Showing posts with label ISIS. Show all posts
Showing posts with label ISIS. Show all posts

18 August 2016

Cyberspace, Cyberpunks, Cyberwar

by Eve Fisher

Leigh Lundin has, for some time now, been scaring the pants off of us with regard to all the hazards of cyberspace, like RansomWare - (Thanks, big guy!  And tell Velda to pour me another drink...)  And God knows that cybercriminals and hackers are out there, doing all kinds of nasty things.  (Go, right now, and change all your passwords to something elaborate and unbreakable, preferably in Mongolian.)

NOTE:  A big shout-out to our local university, Dakota State University (http://dsu.edu/), which trains people in "ethical hacking", cybersecurity, cyber operations, etc.  Training the good guys (I hope) to tackle future cybercriminals around the world!
But there's another problem with cyberspace, and that is that it's an open platform for anyone at any time.

Look, we are having our hearts broken, over and over again, by terrorist acts.  Bastille Day saw the terrorist act in Nice, France, a beautiful city that I remember with especial fondness because it was the highlight of my last European trip.

Nice, France - Michaelphillipr, Wikimedia
Anyway, a true rat bastard got into a rented refrigerator truck, plowed into a crowd on Bastille Day, killing 84 people and injuring at least 50 others.  He died in a gunfight with the police.  While he had a history of petty theft, "he is completely unknown by intelligence services, both at the national and local levels,” Paris Prosecutor Molins said. “He has never been in any database or been flagged for radicalization.”  Now here's the nub of it:  "Although neither the Islamic State or Al Qaeda asserted any role, online accounts associated with the groups welcomed the massacre."  Source:  (NYT)


Vladimir Putin,
the day after the attack
I'll bet they did.  Why not?  Made them feel important, like they'd nabbed another one for their cause, whether they did or not, and it helped add to the general sense of terror and frustration.  And every time ISIS or Al Qaeda claim credit for something, politicians worldwide scream for action, action, action, NOW!

But what kind of action?  Do something violent to take out ISIS and the threat of radical Islamic terrorism - like pave Syria?  Ban all Muslims from here or there or anywhere?  Patrol Muslim neighborhoods at home and abroad?  Etc.  Now we could do all these things.  And more.  But it won't stop the problem.

Because the real problem is that jihad (like every other kind of extremism) is now on the internet. From Facebook to Twitter to the Dark Web, there are all sorts of slick, persuasive sites proselytizing (among other things) jihad.  And these sites are telling people - mostly young men - all across the globe that they can make a difference, that they can save the world, that they can make everyone honor and respect them and kiss their feet and fannies.  And they can have revenge upon a world that has never given them the respect or money or women or lifestyle they think they deserve.  All they need is a gun, a truck, a car, a bomb, a lot of guns, some cohorts, any combination - just go out there and kill a lot of people for the cause.  And, if they die in the process, they go to heaven and the 72 virgins while, back on earth, their deeds and their names will be splashed all across the international news media, and everyone will be terrified and horror struck and wounded by what they did, because they are so powerful and important.  At last.

That's what we're really up against.  Not some 40,000 "fighters" trying to hang on to their caliphate of bloody sand in Syria.  If that was all there was to it, the solution would be relatively simple.  But we're up against an idea, metastasizing across the internet, and gobbling up people's minds and lives in cyberspace.  And what do you do about that?

NOTE:  The average person now spends 8 hours and 41 minutes per day online.  (See here.) 

Visualization of Internet routing paths
Visualization of Internet Routing Paths
by the Opte Project, Wikipedia
Let's face facts, the internet is the current Tower of Babel - we have created a virtual world that allows constant extremist views to be spread and taught worldwide, without any central supervision, rules, or policing.  From jihad to neo-Nazis and everything in between and beyond, there are sites for it, multiple sites, that are all free of charge and available 24/7 to any lonely person who doesn't have anything better to do.  Nobody's in charge of the internet.  Nobody's policing the internet - or not enough.  There are no rules on the internet. You can say anything on the internet and get away with it.  (Everyone who's been flamed, raise your hand!  Don't worry, they can't see you - which is the exact logic of the flamer...) You can show anything on the internet and get away with it.  You can promote anything - from suicide to to bullying to treason to beheading - on the internet and get away with it.  And everyone is so locked away in their own virtual world of sites, friends and likes that they don't have any idea that there are all these other sites, spreading and spewing all these other views, and people are just as dedicated to "theirs" as "we" are to "ours."

NOTE:  The average person now spends 8 hours and 41 minutes per day online.  (See here.) 

The most harmless one
I could find for an example
- by Dimboukas, Wikipedia
Consider the sites you use.  The ones you go to because what they say "makes sense", or "they tell the truth".  Who's writing them?  Who's making all the memes that we are all trading around on-line?  Do you have any idea?  Is there any way to find out?  Do you care, as long as they're telling you what you want to hear?  Not to mention the implication that, by sharing their meme, YOU'RE an American Thinker, a FreeThinker, a TruthTeller, an Everlasting GOP Stopper, an American Voice of Reason, etc.  Except, when all we do is share the content someone else provides, we're just copycats, not thinking at all.  Clicking like, endlessly.  Agreeing, endlessly...

So what are we to do with all the sites - and the people behind them - who are using the internet to brainwash the world?  Ourselves included?  Who are fomenting hatred and bigotry, jihad and racism, murder and violence, death and war, war, war, all in the name of truth, whether religious or political? How do we stop this?  how do we change this? Because the war is in cyberspace, not on the ground. We want to stop "soft" terrorism?  Lone wolves, brothers, friends - influenced, radicalized, persuaded, perhaps even instructed in the privacy of their own bedrooms?

We're going to have to tackle cyberspace. BECAUSE THAT'S WHERE THE TERRORISTS (of all kinds) ARE BEING CREATED.
NOTE:  Don't even start about how parents need to keep an eye on what their kids are doing.  Remember your own childhood, even if it was cyber-free.  Parents have always been trying to keep an eye on their kids and failing miserably, because teenagers will not be led, driven, watched, or followed, and will do anything under the sun to keep their parents having any idea of what is going on in their locked world.  
(Re the Nice perpetrator, he is apparently no longer a "lone wolf", according to prosecutor Molins, who recently arrested 2 men for giving the perpetrator "logistical support", and said that the perpetrator had plotted the attack for months with "support and accomplices".  BUT, so far, all that support was done on line - via cell phones, computers, etc.)

The cyberworld is addictive and consuming enough even when it's harmless.  People can't get their eyes off their smartphone, even while "supervising" their children at the playground.  They fall off cliffs playing Pokemon Go.  They stay on Facebook even in their sleep.  They sleep with their smartphones.  And, in the process, they create their own cyberworlds.  And if you live in a cyberworld of hate and fear and menace, it really doesn't matter what the real life around you is.  You believe.  What's before your screen-stuck eyes.  And you act accordingly.

NOTE:  The average person now spends 8 hours and 41 minutes per day online.  (See here.) 

23 November 2015

Know Your Terrorist

by Jan Grape

Most of us are still reeling over the mass murders in Paris and in Mali this week. I'm upset by the Americans of all nationalities and religions and races wanting to close our borders and keeping anyone who is Muslim from entering especially refugees from Syria. But I don't think this forum is a place to get too political because we talk about mysteries and writing.

However, a friend of mine named Sharan Newman is a mystery writer who writes historical mysteries usually set in Medieval Times. She also writes non-fiction books. She researches her books meticulously and when I read anything she has written I feel I can understand and also trust her research is as true as possible. She has written several articles on Know Your Terrorist. One she had written this week caught my eye and I asked if I could use it for my blog. She agreed. Then in trying to locate that article, she found one she had written earlier and I think is more informative. So following is a wonderful article on the known terror groups who are in our immediate headlines and does a lot to explain who is who.

Know Your Terrorist

The recent tragic events in France have made it clear that most of us are a little vague on the different terrorist groups operating in the world today. Even the terrorists there weren’t sure who they were working for. When I realized that even they were confused, it seemed like a good idea to give a simplistic explanation of the major non-governmental terrorists so that the next time someone takes you hostage and says that they are from the Broccoli Liberation front, you can explain to them why they should kill you for another reason, rather than to free oppressed broccoli.

Here are the most active free-lance groups. In my next essay, I'll consider the governmental and corporate terrorist organizations that have created the more openly violent cadres.

BOKO HARAM
As the link below and all the news reports seem to agree, Boko Haram, operating in Northeastern Nigeria, is the most brutal and least comprehensible of the active terrorists. They love mayhem, murder and rape and don’t seem to be making any ideological demands apart from a fuzzy connection to Islam. Originally a non-violent group that protested oppression by the Nigerian government, it grew to oppose any form of what it considers Western influence. This is why even Muslim children are killed or kidnapped at western-style schools. They say they are Islamic but, as with another group, ISIS/DAESH, they are imagining a mythical Islamic past. Actually, I think they are also imagining a mythical Africa derived from western films seasoned with Lord of the Flies.

For connected topics see: Nigerian Army, Nigerian Government, International Oil Cartels, Koch Brothers. A more academic explanation is here:
http://ijpr.org/post/nigeria-boko-haram-continues-its-campaign-terror

AL-QAEDA
This is not the oldest group but one of the most visible. It began in the late 1980s in the wake of the years of Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. “With Soviet forces withdrawing …, the idea of a global jihad suddenly seems possible, and al Qaeda, literally “the Base,” is born. “We used to call the training camp al Qaeda,” bin Laden would later recall. “And the name stayed.”´ [sic] (http://foreignpolicy.com/2014/03/17/al-qaeda-core-a-short-history) Doesn’t that sound cozy?

Al-Qaeda was founded by Osama bin-Laden, born in 1957 to a Syrian mother and Yemeni father. The senior bin-Laden was a self-made millionaire contractor who became the major builder for the Saudi Arabian monarchy. PBS Frontline has posted a fascinating biography, written by one of bin-Laden’s followers, portraying him as a pious young man who was doing contracting in Afghanistan when the invasion of Kuwait began: “While he was expecting some call to mobilize his men and equipment he heard the news which transferred his life completely. The Americans are coming. He always describes that as a shocking moment. He felt depressed and thought that maneuvers had to change. Instead of writing to the king or approaching other members of the royal family, he started lobbying through religious scholars and Muslim activists.”  [sic]

(http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/binladen/who/bio.html)

Al-Qaeda was born because of the American support of the Saudis and vice-versa. Osama was considered a terrorist by the Saudis and, under him, A-Qaeda organized mutual support with the Taliban. “The leader of Taliban Mulla Omer was keen to meet Osama. He met him early 1997 after two TV interviews, Channel 4 and CNN.[!?] Mulla Omer expressed respect and admiration but requested him to have low profile…. Bin Laden noticed that the driving force in Taliban were Ulema (religious scholars). He made very good links with them and lobbied specifically for the subject of American forces in the Arabian Peninsula. He was able to extract a fatwah signed by some 40 scholars in Afghanistan sanctioning the use of all means to expel the American forces from the Peninsula. The issue of that fatwah was an asset to him inside Taliban domain. He felt that Ulema were at his back and he could go high profile after long silence.” (ibid)

“His relation with Taliban would best be understood if Taliban themselves are understood properly. First of all Taliban are not simply another Afghan faction supported by Pakistan. Taliban are sincere to their beliefs, a religiously committed group unspoiled by political tactics. They would never bargain with what they see as matters of principle. Bin Laden for them is a saint. He is a symbol of sacrifice for the sake of jihad. They see him as very rich Arab from the Holy Land who gave up his wealth and luxury to fight for the sake of his brother Muslims in Afghanistan.” (ibid)

I wish there were more such biographies.  It is essential for us to comprehend the rationale of the many people who support the terrorists. One problem we have is understanding why these terrorist leaders are so protected. If you read the whole article, it continues explaining why the Taliban and Osama were so revered. The author doesn’t mention bombings, murder, or the oppression of women and minorities, of course.

Even before Osama bin-Laden was killed, his grip on Al-Qaeda was slipping. Other groups in the Sudan, Nigeria and Syria, were not looking to them for leadership. Many, such as ISIS and Boko Haram, do not have a firm theological base other than, West and Jews = bad; our Islam = good.
See Taliban, George W. Bush, Oil Cartels

THE (so-called) ISLAMIC STATE
Of the Muslim-associated terrorist groups, this is the most interesting to me because, unlike the others, there is a medieval flavor about it. Sadly, as I mentioned above, they don’t seem to have any historians among them, so that the caliphate they plan is drawn from fantasy. They do appear to have some serious and competent Muslim scholars in their ranks, but they haven’t made it clear what school of Shari’a law they are working from. Of course, few people outside of fundamentalist Islam know that there is more than one branch. Have you ever noticed how many problems occur because no one thought to consult an expert in history?

ISIS grew from the Syrian al-Qaeda sector as a result of the Syrian civil war. The reasons for that war, beyond the Arab Spring, have been minutely dissected without any consensus. Suffice to say that ISIS is the richest and best-organized of the Islamist groups operating today. As with the first two groups, they succeeded because a dictator or other person in power was tormenting a minority group and they were able to come in and fill a vacuum. In this case, they began as rebels against the government of Bashir al Assad, which is not only dictatorial but heretical in their eyes. They state that they have set up is an Islamist Caliphate. The last Caliphate in the area was defeated by the Ottoman Empire over 600 years ago so the blueprint is rather old. Both the Abbasid and Umayyad Caliphates in the 8th through 11th centuries tended to be fairly easy going about minorities, even Islamic ones. I believe that, like Boko Haram, ISIS has been taken over by the psychopathic wing of the party. Their treatment of the Yazidi is an example of this. It’s not likely that their Caliphate will resemble the ancient ones.

Much has been made of the foreign volunteers coming to fight for ISIS. Some of these fighters arriving from other countries are devout Muslims who may be horrified by what they find. Indications are that others come in a spirit of adventure or from a feeling of failure at home. But too many recruits have come because they love having power and not having any rules of behavior. For historians out there, think French Revolution.

There are many other terrorist groups that have no religious attachments. Most of these are political or territorial. ETA, or Basque liberation, has been attempting to find a peaceful solution recently as has the socialist FARC, in Columbia. Greece has the far-right Golden Dawn; Ireland, the reformed Sinn Fein. All of these have used violence and terrorism in their quest to achieve their goals.
There have been many explanations for the success of the recent Islamist terrorists. Some say that it is a relic of European colonialism. Others that the terrorists are a reaction to oppressive governments and cultures of corruption and bribery at every level. Well, I don’t think any of these things helped. Certainly, many of the most violent groups are fighting against leaders who have ignored and oppressed sections of the society.

After much consideration, it seems to me that we and much of the media are looking at the problem from the wrong direction. We see the horrific actions of ISIS and Boko Haram, but these are distracting us from much more widespread and pernicious terrorism.

As I was working on this, I began to realize that, while we are busy trying to stop murderers, rapists and torturers, the people who are really responsible for their actions are thousands of miles away, moving pieces on metaphorical chess boards.
I do think it's fantastic to know quite a number of mystery writers, especially when you know one who has already done the huge amount of research that you thought you were going to have to do.

Thank you, Sharan, for allowing me to use your hard work here. Sharan is off to spend a month is Paris, doing research and although some folks ask if she might rethink going to France now, she reminds everyone...if we stay home and hide, the terrorists win. We can't let them rule our lives.

11 September 2014

Holy War

by Eve Fisher

  • "Fear prophets and those prepared to die for the truth, for as a rule they make many others die with them, often before them, at times instead of them." -Umberto Eco 
  • “The enduring attraction of war is this: Even with its destruction and carnage it can give us what we long for in life. It can give us purpose, meaning, a reason for living. Only when we are in the midst of conflict does the shallowness and vapidness of much of our lives become apparent. Trivia dominates our conversations and increasingly our airwaves. And war is an enticing elixir. It gives us resolve, a cause. It allows us to be noble. And those who have the least meaning in their lives, the impoverished refugees in Gaza, the disenfranchised North African immigrants in France, even the legions of young who live in the splendid indolence and safety of the industrialized world, are all susceptible to war's appeal.” Chris Hedges, War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning
There are a few obvious things about people in their teens and early twenties: an excruciating focus on themselves, a low thresh hold for boredom, an even lower tolerance for criticism [while dishing out lots of it to others], a disgust for trivia, gossip, and mass culture [usually while digesting huge amounts of it], a constant pursuit of sheer sensation [which is their definition of knowing that one is alive], and a determination that their lives will in no way ever, ever, ever resemble those of their elders (I know: I remember it clearly).

And God knows there are so many options: drugs, video games, sex, crime (more for its thrills and potential violence than even any financial gains), war, love, learning, religion (ranging from strict to cults), and anything else that can give meaning to a life that... well, in the industrialized world, is pretty safely fenced in from all but self-inflicted dangers. And those self-inflicted dangers are very enticing.  Danger is very enticing.

So we have young men from all over the world, including America, Canada, and Europe, heading off to jihad in the Middle East or wherever else they can find it.  Much fewer women. (Perhaps because women's lives, everywhere, offer a little more danger than men's on a daily basis.)

It's very reminiscent of all the young men who could not WAIT to sign up to go off on the Crusades during the 11th-13th centuries.

Only the first Crusade was successful, if by successful you mean attaining the military objective of "getting Jerusalem out of the hands of the infidel."  Successive crusades were either a waste of time, blood and manpower, OR they were remarkably successful, if your definition of success is "getting a whole lot of loot by sacking Christian cities" like Constantinople.

The Crusades were packaged as a religious war, which would take back the Holy Land (as if it had ever been ruled by Europeans).  But it was also, in a practical sense, a way of dealing with a whole lot of single young men who, lacking video games, were rampaging through Europe fighting and feuding and being generally destructive.  A very modern note is that most of these young men did not have a chance in hell of ever getting married:  medieval Europe had a gender imbalance (more men than women) among the upper classes, thanks to bad medieval medicine, monasteries as birth control, and probably a certain amount of gender-specific infanticide.  And, even if there was an available woman, it took a lot of money to get married, because you had to be able to support the wife, children, and retainers of decent knightly living. And most of these were younger sons:  no money, no land, no marriage.

Believe me, medieval rulers, both church and state, recognized the problem of these young men, and so they tried to "curb socially destructive fighting" with chivalric ideals, with church rules, with tournaments, and you know what?  It was still out of hand.  So they shipped them overseas and let them fight their hearts out.

Massacre of Jerusalem
The guys, of course, went because this was the adventure of a lifetime.  A young man's job was to fight. Reading letters and memoirs (read Villehardouin about the Fourth Crusade; Joinville about, God help us, the Seventh), it's obvious that every one of them expected to fight hard, kill lots of the infidel, and win castles, lands, women, money, everything they need to live well.  And they're going to have a glorious time, because young men know that they will never die in battle.  (In fact, most of them died of dysentery, typhus, and gangrene.)  So off they went, and the First Crusade (1097-1099) did indeed take back Jerusalem, and win the Four Crusader Kingdoms of Outremer: Jerusalem, Edessa (Turkey), Antioch (Syria), and Tripoli (Lebanon). And they massacred their way through all of it:  in Jerusalem, to celebrate and cement their victory, the knights beheaded every Muslim (men, women, and children).  When the Jews fled for safety to the synagogue in Jerusalem, the Crusaders burned it - and the Jews - to the ground.


Keeping Outremer was the problem.  For some reason, the locals wanted their country back, and Saladin's grandfather, Zangi, led a jihad that took back the Kingdom of Edessa.  As soon as word got back to Europe, a Second Crusade (1147-1149)was preached by St. Bernard of Clairvaux, which accomplished very little except get Eleanor of Aquitaine quite a reputation, and St. Francis of Assisi an opportunity to preach to a Sultan, while the English forces got sidetracked with kicking the Moors out of Lisbon.

Forty years later, the Third Crusade pitted Saladin against Richard the Lion-Heart of England (Eleanor of Aquitaine's son by Henry II). The two great medieval warriors got involved in a very chivalric exchange of poetry and gifts before Richard beheaded 2,700 Muslim hostages because they got in his way. On the way home, Richard got captured and held for ransom by Duke Leopold of Austria.  (It's Richard's absence in the Third Crusade that gave the legend of Robin Hood real fire.)


Fourth Crusade (1202-1204).  Where the Crusaders, tempted by the wily Venetians, said the hell with the Holy Land and attacked, looted and sacked, first Zara and then Constantinople, both Christian cities.  The bronze horses, the winged lion, and a lot more "Venetian" treasures were taken in this Crusade.  About 10% of the Crusaders did go on to the Holy Land, but they might as well not have bothered.  In fact, by sacking Constantinople, the "Crusaders" made it easier for the Ottoman Turks to eventually take over not just the Middle East and North Africa, but most of Eastern Europe...  But that's another story.

There were more Crusades, one of which was successful:  In 1228-29, the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II went over and - rather than fighting - negotiated a 10 year truce with the Muslims, regaining the City of Jerusalem back for the Crusaders in exchange for religious toleration of Muslims in the Holy Land.  For this, he was excommunicated by the Pope and considered a heretic (and a softy) by everyone in Europe.

And then there were the "crusades" of the common people:  The People's Crusade under Peter the Hermit, in which 20,000 peasants - men, women and children - got slaughtered by either the Hungarian Magyars or the Turks. The Children's Crusade of 1212, where a young French shepherd named Stephen and Nicholas from Cologne both had visions in which they were commanded to raise an army to free the Holy Land.  They got thousands of children to accompany them, all across Europe.  (Which leads to the obvious question:  what the hell were their parents thinking?)  Anyway, the children made it to Marseilles, where two merchants, Hugh the Iron and William the Pig, put them on 7 ships to the Holy Land, where every single one of them was sold into slavery.
Siege of Baghdad

None of the Crusades succeeded in taking out the Muslim Abassid Dynasty.  That job was reserved for the Mongols, who invaded in the 1200s.  In 1258, Hulugu Khan (grandson of Genghis) invaded, sacked, and burned Baghdad to the ground, killing one million Muslims.  In 1291, his successors took the entire Muslim world while other great-grandchildren of Genghis were banging on the gates of Vienna.  Eventually the Mongol Empire -stretching from the Black Sea to the Pacific Ocean - spread Islam all the way to China.

There have always been holy wars, preached by old men, fought by young men - but the results are rarely what either hopes for.  Nobody "won" the Crusades.  Nobody "wins" any holy war; the end usually comes down to the stark realities of wholesale massacre and/or endless blood feud, all in the name of religion.  But holy wars, under any name, are indeed a force that give certain people meaning, and give certain people extreme excitement, what with bloodshed and massacre made legal, even holy.  To quote from Dexter Filkins' "The Death of Steven Sotloff" (New Yorker, 9/2/14), "the political goals [of ISIS]—a civil war, in which Islamist forces would triumph—seem secondary to the promise of terrible destruction... 'If the enemy wins, we will burn everything.'" Which is exactly what the Crusaders, the Muslims, and the Mongols did, to everyone they ran across, time and again.

Filkins continues, "...[to] the guys who signed up for ISIS—including, especially, the masked man with the English accent who wielded the knife—killing is the real point of being there. Last month, when ISIS forces overran a Syrian Army base in the city of Raqqa, they beheaded dozens of soldiers and displayed their trophies on bloody spikes. 'Here are heads that have ripened, that were ready for the plucking,' an ISIS fighter said in narration. Two soldiers were crucified. This sounds less like a battle than like some kind of macabre party." And that is exactly what holy wars are:  a macabre party, in which anything goes, anything is acceptable, anything can be done, no matter how depraved or despicable, because the cause is "right".

It's everyone else who suffers.