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Gladwell on Waco and worldviews

Monday, April 21st, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- in hope that improved mutual understanding across a range of conflict situations will provide some viable alternatives to needlessly violent solutions ]
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Malcolm Gladwell wrote an article published in the New Yorker at the end of last month titled How not to negotiate with believers.

It’s on a topic I’ve been interested in for years, and it quotes several scholars whose work on the topic I know, whose books I read, in whose digital company I sometimes find myself as a researcher of new religious movements, apocalypticism and so on — and I’m happy to say that IMO Gladwell frames and summarizes the key issues very nicely.

You can read the whole piece on the New Yorker site, and I encourage you to do so. What I aim to do here is to extract the essence, and to suggest that similar considerations apply in greater or lesser measure to interactions with jihadists, members of the 969 movement in Myanmar, and others in one orm or another of religious conflict.

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Here’s the key graf:

Not long after the Waco siege began, James Tabor, the Biblical scholar, heard David Koresh on CNN talking about the Seven Seals. Tabor is an expert on Biblical apocalypticism and recognized the Branch Davidians for what they were—a community immersed in the world of the Old Testament prophets. He contacted a fellow religious scholar, Phillip Arnold, and together they went to the F.B.I. “It became clear to me that neither the officials in charge nor the media who were sensationally reporting the sexual escapades of David Koresh had a clue about the biblical world which this group inhabited,” Tabor writes, in an essay about his role in the Mount Carmel conflict. “I realized that in order to deal with David Koresh, and to have any chance for a peaceful resolution of the Waco situation, one would have to understand and make use of these biblical texts.”

Know your enemy, yes?

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There’s a particular exchange that Gladwell notes, between Koresh and law enforcement, which addresses the issue in terms of competing realities:

Even at the beginning of the siege, in the first call that Koresh made after the A.T.F. attack, the fundamental misunderstanding between those inside and those outside Mount Carmel was plain. Koresh telephoned Larry Lynch, in the local sheriff’s office, and — while the battle outside raged — insisted on talking about the Seven Seals:

KORESH: In the prophecies -—
LYNCH: All right.
KORESH: it says -—
LYNCH: Let me, can I interrupt you for a minute?
KORESH: Sure.
LYNCH: All right, we can talk theology. But right now -—

What Lynch means is that right now there are dead and wounded bodies scattered across the Mount Carmel property and a gunfight is going on between federal agents and Koresh’s followers. For those who don’t take the Bible seriously, talking about Scripture when there is a battle going on seems like an evasion. For those who do, however, it makes perfect sense:

KORESH: No, this is life. This is life and death!
LYNCH: Okay.
KORESH: Theology -—
LYNCH: That’s what I’m talking about.
KORESH: is life and death.

Let me repeat that Gladwell comment:

For those who don’t take the Bible seriously, talking about Scripture when there is a battle going on seems like an evasion. For those who do, however, it makes perfect sense.

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To Koresh and those he spoke for, his emphasis, his sense of where the “real” reality lay made perfect sense — while the FBI dismissed his words as “Bible babble” since they held a substantially diferent view of reality.

If religion continues to be a major element in terrorism and perhaps other forms of conflict in what remains of this century, we would do well to learn the importance of listening to and addressing the worldview of our interlocutors.

And that goes for the Koreshes and other dissenters of the world, as well as to those who hold “the usual suspects assumptions”.

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Further reading:

  • James Tabor and Eugene Gallagher, Why Waco?
  • Jayne Seminaire Docherty, Learning lessons from Waco

  • For an Al-Qaida equivalent, see my post Close reading, Synoptic- and Sembl-style.

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    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.

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    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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    200 lashes for a Saudi rape victim???

    Sunday, September 29th, 2013

    [ by Charles Cameron -- how a half-baked, re-raked tale from 2007, now showing on my local Facebook, gets things all wrong ]
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    Let’s set the record straight.

    It seems that Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times did the amplification in this case. He tweeted, and Mia Farrow retweeted him, so we know what he said:

    I can’t find Kristof’s original tweet, I guess he’s deleted it. About the same time Mia Farrow was RTing it, though, and thus saving it for the record, he tweeted:

    And if you go to JM Hall‘s twitter stream, you’ll see that he was schooling Kristof on this one, and pointed him to an NYT piece from 2007. Funny, that — being an NYT piece and all…

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    Anyway, the word got out on Facebook and went at least a little viral. And that’s sad. Because while the story does illustrate the state of jurisprudence in Saudi in 2007, the raped girl never actually received those 200 lashes — she was personally pardoned by the King.

    Which should be a reason for rejoicing, not condemnation.

    But here’s how it was presented on my FB page —

    That does somewhat encourage the reader to think she did in fact receive those lashes, doesn’t it?

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    I understand, Nick Kristof tweeted it — and he’s the good guy who helps a whole heap of socially beneficial causes around the world that deserve all the support and encouragement he can bring them. I’m not disputing that, in fact I’ll gladly stipulate it.

    But the story was wrong, and wrong in a damaging way. And forwarding or endorsing this sort of thing makes me very sad. Let me explain why.

    The Examiner.com is an outfits that “operates a network of local news websites, allowing ‘pro–am contributors’” — nothing wrong with that, you just need to be careful when you read them, in other words.

    The Examiner article in question quotes the Clarion Project, calling it “the women’s rights-centered news portal” when it’s far better known as the source of a whole lot of anti-Islamic propaganda — the Muslim organization CAIR lists Clarion among the “Islamophobia Network’s inner core” groups, while Clarion views CAIR with similar distaste. Okay, maybe they cancel each other out, let’s stipulate that, too.

    But the article then states that the Clarion piece was posted “on Sept. 22, 2013″ — whereas if you click through, you’ll find it’s actually dated Thu, November 15, 2007 — it’s 5 going on 6 years old. So why drag it up again now?

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    Retired US diplomat John Burgess who blogs about Saudi Arabia quotes to us, in a blog post from December 2007 and titled ‘Qatif Girl’ Receives Saudi Royal Pardon, an article from Agence France Presse in Riyadh, also dated December 2007, which can tells us what actually happened — how this unhappy story ended:

    RIYADH (AFP) — Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah has pardoned a teenage girl sentenced to six months in jail and 200 lashes after being gang raped, Al Jazirah newspaper reported on Monday.

    The ruling against the 19-year-old girl in the ultra-conservative Muslim kingdom had attracted widespread international condemnation, including from human rights groups and the White House.

    The Arabic language daily said it had been informed of the royal pardon from its own, unidentified, sources.
    But in the same article, the kingdom’s Justice Minister Abdullah bin Mohammad bin Ibrahim Al Shaikh told the paper the king had the “right to overrule court judgements if he considered it benefiting the greater good.”
    The minister added that the king, who is viewed by many as a cautious reformer, was concerned with “the needs of the people and the court judgments that are made against them.”

    Got that? Pardoned. By the King. Who is viewed as a cautious reformer.

    I hope Kristof and Farrow have let their friends know…

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    So the Examiner writer whose work Kristof and others are quoting has:

  • picked up a nasty story from Saudia Arabia almost six years ago,
  • that actually didn’t end in a girl being given 200 lashes for being raped
  • but resulted in the King personally pardoning her,
  • thus moving Saudi jurisprudence in a very welcome new direction
  • — and posted it without any of the redeeming parts, with attribution to a group that’s not exactly friendly to the House of Saud, and getting the date wrong by almost six years in the process… And then well-meaning, generous people — Nick Kristoff and some of my friends among them — circulate this ugly and incomplete story, without first checking to see what truth there is to it.

    I quoted a source without checking its veracity only the other day [1, 2, 3], so I’m in no position to go around blaming people who don’t check their sources. But seeing this particular story of the 200 lashes go viral makes me sad — because repeating it only stirs up righteous anger, disgust and hatred.

    Rape is terrible. A penal code that sentences people to 200 lashes is way, way beyond my sense of justice. But I don’t believe stirring up hatred between nations or against religions is the path we want to choose…

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    Some poems, Madhu

    Saturday, September 28th, 2013

    [ by Charles Cameron -- some of my own poems, some of my own theology, and a damn fine French police procedural on Netflix ]
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    Engrenages / Sprial, season 4 episode 9

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    Madhu, a wonderful friend of this blog, encouraged me some while back to post some of my poems here. I don’t do it often, and I hope you will at least tolerate it when I do.

    This one, for instance:

    The rolling dice
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    That there is a murder to be committed, this the god knows, that the car
    travelling through the woods contains victim and victor paired like dice strung
    on a rear-view mirror, this the god knows, but it is the tops of trees
    the god attends to, oblivious of the car which moves on its inerrant way
    between them, the topmost branches it she or he observes, the upper
    and as the car is first heard approaching, middle, and as it rolls into view
    in left field, lower branches, the car now drawing his attention, riddle
    of the two men still obscured by deflecting windows, roof doors tyres and

    the leaves, the fallen, as though the two men from their high estate had fallen
    to this, to the ground, among leaves which become mulch, the one sooner
    and the other later, man become mulch as the god had become man, a
    seasoning, of the ground, fall, a leavening of the earth, spring, in that primal
    and primordial turning of planets and years on which between tree top
    and mulch, between before and when with no after, two men’s dice are rolled.

    **

    As you know, I’m interested in the workings of the imagination, and find much of its power concentrated in the specific theologies and rituals of the world’s religions. My poems, accordingly, allow me to explore themes at the intersection of human behavior in all its light and shade, with the divine, in all its brilliant clarity, depth of heart, and, well, ineffableness, inscrutablemness, indescribability.

    Indescribable? The word the Athanasian Creed uses is Incomprehensible:

    As also there are not Three Uncreated, nor Three Incomprehensibles, but One Uncreated, and One Uncomprehensible.

    You see, for my purposes the word god refers precisely to a greater unknown that nevertheless permeates and can inspire us — and simply saying that indescribable is omnipresent, omniscient and omnipotent gives us very little understanding. Inspiration and revelation are, for me, poetic openings on what cannot in any definitional sense be known, but from which our lives can glean radiance, love, clarity, courage.

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    In my attempt to glean some of that harvest for myself, and to spread some of what I glean around in words, I have found myself writing a long, continuing series of poems that take their central motif from films. If god, or whatever name you might use to point to that Incomprehensible — that medium “in which we live and move and have our being” — if that is indeed conscious of all that is, I’m inclined to wonder how it (he, she, other, all or none of the above) perceives, in a way that makes sense to me.

    And the “seeing” that most extends my own outward perception of the world is the seeing done by cameras and brought to me by movies. So I give “god” in this series of poems all the zooms, overhead shots, close-ups, jump cuts, helicopter rides, narrative thrust, slomo, freezeframe and other tricks that film is capable of… to get a human glimpse of an omni-director who might even, like Hitchcock and Renoir, choose to make a cameo appearance in his (her its or other) own film.

    And what films do I use? The one’s I’m watching between fatigue and sleep, for late-night entertainment — usually thrillers, and on Netflix. The poem above and the two which follow were written this last week, triggered by an episode of Engrenages, a French policier [trailer here] which shows in the UK under the title Spiral, and which has been called “France’s answer to The Wire” in this Guardian write-up from an early season: Meet Spiral’s feminist anti-hero.

    I like it very much — but have to put it on pause from time to time, when a poem comes on through.

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    Okay, here are the other two poems from the set of three, drawn from my viewing of Engrenages, season 4 episode 9:

    Still rolling
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    The spade wasn’t used, wasn’t needed, wasn’t necessary, the dice rolled,
    no murder was committed, did the god know this, no, that the car
    traveling through these trees would roll back the two men out of the woods
    and into some new relation, clearer for being less fearful, though
    he wild with hope and he sweating with regret might yet change course
    as the god already knew or might know or might not if there be such
    a they it she or he know, passionate impassive or nonexistent, or might
    mightily decide — but the dice had rolled, the car parts the trees, departs

    the woods, burial and the eventual arising of young two leafed tree sprouts
    will continue though the car has left to right of view, and still, moved,
    the god sees, observes, reflects, and builds, in his own extended image,
    narratives of birth and eventful or eventless lives and meaningless or
    on some perhaps many occasions meaningful deaths, and — who knows,
    perhaps the god if any, rebirths after eventful nonevents, and thus onwards.

    and this one:

    Stopt
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    And then again the car, in the woods, its doors wide open like wings,
    surely the god would lift the car above treetops, clouds, into some other,
    some blue, some empyrean, yonder, where murder would no longer
    be needed, necessary, where no dice would roll but puffballs,
    tossed clouds. hither and yon without pattern or purpose, repeating
    yet that eternal pattern, that this car so still might forever roll,
    this breath so quiet might breathe, life under the trees and under these
    stars continue, continue, one death less than the god expected, the

    car wings watching to carry the spirit windward, deprived of the death,
    the murder uncommitted is no murder but if it be committed, even
    here late in the day in the woods, in this word, committed, then
    there is murder under the high trees a few paces from the sad car, the
    corpse carrier, the fortuneless car carriage, and a man who stood
    upright yet walked crooked perhaps is fallen, flat, dead and truly buried.

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    Caroline Proust as police captain Laure Berthaud, in Engrenages

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    Please feel free to comment on any or all of this: the ideas about a greater-than-human perception, poetry, cinema, Engrenages, these particular poems…

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