[ by Charles Cameron — opinions differ — with respect for informed disagreement ]
Charles Lister & Daveed Gartenstein-Ross both know a great deal more than I do about the factions within the Syrian opposition, so I’m putting their two tweets on the topic, posted only fifteen moniutes apart. up here as an invitation to eacxh of them to express the angle from which they find the report, respectively, to lack knowledge and have high value.
"If the Castle Falls": Highly valuable report on the Syrian opposition from the Tony Blair Faith Foundation. https://t.co/LKyV6IoRPw
I’m posting this on Boxing Day as we’d say back in the UK, hoping both parties will have an opportunity to discuss the report at some future point, but also aware that both are more than busy, and may not find the time to do so.
Either way, I wish them both, and all Zenpundit readers, the very best this festive season.
[ 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:
Chautauqua have indicated that they expect to host Daveed’s discussion with Husain Haqqanion their YouTube channel. Haqqani told me he would “indeed” be discussing the Ghazwa e-Hind at Chautauqua. I can’t wait to see this!
In August, Perspectives on Terrorism launched a special all-ISIS issue edited by Thomas Hegghammer. The issue was derived from a research conference in Oslo earlier this year, which I was fortunate enough to attend. It was easily the most interesting conference I’ve ever been to, and every panel had something important to share. The resulting papers are among the most serious research on the Islamic State to date, and I highly recommend the issue. The individual articles are listed below, and the whole issue can be found here.
[ by Charles Cameron — in which Daveed Gartenstein-Ross and Phillip Smyth get into role ]
The United States Institute of Peace is holding what it terms a PeaceGame today and tomorrow:
The current PeaceGame series is tackling one of the timeliest and most challenging of issues confronted by the U.S. government and stakeholders worldwide: the global rise of radical groups and violent extremism. Building on a successful first session in December exploring the political and economic roots of extremism and violence, our June event will focus on the human element: why do today’s extremist movements attract recruits worldwide, and how can the international community more effectively both counter this appeal and manage the reintegration of radicalized individuals.
That’s an interesting topic all right — but when it comes to role-playing “stakeholders worldwide” there are going to be some interesting participants..
Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, for instance, is playing the Islamic State:
Formally naming IS “Daesh” in the game seems to me to be a curious choice, since it’s unlikely to be the term by which IS members self-identify in “real life”. Note that the US isn’t named “Crusaders” although there are some stake-holders who might think of the US that way.
Daveed gets into role as IS, and Pillip Smyth, playing Shia, responds likewise:
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.