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What is “a multicausal and multilevel understanding”?

Friday, April 27th, 2018

[ by Charles Cameron — if you can lose your car in a multilevel parking garage, imagine how easy it is to lose your mind in a multilevel understanding ]
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I mean, what is multicausal and multilevel understanding anyway?

We know what the words mean, and can possibly gloss over them without pausing for the question as I intend it. But pause, please. What is it, in terms of brain function and or training, that gives us access to multicausal and multilevel understanding?

**

I came across the phrase in the publisher’s abstract for Bart Schuurman‘s book Becoming a European Homegrown Jihadist:

How and why do people become involved in European homegrown jihadism? This book addresses this question through an in-depth study of the Dutch Hofstadgroup, infamous for containing the murderer of filmmaker Theo van Gogh, who was killed in November 2004 in Amsterdam, and for plotting numerous other terrorist attacks. The Hofstadgroup offers a window into the broader phenomenon of homegrown jihadism that arose in Europe in 2004 and is still with us today. Utilizing interviews with former Hofstadgroup participants and the extensive police files on the group, Becoming a European Homegrown Jihadist overcomes the scarcity of high-quality data that has hampered the study of terrorism for decades. The book advances a multicausal and multilevel understanding of involvement in European homegrown jihadism that is critical of the currently prevalent ‘radicalization’-based explanatory frameworks. It stresses that the factors that initiate involvement are separate from those that sustain it, which in turn are again likely to differ from those that bring some individuals to actual acts of terrorism. This is a key resource for scholars of terrorism and all those interested in understanding the pathways that can lead to involvement in European homegrown jihadism.

**

I’d expect Bart Schuuman fills the void in our understanding as described. But I was in another discussion today, in which a friend of mine, Mike Sellers, said he’d been trying to teach analysts at Ft Meade the kind of thinking that can hold two ideas, possibly contradictory, in the mind at one time. He found the task both interesting and difificult. But how do you manage the task of multicausal understanding without what I call contrapuntal thinking — the ability to hold two or more thoughts in mind at the same time?

My friend’s teaching is strongly influenced by systems thinking, as first devised by Jay Forrester of MIT. Mike has a great lecture on systems and systems thinking in the context of games — he was lead designer on games like Sims 2

My own approach in the HipBone Games is to ask players to create a single, deeply connected “thought” out for ten individual ideas on a suitable ten-move game-board — with a “two idea” board for my DoubleQuotes games:

Over the course of twenty years experimenting, I’ve realised my DoubleQuotes is the ideal format for teaching / learning “contrapuntal thinking” — basically, that same “ability to hold two or more thoughts in mind at the same time” — or “how to think in terms of systems” — or “multicausal and multilevel understanding”..

**

Hay, this is relevant and more than relevant. Macron‘s address to the joint session of Congress today included an appeal for a renewal of multilateralism:

This requires more than ever the United States involvement, as your role was decisive in creating and safeguarding the free world. The United States is the one who invented this multilateralism, you are the one who has to help to preserve and reinvent it.

Here, see how that works:

**

Multilateral means many-sided, eh? — and considering many sides at once requires the by-now familiar “multicausal and multilevel understanding”.

On Iran, he repeated his support for the nuclear trade deal and outlined a four-part solution to Trump’s concerns about the deal and Iranian expansionism in the Middle East.

So just the Iran deal requires a four-sided understanding at minimum. And let me remind us, four-fold vision was the highest hope of William Blake, who wrote to Mr Butts — but I’ll show you the poem alongside one of his illustrations of the concept:

Multicausal and — particularly, perhaps, in view of Blake — multilevel understanding may be more demanding than at first we think.

And the world? The world requires this of us.

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Helpful books:

Amazon:

  • Bart Schuuman, Becoming a European Homegrown Jihadist: A Multilevel Analysis
  • Mike Sellers, Advanced Game Design: A Systems Approach
  • Jessica Dawson on Relationships with God and Community as Critical Nodes in Center of Gravity Analysis

    Friday, April 13th, 2018

    [ by Charles Cameron — An important article, meaning one with which I largely, emphatically agree ]
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    Let me repeat: Jessica Dawson‘s piece for Strategy Bridge is an important article, meaning one with which I largely, emphatically agree — a must-read.

    **

    Prof Dawson writes:

    There is a blind spot in U.S. joint doctrine that continually hinders operational planning and strategy development. This blind spot is a failure to account for critical relationships with a person’s conception of god and their community, and how these relationships impact the operational environment.

    Let’s just say I was a contributing edtor at Lapido Media until its demise, writing to clue journos in to the religious significance of current events:

  • Lapido, Venerating Putin: Is Russia’s President the second Prince Vlad?
  • Lapido, ANALYSIS When laïcité destroys egalité and fraternité
  • Lapido is essentially countering the same blind spot at the level of journos, and hence the public conversation.

    **

    I haven’t focused on the relationship with community, but I have written frequently on what von Clausewitz would call “morale” in contrast with men and materiel. Prof Dawson addresses this issue:

    Understanding religion and society’s role in enabling a society’s use of military force is inherently more difficult than counting the number of weapons systems an enemy has at its disposal. That said, ignoring the people aspect of Clausewitz’s trinity results in an incomplete analysis.

    Indeed, I’ve quoted von Clausewitz on the topic:

    Essentially, war is fighting, for fighting is the only effective principle in the manifold activities designated as war. Fighting, in turn, is a trial of moral and physical forces through the medium of the latter. Naturally moral strength must not be excluded, for psychological forces exert a decisive in?uence on the elements involved in war.

    and:

    One might say that the physical seem little more than the wooden hilt, while the moral factors are the precious metal, the real weapons, the finely honed blade.

    **

    And Prof Dawson is interested in “critical nodes” and the mapping of relationships, vide her title:

    Relationships with God and Community as Critical Nodes in Center of Gravity Analysis

    :

    This too is an area I am interested in, as evidenced by my borrowing one of my friend JM Berger‘s detailed maps in my post Quant and qualit in regards to “al wala’ wal bara’”:

    That’s from JM’s ICCT paper, Countering Islamic State Messaging Through “Linkage-Based” Analysis

    Indeed, my HipBone Games are played on graphs as boards, with conceptual moves at their nodes and connections along their edges, see my series On the felicities of graph-based game-board design: twelve &c.

    **

    My specific focus, games aside, has been on notions of apocalypse as expectation, excitation, and exultation — in my view, the ultimate in what Tillich would call “ultimate concerns”.

    As an Associate and sometime Principal Researcher with the late Center for Millennial Studies at Boston University, I have enjoyed years of friendship and collaboration with Richard Landes, Stephen O’Leary and other scholars, and contribuuted to the 2015 Boston conference, #GenerationCaliphate: Apocalyptic Hopes, Millennial Dreams and Global Jihad

    **

    I could quote considerably more from Jessica Dawson’s piece, but having indicated some of the ways in which her and my own interests run in parallel, and why that causes me to offer her high praise, I’d like quickly to turn to two areas in which my own specialty in religious studies — new religious movements and apocalyptic — left me wishing for more, or to put it more exactly, for more recent references in her treatment of religious aspects.

    Dr Dawson writes of ISIS’ men’s attitudes to their wives disposing of their husbands’ slaves:

    This has little to do with the actual teachings of Islam

    She also characterizes their actions thus:

    They are granted authority and thus power over the people around them through the moral force of pseudo religious declarations.

    Some ISIS fighters are no doubt more influenced by mundane considerations and some by religious — but there’s little doubt that those religious considerations are anything but “pseudo religious”. Will McCants‘ book, The ISIS Apocalypse: The History, Strategy, and Doomsday Vision of the Islamic Stat traces the history of ISIS’ theology from hadith locating the apocalypse in Dabiq through al-Zarqawi and al-Baghdadi to the loss of much of the group’s territory and the expansion of its reach via recruitment of individuals and cells in the west.. leaving little doubt of the “alternate legitimacy” of the group’s theological claims. Graeme Wood‘s Atlantic article, to which Prof Dawson refers us, is excellent but way shorter and necessarily less detailed.

    On the Christian front, similarly, eschatology has a role to play, as Prof Dawson recognizes — but instead of referencing a 2005 piece, American Rapture, about the Left Behind series, she might have brought us up to datw with one or both of two excellent religious studies articles:

  • Julie Ingersoll, Why Trump’s evangelical supporters welcome his move on Jerusalem
  • Diana Butler Bass, For many evangelicals, Jerusalem is about prophecy, not politics
  • As their parallel titles suggest, Trump’s decision to move the US Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem — which received a fair amount of press at the time that may have mentioned such a move would please his evangelical base, but didn’t explore the theology behind such support in any detail — has profound eschatpological implications.

    Julie Ingersoll’s book, Building God’s Kingdom: Inside the World of Christian Reconstruction, is excellent in its focus on the “other side” of the ceontemporary evangelical right, ie Dominionism, whose founding father, RJ Rushdoony was a post-millennialist in contrast to La Haye and the Left Behind books — his followers expect the return of Christ after a thousand year reign of Christian principles, not next week, next month or in the next decade or so.

    Sadly, the Dominionist and Dispensationalist (post-millennialist and pre-millennialist) strands in the contemporary Christian right have mixed and mingled, so that it is hard to keep track of who believed in which — or what!

    **

    All the more reason to be grateful for Prof Dawson’s emphasis on the importance of religious knowledge in strategy and policy circles.

    Let doctrine (theological) meet and inform doctrine (military)!

    REVIEW: Commander of the Faithful by John Kiser

    Friday, March 30th, 2018

    [Mark Safranski / “zen‘]

    Commander of the Faithful: The Life and Times of Emir Abd el-Kader by John Kiser  

    A while back, I received a copy of Commander of the Faithful from friend of ZP, Major Jim Gant who had been impressed with the book and urged me to read it. My antilibrary pile of books is substantial and it took a while to work my way towards it. I knew a little about Algerian colonial history from reading about the French Third Republic, the Foreign Legion and counterinsurgency literature but the name of Abd el-Kader was obscure to me.  The author, John W. Kiser, had also written a book on the martyred Monks of Tibhirine, a topic that had previously caught the eye of Charles Cameron and made a significant impression. Therefore, I settled in to read a biography of a long forgotten desert Arab chieftain.

    What a marvelous book!

    Kiser’s fast-moving tale is of a man who attempted to forge from unwieldy tribes and two unwilling empires, a new nation grounded in an enlightened Islam that transcended tribal customs ad corrupt legacies of Ottoman misrule while resisting encroachments of French imperial power. A Sufi marabout who was the son of a marabout, el Kader was the scholar who picked up the sword and whose call to jihad eschewed cruelty and held that piety and modernity were compatible aspirations for the feuding tribes of the Mahgreb. There are a number of themes or conflicts in Commander of the Faithful that will interest ZP readers;

    el-Kader’s political effort to build a durable, modernizing, Islamic state and Mahgreb nation from feuding desert tribes and clans

    Abd el-Kader struggled to unify disparate Arab tribes and subtribes through piety, generosity and coercion while integrating Turco-Arabs and Algerian Jews who had a place under the old Ottoman regime into his new order. Jews like the diplomat Judas Ben Duran and Christian French former military officers and priests became  el-Kader’s trusted advisers and intermediaries alongside Arab chieftains and Sufi marabouts.

    el-Kader the insurgent strategist and battlefield tactician

    As a military leader, Abd el-Kader demonstrated both a natural talent for cavalry tactics as well as the organizational skill to build a small, but well-disciplined regular infantry with modern rifles on the European model. It is noteworthy, that while Abd el-Kader suffered the occasional reverse (the worst at the hands of a wily Arab warlord loyal to the French) the French generals fighting him all came to grudgingly respect his bravery, honor and skill. Never defeated, Abd el-Kader made peace with the French and surrendered voluntarily; all of his former enemies, Generals Lamoriciere, Damaus, Bugeaud and Changarnier interceded on al-Kader’s behalf to prod the French government to keep its promises to the Amir, who had become a celebrity POW in a series of French chateaus.

    el-Kader the Islamic modernizer and moral figure

    The 19th century was a time of intellectual ferment in the Islamic world from Morocco to British India with the prime question being the repeated failures of Islamic authorities in the face of European imperialism of the modern West. El-Kader found different answers than did the Deobandis of India, the Wahhabis of Arabia, the later Mahdists of the Sudan, the followers of al-Afghani or the Young Turks who began turning toward secularism. Educated in the Sufi tradition, el-Kader’s vision of Islam, while devout and at times strict, encompassed a benevolent tolerance and respect for “the People of the Book” and general humanitarianism far in advance of the times that is absent in modern jihadism.

    It was Abd el-Kader, in retirement in Damascus, who rallied his men to protect thousands of Christians from being massacred in a bloody pogrom (the 1860 Riots) organized by the Ottoman governor, Ahmed Pasha, using as his instrument two local Druze warlords who were angry about their conflict with the Maronite Christians of Mount Lebanon and Sunni Arabs and Kurds enraged about the Ottoman reforms that had ended the dhimmi status of the Maronite Christians. It was the Emir who faced down and chastised a howling mob as bad Muslims and evildoers and by his actions thousands of lives were spared. Already honored for his chivalrous treatment of prisoners and his banning of customary decapitation as barbarous, the 1860 Riots cemented Abd El-Kader’s reputation for humanitarianism and made him an international figure known from the cornfields of Iowa to the canals of St. Petersburg.

    Kiser, who it must be said keeps the story moving throughout, is at pains to emphasize the exemplary moral character of Abd el-Kader. As Emir, he “walked the walk” and understood the connection between his personal asceticism, probity and generosity to his enemies and the poor and his political authority as Emir. When some Arab tribes betrayed Abd El-Kader in a battle against the French, consequently they were deeply shamed and ended up begging the Emir to be allowed to return to his service. On the occasions when harsh punishments had to be dealt out, Abd el-Kader meted them not as examples of his cruelty to be feared but as examples of justice to deter unacceptable crimes that he would swiftly punish.  This is operating at what the late strategist John Boyd called “the moral level of war”, allowing Abd el-Kader to attract the uncommitted, win over observers, rally his people and demoralize his opponents. Even in defeat, realizing the hopelessness of his position against the might of an industrializing great imperial power that was France. el-Kader retained the initiative, ending the war while he was still undefeated and on honorable terms.

    In Commander of the Faithful, Kiser paints el-Kader in a romantic light, one that fits the mid 19th century when concepts of honor and chivalry still retained their currency on the battlefield and society, among the Europeans as much as the Emir’s doughty desert tribesmen (if there is any group that comes off poorly, it is the Turks, the dying Ottoman regime’s pashas and beys providing a corrupt and decadent contrast to el-Kader’s nascent Islamic state). The nobility of Abd el-Kader shines from Kiser’s text, both humble and heroic in a manner that rarely sees a 21st century analogue. It is both refreshing and at times, moving to read of men who could strive for the highest ethical standards while engaged in the hardest and most dangerous enterprise.

    Strongly recommended.

     

    Christ born again, wishing you each & every blessing this holy tide

    Monday, December 25th, 2017

    [ by Charles Cameron — wishing to avoid the excesses of piety and secularism, to get once more to the heart of the Christmas message, refreshed ]
    .

    How shall we get past the tired commerical imagery of 80% off, the pious religiosity of religious hucksters, and cleanse our image of the Christ-Mass to seee him afresh?

    One way I have found is to travel abroad:


    Mughal Madonna and child attributed to Manohar or Basawan

    Seen with fresh eyes, the ancient image of the sacred, royal child and pure mother shines anew.

    Or take this Ethiopic image of the flight into Egypt — unusual to our eyes, yet utterly appropriate for the flight to Egypt to be represented to us by a Ethiopic artist..


    Ethiopic, flight into Egypt

    And how gently, with a finger’s touch, this angel from Autun cathedral wakes the three wise men (magi), here shown as three kings:

    **

    Ah, music!

    Perhaps JS Bach’s Christmas Oratorio BWV 248 can carry conviction where a statement of faith, constructed entirely in words and lacking the flourishes of trumpets, must always fail to push past our secular sensibilities into glory:

    Or a very different voice, declaring the humble birth in a stable outside an inn — yet with its own indubitable trumpets:

    Mahalia!

    **

    Hell — heaven! I personally wish all those who read this post on Zenpundit a happy / blessed Christmas..

    I’m thinking of you Jim Gant, Tim Furnish, J Scott Shipman, Mark ZP, Grurray, PR Beckman, David Ronfeldt, Howard Rheingold, Mark Osiecki, Kate Gilpin, Anne and Tom Merino, David and Emlyn Cameron, Susan Uskudarli — so many of you..

    Well, it’s a DoubleQuote, and well, it’s by Julian Assange

    Tuesday, August 15th, 2017

    [ by Charles Cameron — & details suggest IS/AQ and the alt-right are at least somewhat comparable ]
    .

    Jihadists and hard right, comparables?

    **

    Arie Perliger‘s 2012 report for West Point’s Countering Terrorism Center, Challengers from the Sidelines: Understanding America’s Violent Far-Right runs a hefty 148 pages, but it opens with two epigraphs, each of which similarly compares jihad with the ambitions of far right violent extremists:

    This operation took some long-term planning and, throughout the entire time, these soldiers were aware that their lives would be sacrificed for their cause. If an Aryan wants an example of ‘Victory or Valhalla’, look no further (Thomas Metzger, Leader of the White Aryan Resistance, in response to 9/11 attacks)

    … We should be blowing up NYC and DC, not waiting for a bunch of camel Jockeys to do it for us (Victor Gerhard, Vanguard News Network)

    **

    The thing is, the mode of terror in Charlottesville, ramming pedestrians with a car or truck, itself “rhymes” with all too many earlier attacks, in a series including the 2006 attempted murder by SUV at the University of North Carolina, the 2013 incident which ended with the murder of Lee Rigby in London, incidents in Dijon, Nice, Stockholm and Westminster — not to mention one incident in Tiananmen Square, and a slew of vehicular ramming attacks across the years in Jerusalem.

    The second issue (2010) of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula‘s magazine Inspire recommended the tactic:

    — and while the majority of incidents listed in Wikipedia’s article on the topic were perpetrated by jihadists, the tactic has also been used against Muslims — by no means necessarily jihadists or even sympathizers themselves — in the Finsbury Park Mosque attack earlier this year.

    **

    This brings such great repute on jihadists, islamophobes, alt-right, whomever.


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