zenpundit.com » Aaron Zelin

Archive for the ‘Aaron Zelin’ Category

Black Banners in Sydney 2: on flags and their meanings

Monday, December 22nd, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron — the history and dwindling significance of a sign ]
.

two flags

**

In my previous post in this series, Black Banners in Sydney 1: a DoubleQuote in the Wild from Ardeet, I wrote:

The flag in the image from the Lindt cafe is not in fact the Daesh / Islamic State flag, and indeed the hostage-taker appears to have asked for a genuine Daesh / IS flag as one of his demands. The flag shown is a black flag containing the Shahada or Islamic profession of faith in white, and black flags in Islam have a history as war flags dating back to the time of the Prophet himself.

The banners are black, and there are implications.

**

First, the black banner was the Prophet’s flag, the raya.

The Islamic Imagery Project at West Point’s Combating Terrorism Center lists “Black Flag” under the heading “Warfare Motifs“, saying:

The Black Flag (al-raya) traces its roots to the very beginning of Islam. It was the battle (jihad) flag of the Prophet Muhammad, carried into battle by many of his companions, including his nephew ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib. The flag regained prominence in the 8th century with its use by the leader of the Abbasid revolution, Abu Muslim, who led a revolt against the Umayyad clan and its Caliphate. The Umayyads, the ruling establishment of the Islamic world at the time, were seen as greedy, gluttonous, and religiously wayward leaders. The Abbasid revolution, then, was aimed at installing a new, more properly Islamic ruling house that would keep orthodox Islam at the center of its regime. Since then, the image of the black flag has been used as a symbol of religious revolt and battle (i.e. jihad). In Shiite belief, the black flag also evokes expectations about the afterlife. In the contemporary Islamist movement, the black flag is used to symbolize both offensive jihad and the proponents of reestablishing the Islamic Caliphate.

The Abbasids flew black banners, and were therefore known as the musawwids, or “wearers of the black”.

**

There are ahadith, considered by the scholar David Cook and others to be Abbasid forgeries, which claim that black banners from the east are a sign of the Mahdi’s coming. One such hadith reads:

If you see the black flags coming from Khurasan, join that army, even if you have to crawl over ice, for this is the army of the Caliph, the Mahdi and no one can stop that army until it reaches Jerusalem.

In Understanding Jihad, Cook writes:

Since Afghanistan, as Khurasan, has powerful resonance with many Muslims because of the messianic expectations focused on that region, this gave the globalist radical Muslims associated with al-Qa’ida under the leadership of Bin Ladin additional moral authority to proclaim jihad and call for the purification of the present Muslim governments and elites.

And as I have said before, Cook notes in his Contemporary Muslim Apocalyptic Literature that bin Laden’s mentor, Abdullah Azzam, made fresh use of this line of messianic tradition and “popularized the position of Afghanistan as the messianic precursor to the future liberation of Palestine” in his book, From Kabul to Jerusalem, while bin Laden refers to finding “a safe base in Khurasan, high in the peaks of the Hindu Kush” in his 1996 Declaration of Jihad.

**

There are many variants on the black flag, some of them carrying the Shahada or proclamation of faith, some decorated with the Prophet’s seal, some identifying particular jihadist factions. And while AQ in particular has capitalized on the hadith for recruitment as Ali Soufan detailed in his book The Black Banners, the breakaway “caliphate” use of black banners has been so prominently reported in the media that what used to be termed “the Al-Qaida flag” is now often called “the ISIS” (or “Islamic State”) flag.

It is against that somewhat confused background that we must understand Man Haron Monis’ demand, once he realized that the black flag with Shahada he was forcing hostages to hold in the window of the Lindt café was not the “right” black flag, that he be brought an “Islamic State” black flag – presumably the one with the Prophet’s seal, which had in fact been known as the “Al-Qaeda flag” before Daesh / IS took it up.

I once asked the American jihadist Omar Hammami, late of Al-Shabaab – who used that same black flag with Shahada and Prophetic seal in Somalia – whether their choice of flag referred only to Muhammad’s banner, or to the “black banners of Khorasan” ahadith also? – to which he replied:

the raayah is something general in religion regardless of color, but obviously those hadiths influenced black choice

**

I have been harping on the “end times” and specifically Mahdist significance of black banners in the contemporary context for seven years now, and lamenting that so little mention is made of the black banners’ apocalyptic connotations.

For the Islamic State / Daesh, there is no need to question its apocalyptic significance – all five issues to date of their magazine Dabiq have focused on the great “end times” battle to be fought at Dabiq in Syria – a name to compare with Har Megiddo, where the battle of Armageddon will be fought in the equivalent Christian “end times” narrative.

But for some demented guy taking hostages in a café in Sydney?

**

It now appears to me that the “meme” of black flags simply meaning “jihadist” is now so wide-spread, that the apocalyptic resonances may no longer be intended when someone picks up such a flag – or photographs it in some new context —

— no more so than the sign of a Che Guevara poster in a college dorm betokens a serious adherent to Marxist revolution.

Black Banners in Sydney 1: a DoubleQuote in the Wild from Ardeet

Monday, December 22nd, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron — feeling kinship with the cartoonist who calls himself Ardeet ]
.

two images

**

As my regular readers know by now, I have a “form” I use for juxtaposing ideas — verbal, visual, and even mathematical on occasion — that I term DoubleQuotes, and I believe that juxtaposition, whether it be used to make a point of raise a question, is a standard feature of human thinking and a very powerful rhetorical device, yet little explored, critiqued, explained and appreciated.

In my view, when humans consistently use a certain way of doing things on many otherwise unrelated occasions, it’s a good bet that “sharpening” that way of doing things into a tool — making a point of it, if you like — will result in both practical and educational benefit.

Thus when I spot others using juxtapositions in a similar way, I call them DoubleQuotes in the Wild. They are an inspiration to me, confirming my hunch of the general utility and ongoing prevalence of the DQ principle.

**

Here, then, is a “DQ in the Wild” from cartoonist Ardeet:

Local situation

That’s powerful, the suggestion being that the world press takes an event where there’s a suggestion of possible jihadist involvement (“terrorism”) a lot more seriously than one where that is not the case (“spree killing”). While the hostage situation was playing out in Sydney, for instance, a US vet killed “his ex-wife and five of her relatives” in Pennsylvania, drawing far less media interest.

**

I could see how Ardeet’s cartoon could be read in that sense, but I wasn’t sure how he intended it, having been exposed recently to dozens of images of hands raised as a sign of the Ferguson protests.

A somwhat different pairing therefore suggested itself to me, one with a different emphasis:

SPEC DQ hands & banner

Here the point is not that an event moves from local to global interest when the jihadist’s black banner appears, but that the hostage-taking in Sydney offers a curious and ironic (albeit unintended) take on one of the chief symbols of the protests in and about Ferguson, while the Ferguson protest gesture adds resonance to the image of hostages forced to hold up the black banner in Sydney.

**

I have been talking about the “black banners from Khorasan” hadith an its Mahdist implications online since 2007 if not earlier, and on Zenpundit since September 2009, and I think a clarification is in order at this point.

The flag in the image from the Lindt cafe is not in fact the Daesh / Islamic State flag, and indeed the hostage-taker appears to have asked for a genuine Daesh / IS flag as one of his demands. The flag shown is a black flag containing the Shahada or Islamic profession of faith in white, and black flags in Islam have a history as war flags dating back to the time of the Prophet himself.

Two tweets from Aaron Zelin will clarify the matter visually:

**

More on this in Black Banners in Sydney 2: on flags and their meanings.

Myanmar between Woolwich and Al-Aqsa 2: graphical innovation

Wednesday, October 23rd, 2013

[ by Charles Cameron — in which jihadis utilize the graphical technique known as kinetic typography for what may be the first time — follow on to part 1: interfaith hatred ]
.

**

Today the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point notified their mailing list of the launch of their Militant Imagery Project online. It’s a very helpful resource, covering much of the same issues as Artur Beifuss & Francesco Trivini Bellini, Branding Terror: The Logotypes and Iconography of Insurgent Groups and Terrorist Organizations and Asiem El Difraoui, The Jihad of Images — which I discussed briefly in Jottings 7: Two for the iconography of terror a while back.

The CTC explains:

The use of propaganda and imagery by terrorist groups has long been an understudied dimension of the broader field of political violence. This project explores the use of imagery and visual themes by militant groups, focusing largely on jihadist media production. Jihadist organizations and individuals inspired by their message are prolific producers and distributors of visual propaganda, and their efforts have expanded exponentially online. However, these images frequently utilize themes which can be inscrutable to those not familiar with the sub-culture. It is our hope that this project will provide academics, practitioners, and students with a basic contextual understanding of the ideas these images convey before they turn to the larger questions of why they are employed, how they work, and what responses they may elicit.

It is in that spirit that I would point you to the following three screengrabs from the Al-Shabaab video I discussed in my previous post…

**

Imagine the images tilting and changing, as the words spoken on the soundtrack are gradually spelled out typographically on screen in this sequence:

Jihad was now global. Jihad in the West — Madrid — London — Paris — Boston — Jihad was now coming home to the West, And it was making a dramatic entrance… WOOLWICH ATTACK

Here are the screengrabs:

**

These three screengrabs illustrate what may well be the first use of the technology called “kinetic typography” or more simply “moving text” in jihadist propaganda. Somali news outlet Harar24‘s Editorials team claim it’s a first, writing:

It is not unusual for jihadi videos to be laden with high graphics and effects. However Al-Shabaab this time used a never technique never adopted before in any jihadi videos, kinetic typography.

The best way to investigate kinetic typography in depth is via Marco Papale‘s video site, the Kinetic typography Channel on Vimeo.

**

I don’t intend to embed the Shabaab piece itself, but here for your further illumination is the Grandmaster Flash sample rom which the screengrab at the top of this post was taken, in full:

That’s kinetic typography!

Myanmar between Woolwich and Al-Aqsa 1: interfaith hatred

Wednesday, October 23rd, 2013

[ by Charles Cameron — in which jihadis take on Jews, Christians, Muslims and Buddhists, quite an interfaith haul for hatred ]
.

Aaron Zelin at Jihadology posted an hour-long video entitled Woolwich Attack a week or so ago, and I found it particularly interesting on two accounts: first, that it makes a multi-faith attack that includes Buddhism in its catalogue of enemies of Islam, and second, that it uses an innovative feature of modern digital typography. Here, I’ll concentrate on the first. Here’s the video’s title:

**

Christianity as a target is well represented in the form of Dr Justin Welby, the recently-appointed Archbishop of Canterbury:

Notice also the lower of these two screengrabs, this one showing Ayman al-Zawahiri (left) berating a leading Muslim spokesman in the UK, Ibrahim Mogra of the Muslim Council of Britain (right), for speaking at the same event as the Archbishop. The damning subtitle suggests he’s one of those “who issue Fatwas according to the school of thought of the head of the Church of England”.

**

It wasn’t the attack on Christians or fellow Muslims that caught my eye, though, but the unexpected presence of the monk Wirathu, the rhetorical leader of Myanmar’s recent Buddhist rioting against Burmese Muslims. I’d seen his face on Time magazine and elsewhere, but it came as a bit of a shock here in a jihadist video — I’d filed him and his 969 movement under “Buddhism” rather than “Islam” in my mental listing of violent movements with religious underpinnings.

Ugly, ugly.

**

Finally, no invitation to jihad these days is complete without its mention of the al-Aqsa mosque and Jerusalem — and it is here that Judaism comes in for attack. Consider these two screengrabs:

**

The video closes, significantly, with a long shot of the Dome of the Rock through a window…

Yesterday my friend William Benzon made a post titled On Describing a Painting which began:

Harvard art historian Jennifer Roberts bills her article thus: The Power of Patience: Teaching students the value of deceleration and immersive attention. OK. But I take a different lesson from it, one about one of my current hobby horses: description. Roberts focuses on an 18th Century painting by John Singleton Copley, A Boy with a Flying Squirrel. Her point is that the more you look at the painting, the more you notice and hence the more you can note in a written description. She asks her students to spend a full three hours with a single painting.

Of her own experience with that painting she observes:

It took me nine minutes to notice that the shape of the boy’s ear precisely echoes that of the ruff along the squirrel’s belly—and that Copley was making some kind of connection between the animal and the human body and the sensory capacities of each. It was 21 minutes before I registered the fact that the fingers holding the chain exactly span the diameter of the water glass beneath them. It took a good 45 minutes before I realized that the seemingly random folds and wrinkles in the background curtain are actually perfect copies of the shapes of the boy’s ear and eye, as if Copley had imagined those sensory organs distributing or imprinting themselves on the surface behind him. And so on.

She begins her next paragraph: “What this exercise shows students is that just because you have looked at something doesn’t mean that you have seen it.”

Looking at that final screengrab with this in mind, I see a close correlation between the golden Dome that focuses our attention on the Noble Sanctuary / Temple Mount, and the round, yellow-gold keffiyeh of the jihadist observing it through his window — “making some kind of connection between” them, to echo the words of Harvard’s Elizabeth Cary Agassiz Professor of the Humanities…

It’s a skilled and meaning-filled use of the medium.

**

In my second post in this series, I’ll point to a significant development in graphics and technology introduced in this video.

One person’s this is another person’s that

Saturday, October 12th, 2013

[ by Charles Cameronunder the same black flag ]
.

In this case, one neighborhood’s supplier of food relief (upper panel)…

is another soldier’s execution squad (lower panel).

Food for a Sunni neighborhood, in other words, death for the Alawite soldier.

**

Both images from Aaron Zelin‘s 46 Scenes From The Islamic State In Syria on BuzzFeed today — recommended.


Switch to our mobile site