Dr. Atran’s Procrustean Bed of Radical Extremism

I have always admired Dr. Scott Atran.  That’s why I’m both shocked and puzzled by his new piece in Aeon magazine.  Because the Alt-right and islamic jihadists are hugely different.   Any superficial similiarities are dwarfed by scale, demographics, ideology and time and space.

Often when a researcher creates a model, they become overly invested in that model, eg:  when all you have is a hammer, the world is made of nails.  I think that this has happened with Dr. Atran and the idea that radical extremists can be unmade, that there is some universal recipe for radicalization.  The  hammer requires that all nails are morphologically and functionally similiar.  Dr. Atran has made a sort of ideological procrustean bed– he trims and stretches radical ideologies to get a uniform fit.  I violently disagree– but maybe that is my model bias–  because I think we are not the same.  If you doubt this consider Trump’s election and his voter base.  I think of Dr. Atran as a gaussian, smoothing the curves of radicalization, to get a uniform response template.  But I’m a fractalist, and I’m wildly bumpy.  It seems to me that a fractal representation of extremism is superior– the shape is the same, the scale is different.  And here is where we get to the scale problem– both islamic jihadists and alt-right neo-nazis desire a homeland.  The difference is the Alt-right white nationalists want a “white” homeland within culturally and racially diverse nation states and islamic jihadists want islamic nation-states within a vast islamic monoculture, Sunnistan.

To begin, the Alt-right has no analogy to the Quran.  In studying Quran and ahadith, it is apparent to me that jihad is in the memetic DNA of Islam.  Its easiest for me to think of jihad as a kind of cultural “gene expression” in response to environmental triggers.  The current explosion of jihadism represents a kind of gene drive, a “meme drive”, a reaction to environmental triggers.   Dr. Atran would have globalism and transition be the culprits– totally ignoring the endless war mono-culture of the unipolar power that creates the ongoing chaos fields blooming with hundreds of emergent islamic militias.  So no, Islam isnt separable into “radical Islam” and “moderate Islam” just as the Quran is not separable.  There is only one Islam.

The Alt-right has no analogy to global population dynamics– the youth bulge in Africa will deliver 1 billion youth to the global population by 2050, more than half will be Sunni muslim– we will likely see 100’s of millions moving North as economic and warzone refugees, and as victims of climate change.  Europe couldnt handle a million refugees– what will 20 million or 200 million do?  Dr. Atrans fragile outreach systems would be instantly overwhelmed.

This seems to me like the kind of  “whataboutism” so prevalent in the US– sure, Nazis, Proudboys and confederate revanchists are bad, but what about ISIS?  A very facile and superficial treatment of a horrific and burgeoning problem — that muslims are not allowed representative government since the collapse of the Ottoman empire.  Algeria, Chechnya, Egypt, Turkey, all attempts to impose top down control on emergent, organic systems of islamic government by the west.  Jihadism is a reaction to injustice, while white nationalism is actually a reaction to justice, the representation of multicultural and multiethnic citizens in racially diverse societies.

What Dr. Atran proposes is the same sort of weak feel-good patching that has precipitated the building problem– democracy is not a solution.  In fact, I think democracy is a terrible lie.  He was much more accurate here:

One quarter of the global population is going to be muslim.  US has spent 5.6 trillion dollars over the last 15 years for nothing in Syria, Pak, Iraq, and A-stan.  We could have built a freaking moon-base for that.  How much more effective to take Dr. Atran’s original sound advice and shape emergent sunni nations.   I do not think that will happen.

I think instead collapse is coming.

NOTE:  Apparently Aeon picked that awful title for sensationalist purposes.

Dr. Atran: It is not a title I would have picked and I had no choice in the matter. The title I wrote was “the collapse of cultures” and I didn’t see the other title until it was published.

I’m all about Collapse of Cultures!

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.

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.




Qisas: A Wild Justice

Sir Francis Bacon (1561-1626). “Revenge is a kind of wild justice: which the more man’s nature runs to, the more ought law to weed it out.”

Having just browsed through a sample of the typical blindfolded attempts to “understand” and thereby “defeat” the Islamic State I thought perhaps I would clarify something for the massive clique of western political “scientists” toiling endlessly for coin in the Jihadology Mines.  I don’t even read Brookings output anymore, finding it to be near universally worthless.  But the great part of this conflict is a contest between two different systems of consensual rule of law: man’s law (secular democracy) and God’s law (shariah).

وَلَكُمْ فِي الْقِصَاصِ حَيَاةٌ يَا أُولِي الْأَلْبَابِ لَعَلَّكُمْ تَتَّقُونَ

“there is [a saving of] life for you in Al-Qisas [the Law of Equality in punishment], O men of understanding, that you may become Al-Muttaqun”

So I will say that what Charlie Winter calls brutality, and what other western analysts like Hassan Hassan call savagery or barbarism appeals to recruits and citizens and sunni muslims and global youth on two levels– as revenge and as law.

Revenge is one of the most potent human drives, organically speaking.  The neuroreceptors for revenge are co-located in the same area of the neo-cortex as those for opiates and sex.  Revenge can become addictive, like opiates and sex.  The neuro-hormone cascade rewards revenge behavior in the perception of vengence justice– there are many studies on this.  The human neocortex is also strongly oriented towards visual impact.  It is gobsmackingly obvious why a revenge/justice narrative would appeal to youth recruits– in the past decade 9 million sunni muslims have died as a result of the US Global War on Terror.  Hard to ignore the causality there– it is a greater holocaust than that visited on the jews.

Like Sir Francis says it is necessary to weed out revenge in western law– but like much of shariah, Allah’s law “manages” revenge– harnesses its power and shapes it instead of trying to suppress it.  That is what Qisas is.  The Wali [protector] of the victim is allowed leeway in choosing the punishment.  The Islamic State considers itself the Wali of the Ummah at this point, after 9 million dead Ahlus Sunnah wa Jammal.  I have to believe that is why western polysci analysts so fiercely ignore the basic facts of the legitimacy of the Islamic State.  They can’t acknowledge any guilt or responsibility for the 9 million muslim dead.

But again the facts on the ground are that muslims will make up one quarter of the global population by 2050 and the great majority will be Sunni muslims, concentrated in ME, Africa, & Indonesia.  There will be one billion youth in Africa by 2050, most of those in the sunni muslim belts of North Africa and Subsaharan Africa.  The ME is 87% sunni and 60% youth today.

It is simply not possible to wipeout the Islamic State.  All the billions of dollars and billions of words poured out on futile plans to degrade/destroy it signify zero understanding of demographics, history, and science.

Like Dr. Scott Atran says…

“The caliphate as an idea has never gone away,” Atran says, “And now that it is here again after a hiatus of nearly 100 years, as a concrete matter of fact, it will focus the hearts and minds of hundreds of millions of people. The critical question is not, ‘How can we thwart or destroy the caliphate?’ because attempts to do that will likely backfire. Rather the question is, ‘How can we live with and transform the idea and reality of a caliphate – and one that will be nuclear-capable probably sooner rather than later – into something that does not threaten other peoples’ ways of life?’ That is a question for everyone, but it is not even on our political radar.”

Jedi Knights, Browncoats, Fremen and Mujahideen

As a child I was tortured nightly by brutal insomnia.  I learned to tame it and harness it by reading under the covers– sometimes reading all night long.  And my “library” was my older brothers’ cast offs and hand-me-downs– exclusively science fiction and comix.

Now HA Hellyer, former front man for Sisi and the Tamarods (and non-resident fellow at the Brookings Institute of Gatekeeping and Griftology) has penned a “satire” saying Star Wars is more Islamic than IS.  Sadly, his attempt is full of fail.  There already exists a perfectly good scifi exemplar of the Islamic State– Frank Herbert’s Dune, the greatest selling scifi novel ever, which focuses intensely on a powerful and important aspect of IS ideology:  prescience, the Science of Prophecy.  Dune even has a prophesized mahdi, jihad, arabic language, and most important, rebellion.  Star Wars isnt even remotely Islamic…but the Rebel Alliance and Jedi Knights are very similiar to the Mujahiddeen.

Theres no prophecy in Star Wars that I recall.  I would remember, because I’m fascinated by prophecy.  And there is plenty of jihad in Dune.

There was no past occupying the future in his mind… except… except… he could still sense the green and black Atreides banner waving… somewhere ahead… still see the jihad’s bloody swords and fanatic legions.

Green and black banners?  Green was widely regarded as the color that represented  Shi’a Islam, and the black banners from Khorasan are the trademark of the Islamic State, tapping into both prophecy and the legacy of the Prophet (SAW).

Most recently IS has taken to blowing up oil infrasture in the Baiji oil refinery– a page right out of Dune– when Paul Muad’ib holds the Padishah Emperor and the Guild Navigators hostage by threatening to cause the destruction of spice production forever.

“He who can destroy a thing– controls that thing.”

Theres even a parallel Melimah in Kralnezac, the apocryphal endtimes hurricane-typhoon that will destroy the world.  If you are looking for an insurgency similiar to the Islamic State, the Fremen have the greatest isomorphisms.  Herbert even said that spice is a metaphor for oil.  But IS is also analogous to the Browncoats of Firefly, the Jedi Knights of Star Wars, the Quellists of the Takeshi Kovacs universe, and any other underdog insurgent force fighting the oppressive domination of the oligarchs, autocrats and tyrants of the science fiction universe.

Would an IS movie sell to Hollywood?  Not in this frame of spacetime.  Right now the land of the “free” and the home of the “brave” is busily devolving into white-fright fascism, witness the blockbuster success of American Sniper.  Being American means never having to say you’re sorry I guess.

But the bottom line is that the Islamic State is the classic scifi underdog battling a seemingly all powerful Evil Empire America against impossible odds– and in the very best scifi tradition– they are winning.