Tag Archives: Al-Qaida

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Zero Dark Thirty: propaganda di regime o pornografia della tortura?

A partire da oggi, venerdì 1 marzo, la nuova rubrica mensile Cinema & Politica offrirà commenti e insights sul rapporto tra cinematografia e politica. La rubrica in questione, seguendo le già note linee editoriali di The Risky Shift, cercherà di contribuire ad una comprensione più articolata e ragionata delle complesse, e spesso problematiche, relazioni esistenti tra i due mondi, analizzando film e documenti cinematografici di rilevante interesse per i lettori di The Risky Shift.

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[dropcap]Z[/dropcap]ero Dark Thirty segna il ritorno dietro la macchina da presa, a distanza di quattro anni dal pluripremiato The Hurt Locker, di Kathryn Bigelow. Come nel 2008, la regista, coadiuvata dallo sceneggiatore Mark Boal, ritorna ad occuparsi di guerra. Svestiti i panni dell’artificiere William James (Jeremy Renner), la Bigelow porta in scena le ricerche ossessive del leader di al-Qaida Osama Bin-Laden, condotte dall’agente CIA Maya (Jessica Chastain).

Un film che già dalle premesse si rivela complesso e controverso. Boal deve cimentarsi con una materia storica ancora sin troppo viva, non definitivamente conclusa e non documentata. La difficoltà nella produzione della pellicola è ancor più evidente se si considera che la sceneggiatura iniziale fosse basata sull’incapacità di catturare Bin Laden. Ma il 2 Maggio 2011, in seguito ad un’operazione affidata ai Neavy Seals statunitensi, lo sceicco saudita, viene catturato ed ucciso.

L’intrusione della Storia reale con la storia nel film costringe gli autori a ridefinire il trattamento ed inevitabilmente le intenzioni del film. L’assoluta contemporaneità della stesura della sceneggiatura e delle operazioni di ricerca della CIA evidenziano l’estrema peculiarità di Zero Dark Thirty: per l’assenza di fonti scritte ufficiali, Boal ha dovuto lavorare direttamente a contatto con la CIA per poter raccogliere informazioni su materiale assolutamente segreto, tanto da coniare l’espressione di “reported film”.

L’accesso accordato al giornalista ha suscitato notevoli polemiche nei confronti del presidente Barack Obama, reo di aver provocato dei rischi alla sicurezza nazionale legati alla diffusione di informazioni segrete. La singolarità di un film fortemente politico sin dalle modalità di produzione ha esposto Zero Dark Thirty a critiche preventive, accusando la Bigelow di propaganda nazionalistica o addirittura di agiografia della CIA.

Il clima di sospetto non si è certamente attenuato in seguito alla proiezione del film, cui hanno seguito ingenti proteste e controversie a causa di scene particolarmente crude, in cui la regista rappresenta le brutali pratiche di interrogatorio dell’Intelligence americana, le cosiddette enhanced interrogation techniques, tra le quali il waterboarding, l’utilizzo di un collare per cani, la reclusione in scatole di legno. Immagini di grande violenza oltre che potenza visiva, che disturbano lo spettatore, ponendolo dinanzi ad un evidente dilemma etico.

Parte della critica ha definito il film pornografico, moralmente ambiguo, un endorsment della tortura, accusando la Bigelow e Boal sia di inesattezze nella ricostruzione storica, sia di aver manipolato lo spettatore durante la visione, spingendolo a credere che la violenza delle torture fosse necessaria ed indispensabile per il raggiungimento dello scopo finale: l’uccisione di Bin Laden.

Le opposizioni appaiono dunque tanto eterogenee quanto stimolanti poiché sollevano un fertile dibattito sull’eventuale indipendenza dell’arte al cospetto del dominio storico, o sulla negoziazione tra fattuale e finzionale all’interno del film. Riguardo il primo punto non si può imporre una sorta di “immunità” artistica per la quale il film, in quanto opera d’arte, non possa essere giudicato per la sua accuratezza ricostruttiva. Tanto più, se sin dall’enunciazione iniziale, esso si propone di raccontare fatti realmente accaduti, come testimonia la scritta “Based on first hand accounts of actual events”.

Al tempo stesso appaiono assurde le pretese di non mostrare/non raccontare sullo schermo immagini particolarmente violente, a causa della brutalità delle stesse, contravvenendo dunque all’onestà intellettuale ed alla veridicità storica. È, invece, interessante comprendere in quale misura la Bigelow si attenga ad una rappresentazione realistica della vicenda trattata –pur considerandone la natura di lungometraggio di finzione e non documentario- e se vi sia effettivamente una prospettiva propagandistica o giustificazionista verso le citate pratiche di tortura della CIA.

Vi è un’unica sequenza in cui appare Barack Obama, mostrato su uno schermo televisivo, durante una riunione che coinvolge in prima persona Maya ed altri agenti CIA, mentre rivendica l’assoluta estraneità dell’America verso i metodi di tortura: I have said repeatedly that America doesn’t torture.” Questa breve dichiarazione, tratta dal programma 60 Minutes del Novembre 2008, si contrappone al pesante silenzio della ragazza, catturato con un primo piano dalla Bigelow, in maniera da sconfessare insieme alle immagini precedentemente rappresentate la veridicità delle parole del presidente.

La complessità della materia trattata rende Zero Dark Thirty uno scomodo ritratto americano, accomunando l’estrema ostilità che il film ha ricevuto sin dagli esordi, alla rabbia di Calibano nel vedere il proprio volto riflesso nello specchio.

Zero Dark Thirty inizia con uno sfondo nero cui si giustappongono le voci fuori campo di alcune vittime dell’attentato dell’11 Settembre 2001. Questo incipit rievoca inequivocabilmente l’avvenimento più importante della storia contemporanea, che rappresenta il punto di partenza necessario della nostra narrazione. La sequenza successiva si svolge due anni dopo in un’imprecisata prigione CIA ove la giovane agente Maya inizia la sua attività investigativa allo scopo di scovare Osama Bin-Laden.

L’intero impianto narrativo del film non prevede in nessun momento un allargamento di prospettiva sulla guerra, sul clima di terrore, sulla vita personale di Maya, o su qualsivoglia valutazione politica che non riguardi strettamente le attività di ricerca dell’agente CIA. La regista sembra essere unicamente interessata a ricostruire pedissequamente le complesse indagini quotidiane che hanno portato la protagonista a perseverare negli anni una pista alternativa legata alla figura di un misterioso intermediario di Bin Laden, Abu Ahmed.

La scelta di raccontare il film dal punto di vista di Maya è stata considerata dai detrattori del film come una prova del carattere propagandistico dello stesso. A tale conclusione può essere opposta una duplice confutazione: in primo luogo il punto di vista di Maya non coincide necessariamente con quello della CIA, di cui invece il film ne sottolinea le inefficienze, le influenze politiche ed il modus operandi non sempre edificante (pratiche di tortura, compromessi economici); secondariamente è doveroso sottolineare come il punto di vista della narrazione nel cinema non coincida inequivocabilmente con quello del regista/sceneggiatore.

Con questa considerazione, non voglio certo affermare che la Bigelow o Boal non abbiano un’opinione politica della vicenda, ma piuttosto che abbiano volutamente scelto di eclissarlo, conferendo un taglio oggettivo alla narrazione, che non implica assolutamente un’oggettività assoluta, evitando qualsiasi commentario extradiegetico. Sembra piuttosto, come la stessa Kathryn Bigelow rivendica, un lavoro di documentazione e registrazione dei fatti storici.

Se le pratiche di tortura sono effettivamente state utilizzate era giusto mostrarle. Il raggiungimento del fine non giustifica necessariamente il mezzo, né tanto meno offre un contraltare certo della loro necessità. La questione del dilemma etico e morale che inevitabilmente il film solleva, viene sapientemente rimandata allo spettatore, a cui spetta l’arduo compito di confrontarsi con quanto visto e quanto provato.

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Photo Credit: Shrieking Tree

 

Corner of church and state street

Monotheism’s Importance To International Relations

Christianity, Islam and Judaism, along with their own institutions, have contributed to the shape of many vital political concepts.

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Corner of church and state street

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The relationship between religion and international politics has been often characterized by mutual suspicion and conceptual misunderstandings as a result of unsuccessful and flawed analyses about their interaction. However, accounting for religion as an intervening variable in world politics can not be entirely dismissed: from a sociological and constructivist standpoint, the field of faith can provide us with relevant and helpful insights for explaining the evolution of some political concepts.

As far as the three Abrahamic religions are concerned (Christianity, Islam, and Judaism), historical and comparative analyses show us how religion might be a useful explanatory tool for grasping complex structural phenomena. In fact, far from suggesting any pretentious and inconsistent theory of “religion in world politics”, I will be focusing on monotheism as the basis for the exercise and theorization of sovereignty, social mobilization and civil society.

To begin with, according to Daniel Philpott, the so-called ‘Westphalian System’ of modern states, based in the modern conception of state sovereignty, was built on religious grounds in Europe. Before 1648, political Europe was characterized by deeply fragmented forms of sovereignty, although transcontinental institutions such as the Catholic Church and the Holy Roman Empire, ruled this broad geopolitical arena through what John Sidel has called the interwoven area between “non-territorial” and material power (powers over land, taxation, and local officials). As a result, the Christian authority represented the embryonic stage of a complex state system, which was later institutionalized through the thirty-year experience of inter-religious conflicts, ending with the Treaty of Westphalia.

Previously, the 16th century had marked the rise of the Protestant Reformation within the Christian world. Calvinism, in association with the structural consequences unleashed by the interaction between transcontinental institutions and pre-existing and scattered forms of sovereignty, played a meaningful role in determining the rise of the state. As Philip Gorski cleverly points out, the Protestant Reformation laid the foundations of a “disciplinary revolution”, which made available the necessary discipline for political control. More importantly, in addition to this cultural feature, the Calvinist church provided the modern state thanks to its own power relation with local communities and government.

If Christianity, and related institutions, have played a substantial role within the development of sovereignty and the modern state-system, Islam has to be mentioned as mobilizing factors in world politics. Islam laid down its bases during the 18th and 19th century. Indeed, European colonialism stretched its arms over Muslim lands, such as in the Indian Ocean where the Portuguese, Dutch and British powers intensified forms of imperial and colonial control. In these lands, the aforementioned imperial powers applied the same political and organizational tenet: the extension of Christian extra-territorial sovereignty founded on the basis of religion.

In the 20th century two remarkable occurrences took place: the creation of new networks of Islamic intellectuals and activists on one hand; and the instrumental use of Islam in domestic and foreign policy against the colonial encroachment on the other. The interaction between these two political and social consequences strengthened the rally ‘round effect of religion in the international realm, especially since the rise of new media and the improvement of communication among Muslims. As a matter of fact, both the rise of Al Qa’ida in the last thirty years (as a counter-hegemonic force against the Soviet Union during the Cold war, and more recently the United States), and the state sponsorship of Islamic movements by Saudi Arabia, Iran and Pakistan, confirm the political clout of Islam in international affairs.

Finally, an overlooked case deserves to be taken into account: Judaism. In his latest book, Michael Walzer stresses the constraining role of Judaism in managing political power: drawing from the philosophical work of Nietzsche, even Walzer identifies the Hebrew Bible as a text against the will of power, as turned by humans against one another. Generally speaking, the Hebrew Bible is concerned with the use, abuse and justification of power by governments. Moreover, Walzer enriches the analysis of Judaism by underlying its role in elaborating a successfully theory of society, conceived as a self-help structure: indeed, the Jews have been able to survive as a society, and without formal political institutions, over the course of history. For such a reason, this religious text continues to be compelling and relevant, and further studies should be provided in order to understand evolution and interaction between civilizations.

Far from being thorough and exhaustive, this article aims at suggesting a more serious account of the role of religion in international relations. As these few words have witnessed, Christianity, Islam and Judaism, along with their own institutions, have contributed to the shape of some important political concepts. All of them, in particular, can serve as “autonomous public spaces and as a countervailing power to state power”, by creating a “particular kind of civil society and associational life.

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Photo Credit: Ian Sane

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An Introduction To Terrorist Organisational Structures

An introduction to conventional hierarchy, cells, networks and leaderless resistance.

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[dropcap]I[/dropcap]t is generally considered that there are four forms of structure employed by terrorist groups: conventional hierarchy, cellular, network & leaderless resistance. The decision to employ one of these formats is grounded in the security/efficiency trade-off of each; conventional hierarchy providing the most efficient and least secure, leaderless resistance the opposite: highest security, least efficiency. It is worth stating in advance that certain terrorist groups prohibit us from placing them into just one category; the term ‘fuzzy boundaries’ is used to describe those organisations that transgress the stated demarcations. For example, Hezbollah utilize a conventional hierarchy in Lebanon whilst maintaining networks in the West. It is the purpose of this piece to briefly explain these structures and provide some examples of how they have been implemented by various groups (N.B. the security/efficiency numerals presented after each variant are purely indicative).

Conventional Hierarchy (Security: 1, Efficiency: 4)

Audrey Cronin has argued that all terrorist groups would, in an ideal world, utilize the conventional hierarchical structure, thus attempting to cross the border into full-blown insurgency. Such a structure equates to the mimicking of the hierarchy employed by modern-day military forces: the pyramid shape is populated at the bottom by footsoldiers (privates), managed by their officer (corporals) and so on until the top of the pyramid and the high command (generals).

Employing such a structure provides an organisation with the greatest efficiency (this format aids the specialization of units in, for example, intelligence, recruitment, finance and support), ease of information transfer, and allows it to enforce a coherent long-term strategy. With regard to ideology-based organisations, it aids ideological unity among its members – an important issue given the need to maintain such unity within these groups. The weaknesses of this structure have been ably discussed by Beam (an American white nationalist), albeit with reference to the subversion of the American State. Beam argues that such a system is extremely dangerous when utilized against a state, especially in this era of electronic surveillance: should the state infiltrate or otherwise compromise the organisation at the higher echelons of command, the whole entity is compromised. Similarly, should the high command be killed or captured, there is a very real possibility of the group disintegrating. Thus, a more subversive organisational construct is of greater use for a terrorist group that seeks to remain in existence in the face of the “War on Terror”. The early Irish Republican Army (IRA) and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) provide good examples of the use of this structure.

Cellular (Security: 2, Efficiency: 3)

The cell structure incorporates a network within a hierarchy. Each cell (generally comprising three to ten individuals) possesses one member (‘X’) – usually the leader – who maintains contact with the organisation’s high command. Often only one element of the command will have contact with X, and X will generally have no knowledge of other cells, or other members of the high command. Should X be compromised, the information that she is able to provide is distinctly limited: whilst her cell will likely be rendered inoperable, she is unable to provide details of other cells, nor is she able to provide details of the high command other than the commander that she has dealt with. Similarly, if a member of X’s cell is compromised, the only information they can provide is that of their cell and X.

Whilst the high command is removed from contact with their footsoldiers, this structure suffers from the same problem with that of the conventional hierarchy: should the high command be compromised the entire organisation could topple. Beam writes that “the efficient and effective operation of a cell system … [is] dependent upon central direction, which means impressive organization, funding from the top, and outside support”. The central command must maintain their hold on each individual cell in order to maintain strategic unity and thus remove the possibility that cells will act alone, thus potentially damaging the organisation as a whole (for example, say that a renegade AQ cell was responsible for 9/11. The United States would likely still have responded with an attack against the entire AQ infrastructure, even if the attack had not been initiated by the high command).

Network (Security: 3, Efficiency: 2)

An organisational network structure comprises numerous nodes/cells connected/interconnected in differing ways. Variations of such a network, each with different levels of security & efficiency, can include:

1) Chain
A linear trail: A – B – C – D – E. For a message to get from A to E it must pass through B, C & D.

2) Hub
One node acts as the hub for all other nodes: A is connected to B, C, D & E. B through to E have no connection with each other. Should B wish to send a message to E, it must go through A. This does not equate to A being the lead cell, simply the hub cell.

3) Star
The same as for the hub network, but each cell has contact with its two neighbouring cells in addition to A (the central node). So, aside from A, B would connect with E & C; C with B & D; D with C & E, and; E with D & B.

4) All-Channel
Each node is connected to every other: A is connected to B, C, D & E; B to A, C, D, E; C to A, B, D, E; etc.

Such structures result in the decentralisation of decision-making, permitting initiative from each cell and thus making it impossible to topple the organisation in one go. As Arquilla, Ronfeldt & Zanini explain, such an organisational structure can appear to be acephalous (headless) & polycephalous (multi-headed) at the same time. The points of the network with greater connectedness indicate their importance (so, for example, if a hub network was in position as per the example above, targeting A would provide for the greatest effect on operational capability).

Network structures, whilst benefiting from far greater security than conventional hierarchy/cell structures, suffer from low efficiency given the difficulties in getting a message out to all members of the network, with clear implications for organisational unity and strategic coherence. This, however, does not detract from the danger that such a structure poses.

Leaderless Resistance (Security: 4, Efficiency: 1)

The last structure that this piece will analyse is the most secure and the least efficient. An Environmental Liberation Front (ELF) recruitment video describes it perfectly: “Remember, the ELF and each cell within it are anonymous not only to one another but to the general public”. In the truest form of leaderless resistance there is no contact between cells and/or the central command. However, given the spread of the internet and the ease of international communication, such a finite requisite has been watered down (see Pantucci’s lone wolf classifications).

Such a structure (or, more appropriately, a lack of) poses the greatest difficulties to counter-terrorist agencies given the minimal connection between the organisation (or the propagandist of the ideology), and the actor committing the terrorist act (the subscriber to the ideology). As with networks, this form of structure is incalculably aided by developments in information technology (the transformation of terrorism from ‘old’ to ‘new’, see Neumann).

Such a structure is highly secure; it is almost impossible to know which viewers of a website have been radicalised and whether they would ever come to commit an act. But the lack of control over such actors can be incredibly damaging. Should an act be committed by a member of an ideological network in the name of a specified group, resultantly negatively affecting said group’s public support, the group cannot disassociate itself from the act, regardless of its lack of participation in, or support for, the act. Further, given that the organisation propagating the ideology has no control over its ideological movement, such a movement may well disintegrate owing to a lack of developments: these sleeper cells may never wake from their slumber.

An example of leaderless resistance actor would be Roshonara Choudhry.

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Arquilla, J. & Ronfeldt, D. (2001), Networks and Netwars

Beam, L. (1983), Leaderless Resistance

Cronin, A. (2006), How al-Qaida Ends

Hoffman, B. (2006), Inside Terrorism

Neumann, P. (2009), Old and New Terrorism

Pantucci, R. (2011), A Typology of Lone Wolves: Preliminary Analysis of Lone Islamist Terrorists

Sageman, M. (2004), Understanding Terror Networks
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