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.