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Talmud for today?

Wednesday, March 15th, 2017

[ by Charles Cameron — two brief surface readings in Talmud, with a request for deeper understanding ]
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As someone brought up with more of a focus on the Beatitudes than the Torah (I know, a huge question with many potential shades of answer opens up when I say that), I was not familiar with this Talmudic aphorism until the drone strikes that killed Anwar al-Awlaki and shortly thereafter his son Abdulrahman brought it to my attention:

Ha-Ba le-Horgekha Hashkem le-Horgo is a teaching of increasing popularity among Israelis. Taken from the Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 72:1, its most precise translation is: ‘If someone comes to kill you, get up early to kill him first.’

I imagine it also has relevance to the (presumed) Israeli targeted killing of (eg) Imad Mughniyah..

**

Yesterday I came across a second such Talmudic phrase, based on Genesis 50:

The sages derived a principle from this text. Mutar le-shanot mipnei ha-shalom: “It is permitted to tell an untruth (literally, “to change” the facts) for the sake of peace.” A white lie is permitted in Jewish law.

This aphorism may be of interest to bear in mind in the context of Israeli peace negotiations — but more directly (and literally) “it is permitted to change the facts” carries a sidelong resemblance to the concepts of alt-facts & faux news currently infesting our politicians and media…

Sources:

  • Jewish Quarterly, Kill him first
  • Rabbi Sacks, When is it Permitted to Tell a Lie?
  • ^^

    Knowing the Talmud to be deeper and richer than my own understanding by many orders of magnitude, I’d like to invite commentary on these or other aspects of Talmudic thought that may play, directly or indirectly, into national security issues.

    Atwell Zoll?

    Thursday, July 28th, 2016

    [ by Charles Cameron — query re his quote on an American dictatorship ]
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    Can anyone give me a source for this quote from Donald Atwell Zoll?

    One of the reasons why many Americans do not fear a domestic dictatorship is that they assume dictatorship would take some exotic form similar to those they have observed in Germany, Japan, or Russia, and they cannot imagine such conditions as an indigenous set of arrangements and customs. An American dictatorship would be no more like Nazi Germany in style than it would resemble the Zulu empire of Chaka — it would be dictatorship American plan, complete with George Washington, Valley Forge, the Stars and Stripes, the “home of the brave,” the World Series, Captain Kangaroo, and Mother’s insipid apple pie. It would appear to be the apotheosis of democracy — and, of course, in a sense, it would be.

    Old Hat — I was on my way to DoubleQuote Trump & Clinton

    Thursday, July 14th, 2016

    [ by Charles Cameron — folks you might not entrust with your secrets ]
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    I was on my way to DoubleQuote two Presidential candidates that some people wouldn’t want to entrust with secret briefings from the Intelligence Community — Trump & Clinton — citing Shane HarrisSpies Worry Candidate Trump Will Spill Secrets piece from The Beast and Brent Scher‘s Former White House Counsel: Hillary Clinton Should Not Get Intelligence Briefings at the Washington Free Beacon — old stories, both of them, but they just now clicked together for me —

    But why worry, when Kristina Wong at The Hill has done it for me?

    **

    Trump Clinton and IC briefings

    **

    This is all old hat, of course — Wong’s piece was posted more than a month ago — but still, as she said..

    Some U.S. intelligence officials are worried about providing a routine intelligence briefing to Donald Trump once he becomes the official Republican presidential nominee, according to a report.

    Eight senior security officials told Reuters they were concerned that Trump’s “shoot from the hip” style could pose national security risks, as they prepare to give him a routine pre-election briefing for presidential nominees.

    They also cited his lack of foreign policy experience, and his little known team of foreign policy advisers.
    “People are very nervous,” one senior U.S. security official said.

    However, the officials, who requested anonymity to discuss a political domestic issue, said they would not deviate from the usual “Top Secret” briefing format, to avoid any appearance of bias.

    Current and formal officials also expressed concern over briefing Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton, according to Reuters.

    They cited the scandal over her use of emails when she was secretary of State and her handling of sensitive information. She is currently facing an FBI probe over whether she compromised security and broke laws over her use of a private email server for government work at State.

    “The only candidate who has proven incapable of handling sensitive information is Hillary Clinton,” Michael Short, a spokesman for the Republican National Committee, told Reuters. “If there is anyone they should be worried about it is Hillary Clinton.”

    **

    And all of this brings me to my Totally Impractical Question — which if anything gets more interesting as the weeks go by:

    If someone has loose enough lips — or email servers — to be unworthy to receive Top Secret briefings as a candidate, do they really suddenly get a whole lot more reliable, once they’re elected?

    A brief Trump policy statement & book-length question in response

    Sunday, July 10th, 2016

    [ by Charles Cameron — also a tweet asking for a DoubleQuote & getting one ]
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    As so often, Part I of this post is a somewhat playful teaser for Part II, which is where my real interest is to be found.

    Part I, then, is about someone inquiring about two tweets Donald Trump made, asking in effect whether anyone had DoubleQuoted them:.

    I like this question because it shows that DoubleQuoting — and indeed it’s subset, DoubleTweeting — is not some lonely idea of mine, but a more general form of inquiry that I’m aiming to fashion into a specigic and teachable tool for thinking.

    **

    As it happens, one Chris Taylor responded to Martyn’s question the next day, putting the two tweets in question together. Sadly for my purposes, he did this by screengrabbing the pair of them, thus making it impossible to click through to Trump’s two originals. I’ve therefore gone to Trump’s timeline, and present them here as they originally appeared there:

    I see this juxtaposition as having some mild merit as political argument, but mainly as a sort of nit-picky point-scoring — so I’ll leave it at that.

    For anyone who’s interested, here’s a storified compilation of Donald Trump’s tweets on Islam, Muslims and the Middle East — I haven’t verified its contents or up-to-date-ness, but ran across it in my rooting around, and thought it might be of use to some here.

    **

    Part II is where things get interesting.

    In the DoubleQuote below, I have posted excerpts from two documents — in the upper panel, Donald Trump’s news release on the prevention of Muslim immigration, and in the lower panel, a couple of paragraphs from the Tablet magazine review of the late Shahab Ahmad‘s extraordinary book, What is Islam, published this year by Princeton UP, and described in a blurb by Harvard Law’s Noah Feldman as “Not merely field changing, but the boldest and best thing I have read in any field in years.”

    DQ tablet Trump Ahmed

    Boiled down to it’s haiku-like essence, this twofer goes like this:

  • Trump: single page, single strand statement about banning Muslims
  • Ahmad: 550 page, multiple strand question as to how to define Muslims
  • **

    It’s inevitable that much of our popular — meaning “of the people, by the people, for the people” — discussion of Islam, brought on principally by the as yet but poorly understood connection between Al-Qaida and Islam, and exacerbated more recently by the equivalent link with the (so-called) Islamic (so-called) State — is framed in headlines and soundbites.

    Such single-stranded short-form messaging cannot hope to convey much at all of reality, and to get a deeper dive into what the words Islam and Muslim point to, one could hardly do better than The Study Quran for Islam’s central scripture, Jonathan Brown‘s Misquoting Muhammad for the history and interpretation of the corpus of hadith — and Ahmad’s What is Islam for the amazing richness of the Islamic traditions across continents and centuries.

    9780691164182

    Somewhere between the single words Muslim and Islam on the one hand, and the 550 pages of Ahmed’s erudition, aided and abetted by 44 pages of notes in small type and a substantial index on the other, there’s an awareness of rich complexity, perhaps sufficient for a 25-page essay or 125-page Oxford Very Short Introduction, that we could all benefit from applying to our political considerations of Islam in these fraught times.

    Review: The Rule of the Clan

    Wednesday, April 20th, 2016

    [by Mark Safranski / “zen“]

    Rule of the Clan by Mark Weiner

    I often review good books. Sometimes I review great ones. The Rule of the Clan: What an Ancient Form of Social Organization Reveals about the Future of Individual Freedom  by Mark S. Weiner gets the highest compliment of all: it is an academic book that is clearly and engagingly written so as to be broadly useful.

    Weiner is Professor of Law and Sidney I. Reitman Scholar at Rutgers University whose research interests gravitate to societal evolution of constitutional orders and legal anthropology. Weiner has put his talents to use in examining the constitutional nature of a global phenomena that has plagued IR scholars, COIN theorists, diplomats, counterterrorism experts, unconventional warfare officers, strategists, politicians and judges. The problem they wrestle with goes by many names that capture some aspect of its nature – black globalization, failed states, rogue states, 4GW, hybrid war, non-state actors, criminal insurgency, terrorism and many other terms. What Weiner does in The Rule of the Clan is lay out a historical hypothesis of tension between the models of Societies of Contract – that is Western, liberal democratic, states based upon the rule of law – and the ancient Societies of Status based upon kinship networks from which the modern world emerged and now in places has begun to regress.

    Weiner deftly weaves the practical problems of intervention in Libya or counterterrorism against al Qaida with political philosophy, intellectual and legal history, anthropology, sociology and economics. In smooth prose, Weiner illustrates the commonalities and endurance of the values of clan and kinship network lineage systems in societies as diverse as Iceland, Saudi Arabia, Kenya, India and the Scottish highlands, even as the modern state arose around them. The problem of personal security and the dynamic of the feud/vendetta as a social regulator of conduct is examined along with the political difficulties of shifting from systems of socially sanctioned collective vengeance to individual rights based justice systems. Weiner implores liberals (broadly, Westerners) not to underestimate (and ultimately undermine) the degree of delicacy and strategic patience required for non-western states transitioning between Societies of Status to Societies of Contract. The relationship between the state and individualism is complicated because it is inherently paradoxical, argues Weiner: only a state with strong, if limited, powers creates the security and legal structure for individualism and contract to flourish free of the threat of organized private violence and the tyranny of collectivistic identities.

    Weiner’s argument is elegant, well supported and concise (258 pages inc. endnotes and index) and he bends over backwards in The Rule of the Clan to stress the universal nature of clannism in the evolution of human societies, however distant that memory may be for a Frenchman, American or Norwegian. If the mores of clan life are still very real and present for a Palestinian supporter (or enemy) of HAMAS in Gaza, they were once equally real to Saxons, Scots and Franks. This posture can also take the rough edges off the crueler aspects of, say, life for a widow and her children in a Pushtun village by glossing over the negative cultural behaviors that Westerners find antagonizing and so difficult to ignore on humanitarian grounds. This is not to argue that Weiner is wrong, I think he is largely correct, but this approach minimizes the friction involved in the domestic politics of foreign policy-making in Western societies which contain elite constituencies for the spread of liberal values by the force of arms.

    Strongest recommendation.


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