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Of Note: Tim Furnish, & Trump’s National CT Strategy

Wednesday, October 17th, 2018

[ by Charles Cameron — and a few ppl whose views on trump’s strategy document I’d also like to read ]
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  • Tim Furnish, Trump’s New Counter-terrorism Strategy: The One-Eyed Man is Still King
  • Trump, 2018, National Strategy for Counterterrorism
  • Obama, 2011, National Strategy for Counterterrorism
  • Tim Furnish, Sectsploitation: How to Win Hearts and Minds in the Islamic World
  • **

    I wanted to draw your attention to our blog-friend and sometime contributor Tim Furnish‘s post, which offers a lucid introduction to the Trump administration’s National CT Strategy paper, situating it in contrast to the Obama admin’s version, and linking it to a very helpful breakdown of what we might call (remembering William James, but in mostly lower case) the varieties of Islamic experience.

    Let me just say that from my POV:

    1) Tim Furnish has a way superior understanding of the said varieties than John Bolton ever will have — plus he has a taste for pop culture asides!

    2) that the key issue to be further explored could be expressed in terms of the overlaps, Venn diagram-wise, between “literalist”, “mainstream” and “authentic” Islams.

    That’s a project I’ve been circling for more than a decade, and the closer I get, the more subtleties arise to be considered. Still circling in..

    Thomas Hegghammer, JM Berger, Leah Farrall, Adam Elkus, Will McCants and John Horgan are others whose varied voices and opinions regaarding the new CT Strategy text I’ll be watching for.

    **

    Tim’s essay and associated matters: Warmly recommended.

    Zen — pray chime in.

    JM Berger’s Extremism, from MIT Press. Brilliant.

    Monday, September 24th, 2018

    [ by Charles Cameron — my third JM Berger review, following reviews of Jihad Joe and ISIS: State of Terror ]
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    **

    I ordered a copy of JM Berger‘s Extremism months early from Amazon, having followed many of the posts in which he was formulating the insights that led to the book, and expecting a volume full of the very detailed diagrams and network analyses they contained:

    Image sources:

  • ICCT, Countering Islamic State Messaging Through “Linkage-Based” Analysis
  • Intelwire, EXTREMIST CONSTRUCTION OF IDENTITY
  • **

    These diagrams, and the research that underlies them — the work of JM and his colleague, Haroro J Ingram — attest to JM’s skill at the detailed drill-down level, the equivalent of rock-face drilling in a mine. The book couldn’t be further from my expectations: it attests to an entirely different set of skills, those of simplicity, grace, and a superb command of language.

    JM has the ability to communicate directly with a lay audience at their (our) level. He neither shies away from nuance nor adds needless complications — either of which would be a form of condescension to the reader.

    JM’s writing is direct and clean:

  • Terrorism is a tactic, whereas extremism is a belief system.
  • Extremism is a spectrum of beliefs, not necessarily a simple destination.
  • Group radicalization precedes individual radicalization
  • **

    Above are three of the pull-quotes, extracted from the book’s text, that state some of JM’s basic propositions on lucid, large-print, white on black pages, scattered as needed across the book’s 167 short pages (plus glossary, notes, bibliography, further reading, index)..

  • What extremism is, how extremist ideologies are constructed, and why extremism can escalate into violence
  • That’s the core proposition of the whole work, buttressed as it is with a wealth of detailed research and analysis. And radical…

    JM’s approach is already radical in its (his) refusal to treat only one ideological or religious frame for extremism. Studying both ISIS and home grown Identity groups, those who promote violence and those who arguably foreshadow it, led JM to see extremism itself as the most fruitful category to study — not terrorism, nor Islam, not the Citizen Sovereignty movement nor alt-right, but extremism tout court.

    That broadening of the frame allows Berger a set of analytic insights that were obscured by detail in earlier, more limited studies, and his book is the elegant formulation of those insights, simply, and with a forest of scholarship in support.

    **

    JM lists Impurity, Conspiracy, Dystopia, Existential threat, and Apocalypse as central “crisis narratives” utilized by in-groups as they view out-groups — but it is the in-group-out-group distinction which is central to his thinking, its wrongness characterized by the in-group’s paranoid conspiracist suspicions of the out-group’s impurity, dystopic being the nature of the world now ruled by the out-group, and to be abhorred or saved by the in-, with existential threat and apocalypse providing the sense of time-crunch, urgency.

    All this, I say, with a simplicity and elegance which belies the originality and scholarship that undergirds it.

    Above highly recommended.

    Liturgically speaking, the Missing Man formation..

    Sunday, September 2nd, 2018

    [ by Charles Cameron — loss and grief, formalized ]
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    Over North Vietnam, Naval pilot John McCain was shot down out of his intended flight path in his youth, to suffer years of captivity and torture before his release, and after a long life of service in the House and Senate, as his body was interred in the Annapolis Naval Academy Cemetery, one jet from a formation of four peeled away up and rose vertically while the three remaining planes regrouped in formation, the purpose of the gesture, the aviation fuel made available for it, and the honor accorded to the four pilots being, in the words of a Naval Air Force Atlantic release

    the missing man formation is a salute performed as part of flypast of aircraft at a funeral or memorial event in memory of a deceased aviator. One airplane in a four-plane formation will pull up vertical to signify the passing of the aviator’s soul to the heavens.

    You’ll note that the “passing of the aviator’s soul to the heavens” is a theological, rather than a Naval, doctrine, and indeed the gesture is a deeply emotional one, made all the more powerful by the strict discipline required of the pilots involved.

    Jets perform ‘missing man’ formation in tribute to John McCain

    I just wanted to note, as a religious matter, and as an indication of the power of simplicity, constraint, and tradition in liturgy, the power of this last note in McCain’s funeral passage from Sedona to Annapolis.

    Contexts for Catholic Church child abuse & cover up

    Monday, August 27th, 2018

    [ by Charles Cameron — responding to E.J. Dionne Jr. and others in a similar plight ]
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    You may consider this post a response to E.J. Dionne Jr.‘s Washngton Post op-ed, It’s becoming harder to explain why I’m still Catholic

    **

    The Catholic Church is being hammered, nailed — there’s even a crucifixion echo there, but no, that won’t work here — for its extensive clerical — priests, yes, but nuns too — child abuse, long covered up and mushrooming under that cover..

    The focus is on the Catholic Church, as though Catholicism itself were the problem. In its bureaucratic structure, it surely is — but the message in the second panel of this DoubleQuote, a quote from one of Billy Graham‘s grandsons, should remind us that the rot is found outside as well as inside the Catholic tent:

    Worse!
    And btw, they don’t have (repressed!) celibate clergy!

    **

    That’s to say, don’t keep the “conversation” focused on the Catholic tent, as though it’s all on Pope Francis, when it’s not. And this second one is to remind us of the very real spiritual implication of the abuse for those who commit, or by extension permit it, for instance by assigning a known pedophile priest to a new parish where he can continue his practice de novo — as Dionne mentions in his opening salvo.

    Here in the second panel is Christ’s response to all such:

    **

    If we bear in mind Christ’s personal and divine identification with the innocent, the victims, the gravity of the situation will not be lost. And if we can take Tullian Tchividjian’s word for the state of affairs in Protestant circles — he has a somewhat checkered past — then maybe we can escape the Catholic silo so prevalent in current news reports, and search more broadly for similar manifestations across faiths (and “none”) laterally, and vertically in terms of psychological drivers, generational descent, and so forth.

    This is no time for blame-calling within the box.

    Holy Fire, California and Jerusalem

    Monday, August 20th, 2018

    [ by Charles Cameron — curiosity interest: high — actionable: negative ]
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    California fires, wild and holy:

    /a>

    **

    As a California resident, I keep a weather eye open on the terrible fores that have been and are ravaging the state this season. Among them, the Holy Fire in the Cleveland National Forest has caught my attention by its name, which piques my theological curiosity.

    Forrest Gordon Clark, 51, first name Forrest [“rr”], stands accused of fire-starting the 22,986-acre Holy Fire in the Cleveland National Forest.

    Clark was arrested a day after the fire began and investigators said there is evidence suggesting he was the one who started it.

    His cabin in the Holy Jim area was the only one of 14 standing after the fire burned through the community, the Orange County Register reported the day after he was taken into custody.

    After conferring with Clark’s counsel, the judge made the decision to suspend the criminal proceedings until they assess whether the defendant is mentally competent to stand trial.

    **

    In Jerusalem, meanwhile:

    Orthodox tradition holds that the Holy Fire happens annually on the day preceding Orthodox Easter, in which a blue light emanates within Jesus Christ’s tomb (usually rising from the marble slab covering the stone bed believed by some to be where Jesus’ body was placed for burial) now in the Holy Sepulchre, which eventually forms a column containing a form of fire, from which candles are lit, which are then used to light the candles of the clergy and pilgrims in attendance. The fire is also said to spontaneously light other lamps and candles around the church. Pilgrims and clergy claim that the Holy Fire does not burn them.

    By Benoit Soubeyran from Montpellier, France – Holy Fire in Jerusalem 2018-04-07, CC BY 2.0:

    **

    But still, Holy Fire? Whence the “holy” in Orange County?

    Apparently, there’s a Holy Jim Canyon Trail with a waterfall, but then, who is Holy Jim?

    And it’s here that we meet one of those anthropological curiosities whereby the concept of the sacred unites the two ends of the spectrum. From Wallace Black Elk I learned that the Lakota word wakan, generally translated sacred, means something like the beware: high voltagee warnings you can see where high tension cables would be dangerous for the unaware, but powerfully useful for lighting whole cities..

    Here’s the explanation for Holy JIm:

    Nature was profaned here by the swear words flooding from the mouth of “Cussin’ Jim” Smith or “Holy Jim” as he was renamed by tightlaced government surveyors who mapped the canyon in the early 1900s.

    Cussin’ Jim! Tightlaced Holy!

    And Forrest Clark, too, was noted for his “outbursts” in court:

    For the third time, the state of California tried to formally charge Forrest Gordon Clark with arson – Clark is suspected of setting the Holy Fire in Orange County – and for the third time, Clark’s erratic behavior caused a judge to stop the normal proceedings, ending with a suspension of the charges so Clark’s mental health and competency can be examined.

    **

    In its own way, the Holy Fire in Jim’s canyon has as much place in the spectrum of sacredness as the Holy Fire in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre does, sliding in, so to speak, by the back door..

    And mightn’t that also be an example of enantiodromia?


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