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On distinguishing between radicalism and activism in words

November 29th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron — with an assist from the young Isaac Newton ]
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This is one of those micro-events that crop up if you frequently read from diverse sources, haphazardly piling one thing atop another:

SPEC DQ burne house or church

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Here’s what I’m thinking. Taken at face value these two statements seem pretty similar: tidy up the archaic spellings in the first, the contemporary ellipsis in the second, and tweet them — you’d have the same basic threat in each case:

I’ll burn you guys and the roof over your heads.

The problem here is fundamental to our times and to the way we handle potential recruits to, and returning fighters from, IS / Daesh

how can you tell the merely radical sounding from those who will in fact put their radical ideas into violent practice?

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Verbal threats can easily indicate one state of affairs or the other. Consider these facts:

  • Whoever it was that made the threat in the lower panel over the phone to Pastor Carlton Lee of Flood Christian Church in Feruson, someone indeed made good on the church part, setting the cinder block structure ablaze and burning it to the ground on Monday.

  • Whoever it was who threatened to burn his parents’ home over their heads and them with it in the upper panel seems not to have done so, but went on to discover the law of gravitational attraction, write the Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica, co-discover the calculus, and hold the presidency of the Royal Society before dying at the over-ripe old age of 84.
  • **

    Newton.

    624px-Newton-WilliamBlake

    Sir Isaac, I mean, Newton. That second quote came from Sir Isaac Newton, alchemist extraordinaire, listing his youthful sins — Newton who, by the way, calculated that the beginning of the reign of Christ would not occur before 2060, writing:

    And the days of short lived Beasts being put for the years of lived [sic] kingdoms, the period of 1260 days, if dated from the complete conquest of the three kings A.C. 800, will end A.C. 2060. It may end later, but I see no reason for its ending sooner. This I mention not to assert when the time of the end shall be, but to put a stop to the rash conjectures of fancifull men who are frequently predicting the time of the end, & by doing so bring the sacred prophesies into discredit as often as their predictions fail. Christ comes as a thief in the night, & it is not for us to know the times & seasons wch God hath put into his own breast.

    **

    So — would you lock up the young Newton and throw away the key? Or track down whoever phoned that threat to the pastor in Ferguson? I wouldn’t send them to Cambridge and expect too much of them ..

    Words can certainly be inflammatory — in some cases they result in flames..

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    New Article up at The Chicago Progressive

    November 28th, 2014

    [by Mark Safranski, a.k.a. “zen“]

    As I mentioned previously, I was invited to be a contributor to the new (and evolving) e-zine The Chicago Progressive   where I will tackle much the same subjects that we do here, albeit for a general audience attuned toward music, culture and the arts instead of for the natsec nerds, strategy wonks and milblogger crowd. here’s my latest piece:

    The Nature of the Menace 

    While the 2014 election results which gave Republicans control over the next Congress promise a change of direction and increased conflict in Washington over hot-button issues like immigration reform and Obamacare, one issue that is not likely to change: American policy  toward Syria and ISIS. Republicans, no less than Democrats are deeply divided over what to do, as are key figures in the administration. Part of the problem is the nature of the menace posed by ISIS itself – violently barbaric, growing in strength and implacably hostile to the West, yet only indirectly threatening to America at best. The steady-stream of ISIS atrocities keep it on the front pages – along with demands that the Obama administration “do something” – without ISIS taking actions threatening enough to Americans justify the risk of a major US response.

    The truth is that despite lurid stories of ISIS operatives infiltrating over the Rio Grande leaving a trail of prayer rugs and jihadi literature in their wake, the threat of acts of major domestic terrorism by ISIS foreign fighters is remote. Unlike al Qaida, which was always primarily an elite transnational terrorist group looking to strike America, ISIS is predominantly a regionally based mass-movement insurgency rooted radicalized Sunni Arab theology and anti-Shia grievances. ISIS gains political traction for its brand of extreme religious violence outside of Iraq and Syria only where similar ethnic and sectarian demographics and anarchy prevail – like in the Sinai and Libya, as Der Spiegel reported last week.

    The strategic threat posed by ISIS to the United States is fairly limited and mostly indirect, coming mostly from secondary or long term effects that are adverse to longstanding American interests:

    a) Ideological – Every ISIS success helps inspire a hyper-radicalization of young, angry, Sunni Arab males into a generation of crypto-mahdist revolutionaries akin to the radical wave of terrorism and revolt inspired by the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917 (ex. Bela Kuhn, Mao, Ho, the Bavarian Soviet, Comintern etc.). This potential fallout is the most serious threat to regional stability in the Mideast and is already happening.

    b) Destabilization – The fragile and authoritarian Gulf monarchies and Saudi Arabia with a large generation of idle, well-off, underemployed youth are acutely vulnerable to subversion byISIS (which they ironically helped fund). Any serious effort by ISIS to militarily challenge these states is likely to be accompanied by vicious anti-Shia pogroms and atrocities, possibly provoking Iran to intervene. This risks whipping up a “Muslim Thirty Year’s War”  from Pakistan to the Mahgreb. While this likelihood is modest and its effects on US interests secondary, were Pakistani nukes to get loose or an Iranian-Saudi war to be triggered, it would become an urgent threat of the first order.

    c) Terrorism -, Terrorism against regional American/western targets by ISIS s a certain eventuality, it has not happened yet because doing so is not a priority. ISIS leaders have demonstrated a remarkable strategic focus and discipline (more than we do, to be blunt) and have bigger fish to fry fighting local rivals right now. Terrorism against the continental United States by ISIS is not very probable (except by internet self-radicalized amateurs) and if it happened, while awful for the victims, most likely far less significant than 9/11 or the Oklahoma City bombing. I wouldn’t stay awake at night worrying about foreign ISIS fighters nuking Manhattan. […]

    Read the rest here.

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    Happy Thanksgiving from Zenpundit.com

    November 27th, 2014

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    Taylor Swift keeps on truckin’

    November 26th, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron — Swift, Bach, sharia, semi-trailers, and a quick look at Ferguson / St Louis ]
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    I offer you Ms Taylor Swift as captured in a very clever DoubleQuote in the wild which I discovered via a friend, Deborah Tobias:

    Taylor Swift DQ via Deborah Tobias FB

    By way of comparison, here — as seen in my earlier post Ms Swift, Sara Mingardo, JS Bach and a quiet WTF — is the remarkable Ms Swift’s mouthing of Bach‘s Chorale Prelude for organ BWV 732, Praise God, you Christians all together, as posted on YouTube by VoiceOfShariah:

    Quite how sharia comes into the picture I don’t claim to know…

    **

    You wanna nother DQ, nothing to do with Ms Swift this time? I took a fancy to this one:

    Those two images coduld be polarizing — or they could serve as bridges: that’s one of the interesting things about some, if not all, DoubleQuotes. There’s a good commentary from Erik Wemple blogging at WaPo.

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    Give me that Old Time Nuclear Fatwa

    November 25th, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron — when is a tweet not quite a fatwa? when it’s a tweet! ]
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    **

    A day or two ago Tim Furnish pointed me to a recent MEMRI post titled:

    Tehran Again Offers Khamenei’s Nonexistent Fatwa In Negotiations As A Guarantee That It Is Not Developing Nuclear Weapons

    You can pretty much imagine the content by means of its title, but the piece also contains a lead to Khamenei‘s Twitter feed, and thus to the tweet with which I’ve opened this post.

    What to make of it?

    **

    It seems to me that there are two obvious possibilities —

  • the Ayatollah is lying, there is no such fatwa
  • the Ayatlloah is telling the truth, there is such a fatwa
  • Those who are prone to hope may well take the Ayatollah’s word for it — whether or not that trust is justified — while those who are prone to doubt are liable to distrust the Ayatollah…

    And so we’re at that old “trust but verify” business again.

    It seems to me that neither proposition — that a fatwa exists as claimed, but has not been made public, or that no fatwa exists, and claims to the contrary are simply incredible — is verifiable, or falsifiable for that matter. Hunh.

    The one thing that is clear from my POV is that the Ayatollah Khamenei is playing this close to his chest. He could very easily write out a fatwa and publish it, and he doesn’t. He could very easily not have issued a fatwa, which would explain its non-publication. But his refusal to publish a fatwa, while claiming to have issued it, presumably by word of mouth, is a clear indication that he is toying with his interlocutors in the west. And the game is:

    I claim to have given a fatwa — will you take my word for it?

    He’s asking for trust, we’re asking for verification: trust, but verify, it’s not a new idea. And it seems to me that neither axiomatic doubt nor axiomatic trust is the point, although we are mostly prone to one or the other.

    The point is that this is poker. Perhaps this is an obvious truism that others move quickly past on their way to reading the Ayatollah’s “tells” one way or the other. Or perhaps we are so quick to take sides that the idea that we face a formidable opponent in what is essentially a very high stakes game eludes us.

    I’m not a player, I don’t speak or read Farsi, the Shah was still in power when I visited Tehran, I haven’t studied for years in Qom or Najaf, I’m not inclined to make political assertions more than one or two levels above my pay grade, I’m mostly unpaid, and I’m left with this:

    We’re in a game.

    And if that’s the case, intelligence — human intelligence — is the way to read Khamenei’s poker face. And FWIW, Amir Taheri wouldn’t be my go to source for intel.

    **

    BTW, here’s Khamenei’s latest:

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