zenpundit.com » 2012 » November » 16

Archive for November 16th, 2012

Three from the avatar… Aaron Zelin

Friday, November 16th, 2012

[ by Charles Cameron -- keeping up with Aaron Zelin on a good day can be quite a feat -- this post has taken me a few days to write! ]
.

Let’s start with this avatar business. I picked it up from Gregory Johnsen, who applied the term in a tweet a few days ago to Aaron Zelin:

I chuckled at the description and RT’d Johnsen’s tweet at the time — but a day later the full force of the words “more than just a high producing avatar” came back to me, when I took a look at the things I wanted to pass along here on Zenpundit from that day’s haul, and found that three of them came via Aaron.

**

First up on the 14th: Aaron’s own post on Foreign Policy‘s Middle East Channel, Maqdisi’s disciples in Libya and Tunisia.

This featured the Benghazi and Tunisian groups that share the name Ansar al-Sharia (ASB and AST), and points to the idea that:

much of the scope of their activities lies outside violence. A large-portion of the activities of these groups is local social service provision under their particular dawa (missionary) offices. This broader picture is crucial to better understanding emerging trends in societies transitioning from authoritarian to democratic rule.

This emphasis, Aaron suggests, derives from the writings of Sheikh Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi:

One of the main critiques Maqdisi presents, and hopes to create a course correction within the jihadi movement, is his differentiation between the idea of qital al-nikayya (fighting to hurt or damage the enemy) and qital al-tamkin (fighting to consolidate ones power), which he expounds upon in his book Waqafat ma’ Thamrat al-Jihad (Stances on the Fruit of Jihad) in 2004. Maqdisi argues the former provides only short-term tactical victories that in many cases do not amount to much in the long-term whereas the latter provides a framework for consolidating an Islamic state. In this way, Maqdisi highlights the importance of planning, organization, education, as well as dawa (calling individuals to Islam) activities.

Finally, Aaron places ASB (Benghazi) and AST (Tunisia) in the wider context of Islamist movements, both Sunni and Shia, writing:

By providing charity, care, and aid ASB and AST are acting similarly in their operations (though should not be confused for allies with or having ideological connections) to the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas, and Hezbollah. Providing social services has provided leverage for these groups to gain wider popularity and support within the local community.

For more detailed discussion of Maqdisi, Aaron points us to Joas Wagemaker‘s essay, Protecting Jihad: The Sharia Council of the Minbar al-Tawhid wa-l-Jihad.

By my count, therefore, we now have at least five tendencies to think about: (i) politically engaged Islamists, such as the Brotherhood and the Ennahda movement, (ii) jihadists who hope to topple the “near” enemy, ie local despotic rulers of Muslim-majority states, (iii) jihadists who hope first to cripple the “far” enemy, following bin Laden‘s doctrine, (iv) jihadists in the wake of Abu Musab al-Suri‘s nizam, la tanzim (system, not organization), with its implication of decentralized jihad and leaderless resistance, and (v) the distinctive approach to jihad that Aaron discusses, in which al-Maqdisi’s theories are implemented:

ASB and AST do not buy into the democratic process and in spite of it are attempting to consolidate their future Islamic State one small act of charity at a time.

**

Second, Aaron’s Jihadology blog the same day hosted a fascinating piece by Jack Roche, a former member of Jama’ah Islamiyyah, titled The Indonesian Jama’ah Islamiyyah’s Constitution (PUPJI).

One point of interest to me here was a version of the well-known “saved sect” hadith, which has been specifically viewed as referring to al-Qaida on occasion:

It was narrated from ‘Awf bin Malik that the Messenger of Allah said: “The Jews split into seventy-one sects, one of which will be in Paradise and seventy in Hell. The Christians split into seventy-two sects, seventy-one of which will be in Hell and one in Paradise. I swear by the One in Whose Hand is the soul of Muhammad, my nation will split into seventy-three sects, one of which will be in Paradise and seventy-two in Hell.” It was said: “O Messenger of Allah who are they?” He said: “Al Jama‘ah – The main body.” (Sunan Ibnu Majah 3992).

I’d seen versions of the hadith in which it is promised that one Islamic sect will endure to the end and be worthy of paradise, but I’m not sure I’d ever seen this version, with one Jewish and one Christian sect similarly treated.

I imagine the “three” sects are in fact the “one” sect of those who, in the different Abrahamic traditions, have remained faithful to the one truth taught by all the prophets from Moses via Jesus to Muhammad – but might there be some Christians faithful to this day, as is perhaps suggested by Qur’an 5.82 —

The nearest to the faithful are those who say “We are Christians.” That is because there are priests and monks among them and because they are free of pride.

The first part of that verse, be it noted, is less than flattering regarding the Jews…

Again, this post of Roche’s lead me to another source, in this case Nasir Abas‘ book, Exposing Jama’ah Islamiyah. This presumably belongs on the mental shelkf next to Muhammad Haniff Hassan‘s Unlicensed to Kill: Countering Imam Samudra’s Justification for the Bali Bombing [both links are to free, downloadable e-books].

There is much reading to be done…

**

Last, to return to the matter of Twitter, there was Aaron’s response to an FBI announcement —

The FBI tweet actually came after they had made the announcement Aaron was responding to, but his critique still stands…

**

There may be some flattery in this post, but if so, it’s not Aaron’s fault; there’s certainly a sincere compliment intended from my side. But what this post really is — and the length of time it’s taken me to write this has made the timing right — is a “Follow Friday” #FF for @azelin on Twitter, and the articles and resources his twitter feed will lead you to.

consider Aaron a friend in the digital way of things, but my point here is point you towards him if you do not already follow him, and to raise just a few of the issues that struck me in reading just one day’s worth of his output.

Share

Reading a partisan cartoon: the parable of a dog’s ears and teeth

Friday, November 16th, 2012

[ by Charles Cameron -- on the difficulties that may be posed when "reading" graphics ]
.

**

The question I want to ask in this post is: how much can you safely read into a political cartoon?

Here is the particular cartoon I have in mind:

It was published in The Guardian (UK) yesterday, and as you may be able to see, it portrays Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu as a puppet-master, with British politicians Tony Blair and William Hague as his puppets, and was published to illustrate the cartoonist’s view of British reaction to the Gaza situation.

How much can we read into it?

**

If you are used to seeing cartoons such as these —

showing Khamenei pulling Ahmadinejad‘s strings and Petraeus as a puppet of GW Bush, when you come across the Netanyahu cartoon in the Guardian, you may well view it as another in a long series of political cartoons suggesting that someone is running someone else’s show behind the scenes. It’s the old idea of the eminence grise, in other words, expressed in cartoon form.

**

If, on the other hand, you’ve been exposed way too often to cartoons like these —

the one portraying Churchill, FDR and Stalin as Jewish puppets, taken from a 1942 issue of the Nazi paper, Fliegende Blätter, or the one depicting McCain and Obama as Israeli puppets, taken from a 2008 issue of the Saudi paper, Al-Watan… you may well see the same cartoon in a very different — and distinctly antisemitic — light.

**

The last two graphics, at least, are extremely offensive, and I would like to offer another graphic here — one which also uses our “puppet master” theme — as a visual equivalent of offering a glass of water to cleanse the palate:

I’ll be addressing this My Fair Lady poster from a very different angle, in a later post in my “form is insight” series — this one on “dolls within dolls”, the “world stage which we have dotted with stages of our own devising” and “turtles all the way down”…

**

Having hopefully reduced the emotional freight which some of the cartoons above must surely have carried with them, I would now like to offer you some background which seems relevant to me. Characteristically, perhaps, it comes from a very different field of knowledge.

EC Zeeman‘s April 1976 article Catastrophe Theory in the Scientific American was my introduction to the mathematician Rene Thom’s remarkable body of work, an introduction which sailed mostly over my head — but one of Zeeman’s points, which he illustrated with the graphic below, made perfect sense to me.

The annotation to this illustration read in part:

If an angry dog is made more fearful, its mood follow* the trajectory ‘A’ on the control surface. The corresponding path on the behaviour surface moves to the left on the top sheet until it reaches the fold curve; the top sheet then vanishes, and the path must jump abruptly to the bottom sheet. Thus the dog abandons its attack and suddenly flees. Similarly, a frightened dog that is angered followes the trajectory ‘B’. The dog remains on the bottom sheet until that sheet disappears, then as it jumps to the top sheet it stops cowering and suddenly attacks.

My translation:

A dog that reaches the point where its ears are fully pinned back, indicating full-on fear, and its teeth are also fully bared, indicating full on rage, will behave differently depending on whether its fear level or its rage level was the first to be raised to “full”.

Just as a dog’s reaction to a full on mix of rage and fear may depend on which stimulus came first, so — I am suggesting — our own reaction to the cartoon in question — inherently antisemitic, or merely critical of a particular Israeli operation — may depend on our previous exposure to cartoons, politics, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, or antisemitism.

**

We now have several levels of ease or difficulty in reading graphics. The Zeeman graphics are hard to read because they’re too small to be legible — but put them in the context of Zeeman’s article, and view them full size as originally published, and the only problem might be in following Zeeman’s text, itself a popularization and simplification of Rene Thom‘s work.

The Bart Simpson graphic is fairly straight forward, and regular viewers of the show would “read” it in line with hundreds of similar frames in which Bart writes repeated lines on a classroom chalkboard, from Season 1 episode 2′s “I will not waste chalk” to Season 23′s “There’s no proven link between raisins and boogers”.

And then there’s the disputed Netanyahu graphic… which can be “read” differently, depending on what previous “puppet master” associations the viewer beings to the task. Here, it seems to me, the task of interpretation can be viewed in one of two ways: (i) as an exploration of how it is likely to be read, which I’m suggesting will depend on previous association, and (ii) as an exploration of what “must have been” in the cartoonist’s heart.

**

Assessing the cartoon’s probable impact on segments of the public is one thing — knowing what the cartoonist intended, even though we tend to conflate the two, is quite another. Not for nothing does St Paul in I Corinthians 2.11 ask (in my own translation)

Who knows the qualities of a man but the spirit of that man within him?

Share

Switch to our mobile site