Sunday, March 23, 2014

Updates about missing posts (1st of 5): “Millenarian terrorism — an STA perspective (4 of 4): implications for policy and strategy”

Months ago, I was reminded of five past series of posts that I never finished — each is missing one post. The missing five, listed chronologically with oldest last, are:
  • Q’s & A’s about “TIMN in 20 minutes” (7th of 7): toward a mathematics of TIMN
  • What the Occupy Protests Mean: A TIMN Interpretation (Part IV) — Consequences and Implications
  • Bauwens’ “partner state” (part 2 of 3) … vis à vis TIMN
  • TIMN: some implications for thinking about political philosophy and ideology, cont. (3rd of 3 parts)
  • Millenarian terrorism — an STA perspective (4 of 4): implications for policy and strategy
This series reviews what those missing posts might have said, and what might yet be done about them. While this series may interest few readers, it enables me to do a little house-keeping: revisiting what’s up with those missing five, and nodding at what they may yet offer for filling out bigger pictures about TIMN and STA. I’ll go through them in chronological order, starting with the oldest.

By now, months after first deciding to do this update, I don’t regard this series as particularly interesting or helpful. I even made two false starts, now deleted, at posting this series. I’ve also wished I’d never started it — that I’d used my time and energy differently. But I’ve sunk so much effort into perusing old notes and drafting this series that I might as well post it. Otherwise I end up with an unfinished (even unpublished) series that is supposed to be about previously unfinished series — how ironic and disheartening that would be. So, I’m hesitantly posting this series despite my qualms. Yet, these posts are not entirely lacking in new content about STA and TIMN. In time, I may even become more glad than grumpy that I did this series.

One highlight of this post is advice that millenarianism, especially as found among terrorists, amounts to an apocalyptic religiosity overlaying an extreme tribalism; thus ways should be found to separate tribalized recruits who are “accidental millenarians” from the true-believer types.

* * * * *

What this post — “Millenarian terrorism — an STA perspective (4 of 4): implications for policy and strategy” — was going to say

Of the five missing posts, this is the one I’m least likely to finish. Even so, I’ve done, and will continue doing, new posts that reflect some of its themes — they’re too gripping and timely to let go of.

I meant to finish this post in 2009, after issuing the first three parts in March 2009. Their purpose was to offer a look at millenarianism, especially millenarian terrorism, from an STA perspective — that is, in terms of the underlying space-time-action orientations that mold and motivate people’s mindsets as well as cultures.

Based on writings by Norman Cohn and Michael Barkun, Part 1 argued that millenarian mentalities, from medieval chiliasm through modern terrorism, are explained better by Barkun’s absolute-disaster model than by conventional frustration-aggression and relative-deprivation models. (It’s one of the most read posts at this blog; why I don’t know.)  Part 2 was about how millenarian tendencies infuse the modern concept of progress, whereby the future can be made different from and better than the past through people’s actions — a key shift in people’s STA orientations centuries ago. Part 3 observed that people who become millenarian terrorists today may do so primarily because of negative shifts in their spatial orientations, even more than in their time and action orientations.

Against this background, Part 4 was going to discuss implications for U.S. policy and strategy. But much as I figured the series should end that way, I didn’t (and still don’t) have clear strong notions as to what those implications are — I’ve only had a few imprecise notions, as follows:

• One notion was that national-security strategists and analysts should recognize that there was/is a significant millenarian strain in much jihadi and other terrorism (as well as in some criminal gangsterism, notably in Mexico). I thought the theme was being neglected back then. And I had my own reasons for thinking so. For I had tried occasionally in small ways years ago to suggest that Al Qaeda and its cohorts should be analyzed, at least a bit, as expressions of millenarianism — whether as millenarians who have a strategic sense, or as strategists who have a millenarian bent. But my few minor pleadings proved to no avail and occasionally led to dismissiveness, sometimes accompanied by erroneous hall-way advice that Islam does not exhibit much millennialism compared to Jewish and Christian histories.

Today, years later, the notion still has difficulty gaining traction among policy analysts and strategists. But I gather it has gained some traction, thanks in part to bloggings and other writings by such experts as Charles Cameron, Timothy Furnish, John Hall, Richard Landes, and Jean Rosenfeld, not to mention others. I recommend that interested readers turn to them.

• I also meant to reiterate that strategists and analysts would be well advised to focus on the spatial orientations of prospective and active terrorists, including millenarians. Many efforts are underway around the world for analyzing how to counter if not prevent violent extremism, and it’s my view that STA could do better than much of what I’ve seen written-up.

While I did not finish this particular post, I did go on to reiterate an STA-oriented view about spatial orientations among terrorists, though not specifically millenarians, in a 2013 post titled “Terrorist mindsets: importance of spatial orientations — using STA to analyze the Boston Marathon bombers” (here). I’m also preparing to review a book that discusses terrorists’ time orientations; and I will observe anew that the authors’ analysis is insufficient and would be much improved by attending as well to spatial orientations — better yet, to the full STA triplex.

If/when I get around to viewing millenarian terrorists from an STA perspective again, care must be taken in claiming that their spatial orientations may be more significant than their time orientations. After all, millenarianism is about breaching into a new future. But while the millenarian mindset is knotted up with urgent notions about time (the “end times”), it is also about space (e.g., barriers everywhere) and action (e.g., violent deeds to achieve divine breakthroughs). What’s crucial to millenarians is apocalyptic “time war” (term from Rifkin, 1987), more than a spatial “clash of civilizations” (Huntington, 1993).

• I also wanted this missing post to make points about millenarianism in relation to tribalism. In a sketchy sense, today’s hard-core millenarians often represent an apocalyptic reaction to modernity. They want to purify and restore (exactly what varies), and they double-down if resisted. They claim to speak in God’s spiritual terms and proclaim high-minded values; but more often than not, they appeal to mundane notions about pride, honor, respect, and dignity, about seeing that their followers cohere like a family, and eventually about wrath, vengeance, and reclamation against outsiders and non-believers — all classic traits of TIMN’s tribal form, both its bright and dark sides. Thus, what millenarians seek are recruits who can be tribalized to an extreme, for millenarianism amounts to an apocalyptic religiosity overlaying an extreme tribalism.

As millenarians look for recruits, they tend to attract some who are “accidental millenarians” (to play on Kilcullen’s 2009 term “accidental guerrillas”). Thus, I was going to include in this post a suggestion that ways be found (à la TIMN and STA) to drive wedges between hard-core millenarians, who are not going to change their minds or relent, and tag-along tribalists who amount to accidental millenarians. The latters’ mindsets are more about tribalism (belonging to the group, expressing solidarity, defending against outsiders) than about millenarianism (blasting into a new future).

Weren’t the monotheistic religions meant to transcend tribalism, so as to commit people to pursuing universal truths about humanity? Yet, I gather that violent millenarian movements — be they Jewish, Christian, Islamic, or whatever — are likely to be terribly tribal. That may be a strength — but it's also a weakness. If so, here’s what may be advisable: Don't focus on questioning their religion, their religiosity. Focus instead on questioning their tribalism, their tribalization of religion, their re-configuring of religion to suit tribalism. Which raises further questions: Why is religion often so tribal? Should it be? When should religion be separated from tribalism?.

While I never finished this post, I did try to raise many of these points in comments at other blog’s where millenarian terrorism came up, usually in posts by Charles Cameron. A collection of these comments appears in my 2010 post titled “Incidentals (4th of 5): apropos terrorist mindsets (à la STA and TIMN)” (here). Also, partly apropos, I concocted a speculative future scenario about a conflict in South Asia, 50 years hence, that features a violent millenarian movement called Black Flag Momentum and its claim that a new prophet was imminent. This appears in a 2010 post titled “Scenarios for the "Afghanistan 2050" roundtable at Chicagoboyz blog: tribes versus networks” (here).

In short, this is a dynamite topic. How it fits with TIMN and STA, and what those frameworks can do to help understand and strategize about it, remain of keen interest. Nonetheless, I’m still unlikely to finish this missing post, though I do intend to keep coming up with episodic points to put in other posts, here and elsewhere.

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