zenpundit.com » 2011 » March

Archive for March, 2011

Soon soon coming of the Mahdi?

Monday, March 28th, 2011

[ by Charles Cameron ]


Okay, I’d say things are heating up. Here’s a screen grab from what we are led to believe is a recent video from Iran, made with government backing as described below the fold.


This does not bode well…


The Christian thriller novelist Joel Rosenberg (author of The Twelfth Imam) has a new blog post up, in which he cites a Christian Broadcasting Network story — which in turn refers to a video posted with some introductory materials on his blog by Reza Kahlili (author of A Time to Betray: The Astonishing Double Life of a CIA Agent Inside the Revolutionary Guards of Iran).

According to Kahlili, who has also posted the full video to YouTube, it is a half-hour long program sponsored by the Basij militia and the Office of the President of Iran, affirming the soon-return of the Mahdi.

And containing “inflammatory language” about King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia (see subtitle above)?  Can I say that?

For what it’s worth, the supposed “hadith” about the death of King Abdullah is discussed in some detail at The Wake-Up Project, so it’s definitely “in the air” — but I don’t recall seeing any references to it in Abbas Amanat, Abdulazziz Sachedina, or any of the lists of Signs of the Coming I’ve read, so my suspicion is that this is an opportunistic addition to the corpus rather than a reliable hadith.

Which brings me to my last point:

I am not posting these materials to encourage panic — that’s what terrorism strives for, and it is the very opposite of what I would wish to see.  If anything, these stirrings of Mahdist sentiment should make us more careful and attentive to the serious scholarly work that has been done in this area.  Jean-Pierre Filiu‘s book Apocalypse in Islam, which I reviewed for Jihadology, would be an excellent place to start.


There are plenty of other things going on that I would love to track, blog about or comment on these days, but for the next while I shall try to restrain myself and focus in on this particular issue and its ramifications:

  • Contemporary Shi’ite Mahdist expectation
  • The Iranian nuclear program in the light of Mahdist expectation
  • Iranian attempts to use Mahdism to unite Sunni and Shi’a
  • Mahdism and jihad
  • The role of Khorasan in Mahdist rhetoric
  • Christian apocalyptic responses to Mahdist stirrings
  • Joel Rosenberg‘s book, The Twelfth Imam
  • Joel Richardson‘s book, The Islamic Antichrist
  • Glenn Beck‘s increasing focus on Iranian Mahdism
  • The increasing influence of Islamic and Christian apocalyptic on geopolitics

This is a pretty complex and potent mix of topics, and while I’ll post some individual pieces of the puzzle as I see it, I shall also try to put together a “bigger picture” piece with the whole mosaic laid out.


Apart from that, I remain deeply committed to questions of chivalry and peace-making, and will continue to monitor developments and write what I can on those topics as time allows…

Book Review: BRUTE by Robert Coram

Monday, March 28th, 2011

Brute: The Life of Victor Krulak, U.S. Marine by Robert Coram

Robert Coram has taken a different tack with BRUTE, the story of USMC Lt. Gen. Victor H. “Brute” Krulak, the diminutive legendary Marine general with the outsized personality, relentless ambition and far-reaching vision. It is an edgier, more sharply judgmental, more concise Coram who has made a biography of a challenging and not entirely sympathetic subject into a page-turner.

There are two stories in BRUTE. The first is of the life of the book’s namesake and his rise through the ranks of the Marine Corps, a career path that helped determine a critical element of American warfighting in WWII and saw the darkest sides of the wars in Korea and Vietnam before Krulak was denied promotion to Commandant because of the last war. The second story is that of the Marine Corps itself and it’s 20th century struggle for survival as a military branch of service against the bureaucratic machinations of the Army, the Navy and the ill-will of several presidents, a struggle in which Brute Krulak played a key part.

Reading between the lines, I sense that Coram, who delights in chronicling military mavericks, struggled with Krulak as a subject in a way he may not have with previous biographies like Boyd. Brute Krulak was a contradictory and controversial figure. Brilliantly innovative, absolutely dedicated, courageously outspoken, fiercely loyal, intensely driven and a physically brave Marine officer who led by example, Brute Krulak was also extremely and persistently deceptive, given to sins of omission as well as a relish to embellish and a machiavellian capacity to manipulate. The biography makes clear that Coram could not easily rely on the veracity of the anecdotes that an elderly but still mentally keen Brute Krulak grudgingly related to him.

Krulak could also be cold and emotionally abusive in his private life. It is clear that Krulak’s eldest son, Victor bore significant scars from treatment at his hands and Krulak , as much as he was able, effectively banished his extended family, including his parents, from his adult life in order to conceal his Jewish origins from a Marine and Navy hierarchy rife with anti-semitism. Like many young men on the make in the 19th and early 20th centuries, Krulak shed his religious traditions for the enhanced social mobility of the Episcopalian Church, the prestigious Protestant denomination of the Eastern Establishment elite, marrying into a wealthy, socially prominent family. Krulak so thoroughly reinvented himself and obscured his humble origins that late in life, his sons, who included two protestant ministers, were shocked to discover that their paternal grandparents and father were actually Jewish and not “Moravian” as they had been told.

In terms of operational art, Brute Krulak figures prominently in the history of two areas for which the United States Marines are best known: amphibious landings and counterinsurgency ( making this biography exceptionally timely). In both cases, Krulajk’s story intertwines with Coram’s theme of the Marine Corps at war with a predatory Army and Navy, each looking for their own reasons to demote the Marines to the “police force of the Navy” and end forever the role of the Marine Corps as a combat arm of the United States military. It is here that Coram’s pen acquires the sharpest edge.

Criticism of General William Westmoreland is common enough, and he comes in for his share of it in BRUTE, as are negative assessments of General Douglas MacArthur. That breaks little new ground as most historians see both men as flawed military leaders, albeit in different ways.  What is highly unusual is the willingness of Robert Coram as a historian to boldly level audacious charges of undermining civilian control of the military against hallowed figures of the US Army such as General George Marshall, that Marshall and other senior generals of the Army conspired during the postwar creation of the Department of Defense to usurp power over the armed forces properly belonging to Congress and to concentrate it in the hands of a Prussian-style “general staff”; that General Dwight Eisenhower attempted to lie to Congress about his role in the JCS 1478 papers. Unlike in Boyd, where Coram found some key high-ranking Air Force generals who acted as protectors of Colonel John Boyd against a hostile hierarchy, in BRUTE Coram emerges as a squared away partisan for Marines in their battle with “Big Army”.

Robert Coram has written a fast-moving, often sympathetic, at times troubling portrait of Victor “Brute” Krulak, one of the legendary Marine generals who never made Commandant because he told his Commander-in-Chief unwelcome truths about the president’s war and suffered the natural consequences.

Strongly recommended.

Corn’s Caliphates in Wonderland

Saturday, March 26th, 2011

They Just Don’t Make Caliphates Like They Used To….

SWJ Blog featured a lengthy (30 page) essay by Dr. Tony Corn on….well….many things. Corn begins with caliphates and then sort of takes off much like a blown up balloon abruptly released by a child prior to tying a knot in the end.

The Clash of the Caliphates: Understanding the Real War of Ideas by Dr. Tony Corn

….For one thing, within the global umma, there appears to be as many conceptions of the ideal Caliphate as there are Muslims. This grass-roots longing for a symbol of unity should be heard with the proverbial Freudian -third ear,?? and seen for what it really is, i.e., a symptom rather than a disease. For another, by agreeing to establish diplomatic relations with the 57-member Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), America and Europe have, in essence, already granted the OIC the status of a Quasi-Caliphate.

More important still, it is time for Western policy-makers to realize that the ideological rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran that has been going on since 1979 constitutes nothing less than a Clash of the Caliphates. Through a soft power strategy blurring the distinction between -public diplomacy?? and -political warfare,?? -humanitarian aid?? and -religious propaganda,?? the two states have been the main drivers of the re-Islamization process throughout the Muslim world. The one-upmanship dynamic generated by the rivalry between these two fundamentalist regimes is the main reason why, from the Balkans to Pakistan, the re-Islamization of the global umma has taken a radical, rather than moderate, dimension.

Ok, “caliphates” as a metaphor/analogy for geopolitical rivalry of Muslim states works but it is not really what Islamists or normal Muslims would mean by the term. It is a very odd usage. I’m not overly bothered by that because I tend to like analogies but Corn’s device here is apt to make the heads of area studies and Islamic history scholars explode. The whole essay is in this meandering, idiosyncratic, vein.

Now that is not to suggest that you should not read the piece. Dr. Corn held my attention all the way through and he has a number of excellent observations on many, loosely related, subjects. For example, after discussing the pernicious effects of Saudi donations and Edward Said’s agitprop theory of “Orientalism” on the intellectual objectivity of academia, Corn writes:

…The combined effect of the House of Saud and the House of Said is the first reason why the Ivory Tower has done such a poor job identifying the nature of Muslim Exceptionalism. A more indirect, yet more insidious, reason is that, unlike in the early days of the Cold War, American academics across the board today are trained in social sciences rather than educated in the humanities. For social scientists, Explanation (erklaren) and -theory-building?? take precedence over Understanding (verstehen) and -policy-making. The victory of the -numerates over the -literates in the 1970s has produced a generation of scholars who show a certain virtuosity when it comes to -research design, but display an amazing lack, not just of historical literacy, but of -historical empathy as well. Not to make too fine a point: the Long War is being waged by a generation of policy-makers who, however articulate, never learned anything about history in their college years

Corn is spot on here. Not only is it spot on, it is likely to get much worse. After a brief qualitative “bump” from Iraq-Afghan war  language trained vets, diplos, analysts and spooks peters out, we will have the Gen Y kids with K-12 educations scrubbed free of history, foreign languages and science graduating from college with communication and marketing degrees and entering government service. Hang on to your hat when that happens.

What Corn really requires to vault his essays to the next level are the services of an experienced editor because less would be more. The man is erudite and insightful. He writes forcefully and raises a number of points that are important and with which I agree. Corn, commendably, also makes more of an effort to connect the dots than most. But maybe, if you have an essay that references David Kilcullen, Trotsky, neo-Ottomanism, lawfare, Sam Huntington, neo-COIN, Nasser, Vatican II, the Comintern, the Hapsburgs, Ataturk, public diplomacy, al- Qaradawi, social media, Fascism, Marc Lynch, Youtube, network theory, the UN, hybrid wars and the Protestant Reformation, it might be time to up the Ritalin dosage a notch. Jesus, there’s either a book proposal or four different articles in that kitchen sink of an op-ed!

Read it and take what is useful.

OODA and “Strategy Making Process” for Business

Friday, March 25th, 2011

Handbook of Research on Strategy Process by Pietro  Mazzola and Franz W. Kellermans (Ed.)

Dr. Chet Richards has contributed to an important new theoretical book on strategic applications to business enterprises. For those newer readers, Chet is an authoritative source on strategy, particularly the theories of Colonel John Boyd and is the former proprietor of the late, great, strategy website DNI. I have learned a great deal over the years from Colonel Richards and heartily recommend his Certain to Win to anyone looking for the strategic edge.

For readers with a corporate credit card or departmental budget ( the book is *really* expensive) and a deep, academic or professional interest in strategic theory and thinking, this book is for you. I may require Inter-Library Loan. 🙂

As Chet describes it:

Deep stuff – very academic – but covers the waterfront of the research (i.e., as distinguished from the speculation) on the process of strategy.  As the co-editors describe it:

While strategy content focuses on the subject of the decision, strategy process focuses on actual decision making and its associated actions.  Strategy process research examines the process underpinning strategy formulation and implementation. … Although aimed primarily at the academic community, many of the contributions speak to a wider audience.

Expensive, but if you’re into this sort of thing, probably indispensable.

The integration of religion and popular culture

Friday, March 25th, 2011

[ by Charles Cameron ]


Yesterday, I stumbled on the account of pole dancing for Jesus with the accompanying graphic. I was a little taken aback, I’ll admit, but Jesus didn’t confine his ministry to the pious and scholarly, he befriended women of questionable morals and enforcers from the Roman mob as I recall, or “publicans and sinners” to give them slightly more pleasant names – so I sat up, took notice, downloaded the image, and re-sized it to fit in the top position of one of my DoubleQuotes – while wondering if I’d have to wait till Doomsday to find a suitable companion piece.


All in a day’s screen-gazing, I wound up watching the Wong Kar-Wai film, Fallen Angels, last night, and lo: the screen-shot in the lower part of the DoubleQuote revealed itself.

There are interesting paradoxes embedded in each image, of course, pitting what you might call “deep” theology against pious expectation – but they also illustrate another matter of some interest to me, the degree to which religion is now richly integrated into popular culture.


My second DoubleQuote, which contains today’s haul, deals with the same theme, I suppose — this time showing how what used to be the separate realms of science fiction and religion are now intermingled, with Minister Farrakhan speaking of an “end times” space craft that is an integral part of NoI eschatology in his annual Saviours’ Day speech, while alien aircraft flown by religious robots feature in a tongue-in-cheek news report about the war over Libya from Spencer Ackerman at the Wired War Room.

It is perhaps not surprising that Minister Farrakhan also cites Scientology with approval in the same speech, nor that that religion was itself the offspring of science fiction writer L Ron Hubbard. We are in a fertile period for the religious imagination, I believe, grappling to find new ways to answer the age-old questions — and science fiction and “signs in the skies” are among the vehicles, along with new religious movements and old religions renewed, by which we are coming to terms with life in this post-nuclear age…


I’m not much of a prophet, but I predict that the confluence of science fiction with religion will prove to be one of the keys to an understanding of our times…

Switch to our mobile site