A NEW PERSPECTIVE ON TERRORISM
by Comandante Chispas
You cannot understand terrorism without understanding middle class rebellion. You cannot understand middle class rebellion unless you understand French poet Arthur Rimbaud. In both fundamental regards, the CIA, FBI, NSA, Pentagon and White House are utterly clueless.
That is in a nutshell is the thesis of The Source of Terrorism: Middle Class Rebellion (Booklocker Publishers, 2009).
I want to thank Thomas Belvedere for giving me permission to cite extensively from Source. He was reluctant to do so; we went back and forth for two weeks. He finally agreed with the stipulation that I publish Source´s initial words:
I wrote this essay for intelligence officers engaged in the fight against terrorism. My hope is to orient their thinking in a new, fruitful direction. Worldwide audience: 500 people. With that limited readership in mind, I was able to say certain things without restriction or reservation. They are presented strictly on a need-to-know basis, and only after time showed conclusively that a number of practical problems associated with terrorism could not be solved otherwise.
If you are an academician or from the media or general public, you will find this essay deeply disturbing. You will view it as an attack on many of your most cherished ideas, values, and assumptions. It is not my purpose or wish, however, to make you anxious, upset. For that reason, I urge you to close this book and return to a road more traveled."
I also agreed to suppress the post immediately and with no questions asked if Belvedere changed his mind.
If our subject interests you, I suggest you read it sooner rather than later.
Washington lacks insight into terrorism because it has no analysis.
The practical upshot is an on-going ineptness in determining what goes on inside a terrorist´s mind; who is and is not a terrorist; what makes a terrorist; how and where to locate a terrorist; and how some terrorists can be rehabilitated and integrated into society whereas others cannot More on these subjects shortly.
Inherent to any analysis are definitions. The Source of Terrorism:
"A terrorist is usually a middle class rebel (1) experiencing magnified marginal or transitional conditions, who (2) voluntarily (3) goes through certain rites of passage, among which are (4) clique membership and (5) a deliberate decision to commit a criminal act that is almost always (6) violent and usually (7) murder, in (8) the name of higher intentions or convictions without (9) retaining consciously the ambiguity of his criminal act and his higher intentions/convictions. He expresses powerful, unconscious, ambivalent emotions in two ways: (10) converting his intentions/convictions into idées fixes or absolute truths, the opposite extreme from ambiguity, and (11) wielding uncertainty as a weapon. That uncertainty is total, as shown by the fact that (12) everyone — allies, non-combatants, even himself — is a potential victim. A concluding note: it is the syndrome, the running together of components, which counts — not specific components taken in isolation.
By not admitting what he cannot admit, the terrorist guards his secret, even from himself.
By not admitting what he is, the terrorist shows the gravity that admission holds for him. To my knowledge, no terrorist or other middle class rebel has ever said what he is.
What he is, is the secret he keeps: he is a middle class rebel."
Belvedere analyzed elsewhere how existing United States Government definitions of terrorism are so full of holes, a typical teenager can play them like a flute.
The federal government´s inability to formulate a definition that makes sense is simultaneously a prerequisite and result. When it comes to terrorism, Washington literally and figuratively does not know what it is talking about.
A bumper sticker on a grade school teacher´s car got it right: "If you think education is expensive, try ignorance." The past-due bill for the lack of insight riddling the government -- which extends down to state and local law enforcement agencies, mental health professionals and university/high school teachers and counselors -- arrives unexpectedly but without fail from Santa Barbara to Santana High School in California to Ft. Bragg in North Carolina to Camp Chapman in faraway Afghanistan to Columbine in Colorado to Camp Bucca in Iraq to Virginia Tech to hot Tucson in Arizona and Guantanamo in Cuba to Boston, Massachusetts to Orlando, Florida to Sandy Hook, Connecticut to ...
There is a growing, gnawing fear in Western societies that European, Australian and American terrorists with their organizational contacts and military skills will bring the war home. As ISIS loses ground in the Middle East, that fear is increasingly justified.
For their part, jihadists are ready, willing and able to play their assigned role. One of them lectured/threatened Westerners: "The mujahideen around the world will not hesitate, whenever there is a possibility, to cut your heads...As long as you keep bombing you will not find peace. You will even fear traveling to the market."
Government responses range from programs to rehabilitate and reintegrate returning jihadists (Denmark and Holland) to imprisonment or banishment (England). The point is, without an understanding of terrorists, any and all responses will be at best inadequate, at worse foment the very phenomenon they are supposed to eradicate. To Belvedere´s knowledge, that understanding has yet to develop in any government anywhere.
What is to be done?
We present here a cursory outline of what is needed: a sensitivity to a syndrome. The syndrome in question is outlined in the definition of terrorism given above.
In that definition, an understanding of terrorism starts with the middle class. To date, not a single quantitative or qualitative, scholarly investigation contests that conclusion; on the contrary, all support it. Example: a recent quantitative study found that 67% of French jihadists are from middle class families.
Given overwhelming scientific evidence, why, outside Source, has nobody investigated in depth the terrorism-middle class connection?
The answer is something you already know, but may not be aware of.
When what is common knowledge is not openly acknowledged, a taboo is in place.* The prevailing American ideology, which is middle class in origin, cannot openly acknowledge the obvious because to do so would open the door to a serious questioning of that ideology´s basic assumptions. By definition, no "ideology" allows that type of inquiry.
In the case of terrorism, a questioning of basic premises would be doubly serious, for, as Belvedere showed, the very middle class ideology that purports to investigate the problem is part of the problem.
Acquiring a sensitivity to the terrorist syndrome requires going to the bottom of the middle class-terrorism relationship. To do so is to ask: What is the ultimate reality of terrorists?
The real motive of a terrorist is not political or religious.
It is relief from ambiguity -- or more precisely, from ambivalent emotions created by ambiguity.
Ambiguity is the middle class rebel-terrorist´s lot because any middle class position, status, or condition -- of which the socioeconomic middle class is the largest but by no means the only example -- is inherently transitional/intermediary/marginal, i.e., ambiguous. Anybody who has ever crossed a street has been middle class in that wider meaning of the term.**
On the one hand, on the other; there´s the good side and the bad side... The middle class rebel-terrorist seeks relief from ambivalence because he cannot endure the tension of opposites endemic to his situation. Those feelings are for the most part unconscious; their dynamic -- their energy -- is the source of his fervor.
For a cure, he turns to an absolute because an absolute is the opposite of ambivalence. The absolute can be a religion, a political ideology, whatever. Indeed, a middle class rebel can make an absolute out of anything: a straight line will do. It is that propensity, rather than any specific absolute, which matters.
The quest for an absolute is the telltale heart of the middle class rebel-terrorist.
As for how a middle class status or condition creates ambivalence:
A condition of dependency always creates ambivalent feelings. No middle class – from crossing a street to the socioeconomic middle class -- can escape dependency. No middle class can be autonomous because it ceases to exist without something above and something below it; in front of and behind it; to its left and right. To clarify: if everybody were middle class, nobody would be middle class.
The anthropologist Mary Douglas poignantly identified the inherent link between an intermediary/transitional/-marginal position and violence/extremism/terrorism:
"Danger lies in transitional states, simply because transition is neither one state nor the next, it is indefinable. The person who must pass from one to another is himself in danger and emanates danger to others."***
Understanding intermediary/transitional/marginal situations and conditions and the ambivalent emotions they create, is ultimately the secret to defeating terrorism.
Let´s look at three Western ISIS terrorists through the lens of the middle class rebel syndrome.
Only a perfunctory glance is possible because only perfunctory information is available. All three men appear in the ISIS executioner line-up pictured with this Ello post.
- A Welshman, Nasser Muthana, 20, stands immediately to the left of the masked Jihadi John.
From a middle class socioeconomic background, Nasser had offers from 4 universities to study medicine. An interview with his father reveals how Nasser was also middle class in the wider sense of the term -- intermediate/marginal/transitional.
His home life was a beehive of ambiguity:
"Having spent many hours with him this week, attempting to make sense of these well-educated young men’s decision to abandon their promising futures and run with fighters who routinely behead their enemies, I am convinced of his good intentions.
However, hearing him talk about his favourite TV shows and his penchant for nightclubs and pretty Welsh ‘Valley Girls’ before his arranged marriage, one can’t help but wonder whether he sent out mixed messages to his errant sons, Nasser, 20, and Aseel, 17, and if so, whether this unwittingly contributed to their cataclysmic decision to become ‘jihadists’.
An engaging man who has driven himself to the brink of exhaustion this week in the hope of dissuading other misguided young Muslims from following the same path as his sons, Mr Muthana, 57, who came to live with an uncle in Britain when he was 17, doesn’t shirk the question.
‘Yes, we raised our sons to be a mixture of British and Yemeni,’ he admits. ‘They were born in Wales and we thought that was the right way.
‘They attended a Roman Catholic primary school (where he is a parent-governor), they ate Yemeni food and roast beef on Sundays, and they would dress in Yemeni style for special occasions, but wear western clothes in the week. We would play reggae and rock as well as traditional Yemeni music.
‘I took them to the mosque and they learned Arabic. But we wanted them to have a Welsh education and British standards - to be reliable and polite, like doctors, lawyers and barristers — and treat people properly.´...
Occasionally, he smiles ruefully, when their mother wasn’t around, he’d also let the older boys watch the belly-dancers with him. Until a few months ago, it seemed that this considered, East-meets-West upbringing had achieved spectacular results.
Now he tortures himself with thoughts that he might have failed his jihadist sons in some way..."
Nasser´s father´s anguish is palpable. He sought relief by subsequently declaring he would not welcome Nasser home and by denying that the man in the video is Nasser. To each his own absolutes.
Did Nasser´s father find answers? Or non-answers? A stunning example of the latter immediately follows.
- Frenchman Maxime Hauchard, 22, is the third man to Jihadi John´s right. His socio-economic background is, like Nasser´s, middle class.
Hauchard´s uncle said that "he was aware that his nephew had travelled to Syria but was puzzled as to his motives. ´I don’t get this. My nephew would never chop off a head, it’s not possible. He wouldn’t hurt a fly.´” In the same vein, neighbors described Hauchard´s behavior as "having nothing extremist about it. He was friendly and completely normal."
The mayor summed up: "He was never rebellious." Is the town a ghetto crammed with alienated youth? Au contraire. The mayor answered there is "basketball, karate, judo, danse...We even refurbished the skate park!"
What more could anybody possibly ask for -- a refurbished skate park?
We have seen all such comments before, many times. The ISIS terrorist Hauchard was "completely normal" -- all too normal, we add. A hallmark of the middle class rebel is that he is, in certain stages of his development, extremely normal. That gives his game away.
It sounds counter-intuitive but the extremism with which the rebel embraces the normal, the banal, the non-extreme, identifies him as a rebel. Source (p. 213): "the middle class rebels by conforming, i.e., conformism in extremis shows that class has overshot the mark..." In his non-rebellion -- often, anti-rebellion -- phase, all the dynamics that characterize rebellion as we commonly know it are present, albeit latently. Only the manifestations vary.
Never rebellious. Those two words sum up Maxime Hauchard and thousands like him. Since all parents want their children to be good little boys and girls -- the more so, the better -- , the rebel within does not merely go unrecognized; it is actively cultivated. Which is to say: Mom and Dad had a problem long before they had children.
Actively cultivated -- how?
One extreme is always living testimony to the presence of its opposite nearby. The latter is usually in a latent condition. It is that presence which makes the first extreme an extreme in the first place.
To sum up:
Beware the good child -- the polite and well-mannered kid, the altar boy, the youngest-ever Eagle Scout, the engineering student, the exemplary marine, the accomplished pianist, the officious bank teller and bill collector. He, not the teenager caught drinking beer or smoking a joint, is the one who climbs up into the tower at the University of Texas and shoots 48 people.
We come to our third Western terrorist-executioner: Jihadi John.****In 2015 he was revealed to be another middle class rebel, Mohammed Emwazi, a mild-mannered British Arab computer programmer.
True to form, when his mask came off, Jihadi John deflated faster than the Wizard of Oz could say "Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain." Jihadi John was finally revealed to be just ... little "John" -- the shy kid who the other boys -- girls too -- bullied.
A preliminary warning: be prepared to be astonished at how quick and easy it would have been to identify Jihadi John. No hundreds of millions of wire-taps and emails monitored and cell phone intercepts were needed -- not one. No billion-dollar whiz-bang satellites in outer space either.
Here is Belvedere´s Terrorist Identification Procedure. It has as its foundation the fact that most terrorists are middle class. Not only would the Procedure have identified Jihadi John in a matter of days, the same is true for other terrorists, e.g., Tamerlan Tsarnaev, head of the 2013- Boston terrorist attack:
"1. Take out a telephone book.
Open it to universities and colleges.
Call their engineering schools.
Acquire lists of their present and past students and professors.
Before continuing: why engineering schools?
Mark Sageman, formerly a C.I.A. psychiatrist, concluded from his first-hand study of terrorists: ´Very often these persons have already chosen such unambiguous [sic] technical fields as engineering, architecture, computer science, or medicine. Students of the humanities and social sciences were few and far between in my sample.´**** For the record, Dr. Sageman also concluded that terrorists were ´generally middle-class, educated young men.´*****
- Tamerlan [Tzarnaev] was a former engineering student. Dkhokhar [Tzarnaev] was a marine biology student. In this case, the FBI had photos of the suspects. The fact the FBI released the photos to the media showed it had zero leads regarding who the suspects were and hoped the general public would help. Tragically, the publication of the photos tipped off the brothers that the noose was tightening; their spree of violence ensued.
The FBI should have withheld the photos and showed them only to engineering school personnel. They would have identified and located the Tsarnaevs within hours.
If engineering schools do not provide leads, proceed to other hard science faculties, e.g., medicine, computer science and architecture, thereafter to all other faculties associated with middle class professions.
If universities and colleges provide no leads, shake the tree. Open the phone book again. Bring in all middle class professionals, e.g., engineers, lawyers, doctors and accountants, for interrogation. Somebody will know something."
It is easily shown, Belvedere says, that when it comes to finding and handling terrorists, the FBI, CIA, NSA, Pentagon and White House not only are not on first base, they are not in the state that has the county that has the city that has the ballpark where the game is being played.
Put at the top of the list of America´s confusion the use of torture.
President Trump´s position on torture is unclear. During the campaign he initially said he favored torturing suspected terrorists and killing their families. He then reversed himself when it was pointed out that torture is illegal. The lead Democratic member of the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Adam Schiff of California, noted that while Trump "has now said he would obey the law, he has yet to specifically disavow torture or killing the families of our enemies."
"Let's be clear," Schiff said in a statement, "these are war crimes, no matter who is ordering them or carrying them out."
When all is said and done, does torture work?
The Senate Intelligence Committee released a report on torture by the CIA of terrorist prisoners.
The report was based on five years of research involving, among other things, millions of pages of documents. CNN highlights:
"´The use of the CIA's enhanced interrogation techniques was not an effective means of obtaining accurate information,´ according to the Senate Intelligence Committee report.
The report debunks the top 20 examples CIA has used to defend the now-shuttered enhanced interrogation program, claiming that each of the examples ´was found to be wrong in fundamental respects.´
Additionally, false confessions obtained by enhanced interrogation techniques from detainees led the CIA to pursue dead leads that did not help in the fight against al-Qaeda."
Instead of maturely evaluating the results and discarding torture as a technique, the CIA immaturely lied about the results:
"The Senate report also concludes that the CIA ´provided extensive amounts of inaccurate and incomplete information to the White House and top national security staff.´ The DOJ legal memo that justifies the use of enhanced interrogation techniques, according to the report, is based on evidence the report says is false."
Do you doubt Belvedere´s basic position that when it comes to terrorism, the CIA is an amateur hour in search of a Ted Mack? The Senate report continues:
"Junior officers were tasked with oversight of detention facilities and untrained CIA officers interrogated detainees unsupervised.
At the CIA detention facility referred to as COBALT in the report, a ´junior officer on his first overseas assignment with no previous experience or training in handling prisoners´ was placed in charge. During his tenure, a detainee died of suspected hypothermia in 2002."
As for the price paid by taxpayers for CIA stumble-bumming, try this for starters:
"Two psychologists who helped develop the CIA's enhanced interrogation procedures founded a company in 2005 to help run the CIA's interrogations program.
Between 2005 and 2009, the company pulled about $81 million from the government."
$81 million? On top of all the deceit and brutality and degradation and denial and back-filling and national shame and cover-ups and war crimes -- all of them needless -- you will be seeing and reading about in the coming years, Belvedere says you can add this:
The CIA doesn´t know how to cut a deal.
We conclude on a practical note.
For now, the Western door to comprehending terrorism is closed. The ideological blinders are on. Tragically, some Ello readers may experience a very real, tangible consequence of that blindness where they live and work. Under existing circumstances, ´programs for returning jihadists will set killers free while innocent men and women are locked up. Those errors are, in a larger sense, already being committed almost daily and on a huge scale.
On a practical level, any attempt to find a terrorist; any interrogation of a suspected terrorist; any effort to lead a terrorist to co-operate; any dialogue with terrorists about prisoner exchanges or hostage releases; any program to rehabilitate or reintegrate a terrorist into society -- all should first and foremost focus on the terrorist's ambiguous middle classness and the associated, ambivalent, unconscious emotions.
Without that focus, counterproductive results are inevitable.
Focus – how? We continue the quote of Mary Douglas cited above. It contains the key:
“Danger lies in transitional states, simply because transition is neither one state nor the next, it is indefinable. The person who must pass from one to another is himself in danger and emanates danger to others. The danger is controlled by ritual which precisely separates him from his old status, segregates him for a time and then publicly declares his entry to his new status. Not only is transition itself dangerous, but also the rituals of segregation are the most dangerous phase of the rites…The whole repertoire of ideas concerning pollution and purification are used to mark the gravity of the event and the power of ritual to remake a man -- this is straightforward."
Instead of paying two psychologists $81 million to regurgitate inhuman Soviet interrogation techniques cooked up during the Cold War, anti-terrorists would do better to examine and initiate certain rituals and rites for terrorists.
The power of ritual to remake a man. At the moment, ISIS and other terrorist groups understand that power far better than Washington and its allies perhaps ever will.
*The essential reason why taboos are endemic to any middle class is that class is transitional, intermediary, marginal. The anthropologist Franz Baermann Steiner refined Arnold Van Gennep’s theory of rites of passage:
"[Van Gennep] concerns himself with ritual behaviour occasioned by passing from one social status to another and from one age or relationship to another. He shows us the eternal pattern of transformation, of becoming, in which the stage before transformation and the one after are socially recognised, safeguarded, and protected. The passage over the border itself, however, is unrelated to such safeguards and lies in a sphere of danger. In passing through, and even in enacting these dangers, various ritual abstentions are observed, and in this context one suddenly discovers that the great number of taboos are indeed concerned with the various delimitations of our spheres and boundaries, our time span and our experiences…One aspect of taboo undoubtedly consists in providing an idiom for the description of everything that matters in terms, quite literally, of transgression; of passing, that is, from inside-outside the individual’s rights or competence."
Franz Steiner, Taboo, Truth, and Religion: Selected Writings, Volume 1, Berghahn Books, New York, 1999, p. 189.
**An entire country can be, in situational terms, middle class. Such was the case of Iraq following the 2003 invasion:
“´We are all betwixt and between, suspended between the hope for freedom and the danger of occupation,´ said Sayyid Abu Mfurtadah Yasiri, 45, an Iraqi cleric, who fled the southern city of An Najaf 23 years ago after agents of Saddam murdered the grand ayatollah who was his religious mentor. ´We are happy to be rid of injustice, but we fear the Americans’ intentions.´”
Neil MacFarquhar, “Arabs are stunned and wary,” International Herald Tribune, April 11, 2003.
Mary Douglas, Purity and Danger, Routledge, London, England, 1996, p. 97.
*Marc Sageman, Understanding Terrorist Networks, University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 2004, p. 116.
*****Ibid., p. 96.
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