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Inspire #5: between front and back covers

Thursday, March 31st, 2011

[ by Charles Cameron ]


Okay. When what goes into the opening paragraphs of an editor’s note at the front of a magazine corresponds pretty exactly to what’s on the back cover, you have a sort of conceptual bracket that’s “holding” the rest of the content, and it pays to pay attention.

Here are the first paras of the “Letter from the Editor” that is featured on page 5 of the latest issue of AQAP’s English language magazine, Inspire, immediately after the front cover and index pages:

The cover of this issue is about the Tsunami of change that is sweeping the Arab world. With the removal of the despots, the ummah will speak its voice, and when it does, it will chant: Here we start and in al-Aqsa we’ll meet.The biggest barrier between the mujahidin and freeing al-Aqsa were the tyrant rulers. Now that the friends of America and Israel are being mopped out one after the other, our aspirations are great that the path between us and al-Aqsa is clearing up.

There could be no freeing of Palestine with the presence of the likes of King Abdullah to the East, Hosni Mubarak to the West and al-Saud to the South. Now that Hosni is gone, we heard the Imam of the Friday prayers praying: “O Allah we ask you to allow us to meet in al-Aqsa,” and the millions in Tahrir square roared with one voice: Amin.

Note that this explicitly ties the front cover (“about the Tsunami of change that is sweeping the Arab world”) with the back (“Here we start and in al-Aqsa we’ll meet”), shown here:


[ graphic courtesy of Ibn Siqilli ]

As I’ve noted before, al-Aqsa isn’t just the focal point of the Palestinian / Israeli question, nor it is only the place at which the Prophet alighted from his steed, Buraq, and ascended to receive the divine instructions for prayer in the Miraj — it is also the destination of the Mahdi‘s victorious army in the Khorasan strand of ahadith.

Indeed, it has been suggested that the Pierced Rock of the Dome of the Rock in al-Aqsa is closely related to the Black Stone of the Kaaba. Kanan Makiya, in his part-fictional part-documentary book, The Rock, quotes Charles Matthews‘ translation of Burhan al-Din ibn Firka al-Fazari‘s Kitab Ba’ith al-Nufus ila Ziyarat al-Quds al-Mahrus (The Book of Arousing Souls to Visit Jerusalem’s Holy Walls) from Matthews’ Palestine: Mohammedan Holy Land:

Verily, the Kaaba is in an equivalent position to the Frequented House in the Seventh Heaven, to which the angels of Allah make pilgrimage. And if rocks fell from it, they would have fallen on the place of the Rock of the Temple of Mecca [i.e. the Black Stone]. And indeed, Paradise is in the Seventh Heaven in an equivalent position to the Holy Temple (in Jerusalem) and the Rock; and if a rock had fallen from it, it would have fallen upon the place of the Rock there. And for this case the city is called Urushalim, and Paradise is called Dar al-Salam, the House of Peace.

Indeed, David Roxburgh mentions all these matters, writing in Salma Khadra Jayyusi et al., The city in the Islamic world, vol. 1. p 756:

This movement corresponded to other efforts — before, during, and after the Crusades — to establish “geo-theological” connections between Jerusalem and Mecca, whose preeminent sanctity was inviolable up until the end of days. Examples linking Mecca to Jerusalem include the Prophet Muhammad’s nocturnal journey from Mecca to Jerusalem (isra) and his ascension from Jerusalem to the throne of God (miraj); the underground joining of the waters of Zamzam to Silwan (var. Siloam) during the “feast of the sacrifice” (id al-adha); and the transfer of the Kaba and its black stone from Mecca to Jerusalem during the last days. these various traditions linked Jerusalem to Mecca, sometimes by sets of doubled features, in a near symmetry and in a calendar that will culminate during the end of days.

So there’s an eschatological dimension to all these parallelisms, too…


And if for no other reason, then because I happen to love doubled features, symmetries and analogies of all sorts (and we were already speaking of graphics and Inspire #5), let me add this:

A tweet from @webradius via @azelin that I saw today noted that “the cover of Inspire 5 is remarkably similar to a wikileaks logo”.

I liked it.  And I’ve translated it here into my own DoubleQuotes format:


For those who are unfamiliar with the phrase, graphic match is another term for match cut — the gambit whereby one shot in a movie is directly juxtaposed to another with which it bears a close resemblance – essentially, a film director’s equivalent of rhyme.

Wikipedia gives two classic examples which are of particular interest to me because there is a “rhyme” between them, too, albeit a far more indirect one – the second being an hommage to the first.

Stanley Kubrick‘s 2001: A Space Odyssey contains a famous example of a match cut. After an ape discovers the use of bones as a tool and a weapon, there is a match cut to a spacecraft or satellite in orbit. The match cut helps draw a connection between the two objects as exemplars of primitive and advanced tools respectively.

Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger‘s A Canterbury Tale contains the influence for the 2001: A Space Odyssey match cut in which a fourteenth century falcon cuts to a World War II aeroplane. The sense of time passing but nothing changing is emphasised by having the same actor, in different costumes, looking at both the falcon and the aeroplane.



Parallelisms really are worth watching — always bearing in mind that one thing is never quite the same as another…

Of war and miracle: the poetics, spirituality and narratives of jihad

Wednesday, March 30th, 2011

[ by Charles Cameron ]


Issue #5 of the AQAP magazine Inspire is now available for viewing.

I am reasonably confident that with attention focused on such things as al-Awlaki‘s response to the various uprisings across the middle east, the delightful computer graphic (a throw back to the era of green print on black screens) which shows Ben Ali and Mubarak “booted” and Gadhafi and Saleh “in progress” – and the translation of a chunk of Abu Musab as-Suri on “Individual Terrorism Jihad and the Global Islamic Resistance Units” – a lot of eyes will glaze over during the course of reading “My Life In Fallujah” (pp. 56 ff).

The piece sounds promising – something to read about Fallujah from the enemy viewpoint for after action / lessons learned purposes… but then it gets into miracles:

The brothers received extraordinary miracles from Allah as a sign to strengthen them and these miracles were in all different forms. It got to the point where some of the things that occurred might not have been believable to the brothers had they not seen them with their own eyes but that is the grace of Allah which He bestows on whom He wills.

… and my bet is that snoring ensues…

Though not among the readers to whom it is pitched.


What if we don’t regard the piece as a mirror for our own knowledge of events in Fallujah, but as an opening into the enemy’s grand narrative and – gasp – spirituality?

The piece continues:

Now let me relate some of the stories of fighting with the enemy and the miracles some of the brothers received. I will start mentioning some of these great miracles

There was a brother named Abu az-Zubair as-Sana’ani. He was killed at the beginning days of the battle. We used to go out in the daytime to engage with the enemy. Hardship and severe exhaustion were afflicting us due to the hot weather that was in the beginning of Ramadan.

So that brother came at the time of afternoon and sought permission from the Amir to break his fast. Some brothers advised him to have patience and suggested to him that he could have a shower and then rest for a while. The brother went inside to sleep out of fatigue and we were sitting in front of that house. The brother didn’t sleep long and we saw him coming out towards us with a cheerful face saying to us that he had seen a dream while he was asleep. The brothers asked him what was it; he told them that he saw a very beautiful woman coming to him, carrying a plate full of all kinds of fruits. She was waking him up, standing by his head and telling him: O Abu az-Zubair, don’t break your fast. You are invited to break your fast with us today. The brother then said that he felt comfort and relief. There was a brother called Abu Tariq who interpreted dreams so he told him that by Allah’s will, it will be something good. After that the brother decided to continue fasting.

We had a timetable for twelve people to cook food and that day was his turn. He went to the kitchen and we stayed outside, sitting next to the wall of that house so that we weren’t seen by the spy planes. We stayed there until it was about time to break fast. Suddenly an F-16
jet showed up in the horizon and targeted that kitchen with a missile where that brother was! A while after when the dust had settled, we went in the kitchen and saw that brother had been martyred. It was amazing how the smell of musk was all over the room, how the smile was on his face!

Thereupon the brothers’ moral was raised and they were making takbir. These were from the unforgettable moments.

It seems wise to compare this with the Miracle of Uthmaan recounted by Abdullah Azzam on p. 27 of his book, The signs of Ar-Rahmaan in the Jihad of Afghanistan — indeed, I’m surprised Inspire didn’t make the connection:

One morning Uthmaan (ra) said: Last night I saw Rasulullah sallAllaahu alayhi wa sallam in my dream, and he said: Oh Uthmaan, break your fast with us. He was martyred that same day, whilst in the state of fasting.

If one considers such stories not as “superstitious” or examples of “magical thinking” – one easy way to discount them – nor as “diabolic” and emblematic of a “false religion” – another – if, in fact, one reads them with some empathy for their content as faith-narratives, they are profoundly moving, and will no doubt be so to many of their intended readers.

This particular narrative – an earthly fast broken in heaven – could well be a motif in the Aarne-Thompson classification system for folkloric motifs.

Note also the reliance on dreams and dream interpretation – a reliance which also figures prominently in the transcript of bin Laden‘s discussion of 9/11.


Another miracle was the incident of Abu Abd ar-Rahman at-Turki who was a student of knowledge that memorized the Qur’an and the six books of hadith. He was amongst a group that went out to confront a breakthrough of the enemy. While the brothers were gathered to organize a defensive plan, this brother made takbir and rushed towards the enemy. Some brothers called him back but he didn’t pay attention to their words. He shouted back to them saying “I am seeing the hoor! I am seeing the hoor!” When this brother reached the enemy’s area, he was shot by a tank shell leaving his lower body completely severed. Some brothers managed to drag him out of there to a safe house which I was in. Even though the brother was between consciousness and unconsciousness, he was still advising brothers to fear Allah and to keep firm upon the truth. His lower half was ripped out, yet he was still reassuring the brothers and would always raise his vision upwards telling them that he is seeing the hoor coming, and that they should keep firm because this is the path of jannah. At hearing that, the brothers’ spirits were high and they felt relieved. Abu Abd ar-Rahman declared the shahada and then kept fainting until his soul departed his body. At that point we smelled the musk coming out of him and saw peace on his face. This smell of musk from the mujahidin would be something that was smelt regularly.

This “smell of musk” too (also found in the story of Abu az-Zubair above) is a regular feature of martyrdom tales, and features in the same work by Azzam, for instance in this report:

Moulana Arsalaan narrated to me:A student named Abdul Baseer attained shahaadat while with us. It was very dark. Fathullah, another mujaahid, and I went in search of his body. He said to me: “Is the Shaheed close. I perceive a fragrant scent”. I picked up the scent, and we reached the body by following the scent. In the darkness, I could see a noor (light) in the blood, which was gushing forth from his wound.

Indeed, as I have pointed out before, this motif has a parallel in the Catholic tradition of the “odor of sanctity” – “the perfume-like scent given forth by the bodies of saints during their lifetime or after death … symbols of the fragrance of extraordinary virtue” [as defined in Fr. John Hardon’s Modern Catholic Dictionary].

It appears in the Arthurian legends, too, as Malory describes the death of Sir Lancelot – notice here, too, the motif of the joyous dream:

And so after midnight, against day, the Bishop [that] then was hermit, as he lay in his bed asleep, he fell upon a great laughter. And therewith all the fellowship awoke, and came to the Bishop, and asked him what he ailed. Ah Jesu mercy, said the Bishop, why did ye awake me? I was never in all my life so merry and so well at ease. Wherefore? said Sir Bors. Truly said the Bishop, here was Sir Launcelot with me with mo angels than ever I saw men in one day. And I saw the angels heave up Sir Launcelot unto heaven, and the gates of heaven opened against him. It is but dretching of swevens, said Sir Bors, for I doubt not Sir Launcelot aileth nothing but good. It may well be, said the Bishop; go ye to his bed, and then shall ye prove the sooth. So when Sir Bors and his fellows came to his bed they found him stark dead, and he lay as he had smiled, and the sweetest savour about him that ever they felt.


There was a brother named Abu Dujanah at-Taifi. As soon as he entered Fallujah at the beginning of the battle, he asked the brothers to let him go to the front lines but the brothers told him that he had to learn shooting first. He replied, “By Allah! I won’t be anywhere except the front lines.” His brother was present there so they agreed to his request and allowed him to go there.Thereupon he said: ”By Allah! If the Americans come forward, then Allah will see from us that which He loves.” He then went to stay inside a trench to keep an eye on the front lines.On the second day when he saw the enemy breaking through, he jumped out and got ready to strike them with an RPG but before he could fire it, he was struck by a tank, and as a result, his body was torn apart. His body stayed there for six days before we were able to retrieve it.

To our surprise, blood was still coming out of his body even though the weather was so hot that if you were to place a piece of meat outside for half a day, it would eventually get rotten.

His blood was seeping as if he was just killed and his index finger was in the position of tashahud [that section of Muslim prayer where the index finger is raised while reciting the shahada or confession of faith]. His brother was a little bit sad at hearing the news but once he saw his body, he felt so much comfort.

E Cobham Brewer’s Dictionary of Miracles: Imitative, Realistic, and Dogmatic looks to be a terrific source for the kind of research I’m doing here – that’s the “Brewer” of Brewer’s Dictionary of phrase and fable – and p 372 of the 1894 edition has a section on “Bodies of Saints Incorruptible” prefaced by a quotation from Psalm 16.10: “Thou wilt not suffer Thy Holy One to see corruption”.

His body preserved, his finger raised in the gesture of  salat … powerful.


Another incident that has to be mentioned is when the Americans were breaking-through from the direction of the Shuhada district. The brothers in that area were few in numbers so they were attacked fiercely and their lines were nearly broken but all praise be to Allah, it started drizzling all of a sudden, and then the brothers were strengthened and encouraged. The enemy was fleeing so we did not know whether they fled because of the brothers fighting or because they saw something else. The enemy acted as though they had been frightened by something. The brothers only numbered six. The enemy was massive as they were accompanied by tank corps and armoured vehicles but their withdrawal was bizarre. At that time we remembered the verse of the Qur’an where Allah says:

And sent down upon you from the sky, rain by which to purify you and remove from you the evil [suggestions] of Shaytan and to make steadfast your hearts and plant firmly thereby your feet [8: 11].

Once again, the motif of merciful rain should not be unfamiliar to us – if not from the New Testament‘s “He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” then at least from Shakespeare‘s “The quality of mercy is not strain’d, / It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven / Upon the place beneath…”


How many references to literary analysis, or archetypal analysis for that matter, can you find in Heuer‘s classic Psychology of Intelligence Analysis?

More Books and Reviews to Come

Wednesday, March 30th, 2011

Going to try to catch up this week on the backlog of book reviews I need to do, particularly those books sent to me by publishers. I may have to break down and do a set of mini-reviews, so far behind I have gotten myself.

So, naturally, that was a suitable pretext to order more books 🙂

Here’s what arrived the other day….



STRATEGY: The Logic of War and Peace by Edward Luttwak

War Before Civilization by Lawrence H. Keeley

WAR: In Human Civilization by Azar Gat

The World of Yesterday by Stefan Zweig

Why the West Rules – For Now by Ian Morris

Luttwak’s book is a strategy classic and I recently enjoyed his Grand Strategy of the Byzantine Empire. I first heard of Stefan Zweig from Lexington Green but nearly everyone who has read The World of Yesterday that I have encountered has raved about it, so I am looking forward to that one. Why the West Rules- For Now is another rec from the Chicago Boyz crowd but I do not think that anyone has reviewed it there as of yet. Finally, I am pairing War Before Civilization with Azar Gat’s War in Human Civilization – have a sense that Gat’s ideas may be somewhat in tune with Martin van Creveld.

Have you read any of these?

Pity America the Un-Philosophical

Tuesday, March 29th, 2011


I attempted to leave a short amusing response at Foreign Policy.com but was thwarted by their comment system, so I am writing a pedantic post here instead.

Joshua Keating, bursting with admiration for Bernard-Henri Levy, laments the lack of enlightenment of American politicians compared to their much cooler French counterparts:

Libyan intervention: Brought to you by Bernard-Henri Levy?

….I was going to write some kind of quip along the lines of, “Can you imagine President Obama taking phone calls from [American philosopher] in the oval office while he debates whether to send U.S. troops to war,” but I can’t even think of a name for whom that joke would make sense. 

France and Germany have a tradition of publicly engaged philosophers that’s pretty much alien to the United States. The idea of an American BHL or even Jurgen Habermas seems pretty laughable. Economists like Paul Krugman are the go-to public intellectuals here while philosophy has become an increasingly specialized and technical discipline, even within academia. What effect the prominence of philosophers in public life has on a country’s political culture and policies is a pretty promising subject for further research.


Philosophers have never had much of an impact on American public life and the politics of their times except…. maybe…. for William James, Reinhold Neibhur, John Dewey, Leo Strauss, Walter Lippmann, Ayn Rand, Herbert Croly, Sydney Hook, Allan Bloom, James Burnham, John Rawls and Thomas Kuhn. That’s just off of the top of my head. If you want to include economists as philosophers who influenced contemporary American political life – and, frankly, we often should – add Adam Smith, Karl Marx, John Maynard Keynes, Friedrich von Hayek, Ludwig von Mises, John Galbraith and Milton Friedman to the list. It should not need to be said, but America was founded on the ideals of philosophers like John Locke, Baron de Montesquieu and Cicero by men deeply steeped in moral and political philosophy. Some of the founders would have qualified as philosophers themselves.

I don’t know much about Mr. Keating. Pretty sure he is a sharp guy, but I bet he is 35 or younger and was a journalism or polisci grad. Academic philosophy as a profession has been increasingly irrelevant to policy makers or the general public as described, Keating is spot on there, since the early mid-60’s, which is probably the entirety of his life. It was not always this way. Formerly, philosophers wrestled with problems of general interest and were active public intellectuals, the determined self-marginalization of today’s professional philosophers notwithstanding.

It is a symptom of intellectual decline but the problem Keating identifies is not in American society or even in American politicians but in the philosophers.


Tuesday, March 29th, 2011

A busy day for blogfriends and associates….want to draw your attention to a few highlights:

First, congratulations to Matt Armstrong of MountainRunner on his new appointment as Executive Director of the US Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy. It’s hard to think of anyone better qualified than Matt!

There is a new Executive Director of the US Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy

The U.S. Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy is charged with appraising U.S. Government activities intended to understand, inform, and influence foreign publics. The Commission formulates and recommends to the President, the Secretary of State, and Members of Congress policies and programs to carry out the public diplomacy functions vested in the State Department, Broadcasting Board of Governors, and other government agencies, as well as appraising the effectiveness of the public diplomacy policies and programs carried out by government agencies.

There are seven members on the Commission, with “not more than four members may be from one political party.” In February, the White House sent to the Senate four nominations for the Commission.

Today, Matt Armstrong, author and publisher of MountainRunner.us, was sworn in as the Executive Director of the Advisory Commission. The immediate impact is the suspension of blogging, including the publishing of guest posts, at MountainRunner.us.

Secondly, Steven Pressfield has a new book out, titled Do The Work, in Kindle format and, for a limited time, it is free! One of the great things about Steve is that as an author, he gives back to his readership in myriad ways and isn’t afraid to break new ground:

A Publishing First: General Electric sponsorship for a Best Selling Author’s latest book

Never before done in the history of the publishing industry has this been done before (as far as we know, and we’ve checked) and we are so proud to be offering this phenomenal opportunity to our readership and the world.

General Electric has become our “Launch a Book” sponsor for  Do the Work, our latest release from The Domino Project.

What this means for you, the reader, is that you have access to the digital edition of this book for FREE. It won’t be free forever, so you should act now to grab your free copy. Order it here and it will be automatically delivered on pub date. You can read it on a Kindle, an iPad, an iPhone a PC and more. (If you already ordered your copy, your payment will be credited back to you…

Dr. Thomas P.M. Barnett threw some props my way for the Wikistrat futurist simulation on Turkey and managed to find a few sentences from my section that were non-abstruse and jargon-free 🙂 . The nice thing about the analytical process at Wikistrat is that people can grasp the part of the scenario where their strengths are emphasized ( I looked at possible external strategic options and impacts and left Turkish internals to those who could better drill-down):

Turkey – Re-Rise of the Ottoman Empire?

One of the most interesting things we do in Wikistrat is Scenario Planning. Through the use of live collaborative simulations, our analysts and subscribers alike engage in the mapping of scenarios, country interests and policy options on a given issue. We ran such drills on Egypt (The Egypt War Room) and on the “Sudden death of Kim Jong Il“.

Our current Simulation is on Turkey, and deals with its political and economic rise in the Middle East, its implications and potential pathways. So far several interesting scenarios were mapped, as well as interests and policy objectives for major regional and global powers affected by Turkey’s Rise.

Essentially we ask – Will Turkey’s rise continue? Will its relations with the West deteriorate given its “Shift eastward”? And- How should the US, the EU, Israel, Iran and the KSA react? [….]

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