Quotulatiousness

July 14, 2014

They may have been terrorists, but they weren’t particularly religious

Filed under: Britain, Middle East, Religion — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 09:38

Janet Daley talks about two recently arrested “jihadis” in Britain:

In the midst of the deeply unfunny news coverage of the two young British jihadi volunteers who were arrested on terror charges when they arrived back from Syria, there was one moment of comic absurdity. It seems that before setting off on their mission, Mohammed Ahmed and Yusuf Sarwar found it necessary to place orders with Amazon for those invaluable scholarly treatises, Islam for Dummies, The Koran for Dummies and Arabic for Dummies. Hilarity aside, there is something important to be noted here.

First, these 22-year-olds were obviously not the products of some extreme mosque which had drilled them in Islamist fundamentalism. In fact, they were so untutored in the religion to which they were nominally affiliated that they had to equip themselves with a crash course in its basic principles. Nor had they come from families which were inclined to endorse their terrorist fantasies. Indeed, their own parents were so horrified when they learned of the men’s activities that they turned them in to the police. So we need to ask, as a matter of urgency, where it came from, this bizarre determination to be inducted into a campaign of seditious murder that (we can assume from their decision to plead guilty to the terror charges) they fully intended to bring home with them. What causes young men to risk their own lives, and those of who knows how many others, for a cause about which they know so little that they have to mug it up before they catch the plane?

[…]

There has come to be something of a consensus that this is a problem that only the moderate Muslim community can deal with through its own moral authority. But parents as courageous and civically responsible as these two would-be jihadis had are not going to be ten-a-penny. And it is unfair for the society at large to wash its hands and leave it all to the families and the neighbours, most of whom are as new to all this as we are. If too many young Britons are drawn to a hateful, barely understood dogma because it seems to bring some magical sense of belonging, then something is clearly wrong with their lives in this country. There is apparently nothing on offer here that can compete with the promise of exaltation that is available for the price of a plane ticket.

Contrary to all the educational shibboleths of our time, young men are motivated by aggression and power: their dreams are of glorious triumph over rivals. If they are denied these things — even in the ritualised forms that used to be provided by an education system that understood how dangerous male adolescence was — then they will seek them wherever they can be found. Gang violence, with its criminal initiation rites, or Muslim fanaticism can fill a void, offering not just a licence for brutality but for banding together into hostile tribes. There was a time — before characteristically male behaviour was devalued in favour of the female virtues of empathy and conciliation — when these proclivities were dealt with quite effectively by combative team sports and military cadet corps. Institutionalised aggression was supervised by adult authority until the young men grew up and became responsible for their own impulses.

H/T to Mark Collins for the link.

July 13, 2014

Security theatre still running at peak farcicality – no end in sight

Filed under: Britain, Bureaucracy, Government, Liberty — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 10:59

In the Daily Mail, Peter Hitchins sums up all the individual losses to personal liberty, actual security, and civil discourse bound up in the never-ending security theatre performances at airports and other travel centres:

We have become a nation of suspects. The last wisps of British liberty are being stripped away and, as usual, this is happening with the keen support of millions.

[…]

Then there are the comical new ordeals travellers must face if they are foolish enough to want to go anywhere by plane.

At least they would be comical if we were allowed to laugh at them, but even to joke about ‘security’ in the hearing of some grim-jawed official is to risk detention and a flight ban.

There’s an odd thing about this. We are constantly told that our vast, sour-faced and costly ‘security’ services, and various ‘British FBIs’ and ‘British KGBs’ are fully on top of the terror threat, and ceaselessly halting plots.

How is it then that they claim not to know if harmless aunties from Cleethorpes or Worthing are planning to manufacture an airborne bomb with the ingredients of a make-up bag?

Just in case such a person is a jihadi sleeper agent, she, and thousands of other innocents, must be treated as criminal suspects.

Like newly registered convicts, they must stand in humble queues, meek before arbitrary power.

They must remove clothing, allow strangers to peer at their nakedness in scanning machines, permit inspections of their private possessions and answer stupid questions with a straight face.

They must be compelled to accept this treatment without protest or complaint.

In fact, when we enter an airport these days, we enter a prototype totalitarian state, a glimpse of how it will eventually be everywhere if we do not find a way of resisting this horrible change.

HMCS Regina at sea

Filed under: Cancon, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 10:49

In Maclean’s, Nick Taylor-Vaisey has a video and photos from HMCS Regina‘s most recent tour of duty.

Peter Bregg boarded HMCS Regina on a fateful day for the ship’s crew. Bregg, a former Maclean’s chief photographer who spent 18 days observing Canadian anti-smuggling operations in the Indian Ocean, arrived in Dar es Salaam on April 21. He left the steamy Tanzanian port city the same day Leading Seaman Brandon South, a sonar operator, died in a nearby hospital, while off-duty, of causes not yet released to the public.

The next day, Daniel Charlebois, the ship’s commanding officer, informed the crew. Morale plummeted, says Bregg. “It was really depressing,” he recalls. “I stayed out of their way and put my camera away.” During a memorial service two days later, Bregg was in a Navy helicopter that paid tribute to the late seaman with a flypast. He called the sombre service “almost like a burial at sea.”

South’s death was a rare dark moment aboard Regina, says Bregg, where the 265 sailors normally kept “extremely high” spirits as they went about their business: maintenance, target practice, personal training, and the self-explanatory “Sundae Sundays.” When necessary, they transition easily between the formal chain of command and lighter moments at sea. While sailors chow down on ice cream or unload the ship, rank dissolves.

June 24, 2014

ISIS rejected Al Qaeda’s “rules”

Filed under: Middle East, Military, Politics, Religion — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 11:51

In Slate, Will Saletan explains how ISIS deliberately cast aside Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda’s “seven rules for effective terrorism”. Is this evidence that ISIS is too extreme and will destroy itself or is it wishful thinking?

The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria is scaring the hell out of everyone. It has infested Syria, overrun Iraq, alarmed Iran, and convinced U.S. politicians it’s the most dangerous terrorist organization ever. But frightening everyone isn’t a long-term growth strategy. ISIS is destroying itself.

Al-Qaida, the organization from which ISIS recently split, understands this truth. For years, Osama Bin Laden and his lieutenants tried to explain to their affiliates the folly of unchecked brutality. In letters and directives captured in the 2011 raid on his compound, Bin Laden stressed the importance of patience, discretion, and public opinion. His advice, boiled down to seven rules, forms a clear outline of ISIS’s mistakes.

1. Don’t fight civil wars. Bin Laden recognized that battling for territory against local governments was a lousy way to get to theocracy. […]

2. Don’t kill civilians. That was Bin Laden’s principal regret. He called for guidelines that would instruct jihadists to avoid “unnecessary civilian casualties.” […]

3. Don’t flaunt your bloodlust. One of the captured al-Qaida letters, believed to have been written by Bin Laden or his aide, Atiyah Abd al-Rahman, urges al-Qaida’s Yemeni affiliate to “stay away from words that will affect the people’s support to the mujahidin.” […]

4. Don’t rule harshly. Bin Laden was a theocratic fundamentalist, but he cautioned his allies to avoid the “alienation from harshness” that was “taking over the public opinion.” […]

5. Don’t claim territory unless you can feed the people. […]

6. Don’t fight with your allies. Bin Laden tried to rein in the fratricidal belligerence of ISIS’s precursor organization, al-Qaida in Iraq. […]

7. Don’t alarm your enemies prematurely. In 2010, Bin Laden advised his followers in Yemen not to escalate the war there, in part because “the emergence of a force in control of the Mujahidin in Yemen is a matter that provokes our enemies internationally and locally and puts them on a great state of alert.”

June 17, 2014

Game of Thrones lessons learned by ISIS

Filed under: History, Media, Middle East — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 07:56

I haven’t been watching Game of Thrones, but I’ve seen enough of it that James Delingpole‘s observations seem rather accurate:

Consider some of the Isis footage now doing the rounds on the internet. One video is filmed from the point of view of some young men in car, driving along a highway outside a town somewhere in northern Iraq, looking for cars to shoot up with their AK-47s. The innocent drivers clearly aren’t expecting this. By the time they’re aware what’s going on, it’s too late: soon, their bullet-riddled cars are veering off the roads, their dead or wounded drivers slumped at the wheel. Next, eager as puppies, out pop the jihadis to inspect the damage, gleefully filming their dying victims and then finishing them off. It’s like an episode of Grand Theft Auto Mosul, only acted out for real.

What kind of mindset do you need to carry out this kind of barbaric violence? Well I hesitate to say a “Medieval” one because then the Medievalists get all upset. But let’s agree shall we that it is a mindset almost completely alien to Western Judeo-Christian culture. Yes, there are exceptions to every rule: the obvious one being Germany in World War II. At the risk of crudely generalising though, I’d say that however much society breaks down in the West I can’t ever see any of us reaching the point where we start machine gunning road users just for the sheer hell of it, any more than I can ever imagine us beheading or crucifying prisoners. We got all that stuff out of our system, over the centuries, in a succession of savage conflicts like the Thirty Years War and the Wars of The Roses.

It’s from the Wars of the Roses, of course, that George RR Martin gets a lot of his gory detail, including the kill-or-be-killed mindset of his protagonists. They don’t think like us because they don’t enjoy the luxury of living in a society as advanced as ours. What to us might seem like basic human decency would strike the Game of Thrones protagonists as fatal weakness. Hence, for example, the House Bolton’s practice of flaying its prisoners: a) a dead enemy is never going to kill you and b) it so terrifies your foes that — as Isis have found in Iraq — they would rather flee for their lives than face you in battle.

This kind of insight is, I’m sure, one of the main reasons why Game of Thrones has grown to achieve its status as unmissable, landmark television. Yes, of course, the fine acting, great locations, pert breasts and CGI dragons are a big draw too. But what really makes it stick out is that, unlike almost any other fiction set in the past, it chooses not to imbue its characters with the liberal values of the present. This brutal honesty is at once exhilaratingly novel but also deeply unsettling, for it opens a window onto a world where people may look like us and apparently share the same hopes, dreams and fears as us, but where the progressive pieties to which we’ve become accustomed in the post-war years simply don’t apply. Not only do they not apply but they actually look foolish, counterproductive, suicidal.

June 4, 2014

Sarcasm-detecting software wanted

Filed under: Media, Technology — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 09:02

Charles Stross discusses some of the second-order effects should the US Secret Service actually get the sarcasm-detection software they’re reportedly looking for:

… But then the Internet happened, and it just so happened to coincide with a flowering of highly politicized and canalized news media channels such that at any given time, whoever is POTUS, around 10% of the US population are convinced that they’re a baby-eating lizard-alien in a fleshsuit who is plotting to bring about the downfall of civilization, rather than a middle-aged male politician in a business suit.

Well now, here’s the thing: automating sarcasm detection is easy. It’s so easy they teach it in first year computer science courses; it’s an obvious application of AI. (You just get your Turing-test-passing AI that understands all the shared assumptions and social conventions that human-human conversation rely on to identify those statements that explicitly contradict beliefs that the conversationalist implicitly holds. So if I say “it’s easy to earn a living as a novelist” and the AI knows that most novelists don’t believe this and that I am a member of the set of all novelists, the AI can infer that I am being sarcastic. Or I’m an outlier. Or I’m trying to impress a date. Or I’m secretly plotting to assassinate the POTUS.)

Of course, we in the real world know that shaved apes like us never saw a system we didn’t want to game. So in the event that sarcasm detectors ever get a false positive rate of less than 99% (or a false negative rate of less than 1%) I predict that everybody will start deploying sarcasm as a standard conversational gambit on the internet.

Wait … I thought everyone already did?

Trolling the secret service will become a competitive sport, the goal being to not receive a visit from the SS in response to your totally serious threat to kill the resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Al Qaida terrrrst training camps will hold tutorials on metonymy, aggressive irony, cynical detachment, and sarcasm as a camouflage tactic for suicide bombers. Post-modernist pranks will draw down the full might of law enforcement by mistake, while actual death threats go encoded as LOLCat macros. Any attempt to algorithmically detect sarcasm will fail because sarcasm is self-referential and the awareness that a sarcasm detector may be in use will change the intent behind the message.

As the very first commenter points out, a problem with this is that a substantial proportion of software developers (as indicated by their position on the Asperger/Autism spectrum) find it very difficult to detect sarcasm in real life…

May 26, 2014

Confusion over extent of Canadian involvement in Nigeria’s hunt for the kidnapped schoolgirls

Filed under: Africa, Cancon, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 09:12

In the Ottawa Citizen, David Pugliese outlines what we know (or at least, what we’ve been told) about the extent of Canadian participation in the search for the kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls:

Geoff York at the Globe and Mail had an interesting article a couple of days ago about what Canada may or may not be doing in Nigeria to help in the hunt for school girls kidnapped by Boko Haram.

The Canadian government has claimed that it has sent personnel, both in a liaison and advisory capacity. The government has said it has sent surveillance equipment but has offered no other details for security reasons. Government officials privately claim that Canadian special forces have been sent.

York interviewed a number of Nigerian military and government officials who question whether Canada is involved or say they don’t have any information about the involvement because they have yet to see any presence of Canadians.

Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan expressed his gratitude to the countries helping search for more than 200 kidnapped schoolgirls. As York writes he specifically singled out four countries for special praise — France, Britain, the United States and Israel — but made no mention of Canada.

The two most likely explanations seem to be a) we’re doing nothing particularly useful but our politicians want to be seen to be doing something or b) we’ve got special forces troops in Nigeria, but for operational security reasons, don’t want it advertised even by the host country. Or possibly a little from column A and a little from column B: JTF2/CSOR or CSEC have a small number of operatives in Nigeria, but they’re not considered a major contribution by the Nigerian government (or, more charitably, Nigeria is keeping mum about it by Canadian request).

May 17, 2014

QotD: Modern echoes of 1914

Filed under: Europe, History — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 00:01

Though the debate on this subject is now nearly a century old, there is no reason to believe that it has run its course.

But if the debate is old, the subject is still fresh — in fact it is fresher and more relevant now than it was twenty or thirty years ago. The changes in our own world have altered our perspective on the events of 1914. In the 1960s-80s, a kind of period charm accumulated in popular awareness around the events of 1914. It was easy to imagine the disaster of Europe’s ‘last summer’ as an Edwardian costume drama. The effete rituals and gaudy uniforms, the ‘ornamentalism’ of a world still largely organized around hereditary monarchy had a distancing effect on present-day recollection. They seemed to signal that the protagonists were people from another, vanished world. The presumption stealthily asserted itself that if the actors’ hats had gaudy green ostrich feathers on them, then their thoughts and motivations probably did too.

And yet what must strike any twenty-first-century reader who follows the course of the summer crisis of 1914 is its raw modernity. It began with a squad of suicide bombers and a cavalcade of automobiles. Behind the outrage at Sarajevo was an avowedly terrorist organization with a cult of sacrifice, death and revenge; but this organization was extra-territorial, without a clear geographical or political location; it was scattered in cells across political borders, it was unaccountable, its links to any sovereign government were oblique, hidden and certainly very difficult to discern from outside the organization. Indeed, one could even say that July 1914 is less remove from us — less illegible — now than it was in the 1980s. Since the end of the Cold War, a system of global bipolar stability has made way for a more complex and unpredictable array of forces, including declining empires and rising powers — a state of affairs that invites comparison with the Europe of 1914. These shifts in perspective prompt us to rethink the story of how war came to Europe. Accepting this challenge does not mean embracing a vulgar presentism that remakes the past to meet the needs of the present but rather acknowledging those features of the past of which our changed vantage point can afford us a clearer view.

Among these is the Balkan context of the war’s inception. Serbia is one of the blind spots in the historiography of the July Crisis. The assassination at Sarajevo is treated in many accounts as a mere pretext, an event with little bearing on the real forces whose interaction brought about the conflict. In an excellent recent account of the outbreak of war in 1914, the authors declare that ‘the killings [at Sarajevo] by themselves caused nothing. It was the use made of this event that brought the nations to war.’ The marginalization of the Serbian and thereby of the larger Balkan dimension of the story began during the July Crisis itself, which opened as a response to the murders at Sarajevo, but later changed gear, entering a geopolitical phase in which Serbia and its actions occupied a subordinate place.

Our moral compass has shifted, too. The fact that Serbian-dominated Yugoslavia emerged as one of the victor states of the war seemed implicitly to vindicate the act of the man who pulled the trigger on 28 June — certainly that was the view of the Yugoslav authorities, who marked the spot where he did so with bronze footprints and a plaque celebrating the assassin’s ‘first steps into Yugoslav freedom’. In an era when the national idea was still full of promise, there was an intuitive sympathy with South Slav nationalism and little affection for the ponderous multinational commonwealth of the Habsburg Empire. The Yugoslav wars of the 1990s have reminded us of the lethality of Balkan nationalism. Since Srebrenica and the siege of Sarajevo, it has become harder to think of Serbia as the mere object or victim of great power politics and easier to conceive of Serbian nationalism as an historical force in its own right. From the perspective of today’s European Union we are inclined to look more sympathetically — or at least less contemptuously — than we used to on the vanished imperial patchwork of Habsburg Austria-Hungary.

Christopher Clark, The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went To War In 1914, 2012.

May 4, 2014

This is why the 220 girls in Nigeria are not big news in the West

Filed under: Africa, Media, Religion — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 10:03

In the Guardian, Nick Cohen says that the girls have not been “abducted” — they’ve been enslaved:

Terrorists from a religious cult so reactionary you don’t have to stretch the language too far to describe it as fascistic attack a school. The assault on a civilian target, filled with non-combatant children, has a grotesque logic behind it. They call themselves “Boko Haram”, which translates as “western education is forbidden”. The sect regards learning as oppression. They will stop all teaching that conflicts with a holy book from the 7th century and accounts of doubtful provenance on the life and sayings of their prophet written hundreds of years after he died.

A desire for sexual supremacy accompanies their loathing of knowledge. They take 220 schoolgirls as slaves and force them to convert to their version of Islam. They either rape them or sell them on for £10 or so to new masters. The girls are the victims of slavery, child abuse and forced marriage. Their captors are by extension slavers and rapists.

As you can see, English does not lack plain words to describe the foulness of the crimes in Nigeria, and no doubt they would be used in the highly improbable event of western soldiers seizing and selling women.

Yet read parts of the press and you enter a world of euphemism. They have not been enslaved but “abducted” or “kidnapped”, as if they will be released unharmed when the parties have negotiated a mutually acceptable ransom. Writers are typing with one eye over their shoulder: watching their backs to make sure that no one can accuse them of “demonising the other”.

Turn from today’s papers to the theoretical pages of leftwing journals and you find that the grounds for understanding Boko Haram more and condemning it less were prepared last year.

Without fully endorsing Boko Haram, of course, socialists explained that it finds “resonance in the hearts of many poor and dispossessed” people, who are revolted by “the corruption and flamboyant lifestyle of the elites”. Islamism is recast as a rational reaction to local corruption and the global oppression of “neoliberalism”, one of those conveniently vague labels that can mean just about anything.

April 23, 2014

Secret laws and democracy

Filed under: Law, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 08:24

In The Atlantic, Conor Friedersdorf says that a new court ruling may actually force President Obama to disclose the secret law under which he ordered the killing of at least one American citizen:

The Obama Administration has fought for years to hide its legal rationale for killing an American citizen, Anwar al-Awlaki, after putting him on a secret kill list. Citizens have an interest in knowing whether the White House follows the law, especially when the stakes are as high as ending a life without due process. President Obama has fought to ensure his legal reasoning would never be revealed, a precedent that would help future presidents to kill without accountability.

His shortsightedness is breathtaking.

Last year, U.S. District Court Judge Colleen McMahon expressed frustration that, according to her legal analysis, the Freedom of Information Act couldn’t force a disclosure. “I can find no way around the thicket of laws and precedents that effectively allow the Executive Branch of our government to proclaim as perfectly lawful certain actions that seem on their face incompatible with our Constitution and laws,” she wrote, “while keeping the reasons for their conclusions a secret.”

Americans ought to have been alarmed that, according to a federal judge, we’re living in an “Alice in Wonderland” reality where leaders use the law to put themselves beyond the law. But no one paid much attention as The New York Times and the ACLU appealed the decision. On Monday, they won an important victory:

    A federal appeals panel in Manhattan ordered the release… of key portions of a classified Justice Department memorandum that provided the legal justification for the targeted killing of a United States citizen, Anwar al-Awlaki, who intelligence officials contend had joined Al Qaeda and died in a 2011 drone strike in Yemen.

    The unanimous three-judge panel, reversing a lower court decision, said the government had waived its right to keep the analysis secret in light of numerous public statements by administration officials and the Justice Department’s release of a “white paper” offering a detailed analysis of why targeted killings were legal.

February 19, 2014

Polygamy and the inevitable “bachelor herd”

Filed under: History, Middle East, Religion — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 12:11

William Tucker suggests that societies that practice polygamy will always produce a violent fringe of men too poor or too powerless to have even a chance of marriage (or any kind of stable relationship with women):

Polygamy? What does that have to do with anything? Am I suggesting that because some minor sheik outside Baghdad takes two wives, two young Muslim brothers in Massachusetts feel compelled to blow up the Boston Marathon?

Well, yes. In any human society there are approximately the same number of men and women. Under monogamy, which limits each man to one wife, everyone gets a fair chance to marry. When powerful and successful men are allowed to take more than one wife, however, as they are in a polygamous society, this creates a pool of unsuccessful men at the bottom of society who are constantly in conflict with the system.

The history of Islam has been one continuous story of rebel groups off in the desert and deciding that the religion being practiced by the authorities and their harems back in the cities is not the “true Islam.” They come crashing back upon the palaces, overthrowing the leaders (no Ottoman Sultan ever died of natural causes) and establishing a new regime that is just like the old one, where powerful are allowed to take multiple wives.

[…]

The fruits of polygamy are visible all over the Middle East. Because women are always in short supply, families can charge a “bride price” to any man who wants to marry their daughter. Because daughters are now worth money, they must be veiled and sequestered so they don’t run off with some callow youth. Older men desperate for wives push down into younger and younger cohorts of the population. Marriages between 35-year-old men and 13-year-old girls become common. […]

But the main product of polygamy is a population of angry young men who are ripe recruits for terrorism. The Koran supposedly limits a man to four wives but in countries where there are vast disparities of wealth this is routinely violated. Osama bin Laden’s father, a successful Saudi businessman, had 22 wives and 54 children. The unbalance between unmarried men and the available women in Saudi Arabia is the highest in the world.

September 30, 2013

Modern terrorism isn’t anti-state … it’s anti-society

Filed under: Africa, Politics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 10:21

Tim Black discusses what we know and don’t know about the Kenyan terror attack and why recent terrorist attacks seem less directed at the organs of the state and much more at society as a whole:

Some analysts have even gone so far as to pinpoint Kenyan troops’ take over of the port of Kismayo, a lucrative trading position for al-Shabab, as the catalyst for the Westgate attack. As one commentator put it: ‘[The Westgate attack] wasn’t a random act. On the contrary, it was a direct consequence of Kenya’s own policy decisions. To say that in no way justifies this heinous attack – it merely identifies cause and effect.’

Yet tit-for-tat accounts miss something. They appear too glib, too easy. They may not excuse a drawn-out atrocity like Westgate, but they do give it a nicely polished rationale.

But it’s a rationale at odds with what actually happened. Yes, the Kenyan military, under the auspices of the African Union, did play a role in weakening al-Shabab’s position in Somalia. And no doubt members of al-Shabab, already a declining, increasingly unpopular grouping in Somalia (even Osama Bin Laden disowned it because of is brutality), did feel anger towards the Kenyan army. But there is a massive, unexplained causal gap between that sense of grievance and the attack on a shopping centre in Nairobi. That’s right, a shopping centre. This wasn’t an attack on the Kenyan state. This wasn’t a gun battle with the Kenyan army, the principal object of al-Shabab ire. No, this was an indiscriminate attack on men, women and children at a shopping centre. The people targeted weren’t intent on a conflict with militant Islamists in Somalia; they were shopping for Old El Paso fajita mix.

[…]

What’s important to grasp here is that the new terrorism does not draw its militants from any specific struggle in Somalia, or anywhere else for that matter. Rather, it draws upon a broad and deep disillusionment with modern society; it exploits the non-identity between society’s threadbare values and particular members. And it turns certain individuals upon society as a whole. Hence the new terrorism does not target the institutions of the state; it targets the institutions of civil society. In particular, it targets the embodiments of modern social life: a shopping centre in Nairobi, an office block in New York, a market in Baghdad.

In 1911, amid anarchist bomb plots, Vladamir Lenin wrote a scathing critique of what he called ‘individual terrorism’ — the act, for example, of assassinating a minister — on the grounds that it turned what could be a mass struggle into the act of a single individual. ‘In our eyes’, he wrote, ‘individual terror is inadmissible precisely because it belittles the role of the masses in their own consciousness, reconciles them to their powerlessness, and turns their eyes and hopes towards a great avenger and liberator who some day will come and accomplish his mission’. Today’s individual terrorist is far more degenerate than his anarchist precursors. So far removed from the masses is he, so little concerned is he with any actual struggle for something in particular, that his terror is turned against the masses. The consequences have been barbaric.

September 18, 2013

The transformation of the Presidency to a “dictatorship”

Filed under: Government, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 08:36

In the October issue of Reason, Matt Welch talks to Jeremy Scahill about the changes in the role of the President from mere executive branch head to virtual dictator:

Jeremy Scahill has emerged in 2013 as one of the most trenchant and scathing critics of President Barack Obama’s prosecution of an open-ended war and unprecedented tactical framework launched by George W. Bush and his vice president, Dick Cheney. “Obama,” Scahill writes in his new bestseller Dirty Wars: The World Is a Battlefield (Nation), has gone from a candidate campaigning against Cheney’s War on Terror abuses to a president guaranteeing “that many of those policies would become entrenched, bipartisan institutions in U.S. national security policy for many years to come.”

Scahill’s 642-page critique, and the accompanying IFC documentary of the same name, picks up the journalistic baton from late-Bush-era books such as Charlie Savage’s 2007 Takeover: The Return of the Imperial Presidency and the Subversion of American Democracy and Jane Mayer’s 2008 The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How The War on Terror Turned into a War on American Ideals. But while those books helped galvanize an anti-imperial, pro-civil liberties left in opposition to Republican politicians, Scahill’s tome, and his ongoing commentary on Twitter and for The Nation, stands as a harsh rebuke to those on the left who sold out those principles once Democrats regained power in Washington. “I think if McCain had been elected,” Scahill explains, “liberals would be crying impeachment over some of the stuff that Obama has done.”

Scahill, the 39-year-old author of the 2007 bestseller Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army (Nation), is steadfastly a man of the left — he has worked in the past with documentary polemicist Michael Moore and progressive Democracy Now! host Amy Goodman. But he’s also a skilled and intense reporter with good sources inside the shadowy worlds of American special ops, rendition, torture, and assassination. If Democrats finally begin to hold the Obama administration to the standards by which they once judged its predecessor, Scahill will be a prominent reason why.

August 16, 2013

“What is true for Walmart is true for al Qaeda”

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Middle East — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 09:05

In Foreign Affairs, Jacob Shapiro looks at the management side of the terror “business”:

But the deeper part of the answer is that the managers of terrorist organizations face the same basic challenges as the managers of any large organization. What is true for Walmart is true for al Qaeda: Managers need to keep tabs on what their people are doing and devote resources to motivate their underlings to pursue the organization’s aims. In fact, terrorist managers face a much tougher challenge. Whereas most businesses have the blunt goal of maximizing profits, terrorists’ aims are more precisely calibrated: An attack that is too violent can be just as damaging to the cause as an attack that is not violent enough. Al Qaeda in Iraq learned this lesson in Anbar Province in 2006, when the local population turned against them, partly in response to the group’s violence against civilians who disagreed with it.

Terrorist leaders also face a stubborn human resources problem: Their talent pool is inherently unstable. Terrorists are obliged to seek out recruits who are predisposed to violence — that is to say, young men with a chip on their shoulder. Unsurprisingly, these recruits are not usually disposed to following orders or recognizing authority figures. Terrorist managers can craft meticulous long-term strategies, but those are of little use if the people tasked with carrying them out want to make a name for themselves right now.

Terrorist managers are also obliged to place a premium on bureaucratic control, because they lack other channels to discipline the ranks. When Walmart managers want to deal with an unruly employee or a supplier who is defaulting on a contract, they can turn to formal legal procedures. Terrorists have no such option. David Ervine, a deceased Irish Unionist politician and onetime bomb maker for the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF), neatly described this dilemma to me in 2006. “We had some very heinous and counterproductive activities being carried out that the leadership didn’t punish because they had to maintain the hearts and minds within the organization,” he said, referring to a period in the late 1980s when he and the other leaders had made a strategic calculation that the Unionist cause was best served by focusing on nonviolent political competition. In Ervine’s (admittedly self-interested) telling, the UVF’s senior leaders would have ceased violence much earlier than the eventual 1994 cease-fire, but they could not do so because the rank and file would have turned on them. For terrorist managers, the only way to combat those “counterproductive activities” is to keep a tight rein on the organization. Recruiting only the most zealous will not do the trick, because, as the alleged chief of the Palestinian group Black September wrote in his memoir, “diehard extremists are either imbeciles or traitors.”

August 11, 2013

The Fort Hood court-martial

Filed under: Law, Military, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 12:06

Mark Steyn on the trial of Major Hasan for “workplace violence”:

On December 7, 1941, the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor was attacked. Three years, eight months, and eight days later, the Japanese surrendered. These days, America’s military moves at a more leisurely pace. On November 5, 2009, another U.S. base, Fort Hood, was attacked — by one man standing on a table, screaming “Allahu akbar!” and opening fire. Three years, nine months, and one day later, his court-martial finally got under way.

[…]

He’s admirably upfront about who and what he is — a “Soldier of Allah,” as he put on his business card. On Tuesday, he admitted he was a traitor who had crossed over from “the bad side” (America’s) to “the good side” (Islam’s). He has renounced his U.S. citizenship and its effete protections such as workplace-violence disability leave. He professes loyalty to America’s enemies. He says, “I am the shooter.” He helpfully informs us that that’s his gun. In this week’s one-minute statement, he spoke more honestly and made more sense than Obama, Gates, Casey, the Armed Forces Court of Appeals, two judges, the prosecution and defense lawyers, and mountains of bureaucratic reports and media coverage put together.

But poor old Hasan can say “Yup, I did it” all he wants; what does he know?

Unlike the Zimmerman trial, Major Hasan’s has not excited the attention of the media. Yet it is far more symbolic of the state of America than the Trayvon Martin case, in which superannuated race hucksters attempted to impose a half-century-old moth-eaten Klan hood on a guy who’s a virtual one-man melting pot. The response to Nidal Hasan helps explain why, in Afghanistan and elsewhere, this war is being lost — because it cannot be won because, increasingly, it cannot even be acknowledged. Which helps explain why it now takes the U.S. military longer to prosecute a case of “workplace violence” than it did to win World War Two.

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