 2010 that outfit was known as “PSY-OPS” (short for “Psychological Operations”).
Experts have questioned the efficacy and tenor of the leaflet.

Faysal Itani, a Fellow at the Atlantic Center in Washington who studies the various groups fighting in Syria’s civil war, said anyone in Raqqa thinking of joining ISIL is either ideologically committed or coerced.

“Members of the first category are likely immune to leaflet propaganda, especially if distributed by an air force that has been bombing Raqqa,” Itani told DC Dispatches.

Frankly, I think that’s the wrong way to appeal to the people of Raqqa, who see worse everyday, and either don’t want or don’t need to be reminded.

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Next up is the effort of a consortium of British Imams — a magazine called Haqiqah, whose editor pitches it thus:

We’re turning the tide – though we still have a way to go, we know that by taking efforts to support and mobilise the huge online Muslim population we will eventually drown out the violent voices

Here’s a sample double-page spread:

Haqiqah

I would like to applaud the effort, but I’m afraid a 17-page magazine featuring text blocks in a typewriter face and the occasional poor color photograph is just no match for IS’ own magazine, Dabiq, whose first issue ran 50 pages, and which looked like this:

Dabiq double page

Ouch. Richard Barrett of the Soufan Group is gentle in the way he phrases his comment, but I’m afraid he’s also right on the mark:

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Okay, let’s look at some of the possible theological “alt-narratives” I’ve seen proposed.

First, there’s the idea that losing battles might “prove” that ISIS was not divinely approved and supported — but Qur’an 2:154-56 concerns those who fight fi sabil Allah, an suggests 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.”

Furthermore, IS’ favorite eschatological hadith (I’ve quoted it before) specifies that many will be lost, both to glorious death and inglorious desertion:

The Last Hour would not come until the Romans would land at al-A’maq or in Dabiq. An army consisting of the best (soldiers) of the people of the earth at that time will come from Medina (to counteract them). When they will arrange themselves in ranks, the Romans would say: Do not stand between us and those (Muslims) who took prisoners from amongst us. Let us fight with them; and the Muslims would say: Nay, by Allah, we would never get aside from you and from our brethren that you may fight them. They will then fight and a third (part) of the army would run away, whom Allah will never forgive. A third (part of the army). which would be constituted of excellent martyrs in Allah’s eye, would be killed ani the third who would never be put to trial would win and they would be conquerors of Constantinople

Losing ground? I think the third “alt-narrative” — the narrative brought into effect by IS losing significant ground they had previously captured, is the most powerful of those currently proffered — but it depends on perspective rather than capture or loss. Blows to IS such as the loss of Tikrit, or a fortiori the possible loss of Mosul, might seem persuasive to most western eyes, but in the eyes of potential recruits they may well be counterbalanced by new oaths of allegiance such as thos of Boko Haram and Al-Shabaab to the IS caliph.

At least, though, we glimpse here that changes in military reality may impact thelogically-based beliefs.

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Taking that a step further, I’d suggest that credible behavior on our own part, rather than the fatwas of ulema — even Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi, let alone those who may seem obviously compromised by complicity in power — will comprise the most effective of counter-narratives.

America supported Muslims in Afghanistan against the Russians, America supported Bosniac Muslims against the Orthodox Serbs and Catholic Croats — these are the kinds of action that most clearly refute the idea that the US is at war with Muslims — as it may appear to be in the cases Bacevich listed a few months back in a WaPo op-ed:

As America’s efforts to “degrade and ultimately destroy” Islamic State militants extent into Syria, Iraq War III has seamlessly morphed into Greater Middle East Battlefield XIV. That is, Syria has become at least the 14th country in the Islamic world that U.S. forces have invaded or occupied or bombed, and in which American soldiers have killed or been killed. And that’s just since 1980.

Let’s tick them off: Iran (1980, 1987-1988), Libya (1981, 1986, 1989, 2011), Lebanon (1983), Kuwait (1991), Iraq (1991-2011, 2014-), Somalia (1992-1993, 2007-), Bosnia (1995), Saudi Arabia (1991, 1996), Afghanistan (1998, 2001-), Sudan (1998), Kosovo (1999), Yemen (2000, 2002-), Pakistan (2004-) and now Syria. Whew.

That could be viewed as a pretty devastating list.

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Actions — as a poet, I dread to utter these words, but they seem appropriate in this context — actions (in the form of foreign policy) just may speak louder that words .

The paradoxical roles of luxury cars in the lives of the women of IS

Tuesday, March 31st, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — not particularly anxious to own a BMW — but did I once win a Rolls for a night of Bach at the Hollywood Bowl ]
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SPEC DQ IS BMW

Sources:

  • Belfast Telegraph, Jihadi brides with BMW M5s
  • Dabiq, issue #8 p.34, The Twin Halves of the Muhajirin
  • So we’re somewhat fond of the Dunya after all, ladies?

    Two in the wild from @tinyrevolution, plus one

    Monday, December 9th, 2013

    [ by Charles Cameron — in which my doppelgänger Jon Schwartz of Tiny Revolution comes up with a few of my ideas before I’ve even woken up, see “background” below ]
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    I’m posting this first pair of images with my friends Mike Sellers and Bryan Alexander in mind:

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    This pair, which i snarfed from the same source, is also of interest:

    Click here to see the twin texts at a more easily readable size.

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    Okay, here’s some background, fished out of my personal mists of time with an assist or two from the Internet Archive:

    On November 9, 2004, a certain Jonathan Schwartz had apparently read a post of mine about OSINT on the Online Journalism Review [now archived], followed me to another site where he found more of my writings — and blogged at A Tiny Revolution:

    At this point I became… unsettled. Cameron’s view of the world is EXACTLY THE SAME AS MINE. I briefly asked myself: do I have a split personality, and does my other personality have a website of its own? It is possible that when I think I’m sleeping, I’m actually awake as “Charles Cameron,” busily saying the same things Jonathan Schwarz does? Or is it the other way around, and when Charles Cameron goes to sleep he transforms into “Jonathan Schwarz”? And… is either one of us a superhero?

    I then discovered the strangest thing of all. It turns out that unbeknownst to me (or “me”), Cameron was already aware of this website, and had linked to it twice.

    So I recommend Cameron’s site. I myself look forward to following it and his work. But he better not start hitting on my girlfriend, because she might like him exactly the same amount as me.

    It seems Jonathan Schwartz is still tracking “side by side” quotes and images, just as I’m still tracking “DoubleQuotes”. And sometimes — as today, above — fragments of “his” life surface as half-remembered dreams in mind…

    Or as Florence Nightingale once said:

    Oh Jonathan my brother Jonathan, my love to thee was very great, passing the love of women

    So it looks like your girlfriend is safe after all, Jon.

    **

    One more from TinyRevolution before we go — not a DoubleQuote this time, but an intersection of two fields — and ZP readers already know how interested I am in the intersections of NatSec and Games

    Gaidi Mtaani, the greater scheme of things, I: the story

    Thursday, November 14th, 2013

    [ by Charles Cameron — in a story, in a nutshell, the very different world of al-Shabaab ]
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    The third issue of of the pro-Shabaab magazine Gaidi Mtaani, issued a few months back, contained a long piece titled A Greater Scheme of Things, and in it I’d like to zero in on the extraordinary story which is the heart of the piece — and which offers us a fasacinating insight into jihad:

    it was luminously evident, for me personally, in one memorable incident in Mogadishu’s frontline last year. Just after Dhuhur prayer, one particular day in March, the Mujahideen received news that the enemy was preparing to mount a large offensive in the Northern parts of the city – in an area that was then newly captured by the Mujahideen.

    In no time, the news spread across the entire frontline and the Mujahideen geared up for a protracted battle. New defence posts were erected, the old ones were fortified, trenches were dug, reinforcements were called in, snipers were placed on rooftops and small groups of well-equipped fighters were strategically positioned to guard every street and every alley. Garrisoned in the makeshift base, a short distance behind the frontline, were dozens of young martyrdom seekers, each eager to engage the enemy once called. A flurry of activity engulfed the bullet-battered neighbourhood as sporadic gunfire resonated across the empty streets and a countless number of vehicle-mounted weapons, such as ZU-23 and B-10, Dhshk, Shilka, were all streaming in and out of the base to take their positions. Upon seeing the long line of military vehicles and artillery, one of the fighters erroneously remarked in amazement: ‘today we will defeat these African invaders.’ Materialistically, all possible preparations were made to defeat the encroaching enemy, but were they enough to achieve victory?

    Just after Asr that day, the battle began in deadly earnest, with ear-splitting explosions and exchange of gunfire reverberating from all corners from the city. A salvo of mortars ripped through the fragile rooftops, grenades exploded with alarming ferocity, tanks bulldozed buildings and reduced them to rubble and a hail of bullets cracked into the shell-bestrewn streets. In the backdrop of such a frenzied atmosphere, the Mujahideen maintained remarkable inner tranquillity, for the believer’s heart is an island of santy in such a setting. They’ve put up a sturdy defence in all corners, necessary arrangements were made to outflank the enemy and the chants of Takbeer were gradually rising above the cruel cacophony of gunfire. But something strange was also happening: all the artillery brought by the Mujahideen failed to fire a single shot! The guns were cleaned, lubricated, loaded and reloaded, but they still recoiled without firing a round and with the bullet jammed in the barrel. The field commanders hopped from trench to trench, through tunnels, in order to analyse and resolve the situation, but all their efforts were in vain.

    ‘Today we will defeat these African invaders’ chimed in the memory of one of the commanders and that’s when they had realised that what was happening was in fact a punishment for a grave sin they had committed: trusting in the abilities of their weapons. The certitude with which the statement was expressed proved to be destructive and no sooner had the Mujahideen recognised the mistake and repented than the very same artillery, almost instantaneously, began firing again. The Mujahideen managed to repel the enemy, but those who’ve uttered the statements also learnt a great lesson: that fortifying the bastion of Eeman must take precedence over building a substantial military arsenal; for military arsenal can never bring victory without Eeman.

    Such is the clear manifestation of Allah’s absolute control over all affairs that the Kuffar have failed to comprehend.

    I’ll comment on this story in a follow-up post: for now, I’d just like to let this very revealing tale hang in the air for your consideration…

    Your comments are most welcome.

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    Source:

  • Gaidi Mtaani #3, safe copy available from Jihadology, pp. 12-15
  • Monk Wirathu’s 969 quotes the Dalai Lama’s Kalachakra

    Sunday, October 27th, 2013

    [ by Charles Cameron — a Buddhist instance of the widespread use of sacred texts as offering sanction for religious violence, with Muslims depicted as the enemy on this occasion ]
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    Three dimensional Kalachakra mandala by Arjia Rinpoche, photo credit kalachakranet.org

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    I have commented a couple of times on texts from the Kalachakra Tantra literature about a future war between Buddhism and Islam, first in In a time of Religious Arousal and later more fully in Apocalypse Not Yet? — and today I ran across a reference to the same texts on the web page of the 969 movement in Myanmar.

    969 is the monk-led Buddhist movement which has been rioting recently against the Rohingya Muslims, and the monks concerned are Therevadins. The Kalachakra Tantra is the empowerment HH the Dalai Lama gives in the cause of peace, and the tantras are Vajrayana teachings. I think this para from the current Wikipedia article on Buddhism gives the relevant distinctions in a non-contentious form:

    Two major branches of Buddhism are generally recognized: Theravada (“The School of the Elders”) and Mahayana (“The Great Vehicle”). Theravada has a widespread following in Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia (Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Myanmar etc.). Mahayana is found throughout East Asia (China, Korea, Japan, Vietnam, Singapore, Taiwan etc.) and includes the traditions of Pure Land, Zen, Nichiren Buddhism, Tibetan Buddhism, Shingon, and Tiantai (Tendai). In some classifications, Vajrayana — practiced mainly in Tibet and Mongolia, and adjacent parts of China and Russia — is recognized as a third branch, while others classify it as a part of Mahayana.

    I won’t go into the theological, philosophical and ritual differences, which are considerable, complex — and somewhat contested.

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    To refresh your memory of the relevant details regarding the Kalachakra’s treatment of “holy war”, here are my key paragraphs on the topic from Apocalypse Not Yet?:

    Alexander Berzin has been tutored by HH the Dalai Lama and HHDLs own tutors on the interpretation of the Kalachakra Tantra, and served for some years as HHDL’s translator when HHDL was giving the Kalachakra initiation: indeed his book on the Kalachakra initiation carries a Foreword by HHDL.  His writings are thus among the most scholarly and trustworthy available in the western world on the topic of the initiation which the Dalai Lama will impart for world peace again this July.

    Berzin’s words introducing the topic of Holy Wars in relation to the Kalachakra, Buddhism and Islam, are therefore important:

    Often, when people think of the Muslim concept of jihad or holy war, they associate with it the negative connotation of a self-righteous campaign of vengeful destruction in the name of God to convert others by force. They may acknowledge that Christianity had an equivalent with the Crusades, but do not usually view Buddhism as having anything similar. After all, they say, Buddhism is a religion of peace and does not have the technical term holy war.

    A careful examination of the Buddhist texts, however, particularly The Kalachakra Tantra literature, reveals both external and internal levels of battle that could easily be called “holy wars.” An unbiased study of Islam reveals the same. In both religions, leaders may exploit the external dimensions of holy war for political, economic, or personal gain, by using it to rouse their troops to battle. Historical examples regarding Islam are well known; but one must not be rosy-eyed about Buddhism and think that it has been immune to this phenomenon. Nevertheless, in both religions, the main emphasis is on the internal spiritual battle against one’s own ignorance and destructive ways.

    Specifically, he writes:

    In The Abridged Kalachakra Tantra, Manjushri Yashas explains that the fight with the non-Indic people of Mecca is not an actual war, since the real battle is within the body. The fifteenth-century CE Gelug commentator Kaydrubjey elaborates that Manjushri Yashas’s words do not suggest an actual campaign to kill the followers of the non-Indic religion. The First Kalki’s intention in describing the details of the war was to provide a metaphor for the inner battle…

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    That, then, is the context — “the fight with the non-Indic people of Mecca is not an actual war” but a metaphorical one. Here, by contrast, is the interpretation given to the same text by the 969 movement in an article titled Kalachakra Tantra and 969, posted on their website two months ago (Sept 1st, 2013):

    The Kalachakra is a Tibetan Buddhist doctrine on the cycles of time. In addition to being a text, meditation practice, and initiation ritual, Kalachakra is a prophecy for the victory of the Buddhist religion in a war with Islam.

    Beginning in 712AD and continuing through 1030AD, India was subject to massive annual invasions from Muslims who eventually conquered and destroyed much of the cultural heritage of India. In a final desperate act to annihilate Buddhism, in 1193, Nalanda University which was home to the greatest center of learnings in the East was destroyed, with thousands of monks beheaded. The destruction of the temples, monasteries, centres of learning at Nalanda and northern India to be responsible for the demise of ancient Indian scientific thought in mathematics, astronomy, alchemy, and anatomy. Much of what modern scholarship of Buddhist studies puzzles over today was contained in the manuscripts and minds of those who were lost during this calamity. However as the Kalachakra Tantra shows, the war between Dhamma and Islam is not over, nor is it. The prophecy includes detailed descriptions of the future invaders as well as suggested ways for the Buddhist teachings to survive these onslaughts.

    The Dalai Lama has stated that the public exposition of this tantra is necessary in the current degenerate age. The initiation may be received simply as a blessing for the majority of those attending, however, many of the more qualified attendees do take the commitments and subsequently engage in the practice.

    In a phrase, “Kalachakra is a prophecy for the victory of the Buddhist religion in a war with Islam”.

    That’s the opening of the article, clearly identifying the Kalachakra as a text about Buddhism vs Islam. There follows a curious incomplete sentence:

    We must be diligent in reminding the

    I’d love to know what the author wanted to remind us of, and what the rest of that paragraph — or group of paras? — had to say about the Kalachakra, but the rest of the text as printed is no longer talking about warfare, but explaining some basic notions in Buddhism:

    It is important to notice what Alexander Berzin wrote how “Karmic potentials, in fact, give rise to a broad array of impulses that affect our lives. Collective karmic potentials from previous actions of a huge number of beings – including ourselves – give rise, for example, to the impulse for a universe to evolve with specific environments and life forms into which we and these beings subsequently take rebirth.” Collective karma can be seen as the actions that have generated us in our present bodies, from the decisions of our parents, ancestors, and peers that gives us the appearance of our lives (Janaka kamma or the kamma that determines birth). We are all recipients of karma beyond our control. Put in another way, our DNA contains a vast storehouse of kamma.

    This sad state of affairs is where the Kalachakra initiation takes its cue. By harnessing ritual and intention, the Kalachakra initiation at its highest level bestows a daily practice for awakening that an army of practioners around the world are also engaging in. This collective kamma has the subtle effect of making the conditions of purifying bad kamma’s and unwholesome dhamma’s into virtuous ones.

    Ultimately we feel this will have the eventual effect of producing a Dhamma centered world based on the natural laws of mind that the founders of the 969 Movement are striving to achieve.

    Whether or not warfare, as suggested in the first section of the article, is compatible with Buddhism, as expressed in the second, is a matter for Buddhist theological debate — as is the nature of “war” as envisioned in the Kalachakra itself.

    My own purpose in making this post is to point out that the 969 movement, led by Buddhist monks in Myanmar, is now quoting a prophecy of war against Islam, found in the Kalachakra literature, which in turn is taught as a instrument of peace by HH the Dalai Lama. To my ears, that sets up a howl of cognitive dissonance.


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