Category Archives: Terrorism


2016-09-08

Management of Savagery — The Plan Behind the Terror Killing

by Neil Godfrey

najiSeveral times I have urged anyone interested in understanding modern Islamist terrorism to read the manuals and other literature that the Islamist terrorist groups like Al Qaeda and Islamic State have taken as their guides. Recently I went one step further and posted an overview of the seminal Islamist writing by Sayyid Qutb: The Founder of Islamist Extremism and Terrorism.

Another major work whose influence is very clear throughout Islamist writings and public announcements is The Management of Savagery, published online in 2004 under the pseudonym Abu Bakr Naji.

There is no need to wonder why Islamist terrorists target civilians in the West for horrific deaths. Naji set out the tactic and its rationale for all to read. There is no secret. No mystery.

I will copy and paste a few relevant sections from this manual. The translation is by (oh no, here’s that name again William McCants. The copy I am using requires me to acknowledge the following:

Funding for this translation was provided by the John M. Olin Institute for Strategic Studies at Harvard University, and any use of this material must include a reference to the Institute.

That’s the formalities covered.

The management of savagery is the next stage that the Umma will pass through and it is considered the most critical stage. If we succeed in the management of this savagery, that stage (by the permission of God) will be a bridge to the Islamic state which has been awaited since the fall of the caliphate. If we fail – we seek refuge with God from that – it does not mean end of the matter; rather, this failure will lead to an increase in savagery!!

I skip the sections where Naji pinpoints times and places of supposedly comparable operations of savagery in history (e.g. resistance by numerous small bands to the Crusades).

A – The first goal: Destroy a large part of the respect for America and spread confidence in the souls of Muslims by means of:

(1) Reveal the deceptive media to be a power without force.

(2) Force America to abandon its war against Islam by proxy and force it to attack directly so that the noble ones among the masses and a few of the noble ones among the armies of apostasy will see that their fear of deposing the regimes because America is their protector is misplaced and that when they depose the regimes, they are capable of opposing America if it interferes.

 Then….

B – The second goal: Replace the human casualties sustained by the renewal movement during the past thirty years by means of the human aid that will probably come for two reasons:

(1) Being dazzled by the operations which will be undertaken in opposition to America.

(2) Anger over the obvious, direct American interference in the Islamic world, such that that anger compounds the previous anger against America’s support for the Zionist entity. It also transforms the suppressed anger toward the regimes of apostasy and tyranny into a positive anger.

And C

(C) – The third goal: Work to expose the weakness of America’s centralized power by pushing it to abandon the media psychological war and the war by proxy until it fights directly.

There is discussion of the appropriate targets of terrorist attacks. The aim is to spread the defensive forces of the State powers so thin as to be effectively useless as a guarantor of safety.

Hitting economic targets will force (the enemy) to goad the regimes, who are (already) exhausted from protecting the other remaining targets (economic or otherwise), into pumping in more forces for its protection. As a result, feebleness will start to appear in their forces, especially since their forces are limited . . . .

Thus, their forces are limited and select and the regimes have to put in place the following priorities:

First: Personal protection for the royal/ruling families and the presidential institutions.
Second: Foreigners.
Third: Petroleum and the economy.
Fourth: Entertainment spots.

. . . . .

There is an important principle which states, “If regular armies concentrate in one place they lose control. Conversely, if they spread out, they lose effectiveness”. . . .

When the best forces are positioned to protect thousands of petroleum or economic locations in a single country, the peripheries (of that country) and the crowded regions will be devoid of forces.

Organization is taken seriously. They are not amateurish hobbyists:

The most important skill of the art of administration that we must use is learning how to establish committees and specializations and dividing labor. . . .

We must make use of books on the subject of administration, especially the management studies and theories which have been recently published . . . .

And not only books on administration . . . .

— General books on the art of war, especially guerrilla wars . . .

Section three, page 28:

Section Three

Using the Time-Tested Principles of Military Combat . . . .

Following the time-tested principles of military combat will shorten for us the long years in which we might suffer the corrupting influences of rigidity and random behavior. Truly, abandoning random behavior and adopting intellectual, academic methods and experimental military principles and actually implementing them and applying military science will facilitate our achievement of the goals . . .

Page 31 brings us to our main interest:

Section Four

Using Violence

Those who study theoretical jihad, meaning they study only jihad as it is written on paper, will never grasp this point well. Regrettably, the youth in our Umma, since the time when they were stripped of weapons, no longer understand the nature of wars. One who previously engaged in jihad knows that it is naught but violence, crudeness, terrorism, frightening (others), and massacring——I am talking about jihad and fighting, not about Islam and one should not confuse them.

“Not about Islam”? “One should not confuse them”? That should not be surprising after reading Qutb’s Milestones. Qutb set out in black and white clarity the difference between Islamism and mainstream Muslims.

But never mind for now, let’s pick ourselves up and move along as if we never read that bit. . . .

We are now in circumstances resembling the circumstances after the death of the Messenger (peace and blessings be upon him) and the outbreak of apostasy or the like of that which the believers faced in the beginning of the jihad. Thus, we need to massacre (others) . . .

Media savvy

A large section of Management is devoted to media management. Example scenarios (e.g. hostage taking) are presented and appropriate ways to communicate with the media/public before, during and after such an operation.

Therefore, the first step in putting our plan in place should be to focus on justifying the action rationally and through the sharia and (to argue that) there is a benefit in this world and the next (for undertaking the plan).

That justification, as implied in the above words, means stressing the idealistic motives, the conformity to “true Islam” (contrary to mainstream “apostates”) — the appeal to win more idealistic jihadis.

Why Attack the Innocent?

read more »


2016-09-01

The Founder of Islamist Extremism and Terrorism

by Neil Godfrey

nolanNazi ideology was set out by Adolf Hitler in Mein Kampf, Communism was explained for all by Karl Marx in The Communist Manifesto, and radical Islamism was planted with Sayyid Qutb‘s Milestones. Qutb was hanged in 1966 for involvement in a plot to assassinate Egypt’s President Gamal Abdul Nasser. Qutb’s ideas appear to have been more deeply entrenched as consequence of his various experiences during a visit to the United States 1948-1950.

jnolan

James Nolan

James Nolan includes Sayyid Qutb in his book, What They Saw in America: Alexis de Tocqueville, Max Weber, G. K. Chesterton, and Sayyid Qutb and there is an interesting interview with James Nolan his book (with an emphasis on Qutb) at The violent legacy of Sayyid Qutb’s visit to the USA on Late Night Live.

A famous tipping point for Qutb that seems to pop up frequently in any discussion of his experiences in America was a church dance, and not least the lyrics of the pop song being played, Baby It’s Cold Outside.

Racism in America was another stench that outraged him.

milestones-sayyid-qutb-3.gifI want to follow up Nolan’s interview about Qutb with some comments on Milestones.

Milestones is said to have been studied intensively by Osama Bin Laden and other Islamist leaders today. To anyone who has read Milestones its influence is very obvious in the propaganda pronouncements of ISIS today.

I would even say that it is essential reading for anyone who is genuinely interested in understanding the Islamist movement and the ideology behind Islamist terrorism. It is not the only work of significance (I have mentioned others, especially Management of Savagery), but a reasonable case can be made that Milestones is “where it all began”.

I have never had any personal interest in the Muslim religion but reading Milestones evoked a very strong sense of déjà vu for me. I was transported back to the days when I was reading the Armstrong literature that led me into the Worldwide Church of God cult. All the same buttons were there.

Press the one to arouse uncompromising idealism.

Press another to stir up the thrill and heavy responsibility of being part of a vanguard movement destined to change history and save mankind.

What was needed was a long-term program of ideological and organizational work, coupled with the training of a dedicated vanguard of believers who would protect the cause in times of extreme danger (if necessary by recourse to force) and preside over the replacement of Jahiliyyahh by the Islamic state. . . .

It is the right of Islam to release mankind from servitude to human beings so that they may serve Allah alone, to give practical
meaning to its declaration that Allah is the true Lord of all and that all men are free under Him. . . .

Mankind can be dignified, today or tomorrow, by striving toward this noble civilization, by pulling itself out of the abyss of Jahiliyyahh into which it is falling.

And there’s the other one for confronting hypocrisy and setting one on the path to become a self-sacrificing heroic martyr.

We must also free ourselves from the clutches of Jahili society, Jahili concepts, Jahili traditions and Jahili leadership. Our mission is not to compromise with the practices of Jahili society, nor can we be loyal to it. Jahili society, because of its Jahili characteristics, is not worthy to be compromised with. . . .The honour of martyrdom is achieved only when one is fighting in the cause of
Allah . . .

It’s all there. All the buttons that start certain people on the road to radicalization, to extremism.

And it’s all backed up by the special insights of the godly founder-figure who came to understand more deeply than anyone else the ultimate truths in the Holy Book — in Armstrong’s case, the Bible; in Qutb’s, the Qur’an.

. . . I have set down the deep truths which I grasped during my meditations over the way of life presented in the Holy Qur’an. . .

To say that the Muslim religion or the Qur’an is ultimately responsible for Islamist extremism and terrorism today is just like saying that Christianity and the Bible are ultimately responsible for Armstrongism, Dave Koresh, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Jim Jones. Well, yes, in a very general sense they are, but only in such a general sense that the link become meaningless.

Just as cult leaders denounce their mainstream religionists as “false brethren”, so in Milestones we read repeatedly of the falseness of mainstream Muslims.

Lastly, all the existing so-called ‘Muslim’ societies are also Jahili societies.

We classify them among Jahili societies not because they believe in other deities besides Allah or because they worship anyone other than Allah, but because their way of life is not based on submission to Allah alone. . . . 

The people in these countries have reached this wretched state by abandoning Islam, and not because they are Muslims.

Just as cult leaders claim special insights into the Bible, so Qutb claims that his own understanding of the Qur’an is the result of long periods of study and reflection. His interpretations were not obvious at first. In fact, in Milestones he goes to considerable length to counter the arguments of mainstream Muslims condemning his extreme view of jihad and killing the faithless.

So you think the belief in being given forty-two virgins in Paradise is a motive to kill and die? Rubbish. Not a single breath of a hint of any such self-interested motive seeps into Milestones. Very much the contrary, in fact. There is a vast chasm between teachings of heavenly rewards and the actual triggers that initiate the behaviours of cultists.

I began by comparing Milestones with Mein Kampf and The Communist Manifesto. It’s appropriate to conclude with a link back to an earlier post — ISIS is a Revolution, born in terror (like all revolutions) — in which Scott Atran argues that the Islamist extremists we face today are indeed part of a worldwide revolutionary movement that must be stopped.

You can download Milestones here or here.

qutb

Sayyid Qutb

Other Vridar posts on Sayyid Qutb

And other posts justifying the comparison between religious cults and other extremists:


2016-08-22

Sam Harris: Wrong (again) about Religion and Radicalization

by Neil Godfrey
Screen Shot 2016-08-22 at 6.49.04 pm

Waking Up Sam Harris? I wish! 😉 But “waking up with Sam Harris” is more like a drifting off into pre-scientific fantasies about the nature of religion.

At about the 40th minute in Waking Up with Sam Harris:#43 — What Do Jihadists Really Want? Sam Harris explains his understanding of the nature and origin of religion. The same fundamental error is made by New Atheists more generally according to my understanding of the writings of the likes of Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens. Harris explains what lies at the root of the evil of Islam and terrorism and any other religion that has wreaked terror and stupidity on the world:

Whenever human obsession gets channelled in these ways we see the same ancient framework upon which many religions were built. In our ignorance and fear and craving for order we created the gods and ignorance and fear and craving keep them with us.

I am surprised that one with strong interests in religion and neurology should fail to indicate awareness of serious research into the nature and origins of religious thought and instead continue to recycle the old myth that belief in gods came about because of fear and a desire to explain the world in an age without the scientific method.

Ignorance: did a desire for explanations to replace ignorance lead us to create gods? Is it ignorant explanations that keep gods with us?

Anthropological studies have demonstrated that this notion is false. Only certain types of explanations for certain types of questions are sought, and the explanations that are derived this way are on the one hand increasingly baroque (many myths on top of one another to explain related points) and on the other hand they inspire no desire for an explanation at all. To believe, for example, that thunder is explained as the voices of ancestors requires a host of many other beliefs to make sense (e.g. how do their voices sound so loud if they are so far away, etc) but there is no desire to explain these “problems”.

A classic illustration was provided by E. E. Evans-Pritchard with the Zande people of the Sudan. They knew very well that white-ants caused the collapse of a hut but that did not answer the question as to why the hut fell at the particular time it did with a certain person inside. Only witchcraft could explain that. And how to explain witchcraft? No curiosity arises there. That question never arises. So it’s certain types of concepts that we are talking about, and scientific explanations are not so much rejected as they are irrelevant.

There is much, much more to this topic that needs several posts of its own. I would expect a scientist interested in religious belief to be devouring all he can by his peers researching this very question.

Fear: did a desire for dispelling fear through comfort and reassurance lead us to create gods? Is it the same need for comfort and reassurance that keeps them with us?

This is another myth. Many religions certainly do not dispel fear of death or other misfortunes. Anthropologists even raise the possibility that it is religious rituals that create the fears they are meant to allay. So in a society that performs many, many rituals to guard against witchcraft, the fear of witchcraft is strong, while in other societies there is no such fear — and no rituals either. This brings us to questions of psychology to explain ritualistic behaviour.

Again, to simply say that religion gives us fantasies to take away our fears is in reality extremely problematic. If that were really true then it is hard to imagine the human species surviving long enough at all to evolve towards our current state of progress.

Again, I am not pretending to answer this myth fully at all. Several posts would be required.

Craving for order: did a desire for social order lead us to create gods? Is it the same craving for order that keep gods with us?

Here we enter the realm of what is best described as a series of ad hoc rationalizations rather than real cause and effect. It can be shown that morality is not per se a product of religion, and that there are many moral values attributed to religion that people in fact hold regardless of religion.

And so forth. I’ve mentioned the books before and they are certainly not the last word but they are great introductions:

  • Barrett, Justin L. 2004. Why Would Anyone Believe in God? Altamira Press.
  • Boyer, Pascal. 2001. Religion Explained: The Evolutionary Origins of Religious Thought, Basic Books.

If you know of others just as good or better as introductions do leave a comment

I take that remark by Sam Harris at around the 40th minute of his talk as the premise from which he builds the rest of his case. It is a false premise and his edifice cannot stand. read more »


2016-08-21

“All Jihad is Local”

by Neil Godfrey

alljihadislocalSome interesting research datasets relating to who joins ISIS have been published by Nate Rosenblatt. They make interesting reading alongside other research into the motivations and profiles of who are the most likely candidates for extremist radicalization. The data was supplied by an ISIS defector so of course must be assessed with that in mind.

Nate Rosenblatt sums up his findings in three points:

Anti-government sentiment and poor local-federal relations are common threads among provinces sending high rates of fighters. Recruits join ISIS from regions with long histories of resisting the influence of state institutions. 

Foreign fighters joining ISIS are geographically, demographically, and socioeconomically diverse. Fighters from Xinjiang, China are generally older and poorer and tend to travel to ISIS territory with their families, while fighters from Muharraq, Bahrain are far younger, relatively wealthier, and unmarried. 

Local interventions could prevent the spread of radical ideology before it takes root. Motivations for foreign fighters are derived from highly specific local conditions, and so must the solutions.

The first point carries an echo (I won’t say anything stronger than an echo) of what Robert Pape’s research into suicide terrorism between 1980 and 2003 found. The second point coheres with what has become common knowledge by now, but what Rosenblatt has done is to examine the data at subnational (regional) levels and found that at that level the diversity at a national or global level disappears. And that leads in to the third point which reinforces other findings that point to personal grievances, feelings of social isolation and craving for a meaningful and adventurous life in a cause bigger than oneself are highly significant factors.

[Please, if anything in that paragraph offends you enough to want to leave a hostile comment I would ask you to by all means comment but do not just do so as a troll. Be prepared to engage in a discussion of the details of the evidence behind our respective views.]

The report is titled All Jihad is Local: What ISIS’ Files Tell Us About Its Fighters — The link is to a 13 MB, 44 page PDF file.

Few pages, many megabytes — that’s because there are lots of cool and colourful maps and tables to make for easier cerebral digestion.

Voice of America has a website discussing the report, too, and there it is stated:

But a new analysis of the terror group’s own entry records suggests while those flocking to the self-declared caliphate come from diverse regions and from a variety of socio-economic background, many share a deep-seated resentment of where they live.

And the study suggests it is a sentiment that IS managed to expertly exploit once and could possibly exploit again.

“I think this grievance narrative is a common thread that you can knit across a lot of these places,” said Nate Rosenblatt, an independent researcher and author of the New America Foundation report, All Jihad is Local.

“It’s not just that these frustrations drive people to go join ISIS in these areas but that ISIS also actively recruits based on that same narrative,” he said, using an acronym for the terror group.

So ISIS market their barbarism with high tech methods and up to date targeted marketing techniques.  There is a Loopcast audio interview with Rosenblatt in which he describes families migrating together from Xinjiang province in China as a response to ISIS film showing them images of better lives for their children in the ISIS Caliphate, whereas younger individuals leave from Bahrain in response to videos playing on the injustices of the monarchical state there.

Nate Rosenblatt

Nate Rosenblatt

 


2016-08-15

From Heather Hastie’s blog: What Causes Terrorism

by Neil Godfrey

It’s only eleven minutes long. Professor Martha Crenshaw looks at the “macro” (e.g. poverty) and “micro” (e.g. psychology) explanations, pointing out their limitations, and then addresses “meso” explanations — the ones that I have often addressed in various posts on Vridar.

From http://www.heatherhastie.com/what-is-terrorism/ — where one can find two more related videos.


2016-08-12

Is fear of Islam a healthy fear?

by Neil Godfrey

I have enjoyed or found profitable a recent exchange with a commenter calling him/herself pastasauceror in relation to my post, Why Petty Criminals Can Radicalize within Weeks and Kill Dozens of Innocents. As the conversation has proceeded we have found it increasingly difficult to keep our comments brief. It’s so damn hard to read walls of text in the comments, so I have moved the most recent exchange to this post for a fresh start. I know I have sometimes put my foot in it and expressed myself in ways that have been offensive and I have tried to backtrack and learn from those mistakes. I do appreciate pastasauceror’s patience in continuing with the conversation. I have been attempting to understand if conversation between such opposing views is possible, and if not, why not, etc. I do hope it is.

I copy here the most recent exchange, slightly edited. Indented sections are pastasauceror’s words. friction

Weekend is here and I have a little more time to respond.

I think the research you are using is flawed; interviews are a flawed method for judging motivation, as the way the questions are asked cannot help but effect the answers provided. Have you read any research that shows that Islam might be the cause? (it’s not like there isn’t any, as you seem to be suggesting) Or have you written it all off as being from racist bigot Islamophobes?

Whose research, or what research, do you believe is flawed? What works are you thinking of exactly?

[I have since added a bibliography of the major books on terrorist and radicalization studies that I have used in previous posts here. I have not included scholarly research articles in non-book formats.]

What research are you referring to that identifies Islam as “the cause” of terrorist acts? And what research undercuts or belies the research you say I have been using? I really don’t know what research you are thinking of. (The researchers I use are in good standing with the United Nations, and US and European government agencies that are set up to fight terrorism, and of course it is all peer-reviewed. Do they all have it wrong?)

All research I have read regarding Islamist terrorism is clear about the role of Islamist beliefs. Very often they play a critical role but the research explores why people embrace those beliefs and how radicalization happens. Not dissimilar, in fact, to the way a person comes to embrace a religious cult. And often the very heavy indoctrination in the most extreme religious beliefs comes after a person has made the decision of no return.

I only have an interest in identifying the actual problems that cause terror so that an appropriate response can be made in order to effect a reduction in the scale and number of attacks (even if that response is to actively do nothing, including reducing our current responses, as your research would suggest for a solution).

sternThe research that I am referring to (and that I have addressed or linked to here) certainly does not recommend doing nothing. My recollection of some of it is that current responses should be maintained (i.e. targeted military action) but other things need to be done in addition to that. I don’t know of any research that says there should be no military action against ISIS.

What concerns me is the way critics like Harris and Coyne mock and dismiss the research because they have some vague idea of some aspects of its findings yet they clearly have not read it and their characterizations of it denying any role of religious beliefs are simply flat wrong.

[Next, pastasauceror is responding to my question whether he feared Islam — the context was the place of the term “Islamophobia” in the discussion]

I do not think anything needs to be feared in the current situation. I am certainly not afraid of Islam or Muslims. . . . After all, if the majority of people living in the west feel fear or threat then it doesn’t matter whether there is an actual threat, things will start to happen that I’m sure both of us don’t want (reprisals, ultra-right wing governments gaining power, etc.). Who knows, maybe the best solution to this problem is to stop the media from reporting on terrorist attacks. But then, that will cause other problems and go against core western values. Oh well, I never claimed there’d be an easy solution.

If you don’t fear Islam then I don’t understand the problem. Terrorism is feared by its very definition. Surely it is healthy to fear anything that gives rise to terrorism. I fear terrorism. I fear Islamism (the belief that Islamic laws should rule society). I have argued against Islamist comments on this site and eventually asked those responsible to stop spreading their arguments here. I fear what might very well happen to members of the second generation of Muslim immigrant families in Australia who are alienated largely by overt racism here. I fear the inability of older Muslims to relate to that second generation and help them. I fear what one convicted terrorist sympathizer who was not jailed here might do and am very glad that he is being closely monitored daily by police. (He was not jailed because it was argued that jail would most likely harden his terrorist sympathies — as it is known so often to do.)

I fear the situations and groups who make terrorism more likely than not. If you speak out against what you believe is a cause of terrorism and many believe you then surely you are encouraging a fear, whether a healthy or unhealthy fear, of that cause of terrorism. read more »


2016-07-25

Why Petty Criminals Can Radicalize within Weeks and Kill Dozens of Innocents

by Neil Godfrey

Do not comment on this post unless you are prepared to stay to engage with possible alternative views and defend your own ideas in civil discourse. Angry and fly-by-nighter comments may be deleted.

management

If before 1939 you wanted to know Hitler’s plans you could have read Mein Kampf. If you want to understand what Islamist terrorists hope to achieve by terrorist bombings then read The Management of Savagery/Chaos. See [31] the section on Violence and [46] on Polarization.

Attacks like what occurred in Nice are almost always perceived by those who carry them out and who admire them as acts of personal redemption and collective salvation in the service of a world revolution. Again and again, we heard, among those who have been susceptible to ISIS’s message, that realizing something close to true justice on Earth, and a right to enter Paradise in the effort to achieve that, can only come “by the sword” and “under the sword.”

ISIS’s longtime aim of creating chaos among the civilian populations of its enemies, as outlined in the 2004 jihadi tract “The Management of Savagery/Chaos,” Idarat at-Tawahoush, a crucial source of ISIS ideology. According to this manual, acts of daring sacrificial violence—whether by individuals or small groups—can be used to undermine faith in the ability of governments in the West and the Middle East to provide security for their peoples, and to polarize Muslim and non-Muslims, or what ISIS regards as true believers and infidels. Amplified through the media, these attacks become an effective way to publicize, and possibly propagate, revolutionary change of the political, social, and moral order.

Rather than reflecting a movement in decline, then, the Nice attack might be better understood as a recalibration of long-endorsed tactics in the service of a constant, overriding strategy of world revolution. Even if ISIS loses all of its territory in Syria and Iraq, the global jihadi archipelago could continue to expand if the social and political conditions that have led to its emergence continue to persist.

That quotation is taken from Scott Atran’s article, ISIS: The Durability of Chaos, following the Nice attack. Why the petty criminal elements? Why the loners and youth of immigrants who feel isolated and unwelcome in their new homes? Do the Scott Atrans exculpate religion as a factor? Or do they in fact understand and explain its role all too well?

Answers to these questions are broached in the article and in past posts here.


2016-06-02

Islam DE-radicalized him!

by Neil Godfrey

Screen Shot 2016-06-02 at 9.01.05 pmDo not comment on this post unless you are prepared to stay to engage with possible alternative views and defend your own ideas in civil discourse. Angry and fly-by-nighter comments may be deleted.

Studying Islam DE-radicalized him!? His deepening knowledge and understanding of Islam from the scholars turned him away from support for ISIS.

I don’t know if readers outside Australia will be able to access the video on this page but at least there is a partial transcript: Australian radical explains why he once supported IS – and why he stopped.

The TV doco is a look at a de-radicalization program in Australia (with comparisons with the Netherlands, iirc). The experts interviewed say the same things as the experts who have written the books I have posted about several times now:

  • young people do not join terrorist groups because of beliefs but for adventure, status, belonging, meaningful life. . . .
  • the deep beliefs usually follow their joining
  • targeting whole communities of Muslims is counterproductive; it misses the most relevant targets in the community and actually isolates them more, making them more vulnerable to radicalization.
    • and telling people that if they are not happy in this country they should go back to where they came from is the worst thing one can do: it makes the young person feel even more alienated and susceptible to radicalization.

There are questions left hanging, however. Though certain individuals are deradicalized through a deepening study of Islam they appear to maintain a strong Islamist belief system. Only an Islamism that is opposed to violence. That’s good, at least the part about being opposed to violence is good.

But if they still fail to truly appreciate and subscribe to Enlightenment values, democracy as it is understood in the Western tradition, pluralism and the value of secularism to lubricate a happily functioning society — then are we feeding another social problem that will need to be confronted in the future?

 

 

 


2016-05-23

The “Only Way” to Free Someone from Cults: Islamic or Christian

by Neil Godfrey

Another illustration of the only way a devoted member of a “tribe” — whether religious cult or ISIS — can begin to loosen their attachment and head towards the Exit door appeared in AP’s The Big Story: Islamic State’s lasting grip is a new hurdle for Europe, US written by Lori Hinnant. Its message is consistent with my own experience or exiting a religious cult and with the scholarly research I have since read on both religious cults and terrorist groups, both Islamist and secular.

Lori Hinnant is discussing the experiences of a French program to “de-radicalise” former ISIS members. Its key sentence:

Only once doubts are seeded can young would­be jihadis themselves reason their way back to their former selves.

Attempting to argue them out with reason is futile. In the case of fundamentalist cults we can easily enough see why: their thinking is entirely circular. There is no escaping. All “contrary thoughts” are from Satan and to be cast down, writes Paul in 2 Corinthians 10:5. It is no different with Islamic extremists, as previous posts have illustrated. Membership of the group is the foundation of the identity of each member; the group is their family and the bond stimulates the dopamine. Life only has meaning as an active member of the group.

Try talking anyone out of leaving their family and walking away from the cause that gives their life meaning.

There is no reasoning with someone in the thrall of a jihadi group, those who run the program say, so the recruits have to experience tangible doubts about the jihadi promises they once believed. Bouzar said that can mean countering a message of antimaterialism by showing them the videos of fighters lounging in fancy villas or sporting watches with an Islamic State logo. Or finding someone who has returned from Syria to explain that instead of offering humanitarian aid, the extremists are taking over entire villages, sometimes lacing them with explosives. Only once doubts are seeded can young would­be jihadis themselves reason their way back to their former selves, she said.

That’s how it’s done. It won’t happen immediately. At first the response to “proofs” of hypocrisy among the group’s leaders and deception in what they promise will be met with incredulity, a suspicion that the stories are all lies. But show enough with the clear evidence that the stories are not fabrications and slivers of doubts have a chance of seeping in. Some will react with even more committed idealism, convincing themselves that they will fight the corruption within. But their powerlessness will eventually become apparent even to themselves.

Only then will the member begin to “reason their [own] way back to their former selves”.

 

 


2016-05-09

Interesting ISIS/Al-Qaeda developments

by Neil Godfrey

stateterrorDo not comment on this post unless you are prepared to stay to engage with possible alternative views and defend your own ideas in civil discourse. Angry and fly-by-nighter comments may be deleted.

I keen an eye on the webpage of J.M. Berger, one of the authors of an excellent book explaining the origins, nature and goals of ISIS and who joins it and why, ISIS: The State of Terror and this morning there appeared a collection of three particularly interesting articles. We have been seeing more generally in the news that ISIS in Syria and Iraq is lately suffering significant territorial losses, though the end result is loss all round given ISIS’s “scorched earth” policy of destroying everything as they retreat. Ramadi has been recaptured by Iraqi forces but it is no longer a place anyone would want to return to. So with ISIS appearing to be on the back foot at last the following new developments are of particular interest, I think.

Syrians abandoning ISIS

The first article of special interest is published in the current issue of Foreign AffairsQuitting ISIS: Why Syrians are Abandoning the Group by and . The reasons for growing numbers of defections in recent months are as diverse as the reasons for joining ISIS in the first place. By way of reminder, some of the reasons for joining that have emerged in many of the studies: bergerstern

revkin_quittingisis_formerchildsoldier

AHMED JADALLAH / REUTERS Yazidi boy Emad, 5, and his brother Murad (back), who was trained by Islamic State, stand in a grocery at a refugee camp near the northern Iraqi city of Duhok, April 19, 2016.

  1. true believers
  2. criminals and thugs finding amnesty with ISIS in return for service
  3. the pay — raw economics
  4. hatred of Assad of Syria and ISIS appearing the most likely opposition
  5. adventurers and opportunists

I can’t repeat all the FA article here but I have linked to it above. In brief:

  1. they are in retreat, losing
  2. hypocrisy: corruption, inequality, cronyism, are as common in ISIS as elsewhere, some believe
  3. salaries are being cut
  4. to avoid being redeployed to fight in Iraq or Libya. They joined to fight Assad in Syria.

The final paragraphs are especially disturbing (my own bolding):

Although the increase in defections might seem like welcome news to the U.S.-led coalition, the trend has some alarming consequences for Syrians. In addition to summary executions of combatants or civilians who are suspected of disloyalty, ISIS has started to recruit large numbers of child soldiers to shore up its dwindling ranks. The “cubs of the Caliphate,” as ISIS calls them, are cheaper and more ideologically malleable than adults. Tarek, a former ISIS fighter from Deir Ezzor, estimated that when he deserted his unit in Deir Ezzor, 60 percent of his fellow combatants were under the age of 18. One former ISIS child soldier from al-Hasakah, Sami, was 14 years old when he first joined in 2014. . . . Sami cried as he recounted the deaths of several of his oldest childhood friends who had joined ISIS with him and were recently killed in a battle against the regime in Deir Ezzor. ISIS had been using these children as cannon fodder on the frontlines because they lacked the training and experience to be useful in other roles.

In another sign of desperation, ISIS has dramatically abbreviated the training—both physical and ideological—that its fighters must undergo. ISIS used to require that all new recruits first enroll in Islamic educational courses known as dawraat sharia, which last from 30 to 45 days, followed by military boot camp for another 30 days. But after losing Sinjar to Kurdish forces backed by U.S. airstrikes in November 2015, ISIS dramatically shortened the recruitment pipeline by eliminating military training altogether and requiring only a few days of Islamic education before sending new recruits into battle. The curriculum of the dawraat sharia covers ISIS’ version of Islamic humanitarian law, which does set some limits on violence against civilians, enemy combatants, and prisoners of war. As ISIS lowers its standards to attract new recruits, its fighters will become increasingly prone to indiscipline, corruption, and looting. Such internal problems will weaken ISIS militarily but they come at a high cost to Syrian civilians, who are likely to face increased violence and exploitation by an organization that is beginning to unravel.

Al-Qaeda giving permission for a break from its ranks

Then there is this latest intriguing development involving Al-Qaeda. Zawahiri is Bin Laden’s replacement, the leader of Al Qaeda. Al Nusra is the anti-Assad rebel group closely affiliated with Al-Qaeda. Al Jazeera reports: Zawahiri: Syria’s Nusra free to break al-Qaeda links. ISIS itself began as Al-Qaeda in Iraq led by Zarqawi (the one who began the spate of beheadings and bombings of Shia centres in Iraq) but after Zarqawi was killed in a bombing raid the new leadership broke from Al-Qaeda and morphed into ISIS, the Islamic State, in 2014. So it is interesting to see Al-Qaeda giving permission for its Syrian affiliate, Nusra, to break ranks.

The thinking appears to be that Nusra will have more leverage in peace talks and hence more clout as an anti-Assad force if it can disclaim its links to Al-Qaeda. With ISIS on the retreat, Nusra may have the opportunity to dominate the anti-Assad forces and become a major driver in Syrian politics. The Russian military action has proved to have been a game-changer but if Al-Nusra is no longer tied to Al-Qaeda there is some speculation that Russians will have less justification for attacking it.

Propaganda vulnerabilities

read more »


2016-04-05

Is Religious Freedom Intolerable? (The Consequences of Sam Harris’s Arguments)

by Neil Godfrey

If beliefs determine what we do it follows that no society can allow people freedom of religion or conscience. If religious beliefs cause some people to perpetrate terrorist carnage then we have to say good-bye to the West’s short-lived experiment with secular Enlightenment ideals. That is the conclusion (and I think it is correct) of Marek Sullivan in The New (Anti-) Secularism: Belief Determinism and the Twilight of Religious Liberty.

According to Harris, ‘Belief is a lever that, once pulled, determines almost everything else in a person’s life’ (12). This is why he thinks religious profiling may be a good idea (see below), that the ‘war on terror’ is fundamentally a ‘war of ideas’ (152), and that ‘Some propositions are so dangerous that it may even be ethical to kill people for believing them’ (52-3). Since what people believe determines what they do, the battle against religious violence is fundamentally a matter of doctrine, not guns or bombs (though guns or bombs are handy if the belief is dangerous enough). Rather than struggle with a torrent of violence, it is more effective to challenge the spring of belief before it metastasises into action. [Page numbers refer to Harris’s The End of Faith.]

Harris does indeed acknowledge (sometimes at least) the implications of such views:

If belief really does determine behaviour as a lever triggers a mechanism, then absolute liberty of conscience makes no ethical sense. Second, anyone familiar with Harris’s writings will know he does not always talk about the necessity that freedom of speech and thought be safeguarded. In fact he often seems to be talking about the opposite, as, for example, when he claims ’the very ideal of religious tolerance—born of the notion that every human being should be free to believe whatever he wants about God—is one of the principal forces driving us toward the abyss’ (2005: 15).

It follows that the principles of liberty of conscience and religious equality have to go.

And it’s less easy today to hide forbidden thoughts than it has ever been before. The internet is potentially storing all the things we have been thinking about whenever we have browsed the web or communicated online.

Philosophers Andy Clark and David Chalmers once coined the term ‘extended mind’ (1998) to describe the way technologies of information production and circulation (paper, pen, books, computers, the internet) blur the boundaries between self and world by extending human consciousness into the external domain. For them, our cognitive dependency on these technologies (e.g. as problem solvers or memory supports) makes it hard to tell where humans end and technology begins; this technology becomes, quite literally, us.

What are the implications for human freedom of an extended subjectivity, grafted onto personhood through the prostheses of email accounts, internet histories, and Facebook, and accessible to state powers? Can liberty of conscience and the invulnerability of the private sphere survive a situation where not only is belief ‘not simply in the head’ (Clark and Chalmers 1998: 14), but the government can peer into the extended self at the click of button?

Why not take Islamist terrorists at their word?

Sullivan poses the question: read more »


2016-03-29

The Week Following Brussels

by Neil Godfrey

A week ago today it was Brussels. Since then — in a mere seven days . . . .

As in my previous post the numbers on the left indicate the number of terrorist attacks.

Mid East
(minus Africa)
Africa South and
SE Asia
Europe N and
S America
Afghanistan
2 — 9 dead
Burundi
2 — 2 dead
Bangladesh
1 — 1 dead
Scotland
1 — 1 dead
Iraq
2 — 50 dead
DR Congo
1 — 2 dead
Pakistan
1 — 72 dead
Libya
1 — 2 dead
Nigeria
1 — 4 dead
Syria
2 — 8 dead
Rwanda
1 — 1 dead
Turkey
7 — 10 dead
West Bank
1 — 0 dead
Yemen
1 — 26 dead

2016-03-26

Alternative view: What ISIS Is (Not) “Planning” for Europe

by Neil Godfrey

Thomas Hegghammer and Petter Nesser have published an alternative view to the thoughts expressed by Scott Atran in my recent post, What ISIS Plans for Europe (and Beyond). Their article, Assessing the Islamic State’s Commitment to Attacking the West, is published in the Open Access journal Perspectives on Terrorism.

Of terrorist operations with links to a terrorist organisation like ISIS or Al Qaeda six types are identified:

  1. Training and top-level directives. The attacker trains in the organization’s heartland, is tasked by top leaders to attack in the West, and is supported materially by the organization in the planning and preparation process. The classic historical example is the 9/11 attack.
  2. Training and mid-level directives. The attacker trains in the organization’s heartland and is encouraged by mid-level cadres to carry out a more or less specified attack in the West, but has little or no interaction with the top leadership and receives little or no material support from the organization. Examples from al-Qaida’s history include the various plots by the Abu Doha network in the early 2000s or the Mohammed Merah attack in 2012.
  3. Training. The attacker trains in the organization’s heartland, but is not specifically instructed by anyone to attack in the West. Instead, he develops the motivation to attack in the West himself, in the belief that he is doing what the organization wants. A historical example is Mohammed Geele, who trained with al-Shabaab in Somalia, returned to Denmark, and tried to assassinate the cartoonist Kurt Westergaard in 2010.
  4. Remote contact with directives. The attacker communicates remotely (typically by telephone, email, or social media) and bilaterally with cadres of the organization and receives personal instructions to attack in the West. A good example from al-Qaida history is Rajib Karim, who in 2010 was instructed by Anwar al-Awlaki via encrypted email to attack airline targets in the UK.
  5. Remote contact without directives. The attacker communicates remotely and bilaterally with members of the organization, but does not receive instructions to attack in the West. An example would be Fort Hood shooter Nidal Malik Hassan, who exchanged emails with Anwar al-Awlaki without discussing operations.
  6. Sympathy, no contact. The attacker expresses ideological support for the group through his propaganda consumption, written or spoken statements, or some other aspect of his behavior, but does not communicate bilaterally with anyone in the organization. One example is Roshonara Choudhry, who stabbed a British MP in 2010, having been inspired by al-Awlaki’s online lectures.

Hegghammer and Nesser examine ISIS related attacks against the West (Europe, North America, Australia) between January 2011 and June 2015. Their tabulated findings:

table1

Those frequency numbers combine foiled plots as well as successful attacks. Compare the following:

fig1

So up till June 2015 there was no evidence of ISIS commitment to launch increasing numbers of attacks in the West. The threat has come, rather, from Western sympathizers who have had no contact with ISIS itself.

The title of this post can be misleading. While ISIS may not be actively planning specific attacks in the West, it is nonetheless clear that it does encourage free-lancers to act in sympathetic response to its propaganda videos, whether by joining them, donating to them, or doing whatever one can to attack “the Grey Zone”.

See the article for the detailed discussion.


2016-03-24

Why do so many terrorists turn out to be brothers?

by Neil Godfrey

Screen Shot 2016-03-24 at 10.48.50 pmAn article in The New York Times cites specialist researchers into terrorism some of whom I have been (again) discussing at length on this blog. I find that reassuring because it suggests the works I have been reading and writing about are indeed widely recognized as authoritative. In this case one of the researchers cited is Clark McCauley, a co-author of Friction — the series is being archived here. Another is J.M. Berger, author of ISIS: The State of Terror.

Referring to the two brothers responsible for the Belgium atrocity:

The Bakraouis join a list of brothers involved in nearly every major terror attack on Western soil since three sets of Saudi siblings were among the 19 hijackers who carried out the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States. Before then, the grim roster included 19th-century French anarchists, militants in Southeast Asia and the Jewish extremists who assassinated Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin of Israel in 1995.

Anyone who has read Friction or my posts on the book knows that Russian anarchists also had their siblings and lovers acting together.

Screen Shot 2016-03-24 at 10.49.28 pmWhat advantage to brothers have?

For terror groups, brothers can be ideal recruits. They radicalize each other while reinforcing a sense of purpose and ideological calling. They keep watch on each other to ensure an attack is carried out. One new study suggests that up to 30 percent of members of terrorist groups share family ties.

How do intelligence agencies eavesdrop on every communication among brothers?

How do intelligence agencies infiltrate when the “group” ensures only members they can trust because of close family ties?

Mia Bloom, co-author of “All in the Family: A Primer on Terrorist Siblings,” cited scholarly research showing that as many as a third of the people terror groups send to carry out attacks came from the same family. Examples abound of jihadists marrying a sister or daughter to another jihadist family in order to build alliances.

Screen Shot 2016-03-24 at 10.49.50 pmSiblings (or married couples) often work together, each one fearing to let the other down. On the other hand if one begins to buckle at the critical moment he can also potentially persuade the other to do likewise. A terrorist organisation will for that reason often send siblings out simultaneously on different missions. Mindful of each other they are motivated not to let the other down or lose face by failing their brother or sister.

Psychologists who study terrorism say that the two-person cell may be a recent adaptation to increased security measures — whether they are brothers, as in Brussels, Paris and Boston, or husband and wife, as in the San Bernardino, Calif., attacks in December that killed 14.

As discussed in an earlier post, a sense of imminent threat can be the catalyst to violent action.

Psychologists who study terrorism say that the two-person cell may be a recent adaptation to increased security measures — whether they are brothers, as in Brussels, Paris and Boston, or husband and wife, as in the San Bernardino, Calif., attacks in December that killed 14.

Screen Shot 2016-03-24 at 10.50.04 pmWhen authorities are closing in they must know that that is a time when threats to the public are peaked.

And yet again we hear the same old story of the perpetrators not seeming to others to have been all that interested in religion in their earlier days:

Ms. Mertens recalled the brothers as ordinary teenagers, not especially religious, who then disappeared from the neighborhood about five or six years ago. During this period, they were separately convicted of crimes including carjacking and engaging in a shootout with the police.

Screen Shot 2016-03-24 at 10.50.14 pmAnd of the future?

Ms. Bloom, the author who estimated that up to 30 percent of members of terror groups share family ties, warned that extremists were now trying to recruit entire families in Europe, portending the possibility of yet another evolution in jihadism. “Right now, we are seeing a lot of siblings carrying out these attacks,” she said. “The trend we are anticipating is parent and child.

.

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