zenpundit.com » 2010 » October

Archive for October, 2010

Note to the Readership

Thursday, October 28th, 2010

I am, in fact, still alive.

Just handling some weighty issues while enjoying a surfeit of talented guest posters.

Guest Post: Mexico, Africa, Zarqawi?

Thursday, October 28th, 2010

Charles Cameron is the regular guest-blogger at Zenpundit, and has also posted at Small Wars Journal, All Things Counterterrorism, for the Chicago Boyz Afghanistan 2050 roundtable and elsewhere.  Charles read Theology at Christ Church, Oxford, under AE Harvey, and was at one time a Principal Researcher with Boston University’s Center for Millennial Studies and the Senior Analyst with the Arlington Institute:

Zen here – I think Charles has hit upon a primal psychological mechanism that comes into full flower as societies break down and war begins to shade into warlordism. We have seen this repeatedly in history from Tamerlane’s mounds of skulls to Khmer Rouge killing fields. Mad Barons, Dogmeat Generals, Friekorps kapteins and butchers long since forgotten by history- there’s a gravitational pull toward atavistic, symbolic, destruction as social norms erode under the corrosive effects of escalating violence.

Mexico, Africa, Zarqawi?

by Charles Cameron

I’ve been struck by a couple of passages I’ve run across in my reading recently that remind me of what I can only call “brutality with religious overtones”.
1. Mexico

There have been a fair number of articles about the various Mexican cartels, but the excerpt from Ed Vulliamy’s book, Amexica: War Along the Borderline that’s now online at Vanity Fair is the one that caught my eye yesterday.

Here’s Vulliamy’s account of a conversation with Dr. Hiram Muñoz of Tijuana:

He explained his work to me during the first of several visits I have made to his mortuary. “Each different mutilation leaves a message,” he said. “The mutilations have become a kind of folk tradition. If the tongue is cut out, it means the person talked too much—a snitch, or chupro. A man who has informed on the clan has his finger cut off and maybe put in his mouth.” This makes sense: a traitor to a narco-cartel is known as a dedo — a finger. “If you are castrated,” Muñoz continued, “you may have slept with or looked at the woman of another man in the business. Severed arms could mean that you stole from your consignment, severed legs that you tried to walk away from the cartel.”<¶>Earlier this year, 36-year-old Hugo Hernandez was abducted in Sonora; his body turned up a week later in Los Mochis, Sinaloa, but not in a single piece. His torso was in one location, his severed arms and legs (boxed) in another. The face had been cut off. It was found near city hall, sewn to a soccer ball.

That’s the brutality — I haven’t see the book itself yet, but I gather it also gets into the narco-corrida music and the “quasi-Catholic cult of Santíssima Muerte” — which brings me to the second part of my interest – the religious aspect.

As Vulliamy mentions, there’s the cult of Holy Death, to be sure, a sort of shadow or inverse of the Blessed Virgin — a Dark Mother for dark times, or perhaps a revival of the ancient Mictlancihuatl, lady of the Dead? — with her own liturgy, too:

Almighty God: in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, we ask for your permission to summon Saint Death. Welcome, White Sister: we find ourselves gathered here at this altar of the Romero Romero family and of each one of us, to offer you a Mass that we hope you will like…

Which brings us to the Robin-Hood-like bandit and folk-saint, Jesus Malverde, to whom prayers such as the following [FBI .pdf, see p. 20] are offered:

Lord Malverde, give your voluntary help to my people in the name of God. Defend me from justice and the jails of those powerful ones. Listen to my prayer and fill my heart with happiness. For you shall make me fortunate.

There are even miracles attributed to him:

Oh Malverde! The Vatican did not believe you to be holy and would not canonize you, but when they brought the Caterpillars to tear down your hood, you broke one machine and nobody could move you away, you broke another, leaving those who disrespect you speechless — and when the third one broke, they said, “Let Malverde’s chapel alone.”

Right beside the syncretistic quasi-Catholicism, there’s also a Protestant angle: La Familia is the group that, in Vulliamy’s words, “made its ‘coming out’ known in a famous episode: bowling five severed heads across the floor of a discotheque.” Time magazine reported on what it termed Mexico’s Evangelical Narcos:

Federal agents seized one copy of La Familia’s Bible in a raid last year. Quoted in local newspapers, the scripture paints an ideology that mixes Evangelical-style self-help with insurgent peasant slogans reminiscent of the Mexican Revolution. “I ask God for strength and he gives me challenges that make me strong; I ask him for wisdom and he gives me problems to resolve; I ask him for prosperity and he gives me brain and muscles to work,” Moreno writes, using terms that could be found in many Christian sermons preached from Mississippi to Brazil. But on the next page, there’s a switch to phrases strikingly similar to those coined by revolutionary Emiliano Zapata. “It is better to be a master of one peso than a slave of two; it is better to die fighting head on than on your knees and humiliated; it is better to be a living dog than a dead lion.”

As I commented on Zenpundit a while back,

What’s troubling here is that there is only one undoubtedly “evangelical” phrase in all those that Time quotes, and it is one of then ones said to resemble the aphorisms of Emilio Zapata. “It is better to be a living dog than a dead lion” is a pretty direct borrowing from Ecclesiastes 9.4 in the King James Version: “To him that is joined to all the living, there is hope: for a living dog is better than a dead lion.”

But that’s not actually all. I didn’t mention it at the time, but “I ask God for strength and he gives me challenges that make me strong; I ask him for wisdom and he gives me problems to resolve; I ask him for prosperity and he gives me brain and muscles to work” is almost word-for-word the same as a poem attributed to Islam — or Judaism for that matter. Indeed, it can be hard to tell who is borrowing from whom – but one final source for the La Familia bible is known – it’s the book Wild at Heart by John Eldredge, the pastor of a ministry in Colorado Springs, who must have been surprised at the uses to which his writings were being put.

In any case, as I said on Zenpundit: These people have a theology, and we should be studying it.
2. Africa

My thoughts turned to Africa when I read another paragraph recently, this one from Johann Hari’s review, The Valley of Taboos, of V.S. Naipaul’s new book, The Masque of Africa: Glimpses of African Belief:

I have stood in a blood-splattered house in Tanzania where an old woman had just been beaten to death for being a “witch” who cast spells on her neighbors. I have stood in battlefields in the Congo where the troops insist with absolute certainty they cannot be killed because they have carried out a magical spell that guarantees, if they are shot, they will turn briefly into a tree, then charge on unharmed. I have been cursed in Ethiopia by a witch-doctor with “impotence, obesity, and then leprosy” for asking insistently why he charged so much to “cure” his patients. (I’m still waiting for the leprosy.) Where do these beliefs come from? What do so many Africans get out of them? Can they be changed? These are questions that are asked in Africa all the time, but we are deaf to the conversation.

That sent me in search of some early military anthropology related to guerrilla warfare I’d come across in earlier readings.

James R Price and Paul Jureidini’s 1964 Witchcraft, Sorcery, Magic, and Other Psychological Phenomena and their Implications on Military and Paramilitary Operations in the Congo, and Roger D Hughes’s 1984 Emergency in Kenya: Kikuyu and the Mau Mau Insurrection are both of considerable interest here — but it is LSB Leakey, the world-class British archaeologist initiated as a boy into the Kikuyu ways, who has written the most provocative summary of the relationship between political and religious violence and ritual that I’m interested in tracking.

I’m quoting here from the chapter on “The Mau Mau Religion” in Maj. Hughes paper:

Leakey’s original hypothesis in Mau Mau and the Kikuyu: “Mau Mau was nothing more than a new expression of the old KCA … a political body that was banned … because it had become wholly subversive.” Furthermore, “Mau Mau was synomomous with the new body called the in school, Kenya African Union…” However, Leakey admits to a reversal of his original hypothesis in Defeating Mau Mau, and goes on to say, “Mau Mau, while to some extent synonymous with these political organizations, was in fact a religion and owed its success to this fact more than to anything else at all.”<¶>He then proceeds to attribute the origin of Mau Mau to an “ideology transfer,” wherein the religious beliefs of the Kikuyu transitioned from their ancient tribal religion to Euro-Christianity to Mau Mau. The first transition took place artificially, as the missionaries stripped away the traditional beliefs and supplanted them with “20th Century Europe’s concept of Christianity.” The second transition was more natural and evolutionary than the first. A reactionary hybrid of the old and the new developed, because the supplanted concepts would not hold up in their society. There were too many contradictions between the old and the new, mainly due to the 20th Century European “add-ons.”

Most of us have a pretty fixed view of what religion is, should be, or isn’t. Some of my readers no doubt hold to a evangelical Christian position, some are Catholic, some perhaps Buddhist, agnostic or atheist, and some perhaps Muslim. Each of us tends to take our own view of a particular religion as normative, but the reality is that the history of each of the great world religions contains sanctions for both peace-making and warfare — and human nature itself encompasses a range of behaviors that run from the kind of atavistic violence described above to the forgiving and compassionate impulse behind the Beatitudes…

And while economic pressures and political frustrations may be enough to power great struggles, when religious rituals, beliefs and feelings are added into the mix, it can quickly become even more lethal.
3. And Zarqawi?

All of which leaves me wondering how close the parallels are between the Mau Mau in LSB Leakey’s account, La Familia and the other Mexican cartels — and the brutalities of jihadists such as Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

Guest Post: Of Weaponry and Flags II.

Wednesday, October 27th, 2010

Charles Cameron is the regular guest-blogger at Zenpundit, and has also posted at Small Wars Journal, All Things Counterterrorism, for the Chicago Boyz Afghanistan 2050 roundtable and elsewhere.  Charles read Theology at Christ Church, Oxford, under AE Harvey, and was at one time a Principal Researcher with Boston University’s Center for Millennial Studies and the Senior Analyst with the Arlington Institute:

[Originally cross-posted at Chicago Boyz]

Of Weaponry and Flags II.

by Charles Cameron

YT in a comment on Zenpundit just pointed me to a quote from Virilio’s War and Cinema, Scott meanwhile suggested I might be interested in Meaning by Michael Polanyi – and between the two of them, I find myself wanting to make a trilogy of quotes that present the symbolic impact of flags from philosophical, psychological and neurological perspectives, thus (I hope) braiding together from somewhat disparate sources a simple, non-dualistic insight. From Michael Polanyi and Harry Prosch, Meaning, pp. 72-73:

The focal object in symbolization, in contrast to the focal object in identification, is of interest to us only because of its symbolic connection with the subsidiary clues through which it became a focal object. What bears upon the flag, as a word bears upon its meaning, is the integration of our whole existence as lived in our country. But this means that the meaning of the flag (the object of our focal attention) is what it is because we have put our whole existence into it. We have surrendered ourselves to that “piece of cloth” (which would be all the flag could be perceived to be were we to try to view it in the indication way of recognizing meaning). It is only by virtue of our surrender to it that this piece of cloth becomes a flag and therefore becomes a symbol of our country. Some of the subsidiaries, then, that bear upon the flag and give it meaning are our nation’s existence and our diffuse and boundless memories of our life in it. These, however, not only bear upon the flag as other subsidiary clues bear upon their focal objects, but they also, in our surrender to the flag, become embodied in it. The flag thus reflects back upon its subsidiaries, fusing our diffuse memories. We cannot use a straight arrow to express this feature in our diagram, since such an arrow pictures only a straight, one-directional bearing-upon. We must make the arrow loop, in symbolization, in order to express the way our perception of the focal object also carries us back toward (and so provides us with a perceptual embodiment of) those diffuse memories of our own lives (i.e., of ourselves) which bore upon the focal object to begin with. This is how the symbol can be said to “carry us away.” In surrendering ourselves, we, as selves, are picked up into the meaning of the symbol.

From Murray Stein, Jung’s map of the soul: an introduction, p 100:

Life itself may be sacrificed for images such as the flag or the cross and for ideas like nationalism, patriotism, and loyalty to one’s religion or country. Crusades and countless other irrational or impractical endeavors have been engaged in because the participants felt, “This makes my life meaningful! This is the most important thing I’ve ever done.” Images and ideas powerfully motivate the ego and generate values and meanings. Cognitions frequently override and dominate instincts. In contrast to the impact of the instincts on the psyche — when one feels driven by a physical need or y — the influence of archetypes leads to being caught up in big ideas and visions. Both affect the ego in a similar way dynamically, in that the ego is taken over, possessed, and driven.

And from Paul Virilio, War and cinema: the logistics of perception, pp. 5-6:

War can never break free from the magical spectacle because its very purpose is to produce that spectacle: to fell the enemy is not so much to capture as to ‘captivate’ him, to instil the fear of death before he actually dies. From Machiavelli to Vauban, from von Moltke to Churchill, at every decisive episode in the history of war, military theorists have underlined this truth: ‘The force of arms is not brute force but spiritual force.’ There is no war, then, without representation, no sophisticated weaponry without psychological mystification. Weapons are tools not just of destruction but also of perception – that is to say, stimulants that make themselves felt through chemical, neurological processes in the sense organs and central nervous system, affecting human reactions and even the perceptual identification and differentiation of objects

Might one identify the “stimulant” aspect (Virilio) as the one that drives those in the battlefield under fire, and thus also their memories and reflections, while strategists, as thinkers, will be more inclined to see the significance of the “archetypal” aspect (Murray, Jung)? Virilio (like Boyd) is concerned with speed — and it seems plausible to me that we have three “speeds of thought” – instinctive, considered and contemplative – corresponding in rough outline to Maslow’s hierarchy, the instinctive being bodily and immediate, the considered being logical and rapid, and the contemplative being symbolic and gradual. But there’s a curious loop at work here, because the symbolic / archetypal may take its time to work its way into conscious awareness – in some cases we refer to the end result as “maturity” or “wisdom” – but it’s also somehow very close to instinct, as Jung suggests in “On the Nature of the Psyche”, Collected Works VIII, para. 415:

Psychologically … the archetype as an image of instinct is a spiritual goal toward which the whole nature of man strives; it is the sea to which all rivers wend their way, the prize which the hero wrests from the fight with the dragon.

If anyone wants to follow up this particular line of thought, I’d recommend Jolande Jacobi’s Complex / Archetype / Symbol in the psychology of C. G. Jung, and for the interweaving of image, archetype and instinct, Andrew Samuels, Jung and the Post-Jungians Chapter 2, pp. 19 ff.


Tuesday, October 26th, 2010

Recently, I came across Afghanopoly, a blog from Northwestern University dedicated to the study of Afghanistan and COIN. This led to a friendly email exchange with the moderator and professor.

Many of you can recall just a few short years ago, COIN was an esoteric subject even within the US Army and now it is a subject of undergraduate (!) study at one of America’s top tier universities. At a time when academics are roundly criticized for their irrelevance to real-world policy, here’s an example of jumping into the deep end of the pool. Highly commendable. If only this were commonplace.

I rarely ask anything of the readers here, but many of you have a wonkish interest in COIN, US foreign policy, strategic studies or Afghanistan. Or are military and USG personnel with firsthand, “in-country” experience there. The ZP audience also ranges from Right to center-Left which is a much more representative balance than at most blogs.

If you could take a moment and take a look at Afghanopoly, and offer a constructive comment on some of the posts if you feel so inclined. You’ll find that these NU students are tackling hard issues that are wrestled with daily at SWJ, Kings of War, Registan and other first rate blogs.

Guest Post: The United States of Islam

Tuesday, October 26th, 2010

 Charles Cameron is the regular guest-blogger at Zenpundit, and has also posted at Small Wars Journal, All Things Counterterrorism, for the Chicago Boyz Afghanistan 2050 roundtable and elsewhere.  Charles read Theology at Christ Church, Oxford, under AE Harvey, and was at one time a Principal Researcher with Boston University’s Center for Millennial Studies and the Senior Analyst with the Arlington Institute:

The United States of Islam Video

by Charles Cameron

[ the first in a series, cross-posted from Chicago Boyz ]

Let’s take a closer look at the United States of Islam video which I mentioned in my post Of Weaponry and Flags.

 USI Films

The video announces itself as “an USI Films production”. It then opens with the words “since 911 the world has changed” in white type against black, followed immediately by news clips of the WTC attacks and of President Bush describing them as “evil acts” and declaring “I have directed the full resources of our intelligence and law enforcement communities to find those responsible, and to bring them to justice.” What we shall be seeing, then, is a time-oriented video, presenting a historical context for the present moment with implications for the near future. From here we cut by way of another white on black typed message — “they started this war in afghanistan” – via clips of war footage to another – “but their agenda is much bigger and brutal than that” – and then to another clip of Pres. Bush: “Our war on terror begins with al-Qaida but it does not end there. It will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped, and defeated.” By this point, the background music, which is taken (for reasons both political and musical?) from Vangelis’ 1492 – Conquest of Paradise soundtrack, is swelling. A global map appears, showing much of north Africa, the middle east, Indonesia and Malaysia in green, with Pres. Bush in voice over speaking of the establishment of “a violent political utopia across the middle east which they call a Caliphate where all will be ruled according to their hateful ideology.”

USI world map

The map is titled United States of Islam. The words “they have done this before” are then followed by a series of film clips showing “the fall of the Khilafa 1828 -1924” and maps showing the slow spread of the British and French flags across north Africa and the middle east, with glimpses of Lawrence of Arabia, the Balfour declaration, and General Allenby, accompanied by the voice-over of someone I’d tentatively identify as Sheikh Imran Nazar Hosein, declaring: The Khilafa was destroyed. Who destroyed it? Why did they destroy it? How did they destroy it? When did they destroy it? What did they replace it with? With what was it replaced? And what is its destiny?

These are awesomely important questions which very few can answer today.

Caliphate divided

The text then states that (the west) “divided us into 54 states” and the map begins to show the various flags of the Islamic states intowhich the region was more recently divided…

Carved up

ending up in 2006. And what do we want now? You might be forgiven if you haven’t already guessed:

Total Annihilation

Clips then show the toppling of Saddam’s statue in Baghdad, the Israeli army in Gaza with casualties, the October 2009 Pishin attack on the Revolutionary Guard in Iran (which was claimed by Jundullah), and a first mention of the Christmas bomber, Al Qaida and Yemen… a quick mention of Nigeria and Somalia… and “Pakistan from which they fear the most”. A newscaster from, presumably, Pakistan intones “this is called the fourth generation warfare.” That essentially brings us up to the present moment. * We have arrived at the half way point in the 10 minute video and seen the global historical context, laid out in maps and flags. We have focused in on the present from a two-hundred year sweep, and on Pakistan from the distributed ummah. What follows will expound and expand on this present moment, bringing Afghanistan into the picture alongside Pakistan, emphasizing the spiritual significance of Khorasan, and taking the battle variously to India and Jerusalem…

[ to be continued ]

Switch to our mobile site