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Picking up on symmetries observed

Wednesday, August 16th, 2017

[ by Charles Cameron — after Scaramucci on symmetry ]
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It’s encouraging — heart-heartening — to see Doreen St. Félix at the New Yorker picking up on An Image of Revolutionary Fire at Charlottesville:

Two points about her commentary strike my interest. The first had to do, specifically, with symmetry, an old hobby-horse of mine as you may know:

Steve Helber shot an image of peculiar symmetry, in which a man of fortitude was bearing a different light. Two men extend weapons: one is the Confederate flag, furled, hiding its retrograde design, and the other is an aerosol can, modified to eject fire. The figures stand in a classical configuration, on the diagonal, as if a Dutch master has placed them just so.

The second made reference to theology..

The composition of this photo is fiercely theological. The black man is wielding what the black theologian James Cone, quoting the prophet Jeremiah, might call the “burning fire shut up in my bones,” what James Baldwin would have identified as “the fire next time.” (Cornel West, a student of Cone, has advanced the liberatory concept of “black prophetic fire”; West travelled to the city to march with members of Charlottesville’s faith community on Saturday.) It is a pose that upsets a desire for docility; it’s a rebuke to slogans such as “This is not us” or “Love not hate.” This graceful man has appropriated not only the flames of white-supremacist bigotry but also the debauched, rhetorical fire of Trump, who gloated, earlier this week, that he would respond to a foreign threat with “fire and fury.” The resistance has its fire, too.

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I don’t think I see that image the same way St. Félix does. She sees fire on both sides — the fires of the tiki torches in the hands of the supremacists, though they are absent from this particular pohotograph, and the fire visible in the photo, wielded by the “man of fortitude”. Using an improvised flame-thrower strikes me as, if anything, more menacing than waving a furled flag, to be honest, and even though flame-man is in the lower position, his flame makes him, in my eyes, the dominant figure in the composition — and flag-wielder, correspondingly, even though holding the higher ground, more the underdog,

While my sympathies would naturally lie with those who protest supremacism rather than those who proclaim it, this image at first saddens me with the spectacle of fire-power unilaterally vielded by the guy I’d otherwise cheer for — and it’s only when I read a little deeper —

Long said that the protest had seemed peaceful until “someone pointed a gun at my head. Then the same person pointed it at my foot and shot the ground.”)

— that I began to understand why he, rather than the supremacist, might be the one who has feeling most threatened.

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I feel ambiguous, then, about St Félix’ reading of the photo, but grateful that someone has an eye out for form, art, symmetry, in the photo-reporting of a vile, incendiary event.

Well, it’s a DoubleQuote, and well, it’s by Julian Assange

Tuesday, August 15th, 2017

[ by Charles Cameron — & details suggest IS/AQ and the alt-right are at least somewhat comparable ]
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Jihadists and hard right, comparables?

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Arie Perliger‘s 2012 report for West Point’s Countering Terrorism Center, Challengers from the Sidelines: Understanding America’s Violent Far-Right runs a hefty 148 pages, but it opens with two epigraphs, each of which similarly compares jihad with the ambitions of far right violent extremists:

This operation took some long-term planning and, throughout the entire time, these soldiers were aware that their lives would be sacrificed for their cause. If an Aryan wants an example of ‘Victory or Valhalla’, look no further (Thomas Metzger, Leader of the White Aryan Resistance, in response to 9/11 attacks)

… We should be blowing up NYC and DC, not waiting for a bunch of camel Jockeys to do it for us (Victor Gerhard, Vanguard News Network)

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The thing is, the mode of terror in Charlottesville, ramming pedestrians with a car or truck, itself “rhymes” with all too many earlier attacks, in a series including the 2006 attempted murder by SUV at the University of North Carolina, the 2013 incident which ended with the murder of Lee Rigby in London, incidents in Dijon, Nice, Stockholm and Westminster — not to mention one incident in Tiananmen Square, and a slew of vehicular ramming attacks across the years in Jerusalem.

The second issue (2010) of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula‘s magazine Inspire recommended the tactic:

— and while the majority of incidents listed in Wikipedia’s article on the topic were perpetrated by jihadists, the tactic has also been used against Muslims — by no means necessarily jihadists or even sympathizers themselves — in the Finsbury Park Mosque attack earlier this year.

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This brings such great repute on jihadists, islamophobes, alt-right, whomever.

Mind-blowing first paragraph, academic paper

Saturday, August 5th, 2017

[ by Charles Cameron — this motive for terror in Mumbai totally blindsided me ]
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Young Ajmal Kasab, from the village of Faridkot in the Punjab, in Mumbai, now deceased

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Consider this:

Strapped to a gurney and visibly shaken by the bloodied bodies of his fellow terrorists strewn about, Mohammed Jamal Amir Kasab, aged twenty-one, begged his police interrogators to turn off their cameras. They refused, and Kasab’s recorded confession provided the world with a glimpse into the individual motivations of the young men behind the four days of attacks in Mumbai, India. Kasab explained that he “joined the militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba only for money.”1 His was not solely an individual decision, however, and the money he earned from participating in the attacks was not intended to be discretionary income. According to Kasab, his father had urged him to join so that Kasab and his siblings could afford to marry.2 Kasab recounted that his father had told him that his participation would mean that the family would no longer be poor and that they would be able to pay the costs required to finalize a marriage contract. One of the police officers, seemingly ignoring Kasab’s response, pressed, “So you came here for jihad? Is that right?” Crying, Kasab asked, “What jihad?” Lashkar-e-Taiba deposited the promised money in his father’s account after the successful attack; for his participation, Kasab was hanged in 2012 by the Indian government. Whether his siblings were subsequently able to contract marriages as a result of the funds provided by Lashkar-e-Taiba remains unknown.

The paper, by Valerie M. Hudson and Hilary Matfess, is published by MIT Press in International Security, Volume 42 Issue 1, Summer 2017, p.7-40 under the title, In Plain Sight: The Neglected Linkage between Brideprice and Violent Conflict.

How little we know, how little we suspect, how diverse the world is, how varied the motives at play, even in matters that we study and feel we’ve grasped.

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The paragraph above stands as a fitting anecdotal confirmation of Will McCants:

The disappoint stems from the desire to attribute the jihadist phenomenon to a single cause rather than to several causes that work in tandem to produce it. To my mind, the most salient are these: a religious heritage that lauds fighting abroad to establish states and to protect one’s fellow Muslims; ultraconservative religious ideas and networks exploited by militant recruiters; peer pressure (if you know someone involved, you’re more likely to get involved); fear of religious persecution; poor governance (not type of government); youth unemployment or underemployment in large cities; and civil war. All of these factors are more at play in the Arab world now than at any other time in recent memory, which is fueling a jihadist resurgence around the world.

If anyone elevates one of those factors above the others to diagnose the problem, you can be certain the resulting prescription will not work. It may even backfire, leading to more jihadist recruitment, not less.

Anything self-defeating is an ouroboros

Thursday, June 8th, 2017

[ by Charles Cameron — Tankel’s take on Trump’s CT ]
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Mostly the self-devouring snakes I track here are a little more subtle about the circular nature of their logic — the phrasing often hides the fact that man bites self, or dog chases own tail. This example, however, is just so blatant, presented in so large and darkna font, with its accompanying image just so dazzlingly colored, that I just has to bring it here.

Self-defeating, self-eating — it’s the self- part that signals trouble. Stephen Tankel is a fine researcher — his book Storming the World Stage: The Story of Lashkar-e-Taiba is recommended readng on the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks.

He is not a happy chap:

The emerging Trump counterterrorism strategy appears to be a dysfunctional combination of repurposed elements of the George W. Bush and Barack Obama approaches infused with some of Trump’s worst impulses

You may wish to read him.

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Meanwhile, as an ad to accompany CNN’s Iran’s Revolutionary Guards blame Saudis for Tehran attacks, I got this:

Okay ouroboroi!

The importance of Albrecht Dürer in grokking ISIS

Thursday, October 20th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — because the world of the jihadists resembles Dürer’s more than it does our own? ]
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It’s extraordinary the insight that an appreciative acquaintance with Albrecht Dürer provides, in attempting to understand ISIS not just theoretically but imaginatively, and thus viscerally.

Under the title ISIL Boasts: America will go down to defeat in the Streets of Mosul Juan Cole blogs [emphasis mine]:

AFP is reporting that a news agency linked to Daesh (ISIS, ISIL), “A`maq,” is carrying a video of a Daesh fighter who swears that he and his colleagues will inflict a decisive defeat on the US in Iraq, as the guerrillas spread through the streets of the city. He addresses the camera saying, “As for you, America, we promise you that which our honored elders promised you, God bless them, such as Abu Mus`ab (al-Zarqawi) and Abu `Umar and Abu Hamza [etc.].”

The threats don’t make any sense. The US does not have infantry combat troops at the front lines, and is mainly intervening with fighter jets and bombers. If you are a small guerrilla group, you really cannot match that firepower. There is no obvious way in which Daesh could inflict harm on the US in Mosul.

How about a non-obvious way?

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For the apocalyptic true believers of ISIS, these verses (ayat, which also refers to “signs”) from the Qur’an ring true today:

When thou saidst to the believers, ‘Is it not enough for you that your Lord should reinforce you with three thousand angels sent down upon you? Yea; if you are patient and godfearing, and the foe come against you instantly, your Lord will reinforce you with five thousand swooping angels.’

Qur’an 3.124-25

We may have lost sight of the angels, and for that matter the dragon, the horsemen, the “woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars” and the “Lamb which is in the midst of the throne” — in our western mostly post-Christian tradition, but John of Patmos and Albrecht Durer saw them, in what we now think of as “the sky”, familiarly known in their days as “the heavens”.

But is that our clarity or our blindness?

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If we are to understand ISIS, we need an analytic framework which doesn’t automatically exclude angels from its purview — as I argued somewhat more broadly in my essay The Dark Sacred: The Significance of Sacramental Analysis in Robert Bunker‘s Blood Sacrifices [Kindle, $3.99].

We are dealing with a subset of that culture wherein poetry is as highly valued as it is lowly valued in our own — as Shahab Ahmad tells us in What is Islam, “the poetical discourses of Muslim societies” are “the form of speech regarded as the highest register of human self-expression and social communication.”

And we are easily blind to such things. Thomas Hegghammer, in his Paul Wilkinson Memorial Lecture at the University of St. Andrews, Why Terrorists Weep: The Socio-Cultural Practices of Jihadi Militants, writes:

It took me a long time to even notice these things. I’ve studied jihadi groups for almost fifteen years, and for the first ten, I was addressing standard questions, like, how did group A evolve, what has ideologue B written, who joins movement C, etc. The thing is, when you study one type of group for a while, you take certain things for granted. I knew that these groups were weeping and reading poetry, but it didn’t really register – it was background noise to me, stuff I needed to shove aside to get to the hard information about people and events.

Hegghammer goes on to comment that “soft” activities — he names weeping, reading and reciting poetry, dreaming — “pose a big social science puzzle, in that they defy expectations of utility-maximising behaviour.”

We tend to the “utility-maximizing” end of a philosophical spectrum (running, as per my example above, from “heaven” to “sky”) but they do not.

Oh, no. They do not.

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To understand the poetics of jihad, and thus the passions it arouses, we must first glimpse the visionary faculty that is implicit in our own so easily disregarded poetry.

Thus William Blake, in his A Vision of the Last Judgment:

“What,” it will be Questioned, “When the Sun rises, do you not see a round Disk of fire somewhat like a Guinea?” O no no, I see an Innumerable company of the Heavenly host crying “Holy Holy Holy is the Lord God Almighty.” I question not my Corporeal or Vegetative Eye any more than I would Question a Window concerning a Sight: I look thro it & not with it.


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