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True believers never hide

Saturday, September 19th, 2015

[ a guest post by Melissa Roddy ]

Tim Furnish recently taught a course on Jihad, Apocalypse and Terrorism at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, and suggested to Melissa Roddy, one of his students, that she should submit this piece for our consideration. I’m happy to welcome Melissa as a guest poster here at Zenpundit. She has an intriguing suggestion to make regarding the frequent use of face coverings by IS members when they’re basically showing off their capacity for butchering those with whom they disagree. Your comments are welcome. — Charles Cameron


melissa pic

While viewing photos of Islamic State (IS) jihadists recently, an irony suddenly came into sharp focus. If these exterminators are in fact true believers, why do they always hide their faces?

Of course the practical reason is to avoid identification by governments and military forces intent on vanquishing IS. But what does it say about their commitment to a mission that has included the slaughter and enslavement of anybody and everybody they please? In every gruesome image projected in Western media of “Jihadi John” and/or his cohorts slicing through the neck of some poor soul or mass murdering innocent men, women and children, the perpetrator portrays fierce pride beneath the safety of a ski mask.

Their masks may hide their faces, but they expose the doubt in their hearts. A true believer would have no fear. A true believer would show his face to the world to prove devout confidence that his mission is in service of and blessed by Allah. A true believer would have no fear of exposure. A true believer would be confident that Allah would clear any obstacle from his path. A true believer would want to strip anonymity from such acts, because to show his face would be a declaration of faith.

It is bloody clear, IS butchers hide behind their ski masks, because, despite their boasts of religious fervor, in their heart of hearts they know they are nothing more than power hungry, murderers, rapists and thieves, with no respect for Allah’s creation. They are exactly the opposite of righteous. Their masks demonstrate the fear that in death these monsters will face an eternity in Hell for being instruments of Shaitan wearing false masks of piety simply to satisfy their bloodlust.

The quantity of mercy is not strain’d?

Wednesday, August 12th, 2015

[by Charles Cameron — some remedial philosophy at age 71 ]

I seem to be doing remedial political philosophy this week. As it happens, I read a Chinese comedian in my youth and was admonished against “sitting down while running round in circles” and have been aerating my brain with too much conscious breathing ever since — neither leaving me much time or interest for what in Oxford in my day was known, somewhat dismissively, PPE — Philosophy, Politics and Economics.

Which brings me today, and to grabbing lectures in just that sort of thing from Harvard’s Michael Sandel, courtesy of YouTube:

The video shows Sandel’s lectures, “Justice: Putting a Price Tag on Life”, and “How to Measure Pleasure” — salted with some dark humor:

Back in ancient Rome, they threw Christians to the lions in the Coliseum for sport. If you think how the utilitarian calculus would go, yes, the Christian thrown to the lion suffers enormous, excruciating pain, but look at the collective ecstasy of the Romans. .. you have to admit that if there were enough Romans delirious with happiness, it would outweigh even the most excruciating pain of a handful of Christians thrown to the lion.

I enjoyed the two lectures immensely — maybe I should rewind fifty years, and try PPE at Harcard?.


All of which caused me to wonder:

SPEC pinto and lincoln continental


  • Mark Dowie, Pinto Madness
  • W Michael Hoffman, Case Study: The Ford Pinto
  • See also:

  • ES Grush and CS Saunby, Fatalities Associated with Crash-Induced Fuel Leakage and Fires
  • **

    I mean, all of which made me wonder about Jeremy Bentham, I suppose.

    We had Locke at Christ Church, staring disdainfully from his portrait during dinners in the Great Hall — but Bentham? I don’t think I saw any utility in utilitarianism.


    But then I also wondered:

    SPEC trolley problem torture

    I wondered: how close is the analogy between the trolly problem and the ticking bomb torture questionn? Do we start from numbers of likely victims in each case and decide from there, or should we instead start by contemplating torture — and recognize the abyss staring back at us?


  • Wikipedia, Trolly problem
  • Michael Sandel, Justice: Putting a Price Tag on Life & How to Measure Pleasure
  • See also:

  • Kyle York, Lesser-Known Trolley Problem Variations
  • **

    What Shakespeare said, though — getting back to my title — was “The quality of mercy is not strain’d” — not the quantity, the quality — unquantifiable.

    Is Strategy Dead?

    Friday, May 1st, 2015

    [by Mark Safranski, a.k.a “zen“]

    [Photo credit: Peter Velter]

    Is strategy dead?

    Strategy seems to be widely admired in Western governmental circles, but no longer practiced in matters of state.

    I am not saying strategy has been forgotten. Far from it. Strategy is still debated,  honored nostalgically (“ah, Containment!”), passed on ritualistically in war colleges, frequently demanded by opposition politicians and its value is regularly extolled in white papers. We admire, ruefully, the use of strategy by others (Beijing, Moscow, ISIS) and regret the sting of its lack in our own efforts. We have universities that grant degrees in strategic studies, scholars who write learned tomes on the art of strategy. Americans love business strategies, sports strategies, investment strategies, learning strategies, strategies for your career, strategies for self-improvement or to find the perfect mate.  We call a very wide variety of non-strategy things “strategy” because we love the word so much. The only thing we don’t seem to be able to do with strategy is practice it.

    All of this other “strategy” noise is merely the sound of mourning for an art which has been lost.

    Why can Westerners no longer “do strategy”? The reasons I suspect are twofold but are interrelated: The Europeans as a whole now lack a military capacity that would render a strategy meaningful. America, by contrast, still has great military capacity but chronically lack a strategy that would make American use of force meaningful in any given conflict.

    In both cases, the root problem is political, albeit expressed differently.

    Europeans are largely in agreement as to the nature and purpose of their social contract and choosing to dismantle their Cold War defense establishments was a decision financially consistent with the strong European preference for extremely generous welfare statism and free-riding on American military power. Let’s not mince words, the nations of Europe are in retirement and are unwilling to fund even their basic national security needs, much less their NATO obligations. It is a calculated choice to hollow out NATO and the Europeans made it a decade ago.

    Americans by contrast, are deeply polarized as to what kind of nation they wish to be at home. These divisions over fundamental cultural values and social mores have created a kind of schizophrenic, Frankenstein monster, “meritocratic” ruling class that shares a bottom-feeder, careerist, anti-democratic, ethos of oligarchy while fighting vicious kabuki partisan battles to keep each side’s exploited grass-roots political tribe energized, angry and divided.

    Because American wars are now fought and opposed primarily for domestic partisan advantages that lead to later financial career advancement for politicians, strategy has largely been displaced by politics and by law, an honorable discipline likewise under siege and partially mastered by our political class to warp for their own benefit. Politicians are far more comfortable with politics and law (most are lawyers, after all) than strategy.

    Politics, of course, has always played a role in formulating strategy. It is politics which envisions ends and crafts policies that frames and sustains the use of strategy to claim rewards on the battlefield and the conference table. There should be, when things are going well, harmony in the relationship of politics, policy and strategy. The problem arises when politics attempts to substitute for strategy or leaders are willing to pay high strategic costs abroad for transient and trivial political benefits at home.

    In my view, that is where we are today, but I realize opinions vary. So I will ask again:

    Is strategy dead?

    Meanwhile, in a galaxy..

    Thursday, February 19th, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — because mention of the Riyadh meeting caught me by surprise ]

    I have seen far more media attention, mass and social, paid to the White House Countering Violent Extremism confab than I have to the coalition meeting in Riyadh:

    In fact, I had to tweet that myself to get a suitable DoubleTweet to go with this one:


    Is that because one is about Countering Violent Extremism and the other about Violently Countering Extremism?

    Or is Riyadh just so very far away?

    Which will history view as the more significant of the two?

    Now, about taklif, and about parawar?

    Tuesday, October 15th, 2013

    [ by Charles Cameron — two learnings about Hezbollah, in process and with one question each ]


    The trouble with this internet thing is that it offers nonstop opportunities for learning.

    I hope my readers here at Zenpundit know by now that I’m an amateur (a lover) of the topics that I write about, learning as I go. I have long thought fard ‘ayn or individual obligation was the key phrase in religious recruitment to the jihad, conveying as it does divine sanction for the deeds properly committed under that license. I believe I first encountered the phrase in the context of Muhammad Abd al-Salam Faraj and his book, The Neglected Duty. It’s my (strictly amateur) hunch that the neglected (pun intended) Faraj should be the object of as much of our study as the far better known Sayyid Qutb.


    Just yesterday Phillip Smyth posted an extended piece on the Brown Moses blog, Hizballah Executing Syrian Prisoners? – Analyzing the Video, which in turn introduced me to the concept of taklif al-sharii. The key paras read:

    In a June USA Today article which covered Hizballah’s involvement in Syria, a Hizballah fighter noted, “Everyone who is sent to fight in Syria has received a ‘Taklif Sharii'”. USA Today added the taklif sharii is “a religious command that means he will go to heaven if killed.” Nevertheless, the taklif sharii is more than just a religious edict which guarantees a martyred fighter’s spot in heavenly paradise. It is a religious obligation put forth by a cleric and must be followed. In fact, it is a form of religious ruling which underpins the Khomeinist ideology guiding Iran, Hizballah, and all of the main Iraqi Shia organizations sending militiamen to Syria.

    Augustus Richard Norton noted that Hizballah’s adherence to taklif sharii is a theological legal ruling, “as though commanded by Allah”. According to Mohammed Sherri, an Al-Manar (Hizballah’s official TV channel) commentator, “once a taklif is issued, violating it is similar to any sin, like murder or adultery, or not praying or fasting.” In traditional Shi’ism, the taklif sharii was rarely issued and normally did not deal with political issues. The concept was actually revived as an important Shia idea by the father of Iran’s Revolution, Grand Ayatollah Khomeini and as an important support for his form of clerical rule, Wilayat al-Faqih (in Persian it’s known as Velayat e-Faqih). In effect, the issuing of a taklif sharii by a high ranking Shia cleric, in this case Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei—The “Spiritual leader” of Hizballah and the other Iraqi Shia groups, is a direct order coming from Allah.

    So — here are my amateur — still learning — questions: does taklif sharii serve the same function among Shia jihadists as fard ‘ayn does among Sunnis? Are both terms used in both communities? The parallel between the two terms, and the differences between the kinds of authorities who control Sunni and Shiite discourses in matters such as these, would make for an interesting exploration I think.

    Okay, that’s the “About taklif” section of this post.


    As you might imagine, though, Smyth’s post set me reading Augustus Richard Norton‘s piece, and there I discovered another interesting snippet, on another topic entirely:

    From the Israeli withdrawal of May 2000 until the eruption of war in July 2006, there was aggressive patrolling, heated rhetoric and periodic episodes of violence by both sides. Most of the armed attacks were in the disputed Shebaa farms. By historical standards, however, this was a relatively quiet period. In general, clashes respected “rules of the game”, which had been codified in writing in 1996 and specified that Israel would not attack civilians in Lebanon and Hezbollah would not attack Israel. As Daniel Sobelman notes, the rules were so well established that officials were sometimes quoted as saying that such and such skirmish was ‘‘within the rules’’.

    The Sobelman reference points us to:

    Sobelman, D. New Rules of the Game: Israel and Hizballah after the Withdrawal from Lebanon. Tel Aviv: Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies, Tel Aviv University, 2004, pp. 67–82.

    Okay, here’s second my question, the one about “parawar”. What’s the Clausewitzian term for something of this kind, far beyond politics, “within the rules” yet still not quite war — parawar? The duel comes to mind, too.

    So: is there a word for such things?

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