Competition/Cooperation of ISIS and JF/Al Qaeda and the MENA Teacup

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I apolo in advance for the technical nature of this essay– I have been warned that im not very accessible when i go full frontal math.  If i can beg your indulgence, please read this excellent introductory paper by Dr. Baranger, “Chaos, Complexity, and Entropy: A Physics Talk for Non-Physicists”.

In the study of complex adaptive systems dynamics, a uniquely powerful paradigm is expressed by the competition/cooperation model.  Dr. Baranger puts it like this:

Finally, there is one more property of complex systems that concerns all of us very closely, which makes it especially interesting. Actually it concerns all social systems, all collections of organisms subject to the laws of evolution. Examples could be plant populations, animal populations, other ecological groupings, our own immune system, and human groups of various sizes such as families, tribes, city-states, social or economic classes, sportsteams, Silicon Valley dotcoms, and of course modern nations and supranational corporations. In order to evolve and stay alive, in order to remain complex, all of the above need to obey the following rule:
Complexity involves an interplay between cooperation and competition.
Once again this is an interplay between scales. The usual situation is that competition on scale n is nourished by cooperation on the finer scale below it (scale n+ 1). Insect colonies like ants, bees, or termites provide a spectacular demonstration of this. For a sociological example, consider the bourgeois families of the 19th century, of the kind described by Jane Austen or Honore de Balzac. They competed with each other toward economic success and toward procuring the most desirable spouses for their young people. And they succeeded better in this if they had the unequivocal devotion of all their members, and also if all their members had a chance to take part in the decisions. Then of course there is war between nations and the underlying patriotism that supports it. Once we understand this competition-cooperation dichotomy, we are a long way from the old cliche of “the survival of the fittest”, which has done so much damage to the understanding of evolution in the public’s mind.

The reason it is so very impossible to “defeat ISIL” as President Obama egrigiously puts it is that is that local islamic insurgencies and the current epidemic of global jihadism are emergent complex adaptive systems.  Hassan Hassan is a really smart guy, but he has no maths to speak of.  The actual reasons sharia will be implemented in MENA are largely mathematical, not ideological.  Like Hassan says:

The events of the past two weeks should serve as a wake-up call to regional and world powers about the collective danger of two competing models. Both al-Qaeda and the Islamic State are doubling down on their own methods of terrorism and insurgency, as they illustrated in their statements and the Islamic State’s coordinated attacks in Latakia and Tartus. The two groups are unlikely to cooperate against their opponents, but they can still inflict lasting damage to regional order and international peace.

One reason that sharia will eventually inform all MENA governments is brute-force population demographics– the bulge in the snake of muslim reproduction and youthful demes.  And when muslims are democratically empowered to vote, they vote for islamic government (in Algeria, Egypt, and Turkey).  As simple and obvious as this statement seems, it was the tragic flaw of the Bush Doctrine of “democracy promotion”.

But that is beyond the scope of this essay.  In the n + 1 scale cooperation of jihadist movements is expressed by the desire for representative government incorporating sharia– rule by sharia– in the n scale above it IS and JF/Qaeda compete for resources, publicity, territory, fighters.  But make no mistake– the core goal of both IS and JF/Qaeda is identical– it is only their methodology that is different.  Where Hassan is naive is his belief that “regional order and international peace” can be somehow re-imposed.  I am sorry Hassan, but the MENA tea-cup wont ever reassemble– entropy goes only one way.  The cooperation/competition tension makes the shared goal of rule by sharia more likely– IS and JF/Qaeda are actually more powerful apart than united.

Hassan’s arabic is very good, but I’m not sure this is the exact meaning of wasati : “Zawahiri’s remarks indicated that al-Qaeda is settled on its current strategy of acting as a wasati (middle-way) jihadi movement. ”  In quranic exegesis I was taught wastitiya means the continuation of uninterrupted “signalling”– so it is not exactly the middle or average way– it is the way that is valid or relevent in this frame of spacetime.  This actually gives JF/Qaeda greater flexibility in pursuit of the cooperative goal of sharia.  Also delaying a caliphate allows JF to form alliances.  An emir can form alliances, a caliph cannot.

Although Hassan Hassan is the best of the jihadologists, his analysis is still limited and stunted by cultural chauvinism and wishful [magical] thinking.  Dr. Atran is far better in his analysis, incorporating actual data in his book Talking with the Enemy and integrating history and cognitive anthropology.

By creating chaos among the enemy’s civilian populations, as outlined in Management of Savagery (required reading for every Isis religious and military leader), by undermining faith in their own governments’ abilities to provide security for their people (the primary function of government), and by polarising Muslims and non-Muslims to “eliminate the grey zone” between true believer and infidel, as outlined in the online publication Dabiq, Isis demonstrates that individual and small group acts of violence amplified through the media constitutes the most effective way to publicise, and possibly propagate, revolutionary change of the political, social and moral order.

Rather than reflecting a movement in decline, recent attacks are 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 territory in Syria and Iraq, the global jihadi archipelago could continue to expand if the social and political conditions that led to its emergence persist.

But where is the complex systems analysis, the mathematical analysis?  Its only just begun– here is a Nautilus article on BTW Sandpiles— here is one I wrote over a year ago– Sandpile Collapse in MENA.

I think MENA analytics can be qualified like this:

political “scientists” & jihadologists << social science analysis (Dr. Atran) << complex systems (mathematical) analysis

Im a mathematician so of course I place math the highest– but the other reason for this is that math strips out bias and subjectivity– unlike the deep and deliberate ignorance of Western nations in their insistence on prosecuting an unwinnable war on islamic ideology.  In CAS this is a battle to impose artificial outgroup structures on powerful emergent natural forces–  the desire of sunni populations for self-representation in government– the consent of the governed.

So I really have just one thing to say– mathematically, this is a war the West cannot win.  The torrent of noise pouring out of the jihadologist terror-as-cash-cow-machine just obscures that fact that the war on Islam is unwinnable.  And that the tea-cup never comes back together.

Sandpile Collapse in MENA

When even Dr. Sean Carroll starts talking about emergence, I think we are approaching a paradigm shift in Science World.  And I think the shift is directed towards the Complexity Revolution.

This shift is going to encompass all the various and fascinating domains of Science.  Here is a good explanatory paper from Micheal Baranger at MIT, if you have the time.

Chaos is a very big subject. There are many technical papers. Many theorems have been proved. But complexity is much, much bigger. It contains lots of ideas which have nothing to do with chaos. Chaos is basically pure mathematics, and by now it is fairly well-known. Complexity is almost totally unknown still. It is not really math. It is more like theoretical physics, or theoretical anything. Of course, once it is in good shape, it will use a lot of math, perhaps a lot of new math. So the field of chaos is a very small subfield of the field of complexity. Perhaps the most striking difference between the two is the following. A complex system always has several scales. While chaos may reign on scale n, the coarser scale above it (scale n−1) may be self-organizing, which in a sense is the opposite of chaos.
Perhaps complex systems, such as biological systems, manage to modify their environment so as to operate as much as possible at this edge-of-chaos place, which would also be the place where self-organization is most likely to occur. It makes sense to expect self-organization to happen when there are strong long-range correlations.

I have thought for a while that the underlying nature of reality isnt gaussian– but fractal.  But I cant prove it…yet.  Here is my favorite part of Dr. Baranger’s paper–

Complexity involves an interplay between cooperation and competition.
Once again this is an interplay between scales. The usual situation is that competition on scale n is nourished by cooperation on the finer scale below it (scale n + 1). Insect colonies like ants, bees, or termites provide a spectacular demonstration of this. For a sociological example, consider the bourgeois families of the 19th century, of the kind described by Jane Austen or Honor ́e de Balzac. They competed with each other toward economic success and toward procuring the most desirable spouses for their young people. And they succeeded better in this if they had the unequivocal devotion of all their members, and also if alltheir members had a chance to take part in the decisions. Then of course there is war between nations and the underlying patriotism that supports it. Once we understand this competition-cooperation dichotomy, we are a long way from the old clich ́e of “the survival of the fittest”, which has done so much damage to the understanding of evolution in the
public’s mind.

In Complex Systems Analysis it has become empirically obvious that the post-coldwar system of US hegemony is collapsing in MENA (Middle East North Africa) : Iraq, Libya, Syria, and Yemen are fully convolved in civil war, there are millions of refugees and displaced persons, a quarter million dead Syrians, and escalating militaries and military spending (Kuwait has initiated a draft).  Many complex systems studies predicted the Arab Spring– not a single political “science” study predicted it.  The flashpoint for current MENA conflict was the beginning of the Arab Spring, and the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt– the desire of muslim populations for self-representation in government, fueled by social media and technology, supported by the youth bulge in the regional population curves.  All this set against a background of falling oil prices and global warming.  In Nonlinear System Dynamics the relevant analogy is a wildlands fire gradually going out of control: the fuel load is the continuing oppression and massacre of Sunni muslim populations, and demographic population pressure carried on the vector of social media.  In this model artificial states become destabilized from both within (internal sympathizers) and without (oil price slump) — Oman being the next likely state to collapse, as the US desperately attempts to shore up client states and avoid further destabilizing non-client states.

But what if the collapse isnt gradual?  What if there is a sudden spontaneous collapse like a chemical reaction or a sandpile collapse?  Abelian sandpiles are a special interest of mine because of self-organized criticality.

Self-organized criticality is so far the only known mechanism to generate complexity.

Per Bak, How Nature Works

Why should we be interested in SOC?  Because it is how equilibrium and periodic systems become chaotic and then complex.  In complex systems we can only make statistical predictions– so I can’t *predict* there will be a sandpile collapse in MENA.  I can explore the possibility of one and how it might happen.

In sandpile models collapse occurs as local avalanches or a global avalanche where the whole pile goes flat.  What if nation-states tipping into civil war can be considered as local avalanches?  What would a global collapse in MENA look like?  WWIII perhaps?  Or a spontaneous Caliphate?  If KSA tipped into civil war would all the states of MENA tip into civil war?  The way to model this would be with computer simulations of adaptive complex systems instead of simulating wargames and the massive quantitative analysis that the US devotedly uses to build threat/risk decision matrices.

Right now its just a thought experiment for me…but it seems every day brings us closer to that sandpile collapse.  It will be wondrous to behold.