Tag Archives: al qaeda

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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Jihadists will prosper using the methods of America’s entrepreneurs.

Summary: How might the various jihadest organizations evolve during the next decade? They might follow the same path as emerging industries in capitalist economies, driven by the same forces of competition to to grow and innovate so that the best grow far larger than anyone imagined possible at their beginnings. We cannot imagine the details, but the general dynamics are easily understood. If so, the future holds many strange and perhaps terrible things. Our current policies, built on arrogance and ignorance — and above all on a refusal to learn from experience — might end badly for us.  (2nd of 2 posts today.)

This is a follow-up to Business 101 tells us what to expect next from jihadists: goods news for them, bad for us. The structure of the jihadist “industry” resembles that of other early stage industries entering their periods of rapid growth and innovation. Such as the automobile industry in the 1920’s, before the massive consolidation that took it from thousands of small companies to dozens of giants (Canada went from hundreds to zero), and the cutting edge sectors of the software industry during its many revolutions.

Jihad flag

This is a heavily paraphrased excerpt from Risk and Reward — Venture Capital and the Making of America’s Great Industries by Thomas M. Doerflinger and Jack Rivkin (1987). This passage discusses the automobile industry. I have substituted the jihadist “industry” and changed some of the text. However, the reasoning remains the same. Note that the quotes and numbers are real, from the author’s description of the early auto industry.

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An industry takes off

The jihadist industry resembles the classic high-tech industries (e.g., semiconductors, biotechnology). A few thousand dollars are all that is needed to start an insurgent group, and if it scored some early success more people and funds roll in. The flip side is that the industry is incredibly volatile, with fast-growing groups sprouting up and then shriveling like so many mushrooms.

As in the case of automobiles and computers, those outside the jihadist community are slow to appreciate its tremendous potential because they did not anticipate how rapidly it would improve in effectiveness. This is actually typical of both revolutionary industries and movements.

Growth

To be sure the jihadist industry has grown more slowly than its French counterpart. It took only 5 years for France to get from the calling of the Estate-General in 1788 to Robespierre’s Reign of Terror in 1793. The jihadist industry followed a more typical trajectory, from “criminals … who are willing to be guns for hire” (per David Petraeus, 9 November 2003) into a serious threat to the region’s regimes in only 11 years. The central reason for this superior performance is that as in the early days of automobiles and computers, no single company monopolized the jihadists. From the beginning it was a competitive free-for-all. They had a second and equally important advantage: local entrepreneurs run the groups, people who had faith in their revolution. The elites of the region, even their supporters, are rational, skeptical, and often wrong — and remain safely on the periphery where they could do little damage.

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Business 101 tells us what to expect next from jihadists: good 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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