restricted access Two: Insurgent Empathy
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66 Two | Insurgent Empathy To know your Enemy, you must become your Enemy —­ Sun Tzu, The Art of War, second century BCE It is no longer sufficient to KNOW the enemy, we must UNDERSTAND the enemy —Aeneas Group International, 2011 The minute you think you know the other, you’re ready to kill it. —­ Avital Ronell, Examined Life, 2008 The heads of mounted game indigenous to our location in the Utah mountains peer down at us in the main room of a large cabin where the ten participants—­ nine men and myself—­ are gathered around our cell leader, Haji Juma Khan, all dressed in the traditionalAfghan “man dress” of payraan tumbaan and keffiyeh. We watch a video statement by blogger-­ turned-­ jihadist Humam Khalil Abu Mulal al-­ Balawi, released after his suicide bombing of Forward Operating Base Chapman in Khost province, Afghanistan, which killed seven CIA employees and a Jordanian intelligence officer. We are studying al-­ Balawi for his exemplary use of taqiyya, a practice of dissimulation among Shi’a and, to a lesser degree, Sunni Muslims, which, our cell leader tells us, authorized adherents to suspend religious practices, conceal their religious beliefs, or commit otherwise blasphemous, illegal acts when under duress, under threat of persecution, or in order to further the objectives of the jihad. We are told that after his arrest by Jordanian officials on suspicion of extremist sympathies, al-­ Balawi successfully Americanized himself in order to convince US officials that he had reformed; he was soon deployed to infiltrate Al-­ Qaida and provide intelligence on the location of bin Laden’s deputy, Ayman al-­ Zawahiri. When he returned to the base to provide the intelligence, he was not searched—­ a testament to how successfully he instilled confidence through the strategic use of taqiyya. Here we are, the ten of us, US and Canadian citizens coming from disparate backgrounds in counterinsurgency and myself, the lone “civilian” 67 insurgent empathy (and Canadian and woman), watching al-­ Balawi’s statement as his “brother” and engaging in our own variation of taqiyya: inhabiting the role of the insurgent in order not simply to “know” the enemy but to “understand ” the enemy. We are participating in a six-­ day immersive training course titled Countering Insurgency in Complex Environments, offered by the private consulting firm Aeneas Group International, led by CEO Walter Purdy, who leads the training week as our mock-­ insurgent cell leader under the Afghan kunya or nom de guerre Haji Juma Khan. In this immersive counterinsurgency course, we abandon our “real world identities, norms of behaviour and terms of reference,” as the course brochure states, and live as insurgents in a training camp for six days.1 In ways common to immersive performance experiences, it remains vague as to when the performance scripted by this training course began and concluded. Often, the boundaries of immersive performance are not delineated by a clearly apparent line between the staged and unstaged; simply the anticipation of entering into a staged environment can shift one’s disposition ever so slightly toward the extradaily and one’s surrounding tilt toward the ontologically other than. How one’s disposition shifts—­ and the degree to which one’s disposition shifts—­ depends on where one is located along a continuum of possible positionalities that the immersive experience might hail: from that of the coolness of the observer position, as in the case of the mock Afghan villages examined in the previous chapter, to the intense propinquity of the first-­ person immersion required in the insurgent training camp I examine here. And these positionalities will determine how—­ and how I am able—­ to write about them. Greater proximity to the experience, as I emphasize throughout this chapter , does not necessarily determine greater certainty or understanding. In retrospect, if I had to pinpoint a moment when my disposition shifted and, arguably, the performance hailed by this insurgent training camp began , it might be the moment I paid the US$3,500 tuition fee—­ thankfully covered by grant funds—­ to join Aeneas’s week-­ long camp and shortly thereafter received an email confirming my enrollment. The email came with a letter attached that began, “As-­ Sala-­ mu `Alaykum.” The greeting in Arabic was followed by a brief introduction to the course: This course will include some parts of Islamic study, learning the daily Arabic prayers and wearing of Islamic clothing and is not meant to offend you or anyone of the Islamic faith. The methods and instructions being taught are intended...


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