Some Additional Thoughts on the Syrian and Iraqi Refugees

Earlier today Betty Cracker wrote a very thoughtful post about the Syrian and Iraqi refugees. I had been planning on doing one as well and wanted to wait a bit so as not to step on her post. There are two things that I find really interesting about what is going: 1) the responses of the various EU states, including the responses of their citizens and 2) that the most potent informational weapon we have against ISIS is providing aid to the Syrian and Iraqi refugees.

I’m going to take these in reverse order, because the second one is (sort of) shorter. While ISIS’s theology/ideology/dogma is something of a mishmash of several revivalist and reactionary Islamic concepts, at its heart it seems to be based on tawheed. Tawheed, or the unitary nature of the Deity, was the core of the doctrinal teachings of Muhammad ibn Abdul Wahhab. At the time that he developed his doctrine of the unity of the Deity it was quite radical. Basically, it asserts that the Deity is completely one; that any form of intercessory prayer is therefore a denial of such unity and apostasy; that any form of adornment or adoration of great men/saints is a denial of unity and apostasy (hence the destruction of tombs and heritage sites); and living among apostates is forbidden requiring the devout believer to relocate to where tawheed is practiced and enforced.

Abdul Wahhab’s doctrine also included an extreme opposition to and distrust of Jews, Christians, Shi’a and Sufi Muslims, as well as all Sunni Muslims that did not accept tawheed. It was the combination of an inflexible understanding of apostasy, opposition to non Muwaheedun (unitarian) Muslims, as well as non-Muslims; and forced indoctrination of the tribes of the Najd (the Ikhwan – not the same as the Muslim Brothers) that led to the violence of the conquests of Ibn Saud.

One of ISIS’s major recruiting points is that Americans, Europeans, Jews, Christians, Iran, Shi’a, and non-Muwaheedun Muslims are all at war with the real Islam of tawheed. They use this as one of the informational tools to hook potential recruits. In a nutshell “you are surrounded by apostates and infidels; they are at war with you; and you can not trust them.” One of the best and most easily acceptable counters that we have to ISIS is to take in more Syrian and Iraqi refugees – the majority of whom will be Muslims. As a result providing aid, assistance, and refuge is not just doing good for those in need. It also provides us with a powerful informational antidote to counter ISIS’s recruiting pitches.

On to point #1. When the EU created the Schengen Accords in the mid 1980s the purpose was to push the border as far out as possible. By doing so the original EU member states, which are also its core, sought to make immigration issues the responsibility of the newer states to the East and Southeast, as well as the poorer states bordering the Mediterranean.* The EU security concern at the time, as posed in a number of publications, was that a common, single border made commerce easier, but also could lead to an increase in crime and terrorism. The Turk on Kurd guest worker violence in Germany helped to drive these concerns.

The basic idea was that if immigration controls for poorer immigrants or for asylum seekers was pushed to the periphery, then they would be dealt with there. Asylum requests would be made closer to point of entry rather than in the wealthier, original EU states in the North and West of the EU. This would keep refugees in the periphery and perhaps explains why Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia are all fighting against centrally set EU refugee quota requirements.

There was little to no data to support these concerns. In fact the EU didn’t even collect crime data from its member states into a single data repository. The only member state that seemed to be collecting this data for the entire EU was the UK for their own comparative crime research. Subsequent testing, using just basic correlations due to undifferentiated data, indicated that those EU states that granted more asylum requests actually had lower rates of crime and terrorism. This refuted the oft cited, but never empirically supported, security concern of immigrants to the EU being responsible for the majority of the crime and terrorism within the EU.

This basic empirical refutation of the popular belief among both European law enforcement and security professionals that more immigration is equivalent to more crime and terrorism is simply wrong. Though it is still widely believed and asserted; especially by the neo-fascist parties and movements. As a result I was very pleasantly surprised to see that a number of the core EU states are stepping up. Germany is on course to accept 800,000 refugees and Britain, after some internal and external pressure on the Cameron government, is going to take in an additional 20,000. Sweden has taken in about 80,000 and France 24,000. Reports of refugees being met and provided with supplies have been numerous, though marred by some of the recent anti-immigrant xenophobia that is part and parcel of the reemergence of far right and neo-fascist parties in different EU member states.

That so many of the citizens of the EU member states are willing to reach out and provide aid and refuge, as well as pressure their governments to take action, is a very positive sign. It is highly unlikely that it will actually pressure or shame the US into doing anything as we are going through one of our cyclical bouts of nativism and xenophobia partially fueled by us losing our societal mind as a result of 9-11 and still not having come to our senses. As a political science professor of mine once said: “there is nothing as dangerous as a democracy when it’s scared.” Despite a lot of tough talk, as a society, the US has been scared since 9-11 and this fear has contributed to the warping of our domestic and foreign policies.

* Specifically Chapter 7/The Construction of a Security Dilemma: Schengen, Immigration, Crime, and Terrorism by Adam L. Silverman and Melinda Negron.


Reports of the Russian Army in Syria: ISIS’s Chechen Connection

The International Business Times is reporting that the Administration is monitoring reports of Russian military operations targeting ISIS in Syria (h/t Raw Story). The Russians have been backing the Assad government because the latter has provided the former with a warm water port on the Mediterranean. In late 2013 and early 2014 reports started to dribble out from Syria that between 1,000 and 2,000 hardened Chechen fighters had joined ISIS. It is these fighters, radicalized in their ongoing dispute with the Russians and their proxy strongman in Chechnya that have always been one of my greatest concerns with ISIS. Not only because of their ability to influence the events in the Levant, but because as Eastern Europeans they can blend in while traveling throughout Europe, as well as the US.* That concern aside their influence was quickly seen within ISIS as they first started issuing threats agains the Hashemite monarch in Jordan and then against Vladimir Putin – their arch enemy and nemesis. According to the IB Times report a group of Chechen fighters, aligned with ISIS, attacked a Russian military base in Dagestan in the Northern Caucasus. Given that Chechen fighters have taken up both sides of the fight in the breakaway eastern provinces of the Ukraine, these reports of Russian actions in Syria bear watching. The Syrian Civil War, the rise of ISIS, and ISIS’s ability to take and hold significant portions of Syria and Iraq are responsible for potentially creating some strange bedfellows. The US, Iran, and Russia are all opposing ISIS in Syria and Iraq while at the same time the US and Russia are in opposition over Ukraine and the US and Iran still, formally have not normalized relations and do not agree on much of anything. While it is hard to find silver linings in civil wars and the suffering that they create, let alone in the rise of ISIS and its horrific and heinous activities, the creation of a common interest, through common enemies, between the US, Russia, and Iran may be one of them. Especially if this common interest can be extended to each state’s clients. Events in Syria should be watched very carefully over the next few days to see what develops.

* My concern over the potential use of the hardened and radicalized Chechen fighters to carry out actions in Europe or the US (or Canada or anywhere else) is not meant to devalue the legitimate grievances that the Chechen people have with both the Russian government and even more specifically with President Putin and his proxy strongman Ramzan Kadyrov. One of the hallmarks of just revolution concepts is that an oppressed people always retains both the right to self defense and to fight to overthrow their oppressors. The Chechens, like everyone else, have the right to determine for themselves how they wish to order their state and society. A right that has largely been denied because of Russian meddling.

Post Modern Violence: From Leaderless Resistance to Lone Wolves

Without stepping on Zandar’s post from yesterday, I do want to approach the overall topic from a different angle. While the emerging reports seem to indicate that the Kansas bomb carrier was not actually trying to blow up the clinic, the news rightly put everyone’s antenna up. Whether we are talking about shootings or other attacks at movie theaters, the attack on the Chattanooga recruiting center and military facility, the Charleston church shooting, or other actions that seem to fall in between what we would define as crimes against persons, hate crimes, and/or terrorism, there certainly seems to be a buzz in the air. Both here in the US and abroad. Back in 2011 the term stochastic terrorism started to make the rounds. There was even a blog devoted to it; albeit one that was a one post and done website. While I think the term stochastic terrorism has descriptive merit, what we have been watching develop and unfold is actually one step back from stochastic terrorism – we have been observing stochastic violence. We have so much noise to signal right now, and so many more platforms for transmission of messages that have the ability to enflame and incite, that it is easy for aggrieved parties, including those with mental health issues, to lock onto something and ride it as motivation for an attack. Basically, we cannot and will not be able to predict exactly who might or might not undertake an act of mass violence – shooting, bombing, knifing, running down a crowd of folks in one’s car, etc, but we can be sure that these types of action will happen. This also includes political forms of violence like terrorism.

Stochastic violence is an unfortunate reality of the interconnected, 24/7 media and social media world we live in and it presents a unique challenge to the concept and practice of freedom of speech. While this is certainly a constitutional/foundational law issue in the US and some other states, it is definitely a real, complicating factor in trying to get a handle on the problem. It raises questions as to what, if anything should be regulated and who, if anyone, bears responsibility beyond the specific actor or actors involved in any given attack. These questions actually helped to create an earlier iteration of this type of political violence and terrorism: leaderless resistance. Louis Beam, back in the early 1980s, coined the term leaderless resistance to cover the concept of how to put white supremacist and eliminationist ideals into practice without the need to create a highly organized movement. His bottom line was that if you heard or read the message and were inspired to act on it, then just go and do it. Do not contact him or other white supremacist leaders for permission or join an organized and trackable group, just go and do whatever it is you think you are called to do. The idea was to have cake and eat it too. By using the messaging to inspire action, but have the actors not formally/objectively tied to any movement or individual leader, then one got the behavior one wanted, but the plausible deniability and lack of legal liability when whatever was planned actually occurred. One of the best examples of this was Timothy McVeigh. McVeigh was clearly a subjective member of a number of white supremacist groups – he clearly identified with them. However, he never joined any of them, which is what made it hard to track him as outside of personal contacts (Mike from Michigan and the Ozarks supremacist community he was in contact with), he was basically an incredibly angry and resentful cypher. McVeigh and his co-conspirators were classic examples of leaderless resistance.

The concern now, though, is being expressed as the self radicalization of individuals leading to lone wolf attacks. This is basically the path/route taken by McVeigh, as well as Reverend Paul Hill who went from being abortion clinic protestor to abortion clinic shooter, the recent worry is about self radicalizing Muslim youth exposed to the online presence and messages of the Islamic State. While this is, certainly, a concern, what we have actually been seeing in the US, parts of Europe, Israel, and elsewhere is a lot of individuals, with only a portion of them being Muslim, engaging in violence to redress their real or imagined grievances. The process, regardless of who is being exposed to it, however, is the same one I wrote about here last year: neutralization of norms (definitions favorable) for normative, legal behavior to redress problems allowing for the potential lone wolves to drift into deviant, violent, and sometimes terroristic acts to solve their problems. The policy and strategy implications to dealing with this problem are complex, specifically because of our dedication to the concept and practice of freedom of speech. The policy outcome should be the reduction of lone wolf attacks, whether violent crimes, hate crimes, and/or terrorism, to as close to zero as possible regardless of the demographic of the perpetrator. However, that is going to be very difficult to achieve as the ways to achieve this end need to not do damage to the freedom of speech. As is so often the case, and in what seems to be a reverse of Beowulf, one of our greatest strengths is also one of our most exploitable weaknesses. I will leave you with Justice Brandeis’s wisdom on the matter: “If there be time to expose through discussion the falsehood and fallacies, to avert the evil by the process of education, the remedy to be applied is more speech, not enforced silence.”