My Heart Shall Never Rest ...
Religion makes waves in the news today. Abu Bakr Bashir, the spiritual leader of the gang that killed 202 people in Bali remarked after his release that victim's relatives who were upset by his short sentence could seek solace by converting to Islam. But towards Australian Prime Minister John Howard he offered no words of comfort.
The radical Muslim cleric, who was released from an Indonesian prison on Wednesday, said those killed in the 2002 Bali bombings had been destined to die by God and their grieving families should now convert to Islam to find "salvation and peace". He also called on Prime Minister John Howard to convert to Islam or face eternity in hell.
Tim Blair noted that God -- or Allah if one prefers -- might be saying something else to radical Islam.
Islamic theologians are always claiming to see evidence of Allah in such things as fish, ice cream, and waves. Now tremble in awe as the bomb that took out Zarqawi forms a perfect smoke crucifix. It’s a sign, people!
And if that wasn't enough, Pajamas Media points to a website that reveals the religious affiliation of many of the most famous superheroes based on the illustrations in the comics themselves. Batman is Episcopalian/Catholic; Superman is Methodist; The Thing is Jewish; and Dust is of course Sunni Muslim. Don't believe it, huh? Well, neither did I, but it's true.
The secular age has discovered that belief -- in something at least -- matters. The Atlantic has a long article describing Jihadi efforts to create a virtual community through which it can prosletyze, share information, build community and coordinate action. In other words, create a virtual mosque or church.
After 9/11 and the American bombing campaign in Afghanistan, al-Qaeda lost much of its infrastructure. No longer able to recruit in plain sight, its strategists recognized that the Internet could become a vast global recruiting ground—in effect, a new, borderless Afghanistan.
One enterprising Jihadi, codenamed "Irhabi 007", used the what the Atlantic called "Jihad 2.0" to gather and disseminate information.
On the al-Ansar site he posted maps of Israel, Navy SEAL guides on sniper training, CIA manuals on making explosives, and other intelligence that he’d found online, especially if it concerned Iraq. American soldiers stationed in the country had begun writing blogs about their lives there and were posting photos and videos online. Irhabi wanted to mine those blogs for information about U.S. forces in the country—and he realized how effectively that information could be incorporated into the homemade videos that are the lifeblood of online jihadi forums. “I’m looking for soldier footages from within U.S. bases etc.,” he wrote in March 2004. “That’s the fish I want to catch.”
Yet somewhere else on the Internet, another person, with a different set of beliefs, prepared his countercampaign against the virtual Jihad.
As Irhabi worked to build himself up, Aaron Weisburd resolved to take him down. A computer programmer by training, with expertise in Web development, Weisburd began tracking online jihadists in 2002 from his home office in Carbondale, Illinois. ... Born in New York City in 1964, Weisburd declared his own private war against al-Qaeda because he was mad—mad that Yasir Arafat had rejected the peace plan at Camp David in 2000, mad that al-Qaeda had blown up the buildings in Manhattan he grew up around, and mad because he had read that Hamas was teaching Palestinian kindergartners to hate Israelis. So he set up Internet Haganah, a site designed to put jihadists like Irhabi on the law-enforcement radar screen.
Weisburd is the only paid full-time member of Internet Haganah. He runs his operation from the second-floor office of his home. Surrounded by five computers, he trawls online in search of the press statements and videos that terrorists release to rally their supporters. He goes undercover, logging on to restricted forums ... Then he either shames service providers into shutting down the sites that host them or gathers what he terms “intel” for interested parties. On Internet Haganah he maintains a blog to rally his own side, providing an outlet for people eager to contribute their time and money to the fight against terrorism.
But it isn't just the Jihad 2.0 or the Internet Haganah that are in action. An informal network of the unlikeliest people has sprung up on the Internet which could generally be called Counterterrorism 3.0. It is the nemesis of the virtual community created by radical Islamists created perhaps less consciously but nevertheless effectively by disparate individuals working on a common set of beliefs. The accounts of non-MSM reporter (and former paratrooper Michael Fumento who like Bill Roggio depends on reader support for his embed) filed from Ramadi are examples of its output in the media sphere. Fumento's report is superior in nearly all respects to reportage from regular media outlets. His dispatch from Ramadi takes the reader on not just one but several patrols through the city, mixing video, narrative, strategy and humor in ways that raise the bar higher than the networks can reach; (you must read it to appreciate what I mean) unreachable because, as JD Johannes (a former Marine turned embedded reporter) notes, the MSM is stuck in an obsolete mode, a mode that has none of the features of the Jihad 2.0 and Counterrorism 3.0.
The news media template is: if it bleeds, it leads. They have to work really hard at finding stories besides the explosion outside of Baghdad in the daily car-bombing. ... The daily successes. The Marines would joke about this. Their MOS [military operation specialty] was in 0311 or 0352 is 0350 as in infantry police officer. You gather Intel. You set up ambush and bait-and-kill operations. You track down a bad guy when they were bringing in a bad guy every other day. Finding a weapons cache every other day in the area... But those weren't the things making the headlines.
You just have a handful of reporters covering a major conflict in a large country. ... I've pointed out before that at the height of the Michael Jackson trial, there were some 2,200 credentialed reporters covering that trial. At the height of the invasion, there were 450-some credentialed reporters embedded with the coalition, and probably a couple 100 others out running around on their own, doing a great job. The number of -- especially of western reporters credentialed in Iraq -- is very small. ...
Case in point: I get a call (about a month or two ago) from a TV news director who had known what I had done in Iraq. He was hoping I was still there so he could hire me to go out and do what I had done in the past because there was a reserve unit from their area being deployed. But the parent affiliate said: "nope, we don't leave the Fortified Hotel -- ever." So a lot of the employers aren't willing to bear the risk. And that is the structural program that really tilts the war.
Also, and this is probably the most disturbing part, many journalists have not figured out that they're being targeted by the enemy on purpose to help shape the coverage of the war. The insurgents don't want the reporters out and about running around. They're completely satisfied with the "balcony" report and some video shot by a stringer of the daily car bomb. That's the message that the insurgents want to get out. They don't realize that warfare is both the kinetic and non-kinetic. And, therefore, they miss how they're being played by the insurgents. I wish more reporters realized that.
The image of the MSM pinned down in its "Fortified Hotel" like blind slugs being fed by insurgent-supplied stringer-zookeepers, while Jihad 2.0 and Counterterrorism 3.0 adherents duel across the timezones and continents may be the most enduring snapshot of the War of Belief. Both the Jihad 2.0 and Counterterrorism 3.0 are networks that share information, prosletyze, build community, coordinate action and reinforce belief. And they are important. Sissy Willis, writing on the subject of religion may have hit upon why. She notes that people can't help believing -- in something at least -- and can't help forming communities to support each other. She quotes Freeman Dyson on the subject:
The best source of information about modern Islamic terrorists that I know of is a book, Understanding Terror Networks, by Marc Sageman ... a former United States foreign service officer who worked with the Mujahideen in Afghanistan and Pakistan ... he describes in detail the network that planned and carried out the September 2001 attacks on the United States. He finds that the bonds holding the group together, during its formative years in Hamburg, were more personal than political. He concludes: "Despite the popular accounts of the 9/11 perpetrators in the press, in-group love rather than out-group hate seems a better explanation for their behavior."
We have no firsthand testimony from the young men who carried out the September 11 attacks. They were not as highly educated and as thoughtful as the kamikaze pilots, and they were more influenced by religion. But there is strong evidence that they were not brainwashed zombies. They were soldiers enlisted in a secret brotherhood that gave meaning and purpose to their lives, working together in a brilliantly executed operation against the strongest power in the world. According to Sageman, they were motivated like the kamikaze pilots, more by loyalty to their comrades than by hatred of the enemy. Once the operation had been conceived and ordered, it would have been unthinkable and shameful not to carry it out.
I found it funny that comic book superheroes should have religions. But on second thought, they probably would, wouldn't they?