Archive for Brachman’s Take

Why “Islam is the Problem” Training is So Counterproductive

There’s been a lot of attention in recent months on the cadre of counterterrorism trainers who are peddling paranoia and fear about what they believe is the “real” problem: Islam itself.  As one who provides training for law enforcement and government audiences, I’m particularly concerned about this issue.

Not only is their brand of anti-Islamic training factually incorrect but it actually becomes self-fulfilling as it serves to confirm that what many Western Muslims already suspect is being the case.  Today, Ackerman over at Wired’s Danger Room has a great new piece looking at some training being provided to FBI from some of these “Islam is the Problem” trainers.

Although I’m not shocked to hear that agencies of the USG are paying for this kind of garbage before, I am resolute in my commitment to work toward some kind of solution. But before I do, I figure I’d profile what’s being said within the English-language Islamic forums upon hearing this story.  Here are some quotes about news that “CT experts” are conducting anti-Islamic training for USG with my reactions interspersed:

Forum User: “Looks like years of sucking up to the authorities, throwing innocent Muslims under the bus and cooperating with the feds has done “American Muslims” no good at all. In fact, the Maghrib crowd are probably all under surveillance as the FBI views them as potential terrorists”

JB reaction: This kind of exasperation is being echoed throughout the forums.  Despite ten years of rhetoric about the need to engage the American Islamic community with respect , the USG continues supporting individuals who advocate  suspicion of the religion.

Forum User: “There was once a Lion who came across three bulls: a red bull, a white bull and a black bull. The Lion tried to attack them but because they were strong together he decided to bide his time. He befriended the bulls and told them he was protecting them.One day he called the Red Bull and the Black Bull and said ”My friends I am really concerned for you.”  “Why?” they asked. The Lion responded “The White Bull represents a threat to you; he stands out with his complexion and he is going to make you a target for other predators and hunters; the lives of both of you at risk, let me eliminate him.”The Red Bull and Black Bull agreed, after all the Lion was their sincere friend and King of the Jungle. The lion attacked the white bull and, because noone came to his help, he was defeated. The lion ate him.A few weeks went by and the Lion called the Black Bull over and gives him the same speech ”The Red Bull represents a threat to you by attracting attention, let me eliminate him and you will be safe.”The Black Bull agreed; he was a friend of the King of the Jungle so who cares about anyone else….So he allowed the Lion to kill and eat the Red Bull.A few days later the Lion confronted the Black Bull and said “Now it is your turn”…The Black Bull finally realised his mistake and said, ”I was killed the moment the white bull was killed.”

JB reaction: The point of the anecdote posted to this Islamic forum is clear. The USG, for this user, is the lion who is seeking to befriend various elements of Islam (bulls) long enough to divide and conquer them.  Revelations that the USG is supporting hater trainers while talking about the need for friendship only support this kind of narrative.

The list of attendees to this conference should be exposed and every single agency should make public record their position on this kind of filth…But this filth is more an enemy to mankind and an agent to shaytan.

JB reaction: Even those forum users who participate in hardline Islamist internet forums recognize the need for USG agencies to increase their transparency about who they pay to come provide training.

The bigger problem for me is that reports of hater training perfectly reinforces the themes of “RAND Islam” that have been advanced for years by AQ’s General Command, about how the US is trying to labotomize and secularize Islam from the inside out.  So, it’s this synchronization of global AQ messaging with local online postings with real world examples from USG.

At the end of the day, what gets the US into trouble and serves to continue fueling  the fire of jihadist ideology is the continued discrepancy between our words and our actions. Counter-narratives are not the solution.  De-radicalization programs won’t save the day.  The only way to convince fence-sitters that the US doesnt actually want a war with Islam is to stop doing things that make it seem like we want a war with Islam.

I’m finally going to step into this debate and say that there needs to be some sort of standards/metrics for assessing training qualification among CT trainers.  I dont think a “good list” v “bad list” of individuals  is appropriate, but there needs to be some sort of standard in place for what kind of training USG funds can be spent on.



He’s Making a List, Checking it Twice…

Lists are a great way of keeping track of things you need to do or things you need to buy. We all make lists about one thing or another.

But when you make your lists public, particularly when you make lists about people you like or don’t,  it’s a way of trying to define in-groups and out-groups:  who’s been nice, who’s been naughty, who thinks like you, who doesn’t.  Who’s mentioned and who’s missing is all a form of communication to a broader group, but less about the people on the list and more about yourself and your sense of insecurity about your social position within that context.

After suffering through al-Zawahiri’s sixth audio statement, which I’ll blog about over the weekend, I was motivated to return to the archives of his previous statements.  I noticed that al-Zawahiri is one of the most self-conscious and insecure (al-Zawahiri is one of the worst, but not only, offenders) who use this rhetorical tactic of listing “in-crowd” names in order to try and boost their own standing or relevance within a certain field.

Indeed, these team captain wannabes use list-making as a proxy for real action. When unable to make a change in the physical space, lists offer a temporary psychological substitute for that sense of self-actualization that is usually derived from “doing.”  In other words, those who can, do.  Those who can’t, make lists.

Sometimes lists help inspire others to take action on your behalf, either by agreeing with your listed in-group and out-group distinctions. Other times it allows one to insert themselves into a group Trojan Horse style (what social theorist types might call “frame extension”). But usually, it makes you just look insecure and desperate: reliant on those who you mention in the list – both for affirmation and relevance.  In other words, nobody makes lists about others unless they need those others to prove their own relevance.

No one fits this bill better than Ayman al-Zawahiri. A neurotic control-freak and micromanager, al-Zawahiri is a notorious list-maker.  His hypersensitivity and belief that he is the rightful gatekeeper of those who ought to be considered legitimate.

Al-Zawahiri’s list-making is more than just an attempt to define in-groups and out-groups. At the height of arrogance – derived from a long-standing feeling of insecurity – it’s a public pronouncement that he believes he is best positioned to define those groups.  Whereas it’s obvious to those who read his work that this compulsive need to prove his importance to others derives from weakness not strength, he fails to understand it himself.

I’ll have a lot to say about al-Zawahiri’s 6th audio statement soon, and I’ll start blogging again. Get ready… I’m back.