Focal Points Blog

Islamic Extremism Not Only Protean But Potentially Synergistic

Given up for dead, Al Qaeda is resurgent. Pictured: Osama bin Laden in his happy cave days. (Photo: The Telegraph)

Given up for dead, Al Qaeda is resurgent.
Pictured: Osama bin Laden in his happy cave days. (Photo: The Telegraph)

We recently ran a post titled Islamic Extremism Is Nothing if Not Protean. “Whack the mole of the Islamic State and Al Qaeda will pop up,” we remarked. That was based on the concept of one or the other. But what if, instead of one replacing the other, as the Islamic State seemed to do with Al Qaeda, a new organism formed which was a consolidation of the two?

In the latest Foreign Affairs counterterrorism expert Bruce Hoffman writes:

Only five years ago, al Qaeda’s downfall appeared … imminent. Its founder and leader was dead. A succession of key lieutenants had been eliminated. And the region was transformed by the Arab Spring. Civil protest, it seemed, had achieved what terrorism had manifestly failed to deliver — and Al Qaeda was the biggest loser.

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Why Are Disproportionate Numbers of Islamic Extremists Engineers?

Is it the personality type of engineering students or the nature of their educations? (Photo: EDIWeekly)

Is it the personality type of engineering students or the nature of their educations? (Photo: EDIWeekly)

In a wide-ranging article (highly recommended) in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Dan Berrett address a new book on Islamic extremists by social scientists Diego Gambetta and Steffen Hertog, Engineers of Jihad: The Curious Connection Between Violent Extremism and Education (Princeton University Press). Berrett writes:

Do engineering programs select a certain kind of person, one who arrives on campus already predisposed toward acts of terror? Does something in these programs worsen some students’ tendency toward extremism? Or is the relationship between terrorism and engineering simply an intriguing correlation with no deeper meaning?

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When Hillary Clinton Out-Neoconned a Neocon

Hillary Clinton’s unquestioning loyalty to Israel is another sign that she is out of touch with the new Democratic zeitgeist. (Photo: Joe Crimmings / Flickr Commons)

Hillary Clinton’s unquestioning loyalty to Israel is another sign that she is out of touch with the new Democratic zeitgeist. (Photo: Joe Crimmings / Flickr Commons)

Hillary Clinton was the recipient of much criticism for her speech before the AIPAC (the American Israel Public Affairs Committee) on March 21. For example, the headline to a Slate article by Michelle Goldberg called it “a Symphony of Craven, Delusional Pandering.” At the National Interest, Henry Siegman wrote about the most objectionable passage of the speech.

Among the dangers from which Clinton promised to protect Israel is the “threat” of a Security Council resolution demanding an end to the half-century occupation of the West Bank. She said she would insist that Palestinians can achieve statehood only in negotiations with Netanyahu. Yet even President Obama, who until recently held that same view, finally realized the absurdity of that demand following Netanyahu’s declaration during the last Knesset elections that Palestinians will not live to see a state of their own while he is Israel’s prime minister.

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Islamic Extremism Is Nothing if Not Protean

Whack the mole of the Islamic State and Al Qaeda will pop up. Pictured: Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri. (Photo: Andres Pérez/ Flickr Commons)

Whack the mole of the Islamic State and Al Qaeda will pop up. Pictured: Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri. (Photo: Andres Pérez/ Flickr Commons)

The conventional wisdom seems to be that the tide has turned in the war against the Islamic State. In the New Yorker, Robin Wright reports:

The Islamic State has recently lost ground—about forty per cent of the territory it seized in Iraq in 2014 and about ten per cent of its holdings in Syria. “Daesh is on the defensive. The Iraqis have gained momentum,” [Col. Scott] Naumann said.

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When Islam Polices Extremists

When Saudi Arabia funds Salafist mosques and schools, mainstream Muslims can become susceptible to jihadism. Pictured: Saudi-funded mosque in Pakistan. (Photo: Wikipedia)

When Saudi Arabia funds Salafist mosques and schools, mainstream Muslims can become susceptible to jihadism. Pictured: Saudi-funded mosque in Pakistan. (Photo: Wikipedia)

After terrorist attacks by Islamic extremists, especially in the West, many call for Muslims to intensify their efforts to police their own religion and condemn the extremists. Actually, as you can imagine, to a certain extent that’s being done, though it doesn’t draw much media attention. (I broach the subject of the extent to which it isn’t at the end of the post.) Anyway, there are respectful ways for the West to call out to Islam.  
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Where Is Gorbachev When You Need Him?

To Gorbachev, national security for Russia could only be achieved by cooperating with other nations, including the United States. Pictured: the Kremlin. (Photo: Larry Koester / Flickr Commons)

To Gorbachev, national security for Russia could only be achieved by cooperating with other nations, including the United States. Pictured: the Kremlin. (Photo: Larry Koester / Flickr Commons)

It’s odd how the name of Mikhail Gorbachev, the last leader of the Soviet Union (chairman, general secretary of the Communist party, and president) fails to be included in the list of great statesman of the twentieth century. Nor has anyone comparable appeared on the international scene in the twenty-first century.  In tandem with instituting glasnost and perestroika, he reduced the Communist party’s role in running the economy. Perhaps the chaos that followed explains the reluctance from giving him full credit for his accomplishments.
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Terrorism: From the Irish Dynamite War to the Islamic State

How many Western leaders are honestly interested in terrorists’ motives? Pictured: bombing in the Irish Civil War. (Photo: Public Domain)

How many Western leaders are honestly interested in terrorists’ motives? Pictured: bombing in the Irish Civil War. (Photo: Public Domain)

The year 2016 is the 100th anniversary of the Irish Easter Rebellion. Throughout the year I will try to revisit some of the lessons of Ireland’s struggle for freedom.

Bombs explode in a subway. The victims are everyday people who happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. What follows is outrage: track down the perpetrators. The people who set off the bombs are monsters and inhuman fanatics, thunder the authorities.

But the year is not 2016, it is 1883 during the “Dynamite War” waged by mainly Irish-American members of the Fenians against the English occupation of Ireland. The Fenian Brotherhood was founded in 1848. The “War” targeted the underground, train stations, city halls, public plazas, and factories in London, Manchester, and Liverpool. The war spanned four years, and in the light of the current terrorist attacks in the Middle East and Europe, it is an instructive comparison.
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Are Class Differences Between Muslims in Europe and U.S. Really Determining Factor in Terror Attacks?

Many Muslims in Europe share characteristics with Europe’s nationalists — and, in the U.S., supporters of Trump. (Photo: IBT Times)

Many Muslims in Europe share characteristics with Europe’s nationalists — and, in the U.S., supporters of Trump. (Photo: IBT Times)

At Politico magazine, Daniel Benjamin writes: “Since 9/11, the four largest attacks in Europe … have claimed at least 426 lives. In the United States, even with the Fort Hood shooting, the Boston Marathon bombing and San Bernardino, the total is 45.” In other words: “Western European Muslims are three times likelier to end up in ISIS than their American co-religionists.”
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Gorbachev Was Just Too Far Out Front of the United States

Many still believe that the United States won the Cold War and that nuclear weapons were the reason why. Pictured: Mikhail Gorbachev. (Photo: Dgies / Flickr Commons)

Many still believe that the United States won the Cold War and that nuclear weapons were the reason why. Pictured: Mikhail Gorbachev. (Photo: Dgies / Flickr Commons)

Conventional thinking holds that nuclear deterrence helped the United States win the Cold War. Unfortunately, that may be doubly delusional. In their 1994 book We All Lost the Cold War (Princeton University Press), Richard Ned Lebow and Janice Gross Stein write:

The conventional wisdom has two components. American military capability and resolve allegedly convinced Soviet leaders that aggression anywhere would meet unyielding opposition. Forty years of arms competition also brought the Soviet economy to the edge of collapse. The Reagan buildup and Star Wars, the argument goes, were the straws that broke the Soviet camel’s back. Moscow could not match the increased level of American defense spending and accordingly chose to end the Cold War.
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Hillary Clinton Still Stuck in Time Warp About Israel

Hillary Clinton’s remarks before AIPAC sound like someone from the Bush administration.  (Photo: Marc Nozell /  Flickr Commons)

Hillary Clinton’s remarks before AIPAC sound like someone from the Bush administration. (Photo: Marc Nozell / Flickr Commons)

In her speech before AIPAC on March 21, Hillary Clinton sounded like the Obama administration had never happened:

“The United States and Israel must be closer than ever, stronger than ever,” Clinton declared. “We must take our alliance to the next level,” she said, calling for “even more intense security and diplomatic cooperation” and demanding that the U.S. arm the Israeli military “with the most sophisticated defense technology.”

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