Two tweets in short order

[ by Charles Cameron — a little something to consider while ZP proper is down ]

SPEC clint watts & guardian


  • Clint Watts, tweet
  • Clint Watts, Did Obama Just Unify America’s Enemies?
  • Guardian, tweet
  • Guardian, Isis reconciles with al-Qaida group as Syria air strikes continue
  • **

    Clint Watts published September 26, Guardian confirmed 28 September.

    Unforseen .. really? .. consequences?

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    Dabiq, also Palestinian TV show satirizes IS

    [ by Charles Cameron – ISIS video, early Dabiq reference, satirical response ]

    dabiq fire

    You may recall that almost exactly a year ago, Shiite truck drivers in Anbar province were stopped by ISIS patrols, questioned as to the exact form of Islamic prayer, and executed when they didn’t give an approved Sunni response. The event was captured on video, and visiting it today I was struck by the reference to Dabiq — see screencap above — already a crucial reference for pre-caliphal ISIS.


    I was watching that video again because the Palestinian TV show Watan al Watar recently satirized ISIS / IS in a video of their own, and the correspondences were pretty exact:

    SPEC rakats

    The gentlemen in the upper image, above, are acting. Those in the lower image died in late August 2013.


    You can view the satirican Watan al Watar video here:


    The original video can be found here for comparison.


    It is perhaps worth noting that the Eretz-Zen post of that original video, back in late August 2013, describes the significance of Dabiq thus:

    The video ends with a statement threatening the “Armies of the Cross in Dabiq” to be burnt by the fire whose spark was ignited in Iraq. Dabiq is a town near Aleppo where the battle of Marj Dabiq took place on August 24, 1516, and it ended up in a decisive victory of the Ottoman Empire over the Mamluk Sultanate.

    As readers of Furnish, Filiu or myself will know, the Dabiq battle mentioned in the video references a future, specifically end times battle — a far more significant matter.

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    Filiu on ISIS: “excitement at the approach of the end of time”

    [ by Charles Cameron — J-P Filiu, who wrote the book Apocalypse in Islam, returns reluctantly to the same topic ]



    Jean-Pierre Filiu, blogging on L’Etat islamique ou les chevaliers de l’apocalypse djihadiste — The Islamic State, or Knights of the Jihadist Apocalypse — writes:

    La violence extrême du monstre djihadiste tient largement aux convictions apocalyptiques de nombre de ses recrues. Ce monstre a réussi à imposer au monde entier l’appellation qu’il s’est choisie d’Etat islamique (EI), alors qu’il n’est pas un Etat, mais une machine de guerre, et que sa doctrine totalitaire menace avant tout les musulmans.

    Roughly and rustily translated — for Filiu is the man who showed me that the French I thought I had was entirely insufficient for scholarly purposes –he’s saying:

    The extreme violence of the jihadist monster is due in large part to the apocalyptic beliefs of many of its recruits.

    — and he continues, strikingly, that IS:

    now has dozens of testimonials from foreign IS “volunteers” in which they reveal their fears, but also their excitement at the approach of the end of time. The “land of Sham”, known to geographers as Greater Syria, is indeed, like Iraq, a land privileged for the fulfillment of such prophecies.


    Filiu is both a distinguished professor at SciencesPo, and a one time career French diplomat whose postings included a stint between 1996–99 as Deputy Chief of Mission in Syria. He is also the author of the major work, Apocalypse in Islam [see also my review on Jihadology], which draws on his extensive readings in both the history and current market for apocalyptic ideas in Islam. He knows the terrain.

    Writing of the “Ultimate Battle” — which he characterizes as “a terrible bloodbath in which the Faithful are victorious” — Filiu says that “just this kind of terror apocalypse is portrayed as imminent on social networks” and notes that this argument is “hammered home to encourage immediate recruitment” to Baghdadi’s forces, since “fighting in this battle will be worth more than fighting in a thousand battles with less of an eschatological aura” (“car la participation à cette Bataille vaudra mille combats moins auréolés de gloire eschatologique.”)


    A good portion of Filiu’s post is taken up with the IS magazine Dabiq and the role of the town of that name both in the current conflict and in apocalyptic hadith.

    Filiu’s conclusion? He fears he will soon be obliged to return once more to the apocalyptic meanderings of the jihad.

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    Karbala & Baghdad, temporal & eternal

    [ by Charles Cameron — when worldviews intersect, as they do today ]


    Source for lower quote:

    Borzou Daragahi, City on edge as Baghdad residents await Isis attack


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    Eavesdropping on Twitter — about al-Awlaqi and Dickens

    [ by Charles Cameron — a remarkable conversation today between Greg Johnsen, Will McCants, and Thos Hegghammer ]

    One of the key questions in discussions of the droning of Anwar al-Awlaqi, which has recently resurfaced as the result of the posting of the “drone memo” [here at pp 67 and following], has to do with whether or not Awlaqi was AQAP’s foreign operations chief, and thus an “imminent” threat to US national security, or “just” their best English-language social media preacher / propagandist, and thus effectively a “threat-once-removed” so to speak.

    Gregory Johnsen posted a piece titled New Al-Qaeda Propaganda Video Appears To Undermine Obama Administration’s Drone Memo on Buzzfeed today, continuing a conversation that he’s been involved with for a few years now:

    A new video from al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula appears to undercut the Obama administration’s claim that Anwar al-Awlaki was the “head of external operations” for AQAP. The 39-minute video was posted to the internet on Saturday, just two days before the Second Circuit Court released a legal memo justifying Awlaki’s killing by a CIA drone in September 2011.

    Despite its release date, the video doesn’t appear to be an attempt to pre-empt the Obama administration’s memo. In fact, the video has little to do with Anwar al-Awlaki. Instead it focuses on the life of Said al-Shihri, a former Guantanamo Bay detainee who rose to become the deputy commander in AQAP before dying as a result of wounds suffered in a U.S. drone strike in late 2012.

    The video says that it was Shihri — not Awlaki — who was “responsible for external operations against America.” For years, the Obama administration has argued the opposite, claiming that Awlaki was directing AQAP’s efforts against the U.S., including the failed underwear bomb on an airliner over Detroit on Christmas Day 2009.

    On the day Awlaki was killed, Obama called him “the leader of external operations for al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula” and said he “directed” the 2009 attack. The video appears to refute both claims, giving credit to Shihri, the former Guantanamo Bay detainee.


    Let’s pick up the story there, and move to an extraordinary example of what Twitter can do, in the form of an exchange today between Johnsen himself, the author of The Last Refuge: Yemen, al-Qaeda, and America’s War in Arabia, Will McCants, author of Founding Gods, Inventing Nations, lately of the CTC West Point and now at Brookings, and Thomas Hegghammer, aurthor of Jihad in Saudi Arabia and director of terrorism research at the Norwegian Defence Research Establishment.

    We’re overhearing three of the brightest minds in counterterrorism, chatting at the next table…

    GregorydJohnsen ‏@gregorydjohnsen:
    What if the intel was wrong? … my new piece on Awlaki and the drone memo

    Will McCants ‏@will_mccants:
    @gregorydjohnsen Was Shihri a Dickens fan? … cc @Hegghammer

    GregorydJohnsen ‏@gregorydjohnsen:
    @will_mccants @Hegghammer I would love to get both your take as well as Thomas’ on the new video and whether it changes anything

    Thomas Hegghammer ‏@Hegghammer:
    @gregorydjohnsen @will_mccants @intelwire video is very interesting, but it implicates Shihri more than it exonerates Awlaqi

    Thomas Hegghammer ‏@Hegghammer:
    @gregorydjohnsen @will_mccants @intelwire films doesn’t actually say Shihri was executive head of external operations … 1/2

    Thomas Hegghammer ‏@Hegghammer:
    @gregorydjohnsen @will_mccants @intelwire it says (21’33’’) he supervised Christmas bombing “with his brothers in external op division”

    Thomas Hegghammer ‏@Hegghammer:
    @gregorydjohnsen @will_mccants @intelwire Shihri may have been higher in food chain, but Awlaqi may still have been chief executive officer

    Thomas Hegghammer ‏@Hegghammer:
    @gregorydjohnsen @will_mccants @intelwire and Rajib Karim case docs clearly show Awlaqi’s operational role

    Thomas Hegghammer @Hegghammer:
    @gregorydjohnsen @will_mccants @intelwire but Greg, your bigger point stands: We should be having this discussion in a court, not on Twitter


    Here’s what I want to remind you of…

    In what I can only call a “glancing tweet” towards the top of that exchange, Will McCants linked to a piece by Thomas Hegghammer dated November 24,  2010, The case for chasing al-Awlaki, which begins:

    In a recent New York Times op-ed, renowned al Qaeda expert Gregory Johnsen argued that Anwar al-Awlaki is a peripheral figure in al Qaeda on the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and that U.S. security services should worry less about Awlaki and more about AQAP’s top leaders, such as Nasir al-Wihayshi and Sa’idal-Shihri. Johnsen is right about the first part of his argument, but wrong about the second.

    Hegghammer’s key para for my purposes reads:

    Awlaki is AQAP’s Head of Foreign Operations. In the latest issue of the group’s English-language magazine Inspire, an article signed “Head of Foreign Operations” takes credit for the recent parcel bomb plot and outlines in great detail the planning and thinking behind it. The article is almost certainly written by Awlaki. We know this because the article references obscure figures from the history of Muslim Spain, a pet subject of Awlaki’s, and because it mentions Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations, a book he reviewed on his blog in 2008. Moreover, Awlaki is a personal friend of the editor of Inspire, Samir Khan, and has published in the magazine in the past.

    Here’s the image from that issue of Inspire magazine:


    Here’s Inspire’s commentary, from the article titled “The Objectives if Operation Hemorrhage” by their “Head of the Foreign Operations Team”:

    This current battle fought by the West is not an isolated battle but is a continuation of a long history of aggression by the West against the Muslim world. In order to revive and bring back this history we listed the names of Reynald Krak and Diego Diaz as the recipients of the packages. We got the former name from Reynald de Chatillon, the lord of Krak des Chevaliers who was one of the worst and most treacherous of the Crusade’s leaders. He fell into captivity and Salahuddeen personally beheaded him. The name we used for the second package was derived from that of Don Diego Deza, the Inquisitor General of the Spanish Inquisition after the fall of Granada who along with the Spanish monarchy supervised the extermination and expulsion of the Muslim presence on the Iberian Peninsula employing the most horrific methods of torture and done in the name of God and the Church. Today we are facing a coalition of Crusaders and Zionists and we in al Qaeda of the Arabian Peninsula will never forget Palestine. How can we forget it when our motto is: “Here we start and in al-Aqsa we meet”? So we listed the address of the “Congregation Or Chadash”, a Gay and Lesbian synagogue on our one of our packages. The second package was sent to “Congregation B’nai Zion”. Both synagogues are in Chicago, Obama’s city.
    We were very optimistic about the outcome of this operation. That is why we dropped into one of the boxes a novel titled, Great Expectations.

    And here’s Awlaqi’s reading Great Expectations, as noted at an forum — the tasteful **** replacing the first four letters of Charles Dickens’ name is quite sweet:

    Following Moby ****, I asked for more books without specifying which ones, so my parents brought me whatever was lying around in the house. This time it was King Lear by Shakespeare and Hard Times by Charles ****ens. Shakespeare was the worst thing I read during my entire stay in prison. I never liked him to start with. Probably the only reason he became so famous is because he was English and had the backing and promotion of the speakers of a global language. On the other hand, I read Hard Times thrice. So, I ordered more Charles ****ens and read Tale of Two Cities, Great Expectations, Oliver Twist, and his masterpiece: David Copperfield. I read this one twice.

    What fascinated me with these novels were the amazing characters ****ens created and the similarity of some of them to some people today. That made them very interesting.

    Awlaqi also notes, for the benefit of those of us not in solitary who might waste precious time in literary pursuits:

    I want to stress that I do not encourage any serious Muslim brother or sister to waste time with novels. If it wasn’t for the fact that I was prevented from anything else, I wouldn’t have read them. And, I read them because apparently a person can begin forgetting his language, even if it is his mother tongue, if he does not use it for long time. There is even a joke that a man emigrated from an Arab country to America and did not learn English and ended up forgetting Arabic. Being in solitary confinement and not speaking English for a long time I needed refreshment.

    So, there is some benefit in reading novels for those in the fields of public speaking and writing. And, once in while, there is a novel that is worth reading because of a pointed message that it tries to convey; such as the message in Animal Farm about communism, and the relevance of 1984 regarding how the West is treating Muslims today. But, for he who has the choice, there are better alternatives. There is so much out there to read. One should not spend the valuable time Allah has blessed them with on anything except that which will draw one closer to Allah.

    For those interested in Awlaqi’s book reviews — without the asterisks — there’s an archive from his own site here.


    FWIW I’d posted on the implications of that Awlaqi book review in light of the Inspire interview on Zenpundit on November 21st — the Zenpundit site is down at this time of writing, but the link is to — and I cross-posted the same piece, “What the Dickens? Symbolic details in Inspire issue 3″, at ChicagoBoyz, where it’s still accessible.

    And again FWIW, connecting the “Inspire book cover” dot to the “Awlaqi book review” dot is a pure HipBone-Sembl game move — and an excellent example of what attentive reading coupled with HipBone-Sembl thinking can do for the analytic community.

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    Gant and Gertrude

    [ by Charles Cameron — this whole Lawrence thing is getting tedious ]

    What the Bell reporter manages to omit is that it was Gertrude Bell whose translations of Hafez introduced us to one of the greatest of Sufi poets.


  • Lawrence of Afghanistan
  • Gertrude of Arabia
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    What have ISIS & SISI to do with poetry & snakes?

    [ by Charles Cameron — on The utility, as PR Beckman puts it, of the Poetic Imagination — with intelligence analysts in mind, and starring Orit Perlov ]



    It’s a cognitive thing.

    You may or may not be familiar with the Scottish poet Edwin Morgan‘s poem of that name, but it runs like this:

    s sz sz SZ sz SZ sz ZS zs Zs zs zs z

    To the poet, this is play, play with words and letters, meaning and form — and Morgan’s fellow poet, Jonathan Williams (aka “Jargonathan”) thought highly enough of it to offer it to Doyle Moore of the Finial Press for interpretation, printing the results in the Jargon Press book seen above. One of the finer results was this one, produced by Moore’ students / studio at the Graphic Design Department at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana:


    And what has this to do with ISIS, or the sixth President of Egypt, Abdel Fattah Saeed Hussein Khalil el-Sisi?


    It’s a cognitive matter.

    The poet instinctively plays with, delights in, form. And form in its essence is pattern — one of the simplest and most engaging of forms being symmetry.

    Poets, of course, are of no importance compared with intelligence analysts — despite being considered “the unacknowledged legislators of the world” by one of their own. Physicists, however, can be taken a little more seriously than poets in our technologically brilliant age, and even physicists succumb to the beauties of symmetry. Quoth the Stanford Encyclopedia of Physics:

    Symmetry considerations dominate modern fundamental physics, both in quantum theory and in relativity.

    Quoth David Gross in The role of symmetry in fundamental physics:

    Einstein’s great advance in 1905 was to put symmetry first, to regard the symmetry principle as the primary feature of nature that constrains the allowable dynamical laws.

    Oh, read on, read how symmetry was hiding in plain sight in the works of the Greeks, of KeplerNewtonGalileoMaxwell and Lorentz.

    But again, what has this to do with Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and Abdel Fattah el-Sisi?


    It’s a style of exploring, comprehending, and explaining, the world. A cognitive thing.

    Journalists — and the editors imposing headlines on them — not infrequently enjoy a little symmetry. And so it is that the New York Times yesterday posted Thomas Friedman‘s piece titled ISIS and SISI.

    Friedman obviously liked the symmetry enough to write about it, his editor liked it enough to make or keep it as the title of Frienman’s piece, and as Friedman himself tells us in his article, the first person to delight in this particular symmetry was the Israeli analyst Orit Perlov, who tweeted back in October last:

    An analyst.


    Noting that the ISIS SISI juxtaposition that Perlov remarked on resembles the SZ ZS symmetry that delighted Edwin Morgan, Jonathan Williams and myself adds nothing practical to my knowledge of either President Sisi nor ISIS, any more than Edwin Morgan’s serpent tells me anything useful about Hungarian snake-bite risk-avoidance.

    It tells me, however, that Orit Perlov is a sharp cookie, an analyst to follow.  It’s a cognitive thing.


    The taste for form, and specifically the habit of noticing and appreciating symmetries, is something we all share to some degree — but to sharpen it from an occasional human mode of cognition into a tool, a mastery of instinctive pattern-recognition, is more like an acquired taste.

    Orit Perlov, I deduce, is a connoisseur — she will notice thing that many other analysts will overlook, because she has acquired that taste.

    I’m posting this, because I’m a poet by vocation, and because I find myself practicing a poet’s version of open source intelligence analysis as I attempt to explore, comprehend, and explain the various ways in which religion plays out in the violence that plagues our world.


    And I’m posting it because as a poet-analyst hybrid, I can perhaps provide some further insight into the significant ideas presented by PR Beckman in Reflections on the Utility of the Poetic Imagination — an important (“must read”) post addressed to the military and decision-makers rather than to analysts, but equally relevant IMO to the analytic profession.

    In that piece, Beckman writes:

    I had been thinking about the potential utility of the poetic or aesthetic imagination in the context of the national debate about the value of various college majors. Too often this debate resulted in the STEM subjects being touted as the answer to our problems and literature and the arts reduced to “nice to have” not “need to have” subjects. But I think that we need them more than we realize. One of the challenges is that the utility of the STEM subjects is obvious especially in heavily tech-oriented organizations like the military, whereas literature and the arts don’t have that same obvious utility. I believe there is a utility here, but it is not ready-made for us, rather it is something we are going to have to discover (and that is actually a great opportunity.) Whether it is in the military or other institutions, I do believe that this is indeed “a job for poets.” But in order to demonstrate this we have to identify what the poetic imagination brings to the table and develop methodology for practically applying the poetic imagination.

    My purpose in this post is to reveal one small corner of “what the poetic imagination brings to the table” — and to do so without foregoing my own poetic imagination for the emaciated and etiolated prose of a white paper or power-point brief.

    In my HipBone Games and Cath Styles’ and my Sembl venture, one aspect of the larger vision we both hold is to “develop methodology for practically applying the poetic imagination”. It’s a cognitive thing — and analysts (and any others interested in creative insight) would do well to add this style of cognition to their world-reading arsenal.

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