zenpundit.com » 2013 » July

Archive for July, 2013

Elkus interviews Charles Cameron at Abu Muqawama

Wednesday, July 31st, 2013

[ by Mark Safranski a.k.a "zen"]

Longtime friend of ZP,  Adam Elkus interviews our own Charles Cameron at the highly regarded Abu Muqawama blog:

Interview Charles Cameron 

[....]  AE: How has the study of apocalyptic tropes and culture changed (if it has at all) since 9/11 focused attention on radical Islamist movements?

CC: USC’s Stephen O’Leary was the first to study apocalyptic as rhetoric in his 1994 Arguing the Apocalypse, and joined BU’s Richard Landes in forming the (late, lamented) Center for Millennial Studies, which gave millennial scholars a platform to engage with one another. David Cook opened my eyes to Islamist messianism at CMS around 1998, and the publication of his two books (Studies in Muslim ApocalypticContemporary Muslim Apocalyptic Literature), Tim Furnish’s Holiest Wars and J-P Filiu’s Apocalypse in Islam brought it to wider scholarly attention — while Landes’ own encyclopedic Heaven on Earth: The Varieties of the Millennial Experience gives a wide-angle view of the field in extraordinary detail.

I’d say we’ve gone from brushing off apocalyptic as a superstitious irrelevance to an awareness that apocalyptic features strongly in Islamist narratives, both Shia and Sunni, over the past decade, but still tend to underestimate its significance within contemporary movements within American Christianity. When Harold Camping proclaimed the end of the world in 2011, he spent circa $100 million worldwide on warning ads, and reports suggest that hundreds of Hmong tribespeople in Vietnam lost their lives in clashes with the police after moving en masse to a mountain to await the rapture. Apocalyptic movements can have significant impact — cf. the Taiping Rebellion in China, which left 20 million or so dead in its wake.

Read the rest here.

Share

Them’s the breaks, I guess

Tuesday, July 30th, 2013

[ by Charles Cameron -- a quick round up of prison breaks in Iraq, Libya and NW Pakistan ]
.

Mourners pray at the coffin of a victim killed during an attack on a prison in Taji, during a funeral at the Imam Ali shrine in Najaf, 160 km (100 miles) south of Baghdad, July 22, 2013 / credit: Reuters

.

On July 22 2013, eight days ago, AP reported Hundreds escape in deadly insurgent attacks on Iraq prisons holding al-Qaeda militants:

Iraqi security forces locked down areas around the infamous Abu Ghraib prison and another high-security detention facility on Baghdad’s outskirts Monday to hunt for escaped inmates and militants after daring insurgent assaults set hundreds of detainees free.

Clint Watts quoted Reuters in a post titled Al Qaeda in Iraq’s Prison Break – Not Good!, two days later:

Monday’s attacks came exactly a year after the leader of al Qaeda’s Iraqi branch, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, launc hed a “Breaking the Walls” campaign that made freeing its imprisoned members a top priority, the group said in a statement.

and commented:

Well, at least we didn’t see this coming.

Laconically, AP also noted:

Jailbreaks are relatively common in Iraq

— a phrase eerily reminiscent of AFP’s comment:

Jailbreaks and prison unrest are relatively common in Iraq

from way back in 2011, in a piece which included a reference to 2006:

Zambur said this was the third attempted jailbreak from the prison.

The first was in 2006, when about 50 members of the Mahdi Army, radical anti-US Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr’s now-deactivated militia, managed to escape.

Maybe it’s never-ending, this story.

**

Wind back just a year from today, though, to Bill Roggio‘s report Al Qaeda in Iraq claims nationwide attacks that killed more than 100 Iraqis in the Long War Journal, July 25, 2012:

Baghdadi had originally announced the offensive in an audiotape released on July 21, just two days before the attack; it was his first audiotape announcement since becoming emir in 2010.

“We give you glad tidings of the commencement of a new phase from the phases of our struggle, which we begin with a plan that we have dubbed, ‘Destroying the Gates.’ We remind you of your top priority, which is to release the Muslim prisoners everywhere, and making the pursuit, chase, and killing of their butchers from amongst the judges, detectives, and guard to be on top of the list,” Baghdadi said in the July 21 statement that was translated by the SITE Intelligence Group.

So there we have it: “to release the Muslim prisoners everywhere” is Baghdadi’s “top priority” for the campaign.

In the event, the targeting of that first wave of 2012 attacks was more widely drawn:

In today’s statement, the ISI said that its “War Ministry” organized the offensive and deliberately targeted the military, government agencies, and both Shia and Sunni groups that have opposed al Qaeda.
“The chosen targets were accurately distributed over governmental headquarters, security and military centers, and the lairs of Rafidah [Shi'ite] evil, heads of the Safavid [Iranian] government and its people, and its Sunni traitor lackeys [Awakening councils and Sunni political parties] who sold the religion, the honor and the land, and made the lands of the Muslims permissible along with their cities to the dirtiest people on the earth and the lowest of evils,” the statement continued.

**

About three months later, on October 12, 2012 Roggio wrote in LWJ Al Qaeda in Iraq claims credit for Tikrit jailbreak:

The Islamic State of Iraq, al Qaeda in Iraq’s political front, claimed credit for a complex assault on the Tasfirat prison in Tikrit that freed more than 100 prisoners, including dozens of terrorists.

In a statement that was released yesterday on jihadist Internet forums and translated by the SITE Intelligence Group, the Islamic State of Iraq said it executed the Sept. 27 prison break. The terror group said the operation was part of its “Destroying the Walls” campaign, which was announced at the end of July by Abu Du’a, the Islamic State of Iraq’s emir. In that statement, Abu Du’a said that emphasis would be placed on efforts “to release the Muslim prisoners everywhere.”

Now that’s what you might legitimately call “first priority” targeting.

**

So that’s our background, up to about a week ago when the latest Abu Ghraib prison break took place.

And since then?

Well, as reported on July 27, More than 1,000 inmates escape from Libyan prison near Benghazi in mass jailbreak — and Reuters reports:

Officials said there had been an attack on the facility from the outside, as well as a riot

Interesting.

And AP reported on the 29th, updated early this morning, Pakistani Taliban fighters overwhelmed guards in prison attack:

DERA ISMAIL KHAN, Pakistan — Prison guards said Tuesday that they were totally overwhelmed when around 150 heavily armed Taliban fighters staged a late-night attack on their jail in northwest Pakistan, freeing over 250 prisoners including over three dozen suspected militants.

It was the second such attack by the Taliban on a prison in the northwest within the last 18 months. But even so, the security forces were totally unprepared for the raid, despite senior prison officials having received intelligence indicating an attack was likely.

As Clint Watts said way up above, so say the Pakistani security folk:

Well, at least we didn’t see this coming.

Share

Of dualities, contradictions and the nonduality II

Tuesday, July 30th, 2013

[ by Charles Cameron -- notes towards a pattern language of conflict and conflict resolution: bridging divides in Baghdad 2013, Netherlands 1888 and the Germanies 1961 ]
.

I’ll be collecting examples of “dualities and the non-dual” here, because they give us a chance to consider the pattern that underlies “conflict and conflict resolution” and much else besides. This post picks up on an earlier post on the same topic: I’ll begin with three tweets that came across my bows this last week…

First, a vivid glimpse of sectarianism in today’s Iraq:

Second: sectarianism in the Netherlands, 1888:

And last, unexpected but charming, the divided Berlin of 1961:

It’s obvious once you think about it — thought we don’t always remember, such is the mind’s propensity to distinguish, divide, and argue from just one half of the whole — that human nature embraces both conflict and conflict resolution.

Share

Sex fatwas: N so very SFW

Monday, July 29th, 2013

[ by Charles Cameron -- a comparative view of one of the more alluring byways of the religious imagination ]
.

You’ll occasionally see reports of outré sexually-oriented fatwas emerging from the Middle East — and sometimes they’re entirely fictitious. This DoubleQuote is to remind us that outré sexually-oriented religious teachings can crop up all over the place, exercise a momentary thrill, and are soon forgotten.

The upper of the two images relates to a recent report in Al-Arabiya titled Pro-Mursi protesters are awaiting signal for ‘sexual Jihad’.

The lower of the two was taken from a “Flirty Fishing” pamphlet put out decades ago by the then Children of God aka The Family — the practice of FFing has since been discontinued. See also (highly NSFW):

  • FF Reports (the bureaucracy!)
  • Bought with a Price
  • God’s Whores, and
  • God’s Love Slave!
  • When last I looked, the best academic text on CoG and FFing was David van Zandt‘s book, Living in the Children of God. Sociologist of religions (and my e-colleague) Stuart Wright has a book chapter titled From “Children of God” to “The Family”: Movement Adaptation and Survival on The Family International’s current site.

    Share

    On two, one, seven plus or minus, and ten – towards infinity

    Monday, July 29th, 2013

    [ by Charles Cameron -- a few quirky thoughts about graphs and analysis ]
    .

    Two eyes (heads, ideas, points of view) are better than one.

    **

    When I worked as senior analyst in a tiny think-shop, my boss would often ask me for an early indicator of some trend. My brain couldn’t handle that — I always needed two data points to see a pattern, and so I coined the mantra for myself, two is the first number. When the American Bankers Association during the Y2K scare wrote and posted a sermon to be delivered in synagogues, churches and mosques counseling trust in the banking system it was a curiosity. When the FBI, in response to the same Y2K scare, put out a manual for chiefs of police in which they provided input on the interpretation of the Book of Revelation, the two together became an indicator: they connected.

    My human brain could see that at once — non-religious authority usurps theological function, times two.

    For what it’s worth, the Starlight data-visualization system we used back then (1999) couldn’t put these two items together: I could and did.

    **

    To wax philosophical, in a manner asymptotic to bullshit:

    One isn’t a number until there are two, because it’s limitless across all spectra and unique, and because it is its own, only context.

    One isn’t a number unless there’s a mind to think of it — in which case it’s already an abstraction within that mind, and thus there are, minimally, two. At which point we are in the numbers game, and there may be many, many more than two — twenty, or plenty, or plenty-three, or the cube root of aleph null, or (ridiculous, I know) infinity-six…

    Go, figure.

    Two is the first number, because the two can mingle or separate, duel or duet: either way, there’s a connection, a link between them.

    Links and connections are where meaning lies — in the edges of our graphs, where two nodes seamlessly integrate, much as two eyes or two ears give us stereoscopic vision or stereophonic sound, not by abstracting one from two by skipping the details that make a difference, but by incorporating the rich fullness of both to present a third which contains them fully via an added dimension of depth.

    That’s the fundamental reason that DoubleQuotes are an ideal analytic tool for the human mind to work with: they’re the simplest form of graph — the dyad — populated with rich nodes and optimally rich associations between them.

    **

    **

    Cornelius Castoriades wrote:

    Philosophers almost always start by saying: “I want to see what being is, what reality is. Now, here is a table; what does this table show to me as characteristic of a real being?” No philosopher ever started by saying: “I want to see what being is, what reality is. Now, here is my memory of my dream of last night; what does this show me as characteristic of a real being?” No philosopher ever starts by saying “Let the Requiem of Mozart be a paradigm of being”, and seeing in the physical world a deficient mode of being, instead of looking at things the other way around, instead of seeing in the imaginary, i.e., human mode of existence, a deficient or secondary mode of being.

    When I specified above “the simplest form of graph — the dyad — populated with rich nodes and optimally rich associations between them” I was offering a Castoriades-style reversal of approach, in which our choice of nodes is determined not by their abstraction — as single data points — but by their humanly intuited significance and rich complexity. Hence: anecdotes, quotes, emblems, graphics, snapshots, statistics — leaning to the qualitative side of things, but not omitting the quantitative. And their connection, intuited for the richness of the parallelisms and oppositions between them.

    Often the first rich node will be present in the back of the mind — aviators wanting to learn how to fly a plane, but uninterested in how to land it — when the second falls into place — when a student asks a diving instructor to teach the diving technique, with no interest in learning to avoid the bends while coming back up. And bingo — the thing us understood, the pattern recognized, and an abstraction to “one way tasks” — including “one way tickets” established.

    Let’s call that first node a “fly in the subconscious”. I’d love to have been a fly in the subconscious when SecDef Rumsfeld told a Town hall meeting in Baghdad, April 2003:

    And unlike many armies in the world, you came not to conquer, not to occupy, but to liberate and the Iraqi people know this.

    Because I could have chimed in cheerfully in the very British voice of General Sir Frederick Stanley Maude, in that different yet same Baghdad in 1917:

    Our armies do not come into your cities and lands as conquerors or enemies, but as liberators…

    Oh, the echo — the reverb!

    **

    The ideal number of nodes in the kind of graph I’m thinking of is found in terms of the human capacity to hold “seven plus or minus two” items in mind at the same time — thus, with a slight scanning of the eyes, a graph with eight to twelve nodes and twenty or so edges is about the limit of what can be comprehended.

    The Kabbalistic Tree of Life, infinitely rich in meaning and instruction, has ten nodes and twenty-two edges. Once taken into the mature human mind, there is no end to it.

    The value of a graph composed of such rich nodes and edges lies in the contemplation it affords our human minds and hearts.

    **

    Two, being the simplest number, will probably give you the richest graphs of all…

    Art, in the person of Vincent Van Gogh, meet science, in the person of Theodore von Kármán.

    Share

    Switch to our mobile site