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Now, about taklif, and about parawar?

Tuesday, October 15th, 2013

[ by Charles Cameron -- two learnings about Hezbollah, in process and with one question each ]
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The trouble with this internet thing is that it offers nonstop opportunities for learning.

I hope my readers here at Zenpundit know by now that I’m an amateur (a lover) of the topics that I write about, learning as I go. I have long thought fard ‘ayn or individual obligation was the key phrase in religious recruitment to the jihad, conveying as it does divine sanction for the deeds properly committed under that license. I believe I first encountered the phrase in the context of Muhammad Abd al-Salam Faraj and his book, The Neglected Duty. It’s my (strictly amateur) hunch that the neglected (pun intended) Faraj should be the object of as much of our study as the far better known Sayyid Qutb.

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Just yesterday Phillip Smyth posted an extended piece on the Brown Moses blog, Hizballah Executing Syrian Prisoners? – Analyzing the Video, which in turn introduced me to the concept of taklif al-sharii. The key paras read:

In a June USA Today article which covered Hizballah’s involvement in Syria, a Hizballah fighter noted, “Everyone who is sent to fight in Syria has received a ‘Taklif Sharii’”. USA Today added the taklif sharii is “a religious command that means he will go to heaven if killed.” Nevertheless, the taklif sharii is more than just a religious edict which guarantees a martyred fighter’s spot in heavenly paradise. It is a religious obligation put forth by a cleric and must be followed. In fact, it is a form of religious ruling which underpins the Khomeinist ideology guiding Iran, Hizballah, and all of the main Iraqi Shia organizations sending militiamen to Syria.

Augustus Richard Norton noted that Hizballah’s adherence to taklif sharii is a theological legal ruling, “as though commanded by Allah”. According to Mohammed Sherri, an Al-Manar (Hizballah’s official TV channel) commentator, “once a taklif is issued, violating it is similar to any sin, like murder or adultery, or not praying or fasting.” In traditional Shi’ism, the taklif sharii was rarely issued and normally did not deal with political issues. The concept was actually revived as an important Shia idea by the father of Iran’s Revolution, Grand Ayatollah Khomeini and as an important support for his form of clerical rule, Wilayat al-Faqih (in Persian it’s known as Velayat e-Faqih). In effect, the issuing of a taklif sharii by a high ranking Shia cleric, in this case Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei—The “Spiritual leader” of Hizballah and the other Iraqi Shia groups, is a direct order coming from Allah.

So — here are my amateur — still learning — questions: does taklif sharii serve the same function among Shia jihadists as fard ‘ayn does among Sunnis? Are both terms used in both communities? The parallel between the two terms, and the differences between the kinds of authorities who control Sunni and Shiite discourses in matters such as these, would make for an interesting exploration I think.

Okay, that’s the “About taklif” section of this post.

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As you might imagine, though, Smyth’s post set me reading Augustus Richard Norton‘s piece, and there I discovered another interesting snippet, on another topic entirely:

From the Israeli withdrawal of May 2000 until the eruption of war in July 2006, there was aggressive patrolling, heated rhetoric and periodic episodes of violence by both sides. Most of the armed attacks were in the disputed Shebaa farms. By historical standards, however, this was a relatively quiet period. In general, clashes respected “rules of the game”, which had been codified in writing in 1996 and specified that Israel would not attack civilians in Lebanon and Hezbollah would not attack Israel. As Daniel Sobelman notes, the rules were so well established that officials were sometimes quoted as saying that such and such skirmish was ‘‘within the rules’’.

The Sobelman reference points us to:

Sobelman, D. New Rules of the Game: Israel and Hizballah after the Withdrawal from Lebanon. Tel Aviv: Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies, Tel Aviv University, 2004, pp. 67–82.

Okay, here’s second my question, the one about “parawar”. What’s the Clausewitzian term for something of this kind, far beyond politics, “within the rules” yet still not quite war — parawar? The duel comes to mind, too.

So: is there a word for such things?

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It’s been a while since anyone last used a nuclear bomb, right?

Monday, September 9th, 2013

[ by Charles Cameron -- keeping you in the "loopy" loop ]
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There’s more ridiculous sloshing around on the web than I can hope to monitor, but my personal collection hit a couple of high points recently that I thought I should share with you. Did you know, for instance, that Israel recently exploded a nuclear bomb in Syria? How could you consider yourself informed, and be unaware of such a thing? It was on YouTube…

But pshaw, that’s secular nonsense, and as you know, my tastes run to the religious. So did you know the emeritus Pope Benedict had a demonic advisor by his side while he was making a major speech?

That sure as hell beats out the namby-pamby 10 Weirdest Fundamentalist Christian Conspiracy Theories an Alternet writer came up with, eh?

In any case, please watch both the above videos: I trust you will then realize that the world is in far worse shape than you thought it was before reading this post.

After all, it’s on YouTube.

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How about this?

Hang on a moment, Sayyida Zaynab is the shrine dear to Shiites that Kata’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada is defending, as this graphic suggests:

And last but not least, consider this, from a US Senator:

Coincidence!?!? — or just a clumsy creative leap?

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NB: Updated to replace “Hezbollah” with “Kata’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada” above — h/t Phillip Smyth.

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AQ Conference Call, 2: what a difference a week makes

Thursday, August 15th, 2013

[ by Charles Cameron -- all the AQ leaders teleported into this one cave for their annual conference, see, and spoke to reporters as they were leaving for "near" and "far" - no wardrobe malfunctions, though ]
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Following up on my post, AQ Conference Call, 1

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When Eli Lake and Josh Rogin broke the story it was huge, wardrobe-malfunction huge, although AQ doesn’t really do wardrobe malfunctions the way we do at the Superbowl:

It wasn’t just any terrorist message that triggered U.S. terror alerts and embassy closures—but a conference call of more than 20 far-flung al Qaeda operatives, Eli Lake and Josh Rogin report.

Okay, conference call, I’ve been on some of those. Phones, right?

Ah — Skype, maybe, or Google+?

Nope.

Semantic? Okay… but anyway, “The crucial intercept that prompted the U.S. government to close embassies in 22 countries was a conference call between al Qaeda’s senior leaders and representatives of several of the group’s affiliates throughout the region” — right?

Um, no.

Here’s the more recent piece by Lara Jakes and Adam Goldman for AP to which JM Berger’s quote (lower panel, above) was pointing:

Al-Qaida fighters have been using secretive chat rooms and encrypted Internet message boards for planning and coordinating attacks — including the threatened if vague plot that U.S. officials say closed 19 diplomatic posts across Africa and the Middle East for more than a week.

It’s highly unlikely that al-Qaida’s top leader, Ayman al-Zawahri, or his chief lieutenant in Yemen, Nasser al-Wahishi, were personally part of the Internet chatter or, given the intense manhunt for both by U.S. spy agencies, that they ever go online or pick up the phone to discuss terror plots, experts say.

More specifically:

A U.S. intelligence official said the unspecified threat was discussed in an online forum joined by so many jihadist groups that it included a representative from Boko Haram, the Nigerian insurgency that has loose and informal ties to al-Qaida. Two other intelligence officials characterized the threat as more of an alert to get ready to launch potential attacks than a discussion of specific targets.

One of the officials said the threat began with a message from al-Wahishi, head of the Yemen-based al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, to al-Zawahri, who replaced Osama bin Laden as the core al-Qaida leader. The message essentially sought out al-Zawahri’s blessing to launch attacks. Al-Zawahri, in turn, sent out a response that was shared on the secretive online jihadi forum.

So the jihadis have a web-forum, and messages from Zawahiri get quoted there?

A stunning new development!

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DoubleTweet Sources:

  • Eli Lake
  • JM Berger
  • Articles pointed to:

  • Eli Lake
  • JM Berger
  • **

    Edited to add:

    FYI, there’s an extended treatment of the whole affair by Ken Silverstein now up at Harper’s, Anatomy of an Al Qaeda “Conference Call” — h/t Joshua Foust.

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    AQ Conference Call, 1: a picture worth a thousand words

    Thursday, August 15th, 2013

    [ by Charles Cameron - if the media presentation is sufficiently shiny, it will surely impress enough people that making sense becomes senseless ]
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    From CNN comes this picture — the one that opened my eyes to what AQ is really up to these days:

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    So…

    If one picture
    is worth a thousand words, what’s
    a bunch of Wordsworth?

    **

    I apologize. In all fairness, you should be able to see the whole clip:

    **

    In a follow up post, how the story looked when it first broke, and how it looks now it’s clearly broken.

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    For the Fourth of July: The Once and Future Republic?

    Thursday, July 4th, 2013

    Ahem….”I told you so“.

    “Congress intended to allow the intelligence communities to access targeted information for specific investigations. How can every call that every American makes or receives be relevant to a specific investigation?”

                                                                 - Representative James Sensenbrenner (R-Wisconsin)
                                                                     A primary author of The Patriot Act 

    “We have not yet seen any evidence showing that the NSA’s dragnet collection of Americans’ phone records has produced any uniquely valuable intelligence. Gen. Alexander’s testimony yesterday suggested that the NSA’s bulk phone records collection program helped thwart ‘dozens’ of terrorist attacks, but all of the plots that he mentioned appear to have been identified using other collection methods. The public deserves a clear explanation”

                                                                     - Senators Ron Wyden (D- Oregon) and Mark Udall (D- Colorado)

    “What I learned from our journalists should alarm everyone in this room and should alarm everyone in this country….The actions of the DoJ against AP are already having an impact beyond the specifics of this particular case. Some of our longtime trusted sources have become nervous and anxious about talking to us, even on stories that aren’t about national security. And in some cases, government employees that we once checked in with regularly will no longer speak to us by phone, and some are reluctant to meet in person. This chilling effect is not just at AP, it’s happening at other news organizations as well”

                                                                   - Gary Pruitt, President of the Associated Press 

    “The people who are worried about privacy have a legitimate worry….But we live in a complex world where you’re going to have to have a level of security greater than you did back in the olden days, if you will. And our laws and our interpretation of the Constitution, I think, have to change.”

                                                                  – Michael Bloomberg, Mayor of New York City 

    “One-party autocracy certainly has its drawbacks. But when it is led by a reasonably enlightened group of people, as China is today, it can also have great advantages.”

                                                                    -Thomas Friedman, NYT Columnist 

    “Toll records, phone records like this, that don’t include any content, are not covered by the fourth amendment because people don’t have a reasonable expectation of privacy in who they called and when they called, that’s something you show to the phone company. That’s something you show to many, many people within the phone company on a regular basis.”

                                                                     - James Cole, Deputy Attorney-General 

    “In the abstract you can complain about Big Brother and how this is a program run amok, but when you actually look at the details, I think we’ve struck the right balance.”

                                                                     -Barack Obama, President of the United States 

    While we need intelligence services, including the formidable collection capacity of the NSA, we don’t need a mammoth repository of information being continually compiled on every American, held in perpetuity by the US government.

    First, the mere existence of so massive a database on the data of all Americans is itself a critical strategic vulnerability and a potential risk to the national security of the United States because it centralizes for any would be spy or hacker not just anything, but virtually *everything* they would want to know about *everyone*. The greatest testament against the strategic wisdom of this scheme from a counterintelligence perspective is the erstwhile Mr. Edward Snowden – breach just one security regime and you walk away with the whole store or as much of the store as you have time and brains to snatch.

    How many Snowdens have we *not* heard about because they were quietly fired by a contractor? How many other Snowdens working for foreign intelligence services eluded government detection and got away with who knows what?  Or are still doing it now?

    Not exactly a resilient system from a cybersecurity perspective, is it?

    What the USG has done here is not dumb. It is fucking dumb with a capital F. Sometimes we get so caught up from a technical viewpoint in what we might be able to do that no one stops and seriously considers if we should do it. From such unasked questions come the unwanted second and third order effects we live to rue.

    Unless, of course,  building a draconian comprehensive digital dragnet for a  ”leaky system” is what was desired in the first place. If so, bravo gentlemen.

    Which brings us to the second point: the surveillance state as currently configured in law with the legal equivalent of string and chewing gum is inimical to the long term survival of the United States as a constitutional Republic. This is not an attack on any particular person or politician or three letter agency. It’s a hard world filled with extremely bad men who would do us lasting harm, so we need our spooks, but the spooks need proper constitutional boundaries set by our elected representatives in which to operate and somewhere in the past decade we have crossed that Rubicon.

    The United States of America has had a historically remarkable run of 237 years of good government and in all that time the system failed us only once. That one time cost the lives of approximately 630,000 Americans.

    On a level of moral and political legitimacy, we have created a bureaucratic-technological machine, a sleepless cyber  J. Edgar Hoover on steroids that contradicts our deeply held political values that define what America is and aspires to be. There is no way to reconcile cradle-to-grave digital dossiers on the 24/7 life of every American with the provisions of the US. Constitution. Really, an ever-watching state was not in the cards at our Constitutional Convention, even with the delegates like Alexander Hamilton who privately thought George Washington might make a fine King.

    On a more pragmatic level, in creating the SIGINT-cyber surveillance state we have made not an idiot-proof system, but an idiot-enabling one that represents an enormous potential reserve of power that will be an unbearable temptation for misuse and abuse. The long, bloody and sordid record of human nature indicates that someone, eventually, will not be able to resist that temptation but will be smart enough to get away with it. If we are greatly fortunate, it will be a lazy person of limited vision looking merely to enrich themselves and their friends. Or a malevolent minor bureaucrat like Lois Lerner looking to punish “the little people” who raised her ire.  If we are unlucky, it will be a gifted figure of ill intent and outsized ambitions, an American Caesar.

    Or an American Stalin.

    In the long term, our Democracy will not be healthy when the government – that is, the Executive – monitors everyone and stores everything  we do forever. While most of us are not that interesting, reporters, public figures, newspaper publishers, members of Congress, aspiring politicians, their campaign donors,  judges, dissenters, writers and so on are very interesting to people in power. The Congress, for example, cannot do it’s job properly when it’s cloakroom is bugged and their email is read anymore than can the editorial office of the Associated Press. What we have built, if it existed in a foreign country, would be frankly described as a “Deep State.  Nations with deep states are not pleasant places to live and they usually do not work well. At best, they look like Russia and Turkey, at worst they look like Pakistan and Iran.

    Rolling the surveillance state back to targeting foreign enemies, it’s proper and constitutional role, instead of every American citizen – yes, we are all, every man, woman and child of every race, creed, color and political persuasion being treated as potential enemies by the Federal government – is up to us and only us.  Tell your Congressman, your Senator and the President what you think in a respectful and thoughtful way – and then make this an issue that decides your vote.

    If we do nothing, we have no one to blame but ourselves for what comes next. We can at least console ourselves with pride in the fact that the US had a good go at making freedom work unequaled in world history, but that democracy may had had it’s time.  Others in the distant future, may profit from our example the way we learned from Athens, Rome and Britain. Or we can leave while the door still remains open.

    Enjoy your Fourth.

                                                    “Well, Doctor, what have we got, a republic or a monarchy?”

                                                                          – Mrs. Powell

                                                 ” A Republic, if you can keep it”

                                                                          – Benjamin Franklin
                                                                             Signer of the Declaration of Independence
                                                                             Delegate, Constitutional Convention

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