Below are some quickly penned highlights of this public class on terrorism, which took place on 12 March 2016.
1. Read “Demons” by Fyodor Dostoyevsky.
2. What is terrorism? And where did IS come from?
Terrorism contains three elements:
– Violence, or threatening with violence;
– Forcing governments to do something or stop doing something.
Terrorists target three audiences;
– Us (you and me);
– Governments and authorities;
Attention is the oxygen on which terrorism thrives.
The Netherlands suffered more deaths (about 20) due to terrorism in the 1970s than it has since 2002. (In the Netherlands back then, a train was hijacked and a school attacked, with 104 children being held hostage, on the same day, for example.)
Four waves of worldwide terrorism since 1800:
- Anarchism (peaked around 1890; this also included governments carrying out attacks and pretending they were carried out by anarchists; became overshadowed by WWI);
- Anti-colonial terrorism (started in the 1920s, peaked around 1950, included IRA and FLN; ended when former colonies gained independence);
- Revolutionary wave that started in the 1960s (peaked around 1980; this also included governments carrying out attacks and pretending they were carried out by revolutionaries; ended when the Berlin wall came down);
- Current wave of terrorism. This includes Sikhs in India, Buddhists in Burma, and now IS. It began in 1979, sparked by first Khomeini and next the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan which triggered a response from (math) teacher Abdullah Azzam, whose efforts were supported by $3,000,000,000 from the CIA. This was followed by Osama bin Laden who was funded with Saudi-Arabia money. After he was killed, the messy situation in Iraq, partly caused by the us in the west, and the Arab spring (which began in Tunisia after a fruit vendor set himself on fire out of frustration and) which turned into the war in Syria helped foster Al-Qaeda 2.0. That is IS / ISIS / ISIL / Daesh.
90% of the victims of the current wave of terrorism are Muslims. Most of the current terrorist attacks take place in non-western countries.
The attacks in the west take place because we in the west don’t pay much attention to attacks in other parts of the world.
Al-Qaeda Iraq which became IS was led by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi (who later declared himself Caliph Ibrahim). Osama Bin Laden (!!!) actually thought he went too far and tried to halt him/them.
IS had a better (more attractive) story than the vague ideas spread by Azzam and Bin Laden, because IS established the state (caliphate) and invited people to come over and live there. This had a romantic appeal. 20,000 to 40,000 people moved to the IS area to live there.
And here is where Stasi training comes in (command & control). The strength of IS was that it was not simply a bunch of frustrated folks, initially, but consisted of Saddam Hussein’s former military top. The Americans had imprisoned a large group of frustrated people together (Salafists, criminals, and Saddam Hussein’s generals and colonels) at Camp Bucca and that is how they got to know each other and started plotting revenge. They established a new police state with what the Stasi had taught them about how you do that, complete with a strong internal security structure.
Recruiting child soldiers is part of it too. (Bin Laden particularly had a problem with the fact that IS wanted to involve children.)
Another strength of IS is that it is very good at using social media. Bin Laden had to use individual video tapes that had to be transported to the nearest Al Jazeera office, hoping that Al Jazeera would use them. IS releases 3 to 4 videos with propaganda and rules for how to dress and so on every day. They also have a magazine, in which they recently indicated that they want a dialogue or negotiation with the west about the Sykes-Picot line. (This provides a possible opening.)
3. What next?
While IS remains a concern, its attraction is beginning to wane. Part of the IS caliphate has already fallen to pieces (and today, on 27 March, the ancient city of Palmyra was taken back from IS). The IS area is no longer the romantic place to live, with swimming pools and well-stocked shops, that initially drew people in. Most of the IS area no longer even has electricity.
People who live there are starting to tell that side of the story, on Open Your Eyes, for example. How IS forced itself upon them, that there is no drinking water, no power, and garbage and rodents everywhere, that women are beaten, and so on.
(Personal note: You can probably see some evidence of this in how young recruits from particularly Tunisia are lured in, namely with promises of paid work. Once they arrive, they are moved around all the time so that they don’t even know where they are, and are not permitted to leave.)
There are increasingly often tensions between different groups within IS (for example Dutch jihadis versus Iraqi jihadis). (Personal note: Keep in mind, too, that some of what is going on is actually Al-Qaeda 2.0 fighting Al-Qaeda 1.0 as well as extremists attacking non-extremists in their own countries. This explains why the victims of the attacks are mainly Muslims.)
As long as there are war-torn countries and as long as there are oppressive regimes and as long as there are young people who don’t have the patience for the slow democratic processes, there will be terrorists.
Terrorists tend to use modern technologies; they are early adopters. (Personal note: This means that intelligence services should have specialists who do nothing else but stay on top of new technologies, become part of the early adopters and keep their eyes and ears open.)
Historically, having an open and inclusive society has always been the best way to crack terrorism.
So, engage in a dialogue (at all levels and everywhere; apparently the Belgians and French don’t do that in their own countries, but the British and the Dutch do), don’t just put (young) people in prison but also make sure that they will have a life when they get out again and don’t continue to be radicalized, don’t cut funding for intelligence services, and use all possible means and openings, not only bombings. And perhaps most important of all: do not overreact to terrorism. Attention is the oxygen that terrorism thrives on.