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War Books, local version

Tuesday, April 25th, 2017

[ by Charles Cameron — saved from a slush pile]
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A while back, I presumptuously submitted my effort for Modern War Institute‘s War Books Profile series, where it has languished on the slush pile for a few months now. No need to waste a decent post, though, so I’m posting it here, locally, on Zenpundit, for any who may be interested.

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Name: Charles Cameron

Brief Biography:

Charles Cameron is the managing editor of the strategy blog Zenpundit, and a past Principal Researcher with the Center for Millennial Studies at BU and Senior Analyst at The Arlington Institute. He is a three time finalist in the Atlantic Council Brent Scowcroft Center’s Art of the Future challenges, and author of the essay “The Dark Sacred: The Significance of Sacramental Analysis” in Robert J Bunker, Blood Sacrifices (a Terrorism Research Center Book). He is the designer of the HipBone family of conceptual games, and is currently working on a book on religious sanctions for violence titled Landmines in the Garden.

Top Five Books:

Mustafa Hamid & Leah Farrall, The Arabs at War in Afghanistan. Respectful enemies – he, a friend of UBL and Mullah Omar, she, a counter-terrorism expert for the Australian Federal Police – debate and confer across battle lines to draw a detailed picture of AQ structure and history. A unique collaboration.

William McCants, The ISIS Apocalypse. The key to ISIS intensity has to do with what then-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Dempsey called their “apocalyptic, end-of-days strategic vision.” McCants masterfully reveals that apocalyptic driver, and the somewhat obscure scriptures on which it is based.

SH Nasr, ed., The Study Quran. With enemies such as ISIS and AQ that are given to quoting scriptural texts, it is important to have a reputable, non-sectarian translation and scholarly commentary on the Quran. This is that book.

Hegghammer & Lacroix, The Meccan Rebellion: The Story of Juhayman al-‘Utaybi Revisited. A slim volume, a delight to hold in the hand, and packed with detailed scholarship on what is arguably the seed moment of contemporary Jihadism.

John Kiser, The Monks of Tibhirine. This book, and Christian de Chergé’s astonishing letter to the jihadists who would shortly martyr him, is an eloquent testament to values we should cherish in a time of brutality and hatred.

The One That Shaped Me The Most:

Hermann Hesse, The Glass Bead Game. The human mind, attuned to variety and complexity yet primed to understand complex matters in binary terms, tends to hold war and peace as poles apart. Musically speaking, war is equivalent to discord, peace to harmony. The musical technique of counterpoint, so central to Bach, plays “voices” against one another in a manner that recognizes their variety and individuality and allows for discord while constantly working to resolve it harmoniously. It thus offers us an analogy for the constant interplay of warlike and peaceable motivations, both within the individual human and among the world’s societies and cultures – an invaluable overview of the natural condition. Hesse’s novelistic Game shows analogy rather than linearity as the key to creative insight, and offers a contrapuntal play of ideas as the overarching architectural structure for comprehending a world of conflict and resolution. It won the Nobel.

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Reworking my list today, I might well reckon the McCants book has served its brilliant purpose, illuminating in fine detail the apocalyptic nature of ISIS theology, and substitute a no less valuable but more wide-focus tome, Shahab Ahmed’s What is Islam, which broadens our understanding by offering a comprehensive exploration of “lived Islam” across the centuries and continents, going far beyond “scriptual” Islam as understood by the fundamentalists.

Ideally, of coure, there’d be room for both McCants and Ahmed, as there is in the tiny bookshelf on my desk..

Muslim does not equal Terrorist

Friday, April 21st, 2017

[ by Charles Cameron — witting or unwitting, there’s a blatant inability to make this simple distinction ]
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The sane alternative:


Sheikh Ahmadou Bamba and His Holiness the Dalai
Lama are two role models for our century.

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There’s an interesting conflation of Islam and Terrorism in a post titled 2 Faces of Islam: Why All Muslims Benefit from Terrorism from Freedom Outpost:

While many Muslims are just as horrified by terrorism as the rest of us are, all Muslims nevertheless benefit from Islam. This is because both peaceful and violent Muslims tend to share two important goals: (1) the conversion of non-Muslims to Islam, and (2) the silencing of critics of Islam. Since terrorism helps achieve these goals, all Muslims benefit from Islam.

This would make sense — I’m not saying I’d agree with it, merely that it would have a logical form to it that wouldn’t make me go cross-eyed — if it read [note: this paragraph edited in light of comment below]:

While many Muslims are just as horrified by terrorism as the rest of us are, all Muslims nevertheless benefit from terrorism. This is because both peaceful and violent Muslims tend to share two important goals: (1) the conversion of non-Muslims to Islam, and (2) the silencing of critics of Islam. Since terrorism helps achieve these goals, all Muslims benefit from terrorism.

But no: under a caption that tells us 2 Faces of Islam: Why All Muslims Benefit from Terrorism, it twice states all Muslims nevertheless benefit from Islam.

The conflation is evident, Islam and Terrorism are interchangeable in the writer’s mind, and that interoperability is liable to find an echo in — or seep diasastrously into — the reader’s mind, too.

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The actual relation between Islam and contemporary Islamist terrorism is neither “Islam is a religion of no terrorism (aka peace)” nor “Islam is a religion of terrorism (aka war)”. To get at a couple of the major nuances here, the Meccan Cantos and the Medinan cantos of the Quran suggest very different readings of what the religion was originally all about, and how it adapted to violent hostility; and in terms of contemporary Islam, not all Muslims are Salafist, and not all Salafists are jihadist fighters, but some of them most definitely and ruthlessly are.

In addition, Islam needs to be considered both scripturally — the usual western critique — and culturally, by which I mean how Islamic belief plays out in cultural practice across time and space — a far subtler matter. SH Nasr‘s The Study Quran is a prime guide to the former, and Shahab Ahmed‘s What Is Islam?
The Importance of Being Islamic the towering work to digest in understanding the latter.

A useful corrective to the “Islam is a religion of war” perspective can be found in the lives and works of two proniment Muslim proponents and practitioners of nonviolence, Sheikh Amadou Bamba, founder of the Muridiyya or Mourides, and Badshah Khan, Gandhi‘s Muslim friend.

For context around the Mourides, and in constrast with the Wahhabis of the Levanty, see Why are there so few Islamists in West Africa? A dialogue between Shadi Hamid and Andrew Lebovich.

The inability to distinguish Muslim from Terrorist, and the violence that follows it, can truly be described as Islamophobia.

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Image:

  • Sheikh Aly N’Daw, Choice, Liberty and Love: Consciousness in Action
  • Running — the pragmatic and the ecstatic

    Wednesday, April 19th, 2017

    [ by Charles Cameron — .. a runner moves between prose and poetry, mere winning and the runner’s high ]
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    The pragmatic:

    The ecstatic:

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    The pragmatic tells you what most running is like: the ecstatic tells you how you feel when you hit “runner’s high — here’s one athlete’s description of winning, where winning itself becomes the least interesting aspect of the race:

    The starter gave us instructions, and the gun went off. I ran a few steps into a dimension I didn’t know existed.

    Suddenly I seemed to be up in the rafters of the arena, looking down at my race far below. I could see the black framework of the high catwalks vaguely around me, the cables, the great spotlights, the blazing brilliance of the tiny track so far beneath me, and myself running in the midst of the others in my race that was on both with me and without me.

    And in the total silence of this incredible vantage point, a voice said tome clearly, in a kindlysort of way, “Well, Grace, thisis what you always wanted.”

    And then I was back down in my race again, winning it, setting a new U.S. record. Afterward, exuberant, curious, and a little wistful, I asked some friends who were there, “Didn’t anyone clap or cheer or anything?” I didn’t remember hearing the crowd at all.

    “Sure they did! Everyone was yelling and screaming. Didn’t you hear them?”

    No. I hadn’t heard anything. Except the voice. I don’t even remember anything about the race itself except for what I saw from up there.

    That’s Grace Butcher, from Garth Battista, The Runner’s High: Illumination and Ecstasy in Motion. And the “high” doesn’t have to include an out-of-body experience, though I had that myself one day when I was very young. It’s just a matter of transcendance, of what the Buddhists would call “gone beyond” without further specifying..

    Life as poetry.

    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..

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    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.

    Trees and the Taliban

    Sunday, February 26th, 2017

    [ by Charles Cameron — do you suppose trees only prostrate before God, Q 55.6, during high winds? ]
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    This admirable United Nations goal gains Taliban support..

    The Taliban, in turn, have the encouragement of the Prophet:

    The Prophet (pbuh) said:”If the Hour is about to be established and one of you was holding a palm shoot, let him take advantage of even one second before the Hour is established to plant it.”

    and:

    Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) said, “There is none amongst the Muslims who plants a tree or sows seeds, and then a bird, or a person or an animal eats from it, but is regarded as a charitable gift for him.”

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    Sources:

  • Plant for the Planet, Billion Tree Campaign
  • BBC, Taliban leader urges Afghans to plant more trees
  • Hidaya Foundation, Why Plant Trees?
  • Muaz Nasir, The Value of Trees in Islam

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