Category Archives: International relations

Issues and theory

Southeast Asia: Terrorism Online

In Southeast Asia, discussions of terrorist groups, by participants themselves, are regularly posted on websites and various web forums and chat rooms to entice new recruits. In fact, convicted terrorists have given evidence of the influence of the internet in their recruitment and communication strategies.

A study by the Australian Strategic Policy Group in 2009 found that the internet might become the dominant factor in radicalization in the region. Exploring this is instrumental to understanding the issues of global jihad and terror. We live in an interlinked world, and it makes sense that terrorism worldwide is a loose global network. There have been many news reports in the current Iraqi crisis and the group Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) has been getting recruits from all over the world, especially Southeast Asia.

Harrison and Barthel in 2009 argued that the “active audience” in social media is rooted in older forms of rebellious media use, like community radio or participatory public art projects. Social media, however, extends the potential scope and impact of radical resistance and collaboration. And radicalisation in the area, and its links globally is certainly not a new phenomenon.

Where are groups based?

There are two major terrorist groups in the Philippines. One was established by former combatants in Afghanistan and the second, the Rajah Sulaiman Islamic Movement (RSIM), was founded by Ahmed Santos, a Filipino who became radicalised while living in Saudi Arabia.

In Thailand, terrorism is an insurgency rather than an issue of global jihad like in the Philippines. And going to Syria for jihad is a trend among groups in Indonesia and the Philippines, but not in Thailand. Malaysia and Indonesia have a strong radical online presence.

However, there is no major jihadist headquarters in Southeast Asia, and all extremist trouble from the region has been local. This means governments have dealt with these groups with talks and negotiations. This is especially true in Indonesia after the 2002 Bali bombing and the peace agreement between the MILF (the Moro Islamic Liberation Front) and the Philippine government.

The internet is effective enough to help these groups recruit new members and get in touch with their members through websites or social media. However, recruitments on Facebook are rare, these are more for coordination and discussion of already existing groups. This said, the group that attempted to bomb the Burmese embassy in Jakarta this year first met on Facebook. While another group in Jakarta, Madiun and Solo, which was first mistaken with the Sunni Movement for Indonesian Society (HASMI) group, also met on Facebook and plotted a failed terror attack.

Are things changing?

Southeast Asia was once a possible second front for al-Qaeda but has actually seen a decline in extremism over the last decade. This is because good law enforcement, cooperative interstate relations, peaceful resolution of communal conflicts in Indonesia and the closing of major terrorist training centers have weakened networks.

Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), the group responsible for the 2002 Bali bombings, once had a presence in five countries. But by 2003, it had largely reduced to Indonesia, and its leaders decided to end violent action there in 2007. Yet the group has a presence in Syria according to a recent report by the Jakarta-based Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict (IPAC).

Between late 2012 and January 2014, JI’s humanitarian arm, the Hilal Ahmar Society of Indonesia (HASI), sent ten delegations to Syria to deliver medical aid and cash to the Islamic resistance. “The danger remains that fighters returning from Syria could infuse new energy into Indonesia’s weak and ineffectual jihadi movement,” the IPAC study concluded.

In the current state of terrorism in the region, it seems that extremists have spread where they have found causes outside the region. And the groups operating are smaller and most likely pose national and not regional threats.  This means, however, Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore in particular have potential worries over the next few years when extremist nationals, or neighbours who have been fighting in Afghanistan and Syria, come back with new skills. 

How does this online presence work?

The phenomenon of online extremism first appeared in Southeast Asia in early 2000, in the Bahasa Indonesia and Malay language cyber-environment. These websites tried to mimic the contents of their Arabic and Middle Eastern online counterparts. Although they were not on a par with operational coordination and trader craft, like technological information on how to make bombs for instance, they were catching up by 2009.

These Bahasa and Malay websites have also been used to justify terrorist acts and propagate conspiracy theories. They have also started the sharing of tradecraft materials, such as hacking, firearm and bomb-making manuals. One of the first appearances of such a manual was in August 2007 on the then new forum, Jihad al-Firdaus.

As for actual activity, there have been at least two reported hacking incidents in the region. One of the targets was the website Indonesia.faithfreedom.org that radical Islamists criticise for being derogatory to Islam. The other was a Friendster Account belonging to a member of the same website. And though Jihad al-Firdaus is no longer accessible, more blogs and forums keep cropping up generating and sharing technical information. A recent influential forum is Al-Tawbah that has strong Arabic influences with more videos on jihad and how to make weapons.

Southeast Asian militant groups recognise how important an online media presence is and how they can disseminate information uncensored. For radical groups lacking access to mainstream media, this is perfect. Khattab Media Publication, is the self-proclaimed official media wing of the Mujahidin Syura Council, an extremist group in southern Thailand. They are inspired by al-Qaeda and run a Malay blog. The blog has translations of fatwas by the Palestinian intellectual Abdullah Azzam, the man behind the ideology of al-Qaeda, obliging Muslims to militarily defend their lands and this encourages the use of violence.

There are open forums where people are trying to get in touch with others for Airsoft gun training and martial arts exercises. Quranic verses are then carefully selected to justify actions that could have an impact on human lives in the real world. Social media has allowed jihadists to be portrayed and advertised as heroes and subversive acts are represented as revolutionary victories.

The internet and social media has been a blessing for its ability to share information, what is becoming apparent is that this freedom will have to somehow be balanced with security. 

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A walled world keeping 86% of us out

Today in class we got talking about the Hobbsian state creating and how it creates deterrence politics… that the purpose of the state is to constrain violence, and thus the state becomes a legitimate wielder of power to cause violence. And this of course is the classical definition of the state, that the state is a legitimate monopoly over violence (Max Weber).

Thus territorial lines are drawn to keep violence out and we chest thump our sovereignty and applaud our militaries. And this is not just an extreme right position. Liberals and on left and right create and support policies and practice propose security to discipline and order the state and thus laws are used as instruments for the government and not the people. In fact this is Michel Foucault’s view of the French Physiocrats of the 18th century who laid the foundation for economic change and discontent right before the French Revolution… a time when International Relations was still a toddler. Today, it is an impulsive youth whose most publicized arguments keep giving us slap-on-the-face reasons for why the world is the way it is.

Development and progress thus are not going to happen without security, and  thus those best at this race, keep ‘us’ out. And well they have the sovereignty (common to liberals and realists)/rights (common to liberalism)/capability (neo-realists especially) to do so.

Got this image from http://i.imgur.com/Fqw2e.jpg

WikiLeaks- Middle East out of the closet

Tensions in the Middle East are rising after revelations that Arab states have discussed strikes on Iran with the US. Other anecdotes narrate the friction between the brotherly neighbours, which comprise the so-called Arab world

  • Qatar is using the Al-Jazeera news channel as a bargaining chip in foreign policy negotiations by adapting its coverage to suit other foreign leaders.
  • Saudi Arabia is the world’s largest source of funds for Islamist militant groups and the Saudi government is reluctant to stem the flow of money, according to Hillary Clinton.
  • Cables from The House of Commons in London reveal Senator McCain’s assessment of Iraq and his talks with David Cameron in 2008. Senator McCain said the situation in Iraq had improved. He warned that Al Qaeda would put up a fight and the Iranians were “not going to go quietly into the night.” Al Qaeda, said McCain, had taken to using suicide bombers and now to deploying women bombers. He said one woman was asked why she had tried to become a suicide bomber. She replied, “Because my husband told me to.”
  • Iraqi government officials see Saudi Arabia, not Iran, as the biggest threat to their state.
  • A cable to Washington from the US embassy in Riyadh recorded the Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah saying, “Frequent exhortations to the US to attack Iran and so put an end to its nuclear weapons programme.” The memo said that the king told the Americans to “cut off the head of the snake,” and that working with the US to roll back Iranian influence in Iraq was “a strategic priority for the king and his government.”
  • Behind the scenes, the US administration has a tougher attitude to Iran than what we can see publicly; however, this attitude could still be included in the impotence category; Defence Secretary Robert Gates believes that an attack on Iran is hopeless without the US and solves nothing even with the US.
  • Israel is doing and thinking exactly what we publicly see; as far as the leaked documents go, the Jewish State may be described as the most honest country in the world.
  • Arab countries urge America to bomb Iran; they’re clearly more afraid of their Muslim comrades than what they’re ready to openly reveal.
  • Russia is also afraid of Iran and the big Slavic country is actually excited about the missile defence technology; it may be more excited than many Americans; Russia may try to build its own systems and/or shared systems with the U.S. or others
  • Lebanon’s government warned about “Iran telecom” taking over the country after it uncovered a secret communications network across the country used by Hezbollah.
  • Senior Obama administration officials say many millions of dollars are flowing largely unimpeded to extremist groups worldwide and they have received little help in stopping this from allies in the Middle East.
  • All Iraq’s neighbours, including Saudi Arabia, Iran, Syria and Turkey, attempt to interfere with the country in different ways, Iraq’s president told the US defence secretary, Robert Gates.
  • The US was astonished when the European parliament ordered a halt to an American government programme to monitor international banking transactions for terrorist activity.
  • The president of Yemen secretly offered US forces unrestricted access to his territory to conduct unilateral strikes against  Al Qaeda terrorist targets.
  • Al Qaeda’s branch in Yemen is seen as a rising threat by the United States and was blamed for a parcel bomb plot in October and the failed attempt to blow up a jetliner on December 25, 2009. The cables do not make clear whether the finances of the Yemen group are tied to Osama bin Laden’s network.

The Friday Times, 10 December, 2010. Compiled from the New York Times, The Guardian and WikiLeaks

The Political Spectrum

Theories of international relations, simplified for my students.

for dummies

Love Venn diagrams

(Don’t steal my drawings plz)

Get a grip, Rabbit!

Published in the Friday Times, July 9th issue

Good advice for hard times…

The words on the back of rickshaws are magical, in Punjabi they sound ribald, but once translated into Urdu or English, they instantly attain a deeper gravity. For instance, “Ajj aggay waikh, pichaay na waikh” (don’t look back, look ahead today) and when times get hard, “Lag gai te Rozi, na lagi te Roza”, (If I make money, I’ll feast, if not I’ll fast).

The point is not to sugarcoat adversity, but be sane and simple about it. On the desi front, the best advice on offer does not come from my great grandmother, from a legendary poet, or from a charismatic leader of yore, but from the rickshaw driver. He is a cultural phenomenon in his own right and wants to tell you, “Hosh Ker Kherghosh” (Get a grip, Rabbit!).

On the issue of no-nonsense common sense, the British take the cake. The British are excellent at mincing their words (stiff upper lip and all that) with an inability to match the touch-feely, self-help, motivational sloganeering of America. Thus when Brits find themselves in a tight spot, like the occasional World War, they resort to more restrained and formal modes of address as in
Winston Churchill stoutly saying;“I am an optimist. It doesn’t seem much use being anything else.”

In 1939 on the eve of war, the British government’s Ministry of Information produced three posters, with simple reassuring instructions on how to conduct life during war time. They each said blatantly “Your Freedom is in Peril”; reassuringly “Your Courage, Your Cheerfulness, Your Resolution, Will Bring Us Victory”; and nonchalantly “Keep Calm and Carry On”; all topped with the comforting seal of King George VI’s crown.

The last poster entered popular culture with the BBC calling it the greatest motivational poster of all time. The two and a half million posters with the “Keep Calm and Carry On” message would only have seen the light of day if Germany had invaded Britain. As it was, the need never arose and they were pulped, much to the delight of the Ministry of Information, except that a box went missing and was discovered in 2008 in a house in Northumbria. The discoverers, Mr and Mrs Manley, put the poster up in their bookshop and it became a national treasure. Continue reading Get a grip, Rabbit!

The militarization of aid in Afghanistan

Published in the Friday Times, July 9th, 2010

Saadia Gardezi

The concern for the future of Afghanistan will first and foremost be security, without which reconstruction and development will be difficult

After failed operations of the US forces in Marja this February, it is clear that the Taliban are still a formidable foe. The war has lasted nearly a decade without US military success making it clear that a political solution will have to be constructed, with an attempt at reconciliation between militant insurgents and the Kabul government. The concern for the future of Afghanistan will first and foremost be security, without which reconstruction and development will be difficult.

It is reasonable to consider, that with the much critiqued announcement of the deadline, militants will lay low for until July 2011, and insurgency against the Kabul government will begin anew as the troops withdraw. It is also safe to assume that UN agencies and international NGOs will also start packing up as they anticipate the removal of the US security umbrella. Continue reading The militarization of aid in Afghanistan

Propaganda Sunday

More  on propaganda art…

As opposed to more “inspiring” and nationalistic attempts at garnering support for the Soviet cause (like the one on the side about “A Mighty Sports Power”) this poster aims at being simple and therefore effective.

Other posters are usually in Russian but this one in English obviously aims at a more international audience. The Soviet Union wanted to promote a positive image of itself throughout the early 1970s against a backdrop of the Vietnam War and a highly volatile relationship with the USA.