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Netanyahu ha davvero perso le elezioni?

L’annuncio della sconfitta del Likud di Benjamin Netanyahu, alle ultime elezioni israeliane, sembra sostanziare una valutazione poco prudente. In realtà il premier uscente ha perso qualche seggio, ma si è rafforzato rispetto alle vittoriose consultazioni di quattro anni fa. 

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[dropcap]R[/dropcap]ispecchiando l’antico detto yiddish “tre partiti ogni due ebrei”, le elezioni per il rinnovo della Knesset hanno consegnato a Israele un quadro di grande frammentazione politica. Il premier uscente Benjamin Netanyahu conserva il primo posto, ma il suo partito risulta numericamente indebolito rispetto alle consultazioni del 2009. Il successo del candidato centrista Yair Lapid è la vera – e indiscutibile – sorpresa delle ultime elezioni. Effettivamente, non si è verificato l’ulteriore spostamento a destra previsto da buona parte degli osservatori: l’estremista Naftali Bennett, che ha attirato su di sé l’attenzione per buona parte della campagna elettorale, non ha ottenuto l’exploit preventivato da più parti. Piuttosto, la formazione di estrema destra ha sottratto voti a Likud-Beitenu, la lista del premier uscente.

D’altro canto, osservando attentamente i risultati sembra ardito sostenere la tesi di un’avanzata delle forze moderate e progressiste. Aggregando i dati per ‘gruppi ideologici’, emerge che le formazioni di destra hanno effettivamente perso ben 6 seggi alla Knesset. Allo stesso modo, le formazioni di centro hanno perso un altro parlamentare. Pertanto, ad una analisi più oculata, si rileva come il successo ottenuto da Yesh Atid, il partito di Lapid, abbia semplicemente occupato la posizione ideologica ed elettorale lasciata vacante dal forte arretramento di Kadima (che, infatti, ha subito una perdita di 24 seggi su 26). Gli ultimi 7 seggi a disposizione sono stati occupati, in gran parte, dalla sinistra – i laburisti e Meretz –, e dagli ultra-ortodossi di Giudaismo Unito nella Torah, che ha conquistato 2 deputati in più rispetto al 2009. In sintesi, lo spostamento avvenuto a favore del centro-sinistra è stato di 4 miseri seggi: insufficienti per formare una coalizione anti-Likud, e imprimere così una svolta politica rispetto ai governi degli ultimi anni.

In definitiva, parlare di una sconfitta di Netanyahu, sulla scorta di buona parte della stampa internazionale (e non) ‘liberal’, sembra poco prudente. Bibi, come è affettuosamente chiamato il primo ministro israeliano, governa da quasi quattro anni il paese, godendo di un consenso personale che supera il 50%. Nonostante la sua coalizione, con i russi di Yisrael Beiteinu, abbia sofferto un calo elettorale, rimane comunque indispensabile per la formazione di qualsiasi formazione di governo. Inoltre, il PIL israeliano ha registrato tassi di crescita del 4.7% nel 2011; dal 2009, inoltre, più nessun israeliano è stato vittima di attentati terroristici che, in precedenza, scandivano macabramente la quotidianità dello Stato di Israele. Netanyahu, pertanto, è percepito dall’opinione pubblica come una guida forte e autorevole, la cui necessità è avvertita in maniera sempre più impellente, dati gli ultimi sviluppi nella regione mediorientale. Infatti, l’instabilità della regione – e quindi l’allontanarsi delle prospettive di pace – rimane da sempre il vero grande alleato della destra israeliana.

Il quadro regionale sembra confermare i timori di chi auspica uno Stato ebraico armato e sulla difensiva. L’Iran, ormai da sette anni, persevera nella sua politica di minacce e dichiarazioni bellicose, così da permettere a Netanyahu di evocare il pericolo di una shoah nucleare. La Turchia di Erdoğan, ormai lanciata verso la conquista dell’egemonia del Mediterraneo islamico, ha mutato il suo approccio accomodante verso Israele, trasformandosi in un potente, sebbene non ostile, avversario regionale. Infine, l’Egitto dei Fratelli Musulmani e i tumulti della guerra civile siriana aggiungono ulteriori motivi di preoccupazione ed elementi di instabilità: in quest’ultimo caso, ad esempio, la caduta del regime di Bashar al-Assad aprirebbe scenari completamente inediti, a cui Israele dovrebbe riadattare le proprie posizioni strategiche pur di conservare l’equilibrio e la pace regionale.

Anche sul fronte interno, relativamente al conflitto israelo-palestinese, il leader israeliano potrebbe continuare ad agire sulle divisioni interne all’ANP, e insistere sulla minaccia rappresentata da Hamas. Difatti, l’operazione militare Pillar of Defense lanciata dalle forze armate israeliane nel novembre scorso, è stato uno pseudo-conflitto – nonostante le centinaia di vittime – dal punto di vista tattico e strategico: da una parte, Hamas ha sempre evitato e respinto il confronto diretto con l’esercito israeliano, che avrebbe come unica conseguenza la distruzione del partito islamista; dall’altra, Netanyahu ha dimostrato di non avere nessuna intenzione di rioccupare Gaza, dato che l’operazione costerebbe eccessivamente in termini umani, elettorali e militari, essendo peraltro inutile dal punto di vista della sicurezza. Pertanto, mantenere lo status quo nella striscia di Gaza rientra tra gli interessi di tutti i contendenti: in primis, da parte della destra israeliana che, insistendo ed ergendosi ad alfiere della sicurezza e della risolutezza militare, guadagna voti ogniqualvolta si affievoliscono le speranze di pace; in secondo luogo, anche di Hamas che, sfruttando la radicalizzazione del conflitto, rafforza l’egemonia e il controllo sui palestinesi, sottraendo consenso ai moderati di Fatah. Purtroppo, a quanto pare, l’unico attore che ci perde in questo ignobile gioco delle parti è il popolo palestinese assediato all’interno della striscia di Gaza.

In conclusione, la strada di Netanyahu non è, quindi, così in salita. Di sicuro, formare una coalizione che coinvolgerà i centristi, una parte degli ultra-ortodossi e l’estrema destra non sarà impresa agevole. Tuttavia, il premier può contare sulla minaccia del ritorno alle urne, visto che una campagna elettorale incentrata sul tema della governabilità non potrebbe che favorire il proprio partito. Diversa, invece, appare la posizione di Yair Lapid: se il nuovo protagonista della politica israeliana deciderà di partecipare al nuovo governo, lo farà ponendo alcune condizioni essenziali, quali la riapertura dei colloqui di pace (sebbene sul tema ci sia da registrare una posizione piuttosto ambigua, concernente l’irrinunciabilità agli insediamenti coloniali in Cisgiordania). Una volta accettata tale condizione, Netanyahu sarà costretto a dimostrare all’opinione pubblica israeliana di essere seriamente interessato a perseguire sulla strada del negoziato con Hamas e Fatah. Lapid, di conseguenza, dovrà dimostrare di essere anche un abile politico, oltre che un ottimo e accattivante comunicatore da campagna elettorale.

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Photo Credit: todogaceta.com

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L’intervento francese in Mali: una trappola fuori controllo

Se vuole evitare di rimanere intrappolata nel suo Afghanistan, la Francia farebbe meglio a darsi obiettivi limitati. 

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[dropcap]L[/dropcap]a Francia si è inserita nel conflitto in corso in Mali a seguito di un’improvvisa azione ribelle nel sud del Paese. Senza che l’esercito maliano fosse capace di contrastarne l’offensiva, alcune città strategiche sono cadute nelle mani degli Islamisti: per questo motivo, le forze militari francesi si sono mobilitate nella speranza di arginare l’avanzata ribelle verso la capitale Bamako. L’esercito francese ha bombardato le roccaforti di Gao e Kidal, schierando inoltre le proprie truppe attorno alla capitale e alla provincia di Mopti.

Quello malese ha tutte le caratteristiche di un conflitto moderno, che vede opporsi, ad un governo debole, una rete transnazionale di gruppi armati non-statali. Ciò avviene in un’area, quella del Sahel, attraversata da confini porosi: sono i residui del passato coloniale francese, in pratica linee immaginarie tracciate nella sabbia.

Il Ministro degli Esteri francese Laurent Fabius ha definito l’azione francese una misura temporanea: un intervento   di poche settimane, in attesa delle truppe dell’ECOWAS, per arginare l’avanzata dei ribelli. Ma tali promesse saranno difficili da mantenere, poiché la durata del conflitto è fuori dal controllo della Francia, che potrebbe rimanervi invischiata a lungo se non si atterrà agli obiettivi chiari e limitati dell’ONU.

Il piano originale, per motivi logistici e di coordinamento, non prevedeva l’impiego di 3.300 forze locali fino al settembre 2013; un numero reputato comunque esiguo da alcuni ambienti militari. L’attacco preventivo degli Islamisti ha cercato di approfittare di tale inferiorità, per conquistare più territorio e quindi anche maggiore credibilità  al tavolo delle trattative. Il precipitare degli eventi ha smentito il presidente francese Hollande, che aveva assicurato di non voler impiegare soldati sul territorio. Inoltre, dopo l’abbattimento di un elicottero militare, le autorità francesi hanno dovuto riconoscere che le milizie ribelli fossero meglio equipaggiate di quanto si pensasse inizialmente. Il piano attuale ha dunque dovuto aggiornarsi, prevedendo addirittura l’impiego di 2.500 unità aggiuntive.

L’obiettivo di Le Drian, Ministro della Difesa francese, sarebbe quello di estirpare dalla regione ogni radice terroristica: secondo recenti ammissioni, ciò  protrarrebbe notevolmente la durata dell’intervento. In aggiunta, Vincent Desportes, generale francese in pensione, ha dichiarato che gli obiettivi attuali della Francia sono quelli di securizzare la capitale e i cittadini francesi; rinforzare la propria linea di azione presso Konna (700 km da Bamako); addestrare, per la riconquista del nord del Mali, truppe dagli stati africani di Niger, Burkina, Benin, Togo e Senegal [nelle relazioni internazionali,  la securizzazione è l’impiego di mezzi non ordinari in nome della difesa della sicurezza. Elaborata da  Barry BuzanOle Wæver e Jaap de Wilde, la teoria della securizzazione combina pensiero costruttivista e realismo politico. Ogni atto di securizzazione si compone di tre elementi principali: un agente securizzante, un obiettivo minacciato e un pubblico, sui cui ricade l’effetto dell’azione securizzante, da convincere della sua necessità. NdT].

Nel breve termine,  la Francia ha quasi portato a termine i primi due; in ogni caso, l’imminente “africanizzazione” del conflitto,  che vedrebbe schierare truppe maliane e dell’ECOWAS,  potrebbe subire complicazioni legate all’anticipazione rispetto ai piani iniziali. Ma tale urgenza è richiesta dalla probabilità di espansione del conflitto, che  allo stato attuale  ha già coinvolto due Paesi confinanti. Il 16 gennaio, l’Algeria ha subito un’azione di rappresaglia per la concessione del suo spazio aereo: un attacco ad un impianto di gas, senza precedenti nemmeno nei tumultuosi anni ‘90:

L’Algeria,  pur avvezza a combattere gruppi islamisti armati sul territorio nazionale, aveva sempre espresso riserve sull’opportunità di un intervento  in Mali. Ma molto probabilmente l’attacco nel cuore del Paese, con i suoi numerosi ostaggi, farà desistere l’Algeria dalla volontà di un dialogo politico con il principale gruppo islamico Ansar-Eddine. L’impianto attaccato nei pressi di In Amenas è più vicino alla Libia che al Mali: e se i confini politici hanno poco significato, il teatro del conflitto si prospetta molto più vasto.

La Francia, però, non dovrebbe aspettarsi molto dall’Algeria, potenza militare egemone nell’area del Sahel, ma quasi esclusivamente nei confronti di Stati sostanzialmente deboli  come il Mali. L’intervento diretto dell’Algeria costituirà, molto  probabilmente, un incentivo per i francesi; in ogni caso, al di fuori del territorio nazionale, le capacità dell’esercito algerino sono tutte da verificare, anche perché ci si aspetta che  le stesse saranno impiegate per la difesa dei relativi confini.

Pertanto, è altamente probabile che la Francia si areni in un lungo conflitto in cui si ritrovi coinvolta tutta la regione del Sahel. Nel peggiore dei casi, il Mali diventerebbe l’Afghanistan della Francia; in alternativa, per la nazione si prospetterebbe un insuccesso simile a quello degli Stati Uniti in Somalia. L’impiego di truppe dell’ECOWAS resta determinante, sebbene il suo apporto effettivo rimanga da verificare. Se vuole evitare di rimanere intrappolata nel suo Afghanistan, la Francia farebbe meglio a darsi obiettivi limitati.

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Articolo tradotto da: Antonella Di Marzio

Articolo originale: Avoiding The Entanglement Trap Lies Beyond French Control

Photo credit: fdecomite

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The Algerian Response, Motives & Consequences

In the aftermath of the operation of In Amenas, a number of questions remain to be answered including what exactly happened at the gas facility and how a security breach of this scale was ever possible.

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The Algerian National Press Agency had released a preliminary assessment on January 19th stating that 23 had been killed, 32 terrorists neutralized. Nearly 800 hostages were freed including 107 foreigners. However, The Algerian Minster of Communication Mohamed Said, said on 20/01/2013 that these were provisional figures, and the numbers of those killed is likely to be higher (press conference by Prime Minister Sella: 37 foreigners dead).

The assault came as a surprise to most outsiders, including Washington, London and Paris. All claim not to have been consulted by the Algerian prior to the assault. Yet following the release of information about the scale and overall results of the operation, all have expressed greater support for counter-terrorism efforts in the region.

Many observers have deemed the Algerian response heavy-handed  or brutal. The Minister of Communications summed up Algeria’s policy with respect to negotiations quite clearly when he stated: “No negotiation, no blackmail and no respite against terrorism”. However, an overview of Algeria’s historical legacy, the current regional dynamics and factors specific to the crisis at In Amenas provide a better understanding of Algeria’s hard-line policy and actions.

The Algerian Army launched the assault on the gas installation south  east of the capital Algiers after a group of Jihadists calling themselves the ‘Signers in Blood’; took over the installation and captured over 600 hostages including a large number of foreigners. The operation lasted over three days and details are starting to slowly emerge.

Historically, Algeria’s ‘dark decade‘ continues to shape the country’s counter-terrorism policy. Throughout the 1990s, the country’s armed forces fought Islamist militants in a bloody war with casualties including a large number of civilians. During the crisis, the ruling military establishment – Algeria’s core centre of power – was divided into two camps: those in favour of dialogue and the ‘eradicators’. Despite a return to civil rule, it is the latter that continue to hold key posts in the country’s security apparatus.

After more than a decade of fighting, and a brokered political solution, the country managed to push what it labels ‘residual terrorism’ south of major population centres and into the Sahel region. It is around this time that the rules of the game changed for both the armed Islamist – now franchised Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) – and for the government. In 2003 European tourists were taken hostage and released upon an alleged ransom payment. The same group went on to perpetrate the country’s first suicide attack in 2007. Thus, Algerian authorities see any negotiation or interjection from outside countries as not only a breach of sovereignty, but also a direct security risk stemming from better armed groups.

The assault should also be seen in the larger context of instability in the region and the implications of this for the Algerian ruling regime. Firstly, civil war in Libya brought instability and heightened the threat of Islamist armed militants on the country’s eastern flank, where Algeria’s oil and gas operations are most concentrated. Furthermore, instability in Northern Mali became an additional source of insecurity. The vast porous borders – imaginary lines in the sand – and the inherent weakness of bordering states in the region create an ideal operating environment for armed groups. This helps both explain Algeria’s push for a political solution in Mali as well as its harsh response at home.

The attack on the gas installation itself constitutes a first in the country’s history. These were largely untouched during the instability of the 1990s. The country’s economy is largely based on its oil and gas exports, which account for over 90% of all exports. The In Amenas installation itself accounts for 10% of Algeria’s gas production and nearly 20% of its exports, all in an economy dominated by the public sector. Thus the oil and gas exports are not only the backbone of the economy, but the pillar of political and social stability for the country. The militant attacked a core interest or as Dr. Geoff Porter put it: ‘the golden goose that keeps the regime’In this light, the Algerian overwhelming response should be regarded as clear message to both militants and outside powers.

In the aftermath of the operation of In Amenas, a number of questions remain to be answered including what exactly happened at the gas facility and how a security breach of this scale was ever possible. Early reports indicate the use of embedded operatives by the militants to gain strategic intelligence inside the plant and the whereabouts of foreign employees. One Algerian employee reported that the militant knew their way around and had even known about a planned strike.

How this will affect Algeria’s stance on the Mali conflict? Past behaviour and the current policy points towards a more ‘hunker-down bunker-up’ Algerian response. The Algerian government is maintaining its usual silence, but greater involvement cannot be ruled out. Reports show the Algerian Air force has been put on standby, and additional troops have been dispatched towards the Malian border.

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Photo credit: Magharebia

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Getting Your Five A Day?

The government wants us to eat five portions of fruit & veg every day; why not engage with five different news sources each day as well – it would be equally as healthy for you, and for the wider world.

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Tom is currently employed by Edelman Berland (the research arm of Edelman and the organisation that produced the data referred to in this piece). He was not involved in the creation of the report.

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International PR firm Edelman released their 2013 survey of global trust, the ‘Trust Barometer‘, yesterday at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. The survey, released annually since the turn of the millennium, commenced with the rise of NGOs to the global scene as a consequence of the anti-globalisation movement in the US. Since then it has tracked the ‘Fall of the Celebrity CEO’ (2002), to the rise of ‘A Person Like Me’ as a credible spokesperson (2006), through to the ‘Fall of Government’ (2012).

The data released this year was telling. Some pointed to things that we already knew (people don’t trust bankers or journalists much these days), and some to things that you would be unlikely to consider (the most trusted location for a company to be headquartered, for example, is Canada). Below are my highlights – you can see the figures for yourself here.

The ‘informed public’ (college-educated/within the top 25 per cent of household income per age group/significant media consumption/engaged with business news and public policy) felt significantly higher degrees of trust than the general public. According to the data the global difference was 9 points (informed public trust standing at 57 points against the general public trust at 48 points), with the UK displaying equatable levels (taking into account margins for error). The US, however, surged ahead with a whopping 14 point difference (informed: 59, general: 45) – though it is worth noting that this may have been artificially inflated by the recent election and the ‘hope’ of Obama having a successful second term, however improbable.

Business was trusted more than government in 16 out of 26 markets surveyed, including the US, the UK, Japan, and India. Interestingly, citizens of Singapore and China – neither possessing especially liberal or hospitable governments – expressed greater trust in their governments than in business, by 5 per cent and 7 per cent respectively. Whether this is due to mass failings in business (corruption et al.), good economic performance, or the lack of a polycephalous media…

We in the West, perhaps somewhat idealistically, trust small businesses significantly more than we trust big businesses: in the UK this amounts to an astonishing difference of 30 per cent (trust in small business: 78 per cent, big business: 48 per cent). Emerging markets on the other hand, expressed greater trust in big business. 89 per cent of Chinese, for example, giving the thumbs up for large organisations, against only 65 per cent for their smaller equivalents.

The winning statistic, purely from a fear factor, is the increasing level of trust that many are placing in social media as a reliable news source – 58 per cent in emerging markets view social media as a credible news source, 28 per cent in developed markets.

Bertrand Russell once said, “I think we ought always to entertain our opinions with some measure of doubt. I shouldn’t wish people dogmatically to believe any philosophy, not even mine”. By relying on social media to provide information about the world around us we run the risk of regressing into an environment that relays to us only what we wish to hear, rather than ideas that challenge our perspectives.

In the case of Twitter, for example, a platform where you, and only you, are responsible for choosing the sources of your daily digestion, this possibility is entirely plausible. I myself am guilty of ‘unfollowing’ those with whom I expressly disagree with. An over-reliance on social media to provide us with a snapshot of world events creates the foundation for a wholly unbalanced diet of media consumption.

The government wants us to eat five portions of fruit & veg every day, why not engage with five different news sources each day as well – it would be healthy for both you and the world around you.

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Photo credit: luckyjimmy

London

Towards A Bomb-Proof Underground?

The Madrid bombings of 2004 and the 7/7 London Underground attacks of 2005 killed 191 and 52 civilians respectively. The horrific scenes of carnage and destruction vividly demonstrated the devastating reality of explosives detonating inside confined rail carriages. The NewRail programme based at Newcastle University’s School of Mechanical and Systems Engineering, and funded by the EU’s SecureMetro project, is tasked with reducing this potential. In the future this is likely to spawn a whole new generation of ‘bomb-proof’ tubes, but has already had notable successes developing carriages which are far more resilient to explosives detonating inside them.

The project’s sphere of activity concentrates around two primary aims; containing the impact of the blast, and reducing the amount of resultant debris – which is often the foremost reason for fatalities, not necessarily the explosion itself. These engineers have also explored ways to revise the dividing structures, both between and within carriages, by introducing energy-absorbent materials to reduce blast velocity.

Analysing train wreckage from 7/7 alongside controlled, yet full-scale, explosions of a variety of Over and Underground carriages, the team were able to better understand the nature of explosions within rail vehicles. Particularly the way in which the wave travels along the length of the carriage. A better appreciation of such blast mechanics is also key to understanding how the interior furnishings react to the force. Addressing such vulnerabilities, proposals for the re-designed and target hardening of current trains has resulted in a prototype (which itself has undergone full-scale testing) specifically with blast resilience in mind. Securing ceiling panels and seating with retention wire, applying plastic layer coating to windows, replacing heavier equipment with light-weight alternatives, and introducing energy-absorbing materials, were just some of the key alterations made.

“Preventing flying objects is the key. Tethering ceiling panels reduced the risk of fatalities and injury from flying shrapnel and also meant the gangways were kept relatively clear of debris, allowing emergency staff quick access to the injured… The windows are blown outwards – putting anyone outside, such as those standing on a platform, at risk from flying glass.  With the plastic coating applied you see a clear rippling effect as the blast moves through the train but every window remains intact, apart from the safety windows which are designed to be easily knocked out.”

Conor O’Neill, Newcastle University’s NewRail research centre

Replacing the entire Underground network with new ‘bomb-proof’ carriages is clearly both impractical and economically infeasible in the immediate future. Nonetheless, incorporating new blast-resilient technologies and materials into existing units, to create trains which are better able to withstand terrorist attacks is an intelligent move in the short-term. How the PR and information campaign that surrounds these upgrades is handled will also be key; increasing public awareness will both improve the commuters feeling of security and reduce the appeal of the Underground as a potential terrorist target.

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Photo credit: dChris

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Euro-sceptic? Eur-so-silly

David Cameron’s speech is a mere publicity stunt instrumented to falsely ensure us of democratic legitimacy, through making it seem as though we all have a choice over our country’s future.

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Today Prime Minister David Cameron declared he is set to make negotiations with the EU in relevance to treaty changes and the euro. As you would expect from a politician (especially a Tory), Cameron is presenting us with a more tactical, underlying negotiation which is quite simply, “A vote for Conservatives in the next election is a vote for an in/out of the European Union referendum.

Last month, Anti-EU party UKIP increased its share of the vote from 6 per cent to 9 per cent. This rise in popularity massively reflects the British populaces increasing intolerance of the EU, and a prime reason for this is the general attitude towards immigration. Take for instance YouGov’s latest poll for the Sunday Times, which revealed, rather unsurprisingly, that 67% of people believe that immigration has been a ‘bad thing for Britain’ with the second majority, 18% believing it has been ‘neither good nor bad’.

It was Gordon Brown who coined the term ‘British jobs for British workers’. In 2011, the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) produced a report that made the headlines; take for instance the Daily Mails’ choice, ‘Migration is killing off jobs: 160, 000 Britons have missed out on employment because work was taken my foreigners’ – not quite the snappy title I was hoping for. Alongside Brown’s pledge, this outbreak of outrage in the media was symbolic of the increasing mass hostility towards immigration. One could even argue not only did it encourage public opinion towards the topic, but created it too. Nonetheless, the subject of supposed scandal here is as shallow as scandal gets. Firstly, a job is a job – I’m not quite sure what makes it British. (According to Chris Bryant, this is ‘hospitality construction and agriculture’) . More importantly, the allegation that immigrants ‘fill the limited vacancies which exist in the fragile UK economy’ is pure fiction. This is the lump of labour fallacy; the notion that there is no such thing as limited jobs.

Then again, these are the type of people complaining about “no jobs”.

The article goes on to manipulatively inform its readers that immigration is ‘full of loopholes, such as an exemption for so-called “intra-company transfers”, which allow firms to bring in thousands of their existing staff from abroad’. It is absolutely absurd to undermine the act of bringing competently skilled workers into the British labour force a “loophole” in immigration policy, considering that is a chief beneficiary of immigration.

Cameron believes the best way to create a democratically accountable Europe is for the British population to vote on whether they want to be a part of it or not. He says, “It is time for the British people to have their say. This will be your country… a choice about your country’s destiny.” Other than sounding like Uncle Sam encouraging young American boys to sacrifice themselves in the name of war, it is utter rubbish. Whilst Nigel Farage has successfully infiltrated popular opinion through highlighting the costs of the UK’s EU membership, the government has failed to educate the British people on the benefits.

The only source the British people of this “democracy” have to base their views on, are newspapers – the most popular being subliminally fascist tabloids such as the Daily Mail. Cameron’s speech is a mere publicity stunt instrumented to falsely ensure us of democratic legitimacy, through making it seem as though we all have a choice over our country’s future . Well, democracy doesn’t mean shit when the people don’t know shit.

It is time for UKIP, the Tory’s and the like, to realise that leaving the EU may cover the odor of the turd that this situation is, but it certainly won’t stop the UK from being in a faecal matter.

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Photo Credit: dimnikolov

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Appunti per un liberalismo di sinistra

Secondo Lorenzo Costaguta, difendere un punto di vista liberale, in politica, ne presuppone l’adozione coerente. Di seguito, un’interessante analisi concettuale e comparativa a partire dal pensiero liberale anglosassone.

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[dropcap]L[/dropcap]e primarie del centrosinistra dello scorso autunno hanno riportato al centro della scena il dibattito circa la presenza di una corrente “liberale di sinistra” che stenta ad affermarsi sullo scenario politico nazionale a causa dell’egemonia (culturale e politica) della sinistra ex-comunista.

Questa disputa è però inficiata da una scarsa conoscenza dei fondamenti del pensiero liberale, confuso con una generica ed etero-dirigibile “volontà riformatrice” che poco ha a che vedere con lo stesso. A ben vedere, infatti, il liberalismo è un’idea la cui applicazione comporta lati positivi ma anche fardelli (teorici e politici), la cui compatibilità con la difesa di valori fondanti della sinistra (su tutti, l’uguaglianza) è dubbia. Discutere di alcuni fondamenti del pensiero liberale anglosassone permetterà di analizzare il problema:

In primis, la sfiducia nell’ideologia: Karl Popper si scaglia contro la “Utopian social engineering”, la pianificazione di politiche sociali in accordo con impostazioni ideologiche, e difende la “piecemeal social engineering”. Invece di stabilire un orizzonte ideale da raggiungere (pericoloso, perché potrebbe costringere l’individuo a compiere gesti illiberali e sbagliati in nome dell’obiettivo finale), è meglio procedere gradualmente, analizzando con cura la circostanza e riformando di conseguenza.

Segue l’idea di responsabilità: scrive Von Hayek che “libertà e responsabilità sono inseparabili”. Il nesso è logico e duplice: da un lato la mia libertà presuppone che io prenda su di me le responsabilità che questa libertà comporta. Dall’altro, solo il godimento di tutte le conseguenze (positive e negative) della mia libertà fa si che io sia davvero libero.

Infine, il concetto di individualismo: il solo modo per garantire la libertà è che l’individuo sia considerato come entità singola. Isaiah Berlin fornisce uno dei migliori argomenti a riguardo. In Two Concepts of Liberty, Berlin presenta due idee di libertà contrapposte: secondo i difensori della “libertà positiva”, essere libero significa poter essere davvero sé stessi, raggiungere la “propria vera natura”, essere padroni del proprio destino. L’Io, pienamente dispiegato, è razionale, e combatte gli istinti bassi, estemporanei e irrazionali per definizione. Questo io si sublima e si completa in affiliazioni sociali altrettanto importanti (la famiglia, lo stato, la Chiesa). Qui è il pericolo: il riconoscimento che determinate azioni collettive (pagare le tasse, ad esempio) aumentano la libertà di una società (avere un servizio di sanità pubblica, liberandosi dal rischio della malattia) giustifica l’imposizione di tali azioni al singolo (sia esso volente o nolente). Ma dove si pone un limite a quest’azione paternalista dello Stato? Cos’accadrebbe se un domani il potere centrale imponesse attività che ritengo ingiuste in nome della mia “vera felicità”? Che argomenti avrei io per fermarlo? Nessuno. Da qui lo schierarsi di Berlin a favore della “libertà negativa”, che concepisce la libertà nella semplice assenza d’impedimento e coercizione, nella libertà di movimento e d’azione.

Deriva da questi presupposti un’idea della politica come sapere pratico, una tecnica di governo che si apprende e si affina con il tempo, da applicarsi alle situazioni specifiche in base a un’analisi scientifica e fattuale delle circostanze. Il rigetto di qualunque ordine di riferimento ideologico e l’individualismo sono pilastri fondanti di questa concezione.

La carica riformista di questa impostazione è evidente. Ma non devono sfuggire alcuni elementi, che giungono di conseguenza ad esso. Per quanto riguarda l’elemento ideologico, l’applicazione coerente del principio dell’abbandono di qualunque impostazione di tal tipo rende l’efficienza il criterio di riferimento alla base delle scelte di politica pubblica. Ne consegue, ad esempio, l’ingiustificabilità: di un sistema scolastico egualitario e pubblico; di un sistema universitario a prezzi agevolati, diffuso su tutto il territorio e generalmente uniforme nell’offerta qualitativa; di un sistema di servizi pubblici (ferroviario e urbano) universalmente accessibile, ecc.

In secondo luogo, l’idea di responsabilità rende il prelievo fiscale un principio ingiusto. Infatti, all’individuo non è data la possibilità di godere dei frutti della propria libertà (il guadagno, in questo caso), che ha esercitato prendendo su di sé tutti i rischi ad essa connessi.

Infine, l’individualismo è un elemento talmente indispensabile per il mantenimento della propria libertà che si è disposti a sopportarne due macroscopici lati negativi: uno (individuato da Tocqueville) riguarda il rapporto con la democrazia, che vive di una dimensione politica che l’ideale liberale svuota di senso. Da Constant in poi, la modernità si definisce come quella in cui il privato, differentemente che nell’antichità, non deve più occuparsi della sfera pubblica, ma può serenamente delegare questo aspetto ad altri e concentrarsi sulla cura delle sue faccende. Questo “ritiro nel privato” crea il rischio della “tirannide della democrazia”, dove individui “atomi” e “dissociati” sono alla mercé del volere dell’élite meglio organizzata. Il secondo, più recente, mette in crisi l’idea liberale di tolleranza, un pallido sentimento di “sopportazione” del tutto incapace a funzionare da collante in società moderne profondamente multiculturali.

Veltroni, Morando, Letta, Ichino e Renzi sono solo alcuni dei politici che negli ultimi tempi sono stati ascritti alla corrente liberale del Partito Democratico. Quanta parte dell’apparato teorico descritto qui sopra condividono? Facciamo chiarezza: invocare una riforma del sistema giudiziario, la riforma del sistema parlamentare, promuovere una ridisegno del fisco in senso progressivo, debellare l’evasione non sono riforme liberali. Sono riforme. Non è un caso che l’aggettivo “riformista” e “liberale” siano spesso usati in concomitanza per definire questa supposta “corrente”. Ma i due concetti non sono coincidenti. Difendere un punto di vista liberale, in politica, ne presuppone l’adozione coerente. La libertà dell’individuo è anche la difesa dell’interesse dell’industriale che investe, contro la salvaguardia di posti di lavoro sul territorio nazionale. L’efficienza è la promozione dell’eccellenza della scuola, contro l’ideale di una educazione culturale universale. L’individualismo è la rivendicazione orgogliosa dell’autonomia della sfera privata, contro una dimensione collettiva in cui la società è un insieme che si aiuta vicendevolmente e il diverso è un elemento da integrare.

La costruzione di un liberalismo di sinistra può avvenire solo a seguito dell’accettazione di queste premesse. Solo la conoscenza dei pregi e dei difetti dell’idea liberale può dare adito all’avvio della costruzione di un progetto politico che, dall’interno del recinto teorico del liberalismo, provi a mitigarne i limiti che mal si conciliano con gli ideali cari alla sinistra, nello spirito di movimenti che in altri contesti politici hanno tentato la stessa strada (un esempio su tutti, il Lib-dem in Gran Bretagna).

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Photo Credit: LSE Digital Library

Anwar Al-Awlaki

Case Study: Roshonara Choudhry

The Radicalization Process of Roshonara Choudhry
{War Studies Department, King’s College London}

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Anwar Al-Awlaki

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This paper examines Roshonara Choudhry as a case study in violent homegrown radicalization. Emphasis is placed on the processes of framing and collective identity construction – drawn from social movement theory – as facilitators of violent radicalization and mobilization in the absence of direct links to violent groups or networks. This paper proceeds in three parts; it begins with a brief summary of the Roshonara Choudhry’s transformation from gifted student and productive member of her community to a radicalized individual who adopted and then eventually acted on her belief in a violent extremist ideology. It then turns to a discussion of theoretical approaches drawn from social movement theory relevant to the process of violent radicalization. Finally, Choudhry’s case will be discussed with reference to the approaches developed in the preceding section.

Some of the terms used throughout this paper are ‘essentially contested concepts’, or concepts ‘whose meaning lends itself to endless dispute but no resolution’.[1] Thus, for the purposes of academic clarity, the following working definitions apply to this paper: the definition of Islamism is taken from Neumann and Rogers, and refers to a literalist interpretation of Islam combined with ‘revolutionary political ideology…proclaiming a global community of believers (the ummah) to be liberated and/or united under Islamic rule, and the belief that the most effective way of accomplishing this aim is through violence’ and not the religion ‘Islam’practiced by over a billion and a half people worldwide. [2]  The terms radical and extremist are sometimes used interchangeably, it is therefore important to clarify the distinction between the two. In this paper radical refers to an individual with a ‘deep-felt desire for fundamental socio-political changes’[3], whereas an extremist is a person who accepts political ideologies that are opposed to society’s core (constitutional) values and principles’.[4] Radicalization therefore refers here to the process through which individuals come to support the need for fundamental societal changes. Violent radicalization is the process through which individuals come to experience ‘changes in attitude that lead towards sanctioning and, ultimately, the involvement in the use of violence for a political aim’.[5] Violent extremism is the willingness to use violence in pursuit of extremist ideologies.[6]

FROM GIFTED STUDENT TO TERRORIST

The eldest of five children, Roshonara Choudhry grew up in East Ham, a suburb 12 kilometers east of London and was raised by parents of Bangladeshi background – though her mother was born in the United Kingdom.  Choudhry’s father was a tailor but had been forced to rely on benefits and money from his children after losing his job.[7] Friends of the Choudhrys described the family as ‘moderate Muslims’.[8] Roshonara was an excellent student throughout her academic career.  She earned straight A’s on her GSCEs, and received high marks at the Newham Sixth Form College.[9] After Newham, Choudhry attended King’s College London, choosing to study English and Communications in the hopes of becoming a teacher [10] – one of her lecturers, Dr. Alan Fortune of King’s Collect London, said that she was expected to earn first class honors.[11]

By all accounts Roshonara was a productive member of her community, but was shy, and inclined to keep to herself.  She provided private tutoring to children for £5 an hour at KnowledgeBox to help pay for her schooling.[12] Choudhry volunteered at West Ham United FC as a learning mentor, helping children with their literacy and numeracy skills.[13] Three years before her attempted assassination of Stephen Timms, she met the MP at a school outing to the House of Commons; during the event a fellow student repeatedly questioned Timms about his support for the war in Iraq. Choudhry admits that at the time she felt ‘embarrassed’ by the incident and thought the girl ‘should be quiet’.[14] According to one neighbor in East Ham, Roshonara ‘seemed like a normal girl’.[15]

According to Choudhry she had always been ‘quite religious’ but hadn’t been going to a mosque to pray, nor is there any indication given that she was directly linked with any radical imams or groups of radicalised individuals. During her interview with the police, Choudhry mentions the website revolutionmuslim.com, YouTube videos of the radical Islamist clerics Anwar al-Awlaki and Sheikh Abdullah Azzam, videos from fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, and a series of downloaded Awlaki lectures as potential sources of radicalisation. Interestingly, Choudhry didn’t search out Awlaki; instead through YouTube’s related-videos algorithm Choudhry stumbled upon the radical Islamist cleric, who she credited with inspiring her to stab Stephen Timms, while watching the stories of Muslim converts she thought were ‘interesting’.[16] Between November 2009 and May 2010, Choudhry downloaded and listened to more than one hundred hours of Awlaki’s lectures.[17] Choudhry also visited revolutionmuslim.com and watched YouTube videos about ‘the resistance’ in Iraq and Afghanistan.[18]

A dramatic shift occurred in Choudhry’s thinking around April 2010; prior to then she had come to agree with Anwar al-Awlaki’s lectures, believing that Muslims had an obligation to defend other Muslims in places like Iraq, yet still wasn’t prepared to fight, thinking it was predominantly a man’s duty.[19]  However, several weeks before the attack, Choudhry watched a YouTube video of Sheikh Abdullah Azzam, in which according to Choudhry, Azzam said that all Muslims had a duty to defend a Muslim land when they didn’t have the means with which to defend themselves.[20] Choudhry identifies Azzam’s video as the moment when she realized it was her duty to fight on behalf of fellow Muslims.[21]

The planning stages of Roshonara’s attacks were rather banal; most of the information necessary for identifying a target and planning the attack was conducted online using Google and open government websites. [22] Choudhry settled on Timms after finding out that he had a rating of 99.9% in support of the invasion of the Iraq war according to the website theyworkforyou.co.uk.[23]  Choudhry said that made her feel angry because the ‘Iraq war [was] just based on lies and he just voted strongly for everything as though he had no mercy’[24]

On April 27, 2010, after choosing Timms as her target, Choudhry dropped out of King’s College London.[25] This, according to one report, was the only indication her family had that something may have been wrong as she had purposefully kept her activities a secret in order to avoid implicating anyone else.[26]  After dropping out of King’s, Choudhry made an appointment to meet with Timms at 2:45pm on 14 May.[27] Shortly thereafter, Choudhry purchased two knives (in the event one broke during the attack), and hid them in a shoebox underneath her bed.[28]

On the morning of 14 May, dressed in all black, Choudhry paid off her student loan – to prevent her family from being liable for her debt – and emptied her bank account, ostensibly to prevent the UK government from confiscating the funds after her attack.[29] Choudhry then made her way down to the Beckton Globe community centre in Newham, east London to carry out her attack.  When she walked in to meet Timms he pointed for her to take a seat, instead Choudhry purposefully walked around the desk, reached out with her left hand as if to shake his, pulled a knife from her purse and stabbed him twice in the top of his stomach.[30] Choudhry was then disarmed by Timms’ assistant and arrested by police. Choudry’s trial began on 01 November 2010; during the trial she refused to enter a plea or recognize the legitimacy of the court.[31] On 03 November 2010, Choudhry was sentenced to 15 years to life in prison for attempted murder. She is currently imprisoned at HM Prison Bronzefield.

THEORIES OF RADICALISATION

There are many theories available to explain Roshonara Choudhry’s radicalization and eventual commitment to carry out an act of terrorism in the West; there is however, no single ‘grand unified theory’ of radicalization and many theories fail to explain how a seemingly normal, healthy individual becomes a terrorist. Root cause explanations, for example, might posit that Choudhry’s behavior was a product of grievance or societal strain related to discontent over the war in Iraq or economic hardship caused by her father’s joblessness. Certainly, the war in Iraq was central to Choudhry’s personal narrative about the decision to stab Stephen Timms,[32] and her father’s unemployment may have contributed to a belief that Muslims in the UK were being persecuted by non-Muslims; however, many Muslims in the West were enraged by the war but only a minority have planned or committed terrorist attacks. Grievance and strain may create the conditions for radicalization and terrorism, but they fail to explain how individuals become radicalized, and how once radicalized, individuals’ grievances are mobilized into terrorist action.[33] Similarly, psychopathological theories of terrorism, which posit that terrorists are psychopathic or mentally unstable individuals afflicted by a pathological drive to commit violence, have enjoyed a sizable following, but are widely discredited and should be avoided as means of understanding violent radicalization[34] – all the more so, given that Choudhry exhibited no signs of mental illness.[35]

Social movement theory (SMT), from the field of sociology, is comprised of many overlapping frameworks that attempt to explain how social movements attract, socialize, and mobilize supporters. SMT assumes that individuals who engage in terrorism and political violence are rational actors rather than mentally unstable individuals afflicted by a pathological drive to commit violence; thereby moving focus away from individual personalities and towards the processes underlying mobilization for violence.[36] Scholarship from the so-called ‘cultural turn’ in SMT focuses on how social movements, their leaders and supporters attract, socialize, and mobilize supporters by rendering events meaningful through the dynamic processes of framing, and collective identity construction, and therefore provides a more applicable framework for analyzing Roshonara Choudhry’s process of violent radicalization. [37]

The process of framing involves the production, articulation, and elaboration of interpretative schemata (frames), which individuals, groups, and social movements use to ‘locate, perceive, identify and label occurrences within their life space and the world at large’.[38] When frames reference broad interpretative schemata shared by a number of (sometimes competing) movements or communities they are referred to as master frames.[39] Frames are produced via three ‘core’ tasks performed by frame articulators: diagnostic framing, which defines social problems as unjust and attributes blame; prognostic framing, which proposes possible solutions and strategies to confront those problems; and motivational framing, which provides a compelling rationale for mobilization.[40] Much of this framing is built around injustice frames, which establish particular social occurrences as unjust and intolerable.[41] Thus, frames highlight injustice, point towards a credible solution, and importantly, provide the motivation and justification for action.

Human beings aren’t passive receptors of information, compelled to act based on simple inputs from external sources, they must be primed to accept new ways of thinking about the world.[42]  Quintan Wiktorowicz identifies the process of becoming receptive to new ideas and worldviews as a cognitive opening.[43] According to Wiktorowicz, cognitive openings can occur when a) a crisis (social, economic, or political) ‘shakes certainty in previously accepted beliefs and renders an individual more receptive to the possibility of alternative views and perspectives’ or b) when movements facilitate openings through outreach activities that produce a sense of crisis.[44] If individuals experience a cognitive opening, the frames with which they are presented must still be perceived as credible and salient, and must resonate with their lived experience.[45]

Collective identity construction refers to the way in which identities within social movements are defined, shaped, and constructed.[46] The process of identity construction is linked closely with dynamic framing processes, which not only bring social movement participants together ideologically but also play a role in the construction of collective identities.[47] Collective identities designate attitudes, commitments and expected behaviors, and delineate social affiliations to others.[48] They also establish protagonists, antagonists, and neutrals or fence-sitters in the context of contentious politics.[49]

Central to identity construction is boundary activation[50], the process of increasing the salience of particular social boundaries in order to differentiate the ‘in’ group from the ‘out’ group, and divide ‘us’ from ‘them’.[51]  In activating boundaries, social movements politicize and amplify those identities which fit the movement’s goals while suppressing those that don’t.[52]  As boundary activation increases so does importance of the identity around which the boundary is being activated, and thus individual and group activity is increasingly organized around the evermore salient collective identity. [53]

The Violent Radicalization of Roshonara Choudhry

Framing and collective identity construction outlined in the section above, offer a valuable framework for understanding Roshonara Choudhry’s process of violent radicalization because unlike many cases, Choudhry had no direct links to organizations that promoted violent extremism. Choudhry’s only know window to violent extremist ideologies was through the videos she watched and the websites she frequented.  In the following section, the SMT framework elaborated above will be applied to the sources of radicalization identified by Choudhry herself – namely the lectures of Anwar al-Awlaki – to demonstrate their role in her decision to commit an act of terrorism.

Police transcripts confirm that Roshonara Choudhry perceived Anwar Awlaki as a credible religious authority and frame articulator during her process of violent radicalization. When asked where she had been learning about Islam and what websites she had been looking at, Choudhry answered that she had been listening to downloaded lectures from Anwar al-Awlaki that explained the importance of jihad and the Quran.[54] In the transcripts Choudhry admits to being motivated to learn more because she was ‘surprised’ by her lack of knowledge about Islam and that she felt she could learn a lot from him.[55]  This surprise may have also provided the initial fuel leading to a cognitive opening, making Choudhry more receptive to Awlaki’s message. Choudhry also states in the police interview that Awlaki is a ‘quite famous’ ‘Islamic scholar’ and that ‘everybody listens to him’.[56] Choudhry says her interest was piqued by Awlaki because his explanations were interesting and comprehensive.[57] When asked by police where she went to have her questions about Islam answered Choudhry stated ‘I don’t ask anyone I just listen to [Awlaki’s] lectures. There’s no one to ask’.[58] Choudhry even attributes her decision to leave King’s College London to Awlaki’s lectures.[59]

We know that after watching some of Awlaki’s lectures on YouTube Choudhry downloaded his entire series, listening to at least one hundred hours of lectures in all. In his lectures Awlaki proffered convincing frames that clearly resonated with Choudhry. These frames provided an explanation for the contemporary problems facing the Muslims, promoted a sense of injustice, proposed solutions drawn from the Quran and the past experiences of Jihadists, gave convincing motivations to act, and helped to develop a collective Muslim identity (embodied by the ummah), in opposition to the West.

One of the more frequent diagnostic frames in Awlaki’s lectures is developed from the ‘War on Islam’ master frame.[60]  Throughout his lectures ‘The Dust Will Never Settle Down’, ‘The Battle of Hearts and Minds, and ‘The Constants of Jihad’ a consistent diagnosis is given explaining the troubles of the ummah: the West is at war with Islam, they are murdering Muslims indiscriminately, they are humiliating Muslims, and things are getting worse.[61]  In ‘The Dust Will Never Settle Down’, for example, Awlaki says in reference to the release of cartoons mocking the Prophet Muhammad:

And this affair that is happening now, is one of the worse events, there are incidents of cursing Muhammad (P.B.U.H). In fact it might be the worst in our history…[62]

In ‘Battle of the Hearts and Minds’, Awlaki further develops this diagnosis:

[W]e see this happening all the time, to the extent that now it is imprinted in the minds of people, that Muslims are violent people who have no regards what so ever, for the rights of innocent human beings. Why? Because this is a fallacy that has been spread by the Western media, this is the agenda of the West; it is to put the Muslim in such a light. But any decent human being, with the least amount of intelligence, would be able to see, that it is the US now who is killing innocents in Iraq, in Afghanistan, in Somalia, and elsewhere throwing bombs indiscriminately in areas of Muslim population.[63]

Not only did these lectures serve to provide diagnostic framing of events, they also constructed a sense of collective identity through mechanisms of boundary activation, which may have crystallized Choudhry’s strong identification with her Muslim self.  For example, in ‘Battle of the Hearts and Minds’ Awlaki draws on the life of the Prophet Muhammad during a time of war to establish and harden the boundary between Muslims and kuffar (non-believers):

When the Prophet Muhammad (P.B.U.H) passed with his army next to Diyar Thammud…some of the Sahabas wanted to go in, the Prophet (P.B.U.H.) did allow them to. Why? So that they should not be impressed with what they see…It should be taken as a lesson…This is to establish a barrier between us and these Kuffar.[64]

In ‘The Life and Times of Umar bin Khattab’ Awlaki employs boundary activation mechanisms, using the concept of al wala’ wal bara’ or the separation of rightly-guided Muslims from deviants others.[65] Awlaki claims that Muslims must recognize they can no longer trust Western society, and that they need to separate themselves from the kuffar.[66] In ‘Constants on the Path of Jihad’ Awlaki engages in similar boundary activation, stating that ‘there are some people who claim to be Muslims, but they have the opposite of this…they are willing to stand alongside the kuffar to fight against Muslims. So they represent the opposite though they claim to be Muslim’.[67] These examples shed light on how Awlaki’s lectures may have influenced Choudhry’s interpretation of the world around her, dividing the world between Muslims and non-Muslims and transforming her from an integrated Muslim woman to living in nearly total isolation in a relatively short period of time.

In ‘Constants on the Path of Jihad’ Awlaki provides powerful prognostic and motivational frames, building on his diagnostic frame of the ‘War on Islam’ arguing that the West is engaged in a religious, political, cultural, economic, and media war against Muslims.[68] He presents jihad or hijrah as the two possible alternatives to Muslims to combat the threat.  The first, hirjah, requires that Muslims migrate from the land of the kuffar if they have the means to do so, separating themselves from non-Muslims.[69] The second option, jihad, requires that they participate in armed struggle against the kuffar in defense of Muslims. Awlaki sanctions jihad saying:

Allah says ‘Fighting has been prescribed upon you and you dislike it…But Allah knows and you know not’…fighting is prescribed upon you, so it is a fard, it’s an instruction from Allah.[70]

He offers further motivation for attacks in the West in defense of Muslims everywhere saying:

Jihad is global. Jihad is not a local phenomenon. Jihad is not stopped by borders or barriers.[71]

Awlaki buttresses his prognostic and motivational frames with incentives for action, saying that those willing to fight will triumph, and that they will earn the love of Allah.[72]

Awlaki’s framing work and identity construction weren’t enough to convince Choudhry to engage in jihad in the West. Additional motivational framing was needed to credibly establish a basis for attack.  According to Choudhry this additional ‘push’ came from a YouTube video of the deceased Sheikh Abdullah Azzam in which he stated that it was the duty of all Muslims to defend Muslim lands. It was after watching Azzam’s video that Choudhry states she realized it was her duty as a Muslim woman to ‘fight’.[73]

The prognostic and motivational frames articulated by Awlaki and Azzam are mirrored in Choudhry’s police transcripts, demonstrating their centrality to her process of violent radicalization, decision to leave school, and eventual resolution to commit an act of terrorism. Choudhry reveals her commitment to Awlaki’s hijrah prognosis stating she left school because continuing to attend ‘would be against my religion’.[74]  Choudhry also says that she feels that she has shown loyalty and fulfilled her duty to Muslims in Iraq and Palestine by attacking Stephen Timms and that her actions may have ruined her life but that they are ‘worth it because millions of Iraqis are suffering and I should do what I can to help them and not just be inactive and do nothing’.[75]

Thus, following her seemingly accidental introduction to the lectures of Anwar al-Awlaki, Choudry adopted the frames proffered by the radical cleric – namely that of a war against Islam in which jihad, hijrah and the clear division between Muslims and non-Muslims were considered realistic solutions and duties incumbent upon all Muslims.  Furthermore, through listening to Awlaki’s lectures and watching videos of the ‘resistance’ in Iraq, Choudhry came to identify with a collective – the ummah – to which she owed allegiance and on behalf of which she felt compelled to commit at act of terrorism.

Conclusion

This paper has sought to apply key insights from social movement theory to offer a partial explanation of Roshonara Choudhry’s radicalization and embrace of a violent extremist ideology. Emphasis was placed on the role of framing and collective identity construction processes in the absence of direct links to violent groups.Roshonara Choudhry’s path from gifted student to terrorist is important because it presents a unique case in which concepts from social movement theory can be applied directly to the study of terrorism and the processes of violent radicalization.  It should be noted that Choudry is a rare and special case; many so-called ‘lone wolf’ terrorists are actually linked, if only in a superficial manner, to radical communities and organizations that espouse violent extremist ideologies. Choudhry, however, represents a true lone wolf.  This paper therefore does not claim to offer a useful framework for understanding all cases of homegrown terrorism; instead it points towards the necessity of adapting and applying available tools from diverse disciplines – like sociology – to highly specific contexts.

Despite being lacking generic applicability to all violent extremists, at the level of theory we can observe that processes described by social movement theorists are indeed critical in explaining Roshonara’s radicalization. This provides grounding for the practical application of social movement theory to the processes of radicalization that lead to violent extremism. Moreover, it reinforces the notion that a diverse knowledge of available theoretical frameworks is necessary in order to gain a comprehensive understanding of homegrown radicalization and violent extremism.

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Photo Credit: Magharebia

[toggle title= “Citations and Bibliography”]

[1] Weinberg (2001)p.2

[2] Neumann & Rogers (2007)p.7

[3] Dalgaard & Neilson (2010)p.798

[4] Neumann &.Rogers (2007)pp.12-13

[5] Neumann & Rogers (2007) p.6

[6] Neumann & Rogers (2007)p.6

[7] Dodd, Vikram ‘Profile: Roshonara Choudhry’ The Guardian, 02 November 2010; Gordon and Bingham ‘Stephen Timms stabbing: how internet sermons turned a quiet student into fanatic’ The Telegraph, 02 November 2010

[8] Ibid; Ibid

[9] ‘Stephen Timms stabbing’

[10] ‘Profile: Roshonara Choudhry’

[11] ‘Stephen Timms stabbing’

[12] ‘Stephen Timms stabbing’; Dodd, Vikram ‘Roshonara Choudhry: Police interview extracts’ The Guardian 03 November 2010

[13] ‘Stephen Timms stabbing’

[14] ‘Police interview’

[17] Ibid

[18] Ibid

[19] Ibid

[20] Ibid

[21] Ibid

[22] Ibid

[23] Ibid

[24] Ibid

[25] Ibid

[26] ‘Stephen Timms stabbing’

[29] ‘Profile: Roshonara Choudhry’

[30] ‘Stephen Timms stabbing’

[31] Ibid

[32] ‘Police interview’

[33]Tore Bjrgo (2005)pp.256-264; Neumann & Rogers (2007)p.7; Tarrow (2011)pp.22-23

[34] Silke (2008)pp.103-105

[35] Dodd & Topping ‘Roshonara Choudhry jailed for life over MP attack’ The Guardian 03 November 2010

[36] For an argument in favour of applying social movement theory to terrorism Gunning (2009)pp.156-177

[37] Tarrow (2011)pp.141-156; Snow and Benford (1992)pp.133-152

[38] Snow and Benford (2000)p.614

[39] Snow and Benford (1992)pp.133-152

[40] Snow and Benford (2007)pp.123-132; Della Porta and Diani (2006)pp.73-87

[41] Tarrow (2011)p.145

[42] Wiktorowicz (n.d.)

[43] Wiktorowicz (n.d.); Wiktorowicz (2005)pp.20-24

[44] Wiktorowicz (2005)p.20

[45] Benford and Snow (2000)pp.619-622

[46] Tarrow (2011)p.143

[47] Snow, Benford and Hunt (1994)p.185-186

[48] Friedman and McAdam (1992)p.157

[49] Ibid

[50] Meleagrou-Hitchens (2011)p.117

[51] Tilly (2004)pp.211-236; Wiktorowicz (2004)p.xi

[52] Tarrow (2011)p.151

[53] Tilly (2004)pp.223-224

[54] ‘Police Interview’

[55] Ibid

[57] Ibid

[58] Ibid

[59] Ibid

[60] Meleagrou-Hitchens (2011)

[61] Awlaki (2008); Awlaki (2005); Awlaki (2008)

[62] Awlaki (2005)

[63] Awlaki (2008)

[64] Ibid

[65] Meleagrou-Hitchens (2011)p.17

[66] Ibid p.48-51

[67] Awlaki (2005)

[68] Meleagrou-Hitchens (2007)p.60-62

[69] Awlaki(2005); Awlaki (n.d.)‘al-Hijrah’

[70] Awlaki (2005)

[71] Ibid

[72] Meleagrou-Hitchens (2011)pp.63-64

[73] Ibid

[74] ‘Police interview’

[75] Ibid

Bibliography

Al-Awlaki, Anwar (2008),‘The Dust Will Never Settle Down’ http://www.kalamullah.com/anwar-alawlaki.html (accessed 01 December 2012)

Al-Awlaki, Anwar (2005) ‘Constants on the Path of Jihad’ http://www.kalamullah.com/anwar-alawlaki.html (accessed 01 December 2012)

Al-Awlaki, Anwar (2008), ‘Battle of the Hearts and Minds’ 11 May 2008, http://www.kalamullah.com/anwar-alawlaki.html  (accessed 01 December 2012)

Al-Awlaki, Anwar (n.d.) ‘al-Hijrah:’ http://www.kalamullah.com/anwar-alawlaki.html (accessed 01 December 2012)

Al-Awlaki, Anwar (2008), ‘The State of the Ummah’ 01 March 2009 http://www.kalamullah.com/anwar-alawlaki.html (accessed 01 December 2012)

Bjrgo, Tore (2006) Root Causes of Terrorism: Myths, Reality and Ways Forward (New York: Routledge)

Dalgaard-Nielsen, Anja. (2010), ‘Violent Radicalisation in Europe: What We Know and What We Do Not Know’, Studies in Conflict and Terrorism, Vol. 33 No. 9 pp. 797-814.

Della Porta, Donatella and Mario Diani (2006), Social Movements: An Introduction, 2nd edn. (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing)

Dodd, Vikram (2010) ‘Profile: Roshonara Choudhry’ The Guardian, 02 November 2010, http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2010/nov/02/profile-roshonara-choudhry-stephen-timms (accessed 05 November 2012)

Dodd, Vikram and Alexandra Topping (2010), ‘Roshonara Choudhry jailed for life over MP attack’ The Guardian, 03 November 2010, http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2010/nov/03/roshonara-choudhry-jailed-life-attack (accessed 05 November 2012)

Dodd, Vikram (2010), ‘Roshonara Choudhry: Police interview extracts’ The Guardian 03 November 2010, http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2010/nov/03/roshonara-choudhry-police-interview  (accessed 05 November 2012)

Friedman and McAdam (1992), ‘Collective Identity and Activism: Networks, Choices and the Life of a Social Movement’ in Frontiers in Social Movement Theory ed. Aldon D. Morris and Carol McClurg Mueller (New Haven: Yale University Press)

Gunning, Jeroen (2009), ‘Social movement theory and the study of terrorism’ in Critical Terrorism Studies: A New Research Agenda ed. Richard Jackson, Marie Breen Smyth, and Jeroen Gunning (New York: Routledge)

Hunt, Scott A., Robert D. Benford, and David A. Snow (1994) ‘Identity Fields:  Framing Processes and the Social Construction of Movement Identities’, in New Social Movements: From Ideology to Identity ed. Enrique Laraña, Hank Johnston, and Joseph R. Gusfield (Philadelphia: Temple University Press)

Neumann, Peter & Brooke Rogers (2007), Recruitment and mobilisation for the Islamist militant movement in Europe’ International Centre for the Studies of Radicalisation and Political Violence

Meleagrou-Hitchens, Alexander (2011) ‘American As Apple Pie: How Anwar al-Awlaki Became the Face of Western Jihad’ International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence

Rayner Gordon and John Bingham (2010), ‘Stephen Timms stabbing: how internet sermons turned a quiet student into fanatic’ The Telegraph, 02 November 2010, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/crime/8105516/Stephen-Timms-stabbing-how-internet-sermons-turned-quiet-student-into-fanatic.html (accessed 05 November 2012)

Severs, Henry (2012) ‘Surfing the Jihadisphere: How the Internet Facilitates Violent Radicalisation’ The Risky Shift http://theriskyshift.com/2012/05/essay-internet-and-violent-html/ (accessed 03 October 2012)

Silke, Andrew (2008), ‘Holy Warriors- Exploring the Psychological Processes of Jihadi Radicalisation’, European Journal of Criminology Vol. 5

Snow, David A. and Scott C. Byrd (2007), ‘Ideology, Framing Processes, and Islamic Terrorist Movements’ Mobilisation: An International Journal Vol. 12 No. 1 pp.119-136

Snow, David A. and Robert D. Benford (1992), ‘Master Frames and Cycles of Protest’ in Frontiers in Social Movement Theory ed. Aldon D. Morris and Carol McClurg Mueller (New Haven: Yale University Press)

Snow and Benford (2000), ‘Framing Processes and Social Movements: An Overview and Assessments’ Annual Review of Sociology Vol. 26 pp. 611-639

 

Tarrow, Sidney (2011), Power in Movement 3rd Edition (New York: Cambridge University Press)

Tilly, Charles (2004), ‘Social Boundary Mechanisms’ Philosophy of the Social Sciences Vol. 32 No. 2 pp.211-236

Weinberg, Leonard et. al (2001), ‘The Challenges of Conceptualising Terrorism’, Terrorism and Political Violence, Vol. 17 No. 1, pp. 777- 794

Wiktorowicz, Quintan (2002), ‘Social Movement Theory and the Study of Islamism: A New Direction for Research’ Mediterranean Politics, Vol. 7 No. 3 pp. 187-211

Wikitorowicz, Quintan (n.d.) ‘Joining  the Cause: Al-Muhajiroun and Radical Islam’ Department of International Studies, Rhodes College.

Wiktorowicz, Quintan (2005) Radical Islam Rising: Muslim Extremism in the West (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, INC.)

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angela merkel portrait

Bye Bye Merkel?

It is an election year in Germany and its Chancellor Angela Merkel just turned into a “lame duck”. Her governing coalition has lost the majority in Germany’s second chamber (representing the state governments) to the opposition; a coalition of Social Democrats and Greens won the state elections in Lower Saxony on Sunday by the closest margin possible (69 vs. 68 seats). This will severely limit Merkel’s policymaking leeway (some observers have noted that her government hasn’t done much anyway over the past three years).

Commentators have not yet decided what the consequences of Sunday’s election means for national elections in fall. While Merkel’s CDU lost the government in Lower Saxon it is polling at a five year high nationally. At the same time, the SPD and Greens were running against a popular MP and especially the SPD was under a lot of pressure due to a media campaign against its candidate for Chancellery, Peer Steinbrück and is far from having started serious campaigning. Merkel’s coalition partner the FDP, without which is will become hard for her to form a government, is consistently polling below the 5% election threshold, nationally. Social Democrats and Greens have argued that they will beat Merkel during campaign, believing their political programs are superior. Germany’s Chancellor is considered by many to be devoid of any political program since she abandoned her neoliberal ideas after the election in 2005 which she almost lost against Gerhard Schröder. However, this has not been an obstacle for her popularity so far.

The elections in Germany are much more open than many international (and domestic) observers believe. While widely considered the most powerful woman alive, she might soon be an elder stateswoman.

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Photo Credit: Abode of Chaos

young girl with gun

Games with Guns

Written in direct response to Jamiesha Majevadia’s blog “POW! Act Tough On Play Fighting And Vaccinate Against Mass Shootings.

In her article Majevadia requested we stay away from “THAT” debate on video games and promised a follow up on gender issues.  This piece will therefore try and focus away from those issues as much as possible.

The concept of various elements of modern life, from news to video games to swearing, numbing the youth to extreme violence is a common one. The left turns to it as part of its culture of aversion to all violence and suffering, the right turns to it as a scapegoat for gun violence (anything but admit that the guns themselves are the primary culprit for killings involving guns).

However the battle between them has created a situation in western society where they have disproved one another. Liberal focus on clamping down on schoolyard activities under the banner of health and safety has dramatically reduced violent games which used to be the stalwart of (especially boys, gender is an inescapable issue in these arguments) playtime fun. However at the same time as games such as cowboys and indians, cops and robbers or bulldog have faced cutbacks, shootings by youths has skyrocketed. There are hundreds of issues which can explain that fact, but playing cowboy clearly is not one of them.

As someone who shot rifles for years and was part of a military cadet group, I can say without a doubt that guns are exceptionally “cool” in a way many of my peers (mostly female ones, gender rears its head again) simply do not understand. I absolutely love them, the noise, the smell, the physicality, the achievement of blasting down another target. Few things have given me the sheer sense of being awesome (and I mean that in the literal sense, not the slang) as shooting down five 200m targets faster than those around me. I was a very good shot and loved being good; I also thoroughly enjoyed my time in uniform, including two camps at British military bases.

However I’m also aggressively anti-gun politically, in the respect that gun laws should be extremely restrictive and comprehensive. The article I co-wrote with Tom Hashemi should bear witness to that. I have received various threats for my stance in the gun debate and yet continue to passionately argue the case against freedoms to gun ownership even as I plan my next trip down to the pistol range. My experience of violent play as a child or that I have grown up in a low-regulated environment surrounded by rifles has certainly desensitised me to their presence. I have never jumped at gunshots and I have plenty of plastic replicas in my childhood toybox. The concept that this has somehow normalised violence and death or made me any less aware of the danger of these weapons is ludicrous. If anything I have a far greater respectful fear of these weapons than I ever would have done isolated from them.

The idea of guns as “seriously cool” (they are, it’s as undeniable as the coolness of monster trucks, explosions and rugby) does in no way coincide with a flippant attitude towards gun laws and anger at how the pro-gun lobby has betrayed those killed in the United States. Rifle shooting is no less a acceptable sport than the equally violence-based Olympic events of javelin and archery. When correctly safeguarded and protected, guarded by highly trained and vetted professionals, guns are no less dangerous than swords in the hands of fencers. It is ensuring this state of affairs which should be the priority, not clamping down on a child’s playfulness for the whims of the political climate.

Playing with pretend guns as a child is not something that can be simply cut out, it is an inevitable consequence of a child’s competitive nature, playful aggression and the “coolness” that guns will no more shake than will the swords and arrows they also play with.

My only hope is that their play, and the gradual realisation of the concept of death, will slowly teach them the respectful fear that these weapons rightfully deserve.

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Photo Credit: Seattle Municipal Archives

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Avoiding The Entanglement Trap Lies Beyond French Control

France is better off sticking to limited objectives in the short term, or faces the prospects of its own Afghanistan.

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France has entered the Malian conflict this week following a surprise rebel offensive in the south of the country. The fall of strategic towns in rebel hands and the Malian Military’s inability to contain the assaults prompted the French to mobilize troops and aircraft to stem the rebel advancement towards the capital Bamako. France bombarded rear rebel positions in their stronghold of Gao & Kidal and deployed ground forces around the capital Bamako and the Mopti Province.

The situation bears the hallmarks of a modern conflict: a transnational network of non-state armed groups fighting a weak government in an area that stretches across an entire  Sahel region with porous borders that are essentially imaginary lines in the sand: a remnant of France’s colonial past.

Commenting on how long his country will take the lead in the campaign “It’s a matter of weeks” declared French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius. The government insists that its current presence on the frontline of the conflict is a temporary measure that aims to contain the rebel advance until African troops from ECOWAS are deployed. However, such promises will be hard to keep as factors deciding how the conflict plays out lay beyond the French army’s control.  A closer look at the actors, the dynamics of the conflicts, suggest that the French army could easily be lured into deeper involvement if clear and limited objectives that fall within the UN intervention mandate are not maintained.

Due to the logistics and coordination necessary, the original intervention plan did not foresee a deployment of 3,300   regional forces (a number deemed too low by some military quarter) until September 2013. The preemptive assault by Islamist was an attempt to capitalize on this since the capture of significant territory would provide considerable strategic leverage on both  the ground and at the negotiating table. As stated previously, this is what precipitated French involvement, refuting earlier assurances by the French President Francois Holland that there would be “no French boots on the ground”. Moreover, French authorities acknowledged that the militants have turned out to be better-armed and equipped than initially thought after a French combat helicopter was downed by the rebels.  Current plans anticipate a deployment an additional 2,500 troops.

French Defense minister Le Drian described his country’s action in broader terms such as the eradication of terrorism in the region and has recently acknowledged the likelihood of a lengthy campaign.  According to retired French General Vincent Desportes, France is currently pursuing three objectives: the securitization of French nationals and the capital, holding the frontline around Konna (700kms from Bamako), and training troops from Niger, Burkina, Bénin, Togo and Sénégal to recapture the north of Mali.

In the short term, France has for the most part fulfilled the first two; however, the ‘Africanization’ of the intervention through full deployment, coordination and training of Malian and ECOWAS forces in short period of time is a significant endeavor with numerous hurdles. At this point in time the Malian military remains weak, with the French military like to bear the brunt of the work. Furthermore, the deployment of ECOWAS troops likely to arrive this week is also expected to encounter complications due to the premature timing vis-à-vis the initial plans. The conflict has already spilled over into neighboring countries, including the regional power Algeria that suffered an attack on a gas installation on 16 January 2013.

Algeria, who possesses experience fighting armed Islamist groups within its borders, has always expressed reservation with respect to a military intervention in Mali. However, its advocacy for political dialogue with the main Islamist group Ansar-Eddine is likely to be reversed following an attack deep within its territory in retaliation for opening its airspace. The attack resulted in numerous hostages constitutes a first for the country. Such installations never suffered even during the troubled 1990s. The distance of the base relative to the Malian border (near In Amenas) is closer to Libya, again reinforcing the relative insignificance of political borders in the region, their porous nature and the potential vastness of the theater of operations.

France should not expect much from Algeria. Despite have the strongest capabilities in the region these remain relative to inherently weak states in the Sahel such as Mali. Though direct involvement beyond its borders would provide a boost in capabilities, these remain untested beyond Algeria’s borders, and are likely to be dedicated to reinforcing the securitization of its own borders.

The dangers of France finding itself entangled in a long conflict that stretches across the Sahel are real, and lie beyond its control. Worst case scenarios for France would be the being sucked into its own Afghanistan, or a debacle similar to the US involvement in Somalia. The effect and quality of deploying of ECOWAS troops is a determining factor but remains to be seen. France is better off sticking to limited objectives in the short term or faces the prospects of its own Afghanistan.

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Photo Credit: fdecomite

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La geopolitica e il futuro della stabilità globale

Lungi dall’essere una scienza meramente deterministica, la geopolitica continua ad offrire, da una parte, evidenti limiti analitici; dall’altra, lo studio della stessa rappresenta un’opportunità che leader, politici e burocrati dovrebbero essere in grado di interpretare e comprendere.

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[dropcap]L'[/dropcap]ultimo contributo in materia di geopolitica offerto da Ian Bremmer, presidente e co-fondatore di una delle più importanti agenzie di valutazione di rischio politico, si basa sul cosiddetto “nuovo pensiero geopolitico” e, per certi versi, la sua teoria, denominata “G-zero” rappresenta l’idealtipica evoluzione dello stesso.

Dalla caduta dell’Unione Sovietica, e la conseguente scomparsa delle più importanti minacce alla società e alla stabilità occidentale mossa da quest’ultima, numerosi studiosi hanno immediatamente supportato il paradigma della “fine della storia”: il ritratto della vittoria trionfale e definitiva del modello politico, economico e sociale di tipo liberale su quello socialista. Secondo altri, tra cui, ad esempio, Samuel Huntington, la minaccia successiva sarebbe stata rappresentata da divisioni di tipo religioso, esacerbate dall’insorgenza di fondamentalismi anti-occidentali e anti-cristiani. Tali previsioni, sebbene in alcun casi siano state accertate, hanno avuto a che fare con attori, ideologie e modelli politici ben identificabili, e con la plausibile eventualità di nuove minacce internazionali a questi collegate.

Infatti, dal crollo dell’Unione Sovietica la stabilità internazionale non è stata ulteriormente intaccata, considerata l’assenza di attori palesemente ostili e dotati di un hard power tale da mettere a repentaglio la sicurezza di altri soggetti internazionali. Al contrario, si è gradualmente formato un complesso scenario di rischio, caratterizzato da fattori imprevedibili, non intenzionali e incontrollabili. Di conseguenza, le formulazioni di politica estera hanno prestato sempre più attenzione alle implicazioni degli sviluppi tecno-scientifici, e la relativa applicazione al settore militare e cibernetico. Tra questi, è possibile annoverare: la proliferazione di armi di distruzione di massa; il mutamento climatico, i disastri ambientali e la necessità di sviluppare una geopolitica della sostenibilità; la crescente competizione per l’accaparramento delle risorse naturali tra attori statali e non in Asia centrale e in Africa; la diffusione del terrorismo religioso e fondamentalista.

Sebbene la geografia rimanga il fattore più pertinente in materia di politica estera, la consapevolezza di vivere in una società del rischio globale, vale a dire dove il rischio trascende i confini territoriali e politici, ha influenzato profondamente il pensiero geopolitico, che storicamente si è sviluppato all’interno della tradizione realista delle relazioni internazionali. Gerard Tuathail ha identificato questo nuovo ambito di ricerca come “geopolitica critica”, insistendo sulla necessità di adottare un approccio nuovo e deterritorializzato per analizzare le questioni relative alla sicurezza.

Sulla scia di questa precedente teorizzazione, la teoria G-Zero di Bremmer afferma che l’epoca attuale richiede più cooperazione sotto l’ombrello di una leadership forte, al fine di affrontare con successo le sfide transnazionali. Ciò nonostante, né le singole potenze come gli Stati Uniti, la Cina o gli altri paesi BRIC, né il G20 o altri soggetti più istituzionalizzati (quali il Fondo Monetario Internazionale, la Banca Mondiale e l’ONU) sono in grado di garantire una leadership internazionale coerente ed efficace, a causa di vari fattori: il relativo e temporaneo declino in termini di credibilità; poco potere decisionale a disposizione; scarsa influenza in ambito economico su scala globale.

Come risultato dell’instabile vuoto politico al quale assistiamo ormai da qualche tempo, vi sono quattro plausibili scenari geopolitici, tutti incentrati sulla relazione tra Stati Uniti e Cina: un improbabile “G2 informale” che prevede una forma di bipolarismo cristallizzato e cooperativo eretto su due sistemi politici ed economici agli antipodi; un concerto globale di stati, sebbene caratterizzato da interessi diversi in materia di economia e sicurezza, data la contemporanea presenza di potenze emergenti e già consolidate; la Guerra Fredda 2.0, conseguente alla competizione globale tra Stati Uniti e Cina, e imperniata su divergenze economiche e ideologiche, e alla scarsità di risorse energetiche; un mondo frammentato in regioni, dove la cooperazione multilaterale sarebbe ulteriormente indebolita e i problemi di natura transnazionale non potrebbero essere affrontati in maniera appropriata.

Infine, si potrebbe considerare l’evoluzione di un ulteriore scenario, il cosiddetto G-Subzero, nel quale questioni di ordine globale potrebbero tramutarsi in emergenze di carattere locale, con conseguenze catastrofiche per la stabilità dei singoli stati. Infatti, secondo tale prospettiva, ogni nazione sarebbe interamente impegnata a gestire crisi interne causate da rivolte di carattere sociale, crolli economico-finanziari, disordini politici innescati da movimenti separatisti ed estremisti. Di conseguenza, lo stesso concetto di globalizzazione verrebbe compromesso, e ogni nazione sarebbe chiamata a impegnarsi autonomamente per trovare soluzioni efficaci.

È inutile aggiungere che una tale prospettiva, così pessimista, non si realizzerà in maniera altrettanto deterministica, anche se va presa comunque in considerazione dopo mezzo secolo di stabilità bipolare e unipolare. Inoltre, le questioni transnazionali fanno sì che l’attuale configurazione del contesto politico sia la più rischiosa e imprevedibile sin dalla creazione del sistema di Westphalia. Per questo, appaiono impraticabili soluzioni come quella proposta da Robert Cooper: infatti, non è ponendo le basi per una nuova egemonia occidentale che il processo di frammentazione degli stati-nazione sarebbe evitato. Una ricetta simile appare, più che altro, un’anacronistica rielaborazione del messaggio imperialista lanciato da Mackinder nel 1904, utile allora solo per prevenire il crollo dell’Impero Britannico.

Lungi dall’essere una scienza meramente deterministica, la geopolitica continua ad offrire, da una parte, evidenti limiti analitici; dall’altra, lo studio della stessa rappresenta un’opportunità che leader, politici e burocrati dovrebbero essere in grado di interpretare e comprendere.

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Articolo tradotto da: Valentina Mecca

Articolo originale: Geopolitics & Future World Stability

Photo credit: Peter Bo Rappmund

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The Algerian Hostage Dead: NATO Is Responsible

While the West may be reluctant to put more boots on the ground due to the growing frustration from the general public, we are likely to see more military interventions this decade.

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What do Libya, Mali and Algeria have in common? The three nations have played a pivotal role in the political domino effect culminating over the last week. At least 48 hostages are now thought to have died in a four-day siege at an Algerian gas plant. In response to the Algerian hostage situation Mr Cameron said his government will continue to focus on fighting terrorism: “There is no justification for taking innocent life in this way”.

These are typical words attributed to a politician speaking in the generic foreign policy language. However David Cameron has failed to mention that NATO also played its part in the Algerian hostage crisis. Algerian crisis is a direct consequence of the current Mali conflict and the Mali conflict is the direct result of the Libyan conflict in 2011 as those who supported Gaddafi were thrown out from the country for being black and had nowhere else to go except to join the Mali terrorist groups.

And since it was Cameron and his “peace-seeking” NATO states who encouraged the violence in Libya and helped to carry out a regime change operation, it seems NATO are at least partially responsible for the Algerian hostage crisis. Politics works in funny ways.

Let us examine each claim individually starting with Libya.

The mission to oust Gaddafi and kick start a new dawn for Libya has been claimed by the West to be a success. Yet an uncomfortable truth rarely mentioned in the Western media remains- hundreds of African migrant workers in Libya accused of being mercenaries for Col Muammar Gaddafi were imprisoned and tortured by fighters allied to the new interim authorities.

Indeed it is heavily documented how the victorious rebels were hunting after African mercenaries and the latter had no choice but to escape from the destruction-stricken country. These mercenaries found a new home- Mali. Additionally there are irrefutable claims that homes have been looted, and women and girls beaten and raped. Perhaps removing Gaddafi was a success for the Western nations, but the country is currently in turmoil and is still mostly run by heavily armed mercenaries.

It is clear that the West had a lot of interest in removing Gaddafi. While the UN gave the authorisation to protect the Libyan civilians, this objective turned into a regime change operation. It is not surprising that Russia and China continue to veto any resolutions in regards to Syria as they understand that another aim to protect the Syrian civilians would simply mean regime change in Syria.

We can only speculate what interests the West has in the region. A number of theories have been put forward: oil, a step towards eventually attacking Iran, protecting Israel, all of the above. While impossible to know the truth, it is clear that the West has a grand strategy for the Middle East and Africa.

And so we arrive at the second stage of the domino effect. The current conflict in Mali seems in many ways to mirror the conflict that took place in Libya. Rebels are trying to take over the country and overthrow the government. There is however one difference. The current Mali government is a friend of France whilst Gaddafi refused to get on his knees for the Western powers.

A popular argument used by the politicians is the claim that Libya was a dictatorship while Mali is a democracy and therefore the West has a responsibility to protect Mali from radical extremists. However if this claim was true then the West would have already intervened in Bahrain, Jordan, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. However these authoritarian states have good relations with the West and are therefore safe from NATO interventions.

Indeed those who claim that the Mali government are not executing their own civilians like Gaddafi did may be shocked to find that there are growing reports by Amnesty International of extrajudicial killings and other human rights abuses in Mali, as troops battle Islamist militants in the West African country.

Residents of Mopti, in the centre of the country, told the Observer of arrests, interrogations and the torture of innocents by the Malian army. Amnesty International says that it has documented evidence of abuse by the Malian army, including extrajudicial killings. It says that in September, a group of 16 Muslim preachers composed of Malian and Mauritanian nationals were arrested then executed by the Malian military in Diabaly. It seems like the French government is trying to protect those that are carrying out human rights abuses.

Undoubtedly the rebels are not saints either. Nevertheless there has to be some consistency from the West. Claiming to be against Gaddafi and Saddam Hussein as they killed own citizens, while at the same time supporting the regimes in Mali, Bahrain and Jordan, who also treat their citizens with cruelty is simply hypocritical.

Of course this is not the first time a Western power has supported brutality. It is also imperative to mention the case of Syria here. Mr Hollande has claimed that the reason why his country is supporting the Mali government against the rebels is because the rebels are Islamic extremists whilst the rebels in Syria are secular.

Mr Hollande’s remarks are are simply wrong as it is well known that a large section of the Syrian rebels are also radical Islamists. The radical rebels who have connections to Al Qaeda seem to be having more influence on the Syrian population than the Free Syrian Army who claim to be secular.

And so thanks to the continuous hypocritical interventions by the Western nations we have arrived at a situation where a BP gas site has been assaulted by terrorists. Whilst undoubtedly investigations will be carried out, it seems more than likely that the terrorists who have carried out the hostage mission are in some way linked to the rebels in Mali.

It is well known that in life, a particular action always leads to a particular consequence. This is called the butterfly effect. International politics is not immune from this phenomenon, as something that began as a mission by the West to oust Gaddafi in 2011 has ended with Western citizens being taken hostage in Algeria. I say “ended” yet it is probable that this is just the beginning of more violence and conflict which will spread to other parts of Africa.

This is rather useful for the NATO states as America and other Western nations have been itching to find an excuse to send more military to the continent now that the Middle East has been “conquered” and squeezed completely dry. And while the resource-plenty and flourishing Africa will now be the new victim of Western interventions, our media and politicians will continue to tell us that our governments are fighting to make the world a safer place by annihilating the terrorists – the same terrorists that arise through Western interventions in the first place.

Just yesterday David Cameron has announced that the war on terrorists will go on for decades and NATO interventions will switch from Afghanistan to North Africa.

Interventions are a destructive cycle. The West intervenes in other regions as a police state under a pretext of supporting democracy, but end up opening a can of worms. Extremism spreads to nearby regions and the locals are angered by the continuous meddling of the West in their affairs and therefore join the terrorist groups which encourages the West to intervene more.

It becomes a permanent circle, or better known as a perpetual war. Alternative solutions to intervention do exist. Empowering regional bodies and governments through international development programs, foreign aid and cooperation are viable alternatives to militarism. While the West may be reluctant to put more boots on the ground due to the growing frustration from the general public, we are likely to see more military interventions this decade. Due to the development of unmanned drones and other rocket-type weaponry, NATO is likely to continue to intrude in the Middle East and Africa. It seems the West never learns.

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Photo credit: US Army Africa

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Addicted to Oil Cash, and Seeking Help (Part 1)

Two of the Middle East’s most corrupt governments have signed up to a cutting edge anti-corruption initiative.  In part 1 of a 2 part series, Iraq oil expert Ahmed Mousa Jiyad explains Iraq’s commitment to the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative.

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Of the 32 countries in the Middle East and North Africa, only 2 have signed up to the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, the worldwide scheme initiated by civil society organisations with oil company involvement which “aims to strengthen governance by improving transparency and accountability in the extractives sector.”

Incredibly, the MENA region governments who have signed up to this “resource curse” beating plan are Iraq and Yemen, two of the most corrupt and unstable governments in the region. But EITI is an excellent idea, and has already had a major impact in Nigeria where major anti-corruption investigations have been boosted by its reports.

In the first of a two part series, I spoke to Iraq oil expert Ahmed Mousa Jiyad who has reviewed Iraq’s first EITI report after the country won “compliant status”- the seal of approval from EITI that oil and gas revenue flows are transparent. But a deeper analysis of the conditions required for EITI to be truly effective show that the scheme is not the silver bullet that will end the “resource curse” – at least not until there is full disclosure and a healthy civil society with sufficient access to information, two things Iraq and Yemen currently lack.

RT: If the recent US SEC law, proposed EU law and the EITI cover all International Oil Companies (IOCs) operating in Iraq, is there any chance for corruption to remain in Iraq’s oil and gas sector?

AMJ: The enforcement of the above mentioned modalities would surely work as both a deterrent and a punitive measure against corruption. However, the three of them are not sufficient to ensure what I call the “Transparency Value Chain” (TVC) which is peculiar to the “Extractive Industry” in Iraq and I would claim to all other developing countries.

The concept of the TVC basically aims to trace and account for all “resource and cash flows” pertaining to this industry. And these flows fall in three categories, firstly, payments by IOCs. These cover two main items, cash payments to the host country- such as signature bonuses and all other fees like corporate income taxes etc, and secondly  investment (in the related contracted project.)

The first items could be controlled and accounted for with a good degree of transparency and verification, though Iraq’s Report for 2010 did not cover them properly. But there is difficulty and resentment on the part of IOCs regarding their actual investment in the related activity.Without full disclosure of investment there can be no comprehensive and meaningful transparency.

The second category is resource flowcharts and revenues, which covers two items. The first is the export of resources (say oil) and the generated export revenues. The parties involved here, in Iraq’s case, are SOMO (Iraq Oil Marketing Company) and all International Crude Oil Buyers-ICOBs. All export revenues are in US Dollars, and currently should be deposited in the Development Fund for Iraq (DFI) accounts at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York  (FRBNY) which confirmed total export revenues in 2010.

The second item in this category is the domestic use of resources and generated revenues. The parties involved are the Ministry of Oil (MoO) through its Regional Oil Companies (ROCs) which deliver oil and gas to other entities such as refineries, power plants, industry etc. The MoO provides very aggregate data on the produced oil and gas from ROCs and their allocation to export and for domestic use (only Refineries, Power plants and flared gas) but no revenues are provided for.

While the first item is subject to confirmation by all reporting entities and thus easy to reconcile and account for all export revenues, the second item is not. So a comprehensive modern and functional metering system is critically needed to insure the material balance of petroleum between all producing ROCs and receiving entities. Without such a comprehensive modern and functional metering system the transparency in the petroleum sector would be compromised. (Lack of metering was a critical factor in energy sector corruption in Nigeria- RT.)

The third category of resource and cash flows covers payment by Iraq to IOCs, which can be done easily, since each IOC is contractually obliged to prepare and present annual work programmes and corresponding budgets. Moreover, IOCs are obliged to submit “invoices” on actual expenses to MoO for auditing, approval and payment purposes.

The significance of knowing and accounting for IOC investment is to use such information in the verification and reconciliation process of “payment” that Iraq will make to these IOCs once the process of investment recovery and payment of remuneration fees begins.

According to the service contracts (type of oil contract currently in effect in Iraq) the payment of dues to the IOCs might be in kind- crude oil. Such payment in kind would be technically and statistically included in oil export shipments, but no export revenues would result from them.

Unless a special category in oil exports data and terminology is created to cover this payment in kind and cater for its accountability, there will be too many discrepancies in the reported data on oil revenues. Such payment in kind had started already in 2011, and it is expected to increase significantly in volume and value in the years to come.

It is worth recalling that each of these contracts has duration of more than twenty years. Therefore, it is vital to create the capacities and make the necessary preparations as early as possible to cover these items fully, properly and effectively.

For a country such as Iraq, especially in its current conditions, it is vital to have all three flows under the watchful eyes of transparency.

RT: In the last report, Open Oil claimed that signature bonuses amounting to over $1 billion were not documented. While some of these are the form of a loan, another bonus was altered to be simply a payment. Can they do that?

AMJ: Technically and contractually it is incorrect to claim that the Report for 2009 did not account for or document the signature bonuses. The reason is simple: no signature bonuses were due in 2009.

According to the service contracts of the first and second bid rounds, the related signature bonus has to be paid within one month from the “effective date” of the related contract. This implies that all signature bonuses from the 11 contracts resulting from the first two bid rounds were paid in 2010.

The 2010 Report confirms and accounts for all $1.65 billion paid by IOCs and received by MoO. But the Report did not cover what I call “Bid Round Related Payments,” which include four types of payments.

Moreover, the Author and the Reconciler of the 2010 Report, PwC, (PricewaterhouseCoopers) was not successful in producing a good and coherent report. The PwC Report suffers from many flaws, inconsistencies and shortcomings. I was asked to give opinion on the Report, which I did, and communicated my assessment to Baghdad and others within my professional network.

Ahmed Mousa Jiyad’s verdict on the PWC report can be found here.

Looking ahead

As Ahmed Mousa Jiyad can attest, some progress has been made in shining a light on Iraq’s energy sector, but much more needs to be done. As mentioned at the beginning of the article, in order for any transparency initiative to be successful there must be a fairly free society so that people can access information, hold officials to account and affect change. This is a problem in Iraq, where the media have been increasingly under siege: according to Reporters Without Borders, Iraq ranks 152 out of 179 in the press freedom index. As we will see in the next part of this series, finding a role for civil society in the EITI process has been a stumbling block in Yemen.

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Photo Credit: Loco Steve

Searching for the Taliban in Kandahar Province

The Life & Significance of a Cautious Jihadi

Jan Raudszus’ thoughts on Joas Wagemakers’ A Quietist Jihadi: The Ideology and Influence of Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi.

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Searching for the Taliban in Kandahar Province

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A Quietist Jihadi: The Ideology and Influence of Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi by Joas Wagemakers
Cambridge University Press
ISBN: 9781107606562
Paperback: £18.99

Let’s get right to the point: this is a book about Islamist theology, it is not a book for the lay reader. Only few people have ever heard of Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi and know of his relevance in contemporary Islamist writing. Yet relevant he is: according to a study by the Counter Terrorism Centre at West Point, Maqdisi is one of the most important scholars in Islamist militant circles. Jarret Brachman in his authoritative 2009 book Global Jihadism: Theory and Practice devoted several pages to a short biography of him in a section on important Salafist ideologues. In connection with the ideological developments in Saudi Arabia, Stephane Lacroix in his acclaimed recent book discussed Maqdisi’s role as well. Now, Joas Wagemakers presents a comprehensive and detailed overview of Maqdisi’s life and ideology. Wagemakers comes with credentials; he interviewed Maqdisi himself, as well as, students of Maqdisi, Arab journalists, former cellmates, and friends. His large access to primary sources is something not all authors can claim.

The book is based on Wagemakers’ PhD thesis that was supervised by Harald Motzki and Roel Meijir, hence, at times has the feeling of a reworked thesis. While this sometimes makes it awkward to read, it comes with the benefit of high transparency and rigour we would expect from a piece of academic writing. An additional advantage is that the text is supplemented with background information giving the less well-versed reader the chance to understand the difficult ideological concepts and their relevance, though some sections remain challenging for readers not trained in Islamic sciences. Helpfully, Wagemakers provides a very good and comprehensive summary of the major points of each chapter at the end of the book. Wagemakers also draws on Arabic, English, French and German sources which gives the text additional depth.

The core question of the book is: Why has al-Maqdisi been so influential on the Jihadi-Salafi movement? To answer it Wagemakers has researched which important Islamist scholars mention and cite al-Maqdisi. After establishing his degree of influence, Wagemakers uses framing theory to identify those aspects of Maqdisi’s work that served as good frames and tested the validity of his results through interviews. Wagemakers uses the introduction to set the stage. He gives an overview of Salafism, its history and different branches. Furthermore, he critically discusses the dominant categorizations of Quintan Wiktorowicz, who divided Salafis into three types: the quietists (or purists), who focus on propagating the Salafi creed and shy away from participation in politics; the politicos who engage in debate and the political process; and the jihadis. Wagemakers calls this breakdown too schematic and points out that some ideologues – like Maqdisi – transcend the categories, hence Wagemaker designates Maqdisi as a “quietist Jihadi.”

In Part I of his book Wagemakers offers a biography of Maqdisi who was born in 1959 into a Palestinian family. They left the West Bank for Kuwait when he was just a few years old and despite being Palestinian he never felt close to the Palestinian national call but instead became affiliated with Islamist circles. He finally ended up in Saudi Arabia, where he – in his own words- became “a real Salafi” while studying at the University of Medina (even though he never was an official student). Maqdisi utilized the Wahabist doctrine as a tool for excommunication against what he perceived to be heretical Muslim rulers. He travelled to Afghanistan to fight against the Sovjets but ended up teaching and spreading his ideas among the Mujahideen instead. Here he made the acquaintance of Ayman al-Zawahiri and Abu Musab al-Suri but never became a member of AQ. More importantly he met Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. The two men were significantly different, Maqdisi the studious educated man and al-Zarqawi a rough man of action, but joined forces in Jordan after Maqdisi was forced out of Kuwait in 1991. They founded a group of followers critical of the Jordanian government and were arrested after a foiled attack on Israel. In prison ideological differences between the two men became apparent. Those differences were at the core of the famous criticism that Maqdisi aimed at his former companion who was fighting in Iraq at the time. Maqdisi has been released and imprisoned by Jordanian authorities several times of the past decade and is currently incarcerated.

Wagemakers places Maqdisi in the wider context of Islamist scholars but makes clear that he is most concerned with a justification for Jihad against rulers based on their lack of devotion to Sharia law. He is cautious when it comes to justifying attacks on civilians or even whole populations and has also criticised the current Jihadis for being good at attacking the enemy but bad at consolidating power. Nevertheless, he has expressed positive views about 9/11 and Usama bin Laden. What becomes clear is that Maqdisi’s position is hard to press into simple schemes of Salafism in which many today like to categorize the ideology.

Part II deals with his influence on the development of the Islamic opposition in Saudi Arabia, especially Maqdisi’s important influence on al-Qaeda on the Arabian Peninsula. Part III investigates al-Maqdisi’s crucial contribution to the concepts of al-wala wa-l-bara (loyalty and disavowal) and al-isti’ana bi-l-kuffar (the injunction on asking non-Muslims for help in a time of war). Part IV analyses Maqdisi’s role within the Jordanian Jihadi-Salafi community between 1992 and 2009.

The book is definitely not for the casual reader, the subject is not easily accessible despite Wagemakers’ best efforts. However, people with a passion for Islamist ideology, an interest in Islamist inspired violence, or a training in Islamic studies will find the book a useful resource and a worthy addition to their library.

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Photo Credit: isafmedia