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Turning analytic bifocals on the Islamic State’s Irregulars

Tuesday, December 30th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron — IS / Daesh focus is not on the question of derangement but of repentance – Dabiq #6, Aquinas, adaequatio ]
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Lindt police
Lindt cafe worker escapes Man Haron Monis hostage situation, Sydney – credit Jason Reed, Reuters

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It’s interesting to compare how we think about those like Man Haron Monis on the cusp between derangement, criminality, terrorism and jihad, and how IS views them.

JM Berger remarks of those he classifies as The Islamic State’s Irregulars:

in a number of these cases, it’s unclear whether the attacks were inspired by the Islamic State and its extremist ideology, or whether IS provided a convenient excuse for violence that was already brewing in the hearts of the perpetrators.

while his subtitle asks:

What should we do with lone-wolf attackers who are mentally unstable or deranged? Are they terrorists, too?

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Berger, among our most discerning analysts and co-author with Jessica Stern of the keenly awaited book, ISIS: The State of Terror, describes Monis as:

a Shiite Muslim born in Iran who had emigrated to Australia. He had been charged in 2013 as an accessory to murder and faced dozens of sexual assault charges related to his “spiritual healing” practice. His own lawyer described him as “unhinged.”

Clearly, the waves of influence running amok in Monis’ head are nowhere near as simply as our routine categorizations – that he was IS, or simply a terrorist, a mental case, a criminal, a murderer perhaps – would like to suggest. Our best inquiry is into his mental state, his psychological “drivers” – how we can understand him, with easy categorization the sound-bite version providing closure.

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The Islamic State views him differently. As described in the sixth issue of their magazine, Dabiq, he is clearly a religious hero, specifically a martyr:

It didn’t take much; he got hold of a gun and stormed a café taking everyone inside hostage. Yet in doing so, he prompted mass panic, brought terror to the entire nation, and triggered an evacuation of parts of Sydney’s central business district. The blessings in his efforts were apparent from the very outset.

Dabiq then paints western media diagnoses made against him as slurs:

Then, as the situation developed and his identity was revealed, we saw a predictable response from the international media. They immediately began searching for anything negative that they could use against him, and subsequently began reporting numerous allegations made against him in an attempt to smear his character and, by extension, the noble cause that he was fighting for – the cause of Allah (ta’?l?).

And then something interesting occurs. Dabiq, half-admitting the accuracy of some of those slurs, defends him not by denying their accuracy but by framing them in the context of repentance and divine mercy:

The fact is, however, that any allegations leveled against a person concerning their past are irrelevant as long as they hope for Allah’s mercy and sincerely repent from any previous misguidance.

This is so with one who embraces Islam and thereby has his past history of shirk and transgression completely erased – as was even the case with many Sahabah. So how much more so in the case of one who followed up his repentance by fighting and being killed in the path of Allah, knowing the Prophet (sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) declared that such a person would be forgiven the moment his blood is first spilled.

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“He was deranged, violent, driven, and IS became the hook on which he hanged himself” – or “His sacrificial death absolved him from all flaws and sins”. The contrast is instructive.

It seems best for us to to wear secular / sacred bifocals in our analyses. But how does the analyst gain that faculty which EF schumacher, Thomas Aquinas and Augustine call adaequatio rei et intellectus

according to which to each plane of reality there corresponds an instrument of knowledge adequate to the task of knowing that particular level of reality

??

Phineas Priesthood I: Larry McQuilliams

Thursday, December 4th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron — I call these events where an ancient scripture provides sanction for contmporary brutality Landmines in the Garden — I could write a book about’em ]
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Larry McQuilliams KSN file photo
Larry McQuilliams. Photo credit: KSN file photo

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Here’s the main story, as reported by AP on the first of this month:

A Texas man who shot up downtown Austin buildings and tried to the burn the Mexican Consulate before he was gunned down by police harbored extremist right-wing views and appeared to be planning a broader attack against churches and government facilities, law enforcement officials said Monday.

Larry McQuilliams had multiple weapons, hundreds of rounds of ammunition, a water supply and a map of 34 downtown buildings that likely were potential targets in his pre-dawn rampage the day after Thanksgiving, Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo said.

McQuilliams, 49, started his attack on the consulate building and a federal courthouse. He was killed with by a single shot to the chest from a police officer as he shot at police headquarters, Acevedo said. McQuilliams fired about 200 rounds, but no one else was killed or injured.

“The one mistake he made was he came to the Austin police station and we were able to take him out pretty quickly,” Acevedo said, describing McQuilliams, a convicted felon, as a “homegrown, American extremist” and “terrorist.”

McQuilliams’ had rented a van that was parked outside the police station and was loaded with ammunition and propone fuel canisters typically used for camping. McQuilliams tried to use fireworks with the canisters to make crude but ineffective bombs and used some at the Mexican Consulate, causing a fire that was quickly extinguished.

Here’s the part that interests me today:

Also in the van was a copy of “Vigilantes of Christendom,” a 1990 book associated with the Christian Identity movement known as the Phineas Priesthood, which espouses anti-Semitic and racist views. Inside the book was a handwritten note that referred to McQuilliams as a “priest in the fight against anti-God people,” Acevedo said.

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I have been researching and monitoring the Phineas Priesthood concept for some time now, and have had a major post (or more likely, series) on the topic three-quarters written for a year or so.

It’s a delicate tale to tell, since its origins lie in Jewish scriptures; it features in the celebration of Hanukkah; is found in Christian writers from Origen to Milton; is referenced, as I hope to show, obliquely by Brigham Young; and has been involved in such infamous assassinations as that of Israeli PM Yitzak Rabin and US Civil Reights leader Medgar Evers. It ties in neatly with Louis Beam‘s idea of leaderless resistance. And even Anwar al-Awlaqi can be seen to propose an Islamic variant on the theme.

In follow up posts in this series, I hope to address the Phineas narrative in the Jewish scriptures, in Christian writings, and in terms of the more recent events I mentioned. Since I shall be discussing how the tale of Phineas / Pinchas / Phinehas has been used as offering divine scriptural sanction for acts of religiously-motivated killing, I shall chiefly focus on the negative implications of the tale — it’s use as a buried “landmine” –and since it extends across three millennia, I shall be hard-pressed to catch all of the uses of the tale which might be relevant to my purpose.

Accordingly, I’d like to invite my friends in the Jewish and Christian scholarly communities, in particular, to assist me in the comments section by suggesting alternative ways of reading a story which in its most literal interpretation has been the cause of untimely and hateful deaths.

On distinguishing between radicalism and activism in words

Saturday, November 29th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron — with an assist from the young Isaac Newton ]
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This is one of those micro-events that crop up if you frequently read from diverse sources, haphazardly piling one thing atop another:

SPEC DQ burne house or church

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Here’s what I’m thinking. Taken at face value these two statements seem pretty similar: tidy up the archaic spellings in the first, the contemporary ellipsis in the second, and tweet them — you’d have the same basic threat in each case:

I’ll burn you guys and the roof over your heads.

The problem here is fundamental to our times and to the way we handle potential recruits to, and returning fighters from, IS / Daesh

how can you tell the merely radical sounding from those who will in fact put their radical ideas into violent practice?

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Verbal threats can easily indicate one state of affairs or the other. Consider these facts:

  • Whoever it was that made the threat in the lower panel over the phone to Pastor Carlton Lee of Flood Christian Church in Feruson, someone indeed made good on the church part, setting the cinder block structure ablaze and burning it to the ground on Monday.

  • Whoever it was who threatened to burn his parents’ home over their heads and them with it in the upper panel seems not to have done so, but went on to discover the law of gravitational attraction, write the Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica, co-discover the calculus, and hold the presidency of the Royal Society before dying at the over-ripe old age of 84.
  • **

    Newton.

    624px-Newton-WilliamBlake

    Sir Isaac, I mean, Newton. That second quote came from Sir Isaac Newton, alchemist extraordinaire, listing his youthful sins — Newton who, by the way, calculated that the beginning of the reign of Christ would not occur before 2060, writing:

    And the days of short lived Beasts being put for the years of lived [sic] kingdoms, the period of 1260 days, if dated from the complete conquest of the three kings A.C. 800, will end A.C. 2060. It may end later, but I see no reason for its ending sooner. This I mention not to assert when the time of the end shall be, but to put a stop to the rash conjectures of fancifull men who are frequently predicting the time of the end, & by doing so bring the sacred prophesies into discredit as often as their predictions fail. Christ comes as a thief in the night, & it is not for us to know the times & seasons wch God hath put into his own breast.

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    So — would you lock up the young Newton and throw away the key? Or track down whoever phoned that threat to the pastor in Ferguson? I wouldn’t send them to Cambridge and expect too much of them ..

    Words can certainly be inflammatory — in some cases they result in flames..

    Narco-cartels as MBAs Doing 4GW

    Tuesday, January 7th, 2014

    [by Mark Safranski, a.k.a. “zen“]

     

    Yale organizational behaviorist Rodrigo Canales has an interesting talk on the Narco-insurgency in Mexico ( which he correctly sees as having been as lethal as Syria’s civil war). While this won’t be news to close students of Mexico’s cartel wars, Canales explains how Los Zeta, La Familia, Knights Templar and Sinaloa cartel violence is neither random nor strictly criminal on criminal  violence but is used as part of organizational strategies to create distinctive “franchise brands”, amplify political messaging,  reinforce effects of social service investment in the communities they control and maximize market efficiency of narcotics sales and other contraband. COIN, 4GW and irregular warfare folks will all see familiar elements in Canales management theory driven perspective.

    A useful short tutorial considering the cartels are operating inside the United States and their hyper-violent tactics are eventually going to follow.

    Gestures

    Monday, December 9th, 2013

    [ by Charles Cameron — I got caught in a cascade of images, swept away — and then, Mao ]
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    This gesture seems to me to have the quality of a caress…

    in which case a caress in Kyiv is not so different from piano music in that same city…

    or, as it might be, cello music in Sarajevo…

    or for that matter, simply standing motionless in Tienanmen Square…

    or planting flowers in Washington, DC…

    Caresses, music, stillness, flowers… there’s a kinship there.

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    But then again, maybe these gestures are too idealistic for the realist’s “real world” — and to quote Chairman Mao in refutation of that last image:

    Every Communist must grasp the truth, “Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.”

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    I keep coming back to that first image — stunning!

    The thing about it — to my eye — the humanity is clearly visible on both sides…


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