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Give me that Old Time Nuclear Fatwa

Tuesday, November 25th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron — when is a tweet not quite a fatwa? when it’s a tweet! ]
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A day or two ago Tim Furnish pointed me to a recent MEMRI post titled:

Tehran Again Offers Khamenei’s Nonexistent Fatwa In Negotiations As A Guarantee That It Is Not Developing Nuclear Weapons

You can pretty much imagine the content by means of its title, but the piece also contains a lead to Khamenei‘s Twitter feed, and thus to the tweet with which I’ve opened this post.

What to make of it?

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It seems to me that there are two obvious possibilities —

  • the Ayatollah is lying, there is no such fatwa
  • the Ayatlloah is telling the truth, there is such a fatwa
  • Those who are prone to hope may well take the Ayatollah’s word for it — whether or not that trust is justified — while those who are prone to doubt are liable to distrust the Ayatollah…

    And so we’re at that old “trust but verify” business again.

    It seems to me that neither proposition — that a fatwa exists as claimed, but has not been made public, or that no fatwa exists, and claims to the contrary are simply incredible — is verifiable, or falsifiable for that matter. Hunh.

    The one thing that is clear from my POV is that the Ayatollah Khamenei is playing this close to his chest. He could very easily write out a fatwa and publish it, and he doesn’t. He could very easily not have issued a fatwa, which would explain its non-publication. But his refusal to publish a fatwa, while claiming to have issued it, presumably by word of mouth, is a clear indication that he is toying with his interlocutors in the west. And the game is:

    I claim to have given a fatwa — will you take my word for it?

    He’s asking for trust, we’re asking for verification: trust, but verify, it’s not a new idea. And it seems to me that neither axiomatic doubt nor axiomatic trust is the point, although we are mostly prone to one or the other.

    The point is that this is poker. Perhaps this is an obvious truism that others move quickly past on their way to reading the Ayatollah’s “tells” one way or the other. Or perhaps we are so quick to take sides that the idea that we face a formidable opponent in what is essentially a very high stakes game eludes us.

    I’m not a player, I don’t speak or read Farsi, the Shah was still in power when I visited Tehran, I haven’t studied for years in Qom or Najaf, I’m not inclined to make political assertions more than one or two levels above my pay grade, I’m mostly unpaid, and I’m left with this:

    We’re in a game.

    And if that’s the case, intelligence — human intelligence — is the way to read Khamenei’s poker face. And FWIW, Amir Taheri wouldn’t be my go to source for intel.

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    BTW, here’s Khamenei’s latest:

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    Obama & Ferguson: the split screen as DoubleQuote

    Tuesday, November 25th, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron — the favorite word used on twitter to describe tonights’s split screen show was “surreal” ]
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    Those of you who read me here regularly know that I believe juxtaposition is a key tool for both thinking and understanding. The split screen reporting of Obama‘s Ferguson speech, for instance…

    DQ Obama Ferguson Fox

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    I was watching the speech on the White House site, and they were giving Obama the full-screen treatment — so I was unaware that things were any different elsewhere.

    I feel the single screen-shot from Fox above does justice to the power of juxtaposition, but for good measure I’ll also post a screen-shot from CNN, where the “violence” is portrayed more crisply perhaps:

    DQ Obama Ferguson CNN

    although the “lower third” caption doesn’t quote Obama to such powerful effect.

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    For those who would like to see how the split screen treatment fared in its quieter moments as well as its more vivid ones, here’s the Fox report in full:

    I find it interesting that while splitting the screen in two halves adds to the power of the effect, the attempt at a three-way split fails miserably by comparison.

    ABC‘s coverage is also dramatic:

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    Finally, Tina Nguyen on Mediaite offered a smörgåsbord of split screen images, and closed with a tweet from Ta-Nehisi Coates:

    Good question: Obama clearly wasn’t in the loop about the loop he was in

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    Dabiq issue #5 — the back cover, the hadith, the child, the video

    Sunday, November 23rd, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron — once again a Mahdist hadith — and a video link, I’m pretty sure ]
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    dabiq 5 front back pgs

    Dabiq issue #5 (front & back covers above) has now been out a day or three.

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    This time, there’s an “end times” hadith that doesn’t mention the title Mahdi while referring to him on the back cover:

    face

    This particular hadith as quoted requires the Mahdi to have both the name of the Prophet and of his father — which will make it difficult, but not impossible, for the current caliph to receive that title. Mr Orange first suggested this problem to me, and I hope in a future post to discuss it in some detail.

    I also hope to continue discussing Dabiq issue #5 as time allows..

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    For now, let me close by saying I am pretty sure the child in the photo above is also “Abdullah” from Khazakstan interviewed in this video:

    which I found in Australia’s 9News piece, Child demonstrates frightening firearms proficiency in ISIL video.

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    The Art of Future War?

    Sunday, November 23rd, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron — coloring outside the lines of the challenge ]
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    http://www.desura.com/mods/dune-wars/images/new-soldier-and-infantry-units
    Civ4 Dune mod, “Worm attack”, from Desura

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    I’m all in favor of the Atlantic Council‘s Art of Future War Project:

    It is a moment to seek out new voices and ideas from artists who can range much farther out into the future. Artists are adept at making sense of disorder while also having the ability to introduce a compelling chaos into the status quo. In other words, they are ideally suited to exploring the future of warfare. Writers, directors and producers and other artists bring to bear observations derived from wholly different experiences in the creative world. They can ask different kinds of questions that will challenge assumptions and conventional ways of tackling some of today’s toughest national security problems. Importantly, they can also help forge connections with some of most creative people in the public and private sectors who otherwise struggle to find avenues for their best ideas.

    That’s excellent, and as a poet and game designer with a keen interest in war and peace, I hope to contribute.

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    Funny, though, their first challenge looks, to my eyes, just a little bit back to the future:

    The Art of Future Warfare project’s first challenge seeks journalistic written accounts akin to a front-page news story describing the outbreak of a future great-power conflict.

    Why would we want to produce something “akin to a front-page news story” at a time when news stories are already more web-page than front-page, and perhaps even tweet before they’re breaking news?

    In any case, the good people at Art of Future War offered some clues to those who might want to take up their challenge, and I took their encouragement seriously —

    The historical creative cues included below are intended to inspire, not bound, creativity.

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    Their first clue did indeed inspire me, though not to write anything akin to a front-page news story, “between 1,500 and 2,500 words long”. The clue they gave was the Washington Times lede I’ve reproduced in the ipper panel below —

    SPEC DQ slomo death

    while the lower panel contains the quote their clue led me to, by an associative leap of the kind artists are prone to — drawing on the vivid imagery of Peter Brook‘s play, The Mahabharata, which I had the good fortune to see in Los Angeles, a decade or three ago.
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    My own leap backwards — to an ancient and indeed originally oral epic, the Mahabharata, rather than to century-old newsprint — won’t win me the challenge, since it doesn’t answer to the rules, nor will it provide useful hints as to what war will look like a decade from now.

    The sage Vyasa, who wrote the Mahabharata at the dictation of the god Ganesh, might have been able to predict the future of war — I certainly cannot.

    What I can do, and hope to have done, is to suggest that the whole of human culture has a bearing on war and how we understand it.

    James Aho‘s Religious Mythology and the Art of War should be on every strategist’s reading list, as should Frank Herbert‘s Dune (see gamer’s mod image at the top of this page), JAB van Buitenen‘s Bhagavadigita in the Mahabharata and Brigadier SK Malik‘s The Qur’anic Concept of War — and Akira Kurasawa‘s Kagemusha on the DVD shelf, too:

    There, I have managed to contribute something useful after all.

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    Sunday Surprise: advertising the Christmas spirit, 1914

    Sunday, November 23rd, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron — I’m with the British Legion, remembering the fallen, avid for peace — and not averse to chocolate ]
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    Apparently there’s some controversy over a recent Sainsbury’s ad. Here’s the background on the ad:

    and the ad itself:

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    For good measure, here’s the “making of”:

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    Given how commercial a holiday Christmas has become, I’d have to say Sainsbury’s — the British supermarket chain — is doing us all a favor, believers and otherwise, by bringing our attention back to the Prince of Peace, in spirit if not by name.

    What do you think?

    Do you perhaps agree with Rev. Nicholas Clews, Priest-in-Charge at St Margaret of Antioch, Thornbury, and St James the Great, Woodhall, that the ad:

    misses the point about the significance of what happened on Christmas Day 1914 [which] was that a chance for peace was missed. It’s a tragedy. For a day: those soldiers realised they were human beings, and they shared that humanity. That’s a tremendous message for Christmas; but the significance of Christmas is that it’s not about a day, it’s about life.

    — or with the contributor at Forbes, perhaps, who wonders if it’s even an ad at all?

    There’s still an even bigger question to ask, though: What does any of this have to do with selling stuff, which is, after all, Sainsbury’s overwhelming top priority during the most important shopping season of the year?

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