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Of Note: Tim Furnish, & Trump’s National CT Strategy

Wednesday, October 17th, 2018

[ by Charles Cameron — and a few ppl whose views on trump’s strategy document I’d also like to read ]
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  • Tim Furnish, Trump’s New Counter-terrorism Strategy: The One-Eyed Man is Still King
  • Trump, 2018, National Strategy for Counterterrorism
  • Obama, 2011, National Strategy for Counterterrorism
  • Tim Furnish, Sectsploitation: How to Win Hearts and Minds in the Islamic World
  • **

    I wanted to draw your attention to our blog-friend and sometime contributor Tim Furnish‘s post, which offers a lucid introduction to the Trump administration’s National CT Strategy paper, situating it in contrast to the Obama admin’s version, and linking it to a very helpful breakdown of what we might call (remembering William James, but in mostly lower case) the varieties of Islamic experience.

    Let me just say that from my POV:

    1) Tim Furnish has a way superior understanding of the said varieties than John Bolton ever will have — plus he has a taste for pop culture asides!

    2) that the key issue to be further explored could be expressed in terms of the overlaps, Venn diagram-wise, between “literalist”, “mainstream” and “authentic” Islams.

    That’s a project I’ve been circling for more than a decade, and the closer I get, the more subtleties arise to be considered. Still circling in..

    Thomas Hegghammer, JM Berger, Leah Farrall, Adam Elkus, Will McCants and John Horgan are others whose varied voices and opinions regaarding the new CT Strategy text I’ll be watching for.

    **

    Tim’s essay and associated matters: Warmly recommended.

    Zen — pray chime in.

    Far more severe than the Israeli occupation?

    Thursday, February 15th, 2018

    [ by Charles Cameron — an invitation to explore some suggested comparisons — Afghanistan, too ]
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    ben wittes, lawfare blog

    **

    I generally find Ben Wittes’ Lawfare blog worth reading, and was accordingly struck when I read The Methodology of Historical Misrepresentation and came across this paragraph:

    There is a widespread tendency amongst scholars, journalists, and legal experts to app double standard when relating to Israel and the Palestinians. Israel is often singled out for prejudicial treatment in comparison to cases far more severe than its occupation of the West Bank and Gaza since 1967, such as the killing in Syria of over half a million people, the hanging of hundreds of dissidents in Iran every year, the Chinese occupation of Tibet, Russian behavior in Chechnya, Syria, and Ukraine, and countless other human rights infringements infinitely worse than the Israeli occupation and settlement movement.

    That wasn’t, I’ll admit, what I expected when I read the post’s title: in the context of the Israeli/Paalestinian issue, I could iagune the misrepresentation might be found in Israeli hasbara as easily as in Mahmoud Abbas‘ tendency to say things about the “occupied territories” that only include the West Bank and Gaza when addressing English-speaking audiences, and the whole shebang including Tel Aviv when speaking in Arabic — as repeatedly shown by Itamar Marcus of Palestinial Media Watch

    **

    That said, I’d be interested in specific comparisons in detail, one at a time, between these levels of documented human rights infringements..

    For instance, the Israelis have established “facts on the rgound” in the form of both settlers and their sccompanying schools, synagogues, etc within the Palestinian und, with military enforcement, while the Chinese appear similarly to have established “facts on the ground” in Tibetan territor in the form of both settlers and their institutions, militarily enforced.

    Howw can one compare these two situations in greater detail, fairly?

    Israel separation wall in West Bank

    **

    The first problem any such attempt will encounter is that both sides will produced partisan accounts of history, law, populations, etc, and that accounts by “honest brokers” are desperately hard to find — I mean, educate me in the comments section.

    I’ve tried to propose a graphical/typographical system for conducting bilateral debates.. but maybe the Talmud is not ideal for these particular debates..


    Talmudic page

    Specifically, I took my early inspiration from the Talmud because it explicitly llows divergent viewpoints in its graphical format, as explained by Eliezer Segal on his interactive (ie clickable) Page from the Babylonian Talmud. But perhaps the Talmud is not the ideal basis for these particular debates, in which the Israelis (often deeply influenced by forms of Judaism) are one of the contending parties…

    In any case, how, with all the affordances of the web, can we provide a space in which written debates can be refined in light of written (and equally valued) responses, iteratively, so as to provide a record for ongoing dialogue, with both sides equitably represented, and able to respond point by point whwere they disagree or wich to provide additional material, and to agree where they agree.

    I am encouraged to know what such a format can eventually produce a document where twwo adversaary-friends collaborate, because of the collaboration of Mustafa Hamid and Leah Farrall, friend of Mullah Omar and OBL and Australian Federal Police AQ expert respectively, on their book, The Arabs at War in Afghanistan, in which some sections indicate that the two co-authors were agreed on theie contents, while some sections are attributed to Mustafa alone, and some to Leah likewise. Two adversaries first meet on the net, then in person in Alexandria, Egypt, then after months and months of collaboration, and no doubt much excellent coffee — this book!

    **

    PS & NB:

    Ben Wittes has notably and repeatedly challenged Vladimir Putin to a martial arts match: I’ll Fight Putin Any Time, Any Place He Can’t Have Me Arrested.

    That would be something to watch on both RT and MSNBC!

    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.

    **

    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.

    **

    **

    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..

    Not up for debate: three candidates

    Thursday, September 29th, 2016

    [ by Charles Cameron — a light-hearted, part-musical, part-personal, part-putinesque — counterpoise to the present Presidential electoral season ]
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    You wanna make government a barrel of fun? Vote Dizzy! Vole Dizzy!
    Your Politics Oughtta Be A Groovier Thing? Vote Dizzy! Vole Dizzy!

    **

    Okay, we’ve had a day or two to recover from the first of this year’s Presidential debates, and I’d like to give you a break from the incessant Trump no Hillary no stay home or vote Stein or Johnson or write in or whatever shindig with three possible candidates not on most lists.

    One is anonymous. One is myself (ridiculous). And one — the best known of the three, but deceased, alas — plays trumpet, and ran in 1964.

    **

    No, as far as we know, Vladimir Putin has not expressed a wish for Donald Trump to be President of the US, despite some fraternal noises. Instead, he somewhat cannily answered an unnamed US journalist’s question by wishing she could hold that office (upper panel, below):

    Tablet DQ Putin & Abu Walid

    So:

    Putin’s candidate is, as far as I know, anonymous — though there’s a presumably a journalist somewhere who knows, since she was there at the time, and Putin was responding to her.

    **

    I probably wouldn’t have given this particular remark of Putin’s a second thought, had Abu Walid al-Masri not wished the same fate on me (lower panel, above).

    Here’s how that happened.

    I’d been in friendly contact with the noted Australian Federal Police counterterrorism analyst Leah Farrall for a while, when Leah struck up an email correspondence some years back with Abu Walid. The latter was among the first Arabs in Afghanistan, a journalist, a friend of Mullah Omar and bin Laden, and a fierce critic of 9/11. Both Leah and Abu Walid were bloggers, and both deeply interested in the early history and structure of Al-Qaida so, Leah thought, why not talk? And talk they did.

    At one point, Leah very kindly invited me to join their conversation. I’m a know your enemy type on my father‘s side (he was a naval warrior) and a love your enemy type on my mentor‘s (he was a monk, and quite the warrior in his own way) — so I wrote to Abu Walid, and he responded:

  • All Things CT, Charles Cameron to Abu Walid al Masri
  • Zenpundit, Abu Walid al Masri to Charles Cameron
  • I don’t see myself as US President any time soon — I’m a Brit born and bred, which would rule me out in any case, and a monarchist at that — but Putin’s comment to the journalist reminded me of my own equivalent in Abu Walid’s response to my letter, and gave me a quiet chuckle — hence this post.

    More significant than my cameo appearance.. Years later, Abu Walid was released from house arrest in Iran. He — now dropping his nom de guerre and going by his original name, Mustafa Hamid — met in person with Leah in Alexandria, amd after months of conversations they produced an unparalleled joint work, The Arabs at War in Afghanistan (Hurst, 2015).

    It is, as I said, without parallel — with a second volume to follow?

    **

    Okay, back to electoral candidates. How about Dizzy Gillespie? Here’s a belated tribute to the candidate who blue-notes outside the lines:

    As blog-friend and jazz-meister Bill Benzon noted recently, Dizzy Gillespie nominated himself. And how!

    When I am elected President of the United States, my first executive order will be to change the name of the White House! To the Blues House.

    Income tax must be abolished, and we plan to legalize ‘numbers’ – you know, the same way they brought jazz into the concert halls and made it respectable. We refuse to be influenced by the warnings of one NAACP official who claims that making this particular aspect of big business legal would upset the nation’s economy disastrously.

    One of the ways we can cut down governmental expenditures is to disband the FBI and have the Senate Internal Security Committee investigate everything under white sheets for un-American activities. Understand, we won’t take no ‘sheet’ off anybody!

    You wanna make government a barrel of fun? Vote Dizzy! Vole Dizzy!

    Happiness in the proximity of faith and death

    Monday, August 1st, 2016

    [ by Charles Cameron — the emotional impact of faith, from a nun present at the Normandy attack to a failed suicide bomber in Syria ]
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    According to this IB Times article, Tragic last words of Catholic priest killed by Isis terrorists revealed, Sister Helene Decaux, one of the nuns who was present at the killing of Fr Jacques Hamel, reported his last words thus:

    Jacques shouted at them, ‘Stop! What are you doing?’ It was then that one of them struck the first blow to his throat.

    What caught my attention more forcefully, however, was the following:

    Fearing for her life, she added: “Thinking I was going to die, I offered my life to God.” The nun then described how Petitjean and Kermiche had at first been aggressive, but quietened down after they had cut Jacques’ throat. Showing remarkable calm, Helene asked the two terrorists if she could sit down. “I asked for my cane, he gave it to me,” she said. One of the attackers asked: “Are you afraid to die?” To which the nun replied no. “I believe in God, and I know I will be happy,” Helene said. Sister Huguette Peron, who was also in the church, told Catholic newspaper La Vie: “I got a smile from the second (man). Not a smile of triumph, but a soft smile, that of someone who is happy.”

    Not only is Sister Helene happy in the face of death because she believes in death, but Sister Huguette reports that one of the attackers gave her a smile, “Not a smile of triumph, but a soft smile, that of someone who is happy.”

    **

    Compare those two descriptions of people who are happy with this, from Murtaza Hussain‘s Intercept piece, New Documentary Pierces the Psychology of Modern Suicide Bombers:

    In a scene from Norwegian journalist Paul Refsdal’s new documentary Dugma: The Button, Abu Qaswara, a would-be suicide bomber, describes the sense of exhilaration he felt during an aborted suicide attack against a Syrian army checkpoint. “These were the happiest [moments] I’ve had in 32 years. If anyone had felt exactly what I felt at that moment, Muslims would want to go through the same feeling and non-Muslims would convert just to experience it,” he enthuses to the camera, visibly elated by his attempted self-immolation.

    Abu Qaswara’s attack failed after his vehicle was blocked by obstacles on the road placed by the Syrian military. But speaking shortly after he returned from his mission, it was clear that his brush with death had filled him with euphoria. “It was a feeling more than you can imagine,” he says. “Something I cannot describe, it cannot be described.”

    My primary purpose in recording these instances of happiness is to emphasize how strongly religious faith exerts what to the modern secular mind must be an unexpected and perhaps even unimaginable emotional impact on those who possess it. And even if the Normandy attacker’s ‘soft smile” had more to do with a blood lust slaked, the same cannot be said either for Sister Helene or for Abu Qaswara.

    If we are to understand the motivations of suicide bombers and other jihadists, comprehending not just intellectually but viscerally the emotions involved will be a task of some importance — and one for which many of our analysts will not be prepared.

    **

    There’s a second point to be made, however. Hussain goes on to write:

    Only the few Syrians who appear in the film speak at length about their grievances over the crimes of the Syrian government. In contrast, the foreign volunteers appear largely driven by personal motivations. Liberating the local people from oppression appears at best a secondary concern. Perishing in the conflict and reaping the existential rewards of such an end takes precedence. Both Abu Qaswara and Abu Basir gave up comfortable lives to come to Syria, knowing that certain death would be the outcome of that decision. But rather than deterring them, the prospect of a rewarding death was a primary factor motivating their decision to fight.

    That para sets the scene for the following one, in which Mustafa Hamid, as reported in his book with Leah Farrall, notes how contrary this motivation is to the practical pursuit of victory:

    This impulse toward self-destruction is actually seen as selfish by some fellow insurgents. In his co-authored 2014 memoir The Arabs at War in Afghanistan, Mustafa Hamid, a former high-ranking Egyptian volunteer with the Afghan mujahideen in the 1980s, described his own frustration with many of the later waves of volunteers arriving to that conflict. “One of the negatives that emerged from the jihad, and which continues to have severe consequences today, was the tendency for the youth to focus not on success and achieving victory and liberating Afghanistan, but on their desire for martyrdom and to enter paradise,” Hamid wrote. This overriding preoccupation with becoming a martyr meant that participation in the conflict, “became individual instead of for the benefit of the group or the country where the fight for liberation is taking place.”

    That’s one of the more striking of Hamid’s observations in The Arabs at War in Afghanistan — itself an astonishing book, product of the collaboration between Hamid (aka Abu Walid al-Masri) the man who brought bin Laden‘s oath of allegiance to Mullah Omar, and Farrall, a respected scholar-analyst who was the Australian Federal Police al-Qaida subject matter specialist at the time of the Bali bombings.

    It is an extraordinary book, and one I cannot recommend too highly.


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