Saturday, February 17, 2007

Knowing The Enemy?

Kim du Toit points to an article in the New Yorker called "Knowing the Enemy", saying "it resonated with truth". Not often I disagree with him but this is one of those occasions.

The premise of the article is that Islam is not the problem on the war on terror, it's social networks.

“After 9/11, when a lot of people were saying, ‘The problem is Islam,’ I was thinking, It’s something deeper than that. It’s about human social networks and the way that they operate.”

“There are elements in human psychological and social makeup that drive what’s happening. The Islamic bit is secondary. This is human behavior in an Islamic setting. This is not ‘Islamic behavior.’ ” Paraphrasing the American political scientist Roger D. Petersen, he said, “People don’t get pushed into rebellion by their ideology. They get pulled in by their social networks.” He noted that all fifteen Saudi hijackers in the September 11th plot had trouble with their fathers. Although radical ideas prepare the way for disaffected young men to become violent jihadists, the reasons they convert, Kilcullen said, are more mundane and familiar: family, friends, associates.

Obviously, if this were true then we'd be faced by mass murdering disaffected youths from Buddhist, Christian and Jewish families to name but a few. As that isn't happening we obviously need to consider the role Islam plays- a huge one. It's a political theology which mandates war against the unbeliever. Just pick up a copy of the Koran and read what it actually says.

The big problem with this is that Kilcullen- the man at the centre of all this- is now advising the US government on policy. And this is what he says-

If I were a Muslim, I’d probably be a jihadist,” Kilcullen said as we sat in his office. “The thing that drives these guys—a sense of adventure, wanting to be part of the moment, wanting to be in the big movement of history that’s happening now—that’s the same thing that drives me, you know?”

Adventure? Part of the moment? No mention of what the jihadis themselves say motivates themselves- a direct path to heaven by killing infidels. No mention whatsoever in the entire piece about the teachings of the Koran, the actions of Mohammed or anything like it. And for a government advisor to say that he would become the very thing that threatens the USA is, to my eyes, appalling. Would anyone have still employed an advisor during WW2 or the Cold War who said they wanted to be a Nazi or a Communist?

In fact, I don't have a big problem with this guy, I have a HUGE one.

A terrorist is “a kook in a room,” Kilcullen told me, and beyond persuasion; an insurgent has a mass base whose support can be won or lost through politics.

Politics? Does he really believe that politics are going to influence people prepared not just to fight to the death, but to deliberately kill themselves in the hopes that they might wound or kill soldiers or men, women and children? Perhaps he's implying that we alter our politics in such a manner that they won't hate us- say, by adopting Sharia law?

In fact the thinking of many of the other experts cited in the article- people who seem to be having an effect on upcoming policy- seem to completely misunderstand the problem. So badly do they lack a grasp on the actual thinking of their enemies that we basically get another repetition of the poverty causes terrorism mantra. Haven't we already thrown that mistake into the trash can?

“Hard power is not the way we’re going to make an impression,” he told me, and he cited Pakistan, where a huge population, rising militancy, nuclear weapons, and the remnants of Al Qaeda’s leadership create a combustible mix. According to Barton’s figures, since 2002 America has spent more than six billion dollars on buttressing the Pakistani military, and probably a similar amount on intelligence (the number is kept secret). Yet it has spent less than a billion dollars on aid for education and economic development, in a country where Islamist madrassas and joblessness contribute to the radicalization of young people.

So that would explain Bin Laden or the middle class Muslims in Britain who are becoming increasingly radicalised? We aren't spending enough money on them? I'm frankly astonished that this is presented as "cutting edge" thinking. It seems to me like more of the same woolly headed liberal nonsense- only now it's beginning to permeate in to the Dept. of Defence.

According to the expert, an American diplomat with years of experience identified another obstacle to American outreach. “Let’s face it,” he told her. “All public diplomacy is on hold till George Bush is out of office.”

And hey, let's not forget the constant emphasis on bashing the current Republican administration! More here-

Kilcullen, Crumpton, and their colleagues are desperately trying to develop a lasting new strategy that, in Kilcullen’s words, would be neither Republican nor Democratic. Bruce Hoffman said, “We’re talking about a profound shift in mind-set and attitude”—not to mention a drastic change in budgetary and bureaucratic priorities. “And that may not be achievable until there’s a change in Administration.

Yep, neither Republican nor Democrat- sounds very bi-partisan doesn't it- but the Bush administration couldn't possibly do it- I'm pretty astonished they don't actually come out and say that those hard-hearted Republicans can't do this, that's the work of kinder, gentler, more intelligent Democrats. Bah! Kilcullen is the man giving advice to Condoleeza Rice. Do you feel safer yet?

Kilcullen’s thinking is informed by some of the key texts of Cold War social science, such as Eric Hoffer’s “The True Believer,” which analyzed the conversion of frustrated individuals into members of fanatical mass movements, and Philip Selznick’s “The Organizational Weapon: A Study of Bolshevik Strategy and Tactics,” which described how Communists subverted existing social groups and institutions like trade unions. To these older theoretical guides he adds two recent studies of radical Islam: “Globalized Islam,” by the French scholar Olivier Roy, and “Understanding Terror Networks,” by Marc Sageman, an American forensic psychiatrist and former covert operator with the mujahideen in Afghanistan. After September 11th, Sageman traced the paths of a hundred and seventy-two alienated young Muslims who joined the jihad, and found that the common ground lay not in personal pathology, poverty, or religious belief but in social bonds.* Roy sees the rise of “neo-fundamentalism” among Western Muslims as a new identity movement shaped by its response to globalization. In the margin of a section of Roy’s book called “Is Jihad Closer to Marx Than to the Koran?” Kilcullen noted, “If Islamism is the new leftism, then the strategies and techniques used to counter Marxist subversion during the Cold War may have direct or indirect relevance to combating Al Qaeda-sponsored subversion.

Well, that might be a pertinent point- until we understand that we're not dealing with a purely political ideology, we're dealing with a religion with a long history of warfare and conquest. One that teaches and indoctrinated disdain and hatred for non-Muslims. I really can't see how the social network theory works- do they not see that the justification for their actions comes not from the Bible or the Torah but the Koran? Are we really to blame jihadist terrorism on globalisation?

Drawing on these studies, Kilcullen has plotted out a “ladder of extremism” that shows the progress of a jihadist. At the bottom is the vast population of mainstream Muslims, who are potential allies against radical Islamism as well as potential targets of subversion, and whose grievances can be addressed by political reform.

There we go then- we need to reform our politics to appease this vast body of moderates. How exactly, I wonder? Are we to alter our foreign policy to stop fighting Muslims in Iraq, Afghanistan, etc because it upsets them? We keep hearing the blame placed for alienating and annoying the "vast majority" with our wicked foreign policy- which is utter drivel of course. Are we never to react to Islamist aggression ever again because some in that vast majority might be "subverted"? Kilcullen never seems to answer how they will be subverted? Could it possibly have anything to do with Islam (not according to him)- and an appeal to fight jihad based on the teaching of the religion

The next tier up is a smaller number of “alienated Muslims,” who have given up on reform. Some of these join radical groups, like the young Muslims in North London who spend afternoons at the local community center watching jihadist videos. They require “ideological conversion”—that is, counter-subversion, which Kilcullen compares to helping young men leave gangs. (In a lecture that Kilcullen teaches on counterterrorism at Johns Hopkins, his students watch “Fight Club,” the 1999 satire about anti-capitalist terrorists, to see a radical ideology without an Islamic face.)

What exactly does he mean by "reform"? Any why is it that Muslims in London who don't seem to be getting their way by peaceful political means become radical? What about the huge population of disaffected, poor black population for example? There are huge numbers of them in Britain living in awful conditions on council estates- why aren't they going to community centres to watch videos of other black people around the world waging war on non-blacks? They aren't? You mean, Islam might be a factor here? What a radical idea. Which leads me on to my second point- how exactly are these men to be "de-programmed" from becoming jihadists? By an appeal to the Koran? We keep hearing about moderate Islam but thus far they have a lousy track record of countering the appeals to warfare of the jihadists.

A smaller number of these individuals, already steeped in the atmosphere of radical mosques and extremist discussions, end up joining local and regional insurgent cells, usually as the result of a “biographical trigger—they will lose a friend in Iraq, or see something that shocks them on television.” With these insurgents, the full range of counterinsurgency tools has to be used, including violence and persuasion. The very small number of fighters who are recruited to the top tier of Al Qaeda and its affiliated terrorist groups are beyond persuasion or conversion. “They’re so committed you’ve got to destroy them,” Kilcullen said. “But you’ve got to do it in such a way that you don’t create new terrorists.”

So only people either directly affected by violence (those who have a friend killed for example) will become radicalised enough that they'll commit mass murder? Well, that or those who happen to turn on the TV and become offended by something. Possibly something that's against their religion? And hey, don't forget to kill those AQ members in a humane and kind, caring manner- wouldn't want to upset any other Muslims just in case their social network drags them into becoming terrorists too- and not some theological exhortation to fight to defend Muslims.

When I asked him to outline a counter-propaganda strategy, he described three basic methods. “We’ve got to create resistance to their message,” he said. “We’ve got to co-opt or assist people who have a counter-message. And we might need to consider creating or supporting the creation of rival organizations.” Bruce Hoffman told me that jihadists have posted five thousand Web sites that react quickly and imaginatively to events. In 2004, he said, a jihadist rap video called “Dirty Kuffar” became widely popular with young Muslims in Britain: “It’s like Ali G wearing a balaclava and having a pistol in one hand and a Koran in the other.” Hoffman believes that America must help foreign governments and civil-society groups flood the Internet with persuasively youthful Web sites presenting anti-jihadist messages—but not necessarily pro-American ones, and without leaving American fingerprints.

That's all there is to it? Well, what about Native Deen, the Islamic rap group that travelled around the Middle East on the dime of the State Department- cool, hip, moderates that they are. Here's what they had to say about that-

"We are in Palestine now. I will have to keep this blog short before I start to get heated and make some political statements that will get Native Deen arrested. Its hard for a Muslim American to visit Palestine and not get upset."

Hoffman seems to have come up with a sound policy- seems to be working well so far. Cool kids will certainly prevent young men from following the tenets of their religion.

Kilcullen argues that Western governments should establish competing “trusted networks” in Muslim countries: friendly mosques, professional associations, and labor unions. (A favorite Kilcullen example from the Cold War is left-wing anti-Communist trade unions, which gave the working class in Western Europe an outlet for its grievances without driving it into the arms of the Soviet Union.) The U.S. should also support traditional authority figures—community leaders, father figures, moderate imams—in countries where the destabilizing transition to modernity has inspired Islamist violence. “You’ve got to be quiet about it,” he cautioned. “You don’t go in there like a missionary.” The key is providing a social context for individuals to choose ways other than jihad.

And here we go again- comparing an entrenched religion with Communism and trade unions. And what exactly is a moderate imam- who are they and what do they really think about jihad? Do they oppose suicide bombings, do they oppose Muslims in Iraq and Afghanistan and Israel from using violence, are they willing to speak out publicly and denounce Islamist terrorism? Can they use religious texts to counter the jihad ideology which draws from the Koran and Hadith? And if Islam has nothing to do with it, why again has "modernity" inspired only Islamist violence? And how does he explain the long history of jihadist conquest before the modern world existed? Kilcullen seems to be completely missing the point again. And he needs to actually read and study the Koran- is there actually a method whereby so-called moderates can use its text to dissuade Muslims from committing terrorist acts? And if there is, why isn't the Muslim community already doing that? Why don't we hear about the vast majority of Muslims announce that there is no place for violent jihad?

Since September 11th, the government’s traditional approach to national security has proved inadequate in one area after another. The intelligence agencies habitually rely on satellites and spies, when most of the information that matters now, as Kilcullen pointed out, is “open source”—available to anyone with an Internet connection.

And here we have the final preposterous notion- that all we need for intelligence is an internet connection. Of course there is a great deal of jihadist propaganda online- but the actual intelligence needed to combat terrorist attacks is obviously not "open source" and to suggest so is ridiculous in any way, shape or form. Terrorist cells do not broadcast their actions online, jihadist forces in Afghanistan don't have websites detailing their locations, deployments or numbers. For an advisor of the Secretary of State to imply that we don't need satellites or even spies to discover what terrorists are planning is an insult to our intelligence.

Sorry, Kim- there might be some useful information in that article about troops in theatre interacting with the locals (hanging out in the coffee shops) but the rest is a crock. And where the government to actually act on it would deliver us a devastating blow.

*UPDATE 25.06.08- Note that Sageman argues that there is no common religion among the 172 Muslim jihadists he traced! What, were some of them Anglicans? Catholics, maybe? Perhaps he'd care to mention the ideas inside their heads- or is this yet another example of defining terrorists not as independent actors with their own motivations, agendas and aspirations but as blank canvases on which the author's own perceived grievances can be projected? We can take his word for it because he knows better what's guiding hundreds of jihadists all over the world better than they do themselves. Right?

What Sageman doesn't appear to mention is that the men's shared social network might explain how they were all able to join that terrorist group- through contacts with one another- but not why. Correlation does not mean causation.

Does having a single person in a social network somehow corrupt other people in that group and inexplicably turn them to believe that they need to go out, strap an explosive vest on and then blow themselves up in the middle of a coffee shop filled with women and children? Is there some sort of social network telepathy at work which causes people to fly planes into buildings in America, massacre school children in Russia, blow up marketplaces in Iraq and behead Buddhists in Thailand? According to these so-called experts a sense of adventure and socialising is somehow meant to explain this global behaviour by disparate Muslim groups who are so deluded that they believe they are actually following the precepts of their religion- waging war on unbelievers. In fact, they're so mistaken that they've been waging jihad in one form or another like this for well over a thousand years.

Does Kilcullen or Sageman explain how these social networks install the belief that gunning down a heavily pregnant woman and her young children in cold blood is a good thing? Do they explain how those social networks make others applaud such an action and praise the killers as martyrs? Does this explain how terrorists in London, Paris, Chechnya, the Middle East, Thailand, etc, etc, etc all share the same fundamental beliefs in the teachings of war and violent subjugation taught by the religion of Islam? These people aren't connected in any way- not by their networks, language, culture, but only by their shared religion. How then, does the social network theory explain that? More importantly, how does the theory explain why Jews across the world are not using their networks to wage war too- or Buddhists, Christians or even atheists? Are Muslims the only ones with social networks which function this way? Or is that, just maybe, there's some other link that might explain why so many people from so many different countries all over the world find the need to embark on a violent path that just happens to coincide with the exhortations of their religion?

1 comment:

Bag said...

With this lot we are not able to negotiate. negotiation to them is a slow step towards their full goals and they are happy to take that route with a few atrocities put in place so we don't stop. The end goal is total surrender and domination by Islam or fight to the death.

Violence is a means to an end for both parties. It's fight or die.