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A note about nodes

[ by Charles Cameron – places, people, neurons, ideas, with Kabul and Khost providing illustrations ]

[ illus: Starlight, from PNL ]

I was just reading Matthieu Aikins‘ GQ account of The Siege of September 13 in Kabul, when a couple of sentences caught my eye, not because of the attack itself, but because they reminded me of a point I want to make about the way we think these days about networks, nodes and linkages:

Salangi’s SUV was passing down the main road north of the embassy when the sound of gunshots and his police radio simultaneously erupted. He told his driver to turn around and head toward the sounds.

At Massoud Circle, the next roundabout down from Abdul Haq, they encountered a bottleneck of police vehicles, and so Salangi continued on foot, ducking as he heard the crack and whine of bullets passing close by…

What specifically caught and rerouted my attention was that phrase, “Massoud Circle, the next roundabout down from Abdul Haq” — Abdul Haq Circle, I’d read earlier in the article, “is a wide traffic roundabout named for a deceased mujahideen commander”, as presumably is the circle named for Massoud.

So we have two roundabouts connected by a road… and two deceased mujahideen commanders.

Or to put that another way, we have two nodes and a connection between them, twice over — in once case the nodes are places, and in the other the nodes are people.


Further into the article, I found a graphic showing the two places and the road connecting them — and an image of two people in Kabul that day, one extending an arm of care to the other. These two men weren’t Abdul Haq and Massoud, of course, but two people nonetheless. So in each graphic, we have two nodes and a connection:

A great deal of time and treasure goes into the analysis of networks of communication — cellphone to cellphone, person to person — or travel — place to place — (a) because the patterns can be revealing, and (b) because the data (what number called what number, e.g., how often Nidal Hassan emailed al-Awlaki, or what route bought Abu Dujanah from Amman to Khost) is unambiguous when obtained.


We’re also fond of neural nets, eh? — whether the “artificial” nets of AI or the “biological” nets of the brain — and again, these are unambiguous, scientists and technicians love them, and software developed with Congress-friendly budgeting implications is required to process them.

But what about ideas?

What about minds, what about the subjective side of persons and travels and communications and contacts and brains — what about thoughts, what about admiration?

That’s the node-link-node mapping that I find most interesting: it utilizes the most complex software (human intelligence), and demands the least complex support system (cappucino, napkin and pencil) — and some of its nodes and their linkages (beliefs, e.g., leading to actions) are among the richest features of the human behavioral landscape.


The idea that jihad is an individual obligation, for instance, is a staple of AQ-style theology. It is my contention, indeed, that acceptance of that idea is the religious foundation on which acts of jihadist suicide are based.

And by the same token, these suicide acts are then viewed in terms of martyrdom, since they were enacted in the cause of Allah, giving rise to such eulogies as this one, offered by AQ to Abu Dujanah after the Khost event:

May Allah have mercy on you, our dear Abu Dujanah, and may He raise your ranks in register of the inhabitants of Paradise. By the Lord of the Ka’bah, indeed you have succeeded, our dear Abu Lailah, Allah willing. You were truthful, and you became known. You set an example, and you were truthful in word and deed. You followed the speakers and writers before you. May Allah be pleased with you . Your patience, Jihad, and tolerance of hardships were in Allah’s Cause. Your prayers and insistency was for Allah, and was your solitude and secret conversation. Thus, your reward is with Allah. Allah is your Lord and Protector, and Allah willing, our next meeting will be in Al-Firdaws Al-A’la, our dear beloved brother.

Such logic, such rhetoric, and such devotion are of the essence of what we confront in the jihad…


And richest of all for us to come to terms with: the person to person transmission of such ideas…

One Response to “A note about nodes”

  1. J. Scott Shipman Says:

    Hi Charles, 
    Your point about patterns and networks is well-taken and spot-on. If I ever get the time, I plan to revisit/expand my notions of patterns in language.
    Good post! 

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