Friday Jihad Reading

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A rebranding and personnel announcement by the CEO of a newly independent franchise. Image from al-Jazeera

1). Jabhat al-Nusra made an important move yesterday when they officially decoupled themselves from al-Qaeda, establishing an independent group. Charles Lister of Foreign Policy says that this shouldn’t make anyone think they are somehow more moderate or less dangerous.

Nobody should be confused by this maneuver: Jabhat al-Nusra, which is also known as the Nusra Front, remains as potentially dangerous, and as radical, as ever. In severing its ties to al Qaeda, the organization is more clearly than ever demonstrating its long-game approach to Syria, in which it seeks to embed within revolutionary dynamics and encourage Islamist unity to outsmart its enemies, both near and far. In this sense, the Nusra Front (and now Jabhat Fateh al-Sham) differ markedly from the Islamic State, which has consistently acted alone and in outright competition with other Islamist armed factions. Instead of unity, the Islamic State explicitly seeks division.

Ultimately, while this may be a change in name and formal affiliation, Jolani’s group will remain largely the same. Therefore, this is by no means a loss to al Qaeda. In fact, it is merely the latest reflection of a new and far more potentially effective method of jihad focused on collective, gradualist, and flexible action. Its goal is to achieve recurring tactical gains that one day will amount to a substantial strategic victory: the establishment of an Islamic emirate with sufficient popular acceptance or support.

This is what we talked about when discussing them last week: that they are smart enough to work in small local gains as a way to expand. It’s why they can outlast ISIS (which isn’t going away anytime soon). It’s also a really good sign of what is happening: we’re not at the beginning of the end, or the midpoint, of the Islamic extremist phenomenon. It’s probably much closer to the beginning. It is shaking itself out, and adjusting to new political realities (many of which are themselves an adjustment to the phenomenon). It will continue to mutate and evolve and operate in a variety of competing and complementary ways for decades.

2). This is a long, detailed, and amazing demographic report about what we know on ISIS foreign fighters, by Nate Rosenblatt at the International Security project of New America. Called All Jihad Is Local, it goes into what makes someone leave to fight for a group like ISIS. It’s a combination of their message and, of course, of local conditions that drive the fighter to leave. There is a lot to absorb in this report, which came out last week, and I’ll be doing a deeper dive into it next week, with its lessons and what it means for the next wave. In the meantime, Bethan Mckernan at The Independent pulled out some charts and info from it to look at.

All in all, what we’re seeing is a time of transition and regrouping. And, blogtimes aside, it is a long process without a clear path. An unexpected military setback by Asad could butterfly-wing the dynamic of jihad in 10 countries. But I think we’re really seeing the clear delineation between two different models: current-period Qaeda and ISIS. There are a lot of in-group differences of course, and there is also a lot of crossover, but for now, that seems to be the helpful model, and something we’ll come back to here. The way these models compete (because it would be reductive to say the “groups” are competing, because both models have incredible amounts of locally-driven varietals), and the way they influence each other, will shape our world for a long time to come.

Anyway, happy Friday.

 

 

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DNC Day 4 Liveblogging: Hillary And the Convention’s Best Moment

8:27: Barack and Michelle were transcendent, Biden was magnificent, the apolitical John Allen is right now driving the military into a frenzy, and Bernie brought down the house. But the finest moment of the week was just a few minutes ago, when the parents of Khizer Khan, a Muslim soldier who gave his life to save his comrades, spoke about what America truly was. And what it wasn’t, and what it cannot be. The best and truest moment was when the father offered Trump, who he was calling out by name, a copy of his ragged, dog-eared pocket Constitution.

He finished, though, with a call for anyone who cares about immigrants, who cares about religious plurality, and who cares about the rights of minorities, to vote. That they can’t sit this one out. Who knows the subtlety of his politics, but to me it was an implicit criticism of “Bernie or Bust” types. So what if you didn’t get every single thing you want? If Trump wins, some people will get nothing. They’ll be shut out, castigated, and demonized. The sacrifice of his son will be negated. The message is that you don’t have that right. You don’t have the right to sit this one out because your feelings are hurt. You don’t have the right to sit this out because more people voted for another candidate. If you do, if you arrogate unto yourself that right, then you are not progressive. You represent a party of one. You only represent your feelings.

More after the jump.

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Tomorrow’s Jihad: How Foreign Fighters Can Reshape The World

 

Where you going next?

 

In the late 50s and early 60s, there was a TV show called Have Gun, Will Travel. I’ll be honest: I don’t know if I ever have seen a single episode. Maybe on Channel 50 when I was a kid, on a TV that still had a dial, but there are no clear memories. Still, the name always stuck out. In my imagination, it captured a desolate and sad American west, where if you were a violent man, or at least someone willing to do violence, you could travel the vast landscape and keep order. Or at least someone’s version of order. Whether lawman or outlaw, and the two sides could shift back and forth, if you had a gun, you were always needed somewhere.

That might seem a flippant way to talk about the next stage of jihadism, but that is the spirit. Because the next stage is going to be the vast spread of foreign fighters, stateless men who have been trained in war, that will come when ISIS crumbles or partially crumbles in Iraq and Syria. Yesterday, in a speech overshadowed by Trump and the convention, FBI director James Comey laid it out: we’re going to see “a terrorist diaspora out of Syria like we’ve never seen before.” But what does that mean? Who are they?

While for years, the massive impact of suicide attacks, whether in Beirut or Tel Aviv or New York, dominated the news. That was our idea of jihad. And to be sure, it was terrifying, terrorism in the true sense. But with some exceptions, it was also always the short game. Suicide bombers were, by definition, expendable, regardless of their courage or conviction. The real force of jihad was the battle-tested soldiers who might not have been afraid to die, but who were more useful alive. These were men who were comfortable with violence, and with gun, traveled.

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Quick Hits On Trump’s Press Conference: Non-Russian Edition

 

Might be the next President

 

Until the convention, Donald Trump’s insane and near-treasonous bafflegab of a presser yesterday dominated the news, especially his call for Russia to interfere with our election. That’s been pretty thoroughly covered elsewhere, so I want to make a few additional comments. I know writing about something some 20 hours after the fact is way too late, but I don’t think this news cycle should be over. There was so much in that press conference that defied imagination. It deserves to be talked about again and again, because, remember: this man could be President.

No way to get to it all now, but I want to highlight not specific policy things, because there are none except “Russia’s fine, ok?”. Instead I want to point out just how impossibly shallow this man is. The statements on Russia might have, as many said, “disqualify” him from the Presidency in a moral sense. But the rest of the words show that isn’t qualified, in the professional sense, to teach 3rd-grade social studies. He refuses to learn even the basics about the world, and can’t get through more than a tweet-length of a sentence without

He refuses to learn even the basics about the world, and can’t get through more than a tweet-length of a sentence without doubling-back, repeating himself, resorting to the verbal tricks of agreeing with himself, or (most often) self-aggrandizing. Insane anti-democratic fascistic tendencies aside, he’s really the most baffling incomprehensible public figure we’ve ever seen. Sarah Palin knew more about the world.

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Erick Erickson and the Obama Lookingglass

The GOP offered a vision of doom, despair, and division. Tonight the President I think divides us offered optimism. I hate this year.

There’s a tell here in Erick “Erick” Erickson, Son of Erick’s, baffled shoulder-shrug of a tweet. The tell is “I think”.  There are of course two ways to read that: the assertive, and the tentative, backpedaling way. It all depends on the inflection. If you emphasize the “I”, you’re taking ownership over the thought, claiming that this opinion is yours, and by dint of agency, you are transubstantiating it into fact. Imagine saying “Actually, your honor, I think that you’re the one drunk in court.” Bold, yes?

The second way is the emphasis on “think”. It’s hedging. It’s what you say when you are deeply unsure of something, and don’t want the responsibility for being wrong. “I think I can land a blimp?” It’s also used when the world is crashing around you, and the edifice of unreality you’ve been creating is knocked over. For Erick, Son of Erick, think he intended his tweet to be the former, but it is, almost unwittingly, the latter.

Last night’s DNC speech by The President of the United States Barack Obama was pretty much universally well-received, except by Donald Trump. On Twitter, at least, conservatives were calling it great, unifying and optimistic, in stark contrast to the “last call at Ragnarök” vibe we got in Cleveland. There was a certain teeth-gnashing about how Obama was using the language of hope and uplift, taking it from Reagan, whereas their party was one of doom and despair. Part of it was a sort of rueful pride and maybe even unconscious politics: see, they win only by acting like us. But I have to think there was also a bit of shock and even awakening. After all– this was not new.

It seems disingenuous for them to pretend that the Obama message, that of an imperfect union where we work together, strive together, look failure straight in the eye and learn from it, and reject the calls of demagoguery and hatred, is new. He’s always said these things, from his first major speech until last night. He’s tied the liberal values of community and togetherness, of not letting people be crushed by an invisible hand, into the theme of what America was founded on, and what it has too often failed to be. He’s always been the best at tracing that jagged, crooked, and often-broken line between who we want to be and who we can be, recognizing who we are, but not despairing. You can fairly say that the line shouldn’t lead to liberalism, or statism or whatever, and that’s fine. But to pretend he hasn’t always been who he was last night is incorrect.

I said “seems disingenuous” instead of “is, in fact, wildly and comprehensively disingenuous” because I think the level of cognitive dissonance was so great that it took a Trump to break it. They were so deeply vested in the idea of Obama being a divisive President, for reasons that go from normal (for our elevated and rabid times) political disagreements to a vast well of newly-tapped racial hatred. The thinking went. A) There are a lot of people who hate him partly or largely because he’s black.  B) Those people are on “our” side, therefore, I can’t say they are racist. C) I myself don’t like his idea of government, and let’s be honest, don’t love the idea of a successful black liberal, because then what does the party have. D) Therefore, the hatred isn’t coming from our side, but because he’s divisive.

Everything was contained in that shattered lookingglass. The whole theory of Obama- aloof, American-hating, jihad-loving, police-killing, Panther-adjacent, the real racist– had to spring from the idea that he was the divisive one. It was raw cynicism, and the opposite of any of his deeds and actions. Yes, he wanted Democratic policies to succeed. He was a Democrat. But they had to pretend that every action and every statement was so far beyond the pale that he was shattering every norm. And that left them deeply emotionally and intellectually unprepared when the caricature of Obama they created– a dumb, shallow, callow, vain, divisive, narcissistic, thin-skinned, hateful racist authoritarian demagogue– took over their party.

So yeah, that must have been tough for Erick “Erick” Erickson. This was the real Obama, the one whose has always moved to unite. The imperfect President with whom they can have serious and substantive disagreements, but who is clearly thoughtful, clearly intelligent about America and American history, and who clearly cares deeply about the country. They are forced to pretend that this is a reaction to Trump and that Obama is stealing from Reagan and all that, but I’d like to think that for a moment, before the gauzy veil of political hatred fell back down again, that they recognized, for a moment, the lies of the last eight years. And maybe they were saddened for a bit that hatred, paranoia, and petty small-brained bullshit made them miss entirely the most remarkable politician of our lifetime.

Tim Kaine and President Barack Obama Liveblogging

 

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Kind of neat.

9:04 Softball tonight kept me away from some of the convention. I heard Biden bring the house down on the radio, though. He sounds really good on the radio. He’s got that ol’ timey confidentiality, even when he’s shouting. He pulls you in. And there is no one who sounds more sincere than he does when saying he can’t believe that Donald Trump has a shot at being the next President.  Man, I love Joe Biden. I’m glad he didn’t run, though. He deserved to go out beloved, not losing to Hillary.

Kaine’s here. More after jump.

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Cool Stuff if You Like Chicago, Or Labor History, Or Just Cool Old Stuff

And who doesn’t?

 

The Chicago River is very pleasant now. That…that wasn’t always the case. 

 

It’s often remarked that Chicago doesn’t make anything anymore. The city, in addition to being the “hog butcher to the world” and lumber hub between east and west, was throughout its history a major industrial city, drawing workers from around the world to its factories and warehouse, creation dotting the riverfront and radiating into the neighborhoods. Now we’re more known for finance and startups and the normal “transforming city” type businesses. And that’s fine. It’s imperfect, and even cruel, as the city’s new wealth is incredibly uneven. But to say that Chicago is not better off than it was in the 1970s and 1980s, after old man Daley did everything he could to keep Chicago from adjusting to new realities, would be a lie.

That said, there does feel like something has been lost. Into that void comes the Made In Chicago Museum, a new site exploring the things that Chicago used to make. Full disclosure: the site’s creator and collector, Andrew Clayman, is a very good friend of mine, who introduced me to my wife, and who is the best damn shortstop a softball pitcher could hope to have behind him. But I’m promoting this because it is awesome. My friends do a lot of stupid shit that I never write about. It’s a celebration of industry, both high and low, from the most useful to the most ephemeral and whimsical.

Even that stuff, though, stands out because it is long-lasting.  Clayman doesn’t just collect and take pictures of old ice skates, clocks, scales, tins, and other gee-gaws and doo-dads. He celebrates a history of manufacturing. On each page there is a history of the company tht made these items, and as much as possible, the people that worked there.

Let’s take this Ice Skater Sharpener, made by FW Planert and Sons in 1910.

Patented in 1910, this metal clamping device was used to keep an ice skate secure while its blade was sharpened. The manufacturer, F.W. Planert & Sons, was one of the “The Big 3” in the Chicago-dominated ice skate industry of the early 20th century. The other two, family rivals Nestor Johnson and Alfred Johnson, were also headquartered on the Northwest side.

Did you know that Chicago used to dominate the ice-skating industry? Or that there was rivalrous Big 3? I certainly didn’t! Throughout the piece, Clayman talks about Planert, his business, and the people that worked there. He’s dug up archival pictures from newspapers, because, throughout the life of a city, nearly everything has been covered.

One of the cooler parts is that for every manufacturing plant, he tells what is there now (in the case of Planert, it is the trendy Cotton Duck, a restaurant in the extremely hip and foodie-oriented Ukranian Village neighborhood.

It’s sort of elegiac. I’m old enough to remember when Ukranian Village felt sort of rough. It wasn’t, but comparable to the neighborhoods we usually hung out in, it had some hard edges that gave you a glimpsed hint of the city before the great transformations of the 90s and 2000s, of the hard city of Algren and Terkel. Even now, the huge gilded churches remind you that the neighborhood has a history, that it isn’t just a name, that it is where an ethnic group found comfort and solace and work in a new and confusing country.

That works has faded, and the neighborhood is entirely disconnected from the idea of being “Ukranian” in any real sense. Most residents probably barely connect it with the Ukraine, the place. It’s just a name. And that’s fine: cities change. The toil that consumed lives fades into blurry pictures and hardly-understood designations. Factories that defined whole existences become transient restaurants waiting for the next food trend to shut them down.

Into that comes Clayman’s project, which reminds us that these neighborhoods, these streets, these cities, and yes, these anachronistic and old-looking products were all created by people, who devoted some or all of their one short and difficult live to make them. It isn’t romantic; these were hard lives. But they were real lives. There is a weight on every page, a lived weight, which in its own way is a cry against the weightless nature of our new disconnected economy.