Both Will McCants and Cole Bunzel have recommended this article, so you may already have seen it.
Okay, I understand that there are various viewpoints, and hence various different people will make different choices as to which is the key paragraph here. For many, it will be Zawahiri‘s focus on al-Sham.
Indeed, Zawahiri’s new geographic focus happens to align itself with what Abu Musab al-Suri proposed in his Global Islamic Resistance Call — published, perhaps a tad presciently, more than a decade ago in 2004/5 — that (in J-P Filiu‘s phrase, Apocalypse in Islam, p. 189):
It is self-evident to him that the “country of Sham” — Greater Syria, including Lebanon, Palestine, and Jordan — looms as the apocalyptic theater par excellence, and that al-Qaida’s strategic conception of global jihad must be reoriented to take into account this final clash.
From my own POV, as someone whose interest is in movements in religious thought, this is the key paragraph:
Zawahri did deliver at least one message aimed at the jihadist base, affirming that the IS’s members are “Khawarij,” a historical Muslim sect of hyper-extremist deviants. Labeling the Islamic State group as such has been controversial within Salafi-jihadism — theorist Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi has resisted it — in part because it requires jihadists to act on the Prophet Muhammad’s prescription for dealing with the Khawarij: “qatl Ad,” or total extermination. Zawahri has now come down firmly on one side of this intra-jihadist debate.
[ by Charles Cameron — fitness landscapes and the Bonnie Banks o’ Loch Lomond ]
With the rise and fall of sea levels, sky levels, land emerges or submerges, mountain ranges with scattered lakes in their valleys transform into archipelagos, island clusters surge up to become continents — rise and fall, ebb and flow, wave upon wave..
Biologists talk about adaptive landscapes. In these metaphorical places, species climb uphill towards optimal fitness. Going up is a struggle. Climbing takes energy. Optimal peaks can be hard to attain. Many species are distracted by getting stuck on sub-optimal false peaks, or waylaid by the intervening rugged landscape.
[ by Charles Cameron — on Graeme Wood’s latest, the goals of IS, and geographic slippage ]
Graeme Wood, who wrote the Atlantic piece that broke the apocalyptic side of the Islamic State’s ideology wide open in March of last year, has a related piece out this month: Donald Trump and the Apocalypse, with the subtitle, Is Rome really ISIS’s “ultimate trophy”? It’s a fun read, discussing the confusion that is possible over the use of the word Rome in Muslim prophetic literature — a topic I’ve discussed before.
Just for the record, then, here’s a screengrab from the Islami State’s magazine Dabiq, issue 4 page 37:
When Ivan the Terrible was crowned the first Tsar of All Russia in 1547, the church announced Moscow to be the “Third and Final Rome,” the inheritor of St. Peter’s Rome and Byzantium, and the last bastion of Orthodox Christianity standing up to a Europe mired in heresy.
Filofey of Pskov’s 1510 claim that “Two Romes have fallen; the third stands; and there will not be a fourth”
This was in Novaya gazeta, February 2015, and she suggested that Russia..
many of whose residents view it as the third Rome, may suffer the fate not of the first Rome but of the second, a fate that cannot be reassuring to many of them because in the end the residents of the second Rome in Constantinople “considered that Islam was better than the West.”
Wood mentions in his piece that the Australian jihadist ideologue Cerantonio argues:
The Rum of the end-times hadith is not the Rome of Pope Francis but the Rome of the Republic of Turkey.
Putin might take offense if he knew..
And then there’s the matter of Quranic translation and the Quranic verse 30.2, as Wood also notes:
Arberry, always interesting to read, translates that verse:
The Greeks have been vanquished.
The historical commentary in The Study Quran, p 984-85, clarifies that this verse refers to Sassanid (Magian) successes against the (Christian) Byzantine empire — which the following verse says will be reversed — and terming it “the only reference in the Quran to political events conetemporary with Muhammad and his followers beyond the Arabian Peninsula”.
All things considered, oy veh: it seems that history does strange things to geography, time to space.
[ by Charles Cameron — Ambassador Husain Haqqani and Daveed Gartenstein-Ross at Chautauqua ]
From the outset, when cheers went up for Daveed’s birthplace, Ashland, Oregon, and Ambassador Haqqani’s, Karachi — and for the brilliant meeting of the minds that is Chautauqua — it was clear that we were in the presence of two gracious, witty and informed intelligences, and the seriousness of the conversation between them that followed did nothing to reduce our pleasure in the event. Daveed called it “easily the best experience I have ever had as a speaker.”
I’ll highlight some quotes from each speaker, with the occasional comment:
None of the countries except Egypt, Turkey and Iran, none of the countries of the Middle East are in borders that are historic, or that have evolved through a historic process. And that’s why you see the borders a straight lines. Straight lines are always drawn by cartographers or politicians, the real maps in history are always convoluted because of some historic factor or the other, or some river or some mountains.
And now that whole structure, the contrived structure, is coming apart.
Then most important part of it is, that this crisis of identity – who are we? are we Muslims trying to recreate the past under the principles of the caliphate .. or are we Arabs, trying to unify everybody based on one language, or are we these states that are contrived, or are we our ethnic group, or are we our tribe, or are we our sect? And this is not only in the region, it’s also overlapping into the Muslim communities in the diaspora..
If Amb. Haqqani emphasized the multiple identities in play in the Arabic, Islamic, Sunni, Shia, Sufi, and tribal worlds in his opening, Daveed’s emphasis was on the failure of the post-Westphalian concept of the nation state.
In the economic sphere there’s this thing that is often called “legacy industries” – industries that fit for another time, but are kind of out of place today. Think of Blockbuster Video, once a massive, massive corporation.. that’s a legacy industry. So when Ambassador Haqqani talks about how it’s not just in the Middle East that we have this crisis of identity, I think the broader trend is that the Westphalian state that he spoke about, the kind of state that was encoded after the Peace of Westphalia, looks to a lot of people who are in this generation of the internet where ideas flow freely, it looks like a legacy industry.
Why do you need this as a form of political organizing? And what ISIS has shown is that a violent non-state actor, even a jihadist group that is genocidal and implements as brutal a form of Islamic law as you could possibly see, it can hold territory the size of Great Britain, and it can withstand the advance of a coalition that includes the world’s most powerful countries including the United States. And what that suggests is that alternative forms of political organization can now compete with the nation state.
The Ambassador then turned to the lessons we should take from 1919’s US King–Crane Commission, reporting on the break-up of the Ottoman Empire — they concluded that it gave us
a great opportunity — not likely to return — to build .. a Near East State on the modern basis of full religious liberty, deliberately including various religious faiths, and especially guarding the rights of minorities
— down to our own times.
What we can be sure of is that the current situation is something that will not be dealt with without understanding the texture of these societies. So for example, when the United States went into Iraq without full understanding of its sectarian and tribal composition, and assumed that, all we are doing is deposing a dictator, Saddam Hussein, and then we will hold elections and now a nice new guy will get elected, and things will be all right -– that that is certainly not the recipe. So what we can say with certainty in 2015 is .. over the last century what we have learnt is: outsiders, based on their interests, determining borders is not a good idea, and should certainly not be repeated. Assuming that others are anxious to embrace your culture in totality is also an unrealistic idea.
The sentence that follows was a stunner from the Ambassador, gently delivered — a single sentence that could just as easily have been the title for this post as the remark by Daveed with which I have in fact titled it:
Let me just say that, look, he ideological battle, in the Muslim world, will have to be fought by the likes of me.
Spot on — and we are fortunate the Ambassador and his like are among us.
Daveed then turned to another topic I have freqently emphasized myself.
The power of ideas – we as Americans tend not to recognize this when it falls outside of ideas that are familiar to us. So one thing that the US has been slow to acknowledge is the role of the ideology that our friend and ally Saudi Arabia has been promulgating globally, in fomenting jihadist organizations.
And one of the reasons we have been slow to recognize that. I mean one reason is obvious, which is oil. .. But another reason has been – we tend to think of ideas that are rooted in religion – as a very post-Christian country – we tend to think of them as not being real – as ideas which express an ideology which is alien to us –as basically being a pretext, with some underlying motivation which is more familiar to us. That it must be economics, or it must be political anger. I’m not saying those are irrelevant, they’re not – but when Al-Qaida or ISIS explains themselves, taking their explanation seriously and understanding where they’re coming from – not as representatives of Islam as a whole, but as representatives of the particular ideology that they claim to stand for – we need to take that seriously. Because they certainly do.
The world is not a problem for Americans to solve, it’s a situation for them to understand.
Life is not a problem to be solved but a mystery to be lived.
Toward the end of the discussion, Daveed touched on some ideas of recurrent interest to Zenpundit readers..
Looking at the US Government, questions that I ask a lot are: Why are we so bad at strategy? Why are we so bad at analysis? Why do we take such a short term view and negate the long term?
He then freturned to the issue of legacy industries and nation-states:
Blockbuster is a legacy industry. And the reason why legacy industries have so much trouble competing against start-up firms, is because start-ups are smaller, it’s more easy for them to change course, to implement innovative policies, to make resolute decisions – they can out-manoeuver larger companies. And so larger companies that do well adapt themselves to this new environment where they have start-up competitors. Nation-state governments are legacy industries. Violent non-state actors are start-up compoetitors.
— and had the final, pointed word:
We’re a legacy industry ina world of start-up competitors.
Having offered you these tastes, at this point I can only encourage you to watch the whole hour and a quarter, filled to the brim with incisive and articulately-stated insights:
Zenpundit is a blog dedicated to exploring the intersections of foreign policy, history, military theory, national security,strategic thinking, futurism, cognition and a number of other esoteric pursuits.