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Big Pharaoh: Levels of complexity in presentation

Thursday, August 29th, 2013

[ by Charles Cameron — Syria, yes, but with a focus on networks, tensions, mapping, and understanding ]
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Binary logic is a poor basis for foreign policy, as Tukhachevskii said on Small Wars Council’s Syria under Bashir Assad: crumbling now? thread, pointing us to the work of The Big Pharaoh. Here are two of the Big Pharaoh’s recent (before Obama‘s “undecided” speech) tweets:

Each of those tweets is non-linear in its own way, but via its implications — we “complete the loop” by knowing that the “mass murderer” is the Syrian President, Bashar al-Assad and the “cannibal” is the Syrian rebel, Abu Sakkar, and that Al-Qaeda typically cries “allahu Akbar” after killing Americans, while Americans typically rejoice after killing Al-Qaeda operatives. So these two tweets are already non-linear, but not as complex as what comes next>

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The Big Pharaoh also put this diagram on his blog, and Max Fisher picked it up and blogged it at the Washington Post as The Middle East, explained in one (sort of terrifying) chart:

I’d have some questions here, of course — one about the directionality of the arrows, which only seem to go in one direction — okay for the “supports” and “has nu clue” arrows, perhaps, but surely the “haters” would mostly be two-way, with AQ hating US as well as US hating AQ? There’s no mention of Jordan, I might ask about that… And there are no arrows at all between Lebanese Shias and Lebanese Sunnis — hunh?

**

What really intrigues me here, though, is that while this chart with fifteen “nodes” or players captures many more “edges” or connections between them than either or even both of the two tweets above, the tweets evoke a more richly human “feel” for the connections they reference, by drawing on human memories of the various parties and their actions.

Thus on the face of it, the diagram is the more complex representation, but when taken into human perception and understanding, the tweets offer a more immediuate and visceral sense of their respective situations.

And scaled down and in broad strokes, that’s the difference between “big data” analytic tools on the one hand, and HipBone-Sembl approach to mapping on the other. A HipBone-Sembl board may offer you two, or six, ten, maybe even a dozen nodes, but it fills them with rich anecdotal associations, both intellectual and emotional — a very different approach from — and one that I feel is complementary to — a big data search for a needle in a global needlestack…

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But I’d be remiss if I didn’t also point you to Kerwin Datu‘s A network analysis approach to the Syrian dilemma on the Global Urbanist blog. He begins:

A chart by The Big Pharaoh doing the rounds of social media shows just how much of a tangled mess the Middle East is. But if we tease it apart, we see that the region is fairly neatly divided into two camps; it’s just that one of those camps is divided amongst itself. Deciding which of these internal divisions are fundamental to the peace and which are distractions in the short term may make the diplomatic options very clear.

and goes on from there, offering a series of network graphs of which is the fourth:

from which he draws the following observation:

What can we do from this position? If the US decides to pursue a purely military route to remove Assad from power, it will incur the ire of Russia, Iran and Lebanese Shias, but it can do so with a broad base of support including the Syrian rebels themselves, Israel, Qatar, Turkey, Lebanese Sunnis, and even Al Qaeda. However if it chooses a diplomatic route to curry support to remove Assad it must isolate him in the above graph by making an ally out of Russia and/or Iran (assuming that making an ally out of Lebanese Shias would have little impact). Russia doesn’t hate the US but it does hate the Syrian rebels, making it an unpromising ally against Assad. Iran hates the Syrian rebels and the US hates Iran, but the Al Qaeda is a thorn in both their sides, making it a potential though unlikely source of cooperation.

Really, you and I should read the whole piece, and draw our own conclusions.

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Or lack thereof. I’ll give the last tweet to Teju Cole, who articulates my own thoughts, too:

Emptiness and Hezbollah

Friday, July 26th, 2013

[ by Charles Cameron — food for thought, or empty calories? ]
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Sources:

  • Heart Sutra
  • Hezbollah
  • **

    Pondering.

    There’s definitely a form here, a commutative form, and the Buddhist part is interesting because it asserts some kind of commutation is possible between a datum and its own absence — as though the “created” world of Genesis could be viewed as exactly mirroring the “ex nihilo” from which it arises.

    But the Hezbollah identity? That should be of interest to the Europeans who just made a point of distinguishing between political and military versions of Hezbollah!

    Beyond that, pondering.

    Videos, the counter-nasheed and some dancing girls

    Sunday, June 30th, 2013

    [ by Charles Cameron — further notes from the frayed edges of what’s significant ]
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    Okay, you all know I’m interested in the graphics of terrorism and their symbolism, and only a day or two ago I posted Of dualities, contradictions and the nonduality on the two into one phenomenon — well, here’s an addendum:

    **

    The upper image, showing the Jabha al-Nusra logo — Sunni, left — alongside the Hezbollah insignia — Shi’a, right — morphs into the single image in the lower panel, thereby resolving the sectarian conflict in Syria by filmic means.

    The video from which these two shots were taken, alas, was the work product of the US Government, as part of an effort of outreach by the little-known Digital Outreach Team at the State Department, who at the time of writing appear to have 193 videos uploaded.

    The BBC notes:

    According to the Associated Press news agency, the 50-member Digital Outreach Team tweets, posts Facebook updates and uploads video to YouTube in Arabic, Punjabi, Somali and Urdu, in a bid to counter the radical jihadist message. It seems it’s even had exchanges with terror suspects such as US-born militant Omar Hammami, a former member of Somalia’s al-Shabab.

    The two images above were taken from a video titled Secret meeting between Hassan Nasrallah and al-Zawahiri, but the Beeb’s article focused on what it termed a “spoof Al-Qaeda video”, which I’ll call Pharaoh Ayman speaks to the dancing girls for want of a better name:

    The team’s al-Zawahiri spoof opens with a notice that “fizzy drinks should be consumed while watching this production” – a twist on the usual message at the beginning of al-Qaeda videos saying “it is not permitted to add music to this production … Taking the classic preaching-to-camera format, the three-minute clip features a voiceover in which the Egyptian-born militant repeatedly bungles his speech by saying things like: “The butchers, ahem, sorry, I mean the mujahideen”. In the video – issued by the US State Department’s Digital Outreach Team – al-Zawahiri is backed by punkah-wallahs. The clip then cuts to a shot, as though from behind the speaker, to reveal a troupe of dancers performing in front of him.”

    But see for yourselves, punkah-wallas and all:

    For your further Sundance consideration, and from the same studios, you might also like the lowest and slowest nasheed ever recorded.

    **

    Speaking of graphics — coming up on ZP when I have had a chance to read a little more of El Difraoui, reviews of:

  • Beifuss and Bellini, Branding Terror
  • Abdelasiem El Difraoui, Al-Qaida par l’image. La prophétie du martyre
  • Hezbollah and related graphics

    Sunday, May 26th, 2013

    [ by Charles Cameron — insights into symbolism on both sides of the Syrian conflict, including Nasrallah as Dajjal and Pinocchio, Star Trek darkness, more ]
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    I thought it might be instructive to compare the Hezbollah flag:

    with a couple of variants seen recently:

    The version on the left is captioned Syrian opposition activists re-imagining Hezbollah’s logo after absorbing heavy losses in Qusayr. The one on the right is from another image mocking Hezbollah, this one picturing Nasrollah as the Dajjal.

    Note that in the second image, the gun is pointing down — in a sort of “shoot your own foot” gesture, perhaps?

    **

    That second image, with the gun reversed, comes from a portrayal of Nasrallah as the Dajjal (below, left) — the one-eyed figure in Muslim apocalyptic serving roughly the same function as the Antichrist in Christian eschatology (depicted in a popular book cover,found by J-P Filiu, below, right):

    Not also the tire substituting for Nasrallah’s black turban.

    This image of Nasrallah is itself a variant on this one, also portraying him as the Dajjal:

    but without the vampiric attributes and tire-turban of the other version.

    **

    These guys are quick, incidentally — see how fast Nasrallah appeared in StarTrek guise

    **

    Here are a couple more variants on the Hezbollah flag:

    I’m intrigued by the Pinocchio image, which — if I’m not mistaken — features the tire-turban once again:

    It was lying that made Pinocchio’s nose extend itself, and just as the Devil in Christianity is “the Father of Lies” (John 8.44), so in Islam the term al-Dajjal means “the Deceiver”. And see how the gun has turned into a Serpent, complete with forked tongue?

    **

    Finally, Phillip Smyth has been posting a series titled Hizballah Cavalcade at Aaron Zelin‘s Jihadology blog, and a couple of details caught my eye in what Smyth terms the “official Hizballah martyrdom posters” for Ashraf Hasan ‘Ayyad and Musen Samir Birro.

    As you can see, each of these posters features the Hezbollah emblem on dog-tags, a soldier’s helmet with poppies growing from it, the outline of a white dove, silhouette of a soldier with rifle raised, and the glint of the sun behind it.

    If anyone has a detailed exegesis of this cluster of images to offer, I’d be most interested.

    **

    Hat tips to Mr Orange for pointing me to the Nasrallah Dajjal graphics, and to Aaron Zelin for Jihadology…

    Furnish on Pew findings re: Islam

    Thursday, May 2nd, 2013

    [ Charles Cameron presenting guest-blogger Timothy Furnish ]
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    I’m delighted to welcome Dr Timothy Furnish as a guest-blogger here on Zenpundit. Dr Furnish has served as an Arabic linguist with the 101st Airborne and as an Army chaplain, holds a PhD in Islamic history from Ohio State, is the author of Holiest Wars: Islamic Mahdis, Their Jihads, and Osama bin Laden (2005), and blogs at MahdiWatch. His extended piece for the History News Network, The Ideology Behind the Boston Marathon Bombing, recently received “top billing” in Zen’s Recommended Reading of April 24th.

    **

    Does This Paint It Black, or Am I A Fool to Cry? Breaking Down the New Pew Study of Muslims
    by Timothy R. Furnish, PhD
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    Pew has released another massive installment of data from its research, 2008-2012, into Muslim attitudes, entitled “The World’s Muslims: Religion, Politics and Society.” Over 38,000 Muslims in almost 40 countries were surveyed, thus constituting a survey both statistically sound and geographically expansive. Herewith is an analysis of that information and what seem to be its major ramifications.

    The first section deals with shari`a, usually rendered simply as “Islamic law” but more accurately defined as “the rules of correct practice” which “cover every possible human contingency, social and individual, from birth to death” and based upon the Qur’an and hadiths (sayings and practices attributed to Muhammad) as interpreted by Islamic religious scholars (Marshal G.S. Hodgson, The Venture of Islam, Vol 1: The Classical Age of Islam, p. 74). Asked “should sharia [as Pew anglicizes it] be the law of the land,” 57% of Muslims across 38 countries answered “yes” — including, most problematically for the US: 99% of Afghans, 91% of Iraqis, 89% of Palestinians, 84% of Pakistanis and even 74% of Egyptians. Should sharia apply to non-Muslims as well as Muslims? Across 21 countries surveyed on this question, 40% answered affirmatively — with the highest positive response coming from Egypt (its 74% exceeding even Afghanistan’s 61%). And on the question whether sharia punishments — such as whippings and cutting off of thieves’ hands — should be enacted, the 20-country average was 52%, led by Pakistan (88%), Afghanistan (81%), the Palestinian Territories [PT] (76%) and Egypt (70-%). On the specific penalty of stoning for adultery, the 20-country average was 51% — with, again, Pakistan (89%), Afghanistan (85%), the PT (84%) and Egypt (71%) highest in approval. Finally, 38% of Muslims, across those same 20 nations, support the death penalty for those leaving Islam for another religion.

    Huge majorities of Muslims across most of these surveyed nations say that “it’s good others can practice their faith” — but Pew’s imprecise terminology on this topic makes possible that this simply mean many Muslims are willing to grant non-Muslims the tolerated, but second-class, ancient status of the dhimmi. Majorities, too, in most countries say that “democracy is better than a powerful leader;” however, the latter was actually preferred by most surveyed in Russia, Bosnia-Hercegovina, Kyrgyzstan, Afghanistan and Pakistan, as well as by 42% of Iraqis, 40% of Palestinians and 36% of Egyptians. Most Afghans, Egyptians and Tunisians (and even 1/3 of Turks) believe that “Islamic political parties” are better than other ones, although 53% of Indonesians and 45% of Iraqis are also worried about “Muslim extremists.” (Curiously, 31% of Malaysians are, on the other hand, worried about “Christian extremists” — although evidence of such existing in that country is practically non-existent.) There is good news on the question of suicide bombing, however: across 20 countries, only 13.5% think it is ever justified — although the support is much higher in the PT (40%), Afghanistan (39%) and Egypt (29%).

    In terms of morality, large majorities in most Muslim countries (especially outside Sub-Saharan Africa) think drinking alcohol is morally repugnant, notably in Malaysia (93%), Pakistan and Indonesia (both 91%). Most Muslims in most countries surveyed consider abortion wrong, as well as pre- and extra-marital sex and, almost needless to say, homosexuality. (Although one wishes Pew had asked about mu`tah, or “temporary marriage” — a practice originally Twelver Shi`i which has increasingly become used by Sunnis.) Yet, simultaneously — following Qur’anic rubrics — some 30% of Muslims in 21 countries support polygamy, including almost half of Palestinians, 46% of Iraqis and 41% of Egyptians. There is also significant support for honor killings in not just Afghanistan and Iraq but also Egypt and the PT. Over ¾ of Muslims across 23 countries says that “wives must always obey their husbands:” an average of 77%. And Pew notes that there is a statistically very significant correlation between sharia-support and believing women have few(er) rights.

    Asked whether they believed they were “following Muhammad’s example,” 75% of Afghans and 55% of Iraqis answered affirmatively — although most Muslims were not nearly so confident. On the question “are Sunni-Shi`i tensions a problem,” 38% of Lebanese, 34% of Pakistanis, 23% of Iraqis and 20% of Afghans said “yes.”

    It is no surprise that huge majorities of Muslims in most surveyed countries believe that Islam is the only path to salvation, nor that most also say “it’s a duty to convert others” to Islam. It is somewhat counterintuitive, however, that many Muslims say they “know little about Christianity” — even in places with large Christian minorities, such as Egypt. Muslims in Sub-Saharan Africa are the most likely to agree that “Islam and Christianity have a lot in common,” and so are 42% of Palestianians, as well as some 1/3 of Lebanese and Egyptians. But only 10% of Pakistanis agree. Asked whether they ever engaged in “interfaith meetings,” many Muslims in Sub-Saharan Africa said that they did (with Christians), and a majority of Thais said likewise (albeit with Buddhists). But only 8% of Palestinians, 5% of Iraqis, and 4% of Egyptians said they ever do so—despite substantial Christian populations in each of those areas.

    Regarding the question “are religion and science in conflict,” most Muslims said “no” — with the exceptions of Lebanon, Bangladesh, Tunisia and Turkey where over 40% in each country (and, actually, a majority in Lebanon) said that they were at loggerheads. Most Muslims also say they have no problems with believing in Allah and evolution — the exceptions being the majority of Afghans and Indonesians. Regarding popular culture, clear majorities of Muslims in many countries say they like Western music, TV and movies—but, at the same time, similar majorities say that such things undermine morality (although Bollywood less so than Hollywood).

    Observations:

    1) The high degree of support for sharia is the red flag here. Contra media and adminstration (both Obama and Bush) assurances that most Muslims are “moderate,” empirical data now exists that clearly shows most Muslims, in point of fact, support not just sharia in general but its brutal punishments. Perhaps just as disturbing, almost four in ten Muslims are in favor of killing those who choose to follow another religion. And countries in which the US is heavily involved either diplomatically or militarily (or both) are the very ones where such sentiments run most high: Pakistan, Afghanistan, Egypt, the Palestinian Territories. So are the “extremists” these very Muslims who want to follow, literally, the Qur’an and hadiths? Messers Brennan, Holder and Obama have some explaining to do.

    2) Afghanistan would appear to be a lost cause. Afghans are at the top of almost every list in support for not just sharia, suicide bombing, honor killing and — ironically (or perhaps not) — confidence that they are emulating Islam’s founder, as well as dislike for democracy. In light of this clear data, two points about Afghanistan become clear: tactically, ostensible American befuddlement as to the causes of “green on blue” attacks and the continuing popularity of the Taliban in Afghanistan appears as willful ignorance; strategically, the US decision to stay there after taking out the al-Qa`ida [AQ] staging, post-9/11, and attempt to modernize Afghanistan was a huge, neo-Wilsonian mistake. 2014 cannot come soon enough.

    3) In some ways Islam in Southeastern Europe, and to a lesser extent in Central Asia, seems to be a more tolerant brand of the faith than the Middle Eastern variety. For example, the SE European and Central Asian Muslims are the least likely to support the death penalty for “apostasy,” and the most supportive of letting women decide for themselves whether to veil. And Muslims in Sub-Saharan Africa are the most likely to know about Christianity, and to interact with Christians. On the other hand, African Muslims are among the most enamored of sharia, and Central Asian ones fond of letting qadis (Islamic judges) decide family and property disputes. So there does not seem to be a direct link between Westernization and moderation; in fact, the influence of Sufism — Islamic mysticism — in the regard needs to be correlated and studied (beyond what Pew did on the topic in last year’s analysis).

    4) One bit of prognostication based on this data: Malaysia may be the next breeding ground of Islamic terrorism. It’s home to some 17 million Muslims (61% of its 28 million people), who hold a congeries of unsettling views: 86% want sharia the law of the land; 67% favor the death penalty for apostasy; 66% like sharia-compliant corporal punishments; 60% support stoning for adultery; and 18% think suicide bombing is justified. PACOM, SOCOM and the intelligence agencies need to ramp up hiring of Malay linguists and analysts.

    5) Finally, some words for those — like FNC’s Megyn Kelly and Julie Roginsky (on the former’s show “American Live,” 4/30/13) — who pose a sociopolitical and moral equivalence between Muslim support for sharia and Evangelical Protestant Christian support for wives’ obedience to husbands: that’s a bit too much sympathy for the devil. Yes, Evangelical Christian pastors hold some pretty conservative views of the family, as per a 2011 Pew study of them; for example, 55% of them do agree that “a wife must always obey her husband” (compared to 77% of Muslims). And, ironically, many such Evangelicals agree in large measure with Muslims on issues such as the immorality of alcohol, abortion and homosexuality. However, one searches in vain for any Evangelical (or other) Christian support for whippings, stonings, amputation of thieves’ limbs, polygamy or suicide bombing.

    Islam is the world’s second-largest religion, numbering some 1.6 billion humans (behind only Christianity’s 2.2 billion). There is, thus, enormous diversity of opinion on many issues of doctrine and practice, and essentializing Islam as either “peaceful” or “violent” is fraught with peril. Nonetheless, this latest Pew study provides empirical evidence that many — far too many — Muslims cling to a literalist, supremacist and indeed brutal view of their religion. Insha’allah, this will change eventually — but time is not necessarily on our side.


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