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ISIS Will Win Many Battles But Lose the War

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51OZQR9XHsL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Aeon Magazine has published a 11,000 word essay by Scott Atran, ISIS is a revolution. Atran is one of my favorite thinkers, and his book In Gods We Trust: The Evolutionary Landscape of Religion, is one of the more influential in shaping my understanding of cultural phenomena (warning, the prose is dense, but worth it!). Over the last ten years Atran has focused on the phenomenon of radical Islamic terrorism, using his anthropological and evolutionary scholarly toolkits to decompose the problem. More recently he’s been doing “field work” on the front-lines of the battle against ISIS in Iraq. Literally the front lines!

The piece in Aeon is a necessary corrective to two vulgar and populist reactions to the rise of radical groups like ISIS. First, there is the materialist viewpoint, which holds that a lack of economic opportunities is the dominant causal factor driving the violence. The first order issue to address is the reality that many regions of the world (e.g., non-Muslim Sub-Saharan Africa) have larger portions of the population which are underemployed or unemployed than the Islamic world, and yet do they not serve as sources of violent politically or religiously motivated terrorism. In fact, the best ethnographic work indicates that a disproportionate number of the young men involved in violent religious and political terrorism are not from the bottom of society, but closer to the top. In particular those striving and moving up the socioeconomic ladder in cultures undergoing modernization. The rural peasantry and the established upper classes are relatively immune to radicalization, but those whose roots are in the country but attempting to situate themselves in the middle class or higher are subject to more social dislocation, despite lack of material want. Most of the 9/11 bombers were Saudi, a nation which has a cradle-to-grave system of benefits for citizens, and which has been shielded and enriched by an alliance with the United States. Certainly marginalization, social and economic, are necessary conditions for recruiting from the Islamic Diaspora in Europe, but even here they are not sufficient conditions. The Roma are more socially and economically deprived than Europe’s Muslims, but do not engage in organized terrorism of any sort.

A second extreme position is that Islamic terrorism is a natural necessary consequence of the character of the Koran. The problem with this viewpoint is that though most of those who participate in Islamic terrorism may identify as Muslims, on closer inspection they often lack even the patina of fluency in their own religion. This may be especially true of those who grew up in secular Diaspora environments, but the vast majority of the world’s Muslims have little to no familiarity with the details of the Koran or the Hadith (the latter of which is in any case more relevant for day to day practice). There’s a reason that they make recourse to the ulema as a de facto clerical caste. Additionally, Islamic terrorism in the Middle East is to a great extent the heir of radical nationalist terrorists of the 1970s, many of whom were Marxist, or were from Christian Arab backgrounds (in particular the PFLP). Even suicide bombing, a major calling card of Islamic terrorists today, was pioneered by the Left nationalist Tamil Tigers. But just as economic and social marginalization fuel disaffection among Europe’s Muslims, many elements of Islamic religious theory and practice are easily co-opted into justifying violent movements. Islam after all is a pacific religion historically only after it has dominion. Even if one rejects the proposition that Islam is the reason for violent terrorism by Muslims, one does not therefore accept that it is no part of the overall dynamic.

Finally, there is also the idea that Islamic terrorism is nihilistic. Certainly it can seem nihilistic…from our perspective. That is why it is essential to look at things from the perspective of others, and also periodically engage in Epoché and detach from individual subjectivity. Many conservative Muslims decry the Western lifestyle as without meaning, soulless and empty. Though there is some truth to this, most of us who live the Western lifestyle know that there is a fair amount of meaning, dignity, and value in our quotidian days. Some conservative Muslims who arrive in the West are surprised to observe that the sight of women walking about in shorts does not induce an orgy of mass rape. But that is because they simply do not consider any viewpoint not conditioned on their own prior assumptions. Similarly, we in the West need to consider the viewpoints of our antagonists, without it implying in any way that we accept the positions of our antagonists as necessarily meritorious.

51SrA4DFsEL Two works from the mid-2000s give us a window into Islamic terrorism as it was then, Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism by Robert Pape, and Understanding Terror Networks by Marc Sageman. Pape utilized standard social science methods (e.g., regression) to show there was strong relationship between suicide bombing in the service of political ends in contexts where foreign powers with an asymmetrical advantage had historically intervened. In other words, Pape’s work suggests that rational choice frameworks are useful even for acts as individually irrational as suicide bombings. Second, Sagemen’s survey of the ethnography of the violent Salafi international punctures the perceptions of those who might suggest that global capitalism will ultimately abolish political violence in a bath of chemically flavored french fries. Many of the recruits in Salafi terror networks are from well off families like Osama bin Laden. 51QHx-ZmCHL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_ (1) Or, they are well educated like Ayman al-Zawahiri. There is the recurring thread of the over-representation of applied STEM backgrounds, in particular engineers. And, converts and those from relatively globalist/cosmopolitan backgrounds are also over-represented in terms of orders of magnitude in comparison to the worldwide Islamic population. In other words, it is those most familiar with the fruits of global capitalism who have turned away from its allure.

Atran’s research, like Sageman’s, has focused on detailed statistical ethnographies of those who are recruited into Islamic terrorism. What it shows that peer networks are essential to explaining how become recruited in these activities, and in particular kinship ties, both fictive and real. Humans are social creatures, and much of our cognition operates through a social sieve. Our beliefs and preferences are strongly shaped by a tendency to conform to our “in-group.” This is so strong that even if it is clearly irrational humans may still engage in behaviors to maintain conformity to group norms. The Xhosa cattle killing is a clear example of this principle of adherence to majority norms despite grave consequences, but so was the continued adherence of most Germans to the Nazi regime after defeat became inevitable, or Chinese enactment of the Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution, which probably retarded the rise of that nation to prominence for a generation.

k10543Group solidarity around a compelling meta-narrative is the important “big picture” element of Islamic terrorism which is critical toward understanding its motivations, and which can be missed by descriptive ethnographies or econometric analyses. Palestinian nationalist terrorism of the 1970s, or Tamil Tiger suicide bombing of the 1980s, were fundamentally derivative or subordinate to a broader family of ideologies, post-colonial nationalism with a Leftist inflection (ETA and the IRA also fall into this category, even if situated in the West). In contrast, Islamic terrorism has the potential to become superordinate, and swallow up individual movements and grievances into a meta-narrative. E.g., the core actors in ISIS to this day seem to be a shadow of Saddam Hussein’s Baathist officers. It is neat to presume these individuals are using Islamic ideology in an instrumental sense, as Saddam himself clearly did. But the Islamic meta-narrative is powerful, and has historical precedent. It is plausible that though the trigger for the precipitation of an Islamic movement in Iraq was the defenestration of the officer core of a notionally secular national regime, the ultimate crystallization and end state of the movement may be toward a sincere and genuine Islamic nationalism. One might make the analogy here to what has occurred in Pakistan. The founder of the state, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, was a religiously non-observant Shia Muslim (who had Hindus in his recent ancestry, and whose family was of the marginal Ismaili sect) who seems to have envisaged a secular state, albeit demographically dominated by Muslims. Today Pakistan is riven by Shia-Sunni sectarian conflicts, and adheres to a strong Islamic self-identification. Jinnah’s proximate motives in creating Pakistan could be understood in light of the nationalist sentiments of India’s Muslim ruling class, and their dispossession in the 19th century, and impending marginalization in a united India. But ultimately he set in motion a series of events which would hinge Pakistan to a de facto Sunni Islamic international, and allow it to be an incubator for violent religious radicalism which it can barely control. Pakistan was swallowed by a broader evolving meta-narrative.

518rHTN9d-L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_ What Atran highlights in his piece is that young men across the Islamic world are being inspired by a powerful ideal which transcends the material. That is, they are not being driven by dreams of material wealth and affluence. Nor are they driven by simple hatred of the West, or unthinking nihilism. As Shadi Hamid has noted it is an act of political cant to assert that the Islamic State has nothing to do with Islam. For the broad masses this sort of assertion will suffice. I recall, for example, a conversation with a friend of mine in 2002 who was a gay man who repeated to me the standard narrative that Islam is actually a religion of peace. As a straight male with a “Muslim name” I could probably get some peace out of Islam, but as it is constructed today in majority terms it is rather strange for a gay man to assert this, as there is little tolerance for gay orientation in the Muslim world (though that is changing). But this is human social conformity and social cognition kicking in again. For people interested in reality one has to move beyond the artifice of social cognition, and dig deeper. Islam is a meta-narrative which arose as a cultural adaptation 1,500 years ago. First it bound factious Arab tribes together. Second, it bound Arabs and non-Arabs together in a common meta-ethnic identity, and allowed for a period of Islamic cultural hegemony at the center of Eurasia.

communismstory1_1413028f The reality is that we’ve seen this before, and relatively recently. Atran, and others, have made the analogy between anarchism around 1900 and Islamic terrorism today. To outsiders both movements were frightening and nihilistic, but in hindsight anarchist violence arose as a side effect of the transition toward a liberal democratic order. Atran critically observes that the wave of anarchist violence abated when Marxist-Leninism emerged to capture a nation-empire, that of Russia. International communism in its Soviet dominated period proactively smothered anarchism (e.g., during the Spanish Civil War), and perhaps more importantly deprived it of oxygen, as idealistic youths who would have been attracted to anarchist terrorism as outlets for their rebellious energies were co-opted by the dream of a universal Communist commonwealth of states. And so with the transition from the age of al Qaeda to the age of ISIS.

At this point then we may have to stop talking about “Islamic terrorism,” and refer to the Islamic international, if the analogy with anarchism and communism hold. Atran also points to the example of the French Revolution, which began the process of organized political terror in the name of an ideal, and ultimately gave rise in a genealogical sense to most modern political movements which persisted into the 20th century (fascism being the arguable exception, though it was in many ways a reaction to the ideologies spawned by Revolution).

Gilgamesh

Gilgamesh

On the individual level what is appealing about the Islamic state is that it has a heroic narrative ready for those who wish to embrace it. From the perspective of most of the world, including the Muslim world, this is perverse, considering the barbarities committed by the Islamic State. But again, we must not fall into the trap of assuming that our enemies lack humanity; rather their assumptions are inverted and different. There are millions of Germans whose grandfathers were proud members of the SS, despite the fact that some of its killing units engaged in wholesale genocide, and specifically acts of murder against women and children. They thought they were heroes for their fatherland, doing dark deeds to forge a better world. Or as one SS commander stated boldly as he lifted up a child he was about to murder, “You must die so we may live.”

The liberal democratic “end of history” is not heroic or anti-heroic. It is banal, and heroism plays out only in the context of a job well done in the banality of existence and persistence. Being a good parent, friend, and a consummate professional. But not everyone is a parent, and not everyone has a rich network of friends, or a fulfilling profession. Ideologies like communism, and religious-political movements like Islamism, are egalitarian in offering up the possibilities of heroism for everyone by becoming part of a grand revolutionary story. Though John F. Kennedy’s administration has a glow and sheen today which would have been unfathomable to those who lived through it, his words about why America sought to go to the moon are remembered because they capture the essence of a heroic spirit. The reality of course is that we sought to go to the moon because America wanted to defeat the Soviet Union in the space race. But he asserted that the American nation sought to go to the moon because it was hard. And ultimately getting to the moon first brought America glory and renown. And that is what many young men crave, but few can attain in a stable liberal democratic consumer society.

51SKjCKQBrL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_The Islamic State has co-opted a meta-narrative which exists within Islamic history, and offers up a heroic vision to individuals who identify as Muslim across the world. Prior to its meteoric rise many people dismissed the Islamic State, or what was then simply al Qaeda’s branch in Iraq, including president Barack Obama (and myself). After its conquest of Mosul there were many who asserted that the material structural parameters of the domains which the Islamic State ruled would make its period of rule ephemeral by necessity. In short, the Islamic State was poor and under-resourced. There was no way it could sustain itself more than six months.

Obviously those prognostications were wrong, and they were wrong because of an excessive fixation on material parameters of success or failure. In the generality Atran points out that there’s a fair amount of social science and historical scholarship which suggests that motivated minorities can capture and transform whole societies. The world religions are key examples. Most humans are conformist, so when faced with a powerful bloc which operates as a unit they often simply fall into line. This arguably occurred in Germany in the 1930s, in Russia in the 1920s, and in France in the 1790s. The transition to Protestantism in the Netherlands and England occurred despite initial apathy or resistance from the peasant majority (yet sometimes majorities remain steadfast; the Hohenzollerns did not transform their Lutheran domains to the Reformed faith, while later Saxon rulers who were Catholic were a minority in their own kingdom).

But, I am somewhat more sanguine than Atran about the impact of the Islamic State on the world in comparison to revolutionary France or Soviet Russia. He makes much of the fact that the French nation repelled massive invasions in the 1790s, and ultimately transformed the whole continent. But as documented in Azar Gat’s War in Human Civilization the French victories probably had less to do with élan imparted to the armies of the Revolution than the reality that the new political arrangement in France allowed for total mobilization of the society. In short, the armies of the French were larger, though Napoleon’s genius did seem to allow for a initial strategic bonus. The final loss of Napoleon’s empire was due to the fact that other European powers began to follow France’s lead and mobilize their whole society toward war. Similarly, the Bolsheviks in 1917 captured a very powerful state, as did the Nazis in the 1930s. Modern conflict is by necessity an economic battle, and the weight of matériel will usually adjudicate as to who the ultimate victor will be. Atran notes that during World War II German soldiers were on a per individual basis more effective than the troops of the Soviets or the Western allies, but ultimately the military-industrial might of the United States and the sheer numbers of the Soviet forces overwhelmed the Nazi regime.

OIC_map The gross domestic product of the nations which constitute the Organization of Islamic Cooperation is about 7 trillion American dollars. The aggregate GDP of the European Union is 19 trillion dollars. The United States of America is 16 trillion dollars. China is 9 trillion dollars. In 1790 France was in the running for the number #1 economic power in Europe. In 1913 the Russian Empire was in the running for being the #1 economic power in Europe. Though France in 1790 was far more heterogeneous than it is today, and the Soviet Union was very heterogeneous, arguably they were far more cohesive polities than anything that one might congeal out of the OIC.

41murHaheEL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_ In the Aeon essay Scott Atran argues that the millenarian forces which ISIS is harnessing are here to stay. I agree with him. There are structural demographic and sociological forces which make Islamic movements, of which ISIS is the most extreme manifestation, nearly inevitable for the next generation or so. But, there are also structural demographic and economic forces which suggest that it will not be as nearly an existential threat to the liberal democratic political order as the movements of the 20th century. The West, Russia, China, and India, are all not particularly congenial to a long term alliance with Islamic powers. Electric cars and the shale oil revolution both threaten a major point of leverage that the Islamic international in the form of Saudi Arabia have over the rest of the world. Of course some might wonder at the Islamic demographic bomb. If current trends hold by 2050 30% of the world’s population will be Muslim. And as I noted above motivated minorities can capture whole cultures. But 30% of the world’s population at that time will also be Christian, with a larger proportion in areas where religious zeal remains strong. And, the orientation of Chinese culture is such that conversion to Islam is often seen as tantamount to leaving one’s Han identity in totality (one particular issue is that pork is central to Chinese cuisine, but it is taboo for Muslims). As documented by Philip Jenkins in God’s Continent and Eric Kaufmann in Shall the Religious Inherit the Earth? Europe’s Christian identified population should be far larger than its Muslim identified population as far as 2100, even in pessimistic analyses (Pew suggests that 10% of the European Union’s population will be Muslim in 2050).

That is the optimistic angle on what awaits us. It’s not going to be as bad as Soviet communism or German fascism. I lived through the specter of the former, and many people alive still remember the latter. But the likelihood is that the core Islamic world, from Morocco to Pakistan, will be riven with conflict and tumult, and that will draw in Diaspora populations, and those from the demographically important margins (e.g., Indonesia). This conflict will spread back out to non-Muslim nations with Muslim minorities. As Atran notes all one needs are a small motivated number of young men to allow for their to be critical mass for violence. Some level of violence directed toward majority non-Muslim populations in nations with large Muslim minorities may be inevitable. For non-Muslims the fact that the vast majority of Muslims decry violence, both due to sincerity and self-interest, will be somewhat besides the point, as the violent minority are going to take center stage in national concerns. In the Muslim world the violence will be orders of magnitude worse, just as the fascist and communist regimes of the 20th century inflicted most of their terror upon the populations whom they ruled. In an almost Newtonian fashion I expect that non-Muslim societies under attack from Islamic international will exhibit a more self-conscious cultural identity than before in reaction.

Over the long run the flames will die down as a cycle of inter-cultural conflict abates. The future beyond 2050 is difficult to predict. Technology will have changed a great deal, and technology effects change on culture. What it means to be human will shift. Perhaps humanity will again focus on space travel, channeling some of its heroic energies outward, though this will always be a small demographic slice due to the constraints of physics. The vast majority might turn inward, and disappear in a vacuous virtual reality realm. Far better than projecting violence outward. But, I do think it points us to the reality that Islamic violence is a horrible answer to a real question. What should we do? And why should we do it?

 
• Category: Foreign Policy, Ideology • Tags: ISIS, Middle East

175 Comments to "ISIS Will Win Many Battles But Lose the War"

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  1. “but so was the continued adherence of most Germans to the Nazi regime after defeat became inevitable”

    This is tangential to the main topic but I’m not convinced this was irrational on the same level as something like the Xhosa cattle killings. Most Germans were at least vaguely aware of the massive crimes committed by Germans, especially in the East, and there must have been widespread fear of the allies’ taking revenge for that; in a sense there was no way out anymore since it was clear the war would only end with Germany’s unconditional surrender. Besides (and I think this is sometimes underestimated by people today, especially those from countries with no recent experience of dictatorship) there were very real reasons for still being conformist in the closing stages of the war as the terror that had earlier been mostly directed at the occupied territories came back to the homefront. My grandmother (who worked in an armaments factory and was definitely not anti-Nazi, probably rather the opposite) was once questioned by the Gestapo about suspected sabotage; not that anything happened to her, but it was an intimidating experience. My grandfather saw the Waffen-SS just hanging people without papers whom they suspected of being deserters in East Prussia in late 1944. Under such conditions you don’t step out of line unless you have some firm convictions (which most people don’t have), the rational thing is to lie low and hope you can save your own skin.
    What was irrational though (and is baffling to me), is that a not insignificant number of Germans seem to have believed until the end in the possibility of victory. My grandfather told his parents in 1944 that they could forget about Germany winning the war…they wouldn’t believe him, said he didn’t see the big picture and the Führer would save the situation. That level of denying reality is hard to understand.
    As to the main topic: Yes, modern life is banal, most people aren’t very successful or exceptional, and killing or dying for some heroic great cause can seem very attractive. George Orwell wrote something along those lines already back in the 1930s…that Hitler had understood that people don’t just want a good time, comfort etc. but also sacrifice and the feeling of doing something meaningful and heroic. So it’s understandable that IS can seem attractive to some people.
    And it’s certainly true that Islamist movements can’t really be an existential threat to Western societies (unless they get their hands on nuclear weapons). But I don’t find that very consoling…things could easily get even worse in a few years (what if Saudi-Arabia can’t pay its welfare programmes anymore and collapses in unrest?) and Western politicians don’t seem to have any ideas how we could effectively protect our societies from that chaos spilling over into the West. Probably will only change after a few more mass attacks like Paris or something truly massive on a 9/11 scale :-(

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  2. The article that Steve Hsu posted yesterday gave me a little hope. Maybe if the Saudis start toward running deficits they’ll, in turn, not be able to sponsor their world wide hate programs as much. Might take a couple of hundred years though:)

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  3. good point on what it means to be ‘rational.’ by analogy, the stock market can be irrational longer than you can be solvent ;-)

    i think europe is in for more problems than the USA. your muslim minorities are

    1) larger
    2) more ethnically cohesive (that is, in each nation, often one muslim ethnicity is preponderant so there is a synergy between religion and ethnicity that can’t happen in the USA)
    3) more socially and economically marginal

    also, you are closer to africa and MENA, so you’ll get more muslims.

    the + side is as your welfare states get cut back and overstretched the appeal of migrating to europe will decrease. basically, the higher the % of muslims, the less attractive states will be to future waves of muslims.

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  4. Whereas I agree with most of the ideas discussed in this document, permit me to kvetch on two points here, and I promise not to take off a deep tangent:

    1. Omar is probably a better judge of this, but there is no Shia-Sunny rivalry in Pakistan; only Sunni violent antipathy to Shia, Ahmadiya and other non-traditional modes of Islam. Shia is a small minority (~12%) an are in no state to be a rival to Sunnis.

    2. ” recurring thread of the over-representation of applied STEM backgrounds, in particular engineers”. As an engineer, I vigorously protest against this characterization. In the third world, engineering and medicine is considered to be a passport out of lower midle class drudgery, and a large number of above-average IQ students are marshalled into these disciplines. When a few of them turn into terrorism, that gets charactrized as applied engineers as terrorists. In fact most of the terrorists (Atta’s thesis focussed on urban lanscapes in Aleppo as a conflcit between modernity and Arab civilization). In fact he held no jobs in architecture except as a draftsman. Marwan Al-shehri went through a series of courses in Hamburg but never graduated in shipbuiling. If you were to sift through the bios of all the terrorists, they have minimal reklationship with engineering. In fact, in my work in Egypt, I found the Egyptian engineers to be much more salt of the earth and quite willing to traverse academic textbooks and practical work with ease, and found them to vary a range from coservative Muslims to chainsmoking cairo Urbanites.

    —– end meaningless kvetc—–

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  5. shia muslims are more powerful than their numbers. 1) i believe they’re concentrated in sindh 2) over-represented among the elites (e.g., the bhutto family), though some of this is apparently recent conversion because of details about sharia.

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  6. “the + side is as your welfare states get cut back and overstretched the appeal of migrating to europe will decrease. basically, the higher the % of muslims, the less attractive states will be to future waves of muslims.”

    That’s also a pretty depressing scenario (ending the welfare state), but probably quite likely.
    At some point however there must a hardening of hearts in my opinion, along the lines of “Enough is enough, if the Islamic world wants to self-immolate itself, ok, but we have to insulate our own societies from that”. I don’t see that happening in Germany, absent some transformative experience like massive terrorist attacks. The sentimentalism on display during the migration crisis of the last months is pretty astonishing. There’s a shocking lack of resolve and a general inability to even conceptualise external threats (and that applies to other areas as well…the media and politicians get all hysterical about Putin’s Russia, in my opinion excessively so…but the strange thing is, nobody talks about rebuilding Germany’s army which is undermanned and in a pretty dismal state…it’s as if indignation and moral posturing is all that matters).

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  7. In any war both morale and leadership are very important, even more important than economics. A reminder of that was how IS routed the far larger and better equipped Iraqi army and quickly took Mosul and much of Sunni Iraq.
    The West is not willing even to name its enemy or take basic precautions, like curtailing immigration from cultures where islamism is very active, like the arab world or Somalia.
    Islamism is supported by several governments that enjoy western support like Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar. The last 3 openly arm and supply Syrian islamists including ISIS, while the first supports an array of organizations that fight NATO, but western governments pretend not to notice.
    The scenario from Submission is far fetched, but not impossible given the idiocy of european politicians that see a bigger danger in populists then in islamists.
    Islamists killed the tourism of Egypt and Tunisia. Same thing could happen to european countries. Prosperity is a fragile result of peace. Increasing police and war costs and decreasing revenues could make european economic prospects even bleaker.

    The statistics that you linked here:

    In 1913 the Russian Empire was in the running for being the #1 economic power in Europe.

    are really weird. After them the Russian Empire had the biggest european GDP at least by 1820 when it’s territory (in Europe) is comparable with that of the Soviet Union. Economic historians always have very dubious data.

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  8. And now that I’ve read Atran’s article I can’t say I agree with this:
    “A welcome to Syrian refugees would clearly represent a winning response to this strategy, whereas wholesale rejection of refugees just as clearly represents a losing response to ISIS.”
    I’m convinced that what’s going on now with the refugee influx of mostly Sunni Muslims to Europe will end badly, if not now, then in 10-15 years time. If Europe takes in anybody at all, the various non-Islamic minorities should be prioritised, prospects for their future in the Mideast looking pretty bleak right now.

    • Agree: MEH 0910
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  9. Great post although what I worry most about is less the initial wave of terrorism. Frankly I’m still shocked we made it the last 15 years without more major attacks. Rather I’m worried about what happens when the inevitable backlash and populist movements against Muslim immigrants develop. Trump’s xenophobic populism is pretty minor compared to what I suspect would happen if we got a few successful attacks killing more than 1000 people or causing significant economic effect. Put an other way, what happens if there’s a similar countermove by a minority and the two clash?

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  10. In any war both morale and leadership are very important, even more important than economics.

    it’s not more important. but if you have zero morale or leadership, as the iraqi armies did, then of course that’s what’s going to matter. the israelis showed that being less well warmed in their first and second wars with the arabs doesn’t matter if the arab armies are poorly led and poorly soldiered. but those are arab armies. american soldiers could destroy ISIS in pitched battle, though would take casualties in a protracted campaign. not because their morale is higher, but that they’re skills and weaponry are so much better.

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  11. to maintain the peace, we need to prepare for war? that’s what your comment got me thinking. i think the ad hoc inchoate and open borders policy of the european union is hastening the rise of the atavistic forces which the establishment is scared of. look at the SD is rising in sweden, the nation most obviously the candidate for those who would bear their throat happily for their new overlords….

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  12. Saudi deficits right now are absolutely massive due to their war on Yemen+the oil price fall.

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  13. they need $100 oil not to be in deficit under current demographic conditions. but my understanding is that their structural situation is going to be worst for a while yet (age bulge). lots of people entering the job market needing a gov. sinecure.

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  14. Razib,

    You obvious hold Mr. Atran in high regard. What are your thoughts then on his rather conventional statement that importing all those Syrian refugees/migrants will attenuate Daesh’s media warfare?

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  15. That’s also a pretty depressing scenario (ending the welfare state)

    Not eliminating it entirely, but what’s wrong with cutting it down to American levels? Now the US itself has a fairly generous welfare state by world standards, but the narrative for prospective immigrants is that if you go there, you are pretty much on your own. The institutions in the country are strong enough that if you are capable, entrepreneurial, and willing to work very hard, you will succeed, but if you aren’t, you’d better not come at all.

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  16. Razib, I have a hard time accepting Islamism as a challenge to the West on the same level as communism and fascism and I’d like to know if you agree.

    Basically, the industrial revolution dramatically changed all the old certainties of life (e.g life is poverty, disease and suffering) and the burning question was how these new industrial societies were to be organized. Democratic capitalism, communism, fascism all directly addressed this central question. So it wasn’t surprising that they had wide ideological appeal which cut across geographical boundaries, since they addressed a question confronting many different societies.

    On the other hand, Islamism seems to offer no real alternative to capitalism in organizing industrial societies. Despite all the violent upheaval, it seems little different from evangelical Christianity or any other religious movement, with no appeal outside its own traditional adherents. Not at all similar to communism, which had universal appeal.

    Just a few years ago, there was a Maoist revolution in Nepal, because communism still held ideological appeal to a wretchedly poor country. I can’t imagine a similar Islamist revolution in a traditionally non-Muslim nation, no matter how much its Muslim population grows. Without plausibly promising a better tomorrow, I can’t see how any ideology can be anything more than a nuisance to the West.

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  17. I agree with your conclusion wholeheartedly.. . Though I would be somewhat harsher on Atran. I think he is right in broad theory, but casually and almost mindlessly repeats several fashionable (and pedestrian) liberal talking points when it comes to details of recent history and even long past history… Also he seems genuinely confused about some of the implications of his own core arguments.. Anyway, I have to think this through and then comment in detail.. Enjoy. And Happy New Year!

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  18. A new year and…
    “Here’s a new way to think about something that should be obvious…

    To the politicians in DC and financiers in New York, Saudi Arabia is an island of stability in a sea of chaos. A reliable ally, willing to keep the oil flowing, year in and year out. A place that’s not vulnerable to the instability that routinely guts the countries around it.

    Of course, that line of thinking is utterly misguided. The opposite is true.”

    http://globalguerrillas.typepad.com/globalguerrillas/2015/02/isis-isnt-the-problem-saudi-arabia-is.html

    This is Buster reminding you that we ain’t communicating, we’re mass communicating!

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  19. The rural peasantry and the established upper classes are relatively immune to radicalization, but those whose roots are in the country but attempting to situate themselves in the middle class or higher are subject to more social dislocation, despite lack of material want.

    There appears to be a resemblance to Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping, who came from wealthy peasant backgrounds. The difference, of course, is that Mao and Deng were (1) rescued from annihilation by the Japanese invasion of China that triggered the Sino-Japanese War, (2) fortunate that Imperial Japanese forces proceeded to destroy the finely-honed Nationalist war machine that had been making mincemeat of retreating Communist forces and (3) aided by Soviet agents in the State Department who convinced Truman that Chiang’s inability to defeat Japan despite American leadership (Stilwell) was evidence of Chiang’s corruption and incompetence. Unless the US (and Europe) retreat from the region as the US withdrew funding from Chiang, it’s unlikely that ISIS can win.

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  20. What has been discounted here is the possibility of an Islamic state coming into possession of nuclear weapons. If that happens, then all bets are off for a favorable resolution. We fortunately survived the last standoff between communist Russia and the west; we may not survive another such cold war.

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  21. Razib, I have a hard time accepting Islamism as a challenge to the West on the same level as communism and fascism and I’d like to know if you agree.

    i said so in the post. did you read it? ;-) (fascism probably less of a challenge than communism because it was less egalitarian)

    Just a few years ago, there was a Maoist revolution in Nepal, because communism still held ideological appeal to a wretchedly poor country. I can’t imagine a similar Islamist revolution in a traditionally non-Muslim nation, no matter how much its Muslim population grows. Without plausibly promising a better tomorrow, I can’t see how any ideology can be anything more than a nuisance to the West.

    good contrast. basically, even though maoism has been culturally destructive, it can overlay upon native societies which retain traditions unique to them, and not transform them into something different. in contrast, islam entails a civilizational switch of identities, which is not feasible.

    but, for islamists i’m not sure if one can say it lacks no external appeal. a substantial minority, and a disproportionate number of the most fanatic elements, of these islamist movements today are from converts.

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  22. we went through this stupid bullshit in the years after 2001. nuclear weapons are not a trivial technology to maintain and deploy. yes, ISIS has elan, but it can’t find doctors for its hospitals or engineers for its plants! nuclear requires a state with serious capabilities. iraq before 2003 was not that state, and it was a more competent state than ISIS in the ways of modernity. now, if such a state (here’s looking at you pakistan!) got captured by crazies and deployed THAT STATE WOULD BE WIPED OFF THE FACE OF THE EARTH. we’re not talking about islamic radicals capturing nations which can deploy intercontinental weapons en masse.

    p.s. i think russia is more an existential danger than ISIS. not because i think it is much of a danger at all, but it retains the capabilities with the number of weapons that can reach the rest of the world. so p > 0, though probably p ~ 0.

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  23. As a fellow engineer I thank you for that. I once had a long and ultimately pointless argument with a physicist about how there is nothing in an engineering education that predisposes someone to extremism. He had made the point that the extremist organisations concentrated their recruiting efforts on the engineering schools of universities. Well, when you are looking for particular knowledge, skills and intelligence level, you would, wouldn’t you? Similarly, I understand they targeted medial schools.

    Only one engineering student I ever knew was an extremist – a neo-Nazi, but he was that way when he enrolled. And he never graduated.

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  24. This is a very well-thought out piece. I agree with much of it, particularly the part about the “hero culture” that sustains “Islamic terrorism” in response to the seemingly meaninglessness of exported Western materialism.

    My only area of criticism is the following:

    Modern conflict is by necessity an economic battle, and the weight of matériel will usually adjudicate as to who the ultimate victor will be. Atran notes that during World War II German soldiers were on a per individual basis more effective than the troops of the Soviets or the Western allies, but ultimately the military-industrial might of the United States and the sheer numbers of the Soviet forces overwhelmed the Nazi regime.

    First of all, although the material advantages the Allies enjoyed during World War II were decisive, the German grand strategic mistakes were also crucial to the final outcome. With a more sound grand strategy, there were several junctures during the war at which points the Germans could have terminated hostilities with advantages.

    Furthermore, while material disparity is indeed of great importance in outcomes of war between organized states, which are viewed as equals whatever their economic-military power, the same dynamic does NOT hold when one of the combatants is an organized nation-state while the other is not. Indeed, as Martin van Creveld states quite correctly (see his “The Transformation of War”), in unconventional warfare in which the strong fights the weak, the strong tends to lose in a long war. Post-colonial “wars of liberation” provide ample demonstrations of this phenomenon (there is a few counter-examples to this, the two major ones of which are the British “victories” in the Malayan Emergency and in Northern Ireland).

    Viewed in that recent military historical context, the victorious outcome of the Western war against the so-called Virtual Ummah (of which ISIS is merely the latest and the most successful manifestation) is not a foregone conclusion.

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  25. I’m not convinced this was irrational on the same level as something like the Xhosa cattle killings. Most Germans were at least vaguely aware of the massive crimes committed by Germans, especially in the East

    In fact, the rather effective German propaganda machine relentlessly broadcast atrocities committed by the Soviets as the latter entered the “Reich proper,” starting with East Prussia. Most Germans were more than “vaguely aware” of the dire consequences should the Russians enter the Reich home areas, as the subsequent mass looting, rapes, and killings of civilians amply proved. Indeed, many disorganized German units on the East fought rather desperately and heroically to provide a corridor for the German civilians to evacuate ahead of the oncoming Russian onslaught.

    there were very real reasons for still being conformist in the closing stages of the war as the terror that had earlier been mostly directed at the occupied territories came back to the homefront.

    Near the end of the war, “Defätismus,” that is to say, “defeatism,” was a capital crime in Nazi Germany akin to treason and subversion/sabotage. The so-called People’s Court convicted and executed many people of defeatist talks or acts, and their names were published widely for further shame.

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  26. You are quite correct that, to put generously, the possibility of a terrorist group deploying a nuclear weapon is quite remote. However, the possibility that a terrorist group might obtain and deploy a crude NBC device some sort (nuclear-biological-chemical weapon or weapon-like material) to induce mass panic (and to elicit an expeditionary military response) rather than create large destruction is not so remote.

    Of course, Russia and China possess orders of magnitude greater ability to pose a materially existential threat to the United States than any other actor in the world. Aside from nuclear weapons capability, they also possess the technical ability to cripple the United States, for example, by disabling a part of the American electrical grid/power infrastructure.

    But destruction is not the only way to pose an existential threat. As Napoleon said, “moral is to physical as three is to one.” Even without significant destruction of materiel and lives, it is possible to create, sustain, and expand (mass) psychological dislocation that unravels a society.

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  27. Comments on this thread should not be rambling so that I can’t follow them. I don’t care about every single one of your random speculations and assertions. Don’t pull a jack strocchi! (I haven’t a few comments already due to poor mix of quality & quantity )

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  28. Anonymous
    says:
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    Of course, Russia and China possess orders of magnitude greater ability to pose a materially existential threat to the United States than any other actor in the world. Aside from nuclear weapons capability, they also possess the technical ability to cripple the United States, for example, by disabling a part of the American electrical grid/power infrastructure.

    Yes, and Russia, and to a lesser extent China, have the capability of knocking out all space satellites at the start of any shooting conflict with them. Forget about the thermonuclear capabilities, MRVs, et al. So, when I hear Hilliary or any of the GOP candidates (besides Trump and Paul) talk about non-fly zones in Syria and shooting down Russian planes, I wonder if they have are fully disembarked from the sunny shores of sanity. Relatedly, I’m hoping the full-blown attack by the establishment on Trump, and the fact that Trump isn’t beholden to anyone, will force him to go outside the establishment to pick people for his administration. It might be very interesting. I could see Trump tapping a Stephen Cohen from Princeton or bringing in Gen. Michael Flynn. It could very interesting and we might see the most competent Presidential administration in the modern era.

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  29. IS wasn’t seem as a deadly threat until it took on what was at least the appearance of a viable actual state, then everyone started bombing them and backing anyone who would fight them. I don’t think Muslim ideology will ever be able to present a militant challenge outside the Muslim homelands, which have been divided into unstable countries riven with group rivalries like Syria. Even in the favourable Syrian situation the survival of the IS state for another year already is in doubt.

    Jihadist attacks In the West over more than a decade show a pattern of a single big terror attack in each country (the US Britain and France) under the auspices of Islamist military organisations, but without any follow up attacks. The potential suicide Jihadists are few and far between and just don’t have the infrastructure or volunteers for sustained action. If there was an ongoing campaign of attacks killing masses of people in a western country there might well be a punitive security response similar to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Siege_(1998_film)

    Muslims in diaspora communities doubtless understand that there is no telling what could happen to them if they became seen as sheltering terrorists.

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  30. Perhaps the non-muslim world will unite against the Islamic world, it could be a good group bonding exercise in a sense. After all China has issues with them, Russia as well, Europe too, India perhaps most of all and perhaps ironically America will have the least internal issues so may be the one to stay out of it.

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  31. I would like to follow on th commnts of Vinay, and ask:

    What are the wars and the Battle that ISIS is winning/losing that would be a threat to the United States, or other nations? As of today, do the citizens of the United States care, even if ISIS wins and establishes a caliphate that stretches between Aleppo and Ramallah? Clearly, this Caliphate will be battling the Shiites of Karbala and Najaf, and Kurds of Mosul and Kirkuk intensely. Granted, that in the short term, the refugees will hurt the EU. I wonder if we are not overstating the importanc of ISIS, an the wars an battle is nothing more than skirmishes. Is this whole thing (I am talking about, both, the ISIS, and the Koranic wars which rarely involved more than a few hundred raiding party members) nothing more than a tempest in a teapot? Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Iran can handle themselves.

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  32. Razib,, I did read the article and I know that you’ve clearly stated that Islamism is not as much of a threat as communism and fascism. So my real disagreement is that I don’t think it’s even in the same category. Communism and fascism were plausible alternatives to the Western order, Islamism seems a plausible alternative only for trust-fund countries, where your wealth comes from something like oil, rather than your citizenry.

    “but, for islamists i’m not sure if one can say it lacks no external appeal. a substantial minority, and a disproportionate number of the most fanatic elements, of these islamist movements today are from converts”

    I was thinking of the kind of irreversible mass appeal that a successful ideology has. For example, poor countries which went communist initially did great economically, so the West feared that any country allowed to “go over to communism” would stay there, like Cuba and Vietnam. There was no reason to assume that the regime would lose mass support. Basically, the “threat of a successful example” or the “risk of contagion”. That threat is no longer there so nobody gives a damn if, say, a country bordering China goes Maoist.

    By contrast, nobody worries about Islamism posing any “threat of a successful example”. If it wasn’t for oil, nobody would even care. Certainly, nobody cared about Sudan, other than for humanitarian reasons.

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  33. I don’t live in the US and have never been there, so my view of it may be wrong on many levels…but still, most Germans (and probably people in many other European countries) would be pretty horrified at the thought of scaling the welfare state back to US levels…in the popular imagination here the US system is associated with millions having to live without health insurance (and with rotting teeth to show it) and a fairly short road from precarious middle class status to homelessness. That’s not something a lot of Europeans want.
    As an outside observer (who’s reliant on what he reads in the internet, so again, I may be getting lots of things wrong) I’m also not sure the US’ ethnic politics is a model to follow. Frankly it seems to me the US hasn’t even managed to resolve its traditional race problem…violence and crime are only kept at acceptable levels by incarcerating massive numbers of black men, and there seems to be massive dysfunctionality and hopelessness among a permanent black underclass. And then there’s all the identity politics stuff into which at least some immigrants are assimilating (as shown in such incidents like the “cultural appropriation” nonsense at Oberlin).
    There are elements I admire about the US (like freedom of speech, to some degree even the right to own guns), but on the whole it seems doubtful to me that it’s a model for Europe to follow.

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  34. What real threat does the Islamic World, pose to the West? They don’t have any kind of military force, and there is no ideological threat as with commie intellectuals. ISIS is a paper tiger, and fighting it gives fading countries a mistaken feeling of importance.

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  35. Yes I know, Gobbels’ propaganda made a lot of incidents like this
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nemmersdorf_massacre (though it’s still controversial what really happened there).
    In the end Soviet occupation policy didn’t turn out to be as horrible as had been feared (it certainly wasn’t genocidal or quasi-genocidal in the way the Germans had acted in Belarus etc.), but it was of course bad enough, and finding yourself in the way of the Red army in 1944/45 or becoming a Soviet pow wasn’t exactly fun. Keeping the Red army as far away from the Reich as possible was certainly a motivation for many German units who kept on fighting in the East in late 44/45 (though for many German soldiers in the last stages of the war the priority was probably to get as far away from the East as possible, in order to be taken prisoner by the western allies, not the Soviets; that was somewhat the case with my grandfather who had been part of Heeresgruppe Mitte and escaped via East Prussia to Northern Germany where he was taken prisoner by the British…which was the best that could have happened to him).
    And yes, Nazi courts did become ever more extreme during the later stages of the war. Nazi rule of course rested on a large degree of consensus in German society, but in the end it did increasingly get repressive on the homefront as well, there really were cases of people executed for telling jokes about Hitler.

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  36. Indeed, as Martin van Creveld states quite correctly (see his “The Transformation of War”), in unconventional warfare in which the strong fights the weak, the strong tends to lose in a long war. Post-colonial “wars of liberation” provide ample demonstrations of this phenomenon (there is a few counter-examples to this, the two major ones of which are the British “victories” in the Malayan Emergency and in Northern Ireland).

    The one thing that these victories for the weak have in common is that they did not attack their strong adversaries in their homeland, or threaten their vital interests. The IRA did not do its cause any favors by killing Lord Mountbatten and attempting to assassinate Thatcher and her cabinet. Given that ISIS ultimately wants to consolidate the entire Muslim world (and eventually the world) under its ambit, rather than simply rule a single country, there is no way the strong powers of the world can avoid eventually confronting and destroying it. Can the West (or China) ever be comfortable with the possibility of the oil resources of MENA being unified under ISIS (or any other single entity) rule?

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  37. “I expect that non-Muslim societies under attack from Islamic international will exhibit a more self-conscious cultural identity than before in reaction.”

    I think Cultural Marxism has largely suppressed the normal “Civilisational Rallying” effect (per Huntington), at least so far.

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  38. I agree with the other commenters, this is a very well thought out piece.

    The most important contingency, I think, is an extremely simple question: whether nuclear bombs ever get into the hands of Islamists willing to use them (not simply as a deterrent to stay in power, but aggressively). Everything else pales in importance.

    Why are there so many brilliant people named Scott A.? (Atran is at best the 4th most prominent in the blogosphere after Aaronson, Adams, and Alexander.)

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  39. I hope you’re right, Razib. But of course a state’s impoverished status doesn’t preclude the creation of a nuclear armada, the Soviet experience shows that. Pakistan’s program is, as you mentioned, the most likely path to a nuclear armed jihadist state. And although deterrence held off Armageddon for the last 70 years, it is not sure-fire mechanism for the avoidance of catastrophe. Unfortunately I don’t think there are any policy moves in the near term to reduce the risk, we must just watch, wait and see if the threat dissipates or grows stronger.

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  40. I think one aspect that hasn’t been paid enough focus, even by Atran is not the revolutionary nature of the ideology in question but where it is situated in relation to the mainstream religio-political identity of the community that it is conquering. Salafi-jihadism is almost impossible for mainstream Sunnis to summon up enough moral clarity to fight because it represents a more violent manifestation of their core belief system. I am not making the claim that it represents or resonates with all Sunnis, but it is similar enough to and on the same continuum of their belief system to be impossible for them to fight with any degree of success. You can see this in Mosul/Ramadi/Raqqa, you can see it in Southern Afghanistan and you can see it in Pakistan. That’s why I think that in the long term, this ideology is going to suck the energy out of any local resistance in Sunni dominated regions. It’s about as organic as you can get, when it comes to revolutionary ideologies and their potential for success within a given population.

    Also, I’m struggling to see how Atran’s conclusions are any different from the much reviled “reductive” argument put forward by Graeme Wood in his infamous article.

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  41. But of course a state’s impoverished status doesn’t preclude the creation of a nuclear armada, the Soviet experience shows that.

    in terms of GDP the imperial russia was one of the top polities in the world. just because it was impoverished on the per capita basis doesn’t mean it couldn’t mobilize massive resources. please stop making the analogy without taking into account basic issues of economies of scale (or lack thereof). additionally, not to put too fine a point on it, but the soviet union had access to a lot of human capital. imperial russia had many scientists, and, there were also many scientists (unfortunately) sympathetic to communist in the west. this does not hold for ISIS.

    pakistan’s does not have nearly the armamentarium as the soviet union because it doesn’t have the resources. its focus is on a short-range conflict with india, and even talks about ‘tactical nukes.’ from a pure american perspective still not as dangerous to the american homeland as russia today.

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  42. Well there’s also the possibility that space-exploration doesn’t pan out, virtual reality turns out to be a gimmick which produces more nausea than fun, and differential fertility ends up with whites being a <50% plurality in every western country east of Austria by 2050.

    Muslims in the West will still be poor, even poorer, and so dreams that Islam is our solution will remains strong, while the capability of Western states to suppress them will only weaken. ISIS itself may very well collapse due to being crushed at war, or just sheer misgovernment, but I don't see what the West can come up with which is more attractive to young Muslims than Salafism.

    What it means to be human will never change. Life is about being on top. Muslims feel this doubly because they are (due to low social capital) in the underclass, and yet Islam tells them they are entitled to be on top. No amount of hedonistic consumerism is going to change that. They've had free porn and cheap Chinese stuff for years already and Islamism has only got worse.

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  43. , this ideology is going to suck the energy out of any local resistance in Sunni dominated regions.

    defensible claim. but one must ask: how did magisterial protestants eventually diffuse the challenge of radical protestantism? the long road began by driving religion somewhat out of the public sphere. so yes, as presently constituted the norms in the core sunni muslim lands re: religion make it difficult to win this “argument.” the only way to win is not have the argument, and concede that the sunni muslim consensus about how religion relates to the polity is not sustainable in a modern society. saudi arabia has maintained its modernity with its religious order via a massive oil subsidy. this is not exportable, because most regions are not resource rich, and it is not even sustainable for the saudis much beyond the current generation.

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  44. and differential fertility ends up with whites being a <50% plurality in every western country east of Austria by 2050.

    is there a site with numbers on this? i.e., concrete models with parameters. (fertility is obviously not a static variable; see russia).

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  45. I think van Creveld overstates his case. Historically the norm was that the strong were either not strong enough to exterminate the population which waged guerrilla war against it (in which case you cannot really talk about “strong vs. weak”) or they resorted to genocide (which after a point always works, again, if you are strong enough to do that). In the 20th and 21st centuries you have cases of vastly stronger sides that either don’t have the stomach for genocide or are unwilling to commit it for political reasons (e.g. fear of international sanctions etc.) or both. This doesn’t mean there was a rule that the weak are poised to win all conflicts with the strong. It might mean that eventually the strong will become weak. Later on other strong powers might emerge with different principles and stronger stomachs.

    I think even colonization by the liberal European powers was dependent on an implicit or often explicit threat of genocidal violance. Once the threat was no longer credible, the nominally stronger powers were forced to give up their colonies. (Though it was a bit more complicated, e.g. the demographic changes contributed, too.)

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  46. But Christianity is ultimately an eschatological religion whose main concern is not this life. It is relatively easy for a Christian to find peace in a world which goes against his values. Islam, on the other hand, is more concerned with this world. I’m not saying a similar development is impossible with Islam. I’m saying it’s more difficult.

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  47. The gross domestic product of the nations which constitute the Organization of Islamic Cooperation is about 7 trillion American dollars.

    The Soviet economy in 1980 was ~ 2 trillion American dollars, and they built enough nukes to destroy the whole of Western civilization many times over. Even after allowing for inflation I have to ask: Would that strike you as something to be worried about?

    And an “Islamic International” would presumably include many of the rapidly increasing tens of millions of Muslims in the West.

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  48. I don’t think thatsl the distinction u make is real.

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  49. If you expect a fucking answer adjust for inflation nex time asshole. Smartphone says 3x. So comparable. But oic not nation state. so not really comparable.

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  50. >>Or as one SS commander stated boldly has he lifted up a child he was about to murder, “You must die so we may live.”

    Is this putative statement a fact? It’s not good enough that a SS commander could have said such a thing. Did a google search and can’t find any citation. German army and police battalions did a lot of bad things. Let’s not pile on with spurious assertions.

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  51. I linked to ny times piece didn’t i?

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  52. this took me 10 seconds to find using the link that was provided right there:

    https://books.google.com/books?id=rnDWBQAAQBAJ&pg=PT169&dq=You+must+die+so+that+we+can+live+snyder&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjaueSpy4nKAhUGxGMKHVsgDLIQ6AEIHTAA#v=onepage&q=You%20must%20die%20so%20that%20we%20can%20live%20snyder&f=false

    can’t vouch for this author. is he full of shit?

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  53. Thanks for your attention and the citation. My google machine couldn’t find it. I have intended to read Snyder’s book. No, he is not full of shit. He’s a well regarded professor/researcher.

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  54. BTW, this is a very good essay.

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  55. “can’t vouch for this author. is he full of shit?”

    I read his Bloodlands and wasn’t impressed, despite all the praise it got in reviews. He also doesn’t give a source for that “you have to die so that we can live” quote (seems almost too perfect a quote). Though the basic argument is of course true, Nazi racial warriors justified their murders to themselves as an unpleasant, but necessary task that had to be done to ensure a good future for Germans, a kind of preemptive self-defense.

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  56. I was thinking it was more the case of it becoming enough of an election issue the west in the future does something we’d think inhumane, but lets the Russians, Chinese and Indians to deal with the more problematic elements with a free hand. In terms of threat I think it’s more exporting terror which can be dealt with time honoured tactics like forced secularisation, mass deportations and genocide.

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  57. “I think van Creveld overstates his case. Historically the norm was that the strong were either not strong enough to exterminate the population which waged guerrilla war against it (in which case you cannot really talk about “strong vs. weak”) or they resorted to genocide (which after a point always works, again, if you are strong enough to do that). ”

    An additional point is that, unless you can replace the “genocided” population by your own population, genocide could not make much (unless it is pour encourager les autres) – after all, there is not much to win in conquer an empty land.

    “I think even colonization by the liberal European powers was dependent on an implicit or often explicit threat of genocidal violance. Once the threat was no longer credible, the nominally stronger powers were forced to give up their colonies. (Though it was a bit more complicated, e.g. the demographic changes contributed, too.)”

    The “democratization” of many types of guns (like automatic rifles, land mines, etc.) could have contributed to that.

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  58. I read his Bloodlands and wasn’t impressed, despite all the praise it got in reviews.

    I thought that it was pretty solid. If nothing else, it provides good estimates on topics like the Ukraine Famine, etc.

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  59. I found it to be highly derivative…I’m hardly an expert on that time, but it told me almost nothing I hadn’t already known (even about Soviet crimes about which I had read this some time before: http://www.cambridge.org/us/academic/subjects/history/twentieth-century-european-history/beyond-totalitarianism-stalinism-and-nazism-compared , much more interesting than Snyder’s work)…didn’t get the impression Snyder had done much original research. Also the structure of that book annoyed me, if I recall correctly he writes something like “I want to focus on the victims and give them back their dignity”…fair enough, but the books ends up being little more than a tedious catalogue of mass killings and other horrors. It’s ok as a summary of prior research, but I didn’t find it very illuminating (also found some of his judgements irritating, especially in the final chapter).
    Read a few pages of his newest book in the google books link above…some of that seemed like dubious generalizations to me for which Snyder doesn’t appear to cite any detailed evidence (e.g. he writes that even in Latvia most supporters of the Soviet occupation in 1940/41 were Latvians; from what I read in Björn Felder’s detailed study about Latvia during WW2 – http://www.amazon.de/Lettland-Zweiten-Weltkrieg-sowjetischen-Geschichte/dp/3506765442 – this seems dubious to me, the Russian and Jewish minorities were massively overrepresented among communists and Soviet collaborateurs in Latvia, and the Soviets deliberately stoked and used those ethnic divisions in Latvian society). I don’t know enough about Eastern Europe during the 2nd world war and can’t read the relevant languages, so I can’t conclusively judge the merits of Snyder’s work, but I have my doubts.

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  60. Friday Assorted Links | Marginal Counterrevolution
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    […] Razib Khan on the metapolitical, psychological and ideological aspects of the rise of the Islamist i…. Really good. Probably the best article on Razib’s blog in 2015, other than that really long […]

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  61. I meant West of Austria, of course.

    It’s hard to find good data, but there’s this

    http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/psp.1941/abstract

    “Evidence from 25 countries suggests that the Muslim total fertility rate is on average 47% higher than the national level. However, we find a significant difference in the level of fertility of native-born Muslims and immigrant Muslims. The native-born have a 19% higher total fertility rate, while immigrants have 62% higher fertility.”

    And of course this:

    https://bloodyshovel.files.wordpress.com/2015/12/73akbau.png?w=1260

    Add to this the seemingly increasing levels of immigration and the picture is not looking very good. It doesn’t seem like we’re going to find good jobs for all these people so they can have satisfactory hedonistic lifestyles to get them to forget about their duty to Islam.

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  62. But, I am somewhat more sanguine than Atran about the impact of the Islamic State on the world in comparison to revolutionary France or Soviet Russia. He makes much of the fact that the French nation repelled massive invasions in the 1790s, and ultimately transformed the whole continent. But as documented in Azar Gat’s War in Human Civilization the French victories probably had less to do with élan imparted to the armies of the Revolution than the reality that the new political arrangement in France allowed for total mobilization of the society. In short, the armies of the French were larger, though Napoleon’s genius did seem to allow for a initial strategic bonus.

    This is a claim one comes across very often, but to what extent is it based on data? The one comprehensive quantitative survey of European armies during this period I have come across via Paul Kennedy shows that late Napelonic France only matched the Sun King’s mobilization capacity (and that of Revolutionary France was far lower).

    From what I’ve read Napoleon actually rarely outnumbered his enemies in battles. E.g., Battle of Austerlitz – Russians had 25% more men. Battle of Jena – outnumbered by Prussia and Saxony almost twice over. I know the “Great Man” historical perspective is looked down upon nowadays but even so the modifier from Napoleon’s own genius as well as the outstanding qualities of his lieutenants must have been pretty big.

    Anyhow, even from this perspective there are reasons why any putative Islamic alliance they would be unable to repeat such feats, quite aside from material factors.

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  63. Both azar gat & *the iron kingdom* made this assertion in my reading. Gat agrees napoleon provided definite great man bonus.

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  64. I meant more. Know data. Want model with parameters & projections. R code would be good.

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  65. I found it to be highly derivative…I’m hardly an expert on that time, but it told me almost nothing I hadn’t already known (even about Soviet crimes about which I had read this some time before:

    It’s a work of synthesis.He’s basically just presenting a lot non-Anglo scholarship to the Anglophone world.

    Read a few pages of his newest book in the google books link above…some of that seemed like dubious generalizations to me for which Snyder doesn’t appear to cite any detailed evidence

    Haven’t read it, so can’t comment.

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  66. I’ve always wondered why modern terrorists groups go for spectacular large scale suicide attacks rather than a widespread programme of economic sabotage.

    Doing things like abandoning cars on bridges in rush hour traffic, destroying computer systems, setting fires in traffic tunnels and poisoning food at large scale events would do a lot of damage to the target regime for little financial outlay or human cost.

    From an Islamist perspective, attacking the “decadent west” in a materialistic sense would also be more poetic than trying to beat it through violent combat.

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  67. unless you can replace the “genocided” population by your own population

    It was always possible within a couple of generations, but conquerors were usually not that patient, which is why you had kings inviting foreign settlers into sparsely populated regions (for example after wars). Patience aside, most empires and kings needed the resources as soon as possible, because in the absence of the UN Charter there was nothing protecting them other than military might, so unless an empire was a virtual superpower (like maybe the Persians or the Romans for a while), they were happier to have the resources right now than a few decades later (because in the meantime they could be defeated and exterminated themselves) and so preferred to pacify the population over exterminating it.

    Still, genocide seems to have been practiced occasionally, which is a lot if we take into account how much more difficult it was before the advent of firearms and trains. Soldiers were not that much better armed (though invariable much better trained) than villagers, who could take some soldiers with them in desperation. (So it was better to leave them some quarters and not drive them to desperation.) And yes, I also think “pour encourager les autres” was an important motive.

    I think maybe Azar Gat where I read about the Romans exterminating a couple British tribes which violently rose up a few decades or maybe a century after the conquest of Britain, totally depopulating a huge portion of the conquered land. After that they didn’t experience many problems with the Brits, who for inexplicable reasons never again thought of rising up against Roman rule.

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  68. Of course I could be wrong, and as I wrote the difference is not absolute.

    I haven’t read In Gods We Trust (but I will, it’s already on my shelf since last year) and probably you’re better read at this topic in general, so maybe I’m working from false informations, but I read somewhere (I think in Nicholas Wade’s book on the evolution of religion) that strange as it may seem (at least it did seem strange to me), many religions (especially tribal religions) don’t even have proper belief systems, or any belief systems at all, and are basically about the rituals only. For example they say nothing about the origins of the world or humanity, if there are a thousand gods or no gods at all, etc., and only say that you should practice the rituals, and even there the reasons for this are not really given, only that bad things will happen to you if you don’t participate in them. (And sure enough, the other tribespeople will expel you from the tribe or even kill you, so bad things do happen indeed.)

    Now if that is true (and I hope my memory doesn’t play tricks on me so that I falsely remember something that wasn’t even written there), then of course there might be differences between religions in many other ways.

    Islam and Christianity both have elaborate belief systems (not entirely dissimilar), and both prescribe some kind of this-worldly behavior to their adherents. But Islam seems to be talking more about politics and the ideal state than Christianity, if for no other reasons then because when the holy texts of Islam were compiled, Islam was already a dominant religion of a huge empire, whereas when the holy texts of Christianity were compiled, they were still a small minority under the thumb of a huge empire.

    So at least it should be possible that Islam’s prescriptions to its adherents contain things about governance etc. that are incompatible with a modern liberal democracy, whereas Christianity’s prescriptions are at the very least less explicit about such prescriptions. Again, when Christians were compiling their holy texts, they didn’t think about how a huge empire (or any state at all) should be governed in a Christian way, simply because they didn’t even think they had a chance of capturing the governments of any states. On the other hand, Muslims already were governing a huge empire, so their prescriptions just might contain useful advice on how to govern a medieval empire. Which might be, actually, less useful regarding governing a modern state in the 21st century…

    But I’m not well informed enough to tell with absolute certainty whether that’s really so or not, but that’s what I think from the limited information I do have.

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  69. “Islamic terrorism has the potential to become superordinate, and swallow up individual movements and grievances into a meta-narrative.”
    I have the impression that islamic terrorism is part of an even bigger meta-narrative, which is muslim expansion. Terrorism is only one aspect of it, and other aspect is the rising share of Muslims in almost all countries, both in countries with already ab muslim majority as well as in countries with a muslim minority except Latin America, North Korea and Oceania.

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    I’ve always wondered why modern terrorists groups go for spectacular large scale suicide attacks rather than a widespread programme of economic sabotage.

    Doing things like abandoning cars on bridges in rush hour traffic, destroying computer systems, setting fires in traffic tunnels and poisoning food at large scale events would do a lot of damage to the target regime for little financial outlay or human cost.

    From an Islamist perspective, attacking the “decadent west” in a materialistic sense would also be more poetic than trying to beat it through violent combat.

    I’ve wondered the same thing myself. Why random calls to financial centers or shopping centers during Christmas season or other such disruptions to the economy. When do you think these calls would be ignored? (Related joke: did you hear about the dyslexic boy who cried “Fowl!”? People ignored him and the wolf ate him.)

    Yeah, 9/11 caused a lot of economic damage and created the behemoth DHS entities and security industrial complex which continue to increase the national debt as an increasing rate.

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  71. Saturday assorted links
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    […] 7. Razib Khan on ISIS. […]

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  72. This is a particularly well thought out and well researched post. Nice!

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  73. Your description of the materialist understanding of the Middle East conflict is not very fair. No one believes that the people who join AQ or ISIS are “poor” in the strictest sense of the term. It is not an absolute economic issue but a relative and political one. The matter is not the size of the pie but the way it is distributed.

    Most of the members of ISIS/AQ found themselves incapable of accessing the resources of their local state. The barriers put to their careers were perceived as unfair and violence became their way of getting what they perceive as rightfully theirs. It is after all psychology 101, people react less violently to tough conditions than to better but unfair ones.

    Bin Laden is a fairly good example. He was born rich BUT excluded from the bulk of the wealth of the country because he did not belong to the ruling clan nor indeed to any of the main families. With is status as a quasi foreigner and is relatively paltry inheritance, he had not even the beginning of a shot for power and influence.

    Zawahiri as a upper bourgeois civilian in a country dominated by the militaries steaming mostly from the lower middle classes was also pretty much incapable of reaching any public position of importance. The same stands for most of the members of the Muslim Brotherhood.

    Beyond the personal cases, entire groups are swept by the same logic. It applies for instance to the Egyptian officiers considered as persona non grata in Cairo, sent to Sinai as a punishment who became the creators of AQ/IS in the peninsula.

    Famously it also applies to the former officiers and baath members who became suddenly religious after loosing their positions after the US invasion. The rise of ISIS as a consequence of the (mostly shia) Iraqi government clap down on Sunni demand for more power and oil money again makes this clear.

    Roughly speaking similar situations are at play in Libya (old tribal power v new national power), Algeria (military v civilians), Lebanon (Shia/Christian alliance v Sunni), Jordan (national Jordanians v Palestinian refugees) and Syria (Alawite state v Sunni society). Even in Israel, one could see Hamas as an attempt to win over the resources of the region against the Jewish establishment.

    ISIS own propaganda and internal memos also point in that direction: messages send to potential recruits in the West insist on the decency of the living condition, on the money and the respect they can expect if they volunteer. Emirs of the group also constantly discuss the matter of taxation and of rewards for the troops. A good seat at the table is basically what these guys want.

    The more religious/ideological reading of the matter does not stand scrutiny. First, the parts of the Sunni world where the barriers to the exercise of power are low are also pretty much free from jihadi rebellion Turkey here being the most obvious example but, with a bit of luck Tunisia could follow suit. Second, some populations barred from accessing power have also taken up arms but in with a strictly non-religious discourse. Here the Kurds, the Amazig, the Levantine Christians members of Fatah or Hizbollah come to mind.

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  74. . No one believes that the people who join AQ or ISIS are “poor” in the strictest sense of the term.

    this is false. many people do believe this.

    as for the rest of your comment, is stated aspects of it in the whole of the post. DID YOU READ IT?

    Famously it also applies to the former officiers and baath members who became suddenly religious after loosing their positions after the US invasion.

    they did not not “suddenly” become religious. this has been extensively noted now in relation to people who were associated with saddam’s quasi-rapprochement with salafism and peace with sunni religious sentiment more generally.

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  75. i was responding to your assertion about eschatology. islam is pretty fixated on eschatology. i know, because i was raised muslim, and people would talk incessantly about stupid stuff like the day of resurrection and and paradise.

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  76. If you say it is there, then it is. Mea culpa. Personally, I mostly see references to millenarism and the better results obtained by people fighting for a cause, but it has been a long day, I may miss the subtleties.

    PS: please, don’t pick up on slight rhetorical exaggeration.

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  77. My impression was that because of this stronger political emphasis Islam’s eschatological side was weaker, at least relative to Christianity. I could easily have been wrong.

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  78. There obviously is a level of ongoing terrorist massacres in a Western country that would bring draconian counter-measures against all Muslims. But as I already said, Muslims are not Palestinians and there is no pool of volunteers or infrastructure for would be Jihadist martyrdom in any Western Muslim community to make that possible. I don’t think there is anything like a sufficient terror threat to make Western countries take punitive measures against their Muslim citizens as a group.

    The post is quite correct that even if the Muslim world was united it could not possibly hope to win any military conflict with the US. If Muslims constitute a challenge to the western system, it is a long term HBD/ cultural -demographic one to the cohesive though individualist society of certain countries like France, Britain and now Germany. But the dominant ethic in Western states is liberal individualist, in which to believe a group’s average HBD characteristics are deficient, or that following Islam (or the Christian religion) makes any difference, is an illegitimate perspective. Unless there is some unimaginable campaign of jihadist massacres every week with widespread Muslim diaspora complicity in such terror attacks, there will be no rounding up of Western Muslims, any more than Britain expelled the Irish during the IRA bombing campaign in England (which killed as many as UK Jihadist bombings have to date).

    ISIS seemed to be forming an actual state, and metastasizing across existing borders. I follow international relations expert (he predicted the Ukraine-Russia war decades ago) John Mearsheimer, who says that states react to other states in predictable ways that have little or nothing to do with internal ideology (which only affects internal affairs).

    Someone on BBC WS was talking about recent events in Afghanistan, and said that Helmand Province is inhabited by groups living in mud huts who have been fighting each other for local reasons for 50 years, while what happens there is of no strategic significance for the West. Syria is a lot like that I suspect.

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  79. I agree this is an excellent post, though unlike Razib, I am persuaded by Michael Cook about the unique ability the Koran and the Hadith to continually serve to inspire mass movements of social and political reform. Many of the common foot soldiers may have poor knowledge of the religious texts and traditions and are largely following their leaders. But the leadership of Islamist movements are deeply interested in the theological aspects of their undertaking. Good evidence can be found in the various defenses of the legality (under Islamic law) of the 9/11 operations. These defenses are addressed not to non-Muslims, but Muslims questioning the wrongfulness of suicide, killing of civilians, women, children and Muslims, as well as the the absence of legitimate authority to declare jihad. The length and attention to these defenses is revealing, the leadership is concerned about adherence to religious standards which seem to conflict with the Koran and Hadith. They are largely innovating new adaptations under the justification that the situation is unique due to the absence of a Caliphate. I think it is in the U.S. interest that the Caliphate pretenders be destroyed and not permitted to form a state, but I’m not sure this would be very difficult and would not be surprised if ISIS implodes from within in a few years anyway.

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  80. I don’t think anyone is too worried about a jihadi state/terror state launching an ICBM at the CONUS. The risk is in a low tech alternative delivery or even just radiological dirty bomb, either of which could be extremely damaging even with small-timer nuclear weapons technology like pakistan’s, couldn’t it?

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  81. The existential threat would be the start of a wider Sunni-Shia war that goes nuclear.

    This appears to be close to happening. See Yemen.

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  82. Indeed, many people believe this! Its amazing.

    I have a FB friend who posted Malala’s “education can stop terrorism” platitude and had to explain to her that IS is headed by a PhD, and AQ by a surgeon.

    Interestingly, she later posted Prager university video which explained that Islamists are not poor who just need jobs.

    Apparently, you can occasionally change minds!

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  83. Martin van Creveld says ‘however unpalatable the fact, the real reason we have wars is that men like fighting, and women like men who are prepared to fight on their behalf’.

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  84. Re. eschatological side. Ernst Junger said “”What doesn’t kill me makes me stronger; and what kills me makes me incredibly strong.”

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  85. sean, can u stop quoting aphorisms on this thread? i don’t see the point, and this is the sort of post prone to comment devolution…

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  86. The existential threat would be the start of a wider Sunni-Shia war that goes nuclear.

    this sort of statement seems plausible, but there’s a lot between here and there. shia are relatively concentrated, have one plausible nuclear power, and, it is likely ANY POWER that goes nuclear first is sealing its own death wish.

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  87. The risk is in a low tech alternative delivery or even just radiological dirty bomb, either of which could be extremely damaging even with small-timer nuclear weapons technology like pakistan’s, couldn’t it?

    so, so tell me about the plausibility of this. do you know much about this? we’ve been talking about this for 15 years, and it hasn’t happened for a variety of logistical and technical reasons.

    my point is that we could hypothesize anything. e.g., aliens could show up in ships and support ISIS. obviously this isn’t a real hypothesis, but it strikes me many of the ones we moot are closer to this in terms of probability than we think.

    (p.s. i should mention that i recall that the US gov. has contingency plans re: pakistan’s nuclear weapons getting out of control; anyone know of a good article on this?)

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  88. I was typing exactly what Razib has typed, but h jumped the queue! Based on the present Saudi/Yemen war and the past Iran-Iraq war, I fundamentally doubt the warmaking capabilities of the two nations; if anything, Saudi Arabia will attempt to hire a bunch of nations to o the fighting, and Iran will amass a large number of youth as word War 1-like cannon fodder. My point is that the impact on US is smaller than say, India and China who are dependent on Saudi/UAE oil and in case of India, employment. ISIS, Iran and Saudi Arabia will impact India, and EU more than US. Of course, ISIS, an Shia-Sunni fracas will lead to ruin of Iraq-Syria.

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  89. And that [glory and renown] is what many young men crave, but few can attain in a stable liberal democratic consumer society.

    A very important point, part of which goes back as far as Hobbes (who identified it as one of the primary causes of violence in Leviathan). Isn’t this part of what drove this so-called Arab Spring as well?

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  90. “Muslims are not Palestinians and there is no pool of volunteers or infrastructure for would be Jihadist martyrdom in any Western Muslim community to make that possible. ”

    THIS, exactly this! Yes, I know causes can be irrational and people can be insane but I don’t think there can be any *sustained* challenge to a nation or a society without an underlying goal which makes *some* sense. There are no current discriminatory laws for Western Muslims to fight against, and, unlike native Americans, there are no historical grievances to nurse either. Unlike communism, Islamism really isn’t an alternate order to inspire radical activism.

    There isn’t even a simple story of Western wrongdoing to latch onto. The West is too interventionist (Libya)! The West is no interventionist enough (Syria)! The West wants cheap oil! No, wait, the West wants expensive oil!

    I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the San Bernardino and Fort Hood attacks were virtually indistinguishable from other gun violence and made no strategic sense. Religions don’t have magical powers to create a cause out of thin air.

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  91. “Unlike communism, Islamism really isn’t an alternate order to inspire radical activism”

    To believers, it is.

    “unlike native Americans, there are no historical grievances to nurse either”

    Believe me, Palestine, Kashmir, and Afghanistan can sustain a hundred years. Karbala has sustained 1300 years of activism.

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  92. vinay vs. vijay? is this a matter of substance that differs but by one letter?

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  93. “There are no current discriminatory laws for Western Muslims to fight against”

    Some do regard France’s laicism as anti-Islamic discrimination though (and there are similar issues in many other European countries, e.g. in Germany there has been controversy whether teachers in the public school system should be allowed to wear headscarves in the class room). It’s certainly possible to construct a “persecution narrative”, even though it might be laughably implausible to people not already inclined that way.

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  94. a disproportionate number of the young men involved in violent religious and political terrorism are not from the bottom of society, but closer to the top.

    But this fact doesn’t, of course, imply that most of the fighters are from closer to the top. The impression I get, which is at least consistent with the facts in your piece and Altran’s, is that most of the fighters derive from the urban lumpen-proletariat.

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  95. “To believers, it [Islamism] is [an alternate order]”

    Sure, Iranian Muslims may have overthrow an oppressive regime in favor of Velayat-e-Faqih. But when a society is messed up, it’s not that hard for an alternative to seem better.

    But Western Muslims, living in some of the most successful nations in the world, would need something a little more solid to plausibly promise a better future. Deep religious belief can’t sustain a foundation built on air, not in any statistical sense.

    “Believe me, Palestine, Kashmir, and Afghanistan can sustain a hundred years.”

    I mean the kind where you can justifiably blame historical oppression for your condition, regardless of current oppression e.g. Israeli Arabs or African Americans. Immigrants like us don’t have that and, as communities, we can’t fake it in any sustained fashion. I’m again basing this on my belief that ideology isn’t magic.

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  96. “It’s certainly possible to construct a “persecution narrative”, even though it might be laughably implausible to people not already inclined that way.”

    Exactly, and it’s not enough to be logically convinced, you have to believe it deeply enough to do drastic things like terrorist acts. People have a really hard time using ANY set of beliefs to motivate them to do extraordinary things. There’s nothing extraordinary about youth rioting in the streets and burning a few cars, a few drinks can do that magic, no ideology needed.

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  97. american soldiers could destroy ISIS in pitched battle, though would take casualties in a protracted campaign. not because their morale is higher, but that they’re skills and weaponry are so much better.

    With all due respect to your book-derived erudition on this subject, I think your complete lack of personal experience in anything resembling combat and military affairs leads you to make this rather astonishing underestimation of the vital importance of morale in combat.

    Take the case of Staff Sergeant Ryan Pitts, for example: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ryan_M._Pitts

    Here is his Medal of Honor citation:

    Sergeant Ryan M. Pitts distinguished himself by extraordinary acts of heroism at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while serving as a Forward Observer in 2d Platoon, Chosen Company, 2d Battalion (Airborne), 503d Infantry Regiment, 173d Airborne Brigade, during combat operations against an armed enemy at Vehicle Patrol Base Kahler in the vicinity of Wanat Village, Kunar Province, Afghanistan on July 13, 2008.

    Early that morning, while Sergeant Pitts was providing perimeter security at Observation Post Topside, a well-organized Anti-Afghan Force consisting of over 200 members initiated a close proximity sustained and complex assault using accurate and intense rocket-propelled grenade, machine gun and small arms fire on Wanat Vehicle Patrol Base. An immediate wave of rocket-propelled grenade rounds engulfed the Observation Post wounding Sergeant Pitts and inflicting heavy casualties. Sergeant Pitts had been knocked to the ground and was bleeding heavily from shrapnel wounds to his arm and legs, but with incredible toughness and resolve, he subsequently took control of the Observation Post and returned fire on the enemy.

    As the enemy drew nearer, Sergeant Pitts threw grenades, holding them after the pin was pulled and the safety lever was released to allow a nearly immediate detonation on the hostile forces. Unable to stand on his own and near death because of the severity of his wounds and blood loss, Sergeant Pitts continued to lay suppressive fire until a two-man reinforcement team arrived. Sergeant Pitts quickly assisted them by giving up his main weapon and gathering ammunition all while continually lobbing fragmentary grenades until these were expended.

    At this point, Sergeant Pitts crawled to the northern position radio and described the situation to the Command Post as the enemy continued to try and isolate the Observation Post from the main Patrol Base. With the enemy close enough for him to hear their voices, and with total disregard for his own life, Sergeant Pitts whispered in radio situation reports and conveyed information that the Command Post used to provide indirect fire support.

    Sergeant Pitts’ courage, steadfast commitment to the defense of his unit and ability to fight while seriously wounded prevented the enemy from overrunning the Observation Post and capturing fallen American soldiers, and ultimately prevented the enemy from gaining fortified positions on higher ground from which to attack Wanat Vehicle Patrol Base. Sergeant Ryan M. Pitts’ extraordinary heroism and selflessness above and beyond the call of duty are in keeping with the highest traditions of military service and reflect great credit upon himself, Company C, 2d Battalion (Airborne), 503d Infantry Regiment, 173d Airborne Brigade and the United States Army.

    There are numerous other instances in which isolated groups of American soldiers had to repel assaults by superior forces of the Taliban, Al-Qaida, and Iraqi insurgents, without the benefit of the usual technological might of the whole infrastructure of the U.S. Armed Forces. In such instances, the individual combat skills and the tactical-level weapons/technical disparity between our forces and those of our enemies were not so great enough to warrant the successes of the American forces in the face of numerically vastly superior enemy forces. Much of the credit for these successes goes to the very high morale, cohesion, and courage (all related phenomena) that America’s all-volunteer, long-service expeditionary forces possess.

    Military combat is a group activity. Morale (or espirit de corps, unit cohesion, or whatever else one cares to call it) glues men together and allows them to achieve a synergistic effect of putting out combat power much greater than the sum of the individuals all the while repressing the natural tendency of men to think of only themselves and to recoil from grave danger, and to run from the prospect of a violent and most unpleasant death.

    Arab, European, East Asian, American, it does not matter. If a group of men had a low morale, all the best weapons and training (and technical proficiency) would bear little effect on the outcome of combat. As a classic – and painful for us Americans – example, near the end of the U.S. participation in the Vietnam War, for a variety of reasons, the low morale of many American army units (manned by less-than-willing conscripts) led to collapse of combat power and even mutiny and “fragging” of superior officers among numerous frontline units.

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  98. The one thing that these victories for the weak have in common is that they did not attack their strong adversaries in their homeland, or threaten their vital interests.

    The FLN, the Algerian National Liberation Front, killed something like 4,000 people and injured over 10,000 in France (although many of the killings were no doubt an internecine Algerian affair, as it often the case in such “liberation” wars).

    “Vital interests” is a nebulous and subjective term. There were certainly many Frenchmen who considered Algeria a vital interest of the French Republic, not the least of which were the Pied-Noirs and their representatives in France.

    Given that ISIS ultimately wants to consolidate the entire Muslim world (and eventually the world) under its ambit, rather than simply rule a single country, there is no way the strong powers of the world can avoid eventually confronting and destroying it.

    But what if it captured “only” a country or two and underwent a period of “consolidation” of the existing gains? What then?

    Conversely, what if they WERE successful in eliciting a punitive expeditionary force from the West as the planners of the 9/11 sought (they intended to draw Americans into Afghanistan and defeat us as the earlier Mujahideens had done against the Soviets)?

    And, after all that, even if ISIS were somehow destroyed as a coherent entity, would it be the end of the Western war with other Al-Qaida- or ISIS-like groups?

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  99. In the 20th and 21st centuries you have cases of vastly stronger sides that either don’t have the stomach for genocide or are unwilling to commit it for political reasons (e.g. fear of international sanctions etc.) or both.

    I think you made van Creveld’s point right there.

    This doesn’t mean there was a rule that the weak are poised to win all conflicts with the strong.

    I never made such an absolutist statement and neither did van Creveld. I provided two counter-examples to this tendency in my original comment (the Malayan Emergency and Northern Ireland).

    His point regarding “the strong vs. the weak in a long war” is drawn from a study of what the British would call “small wars” in the post-World War II world, including, crucially for van Creveld, the Israeli experience in Lebanon.

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  100. to be clear, i think the morale of american special forces is equal to ISIS, and that of typical soldiers comparable. for various reasons as you implied above the military of the late 1960s and 1970s was far lower caliber. and yet even in this case re: the vietnam situation i’m inclined to think that the low morale of the soldiers was neither the sufficient or necessary condition for the defeat, but broader political and geopolitical dynamics.

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  101. The Nemmersdorf Massacre was exactly what I had in mind in my earlier comment.

    that was somewhat the case with my grandfather who had been part of Heeresgruppe Mitte and escaped via East Prussia to Northern Germany where he was taken prisoner by the British…which was the best that could have happened to him).

    That was rather fortunate for him as the Army Group Center disintegrated in 1944 in the face of the Soviet assault during the Operation Bagration. By the way, that’s why I used the term “disorganized German units” in the earlier comment – by this stage, effective large scale German unit action was very rare. Many small German units were isolated or out of effective high command control, but continued to fight on doggedly to allow the German civilians to evacuate areas that were about to be overrun by the Soviets.

    And, yes, the British were characteristically very gentlemanly in their occupation of Germany. They reputedly committed the fewest rapes and assaults on German civilians.

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  102. Frankly I’m still shocked we made it the last 15 years without more major attacks.

    Warfare is a mutually-learning and -imitating activity (if one of the sides fails to adapt, it usually dies and the war ends). The United States quickly adapted to the methods of Al-Qaida. It hardened major potential targets, decapitated Al-Qaida core’s leadership, interrupted financing, and drew their fire to expeditionary conflicts.

    It’s not that easy to launch major assaults into the United States. Such attacks require much planning, financing, and coordination, all of which increase chances of detection.

    By necessity, terrorists tend to, to borrow Sun Tzu’s words, flow like water from high to low. That is to say, they tend to probe for and attack the weak spots and avoid the strong points. If you looked at the Israeli experience, for example, you see that Palestinian attacks on Israel were, in the beginning, mostly attacks on military targets such as bases. Such attacks tended to be repelled rather easily. Then the attacks “flowed down” to those on schools and such. When those were “hardened,” then pizzerias, open air markets, and bust stops. Then when those proved to be less and less effective, now they are resorting to stabbing attacks on Israeli civilians on the streets.

    Likewise, since higher intensity attacks generally require greater coordination (and thus more easily detected and prevented), the attacks “flowed down” to lower levels and looser coordination from the brilliantly organized monstrosity that was 9/11 to a couple of self-radicalized folks shooting up a building, from a highly organized core planning and launching an attack (“unity of command”) to a loosely-affiliated offshoots, “franchises,” and lone wolves engaging in direct action on their own (“unity of purpose”).

    I suspect we will have more of the Islamic terrorist versions of the Beltway Sniper Attacks in the future. It took a deranged guy and a boy with a couple of rifles to terrorize the whole of the metro-DC area and make people fearful about going to gas stations. I cannot find it now, but there was an iconic photograph during the scare of a woman leaning behind a car (as if to avoid bullets) while fueling it. That photograph perfectly captured the mass psychological dislocation those attacks created (the coverage of which further increased mass fear).

    As I noted before, massive physical destruction (which is nearly impossible for “small” actors to achieve) is not the only way to disrupt, dislocate, and defeat a giant.

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  103. i think the morale of american special forces is equal to ISIS

    Since there has not been a large number of direct engagements between the two groups, it’s hard to say with absolute certainty. But I can say with a high degree of confidence that you grossly underestimate the morale of the US SOCOM forces and overestimate the morale of ISIS units. Without direct confrontation you have to use proxies to measure “morale” and, if you looked at desertion rates, for example, the morale disparity is rather vast in our favor.

    As you can imagine, combat forces of Al-Qaida, ISIS, and the like are very much varied in quality and their morale is HIGHLY inconsistent. Occasionally they will be very dogged to the last man, other times they break rather quickly when surprised.

    US SOCOM units all uniformly possess sky high morale. These guys are extremely difficult to break.

    The American civilian population on the other hand…

    the vietnam situation i’m inclined to think that the low morale of the soldiers was neither the sufficient or necessary condition for the defeat, but broader political and geopolitical dynamics.

    In an academic sense of reduction, you are right – higher level planes of combat, i.e. grand strategy and strategy (as opposed to operational and tactical planes) are more decisive.

    But in reality, these things are very much interrelated, that is, flawed strategy and political leadership caused low morale of troops, and low morale of troops (and the subsequent collapsing discipline and combat power) in turn powerfully affected the political situation and leadership opinion in the United States. These trends were mutually-reinforcing.

    On the opposite side, despite the massive destruction and lives lost, the NVA and the VC retained very high morale to the end (though much of the VC infrastructure was destroyed in Tet ’68) and allowed them to field effective combat units despite the seemingly crippling casualties. This very high degree of morale in the field allowed the North Vietnamese leadership to pursue the ultimately successful strategy of “you might kill me, but I am going to tear off your arm in the process – let’s see who blinks first.”

    As was demonstrated by the ancient Romans, victory often belongs, not to those with bigger battalions (per Napoleon) or those who shoot better (per Voltaire), but to those who are willing to tolerate greater suffering and yet still march on. And that high tolerance to pain, losses, and suffering hinges on morale foremost.

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  104. From what I’ve read Napoleon actually rarely outnumbered his enemies in battles. E.g., Battle of Austerlitz – Russians had 25% more men. Battle of Jena – outnumbered by Prussia and Saxony almost twice over. I know the “Great Man” historical perspective is looked down upon nowadays but even so the modifier from Napoleon’s own genius as well as the outstanding qualities of his lieutenants must have been pretty big.

    Napoleon’s genius wasn’t so much in area of the the ability to raise a levee en masse, but his excellent use of artillery. Rather similar to an earlier military genius Gustavus Adolphus, much of his battlefield victories was attributable to his devastating use of relatively mobile artillery to blast a giant hole in his enemies formations and quickly take advantage of the disruption with his other arms.

    There is a reason why both Napoleon and artillery (since) were referred to as “god of war.” And not coincidentally artillery was eventually responsible for plurality and probably majority of combat deaths in World War II.

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  105. My impression is that practically speaking, getting hold of Pakistani nuclear weapons would require first getting hold of the Pakistani state. Were crazed jihadists then to launch a nuclear attack, it would be against a hated target in range – which means 90% chance it’d be India, if they didn’t mind Indian retaliation wiping out Pakistan, or thought they could finagle it to semi-plausible deniability, eg a boat with a nuke on it sails into Mumbai harbour and detonates, Pakistan denies responsibility. Maybe 10% chance they would use nukes on Iran, on the basis that Iran can’t retaliate and the USA wouldn’t mind too much. Trying to get Pakistani nukes to the USA (or Europe) and detonate them looks like too much of a long shot when there are much closer targets. Australia is a bit closer but not really worth it; they hate India far more.

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  106. I’d think the most plausible thing for the US would be a pure ‘terror’ attack using tiny amounts of radioactive material, probably from medical scanners – spread it around downtown & phone it in. Enough to trigger the geiger counters, you get authority/citizen panic & mass evacuation. The radiation itself harms no one, but you could conceivably clear eg the New York financial district for a good while. I’m not really sure that sort of economic attack is the Al Qaeda/Daesh etc style though, even their doctors with access to radioactive material would generally rather cut someone’s head off with a machete.

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  107. Razib is giving a nuanced view- even if ISIS is smashed quickly in the next few months, something like it will reappear because
    1) change in property/customary entitlements creating ‘winners’ and ‘losers’. The ‘losers’ find that their entitlements and ability to make contracts depends on a non-State actor. Thus the end of feudalism in South Italy led to the Mafia taking the role which, in Piedmont, was taken by the State acting in concert with Civil Society (i.e. lawyers and magistrates).
    In Syria, the regime embraced ‘pro-market’ reforms without adequate safeguards to ensure that corrupt practices did not flourish. Further its attempt to shield the poorest farmers from the higher price of diesel was not effective. This caused huge internal displacement. At present, it creates a situation where internally displaced farmers have a vested interest in rogue regimes staying on because otherwise they will lose entitlement to the patch of urban space they have laid claim to.
    2) Islam is a truly international religion which offers the hope of making relations between countries and within countries better. Iran and Pakistan have excellent relations for example. Furthermore, initially, in the Fifties, sectarian differences were reduced. Ahmadiyas flourished. Unfortunately Ayub Khan’s attempt to get consensus on a progressive and ecumenical code backfired because it trod on the toes of traditional rivalries within Hanafi Sunnism based on irreconcilable claims re. Muhammadiya lineage. Furthermore, smaller sects seemed to be doing better commercially and educationally and this provoked a backlash.
    Unfortunately, international ideologies can lead to more ‘visible’ terrorism because militants in one place may want to kill militants of a different stripe in another place or to impose a cost upon the authorities in that other place. Thus, when botched land reform on the Scicillian model made Bihar ungovernable (its major industry was kidnapping) there was no spillover for the rest of India or the World because the lines of polarization were purely parochial.
    There was Soviet sponsorship of terrorism (as well as our own brand) and there was post-Soviet organized crime with an international element. Only the latter posed a threat, or pretended to, to the status quo.
    3) Global demographic trends make it likely that countries like Syria, which saw rapid population growth because of flawed agricultural policies, will export people to Eastern and Central Europe much of which has seen depopulation or which faces demographic decline. Since Turkish workers were a great asset why not Syrian or Afghan workers? The problem is that European Govts. may lack both the political will as well as the economic nous to capitalize on this trend. Instead they may embrace a paranoid and chauvinist policy which might feed back into the desperate cohorts seeking refuge back in conflict ridden areas.

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  108. It’s generally true of any nation’s Special Forces that they have unshakable morale. Competence varies a lot more – and after 15 years of GWOT the competence of US Special Forces is also very high. The problem for the US seems to be more with the general mass of army combat infantry, that they are not very mobile and are extremely reliant on air support & artillery – US trained allied forces also show this tendency, with far worse results since they are far more likely to lack the necessary support. I recall British forces in Afghanistan were starting to show American tendencies.

    When it comes to ‘Deadliest Warrior’, US special forces are always going to beat similar numbers of Islamist fighters. They’ll probably beat forces 3 or 4 times larger. But numbers of special forces are always too small for this to make much difference.

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  109. No, Hobbes thought fear of violent death is the supreme motivation and so people will agree to respect each other’s rights in a social contract under a sovereign power that stops religion from causing trouble. Hobbes was a proto-liberal. Hobbes would have seen the Spring and similar revolts against supreme authority as irrational.

    What drives things like Syria changes as you look closer As you zoom in it is religious rivalries, then international power politics, then national antipathy, then struggles for advantage by Syrian groups and tribes with teeming populations. Individual young men’s’ motivation to attract or be seen as a protector of women (or capture them ) is part of it. Going back out, I suppose there are also things like economic interests, because some people say falling oil prices caused a cut in government subsidies on things like fuel that caused the initial unrest among Syrians.

    Many Syrians may not have particularly wanted to stay in their country and work in a country with a low standard of living, let alone get blasted to bits fighting for any side in a futile stalemated civil war. I expect many young men welcome the chance to move to Europe, and the war is the reason they can do what they might have wanted to anyway. ISIS has had a substantial effect in opening the doors of Europe to larger scale ME and African immigration often of young males that is ongoing and may even increase further. Decades from now that is what ISIS will be remembered for.

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  110. Revolutionary French armies had a high tempo attack, like the German army of WW2, that is why they were hard to beat.

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  111. “I provided two counter-examples to this tendency in my original comment (the Malayan Emergency and Northern Ireland).”

    I agree with your general argument, but wasn’t Malaya something of a special case anyway? The communist insurgents’ main support was among the ethnic Chinese who were only a minority of the overall population and had somewhat antagonistic relations with the Malays and other groups so their chances for success were always somewhat limited. And the British only “won” there by rather draconian measures (like forced relocations of civilian populations) that might be unacceptable today.
    So the prospects for defeating an insurgency that has widespread support among the civilian population don’t look that good, at least given the methods and casualty rates acceptable in today’s democracies.

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  112. Northern Ireland had a Unionist (ie Orange) majority but the Protestant middle classes started leaving

    And the British only “won” there by rather draconian measures (like forced relocations of civilian populations) that might be unacceptable today.

    The british used mass deportation of the Chinese (which delighted the Malays) and there was also fostering of the most extreme elements of the insurgency. The IRA commanders are current in the NI government.

    According to some analyses, Assad has fostered and encouraged the growth of ISIS to supplant the original rebels. ISIS is strongest in non vital areas of Syria. I thought until recently that he could not win but Merkel has changed the terms of attrition in the Syrian civil war, because while Assad’s enemies have the numbers on paper, who would stay and brave a steel inferno from the Russian air force when they could be eating chocolate pudding in Berlin? (Many young Israelis prefer to be in Berlin).

    The real attrition will be migration of the main rebellion’s population base, all suspected former rebels will be accused of being ISIS of course. The option to go and live in the West will be a powerful form of soft attrition on the anti Assad forces.

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  113. I don’t think there can be any *sustained* challenge to a nation or a society without an underlying goal which makes *some* sense.

    It doesn’t have to make sense to you. It only has to make sense to the people who launch the challenge. If ISIS supporters regard God as the rightful ruler of the world, then trying to enforce his will on earth, as they believe they are doing, is a perfectly sensible goal.

    And it is one that everyone who calls himself Muslim ought to share.

    Now, it may be that your interpretation of Gods Will differs from theirs – but there is no rational reason why they should pay more attention to your interpretation than to their own.

    And if you don’t believe in God there is even less reason why they should pay any attention to your opinion of what his law requires.

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  114. “The option to go and live in the West will be a powerful form of soft attrition on the anti Assad forces.”

    How do you know it only works like that against the anti-Assad forces? As far as I know the Syrian army also faces serious manpower shortages…fighting against the likes of al-Nusra and ISIS and possibly ending up as an unwilling participant in one of their execution videos isn’t an appealing prospect either.
    And yes, I know how McGuinness and Adams now belong to the political establishment in NI…that’s why I’m not sure if the British really won there in a political sense (though obviously the defeat of the armed insurgency was somewhat a success). Doesn’t really matter now anyway given how things are going in the UK and in Europe in general.

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  115. The Japanese cult that gassed the Tokyo subway had serious resources and expertise, and carried out several attempted poison gas attacks. Their total body count wasn’t really all that high. Assuming the U.S. authorities got the right guy, the anthrax mailing attacks in the U.S. were done by a guy (a bio defense researcher working for the U.S. Government) with access to expertise and information and equipment few others would have, but only killed a handful of people. (If he hadn’t included notes with his spores, I doubt anyone would have figured out there even was an attack.)

    I infer from this that chemical and biological attacks are actually really hard to carry out, and probably are less of a threat than Paris / Mumbai style coordinated assaults with guns and grenades. I expect a dirty bomb attack would be similar–even if the attack succeeded, you’d basically make a few people sick and make an expensive-to-clean-up mess. More likely, you’d kill yourself through ineptitude or get caught because you were trying to accumulate radioactive material for no good reason.

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  116. The FLN, the Algerian National Liberation Front, killed something like 4,000 people and injured over 10,000 in France

    Don’t you mean Algeria?

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  117. It’s generally true of any nation’s Special Forces that they have unshakable morale. Competence varies a lot more – and after 15 years of GWOT the competence of US Special Forces is also very high.

    Yes, indeed. Combat experience is a great force multiplier. You are right about the “generally” high morale of specops units worldwide though I saw one country’s unit break in combat. But even then the failure was attributable to poor leadership and planning – you can’t expect highly intelligent and trained men to keep taking fire/casualties in a futile mission. Also, some national specops units are, er, a bit reluctant to do rough things. German units, for example, tend to be rather risk averse about doing certain things. Anglophone specops units tend to be much more aggressive. Germans have this whole militaristic reputation among the public while Canadians are thought to be these friendly, gentle people, but I’d take Canadian specops units over German ones any day of the week.

    The problem for the US seems to be more with the general mass of army combat infantry, that they are not very mobile and are extremely reliant on air support & artillery

    That’s largely because the US military “high command” as such was always more interested in high intensity large scale combat (e.g. 73 Easting in Desert Storm) since at least the Abrams years and had to be dragged into low intensity warfare kicking and screaming. For obvious reasons, the U.S. Army has excellent mechanized and air mobility. Even in World War II, it had the most motorized army in the world, with the consequence that it was subject to persistent criticism over the foot/locomobility deficiency of its infantry. Some critics blamed the same deficiency in the clusterfuck that was Operation Anaconda early in the Afghan campaign – you know, “the mountain division that didn’t do mountains.”

    I recall British forces in Afghanistan were starting to show American tendencies.

    I have to be frank about this. I have a very high regard for the British army, but I found much of their “You yanks all show up in big body armor like storm troopers, do not know much about the local customs, and stumble around like a bull in a china shop; we know how to do small wars better” routine quite grating. When it came down to it and things got hot and heavy, they all donned body armor and relied on heavy firepower.

    When it comes to ‘Deadliest Warrior’, US special forces are always going to beat similar numbers of Islamist fighters. They’ll probably beat forces 3 or 4 times larger. But numbers of special forces are always too small for this to make much difference.

    More like 10-20 times larger. And our SOCOM forces are quite large (but are also more spread out throughout the world).

    Also, when we speak of SOCOM, we need to make some distinctions. The Navy SEALs (with their excellent PR) are younger and physically very fit, and their main mission is, to use criminal speak, smash and grab and “blowing shit up.” They are commandos. The Army Special Forces – the Green Berets – are unconventional forces that are inserted into indigenous forces (whether insurgency or counter-insurgency), train them, and leverage the local manpower. They can do the door kicking thing, but that’s not what they are really trained to do.

    In any case, my larger point is that the morale of the shooting units in the U.S. Armed Forces is considerably higher than those of Islamist fighters. They are not in any way equals in that regard.

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  118. wasn’t Malaya something of a special case anyway?

    That’s why it is one of the most notable of the exceptions to the general trend of the strong losing to the weak in a long war in the post-WWII period.

    And the British only “won” there by rather draconian measures (like forced relocations of civilian populations) that might be unacceptable today.

    Recall that the Brits also won the Anglo-Boer war using a similar method.

    We Americans tried that in Vietnam (in fact, much of the early counter-insurgency ideology in Vietnam was heavily based on the putative British methods in the Malayan Emergency), and it backfired badly.

    So the prospects for defeating an insurgency that has widespread support among the civilian population don’t look that good, at least given the methods and casualty rates acceptable in today’s democracies.

    Exactly. Insurgency/terrorism puts a difficult dilemma on the strong, established powers. If the latter were too “vigorous” in the prosecution of counter-insurgency, they come off as war criminals and bullies and are excoriated in the international media, which in turn fuel greater support for the insurgents. If, on the other hand, they try the soft approach (“hearts and minds”), they allow the insurgents to survive and even thrive, which is a victory for the insurgents (they win by simply surviving and outlasting the expeditionary force). And on top of that, most highly developed countries have a very high regard for human lives, especially those of their own citizens, and are extremely casualty-intolerant, even if the soldiers themselves are eager to fight hard.

    Counter-insurgency is a most difficult puzzle and does not lend easily to the traditional military “science” of delivering a certain amount of firepower on an xyz coordinate and causing so-and-so amount of casualties.

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  119. Don’t you mean Algeria?

    No, FLN killed 4,000 people and injured 10,000 in France. But much of the circumstances was murky. In the so-called café wars, there was much internecine (expatriate) Algerian bloodshed, which is typical of an insurgency (remember that the IRA killed more Irishmen than Englishmen in their quest for independence). And of course it’s also possible, indeed highly likely, that the French government killed, extra-judicially, Algerians living in France. The point is that there were attacks and violence in France, and the conflict was not contained in Algeria.

    Even after it won the war and the issue was settled, the FLN reportedly killed tens of thousands of pro-French Algerians in Algeria.

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  120. “And of course it’s also possible, indeed highly likely, that the French government killed, extra-judicially, Algerians living in France.”

    There was that infamous case in 1961 when the Parisian police apparently killed several dozen (or even more) Algerian protesters and dumped their bodies in the Seine (at the orders of police prefect Maurice Papon who had been a Vichy collaborationist)…which was covered up for a long time:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paris_massacre_of_1961

    Hard to imagine that something like this happened in post-WW2 France; the Algerian war really was extremely brutal (and the FLN were a really unpleasant bunch as well as you rightly write, their vengeance after the war against Algerians who had worked for the French was extreme; there also was the Oran massacre of an unknown number of Europeans right on the eve of Algerian independence).
    Anyway, thanks for your comments about military matters, they are very informative and interesting.

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  121. The more they pee in our pool the less they’ll want to swim in it? I’m relieved…

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  122. What makes you think the British ever wanted to keep Northern Ireland, the original rebellion was over a hundred years ago and of an 80% Unionist-Protestant majority in NI who refused to accept it leaving the UK . https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ulster_Volunteers

    It was the decline in the unionist protestants majority, especially the middle class professional families, that brought Unionist politicians to the table. There is a parallel with Syria

    The post says

    In fact, the best ethnographic work indicates that a disproportionate number of the young men involved in violent religious and political terrorism are not from the bottom of society, but closer to the top.

    http://www.economist.com/news/europe/21684830-integrating-migrants-schools-will-not-be-easy-learning-hard-way Half the Syrian refugees who have arrived in Europe are said to have university degrees. They are the crucial loss for the rebellion (the most threatening component of which to Assad is not mainly ISIS ). Free Syrian Army is strongest in the populous developed areas of rebel Syria. No one except those seeking death will be volunteering to fight Assad, knowing they are going to be blasted to kingdom come by Russian airpower. They will run away to live in Sweden and Germany, where their children will be successful (because the key index for how well immigrant children do in European school is their parents level of education). The Assad regime will be glad to see the back of these people, and they will be glad to go.

    No one wants Assad to go now because, whether by accident or design, the alternative to him is not the original rebels or the FSA, it is ISIS. Assad knows ISIS will never be allowed to win so he will avoid hitting them too hard until the FSA are crushed by the Russian airstrikes and Iranian infantry who now are doing the lion’s share of the actual fighting for Assad . Refugee flows to Europe will weaken the rebellion quite quickly I think.

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  123. Development economist Paul Collier says the diaspora communities reduce all costs of migrating so immigration will accelerate until the third world will lose the most economically valuable part of the population. The most capable people migrate first. The later waves may well be more desperate and be satisfied with less than the first immigrants. Immigration is seen as the engine of growth and innovation by Western governing parties, and those who articulate establishment wisdom, such as the Economist. Accepting immigration is also phrased as a moral imperative. thay is by a minority, yes, but a very important and influential minority:

    http://www.theguardian.com/books/2013/mar/27/why-left-wrong-mass-immigration

    In busy offices up and down the land some of Britain’s most idealistic young men and women – working in human rights NGOs and immigration law firms – struggle every day to usher into this society as many people as possible from poor countries.

    They are motivated by the admirable belief that all human lives are equally valuable. And like some of the older 1960s liberal baby boomers, who were reacting against the extreme nationalism of the first half of the 20th century, they seem to feel few national attachments. Indeed, they feel no less a commitment to the welfare of someone in Burundi than they do to a fellow citizen in Birmingham. Perhaps they even feel a greater commitment.

    Charity used to begin at home. But the best fast-stream civil servants now want to work in DfID, the international development department. Their idealism is focused more on raising up the global poor or worrying about global warming than on sorting out Britain’s social care system.[...]

    Intellectual sophistication is, more generally, associated with transcending the local, the everyday, the parochial, and even the national. Replacing the nation with other allegiances seems an attractive, even morally superior, alternative – chiming with globalisation’s market freedoms. [...]

    As the post pertinently notes “motivated minorities can capture and transform whole societies”.

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  124. Development economist Paul Collier says the diaspora communities reduce all costs of migrating so immigration will accelerate until the third world will lose the most economically valuable part of the population.

    i’ve followed this literature, and this is bullshit in the way you presented it in that it misleads. there are some smaller names with small % of educated people that are decimated. but nations like india, china, brazil, have huge populations, and are not majorly impacted, and on the contrary diaspora investment and reciprocal interaction probably is a net +. so most third world countries (because so many are in africa) may not benefit (this is debated, but it’s a feasible point of view), but the vast majority of third world people may still benefit (because they mostly live in india, brazil, or china).

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  125. “Half the Syrian refugees who have arrived in Europe are said to have university degrees.”

    ??? That’s not what I’ve read in German media (which is generally very pro-asylum), according to their reports an estimated 15-20% of Syrians coming to Europe may even be illiterate, and at least another third has only elementary school education. Only a small minority (10%?) supposedly have university education (which in most cases probably isn’t comparable to Western standards). I don’t know if there are really any reliable numbers by this point, but “half of them have university education”, that seems absurd to me.
    Regarding NI: Yes, I know the province isn’t popular on the British mainland and many there regard Northern Ireland as a madhouse full of sectarian loonies who should be cut loose from the UK. Still, it’s somewhat sad to see what has become of Britain and Britishness, its decline as an identity (at least among the “native” populations of the four nations) is fairly striking.

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  126. Good analysis, but I think it implies an ominous conclusion that is not stated in the article.

    If “it is essential to look at things from the perspective of others, and also periodically engage in Epoché and detach from individual subjectivity”

    and

    “we may have to stop talking about “Islamic terrorism,” and refer to the Islamic international, if the analogy with anarchism and communism hold”

    then

    What happens when a group whose leaders (if not their average foot soldier) sincerely believe its raison d’etre is to hasten the apocalypse gains access to nuclear or biological weapons?

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  127. Yes Collier says the small countries like Malawi and Haiti suffer and even go into reverse in development terms . I don’t know whether the masses of India lose appreciable benefits because their qualified doctors can go to the west, but do they gain?

    The families of people who migrate to the west get money sent to them and may be more likely to migrate themselves, so they definitely benefit and that is why Collier says immigration’s inherent tendency is to accelerate, and it will be a 100 years before the pull of the West’s standard of living vanishes for most of the population of the third world.

    The migrants benefit and Western business seems to think it does too. That leaves the lower class masses in the West and the Third World to reap the down side, if there is one (which the Economist denies).

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  128. I don’t know whether the masses of India lose appreciable benefits because their qualified doctors can go to the west, but do they gain?

    what’s what i said above! there’s research on this. google it. big third world nations don’t lose much, and probably gain. it’s the small ones you are talking about. groups like NRIs and overseas chinese pump investment back into the home country, and sometimes come back and resettle and bring more skill/networks/connections. the problem is that this dynamic doesn’t happen into smaller nations which then go into death spiral…

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  129. That’s not what I’ve read in German media (which is generally very pro-asylum), according to their reports an estimated 15-20% of Syrians coming to Europe may even be illiterate, and at least another third has only elementary school education.

    Getting to central Europe is expensive. Syrian refugees are mostly from better off families.
    I even doubt that 15-20% illiteracy is true for the whole of pre-civil-war Syria.
    Don’t forget that even Germany has some percent of ‘functional illiterates’.

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  130. Twinkie
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