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Tuesday 26 May 2015

How to stop radicalisation?

Over the past year the world has been confronted with outrageous acts of violence against innocents in the the name of Islam. Whether in Iraq and Syria by ISIL, or by Boko Haram in Africa or by so called 'lone wolf ' adherents in Paris or Toronto or Sydney.

With the capture of Ramadi highlighting recent setbacks in our war against ISIL, and the magentic influence of the 'death-cult' on misguided youth in the west, we are once again trying to understand the causes , the mindset , the process of radicalization and how to combat it.

There is no shortage of words on the subject. So you don't need too much from me. But I won't let that won't stop me , and who knows where another insight may lead.

The Jihadist strategy

What is it that motivates the instigators of these crimes? No, I don't mean the perpetrators, I think we should focus on the instigators. Those who provide the underlying 'philosophy', the rationale behind the attacks, and what they aim to achieve.
I am not sure if this strategy was actually contrived, or more likely gradually evolved, but its modus operandi can be broken into three elements;

  • A well defined objective
  • An underlying philosophy to provide the moral justification
  • A process for action and draw adherents

The Objective 
The ultimate aim seems to be to regain the power enjoyed by Islam in the glorious past, the golden age of Islam during the Middle Ages when caliphates ruled much of the world.

The Underlying Philosophy
Islamic extremism, which for clarity I would like to call 'Jihadism', is based on the Wahhabist interpretation of the Koran. This 'radical' interpretation is used as a tool to provide cohesion to the adherents. It is far easier to control a large disparate group if you have an underlying philosophy and what better than a deep-seated belief system based on religion. Religion has often been used to control large groups very successfully.
It helps that this interpretation is fundamentalist in form. It hearkens back to the origins of Islam, when Mohammed himself spread the word by the sword. This literal interpretation is familiar to all Muslims. In the same way that modern day Christians do not follow a literal interpretation of the gospel, most modern day Muslims reject the literal interpretation of the Koran. However a significant minority even in the secular West will find it compelling.

The Process
The means by which the above elements combine to create the seemingly unstoppable growth of Jihadism is a complex process. I realise that the following components fo this process will require refinement given further input. Nevertheless I think it is worthwhile to note these as a starting point.
  1. Spread the word - Teach the radical interpretation of Islam as far and wide as possible, from Madrassas and Mosques.
  2. Recruit - Target and enlist, the weak-minded, uneducated, disfranchised, rebellious, envious, angry, frustrated youth, wherever they are in the world. Use social media to raise awareness of successes. Promote a culture requiring adherents to sacrifice to the common cause and recognise 'martyrs' as heroes of the Jihad,'struggle' .
  3. Provide the means and weapons for violent acts against the identified enemies of Islam, America, Israel, Jews, infidel, crusaders, Kaffir.
  4. Execute the plans - whether singly or in groups. Every event that occurs is amplified by the press, and used to show that the sacrifice of a 'martyr' has yielded success. Success in these terms is simply gaining the attention of the world. Power is the motive and it is gained as soon as an act occurs, irrespective of the target or irrespective of the success.
  5. Exploit the reaction of the West to these attacks to enlist those who may have been on the fringes. This is made easier when extremist elements make unwarranted attacks on innocent Muslims. 
  6. Escalate -
    1. Phase 1.Start with sporadic terror attacks by random groups. This is happening in the west, Thailand, Philipiines, Russia 
    2. Phase 2. When the numbers warrant, terror groups join up to create a rebel army which fights a guerrilla war to undermine the current governments. This is happening in Nigeria, soon Cameroon,Yemen, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.
    3. In phase 3, as the strength of the fighting force is sufficient to take control of a region declare it a caliphate. This is what has happened in Iraq/Syria where we have the first such Jihadist so called state ISIL. 
This process has yielded an ever increasing army of Jihadistss carrying out their evil mission around the world.

The vicious cycle ; Reaction creates recruits

There is little doubt that this strategy has been working. It is hard to deny the unrelenting increase in Jihadism over the past 3 decades.

There are a number of potential reasons for this rise.

Increasing world affluence and ease of travel has opened up rapid migration both legal and illegal, across the globe. This has spread Islamic culture to many countries, where the struggle for survival and success leaves areas of poverty and discrimination. Such enclaves are fertile grounds for radicalization.

In many predominantly Muslim countries Jihadist insurgencies break down law and order, causing mass displacement, refugees, poverty. These are again ideal grounds for radicalization of unemployed, disenchanted youth.

While these and other demographic causes no doubt contribute to the rise, it is apparent that the reaction to counter acts of terror is also exploited to generate more recruits.

This vicious cycle seems to operate for any of the common reactions to a terror attack; Mass media attention, Increased police presence, and discrimination against Muslims.

Mass media attention, irrespective of how negative it may be towards them, empowers Jihadists, and provides a justification for 'fringe' Jihadists to take up the cause. Most often the perpetrator's name and photo, indeed his whole life become the focus of public discourse. He has gained notoriety. This is attractive to many, who for diverse reasons, feel estranged from their communities and question their significance in the world.

Increased police presence and counter terrorism actions provide further evidence of the 'power' of the Jihadist to influence state affairs. In the same way as mass media attention this is a positive effect for those fringe Jihadists who have identified with the sense of belonging offered by the recruiters.

Discriminating against all Muslims, though strongly discouraged by the vast majority of leaders, is an inevitable reaction to terrorism that is stated clearly to be in Islam's name. The reactions of Muslims to unfair discrimination is mostly benign , but borderline radicals can be tipped over the edge.

It seems that the most common and sensible reactions to acts of terror by Jihadists can be used by recruiters to create more Jihadists.

What we can do?

The response in Western states has varied from strong policing and law enforcement, including the enactment of terror laws, to attempts at analysis and in particular 'self -analysis'. What makes the terrorist and what is wrong with our society that a 'normal', 'average' teenager or fellow countryman would turn jihadist?
This is also reflected in the population with some suggesting 'I will ride with you' and others declaring a verbal war on all Muslims.

Law enforcement has been very successful. With an extensive intelligence network to track jihadists a great majority of terror plots have been discovered before they were executed. This however has not stopped the occasional terror plot succeeding, nor has it stopped the growth in recruitment to terror. Indeed the recent case of ISIL, where large numbers of jihadists have 'broken cover' and joined the fight in Syria and Iraq. For many, ISIL has become a turning point as it presents the re-birth of the caliphate, long promised and now 'achieved'.

Given our current efforts are failing, we do need to look afresh, and see if we can break the Jihadist cycle that threatens our Western civilization.

I don't pretend I have a solution, just some observations on what our society can do to fight this insidious evil.

  • Always protect Western values; freedom of speech, rights of individuals, respect for the law, respect for each other. This includes vigorously enforcing the law especially when it relates to these values
  • Always distinguish between Islam and violent Islam and ideally consistently call it 'Jihadism'. We respect freedom of religion as long as it does not promote Jihadism. 
  • Call out the instigators, perpetrators and supporters of violence as Jihadists. This includes criticizing religious or other leaders who equivocate about terrorist violence. There is NO justification for violence against innocents NO matter the circumstances.
  • Strengthen and enforce hate speech laws sufficiently to ensure recruitment to Jihad is effectively banned. Enforce the laws against hate speech, even if it occurs in a place of worship. (If required law enforcement should record all sermons by Imams and rabbis and Priests). 
  • Strengthen and enforce immigration laws to prevent non-citizen advocates of Jihadism to enter or re-enter the country. Strip citizenship from dual-citizen Jihadists deport them or do not allow them to re-enter the country. If they have decided to join the other side during a conflict that is their choice, but by doing so they have given up the privilege to be citizens. Jihadists who have only Australian citizenship should be charged and face the consequences within Australia.
  • Encourage moderate Muslims to speak out and give them a voice in the media. Break down animosity against Muslims with cross cultural events. Perhaps a 'Muslims against Jihad' rally or just 'Australians against Jihadism' march in which moderate Muslims can stand, united with the rest of our society against extremism.

Doing nothing is not an option

An open society always considers and considers and considers. Looking for reasons and self analyzing instead of acting. However the threat we face today will not wait. Jihadism is at our doorsteps and doing nothing is not an option. Moreover despite our best efforts to date, it is growing. So we need to manage our instinctive responses, clearly explain our revised policies and then enforce them rigorously. Clarity of purpose is often the weakness that sabotages what would otherwise be a successful policy.

Copyright(C)2015 Grappy's Soap Box, all rights reserved

Tuesday 19 May 2015

The mass media moving the masses

I am back from a rather long trip overseas. Mostly a holiday although with the ususal travail of travel.

Away from the keyboard, disconnected from the daily mayhem of the local media, gives some perspective.

The world is a small place. No matter where we were, mainly Europe, the topics of conversation were the same. The headlines, the focus of conversation and debate on our telvisions all the same. The focus of conversation with fellow tourists and indeed local passers-by, all the same. The tone was also similar. Disdainful of this, praising of that, surprising uniformity of opinion on even complex issues, where alternative views were often glossed over or even neglected.

The topics seem to be set by circumstance; the war in Yemen, an election in the UK, an asylum boat sinking in the Mediterranean, but the focus and tone is set by the media. Be it print, radio or television, the topic of conversation becomes the same. Like the under-six football team journos seem to all follow the same topic at least over the 'news cycle'. The tone also seemed very similar, as if a single person was mouthing the opinions of the minions of journalists. As result of a collective group-think dominates our ear-waves.

In my relatively few posts I have often mentioned the media, and you may surmise I have a 'bee in my bonnet' about the media. Indeed I do.

I am concerned that our media has too much influence on our daily lives and that this influence is too uniform, often stifling debate and apparently pushing an agenda.

This does not mean I don't recognise the value of free media in any democratic society. On the contrary, the Fourth Estate is an essential component of any democratic society and I would do nothing to curtail its freedom to investigate and report on any aspect of our society.

However I believe our democratic freedoms will be at risk, when the media can influence government policies and public opinion to even change governments without the democratic control of the society it is meant to serve.

I don't believe this is the case in Australia, yet. However there is already a tendency for some in the media to limit debate and to try to funnel opinions without reasoned argument. This tendency is not limited to our media of course. Disruptive demonstrations have been part and parcel of 'normal' politics, and most disturbingly, in recent times it has even invaded our University campuses. However it is the integrity of the media that is critical. Since we rely on our free media to not only investigate and report, but also to call-out arguments not supported by the facts, to give voice to alternate views and to encourage reasoned debate.

As consumers of the media's product we must resist this tendency to corral our views. We can do so by using direct and indirect communications ( through social media) to highlight lack of balanced debate, topics which are not being discussed and to call-out open bias.

Moreover we should insist that the ABC, our public broadcaster enforces its own very well written code of practice, which requires it to maintain accuracy, diversity and impartiality.  I have strong reservations that this is currently the case, but will leave that argument for another day.

Copyright(C)2015 Grappy's Soap Box, all rights reserved