Monthly Archives: January 2007

Part 4 of “Al-Qaeda: Casting a Shadow of Terror”

continuing my notes from Jason Burke’s “Al-Qaeda: Casting a Shadow of Terror” . . . .

Al-Qaeda’s “mature years”: 1996-2001
Bin Laden provided “a central focus for many . . . disparate elements. This was not a formation of a huge and disciplined group, but a temporary focus of many different strands within modern Islamic militancy on Afghanistan and what, in terms of resources and facilities, bin Laden and his three dozen close associates were able to provide there.” (p.12)

The resources he offered: training, expertise, money, munitions, safe haven. He was providing a safe haven and “department store” array of support for different groups who had been looking for some such “service” since the end of the Afghan war.

The 3 elements of al-Qaeda

The al-Qaeda hardcore (approx 12+100) consisted of:

  • The dozen or so associates who had stayed with him since the 1980’s.
  • Pre-eminent militants who had difficulties operating in their own countries came to join bin Laden for the safe haven and the resources he could offer: recruits, money, ideas, knowledge.
  • Many of these were Afgan war veterans. Many had fought in Bosnia and Chechnya.
  • They totalled about 100.
  • Many had at some stage taken an oath of allegiance to bin Laden.
  • They acted as trainers and administrators in Afghanistan.
  • Occasionally they were sent overseas to seek recruits; more rarely, to carry out a terrorist operation.
  • But they were not a monolithic group: among them are significant divergences of opinioin over methods, tactics, political and religious beliefs.

2nd element: a wider circle consisting of:

(to be contd.)

Part 3 of “Al-Qaeda: Casting a Shadow of Terror”

continuing my notes from Jason Burke’s “Al-Qaeda: Casting a Shadow of Terror” . . . .

1993 New York World Trade Center bombing
Ahmed Ajaj was detained for this attack and in his bag was a manual titled “Al Qaeda”. American investigators translated this (correctly) as “the basic rules”. It was not a group.

American intelligence reports in the 1990’s do not use the term “al Qaeda” in any of their reports about Middle Eastern extremists. After the 1993 NY bombing FBI investigators knew of bin Laden but only “as one name among thousands”.

During the 1995 trials of the WTC bombers bin Laden was mentioned by prosecutors once, but al-Qaeda was not ever mentioned at all.

1997/8 CIA and State Dept memos
al-Qaeda is mentioned only once and only in passing as “an operational hub, predominantly for like-minded Sunni extemists”.

1996 bin Laden returns to Afghanistan
With 50 to 100 experienced militants bin Laden was able to build his first real terrorist group. But it was far from being “a coherent and structured terrorist organisation with cells everywhere.” (p.11)

1998, FBI “creates” the al Qaeda terrorist organization
In August 1998 bin Laden was implicated in the double bombings of American East African embassies. Clinton retaliated by bombing “the network of radical groups affiliated with and funded by Usama bin Laden, perhaps the pre-eminent organizer and financier of international terrorism in the world today.” (p.11)

FBI sought to prosecute bin Laden, but the relevant laws were designed to deal with tightly organized and structured criminal gangs to which membership was clear cut. Bin Laden was part of a loose network or politico-religious movement where reponsibility for any single act is difficult to pin down. But if bin Laden could be made the member of a structured organization he could be more successfully prosecuted. It is from this time on that FBI documents now speak of a tightly organized al Qaeda organization to which members must swear an oath of allegiance. This completely misrepresented the actual situation but was legally convenient for a prosecution to succeed.

Part 2 of “Al-Qaeda: Casting a Shadow of Terror”

continuing my notes from Jason Burke’s “Al-Qaeda: Casting a Shadow of Terror” . . . .

Bin Laden enters
Sometime between 1988 and 1989 bin Laden set up a militant group in Peshawar. It consisted of no more than a dozen men. The group was inspired by the teachings of Azzam and were distressed by the disintegration of the international forces who had come to aid the Afghan resistance after the Soviets were expelled. There were scores of such small groups forming at this time in Afghanistan, bouyed with the same hopes after feeling they had defeated the mighty Soviets, had the same concerns and dreams of uniting once again all those who had come together, this time to work together to fight corrupt regimes ruling Moslem peoples elsewhere in the Muslim world and restore an ideal society. Larger groups who formed dedicated themselves to attempting to overthrow their local governments.

Some activists in Peshawar at the time say they knew of a group attached to bin Laden around 1990 known as “al-Qaeda” — but others say they never heard of the term. The 11 volume “Encyclopedia of the Jihad” compiled in Pakistan between 1991 and 1993 never mentions al-Qaeda although it does thank Azzam’s group, Maktab al-Khidamat (offices of services).

and departs
1989 bin Laden left Pakistan for Saudi-Arabia (his homeland)

1990 bin Laden and other Afghan vets offered to form an army to help protect Saudi Arabia in response to Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait

bin Laden’s offer was rejected so he spent his time attempting to reform Saudi Arabia

1991 bin Laden fled Saudi Arabia, via Pakistan, to Sudan — until 1996.

In Sudan he was just as interested in arboriculture and road construction as in creating an international army of Islamic militants. His own group was still no more than approx a dozen. He was still reliant on larger militias for resources and know-how. He was not connected with any of the attacks that occurred during this period, 1991-1996.

Bauckham’s Jesus and the Eyewitnesses. Chapter 4-Tables

Have now completed reading Chapter 4, Palestinian Jewish Names. Had feared it would be more technical and complex than the effort was worth but as questions arose I got drawn into far more than I ever expected. There is much more of interest in this chapter than I anticipated and look forward to writing up my notes on it.

With magical electronic spreadsheet technology and open source conversion software I have been able to prepare my own tables extracted from Bauckham’s — which on first glance look to me like they invite a different hypothesis from B’s for the selections of names. The hypothesis I am thinking of has been suggested several times by others already although I understand it has not found ready widespread support in mainstream scholarship. In a few days I hope to re-emerge from real life work and get my commentary on chapter 4 up here. Meanwhile, for those who like tables here is what I will be basing some of my commentary on….. (They are all pdf files.)

Names in Mark

Download (PDF, 41KB)

Names in Matthew

Download (PDF, 41KB)

Names in Luke

Download (PDF, 42KB)

Names in John

Download (PDF, 40KB)

Names in Acts

Download (PDF, 42KB)

There appear to be some errors in the tables in B’s book which I have not always corrected, and no doubt there will be some errors in my own. I also am aware that I have not been consistent in listing only those names B selects according to his criteria. And I also realize I have listed Simon Peter as both Simon and Peter. But feel free to point out any obvious errors and oversights.

The poor and Q — collapsing already

Hoo boy! Half my examples in my old “poor and Q” argument were from the earliest chapters of Luke — yet of course there are good reasons for treating these as later additions to the original gospel. I’m wonder if any attempt to divine the origins of the gospels from textual studies is doomed given the strong likelihood of so many layers of redactions they were subjected to. Who is to say that the literal poor theme in Luke was not the work of a later redactor — or even original and with further accretions being added from the same “school” in response to various dialogue challenges. If there are reasons for taking Luke as initially dominant in Asia and part of the quatrodeciman types, an area in some rivalry with the Rome — wonder if there might be some grounds for a poor vs rich type “dialogue” there. But I’m just making all this up … thinking aloud only……

Loisy on The Gospel of John

Why do I always seem to catch up with the older work last? Here are my notes from Alfred Loisy’s Origins of the New Testament (originally 1936) on the evidence for tradition concerning the Gospel of John.

The Gospel of John was a latecomer and “the elders” in Asia, specifically Ephesus, who were pushing for its acceptance had to compete against the synoptic gospels. To make the new gospel acceptable at such a late date it was necessary to attribute to its author a very long lifespan — from being a young man in the time of Jesus and living up till the time of Trajan (98-117). The Elders were able to say that they had conversed with this very elder John in the early years of the second century. (If he had been 20 at the time of Jesus’ crucifixion he would have been 90 years old in 100 ce.) In reality the apostle John was never in Asia but was confused with John the Elder there.

Loisy arrives at the above scenario from the evidence in Irenaeus, the Gospel of John itself, and the testimony of Papias. read more »

Part 1 of “Al-Qaeda: Casting a Shadow of Terror”

Not having time to do all the reviews I would like I have decided to do chapter reviews from selected books instead. Opting to start on Jason Burke’s Al-Qaeda chapter 1 because I was not happy with my superficial review of the whole book earlier. There is simply too much information of value in this that people ought to know and then challenge their political leaders over for the sake of some hope for sanity in the future….

Chapter 1 is titled, surprise surprise: What is Al-Qaeda?

Al-Qaeda comes from the Arabic root qaf-ayn-dal meaning a base (as in a camp or home), or a foundation (as in what is under a house), a pedestal supporting a column, a precept, a rule, a principle, a formula, a method, a pattern, a method. (p.7)

Islamic, British and American Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan
The word was used by the mid 1980’s by Islamic radicals who flocked from all over the Muslim world to Afghanistan to help the local resistance fight the Soviets. It was a common Arabic word that was used to refer simply to the respective bases from which the military units operated.

In 2002 Arabic language newspapers referred to the British and American base at Bagram (from which they were hunting the Taliban) as “al-Qaeda Bagram”.

The radical association
Abdullah Azzam, mentor of bin Laden, wrote in 1987 of the need for a radical Islamic vanguard (similar to Lenin’s revolutionary vanguard concept) to carry the heavy work and sacrifices required for ultimate victory of achieving a new society:

This vanguard constitutes the strong foundation (al qaeda al-sulbah) for the expected society. (p.8 )

Azzam’s words were similar to many other references to vanguards in other radical Islamic literature and they are all clearly talking about a tactic, a way of operating, not an organization.

Bauckham’s Jesus and the Eyewitnesses. Chapter 3/WIFTA

8 pm 27th Jan 07

Forgot to add another theological (not eyewitness verification) reason for the naming of Mary mother of James and Joses at the end of Mark’s gospel. Early in the gospel the author has Jesus ask who is his true mother. He employs a scene of his physical mother not being able to reach her son for the crowd (again– as in similar stories in this gospel — foreshadowing the time Jesus will be unreachable behind the door of the tomb) to draw the distinction between his spiritual family and his physical family. At the end of the gospel the author pointedly refers to Jesus’ mother as the mother of James and Joses, — Jesus is omitted (unlike earlier and 6.3). Following Weeden, Tolbert, et al, …. The author is telling the reader that his earthly mother, like the twelve, have no part in him. (Other gospel authors would later correct Mark.) His readers, rather, are his true spiritual family. So his mother is looking in the wrong place for him. (The Christ is not here — as was already alluded to in Mark 13. But there is so much more to this that it is really another topic.) The point is, this is enough to suggest that the mention of the Mary mother of James and Joses here is for theological reasons first and last.

10 pm. 26th Jan 07

Forgot to add that Schmidt does not himself single out the country origin of the bearer of the weapon of execution in the Roman triumphal procession. read more »

Bauckham’s Jesus and the Eyewitnesses. Chapter 3

3. Names in the Gospel Traditions

In this chapter Bauckham discusses the names in the Gospels apart from those of the Twelve and of the public figures, proposing that they were eyewitnesses of the “traditions” to which their names are attached and that they continued to live as authoritative living witnesses to guarantee the veracity of their experiences. read more »

Bauckham’s Jesus and the Eyewitnesses. Chapter 2/WIFTA

Chapter 2 WIFTA (What I Forgot To Add — to be regularly updated I am sure) read more »

Bauckham’s Jesus and the Eyewitnesses. Chapter 2c

To those who might wonder if Papias’s reference to “living and abiding voice” is one of the multiple Johannine resonances in his Prologue (c.f. the final chapter of John’s discussion of whether and how long the beloved disciple would “remain” with them; and further note other Johannine touches such as both the names and the order of the disciples, the preference for the word “disciples” over “apostles” and the apparent reference to Jesus as “the truth”) Bauckham argues No. Papias’s preference for “a living and abiding voice” over information from books is further evidence that Papias was embracing the best conventional historical practice. read more »

Bauckham’s Jesus and the Eyewitnesses. Chapter 2b

Bauckham argues that Papias, towards the end of the first century, seized opportunities to question disciples of “elders” who knew personally two eyewitness disciples of Jesus — Aristion and John the Elder — who were at that time still alive in Asia. Other eyewitness disciples of Jesus, specifically Andrew, Peter, Philip, Thomas, James, John and Matthew, were by that time dead. The best Papias could do to learn what particular Jesus stories each of these names was a custodian to was to question itinerant disciples of other elders who traced some word-of-mouth trail back to those disciples. read more »

Bauckham’s Jesus and the Eyewitnesses. Chapter 2a

Chapter 2: Papias on the Eyewitnesses

Bauckham begins with a discussion of Papias apparently to verify the historicity of his eyewitness model: — That eyewitnesses of Jesus provided a living source and confirmation of the oral reports circulating about Jesus; and that the earliest written accounts of Jesus (Papias’s book, and therefore plausibly the gospels, too) were composed by drawing from among the last surviving of these eyewitnesses. read more »

Bauckham’s Jesus and the Eyewitnesses. Chapter 1/WIFTA

WIFTA — What I Forgot to Add to my previous post (updated 27th Jan 07)

10.15 am 3rd Feb 07

This is about the craziest “problem” facing a modern scholar that I have ever heard: That the fact that some characters in the gospels are named while others are not is a “phenomenon” that cries out for explanation??? Come on, how many works of literature of any length, whether historical or nonhistorical, fictional or nonfictional, that do NOT feature such a “phenomenon”. It is plainly a simple matter of common literary competence not to name every person in a story featuring many persons — speaking generally — since it obviously would be simply too much clutter to have names for everyone. And in the case of the gospel of Mark, the first written of the gospels, then it is surely as clear as the nose on one’s face that the author has chosen to bring in names as often as not when they have symbolic value by way of mnemonic illustration of the story: e.g. Jairus, enlightened, for a miracle of raising back from ‘sleep’; Bartimaeus, a son of honour, for one raised from the status of beggar to a follower of the “royal son of David”. That such a phenomena should be considered something crying out for explanation is to dismiss the basics of western (and possibly broader than that, too) literary cultures.

read more »