Messianic symmetries

[ by Charles Cameron — Shin Bet’s Yuval Diskin calles Netanyahu messianic, Netanyahu called Ahmadinejad messianic, and other millenarian parallels and face-offs ]


One man’s Christ is another man’s Antichrist:

We’ll get to Diskin and Netanyahu, but first some background.

It is not uncommon to see the face-off between the West and Global Jihad — however you might prefer to name the opposing sides — as both asymmetrical (our kevlar vs their shalwar kameez, so to speak) and symmetrical (our crusaders vs their mujahideen, so to speak).

There are several aspects of these symmetries and asymmetries that interest me:


The first is that the asymmetries are typically quantitative: one side has more firepower than the other, more troops and more sophisticated weaponry, and indeed, the conflict or flurry of conflicts in question does seem to fall under the rubric of asymmetric warfare, and those who write about asymmetries with the deepest understanding are typically those whose “loop” is to observe, orient, decide and act… while by way of contrast, the symmetries are most frequently observed by those whose “loop” is to observe, comprehend, describe and influence, and the symmetries they observe are typically qualitative, operating at the level of ideas.

I’ll get to a couple of examples shortly.


The second is that within the asymmetries, it is not uncommon to find a reversal of polarities by which the lesser outsmarts and defeats the greater force. I’m thinking here of David and Goliath as the archetypal version, and of Nigel Howard, in Confrontation Analysis: how to win operations other than war, writing:

the problem of defense in the modern world is the paradoxical one of finding ways for the strong to defeat the weak.

A different aspect of asymmetry emerges when one can think of Israel as both the powerful high-tech occupier of a poorly-equipped and stateless mass of Palestinians, and a tiny emergent Jewish democracy surrounded on all sides (except the sea) by Arab and or Muslim once and future foes… a Goliath seen one way, a David the other…

What’s intriguing here is that in some ways everybody wants to be David, right?


The third point of interest is the frequency with which the symmetries appear to contain explicit millenarian, messianic or apocalyptic elements.

Here are two examples. The first is from Gilles Kepel, who has been studying Muslim political movements for decades – he wrote The Prophet and the Pharaoh: Islamist movements in Sadat’s Egypt in 1984. In his 2010 Beyond Terror and Martyrdom: The Future of the Middle East, p. 10, he writes:B

ush, Cheney, and the neoconservatives on one hand, Bin Laden, Zawahiri, and Al Qaeda on the other — both sides staked their claim to power on a vision of global rectification through violent means. But the utopian ends that supposedly justified those means — universal democracy or a universal Islamist state — proved impossible to achieve, and in a few short years the opposing dreams of Bush and Bin Laden had devolved into an endless shared nightmare.

And then there’s Arundhati Roy, whose Guardian piece, The algebra of infinite justice, written less than a month after 9/11, asked:

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