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Intellectuals and their Romance with Political Barbarism

Saturday, July 4th, 2015

[by Mark Safranski, a.k.a. “zen“]

Martin Heidegger, Eric Hobsbawm and Ezra Pound

A  meandering post inspired by Reason Magazine and Charles Cameron.

Reason.com is best known for giving a scrappy libertarian take on current events, crime, technology and pop culture, but recently, an article by Charles Paul Freund touched a deeper, darker vein of twentieth century history and, in my view, a problematic recurring pattern in intellectual life:

Hunger for Fascism

Al Pacino has withdrawn from a Danish stage version of Knut Hamsun’s novel, Hunger, after learning that the Norwegian Nobel prize-winning author had been an ardent supporter of Nazi Germany. The move dismayed some of Hamsun’s defenders, but it’s also a reminder of the appalling state of intellectual life during the rise of fascism. So many writers and thinkers embraced fascism in those years that they constituted what came to be called a “fascist foreign legion.”

Hunger (1890) is considered a classic of psychological literature, and Hamsun himself is regarded by many critics and writers as one of the fathers of literary Modernism, and an important influence on such writers as Franz Kafka, Herman Hesse, Thomas Mann, and many others. In a 1987 introduction to Hunger, Isaac Bashevis Singer wrote that “The whole modern school of fiction in the twentieth century stems from Hamsun.”

[….] Hamsun’s fascism was hardly a byproduct of hardening of the arteries. He lived for a time in the 1880s in the U.S., and came to dislike the country for its egalitarian principles, and because it had a large black population (even though that population wasn’t benefitting much from the egalitarianism). His 1918 novel, Growth of the Soil, is a pretty good example of “blood and soil” lit. John Carey, a British critic, cites a passage from Hamsun’s Kareno trilogy of dramas, written in the 1890s, as indicative of his outlook:

“I believe in the born leader, the natural despot, the master, not the man who is chosen but the man who elects himself to be ruler over the masses. I believe in and hope for one thing, and that is the return of the great terrorist, the living essence of human power, the Caesar.”

Hamsun, who gave his Nobel to Hitler as a mark of his esteem, remained faithful to the fascist cause to the bitter end. Hamsun’s most-often quoted words come from the brief eulogy for Hitler that he published in a collaborationist newspaper in May 1945, a week after the Fuehrer died.

[….] George Orwell wrote in 1946 that, “The relationship between fascism and the literary intelligentsia badly needs investigating, and [William Butler] Yeats might well be the starting point.” Such investigations have since been written, of course, and they include the expected chapters on Yeats as well as others on D.H. Lawrence (The Plumed Serpent may be the clearest example of Lawrence’s fascism), T.S. Eliot, and Wyndham Lewis (who at this point is probably as well known for his fascism as for anything else he did).

What was the appeal of fascism to such people? It wasn’t just that many of them were racists and/or anti-Semites (though that didn’t hurt); plenty of authors have been racists without embracing totalitarian systems. The underlying issue for many of these figures, according to investigations by John R. Harrison and by John Carey, was an antipathy to democracy.

“Many twentieth-century writers,” wrote John R. Harrison in The Reactionaries: A study of the anti-democratic intelligentsia (1966), “have decided that culture has been sacrificed to democracy; the spread of culture has meant that the level of the masses is raised, but that the level of the elite is lowered.” As for writers like Pound, Yeats, and others, “they realized there was no hope of a return to an earlier form of civilization, so they hoped for a stability provided by totalitarian regimes.”[….]

Read the whole thing here.

The dark romance of intellectuals with Fascism died in 1945. Their bloody affair with Communism has dwindled significantly, but lingers in some quarters still.

Why though was 20th century totalitarianism so attractive to the West’s leading thinkers, artists and writers? After all, once you got past the snazzy uniforms, the trains running on time and land for the peasants, the overt reveling in barbarism and cruelty by Fascists and Communists was hard to miss – and if you missed it, the Nazis gave choreographed tours of concentration camps and the Soviets held show trials right in the face of world media. Very little of the bloodbath was hidden, except to the willingly blind, who tended to most often be well educated and otherwise thoughtful people yet found ways to morally rationalize collaboration and fellow traveling.

There are, in my view, a number of reasons. These tended to differ somewhat depending on whether the intellectual in question gravitated more to fascism or communism, but even here there is a significant, muddling, psychological, overlap between the two. So much so, that Fascism’s creator cut his political teeth as a firey socialist agitator and as thuggish a Nazi leader as Ernst Rohm could boast of his admiration for his Communist enemies’ “idealism” and street fighting courage. Indeed, in training his stormtroopers, Rohm remarked that ex-communists made the best SA men.

The first person to offer a coherent explanation of the individuals drawn to fascism was the German-Jewish journalist Konrad Heiden. In Der Fuehrer,  Heiden’s groundbreaking 1944 political biography of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi movement, referred to two categories of potential adherents : “Armed Bohemians” and the “Armed Intellectuals”.  The former were the freebooting roughnecks and men of habitual violence who were always restless and ill at ease in civilized society. Men like Ernst Rohm, who found in totalitarian movements a political cause to justify themselves. These men do not concern us here.

The latter group are also ill at ease in established society. The armed intellectuals are the born critics, gadflies, dreamers, autodidacts, bar-room philosophers, self-styled poets and no small number of crackpots and cranks; what these quarrelsome eccentrics lacked in muscle or raw courage, they more than made up for in the blizzard of half-baked ideas and skill at words which they employed with maniacal zeal.  Heiden’s taxonomy was mirrored a few years later by Eric Hoffer in the groups Hoffer called “practical men of action” and the “fanatics” in his classic, The True Believer The armed intellectuals were seldom noteworthy as intellectual heavyweights – men like Alfred Rosenberg and Grigory Zinoviev were third-rate minds, or worse – but they excelled at propagating ideas and simplifying them in the fashion required to build and sustain a mass movement; ideas as war banners or flags of political tribalism rather than as part of a coherent system of thought.  Or as Ortega y Gasset wrote at the time of the fascists and radicals “….ideas are in effect, nothing more than appetites in words, something like musical romanzas.”

Yet, as Charles Paul Freund indicates, totalitarianism attracted as supporters and admirers not just intellectual crackpots like Gottfried Feder, Dietrich Eckhart or Trofim Lysenko, but genuinely substantive men of letters, art and science. Many of these did not officially become “party comrades”, though some like philosophers Martin Heidegger and Carl Schmitt did, most were content to wield their pens as admirers, fellow travelers, enthusiastic supporters and public apologists. Being intellectuals, they were of course entranced by ideas – on the Right, the totemic, mythic, reactionary idolatry and the volkisch ur-narratives of messianic nationalism (much of which was the mummery of fools). Neither Hitler nor Mussolini were innovators here; the bombastic poet Gabriele D’Annunzio’s grandiose adventurism in Fiume, for example, presaged much of Fascist Italy’s swaggering Il Duce and his bullying blackshirts. On the left, by the intoxicating prospect of revolutionary “justice” and being on the “right side of history”, which could allegedly be explained with “scientific laws” of dialectical materialism. It was all rubbish but it was politically potent rubbish.

There were also material rewards – the Third Reich and the Soviet Union liked to lavish medals, Stalin Prizes and various emoluments on its foreign sycophants, while intellectuals who were particularly active minions, like Heidegger and Maxim Gorky, were given public honors by their respective regimes. This did not always work out well, however. Unlike Heidegger, who outlived the destruction of his Reich in 1945 to embrace and be embraced by the deconstructionist and postmodernist European left, Gorky was likely murdered by his master, an age-old risk for courtiers of tyrants. While the rewards and awards were highly esteemed, see Paul Robeson’s  pathetic, groveling, gratitude for his Stalin Prize, the primary driver of slavish loyalty was always political. Too many intellectuals in that era were fascinated with totalitarian power, accepted cruelty as strength and despised liberal democracy and individualism, unless if it was individualism as heroic symbolism for some kind of impending vanguard  – square-jawed, blond SS men, muscular Stakhanovite workers brandishing sledgehammers and so on. The barbarism of these regimes the intellectuals either ignored, explained away or embraced.

This longwinded preface brings me to a question that Charles Cameron asked me in regard to the article in Reason:

“I notice that quote about how many early 20C intellectuals “realized there was no hope of a return to an earlier form of civilization, so they hoped for a stability provided by totalitarian regimes” and wonder how you see it corresponding with current thoughts which view the dismantling of the Gaddafi, Hussein, and Mubarak regimes as enabling the rise of AQI > ISIS > IS?”

This is a great question.

The regimes of Saddam Hussein, Hosni Mubarak and Muammar Gaddafi shared some similarities, notably official secularism and modernization, but they also had some important ideological and structural differences. Saddam’s regime and Mubrak’s Egypt were rooted in pan-Arab nationalism, a regional anti-imperialist movement the built in fervor from the 20’s and peaked in the late fifties with the personality cult of Nasserism and a characteristic that was shared initially in the early years of Gaddafi’s rule in Libya, who idolized Nasser and for a time, hoped to inherit his mantle. All of the regimes were secular, modernizing, anti-monarchical, anti-imperialist and “socialist” in a nationalist style more suggestive of Hitler and Mussolini than Marx and Lenin. Saddam’s Iraq, furthermore, was like Syria,  Baathist in its pan-Arabism and its founding generation of activists like Michel Aflaq, were directly influenced in by the European totalitarian parties of the 1930’s Left and Right and the extremist movements of the French Third Republic .

Colonel Gaddafi, who came to power in a coup in 1969, was somewhat different ideologically and probably psychologically. Initially a pan-Arab Nasserite, Gaddafi soon went his own way, drifting toward Third World revolutionary terrorism, a muddled Islamic Libyan utopianism based on a personality cult and finally as a pan-African interventionist given to bizarre and unpredictable behavior. Fearing coups, Gaddafi deliberately weakened and hollowed out the Libyan state, including the military, weakening them institutionally, relying upon competing revolutionary committees, militias, secret police agencies and the like run by members of his extended family until the entire structure was more or less entirely dependent upon Gaddafi’s personal whims. By contrast, Nasser, Mubarak and Saddam Hussein were centralizers who built states centered on the military and security services and a government dominated economy that did not tolerate political rivals. Saddam in particular, took this tendency to an extreme in a conscious imitation of Stalin and Iraq had up until the first Gulf War, a complex bureaucratic state, albeit one dominated by a Baath Party run by the al-Tikriti clan (Saddam’s rule slid more toward Gaddafi’s in practice as postwar decay and sanctions eroded the efficiency of Iraq’s government and arbitrary terror and corruption increasingly were used to prop up the regime)

These dictators, whether hostile to the West (Saddam, Gaddafi) or friendly (Mubarak) lacked the advantage of having a western, fellow-traveling, amen chorus of influential intellectuals as the Fascist and Communist tyrants once enjoyed.  Serious intellectuals and public figures had made pilgrimages to Moscow, Berlin and Rome; no one was going to play John Reed to Muammar Gadaffi’s Lenin or Saddam and say their ramshackle future “worked”. So, when Western leaders, especially the American President, decided it might be good for these regimes to go, the only westerners to defend them in the court of public opinion were those already regarded as minor nuisances, political cranks and buffoons. Furthermore, rather than being viewed as linchpins of stability against radical Islamism, many western politicians and intellectuals of the neoconservative and liberal internationalist variety saw these dictatorships as a cause of radical Islam’s growth at best, or complicit with groups like al Qaida in promoting international terrorism at worst.  Unfortunately, while both Saddam Hussein and Gaddafi had a long and bloody history of funding terrorism, mainly of the radical Palestinian nationalist variety, neither were much interested in helping al Qaida or radical Salafis; Gaddafi  in fact, was fairly busy imprisoning and torturing them on a regular basis, as did the more restrained military backed dictatorship of the Egyptians during most of its existence (the brief period of tolerating Islamism, under Anwar Sadat, resulted in Sadat being assassinated by Egyptian Islamic Jihad, which later merged with al Qaida. The Egyptian military did not tolerate them again until coerced into it by the Arab Spring and pressure from the Obama administration).

These police state regimes of the Arab world also played an indirect role in the rise of AQIISIS in the sense that their savage repression of all other political alternatives, especially democratic and liberal ones, created a vacuum in civil society that radical Islamism in all its manifestations could fill. This was not unlike the dynamic of Indochina where Ho’s  Communists were greatly helped by the French first brutally suppressing the right wing Vietnamese nationalists in the 1930’s and then Diem’s regime wiping out all the other potential rivals to the Viet Cong in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s, leaving the Communists as the voice of political opposition.  The security services of most Arab states, not just Saddam’s or Gaddafi’s, were efficient enough that no real political opposition existed anywhere outside of the mosque from Oman to Morocco, except on sufferance.  These states also played a passive theological role as foils in shaping decades of jihadi discourse at home, in prison, in exile and online regarding the ruler’s “apostasy”, their strategic priority as ” the Near Enemy” and the Islamic legitimacy of supporting or rejecting peaceful, democratic politics as a tool of struggle. During the course of the years of debates, as in secular revolutionary movements, there was a “ratcheting effect” in Islamist discourse towards progressively more radical, more militant and ever more takfirikhawairijte mythologizing tendencies that glorified barbaric violence, all of which was seen clearly in early 1990’s Algeria even before the rise of the Taliban [An important caveat: it is dubious that  liberal or democratic regimes would have changed the radicalization curve for Islamists much as these too would have been regarded as apostasy by Salafi militants, though there might have possibly been fewer of them, at least outside of Egypt].

With the Arab police states having cleared a space internally for Islamism to dominate underground political discourse the removal of the regimes themselves by American invasion, popular uprising abetted by foreign air support or foreign pressure did eventually enable the rise of ISIS. As much as the cruelty and corruption of the dictators drove their dissatisfied countrymen toward political Islam, they also had means to intimidate, contain or punish those who stepped too far out of line with great severity. No one doubted the ruthlessness of the Assads, Saddam’s willingness to employ terror or the Mad Colonel’s paranoid vindictiveness and when the surety of coercion and retribution disappeared, so too did the restraints on the freedom of action of Islamist radicals. American power was not a substitute for a fearsome native strongman. In the eyes of our enemies we were erratic and soft; capable of miraculous  military feats of devastation if sufficiently provoked, but usually culturally clueless where or when to use our power or against whom, often leaving allies in the lurch or ignoring them spitting in our faces. Instead of fearing the Americans the way they had feared Saddam, the worst jihadis like Zarqawi were emboldened to unleash the kind of medieval barbarism in Iraq that foreshadowed ISIS.

What alarms me regarding ISIS is that it is theologically a radical-apocalyptic Islamist movement blending insurgency, terrorism and conventional warfare that is also reviving the secular pageantry of Fascism with its grandiose mythmaking, blood rituals, compelling uniforms, Fuhrerprinzip and war-worship. It is an unholy combination that exudes a dark romanticism, a glamour of evil that rootless young Muslim men – a new generation of “armed bohemians” and “armed intellectuals” – find mesmerizing the way young Germans, Italians, Spaniards and Japanese did decades ago. Worse, while we may rightly laugh at the mummery of a dime store “Caliphate” and Islamists cribbing their P.R. style from Triumph of the Will, their success in manipulating deep cultural avatars as the key to power will inspire imitators in barbarism elsewhere that we can ill afford.

Fascism is dead – but it may not stay that way.

 

Hipbone update & request for your vote!

Wednesday, June 17th, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — 3 Quarks Daily, Boston Apocalyptic conference, LapidoMedia, World Religions and Spirituality Project, Bellingcat, Loopcast, Pragati, Sembl ]
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First, please vote!

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[ Note added: voting is now closed: my story received the fifth highest tally of votes out of 45 entries, and is now up for consideration by the 3QD editors in the next round — many, many thanks! ]

My story, War in Heaven, is in the running for the 3 Quarks Daily Arts & Literature Prize. 3 Quarks Daily is a great aggregator site, I’m honored to have made the cut so far, and would love to make it to the next level. My entry is #33 in the alphabetical list here, and votes can be cast at the bottom of the page. Networking for votes is all part of the game, so I’m hoping you’ll vote — & encourage your friends to go to that page & vote my entry up.

If you haven’t read it, here’s my story. It was a finalist in the Atlantic Council‘s Scowcroft Center Art of Future Warfare Project‘s space war challenge, in association with War on the Rocks.

There’s even a Google Hangout video in which Atlantic Council Non-Resident Senior Fellow August Cole, who directs the Art of Future Warfare project, interviews the contest’s winner and finalists, myself included. August’s book, Ghost Fleet: A Novel of the Next World War, is in the running for next great Tom Clancy like techno-thriller.

You’ll find plenty of other good entries at the 3QD contest page, and daily at 3QD as well — as I say, it’s excellent in its own right, and one of the richest contributors of varied and interesting posts on my RSS feed.

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Then, in no particular order — check ’em all out —

The Boston conference on Apocalyptic Hopes, Millennial Dreams and Global Jihad:

To my way of thinking, the critical thing to know about the Islamic State is its “apocalyptic, end-of-days strategic vision” as Martin Dempsey put it — and the implications of that statement, both in terms of strategy and of recruitment & morale. That’s what the Boston conference focused on, and that’s why I think it was no less significant for being sparsely attended. In a series of future blogs I hope to go over the videos of the various presentations and spell some of their implications out — Will McCants‘ book, The ISIS Apocalypse, is due out in September, and I’d like to have filled in some background by then.

Here, though, as I’m giving an update on my own doings, is my presentation — an attempt both to tie together some of the strands of the panel I was commenting on (but could barely hear, but that’s a tale or another day), and to express my sense of the importance of apoclyptic thinking, not merely as an intellectual exercise but as an emotional and indeed visceral relaity for those swept up in it:

The other speakers were Richard Landes, WIlliam McCants, Graeme Wood, Timothy Furnish, Cole Bunzel, Jeffrey Bale, David Cook, J.M. Berger, Itamar Marcus, Charles Jacobs, David Redles, Mia Bloom, Charles Strozier, Brenda Brasher and Paul Berman — quite a stellar crew.

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My two latest pieces for LapidoMedia, where I’m currently editor:

ANALYSIS: Understanding the jihadists through their poetry and piety
12th June 2015

YOU might not think that ‘what jihadis do in their spare time’ would be a topic of much interest, but it’s one that has been under-reported and is just now breaking into public awareness.

Much of the credit for this goes to Robyn Creswell and Bernard Haykel for their current New Yorker piece, Battle lines: Want to understand the jihadis? Read their poetry.

But behind Creswell and Haykel’s piece lurks a striking presentation given by the Norwegian terrorism analyst Thomas Hegghammer at St Andrews in April.

Hegghammer’s Wilkinson Memorial lecture was titled Why Terrorists Weep: The Socio-Cultural Practices of Jihadi Militants…

Read the rest

I’m still intending to do a longer and more detailed write-up for Zenpundit on Hegghammer’s highly significant lecture.

Today:

The Bamiyan Buddha lives again

A CHINESE couple, dismayed by the Taliban’s destruction of Bamiyan’s two Buddha statues, has brought the larger of the statues back to life.

Locals and visitors can once again see the Bamiyan Buddha through the use of laser technology – this time not in stone but in light.

Carved into the great cliff face towering over the fertile valley of Bamiyan in Afghanistan, two Buddha statues stood for centuries.

In 2001 the Taliban dynamited the statues, built in the Sixth century in the Gandhara style, the larger of them standing 55 metres tall.

It was not the first attack against them.Lapido aims to provide (mostly secular) journalists with insight into the religious & spiritual values behind current events.

Read the rest

I stood there, atop the Bamiyan Buddha: it’s personal.

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At the World Religions and Spirituality Project at Virginia Commonwealth University, I’m one of two Project Directors for the JIHADISM Project. We’re very much a work in progress, aiming to provide a resource for scholarship of religion as it relates to jihadism.

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Justin Seitz made a post titled Analyzing Bin Ladin’s Bookshelf on Bellingcat, to which I responded, and we had a back-and-forth of emails &c.

Justin then gave our discussion a shoutout at The Loopcast

— the immediate context starts around the 30 min mark, and runs to around 35 — and followed up with a second Bellingcat post, Analyzing Bin Ladin’s Bookshelf Part 2 — in which he quoted me again. Key here is his remark:

a human with domain expertise is always going to be in a better position to make judgement calls than any algorithm

Agreed — & many thanks, Justin!

Bellingcat — definitely an honor to get a shoutout there,

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Pragati: The Indian National Interest Review

My latest on Pragati was my review of JM berger & Jessica Stern’s ISIS: the State of Terror, which I’ve already noted & linked to here on ZP.

Up next, my review of Mustafa Hamid & Leah Farrall‘s The Arabs at War in Afghanistan

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And last but not by any means least…

Cath Styles’ new Sembl slideshow:

It’s a terrific feeling to see the next runner in a relay race take off from the handover… Cath is getting some high praise for her work on Sembl for the museum world, including the following:

Sembl incredibly succesfully mixes competitive and collaborative play, creativity and expression, and exploration and inspiration. It’s the sort of game you think about when you’re not playing it, and it’s the sort of game that helps you see the world in new ways.

Paul Callaghan
Writer, Game Developer, Lecturer at Unversity of East London

Meanwhile, I’m still quietly plugging away at some other aspects of the HipBone / Sembl project.

Pete Turner on “Collecting Instability”

Friday, June 12th, 2015

[by Mark Safranski, a.k.a. “zen“]

Collection Center Collects Instability

Pete Turner of The Break it Down Show had a powerful post that encapsulated what is wrong with the American approach to intervention in foreign societies, both in terms of our aid and development programs as well as COIN and military assistance of various kinds.

Collection Center Collects Instability 

….A good example of what we did involves things called Collection Centers, which our government built to afford Afghan farmers a place to showcase products to vendors. The Center is supposed to create greater revenue for farmers. Despite the best of intent, and a lot of hard work, the program was and remains an utter disaster.

Why has the program been such a flop?

We, the US, came in and established these centers without ever considering how the existing system worked. We never bothered to determine how changing the system might be accepted or rejected, or cause harm to those we intended to help. We didn’t consider if the Afghans even had a system (which, of course, they did).

Instead of defining the existing system and assessing whether or how our tool might address a need, we just came in and started changing things It didn’t work, and we barely cared that it didn’t; and we reported the opposite.-

An aside–the if you read the report, look for mentions of Afghan involvement in the process. You won’t find it.  

I spoke with an Army Major in charge of the program and asked him about the existing local market chain from grower to consumer. He admitted that he didn’t know about it. When I asked why he was trying to change it, I was met with silence.

We also never considered if we were creating a harmful situation for farmers, and that ignorance caused unexpected and undesirable outcomes. At the most basic level, Taliban fighters notice “western” influence. A farmer who uses (though they never actually did) the collection center is exposing his allegiance with the US and therefore putting his family and himself in jeopardy. Further, the farmer buyer relationship is established relationship. Changing the nature of their transaction is reckless in such a conservative, Taliban influenced place. What we can’t do is create a situation that is perceived to increase uncertainty for farmers.

We built these centers throughout Afghanistan. At every instance, covering multiple units, I observed the same poor US decision-making. We never bothered to involve our Afghan partners in the decisions and never allowed them to guide us on how to work within their system. We forced these centers upon the people of Afghanistan, and wasted more than money and resources in the process. We wasted opportunities to actually improve the lot of the farmer, which makes de-legitimizing the Taliban fighters more challenging.

Read the whole post here.

Turner wore many different hats in Iraq and Afghanistan but in one extended tour in Zabul, Pete worked closely with political science Professor Richard Ledet, who in addition to his scholarly expertise, was uncannily good at donning local attire and blending in with Afghan villagers.

Dr. Richard Ledet

Turner and his partner Jon, interviewed Ledet recently on their program:

What happens when an institution attempts to make changes intending to improve the lot of others? What if they ignore culture and fail to communicate with the people designed to receive a benefit from the change? We address these questions in ourepisode with Dr. Richard Ledet.

We are fans of Rich. He’s a warrior, professor, surfer, hunter, all-around brilliant, rugged dude. His current gig is working as a Poli Sci professor at Troy University in Troy Alabama. Rich and I worked together in Afghanistan studying how effective or “affective” our work was as US assets helping Afghans. It’s not common for Poli Sci professors to get so close to the ground truth, and then to be able to test our policy and strategic programs as they implemented at the lowest level. This experience, we believe, is fascinating and applies directly to the real world.

Listen to the interview here on The Break it Down Show.

Ghazwa-e-Hind revisited: Husain Haqqani

Sunday, March 29th, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — a highly recommended article on an often overlooked topic ]
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Amb Haqqani

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Amb. Husain Haqqani has a new piece up on the Hudson Institute site, Prophecy & the Jihad in the Indian Subcontinent, which deals with the Ghazwa-e-Hind. I have quoted Haqqani before on this topic, since he is an eminently credible witness, unlike the propagandist Zaid Hamid.

Key intro para:

Radical Islamists invoke the Hadith (the oral traditions attributed to the Prophet Muhammad) to prophesize a great battle in India between true believers and unbelievers before the end-times. These references in the Hadith to the Ghazwa-e-Hind (Battle of India) infuse South Asia with importance as a battleground in the efforts to create an Islamic caliphate resembling the social order that existed at the time of the Prophet Muhammad and the Rightly Guided Caliphs (632-661 AD).

After discussing the Khorasan-to-Jerusalem and Euphrates-gold ahadith (the latter easily and often interpreted to refer to Middle Eastern oil, aka “black gold”), he turns to the Ghazwa traditions:

In one version of the Hadith, attributed to Thawban, a freed slave of the Prophet Muhammad, “[t]he Messenger of Allah said: ‘there are two groups of my Ummah whom Allah will free from the Fire: The group that invades India, and the group that will be with Isa bin Maryam, peace be upon him.’”4 Isa bin Maryam is the Quranic name of Jesus, whose return to earth alongside the Mahdi is held in Islamic tradition to be a seminal event of the end of time.

In another version, narrated by Abu Hurairah, “[t]he Messenger of Allah promised us that we would invade India. If I live to see that, I will sacrifice myself and my wealth. If I am killed, I will be one of the best of the martyrs, and if I come back, I will be Abu Hurairah Al-Muharrar.” Al-Muharrar translates as “the one freed from the fire of hell.”

We hear relatively little about the Ghazwa-e-Hind narrative in the west, so Haqqani then offers some recent historical context:

Just as the prophecies of Khurasan became popular during the wars in Afghanistan, the Ghazwa-e-Hind divinations became a staple of the Islamist discourse after the launch of jihad in Indian-controlled parts of Kashmir in 1989. Throughout the 1990s, Pakistani official media also encouraged discussion of the Ghazwa-e-Hind Hadith to motivate jihadists. In fact, every major Pakistan-based jihadi group that launched terrorist attacks across the border claimed that their operations were part of the Battle for India promised by the Prophet. For these Pakistani groups, supported by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency, the target of jihad should be the modern state of India and its “occupation” of Kashmir.

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This next para gave me pause and insight, quoting as it does a Deobandi source:

According to Maulana Waris Mazhari of the Darul Uloom Deoband seminary in Uttar Pradesh, India, the conflict between India and Pakistan over Kashmir was not jihad; the dream of establishing “Muslim hegemony throughout the entire world” was fanciful. “The term ghalba-e Islam, the establishment of the supremacy of Islam, used in the context of the Quran and the sayings of the Prophet (Hadith), refers not to any political project of Muslim domination,” Mazhari wrote, “but, rather, to the establishment of the superiority of Islam’s ideological and spiritual message.”

Haqqani then goes into considerably more detail on Mazhari‘s views, saying for instance:

Mazhari saw the Ghazwa-e-Hind Hadith as an instrument of propaganda in “the proxy war engaged in by Kashmir by powerful forces in Pakistan in the guise of a so-called Jihad,” which he and other Ulema consider “nothing but deceit.”

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Haqqani next turns to the various contemporary jihadist interpretations of the Ghazwa, starting with the shifts occasioned by the defeat of the Taliban and the death of Osama bin Laden:

The defeat of the Taliban and the arrival of NATO forces in Afghanistan in 2001 shifted al-Qaeda’s major operations to Iraq and Yemen even though Osama bin Laden continued to hide in Pakistan. For some time, discussion of the epic battle for India diminished in the jihadi discourse while grand strategies for the expulsion of Western influence from the Middle East took center stage. The death of Osama bin Laden and the rise of ISIS, however, have revived global jihadist interest in Ghazwa-e-Hind.

and:

The recent revival of interest in the Ghazwa-e-Hind prophecy reflects rivalry between competing jihadi groups. Al-Qaeda, now led by Ayman al-Zawahiri, faces the prospect of extinction as its Arab cadres defect to ISIS, led by Baghdadi. Zawahiri has worked to build alliances with Pakistani jihadi groups and make inroads in India’s Muslim population because it helps him remain relevant in the face of ISIS.

As to that rivalry between AQ and IS, Haqqani concludes his piece:

Al-Qaeda appears to be attempting to maintain support among radical Islamists in the subcontinent by directing its ire at India. Its leaders have been active in Afghanistan and Pakistan since the 1980s anti-Soviet jihad and maintain close ties to the Pakistani-supported Afghan Taliban and Kashmiri jihadi groups. By focusing on India, al-Qaeda hopes to retain the support of Pakistan-backed groups, which interpret the Ghazwa-e-Hind Hadith to mean re-conquest of Hindu India without hitting Muslim Pakistan. Even in Zawahiri’s statement about AQIS, Pakistan was mentioned only as a country that needed to be brought under full Sharia rule while Hindu India was portrayed as the enemy of Islam.

ISIS, on the other hand, has accepted the allegiance of groups that are violently opposed to both the Republic of India and the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. ISIS affiliates appear to have opted for the alternative interpretation of Ghazwa-e-Hind, offered by groups such as the TTP, to pursue jihad in all parts of historic Hind. Indeed, in an ominous declaration, one South Asian ISIS member proclaimed, “[o]ur struggle is ongoing and Insha’Allah after defeating Pakistan Army, we won’t just stop in Pakistan rather we shall continue our advance into Kashmir and India until the laws of Allah are implemented globally and the whole world comes under the rule of one Muslim Khalifah.”

All in all, this is a fascinating and timely article, and I highly recommended it as a counterpoise to our usual concern with westward-facing jihad.

When the promise of the miraculous is disappointed

Saturday, March 21st, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — the role of promise and illusion in recruitment, disappointment and disillusion in CVE ]
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Here’s an example of promise and disillusionment from the early Afghan jihad: upper quote below from Abdullah Azzam, lower quote from Mustafa Hamid.

SPEC DQ miracles azzam & hamid

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It seems that disappointed hopes are and/or should be a major focus in countering violent extremism, ie places where the jihadist recruitment “narrarive” fails when it comes in contact with ground reality. Because a caliphate that is losing ground is no caliphate. Because a caliphate that diverges from its own ideals and standards is no caliphate. Because the food is terrible, or battle turns out to be more real than bargained for:

[ order of these two NYT paragraphs reversed here at Zenpundit ]

During nearly a year in contact with New York Times reporters, Abu Khadija expressed gradually growing discontent. His grievances ranged from relatively mundane issues like eating canned food and being deployed to a front line far from his family because of a lack of fighters, to discomfort with the group’s strategic priorities and its extreme violence.

“I can’t eat, I feel I want to throw up, I hate myself,” he said, adding that the executioners had argued over who would wield the knives and finally settled the issue by lottery. “Honestly, I will never do it. I can kill a man in battle, but I can’t cut a human being’s head with a knife or a sword.”

Jessica Stern makes a similar point on NPR:

I think that we need to hear a lot more from people who leave ISIS – somebody who says, gosh, I joined. I thought I was going to be making the world a better place, and it turned out that it really wasn’t what I imagined, that there were atrocities that I didn’t want to be involved in. There are people who are saying that. We need to amplify those messages.

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The quote in the upper panel of the DoubleQuote above comes from Azzam’s collection, The Signs of Ar-Rahmaan in the Jihad of Afghanistan. There are many miracles (both mujizat and karamat) described there. Among them, one of the most interesting to me concerns the Miraj and al-Aqsa mosque:

Informing the people of the details of Baitul Maqdis after the night of Me’raaj.

Rasulullah sallAllaahu alayhi wa sallam said: When the people denied (the Me’raaj), Allaah Ta’ala revealed the Baitul Maqdis to me and I informed the people of its details whilst looking at it.”

The Miraj was the prophet’s night journey to the Noble Sanctuary / Temple Mount (Bait al-Maqdis) in Jerusalem, from whence he ascended the heavens and was given the instructions for Muslim prayer. The Noble Sanctuary was Islam’s first Qibla or direction of focus in prayer.

The quote in the lower panel above comes from Mustafa Hamid in his forthcoming book with Leah Farrall, The Arabs at War in Afghanistan. In it, Hamid illustrates both the spiritual aspirations and disappointed hopes at play in that earlier jihad.

I have discussed Azzam’s and others’ descriptions of miracles previously in such posts as Of war and miracle: the poetics, spirituality and narratives of jihad, Azzam illustrates Levi-Strauss on Mythologiques, and Gaidi Mtaani, the greater scheme of things. Such stories are profoundly moving to those who are open to believing them.

In Mustafa Hamid’s words, we see the equal and opposite influence unleashed when such stories, offered as promises in recruitment, prove unsubstantiated by reality.

A hat-tip to Myra MacDonald, who pointed me to this quote.

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Side note:

Students of comparative religion may find the following paragraphs, quoted in the Azzam compilation from the Deobandi scholar Ashraf Ali Thanwi of interest:

Karaamaat and Mu’jizah do not occur by a person’s design — that whenever the Nabi or Wali wishes he can execute such an act. Such acts only occur when Allaah Ta’ala in His Infinite Wisdom wishes to exhibit the act. It then occurs whether a person desires it or not.]

A karaamah does not indicate that the person performing such an act is better than others. In fact, sometimes the karaamah decreases his status in the sight of Allaah, due to fame and vanity entering his heart. It was for this reason that many of the pious personalities used to make istighfaar (seek forgiveness) when a karaamah would manifest itself at their hands, just as they would make istighfaar when sins are committed

The statement “It then occurs whether a person desires it or not” reminds me, for instance, of the tale told of St Teresa of Avila, friend and colleague of St John of the Cross:

Legend tells it that as Teresa was in the choir singing among her sisters one day, she began to levitate. When the other nuns started to whisper and point, Teresa lowered her gaze and realized that she had risen several inches above the stone floor. “Put me down!” she demanded of God. And he did.

There’s a deeper truth hidden in St Teresa’s request, I suspect: grace is not taken, it is given.


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