Sunday, October 25, 2009
Our incompetent analysts: Vahid Brown
The analysts over at Jihadica seem to represent types of analysts who have at least one foot in serious participation in intelligence strategy.
Today’s example is Vahid Brown (what a name!), a “guest blogger” at Jihadica touted there as:
. . . a linguist and historian with deep knowledge of the history of al-Qaida and the jihadi movement. He is the author of Cracks in the Foundation and the co-author of several well-known CTC reports.
More significantly, they note that Vahid Brown works for the Combating Terrorism Center (CTC) at West Point. He is, in effect, one among probably thousands of “experts” on Islamic terrorism used by Western governments (in this case, the U.S. military), and whose “expertise” is consulted by mainstream media, as exampled by this National Public Radio interview with him on the subject of his main specialty—the fissions and fractures among the various Islamic terrorist groups. That specialty, in fact, was given major treatment by Vahid Brown in his long and detailed pdf essay mentioned above, Cracks in the Foundation (subtitled “Leadership Schisms in Al-Qa’ida 1989-2006”), an essay published by CTC in 2007.
In the foreword to that essay, written by the director of the Combating Terrorism Center, LTC Joseph H. Felter, Ph.D., it is safe to assume that we see the overarching rationale in the minds of the U.S. military for Vahid Brown’s study:
. . . al-Qa’ida’s real strength has never been as a guerrilla fighting force; rather its
strength comes from its ability to transform the local concerns of Islamist activists into
what this report describes as “a unifying vision of apocalyptic inter-civilizational
conflict”. Because these capabilities and their proponents are still in place, al-Qa`ida
continues to achieve success. Effective counterterrorism must better address these capabilities. . . Eroding al-Qa’ida’s brand appeal—reducing its share of the ideological marketplace —will require innovative and multilateral approaches with the US hand rarely seen or suspected.
Thus, eroding al-Qaeda’s “brand appeal” among ordinary Muslims—deemed of course to be simultaneously harmless good people and yet easily “radicalized” due to reasons ultimately stemming from our Western ineptness, arrogance and/or neo-colonial evil—is the #1 goal in fighting this no longer so-called “war on terrorism”.
In this context, Vahid Brown’s overall thesis in this monograph assumes this goal and reinforces it—and offers hope for the strategy it reflects: the thesis being that the overall cohesiveness of al Qaeda and related jihadist groups is “cracked” and thus fraught with internal dissension. The U.S. military can thus feel encouraged by their resident expert, a Muslim himself—or, rather, a Bahai—apparently fluent in many of the relevant languages of the region, including Arabic. And the U.S. military, based on their expert’s knowledge, will proceed to pursue ways to exploit those “cracks” in the cohesiveness of the enemy.
The only problem with this thesis is that it is based massively on a broad presumption that there is no larger ideological matrix that inspires, motivates and guides these various sub-groups who fight amongst each other. Without an awareness of that larger ideological matrix, the fractious complexity of the various jihadist groups—including dissensions within al Qaeda itself—invites other causal explanations, usually leading back to the “meddling” of the West (particularly America) in the Muslim world, for which the cure involves “winning hearts and minds” and lavishing money on their inveterately corrupt governments—along with, of course, continued killing of the innumerable suicide bombers that keep pullulating out of the same milieu whose hearts and minds we are “winning”. Vahid Brown’s pet project of documenting and analyzing the internal dissension of Muslim terrorist groups tends to reinforce the myth that Islam is not in fact cohesive, that Islam in fact is not the overarching inspiration for all of them. In fact, what the PC MC lens of analysts like Vahid Brown occludes is that it is precisely the fanaticism that grows and bubbles out of Islam itself—and has for 1,400 years—that explains the many “cracks” among the various jihadist groups. This is so because the fanaticism of Islam is so extreme it engenders a murderous obsession with “purity”—the “purity” of being a “true Muslim” against all the “false Muslims” who are thereby “traitors”.
But one would never get even a glimmer of this deeper explanation from reading Vahid Brown, for he seems intent on focusing on the superficial complexity that is another way of telegraphing the Islam-apologetic defense that Islam is “not monolithic”—at least, that is, not monolithically dangerous to us. Analysts like Vahid Brown and the millions of other Westerners more or less PC MC-addled indulge in a contradiction that is either quite clever, or merely incoherent (or sometimes both): Islam is “not monolithic” when we might be criticizing or condemning it; but all along Islam is in fact monolithic when we want to praise it, or at least view it as harmlessly benign.
I.e.: Islam is not monolithic when you want to say anything bad about it; but when you want to say something good about Islam, then it’s monolithic as the day is long.
Another aspect of this analyst Vahid Brown is interesting, after one looks into him: Basically, it seems that he is a votary of Bahai, and before his current career (or moonlighting job) as a military analyst of the wondrously variegated tapestry of Islamic jihadism, he was deeply involved in studying the esoteric field of various aspects of Bahai and Islamic mysticism. The reader can glean the general penumbra of his interests in the following titles of papers he was churning out:
Andalusi Mysticism: A Recontextualization
A Counter-History of Islam: Ibn 'Arabi within the Spiritual Topography of Henry Corbin [Henry Corbin being a theologian and scholar of comparative mysticism]
Alchemy in the Baha'i writings: An Introduction
The Beginning that Hath no Beginning: Baha'i Cosmogony
Muhammad b. Masarra al-Jabali and his Place in Medieval Islamicate Intellectual History: Towards a Reappraisal [one suspects this has nothing to do with military jihad—and one’s suspicion is confirmed by reading the explanatory subject header: “Medieval Andalusia; theurgy; letter magic; Pseudo-Empedocles”; as well as the discipline for which it was written: “Religious Studies”.]
Textual Resurrection: Book, Imam and Cosmos in the Qur'an Commentaries of the Bab [“the Bab” being one of the founders of Bahai]
The Quaternities of the Writings of the Bab: A Study in Babi-Baha'i Symbolism
Cosmos and Chaos: Myth, Creation and the Baha'i Administrative Order
(And on this list-serve community where Vahid Brown is, or was, participating, one gets a good sense of his interests—all decidedly to do with various minutiae concerning the general constellation of Islamic mysticism, particularly Bahai.)
These all sound like fascinating essays, but what do they have to do with the field of modern Islamic terrorism—the field of which Vahid Brown is supposed to be an expert analyst? One wonders how Vahid Brown feels, having gone from one pursuit where he was spending all his intellectual time plumbing the arcane symbolisms of medieval and early modern Islamic-related mysticism, to his present career track, working for the U.S. military in studying the dizzyingly complex taxonomy of various grotesquely ghoulish and murderous Muslim terrorist groups in various parts of the world. Why is he doing this? Why did he leave his apparently truer interest in recondite mystical theology, and opt to spend so much time studying all these horrible Muslim misunderstanders of the great Religion of Peace? One conjectures, with the strange hybrid of a name he sports, that Vahid Brown is an “Honorary Brown”—a white convert to Oriental wisdom generally speaking, an intellectual expatriate as it were, to the Patria of Islam in the seemingly more palatably gentle and mystical-poetic Bahai faith (approximately the same pathos that moves white Westerners to gravitate to Sufism). Such types are usually dubious and tend to ensure one will find scholarship of myopic merit when it comes to the critical issue of recognizing the pathology of Islam itself.
And why did the U.S. military hire him for this work for which he is obviously only tangentially qualified at best? Hiring someone like Vahid Brown to be an analyst of Islamic terrorist networks would be like hiring a scholar of Thomas Aquinas or Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite to help analyze 21st-century Christian evangelical militant white power groups. Apparently, they hired him because he’s not anti-Islam (for that is the official stance of the U.S. military and has been so under Bush as well as under Obama) while at the same time he is well-versed in many of the key languages and dialects of the central Asian hot spots involved—not to mention of the lingua franca of Arabic used by Internet jihadists. Not only is he not anti-Islam, but he has developed an overarching analysis that reinforces the PC MC paradigm about the problem of Islamic terrorism—whose crucial pillar is that Islam has nothing to do with terrorism, and thus all the energy and time of analysis is spent on the hyper-complexity that ensues from that fundamental denial of the Camel in the Room.
Jihadica: pullulating mosquitoes, the swamp, the camel, and no cigar