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New category: Extremier than Extreme

Monday, May 7th, 2018

[ by Charles Cameron — possibly simple-minded, but offered to our mentor JM Berger — includes a horseshoe & a neat paradox, too ]
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Today’s example:

Trumpier than Trump. Okay..

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Let’s generalize from here, and diagam this:

Extremier than the Extreme.

This isn’t the first time I’ve seen this. I’m pretty sure ISIS was AQier than AQ in the day, and that even earlier, there was a splinter group within AQ that was “more extrem”. Might have been Zarqawi, in which case our two examples collapse into one..

“Extremier than the Extreme” — within its own extreme context, it can be one helluva claim to make!

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While we’re on the subject..

There’s also the oft-noted Horseshoe effect, whereby opposite expremes come to resemble one another:

This one, Revolutionary > Dictator > Dictator is well known because of the frequency with which Revolutionaries come to resemble the Dictators they overthrew.

A concatenation of horseshoes of this sort would give you Revolution > Dictatorship > Dictatorship > Dictatorship ad nauseam, with a Dictatorship currently in power, and a Revolution constantly brewing.

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Oh, and by the way, an intriguing paradox:

JM Berger, Extremism — you have been alerted, informed

Wednesday, April 18th, 2018

[ posted for your considerable edification by Charles Cameron — tweet-stream by JM Berger ]
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Friend JM Berger‘s recent work sums to a book to be published in September. This tweet-stream brings you up to date on his process.

You have been invited.

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And that’s it.

Jessica Dawson on Relationships with God and Community as Critical Nodes in Center of Gravity Analysis

Friday, April 13th, 2018

[ by Charles Cameron — An important article, meaning one with which I largely, emphatically agree ]
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Let me repeat: Jessica Dawson‘s piece for Strategy Bridge is an important article, meaning one with which I largely, emphatically agree — a must-read.

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Prof Dawson writes:

There is a blind spot in U.S. joint doctrine that continually hinders operational planning and strategy development. This blind spot is a failure to account for critical relationships with a person’s conception of god and their community, and how these relationships impact the operational environment.

Let’s just say I was a contributing edtor at Lapido Media until its demise, writing to clue journos in to the religious significance of current events:

  • Lapido, Venerating Putin: Is Russia’s President the second Prince Vlad?
  • Lapido, ANALYSIS When laïcité destroys egalité and fraternité
  • Lapido is essentially countering the same blind spot at the level of journos, and hence the public conversation.

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    I haven’t focused on the relationship with community, but I have written frequently on what von Clausewitz would call “morale” in contrast with men and materiel. Prof Dawson addresses this issue:

    Understanding religion and society’s role in enabling a society’s use of military force is inherently more difficult than counting the number of weapons systems an enemy has at its disposal. That said, ignoring the people aspect of Clausewitz’s trinity results in an incomplete analysis.

    Indeed, I’ve quoted von Clausewitz on the topic:

    Essentially, war is fighting, for fighting is the only effective principle in the manifold activities designated as war. Fighting, in turn, is a trial of moral and physical forces through the medium of the latter. Naturally moral strength must not be excluded, for psychological forces exert a decisive in?uence on the elements involved in war.

    and:

    One might say that the physical seem little more than the wooden hilt, while the moral factors are the precious metal, the real weapons, the finely honed blade.

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    And Prof Dawson is interested in “critical nodes” and the mapping of relationships, vide her title:

    Relationships with God and Community as Critical Nodes in Center of Gravity Analysis

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    This too is an area I am interested in, as evidenced by my borrowing one of my friend JM Berger‘s detailed maps in my post Quant and qualit in regards to “al wala’ wal bara’”:

    That’s from JM’s ICCT paper, Countering Islamic State Messaging Through “Linkage-Based” Analysis

    Indeed, my HipBone Games are played on graphs as boards, with conceptual moves at their nodes and connections along their edges, see my series On the felicities of graph-based game-board design: twelve &c.

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    My specific focus, games aside, has been on notions of apocalypse as expectation, excitation, and exultation — in my view, the ultimate in what Tillich would call “ultimate concerns”.

    As an Associate and sometime Principal Researcher with the late Center for Millennial Studies at Boston University, I have enjoyed years of friendship and collaboration with Richard Landes, Stephen O’Leary and other scholars, and contribuuted to the 2015 Boston conference, #GenerationCaliphate: Apocalyptic Hopes, Millennial Dreams and Global Jihad

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    I could quote considerably more from Jessica Dawson’s piece, but having indicated some of the ways in which her and my own interests run in parallel, and why that causes me to offer her high praise, I’d like quickly to turn to two areas in which my own specialty in religious studies — new religious movements and apocalyptic — left me wishing for more, or to put it more exactly, for more recent references in her treatment of religious aspects.

    Dr Dawson writes of ISIS’ men’s attitudes to their wives disposing of their husbands’ slaves:

    This has little to do with the actual teachings of Islam

    She also characterizes their actions thus:

    They are granted authority and thus power over the people around them through the moral force of pseudo religious declarations.

    Some ISIS fighters are no doubt more influenced by mundane considerations and some by religious — but there’s little doubt that those religious considerations are anything but “pseudo religious”. Will McCants‘ book, The ISIS Apocalypse: The History, Strategy, and Doomsday Vision of the Islamic Stat traces the history of ISIS’ theology from hadith locating the apocalypse in Dabiq through al-Zarqawi and al-Baghdadi to the loss of much of the group’s territory and the expansion of its reach via recruitment of individuals and cells in the west.. leaving little doubt of the “alternate legitimacy” of the group’s theological claims. Graeme Wood‘s Atlantic article, to which Prof Dawson refers us, is excellent but way shorter and necessarily less detailed.

    On the Christian front, similarly, eschatology has a role to play, as Prof Dawson recognizes — but instead of referencing a 2005 piece, American Rapture, about the Left Behind series, she might have brought us up to datw with one or both of two excellent religious studies articles:

  • Julie Ingersoll, Why Trump’s evangelical supporters welcome his move on Jerusalem
  • Diana Butler Bass, For many evangelicals, Jerusalem is about prophecy, not politics
  • As their parallel titles suggest, Trump’s decision to move the US Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem — which received a fair amount of press at the time that may have mentioned such a move would please his evangelical base, but didn’t explore the theology behind such support in any detail — has profound eschatpological implications.

    Julie Ingersoll’s book, Building God’s Kingdom: Inside the World of Christian Reconstruction, is excellent in its focus on the “other side” of the ceontemporary evangelical right, ie Dominionism, whose founding father, RJ Rushdoony was a post-millennialist in contrast to La Haye and the Left Behind books — his followers expect the return of Christ after a thousand year reign of Christian principles, not next week, next month or in the next decade or so.

    Sadly, the Dominionist and Dispensationalist (post-millennialist and pre-millennialist) strands in the contemporary Christian right have mixed and mingled, so that it is hard to keep track of who believed in which — or what!

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    All the more reason to be grateful for Prof Dawson’s emphasis on the importance of religious knowledge in strategy and policy circles.

    Let doctrine (theological) meet and inform doctrine (military)!

    Quant and qualit in regards to “al wala’ wal bara'”

    Thursday, August 24th, 2017

    [ by Charles Cameron — score one for quantitative, links-based analysis ]
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    It’s not so surprising that JM Berger‘s exploration of concepts in IS propaganda notes first that the title of al-Mujahir‘s speech which he will be digging into in greater detail — “Be Patient, For Indeed the Promise of God is Truth” — is a Quranic reference, then turns to the same root concepts — first tawhid, and then al wala’ wal bara’

    The first is tawhid, or monotheism, a belief in the indivisible oneness of God, which can be extrapolated into a “rejection of legal, class, social, political, racial, national, territorial, genetic, and economic distinctions” and general political unity among Muslims. Importantly, this concept provides a divine mandate linking the Eligible InGroup to the Extremist In-Group.

    The second concept is wala and bara (loyalty and enmity), which functions “as a tool of ‘in-group’ control”, which is broadly interpreted by jihadists to mean that Muslims are required to stand together loyally (wala) and fight outsider and outside influences (bara), across spiritual, emotional and physical dimensions.

    — that Joas Wagemaker and others have found cento jihadist thought:

    Notably, the concept of al-wala’wal-bara’ was taken a step further by a Hanbali scholar, Hamd ibn ‘Ali ibn ‘Atiq (d. 1883), who, as Joas Wagemakers perceptively observed, connected al-wala’ wal-bara’ with the concept that can be seen as the very basis of Islam, the unity of God (tawhid). In other words, a Muslim cannot profess his belief in tawhid, and by extension Islam, if he does not demonstrate his enmity toward non-Muslims. Moreover, ibn ‘Atiq used Qur’anic verses, in particular Surat 60:4, to uphold the necessity of expressing bara’. The trend that ‘Atiq established by binding al-wala’ wal-bara’ to the foundation of Islam continued into the twentieth century, where it was taken up in Saudi Arabia by religious scholars who supported or opposed the Saudi rulers.

    Robert Rabil, Salafism in Lebanon: From Apoliticism to Transnational Jihadism

    Wagemakers ties this conjunction of tawhid with al-wala’ wal-bara’ to Juhayman al-‘Utaybi, and thence back to al-Faraj and forward again to al-Maqdisi. Al-‘Utaybi’s Mahdist occupation of the Grand Mosque in Mecca on the first day of the current Islamic century should be viewed as the founding moment for the movement of Salafist jihad leading directly to ISIS’ proclamation of the caliphate.

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    It is when the quantitative, “linkage-based” conceptual analysis kicks in —

    — that the power of the digital approach makes itself clear.

    Here we have dozens of phrases linked to beliefs, traits, and practices, which are susceptible of manipulation for counter-messaging — in a way which picks on the weak points in existing jihadist propaganda. This JM achieves by comparing al-Mujahir’s recent speech with al Adnani‘s 2011 “The Islamic State Will Remain Safe”.

    In al-Adnani, grandiose predictions; in al-Mujahir, more realistic appraisal, six years later. In the gap, potential for illustrating IS’ failure to live up to its promises over that six year period.

    JM’s approach, utilizing the prior work of his ICCT colleagues Haroro Ingram, gets into the weeds, into the detail, in a way that theologically-minded scholars have not.

    For the Quant side, a distinct win.

    Orwell, Fascism, &c – we need our own red lines, but where?

    Wednesday, August 16th, 2017

    [ by Charles Cameron — how far gone are we — from a sorta leftist-centrist-don’t-really-fit-labels POV? ]
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    I’m not sure what exactly JM was responding to here, there have been too many pointers..

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    I for one don’t think Charlottesville stacks up against Kristallnacht, and am wary of the words Fascism and Nazi. I wholeheartedly agree with JM Berger in his piece today, Calling them Nazis:

    There’s an increasingly common argument online against referring to the alt-right by its chosen name. “Call them Nazis” is the refrain. If you haven’t said it yourself, you’ve probably seen other people saying it.

    While this approach may be understandable and may suit certain rhetorical purposes, it’s a grave mistake for journalists and experts who substantively study and cover the movement to embrace this approach.

    JM continues:

    The alt-right category is extremely important to understanding what’s happening in this movement. Nazis are only part of this movement, or more correctly neo-Nazis, since most of them aren’t German nationalists. If neo-Nazis were America’s only problem, it would be a much smaller problem.

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    My concern here is with a somewhat different angle, and not specifically with the Charlottesville clashes. I’m noting the widespread tendency to suggest we’re already in Brownshirt territory, if not deeper in than that, and I think it may be a bit premature.

    IMO, we need to be cautious in where we draw the lines that say, beyond here is Fascism, or Nazism, it seems to me: exaggeration only serves to discredit those who indulge.

    There are real problems, both with overt swastika-wavers and with those who support or merely tolerate them. Which way the wind will blow over the coming few years, however, is yet to be seen.

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    However, getting back to Orwell

    — it does seem to me that scooping up more than a million IP addresses of epople who may have an interest in protesting Trump gies way beyond some kind of Orwell Limit.

    Orwell kept his resistance movement cellular and basically unnowable: datamining the web blows an enormous hole in that strategy.

    I’d have to say that with today’s news about DOJ vs DisruptJ20, one of my personal Orwell Red Lines has been crossed.


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