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Finding Zhao Ziyang through the Golden Shield


Part 1 was designed to show why Chinese authorities have taken swift steps to reduce public news of Zhao's death, to minimize public reaction to the death of a man "remembered by many Chinese, officials and public alike, as a scapegoat," and to avoid anti-government protests by those disillusioned by rapid economic and social changes and remembering a warmly remembered leader "seen to have been wronged by those currently in power."

In the past, displays of grief for reformist leaders have served as an outlet for protests about the current leadership. In fact the huge protests in 1989 that led to Zhao Ziyang's downfall spiralled out of mourning for another leader, Hu Yaobang… Zhao Ziyang's long absence from public life had not neutered his symbolism. "In China people can sometimes not be mentioned for years and years, and in turns out they're in everybody's minds."

Short of a brief release Zhao's death by the official Xinhua news agency, there has been a news blackout on state-run TV and newspapers while sources outside China have been blocked. The Chinese domestic response to the blackout has been internet bulletin boards, chat rooms, and blogs. Even the direct notice of Zhao's death by his daughter, Wand Yannan, came out by text message, "My father is finally free."

Bulletin boards have been the main outlet for citizens wanting to voice their opinions, and most of the postings have been written in sorrow. "Time will vindicate him," said one. "We will miss you forever," said another. "Why can't we mourn a person's passing?" asked a third. All were deleted speedily by chatroom monitors.

Those chatroom monitors are part of the Golden Shield, Jin Dun, a system that generates widely dissenting opinions. Commenced in 1998 and to be completed in 2006, the Ministry of Public Security (MPS) states that its "is to construct a communication network and computer information system for police to improve their capability and efficiency":

Comrade Jiang Zemin [the former leader of China] emphasised that ‘security of information and network ensures the security of China’. … Golden Shield intends to build an electronic police system in the Public Security sector which includes constructing a powerful team of cyber police.

[up] to 2002, the preliminary work of the Golden Shield Project cost US$800 million. On 6 December 2002, 300 people in charge of the Golden Shield project from 31 provinces and cities throughout China participated in a four-day inaugural "Comprehensive Exhibition on Chinese Information System". At the exhibition, many western high-tech products focusing on the solution strategies of the Golden Shield, including Internet security, video monitoring and human face recognition, were purchased. With regard to human resources, it is estimated that around 30,000 police are employed in this gigantic monitoring and censorship apparatus.

What the CCP sees as a strategic tool is seen by others as the "Great Firewall of China," seeking to become an "ubiquitous architecture of surveillance. For now, it uses a variety of methods starting with Chinese backbone routers that blocked a list of objectionable web addresses combined with filtering technology searching for objectionable words and a tracking system to identify offenders. Failed searches with sensitive terms do not even send back error messages. Internet-service firms add "their own censoring, removing provocative comments and blocking messages deemed sensitive." Moving on, newer Chinese instant-messaging services are allegedly requiring users "to download software to their PCs that contains a filtering mechanism." Chinese hackers who unlocked a program dll of QQ "found a list of banned key words, one analysis of [which] estimated that 15% of the forbidden terms are sexual while the rest are political, including the names of Chinese leaders and words including "human rights" and "dictatorship."

Having been barred from China, Google responded with a version that disabled its cache function, blocked objectionables, becoming "a form of geolocation filtering since users who access Chinese Language Google News from anywhere but China are not subjected to the filtering and receive full search results."

Yet some researchers say that "China's firewall is porous, and intentionally so. The idea isn't to seal China off [but to make] the system is designed to make it prohibitively difficult to access or disseminate objectionable content." An open market theory says that the "best ideas will succeed in the market, so in China, even if all of the sites are not accessible, the best sites that are accessible will be found."

Volunteer groups such as GardenNetworks (from "let a hundred flowers blossom") release anti-blocking software (proxy tools with encryption) to allow Chinese Internet users to gain access to blocked sites:

In March 2003, while the government concealed facts regarding the SARS outbreak in China, the number of anti-blocking software users increased more than tenfold, and currently, estimated 250,000 Chinese users use anti-blocking software, including Garden, to access the Internet.

The 'blog' revolution sweeps across China
Posted by Xiao Qiang at 09:33 PM
China Digital News
November 25, 2004

Breaking Through the "Golden Shield"
Jack He
Garden Networks

Gordon Housworth

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"If you want food, find Ziyang"; If you want Ziyang, pierce the Golden Shield


Zhao Ziyang is a remarkable man in life and in death; in the manner that official Chinese media studiously avoids public mention even as the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) debates how to acknowledge his funeral, and thus his history, without being seen as mean or unappreciative; in how Chinese young and old, rural and urban may remember his accomplishments as well as his calls for reform that were so studiously ignored; and how some Chinese are outwitting the Golden Shield in order to acknowledge his death:

Whatever may be said in public, Zhao Ziyang cut a very sympathetic figure to many within the CCP, even at fairly senior levels. Probably the more so with the passage of time since 1989

While primarily a technology note, nothing or no one hot wired to both Tiananmen and the lurch from socialism into proto-capitalism can be pigeonholed as technology.

An administrator given to revisionist thinking or pragmatic solutions depending upon your political viewpoint, Zhao was tapped by Deng Xiaoping to revitalize the economy. Zhao created much of the 1980s economic package credited to Deng Xiaoping:

  • Coastal development with special economic zones, drawing investment and creating exports
  • Agriculture reform that disbanded communes, returning private plots to farmers while assigning production contracts to individual households.
  • Industrial reform that included expanded self-management for peasant farmers and some industries
  • Price reform allowing farmers and factories to set prices for their products

Zhao threaded the policy needle with a 1987 speech that declared China to be in a stable, "primary stage of socialism" that could afford to experiment with approaches to stimulate economic production. In a stroke, market economics appeared within the evolution of socialism.

Zhao's pragmatism led to his stepping on the third rail of political reform, thinking the "goal of Chinese political reform was to build up democracy and rule of law." Having acquired a legion of old school enemies, Zhao was said to have doomed himself by making public (to Mikhail Gorbachev, already a tainted reformer in communist eyes) that all major Central Committee decisions had to be approved by the nominally retired Deng, which implicitly showed Deng to be the stonewall of reform. Stripped of his posts, Zhao went immediately to Tiananmen, apologizing, asking them to leave, and warning that force was on the way.

Confined to house arrest, Zhao remained "steadfast that his views are correct, and their views were wrong," and he remained a remembered, if unheard, symbol that demonstrations were not a "counter-revolutionary rebellion" and that Tiananmen must be reassessed. Even in death, Zhao is a lightning rod of accountability.

Whereas Zhao and his generation made enormous contributions to individual wellbeing and thus much gratitude, e.g., "If you want food, find Ziyang," he is said to be less well known to younger generations either focused on wealth generation on the coast, or cut off in rural isolation.

Finding Ziyang requires piercing the Golden Shield.

Part 2 of Zhao and the Golden Shield

Beijingers mourn Zhao - warily
By Louisa Lim
BBC News, Beijing
2005/01/17 14:47:28 GMT

Zhao still powerful in death
By Tim Luard
2005/01/17 12:51:33 GMT

Chinese Leader Purged for Supporting Tiananmen Protesters Dies at 85
New York Times
January 17, 2005

Gordon Housworth

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Narrowing the breach and improving the quality of CT/CI translations


The Office of the Inspector General's (OIG) investigation has substantiated the central allegations raised by Sibel Edmonds. While Edmonds did not qualify for "Whistle blower" status under the FBI Whistleblower regulations because she was a contractor instead of an employee, OIG "used the principles underlying these regulations" to examine the claim of retaliation. (The OIG’s broader audit of the FBI's foreign language translation program and the impact on achieving US security goals was previously reviewed in order to put Edmonds’ complaints and FBI response into context.) Citing the impacts of former FBI Agent Robert Hanssen, OIG noted that while allegations of espionage by FBI employees against their own were exceedingly rare, any such allegation "was extremely serious - even if the evidence was not clear [and justified] a thorough inquiry by the FBI":

We found that many of Edmonds' core allegations relating to the coworker were supported by either documentary evidence or witnesses other than Edmonds. Moreover, we concluded that, had the FBI performed a more careful investigation of Edmonds' allegations, it would have discovered evidence of significant omissions and inaccuracies by the co-worker related to these allegations. These omissions and inaccuracies, in turn, should have led to further investigation by the FBI. In part, we attributed the FBI's failure to investigate further to its unwarranted reliance on the assumption that proper procedures had been followed by the FBI during the co-worker's hiring and background investigation, which did not include a risk assessment, contrary to FBI practice. We also found that Edmonds was justified in raising a number of these concerns to her supervisors. For example, with respect to an allegation that focused on the co-worker's performance, which Edmonds believed to be an indication of a security problem, the evidence clearly corroborated Edmonds' allegations.

Edmonds' assertions regarding the co-worker, when viewed as a whole, raised substantial questions and were supported by various pieces of evidence. While there are potentially innocuous explanations for the coworker's conduct, other explanations were not innocuous. Although the exact nature and extent of the co-worker's security issues are disputed, it is clear from the OIG's investigation that the facts giving rise to Edmonds' concerns could have been uncovered had the FBI investigated Edmonds' allegations further. We believe that the FBI should have investigated the allegations more thoroughly. We also believe the FBI's handling of these allegations reflected an unwarranted reluctance to vigorously investigate these serious allegations or to conduct a thorough examination of Edmonds' allegations. [The] FBI did not, and still has not, conducted such an investigation.

[Rather] than investigate Edmonds' allegations vigorously and thoroughly, the FBI concluded that she was a disruption and terminated her contract. [OIG] concluded that the FBI could not show, by clear and convincing evidence, that it would have terminated Edmonds' services absent her disclosures.

We concluded that the actions taken by the FBI after Edmonds raised concerns in writing on January 22,2002, and orally on January 25,2002, were insufficient and did not address fully the concerns raised. Moreover, we found that the approach taken by the FBI in response to Edmonds' allegations compromised, in certain respects, its opportunities to investigate further.

Other shoes have yet to drop as OIG addressed the bureau’s response to Edmonds’ complaints, noting that "the ultimate determination as to whether the co-worker engaged in espionage [was] beyond the scope of the OIG's investigation [and] that the potential espionage issue should be addressed by the FBI." From the unclass report, it is hard not to see Edmond’s supervisor as incompetent or derelict, at least the Special Agent acting as Security Officer equally so, the bureau's self-sealing resistance to legitimate criticism as unhealthy to the point of danger, and linguist process from vetting to operation seriously under pressure, if not flawed.

OIG offered many recommendations to the bureau and it will be most interesting to see how the FBI proceeds with implementation. While some reputations will deservedly suffer - this process will benefit the bureau's mission, but I hasten to add that some external, public visibility will assist the process.

While the FBI's response to the draft OIG report brought it only disgrace, a 14 Jan press release may point to improvement as it carries Director Mueller's implied recognition of the OIG's principal arguments and that the bureau's "investigation is continuing." Above the FBI, DOJ needs to reverse its invoking of the rarely used state secrets privilege, to shield what may be FBI failures instead of legitimately withholding of records under exemptions for "national security issues," and allow Edmonds' civil case to proceed.

National security will be the beneficiary.

A Review of the FBI's Actions in Connection With Allegations Raised By Contract Linguist Sibel Edmonds
Office of the Inspector General
Office of Oversight and Review
Unclassified Summary, January 2005
Shorter html extraction

Gordon Housworth

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The ever widening gap in counterterrorism/counterintelligence translation


Before turning to the results of the Office of the Inspector General's (OIG) investigation of Sibel Edmonds' allegations of mischief in the FBI's translation unit, it's valuable to put the bureau's capacity in context:

The FBI has some 1,200 linguists, 400 language specialists (employees) and 800 contract linguists, stationed across the US. Contractors are not obligated to work and those assigned to counterterrorism/counterintelligence (CT/CI) work an average of 29 hours per week, thus weakening what is already a vastly understaffed function. While the FBI "hired 626 linguists - 548 contract linguists and 78 language specialists," attrition resulted in a net increase of 331 linguists as of April 1, 2004. To say that the number of linguists "has grown from 883 in 2001 to 1,214 as of April 2004" is, to this analyst, a collective failure of emphasis, funding, and clearance - and not just by the FBI.

To the degree that the bureau must "prioritize, translate, and understand in a timely fashion the information to which it has access" in order to fulfill its national security mission, it simply cannot do so. This and previous reviews of the bureau's translation capacity have "revealed severe shortages of linguists that resulted in the accumulation of thousands of hours of audio and videotapes and thousands of pages of text going unreviewed or untranslated." Furthermore, the required cultural/contextual sensitivity and language skills mean that this is largely a native speaker's game:

Linguists are the first line of analysis for information collected in a language other than English. Linguists must use their judgment in filtering the information to ensure that information of potential intelligence value is passed along to agents or analysts. Linguists must sort through the thousands of hours and pages of intercepted telephone conversations and documents to identify pertinent foreign intelligence information. Information of intelligence value is often subtle, because the parties to the conversation may suspect they are being monitored. For example, linguists must be able to recognize coded words or the implications of a conversation when the parties refer to issues cryptically. This requires high standards of language proficiency and cultural knowledge.

The FBI cannot translate all the foreign language CT and CI material it collects, reporting that "nearly 24 percent of ongoing FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) counterintelligence and counterterrorism intercepts are not being monitored":

  • Collection in Arabic, Farsi, Urdu, and Pashto, the languages primarily related to counterterrorism activities, increased 45 percent from 2001 to 2003 and are "expected to trend upward by at least 15 percent annually. Translation in languages primarily related to counterintelligence activities, [redacted] will "trend upward by at least 10 percent annually."
  • In 2003, two redacted programs, one CT and CI, had over 700,000 hours of audio and over 2 million pages of text.
  • FBI's resource planning standard for a full-time linguist is an annual "review capacity of 1,000 hours of audio or 50,000 pages of text."
  • "Nearly all" FBI intel derived from FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) "is in a language other than English and must be translated."
  • Since 11 September, 2001, FBI has received material in 72 languages, 56 of which the FBI had the "capability to address with language specialists, contract linguists, or FBI employees in a non-linguist occupation." I feel that 'capacity' does not mean 'timely accomplishment.'

It is astonishing that the bureau's digital collection systems continue to be plagued by limited storage capacity such that audio sessions are sometimes (perhaps often) "deleted through an automatic file deletion procedure to make room for incoming audio sessions [furthermore] sessions which are unreviewed are sometimes included in those that are deleted, especially in offices with a high volume of audio to review [including al Qaeda sessions]":

  • No controls are in place to prevent auto-deletion of critical audio
  • "absent a case agent indicating that there should have been more audio sessions intercepted during a certain time frame," staff would not know to request retrieval
  • Deleted audio sessions cannot be identified as having been reviewed or not and require a manual archive review by linguists
  • Insufficient operational guidance to prioritize translations
  • Quality control of translations is spotty to poor
  • "White-noise" and unintelligible audio cannot be reliably filtered out

Next, the OIG's opinion and FBI response.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation's Foreign Language Program -- Translation of Counterterrorism and Counterintelligence Foreign Language Material
Report No. 04-25, July 2004
Office of the Inspector General
[Unclass] Executive Summary

Gordon Housworth

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"Why are they doing this to us?"


Bolt this thought into your thinking of Iraq: US viewers have, in a month, been treated to more sustained disaster coverage of the Asian tsunami and its impact on human suffering, and have registered more empathy and action as witnessed by instantly offered donations and aid, than they have seen and acted upon in a year of Iraqi coverage. Think how differently that situation would be had we reacted to Iraq in the same manner of the tsunami.

What we have instead are widows screaming, "Why are they doing this to us?" Riverbend is a good reporter/blogger largely devoid of polemics so it all the more telling that a moderate, as yet unradicalized Iraqi can accept the possibility of US use of CW:

The situation in Falloojeh is worse than anyone can possibly describe. It has turned into one of those cities you see in your darkest nightmares- broken streets strewn with corpses, crumbling houses and fallen mosques... The worst part is that for the last couple of weeks we've been hearing about the use of chemical weapons inside Falloojeh by the Americans. Today we heard that the delegation from the Iraqi Ministry of Health isn't being allowed into the city, for some reason.

I don't know about the chemical weapons. It's not that I think the American military is above the use of chemical weapons, it's just that I keep wondering if they'd be crazy enough to do it. I keep having flashbacks of that video they showed on tv, the mosque and all the corpses. There was one brief video that showed the same mosque a day before, strewn with many of the same bodies- but some of them were alive. In that video, there's this old man leaning against the wall and there was blood running out of his eyes- almost like he was crying tears of blood. What 'conventional' weaponry makes the eyes bleed? They say that a morgue in Baghdad has received the corpses of citizens in Falloojeh who have died under seemingly mysterious conditions.

The situation in Baghdad isn't a lot better. Electricity has been particularly bad. Our telephone has been cut off for the last week which has made communication (and blogging) particularly difficult. The phone difficulties are quite common all over Baghdad. It usually happens in an area after a fresh bombing… We spent the last week fixing up the house. [explosions] took out three of the windows on one side of the house [spent] spent two days gathering shattered glass and sticking sheets of plastic over the gaping squares that were once windows.

Driven by the convergence of NIC's Jihadist Islam implications with my own, I'd reimmersed myself in Iraqi blogs to orient myself around the sense of loss and powerlessness that ordinary Iraqis feel (not that they are all princes, mind you, but their middle is not a monster either) and a worldview singularly at odds with many US nationals who will reproach them for their 'ungratefulness.' Remembering that Arabs place an entirely different lens against US actions as opposed to their own despots (unless they are supported by the US), too many Iraqis feel that the US invasion and occupation 'liberated' them from - or the expectations of - human rights, functioning infrastructure, and entire cities in which to live.

The destruction on the ground is phenomenal, the collapse of the infrastructure nearly complete, and about 50% of Iraqis out of work. Black humor abounds. An Abu Ghraib detainee said, "The Americans brought electricity to my ass before they brought it to my house." Stories of "dogs eating bodies in the streets of [Fallujah] and of destroyed mosques have spread across Iraq like wildfire," thereby deepening Iraqi antipathy to the US and lifting support to the insurgents. Whatever US prison sentences and accountability meted out for Abu Ghraib have been sneered at by Iraqis. It does not matter what we think but what they think and thus how they will support what Watts Wacker calls What Comes After What Comes Next.

The failed infrastructure is seen in riverbend's "typical Iraqi Christmas wishlist":

  1. 20 liters of gasoline
  2. A cylinder of gas for cooking
  3. Kerosene for the heaters
  4. Those expensive blast-proof windows
  5. Landmine detectors
  6. Running water
  7. Thuraya satellite phones
  8. Portable diesel generators
  9. Coleman rechargeable flashlight with extra batteries
  10. Scented candles

Oh don't get me wrong- the governmental people have gasoline (they have special gas stations where there aren't all these annoying people, rubbing their hands with cold and cursing the Americans to the skies)... The Americans have gasoline. The militias get gasoline. It's the people who don't have it. We can sometimes get black-market gasoline but the liter costs around 1250 Iraqi Dinars which is almost $1- compare this to the old price of around 5 cents.

Patience is gone:

There was a time when pro-occupation Iraqis were able to say, "Let's give them a chance..." That time is over. Whenever someone says that lately, at best, they get a lot of nasty looks... often it's worse. A fight breaks out and a lot of yelling ensues... how can one condone occupation? How can one condone genocide? What about the mass graves of Falloojeh? Leaving Islam aside, how does one agree to allow the murder of fellow-Iraqis by the strongest military in the world?

To Allawi's "State of Emergency":

A state of emergency *now* - because previous to this week, we Iraqis were living in an American made Utopia

To Rumsfled's "Rule of Iraq assassins must end":

I couldn't agree more: Get out Americans.

Gordon Housworth

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This resistance is acceptable to us


As we were eating, [an older professor and friend] Abdulla expressed a sentiment now widely heard. "The mujahideen are fighting for their country against the Americans. This resistance is acceptable to us"... among Iraqis the growing resistance was predicted long ago… While footage of cars with broken glass and bullet holes in their frames flashed across a television screen, my translator Hamid, an older man who had already grown weary of the violence, said softly, "It has begun. These are only the start, and they will not stop. Even after June 30."

Indeed it has, and indeed, it will rise, predicted by none other that the National Intelligence Council's 2020 Project, Mapping the Global Future. At least read the Executive Summary, starting with its Relative Certainties and Key Uncertainties, one of which is an "Arc of instability spanning Middle East, Asia, Africa":

The key factors that spawned international terrorism show no signs of abating over the next 15 years… We expect that by 2020 al-Qa’ida will be superceded by similarly inspired Islamic extremist groups, and there is a substantial risk that broad Islamic movements akin to al-Qa’ida will merge with local separatist movements. Information technology, allowing for instant connectivity, communication, and learning, will enable the terrorist threat to become increasingly decentralized, evolving into an eclectic array of groups, cells, and individuals that do not need a stationary headquarters to plan and carry out operations. Training materials, targeting guidance, weapons know-how, and fund-raising will become virtual (i.e., online). Terrorist attacks will continue to primarily employ conventional weapons, incorporating new twists and constantly adapting to counterterrorist efforts. Terrorists probably will be most original not in the technologies or weapons they use but rather in their operational concepts—i.e., the scope, design, or support arrangements for attacks.

Keep in mind, Mamdani's jihadist Islam, an ideology now dominating Islamist politics, as you read on in 2020:

There are indications that the Islamic radicals’ professed desire to create a transnational insurgency, that is, a drive by Muslim extremists to overthrow a number of allegedly apostate secular governments with predominately Muslim subjects, will have an appeal to many Muslims… groups inspired by al-Qa’ida, regionally based groups, and individuals labeled simply as jihadistsunited by a common hatred of moderate regimes and the Westare likely to conduct terrorist attacks. The al-Qa’ida membership that was distinguished by having trained in Afghanistan will gradually dissipate, to be replaced in part by the dispersion of the experienced survivors of the conflict in Iraq.

the majority of international terrorist groups will continue to identify with radical Islam. The revival of Muslim identity will create a framework for the spread of radical Islamic ideology both inside and outside the Middle East, including Western Europe, Southeast Asia and Central Asia.

  • This revival has been accompanied by a deepening solidarity among Muslims caught up in national or regional separatist struggles, such as Palestine, Chechnya, Iraq, Kashmir, Mindanao, or southern Thailand and has emerged in response to government repression, corruption, and ineffectiveness.
  • A radical takeover in a Muslim country in the Middle East could spur the spread of terrorism in the region and give confidence to others that a new Caliphate is not just a dream.
  • Informal networks of charitable foundations, madrasas, hawalas, and other mechanisms will continue to proliferate and be exploited by radical elements.
  • Alienation among unemployed youths will swell the ranks of those vulnerable to terrorist recruitment.

Re Mamdani's "Every Middle Eastern movement that opposes the American empire--secular or religious, state or nonstate--is being drawn to Iraq, as if to a magnet, to test out its convictions":

  • Iraq and other possible conflicts in the future could provide recruitment, training grounds, technical skills and language proficiency for a new class of terrorists who are "professionalized" and for whom political violence becomes an end in itself.
  • Foreign jihadistsindividuals ready to fight anywhere they believe Muslim lands are under attack by what they see as "infidel invaders" enjoy a growing sense of support from Muslims who are not necessarily supporters of terrorism.

In titanic understatement, NIC Chairman Robert Hutchings said that 2020 "tried to avoid analyzing the effect of U.S. policy on global trends to avoid being drawn into partisan politics," but I cannot see how it can be kept out of political calculus given the implications of policy roads taken and those not. As a geopolitical analyst, it is grim satisfaction to see the report echo the concerns raised in this weblog. Iraq as we know it, or thought we knew it, is lost; now it is the Islamist Jihad test-tube, and most likely my neo-Taliban exclusion zone that permits insurgents and jihadists to operate unhindered.

Part 2 of Resistance is acceptable

Mapping the Global Future
Report of the National Intelligence Council's 2020 Project
National Intelligence Council
NIC 2004-13, December 2004
Executive Summary

The devastation of Iraq
By Dahr Jamail
Asia Times
Jan 11, 2005

Gordon Housworth

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Parsing political from traditional Islam


Those seeking superficial "culture talk" to pigeonhole Islam as a theology and a political force should skip this note as I conclude this trio with a tour of Mahmood Mamdani's dissection of the idea that "religion drives both Islamic culture and politics and that the motivation for Islamist violence is religious fundamentalism." Were it only so easy. No more monolithic a block than 'Christianity,' Islam is a sea of interpretations, large and small. Olivier Roy notes that Muslims "disagree, while all stressing that the Koran is unambiguous and clear-cut."

Remember that the magic of bin Laden is his marriage of two heretofore distinct arms of Islamic thinking, the ultra-strict, quietist Wahhabi (Salafist) school and the more autonomous and activist strand of political Islam of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood (which was itself injected with the thinking of Sayad Maududi's Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) from Pakistan where it still holds sway today).

Conceptualizing Islam interlinked with socio-economic and political systems, Islam became a "movement which struggles (jihad) to enforce "the way of life," and in the hands of the Brotherhood fleeing to Saudi Arabia to avoid persecution, it "took control of Saudi intellectual life, [shaping] the country's religious and political awakening after the Iranian revolution of 1979. A new generation of radicals carried this new activist Wahhabism into the Middle East and Asia. (This is not the only time that Wahhabism has been "elevated to the status of a liberation theology," as Kepel notes, Ronald Reagan used Saudi money and religion to "free the region of communism." Isn't blowback wonderful?)

Soon came al-Zawahiri's brilliance in the tactical shift from the "nearby enemy" to the "faraway enemy," the strategic adoption of Palestine as a rallying point (which bin Laden had only paid token service), the advancement of political terrorism as a legitimate and cost-effective means of attack, the need for a new infrastructure to manage, operate, and recruit in pursuit of jihad, and the creation of a stateless and thus largely untargetable entity. (I still find al-Zawahiri the more essential thinker than bin Laden.)

I was more than intrigued by Mamdani's parallels between neoconservatives and jihadists:

In addition to the mix of interest and ideology, the two groups share global ambitions and a deep faith in the efficacy of politically motivated violence, and both count among their ranks cadres whose biographies are often tainted by early stints in the Trotskyist or the Maoist left. Both jihadists and neoconservatives are products of the Cold War, when ideologically driven violence was embraced by all sides, secular and religious.

Jihadist politics are "heir not only to the traditions of the quietist Salafism and the Muslim Brotherhood, but perhaps even more so to recent secular traditions, such as Third World anti-imperialism and the Reaganite determination to win "by any means necessary." It is most certainly not a simple cultural extension of Islam.

Mamdani sees Europe's Muslims as "active subjects struggling to establish a new citizenship in adverse circumstances--some of which, such as racism and unemployment, were familiar to earlier immigrants; others, such as the stigma of a terrorist culture, are new." In a discussion too long to report here, he summarizes ideas which would indicate that traditional Islam could coexist. The problem is that political Islam whose ideologues are former leftists not clerics or ulema (teachers) likely cannot.

Mamdani believes that the Afghan jihad's influence cannot be overstated in understanding "why jihadist Islam, an ideology of marginal political significance in the late 1970s, has come to dominate Islamist politics":

the birth of jihadist Islam, which embraces violence as central to political action, cannot be fully explained without reference to the Afghan jihad and the Western influences that shaped it. In the 1980s, the Reagan administration declared the Soviet Union an "evil empire" and set aside the then-common secular model of national liberation in favor of an international Islamic jihad... Afghan rebels used charities to recruit tens of thousands of volunteers and created the militarized madrassas (Islamic schools) that turned these volunteers into cadres. Without the rallying cause of the jihad, the Afghan mujahideen would have had neither the numbers, the training, the organization, nor the coherence or sense of mission that has since turned jihadist Islam into a global political force.

Mamdani drives home the fact that that political Islam's growth has been nonlinear and hybridized by specific political projects. Political Islam may bifurcate between indigenous and immigrant arms, with one taking precedence over the other, but at least he is offering a far less simplistic means of analysis. He does not answer the question if political Islam will mimic the melding of Marxism and local nationalisms to create entities strong enough to pull down regimes, but he says to look to Iraq where:

Every Middle Eastern movement that opposes the American empire--secular or religious, state or nonstate--is being drawn to Iraq, as if to a magnet, to test out its convictions [in] a free-for-all [that] will influence the course of political Islam for years to come.

Part 12

Whither Political Islam?
Mahmood Mamdani
Foreign Affairs, January/February 2005

Gordon Housworth

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Putting aside militant ire, can Muslim moderates merely survive their conservatives?


Being shouted down amid chants of "Liars! Liars!... You are all Zionists! You are all infidels!" while being lunged at by conservative Muslims does not inspire confidence that moderate Islamist introspection can proceed safely, if at all.

For readers unfamiliar with Sunni sects, it is important to understand what has been called "fatwa chaos," i.e., that there is no central authority responsible for issuing penultimate rulings on doctrinal questions as there exists in Shias or, for that matter, Catholicism. Each Imam can preach and invoke within an enormously wide latitude, thus opening the possibility for contradictory "sweeping, ill-defined statements [that can be] interpreted as a mandate to undertake any violence, no matter how vicious."

Katzman believes that "Islamic reformers will always face an uphill battle [as] whenever they attempt to depart from Qur'anic literalism, they become vulnerable to charges from radicals of infidelity to Islam. This poses what is probably an insurmountable problem for those who would reform Islam."

Robert Spencer (of JihadWatch not for the faint but valuable material once one gets past the necessity of a PC mindset) doubts "whether Islam would or could develop interpretative traditions analogous to those in Judaism and Christianity that mitigated the force of bellicose passages of the Old Testament -- in other words, how this Islamic renaissance would manage to blunt the force of Qur'anic literalism (and literalism in Hadith [oral sayings of the Prophet] interpretation also) so that they would not continue to be inspirations for violence and fanaticism."

Spencer wryly observes that the [NYT] implicitly acknowledges [that] the extremists are not a "tiny minority," and are not as discredited as the Times would have had us believe on many other occasions, but are in control of the interpretation of Islam, such that the faith must be "wrestled back" from them [yet when he makes that observation he is] called an "Islamophobe."

Having long been of the opinion that Islam had its reformation and its Luther (many of whose brutal prescriptions have been softened for lay readers over time) in the person of al-Wahhab, I can agree with Spencer's position that "The primary point of similarity that that both Luther and Wahhab led movements that purported to strip away later accretions and get back to the core elements of their religions. That al-Wahhab's reformation was violent and virulent is a reflection on the core texts of his religion, to which he dedicated himself and his followers with all-encompassing zeal." Unfortunately, it is that Wahhabism that so frequently wends its way across the net today to waiting eyes.

When cast against Sheik Yousef Qaradawi whose "Islamic Law and Life" program on Al Jazeera (and thereby an extremely influential cleric among Sunnis) implied that all US nationals in Iraq could be targets and that "Resistance [in Iraq] is a legitimate matter - even more, it is a duty," and Abdel Sabour Shahin who states most foreigners in Iraq are legitimate targets, I can only hope that Abdul Rahman al-Rashed is correct in sensing that "there is a movement in the Arab world, if perhaps not yet a consensus, that understands that Muslims have to start reining in their own rather than constantly complaining about injustice and unfairness. The violence has not only reduced sympathy for just causes like ending the Israeli occupation but set off resentment against Muslims wherever they live."

It is worthwhile to read the 10 point statement from the Cairo Islam and Reform conference as it offers some insight into the overhead of "reviewing the roots of Islamic heritage [Hadith included], ending the monopoly that certain religious institutions hold over interpreting such texts and confronting all extremist religious currents." For a religion whose adherents have been imbued with immense pride for centuries that "Islam was spread by the sword, that all Arab countries and even Spain were captured by the sword" such that most of the Arab street believes that "the religion of Islam is the religion of the sword," the reformists have a challenge before them. Egypt's most senior religious scholar, Muhammad Sayed Tantawi, immediately labeled the attendees of Islam and Reform as a "group of outcasts."

Perhaps it is true that "even raising the topic [of reinterpretation of Islam] erodes the taboo that the religion and those schooled in it are somehow infallible," but the struggle will be long and I think dangerous as it is all too easy for a reformer to be ruled an apostate to the faith by a conservative cleric with a following and thus be open to summary execution for that 'lapse' of faith.

Part 3 of Islam's trajectory

The War Inside the Arab Newsroom
New York Times
January 2, 2005

Europe's Muslims May Be Headed Where the Marxists Went Before
New York Times
December 26, 2004

Muslim Scholars Increasingly Debate Unholy War
New York Times
December 10, 2004

Gordon Housworth

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If Islam follows a Marxist trajectory, what kind of Islam will it be?


I've long held that Marxism, despite its protestations, was a secular religion. Like any deity-based religion, it had a teleology and metaphysics, prophets and saints, a potent means of proselytization and assimilation, and to my mind operated very much like the Holy See at its zenith of power.

While Islam appears to have succeeded Marxism as Europe's "ideology of contestation" its practitioners hale from very different roots. As Marxism then and Islam now:

  • Working class political voice, immigrants included
  • Voice of idealism amid disillusionment (that "transnational ideology" leading to Utopia)
  • Similar working-class political districts (moving from Communist to Communist-led and Muslim-populated to Muslim administrations)
  • Pragmatic, law-abiding mainstream but with an extremist element

Initial Marxist outreach to Muslims replacing working-class populations withered as Communists failed to promote Muslims within their organization and disillusioned Muslims dropped political action as a means to improve their lot. Many, but not all, Muslims predictably turned to religion and the solace of self-reinforcing group increasingly isolated from European society. The danger of painting with too broad a brush is shown in Holland's aftermath of Theo van Gogh’s murder:

The Turkish immigrants live mainly quiet and increasingly prosperous lives. The most problematic minority in terms of [crime and maladjustment] are Moroccans. [In a recent conference to identify extremists while protecting innocent Muslims] The Turkish representative spoke perfect Dutch, wore a business suit, and agreed with the proposal. The Moroccan representative spoke broken Dutch, and still needed "to consult" with his mosque.

Those Muslims opposed to cooperation are only isolated physically within European society as they are vibrantly and instantly connected by satellite TV and internet to the most fundamental Imams and the most vitriolic cant.

It is not at all clear to me that the broader Muslim population of Europe will follow Communism's shedding its revolutionary extremism, shifting to assimilation within European democratic political life:

Disowned by the pragmatic left, Europe's militant Marxist fringe was isolated and repressed, while governments pursued social policies that to some measure addressed the grievances of the poor and dispossessed, which had animated the radicals.

It is also not obvious to me that "Islam's role as a beacon for the downtrodden may wane, in part because of its very success" when that success is described in Anglo-European terms as the "necessary compromises with the surrounding community that are inherent in economic and political participation could dull its edge and sap its momentum, as they did for Marxism." Given the open resentment and ostracism showered on Muslims even in formerly tolerant Netherlands (and excepting the remarkable strides made by Turks), I find it hard to accept Kepel's view that:

Once the more mainstream, upwardly mobile Arab or African young people move out of their working-class neighborhoods, "they aren't perceived as Muslim any more, and the vast majority aren't interested in using their religion as a social and political marker."

While I do agree with his comment that "Beyond the militant minority, the inward-looking fundamentalists are by definition politically insignificant," it is not their political insignificance that concerns me but rather their militancy, their willingness to unilaterally enforce a Borg-like assimilation on their terms, and without notice, put another Theo van Gogh in the street for affronting them.

Part 2 of Islam's trajectory

Europe's Muslims May Be Headed Where the Marxists Went Before
New York Times
December 26, 2004

Muslim Scholars Increasingly Debate Unholy War
New York Times
December 10, 2004

Gordon Housworth

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Does Arabic have a word for Desaparecido? French and Spanish does.


When you are familiar with the desaparecidos ("The Disappeared") populating the miniature killing fields of Guatemala and Salvador (often times a preexisting garbage dump), when you as a gringo in the bush fear arrest by the military as much as kidnapping by the guerillas, when the hapless, innocent Indios were killed by the military by day and by the guerillas by night...

Having been closer than most to fruits of a desaparecido effort, I can say that it is vicious, capricious, replete with collateral damage to innocents, instills fear while moderating behavior, creates blowback of some magnitude at a later date, but works in the short-term. Could be Plan B, and not just for Iraq. I've already forecast a return to such programs in Central America to deal with the Maras (gangs), Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and Mara 18:

the law enforcement tools on offer mimic that of terrorism, covert and overt military force, without the programs that address the social and economic forces that create the draw to gangs. The problem is already so great in Central America that states are reviving conventional military strength and counterinsurgency strategies along with extralegal paramilitary and vigilante enforcement, while adopting zero-tolerance laws that bypass rules of due process. Mechanisms once directed at leftists and political dissidents are now directed at gang members.

Enter Iraq. With painful realism settling in among senior civilian and military ranks that recent actions against Fallujah's insurgents have merely dispersed the intended targets while continuing to enrage ordinary Iraqis, there is active debate on resuscitating "the Salvador option," the training and arming of paramilitaries operating in concert with US spec ops to liquidate insurgents, jihadists, their enablers and facilitators. One proposal sends "Special Forces teams to advise, support and possibly train Iraqi squads, most likely hand-picked Kurdish Peshmerga fighters and Shiite militiamen, to target Sunni insurgents and their sympathizers, even across the border into Syria, [although current thinking] is that while U.S. Special Forces would lead operations in [Syria while] activities inside Iraq itself would be carried out by Iraqi paramilitaries."

I find discussions of "whether this would be a policy of assassination or so-called "snatch" operations" for covert interrogation to be moot as if such a program mimics its predecessors, once gone, forever gone whether one is interrogated or not. Liquidation squads would be controversial only to outside observers. Were insurgents/Baathists to be candid, I submit that they would consider it a long overdue response even though they would be its targets. Welcome to symmetry in asymmetrical warfare.

Compared to some 100,000 gang members, Iraq is manageable only if one is sufficiently ruthless, can operate beyond public scrutiny, and employ surrogates so as to claim plausible denial. The Baathist-insurgent marriage of convenience is now so large, so well armed, that their backlash would be phenomenal:

[number of gunmen in Iraq that] carry out terrorist actions against the citizens and are outlaws. Their number in all parts of Iraq is between 20,000 and 30,000 and they are mostly in the Sunni areas where the population there, almost 200,000, is sympathetic to them. But they do not provide them with any material or logistical help. For example, they do not report their activities if they have the information. [gunmen are] Ba'thist remnants, hard-line extremists, and others. If 20 percent [of an estimated 2 million Ba'th Party members are presently involved in armed operations] then their number is large and all of them are members of organizations and have weapons. A large number of people are working with the Ba'thists to earn a livelihood after finding themselves without jobs, especially those who were in the former Iraqi army.

The majority of Iraqis are what I call insurgent-neutral, neither aiding or providing logistical support, nor alerting the authorities. A desaparecido program would instill fear of aiding the insurgency:

The Sunni population is paying no price for the support it is giving to the terrorists. From their point of view, it is cost-free. We have to change that equation.

Running it as a covert op under a US presidential finding sidesteps nettlesome oversight and insulates the military from legal peril. No surprise that Prime Minister Ayad Allawi "is said to be among the most forthright proponents of the Salvador option." I am more curious as to, say, Turkish interest in seeing Kurds so trained, the ramp-up time to force maturity and preemptive Insurgent/Ba'athist counterstrikes. There will be no rear area and no noncombatants.

Part 11

‘The Salvador Option’
By Michael Hirsh and John Barry
Jan 8,
Updated: 10 Jan, 2005

Iraqi Intelligence Service Chief Interviewed on Terrorism, Related Issues
Interview with Major General Muhammad Abdallah al-Shahwani, director of Iraq's National Intelligence Service, 4 January
(FBIS Translated Text) Wednesday, January 5, 2005

Gordon Housworth

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