Then-President Obama and his former government officials say that more people die in bathtubs than terror attacks. The obvious question is: so what?
As James E. Mitchell puts it, “Do bathtubs get up every morning to figure out a way to kill us?“. This thinking short-term, whereas our enemies thinking is long term. An inanimate object is inanimate. It does not house a conscience. It does not wish to impose ideology by violent physical force. As Mr Mitchell also puts it:
[Terrorists are thinking about] a better way to disseminate a poison, to set off a radiological bomb, to get killers into our country. And if we compare the conscious effort to do that with a bathtub [inanimate object] then we’re blinding ourselves…
– James E. Mitchell on The Mark Steyn Show.
Yes, you are more likely to be hit by lightning, killed by a toddler with a firearm, choke to death or drown in a bathtub than be killed by terrorism. This is quantitatively true. Statistically, you are more likely to die by those “mundane things” than terrorism. However, the isolated numbers of deaths does not show us the relevancies of terrorism such as the ripple effects it has on society, how it has grown, how it is perpetuated by human-beings – agents of their own consciousness, et cetera.
The misrepresentation of the terrorist threat is clear. What is attempted by some of the former sources is a minimization of terrorism. The focus created is a minimal one, a myopic one, that looks at naked numbers. The competition between ‘likely ways to die,’ for the average human-being or American citizen, to ‘death by terrorism.’ This has not been disputed because it is a truism: yes, you are more likely to die by something else which is just as uncommon. Duh!
But what is your point?
- Stop fighting terrorism?
- Ignore it and continue with our lives?
- Defund our intelligence and counter-terrorism organisations?
- Should we fight a war on lightning strikes, curtains and outside pools instead?
The obvious answer to all these questions is no. Of course we don’t. Why? Because terrorism is an obvious threat. This is discomforting for most readers, I know. But the truth is the truth. Terrorism is a threat. Sometimes it is an existential threat in countries and communities that are ill-prepared. Terrorists voluntarily try to kill us. We have to stop them and we have to minimize the potential of such people mobilizing in the future.
Originally Published on my Blog @
“More likely to be hit by lightning…”
There are numerous narratives used in Islamic extremism and terrorism. Here is my ‘top ten’ list:
1. Collectivization Narrative
To arrogantly believe that you speak on behalf of all others and bracket all people together in a collective cause. In this case, for being a Muslim, for being a member of Islam or the Islamic community, the Ummah. Networks and support frameworks are established between those of the ‘same kind.’ For example, ‘the Muslims.’ This may also be known as pseudo-kinship, in-group love, al-wala, collective identity, collective action, or collective values.
2. Otherization Narrative
The assumption that one member of a group represents all members of a group. Therefore they are justified as being ‘the same’ or having similar negative traits (e.g. in the Anti-Westernism stance as being ‘Westerners’ or ‘secularists’). The best word that describes this is ‘all.’ Claims are made against all of a certain group. This is otherwise known as pseudo-speciation, out-group hate, wal-bara, group selection, group bias, dehumanization, or devaluation.
3. Collective Guilt Narrative
Compiling the above is the assumption that one member of a group is responsible for all members of that group. If one commits a crime, all are responsible. If one belongs to a system, and the system is implicated, then all belonging to that system are responsible (e.g. all members of the Military due to the catastrophe of Guantanamo Bay). This also relates to honour-code violations, whereby extremists believe there is a pact between them and Allah, that they work as the ‘body’ of the Ummah. They claim to feel the pain of the Ummah. They claim to fight for their religious honour to emancipate fellow brothers and sisters from suffering or non-Islamic injustices, the Cause of Allah.
4. Oppression Narrative
The grievance narrative is ‘played off’ as the oppression of a group of peoples. They may not be in a minority, they may not be oppressed across the spectrum, there may be violence on both sides caused by both sides, but any interventionist approach or encroachment on their lives is seen as oppression. This feeds the victimhood narrative that oppression is a grievance, you are suffering, therefore you need to act and stop it – you are guilty is you do not help. This also begins the paranoid, conspiracy-like thinking, of the ‘other’ group (e.g. that of the ‘Zionists’, the ‘Crusaders’ and the CIA).
5. Supremacist Narrative
Boundaries are forged between groups of people, absolute boundaries that define one from another. There is decreased interfacing between the groups and thus more backbiting (or ghiba) and slander between groups. The former oppression narrative categorisation leads to unimpeded portrayal of the ‘other’ as in the wrong, as an oppressor, as an aggressor, and as the enemy. Egotistical and emotional backing fortifies the claim (We are ‘the Chosen’, ‘the Mujahideen’, the ‘Vanguard’). The individual sees his or herself as the ‘better’ one. This is admirable to those looking from the outside-in.
6. Retaliatory Violence
Violence is usually not automatically acceptable, it is packaged in the understanding of defence or self-defence. This makes what would be a large meal, easy to swallow in small, edible pieces. Even if the logic does not fit, the violent pathway is offered. ‘We attacked them, so they attacked us, so that means we can attack back‘ is not portrayed. Why ruin the narrative? It goes something along the lines of: ‘They are attacking us, fight back!‘ and the foundation is set. Even when the consequences are to lose your own life, there is always a half-truth that hooks the individual, the precedence is that violence can stop violence (although not necessarily true…). Great bait, mate.
7. Divinity of Violence
The pursuit of violence is pushed into the divine realm. The ideological void is now filled with a God-given solution, an internal conflict – an ongoing identity crisis, and the appeal of the charismatic recruiter. This confuses the sympathetic, enticing him or her into justifying terroristic violence. This personal transformation for self now becomes an act of God. Ultimately, this is a self-destructive pathway to the benefit of nobody but the individual terrorist group itself. They will tell you that this is the only religious option. That this is the only thing that the Holy Qur’an says. That this is your duty as a believer. Violence is now packaged with a pretty little bow on top. Offensive violence is now an attractive claim.
8. False Bargaining
The contract set. You work for them now. This contradicts the fore-claimed divinity of violence (in that you do it for God, you now work for a fascistic organisation conducting State affairs and terrorism). The limits set by terror groups expand beyond any meddling in ‘Muslim affairs‘ or ‘Muslim lands.’ The false bargain is an offer with a whole lot of small print. What some misconstrue as anti-Imperialism turns Imperialistic in nature itself as it claims to hold against all those who do wrong, or sin, by the religion. The confines of religious violence against a perceived persecutor expand and vary (e.g. al-Qaeda and ISIS beating and lashing women on the street, beheading apostates or meddling in the exchange of a shopkeep to customer).
9. False Narratives
The narratives used by terrorist organisations often adjust, sometimes even contradicting one another. I gave a similar example above, but to solidify it: they expand from being in “our homes” or “our land” to that of disbelief, polytheism, ‘corrupting the land,’ and other explanative religious and political reasoning. The narrative one minute is that you ‘have invaded us’ and the next minute that you ‘are disbelievers’ and it is a holy war (e.g. Abdullah Azzam’s Defence of the Muslim Lands). This is known as perpetual jihad: based upon the narrative of defending one land, you are now invading or carrying out atrocities in another (e.g. Chechnya-Dagestan-Russia, Afghanistan-America-Britain-Australia) and has progressed since into an international crisis: International Terrorism. Because there is an eternal cosmic and divine war going on, the attacks will ‘never cease’ says the recruiter, and because all land is Allah’s – why stop? The escalation of violence continues. What is a better narrative than a made-up or flimsy one?
10. Reward Narrative
Psst, kid, want some virgins? Bin Laden may have hated capitalism and consumerism but he loved feeding recruits the prospect of martyrdom in a neat, corporate-like marketed package. The narrative that dying for the “Cause of Islam” was a productive outlet to your hatred, aggression, frustration, and lack of morality; a testament to how self-flagellatory and sadistic Islamic extremism and its target audience really are. It does not just wish to ‘stop’ problems but to punish otherwise innocent people through an individual’s own worldview thereby creating more problems. But that’s alright because you believe you’ll get some virgins in Heaven, right? Ha!
By the end of the process, the marketed package of terrorism is neatly packed with a pretty bow. Inside, you believe, it offers you a divine purpose with a reward, sex appeal, a way of letting out your anger and hatred, and a bit of adventure. But when you open it up… you are left with nothing and yet you have caused so much devastation, destruction and disaster. What a waste of life. See through the narratives.
Originally Published on my Blog @
In this article, I will cite the main areas of interest of a report from the Council of Australian Governments (COAG). The report details the 10th year anniversary of the National Counter-Terrorism Centre (NCTC) and includes a reflection on what has changed, why, and to what degree it has been effective. It includes other organisations such as ASIO and DFAT. To begin, I will break it down into relevant sections and comment on each topic of interest.
“[…] our national efforts are focussed on:
• disrupting attacks
• undermining terrorist activities and
• promoting community cohesion.”
Page 9 tells us exactly what the objectives are: to disrupt attacks, undermine terrorist activities and support networks, and promote community cohesion.
This three-pronged strategy deals with the present terrorist issues, the future-to-be terrorists, and the future community discontent and backlash to said issues. It is a very well-rounded approach to counter-terrorism nationally.
“1. disrupt the activities of individuals or groups planning an attack
2. detect and undermine terrorist activity by:
a. blocking the flow of support (finances, goods and people) to or from terrorists and their networks
b. impeding the development of terrorist capability (particularly their tactical and operational security training both directly and online)
c. degrading ideological support for terrorist activities.
3. promote community cohesion and build resilience to radicalisation.”
Page 9 gives us a list of the prior objectives broken down into goals. These goals couple with the COAG objectives but acknowledge greater detail. The picture below gives a visual example of these goals. Further goals expanding beyond terrorism can be found here.
Above: The Spectrum of CT Efforts (taken from cited report).
Key Changes to Counter-Terrorism
Page 20 notes multiple key changes:
“• the increased scale of the threat
• the home-grown aspect
• lower barriers of entry to terrorist groups
• lone actor attacks
• use of everyday items as weapons
• individuals can move rapidly from intent to
• social media
• secure and encrypted communications.”
These changes were mainly introduced by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) including lone-actor attacks, lower barrier to entry, polished propaganda, and social media usage.
Understanding the Threat: Islamist Terrorism
Page 10 gives us a clear enemy: Terroristic or Violent Islamism.
“The terrorist attacks in the United States on 11 September 2001 were a major turning point in Western understanding of the threat from Islamist terrorism.”
This is one thing that Australian Intelligence Services have been clear to demonstrate previously. The threat is identified and recognised, unlike that of many American Intelligence Services. This is one thing Australia does better than other services.
This couples nicely when you consider the growing need to undermine Islamist ideology correlates with undermining not only terrorism but many practices counter to Australian norms and many processes of radicalisation.
Expanding Counter-Terrorism and Related Organisations
The threat adjusts to real-time politics and changes in the international community, and it looks to exploit any window of opportunity in relation to grievances and narratives. Thus, there has been a substantial increase in the capabilities and funding of multiple organisations. These organisations now work together, interconnected and coordinated, in order to defeat terrorism and counter other national security risks, as seen below.
Above: Increasing Roles and Width of Counter-Terrorism in Australia (taken from the cited report and modified by myself).
The two models proposed, on page 30, are the large ‘super-agency’ model or the small, coordinated model. The former seen in the United States with their Department of Homeland Security and the latter seen in the United Kingdom with many regional departments. There is no consensus as to the best practice model. However, identified strengths follow the model of:
- Clear government policy.
- Representatives from a wide range of agencies.
- Senior-level attendance at key coordination meetings including roles such as Counter-Terrorism Coordinator.
- Risk groups allocated substantial responsibilities and lead by senior officials.
- Reports that are regular and given to all agency heads or deputies in a reference group.
- Regular cabinet reporting to ensure continued ministerial oversight, attention, and priority.
A Warning: Lone Wolf Attacks and Metrics – We’re NOT Winning!
The report warns us time and time again of self-initiated, or lone wolf, attacks. These attacks are very difficult to detect and often catch both the public and security apparatus by surprise. It is noted that these attacks are likely to occur in greater propensity and capacity in the future, even for Australia with the number of foreign fighters in and around Australasian, including Indonesia.
In fact, the major warning is that all the metrics are increasing: foreign fighters, known sympathisers, known supporters, passport investigations and cancellations, and other serious investigations. We do not seem to be ‘winning’ against terrorism. We have to work on a range of factors to counter the problem, such as community engagement, youth engagement, counter-messaging, and education (including intercultural and interfaith education) to build community resilience towards, and recognition of, radicalisation.
In conclusion, the COAG report gives us an overview of Counter-Terrorism efforts in Australia. The emerging threats come in the forms of lone wolf attacks and rising trends in radicalisation and terrorism. We are not winning the fight against terrorism. But, that said, there have been huge leaps in coordination, technological advancement, and other innovations that will continue to challenge terrorism and its support networks.
Originally Published on my Blog @
If the some of the religious community radicalise and kill people… What do we do? Do we shut down their places of worship? Do we monitor their services? Do we restrict growing religious influence? Do we out-right ban the religion? Do we restrict their freedom of religion?
In this article, I will analyse a study, “Explaining religious terrorism: a data-mined analysis” by Nilay Saiya and Anthony Scime, which may directly answer these questions or give you the academic backing of which to answer them.
The aforementioned study suggests that religious freedom is negatively correlated with religious terrorism, as any overt restrictions on religion feed into the Islamist narrative – who are then able to portray themselves as valiant heroes fighting oppression:
“[…] The classification data mining techniques used in this study find that a country’s level of religious restrictions is the most significant variable predicting the onset of religious terrorism—twice more important than any of the other variables. The conditions under which a regime is able to ‘‘repress away’’ terrorism appear to be so context-specific that repression cannot generally be adopted by governments as an effective antidote to terrorism. This does not mean that other variables are unimportant, however, as this analysis has shown. In certain combinations, a country’s level of democracy, size of population, land area, geographical location, predominant religious tradition, history of foreign occupation, regime stability and the number of religious minorities matter in conjunction with religious liberty. These findings do not suggest, of course, that religiously free countries never experience religious terrorism or that religiously restrictive ones always do. The point is, nonetheless,that efforts to restrict religion do not always succeed in diminishing religion’s influence. Our theory explains why this is the case. Quite often such restrictions serve to foster radicalization and give credibility to the claim made by extremists that their faith is under attack. Repressive environments that strangle religious freedom and independent thinking serve as a natural breeding ground for extremists. When states prevent religious groups from practicing their faith, such groups are likelier to turn to violence as it is seen as the only way to bring about change.”
Reference: Explaining religious terrorism: A data-mined analysis.
The study gives it to us straight: restricting religious freedom is directly correlated with an increase in terror-related activities by said restricted religious community. Extrapolating along these lines, this is probably why we see many movements appear in places like Uzbekistan, such as the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU). The narrative of violence that the Islamists feed off, within their religion, is strongly connected to the oppression narrative. Uzbekistan has been entangled in cases of mass arrest, overt surveillance of Mosques, and other acts which may be seen as persecutory.
Some interpretations of jihad state that jihad is fighting oppression within and around oneself. What this confirms is that it is quite a supremacist, aggressive, and expansionistic religion, and that any concern by a host population could lead to perceived persecution and backlash violence. This is the “abused wife” predicament: do you continue or do you do something about it? If both lead to violence, which one is predicted to eventually end the violence? The key point is that a particularist view of religious doctrine leads to one ultimate conclusion: to fight oppression of their religious inheritance and freedoms. This on its own promotes religious unity for a common and just cause, in which the community may support, but also one that gives way to violence and potential acts of terrorism.
Some authours have speculated that therefore religious freedom is the best weapon against Islamic terrorism. I disagree, as such interpretations of scripture only feed the oppression narratives of governmental control and religious strangulation. Other oppression narratives may include disbelief in monotheism, shirk, et cetera, which feed violent tendencies in scripture without governmental intervention.
In other words, terrorism is not only affected by top-down approaches but from the ground-up also. To simply suggest that complete religious freedom will dismantle all the narratives that extremists and terrorists exploit is not only naive but bluntly incorrect. However, it is about time that we recognize the “Energizing the Base” theory in action. Clearly, Islamists are “energizing” a population not only based upon governmental actions but upon inter-community and individual understanding of religious pathways to violence. Disrespectful top-down approaches speed up and reinforce that process.
The study cites these recommendations:
- The inclusion of religious groups and individuals in policy-making and other governmental processes.
- The usage of religious groups as a buttress between extremism and the oppression narratives at play.
- For policymakers to carefully and tactfully consider religious liberty as a priority in regards to countering the oppression narrative exploited by extremists.
- The implied stances are that outright banning, discriminating against, or targetting certain religious groups, will lead to further violence and terrorism. The “abused wife” dilemma.
In conclusion, this study suggests that overt restrictions on religion may lead to more violence. Violence in this capacity, which is often seen as retaliatory and just, and thus supported by a greater population, and may lead to an even bigger terrorist movement. To dismantle the bite of the oppression narrative, religious freedom and liberty must be looked upon carefully and tactfully by policy-makers. But we must also recognise that terrorism is not simply top-down and that other narratives fill the void from the bottom-up.
Originally Published on my Blog @
A common trend that I have observed in discussions about religious terrorism and religious violence is that the premise that any violent act is said to be a disqualifier for the said act being religious. This is completely untrue and unfounded. This hypothesis is not matched by the observable nature of modern-day religious terrorism and the core scripture within monotheistic faiths and traditions.
Violence as a Disqualifier?
The key question is: does violence disqualify an act from being religious in nature? The answer is no by some scriptural and historic standards, and yes by other non-violent interpretations. Unfortunately, this divide is an intrapersonal position and often from the position of a personal relationship with scriptural understanding and authority. Ultimately, from the early historic periods of religion, violence does not disqualify a religious tradition.
Above: Twitter apologia about violence and religion.
In the above example, the claim is that one violates core Islamic teachings by killing another human-being intentionally. This would mean that Khaled, Hamza, Ali, and even the Prophet Muhammad himself, were in violation of their own teachings, being the first-generation of Muslims. This would also mean that any commands for intentional murder or violence would not be recognised in the Qur’an or any other monotheistic religion, and this is simply not true. And verifiably so.
This position clearly ignores core scripture, differing interpretations, scholarly opinions, and the central figures to the said religion who did engage in violence, sometimes as a religious duty. Obfuscation, denialism, and ignorance do not heed the way to understanding religious violence and terrorism.
Above: Qurtubi tafsir of Holy Qur’an 2:193.
Continuing the example above, in Islamic theology there are multiple theological precedents that place violence as a qualifier for religious worth and duty:
- The Qur’an itself calls for violencetowards a general, and always existent, group of people: the disbelievers. Further, this bracket spills over into categories of paganism, polytheism and idol worships, and hypocritical-munafiq believers. This identifies a religious backing and justification to violent behaviour as a forever-problem, directed towards both Muslims and non-Muslims.
- The Prophet Muhammad lead by example inraids, battles, and violence against those who did not believe, or otherwise rejected, the monotheistic message of Islam, attacked Islam or the Muslims, or other precedents. As did the Prophet’s Companions such as Ali, Abu Bakr, Khaled, and Hamza. To disconnect these examples from the religion of Islam is to ignore the foundational and early Islamic figures that many interpretations deeply held onto.
- In these early Islamic expeditions, which were Prophet-lead and authorised by Allah, violence was seen asa just way of defending as well as spreading the religion. Many battles featured martyrs and “lions of Allah” who fought toe-to-toe with the “enemy.” This violence has religious worth and gained martyrs – those who died in the fighting – direct access to the highest tier of Jannah for a divine Reward, houris or virgins, further incentivizing divine violence.
Islamic terrorist groups revive scriptural understandings of these commandments and examples to justify and continue their terror campaigns. They revive these commands as universal revelation, for all times, to the duty of all Muslims. To use scriptural authority to revive religious violence does not disqualify a violent and otherwise terroristic act from not being religious, religion-based, or spiritual in nature. You cannot rule-out violence as a religious component. This does not only include the aforementioned theological premises in classical Islamic texts but also eschatological precedents such as the genocide of Jews during the Ends of Days.
Violence is clearly a component of the Islamic religion. Arguments in regards to violence usually form around towards what, why, directed by whom, where, and when. To deny the violent components to core scripture, the history of the Prophet Muhammad and his Companions, or Allah’s commands, is obfuscation of the highest order. Being a “murderer” does not disqualify one from being Islamic.
In conclusion, I would like you to adopt the position that religious violence is indeed religious, and can be set upon by spiritual and theological claims. Violence in the form of religious understanding or scripture is not a disqualifier for the said violence being religious in nature.
Originally Published on my Blog @