Learning History Through Food: a very short essay.

I like to learn. I find myself reading something about a place in passing, a side note in a larger passage, and that thing, that place, gets stuck in my brain. I seek out more information, be it books, novels, movies, and even food. Often, when learning about a place or a people, I try to recreate some sort of food as a way to connect. How much can one really understand a place never before visited by learning about the food? As it turns out, a lot. Here are just two examples:

Bánh Mì, the classic Vietnamese sandwich that has gained quite a bit of popularity in recent years, is a wonderful example of learning through food. Pork, pâté, pickled vegetables, a smear of mayonnaise, and a healthy dose of Vietnamese history fill the bánh mì’s crusty baguette. Baguettes, mayonnaise, and cold cuts are not historically Vietnamese cuisine; they were introduced to the country by the French during their colonization of the country. Initially, any imported goods were only affordable to the French. Around the outbreak of the First World War, there was an increase in European goods in Vietnam, and they became affordable to the Vietnamese. It wasn’t until after the defeat of the French that the Vietnamese modified traditionally French ingredients, and added what was available to them locally. Baguettes remained a constant, thanks to American wheat shipments. The bánh mì made it’s way out into the world following the end of the Vietnam war, after millions of refugees fled the country. There is a lot of history packed into that baguette.

Come Taco Tuesday, you will find any number of people tucking into Tacos al Pastor, a popular Mexican food this side of the border. But it is another dish that tells a bit of the history of its country. In the late 1800s, Lebanese immigrants, fleeing the oppressive Ottoman regime, arrived on Mexico’s shores. More Lebanese immigrated in the 1920s and 1930s, this time for more economic reasons. Like immigrants everywhere, they brought with them their food customs. Like all immigrants before them, they had to make do with what was available to them. Tacos al Pastor evolved from shawarma, layers of highly seasoned lamb, spit-roasted, then shaved into a pita. Once in Mexico, the Lebanese immigrants used the more readily available pork, shaved into a thick tortilla along with a little pineapple. Salsas and limes replaced yogurt, and Tacos al Pastor were born.

The world is filled with examples of food as a means to learn about a people. It doesn’t always have to do with colonization or migration (but often does). Why does that group of people have a certain diet? Because they are isolated mountain people, or surrounded by water. People do move, though. They move in search of food (see: spice routes), and they want food after they move (British curry houses). Volumes could be written about the histories behind the dishes. Learn about the food from a place, and learn about the people. And eat!


Changing Roles? Women as Terror Threat.

There have been several moments in the past year that have made me think about the future of terror attacks in Europe (and elsewhere), and the agency of women. In early February, a video was released showing women fighting for Islamic State. The accompanying narrations says “The chaste mujahid woman journeying to her lord with garments of purity and faith, seeking revenge for her religion and for the honor of her sisters imprisoned by the apostate Kurds.” This “Inside the Caliphate” video caused some commotion, as it showed for the first time women in combat for Islamic State.

Around the same time, SITE Intel Group released a letter written by two French women to Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, asking his permission to be able to fight and “die in the cause of Allah.” If they get their way, they would join women like those already active in France. Last September, a group of women were arrested following a failed attempt to set off a car bomb near Notre Dame Cathederal in Paris. The three women, said to have been guided by Islamic State, were planning another attack on Gare de Lyon.

And in January, a French woman from Brittany was arrested by the Kurds in Syria. Emilie König was living with Islamic State for five years before her arrest, and is said to be a propagandist and recruiter for the terror group. After her capture, she expressed a desire to return to France. Despite her mother insisting König has shown remorse for her actions, others, including the French state, aren’t so sure.

None of these moments seem to be related, but taken together, are they telling us something?

Previously, Islamic State had forbid women from participating in combat, instead assigning them to roles as propagandists, recruiters, enforcers, and of course, homemakers. As the caliphate shrinks, and members are leaving, there is the concern that attacks will be carried out at home. So far, there hasn’t been much evidence that that is the case, with most attacks in Europe coming from homegrown terrorists. Could it be we see an increase in women as homegrown terrorists in France, and elsewhere in Europe?

Islamic State has long encouraged its supporters to attack at home if they were unable to make it to the caliphate. There have been several who have heeded that call, both inspired by the Islamic State, and attacking in the name of the terror group. The 2015 attacks in Paris seem to have been directed by the group.

The video, the women in Paris, and the letter to al Baghdadi might mean some future attacks might not come from who we think.

Admittedly, it may be a bit of a stretch to say that French or other European women are going to ramp up attacks in Paris or Berlin or London. At the same time, there was a cell of Islamic State-inspired women who attempting one attack in Paris, and were planning another. In her book, ‘I Was Told to Come Alone,’ Souad Mekhennet meets with disillusioned Muslim girls in Germany who had hoped to get away from what they perceived as anti-Muslim attitudes. Emilie König, a recruiter, is hoping to make it back to France. Islamic State seemed to have given permission for women to fight “in every way possible.” Along with the French women who wrote the letter of permission, these are just a sample of the women who believe in the cause. There are, presumably, countless others willing to join the fight. Despite examples to the contrary, women are still thought of as victims of terror groups, lured in by false promises, sexually exploited, or brainwashed. They are still overlooked as active participants in extremist organizations. This is something that could be used to their advantage. We just don’t think a woman could willingly die for a cause such as that of Islamic State.

Women have fought for terrorist groups for ages; Islamic State had forbid it except in very specific circumstances. Now the Islamic State caliphate is collapsing, and there appears to be a change of heart with regards to women in combat. And there are women who are willing to fight and die for the cause. France, with a long history of perceived hostility, is a major target for jihadists. While terror attacks are fairly rare, and an nearly all-boys club, they still do occur, and we must not dismiss that some of the future attacks may just be carried out by women.

An Unrefined Rant: Thoughts on Mil-Civ Relations

I am not a member of the military, nor am I a member of academia. I do not have a formal relationship with the military. I was, however, a military spouse for nearly 14 years, and many family members and friends have served. None of this qualifies me to speak of the civilian-military relationship in this country. What does allow me to speak my mind on military-civilian issues is that I am a citizen, and it is my right.

I frequently hear about the need to bridge the gap in the relationship. I am not sure I would say the relationship is broken, but it is in need of some sort of therapy. If it were a couple, one would be almost slavishly devoted to the point of obsession, while the other can be narcissistic. A broad over-generalization, but there are more than enough examples to show there is some truth.

As a whole, civilians tend to speak of military members as a singular entity: The Troops™. Members of the military are not the Borg, they have not assimilated. They are Soldiers and Airmen, Marines and Sailors. And they all are individuals (despite the persistent stereotype of having been brainwashed). Their reasons for joining are as varied as the individuals who join, be it as a career or as a stepping stone between school and the rest of their lives, or the lauded service to one’s country.

Members of the military are thought to be Conservative or Republican-leaning from working class backgrounds. In reality, they come from all economic backgrounds, and made up of everyone from “bleeding heart liberals” to “right-wing nut jobs.” Most of the time it’s somewhere in the middle. The Right does not have a monopoly on the military. Unfortunately, it’s become more of a stranglehold. It doesn’t allow for all voices to be heard. More liberal members are sometimes shunned as not being a real patriot (whatever that means).

Support for The Troops™ has somehow turned in to a commodity. Military Appreciation Nights are regular occurrences at sporting events, often in conjunction with Department of Defense-funded promotions. The Troops™ and their likeness is used in advertisements, enticement for business, and as political pawns. “My candidate supports The Troops™ more than your candidate!” as if support has turned into a patriotic litmus test. We must support The Troops™ unconditionally or be deemed un-American. We have been conditioned to be unquestioning of anything regarding them. “Why do we have to give them a discount at Home Depot?” turns into “Why do you hate The Troops™? They are fighting for your freedom!” In another twist, people will tell you that the military deserves the discount because they are paid a pittance, and have to rely on food stamps. It is true that there are members who rely on SNAP and other programs, it is not true of the military as a whole. Some of the reasons for the reliance of assistance are the same for people not in the military. The argument can be made that they, too, need a discount at Home Depot, or even a Teachers Appreciation Night at the baseball game.

The flip side of the same coin has a group of military worshipers who may agree with some of the points I bring up, yet they still put the military members on a pedestal, treating them with a sort of adoration usually reserved for movie stars. They are like a modern version of camp followers. They fawn over all things military, these adoring fans. They support all the military causes, promote the products, and share in the commiserating. Talking the lingo and celebrating the diversity of the military doesn’t necessarily bridge the gap. In their purported support for the military, they are contributing to the divide. Elevating even their friends in the military reinforces the thought that one group of people are better than another for merely doing their job.

Then there are the members of the military who act like they should be worshiped and adored. They are “defending your freedom” and the rest of us are lesser people/Americans for not having served. We cannot be as patriotic as them. They refused to be questioned or criticized, personally or professionally. Any attempt to do so is shut down with “but our sacrifice!” “respect!” “you have no right, you’re not one of us!” and of course “defending your freedoms.” They say their personal sacrifices and deaths mean more than those of other Americans. This cheapens the deaths of other Americans, regardless of the circumstance of death. The man who lost his wife early due to illness does not hurt less than the woman who lost her husband in Iraq. His life did not mean more than hers. The divide remains as long as they refuse to help civilians understand their sacrifices, to help civilians understand how their actions are defending our freedoms, or refuse to acknowledge the sacrifice of others.

Both civilians and military members alike need to stop treating the military, and the people who make it up, as a higher class. Closing the divide starts small. Military and civilians academics and lay people have devoted countless hours to the subject. The answer may lie with the every day person. A member of the military – as the military is an all-volunteer force – is just another member of society with a job. Their job, like many others, carries a risk of injury or death. They have the same personal struggles as anyone.  The constant idolization of the military keeps people from looking to close, such as questioning conflicts or leadership, or exposing problems that military members face within their community. How is it beneficial that we are so in awe of a general that we refuse to wonder if his policies are doing more harm than good? How are we a better nation if we elevate one group of people to the point of blinding ourselves to the good that “everyday” people are doing in their own communities?

The national culture of Us vs Them will take a long time to change – and let’s be honest, some minds will never change – but we can narrow the divide.

Of course, how to convince anyone to change…

“Patriots,” Antifa, & Black Bloc*

Now, what do these things have in common? It seems a lot of folks are getting some of them confused with the others. And actions.

Recently, a group of “patriots” heard a rumor that a local antifa group was going to take down a statue of Sam Houston. Openly armed and dressed in makeshift body armor like cosplayers from a never-to-be-made superhero movie, these Texas “patriots” went to Houston’s Hermann Park to confront “Texas Antifa.” Problem was, “Texas Antifa” turned out to be an alt-right troll group, created to discredit the growing number of legitimate (?) antifa groups in the U.S.

I saw pictures on Twitter, and asked what was wrong with those people (the “patriots,” not the antifa). I got a response from one follower who posted an article about possible disruptions by Black Bloc to the then-upcoming G20 summit in Hamburg. He asked if it was unreasonable to think that the “patriots” were afraid of Black Bloc. My reply then, as it was when he repeated the question after the summit, was yes, it is unreasonable. Why? I will answer below. First, who is Black Bloc? Black Bloc is a loosely affiliated group of anarchists whose main goal tends to be property damage and violence during protests. They became known in the U.S. after the Seattle WTO meeting in 1999. They have been more recently been labeled anti-fascists (antifa), and lumped into the growing antifa movement in the U.S.

The antifa movement in the U.S. has largely sprung up in the wake of Donald Trump being elected president. His campaign rhetoric has fueled a rise in hate, and has led many to declare him and his followers as fascists. Granted, there are actual Nazis and white supremacists who openly support the president, but there has been much debate about whether his actions fit the definition of fascism.

That hasn’t stopped people from action, and “antifa” became part of American political dialogue. The antifa movement’s tendency to dress in all black, with their faces covered, has of course led to comparisons and associations with Black Bloc. Their propensity for violent protest has not helped with the associations. There are many degrees of antifa; not all engage in violence. But as the violence increases, the comparisons to the anarchist group will continue.

Where do the “patriots” fit in? It’s a not-so-complicated love triangle. The “patriots” protest at any hint of a removal of statues honoring Confederate figures, or gun restrictions; the antifas protest right-wing figures like Milo Yiannopoulos; and Black Bloc joins in, taking advantage of the chaos. But the “patriots” aren’t dressed for clashes with antifa, despite the Houston protest. They feel it is their duty to fight for what they see as their heritage and Constitutionally protected rights that they think are being taken away by the progressive Left. Although the Houston protest was a result of an antifa rumor, these “patriots” have been protesting long before. The Tea Party movement, a precursor to today’s “patriots,” was conceived early in the Obama years.

So, what do these three groups have in common? Unfortunately, it looks as though the willingness to use violence will tie them together for the foreseeable future. To be honest, the willingness by a group to use violence for political gain is going down the road to terrorism. I still maintain that one group being afraid of another, and the inclination to use violence to counter another movement is unreasonable. Violence begets violence, and to allow it to happen because the other group goes against your political beliefs is irresponsible. Punching Nazis is okay right up until a Nazi punches you in return.

*I put patriot in quotes because I don’t feel they fit the spirit of the whole of the word.

New wave of terror, or just hate crime?

In 2004, David C. Rapoport wrote The Four Waves of Modern Terrorism, a report of terror trends since the birth of modern terrorism in the 1880s. The four waves, according to Rapoport, are:  Anarchist (1878–1919), Anti-Colonial (1920s–early 1960s), New Left (mid 1960s–1990s), and Religious wave (1979–?). Based on the estimated dates of each trend, a new trend is set to emerge soon. The question is what will that trend be?

Looking at some crimes in recent years that people have been calling terrorism, one could think that hate crimes as terrorism might be one such trend. Hate crimes might fit into the loosest of terrorism definitions. The FBI defines hate crimes as “criminal offense against a person or property motivated in whole or in part by an offender’s bias against a race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender, or gender identity.” If that crime is used as a way to advance an (political) ideology, might it be considered terrorism?

Here are some recent examples that some have been describing as terrorism:

Charleston church shooting. Dylann Roof shot nine parishioners of the historically all-black Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal church. After the attack, it was discovered that Roof ran a white supremacist website called The Last Rhodesian.

Orlando nightclub shooting. Oman Mateen killed 49 at Pulse, a gay nightclub. In a call to police during the shooting, he claimed allegiance to Islamic State, and that the attack was in response to the killing of IS commander Abu Wahib. Prior to committing the attack, Mateen had been vocal about his disgust of homosexuality.

Virginia GOP baseball practice shooting. Shot Congressman Steve Scalise (a Republican), wounding him and four others during a practice for a baseball game. James T. Hodgkinson filled his Facebook page with lots of anti-Trump, and pro-Bernie Sanders posts.

London mosque van attack. Darren Osborne ran a van into Muslims leaving Finsbury Park mosque after a Ramadan service. He is quoted as saying he wanted to kill Muslims. The 47-year-old has been described as both a friendly fellow, and as someone who had anger issues, possibly due to drink.

None of these attacks were perpetrated by the same kind of person. They were not all Christian, nor Muslim. What they did have in common was a hatred for a group of people. The Orlando case stands out a little because it has overlapping ideologies. During the call to police, Mateen claimed he was doing the attack for Islamic State, but he had previous voiced a hatred for, and then attacked, gays.

Is this a new wave of hate-crime-as-terror?

Likely not.

The more probable explanation is that the rise in hateful political rhetoric in recent years has emboldened those who previously hid their hatred. The election of Donald Trump, the popularity of Front National, and the seemingly successful campaign of anti-immigration Brexiters has somewhat normalized open hate. The attacks mentioned above certainly appear to fulfill the criteria of hate crimes. Fitting the description(s) of terrorism is another story, however. Other than Mateen, none of these men claimed to be part of an organization. And it’s questionable that their actions were being used for purposes of political persuasion. Alex Schmid, in his Revised Academic Consensus Definition of Terrorism, lays out several points to define terrorism. Each alone could be applied to a variety of crimes, but taken together give a concise definition to the crime. Two points stand out. One, “the direct victims are not the ultimate target but serve as message generators.”  The second point is that “Acts of terrorism rarely stand alone but form part of a campaign of violence.” The attacks mentioned above (with the exception of Mateen) targeted specific people, and they were stand alone attacks.

Hate crimes may be on the rise, but they shouldn’t be misconstrued as terror attacks. A form of right wing terror could very well be the next wave of terrorism, but it is too soon to determine.

Thinking about women’s roles in terrorism

“To underestimate or neglect women jihadists would be a huge mistake for security services…– and one they may pay for in the near future.” – Abu Haniyah

I recently read two article about the roles of women in extremism (specifically, Islamic State), and how we need to change how we view them.

In Article A, the authors list four ways extremists manipulate gender norms. The first way is in the way recruiters customize their message for women. They promise a better life for the women, free from oppression. The second is that Islamic State (IS) uses sexual violence for bonding or intimidation among the fighters. Third, IS and other terror groups exploit the lack of women in security roles (i.e. police) when they execute operations. This is true, to a point. But more often are reports of women being used in places where their presence will not attract attention (such as markets), and knowing they cannot be searched. Finally, IS has developed a narrative about its attacks that highlights the targeting of women and girls. This is a bit skewed. The authors open the article specifically mentioning the targeting of girls at the Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, England. The problem with this message is that in the claim of responsibility, IS does not mention girls or children, but Crusaders. There have been instances in the past of messages from IS threatening revenge for the killing of Muslims, including women and children.

Women play MANY roles in & around IS. And women’s roles have evolved under IS. There are brides, recruiters, planners, fighters, and victim/slaves (as with the Yazidi women). The brides of jihadis often get passed around after their husbands are martyred. Fighters, in IS, is a newer development.

The article doesn’t give much as far as changing the way of thinking. The most important point in the article is tucked in at the end, almost as an afterthought, as a passage briefly mention of the role of women in countering extremism. In my opinion, this is important, not just in a professional capacity. Wives and mothers can play a role in dissuading their sons (and daughters) from joining IS. This is something that should be discussed more in countering extremism, along with how the roles of women in terror groups evolve. This leads me into the second article I read.

Article B is more articulate. It tells of women of IS being “trivialized” or “marginalized” by the media & public. (They’re victims or brainwashed). Societies have a hard time coming to terms with women being violent, and ACTUALLY believing in the IS cause. Because of these societal views, women who join IS or other terror groups usually get lighter sentences. The public just has a hard time believing women are joining these terror groups because they actually believe in the cause. This is true of many terror groups. One point I would like to counter is the statement in the article about al Qaeda relegating its female members to raising the next generation of jihadists. Al Qaeda has used women in support and operational roles, something I’ve written about before here.

Unfortunately, the authors mention, is that cultural attitudes in Muslim societies can make it difficult to conduct investigations. In more conservative societies, a man talking alone with women is not allowed. In some extreme cases, this is being exploited, as women can operate without the scrutiny that some Muslim men involved in terror face. The women are just harder to watch.

As the roles of women in these groups evolve, those in the business of counterterrorism and countering violent extremism need to shed the preconceived notions of women-as-victim. Women are increasingly playing active roles in the organizations, and doing so voluntarily. The terror groups will certainly use this to their advantage, whether we accept it or not. But the sooner we do, the sooner we can address these issues.

Who benefits from the label of ‘terrorism’?

Last week, an armed man entered a Manila casino, and began shooting. In the end, at least 36 people were dead, as was the gunman. After the attack, Islamic State claimed the attack (twice!), and even President Trump called the incident an act of terrorism. The police, on the other hand, said it was not terrorism, but an attempted robbery gone horribly wrong. The gunman was said to be a gambling addict.

Why would both a terrorist organization and a politician both label an attack terrorism, when is wasn’t? As I was asked recently, who benefits from labeling something ‘terrorism’?

First, terrorists themselves benefit. Coverage of a successful attack spreads their message, and spreads fear. Coverage of terror attacks is one of the best forms of propaganda. 24 hour news coverage is free, and has a worldwide reach. The news organizations display the terrorists’ messages, pictures of the dead and wounded, and spread fear of more to come. The very act of terrorism is to instill fear through violence or threat of violence for a certain, often political, gain. The more terror attacks there are (real or perceived), the more people will fear the terrorists, and sometimes even giving in to the demands.

Second, the politicians who are looking to curb freedoms benefit. In the Philippines, President Duterte declared martial law after militants stormed Malawi City. Duterte, no stranger to extrajudicial power plays, could have used the Manila incident to justify the need for even more crackdowns in the country. This is something that has been going on in Erdogan’s Turkey for years. In that country, incidents are routinely blamed on the Kurds, and then used as an excuse to limit rights and even jail people. President Trump benefits by drumming up support from his base for his travel ban. In the aftermath of this weekend’s London terror attacks, Prime Minister May suggested regulating the internet to “deprive the extremists of their safe spaces online.” In short, politicians use the fear of more attacks to push their agendas and gain power.

Third, the news organizations benefit by way of ratings. “If it bleeds, it leads” is a common refrain. Despite the horror of a terror attack, people sit glued to the screen for hours, watching experts and hosts try to make sense of the tragedy. The longer the news channels can keep talking about an incident, the longer people will keep watching.

And finally, a certain class of individuals benefit by being able to push their personal agendas. Over the weekend, a woman asked how the London or Manchester attacks were considered terrorism, but the Sandy Hook shooting was not. She was implying it was due to race/religion, and using that point to attack others. Seemingly lacking the understanding that terrorism is a specific thing, she (and others) have used terror attacks not to have a legitimate conversation about the perpetrators of terrorism, but to attack people for imagined discrimination.

Even if a crime is not actually terrorism, there are people who benefit from labeling it as such. And it often comes down to fear or power, no matter who is doing the labeling.


Unanswered Questions About St. Petersburg.

On Monday 3 April, a bomb went off in the St. Petersburg, Russia, metro, killing 14. At first, there was some confusion about the identity of the perpetrator, having originally been blamed on a man from Kazakhstan. After he turned himself in and was cleared, the real attacker was identified as 22 year-old Akbarzhon Dzhalilov, an Uzbek from Kyrgyzstan. Initially, no claims of responsibility came. Then, on 18 April, a claim of responsibility showed up on al Qaeda’s North African channel, Agence Nouakchaott d’Information (ANI). In the statement, it was said that Dzhalilov was a member of a previously-unknown AQ group called Iman Shamil Battalion. The statement also said that Dzhalilov was acting on instructions from Sheikh Ayman al Zawahiri, to coincide with Russian president Vladimir Putin’s visit to St. Petersburg, and threatened more action:

“To the Russian government, which apparently has not taken a lesson from its defeat in Afghanistan, we say: This operation is only the beginning, and what is to come will make you forget it, Allah permitting.”

Following the attack, 8 people from Central Asia were detained in connection to the investigation. Several weeks later, 12 people were detained in Kaliningrad, suspected as being part of a terror cell there. The Kaliningrad cell was said to be led by an Uzbek wanted on extremism charges, and are supporters of Islamic State.

Terrorism in Central Asia is next to nonexistent. Economic conditions in Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan have many seeking to find work elsewhere. They often end up in Russia, where they are treated as lower-class citizens. The alienation they experience can, in part, lead to their being vulnerable to extremist via recruiters, as I wrote here. In recent years, more of their numbers have shown up in terror attacks outside of the region. In June of last year, the attack on Turkey’s Ataturk Airport included Central Asians. The New Year’s Eve attack at an Istanbul nightclub was perpetrated by an Uzbek. This year’s truck attack in Sweden was also carried out by an Uzbek. These attacks, however, were directed or inspired by Islamic State.

Despite the claim of responsibility by AQ, many questions remain. First, why was the claim of responsibility was released on a side channel and not on AQ’s main channel? New York Times writers Rukmini Callamachi and Ivan Nechepurenko spoke of this in an article on 25 April. They raised the question of why this showed up on ANI, AQ’s North Africa channel, but not on their main channel, where they speak of European operations. The statement was first released in Arabic, then later in Russian.

Second, the suspect did not show any of the signs typical of recent terrorists. Dzhalilov was, by most accounts, not an overly religious person, he did or didn’t pray (depending on the report), and save for a couple of “liked” Islamic groups, his social media showed no clues. He, likewise, did not have a criminal record, and did not do drugs. It had been reported that he had quit his job and “disappeared,” rumored to have gone to Turkey and Syria. How did this young man end up following orders from Zawahiri to blow himself up in St. Petersburg? One of the suspects arrested after the attack said in a court appearance that he was acting on someone else’s orders, and that he didn’t know he was part of a terror attack. Whose orders was he following, and what was he told? Dzhalilov told people he had an uncle in Turkey, but was that the real reason he went there? Was there someone who can confirm that he was in Turkey, and who, if anyone, did he talk to there?

Third, the Imam Shamil Group was an unknown group prior to this attack. Who are they? The group is named after a Caucasus imam who led the fight against the Russians in the nineteenth century. Shamil’s name is used frequently in the Caucasus, and it is not out of the question that this group was formed specifically for this attack. It is not an uncommon practice; the most well-known example may be the Madrid bombings in 2004. Mark Youngman, who follows extremism in Russia, gave a lengthy response as to why this group and the claim should be viewed with some skepticism.

One possibility is that al Qaeda is looking to become relevant again. With the rise of Islamic State, al Qaeda has been pushed out of the spotlight, and has lost members to IS. They could be seeking to expand their network outside the Middle East and the Caucasus, with the Imarat Kavkaz (IK) insurgency in the North Caucasus having been largely contained. There have been attacks, but nothing on a large scale. Ramzan Kadyrov’s security forces have been particularly effective at neutralizing the threat. Recruiting Central Asians already in Russia’s cities is one way of expanding their network inside Russia. Although there are factors in place to recruit Central Asia migrants as terrorists, it has not been a common occurrence. Despite the numbers of migrant workers in Russia, there have been very few instances of terror attacks involving them in the country. Most Central Asians involved in terrorism seem to be mostly aligned with Islamic State in the Middle East.

Another (conspiratorial) possibility is the involvement of the Russian government. They have used terror before as a pretext to launch operations, most notably the apartment bombings leading up to the Second Chechen War. And there was once a known Russian-AQ connection. In the 1990’s, the FSB had Zawahiri detained for six months. Besides the apartment bombings, Russia has also aided terrorists in the past for their own gains. Security services allowed known insurgents through checkpoints near Beslan, knowing an operation was possible in the area[1]. The inclusion of the Russian message on ANI by itself means nothing; the attack was in Russia. Maybe an insider had a contact with ANI and not AQ’s main channel. The question here is why would the Russian government need to set up Central Asians as terrorists? Would it be merely to show they can be tough on migrants (who are already treated poorly in Russia)? One result of the apartment bombings was a great increase in the approval rating of the president which, at the time of Yeltsin/Putin, was abysmal. That is not currently the case; Putin enjoys an 80% approval rating.

It has been months since the metro attack in St. Petersburg, and so many questions remain unanswered. Given that this happened in Russia, getting those answers anytime soon is unlikely. The only clues may come from Russia’s future response toward those from Central Asia.

1. David Satter, The Less You Know, The Better You Sleep (New Haven, London: Yale University Press, 2016) p. 104

On Terrorism

Not every crime is terrorism, but terrorism is always a crime.

What is terrorism? That is the question, isn’t it? There is no single definition of terrorism. At its root is terror. Merriam-Webster defines terror as “a state of deep fear.” But terrorism isn’t merely the act of terrorizing. Terrorism, as an act, has a purpose. The same Merriam-Webster calls terrorism “the systematic use of terror especially as a means of coercion.” Many governing bodies and organizations have slightly different definitions of terrorism. However, it is usually some form of violence or threat of violence for gain, usually political, or to promote an ideology. The FBI defines terrorism as “the unlawful use of force or violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives.” Whereas the UK’s Terrorism Act 2000 uses this definition: “acts of persons acting on behalf of, or in connection with, any organisation which carries out activities directed. towards the overthrowing or influencing, by force or violence, of Her Majesty’s  government in the United Kingdom or any other government de jure or de facto.” The UN, being comprised of 193 nations, each with their own ideas of terrorism, does not have a definition. Alex P. Schmid, as part of his Revised Academic Consensus Definition of Terrorism, writes that terrorists use violence or the threat of violence, usually against civilians for predominantly political reasons.

This is not a debate over the definition of terrorism, but rather a suggestion that motive matters, especially in terrorism. In the past few years, the word “terrorism” has been thrown around more and more, in all manner of crimes. In some cases, it has even been used to express unfair treatment. Madonna once called a leak of her music “a form of terrorism.” (She terrorized by her music being leaked?) Using the word to describe any form of grievance or crime cheapens the word. There are those of a particular lean that feel the label is only being applied to followers of a certain religion, and should be applied more liberally to crimes committed by others. Let’s look at some of the high profile incidents that some people have wanted labeled as terrorism:

-The Colorado theater shooting. This mass shooting was perpetrated by James Holmes, who was eventually found not guilty by reason of insanity. Holmes committed an act of violence on a civilian population, but did not use it as an act of political coercion nor to promote an ideology. His full motive remains unclear, but what is known, from his own words, is that he wanted to kill people. In one interview, according to the LA Times, Holmes said he killed to increase his self-worth and make him feel better. There was no political or ideological motive.

-The Charleston church shooting. Dylann Roof committed this mass shooting in a historic Black church. He was convicted of murder and civil rights violations (hate crimes), and sentenced to death. Like Holmes, Roof committed an act of violence against civilians. It can be argued that he did so due to his white supremacist beliefs, as spelled out in his manifesto. But was he using the act to promote those beliefs, or to coerce a government or general population? The judge called the act a hate crime and a case of domestic terrorism; Roof himself admitted he wanted to start a race war. This could lead some question the use of “terrorism,” but there is evidence to apply both terms.

-The Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood shooting. Robert Dear began a mass shooting that ended after a five hour standoff with police. He said he did it for the babies, and that they would thank him. He was found to be delusional and incompetent to stand trial. Dear acted out on his religious beliefs that abortion is a sin, and sought to punish the sinners more than to promote his ideology. Still, he was trying to stop the practice of abortions through violence, making this crime is similar to other past domestic terror attacks targeting abortion clinics.

Terrorism can also be psychological. The threat of violence for gain can be just as effective. Is the current rash of bomb threats to Jewish community centers a form of terrorism? Possibly. The threat of violence on a civilian population certainly can fall into the category of terrorism. While civilians are not the policy makers, they can influence those who do make the policies in order to stop the violence of threats. Threatening civilians as a way to coerce, or to further an ideology, is not unheard of. The Islamic State uses violence and the threat of violence against civilian populations as part of their campaign to establish their caliphate. The violence and threats are to keep the people in line, as well as promoting their ideology. The bomb threats against the Jewish centers do not appear to fall into the category of terrorism for one major reason: the callers have so far not demanded anything from the victims of the threats. The general implication of the threats is that Jews will be slaughtered. Anti-Semitism rather than terrorism. But in threatening violence against the Jewish Centers, the caller(s) are creating fear and chaos. Is that the political motive behind this possible campaign of fear?

Those are but a few examples. For brevity, many others that can be discussed have been left off.

Why does motive matter? Labeling an act of violence as terrorism during an attack, or shortly thereafter, serves no purpose.  In the long term, it can help in how authorities respond to the act. From a criminal justice point of view, the policing approach to terrorism is different than that of conventional crime, especially in deterrence and prevention methods. Many criminal acts are perpetrated by individuals, whereas terrorism – even “lone wolf” terrorism – is often the act of a network. An act of terrorism could lead to additional acts of violence; knowing motive can help authorities in their prevention. The political motivation of terrorism changes the nature of the threat. According to Erin Miller, writing about motive for the START Consortium, “conventional violence is merely a matter of course; terrorism is a matter of national security.” That stresses the importance of terrorism vs. conventional crime. Terrorism is a criminal act, but not a senseless act. It is politically motivated, but the response should not be.

A Genocide and Its Aftermath

To some, the Armenian Genocide, or Great Catastrophe, is a side story to the main fighting in The Great War. Looking closer, the genocide was more a direct result of the war. The Ottomans used their war with Russia as an excuse to deal with the Armenians in East Anatolia. In the decades following, the massacres played a role in the Cold War, diplomatic affairs, and assassinations. It is an event that still resonates in the region and affects relations with Turkey.

Several events at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century led up to the massacre of the Armenians in 1915. In the late 19th century, Russia managed to conquer the southern Caucasus, present-day Armenia, Georgia, and Azerbaijan. This effectively divided the Armenian homeland, and further weakened the already crumbling Ottoman Empire. The Ottomans wanted to purge all non-Muslims in an effort to restore some of the former glory back to the empire. In 1909, an attempted counter-revolution against the Young Turks government in Constantinople failed. The government blamed the Armenians, leading to the massacre of 15,000 by Muslims at Adana, in south-central Turkey. The victims were raped and mutilated, their property destroyed. Following the Balkan wars in 1912-1913, Muslims flooded into Turkey. They government sent them east, to Armenia; giving them license to take whatever they wanted by any means, even if it meant killing Armenians.

It should be noted that Armenia was the first nation to make Christianity its official religion. Once the Young Turks came into power, they sought to modernize Turkey, politically and economically, while creating an ethnically homogenous empire, albeit one that was entirely Muslim.[1] Prior to that, the Ottoman government dealt with the non-Islamic populations by imposing ruinous taxes and encouraging the Kurds of the region to enrich themselves at the expense of the Armenians.[2] It should also be noted that the Russians saw themselves as liberators of Christians as they conquered lands, including the Armenians of the Caucasus. By the time the war reached East Anatolia, the Armenian nation was effectively split in two between Russia and Turkey.

The Caucasus campaign at the end of 1914 became a significant event leading to the massacres; it was then that the Young Turks brought the Ottoman Empire into the war. In October of that year they had joined an alliance with Germany, and therefore against their centuries old enemy, Russia. In December, an Armenian division organized by the Russians was sent across the border into Eastern Anatolia and killed nearly 120,000 non-Armenians, mostly Turks and Kurds.[3] The Turks then attempted a push into the Caucasus, and were soundly defeated. Using the fear of traitorous Armenians among the ranks as an excuse, the Young Turks began to disarm Armenian soldiers in the Ottoman army and assigned them to labor battalions.

The final step on the way to the massacre was the occupation of Van. In April 1915, a large group of Armenians took over the town. The Armenians were anticipating a Russian offensive that would ultimately arrived at the end of May. For over a month, the Armenians held off the Ottoman attackers, but there were heavy losses on both sides. The Armenians defended their city against the Ottoman threat. However, the Turks saw the occupation as the result of an Armenian rebellion, orchestrated by those who wished to join forces with the Russian army. They viewed the Armenians as traitors who needed to be punished. Then-US Ambassador Henry Morgenthau recounted the “revolution” at Van “not only because it marked the first stage in this organized attempt to wipe out a whole nation, but because these events are always brought forward by the Turks as a justification of their subsequent crimes.”[4]

Once the deportations – and the massacres – began, the Turks showed no mercy. Mass deportations began in the summer of 1915, after the battle for Van. The Turks sent armies into the Armenian lands, gathering up all males over the age of twelve and killing them. Women were raped, some even being sold into slavery.[5] The remaining Armenians – elderly, women and children – were marched across the deserts to Syria. In the heat of the summer, many died of exposure or starvation, and some were just stripped of their clothes and shot. One boy, Karnig Panian, recalls walking for several weeks to Hama, where the Turkish government set up camps for the deported Armenians. The camp residents were denied water and food, buying bread from locals charging exorbitant prices until it was forbidden. Local men offered families food in exchange for marrying their daughters. Many refused, and the young girls were kidnapped anyway. While scores were dying of starvation or disease, many believed rumors that the war would be over soon and they could return home.[6] Although deportations and killing had been going on for years, the worst began in the summer of 1915 and lasted well into 1916. It is estimated that over a half a million Armenians were killed in 1915 alone. In 1919, the Ottoman government itself had estimated that 800,000 had died.[7]

In the years following the war, the new Turkish leader Kemal Atatürk called the deportations both a shameful act that belonged in the past, and a regrettable episode. It was part of his quest to modernize the country. Under Atatürk, history was almost rewritten; the sultan was exiled, the alphabet was changed, and the history of the Ottoman Empire – especially the Christian element – was nearly glossed over. Despite Atatürk’s ambiguous attitude toward the deportations, Kemal still thought of the Armenians as a threat. He argued that the Armenian’s allies contributed to the deportations, and that the Armenians engaged in equal actions. This was to shift blame from the Turks for the massacres, as well as to prevent the Armenians from making claims on the property and businesses they had lost because of the deportations.[8]

Kemal Atatürk’s attitude toward the Armenians set the tone for the century to follow. During the Second World War, the Armenians partnered with the Soviet Union, who had plans to annex parts of Turkey and return part of the land to the Armenians. Because of the location and position against the Soviet Union, the United States and other countries couldn’t risk angering or alienating Turkey by recognizing the massacres as genocide, then a new concept. Turkey controlled the important Bosphorus Strait, the link between the Black Sea, home to a Russian fleet, and the Mediterranean. Since Turkey was a NATO member, and on the front line of the Cold War, any threats to cease cooperation were taken seriously.

For much of the second half of the 20th century, Turkey has actively campaigned to prevent any country from formerly recognizing the massacres as genocide. Threats against international relations are common, and its embassies disseminate alternative viewpoints in the media. In the 1970s and early 1980s, a series of assassinations of Turkish diplomats by Armenian radicals took place. In trying to exact their revenge, the Armenians – supposedly funded by the USSR – managed to cause the world to side with Turkey. The Turkish government has even gone so far as to offer collegiate grants with the expectation of casting Turkey in a better light.[9] Even the Turkish Minister of Foreign Affairs has a web page dedicated to the issue of the massacres.

While the Turkish government does not deny the suffering of the Armenians in the First World War, it insists the Armenians share the blame for the events, and that a greater number of Turkish people lost their lives in the war.[10] The Turks claim the number of Armenians who died during that time was much less than the Armenian estimate of nearly 1.5 million, and that the estimated dead include Kurds and Arabs, as well. What Turkey does deny is the label of genocide; they argue there was no intent to wipe out the Armenians, and that it was just a circumstance of the war. In 1948, the United Nations adopted the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the crime of Genocide, which included in the definition the language of the crime being committed with the intent to destroy a group of peoples. Turkey was one of 20 UN nations to ratify the convention, believing it could not be applied retroactively.[11]

The genocide still affects relations with Turkey today. In June 2016, Germany’s government passed a resolution recognized the actions of the Young Turks against the Armenians as genocide. This angered the Turkish government, who recalled their ambassador to Germany, and caused several Turkish politicians to denounce Germany’s move. This resolution came at a delicate time, when Europe was seeing the largest mass migration of refugees in recent memory. Most of those migrants and refugees were leaving war zones in the Middle East, and heading toward Germany, using Turkey as a major route. Turkey was in a position to stem the flow, and Germany’s resolution could have caused Turkey to cease cooperation, allowing hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants to flood Europe unabated.

In the United States, forty states recognize the genocide, but it is not an official policy of the government. Currently, the US uses Incirlik Air Base as its base of operations for its fight against Islamic State. Should the US take the step of officially recognizing the genocide perpetrated by one of its NATO allies, Turkey could pull out of the agreement to use Incirlik, causing a serious blow on America’s War on Terror. In recent months, Turkey’s relations with Russia have been thawing, and the US cannot risk angering Turkey at a time when Russian aggression is at near-Cold War levels.

The Armenian Genocide, or Great Catastrophe, is a delicate subject that, though taking place over 100 years ago, still affects relations with Turkey. Turkey has been a key ally to the West for over half a century and many nations do not want to risk that relationship. But unless the Turkish government admits to its role in the massacres, the controversy surrounding it will continue on, leaving the Armenians out in the cold.

[1] Michael Howard, The First World War: A Very Short Introduction. (Oxford:Oxford University Press 2002) pg 43

[2] G.J. Meyer, A World Undone. (New York: Bantam Dell, 2006) pg 335

[3] Ibid., pg 336

[4] Henry Morgenthau, Ambassador Morgenthau’s Story. (Garden City: Doubleday, Page & Company, 1918)

[5] Meyer, A World Undone. pg 336

[6] Karnig Panian, Goodbye, Antoura. (Stanford: Stanford University Press,2015) pg 54

[7] Thomas de Waal, Great Catastrophe. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015) pg 35

[8] Ibid., pg 99

[9] Rouben Paul Adalian. “Turkey, Republic of, and the Armenian Genocide.” Armenian Genocide. Accessed on November 27, 2016. http://www.armenian-genocide.org/turkey.html

[10] “The Events of 1915 and the Turkish-Armenian Controversy over History: An Overview.” Republic of Turkey Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Last modified 2011. http://www.mfa.gov.tr/the-events-of-1915-and-the-turkish-armenian-controversy-over-history_-an-overview.en.mfa

[11] De Waal, Great Catastrophe. pg 136