Skilled Recruiters Likely Shaped Boston's Terrorists

The suspects’ uncle Ruslan Tsarni, who lives in Maryland, said in an interview on Sunday that he had first noticed a change in the older brother in 2009. Mr. Tsarni sought advice from a family friend, who told him that Tamerlan’s radicalization had begun after he met a recent convert to Islam in the Boston area.

New York Times, April 21, 2013

From 2008 to 2010 I worked with the Office for Security and Counter-Terrorism in the UK, interviewing around 25 young British Muslims who had been radicalized and undertaken journeys in and out of extremism. For hour upon hour I sat with these young people—in mosques, in their homes, in cafes, around pool tables—and I took down their life stories and the fine detail of their “Islamist detour.” My findings are contained in a 150,000-word report that sits in the Home Office.

Europe's Counter-Jihad Extremists

A valuable new report (pdf) from the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation at King’s College London lays bare a new form of extremism—something it identifies as the “European Counter-Jihad Movement” (ECJM).

Based on fieldwork and interviews with participants, the report sets out four distinguishing characteristics of the ECJM, each of which sets it apart from traditional far-right and fascist organizations and makes it difficult to categorize.

First, the ECJM is focused on a single issue—what it sees as the existential threat to European culture posed by Islam and Muslim immigration. It raises the alarm about a conspiracy to “Islamize” Europe by terror and by stealth, a plot by Muslims centuries in the making, at once radically new yet also reassuringly old. The Islamic wave defeated at the Gates of Vienna in 1683 must now be defeated again, and the ECJM calls us to the ramparts.

Lincoln Revived

Come down off the cross. We can use the wood.

— Tom Waits

“There are moments,” wrote the critic Edmund Wilson in Patriotic Gore, his 1962 book of studies in the literature of the American Civil War, “when one is tempted to feel that the cruelest thing that has happened to Lincoln since he was shot by Booth has been to fall into the hands of Carl Sandburg.” Wilson’s complaint was that Sandburg’s gushing biography of the “backwoods Saint” had “vulgarized Lincoln” and opened the floodgates to a torrent of mush about the log-cabin birth, the rail-splitting, the “folksy and jocular countryman swapping stories at the village store,” and, most misleading of all, the father-figure who, “with a tear in his eye, presided over the tragedy of the Civil War.”

One of the kindest things that has happened to the 16th president since that night in Ford’s Theatre has been to fall into the hands of Steven Spielberg and Tony Kushner. Lincoln “uses the wood,” so to speak, to give us back the man. Whatever its merits as a piece of filmmaking, it is a rare study in the peculiar nobility of the craft of the democratic politician.

We Need to Talk (Differently) about Settlements

“It was Obama who suggested a full settlement freeze,” Abbas explained. “I said OK, I accept. We both went up the tree. After that, he came down with a ladder and he removed the ladder and said to me, jump. Three times he did it.”

Newsweek, April 24, 2011

Late in 2009, a frustrated President Obama, having supported a moratorium on Israeli settlement building, asked his senior staff, “What’s the strategy here? I see you want the moratorium, but how does it get us where we want to be?”

The short answer: it didn’t, it doesn’t, and it almost certainly won’t. A report issued this week makes clear why.

How to Fix a Fanatic

How do we get one group of people to “count” to another group of people? Not, thought the philosopher Richard Rorty, by relying upon Kant and telling them they are being “irrational.” He thought solidarity was rather “an inclination of the heart,” grounded in nothing but contingent emotional identification. Solidarity can be embedded, or not, in the contingent cultural practices of a society but can’t be proven “right” or “true.” He thought a human-rights culture “no more needs a philosophical foundation than does a recommendation to take an aspirin if you think you’re coming down with a migraine.” Rather, it needs culturally shaped intuitions and practices, for it is from these that we get our sense of shared moral identity, not the philosophers.

Whither Israel's Likud?

By Alan Johnson and Richard Pater

Last week Israel’s ruling Likud party held internal elections to choose its list of parliamentary candidates for the upcoming national elections on January 22nd. Likud’s list will be combined with Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beitenu roster to create a single list for the elections.

To the disappointment of some, the liberal wing of the party took a battering, as prominent ministers Dan Meridor, Micky Eitan, Avi Dichter, and even Benny Begin failed to make the list. This is blow to liberal nationalists that saw the party move away from the traditions of its founders. Likud’s first prime minister, Menachem Begin, and his ideological mentor, Zeev Jabotinsky, believed that, along with a staunch security policy, it was imperative that Israeli society upheld the rights of minorities and fiercely guarded democratic values like the independence of the judiciary. 

So what going on? Has Likud now buried its founding values? The picture is more complicated than that.

A Principled Bid in the Upcoming Israeli Election

“A woman’s got to do what a man’s got to do.” With those words, Tzipi Livni, the former Israeli foreign minister, made her return to politics this week. She stands at the head of a new party—Hatnuah be’rashut Tzipi Livni, or the Movement headed by Tzipi Livni—promising to fight for “democratic Israel.” Livni has been looking on aghast at a world turned upside down and she wants to right it: “The government enters dialogue with those who support terror, and avoids the camp that has prevented terror, that fights for two states.”

Can there be a Prime Minister Livni in January? Probably not. The first poll taken after she got in the race shows the center-right bloc led by Netanyahu winning 69 seats to the center-left’s 51. And in Israel, when it comes to turning electoral performance into political power, “It’s the blocs stupid.”

So what is Livni’s bid about? “Ego,” says Yair Lapid, the TV anchor who created a political party and placed himself at its head. No, it’s not. At the risk of being accused of naïveté, I think it is all about principle.

Israel's Goals, Hamas' Choices, and Egypt in the Middle

After six days of airstrikes against the terrorist infrastructure in Gaza, Israel faces a decision: to negotiate a cease-fire with Hamas or mount a ground operation. Today, I spoke to my BICOM colleague Michael Herzog—a retired brigadier general in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) who served from 2006 to 2009 as chief of staff to Israel’s minister of defense—about the framework within which that decision is being debated in the political and military leaderships.

The fundamental judgement to be made is whether the aims set by Israel for Operation Pillar of Defense have been achieved. These aims are modest in Israeli terms. The aim is not to topple Hamas. It is to restore normalcy for Israeli citizens by reinstating deterrence. To that end the IDF seeks to degrade the capability and motivation of the terrorists and deny Hamas and other armed groups in the Gaza Strip access to the long-range weapons that fell near Tel Aviv and Jerusalem last week.  

A Whiff of Weimar: The Greek Crisis Gets Worse

One of the best sources of news about the Greek social crisis has been the dispatches sent by the BBC correspondent Paul Mason. So we should pay attention when Mason decides to ring the alarm bell. 

Last month, the Greek prime minister, Antonis Samaras, warned Europe that his country was on the edge of a Weimar Germany-style social collapse. What I have seen on the streets of Athens convinces me this is not rhetoric. There is a violent far-right party, its MPs committing and inciting violence with impunity; a police force that cannot or will not prevent Golden Dawn from projecting uniformed force on the streets. And a middle class that feels increasingly powerless to turn the situation round.

Is it really that bad? Yes.

Judith Butler: More Palestinian than the Palestinians

In 2006 the rock star left-wing academic Judith Butler said that “understanding Hamas, Hezbollah as social movements that are progressive, that are on the left, that are part of a global left, is extremely important.” (See 16:24 in this video.)

Butler’s remark expressed all that’s wrong with the new style of “Palestinian solidarity work.”

Viewing the two-state solution as a sell-out, Butler attacks the PA application to the United Nations for recognition. The bid’s only value, she argues, is that it allows the left to jump up and down on grave of the “sham of the peace negotiations” and celebrate the “break with the Oslo framework.”

She wags her finger at Salam Fayyad and Mahmoud Abbas. By seeking a deal with Israel they are “abandon[ing] the right of return for diasporic Palestinians” and “potentially abandon[ing] Gaza.” If they succeed, “half of all Palestinians may well be disenfranchised.”

President Obama and Democracy Promotion: Revisiting George Weigel

Back in 1994 George Weigel wrote one of the most interesting of a crop of books that set out a prospectus for US foreign policy after the Cold War. Weigel wrote as a democratic internationalist, formed by the Scoop Jackson tradition within the Democratic Party and inspired by the Polish antitotalitarian revolution.

It’s been interesting for me to re-read that book in light of the recent conservative attacks on President Obama’s policy toward the upheavals in the Arab world.

Idealism without Illusion: Henry Jackson at 100

This blog takes its name—“Idealism without Illusion”—from something said by Senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson, the New Deal Democrat, antitotalitarian defender of Soviet dissidents, and the nemesis of Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger’s policy of détente. Repeating the public intellectual Reinhold Niebuhr, Jackson warned that when democratic nations fail “their failure must be partly attributed to the faulty strategy of idealists who have too many illusions and realists who have too little conscience.”

The 100th anniversary of Jackson’s birth falls this year. It has been marked by a fine tribute from World Affairs writer Joshua Muravchik, who was a staffer for Jackson in the 1970s. I urge it on anyone seeking to understand the stature of the man and the importance of his ideas.

Radicalization: Learning from Psychoanalyst D.W. Winnicott

Mossad, Israel’s external secret service, has sent a team, codenamed Bayonet, to Europe. It is hunting a group of white Europeans who are thought to have converted to Islam and to be working with the Iranian Quds force and Hezbollah, the terrorist group backed by Tehran.

Sunday Times

After the Burgas terror attack, we are faced again with this question: what goes on inside the radicalizing encounter between the Islamist political activist and his or her prey?

Eurabia, Shurabia

You hear a lot of breathless talk about “Eurabia” these days. I confess, I can’t take it seriously—and here’s why.

From 2008 to 2010, I conducted research for the UK’s Office for Security and Counter-Terrorism into radicalization among Muslims in Britain. After 25 in-depth interviews with ex-extremists and days talking to people in mosques, community centers, and homes, I concluded that “pessimism about radicalization in Britain is not supported by the interviews.”

I argued that radicalization was a tormented performance of identity by individuals caught in the trap that had been set by two historically contingent developments. 

First, radicalization was given its chance by the “environment of vulnerability” in which many young British Muslims have lived, especially since the early 1980s, and by the consequent “crisis-feeling” many have experienced.

Revisiting the 1972 Munich Massacre

Was it the far right or the far left that helped Palestinian terrorists murder 11 Israeli athletes and coaches at the Munich Olympics in 1972? The German periodical Der Spiegel has studied 2,000 pages of released files from the domestic intelligence service, the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV), and concluded that two German neo-Nazis, Willi Pohl and Wolfgang Abramowski, supplied the Palestinians with fake passports, drove them around Germany, and possibly helped supply some of the weapons.


Subscribe to RSS - Alan Johnson's blog