Graeme Wood’s Six Weird Tricks for Defeating ISIS

I started reading Graeme Wood’s The Way of the Strangers with anticipation.  After all, he initiated my foray into blogdom with his article in the Atlantic on “What Does ISIS Want?”

But with dawning horror I read the escalating error cascade of cultural chauvinism and institutionalized frat boy snark that Graeme decided to run with.

Here’s my first cut at correction:

  1. Wood appears to interpret Bukhari/Muslim “stranger” (the title quote) as being odd or weird.  Stranger in this context means one who has left his tribe for the tribe of the Ummah, for a wider memetic tribe.  Muhammed’s first act was to unite the warring tribes under the banner of Islam.
  2. I first noticed Cole Bunzel when he wrote Paper Caliphate– I asked him if he had read Naji’s Idarat al Tawwahush.  His response was “why would I be interested in a war manual”?  This is like a historian studying China’s Cultural Revolution and being ignorant of Mao’s Little Red Book.  Shouldn’t “scholars of jihad” be interested in a manual of jihad?  Using western “jihadologists” to analyze ISIS is truly weird– Nājī and Setmarian (islamic jihadist scholars) spell out the why, how, and what of jihad in their books.  The idea of targetting youth of all nations, and of leveraging and creating chaos is explicitly delineated.  The idea of “flash terror” as informed by ISIS ideology is also absent from Graeme’s book.
  3. Pretending ISIS is a unique phenomenon– now thats really weird– ISIS is an instance of islamic insurgency, and wont be the first or the last one going forward–  muslims will make up a quarter of the world’s humans by mid-century.  May I recommend Bacevitch for an analysis of proximate causes?
  4. Wood’s choice of Mizot as a “Taymiyyan scholar” is also puzzling– Ibn Taymiyya’s greatest contribution to al Islam is his tafsir— the exegesis of the Quran that forms islamic jurisprudence.  Its why tyrants ban Taymiyya’s works when they can.  To use a complex adaptive systems analogy, jihad (also the Caliphate) is in the DNA of the Quran– Taymiyyan tafsir allows the “gene expression” of jihadism to be carried through to the 21st century.  Also the “dick” quote shows an embarrassing lack of scholarship in another of Wood’s sources.   Using back-bench western “scholars” like Mizot and House Muslims like Shiraz Mahr to try to rewrite the Quran is pure idiocy– the Quran emerged to be specifically immune to that sort of tinkering.   Its recursive and self-defining, and has 163 bit n-gram entropy (the largest Heegner number)– but information theory is not what Wood and the jihadologist guild are selling though– they are selling the fantasy that islamic insurgency can somehow be ended without addressing the initial causes.
  5. Wood also seems to believe that initial causes are irrelevant to the rise of ISIS and other islamic insurgencies.  Jihadism is a response to oppression and tyranny.  Unless the initial conditions change America will find itself in a forever war against a quarter of the world’s humans.  Given demography and population dynamics, its a war the US can never win.
  6. This is the most puzzling of all– Wood cites Mccants and Bunzel ( the frat boiz of the jihadologist guild)–  and none of the people that actually do have an understanding of ISIS– Dr. Atran, Hassan Hassan and Abdel Bari Atwan.   Although I do approve of Filiu’s inclusion.  Now that is a really weird trick indeed.

It seems Wood’s book is simply unserious sensationalism, pruience over Abu Yayah’s marriage, calling Cerantonio a dork, designed to promote sales and obscure the real problem going forward.

Is the US really prepared for infinite police action, at least until we run out of money or our democratic republic collapses into civil war?  How ironic that the US practice of fomenting civil war in the headfake of “democracy promotion” is going to end so ingloriously.  What happens when publicity-and-chaos loving ISIS soldiers start attacking the overseas assets of Donald Trump that he refuses to divest himself of?  Will the US send military force to protect Trump assets?

All I can do is fall back on one of my old gamer axioms…

You Are Not Prepared.

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.

My DIY on Syria: The Maze

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For me the real star of the teen dystopia movie The Maze Runner is the shape shifting reconfiguring maze.  The labyrinth changes every day.  The giant ivy covered stone walls grind slowly into new configurations, trapping the gladers in a complex puzzle.  Much like the American misadventure in the Middle East.  And unlike the gigantic shape shifting maze in the movie– its a puzzle that the US can’t seem to either solve or escape from.

Its no secret that I think Hassan Hassan is the best ME analyst around– he and Dr. Atran have been my greatest influences over the last two years.  Hassan inspired my Embracing Apocalypse series with his comment about how IS is multidimensional– past, present and future.  Part1 (past) and Part2(present) are written– im still working onPart3(future) which will incorporate a lot of my boring math/physics stuff like the arrow of time, LaPlace’s daemon and predestination, branes, bulks, AdS space, curvature of spacetime, entropy, complexity, chaos, etc.

But for today lets talk about the Maze.  Think about the realignment of factions as the walls of the labyrinth shifting in the Maze.  Hassan Hassan has an excellent piece on just that.

Notwithstanding what happens next in Aleppo, JFS has already made its entrance. Inside and outside Syria, support for the group appears to have risen. Many seem to be comfortable with showing support for a group that is supposedly no longer part of Al Qaeda, while others support it for its lead role in the continuing counterattack. This normalisation and show of support are at the heart of the group’s reconfiguration – and the Aleppo offensive was partly designed to achieve that.

 The social goodwill that the group has gained over the past two weeks should not be taken lightly. The way the situation looks for anti-regime Syrians is that, while the world stood by as nearly 300,000 civilians were under siege by the regime, and in violation of an understanding between Moscow and Washington not to support such a siege, it was extremists who again won the day. Also, despite the involvement of Russia, Iran and foreign Shia militias fighting under their command in Syria, those forces could overrun a well-secured regime base and break a siege within a few days.

In Syria Obama hoped to be the hero of a diplomatic solution– instead, he is once again the goat.  Michael Weiss, Hassan’s co-author says:

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And now the jihadis are the Heroes of Aleppo.

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Another recent realignment of factions just happened in Turkey– here is Hassan again on the new post (failed) coup alignments.

Ankara’s foreign policy will probably be more assertive in the coming weeks and months. Domestically, the episode shows that the mark Mr Erdogan has already made in the Turkish political landscape might be deeper than it is often made out to be. Mr Erdogan leads a ruling party that is increasingly entrenched, not only because of power-grabbing but also because it commands an increasingly committed social and political base, and whose detractors sometimes appear to be detached from reality. Whereas Mr Erdogan’s popularity has been on display after each election, the media portrays him as an insecure and embattled leader. For Mr Erdogan and his supporters, the attempted coup and its failure justified the policies he followed over the past three years to increase his grip on power, which will embolden them to push further.

And the Maze shifts again.  These two events demonstrate a remarkable lack of agility in Obama’s foreign policy.  Agile applications are a big Silicon Valley buzzword right now.  USG has actually hired the Scrum software guy to “agilize” the ponderous antiquated US military.  Obama had hoped for a soft coup– gulenism is supported by the RAND Building Moderate Muslim Networks initiative.  Most Americans do not realize that gulenism is a moderate, quasi-sufi variant of Islam– a kind of “reform” Islam.  The abortive coup smashed years of careful covert work by the US.  Gulenists even have a lobbyist group in the US– much like Israel.  Now gulenists have been wiped from the judiciary, academe, military, intelligence and police force.  And Turkey is free to develop closer ties to Russia while continuing on the path to islamize the country.

My obsessive interest is complex adaptive systems dynamics– as an observer my model of MENA is a landscape of sandpiles weakly or strongly connected by attractor and feed-forward networks– any realignment flows through all the alliances and enmities of the landscape.  IS and JF are complex interconnected emergent movements– they cannot be bombed away or droned away.  Syria is connected to Turkey is connected to Iraq is connected to Yemen is connected to Bahrain etc etc…

Right on cue– Hassan Hassan:

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US is desperately trying to stabilize the sandpiles, but the Second Law (of Thermodynamics) rules.  Its simply not possible.  So US stays trapped in the Maze.

I once thought Obama was skilled at 11-D chess…it turns out he has been zugzwang all along.  For now Incirlik is open– but Erdogan demonstrated that he can close it at will, and that he no longer trusts the US.  I just dont think the US will escape the Maze before the sandpiles collapse.  And this (from Turkey) is the result of Obama’s sneaky, covert, lead-from-behind gulenist crusade.  The signs have been changed from rule by the people to rule by Allah.


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Flash Terror and Emergent Leaderless Resistance

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Pulse Nightclub, aftermath of Orlando Shooting.

I first heard the term “leaderless resistance” in an Edward Snowden tweet which was immediately disputed by a claim that leaderless resistance always failed.  I actually think Anonymous, OWS, 4chan and lulzsec are examples of successful leaderless resistance– not directed leaderless resistance, but emergent.  Another strong example is Palestinian found-weapon attacks.  I think Dr. Atran and I are talking about two distinct types of LR.

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Dr.Atran’s piece on Nice– “The Durability of Chaos” again falls back on Idarat al Tawahhush for explanations…this is not entirely wrong.  It is part of Nājī long game strategy to push states from “the state of vexation and exhaustion” to “the state of ripeness” with the death of a thousand cuts– bleeding the treasury and population support with endless unwinnable foreign wars and pinpoint flash terror events destabilizing the government at home.  Dr. Atran’s Paris analysis proposes the same themes– “The War ISIS Wants”.

But it is important for the American citizenry to understand that there are two broadly different types of strategic jihad– open front which is carried out in muslim lands and the covert or cellular jihad described here in Setmarian:

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The two types are independent– and designed to be carried out in parallel.  It is a mistake to propose a linkage like US is trying to do– that increased cellular jihad (lone wolf events) is caused by IS losing territory.  Hassan Hassan covers that beautifully in this article “Is the Islamic State Unstoppable”? Cellular jihad is baked into IS design which continues to adapt and evolve.  Nājī–

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I would like to propose a third type of strategic jihad– emergent leaderless resistance or “flash terror”.  This type is self-organizing so there is no digital surveillance footprint– and we can only guess at the trigger event.   It is impossible to pre-identitfy the attackers before the event.  And the trigger is not “outside inspiration”– the trigger seems to come from a RL event.  In San Bernardino the trigger appears to have been a workplace party.  In Orlando some sort of homophobic episode.  For the Tsarnevs the trigger may been just the intersection of desire and opportunity– they were planning for an attack when the Boston Marathon presented a fusion of time and place.  The actors seem to have to been preparing for some eventual terror event by stockpiling weapons and materials– and then some catalyst triggers the act.  Flash terror also seems to inform non-islamic events– Columbine, Virginia Tech, Aurora theater shootings, Colorado Springs abortion clinic, Umqua Community College, Dylan Roof, Munich MacDonalds.  Palestinian knife attacks/car attacks.  The common denominator is spontaneity– emergence.  I would also include the two recent cop killings in Dallas and Baton Rouge.  Interestingly both those events have multiple common traits in inspiration and execution: young black ex-military vets inspired by the Sterling and Castile murders.

These attacks are increasing even as organized jihadi-front style attacks are decreasing.  Adaptive exploitation.  And that isnt even the worst part.  Demographic shift and increasing global digital connectivity insure that incidents of flash terror will only continue to rise.  And the lone wolves or “flash terrorists” are undetectable by the Security State, whether Israel, US, Germany, Brussels or France until the event.

I do not believe jihadi front attacks are in permanent decline.  Because there is a resupply tsunami of fresh recruits coming from North Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa until mid-century.  What US is doing isn’t working…IS has a long term strategy– US simply doesn’t.

A new phenomenon of flash terror is giving bayah after the attack has begun, or leaving evidence for IS to claim the attackers as a soldier of Allah.  Like Ansbach.

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Setmarian again.

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This is a global revolution.  And it has only just just begun.