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Archive for November 22nd, 2012

Thanksgiving and Kasab: pardon and penalty

Thursday, November 22nd, 2012

[ by Charles Cameron — i suppose this is about the state’s claim to a monopoly of violence, seen from both ends ]
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I don’t want to go too far with this one, and I’ll start with the turkey and pardon, because pardon and forgiveness and thanksgiving all fit together and might as well be celebrated at this season — but as you’ll see, pardon has its dark side, even if it takes an anthropologist named Magnus Fiskesjö and his pamphlet titled The Thanksgiving Turkey Pardon, the Death of Teddy’s Bear, and the Sovereign Exception of Guantánamo to point it out:
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But around the same time a turkey gets a reprieve in the US, a terrorist in India gets the death penalty.

I think it’s important to remember the Mumbai atrocities of 2008,and of which Ajmal Kasab (depicted below, and recently deceased) was the sole surviving perpetrator — if for no other reason than because he’s considered a martyr by some, and will be avenged.

But first, let me wish a Happy Thanksgiving! to all Zenpundit’s American readers, and good wishes to all others.

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The problem with martyrdom… is that it’s a force-multiplier. Okay when the force is purely spiritual, not so much when it runs to violence and terror…

photo credit: Outlook India

Retired Indian intelligence chief Bahukutumbi Raman, whose tweets I often follow to articles on his Raman’s strategic analysis blog, warned us all:

Before the execution of Ajmal Kasab, the Pakistani terrorist of the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET), who had participated in the 26/11 terrorist strikes in Mumbai, at Pune on the morning of November 21, 2012, our security agencies must have examined the likelihood of retaliation by jihadi terrorists in Pakistan and India and strengthened security precautions to prevent retaliatory attacks.

The LET and the organisations associated with it would want a quick retaliation.

And then he went into detail

Sure enough, Reuters then tells us:

Pakistan’s Taliban movement threatened on Thursday to attack Indian targets to avenge the country’s execution of Mohammad Ajmal Kasab, the lone survivor of the militant squad responsible for a rampage through Mumbai that killed 166 people in 2008. Kasab was hanged on Wednesday amid great secrecy, underscoring the political sensitivity of the November 26, 2008, massacre, which still casts a pall over relations between nuclear-armed rivals Pakistan and India.

“We have decided to target Indians to avenge the killing of Ajmal Kasab,” said Taliban spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan by telephone from an undisclosed location.

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In the course of the coronation liturgy for Queen Elizabeth II, the words justice and mercy crop up quite often — justly and justice 8 times, and merciful and mercy 28. It appears to be a sovereign’s right and obligation to administer both, and during the ceremonial they are brought together as a symbolic pair.

The Sceptre with the Cross is given into her right hand, with the words:

Receive the Royal Sceptre, the ensign of kingly power and justice

while the Rod with the Dove is given into her left hand, with the words:

Receive the Rod of equity and mercy.
Be so merciful that you be not too remiss,
so execute justice that you forget not mercy.
Punish the wicked, protect and cherish the just,
and lead your people in the way wherein they should go.

Justice is only fair: it seems, however, that it should be tempered with mercy.

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Let me simply add that my own preference would be to have remitted the death penalty in Kasab’s case, and given him a life term in which to think about the lives he took. As for the turkey — happy stuffings!

I remember too, today, my friend and mentor Wallace Black Elk, and his wife, Grace Spotted Eagle. It was Wallace who — at least once — said:

They called us “Indians” when they came, so we have a nickname. But we are Earth people, we are original. When they come here, I welcome them with open arms, give them a turkey dinner, corn, and all the vegetables, all the greens.

Because this is a land of abundance…

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Seal Team Six: asymmetries and symmetries

Thursday, November 22nd, 2012

[ by Charles Cameron — we just might want to understand the Quranic ROE — or at least its OBL and SK Malik versions ]
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I was watching Seal Team Six: The Raid on Osama Bin Laden, the TV movie aka Code Name: Geronimo last night [okay, okay], and one phrase early on caught my attention and sent me, first to the OBL Letters from Abbottabad and Nelly Lahoud‘s commentary, and then to the always useful Brig. SK Malik‘s Quranic Concept of Power.

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Here then, from Prof: (Brig: Retd.) S.K. Malik’s The Quranic Concept of Power, published in an edition of 500 by Progressive Publishers, Lahore, in 1991, pp. 303-04, is a brief outline of the Rules of Engagement for jihad as presented in the Quran and Sunna, and understood by the late Pakistani Brigadier and professor in the Defence & Strategic Studies department of Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad:

The Holy Quran also directs us to observe its ethics during the application of the military instrument. The divine ethics are gracious, liberal and generous. With regards to fighting in the Prohibited Months and in the Sacred Area, our Lord has prescribed for us a law based on quality and reciprocity, We are forbidden from fighting in this period and place for as long as the enemy also observes these limits. If the enemy transgresses these limits, we are permitted to transgress the limits to the extent he does. Even I such situations, our Mighty Lord has commanded us to prefer patience and restraint. Under no circumstances, however, can we transgress the clear and well-defined limits set forth for us by our Lord.

According to the studies carried out by the Muslim jurists on the subject, we are prohibited from cruel and torturous ways of killing the enemy during war. The killing of women, minor, servants and slaves is also forbidden. We are also to spare the blind, the monks, the hermits, the old, the physically-deformed and the insane or mentally-deficient. For bidden for us also is the decapacitation of the prisoners; the mutilation of the men and the beasts; devastation and destruction of harvests; excesses and wickedness; and adultery or fornification with captive women. We are also forbidden to kill hostages and taking to massacre to vanquish the enemy. Muslim soldiers are not permitted to kill their parents in the enemy forces except in absolute self-defence. Prohibited similarly is the killing of peasants, traders, merchants, contractors and the like who accompany the enemy forces to the battle field but do not take part in actual fighting.

The checks and controls imposed by the Holy Quran on the use of force have no parallel in the annals of human history In practice, there were very few occasions on which the Faithful transgressed these limits and they were duly reprimanded for it. It must, however, be understood that the exercise of restraint in the use of force in inter-state relations is essentially a two-way affair. It is not possible that one side goes on exercising restraint while the other goes on committing excesses. Nor doe the Holy Quran approve of such a restraint. In such situations, the very injunction of preserving peace demands the use of limited force. The Holy Quran commands us to use force for just such a purpose.

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I am sure Brig. Malik’s work [most accessible: his Qur’anic Concept of War] is only the tip of the iceberg here, and I’d certainly advise reading western analysts (eg Cook, Firestone, and Bonner) on the topic, too — but it would surely be helpful to know what ROE jihadists are in fact supposedly following.

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Gaza negotiations: sincerity and symmetry

Thursday, November 22nd, 2012

[ by Charles Cameron — sincerity and symmetry as the basis for dialog and negotiation ]
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If you read me regularly, you know I’m passionate about form as well as content.

Here’s the New York Times report on the interactions between Presidents Obama and Morsi in the runup to the Gaza ceasefire negotiations:

Mr. Obama told aides he was impressed with the Egyptian leader’s pragmatic confidence. He sensed an engineer’s precision with surprisingly little ideology. Most important, Mr. Obama told aides that he considered Mr. Morsi a straight shooter who delivered on what he promised and did not promise what he could not deliver.

“The thing that appealed to the president was how practical the conversations were — here’s the state of play, here are the issues we’re concerned about,” said a senior administration official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations. “This was somebody focused on solving problems.”

The Egyptian side was also positive about the collaboration. Essam el-Haddad, the foreign policy adviser to the Egyptian president, described a singular partnership developing between Mr. Morsi, who is the most important international ally for Hamas, and Mr. Obama, who plays essentially the same role for Israel.

“Yes, they were carrying the point of view of the Israeli side but they were understanding also the other side, the Palestinian side,” Mr. Haddad said in Cairo as the cease-fire was being finalized on Wednesday. “We felt there was a high level of sincerity in trying to find a solution. The sincerity and understanding was very helpful.”

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And here, by way of context, is David Bohm on dialogue:

One way of helping to free these serious blocks in communication would be to carry out discussions in a spirit of free dialogue. Key features of such a dialogue is for each person to be able to hold several points of view, in a sort of active suspension, while treating the ideas of others with something of the care and attention that are given to his or her own. Each participant is not called on to accept or reject particular points of view; rather he or she should attempt to come to understanding of what they mean.

Bohm, Science, Order and Creativity, p 86

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What interests me here in the Obama-Morsi interaction as described is the dual emphasis on sincerity and symmetry. Sincerity is needed so that each of the two sides — Israel’s POV, as presented by Obama, and that of Hamas, as presented by Morsi — is in fact presented, and not hinted at, watered down or reneged on. And when both sides are in fact sincerely represented, they are mutually present — heard – and there is symmetry.

That symmetry, it seems to me — symmetry of form in the presentations of contents — is the facilitator of successful negotiations.

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Applied Pontecorvo: Gaza

Thursday, November 22nd, 2012

[ by Charles Cameron — lessons from Pontecorvo’s Battle of Algiers for the medium-term Israeli-Palestinian conflict — and other instances of asymmetry ]
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Pontecorvo‘s film, The Battle for Algiers, really seared itself into me when I watched it again recently — and so it has been a bit of a template for other thoughts, and notably influenced some of my thinking as I was watching events unfolding in Gaza, now thankfully in cease-fire mode.

Pontecorvo, as I noted in my previous post, takes the side of the Algerians in their conflict with the French, and I suppose it’s only natural that a “reading” of the Gaza situation in light of Pontecorvo’s masterpiece will tend to support the Palestinian “cause” against the Israelis.

After all, Yitzhak Epstein, addressing the Seventh Zionist Congress in Basel in 1905, had a point when he said:

We devote attention to everything related to our homeland, we discuss and debate everything, we praise and criticise in every way, but one trivial thing we have overlooked so long in our lovely country: there exists an entire people who have held it for centuries and to whom it would never occur to leave.

On Thanksgiving Day I am reminded that my Lakota friends also have a point — but there’s what’s memorable, which can remain in very long-term memory indeed, and there’s what’s practicable, which may in practical terms be changing by the day or decade…

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Let me put that another way.

I don’t need the words of a Zionist Jew from a century ago to give me that insight into the Palestinian side of things, but Epstein’s words remind me that there are facts in the heart on the Palestinian side, just as the Israelis are building facts on the ground in the occupied territories. What of the Israeli side, are there not facts in the heart there too? And on the Palestinian side, what of the ghastly hadith of the Gharqad tree? Must apocalyptic hate last till the end of time?

Of all the reporting I have read, this, from Dahlia Litwick in Jerusalem, struck the deepest chord:

I don’t know how to talk about what is happening here but it’s probably less about writers’ block than readers’ block. It says so much about the state of our discourse that the surest way to enrage everyone is to tweet about peace in the Middle East. We should be doing better because, much as I hate to say it, the harrowing accounts of burnt-out basements and baby shoes on each side of this conflict don’t constitute a conversation. Counting and photographing and tweeting injured children on each side isn’t dialogue. Scoring your own side’s suffering is a powerful way to avoid fixing the real problems, and trust me when I tell you that everyone — absolutely everyone — is suffering and sad and yet being sad is not fixing the problems either.

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Here, then, are the parallelisms and oppositions that struck me, as I was reading about the Gaza conflict — may today’s cease-fire endure and a peaceful resolution emerge — in light of Pontecorvo’s film:

Gilad Sharon‘s words echo those of Col. Mathieu in the film: they think alike, and indeed their perspective is a not-uncommon one. But while I might otherwise have overlooked Sharon’s voice as but one among many in Israel, having just seen Pontecorvo’s film I take more note of it, and my mind seeks its rebuttal.

I find that rebuttal in the words of Thomas More, in a speech from Robert Bolt’s play that has stuck with me since I first saw Paul Scofield in the role in London at the age of sixteen:

I am, I suppose something of a Taoist by inclination. I think, with Lao Tse, that the way that can be phrased in words isn’t the authentic way — or as Count Alfred Korzybsky might put it, the map does not adequately describe the terrain — and so my feeling is that the letter of the law should be tempered by its spirit, and that justice should be tempered with mercy — a point I hope to return to.

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There is one other moment in Pontecorvo’s film that struck me as prescient — the one when Larbi Ben M’hidi comments on asymmetry:

I’ve heard remarks of that kind (upper panel) repeated many times in the context of the Palestinian-Israeli situation, but the graphic impact of the image (lower panel) outweighs a thousand explanations.

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Perhaps we can leave Pontecorvo for a moment, and consider the asymmetry further, and the symmetry:

The lower panel, by a Swiss cartoonist of Lebanese extraction, is titled An Eye for an Eye (Oeil pour Oeil) — a symmetry that is taken to its logical conclusion in a quote often attributed to Gandhi:

An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind.

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My apologia:

I am distant, and I am a writer: distant enough to take all humanity for my own side, and writer enough to wish to contribute what I can of concern and insight.

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A Meditation In Time of War: security

Thursday, November 22nd, 2012

[ by Charles Cameron — divine protection in Israel and Kentucky ]
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So who needs an Iron Dome, or Star Wars?

I really don’t have access to the Rabbi’s full and detailed views on the matter, but based on what the Jerusalem Post reports, he appears to be advocating that divine intervention is both a necessary and sufficient form of defense against Hamas missiles.

The Kentucky legislature’s position is somewhat different. The two paragraphs immediately preceding the one I’ve quoted here read:

No government by itself can guarantee perfect security from acts of war or terrorism.

and:

The security and well-being of the public depend not just on government, but rest in large
measure upon individual citizens of the Commonwealth and their level of understanding, preparation, and vigilance.

So Kentucky suggests an admixture of government security measures, public vigilance and divine protection.

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Let’s skip around a bit. I’m reminded of Abraham‘s discussion of divine judgment and protection in Genesis 18, which begins —

And Abraham drew near, and said, Wilt thou also destroy the righteous with the wicked Peradventure there be fifty righteous within the city: wilt thou also destroy and not spare the place for the fifty righteous that are therein? That be far from thee to do after this manner, to slay the righteous with the wicked: and that the righteous should be as the wicked, that be far from thee: Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right? And the Lord said, If I find in Sodom fifty righteous within the city, then I will spare all the place for their sakes.

Abraham then quizzes God with incrementally lowering figures until God says:

I will not destroy it for ten’s sake.

Scriptures tend to describe acts of God as, well, acts of God – and that’s a category which can include the fall of sparrows, let alone a rain of missiles, a parting of waves, or a pillar of cloud.

Modernity tends to regard missiles, inbound, as acts of human agency, and likewise with missiles sent up to intercept them.

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Kurt Vonnegut pretty much opens his book, Cat’s Cradle, with the statement:

No names have been changed to protect the innocent, since God Almighty protects the innocent as a matter of Heavenly routine.

I’m sure he meant it with a wink and a nod, but I take some comfort from it all the same. You see, I live in a world of both human and mysterious agency — a world of grace and science, science and grace.

Call me confused, tell me I contradict myself. I can only say with Walt Whitman:

Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.

Oh — and in fact it’s more complex, more nuanced than that.

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