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Youssef Rakha on ISIS, Hollywood, Islam

Monday, May 25th, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — stumbling across a new writer, and taking both note and notes ]
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I recently came across the Egyptian writer Youssef Rakha. He asked me to “add him to my network” on LinkedIn, I checked his profile out and discovered he was a highly respected novelist, we exchanged a few words, his novel The Book of the Sultan’s Seal arrived from Amazon today, and sometime in the last 48 hours I ran across his LA Review of Books article, ISIS, Hollywood, Islam — which contained the phrase:

striking how similar al-Hayat Media Center’s logo is to Al Jazeera’s

Al-Hayat is the outfit that publishes the Islamic State megazine, Dabiq.

**

So I did a due-diligence DoubleQuote:

SPEC DQ logos al jazeera al hayat

And as far as one who does not read Arabic can see, I see.

Two questions arising: correlation or causation? imitation is the sincerest form of flattery?

**

Also of particular interest in Youssef Rakha’s LARB piece, this fierce horror-film-critique of the IS film, A Message Signed with Blood to the Nation of the Cross — the one with the beheading of Coptic Christians by the sea:

I noted that the video is so cinematic it comes across as make-believe. I noted that the Copts were historically against the Crusades. I noted that the ISIS fighters in the film are too herculean to be Middle Eastern, that their victims are the blue-collar breadwinners of indigent families in underdeveloped provinces of my country, guilty of nothing more than the religion of their birth. I noted that they ended up dying where they had gone to — economically — survive.

But I have given you a sip and a taste — read the whole thingthe man can think! the man can write!

Browsing in bin Laden’s library II

Thursday, May 21st, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — following up on Browsing in bin Laden’s library ]
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Marcy Wheeler at Salon reports of the ODNI’s Bin Laden’s Bookshelf (expanded form, .pdf) that “the categorization imposed by ODNI” consists “largely of overlapping categories of English-language materials worthy of a Jorge Luis Borges short story.

Categories include:

**

The Borges “short story” referenced here isn’t in fact a short story but an essay, The Analytical Language of John Wilkins, which includes a classification system “which doctor Franz Kuhn attributes to a certain Chinese encyclopaedia entitled ‘Celestial Empire of benevolent Knowledge'”. Borges’ spurious taxonomy divides the animal kingdom into the following categories:

(a) belonging to the emperor,
(b) embalmed,
(c) tame,
(d) sucking pigs,
(e) sirens,
(f) fabulous,
(g) stray dogs,
(h) included in the present classification,
(i) frenzied,
(j) innumerable,
(k) drawn with a very fine camelhair brush,
(l) et cetera,
(m) having just broken the water pitcher,
(n) that from a long way off look like flies.

Nicely observed, Marcy.

**

Of particular personal note considering my interest in games:

Under the heading “Documents Probably Used by Other Compound Residents” we find listed:

  • Delta Force Extreme 2 Videogame Guide
  • Game Spot Videogame Guide
  • One wonders (idly) whether ODNI cannot believe OBL would play such games, or whether that classification was arrived at on the basis of the location in the compound where these materials were found.

    And given my interest in religion:

    Under the heading “Think Tank & Other Studies”:

  • Program for the Study of International Organizations (PSIO), “Hizb ut-Tahrir: The Next Al-Qaeda, Really?” by Jean-Francois Mayer (2004)
  • And under the heading “Other religious documents”:

    a treatise on Christianity by one Monqith Ben Mahmoud Assaqar PhD, titled Was Jesus crucified for our atonement? — which opens with the following (presumably post-doctoral) statement of scholarship-to-date:

    Praise to Allah (S.W) , the cherisher and sustainer of the worlds, and may peace and blessings be upon all of His messengers. In our previous parts of this series “True guidance and light series”, we have concluded and confirmed a plain truth, which is that the Holy Bible, as we have seen, is man work, and not the word of Allah (S.W) in any way. Thus, Christians cannot present it as evidence for any of their creeds or events, including the crucifixion and the Atonement.

    FWIW, reading this treatise will likely not have helped OBL in his quest for interfaith understanding.

    Only connect..

    Saturday, March 28th, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — mostly light hearted (ie safely ignore) except for Goldman & Arquilla quote ]
    .

    Warning:

    bad-analogies

    That’s not only a great warning, especially for someone like myself who is prone to analogies amd patterns — it’s also a terrific DoubleQuote, eh?

    **

    Having said that… let’s get serious for a minute.

    The abstract of Cyber Analogies (Feb 2014, 133 pp., Emily Goldman & John Arquilla, eds), which I just ran across, reads in part:

    Our belief it that learning is most effective when concepts under consideration can be aligned with already-existing understanding or knowledge. Cyber issues are inherently tough to explain in layman’s terms. The future is always open and undetermined, and the numbers of actors and the complexity of their relations are too great to give definitive guidance about future developments. In this report, historical analogies, carefully developed and properly applied, help indicate a direction for action by reducing complexity and making the future at least cognately manageable.

    So analogies — they can be useful.

    **

    Associations, metaphors, analogies.. we poets are obsessed with the things:

  • My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun;
  • How like a winter hath my absence been
  • There are cause-and-effect connections, of course, and they can be pretty important — “he hit me first” explains an awful lot of wars, for instance. And there are “acausal” connections — synchronicities as Carl Jung called them. There are magical connections — stamp thrice and pour a little water on the ground, the rains will come! And then there are the authentic, improbable, delightfully eccentric connections like the one referred to in this tweet:

    I’m old enough, I remember — the top thingie’s what’s called a tape cassette, and when the damn thing unspools…

    Unspools, dad?

    Unh, I’d better not try to explain…

    **

    Here’s another eccentric example:

    Love it.

    **

    Anyway, connections. They’re everywhere, they’re far more interesting than “things” as such, and you can collect them free, just by noticing / noting / annotating them.

    Only connect, EM Forster said.

    Jessica Stern and dancing lessons

    Wednesday, March 25th, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — a trifle, in which life follows art as one of my favorite Vonnegut / Bokonon quotes comes to life ]
    .

    SPEC DQ Stern Vonnegut

    **

    Sources:

  • UN Dispatch, Mark Leon Goldberg interviews Jessica Stern:

    Jessica Stern was a mid level National Security Council staffer when Hollywood literally came calling. Nicole Kidman portrayed a fictionalized version of her work as a nuclear security analyst in the Clinton White House in the film “The Peacemaker” (also starring George Clooney). Stern’s academic and professional life have taken some interesting turns. In the 2000s she published groundbreaking research on what motivates individuals to commit violent acts of terror, and she did so by speaking to actual terrorists. Stern recently published a new book called ISIS: State of Terror, co-authored by J.M. Berger that takes a deep dive into the historic origins of the so-called Islamic State.

    This is a great episode with fun and fascinating stories from a longtime national security wonk. Enjoy.

  • The prophet Bokonon, in Kurt Vonnegut, Cat’s Cradle
  • Jessica Stern, in the quote above, is describing the twists and turns which brought her via the NSC to the set of The Peacemaker. Quite a story, I recommend the interview — and the dance goes on.

    The road to Samarra

    Friday, March 6th, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — parroting Somerset Maugham in the context of suicide ops ]
    .

    SPEC-Samarra1

    The story [lower panel] is Somerset Maugham‘s version of the tale..

    **

    No news from Samarra since Feb 28th, when Radio Free Europe reported:

    IS Militants Attack Samarra

    Militants from the radical group Islamic State (IS) have launched an attack on the northern Iraq city of Samarra, where security forces and Shi’ite militia groups have been assembling ahead of an anticipated offensive against IS positions.

    Suicide bombers detonated their explosives-laden vehicles in the northern part of Samarra early February 28 and a man in a Humvee also packed with explosives blew up his vehicle in the southern part of the city.

    Those who actually volunteer for these suicide missions, however, will find their path to Death in Samarra way more direct.


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