Archive for March, 2011

A new piece for AfPak Channel at Foreign Policy magazine, this time looking at the odd phenomenon of why so many German jihadis appear in extremist videos, while so few Brits do. At any rate, I find it curious. Interested if anyone comes across any more material, as this is a topic I will continue to follow.

Britain’s Camera-Shy Jihadis

BY RAFFAELLO PANTUCCI, MARCH 24, 2011 | Thursday, March 24 – 11:17 AM | Share

A few weeks have passed since the discovery on extremist forums of the image of alleged martyr “Musa, the British.” While Britain’s intelligence service MI5 confirms that they believe that at least 4,000 young Britons have been drawn to fight and train at militant camps in Waziristan and Afghanistan prior to 2009, they have thus far been remarkably coy in their appearances in propaganda videos produced by jihadi media outlets. This stands in stark contrast with the German jihadist contingent, which seem to revel in their celebrity and repeatedly feature injihadist media outlets, as well as self-publishing tracts describing their experiences. Parsing this difference between these two groups (and the related question of why only Adam Gadahn appears amongst the estimated hundred or so Americans Bob Woodward was told have ventured to Waziristan) might offer some deeper insights into the machinations of the networks drawing young western Muslims to Pakistani training camps and help analysts better understand trends of growth or shrinkage of such networks.

The shot of “Musa” was the first image of a British jihadi “martyr” linked to Afghanistan or Pakistan since the videos emerged of Mohammed Siddique Khan and Shehzad Tanweer, two of the July 7, 2005 London subway bombers. The two men were part of the pipeline of young British fighters drawn to training camps in Pakistan, though ultimately they were directed to carry out an operation back home in the U.K. rather fight and die on the field in Afghanistan. However, these three men aside, there have been few images released by al-Qaeda or its affiliates that have included British jihadis. In Somalia, a young British-Somali blew himself up in October 2007, though the video took almost two years to surface and in Tel Aviv, two British-Pakistani Muslims attempted a suicide attack on Mike’s Place bar in 2003. In contrast, ever since about 2007 when German fighters started to surface in growing numbers in Waziristan, there has been an ever-growing digest of jihadi media in German and featuring a select group of German nationals.

Why there is such a divergence between the U.K. and Germany is hard to understand. One possible answer is that the German jihad in Waziristan is still in an earlier phase its British counterpart. According to Guido Steinberg of the Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik and a former adviser to the German Chancellery, the network to send young Germans to Waziristan only really got established in 2006. In an interview, he described that before 2006 the networks were a haphazard affair, suggesting that the network is still relatively immature, and might therefore need more advertising to attract young recruits. In the U.K., on the other hand, jihadi networks have been drawing young Britons to fight in South Asia since the early-to-mid-1990s — almost two decades of militant travel have established a strong network.

But this German network now exists in force, and security forces in Germany have a large body of returnees and missing individuals whom they believe are training in Pakistan’s tribal areas that they are worried about. An unknown number of individuals are still being drawn to Waziristan, withofficials at home concerned about more than 30 that have been trained and a further 200 who have been radicalized. In September 2007, the possible threat that this network posed was illustrated by the case of the Sauerland Cell, a group of Germans who were planning an attack on an American base in Germany– having been tasked to do this by their commanders in the Islamic Jihad Union (IJU). An offshoot of the Islamist Movement of Uzbekistan, the group’s primary target is Uzbekistan, though it has now been operating in Waziristan alongside al-Qaeda and Taliban groups for some time.

Operationally, the constant appearance of young Germans in videos in Waziristan merely gives the German authorities a useful list of individuals to place on international watch lists and investigative leads into networks back in Germany. From this perspective, al-Qaeda’s British recruits have proved to be much more useful in international plotting. Their bashfulness before the camera means that their identities are still theoretically hidden and therefore they are still deployable in terrorist plots. In the period from 2004 to 2007, most major al-Qaeda linked terrorist plotting in the U.K. were linked to British citizens who had trained in Waziristan. Al-Qaeda and its affiliate networks may have concluded that the German contingent is less useful operationally in the West.

Ideologically, it is likely that the videos in some cases have even had a counterproductive effect insofar as some of the images may have reduced Western fears of the group, to the point of ridicule in some situations. The surreal sight of German-Moroccan jihadist Bekkay Harrachstanding before a red matinee curtain in a suit while he threatened Germany to vote correctly in an election was not followed by any visible attacks. For an audience of both potential jihadists and the general public, the impression was of empty threats that will not have strengthened the group’s hand.

In contrast, when British jihadis with links to Afghanistan and Pakistan have appeared in propaganda videos, it has been when they are featured in videos that claim to celebrate their deaths in the pursuit of jihad. And none of them or their many compatriots have written lengthy tracts describing their adventures seeking fields of jihad like Mounir and Yassin Chouka, a pair of German-Moroccans currently fighting alongside the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) in Waziristan, or the fallen Eric Breininger, the young German convert who hid out fighting alongside the IJU regularly releasing odd videos showing off about how much fun he was having. His subsequent obituary was an epic document that helped clarify a bit to German authorities how the networks of Germans going to fight had evolved.

But it was not always so. Dhiren Barot, the British Hindu convert to Islam who in the mid-1990s ran away to Kashmir to join Lashkar-e-Taiba, the Pakistani militant group responsible for the deadly terrorist attacks on Mumbai in 2008, subsequently wrote a book about his experiences. Other British Muslims radicalized during the 1990s served as “correspondents” for www.qoqaz.com orwww.azzam.com, the infamous British-based websites that supported jihad in Chechnya and Afghanistan, writing about their experiences in hagiographic terms. And prior to that, videos and cassettes that are still available online describe the experience of British jihadis (amongst others) going to fight in Bosnia.

None of this is very surprising — these Western warriors have been convinced by the al-Qaeda narrative that they are carrying out sacred acts in the name of a good cause, and it should be expected that they want to show off about it before a camera. Having seen countless others in such videos before they leave, it is not shocking that they want to add their names and images to the lists to inspire future terrorists. But, for British jihadists at least, this need seems to have faded away, with occasional rumors or newspapers stories around single individuals. Unlike their German comrades whose names are becoming tabloid currency, Britons like “Musa” have largely fallen silent.

Raffaello Pantucci is an Associate Fellow at the International Center for the Study of Radicalisation (ICSR).

 

Another interview for Free Rad!cals this time with my old friend Guido Steinberg, the most reliable authority on jihad in Germany. I believe that he is developing a book on this topic, and has worked on a lot of the cases built against the jihadi network in Germany.

Terror in Germany: An interview with Guido Steinberg

Given the shootings at Frankfurt airport by Arid Uka, and a series of arrests and convictions recently, it seems as though jihad in Germany is continuing to be a thorn in the side that is not going away. Last week I asked Ces to comment on events in Russia. This week, I have reached out to Dr. Guido Steinberg of the Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik (SWP) in Berlin, the most prominent expert on the topic of radicalisation in Germany, to give us some thoughts on the current state of jihad in Germany.

RP: Can you give us an overview of the current state of Islamism and Jihadi ideology in Germany at the moment? What sort of numbers are we talking about?

GS: The number of German jihadists has risen substantially since 2005/2006. Before then, Germany used to be more of a safe haven and logistics base for al-Qaeda and other organisations. Today, it has become a target and German citizens of different backgrounds have joined different organisations including al-Qaeda, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and the Islamic Jihad Union.

Germany is under threat today because these organisations aim at perpetrating attacks on German soil in order to force the German government to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan. At the same time, al-Qaeda and its allies now have the necessary recruits who have been trained in Pakistan and know Germany well.

According to official information, about 220 persons from Germany are on their way to, are currently in, or have recently been to jihadist training camps. Of these, 110 are back in Germany and 10 are in jail. In more concrete terms, there are currently more than 50 Germans in Pakistan. This is a substantial increase from previous years and the jihadist scene in Germany still seems to be growing.

RP: The recent case of Arid Uka and the shootings in Frankfurt is particularly disturbing- do you think this is the beginning of a trend?

GS: There has been a trend towards independent action in Germany just like in other European countries since 2005. At that time, most independent jihadists in Germany radicalised because of the Danish cartoon crisis. For instance, there have been the so-called suitcase bombers, two students from Lebanon who planted bombs in suitcases on two regional trains in Western Germany in July 2006. The bombs did not detonate because of a technical error. It might be that the trend towards independent action will gain traction as it has all over Europe and in the US in 2010. However, as of yet, there are no clear indications regarding this in Germany.

RP: What brought about the creation of the German Taliban Mujahedeen in Waziristan? Not many other European or Western communities have similar organisations out there.

GS: The German Taliban Mujahedeen has been more of a propaganda tool than an organisation. It seems as if it was founded by the IJU in 2009 after an increasing number of Germans arrived in its headquarters in Mir Ali, North Waziristan. Together with a Turkish-Azerbaijani group called Taifetul Mansura they formed a kind of jihadist international brigade. However, the organisation never consisted of more than a dozen fighters and after the death of its founding emir, Ahmet Manavbasi, the group disintegrated. Some were killed with him, some joined the IJU, and others returned to Germany. Its remnants today seem to consist of a small group of young men from Berlin.

RP: From the Hamburg Cell to the Sauerland Group and Arid Uka. Why has jihadism found such a rich soil to grow in Germany?

GS: The members of the Hamburg cell were in their majority Arab students who had only arrived in Germany during the 1990s and had not struck deep roots here. Therefore, I think that the history of a distinct German scene only began with the Sauerland group. It began when an increasing number of ethnic Turks and Kurds were radicalised. The Sauerland group was part of a wider network, which was predominantly Turkish. As it seems, it took the Turks longer than most Arabs to get attracted by jihadist thought. When that happened, Germany was affected because it is home to some 2 million ethnic Kurds and at least 500.000 ethnic Kurds from Turkey – the biggest Turkish diaspora community worldwide. Once the first Turks had joined, the German jihadist scene expanded rapidly. This to me seems to be the result of an internationalisation processes affecting the jihadist scene worldwide. However, the German example seems to be especially striking.

RP: Are there any particular trends in Germany that particularly worry you in the short to medium term?

GS: The most worrying trend is the growth of the salafist scene in Germany. Some years ago, there were only two or three prominent preachers. Today, there are dozens. Official estimates count some 4000-5000 salafists here. This is particularly worrying because all the German individuals who went to join al-Qaeda, IMU and IJU in Pakistan first attended salafist mosques. This is where they were radicalised and recruited. Visiting the al-Nur mosque in Berlin, the al-Quds mosque in Hamburg or the multicultural house in Neu-Ulm was the first step on their journey to jihad. The fact that the salafist scene is growing likely means that the number of sympathisers, potential supporters and active jihadists will grow as well. It is no coincidence that Germany-based salafist preachers also influenced Uka

 

A new piece for Whose World Order?, this time exploring the events in Japan as seen from Shanghai. Overall, people seem unsure what to do, but are basically sympathetic to the unfortunate Japanese. One friend, however, pointed out a Chinese twitter post he had seen which was glad about the fact that a US ship had been completely written off by a radiation cloud (this story), my friend responded that this was pretty mean, and the person said well, what were they doing there anyway. Some interesting responses overall from the Sino-blogosphere. Further, in a postscript subsequent to the post, the BBC published this story.

Shanghai View: A historical breeze from Japan

Date: 15th March 2011  |  Author: Raffaello Pantucci,

Categories: China,
Tags: ChinaEarthquakeNuclearTsunamiJapan

The message to my phone read: “BBC FLASHNEWS: Japan gvt confirms radiation leak at Fukushima nuclear plants. Asian countries should take necessary precautions. If rain comes, remain indoors first 24hrs. Close doors & windows. Swab neck skin with betadine where thyroid area is, radiation hits thyroid first. Take extra precautions. Radiation may hit Phil [Philippines] at starting 4pm today. Pls send to your loved ones.”

These sorts of messages are quite common after major events, though usually they do not arrive in English (in Xinjiang I was told that during the 2009 riots, grim pictures showing disemboweled Han Chinese in Goya-esque poses were being circulated via text). Usually it is rumour-mongering in Chinese, accompanying the normal paranoia that sweeps through any large population after a major disaster.

One rumour to reach me this time was that I should avoid sushi from Japan since it was likely to have been dosed with radiation, another friend forwarded me an email that had a map with a large red cloud spreading out as far as China emanating from a nuclear symbol over Japan. The accompanying message spoke of “northern compatriots” having to avoid going out without masks on for the next two or three months and to avoid water and seafood.

But beyond this, the reaction in Shanghai at least to the disaster in Japan has been strangely muted. CCTV has been dedicating a lot of time to the disaster and the news organisations have all dispatched large teams to cover it, but thus far I get the sense that people are unsure what to make of it all or how to feel. Some have pointed out that there has been a strange gloating in some places online – China and Japan have a long and contentious history after all – but from what I have seen, this has been kept under control (either by the net-nannies or by self-restraint). Some still slip through saying that this is some sort of divine intervention against Japan, but I get the impression they are a minority. Nevertheless, there is a strange sense of ambiguity, and Adam in Shanghai has done an interesting piece on this.

I found it a bit depressing, until I had a conversation that gave me some confidence for the future. Having just finished a morning of discussion on US-China and differences in how the EU and US interact with China, I went to lunch with one of the young scholars. Over lunch he told me of his hope and belief that it was possible that in the wake of the disaster, there was a perfect moment for rapprochement between China and Japan. In every cloud a silver lining. Having seen the grim memorials in Nanjing that are the root of much anti-Japanese feeling in China, and the bombastic memorial in Tokyo celebrating war criminals that stimulates further tension, I can only hope that he is right and finally the two can find some way to us this moment to try to finally shed the toxic burden of history.

A final note on the text message, having scoured online, I can find no evidence that it actually came from the BBC.

 

I have pulled this trick before, asking Ces to provide some insights on what is going on with terrorism in Russia. He kindly did this interview with me a while ago, but it got a bit lost and he kindly agreed to update it for Free Rad!cals. The links I had included have not made it, but the previous post can be found here, and Ces’s bio can be found here.

Interview: Terror in Russia

The attack on Moscow’s Domodevo airport earlier this year was the latest in a long litany of terrorism in Russia emanating from the troubled Caucuses region. While it is a subject I follow, I do not follow it in nearly enough detail and have in the past turned to Ces Moore of Birmingham University for more detailed analysis. In the wake of the recent attacks I have been sharing emails with Ces on the subject, and he kindly accepted to answer a few questions on the subject for this site – for Ces’s complete bio, please see his site at Birmingham. My questions in italics:

1. Who do you think might be responsible, and why did it take them so long to claim it?

In the past, groups involved in launching suicide operations in Russia have claimed responsibility in statements, in the days and weeks following attacks. As such, it is not surprising that two statements were released in quick succession in February by the leader of the Caucasus Emirate – a loosely connected group of militants fighting in the North Caucasus (for more on the ‘third wave’ of attacks). In recent years Doku Umarov has vowed to launch attacks in Russian cities. The video statements suggested that the leader of the Emirate, Umarov, and his supporters played a role in the Domodedovo attack, although that must be read in the context of ongoing operations by the militant underground across the North Caucasus.

Obviously it is difficult to ascertain which faction from the North Caucasus, if indeed any, were responsible. Significantly, although Al Qaeda have offered endorsements for attacks, they don’t have a track record of launching operations targeting Russia, so, as the statements indicate; it likely that indigenous groups with the willingness and capability may have been involved in the attack. Given the target – a key transport hub and symbol of Russia – and the nature and form of the attack – a suicide operation – it is likely that Umarov and his supporters were involved in the airport bombing.

These groups often wait a few days before issuing statements, partly in order to ratchet up pressure on the Russian authorities and partly because their systems of communication, command and control are a being closely monitored by the Russian authorities, making it difficult for them to operate. For example, in the past, rebel websites have been subjected to cyber attacks. It may well be that this attack is only loosely linked to the core of the insurgency – many attacks in the past were launched almost as independent operations – under the framework of a loose network of affiliates. For instance, in the wave of terrorism between 2002 and 2004 called Operation Boomerang, groups approached rebel leaders for funding to launch attacks – almost as a franchise operation – while other attacks were launched independently, as acts of retaliation. The claim of responsibility will shed some light on the groups involved, and help unpack if there is a link to the North Caucasus.

2. This is not the first time this airport has been targeted: is this in part a message to the outside world? What is the message if it is? Should other countries be concerned about these groups going international?

This again, is a very interesting set of questions. The airport itself has not been attacked in the past, although its security was breached when two female bombers boarded domestic flights in August 2004. They detonated their explosives destroying two planes, killing scores of people. These attacks were part of the aforementioned campaign of terrorism called Operation Boomerang, by Shamil Basayev, and were followed shortly afterwards by the hostage-taking tragedy in the Ossetian town of Beslan. These attacks were all designed to demonstrate the weakness of Russian security measures, and occurred against the background of political normalisation and elections in Chechnya proper. In 2004 then, breaching security measures at Domodedovo not only caused embarrassment for the Putin administration, it also posed a security dilemma for the Russian authorities.

On this occasion, the explosion occurred in the part of the airport terminal itself. Given that the explosion caused mass casualties, and given that many of those who died or were injured had recently arrived on international flights, it is likely that the attack was designed to garner international news coverage. In short then, yes, in part the attack appears to have been designed to send a message to both the Russian authorities but also to the outside world – that is that the Russian authorities most secure transport hubs could be attacked; that mass casualty attacks have returned to Russia, and more particularly to Moscow and its environs; and that the continued statements about the elimination of rebel groups in North Caucasus has by no means been successful.

In 2010 the Russian authorities had a series of notable successes, killing and capturing key members in the militant underground. In the simplest terms, the attack appears to have been timed to coincide with a trip by the Russian President, Dimtri Medyedev to Davos, at which he was tasked with giving a keynote speech. Meanwhile the attack also occurred against the backdrop of increasing inter-ethnic tensions in Moscow between Caucasian gangs and Russia youth groups.

Whether the international community should read more into the attack then these more localised messages – and whether these groups could adopt a more international agenda – is something of a moot point. The Russian authorities repeatedly claim that rebels in the North Caucasus are intimately linked to Al Qaeda – although little if any evidence of these links has ever been provided. That is not to say that groups in the North Caucasus have not adopted increasingly radical agendas – or indeed, that Chechnya and the North Caucasus have not been viewed by radicals as one focal point in a broader Jihadi movement. Indeed, very small splinter groups and factions from the North Caucasus may well have become involved in a Turkic militant movement – known as the Islamic Jihad Union (IJU) – which maintains links to Afghanistan, Turkey, Uzbekistan and parts of Europe. But the aim of this group – and its outlook are international – while the aims of those fighting in the North Caucasus remain focused on a set of localised, indigenous issues. Indeed, the IJU is responsible for radicalisation in the Islamic community in Germany, and may have played a background role – radicalising Islamists and members of the Turkic community in Germany for example in the recent ‘lone wolf’ attack on American pilots near Frankfurt. Importantly though, like the militants in the North Caucasus, the IJU needs to contextualised, if attacks attributed to them are to be properly

3. How come these attacks continue in Russia? Is it a question of a lack of security or a determined force being deployed against them?

I would say it is a bit of both. These attacks have re-emerged in Russia as a new generation of volunteers have come to the fore in the North Caucasus – and while Russia, and the Russian-backed administrations in Ingushetia, Chechnya, Dagestan and Kabardino-Balkaria maintain a measure of control and security, rebel factions will use attacks against a broader range of targets across Russia. Targets – given Russia’s size – which will be difficult to secure, and which therefore creates a dilemma for the Medyedev administration. These attacks continue in Russia because of internal radicalisation within the movement in the North Caucasus; because a new generation of militants appear to be coming to the fore; because the groups behind the attacks have a willingness and capability; and because it is incredibly difficult to ensure security across such as vast area.

4. One hears more about Dagestan than Chechnya these days when thinking about insurgent extremist movements in Russia: what is behind this shift?

Dagestan is certainly one of two focal point of the insurgency at present (the other being Kabardino-Balkaria). Throughout 2010, a number of audacious attacks occurred in Chechnya, but the form, targets and relentless nature of attacks have wracked Dagestan. On the one hand this results from years of violent pacification and repression in Chechnya – including, of course, two brutal wars. This has done much to destroy any vestiges of the separatist cause which flared up in the early 1990s. On the other hand, poverty and the systematic abuse by the elites in neighbouring republics – in Ingushetia, Kabardino-Balkaria and Dagestan have created the conditions in which a nascent underground movement could not only gain a foothold, but which could also undergo a process of internal radicalisation.

While brutal, the security measures in Ingushetia and Dagestan were piecemeal in 2008 and 2009, compared to the counter-terrorist operations in Chechnya. Corruption, inter-ethnic and inter-clan rivalries, alongside the fact that Dagestan has always hosted a radical militant movement, has meant that it has once again become the centre of the regional insurgency. Freedom of movement has also facilitated this growth in the militant underground in Dagestan. Tellingly, groups in Dagestan and small factions in North Ossetia, Ingushetia and Kabardino-Balkaria were relatively quick in pledging allegiance to Dokku Umarov as he sought to reo-organise the militant underground following the death of the Chechen leader Abdul-Khalim Sadulayev. Umarov integrated a host of different commanders into the hierarchy of his movement, shifting the focus of the militant underground away from separatism in Chechnya, to a more radical regional narrative of anti-Russian resistance. This included the adoption of a regional agenda, and gave Umarov a measure of influence over the groups in Dagestan. The slightly younger generation of commanders in Sharia Jamaat in Dagestan pledged allegiance to Umarov, while in Ingushetia the militant underground was led by Emir Magas (Ali Taziyev), a seasoned militant, and Emir Astemirov in Kabardino-Balkaria, a respected scholar and charismatic leader. In Chechnya, seasoned fighters – notably the jamaats led by the Gakaev Brothers – remained in control of the militant underground. Thus, while all pledged some allegiance to Umarov (known by the nom de guerre – Emir Abu Usman), his influence was at its most marked in Dagestan – the groups elsewhere operated in a loosely connected fashion largely orchestrating their own campaigns of resistance, drawing on their own jamaats. In fact, in 2010 a split of sorts also occurred when the jamaats in Chechnya sought to wrest control of the movement from Umarov, in what some experts have labelled a ‘palace coup.’ The relationship between Umarov and the small militant underground in Chechnya remains problematic.

The federal authorities captured Emir Magas and killed Emir Astemirov in 2010, making Dagestan an even more important front in the regional insurgency. In recent months there has also been a shift in tactics by groups in another republic in the North Caucasus – Kabardino-Balkaria. While the former leadership of the jamaats operating in KB advocated the creation of a clandestine support network, launching sporadic attacks, statements by the current leadership have called for a more systematic and violent campaign – which has been borne out by a real upsurge in attacks in the republic.

Dagestan continues to be a focal point of the insurgency at present – the two bombers who struck in Moscow in March 2010 came from Dagestan, and targeted suicide attacks have also continued in the republic, including twin attacks on the 14th of February. Sweep operations targeting militant strongholds continue in Dagestan, while the jamaats therein continue to pose a credible threat to the ruling elite, given that poverty and corruption is rife in the republic.

5. What kind of a role does Islam play in Caucasian groups thinking?

The question of religious influence in the movements in the Caucasus remains something of a moot point. By this I mean that different factions have variously deployed radical Islam – as a rallying cry; as an alternative to Sufi norms; as a way of countering the poverty and corruption in the region – but each group has been sensitive to local conditions. Emir Astemirov retained support because of his theological education, but also because he was a descendant of nobility in Kabardino-Balkaria; Emir Magas, sought to encourage support from the youth in Ingushetia, whether Sufi or if they had a radical agenda, in response to the harsh measures adopted by the Ingush authorities, the poverty and corruption; the jamaats in Chechnya, while radical, retain a focus on fighting in the republic; whereas in Dagestan, the radical strain of Islam has a deeper lineage. And so Islam plays a variety of roles unifying some factions of the resistance; it provides an overarching narrative which has been used to re-organise the insurgency, creating a regional social movement which had its genesis in the inter-war years in Chechnya.

6. Is there a role being played by outside actors in this violence, or is this purely an internal Russian question?

This is perhaps one of the questions which has received the most attention – along with readings (and in many cases mis-readings) of suicide attacks linked to the North Caucasus – but which are largely misunderstood by commentators. Outside actors have always played a role in the violence – although the vast majority have been linked to the broader Diaspora community. As aforementioned, Chechnya became a focal point for jihadis in the latter part of the 1990s, although many foreign jihadis were not accepted, nor became integrated into Chechen military formations. By 2000 many foreign volunteers had left Chechnya, although a staunch group of Arab fighters – numbering a few dozen – did remain in the region and did continue to operate in support of the insurgency. This included Jordanian, Saudi, Kuwati and Yemeni individuals, amongst others. The majority were linked to Ibn Khattab – and included a number of North African militants – although the ranks of the jihadi volunteer movement, including members of Khattab’s inner circle were decimated by 2000. As I have argued elsewhere, a fissure existed in the Salafi-Jiahdi movement in radical circles in the Middle East; in one sense groups in places like Saudi Arabia variously supported foreign fighters in Chechnya, placing Khattab as a traditional jiahdi volunteer fighting the ‘near enemy’ while others, such as the group linked to Bin Laden, targeted the near enemy (See Moore & Tumelty, 2008; Moore & Tumelty, 2009). Although the foreign fighter movement numbered around a few dozen by 2002 (Moore & Tumelty, 2008 & 2009), it has to be contextualised in the context of a broader Diaspora community, which included radical elements that overlapped with the Salafi-Jihadi movement and the indigenous militant movement.

Turkish volunteers also provided active manpower, in support of the then nascent military jamaats. The vast majority of volunteers did, however, come from the ethnic and sub-ethnic groups in the North Caucasus, although again, the number of volunteers remains unclear. The fact that the violence has continued, in varying degrees of intensity for nearly twenty years, indicates that the movements in the region have a social base – and are largely indigenous. Since 2007, the movement has adopted a more regional character – but can only exist through local support.

 

A new post for Whose World Order?, drawing on some of my more interesting experiences here in Shanghai. I am constantly surprised at how similar the Chinese and American outlooks are. Hopefully in the longer term this bodes well and does not augur conflict.

Shanghai View: Reading Orwell in Shanghai

Date: 10th March 2011  |  Author: Raffaello Pantucci,

Categories: China,
Tags: 1984Jane AustenOrwellShanghaiChina

I am sometimes asked at my institute to interview prospective employees, to assess their level of English. It is usually a pretty depressing experience, as most of these young Chinese speak excellent English (certainly infinitely better than my Mandarin). After starting off with some getting to know you questions, I try to dig into something substantive that they are interested in. Recently I decided to ask them all what books they had read and liked in English.

The position that was being recruited for was an administrator’s role, and those (mostly young women) interviewing for it were English language or literature graduates. When confronted with the question what book they liked most, Jane Austen scored the most, with Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility most common (one girl had to whip out her ipad mid-interview to tell me the name of her favourite – “Sense and Sensibility”). William Faulkner’s short story A Rose for Emily did well, and a girl who had done French language and literature at University was a fan of Hugo’s Notres Dame de Paris(the Hunchback of Notre Dame in English). All pretty standard stuff and probably course texts chosen by nervous job interviewees who wanted to say the right thing.

A couple were a bit more revelatory – one girl who had done her dissertation at University on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Great Gatsby said she liked the book because of the parallels she saw in the “American dream” and the new “Shanghai dream.” One of the few males said that he was a fan of Moby Dick because of the idea of an everlasting chase to beat the enemy, a situation he empathized with. But even these were tempered reactions, and I was very surprised to learn that the girl who had studied Fitzgerald had not read any other books by the author. A lack of inquisitiveness that is surprisingly common amongst some students I come across.

But then, at the end, a friend asked if I could interview her daughter as well, so she could practice her English. Sure thing, I said, and did the same questions I had before. This time, she launched off into telling me that Orwell was her favorite writer and in particular 1984 and Animal Farm. Why? Well, the book, she said, had a lot to teach us. In particular, she thought that it could show the Communist Party how it might try to improve itself and its image in the world. The lessons that could be learned from 1984 could help the Party show the world that Communism does not have to be that bad.

Now of course this girl did not have anything to lose in her interview and so was less inhibited. But it was an interesting perspective that highlights something I have touched on before – the patriotism that stirs within many young Chinese. Even a book which might be seen as damning for China (I recently re-read it while on a long car journey across China’s restive Xinjiang province and certainly saw some parallels) is seen by some of China’s youth as another opportunity for their great country to do better. They are fundamentally part of the system and proud of it, seeing a country before them in which one can reasonably talk about an aspiration to a “Shanghai dream” being a reality. These are by no means cock-eyed optimists, but instead young people with outlooks that to me seem very similar to those of youth in the United States or Europe. Does this mean that the system as it is will simply continue into perpetuity? Not necessarily, as, in parallel to this growing desire to aspire, there is clearly a growing desire to reform – just at a Chinese pace, rather than something pushed from the outside. At least, let us hope it is going in this direction, as otherwise dystopian visions similar to 1984 or Brave New World that were painted in subversive best seller The Prosperous Time: China 2013 last year might come to pass.

Another book review in the same edition of Terrorism and Political Violence, this time I see that I am one of two reviewers of the book “Ethnic Identity and National Conflict in China” which looks at the subject of Islamist radicalisation in China. It was interesting and on an undercovered subject which I have tried to research on while I am here, but with great difficulty. They provide a pretty detailed overview of events so far. I also had the pleasure of meeting a couple of authors last year in Singapore and they had some interesting insights. I know of a couple of other books in the pipeline on this topic, so am looking forward to reading more about it, and hopefully contributing myself at some point. It seems to me that China has got an interesting problem with violent radicalisation, though it is equally unclear given the almost blanket hiding of any coverage about it, how much is actually going on and how much is merely a noise. A very confusing vision.

Similar to the last one, unfortunately, this is also behind a firewall and I am going to ask if I can republish it here.

UPDATE: I see the authors have created a website where they have posted the full text.

I have a couple of book reviews in the latest Terrorism and Political Violence journal. They seem to enjoy my reviews and I greatly enjoy reading, especially for a purpose like this. I have a few more in the pipeline. This first one looks at a book published in the UK called “Ricin!” by the former jury foreman and a journalist which focuses on the disrupted ricin plot from 2003. It was a very useful book from the perspective of understanding a specific plot better, though parts of its conclusions seem a little skewed. Some interesting insights into the Algerian community in London and the legal contortions that had to be gone into in this case. It also gives detail on the information that the Algerians passed on to the Brits when they picked up one of the Algerians who had run away from the UK. Quite a messy pile of intel by the looks of it and none of which was obtained using polite questions.

Unfortunately, the review can only be found behind a firewall here. I am asking the publisher if I can place it here, but in the meantime feel free to write if you are specifically interested.