I started reading Graeme Wood’s The Way of the Strangers with anticipation. After all, he initiated my foray into blogdom with his article in the Atlantic on “What Does ISIS Want?”
But with dawning horror I read the escalating error cascade of cultural chauvinism and institutionalized frat boy snark that Graeme decided to run with.
Here’s my first cut at correction:
- Wood appears to interpret Bukhari/Muslim “stranger” (the title quote) as being odd or weird. Stranger in this context means one who has left his tribe for the tribe of the Ummah, for a wider memetic tribe. Muhammed’s first act was to unite the warring tribes under the banner of Islam.
- I first noticed Cole Bunzel when he wrote Paper Caliphate– I asked him if he had read Naji’s Idarat al Tawwahush. His response was “why would I be interested in a war manual”? This is like a historian studying China’s Cultural Revolution and being ignorant of Mao’s Little Red Book. Shouldn’t “scholars of jihad” be interested in a manual of jihad? Using western “jihadologists” to analyze ISIS is truly weird– Nājī and Setmarian (islamic jihadist scholars) spell out the why, how, and what of jihad in their books. The idea of targetting youth of all nations, and of leveraging and creating chaos is explicitly delineated. The idea of “flash terror” as informed by ISIS ideology is also absent from Graeme’s book.
- Pretending ISIS is a unique phenomenon– now thats really weird– ISIS is an instance of islamic insurgency, and wont be the first or the last one going forward– muslims will make up a quarter of the world’s humans by mid-century. May I recommend Bacevitch for an analysis of proximate causes?
- Wood’s choice of Mizot as a “Taymiyyan scholar” is also puzzling– Ibn Taymiyya’s greatest contribution to al Islam is his tafsir— the exegesis of the Quran that forms islamic jurisprudence. Its why tyrants ban Taymiyya’s works when they can. To use a complex adaptive systems analogy, jihad (also the Caliphate) is in the DNA of the Quran– Taymiyyan tafsir allows the “gene expression” of jihadism to be carried through to the 21st century. Also the “dick” quote shows an embarrassing lack of scholarship in another of Wood’s sources. Using back-bench western “scholars” like Mizot and House Muslims like Shiraz Mahr to try to rewrite the Quran is pure idiocy– the Quran emerged to be specifically immune to that sort of tinkering. Its recursive and self-defining, and has 163 bit n-gram entropy (the largest Heegner number)– but information theory is not what Wood and the jihadologist guild are selling though– they are selling the fantasy that islamic insurgency can somehow be ended without addressing the initial causes.
- Wood also seems to believe that initial causes are irrelevant to the rise of ISIS and other islamic insurgencies. Jihadism is a response to oppression and tyranny. Unless the initial conditions change America will find itself in a forever war against a quarter of the world’s humans. Given demography and population dynamics, its a war the US can never win.
- This is the most puzzling of all– Wood cites Mccants and Bunzel ( the frat boiz of the jihadologist guild)– and none of the people that actually do have an understanding of ISIS– Dr. Atran, Hassan Hassan and Abdel Bari Atwan. Although I do approve of Filiu’s inclusion. Now that is a really weird trick indeed.
It seems Wood’s book is simply unserious sensationalism, pruience over Abu Yayah’s marriage, calling Cerantonio a dork, designed to promote sales and obscure the real problem going forward.
Is the US really prepared for infinite police action, at least until we run out of money or our democratic republic collapses into civil war? How ironic that the US practice of fomenting civil war in the headfake of “democracy promotion” is going to end so ingloriously. What happens when publicity-and-chaos loving ISIS soldiers start attacking the overseas assets of Donald Trump that he refuses to divest himself of? Will the US send military force to protect Trump assets?
All I can do is fall back on one of my old gamer axioms…
You Are Not Prepared.