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Miscik 2004, Gerecht 2013

[ by Charles Cameron — on the exclusion of worldviews not consonant with grey suits and security clearances ]

These two persons are likely being polite.


I’m wondering how any people at State or in the Agency or wherever know what it feels like to be one of the flagellants in Iran during Muharram, in Qom or Masshad perhaps… or at the Jamkaran mosque, and to believe the Mahdi is waiting close by in the wings… or to be in Afghanistan, Sunni, and expecting his army with black banners will sweep down on Jerusalem from Khorasan in accordance with hadith… or in Palestine, reliant on the hadith of the rocks and the trees, certain that Israel will soon fall… in Pakistan, listening to Syed Zaid Zaman Hamid and mentally preparing for the Ghazwa-e-Hind?


I suppose I’ve been struggling to say this for years:

The sanction for extremist violence, even to the point of death, is that the cause is just and right. The sanction for messianic violence is that the cause is not only humanly just and right but divinely so — and final, for the entirety of the cosmos, for all Creation.



Jami Miscik, tesimony, House Intelligence Cttee
Reuel Marc Gerecht, Spooky Sex

h/t Nada Bakos

Further readings on messianisms:

Mahdi in the wings, Iran
Khorasan, army with black banners, Afghanistan
Hadith of the rocks and the trees, Palestine
Ghazwa-e-Hind, Pakistan

David Cook, Contemporary Islamic Apocalyptic Literature
David Cook, Studies in Islamic Apocalyptic
Timothy Furnish, Holiest Wars
Gershom Gorenberg, The End of Days
Anne-Marie Oliver & Paul Steinberg, The Road to Martyr’s Square
Jean-Pierre Filiu, Apocalypse in Islam
Syed Saleem Shahzad, Inside al-Qaeda and the Taliban
Ali Soufan, The Black Banners
Richard Landes, Heaven on Earth

16 Responses to “Miscik 2004, Gerecht 2013”

  1. Marshall Says:

    You know Norman Cohn’s, “Pursuit of the Millennium”? Highly recommended on just this topic. Just because the book is “about” the Middle Ages doesn’t mean it isn’t about us. Humans are the same, whenever, wherever.

  2. Tim Furnish Says:

    Excellent observation and juxtaposition of sources.  But I would humbly submit that it’s not necessary that denizens of Foggy Bottom or Langley “feel the pain” of flagellants in Qom or Karbala or of families of “martyrs” in Ramallah; it’s probably enough, analytically, that they take seriously the beliefs of such who DO feel that way.   I think much of the problem in modern analytical circles is the secular bias–the stubborn insistence that jihadists or Mahdists cannot REALLY mean what they say, religiously, and that there must be other factors to explain their behavior.   

  3. zen Says:

     I think much of the problem in modern analytical circles is the secular bias–the stubborn insistence that jihadists or Mahdists cannot REALLY mean what they say, religiously, and that there must be other factors to explain their behavior.
    They had a similar bias about the Communists. They thought all top officials were sophisticates like Litvinov, Dobrynin and Zhou En-Lai, genial oafs like Brezhnev or “mavericks” like Tito and Ceaucescu. That some of these men took their ideology seriously or, worse, the ideology repeatedly favored the rise to power of terrifying sociopaths was something they resisted until 1991 and beyond.
    The IC does not get OSS/early CIA type people because 1) such ppl seldom pass security background checks 2) the CIA culture of HQ micromanagement of field operatives is designed to weed out such talent and 3) career incentives reward risk-aversion rather than securing intel coups 4) mission objectives favor short term “reportage” over clandestinity and influence operations 

  4. Charles Cameron Says:

    Hi Marshall:
    Yes indeed, I read Cohn in the mid-sixties — Landes’ book, which I quoted last on my list, is an excyclopedic treatise on the universality of messianisms for our times.
    Maybe we can meet half way on this “feel the pain” / “know how it feels” business.  I want to avoid phrasing things in such a way that an intellectual assent to the other’s religious belief is easily glossed over once made, without going so far as to demand passionate identification.  Your phrase “taking seriously” does the trick pretty well, I think, but we’re in the realm where Catholics speak of “adequacy” — some people, many of them with the secular bias you mention, lack “adaequatio” with regard to deep religious sentiment, and it’s the need to have some level of imaginative-intellective capacity that I guess I’m getting at.  

    [ edited after posting to correct “capacity” and “capax” to “adequacy” and “adaequatio” ]

  5. Tim Furnish Says:

    Thanks, gentlemen.
    And I never knew “clandestinity” was a word–excellent!  

  6. J. Scott Shipman Says:

    Hi Tim,
    Excellent point! Taking the jihadis seriously would be a good first step—of many. There is a passage from Colin Gray’s National Security Dilemmas that I quoted yesterday and will share here:
    “One has to beware of talismanic faith in a favored vision of military revolution. Why? First, because war is multidimensional, and the dimensions that we succeed in revolutionizing are likely to be outnumbered and to be substantially offset in their effects by behavior in the dimensions that we either have not, or cannot, change. Second, it is a persisting weakness of prophets for new ways of war not to pay the enemy due respect.”
    Granted Gray is talking “military revolutions,” but dogma often inhibits our proclivity to “pay the enemy due respect.” 

  7. James Bennett Says:

    The impression one gets from reading about the mid-Victorian empire was that the British institutions had a high tolerance for employing eccentric individuals and gave them large amounts of time off from their official duties to explore and otherwise satisfy their curiosity about local customs, languages, religions, etc.  This seems to have been lost somewhere along the way, although it seems to have revived a bit during wartime with the sort of characters employed by SOE.  The US seemed to have much less of that attitude to begin with, and whatever we had in the OSS has long been lost.  HArd to see how it could be restored except possibly by starting an entirely new organization and exempting it from all civil service and security rules.

  8. Madhu Says:

    There are vastly fewer “characters”—the unconventional, often infuriating, types who give institutions color and competence.

    So where in all this discussion of the former CIA director’s infidelity is any discussion of competence during tenure and how to measure such competence?
    As a genuine oddball and maybe borderline eccentric, a word of caution: oddballs love to inflate their own usefulness and self-worth and this is amplified by a public that loves stories about characters. In matters of competence, the actual details matter, who did what, how they did what, what happened, did it actually accomplish stated goals, how do we know it accomplished stated goals in a world of secrecy, and so on.
    Tread carefully when dealing with myth vs. fact. Tread very carefully…. 

  9. Madhu Says:

    Also, no matter how contrary I am, you are still supposed to understand me. That’s what the experts say. I’d elaborate on specific examples of inflated CIA worth vs. sordid reality but I’ve got a dinner to go to. Ever notice how certain types of people write the kind of memoirs where he or she is the hottest thing ever and so awesome and so perfect and if only the higher ups had understood me….

  10. Madhu Says:

    Okay, one more in my oddball series: for the Afghan campaign we have some real winners out there, not just ex-CIA, but ex military and so forth, who have very interesting business deals. I imagine when one has such business deals in DC it helps to have a certain created mystique. No, I am not talking about any of the people mentioned in the post, I don’t know anything about them, but it’s not hard to figure out, there are only a million articles on the subject for, like, a bunch of people.
    Details. Always details. 

  11. zen Says:

    Hi Doc Madhu
    Most of the productivity of the CIA clandestine service in terms of HUMINT collection (actually, any intel service, even the KGB) has always depended on a small number of aggressive and talented employees, some of whom operated without diplomatic cover. I’m not saying this follows the 80/20 heuristic, but the talented improvisers and cultural “old hands” have dwindled steadily since the Church-Pike hearings in the ’70’s with a steep decline under the Clinton administration which pursued both a “peace dividend” and a CIA as a “liaison” service that subcontracted out real intel work. Today, it is my entirely informal and anecdotal observation that really talented members of IC agencies, both analytic and operative, get out long before their careers peak and join private intel shops where they feel they can do productive work and be better compensated without being micromanaged by the less talented. Why? Michael Tanji has written extensively on this, so has “Ishmael Jones” and a number of other former spooks

  12. Michael Says:

    Today, it is my entirely informal and anecdotal observation that really talented members of IC agencies, both analytic and operative, get out long before their careers peak and join private intel shops where they feel they can do productive work and be better compensated without being micromanaged by the less talented. Why?

    In the years immediately preceding and just after 9/11, a mid-careerist with talent, especially one with any technical acumen, did exactly this. The ‘why’ is simple: fulfillment. Yes, a contractor position pays better, but no one worth keeping leaves for the money, they leave because the work is no longer fulfilling and what would be fulfilling is being filled by a geezer who isn’t going anywhere for at least ten years, or is a position your lifer boss won’t approve your transfer to “because you’re too valuable.” What he’s really saying is you’d negatively impact his headcount, so f*** what you want. 

    So now we’re left with an IC that covered in out-dated geezer frosting, a wafer-thin layer of mid-careerests who gutted it out (props), and a big fat cake of people who have at best 12 years on the job, all of it in the rush-rush, slap-dash world ‘let’s all fight the CT/COIN battles.’ Mostly likely they have less than 12 years on the job because if the prevailing attitude of the new hires I worked with, every one of that lot who could left for contractors because working for the gov’t was “too ghetto.” For these people it is not a calling, its just another job; a clearance just something to increase your earning power.

    Everyone in the community can repackage reporting and everyone is exposed to “current” activities, when what we need more of is long and deep thought. Contrarian ideas? Alternative analysis? That’s great for the schoolhouse but a waste of time as long as the geezer in charge can pull out his 40-years-on-the-job trump card and stifle all debate. You know what “alternative” conclusions are relegated to? Footnotes. Who reads footnotes? No one. 

    Even today, after all the lessons we’ve learned, you still hear people saying things like “everyone knows.” Yes, that sort of thinking served us so well these past few years. Why would anyone who gave a **** stick around in an environment like that?  

  13. zen Says:

    Gracias Michael for that informative but exceedingly depressing explanation

  14. Charles Cameron Says:

    Yes — adding my thanks to Zen’s.  Like Zen, I found your comment depressing although much appreciated.  I can only demur to say there are still a few of us around in the general population who do read footnotes, sometimes with relish.

  15. Charles Cameron Says:

    I also wanted to thank James Bennett for his comment — the UK I grew up in had whole strands of folklore about such people, notable among them TE Lawrence, obviously, Sir Richard Francis Burton — memorable not only for his visit to Mecca but also to Salt Lake City! — and Sir John Woodroffe, whose books on tantra more or less introduced that major strand of subcontinental spirituality to the western world.
    And then there was the Oxford don, a little before my time, who would listen to his students’ essays during tutorials while seated under a table draped with an ample tablecloth — with the occasional “Yes, yes, and your source for such an erroneous idea would be?” emerging from hidden depths…

  16. Madhu Says:

    Zen – thanks for that reply. Informative. I guess I was going off on a tangent and meant something different than the health of the institution.
    Michael – that is disconcerting.
    Charles – Actually, I was thinking along the lines of people like T.E. Lawrence along with some prominent Cold Warriors. There is the writing and mythology, and then the academic arguments over “how much good did these guys really do in the grand scheme of things?” So, really, I’m not contradicting your points or anything written up thread. On a tangent.
    How do you know someone is good or that their brilliance ever translates? It’s an honest question on my part.

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