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Jottings 9: Boko / Beaucoup Haram

Monday, May 20th, 2013

[ by Charles Cameron — who just can’t resist a skilled bilingual pun, and is also curious these days about terrorist logos & branding ]
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Hamas logo, left, and putative Boko Haram logo, right, compared


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I found my delicious multilingual pun in a comment from April 2012 on an RFI post titled Boko Haram en renfort des islamistes armés dans le nord du Mali:

Ces voyous la je les appèlerai plutôt bokou haram! Lisez ça beaucoup haram. … Ce qu’ils font peut juste être qualifié de beaucoup haram.

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BTW, does Boko Haram really use a Hamas logo with its own name clumsily cut’n’pasted across the top, as illustrated above and suggested here?

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Gaza negotiations: sincerity and symmetry

Thursday, November 22nd, 2012

[ by Charles Cameron — sincerity and symmetry as the basis for dialog and negotiation ]
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If you read me regularly, you know I’m passionate about form as well as content.

Here’s the New York Times report on the interactions between Presidents Obama and Morsi in the runup to the Gaza ceasefire negotiations:

Mr. Obama told aides he was impressed with the Egyptian leader’s pragmatic confidence. He sensed an engineer’s precision with surprisingly little ideology. Most important, Mr. Obama told aides that he considered Mr. Morsi a straight shooter who delivered on what he promised and did not promise what he could not deliver.

“The thing that appealed to the president was how practical the conversations were — here’s the state of play, here are the issues we’re concerned about,” said a senior administration official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations. “This was somebody focused on solving problems.”

The Egyptian side was also positive about the collaboration. Essam el-Haddad, the foreign policy adviser to the Egyptian president, described a singular partnership developing between Mr. Morsi, who is the most important international ally for Hamas, and Mr. Obama, who plays essentially the same role for Israel.

“Yes, they were carrying the point of view of the Israeli side but they were understanding also the other side, the Palestinian side,” Mr. Haddad said in Cairo as the cease-fire was being finalized on Wednesday. “We felt there was a high level of sincerity in trying to find a solution. The sincerity and understanding was very helpful.”

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And here, by way of context, is David Bohm on dialogue:

One way of helping to free these serious blocks in communication would be to carry out discussions in a spirit of free dialogue. Key features of such a dialogue is for each person to be able to hold several points of view, in a sort of active suspension, while treating the ideas of others with something of the care and attention that are given to his or her own. Each participant is not called on to accept or reject particular points of view; rather he or she should attempt to come to understanding of what they mean.

Bohm, Science, Order and Creativity, p 86

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What interests me here in the Obama-Morsi interaction as described is the dual emphasis on sincerity and symmetry. Sincerity is needed so that each of the two sides — Israel’s POV, as presented by Obama, and that of Hamas, as presented by Morsi — is in fact presented, and not hinted at, watered down or reneged on. And when both sides are in fact sincerely represented, they are mutually present — heard – and there is symmetry.

That symmetry, it seems to me — symmetry of form in the presentations of contents — is the facilitator of successful negotiations.

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Applied Pontecorvo: Gaza

Thursday, November 22nd, 2012

[ by Charles Cameron — lessons from Pontecorvo’s Battle of Algiers for the medium-term Israeli-Palestinian conflict — and other instances of asymmetry ]
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Pontecorvo‘s film, The Battle for Algiers, really seared itself into me when I watched it again recently — and so it has been a bit of a template for other thoughts, and notably influenced some of my thinking as I was watching events unfolding in Gaza, now thankfully in cease-fire mode.

Pontecorvo, as I noted in my previous post, takes the side of the Algerians in their conflict with the French, and I suppose it’s only natural that a “reading” of the Gaza situation in light of Pontecorvo’s masterpiece will tend to support the Palestinian “cause” against the Israelis.

After all, Yitzhak Epstein, addressing the Seventh Zionist Congress in Basel in 1905, had a point when he said:

We devote attention to everything related to our homeland, we discuss and debate everything, we praise and criticise in every way, but one trivial thing we have overlooked so long in our lovely country: there exists an entire people who have held it for centuries and to whom it would never occur to leave.

On Thanksgiving Day I am reminded that my Lakota friends also have a point — but there’s what’s memorable, which can remain in very long-term memory indeed, and there’s what’s practicable, which may in practical terms be changing by the day or decade…

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Let me put that another way.

I don’t need the words of a Zionist Jew from a century ago to give me that insight into the Palestinian side of things, but Epstein’s words remind me that there are facts in the heart on the Palestinian side, just as the Israelis are building facts on the ground in the occupied territories. What of the Israeli side, are there not facts in the heart there too? And on the Palestinian side, what of the ghastly hadith of the Gharqad tree? Must apocalyptic hate last till the end of time?

Of all the reporting I have read, this, from Dahlia Litwick in Jerusalem, struck the deepest chord:

I don’t know how to talk about what is happening here but it’s probably less about writers’ block than readers’ block. It says so much about the state of our discourse that the surest way to enrage everyone is to tweet about peace in the Middle East. We should be doing better because, much as I hate to say it, the harrowing accounts of burnt-out basements and baby shoes on each side of this conflict don’t constitute a conversation. Counting and photographing and tweeting injured children on each side isn’t dialogue. Scoring your own side’s suffering is a powerful way to avoid fixing the real problems, and trust me when I tell you that everyone — absolutely everyone — is suffering and sad and yet being sad is not fixing the problems either.

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Here, then, are the parallelisms and oppositions that struck me, as I was reading about the Gaza conflict — may today’s cease-fire endure and a peaceful resolution emerge — in light of Pontecorvo’s film:

Gilad Sharon‘s words echo those of Col. Mathieu in the film: they think alike, and indeed their perspective is a not-uncommon one. But while I might otherwise have overlooked Sharon’s voice as but one among many in Israel, having just seen Pontecorvo’s film I take more note of it, and my mind seeks its rebuttal.

I find that rebuttal in the words of Thomas More, in a speech from Robert Bolt’s play that has stuck with me since I first saw Paul Scofield in the role in London at the age of sixteen:

I am, I suppose something of a Taoist by inclination. I think, with Lao Tse, that the way that can be phrased in words isn’t the authentic way — or as Count Alfred Korzybsky might put it, the map does not adequately describe the terrain — and so my feeling is that the letter of the law should be tempered by its spirit, and that justice should be tempered with mercy — a point I hope to return to.

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There is one other moment in Pontecorvo’s film that struck me as prescient — the one when Larbi Ben M’hidi comments on asymmetry:

I’ve heard remarks of that kind (upper panel) repeated many times in the context of the Palestinian-Israeli situation, but the graphic impact of the image (lower panel) outweighs a thousand explanations.

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Perhaps we can leave Pontecorvo for a moment, and consider the asymmetry further, and the symmetry:

The lower panel, by a Swiss cartoonist of Lebanese extraction, is titled An Eye for an Eye (Oeil pour Oeil) — a symmetry that is taken to its logical conclusion in a quote often attributed to Gandhi:

An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind.

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My apologia:

I am distant, and I am a writer: distant enough to take all humanity for my own side, and writer enough to wish to contribute what I can of concern and insight.

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A Meditation In Time of War: security

Thursday, November 22nd, 2012

[ by Charles Cameron — divine protection in Israel and Kentucky ]
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So who needs an Iron Dome, or Star Wars?

I really don’t have access to the Rabbi’s full and detailed views on the matter, but based on what the Jerusalem Post reports, he appears to be advocating that divine intervention is both a necessary and sufficient form of defense against Hamas missiles.

The Kentucky legislature’s position is somewhat different. The two paragraphs immediately preceding the one I’ve quoted here read:

No government by itself can guarantee perfect security from acts of war or terrorism.

and:

The security and well-being of the public depend not just on government, but rest in large
measure upon individual citizens of the Commonwealth and their level of understanding, preparation, and vigilance.

So Kentucky suggests an admixture of government security measures, public vigilance and divine protection.

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Let’s skip around a bit. I’m reminded of Abraham‘s discussion of divine judgment and protection in Genesis 18, which begins —

And Abraham drew near, and said, Wilt thou also destroy the righteous with the wicked Peradventure there be fifty righteous within the city: wilt thou also destroy and not spare the place for the fifty righteous that are therein? That be far from thee to do after this manner, to slay the righteous with the wicked: and that the righteous should be as the wicked, that be far from thee: Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right? And the Lord said, If I find in Sodom fifty righteous within the city, then I will spare all the place for their sakes.

Abraham then quizzes God with incrementally lowering figures until God says:

I will not destroy it for ten’s sake.

Scriptures tend to describe acts of God as, well, acts of God – and that’s a category which can include the fall of sparrows, let alone a rain of missiles, a parting of waves, or a pillar of cloud.

Modernity tends to regard missiles, inbound, as acts of human agency, and likewise with missiles sent up to intercept them.

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Kurt Vonnegut pretty much opens his book, Cat’s Cradle, with the statement:

No names have been changed to protect the innocent, since God Almighty protects the innocent as a matter of Heavenly routine.

I’m sure he meant it with a wink and a nod, but I take some comfort from it all the same. You see, I live in a world of both human and mysterious agency — a world of grace and science, science and grace.

Call me confused, tell me I contradict myself. I can only say with Walt Whitman:

Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.

Oh — and in fact it’s more complex, more nuanced than that.

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Describing Ahmed al-Jabari, with a side of traffic patterns

Tuesday, November 20th, 2012

[ by Charles Cameron — this began with two quotes about the killing of Ahmed al-Jabari and ended up reminding me of traffic flows ]
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So very much depends on nuance, doesn’t it? There are, after all, one-way streets and two-way streets:

Surely there’s more nuance in describing al-Jabari as “the man responsible both for the abduction of the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit and his release a year ago” than as “directly responsible for the deaths of many Israelis and for the abduction of the soldier Gilad Shalit”.

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Does that mean that abducting Gilad Shalit and releasing Gilad Shalit cancel each other out?

In my opinion, not.

But if in this case, (x) plus (-x) does not equal 0, it’s because that “plus” doesn’t represent an addition, it represents an incarceration — one in which Shalit himself was “cared for” under Jabari’s instructions, according to Gershon Baskin in his own NYT piece, Israel’s Shortsighted Assassination

No, Mr. Jabari was not a man of peace; he didn’t believe in peace with Israel and refused to have any direct contact with Israeli leaders and even nonofficials like me. My indirect dealings with Mr. Jabari were handled through my Hamas counterpart, Ghazi Hamad, the deputy foreign minister of Hamas, who had received Mr. Jabari’s authorization to deal directly with me. Since Mr. Jabari took over the military wing of Hamas, the only Israeli who spoke with him directly was Mr. Shalit, who was escorted out of Gaza by Mr. Jabari himself. (It is important to recall that Mr. Jabari not only abducted Mr. Shalit, but he also kept him alive and ensured that he was cared for during his captivity.)

Cared for, maybe — but still incarcerated.

In street terms, there are times when a multi-lane two-way street gets divided so that perhaps three lanes go one way and only one the other — when, in moral terms, there’s no moral equivalency, but still some truth, some justice on both sides. That’s the sort of situation that calls for even more nuance… some of which, to my mind, Baskin provides with what is essentially a “no, but” formulation — no, Jabari was not a man of peace, but, it is important to recall…

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Look, I think the ability to envision flow patterns is one of the keys to understanding complicated and complex situations — and graphics does a better job of it than linear thinking. Contraflow lane reversal is an interesting example:

Credit: Matthew Hausknecht et al., Dynamic Lane Reversal in Traffic Management

Neither General Gordon nor the Mahdi lived to see this one:

The White Nile Bridge connecting Khartoum, Sudan and Omdurman, with 4 lanes total. Traffic is generally directed equally, 2 lanes to Khartoum and to lanes from except in the morning, where it’s 3 lanes towards Khartoum, and in the evening, 3 lanes towards Omdurman.

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Of course, you don’t want your efforts to make an unexpected Dynamic Lane Reversal and blow back on you.

Credit: Blowback contraflow by Charles Cameron, h/t Matthew Hausknecht et al

But that at least seemed to be James Zogby‘s concern, when he wrote:

One can only wonder whether when the Israelis made the decision to assassinate Ahmed al Jabari they were foolish enough to assume that their attack would be the end of it. Having been down this same road before, where assassinations only led to escalation and then full-scale hostilities, one might have hoped that someone in the Israeli high command would have recalled 2008 or 2006 (and so many other tragic, bloody episodes in the past) and cautioned that “no good will come of this.” When I heard an Israeli Ambassador tonight saying that “we must finish them off, so we can sit with moderates and talk peace,” it became all too clear that no lesson had been learned.

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I sometimes wonder whether maybe outcomes are above the human pay grade.

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