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Book Bonanza

Monday, December 28th, 2015

[by Mark Safranski, a.k.a. “zen“]

My usual yuletide haul of books received and purchased….





The Last of the President’s Men by Bob Woodward
Being Nixon: A Man Divided by Evan Thomas
Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe 1944-1956 by Anne Applebaum
Avoiding Armageddon: From the Great War to the Fall of France 1918-1940 by Jeremy Black
Roots of Strategy Book 3
Rule of the Clan by Mark Weiner
Twilight of the Elites: America after Meritocracy by Christopher Hayes
Democracy in Retreat by Joshua Kurlantzick
The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion by Jonathan Haidt
The Middle-East: A Brief History of the Last 2000 Years by Bernard Lewis
Patton: A Genius for War by Carlo D’Este
Beetle: The Life of General Walter Bedell Smith by D.K.R. Crosswell
The Libertarian Mind by David Boaz
A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson
Starship Troopers by Robert Heinlein
A Dance of Dragons by George R.R. Martin 

If anyone has read these titles and wishes to fire away about them, or their authors in the comment section, feel free. Not sure how many will be featured in future reviews.

The Nixon books were first brought to my attention on, if I recall, the Facebook page of historian Maarja Krusten of NixonNARA, the expert’s expert in matters relating to the presidential records, documents, court cases and tapes of Richard Nixon. When Maarja opines on Nixon topics, I listen with care. I look forward to reading these, even though my opinion of  Bob Woodward is that he often has to be treated cautiously, Alexander Butterfield’s cooperation and contribution was obviously central to the book (not unlike the far longer cooperation between George Kennan and his biographer,  historian John Lewis Gaddis). Evan Thomas’ theme just offhand strongly reminds me of Richard Reeves’ excellent President Nixon: Alone in the White House; I’m curious if this will be a rehashing or if Thomas can bring something new to the table about America’s 37th President.

I am also excited about Rule of the Clan, which should be of interest to anyone thinking about insurgency, irregular warfare, unconventional warfare and terrorism intersecting with tribal or quasi-tribal societies. My friends Michael Lotus and James Bennett who wrote the excellent America 3.0 and drew on the family structure ideas of British anthropologist Alan Macfarlane and French scholar Emanuel Todd, would also be interested.

The fiction was picked up for a simpler reason. I need a change of pace and never read the last, most recent book in the Game of Thrones series.

What are you reading these days?

Aman, or reciprocal safety under Islamic law

Monday, December 21st, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — what eye do you use when there’s more going on than meets the eye? ]

Twice in one day, a week or so ago, I had reason to look up the meaning of “aman” in Islamic law. My source here was M. Reichberg and Henrik Syse, eds., Religion, War, and Ethics: A Sourcebook of Textual Traditions, p. 307, under the heading Aman (Pledge of Safety):

Aman is a temporary pact of security whereby visitors from an enemy territory were conferred a certain level of protection from hostile acts (on life, liberty, and property) during their stay in the opposing community. Classical jurists agreed such a pact could be granted by Muslims to non-Muslims, and vice versa. Concerning protection given to non-Muslims, the overwhelming majority of jurists agreed that an adult free man may grant aman to a non-Muslim and that such an aman was to be respected by the entire Muslim community. Once granted aman, these non-Muslims were guaranteed protection for the duration of their visit on Muslim territory, and if an imam wished to retract the aman, he was obliged to guarantee protection until the non-Muslim had been escorted away.

Jurists also examined the obligations of Muslims who had been granted aman in a non-Muslim territory. Most agreed that if a Muslim entered enemy territory on the basis of an aman contract granted by non-Muslims, guaranteeing his life and property, this agreement should be mutually respected, such that for the duration of his stay the Muslim would not be permitted to harm the non-Muslim enemies. For example, as later detailed, al-Shafi’i argued that Muslim men whose women and children had been taken captive were not allowed to free them by attacking their non-Muslim captors, if this would entail a violation of an aman agreement. It would be preferable, al-Shafi’i maintained, to ask for a retraction of the aman than to save the captives by its violation.


One of the items that sent me scurrying towards this text was a long and fascinating discussion of the Japanese (also German and Italian) internments during World War II, which Michael Lotus opened up on FaceBook. I’m not sure whether this FB convo will be accessible to everyone, but if it is, you will find it here.

The other occasion was a paragraph that caught my eye in Jenny Taylor‘s blog post You cannot fight religion with atheism. I’ll give you the full paragraph for a bit of context, but it’s the remark about the secret covenant that I’m interested in here. Jenny ts discussing the British response to IS and how it will be perceived from different angles:

And I’m not sure I see it the Church’s way either. That’s because none of it has a proper mandate from the people; the people who will inevitably suffer on the streets of London and other cities once the secret ‘covenant’ Britain’s MI6 have had with international Islamists is revoked by what will be seen as a declaration of war. [And if you don’t believe me about that, read Islamic State: The Digital Caliphate just out.]

Abdel Bari Atwan‘s book to which Jenny links is highly regarded by folks such as Peter Bergen, so I went looking for a mention of MI6 in its pages, and found:

Musab Al-Suri confirmed to me that a tacit covenant was in place between MI6 and the extremists…

— after which, he talks about Saudi entities and indivisuals funding al-Qaeda. I was intrigued, and checked in Atwan’s earlier book, The Secret History of al-Qaeda, and read this equivalent but slightly longer passage:

I believe there was an unwritten truce between bin Laden and the Al Saud based on the understanding that so long as al Qaeda did not target the royal family or Saudi nationals, the regime would shut its eyes to the organization’s activities. The truce would have collapsed after 11 September 2001, when the US put enormous pressure on the ruling family to purge itself of terrorists and cut off sources of funding for their activities.

Atwan also quotes Abu Musab al-Suri in his Secret History:

London was the centre for communications between Islamist groups and groups opposed to the governments of their own countries. We maintained communications with jihadi leaders outside Britain, in particular Dr Ayman al-Zawahiri who used to call me regularly and I would take his calls in a telephone box in the London suburbs … John Major’s government was very clever and served the security of Britain and the interests of its people by accepting our truce by which we meant that we would never target Britain … as long as the security forces left us alone … When Tony Blair came to power in 1997 he tore up the unwritten understanding and stabbed the mujahedin in the back by changing the laws and harassing us.

Note that there is no specific mention of MI6 here, and the reference is to an “unwritten understanding”.

This is all hearsay, in fact — Atwan describing al-Suri’s thoughts rather than direct quotes from al-Suri — so I’m left wondering whether anyone actually offered the British a truce, or whether what’s really going on here is that al-Suri mentioned to Atwan that the British were taking advantage of aman protection against jihadists attacking a country (in this case, the UK) which had given them shelter.

Is this secret, tacit and unwritten truce really a truce at all, or just a mutual recognition of the existing limits of warfare under Islamic jurisprudence?


Consider in this context how Bin Laden himself chastizes Faisal Shahzad, the Times Square bomber, 9n this excerpt from Letters from Abbottabad: Bin Ladin Sidelined? p.41:

You have perhaps followed the media trial of brother Faisal Shahzad, may God release him, during which the brother was asked to explain his attack [against the United States] in view of having taken an oath [not to harm it] when he was awarded his American citizenship. He responded that he lied [when he took the oath]. It does not escape you [Shaykh `Atiyya] that [Shahzad’s lie] amounts to betrayal (ghadr) and does not fall under permissible lying to [evade] the enemy [during times of war]…please request from our Pakistani Taliban brothers to redress this matter…also draw their attention to the fact that brother Faisal Shahzad appeared in a photograph alongside Commander Mahsud. I would like to verify whether Mahsud knew that when a person acquires an American citizenship, this involves taking an oath, swearing not to harm America. If he is unaware of this matter, he should be informed of it. Unless this matter is addressed, its negative consequences are known to you. [We must therefore act swiftly] to remove the suspicion that jihadis violate their oath and engage in ghadr.

It’s interesting that Dr Fadl, aka Sayyed Imam Al-Sharif, the prominent Jihadist ideologue whom Lawrence Wright terms an “Al Qaeda mastermind” makes a very similar claim in his Refutations, in whichb he retracts his previous suppoort for AQ on grounds of religious law:

Fadl acknowledges that “terrorizing the enemy is a legitimate duty”; however, he points out, “legitimate terror” has many constraints. Al Qaeda’s terrorist attacks in America, London, and Madrid were wrong, because they were based on nationality, a form of indiscriminate slaughter forbidden by Islam. In his Al Hayat interview, Fadl labels 9/11 “a catastrophe for Muslims,” because Al Qaeda’s actions “caused the death of tens of thousands of Muslims—Arabs, Afghans, Pakistanis and others.”

The most original argument in the book and the interview is Fadl’s assertion that the hijackers of 9/11 “betrayed the enemy,” because they had been given U.S. visas, which are a contract of protection. “The followers of bin Laden entered the United States with his knowledge, and on his orders double-crossed its population, killing and destroying,” Fadl continues. “The Prophet—God’s prayer and peace be upon him—said, ‘On the Day of Judgment, every double-crosser will have a banner up his anus proportionate to his treachery.’”

As Hannah Stuart comments in Critiquing Radical Islamist Claims to Theological Authenticity on the respective views of Bin Laden, Dr Fadl and others:

While their interpretations differ, it is testament to the strength of the Islamic obligation to honour an oath that senior al-Qaeda figures view perceived transgressions with such severity.

Recent hacks and the King James Version

Saturday, August 22nd, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — the OMB and Ashley Madison hacks — and some verses to consider alongside them ]


Given my interest in apocalyptic, which Wikipedia describes thus

An apocalypse (Ancient Greek: apokalypsis, from apo and kalypto meaning “uncovering”), translated literally from Greek, is a disclosure of knowledge, i.e., a lifting of the veil or revelation. In religious contexts it is usually a disclosure of something hidden.

— it is only natural that the revelation of secrets should provide a sometime theologian such as myself with scriptural memories..

SPEC Ashley Madison hack


It has long seemed to me that “Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again” (Matthew 7. 1-2) offers an extraordinarily non-vengeful, non-violent option within the tit-for-tat, eye-for-an-eye scriptural formulation of justice.

Update on America 3.0 Book Events – Bennett and Lotus

Friday, May 31st, 2013

America 3.0 

From Chicago Boyz:

America 3.0: Mike Lotus on The Bob Dutko Show

Mike Lotus will be on the Bob Dutko radio show tomorrow, May 31, 2013 at 12:40 p.m. EST. Bob hosts Detroit’s #1 Christian Talk Radio Show on WMUZS 103.5 FM.

Please listen in if you can!

Many thanks to the Bob Dutko Show for having me on.

This weekend we will post an updated list of upcoming appearances by Jim Bennett, Mike Lotus, and occasionally both of us together, talking about America 3.0.

Thanks to The Takeaway, the The Armstrong & Getty Show, and The Janet Mefferd show for interviewing Jim Bennett — all yesterday. It was a Bennett Threefer! 

And Author Appearances:

Upcoming appearances for Jim Bennett and Mike Lotus discussing America 3.0

Tuesday, May 28, 2013
Lou Dobbs Tonight (James and Michael)
We will be on about 7:45 p.m. EST.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013
Armstrong & Getty (James)
11:15 am EST

Wednesday, May 29, 2013 
Janet Mefferd Show (James)
3:30 pm EST

Friday, May 31, 2013 
Bob Dutko Show (Michael)
1:40 pm EST

Tuesday, June 4, 2013
Talk to Adam Smith Society, Booth School of Business (Michael)

Thursday, June 6, 2013
Mornings with Nick Reed (Michael)

Saturday, June 7, 2013
Marc Bernier Show (James & Michael)
4:25 pm EST

Monday, June 17, 2013
Western Conservative Summit, “Envisioning America 3.0” (James)

And their maiden TV appearance with Lou Dobbs:

New Book: America 3.0 is Now Launched!

Tuesday, May 21st, 2013

America 3.0: Rebooting American Prosperity in the 21st Century – why America’s Best Days are Yet to Come by James C. Bennett and Michael Lotus

I am confident that this deeply researched and thoughtfully argued book  is going to make a big political splash, especially in conservative circles – and has already garnered a strong endorsement from Michael Barone, Jonah Goldberg, John O’Sullivan and this review from  Glenn Reynolds in USA Today :

Future’s so bright we have to wear shades: Column 

….But serious as these problems are, they’re all short-term things. So while at the moment a lot of our political leaders may be wearing sunglasses so as not to be recognized, there’s a pretty good argument that, over the longer time, our future’s so bright that we have to wear shades.

That’s the thesis of a new book, America 3.0: Rebooting American Prosperity In The 21st Century.The book’s authors, James Bennett and Michael Lotus, argue that things seem rough because we’re in a period of transition, like those after the Civil War and during the New Deal era. Such transitions are necessarily bumpy, but once they’re navigated the country comes back stronger than ever.

America 1.0, in their analysis, was the America of small farmers, Yankee ingenuity, and almost nonexistent national government that prevailed for the first hundred years or so of our nation’s existence. The hallmarks were self-reliance, localism, and free markets.

At the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th, people were getting unhappy. The country was in its fastest-ever period of economic growth, but the wealth was unevenly distributed and the economy was volatile. This led to calls for what became America 2.0: an America based on centralization, technocratic/bureaucratic oversight, and economies of scale. This took off in the Depression and hit its peak in the 1950s and 1960s, when people saw Big Government and Big Corporations as promising safety and stability. You didn’t have to be afraid: There were Top Men on the job, and there were Big Institutions like the FHA, General Motors, and Social Security to serve as shock absorbers against the vicissitudes of fate.

It worked for a while. But in time, the Top Men looked more like those bureaucrats at the end of Raiders Of The Lost Ark, and the Big Institutions . . . well, they’re mostly bankrupt, or close to it. “Bigger is better” doesn’t seem so true anymore.

To me, the leitmotif for the current decade is supplied by Stein’s Law, coined by economist Herb Stein: “Something that can’t go on forever, won’t.” There are a lot of things that can’t go on forever, and, soon enough, they won’t. Chief among them are too-big-to-fail businesses and too-big-to-succeed government.

But as Bennett and Lotus note, the problems of America 2.0 are all soluble, and, in what they call America 3.0, they will be solved. The solutions will be as different from America 2.0 as America 2.0 was from America 1.0. We’ll see a focus on smaller government, nimbler organization, and living within our means — because, frankly, we’ll have no choice. Something that can’t go on forever, won’t. If America 2.0 was a fit for the world of giant steel mills and monolithic corporations, America 3.0 will be fit for the world of consumer choice and Internet speed.

Every so often, a “political” book comes around that has the potential to be a “game changer” in public debate. Bennett and Lotus have not limited themselves to describing or diagnosing America’s ills – instead, they present solutions in a historical framework that stresses the continuity and adaptive resilience of the American idea. If America”s “City on a Hill” today looks too much like post-industrial Detroit they point to the coming renewal; if the Hand of the State is heavy and it’s Eye lately is dangerously creepy, they point to a reinvigorated private sector and robust civil society; if the future for the young looks bleak,  Bennett and Lotus explain why this generation and the next will conquer the world.

Bennett and Lotus bring to the table something Americans have not heard nearly enough from the Right – a positive vision of an American future that works for everyone and a strategy to make it happen.

But don’t take my word for it.

The authors will be guests Tuesday evening on Lou Dobb’s Tonight and you can hear them firsthand and find out why they believe “America’s best days are yet to come

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