Monday, November 26, 2007

And now for something slightly different

Up to this point, I've been analyzing terrorism from a fairly secular standpoint, largely because my religion doesn't really have a whole lot to say about it ("Don't"). However, I have just recently read a fascinating article in the New York Times magazine entitled "Where Boys Grow Up to be Jihadis". It's about the neighborhood of Jamaa Mezuak in the city of Tetouan, Morocco, from whence have come much of the cell responsible for the Madrid bombings, as well as several Iraqi suicide bombers. While it puzzled scholars, it provided me with valuable insight into how Apostasy spreads.

It began with Jamal "Chino" Ahmidan's fall from grace. Chino had emigrated from Jamaa Mezuak to Spain, where he became a drug dealer. He fathered a child outside of marriage, and killed a man during a visit home. It was around this time that he first came in contact with the concept of the Apostasy, apparently through "videos of the mujahedeen" in Chechnya. For some reason — probably guilt over killing the man — he became a "born-again" Muslim, and, for some reason, an Apostate. During an extended stay back in Morocco, he converted four of his friends to Apostasy. Returning to Madrid, they met up with another Apostate, and together they planned and executed the attacks. Those not killed during the attacks themselves died in a stand off with police.

The people of Jamaa Mezuak were at a loss as to how such nice neighborhood boys could have become cold-blooded killers, and some of the terrorists' friends decided to find out. They investigated Apostasy, searching for an explanation. In the end, they themselves became Apostates. They made contact with al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb at a local mosque, and with its help, left for Iraq. Some were arrested en route, others became suicide bombers. Now, at least one of the family members of these bombers also appears to be in danger of falling to Apostasy.

The article is mystified by this pattern. Neither it, nor the experts, can explain why some people radicalize and some don't. According to the article: "The notion that poverty is to blame has been debunked again and again. And while religious extremism can feed militancy, many experts prefer to emphasize the anger generated by political conflicts, like the war in Iraq or the Arab-Israeli struggle." The article also discusses the "Bunch of Guys" theory, which identifies peer-pressure as a major factor.

For me, however, the article confirmed what I have long suspected: that Apostasy is a "spiritual disease." Let me explain.

In my religion, the Bahá'í Faith, there exists a curious phenomenon called "Covenant Breaking." On several occasions in Bahá'í history, someone has attempted to seize power. These attempts invariably fail, however, because unlike most religions, the Bahá'í Faith has a very clear and unambiguous line of succession. It's just not possible to assert legitimacy. Nonetheless, some people have tried, and some people have followed them, and they have caused us innumerable headaches over the years. The Bahá'í scriptures explain this odd behavior as being a spiritual disease. Like most diseases, it is contagious, so Bahá'ís are urged to avoid contact with Covenant Breakers (which isn't difficult, since there are so few of them. In my entire life I've only even seen a Covenant-Breaker once, and that's a lot more than most people).

If we look at the course of events outlined above, we can see a similarly epidemiological pattern. The first to be "infected" was Chino, who apparently picked it up on the internet. He spread it to his friends, and together they pulled off the Madrid bombings. Even after their death, though, they were still infectious, and the disease spread via social ties to family members and friends, who then became infected. They went off to Iraq. Now, someone else with ties to the second wave appears to be battling infection.

I realize that few, if any, readers of this blog are Bahá'ís, but I hope that this post has provided at least some insight. It certainly has helped me get my thoughts in order.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Not so fast

Fifty four percent, indeed.

I just obtained an actual copy of the SENLIS report discussed in the previous post. While I do not doubt that their raw data is accurate, their analysis and presentation are... flawed, to put it mildly. They got the 54% figure by analyzing Afghanistan at the provincial level. This is stupid, because Afghanistan's provinces, especially in the relevant parts of the country, are enormous. A well-done map would show the data by district, if not continuously. Furthermore, I am highly suspicious of their definition of "permanent Taliban presence." For one thing, they don't bother telling you what it is. For another, they show about half of Pakistan, including Islamabad itself, as being under Taliban control, despite the fact that most of this area is currently under martial law due to Musharraf's new War on Democracy.

So don't just take this report with a grain of salt, take it with the whole shaker.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

54 percent Afghanistan under Taliban control: Think-tank

KABUL, Nov 21 (KUNA) -- A leading London-based think-tank has said that 54 percent of Afghan territory is under the control of the Taliban, who were ousted as a result of US invasion of Afghanistan in late 2001.

In its report based on analysis and research, the Senlis Council said in order to bring peace to the war-battered country, an 80,000 NATO plus troops must be required to be stationed in that country. The report was issued in London. However, a copy of the report was received to this correspondent via e-mail on Wednesday. "The security situation has reached crisis proportions. The insurgency now controls vast swaths of unchallenged territory including rural areas, border areas, some district centres, and important road arteries," said Norine MacDonald QC, President and Lead Field Researcher of The Senlis Council. The disturbing conclusion is that, despite a universal desire to 'succeed' in Afghanistan , the country was in grave danger of becoming a divided state, said the report. The Taliban are the de facto governing authority in significant portions of territory in the south, it adds. "It is a sad indictment of the current state of Afghanistan that the question now appears not to be whether the Taliban will return to Kabul, but when this will happen" said MacDonald. "Their stated aim of reaching the city in 2008 appears more viable than ever, and it is incumbent upon the international community to implement a dramatic change in strategy before time runs out. Defeat in Afghanistan would be catastrophic to global security, and risks making NATO irrelevant." To succeed in Afghanistan, NATO members must increase their presence in the country, but NATO partners should share this burden equally. A 'NATO Plus' force of 80,000 troops is needed, stressed the report. Senlis also called on NATO forces to urgently enter Pakistan's North West Frontier Province, "which has become a training ground for Taliban and al-Qaeda elements". According to the Senlis report, such an increase in their activities would never have been possible without a sanctuary outside Afghanistan.

Via Kuwaiti News Agency.


Christ. I hadn't realized it was this bad.

We need to get the troops out of Iraq. We need to deploy them to Afghanistan. We need to deploy a UN peacekeeping force to the North West Frontier Province and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas. And we need to do it now.

It has gone on long enough. We defeated a global superpower when we were but a colonial backwater. We conquered a continent. We waged total war on two fronts, against enemies that had seemed undefeatable. For half a century, we vied for global supremacy, and we achieved it. We are mighty, we are legion. We are Juggernaut, we are Nemesis. We are not about to be defeated by a band of common criminals because of one man's pride.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Giving face to the faceless

This is a foiled suicide bomber. He tried to blow up an army bus in Kabul yesterday, but spooked the soldiers and was stopped.

It's amazing to actually see the face of a suicide bomber. In our minds, terror is abstract. "The terrorist" is a masked, faceless concept, studied and discussed but not personalized, little more than a number in a set of data. Now here we have the real thing, in the flesh, armed and ready to detonate. It is somewhat startling to look at this meek, passionless, unassuming man and realize that he actively desires the violent death of everyone around him, and would kill them all if not restrained. He offers none of the expected outward signs of a mass murderer — no struggling to break free, no shouting epithets at his captors, no venomous gazes. He just stands there, observing disinterestedly, almost as though bored. He doesn't even appear nervous. He's a prop. There is nothing in his demeanor, nothing in his expression, to indicate that he feels strongly enough in a cause to not only give his own life, but to take those of others as well. There is no sign of unholy ideology, no hint at outrage at his country's occupation, no inkling of desire for independence, or repression, or anything at all. There is nothing.

And I'm not sure what to make of that.

(h/t to Konservo)

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Pakistanis die in sectarian clashes

At least 30 people have been killed and more than 100 wounded in sectarian clashes between Sunni and Shia Muslims in a Pakistani tribal region near the Afghan border, officials say.

Clashes broke out on Friday in Parachinar, the main town in Pakistan's northern Kurram tribal region.

Haneef Jan, head of Kurram tribal agency hospital in Parachinar, said: "Nineteen bodies have been brought from different areas while a woman died of wounds at the hospital.

"More than 100 people are also being treated mainly for bullet wounds, of which some 10 to 12 are critically injured."

Mohammed Nadeem, a local police official, said fighting escalated after clashes began when armed men opened fire on a Sunni mosque.



This is bizarre. I am at a complete loss to explain it.

I doubt that the Shia are the instigators here, it just doesn't make sense. For one thing, they're surrounded by potentially vindicative Sunnis; if a sectarian civil war breaks out here, they will not win. Also, there doesn't seem to have been anything to set them off. The fact that the Pakistani government is currently preoccupied with oppressing its own citizens doesn't explain it, as the Pakistani government never exerted much of a restraining influence here in the first place. I suppose some new preacher railing away at the evil Sunnis might explain it, but no such preacher is ever alluded to. I suppose the Shia could have grown nervous about the agency's Sunni siding with the increasingly problematic Taliban, but that doesn't seem right, either. These actions will serve only to incite the Sunnis, and besides, it doesn't make sense for the Taliban to have designs on the agency, either.

According to the Federally Administered Tribal Area's website,¹ Kurram has a population of 448,310. The Islamic Emirate of Waziristan, which is more than four and a half times its size, has a population of 883,873 — larger, but not overwhelmingly so. All of the sources I've seen say that Kurram is "majority Shiite" without providing an actual percentage, so the most specific we can be is to say that the agency contains between 224,156 and 448,309 Shia. If the area were to be taken over by Waziristan, that means that Waziristan would be at least 16.8-33.6% Shia — quite a sizable minority. I just don't see why the Apostasy would want that sort of demographic headache; it makes much more sense for it to expand elsewhere, in friendlier territory (which is exactly what it's been doing in Swat). I suppose it's possible that the Apostates are trying to set up a "Shia menace" in order to try to scare non-aligned Sunnis over to their side, but that's extremely speculative, and seems a bit more trouble than it's worth.

It may well be that a group of Sunnis living in Kurram has become radicalized (e.g. by attending extremist madrassahs elsewhere in the country) and is acting on its own. Until more information comes in, that's the best I can think of.

Friday, November 16, 2007

US-Iraqi assault 'targets al-Qaeda'

Reports from Iraq say 600 US and Iraqi soldiers have launched an air and ground assault on two villages allegedly sheltering al-Qaeda in Iraq fighters. The soldiers are reported to be searching villagers' homes to try to flush out al-Qaeda fighters hiding among them....

Meanwhile, a top British commander in southern Iraq said attacks plunged 90 per cent across the country's south after the UK withdrew its troops from the city of Basra. The presence of British forces in the centre of Basra, Iraq's second-largest city, was the single largest instigator of violence, Major-General Graham Binns said on Thursday on a visit to Baghdad's Green Zone. About 500 British troops moved out of a former Saddam Hussein palace at Basra's heart in early September, joining some 4,500 at a garrison at an airport on the city's edge.



Holy cow. Ninety percent.

One of the most important parts of winning the War on Terror is resolving the situation in Iraq. Even though al-Qaeda's plans for establishing an emirate in that country have all but collapsed, the ongoing occupation is still one of their best recruiting tools, generating anger and outrage throughout the Middle East — and the world — that the Apostasy feeds on. The problem, of course, is how to end it; you can't just wave a magic wand and create a stable society. Due to the weakness and ineffectiveness of the central Iraqi government, conventional wisdom has been that simply pulling our troops out would result in a power vacuum, causing Iraq to implode in much the way Somalia did. It now appears, however, that for whatever reason this is not the case.

Clearly, more information is required than is provided in this one article. Is the unexpected stability due to increased effectiveness of the Iraqi government, or is it due to its absence and the dominion of a few groups that are acting as mini governments? If it's the later there's a problem, because it means that a general withdrawal would end up splitting Iraq into warring regions, internally stable but in bloody conflict with one another. In addition to the obvious undesirability of this for the people of Iraq, it also would not help much in the War on Terrorism, since al-Qaeda recruiters would be able to point to the corpse of what was once a functional nation and say, "America did this". Another question is what the crime rate is like in Basrah. Few military attacks won't mean much if the region is reduced to mob rule.

Monday, November 12, 2007

I am still alive

This is just to let everyone know that I haven't dropped of the face of the Earth. I've been extremely sick for the last few weeks, but am beginning today with a renewed sense of hope that I'll be feeling better soon (by which I mean I'm actually awake this morning).

There seem to have been a number of very important events in the War on Terror while I was unconscious, not least of which has been Musharaf's suspension of the constitution, but as it's still a bit of a task for me successfully use a keyboard I'll keep things relatively short. Musharaf's using the War on Terror as an excuse for granting himself omnipotence is clearly nonsense, unless the Taliban has been infiltrating Pakistan's supreme court. As for any effects that this will have upon the real war, that's kind of hard for me to say right now, though bear in mind I am still partially in hibernation. It's clearly not going to win him the love and admiration of the people, that's for sure, but it might also upset the US enough to alter the current dynamic. What all, if anything, this means will have to wait for some time when I'm a little bit more awake.

Speaking of waiting, I believe I've mentioned, or at least alluded to, a post I was preparing on al-Qaeda's internal organization that would have been up a week or two ago if the Horrible Death Plague of Deadly Doom hadn't descended upon me. It's still not ready, of course, but in the course of my research for it I did come across Khalid Sheikh Muhammad's testimony for the trial of Zachrias Moussaoui. It's fascinating reading, and can be accessed here.