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Meritocracy in Terrorist Organizations

Meritocracy in Terrorist Organizations

By Mrigank Ranjan

Terrorism is a word that has gained a new significance in the twenty first century. If the last decade was about shock mainly from appalling incidents such as the attack on the World Trade Center, there was also hope that the Global War on Terror would stamp out this menace once and for all. If the previous decade was about shock and hope, this decade so far has been about dejected resignation. The 2008 collapse, in my belief, was the final straw that broke our collective backs. Maybe I’m a little too early with my predictions; after all, the decade is only 45% of the way through. However, incidents such as the crisis in Ukraine, the rising militancy in Africa with groups like al Shabaab and Boko Haram, the subcontinents’ own tryst with groups like the Indian Mujahideen and Lashkar-e-Toiba , the rampaging cartels in Mexico, where the arrest of Chapo Guzman doesn’t seem to have had a huge effect on the crime rates would be certain to bear me out on my forecast. A word of warning to the reader; I have been accused of being Malthusian to the point of exasperation. It is not just because of my personal temperament, as most people may think, but rather more because I give up to easily when people ask me to suggest how I would go about solving whatever problems that I mention. As the Aam Aadmi Party probably found out to its consternation when they ruled in Delhi, critiquing others’ policy decisions is much easier than formulating broad-based legislations to keep the denizens of a state satisfied. But I am veering off the point. What is terrorism? Of course, one of the many debates that course through the politically charged environment of the UN is in fact what constitutes terrorism. If you ask me, it is the act of spreading terror, like the Sinaloa Cartel in Mexico or the pro Russian separatist in Kiev, but to someone else these may simply be acts of gang violence in the former and people’s unrest (real or counterfeit) for the latter. We are all entitled to our own opinions, especially in a case where a universal one doesn’t exist. To the average (or am I being too presumptuous?) citizen of the world, the face of terror is quite possibly that of a scraggly greybeard Imam spewing venom against the West and their kafir allies in the Middle East. While this stereotype does work for a significant majority of the high commands of various elite Islamic terrorist organizations scattered around the Af-Pak and Gulf countries, a startling fact crops up when you look at the rest of the world in regard to Islamic terrorism. In Somalia and in most of Africa, for example, there is very little difference between a pirate, a terrorist and, say, a mercenary. Samuel Bockarie (of the now disbanded Revolutionary United Front) may have been involved in child trafficking but if he invoked the name of God, like Abu Bakr Shekau (the Boko Haram supremo) did, he’d be called a terrorist. In the Nordic countries like Sweden and Finland, unemployed Muslim youth are taking to the internet, shunning the ‘regular’ tenets followed by their parents or grandparents in the mosques and allegedly consorting (if I may be cynical enough to say so) with clerics from Egypt and other parts of North Africa and the Gulf or going on the internet to discover what they believe is the untainted, more fundamental aspects of Islam. The Dutch Hofstad group, writes Washington Newsweek’s Marc Sageman, was a loosely connected group of about 100 young Dutch Muslims, most of whom were in their late teens and born in the whose meetings were mostly at demonstrations for international Muslim causes and Internet chatrooms. The group’s leader and some others were sentenced to varying degrees of imprisonment for the murder of Theo van Gogh, a filmmaker. However the relative mutability of this loose confederation of youths (the title ‘group’ doesn’t really do them justice) resulted in the Dutch appeals court repealing the convictions of seven accused because “no structured cooperation [had] been established.” If the reader has faithfully stuck with the author so far into this rambling piece, there must be one major question in his or her mind. How does any of this, as interesting as it might be, have anything to do with meritocracy in terrorism? The answer to that is very simple. A background on terrorism must be established before the extrapolation of facts and the subsequent conclusions derived from them. Defining or describing terrorism is in itself a self defeating prophecy because there is no explicit definition of what terrorism is in exactitude; there is broad based consensus on an apple being an apple but a person might see a mob of right wing extremists ‘just’ as a mob or as saffron terrorists. Philosophy aside, the concise backdrop provides us with the dénouement of the piece, the spread of extremism across the world helping us better understand the extremism being practiced in India and its neighbours. Christopher Boucek writing for the Carnegie Endowment think tank argues that most terrorists are from low income background, using the research of a Saudi Arabia advisory committee report that on 639 participants “detainees were typically young (usually in their twenties), and came from large, lower- or middle-class families (with seven to fifteen siblings), and their parents typically had limited educations.” According to the same report only three percent of the detainees came from high-income backgrounds. And yet, Abdul Qursehi, was reportedly an exceptional worker in addition to holding a diploma in Industrial Mechanics and also underwent specialized training in software maintenance. Safdar Nagori, the man behind the now-defunct SIMI (Students Islamic Movement of India) is a post graduate and emerged as a topper in a course that even former IPS man DG Vanzara found tough to crack. Ridiculously enough, three among the top five were the 2008 Ahmedabad Serial blast accused (as per Zeenews). Sajid Mansuri, another one of the ringleaders of IM has a degree in psychology and had (according to a Times of India report) enrolled his son in an elite English-medium school in Vadodra . Admittedly the mainstays of the IM were mostly leaders of the SIMI movement; SIMI was, as the name suggests, a student movement which according to the South Asia Terrorism Portal was widely believed to be against Hinduism, western beliefs and ideals, as well as other ‘anti-Islamic cultures’. It is ironic that the founder of SIMI, Mohammad Ahmadullah Siddiqi, is a professor and director of Journalism Program at Western Illinois University (It is important to note, however that Mr. Siddiqi has never been accused of any nefarious activity and has publically washed his hands off the SIMI affair). And yet, it cannot be a coincidence that Hafiz Saeed (founder of LeT) has two Masters in Arabic and Islamic Studies and was a ‘Varsity lecturer. Osama bin Laden was at least a graduate, with some reports claiming that he did engineering in addition to that. His successor Aymaan al Zawahiri was a prodigious student and an excellent surgeon. The list goes on. With a decent sample size, it is hard to deny the statistical empirical evidence of the Carnegie Endowment think tank and this raises some intriguing questions. It seems that in the larger scheme of things it is the three percent that matters. Why though? Why has there been a shift towards a more enlightened (!) high command over the past couple of decades? The answer, I believe, in the change seen in the way terrorists themselves view terrorism. Today, there is a shared vision among MNC’s and terrorist organizations (how macabre that sounds!) in the fact that they both have two major objectives in mind – money and media coverage. The number of people who knew of Bin Laden and Al Qaeda shot up post 9/11 and, it being the advent of a new beginning of globalization characterized by the increase in social networking, file sharing and the like would enable such organizations to reach out to initiates in far flung areas who would otherwise have been impossible to communicate with even a few years previously. Suddenly, the organization that until previously shunned technology of all sorts as being a facet of Western excess was online and with a vengeance. Keeping up with the Darwinian tradition, it could be said that the leaderships of these elite organizations in Afghanistan (and India) realized the need for a new class of erudite men with vision and charisma who could lead the 97 percent and hence made the necessary changes to their hierarchical structure. These violent acts of destruction to life and property behave in a way counter intuitive to what many people might believe they do and it takes some very smart people to have figured that out and to have the necessary intellect to figure out the logistics of such acts, not to mention the fact that in today’s era of stringent policing it is a devious mind that can stay ahead of the authorities. You may have blanched a little at the beginning of my previous sentence. Violent acts aid terrorists? How? Taking the recent Karachi Airport incident as an example, we can weave a simple model where we see that in addition to the media coverage, the city would be seen as inherently unsafe, thus decreasing the number of visitors to the city (both business and pleasure) which in turn would lead to lowering consumption and investment in the GDP as well as increasing unemployment. As mentioned previously such an increase in unemployment combined with illiteracy is the perfect festering ground for the seeds of extremism. Of course, this by no way is an assertion that education by itself makes a genius out of an egghead but it is certainly very true that living in an pedagogic environment gives you a different outlook, which the uneducated however astute they may be, lack. And yet, and yet, and yet, these things move in circles. The writer of the film Submission, directed by Theo van Gogh, bête noire of the Hofstad group, which allegedly had links to al Qaeda and access to dozens of websites which preached their own brand of revolutionary Islam or contained cookbooks (not the ones that teach you how to make pastries) is none other than Ayaan Hirsi Ali. A Somali born American, she is an outspoken critic of Islam and has given interviews to eminent publications like The Economist, the London Evening Standard and The Guardian to name a few where she called the religion anti-feminist and intolerant among other things. In the past she has stated that secularism doesn’t exist in Islam and all rational Muslims should abandon their religion and practice Christianity. While I do not profess to pass judgment on her proclamations (after all, we all have the right to freedom of speech and expression), is it really the way the EU’s European of the Year (2006) should air her opinions? Isn’t it rather ironic that Ms. Ali calls Islam intolerant and yet refuses to acknowledge there are secular Muslims? Isn’t it a bit extreme that ‘Eurabia’ is a concept looked upon with dread by many non-Muslims in Europe? With the aftershocks of the 2008 crisis still being felt all across the world doesn’t it make sense that the unemployed graduate fresh out of college pushes back when people push him too hard on where his religious sympathies lie?

Mrigank is a junior pursuing a degree in Economics from the University of Iowa in the United States. A man of simple tastes, he keeps himself occupied by reading voraciously and obsessively watching soccer. A compulsive news junkie, his need for watching (or reading) the news for at least twelve hours out of the standard twenty four is outweighed only by his need to sleep and breathe.

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