Friday, May 16, 2008

The Ray-ban theory of history

Juan Carlos Zarate, described as a senior US counterterrorism official by the Telegraph is quoted as claiming "that the demise of al-Qa'eda is in sight because its failure to adapt its violent ideology and tactics has provoked growing dissent across the Islamic world." This claim is not as outrageous -- even to those who believe ideologies are invincible -- as it might at first seem. While Islam has maintained its general militancy and aggressiveness over the centuries, the lifespan of individual fanatical movements is distinctly shorter. It is possible that the world has not seen the last of radical Islam; but it may be true that it has seen the last of Bin Laden's crew.

History suggests that Islamic militancy comes in waves. Mohammed bin Abdullah Hassan, better known as the Mad Mullah of Somaliland, had a heyday between the years 1900 and 1920. The Mahdi, Mohammed Ahmad of Khartoum fame, lasted from the early 1880s to the turn of the century, if the career of his successor the Khalifa is added to it. The British were chronically in pursuit of one mad mullah or another throughout their vast colonial possessions. The young Winston Churchill facing the forces of yet another "mad mullah" in the Swat Valley some years after he had accompanied Kitchener to Omdurman, remarked:

"How dreadful are the curses which Mohammedanism lays on its votaries! Besides the fanatical frenzy, which is as dangerous in a man as hydrophobia in a dog, there is this fearful fatalistic apathy. The effects are apparent in many countries. Improvident habits, slovenly systems of agriculture, sluggish methods of commerce, and insecurity of property exist wherever the followers of the Prophet rule or live. A degraded sensualism deprives this life of its grace and refinement; the next of its dignity and sanctity. The fact that in Mohammedan law every woman must belong to some man as his absolute property - either as a child, a wife, or a concubine - must delay the final extinction of slavery until the faith of Islam has ceased to be a great power among men. Individual Moslems may show splendid qualities. Thousands become the brave and loyal soldiers of the Queen; all know how to die; but the influence of the religion paralyses the social development of those who follow it. No stronger retrograde force exists in the world. Far from being moribund, Mohammedanism is a militant and proselytizing faith. It has already spread throughout Central Africa, raising fearless warriors at every step; and were it not that Christianity is sheltered in the strong arms of science - the science against which it had vainly struggled - the civilisation of modern Europe might fall, as fell the civilisation of ancient Rome".

The wave passes. But the ocean remains.

Yet if Zarate were correct in claiming that the US has, for the moment, beaten back al-Qaeda to what would it be due? To two things. The first is to inevitable excesses of the Mad Mullahs themselves. A movement like the Jihad eventually sustains itself by exactions and impositions on the population. A movement which aims at paradise can have little regard for daily concerns. Al-Qaeda gets real old, real quickly when you actually have to live under it. The reason it retains the sympathy of the Western intelligensia is because they don't have to live under it.

The second reason for al-Qaeda's decline has been their defeat on every battlefield on which they have been found. And as important as the material losses to them have been, far more serious has been the loss to their prestige. They have gone from godlike warriors who can topple skyscrapers in Manhattan to helpless bugs who are effortlessly incinerated despite their incantation. And that battlefield helplessness, to their adherents, is subliminal proof of the power of a greater magic: "the strong arms of science". It is the triumph in this battle of conjury, this wizard war, which in some sense has been the true metric of victory.

The widespread disgust with brutality of al-Qaeda coupled with a grudging admiration for the power of the US is the psychological reason why al-Qaeda, if it has declined as Zarate claims, has done so. Deborah Haynes, a journalist with the Times Online, describes the latest fashion trends among young men in Baghdad. They want to look like American soldiers.

Elbow or knee pads strapped deliberately to ankles and goggles worn back to front over helmets, some Iraqi soldiers have a unique sense of style. Efforts to mimic their American mentors or simply spruce up and re-enforce their regular army gear result in a variety of different outfits whenever the troops are on patrol. Sejad Mehdi, 21, said that he habitually fixes a pair of goggles to the back of his American helmet – bought at a Baghdad market for 50,000 Iraqi dinar (21 pounds) – because he saw US troops wearing them that way rather than because he uses the mask in his job.

If it is true that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, some enterprising sociology student may one day describe a correlation between fashion and consciousness. In the years after the Second World War the hot fashion item in war-ravaged Manila were Ray Ban aviator sunglasses. Not because people had any Hellcats to fly, but because everyone wanted to look like a "winner".

In short, winning against al-Qaeda has been largely achieved by winning. There are those who think negotiations are a substitute for winning, rather than their complement. When J. Peter Scoblic, writing in the LA Times argues that "negotiating isn't appeasement", urges US officials to go cap in hand to Teheran and has even written a book to prove it entitled How a Half Century of Conservatism Has Undermined America's Security, he neglects this essential correlation. He claims the fact that Reagan negotiated with Gorbachev is implicit proof that real men negotiate with the enemy while wusses like Bush don't. But that is to see negotiations in isolation from the battlefield. He neglects to mention that timing is everything. Negotiations are useful when they are used to complement success or effect a mutually improved solution to a crisis. Negotiations are not useful merely as instruments of surrender or vanity platforms for the self-flagellant. Timing is everything. Wainrights negotiations with Japan after the Fall of Bataan are not the same as the one Wainright attended on the deck of the USS Missouri.

And that difference is sometimes more acutely perceived by the man on the street than by academics. Everyone loves a winner. Nobody remembers a loser. And that fact is remembered in popular culture. There are in Mindanao Muslims named "Pershing" and "Temojin" but there isn't to my knowledge anyone called Scoblic, or Berrigan or Joan Baez. In the days after September 11 there were probably a spate of "Osamas". My guess is that there are fewer now.

It is significant that some members of the Western elite want to wear a keffiyeh at precisely the time when young Muslim men in Baghdad are saving to buy Wiley-X's. While I don't know precisely what it signifies, it's fair to claim that a world where Islamic militants wanted to dress like Nancy Pelosi would be profoundly different from on in which Nancy Pelosi wants to dress like an Islamic militant. Call it the Ray Ban theory of history. It means something and I leave it to wiser heads to puzzle out what.

The wave passes but the ocean remains. And while al-Qaeda may be beaten down for now in the long run the outcome of historical encounters is determined by health of cultures. And how does our culture fare? If Churchill were alive today he might say:

How dreadful are the curses which Political Correctness lays on its votaries! Besides the fanatical frenzy, which is as dangerous in a man as hydrophobia in a dog, there is this fearful fatalistic apathy. The effects are apparent in many countries. Improvident habits, slovenly systems of thought, sluggish methods of commerce, and insecurity of property exist wherever the followers of the PC rule or live. A degraded sensualism deprives this life of its grace and refinement; the next of its dignity and sanctity. The fact that in post-modern politics every minority must belong to some liberal as his absolute property - either as ward, token, or a concubine - must delay the final extinction of slavery until PC has ceased to be a great power among men. Individual leftists may show splendid qualities. Thousands become the brave and loyal soldiers of the Queen; all know how to die; but the influence of the religion paralyses the social development of those who follow it. No stronger retrograde force exists in the world. Far from being moribund, PC is a militant and proselytizing faith. It has already spread throughout Europe, raising mindless warriors at every step; and were it not the strong arms of science are sheltered in the strong arms of freedom - the freedom against which it had vainly struggled - the West might fall, as fell the civilisation of ancient Rome.

Lance Mungia got it right in his movie The Six String Samurai. All that ultimately matters is whether the spirit survives. In what, even in a post apocalyptic world, people choose to wear or to sing. Even at the end of things, what matters is whether and who takes the throne of Elvis.






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47 Comments:

Blogger jj mollo said...

The difference is that we don't need or desire that long term embrace. We just need people who value life and peace and freedom and know how to pursue happiness without destroying others'. The lunatics will be strained out of the soup.

That Churchill a soldier, journalist, historian, would name Science as the important defender of freedom is telling. Maybe we should require professors in the Liberal Arts to demonstrate proficiency in Science first. Maybe journalism students should study engineering or logistics.

5/17/2008 04:26:00 PM  
Blogger Arthur Dent said...

Everything it seems moves left. Until almost now the left watermelons (green on the outside red to the core) have never had a real foothold in America.

Obama is the great piton. He is a strong anchor for the belief system even if he loses.
McCain, interestingly, is more of a wild card than Obama. McCain keeps kicking dust, spit, dirt and rocks at me. Conservatives have no solid anchor we can trust. We have a nominee who chases us away and yet might win if he can mass the Hillary vote.

Where is there left to flee to?

5/17/2008 04:51:00 PM  
Blogger Dave said...

G-R-O-A-N!!!! That My Dear Wretchard is my response to the Churchill parody. How appropriate!

The different terrorist groups do tend to have short lifespans and are personality dependent. The underlying socio-cultural matrix is our area of long-term concern.

Our current advantage---I think----is that Al Qaeda became THE big shots by pulling off the spectacular of spectaculars, 9-11When that organization gets put down and when nobody else can do anything equally or more spectacular, the futility of continuing their traditional ways may finally sink in to the generality of the mideast.

If so, we finally have the break we have long needed. If not, we have to keep plugging away one terr at a time until the message does get through.

5/17/2008 04:52:00 PM  
Blogger Mətušélaḥ said...

From the Publisher
I HAVE NEVER BEEN PROUDER TO PUBLISH A BOOK

Michael Yon changed my mind about the war in Iraq, by making me understand it for the first time.
.
.
The other thing Michael helped me understand is the difference between terrorists we just have to kill (often foreigners, or local criminals) and local insurgents we should have been working with all along. For almost five years I could not tell from watching the news--and certainly not from listening to the Administration--who the enemy was, what they wanted or why they were fighting. Not surprisingly it turns out that understanding the various people we were fighting--some of whom have since become great allies--was the key to winning the war, which we are now clearly doing.

I am convinced that everything I once thought about the war was wrong. The truth is we are doing a great thing in Iraq, most of the Iraqi people really do want to be a united democratic nation and already consider America their greatest friend and ally. It would be a crime to turn tail now and abandon them now.

I owe all that to Michael's book, which is why I believe publishing Moment of Truth in Iraq may be the best thing I have ever done for my country.


Moment of Truth in Iraq
Available at amazon.com


====

Understanding the enemy on the Iraqi battlefield is important. But understanding the enemy on battlefield at the DOS and the Pentagon is even more important.

5/17/2008 05:13:00 PM  
Blogger jj mollo said...

I think they're going to start wearing Ray-Bans in Afghanistan as well.

5/17/2008 05:19:00 PM  
Blogger A Jacksonian said...

It is very easy to be fanatical and to seek an end to others that do not believe as you do.

Extremely easy.

It is very difficult to fight so that others may have a good life.

Extremely difficult.

When those on Mindanao took up the names of those that confronted them, it was earned respect: these men had fought well as we understand it and being defeated by them is no dishonor.

How very and extremely easy it is to strap on a bomb and blow up innocents. And how incredibly meaningless.

It is not just the wearing of the items, the material, that makes the impression: it is why they wear them. The respect that is shown because those who did good things look like this and *I* want to be considered as good as they are.

That is what is missed in the always search to find out why material goods do not satisfy and make you look weak. A quest for those material goods as an object in and of itself is meaningless. To lead a good life and create such goods because you are leading a good life, with or without those things, that is persuasive.

MacArthur tried to cushion the culture shock that came after WWII, even though the militarism had to be removed from the Japanese formulation of stratified society. Somehow the shift from society that can create the goods to one that only was about the goods came to take hold. In Iraq we are trying something different: you do not have to lose everything to lead a good life of respect, you need not lose your society to be creative.

That is why, to an honorable foe, we stretch a hand in friendship: the animosity was in the fight, not the person. To fallen people who have suffered that hand reaches out to help them stand and build a new life.

And defend it.

Wear the Ray-Bans, because you *know* you can be that good... there is no magic to it. We still wear ties, ancient remnants of sashes of tribes and clans: respect of form, even if we no longer remember clan colors. A suit once represented a nobility of kind, of culture, of respect. It is not what you wear, but how you wear it, how you live your life and what it means.

It is a simple lesson.

And we are told to forget it.

That is the road to ruin.

And dishonor.

5/17/2008 06:50:00 PM  
Blogger Boghie said...

One reason they wear Ray-bans and we don't wear the burka or beard is that - in the imortal words of VDH - we are over there.

They are not over here.

They can strike and run, we can strike and hold.

Now, it will be more difficult for militant Islam to hold sway. There is an alternative. Not over the seas, just on the other side of that squiggly line on the map nobody respects in that part of the world.

Odd thought. Are the Iraqis more or less Islamist than they were five years ago?

Trends, baby, trends...

5/17/2008 07:03:00 PM  
Blogger Wadeusaf said...

Aren't there a number of folks named George Bush in Kuwait? Or is that KSA? Afghanistan? Mylasia? And now Iraq, Soon to be Lebanon hey who knows maybe even China. All of the above, Hummm. Thats a whole lot of Ray Bans goin on.
Shake, rattle and roll.

5/17/2008 07:23:00 PM  
Blogger eggplant said...

The good news:

The Islamic fascists losing.

The bad news:

The moonbats are on the verge of taking over.

I would argue that we're about to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

5/17/2008 07:52:00 PM  
Blogger bobal said...

Now's the time we ought to be resolving to stick with it. I agree with eggpland, we'll muck it up.

5/17/2008 08:37:00 PM  
Blogger thefewandtheplenty said...

No one remembers a loser?

Try living in the South. They never forgot the Confederacy.

5/17/2008 08:46:00 PM  
Blogger Buddy Larsen said...

It's the fight that the South remembers. The fight that the soldiers put up. And we remember it despite its nearness to other things we'd rather forget, because it simply cannot be forgotten.

5/17/2008 09:26:00 PM  
Blogger Dave said...

Hey Buddy Larsen:

I hear this rumor that some academics have concluded that
"damn" and "yankee" were originally two different words.

Any truth to this?

5/17/2008 10:19:00 PM  
Blogger Buddy Larsen said...

well Dave, i wuz borned in Alabamy, growed up in Louisiany, lived in Texas ever since. If i keep moving westwards i'll wind up in Californy, whar i might for the first time hear thet word said as them two halfwords.

5/17/2008 10:31:00 PM  
Blogger Mad Fiddler said...

God bless all our parents and grandparents who got through the decades of the Great Depression and the horror of World War II, China falling to the Communists, the Communist invasion of Korea and the Stalinist takeover of half of Europe. My parents were in that group. Those who had suffered in the Depression worked hard to put the biggest buffer they could between their kids and the sort of hardships they'd endured.

They abetted or at least acquiesced to the socialist impulse --- which after all grows out of normal human generosity and benevolence. Over time socialism has revealed itself to be a cancerous lesion advancing on the anatomy of every modern culture where it's taken hold. How could they have known the neoplastic monsters that would emerge?

(Look at what's happened to the Scandinavian countries. In the 1950's they achieved some of the greatest creativity and productivity of any societies in history. Their grandchildren have opted to take full advantage of the cradle-to-grave nanny state, opting for the earliest possible retirement, and all the welfare benefits they can scam. Why Not? There's an actual DISincentive to work, 'cause everything goes to taxes, supporting all the other folks on welfare. If you work, you have to pay a penalty for having children with all the extra medical care needed. If you're on welfare, the state GIVES YOU MONEY to pay for all your expenses! The countries are going bankrupt, despite importing for the scut work a huge population of sullen and resentful unskilled immigrants who have no respect for the customs and culture of their hosts.)

Besides the high taxes that stifle creativity and punish individual enterprise, the galloping nanny-ism has launched thousands of intrusive and oppressive programs. Environmental concern arose in response to some real problems. It has metamorphosed to a Luddite Fanatacism, which substitutes demagoguery for scientific method and hysterical accusations for meticulous research. There are growing splinter groups within the environmental movement that profess to believe that the world needs to be rid of humans.

Of course, excepting them. Once they get rid of all the problematic humans who don't sufficiently respect the planet --- don't recycle enough, drive big fat fossil-fuel burners, eat the flesh of other species, et cetera --- they, the annointed will inherit a clean and un-contaminated Earth.

Sure, and their shit smells like roses.

Meanwhile, there are simple morons about.

Last week in the post office parking lot I saw a bumper sticker on an SUV.

>>>>ON A FREAKING S ! U ! V !<<<<

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
"No Drilling for Oil Off My Coast!"
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Here is some stupid bastard driving a vehicle that's one of the most conspicuously extravagant choices of all fossil-fuel burners, who is perfectly happy letting the U.S. and the West slide deeper and deeper into servitude to the Oil Cartels. Doesn't matter whether it's the Communist Dictator Megalomaniac Hugo Chavez, or Putin's increasingly authoritarian Russia, or the Wahabbist-Jihadi America-haters controlling the Arab Oil states. This SUV owner has declared allegiance to SELF ABOVE ALL.

GIVE ME PETROL FOR MY SUV, BUT DON'T YOU DARE CHARGE ME WHAT IT COSTS, OR MAR THE VIEW OUT MY PICTURE WINDOW TO DO IT, AND THE REST OF YOU PROLS CAN SCREW YOURSELVES!

But if I were to confront this person, I would be the one ending up wearing an ankle cuff and performing community service.

Ain't no justice in this world.

5/17/2008 10:37:00 PM  
Blogger NahnCee said...

And that battlefield helplessness, to their adherents, is subliminal proof of the power of a greater magic: "the strong arms of science".

Seems to me that being overlooked in that formula is the American soldier who is carrying and using the science. It's that human representative of America that young Baghdadians are choosing to mimic. And Ray-Bans are just a symptom of that hero worship.

In all ways have American soldiers beaten the Mohammadans: in hand-to-hand combat, in strategy and tactics, in personally carrying heavy loads in horrendous heat, and in humanitarian caring, helping and fellowship.

The Iraqi's have been watching American troops for 5 or 6 years now, and they - each and every one of them in that foul country -- understand that they personally could not do what the Americans have been doing with a fair amount of good grace for years now.

I wonder if the word is getting around the rest of the Middle East that American soldiers are not only incredibly lethal, but they're damn near heroic.

Never underestimate the power of being perceived as "being cool".

5/17/2008 10:43:00 PM  
Blogger Ardsgaine said...

No one remembers a loser?

Try living in the South. They never forgot the Confederacy.


The Japanese weren't just the losers in the Phillipines, they were hated oppressors. Same with Al Qaeda in Iraq. As the country that liberated them, our soldiers are admired. The South never came to see its own government as an oppressor in anything like the same degree, and certainly not their soldiers.

Have the Japanese forgotten their WWII soldiers? Do they revile them? I doubt it.

It's not just that the American solidiers in Iraq are winners, it's that they're perceived as being on the side of the Iraqi people.

5/17/2008 11:04:00 PM  
Blogger putnam said...

No one remembers a loser?

Try living in the South. They never forgot the Confederacy.


The Republicans won the civil war, but lost the reconstruction to the Democrats.

It was the northern Democrats managed to stop reconstruction and it ended up in thousands of negro lynchings.

It happened again after the Vietnam peace accords.

Face it, if the Democrats can't be perceived as being the party who won the war, then they are going to take the punchbowl and leave.

Lets just hope that the time until Jan 20 is enough to get enough momentum going in Iraq and Afganistan so that Barry and Nancy can't pull off our defeat and humiliation.

My question is: Is there anything we can do reinforce the ray-ban effect?

5/18/2008 12:01:00 AM  
Blogger Phil said...

Most people don't realize how far back militant islam goes. Wahabists played a prominent role in the Indian Mutiny. Contemporary reports are startling modern - replace Delhi with Mosul or Fallujah.

5/18/2008 02:47:00 AM  
Blogger hdgreene said...

I remember how down the comment section at the Belmont Club had gotten before the surge in Iraq. The candles were going out in that one place where I came to find a glimmer of hope. Occasionally, I found myself flipping open my zippo, and trying to get it to light. But it was running out of fluid. And flint! The crowd from daily Kos began an invasion. The shock brigades of the Dark Lord Snark had parachuted in and were carrying out ninja style rhetorical assaults on all those who thought victory still possible -- or even desirable (it's the hubris, stupid). Grim days indeed. I'm happy the shadow has passed -- for now. Thank God we have Teresita to keep us real.

5/18/2008 04:30:00 AM  
Blogger davod said...

We should be thankful for the likes of Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaeda. The Muslim Brotherhood and its various offshoots were merrily eating away at Western Society until 9/11.

The attacks on 9/11, and Madrid and London, have at least awakened some in the population to the dangers of creeping Islamism. Who knows, in the future, even governments may be swayed to look at their Muslim advisors with a jaundiced eye.

5/18/2008 05:08:00 AM  
Blogger Alexis said...

I think it is fair to regard fanaticism as a result of repressed doubt. Those who doubt the truth of their own religion are most likely to seek battle against doubters. Repressed doubt can also lead to a variety of fideism that cannot tell the difference between a counterfeit religion and the real thing.

Judaism and Christianity have a linear understanding of time. This is a result of each religion ending its story on a cliffhanger, for each religion waits for the coming of the Messiah (and for Christians, it’s the second coming). Other religions are different. Pagan societies tend to have a circular understanding of time based upon the recurring rhythm of the seasons.

In terms of understanding time, Islam is a conflicted religion. Part of Islam looks to the end times, often waiting for a messianic “Mahdi” to right all wrongs. This worldview is identical to Judaism and Christianity.

Another part of Islam exists in the present. The view is, “The past does not exist and neither does the future. Because Islam is perfect and its way of life is valid for all times and places, there is no need for progress. The world is the way it is because Allah wills it. The only knowledge worth knowing is knowledge that praises Allah. We pray in the present, and at the time when we pray to Allah, Allah is all that matters.”

Another part of Islam is post-apocalyptic. In this scenario, the reign of Mohammed and the Four Rightly Guided Caliphs was the golden age of Islam; Islam has declined ever since. This is a common view in Shi’ism. Sunnis have their own variant; Sayyid Qutb claimed that Islam hasn’t existed for several centuries; al-Qaeda laments the fall of the Ottoman Empire.

Restorationism comes from a post-apocalyptic view of time, which regards one’s religion as ruined, finished, gone. The Restorationist seeks to turn back the clock to a previous golden age and appeals to a keen sense of desperation, a sense that evil has almost entirely triumphed except for a small band of courageous revolutionaries who seek to restore an earthly paradise that actually never was.

Islamic Restorationism can be considered to be a religious form of Viagra; it’s intended for men who lack confidence in their own potency. I urge you to look carefully at the Hezbollah flag. On first glance, that assault rifle could be considered to be an expression of a man’s potency. The hand holding the assault rifle could be seen as an abstract head of a penis. But look to the left part of the “globe”; there is a break. This would appear to be reference to castration, to having one’s penis cut off. So, far from the Hezbollah assault rifle being an expression of a man’s potency, it is a substitute for a man’s potency; it essentially says that without an assault rifle, a man in Hezbollah is nothing. So of course Hezbollah will not disarm; it will not because it cannot. Its flag tells you that.

To those who know Middle Eastern history, Hezbollah’s apparent reference to phallic worship should not come as any surprise. It’s really sad. For a terrorist organization to appeal so blatantly to fears of castration illustrates just how frail supporters of terrorists can perceive themselves to be. Moreover, Hezbollah’s apparent phallic reference suggests that, far from being an Islamic organization at all, Hezbollah is attempting to pass off its counterfeit religion as the real thing.

5/18/2008 07:30:00 AM  
Blogger Teresita said...

Nahncee:Never underestimate the power of being perceived as "being cool".

“I demand cold pills!” an Iraqi officer said when he barged into the office of Colonel John Steele at Camp Taji.

“Listen,” the colonel said to the Iraqi and pointed at his own forehead. “You see these beads of sweat on my forehead that are running down toward my nose? That’s because I feel just as hot as you do.”

One American soldier told me about a time he was having tea in a friendly Iraqi civilian’s house.

“It’s hot today,” said the Iraqi, “but at least you have your air conditioner on.”

“What do you mean?” said the Soldier.

“Your air conditioner,” the Iraqi said and pointed at the Soldier’s bulky body armor.

The Soldier laughed out loud.

“That’s body armor,” he said. “Not an air conditioner!”

“Come on,” the Iraqi said. “We all know those are air conditioners.”

The Soldier took off his body armor and handed it to the Iraqi. “Here,” he said. “Put it on and see for yourself.”

The Iraqi donned the armor and suddenly felt even hotter.

“Hmm,” he said. “It is pretty hot. But I’m sure it will get cold after a while.”

5/18/2008 07:53:00 AM  
Blogger NahnCee said...

Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, and a clenched fist is just a clenched fist. Hizbollah ripped off the Black Panther's clenched fist, and stuck a rifle in it. And according to the following, using a clenched fist as a sign of rebellion goes back centuries, and is NOT an invention of Muslims, Arabs or Hizbollah.

Fist images, in some form, were used in numerous political graphic genres, including the French and Soviet revolutions, the United States Communist Party, and the Black Panther Party for Self-defense. However, these all followed an iconographic convention. The fist was always part of something - holding a tool or other symbol, part of an arm or human figure, or shown in action (smashing, etc.). But graphic artists from the New Left changed that in 1968, with an entirely new treatment. This "new" fist stood out with its stark simplicity, coupled with a popularly understood meaning of rebellion and militance.

http://www.docspopuli.org/articles/Fist.html

Why on earth would there be an assumption that Muslim terrorists would be the first Arabs to invent something?

5/18/2008 07:56:00 AM  
Blogger elfman2 said...

"History suggests that Islamic militancy comes in waves. Mohammed bin Abdullah Hassan, better known as the Mad Mullah of Somaliland, had a heyday between the years 1900 and 1920. The Mahdi, Mohammed Ahmad of Khartoum fame, lasted from the early 1880s to the turn of the century, if the career of his successor the Khalifa is added to it. The British were chronically in pursuit of one mad mullah or another throughout their vast colonial possessions. "

Some may image a whack-a-mole scenario where a defeated al-Qaeda is perpetually being replaced with another then another until we abandon our most fundamental values and declare war on those who perpetrate “an idea”, not an action. But when tempted to agree, consider comparing Islamic militancy to the tyrannical “Christian” fiefdoms and regimes ruling medieval Europe, terrorizing populations and burning hundreds of thousands of witches. Did Christianity have to be destroyed? Or did it reform as it stagnated, as information technology (the printing press) empowered reason’s infusion?

I don’t see Islamism surviving another round or two of mad mullahs. One generation of nuts can cross-post their insanity to the next through terror webs, but when its momentum is contained militarily, its critical flaws become undeniable in the aggregate. And they are electronically archived for all to see. So as the next generation senses their forefather’s stagnation and looks for new leadership, they have to go no further than their own 100% Muslim media to find the data to support those with reasonable solutions.

5/18/2008 08:41:00 AM  
Blogger Alexis said...

It would be a good idea to compare the Hezbollah flag to the history of the fist symbol, because there is a key difference. In every leftist "fist" symbol shown before 1980, the fist is not cut off from the context below it. Every time, the fist is rooted into the ground, into the bottom of the page, or into the continent of South America. In contrast, Hezbollah clearly does not root its assault rifle into the context below. In the examples shown, the unrooted fist (or the severed arm with a fist) does not exist until the late 1990's, well after Hezbollah created its logo.

Look at the gap. Why was the gap so necessary? One could argue that Hezbollah does not wish to sully the word “Allah” with a direct connection to an assault rifle. Yet, why would the rifle be above the word “Allah” and not below it? When one sees a shahada flag, once expects the sword to be underneath the shahada, not above it. There is a difference between a sword underlining the power of a sacred word and a sacred word underlining the power of a sword. Also, the rifle is connected to the word “hizb” (Party), not the word “Allah”. This shows the rifle to be dependent upon the Party, not directly dependent upon God. The hand on the rifle is on top of the word “Allah”, not below it; this shows God to be in service of the rifle, not the other way around.

The question of whether anything is on top of the word of God is a major issue among devout Muslims. (If you don’t believe me, you haven’t met any.) This issue is very important to many Muslims. It is regarded as disrespectful to place any other book on top of the Koran. If there is a copy of illuminated Koranic manuscripts at the bottom of a bookcase, a devout Muslim will feel uneasy about it and will try to get it placed at the top of the bookcase. To a devout Muslim, the word “Allah” is more important than any other word and the Koran is more important than any other book. There are reasons why rumors of flushed Korans get Muslims upset. So, given such a cultural circumstance, it is logical to question why Hezbollah puts the rifle above the word “Allah”, as if there were anything more important than the word "Allah".

Let’s not underestimate the power of phallic symbolism in Middle Eastern culture. Paradise is thought to be “under the shade of swords”. Swords indeed. Imagine if the September 11 attacks were regarded as a symbolic castration against America, where the twin towers were perceived to be two symbolic phalluses. Think of it as penis envy. If you cannot perceive this cartoon from the Arab News to be a symbolic rape of the American White House with the terrorist on top and the White House on the bottom, your mind just isn’t dirty enough to understand Arab culture. Middle Eastern culture may be derivative, pedantic, and repressed, but let’s not assume that Arabs are a bunch of robots who lack any understanding of the symbols they use to communicate.

5/18/2008 11:40:00 AM  
Blogger Susan Burrell said...

BAGHDAD: An American soldier used a Koran, the Islamic holy book, for target practice in an area west of Baghdad, prompting an apology from the U.S. military.

In a perfect world, the apology would be for missing the shot.

5/18/2008 01:53:00 PM  
Blogger bobal said...

In a perfect world there would be no koran to shoot at.

5/18/2008 02:37:00 PM  
Blogger DB2 said...

My question is: Is there anything we can do reinforce the ray-ban effect?

You could donate to Spirit of America.
www.spiritofamerica.net
They have programs in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Horn of Africa you can suport.

DB2

5/18/2008 02:45:00 PM  
Blogger Mad Fiddler said...

Thanks to all for your posts. Belmont is the place where I come to try to make sense of the world, and yous guys is da bomb!

Seriously.

5/18/2008 04:27:00 PM  
Blogger krik_t_semaj23 said...

Mad Fiddler said...

God bless all our parents and grandparents who got through the decades of the Great Depression and the horror of World War II, China falling to the Communists, the Communist invasion of Korea and the Stalinist takeover of half of Europe.....

Me:
Food and shelter could easily cost 10 times more and it would be a great deal from a historical perpective. We are spoiled brats. With that said we do not choose the generation in which we are born.

(Google has chosen my other avatar)

5/18/2008 06:30:00 PM  
Blogger 3Case said...

The Iraqi's have been watching American troops for 5 or 6 years now, and they - each and every one of them in that foul country -- understand that they personally could not do what the Americans have been doing with a fair amount of good grace for years now.

I wonder if the word is getting around the rest of the Middle East that American soldiers are not only incredibly lethal, but they're damn near heroic.


$4.30/gallon of gas says to me that it is and that our true enemy needs to slow us down.

5/18/2008 06:32:00 PM  
Blogger joe buz said...

I was doing fine until someone brought up the war of northern aggression....

5/18/2008 06:36:00 PM  
Blogger jafco said...

Wretchard: My compliments. Another interesting, thought-provoking post. You're very good.

jafco

5/18/2008 07:12:00 PM  
Blogger whiskey_199 said...

As far as Ray Ban politics goes, it goes both ways. The Kaffiyeh is popular as an "urban resistance scarf" among the wealthy and fashionable young. Spoiled children, in other words.

Fortunately, the baby bust and demographics point out that seniors outnumber them 2-1.

Today Obama gave a speech to an adoring, cult-like worshiping crowd of 75,000 in Portland Oregon. Yes, 75,000. Obama said that Americans can't be allowed to drive SUVs, eat as much as they want, have their AC at 72, and have other countries be OK with that. That he will make things change.

Ahem.

He just stepped in it. Pardon me, but I figure there are more SUV owners, people who want their AC on, and want to eat as much as they want, than hip/cool young trendoids in Portland.

So Obama wants to ban SUVs, because other countries don't like it, and because it's the emblem of ordinary Americans instead of hip-cool BMW drivers. Control how much people eat, so ... only cool thin people? Make people in the Sunbelt and other places sweat a lot? Because anyone cool and hip would live in Seattle or Portland?

That's the reverse of the Ray-Ban ideology. The love of symbols of the enemy. It generally does not go over well in America, but Dems have placed their bet huge, all in, that this time it will.

5/18/2008 08:25:00 PM  
Blogger bobal said...

whiskey-199 has it--

Here's your socialist future folks--


OBAMA: 'We can't drive our SUVs and eat as much as we want and keep our homes on 72 degrees at all times... and then just expect that other countries are going to say OK'...

Walk
Starve
Broil
Freeze

5/18/2008 08:29:00 PM  
Blogger NahnCee said...

Nobody in Portland, Oregon uses air conditioning because the sun never shines there. Good place to give that speech advocating that particular thing.

5/18/2008 09:53:00 PM  
Blogger Pangloss said...

Very interesting analysis, Alexis. Is this written down anywhere else? One question/quibble. You write

Also, the rifle is connected to the word “hizb” (Party), not the word “Allah”. This shows the rifle to be dependent upon the Party, not directly dependent upon God.

Isn't the opposite the case, that the phallic fist arises out of "Allah" rather than the Party? I'm not sure how the rifle is connected to the word "hizb" as it is connected to the fist, which is connected in a severed manner to "Allah." The foot-bone's connected to the ankle-bone, etc.

5/18/2008 09:56:00 PM  
Blogger Mark said...

elfman wrote:

"But when tempted to agree, consider comparing Islamic militancy to the tyrannical “Christian” fiefdoms and regimes ruling medieval Europe, terrorizing populations and burning hundreds of thousands of witches. Did Christianity have to be destroyed? Or did it reform as it stagnated, as information technology (the printing press) empowered reason’s infusion?"

Interesting juxtaposition, (1) the terrorizing of populations and (2) burning of hundreds of thousands of witches. The first is a matter of definition of "terrorizing." Do you have a citation for the second item?

Sooner or later the West will need to get a better read on its own history, including the history of Europe and of Christianity. Perhaps it could start with the history of the Inquistion. "Hundreds of thousands," indeed.

We might also want to consider how much more efficient the witch-hunt became in the age of the printing press, which occasioned the age of mass-propaganda.

5/19/2008 07:54:00 AM  
Blogger Alexis said...

pangloss:

Isn't the opposite the case, that the phallic fist arises out of "Allah" rather than the Party? I'm not sure how the rifle is connected to the word "hizb" as it is connected to the fist, which is connected in a severed manner to "Allah." The foot-bone's connected to the ankle-bone, etc.

You have a point. I think you are correct that the phallic fist is connected in a severed manner to "Allah". The thrust of the fist clearly comes from the word “Allah”. Please look at the organic lines, though. The rifle is connected organically through several slender lines through a globe to the word "hizb". These lines look like slender threads. It looks like the directional connection sends one message while the organic connection sends another.

Actually, a globe with a face on it is a frequently used cartoon reference in Arab newspapers; I'm not sure whether it represents the opinion of Arab nationalists, the opinion of global Islam, or "global third world opinion". It is frequently used in opposition to the United States or Israel. Although I suspect the globe has a distinct meaning in the “hezbollah” flag, I have not yet been able to decipher it. I suspect it may refer to the universalism of Islam; perhaps it may refer to the "ummah".

I also do not understand the reference to a branch with leaves; I’m not sure which plant it refers to. (For example, a palm reference in Semitic literature would have a very different meaning from an olive reference.) I also don’t understand the “accordion” reference either, although I strongly suspect this also has an important meaning attached to it. I confess that there is much to the symbolism of the “hezbollah” insignia that I do not understand. Wretchard may write about psychological warfare, yet I greatly doubt there has been any systematic analysis of the symbolic language used in Middle Eastern politics. I think the symbolic terrain of Arab culture is largely Terra Incognita for western academe.

I very much doubt that my analysis is written anywhere else. Symbolic communication, particularly cryptic symbolism, does not seem to be generally talked about outside of academic settings. Cryptic symbolism is central to any study of WWII resistance propaganda, though. For example, one popular favorite piece of Dutch wall propaganda was the number six and a quarter with a slash through it. In Dutch, this was “seis en kwart” (six and a quarter), a reference to the local Reichskommissar, Dr. Arthur Seyss-Inquart. Dutch people also wore orange flowers, symbolizing the exiled House of Orange. Likewise, the letter “Z” was used to protest the assassination of Gregoris Lambrakis and repression by the Greek junta. Cryptic language is difficult for repressive regimes to control.

5/19/2008 08:05:00 AM  
Blogger David M said...

The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the - Web Reconnaissance for 05/19/2008 A short recon of what’s out there that might draw your attention, updated throughout the day...so check back often.

5/19/2008 08:15:00 AM  
Blogger elfman2 said...

Mark said: "Interesting juxtaposition, (1) the terrorizing of populations and (2) burning of hundreds of thousands of witches. The first is a matter of definition of "terrorizing." Do you have a citation for the second item?"

Sorry Mark, my memory failed me. Estimates are between 40k and 100k witches burnt.

"Brian Levack (The Witch Hunt in Early Modern Europe) multiplied the number of known European witch trials by the average rate of conviction and execution, to arrive at a figure of around 60,000 deaths. Anne Lewellyn Barstow (Witchcraze) adjusted Levack's estimate to account for lost records, estimating 100,000 deaths. Ronald Hutton (Triumph of the Moon) argues that Levack's estimate had already been adjusted for these, and revises the figure to approximately 40,000. Wikipedia - Witch-Hunt"

That's still significant, but I see that its timing puts it just after the introduction of the printing press invention, not prior as I suggested. At most, an analogy could be made that it was a counter-reformation phenomena similar to Islamism being a counter-modernization phenomena in Islam

5/19/2008 09:52:00 AM  
Blogger jdimarco said...

Wretch,

Loved the Wainright reference. LOVED IT. Pithy. Timely as hell. Right on the money.

Damn you're good!

5/19/2008 10:19:00 AM  
Blogger Mark said...

Thanks, Elfman2, for continuing the conversation.

The Enlightenment brought some end to the witch hunt, which flourished in the age of renaissance pseudo-science. Prior to the advent of the popular press, the Church provided legal frameworks for trials. Hence the low rates of witchcraft conviction in places such as Ireland. Germany, on the other hand, was very efficient in identifying and convicting witches. Hmmm.

One of the charges against witches, popularized via the press, was the stealing of male members. Interesting that the current thread contains the interesting Freudian discussion of the Hezbollah flag.

Why the flag's graphic allusion to the cut-off member? I can only conclude, even if no one else on the thread will do so, the obvious: the Jews did it!

5/19/2008 10:22:00 AM  
Blogger Pangloss said...

I believe the “accordion” is actually the Koran. The leafy branch (olive leaves?) arising from the Koran combines the peace symbolism of the olive branch with a visual pun on the “suras,” or verses of the Koran. “Suras” means “leaves” in Arabic. The leafy branch arising from the Koran is a representation of the verses or leaves of the Koran branching out and reaching out into the world. The leaves also reach toward the AK-47, underlining the Koranic justification for Hizb’s idolatry of Jihad.

I've illustrated and collected Alexis' analysis together with a little bit of my own analysis on my blog.

5/19/2008 09:20:00 PM  
Blogger Consul-At-Arms said...

I've quoted you and linked to you here: http://consul-at-arms.blogspot.com/2008/05/re-ray-ban-theory-of-history.html

5/19/2008 11:16:00 PM  
Blogger Tarnsman said...

Maybe it's time to give this speech (updated of course)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=STcDMoQ4KT0&feature=related

Long I pondered our President’s cryptic talk of victory. Time has proven him wise. For from free Iraqi to free Iraqi the word was spread that brave American soldiers, so far from home, laid down their lives, not just for America, but for all Iraq and the promise that country holds. Now, here on this ragged patch of earth called Iraq, bin Laden’s henchmen face obliteration! In the shadows they cower. Sheer terror gripping their hearts with icy fingers; knowing full well of the merciless defeats they suffered at the hands of the Americans. Yet they stare now across the battlefield at an American trained army of 300,000 free Iraqis. This day we rescue a country from oppression and tyranny, ushering in a future brighter than any we can imagine. Give thanks men! To President Bush and the brave American soldiers. To victory!

5/20/2008 08:33:00 AM  

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