September 5, 2007

The Bigger Picture (Part VI)

Last time we left off with environment and how it influences the survival of its symbiotes. The starfish, for example, lives in the ocean. The ocean has many factors that make it liveable for the starfish, such as temperature, alkalinity, salinity, availability of nutrients, and lack of significant pollutants. There are lots of ways to kill off a starfish - our symbol of a decentralized system - by altering its external environment. One need never even touch the starfish directly.

One suggestion is, to combat a decentralized organization, one must decentralize one's own group. The typical reaction of a centralized organization, when confronted by decentralization, is to become more centralized. The United States is a good example, since after 9/11, the country became increasingly centralized. The Dept. of Homeland Security centralized quite a bit of our resources, as well as manpower in the war on terror. Compare this to the founding of our nation, when states were more or less equal with the centralized government. Still not starfish, but as the authors of
The Starfish and the Spider point out, there is a "sweet spot" between centralized and decentralized organizations that can be reached.

But it's unlikely that we'll see any decentralization soon; the republicans, for whom decentralization tends to be a more political position, have been the ones to centralize the government, and the democrats, with their socialist-tendencies, will only centralize it further. Ok, so back to the external environment: how does this apply to Al Quaeda? What are its optimal temperature and salinity and nutrients?

For one, Al Quaeda thrives in an environment where it sees its beliefs justified. Its beliefs are self-confirmed; when it attacks America, America fought back, and with the right spin, suddenly we become the big bad wolf out to get the poor AQ freedom fighters.

It thrives on its ability to persuade people to die for their families. Al Quaeda grows when America or its allies bomb a place, hoping to lop off an arm or even a few cells, and instead mistakenly bomb a hospital or town. This is fresh sustinance for Al Quaeda because suddenly the locals - ill informed in the middle eastern political climate as it is - rightly wish to defend their homes and, vulnerable to suggestion, believe the lies of the terrorists, strap bombs to their chests, and wander off to take out the American troops.

This is to say that Al Quaeda thrives on its ideology. If one were to find a way to change the ideology - or, more realistically, to make that ideology no longer relevant - the organization would find itself in an identity crisis. It would then either adapt, or die, and given its tendency towards religious extremism, my guess is that it would wither and die fairly quickly. To change the ideological environment, we must look at what Al Quaeda is fighting for (or against, as the case may be).

While I'm not going to try and unravel the complicated political climate of the Middle East, it is highly conducive to Al Quaeda operations. What this comes down to (and what the authors of
The Starfish and the Spider point out) is that there is an ideological climate of fear in the middle east. Terror cells are a natural outpouring of this fear: if the locals fear the US, it's easy to recruit them. That middle-easterners are so used to violence as the sole method to ending (continuing?) conflict works in Al Quaeda's favor.

Poverty is a wide contributer. When you're hungry, it's hard to stand up to anybody, much less those that promise to rid the region of someone who hasn't helped you ever, and about whom you hear so many negative things: "The US hates muslims!" "The US bombs our children!" "The US killed my uncle and my brothers!" And so on and so forth.

Advertisers have a name for this: word of mouth advertising. You're more willing to be a repeat customer at, say, Coldstone because somebody told you about their amazing experience there. Likewise, you're even more likely to AVOID said Coldstone if a trusted friend tells you that their products are horrible.

But what could Coldstone do to change that? They could bring their product to you, give you a taste, as it were, to change your mind. And just what would this look like in the middle east? Easy:

Relief efforts.

The shock, the amazement, at such a rediculously simple solution (well, ok, part of the solution, but a big part) to Al Quaeda's growth in the middle east is probably going to get some ridicule, but I've said it
before. Oddly enough, this would seem to fit with scripture as well, in several veins. First off, scripture tells us to love our enemies. Fair enough, but it also tells us to defend the weak and oppressed. But Paul says that warfare is more in the mind; the physical warfare is usually secondary to the mental warfare. Idea (the mind) leads to action, and when those that are vulnerable lack hope, those with a need for power are quick to take advantage.

This is where propeganda comes in. I'm not talking about leaflets from the air, but to be honest, we've sucked at this in Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, etc. We don't promote the ideals of democracy to those it matters most: the majority, and in those countries, the majority are the equivalent of peasants. They're also Al Quaeda's main recruiting ground (and as my friend
Rob points out, the ranking AQ are mostly rich or middle class). If we were to spend the time promoting the ideals of freedom, of justice, and of hope to the poor (practicing them with further relief and reconstruction efforts - and by further I mean better, and by better I mean not with our own interests in mind), the war would take a quick turn.

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My thanks to Ori Brafman and Rod Beckstrom for the inspiration on my last two posts. Their book The Starfish and the Spider was a huge aid to my thinking. I've got to add that I wrote the last post after I'd read only the first chapter, and then this post as I read and after I'd finished. So what you see is both anticipation and repetition of some things they said and some of it's extrapolating on their ideas. At this point it's all sort of jumbled together. But go buy their book and read it; it's worth every penny.

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