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Archive for August 13th, 2012

Pew II: Prevalence of belief in the Jinn

Monday, August 13th, 2012

[ by Charles Cameron — Corbin on Queen Bilqis, Qur’an and hadith regarding jinn, Pew statistics on belief in jinn — with some earlier Natsec implications & a non-serious suggestion from contemporary physics ]

La Jinn the Mystical Genie of the Lamp
from the Yu-Gi-Oh card game


I’ve been “fond” of the jinn (djenoun) since first encountering them in the brilliant short stories of Paul Bowles, and notably his A Hundred Camels in the Courtyard.

But that’s a literary fondness, neither science nor belief-based on my part. In my view, that’s only right and proper, since djenoun belong in the realm of imagination — or better said, the Imaginal, as Henry Corbin terms it — see note 16, p, 326. of his Creative Imagination in the Sufism of Ibn ‘Arabi, where he speaks of the Sheikh’s Bilqis Queen of Saba in his poetry as a being “born from a jinn and a woman” — it’s a fascinating passage, connecting Bilqis with Jesus in terms of the (unorthodox) angelology that Corbin envisioned uniting the Abrahamic faiths at a visionary level.


Here are two of the mentions of jinn in the Qur’an:

And the Jinn race We had created before from the fire of a scorching wind. [Sura 15, 27]

Say: It has been revealed to me that a company of Jinns listened (to the Qur’an). They say ‘We have really heard a wonderful Recital! It gives guidance to the Right and we have believed therein: We shall not join (in worship) any (gods) with our Lord. And exalted is the Majesty of our Lord: He has taken neither a wife nor a son.’ [Sura 72, 1-3]

And here is a tale of the Prophet and a jinn, as narrated by the Companion Malik ibn Anas:

The Prophet said to the jinni: “This is the stride of a jinni, as well as the tone of his voice!” The jinni replied: “My name is Hamah ibn Laqqis ibn Iblis.” The Prophet said: “Only two generations seperate you from him [Iblis].” He replied: “True.” The Prophet asked: “How long have you lived?” The jinni replied: “Almost all of time. I was a small boy when Abel was killed. I believed in Noah and repented at his hands after I stubbornly refused to submit to his call, until he wept and wept. I am indeed a repentant — God keep me from being among the ignorant! I met the prophet Hud and believed in his call. I met Abraham, and I was with him when he was thrown in the fire. I was with Joseph, too, when his brothers hurled him into the well—I preceded him to its bottom. I met the prophet Shu’ayb, and Moses and Jesus the son of Mary, who told me: ‘If you meet Muhammad, tell him Jesus salutes thee!’ Now I’ve delivered his message to you, and I believe in you.” The Prophet said: “What is your desire, 0 Hamah?” He said: “Moses taught me the Torah, Jesus the Gospels, can you teach me the Qur’an?” So the Prophet taught him the Qur’an.

The Tasneem Project


Literal vs metaphorical, let alone imaginal belief is not something the interviewers who conducted the Pew poll had the leisure to distinguish — but for the record, here are their findings as to the Muslim belief in jinns:

According to the Quran, God created jinn as well as angels and humans. Belief in jinn is relatively widespread – in 13 of 23 countries where the question was asked, more than half of Muslims believe in these supernatural beings.

In the South Asian countries surveyed, at least seven-in-ten Muslims affirm that jinn exist, including 84% in Bangladesh. In Southeast Asia, a similar proportion of Malaysian Muslims (77%) believe in jinn, while fewer in Indonesia (53%) and Thailand (47%) share this belief.

Across the Middle Eastern and North African nations surveyed, belief in jinn ranges from 86% in Morocco to 55% in Iraq.

Overall, Muslims in Central Asia and across Southern and Eastern Europe (Russia and the Balkans) are least likely to say that jinn are real. In Central Asia, Turkey is the only country where a majority (63%) of Muslims believe in jinn. Elsewhere in Central Asia, about a fifth or fewer Muslims accept the existence of jinn. In Southern and Eastern Europe, fewer than four-in-ten in any country surveyed believe in these supernatural beings.

In general, Muslims who pray several times a day are more likely to believe in jinn. For example, in Russia, 62% of those who pray more than once a day say that jinn exist, compared with 24% of those who pray less often. A similar gap also appears in Lebanon (+25 percentage points), Malaysia (+24) and Afghanistan (+21).

The survey also asked if respondents had ever seen jinn. In 21 of the 23 countries where the question was asked, fewer than one-in-ten report having seen jinn, while the proportion is 12% in Bangladesh and 10% in Lebanon.


Two markers concerning National Security concerns regarding Pakistan, nuclear weapons and those who believe (literally, energetically) in jinns — from the early 2000s, but dating back by implication to the era of Zia ul-Haq:

Just after the September 2001 terrorist attacks in the U.S., Pakistan’s intelligence service detained two retired nuclear scientists who had met with senior members of al Qaeda, including Mr. bin Laden, during charity work in Afghanistan. One, Sultan Bashiruddin Mahmood, was a former director at the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission and a controversial Islamic scholar who had postulated that energy could be harnessed from fiery spirits called djinns.

WSJ, Inside Pakistan’s Drive To Guard Its A-Bombs

But as a subscriber to a brand of what is known to practitioners as “Islamic science,” which holds that the Koran is a fount of scientific knowledge, Mr. Bashiruddin Mahmood has published papers concerning djinni, which are described in the Koran as beings made of fire. He has proposed that these entities could be tapped to solve the energy crisis, and he has written on how to understand the mechanics of life after death.

NY Times, Pakistani Atomic Expert, Arrested Last Week, Had Strong Pro-Taliban Views

— together with a Pakistani critique:

If a scientist is European or Hindu he will be restricted in his vision by reason. A Muslim scientist has unlimited scope; he will relate his science to miracles, mostly performed by himself. Sultan Bashiruddin, our top enrichment expert, believed he could draw electricity from a captured jinn. (For Pakistan’s needs just one jinn would suffice.)

Khaled Ahmed, Scientists, our kind

There are times when beliefs have, or might just have, consequences.


Jinn are significant not only for their own sakes, so to speak, but also for their etymological implications. To quote again from the Tasneem Project:

One saying of the Prophet (aws) mentions that, “God divided the jinn and the humans into ten parts. One part makes up the human race, and the other nine parts is made up of the jinn.” The invisible is everywhere. The Arabic language itself bears witness to how the invisible realm insinuates itself on everyday life. In Arabic, each time the two letters jeem and nun occur together, as in jinn, they convey the meaning of invisible or hidden. Thus, paradise is jannah because paradise is hidden from the human sight; janin is the foetus in the womb; the expression ajannahu al-layl means the night covered him.

The jinn, like paradise itself, are among the hidden secrets…


And how large is the universe, that it might encompass the angels and jinn? Hugh Everett III quite brilliantly argued for what has come to be known as the “many worlds” hypothesis in quantum measurement while still a grad student:

Hugh Everett III was a student in his mid-twenties in 1957 when he presented his revolutionary formulation of quantum mechanics in his PhD thesis. Everett himself called his theory variously; pure wave mechanics, the relative-state formulation of quantum mechanics, and the theory of the universal wave function. His theory, however, came to be popularly known as the many-worlds interpretation, because it predicts that everything that might happen, does in fact happen. As the physicist Bryce DeWitt later described it, Everett’s theory predicts that our universe is composed of countless parallel universes that are each constantly splitting into yet further copies, and in the process, creating copies of each observer, each of which subsequently observes a different quantum universe and splits into further copies.

While a science fiction fan might embrace such a theory simply by dint of how cool it would be if something like that were true, one might naturally wonder what good scientific reason one might have for believing that our universe is in fact composed of countless parallel splitting universes.


The whole article from which that quote was taken, The Quantum Measurement Problem and the Everett Interpretation, is indeed worth reading. But whereas physicists and (most) science fiction writers might confine their “many worlds” to physical, “materialist” universes, students of the imaginal are under no such restriction, as the same Tasneem Project article suggests:

The Muslim universe has always been made up of multiple worlds – the Qur’an itself refers to “universes” in the plural, in its open chapter al-fatihah. According to prophetic tradition, the cosmos consists of 18000 universes. …

So the jinn when summoned might come — somewhat unexpectedly — from one of Everett’s more hidden “many worlds”, perhaps?

Wonderland Battlespace Revisited

Monday, August 13th, 2012

[ by Charles Cameron — Syria, snipers, urban tactics, architecture ]

You remember the Wonderland Battlespace?

I wrote about it almost a year ago, and quoted:

the strategy of walking through walls, as Israeli architect Sharon Rotbard reminds us, is reinvented for every urban battle in response to local conditions

Okay, here it is again:

Clambering up the fallen concrete using a makeshift wooden ladder, the group enters a bombed-out building. Abu Thabet’s men have broken holes in the walls to create safe passages for them to move around in Salaheddine, out of the snipers’ sights.

“Now we are on a street parallel to Al-Albesa Street,” Abu Thabet explained. “On our right are snipers and on our left snipers. So we will go through these buildings to get to the Salaheddine roundabout.”

This building takes them into a maze of holes through deserted homes and apartment hallways back to back until they reach the roundabout that for now marks the frontline. The holes in the walls are tight and their edges jagged with broken brick. Rebels squeeze through, legs first, then arms, scratching their skin and turning their hair white with dust.

There is evidence of abandoned lives all around. A prayer mat lies on the floor of an empty bedroom. Another room has a cabinet filled with china tea cups and crystal glasses. A bird cage stands empty. In a kitchen, a jar of pickles sits half-eaten and rotting on the counter, flies circle around a pile of dishes in the sink. In one apartment, rebels use the master bedroom as a weapons depot, placing ammunition and rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs) on top of the red blanket covering a bed.

The hallways are dim and the zig-zag route, up stairs, through bedrooms, from apartment to apartment, makes it hard to keep track of how many buildings have been traversed. The last hole is through a large wooden closet, its back smashed through and behind it a gap two meters (six feet) wide, opening into an apartment filled with water bottles and bread. About five rebels are crammed in a hallway waiting for orders. In a small living room a candle lights up a sofa set and family pictures sitting on a small television.

“We are now at the Salaheddine roundabout. The new frontline of the battle of Aleppo,” announced Abu Thabet, walking out into the bright street. “The army is just behind this building.”

Hadeel Al Shalchi, Syrian rebels carve paths through buildings to avoid snipers, Aleppo, Aug 11 2012 — h/t Caitlin Fitz Gerald

This time the buildings were abandoned: they aren’t always.

Rethinking Fortification

Monday, August 13th, 2012

John Robb now has a Facebook page for Global Guerrillas, where he posts quick snippets of big ideas. It seems to be a replacement for his old, informal, personal blog which served a similar purpose some years back. In any event, John had a spectacular picture of Mexico City and an intriguingly dystopian caption:

Mexico City. 

Future of warfare. Megacities + millions of drones.

I wandered into a Mexican shantytown once, back in the 1990’s . Not sure I would care to repeat the experience at the present time.

Robb’s facebook post started me thinking. If drones of all sizes and functions become ubiquitous someday, it creates a great incentive for the powerful, at least to safeguard their privacy, to apply human ingenuity toward concealment, countermeasures and postmodern “citadels”.

All the moreso, if “megacities’ are all girdled in vast seas of slums. Imagine the LA or London riots with 20 times the underclass population. The bloody experience of the New York City Draft Riots during the Civil War taught the Robber Barons of the Gilded Age to support the building of public and private armories to defend the gentle classes from the great uprising that never came.

Fortification is something of a lost art, but it was up until recent history, a critical military capability. After castles went into a temporary decline with the advent of cannons blasting apart their high walls, post-renaissance architects redesigned European fortifications to endure the new bronze siege guns and defense again triumphed over offense. Military engineers like Vauban were more valuable than field marshals and kings staked their strategies on the strength of chains of fortifications and arsenals.  Obsolete by the time of the Napoleonic wars, massive fortresses nonetheless enjoyed a long twilight march to military irrelevance, ending in WWII with the ignominious capture of Belgium’s mighty Eben-Emael fortress by 75 lightly armed Germans and the utter uselessness of the extremely expensive Maginot Line during the Battle of France.

Fortification began to receive renewed interest as governments sought defensive measures to allow their leadership to survive a nuclear attack, such as the Cold War era secret bunkers for USG officials at Greenbrier or Raven Rock or efforts by rogue dictatorships to build facilities carved deep into a mountain to protect their leadership or nuclear weapons programs from American attack. The ancient arms race of defense and offense continues with the designers of “bunker-busters” as a peripheral military activity.

Governments and occasionally corporations and superwealthy individuals will continue to build and tweak these doomsday bunkers but as strategic investments they do not offer very good ROI. For one thing, if your national leadership is cornered fifty stories underground, it will be little comfort to you and your fellow citizens as the nuclear bombs are exploding; the game is pretty much over at that point. Secondly, the ultimate risk they are hedging against is far more remote and the benefits infinitesimal compared to what rethinking fortification as a concept would do to minimize more mundane and probable risks faced by the rest of us.

A great fortress conjures the idea of impregnability and, ironically, usually achieves eternal fame for falling or being breached – the walls of Constantinople,  the Great Wall of China, Masada, Alamut, Murud-Janjira and the aforementioned Maginot Line. “Impregnability” is a misnomer, what a good fortification really does is raise operational costs for adversaries, hopefully high enough to discourage them from making the effort to attack in the first place. Raising costs for those who bear us ill-will by adaptation and a priori design should be our paradigm.

What are the primary risks we will face in coming years as individuals and societies? Erosion of privacy and the security of our persons, property and data at the hands of criminals, avaricious elites, government and private surveillance and bouts of civil disorder, all in a number of forms. For example

  • Drones: As John Robb suggested in his FB post and at Global Guerrillas, drone usage could potentially become ubiquitous by governments, corporations and individuals with an axe to grind or an interest in stalking, terrorism or committing mayhem.  Imagine the Unabomber or Osama bin Laden with a drone swarm controlled from a laptop – superempowerment will go robotic.Drones will/are becoming semiautonomous. They are easily modified to carry cameras, recording/SIGINT devices, imaging systems, weapons, toxic substances or explosives.
  • Civil Unrest: The UK Riots were an excellent reminder that, as with the LA Riots, in the case of dangerous criminal-class rioting, elites will be unable to reestablish order or rescue law-abiding citizens until their reticence becomes a political debacle (and they may, as in Britain, initially restrain law enforcement personnel from suppressing the rioters). This contrasts with elite willingness to mobilize vast police and paramilitary forces against mere embarrassing political protests.
  • Cybersecurity: This adds a new dimension to fortification that is not limited to a physical space and place, even securing your home networks, but to your identity.

How might we adapt individually and collectively to these risks?

First, we are managing risk within reasonable costs and means while living a normal life. If you imagine something to hold off  an angry mob indefinitely or that will allow you to defy the US government then you need to come out of fantasyland or have a Bill Gates budget to play with. Here are some more practical possibilities:

Privacy architecture: Building design embedded with the idea of  promoting privacy, adjusted to the surrounding environment, which today includes thwarting advocates of a panopticon society. You want a structure that breaks clear fields of vision from the outside to the interior. Overhangs, angled exterior surfaces, material surface to reflect heat and light, ornaments/catwalks/netting and  landscaping to break up spatial fields. Perhaps layered walls of different materials to diffuse or mislead spectral/thermal imaging. This could be incorporated in public spaces in neighborhoods or campuses improving both aesthetics as well as privacy.

Underground: Increasing useful space by building down to sub-basement level gives you more possible points of egress, protection from surveillance technologies, storage and living quarters while concealing the true extent of your property from street level view. Best of all, it usually does not count toward your property tax assessment. Substreet complexes, like the system at Disneyworld, could easily planned into the development stage of residential and commercial construction.

Unobtrusive but Unconventional:  Attracting large amounts of attention is helpful in commerce or branding but generally disadvantageous to security. A home should be designed to frustrate opportunistic predators and delay determined ones with the most interesting elements reserved for the interior and (if possible) the rear with the street view presenting a target that is visually more bland than adjacent structures and also unattractive for forced entry. Windows should be treated to make it more difficult to see in or observe when residents are home vice away.

Defensive Security: This is something to consider individually and cooperatively. I once lived in a house in a town with a modestly high crime rate but never had a problem because the house was in a cul-de-sac with a wide oblong court and a long bottleneck entry. The neighbors knew one another and it was impossible (unlike on a conventional street) to not notice a strange car or pedestrian as every home faced the court.  Aside from alarm systems, simple things like better quality doors and locks buys you time to react. If multilevel, you should have at least two ways to escape from an upper floor (when I designed my second home, there were three) which also increases the interior complexity for an unfamiliar intruder. First floor windows should be out of easy reach from ground level.

Manage your Connectivity: Aside from normal cybersecurity precautions, you might consider managing, blocking or at least being aware of your geolocational activity by being selective about tracking devices (like smart phones) and your exposure to “the internet of things”. Do you really need to hook your fridge up to the internet or pay for everything with a debit card?

Fortification is largely about thinking ahead to put objects and systems between yourself and the world.

My early “close reading” of Nidal Hasan’s .ppt reposted

Monday, August 13th, 2012

[ by Charles Cameron — my original SWJ post featuring my attempt at interpreting Nidal Hasan’s powerpoint slide show when it was first published, plus more recent links ]


At Zen‘s suggestion, and since it’s no longer accessible on the revamped SWJ site, I’m posting here a link to my 2009 piece, The Hasan Slide Presentation: A Preliminary Commentary, as it originally appeared in .pdf in the Small Wars Journal.

My attempt then was to avoid, if possible, back-reading the facts of the Ft Hood shooting into the Hasan slide presentation — noting that at the time we lacked a clear sense of the verbal commentary with which Hasan had presented the slides.

Avoiding “projective hindsight” remains an interest of mine.


More recently, I raised a related question about Maj. Hasan here on Zenpundit, and received first rate answers from:

Daveed Gartenstein-Ross and Lauren Morgan, Nidal Hasan’s “Fairly Benign” Correspondence with Anwar al Awlaki
JM Berger, The Content and Context of Anwar Awlaki’s emails with Fort Hood Shooter Nidal Hasan

with indirect follow-ups from:

emptywheel, It’s Not Just Whether Nidal Hasan’s Emails Stuck Out, It’s Whether Abdulmutallab’s Did, and
Bernard Finel, Was Ft. Hood (or Aurora) Preventable?


I’m still in the relatively early throes of learning my new job at UrbIm, but hope to respond to these good folks once I’m a bit more settled in…

But I’ve noticed, I don’t always manage to get to everything… : (

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