Tag Archives: islam

What’s in a terrorist’s name? A step to understanding the Islamic State.

Summary: The fires expand over the Middle East, driven by centuries of relative decline and corrupt rule, stoked by our interventions. We struggle to understand this phenomenon, cutting through the lies and misinformation fed us. Today guest author Hal Kempfer takes us to the logical starting point: what to call this movement.

“Kindness is a mark of faith, and whoever has not kindness has not faith.”
— Attributed to Mohammad.

Islamic sky

What’s in a terrorist name? Perhaps some meaning.

By Hal Kempfer (Lt. Colonel, USMC, retired)

There is an active debate on terminology regarding the type of terrorists we see involving or inspired by groups such as Al Qaeda and ISIS. (aka the Islamic State of Iraq & Greater Syria, or ISIL, where they refer to the “Levant” vice “Greater Syria”). ISIS is a former Al Qaeda (AQ) affiliate that has almost eclipsed AQ.

The White House does not like the term “Radical Islam” in describing this threat. However, it is descriptive since it implies from whence their beliefs came. However, it also misses what makes them significantly different from mainstream believers of the Islamic faith.

When Anders Breivik killed 77 people in Norway in 2011, most of them school kids, we didn’t call that “Radical Christianity,” nor did we do so in describing the events near Waco, Texas in 1993 or when Larry McQuilliams attacked the Mexican Consulate, Police Headquarters and federal courthouse in Austin, Texas, around Thanksgiving of last year. Further, when Frazier Glenn Miller Jr. attacked the Jewish Community Center and Jewish Assisted Living Facility in Overland Park, Kansas, in April of 2014, we didn’t call it “Radical Paganism,” even though his motivational beliefs were the same as the Nazi pagan cult of WWII.

So there does seem to be a semantic inconsistency.

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See Libya burn. We helped set it afire.

Summary:  In 2011 our hawks confidently led us to intervene in Libya, supporting the overthrow of Colonel Qaddafi. As was quite obvious even then, we were again supporting Islamic fundamentalists destroying a secular regime, again unleashing chaos from which nothing good can result. Journalist and Middle East specialist Nicolas Pelham walks us through a Libya aflame. Let’s review the results of our past meddling as we begin new interventions in Iraq, Ukraine, and Syria.  {1st of 2 posts today}

“You just have not seen enough people bleed to death.”

— Rebuttal in March 2008 by a US geopolitical expert (known for his knowledge of the Middle East; retired military) to my concerns about our intervention in Libya. With our help, many Libyans have gained this special kind of insight. Now we watch Libya burn:

Libya burning

A fighter of the anti-Islamist Zintan Brigade watches smoke rise after rocket attacks on a fuel tank in Tripoli (August 2014). By Hani Amara/Reuters.

“Libya Against Itself”

By Nicolas Pelham
From The New York Review of Books, 19 February 2015.
Posted with the generous permission of the author and NYRB.

Review of The Libyan Revolution and Its Aftermath, edited by Peter Cole & Brian McQuinn.

Gentle Islamism?

Mahdi al-Herati is sipping his lemon tea in the open-air café beneath the grand Italian porticos of Algiers Square in Tripoli. He seems a little too casual to be either an international jihadi or the elected mayor of the capital city of a country supposedly rescued from Colonel Muammar Qaddafi and sliding into civil war. Still, Herati is both, although he prefers to call himself a Libyan revolutionary. Since becoming mayor last year, he tells me, he has invited his counterparts in Dublin and Rome to “twin” with Tripoli under its new rulers, the group called Libya Dawn. He has taken other steps to counter Libya Dawn’s reputation for Islamism. He speaks of his efforts to drum up support from local writers and actors for an arts festival he has planned promoting Tripoli as a cosmopolitan Mediterranean capital of culture.

Herati plans to reopen the movie houses that Qaddafi closed in an earlier revolution. His men protect the national museum, he says, which is crammed full of ancient pagan statues. A new spa for women is opening. And yes, he tells me, his festival will include female as well as male performers and spectators. The capital, he says with only an occasional look over his shoulder and at his two security guards, is safe.

The Libya Dawn coalition Herati belongs to overran the capital after six weeks of bombardment last summer. Many of its leaders are former militiamen from the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, the jihadi movement that after fighting the unbelievers in alliance with Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan turned their guns on Qaddafi and his army. But allied with them are such unlikely bedfellows as merchants from Misrata, a Mediterranean port dependent on trade with Europe, and the Imazighen, or Berber revivalists, whose leaders are either secularists or adherents of a small reformist sect, Ibadiyya, dating back to the first decades of Islam, that opposed the supremacy of the Prophet Muhammad’s Arabian tribe and elected its own leaders.

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Business 101 tells us what to expect next from jihadists: goods news for them, bad for us.

Summary:  Years of assassinating jihadists have improved the breed and boosted their popularity. Business 101 tells us what to expect: new entrants arise to exploit this opportunity. Their competition will accelerate evolution of better business practices, making the winners even more dangerous foes. There is one powerful group fueling this process, people we can persuade to stop. (1st of 2 posts today about jihadists.)

Jihadi Competition

Jihadi Competition After al Qaeda Hegemony“, Clint Watts, Foreign Policy Research Institute, February 2014.

Our geopolitical experts, a mixture of experts and frauds, are agog over the competition between al Qaeda and the Islamic State, and befuddled by the proliferation of jihadist groups (it took most of them years to get over the idea that al Qaeda was like SPECTRE (or THRUSH or COBRA). Guesses and fantasies about our foes fly along the info highway.

The above graphic from the FPRI report tells the story. It’s the general form of graphic familiar to those who know business history. It has the outline of the world automobile industry in the 1920’s, a period of intense competition, rapid growth, and broad evolution — of product, manufacturing, finance and distribution — before the massive consolidation that took it from thousands of small companies to dozens of giants (Canada went from hundreds to zero). It’s the general form of cutting edge sectors of the software industry during its many revolutions.

As these groups grow beyond their local bases they increasingly compete amongst themselves for talent, ownership of brands and ideas, market share, and sources of financial support. Their beliefs are rooted in the 6th century, but their methods are those of the 21st. The best jihadists will win.

How we drive the evolution of the jihadists

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France volunteers itself as a front line in the clash of civilizations.

Summary: France has become a front, perhaps even ground zero, in the clash of civilizations. For a brilliant analysis see “France Under the Influence” by Diana Johnstone, Counterpunch, 20 January 2015. A few excerpts follow, with comments expanding on them. I recommend reading her article in full. {2nd of 2 posts today}

Basis for a successful Grand Strategy

Basis for a successful Grand Strategy.



  1. Context for the conflict
  2. History strikes back
  3. A banquet of consequences
  4. We fight for Human Rights!
  5. About the author
  6. For More Information

Excerpts and commentary on “France Under the Influence
by Diana Johnstone, Counterpunch, 20 January 2015.

(1) Context for the conflict

The Charlie Hebdo terrorist assassinations struck France at a moment when it has an unpopular government and a weak President, when factories are closing and jobs are being lost, when French economic policy is determined by Germany via the European Union and its foreign policy is determined by the United States via NATO. … the country feels buffeted by winds of conflict it cannot resist.

European governments face domestic unrest from the ugly combination of rising inequality and slow growth — against the backdrop of the souring of the great post-WWII unification project. People’s fear about a challenge from Islam provides them with both an opportunity to distract the public and a difficult issue to manage. Islam provides a tangible outlet for fears about existential threats to their culture as it gets hammered on one side by social changes from modernity, and on the other by immigrants bringing foreign ways.  America too faces similar social tensions.

(2) History strikes back

{T}he so-called “Islamic State”, as well as “al Qaeda in Yemen” and associated fanatic Islamic groups are working hard to recruit fighters out of the Muslim communities in France and other European countries. Some 1,400 jihadists have traveled to Syria from France to join the Holy War. They are lured by the heroic prospect of helping to “build the Caliphate”, a sort of Israel for Muslims, a holy land restored.

Israel was the West’s great nation-building project of the 2oth century, an opportunity to philanthropically ship away a disliked minority by providing legitimacy and support to the Zionist terrorists and insurgents in Palestine. The kibbutz were the dream. The result: a theocratic imperialist State slowly absorbing Jerusalem and the West Bank, inflicting slow genocide on Gaza.

Now comes the blowback. Successful models get copied. The Islamic State has adapted the formula, amping it up for the 21st century (perhaps as Hitler amped up a mad version of Nietzsche’s thought).

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What the US doesn’t understand about ISIS, & must learn soon

Summary: As we slide deeper into the Long War with Islam, blindly, urged on by ignorant voices, we do so against the advice of experts like Ahmed Rashid. Here he tells us about ISIS, their origins and their goals. He explains what were doing wrong, and recommends a better course. (First of 2 posts today)

Islamic Sky


ISIS: What the US Doesn’t Understand

By Ahmed Rashid

Blog of the New York Review of Books

2 December 2014

Posted with their generous permission


Over the last few days, as the United States has stepped up its bombing campaign against ISIS in Syria, it has been hard to escape another reality: the US is still looking for a coherent strategy against the Islamic State. Along with its relentless drive across the deserts of Syria and Iraq, and its continued massacre of civilians and members of endangered minorities, ISIS can now also claim its first victim in Washington with the sacking of Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel. His departure — prompted in part by divisions with the White House over Syria policy — highlights the deep problems of an air offensive against ISIS that has alienated Arab states and other allies in NATO, even as it has failed to bring tangible results.

The crisis ISIS has created for the West and the Arab world cannot be effectively addressed until there is a broader understanding of what ISIS wants. The first thing we need to recognize is that ISIS is not waging a war against the West. In view of the staggering growth in the number of ISIS’s international recruits — there are now estimated to be some 18,000 foreign fighters from 90 countries — the growing possibility that some who have joined the group may return home to carry out acts of terrorism must be taken seriously. There is also a risk that others who never went to Syria, like the shooter in the Canadian parliament in October, will be inspired by ISIS to carry out such attacks.

In contrast to al-Qaeda, however, ISIS has not made the US and its allies its main target. Where al-Qaeda directed its anger at the “distant enemy,” the United States, ISIS wants to destroy the near enemy, the Arab regimes, first. This is above all a war within Islam: a conflict of Sunni against Shia, but also a war by Sunni extremists against more moderate Muslims — between those who think the Muslim world should be dominated by a single strand of Wahhabism and its extremist offshoot Salafism and those who support a pluralistic vision of Muslim society. The leaders of ISIS seek to eliminate all Muslim and non-Muslim minorities from the Middle East — not only erasing the old borders and states imposed by Western powers, but changing the entire ethnic, tribal, and religious composition of the region.

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We seek a future of war with Islam, while wearing a cloak of virtue

Summary:  Yet again the merchants of fear have set America buzzing about small numbers of people far away, people angry that we not only support their corrupt autocratic rulers but attack them (with little concern for collateral casualties). There are no angels in these wars, and many demons.

The American response to ISIS will probably be the same as we gave Saddam and the Taliban: the trinity of US Tactics. Massive firepower on civilians. Search and destroy sweeps. Popular front armies.  But after 13 years and two failed wars some in the military, some voices suggest that we should have a strategy — not just tactics. Jeremy Kotkin (Major, US Army) proposed one, described in yesterday’s post — The solution to jihad: kill and contain our foes. Give war another chance!

We discussed this article in the comments with Lt. Colonel Kotkin, who generously shared his thoughts. They deserve attention, especially as America lurches into new wars in the Middle East, in Africa, and probably other places still secret.

Flying Terminator

Flying Terminator: the Voice of America


LTC Kotkin opens the discussion

Well, you did a good job of parsing all the parts from it I specifically said were unacceptable by today’s standards. What I was doing with the ‘antithesis’ section was more or less building a strawman to get to the better strategy if we decide to take on ISIS (which I still think we *should not* because it doesn’t represent a threat to our interests). What truly focusing on the problem should look like however is a coordinated, cooperative, and focused approach by us and our allies using all the instruments of national power to contain and marginalize where the ideology comes from, where it’s funded from, and where it’s exported from. If you want to focus largely on one section of the essay then do so but don’t conflate it to be *the* conclusion or the policy recommendation.

This isn’t calling for anything retaliatory or indiscriminate on par with Dresden or our Search and Destroy missions in South Vietnam (‘we had to burn the village to save it’). That’s ridiculous. If the military option (hopefully only as a precursor to a larger containment strategy) is chosen, it should be targeted. On a larger scale than our current concepts of COIN kinetics, but not indiscriminate destruction bordering on any ‘genocide’ of people like you’re intoning. The intent (of the antithesis, I remind you) is looking to wipe a specific ideology out, not a people.

It will take more of a concerted effort than we’ve made so far to kill off Wahhabism coming from a few particular places in the Middle East. And again, if we can politically be honest enough to define that as the real problem at hand, not its symptoms. Until our foreign policy gets serious about it we can continue to deal with its symptoms and play our favorite counter-terrorism carnival game, whack-a-mole. Bombs on targets will be a good start at some certain level but concerted and cooperative foreign policy is the long term key. Muslims are obviously not the problem. Islam is not the problem. Monarchists in the Middle East who export and fund violence to satisfy their political/sectarian dominance fantasies are our problem. That we need to deal with better than we have been and that’s going to take a new foreign policy unencumbered by counterproductive alliances and relationships.

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The solution to jihad: kill and contain our foes. Give war another chance!

Summary: Today we have an article from the dark side of America’s soul (with deep roots in our history) enticing us into evil. War erodes our strength, and after 13 years of the War on Terror our defenses against evil are quite thin. Voices like this, although seldom so vivid, probably will dominate debate among the presidential candidates of both parties during the next two years.

“Kill them all; let God sort them out.”
— Loose translation of phrase attributed to Papal legate Arnaud Amalric before the Massacre at Béziers, in France at the start of the Albigensian Crusade.

At an early intergovernmental meeting {1962} on the importance of psychological warfare, one of {General} Harkins’ key staffmen, Brigadier General Gerald Kelleher, quickly dismissed that theory. His job, he said, was to kill Vietcong.  But the French, responded a political officer named Donald Pike, had killed a lot of Vietcong and they had not won. “Didn’t kill enough Vietcong,” answered Kelleher.

— From The Best and the Brightest, David Halberstam (1972)

I urge you to read the article discussed here, and contemplate the future of America. At 3400 words, it’s too complex for an accurate summary beyond “kill kill kill”. The author hits all the usual tropes of US bloodlust. General Sherman. NAZIs. Good (us) and evil (them). Amnesia about history. But bad wars corrupt the soul, and the US has fought three bad wars since Korea The evidence mounts that we are in a perilous state. I’ve included only a few comments, as the text sings a song familiar to anyone who know of humanity’s blood-soaked history.

Two notes to remember as you read.

  1. This article advocates doing what Bin Laden hoped we do. This is why 9/11 was the most effective single military operation in the history of the world.
  2. Despite what the author claims, the record of foreign armies fighting local insurgents is one of almost uniform failure (see details here).

Crusade vs Jihad

Today’s reading:

War is Cruelty, and You Cannot Refine It

“A Thought Experiment on the Hegelian dialectic towards ‘Total’ Strategy Development”

By Jeremy Kotkin (Major, US Army) at Medium
7 September 2014


Major Kotkin opens with sound analysis. This excerpt just sets the stage for the main body.

Let’s talk counterinsurgency and ISIS. Not the “population-centric” fantasy of hearts and minds made popular by FM 3–24, David Petraeus, and liberal American idealism, but real counterinsurgency. Now that a cohesive group of psychotics and organized criminals have thrown the Middle East yet again into a cauldron of seething and violent cultural atavism, what should the world, and the U.S. specifically, do about it? … What do we do about the endemic issue of which ISIS is yet simply another symptom?

The body of the article reads like pre-WW1 literature looking forward to the Great War. It’s a chain of dubious assumptions from the danger posed by ISIS to the effectiveness of war. Major Kotkin starts with a “Thesis”.

… We’ll keep fighting this cancer {ISIS} with one hand tied behind our back. Yet cancer requires a wholesale attack. Even “targeted” anti-cancer therapies try to root out the cancer from the starting place – the genetic source. We have never attempted and will probably not attempt to do this. … We’re afraid of global public opinion. Yet the way we’ve been handling our Global War on Terrorism has been a failure. Something new is needed. Something systemic and something complete.

… What follows is a thought experiment on a different course of action and a different strategy. … What follows is a game-changer and as distasteful as it may initially seem, it represents a course of action, albeit extreme, to deal with an extreme and lasting problem.

… Beyond all the handwringing at State and Defense about what is too little or too much, or messaging, or narratives, or soft power, or population-centric strategies that focus on the human element, the answer always was right in front of us.

Then he gives an “Antithesis”, filled with talk about war and total war — but artfully vague about operational details.

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