An interesting paper (5-page PDF) on how ISIS, Al-Qaeda and its spin-offs, and other extremist groups make use of social media to promote their messages and to recruit new members. The report is from the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Response to Terrorism.
The innovative ways that foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq are leveraging social media and mobile apps to recruit aspirational supporters in the West reveal what is actually a paradigm shift occurring within the global jihadist movement, away from the organization-centric model advanced by Al-Qaida, to a movement unhindered by organizational structures. Counterterrorism policy and practice must rethink the way it approaches countering online radicalization.
Asharq Alawsat runs an interesting piece from the Associated Press on how a campaign of the war with IS is taking place in social media. Social media platforms like Twitter and YouTube are taking down the graphic images of the murder of American journalist James Foley. The platforms do not wish to be engaged — or to be used — as part of IS’s propaganda.
This raises issue itself, however. Not only is there a form of self-censorship going on (not that that is all bad), but publicizing that you will not publicize something is, in fact, publicizing it.
The article notes that IS is far more sophisticated in its use of media than were the Taliban in Afghanistan, who had a visceral dislike of media, particularly electronic media. The current group, perhaps aided by volunteers from the technologically-advanced West, are taking the conflict to new and wider levels.
Beirut, AP—The extremists of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) have turned their social media into a theater of horror, broadcasting a stream of battles, bombings and beheadings to a global audience.
The strategy is aimed at terrorizing opponents at home and winning recruits abroad. But there are increasing signs of pushback—both from companies swiftly censoring objectionable content and users determined not to let it go viral.
Public disgust with the group’s callous propaganda tactics was evident following their posting of the beheading video of American journalist James Foley—footage that spread rapidly when it appeared online late Tuesday.
The slickly edited video begins with scenes of Obama explaining his decision to order airstrikes in Iraq, before switching to Foley in an orange jumpsuit kneeling in the desert, a black-clad ISIS fighter by his side.
The fighter who beheads Foley is then seen holding another US journalist, Steven Sotloff, threatening to kill him next. “The life of this American citizen, Obama, depends on your next decision,” he says.
By Wednesday, many social media users were urging each other not to post the video as a form of protest.
Phillip Smyth, a University of Maryland researcher who tracks the social media activity of jihadists, has noted a modest but noteworthy rise in the speed with which rogue accounts are being removed from Twitter and terror-supporting pages are being pulled from Facebook.
“It’s happening,” he said. “I can tell you first-hand because I look at this stuff every day.”
Writing at Al Arabiya TV, Hisham Melhem finds the origin of extremist groups like ISIS to be in the Arab penchant for “conspiracy theories, delusions, self-deception, paranoia and xenophobia.” Undemocratic societies, where government seek to control the flow of information, leave vacuums which people will seek to fill. They end up filling them with nonsense, with anger, with paranoia.
It’s worth reading his column in full. He does a good job of pointing out the various zany theories that are rippling across not only the Arab world, but the world at large. And it’s scary.
Most people are averse to introspection, and rarely engage in self-criticism. Arabs are no different. However, the political culture that developed in the Arab World in the last 60 years, particularly in countries ruled by autocratic regimes, shifted blame from their catastrophic failures in governance to other external, sinister forces. For these countries, self-criticism has become next to impossible.
Over time, this legacy has created fertile terrain for conspiracy theories, delusions, self-deception, paranoia and xenophobia. If you read an Arab newspaper or many a website in the region, you will invariably encounter some of these symptoms. Admittedly, sometimes they can be entertaining, but in most cases they are downright ugly, reflecting deep pathologies of fear.
The Great Game was the rivalry that played out between the British Empire and the Russian Empire in the 19th and early 20th C. for supremacy in Central Asia. Today, there’s a new “Great Game” being played out in iraq, says Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).
The rise of ISIS/ISIL and the declaration of a new “Islamic State” have brought into high relief the problems sectarian violence in the region. The direct causes are many, but the effects are a multiple of that, affecting all states in the region, including Saudi Arabia.
Cordesman’s piece is meant as possible guidance for US policy-makers. It’s an interesting analysis.
The U.S. has good reason to try to prevent the creation of a violent, extremist Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, to reverse the gains of ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria)/ ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham), and to help move Iraq back towards a more stable and unified form of government. The chances, however, are that the U.S. can at best have only partial success. The U.S. faces years in which Iraq is divided by sectarian and ethnic power struggles, the Syrian civil war continues, facilitating some form of radical Sunni threat crossing the border between Syria and Iraq.
ISIS/ISIL did not suddenly materialize in Iraq in December 2013. For years, the group exploited growing Sunni and Shi’ite sectarian divisions and steady drift towards civil war. For at least the last three years, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki’s actions of building his own power structure around a Shi’ite dominated state with close ties to Iran alienated Sunnis and exacerbated tensions.
The U.S. cannot simply intervene in Iraq by attacking ISIS/ISIL. It is a major movement in Syria as well as Iraq. The U.S. must also find some way to limit and roll back ISIS/ISIL -– without taking sides in Iraq’s broader civil war. At the same time, creating anything approaching a stable Iraq means creating new and lasting political bridges across Iraq’s increasingly polarized and divided factions as well as helping to create a more effective and truly national government in Iraq, as well as rebuild Iraqi forces that serve the nation, rather than an increasingly authoritarian Shi’ite leader.
It is far from clear that the U.S. can do this, and Syria and Iraq are only the most visible challenges taking place in the strategic game board that shapes the Middle East. The U.S. must also deal with a much broader set of new strategic forces that go far beyond Iraq’s borders. The U.S. must change the structure of its de facto alliances with key Arab states in the region, and it must deal with new forms of competition -– or “Great Game” with Russia — and possibly China, as well.
The Pew Research Global Attitudes Project has taken a recent look at how the Islamic world view religious extremism. They see it increasingly dimly and are increasingly worried about it.
Attitudes in the countries surveyed have shown a decline in support for extremism on the whole, though the report points out that support for suicide bombings still holds strong minority support in several countries.
The polling was done before ISIS declared itself a caliphate. I suspect that the negative numbers would decline even more sharply were to polls to be held today.
Concerns about Islamic Extremism on the Rise in Middle East
Negative Opinions of al Qaeda, Hamas and Hezbollah Widespread
As well-publicized bouts of violence, from civil war to suicide bombings, plague the Middle East, Africa and South Asia, concern about Islamic extremism is high among countries with substantial Muslim populations, according to a new survey by the Pew Research Center. And in the Middle East, concern is growing. Lebanese, Tunisians, Egyptians, Jordanians and Turks are all more worried about the extremist threat than they were a year ago.
Meanwhile, publics hold very negative opinions of well-known extremist groups, such as al Qaeda, Hamas and Hezbollah.
In Nigeria, the vast majority of respondents, both Muslims and Christians alike, have an unfavorable view of Boko Haram, the terrorist group that recently kidnapped hundreds of girls in the restive north of the country. And a majority of Pakistanis have an unfavorable view of the Taliban.
Few Muslims in most of the countries surveyed say that suicide bombing can often or sometimes be justified against civilian targets in order to defend Islam from its enemies. And support for the tactic has fallen in many countries over the last decade. Still, in some countries a substantial minority say that suicide bombing can be justified.
These are the main findings of a new Pew Research Center survey conducted among 14,244 respondents in 14 countries with significant Muslim populations from April 10 to May 25, 2014. The survey was conducted prior to the recent takeover of Mosul and other areas of Iraq by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
The poll is reported in Arab News among other Saudi media, though Saudi Arabia was not among those countries polled.
Following his removal as Deputy Minister of Defense, Khaled bin Bandar has been named as Chief of General Intelligence. Prince Bandar bin Sultan, meanwhile, was named as Advisor to King Abdullah.
The palace intrigues continue.
New Gigs for Prince Bandar and Prince Khalid
Patrick W. Ryan | SUSRIS
Two appointments were announced today in Saudi Arabia installing Prince Bandar bin Sultan as Advisor to King Abdullah and Prince Khalid bin Bandar to Chief of General Intelligence.
The naming of Prince Khalid as intelligence chief comes two days after he was relieved as Deputy Defense Minister – where he served for only six weeks — a move that spurred speculation about leadership realignment and future succession intrigue. The announcement noted that the action was taken at the recommendation of Crown Prince Salman, Deputy Prime Minister and Defense Minister.
King names new intelligence chief
JEDDAH: Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah has tapped the former deputy defense minister to lead the Kingdom’s intelligence services.
The king named Prince Khaled bin Bandar to the post of chief of general intelligence in a decree on Monday, the Saudi Press Agency reported.
Prince Khaled was relieved of his post as deputy defense minister on Saturday, barely six weeks after he was appointed.
Prince Khaled was previously the governor of the Riyadh region, an important post he assumed in February 2013 that involves overseeing the capital and provides opportunities for direct contact with top officials and visiting dignitaries.
The king also named the former intelligence chief, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, as adviser and special envoy to the king.
Prince Bandar was ambassador to the US for 22 years before becoming director general of Saudi intelligence agency in July 2012.
Just 45 days after his appointment as Deputy Minister of Defense, Pr. Khaled bin Bandar has been shown the door. A brief statement from the Royal Court announced his departure. Arab News carries the statement:
Prince Khaled bin Bandar, deputy minister of defense, has been relieved of his position upon his request, said a royal decree issued by Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah on Saturday.
Prince Khaled, who was appointed deputy defense minister on May 14, 2014, was removed from the post on the recommendation of Crown Prince Salman, deputy premier and minister of defense.
King Abdullah issued another decree relieving Saud bin Saeed Al-Muthami from his position as state minister and Cabinet member for the Shoura Council affairs upon his request. Al-Muthami has been replaced by Mohammad bin Faisal Abusaq as the new state minister for Shoura affairs.
Ahmed Al Omran — known to us also as “Saudi Jeans” — points out in a Wall St. Journal article, that the announcement lacked the normal courtesy language of “upon his request”. This suggests that it was at the request of someone else. No replacement has yet been named.
… The royal decree sacking the deputy defense minister lacked the customary “upon his request” line usually used with departing members of the ruling family. This has stoked speculation about a power struggle at the ministry between him and Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the son of the Crown Prince.
Fuad Ajami, scholar and writer on Middle Eastern affairs, has died. I had the pleasure of hosting him at my home in Riyadh several times. While we had some differences on certain aspects of the politics of the Middle East, he was always courteous and informed, a pleasure to know.
The insurgent/terrorist group, the Islamic State of Syria and al-Sham, ISIS, has taken over parts of Iraq and continues to battle in Syria. Various pundits have offered their opinions about how this group is funded. Some — including lazy ones who work from stereotypes — have blamed Saudi Arabia and other Gulf States despite the fact that several of those countries — and most certainly Saudi Arabia — have labeled the group as terrorists. Saudi Arabia has not only blocked funding, but has jailed those who support the group or who have gone off to fight with it.
Foreign Policy magazine offers a new take. It reports that even though some funding from GCC states had gone to ISIS in the early days, and it’s likely that some private funding still does, the group is now self-supporting. Through a variety of criminal acts, ISIS is able to find the money to fund operations, pay salaries, pay bribes, buy weapons, and train recruits. Were every riyal, dinar, dirham or dollar from the Gulf to be cut off, the group would be in fine fiscal shape.
Never mind that the group grabbed tens, if not hundreds of million dollars from Iraqi banks through simple robbery. The group is also involved in oil smuggling, extortion, and kidnappings for ransom. According to a report from the Carnegie Institute for Peace Studies, the group may be earning as much as $50 million per month on smuggled oil alone.
When fighters from the Islamic State of Syria and al-Sham (ISIS) stole tens of millions of dollars from a bank in Mosul earlier this year, it wasn’t simply a startling symbol of the collapse of Baghdad’s control over Iraq’s second-largest city. The brazen theft was instead a stark illustration of one of the most alarming aspects of ISIS’s rise: the group’s growing ability to fund its own operations through bank heists, extortion, kidnappings, and other tactics more commonly associated with the mob than with violent Islamist extremists.
In its early years ISIS — like the Taliban and other Sunni militants — received most of its funding from wealthy donors in Kuwait, Qatar, and other Persian Gulf countries. Extremists in those U.S. ally states continue to send money to ISIS, but American counterterrorism officials believe that the group now finances the bulk of its recruitment, weapons purchases, and attacks without outside help. In other words, even if the United States and its allies somehow stopped the flow of money from the Persian Gulf to the battlefields of Iraq and Syria, it would be too late to prevent ISIS from banking enough money to fight on for years.
“The overwhelming majority of their money comes from criminal activities like bank heists, extortion, robberies, and smuggling,” said one U.S. counterterrorism official. “They’re getting some money from outside donors, but that pales in comparison to their self-funding.”
War, crises, and sanctions in several of the oil-producing states is leading to a global oil shortage, Bloomberg news reports in this piece carried by Asharq Alawsat. This is driving prices higher and pinching economies as well as consumers. Saudi Arabia, the country with the greatest oil reserves, needs to increase its production to record levels if oil prices are to remain within economic reason, the report says.
This is the direct opposite of what analysts had been suggesting just half a year ago when there were positive expectations that Libya, Iraq, and Iran would work their ways out of their problems and get their oil back on the market.
Increased production from the US takes pressure off prices in the US, but because of laws prohibiting the export of crude oil, it does little for the global market other than to reduce US demand. That’s not a small thing, but it is insufficient to make up the shortfall between international demand and international production.
London, Bloomberg—OPEC ministers say they will almost certainly leave their oil-production ceiling unchanged when the group meets this week. What really matters for markets is whether Saudi Arabia will respond to global supply shortfalls by pumping a record amount of crude.
Just six months ago, energy analysts predicted output from the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries would climb too high and Saudi Arabia needed to cut to make room for other suppliers. They changed their minds after production from Libya, Iran and Iraq failed to rebound as anticipated, and industrialized nations’ stockpiles fell to the lowest for the time of year since 2008. Saudi Arabia may need to pump a record 11 million barrels a day by December to cover the other member nations, says Energy Aspects, a consultant.
“Now it’s not whether the Saudis will make room, but whether they’ll keep it going and maintain enough spare capacity,” said Jamie Webster, a Washington-based analyst at IHS, an industry researcher. “OPEC is increasingly having a hard time just doing its job of bringing all the barrels needed.”
The linguistics blog Languagehat has an interesting post about the way the Disney Corporation has changed its approach toward localizing the versions of its films intended for non-English-speaking audiences. Commenting on the work done on the latest Disney film “Frozen”, it notes that rather than dubbing the film into Egyptian Arabic, as had been the norm, the film was released to Arab audiences dubbed in Modern Standard Arabic. This has both puzzled and upset many.
The comments to the post offer interesting insights about both language versioning of films and the question of how dialects of Arabic are considered.
Translating Frozen Into Arabic.
Elias Muhanna, an assistant professor of comparative literature at Brown University, has an excellent New Yorker blog post about just what the title says:
One of the forty-one languages in which you can watch “Frozen” is Modern Standard Arabic. This is a departure from precedent. Earlier Disney films (from “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” to “Pocahontas” to “Tangled”) were dubbed into Egyptian Arabic, the dialect with the largest number of speakers in the region, based in a country with a venerable history of film production. Generations of Arabs grew up watching Egyptian movies, and the Disney musicals capitalized on their familiarity with this particular dialect.
Modern Standard Arabic is very similar to Classical Arabic, the centuries-old lingua franca of the medieval Islamic world. Today, it is the language of officialdom, high culture, books, newscasts, and political sermonizing. Most television shows, films, and advertisements are in colloquial Arabic, and the past several years have seen further incursions of the dialects into areas traditionally reserved for the literary language.
The Belfer Center at the Harvard-based John F Kennedy School for Government, has published a report (43-page PDF) on Saudi Arabia’s defense goals, strategies, and resources. The report, by Saudi analyst Nawaf Obaid, discusses how Saudi Arabia sees itself in a threatening world and how it seeks to ameliorate risk. The report is not official policy, but what Obaid, a knowledgeable analyst, believes it might or should be. He is likely correct.
The Obaid identifies seven goals:
– To Defend the Homeland
– To Maintain Success in Counterterrorism Efforts
– To Bolster the Defense of Strategic Allies
– To Succeed in Power Projection
– To Deter the Spread of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)
– To Establish Two Separate Commands for Cyberspace and Space
– To Strengthen Inter-agency Partnerships