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O Florida, Florida!

Tuesday, May 23rd, 2017

[ by Charles Cameron — with application to paras from JM Berger & WIll McCants ]
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Two from Florida, both yesterday!

Really!

**

The kid who converts from Neo-Nazi to Islam and then kills his disrespectful roomies makes for a brilliant & provocative case study, becaause it so confounds our usual expectations.

Consider. We are used to the idea of otherwise unexceptional people joining extremist groups, religious or political — we term the process “radicalization”. And under the banner of “countering violent extremism” we encourage people to leave violent extremist groups and fade back into the normal fabric of society — some become anti-extremist messengers, Kerry Noble and Maajid Nawaz being well known examples. And both coming and going, there’s the little matter of messaging — messaging for radicaliziation, messaging for deradicalization.

But converting from a far-right political ideology to militant Islam? What kind of process us that, and what kind of messaging is involved, or called for?

I want to focus in on this poor dumb kid Devon Arthurs because he offers an almost too-good-to-be-true instance of two significant ideas from two of our finest analysts.

**

Let’s take Will McCants first.

McCants’ point is that every jihadist (and every extremist, by extension) is subject to a wide mix of drives, some more potent than others, but none of which should be viewed as the exclusive “explanation” for radicalization. As he writes in a gobbit that is now pinned to the top of his twitter-feed:

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.

That’s the general case: but you could hardly have a better instance of how sui generis the process is than our case of the young Neo-Nazi turned Muslim.

**

Things get even more interesting, however, when we see how this case fits with a point JM Berger has been at pains to meke recently. In Extremist Construction of Identity: How Escalating Demands for Legitimacy Shape and Define In-Group and Out-Group Dynamics, JM expresses his growing sense that extremism should be studied as a category unto itself — that we should not limit our studies to such brands as “Islamic extremism” or “Right Wing extremism”. He writes:

More broadly, this paper is a first step in developing and testing the hypothesis that extremist group radicalisation represents an identifiable process that can be understood as distinct from the contents of a movement’s ideology. That is not to say that the content of an ideology is meaningless or unimportant. Rather, this research seeks to explore whether universal processes of radicalisation provide a more useful window into why identity-based extremist movements form in the first place and how they evolve toward violence.

In the case of Devon Arthurs we have someone who doesn’t only espouse one extremism, but two, in rapid succession. And thus it is plausible to say that it is not Nazism, nor violent extremist Islam, that attracts him, but extremism as such.

Thinking through our ideas about narratives in radicalization and derad with Arthurs as our instance, raises all sorts of questions: what messaging if any do the Neo-Nazis and Jihadists have in common? What message allows someone to slip from one camp in to the other? And what messaging would be an effectove counterbalance not to one ideology or the other, but to the general propensity for extremism?

All in all, this kid makes for a fabulous case study in the ease with which our assumptions can deceive us.

**

Sources:

  • CBS News, Cops: Florida man kills neo-Nazi roommates over Islam disrespect
  • RawStory, FBI busts ‘Atomwaffen’ Neo-Nazi in Florida for making explosives
  • Addendum requested: McCants on Gesture

    Thursday, May 18th, 2017

    [ by Charles Cameron — vexed questions — to bow or not to bow, hold hands, smooch, that funny handshake, dance moves, veil ]
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    WIll McCants has lined up his “friendly advice for the poor speechwriter tasked with crafting Trump’s upcoming speech on Islam” in a Politico piece titled Trump Is Giving a Speech About Islam. What Could Go Wrong? The next word, opening McCants’ sub-head? Plenty.

    **

    Thing is, gestures speak loud as words. Here are some of the slippery issues McCants might like to address in terms of gesture.

    Bow:

    There’s the question of bowing. President Obama may or may not have bowed, or leaned over to give a double-handed handshake. It’s a founding principle that America doesn’t feel deferential to monarchy, and Obama reportedly didn’t bow to Queen Elizabeth when he met her..

    Here’s Bill O’Reilly:

    If it were me, I wouldn’t hold his hand, I wouldn’t smooch him, I wouldn’t bow, I’d say “Hey, how ya doin’, King..”

    Holding hands:

    George W Bush holds hands, Chris Matthews and Jon Stweart riff..

    Kiss-kiss, aka smooch:

    Wolf Blitzer has this one:

    Dancing with drawn sword:

    Whoda thunkit? This one is truly remarkable, from my Eurocentric perspective…

    That no less remarkable handshake:

    Veil:

    And then there’s one for the women in Trump’s entourage, Melania and Ivanka to be precise. To veil or not to veil?

    Here’s Michelle Obama:

    If there is humor in much of the above, it is the humor of contrast with expectation..

    **

    Salaam:

    Without getting into the details of who greets whom, who goes first and who responds, and in what words, all of which is proper for a Muslim to discuss, I can at least say that the Quran is deeply invested in courtesy of a kind that diplomats would file under “protocol” — as we see in Sura 4 verse 86:

    When a (courteous) greeting is offered you, meet it with a greeting still more courteous, or (at least) of equal courtesy. Allah takes careful account of all things.

    Hamas and the Case of the Missing Hadith

    Wednesday, May 3rd, 2017

    [ by Charles Cameron — by analogy with the curious incident of the dog in the night-time ]
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    From Sir Arthur Conan Doyle‘s story, Silver Blaze, in the Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes:

    Inspector Gregory: “The dog did nothing in the night-time.”

    Sherlock HHolmes: “That was the curious incident.”

    **

    There have been reports for some time that Hamas was preparing a revision of its original Charter, and now the Hamas Document of general Principles & Policies is with us:

    The full text is here.

    **

    ‘There’s commentary aplenty elsewhere —

  • Juan Cole, Hamas in new charter accepts 1967 borders for Palestinian state
  • Gatetone Institute, Hamas in new charter accepts 1967 borders for Palestinian state
  • Al-Monitor, What will Hamas charter change mean for Israel?
  • The Guardian, Hamas presents new charter accepting a Palestine based on 1967 borders
  • Middle East Eye, Hamas recognises PLO as ‘national framework’ for Palestinians
  • Al-Jazeera, Hamas accepts Palestinian state with 1967 borders
  • Brookings, Is Hamas re-branding to orient towards Egypt?
  • — I have just one point to make.. which I don’t believe any of thre above so much as mention..
    **

    The original 1988 Hamas Charter contains an explicitly apocalyptic hadith in Article Seven:

    the Islamic Resistance Movement aspires to the realisation of Allah’s promise, no matter how long that should take. The Prophet, Allah bless him and grant him salvation, has said:

    “The Day of Judgement will not come about until Moslems fight the Jews (killing the Jews), when the Jew will hide behind stones and trees. The stones and trees will say O Moslems, O Abdulla, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him. Only the Gharkad tree, (evidently a certain kind of tree) would not do that because it is one of the trees of the Jews.” (related by al-Bukhari and Moslem).

    That hadoth is no longer present in the new Document of General Principles & Policies.

    **

    The most extensive account of the gharqad tree I’ve seen is in Anne Marie Oliver & Paul Steinberg, The Road to Martyr’s Square..

    the bizarre tree called the Gharqad, traditionally believed to speak in oracles and said to grow in the graveyards of Mecca

    Their account is fascinating, well wporth reaing in full — see pp 19-24 at this link for convenience.

    **

    I amn uncertain whether Hamas has officially stated that the new Document of Principles replaces the original Charter, although that’s the impression one gathers from the rumors preceding its publication — but to the extent that it does, it is significant that the dog no longer barks, the Gharqad tree hadith no longer features in the new text.

    Significantly omitting the hadith, the new Document lacks the specifically apocalyptic, end times claim present in the Charter. The hadoth, of course, continues to exist — bin Laden was another who used to quote it –mbut at least in its central doctrinal document, Hamas seems to have shited from an explicitly apoca;lyptic Islamism to a more general position opposing the “Zionist entity”.

    To the extent that that’s a noteworthy shift, it’s at least a rhetorical de-escalation.

    **

    I look forward to any comments on this omission from Richard Landes, Will McCants, Jean-Pierre Filiu, Matthew Levitt, Aaron Zelin, Ibn Siqilli, Tim Furnish, Anne Marie Oliver, Paul Steinberg and others..

    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..

    Dawson & Amarasingam, Furnish & McCants

    Thursday, February 2nd, 2017

    [ by Charles Cameron — multi-causal and single focus motivations not incompatible ]
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    Tim Furnish offered a terse “File this under ‘duh.'” in response to a CNSNews report titled Study: Religion is ‘Primary Motivator’ of Foreign Jihadists Who Go to Iraq & Syria on Facebook today. In response to a comment, he elaborated: “I’ve done the same study about 37 times over the last 15 years.”

    Tim’s right. But I also believe we need a more nuanced approach to the issue of motivation.

    **

    Here’s the passage from the study in question, Lorne Dawson and Amarnath Amarasingam‘s Talking to Foreign Fighters: Insights into the Motivations for Hijrah to Syria and Iraq:

    The findings reported here converge with those of these other studies in terms of how people radicalize and become foreign fighters. However, they tend to diverge with regard to why they go. In the twenty interviews analyzed no one indicated, directly or indirectly, that forms of socioeconomic marginalization played a significant role in their motivation to become a foreign fighter. Moreover, the interactions with these individuals were so heavily mediated by religious discourse it seems implausible to suggest that religiosity (i.e., a sincere religious commitment, no matter how ill-informed or unorthodox) is not a primary motivator for their actions. Religion provides the dominant frame these foreign fighters use to interpret almost every aspect of their lives, and this reality should be given due interpretive weight.

    There we are:

    Religion provides the dominant frame these foreign fighters use to interpret almost every aspect of their lives

    I couldn’t agree more. But then again, as Will McCants reminds us in Trump’s misdiagnosis of the jihadist threat (late 2016, but now twitter-pinned “because the causality question comes up constantly”):

    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.

    **

    I’ve never been clear-headed enough to follow Aristotle‘s distinctions between material, formal, efficient, and final causes, let alone discussion of hypothetical causes that follow their effects, but it seems to me that the two statements above are easily reconciled if we understand that there are many causes for disgruntlement, to which a religious solution is in all cases present as disgruntlement turns to ISIS-sympathetic recruitment.

    Religion (as Dawson & Amarasingam have it, “i.e., a sincere religious commitment, no matter how ill-informed or unorthodox”) is the sine qua non of jihadism.

    **

    So yeah, doh! — with multi-factorial causality earlier in the process..


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