War on a New Planet: Reimagining Conflict and Leadership in the Time of ISIS

by Ali Minai

Network1The terrible terrorist attacks by ISIS in Paris on November 13 have understandably generated a great surge of opinion and analysis – some of it insightful and some just opportunistic. It is precisely at times like these that the volume of immediate response threatens to obscure deeper issues, and for a problem as deep as the threat of jihadi extremism, this is truly dangerous. While people are still reeling from the actual attacks and decision-makers are reaching for the most obvious – and frequently bad – choices, it is critical that policy-makers move towards a more realistic understanding of the conflict they face, and not make things worse than they are. Of course, history suggests that this likely to be a vain hope – especially since the proper course is far from clear. This motivation behind this article is not to prescribe specific actions, but to provide a general perspective that may trigger further thinking.

Following the Paris attacks, President Hollande of France declared, “France is at war!” Similar pronouncements have been made by world leaders, analysts and pundits since 9/11. Some see the conflict with jihadi terrorists as a “clash of civilizations”; others as a “battle of ideas”, pitting modern liberal democracy against a regressive ideology. Yet others have declared it to be a “battle for the soul of Islam.” Those wedded to conventional geopolitics see it in terms of military engagements, covert operations and counterinsurgency. There is some element of truth to all these characterizations, but only in the sense that the five blind men of India had some part of the truth about the elephant. What has remained largely unacknowledged is the terrible truth that this is the first war of its kind – a brand new thing never before seen in history, and therefore one for which there is no prior wisdom. It is the first great conflict of the age of globalization, and its phenomenology reflects that of a complex, nonlinear, self-organizing networked world. To make an imperfect analogy, it is to ordinary warfare what quantum physics is to Newtonian physics. It is a war where things don't add up normally, where distant events can be strangely entangled, where common sense may be a liability, and where the very geometry of comprehension is distorted.

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If America And The West Got The Hell Out Of The Middle East, There’d Be No Terrorism. It’s That Simple.

by Evert Cilliers aka Adam Ash

Unknown-1What to do about terrorism, now that Paris has suffered several coordinated attacks and over a hundred dead, with another hundred critically injured?

Redouble our efforts to fight ISIS?

No. How about the exact opposite?

Why not stop fighting ISIS? Why not let America and the West — the former colonial powers — get the hell out of the Middle East, and let those troglodytes fight their own battles among themselves?

Let me state the plain truth: if we got the hell out of the Middle East, the terrorists would get the hell out of our lives.

So, please, sil vous plait: let them have at one another in their horrorshow dance of damnable death without us helping anyone kill anyone else.

Let ISIS have their damn Caliphate.

Let Syria fight itself empty of people, where they cannot feed themselves because of a drought brought on by climate change anyway, with millions fleeing the country (from 22 million people, they're now down to 16.6 million, with millions in neighboring refugee camps, or on their way to Europe, or already there).

Let Saudi-Arabia clobber Yemen, and keep treating its women like shit, and keep publicly beheading people for blasphemy and witchcraft, and stone women to death for adultery, and continue being the worst state on planet Earth (naturally, we are their best friends, which probably makes us the second worst state on planet Earth).

Let the Taliban battle the corrupt leaders of Afghanistan.

Let the Iraqi Shiites continue giving their Sunnis hell, so ISIS keeps growing.

Let Israel do battle with Hezbollah and the Palestinians on their own till the day there are more Arabs than Jews in Israel, when the Israelis will finally have to give up and make a deal.

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The Spectre of History: Thoughts on an Islamic Reformation

by Ali Minai

KoranThe call for an “Islamic reformation” is ringing out across the world in response to the rise of jihadi militant groups such as ISIS and Boko Haram, asking “Where is the Muslim Luther“? In the many opinion pieces and outright prescriptions gracing the pages of magazines, newspapers and blogs, one hears a clear message of “reform or die!” Given the menace posed by Muslim militant groups, this is neither surprising nor unreasonable. But is it really useful to think in terms of reforming the religion of Islam?

This article argues that seeking a religious reformation in Islam is neither feasible nor especially useful as a strategy for countering the current rise of Islamic militancy. While this militancy undoubtedly draws upon Islamic beliefs, groups such as ISIS and Al Qaeda are emergent products of an underlying societal attitude, and until that attitude changes, such groups will continue to arise. Of course, it is critical to fight today's particular militants with every available tactic, but it is even more important to understand why such groups emerge and persist in Muslim societies today, and how this dynamic can be changed.

Proponents of “Islamic reformation” have often invoked the Protestant Reformation in 16th century Europe as an example of the radical change that's needed in Islam today. But as perceptive commentators have pointed out, this argument is fatally flawed: An illiberal and puritanical movement directed at a specific institution – the Roman Catholic Church – is a poor model for reforming an illiberal and puritanical system with no institutionalized clergy. Ultimately, the possibilities for change in Islam are constrained by its historical nature. More than an organized religion, it is a normative ideology defined implicitly by the attitudes of believers towards sacred texts and personages. Unlike Christianity, which is mainly about doctrine, Islam is mostly about history – past and future, personal and universal.

Through its first three centuries, Christianity was a faith without temporal power. This is reflected in the New Testament, which focuses almost entirely on spiritual, ethical and doctrinal matters. When Christianity finally achieved power under Constantine, it necessarily institutionalized a distinction, though not yet a separation, between Church and State – a recognition that God had His domain and Caesar had his, albeit with God's sanction. Notwithstanding the active participation of the Church in politics for centuries thereafter, the formal aim of Christianity has always been to shape souls, with personal Redemption and Salvation as core ideas. In contrast, Islam acquired temporal power during its earliest period, and developed a strong vision of itself, not only as the basis of individual piety, but also as the shaper of history and an organizer of societies.

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Pakistan: The narratives come home to roost

by Omar Ali

Imran-Khan3 Most countries that exist above the banana-republic level of existence have an identifiable (even if always contested and malleable) national narrative that most (though not all) members of the ruling elite share and to which they contribute. Pakistan is clearly not a banana-republic; it is a populous country with a deep (if not very competent) administration, a very lively political scene, a very large army, the world’s fastest growing nuclear arsenal and a very significant, even if underdeveloped, economy. But when it comes to the national narrative, Pakistan is sui-generis. The “deep state” has promoted a narrative of Muslim separatism, India-hatred and Islamic revival that has gradually grown into such a dangerous concoction that even BFFs China and Saudi Arabia are quietly suggesting that we take another look at things.

The official “story of Pakistan” may not appear to be more superficial or contradictory than the propaganda narratives of many other nations, but a unique element is the fact that it is not a superficial distillation of a more nuanced and deeper narrative, it is ONLY superficial ; when you look behind the school textbook level, there is no there there. What you see is what you get. The two-nation theory and the creation of Pakistan in 712 AD by the Arab invader Mohammed Bin Qasim and its completion by the intrepid team of Allama Iqbal and Mohammed Ali Jinnah in the face of British and Hindu connivance is the story in middle school textbooks and it turns out that it is also the story in universities and think tanks (this is not imply that no serious work is done in universities; of course it is, but the story of Pakistan does not seem to have a logical relationship with this serious work).

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Between Wole Soyinka and Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab

By Tolu Ogunlesi

Lamenting the presence of Nigeria on the US government’s list of “countries of interest” (in the war on terror), Nigerian writer and first African Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka told British journalist Tunku Varadarajan, at the Jaipur Literary Festival in January: “[Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab] did not get radicalized in Nigeria. It happened in England, where he went to university.”

Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab is the 23 year old Nigerian man whose arrest on Christmas Day 2009 while attempting to detonate a bomb aboard a Detroit-bound plane caused the country's blacklisting.

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In 2005, at the age of 19, Umar Farouk enrolled in the University College London (UCL), for a degree in ‘Engineering with Business Finance’, after high school at a British-curriculum school in Togo. From all indications UCL kept the young man busy. In his second year he was elected President of the Student Union’s Islamic Society, organizing a “War on Terror Week” during his tenure.

Soyinka’s England

Five decades before Umar Farouk became a student in England, Wole Soyinka was admitted to the University of Leeds. In October 1954 the future Nobel Laureate left the sleepy city of Ibadan, Western Nigeria (where he was studying at the University College), for England. He was 20. Soyinka would spend the next six years in England, returning to Nigeria on the eve of the country’s independence from Britain.

Wole372ready It can be argued that England was the breeding ground for Mr. Soyinka’s genius; the playwright was, in a sense, forged between the stiff upper lips of Poundland. It wasn’t only Soyinka the playwright that was made in England. Soyinka the father was too. He would during his time in that country fall in love with an English woman, who in 1957 bore him a son, his first.

When Mr. Soyinka left for England, the Nigeria he was leaving behind was merely one colony in an Empire that stretched across the world, and Mr. Soyinka was a subject of the Queen of England. The England he was leaving for was not the one in which multiracialism had become the politically correct thing; this was still an England that wore its racism rather comfortably on its sleeves. One of Mr. Soyinka’s most anthologized poems dates back to that time, a cheeky send-up of racism, which to all intents may have been autobiographical:

It features a young black man in England, speaking on the phone with a potential landlady. The phone conversation is a prelude to a face-to-face meeting. But he feels the need to make a “self-confession”:

“Madam,” I warned, / “I hate a wasted journey—I am African.” / Silence.

The landlady’s interest is piqued.

“HOW DARK?”. . . “ARE YOU LIGHT / OR VERY DARK?” she wants to know. She repeats herself, for emphasis.

“You mean – like plain or milk chocolate?” the narrator suggests. Then he has a color-coded brainwave. “West African sepia,” he concludes.

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