An interesting new-to-me blog, ‘Global Guerillas.’ by John Robb. Followed a link from DefenseTech, which led to an interesting post on the mechanisms of emergent action by ant colonies, bloggers, and (claims the writer) terrorists.

Stigmergy is a term used in biology (from the work of french biologist Pierre-Paul Grasse) to describe environmental mechanisms for coordinating the work of independent actors (for example, ants use pheromones to create trails and people use weblog links to establish information paths, for others to follow). The term is derived from the greek words stigma (“sign”) and ergon (“to act”). Stigmergy can be used as a mechanism to understand underlying patterns in swarming activity. As such, it can be applied to the understanding of the swarming attacks of diverse global guerrilla groups.

I’m intrigued, but not yet completely sold on this, but it’s definitely a writer worth reading, and a set of concepts worth pursuing.

UPDATE: As usual, our comments section kicks the discussion up another notch or two – esp. “Laocoon” and team member Robin Burke.

An Earful of Cider

Blogger John Emerson, of ‘Seeing the Forest‘ is raising a bet about the coming election. His (original) bet is:

I’m willing to bet $50 at 30-to-one that we’ll see problems in the 2004 Presidential election as bad or worse than those in the 2000 election. Your $1500 says everything will be OK, my $50 says that there will be major problems — as bad as or worse than 2000.

He later tightened it to:

You are betting that none of the following will happen:

1. Whoever is in office on Jan. 21, 2004 is not there because he’s been elected. Either Bush stays in, or a caretaker is appointed.

2. The November election does not take place as scheduled, but is postponed.

3. In a significant number of states (greater than the margin of victory) the vote in the electoral college is not based on a count of the votes (for example, the state legislature intervenes).

4. Some unprecedented intervention decides the election, as in 2000.

5. Major branches of government openly defy President Kerry and refuse to obey his orders.

I’ve left out the “denial of legitimacy” point because there’s a 100% chance that many conservatives will not accept President Kerry’s legitimacy. [Ed. – would have been a nice touch if he’d added ‘…as many liberals have not accepted Bush’s.’]

So what do I think? I think it’s a sucker bet, because – having seen that the courts and formerly ministerial process of vote-counting are now up for grabs – both sides are certainly making plans for their post-election campaigns.

Unless it is a blowout election (which is possible, but not likely) both sides will launch stiff administrative and legal campaigns around the voting and vote-counting process, which means there’s a significant chance that the results will be delayed, and that the decision will be made at some level in the judicial system.

This ignores the very real possibility of an election-eve terrorist attack. The U.S. isn’t Spain, and the immediate emotional reaction to such an attack is as likely to be Jacksonian as it is to be more isolationist. While I don’t think that delaying the elections in such an event is a good idea (unless critical communications infrastructure is somehow down, making it hard to actually run the election), I’ll bet that the losing side will be in court after such an election claiming that the election should have been delayed – thereby delaying the outcome.

So let’s do a four-way matrix:

Close election + attack = challenge & delay (he wins)
Close election = challenge & delay (he wins)
Blowout + attack = challenge & delay (he wins)
Blowout = no effective challenge (he loses)

So if you think the odds of a major attack are high, and the odds of a close election are high – his 30:1 odds suddenly don’t look so good. And it isn’t because of some nefarious plan by the Trilateral Commission (kidding!!) to create a theological dictatorship (anyone read Heinlein?), it’s the natural development of a litigious, rules-based political process where shame is nonexistent and voters appear to have short memories (if the political class had shame, they wouldn’t do this – think of Nixon’s response to the 1960 Chicago results, and if voters had memories they’d punish candidates who ‘gamed’ the system).

This makes the issues of voting process and vote-counting (up to now the province of true election geeks) something we need to address in a serious way in terms of the technology, the administrative procedures, and the legal wrapping around it. Hmmm…

The Caliph of Paris and London

Hi!! Remember me?

I’ve missed this; more commentary and news may follow, time permitting. But I’ve run into something too interesting not to share, partly in the hopes that someone else may be able to look more closely at the small connection I’m seeing and explore how much substance is contained there. And at its core, I think there is a gem of such good news that I stopped reading and started typing this right away.

Last year, in writing about terrorism and philosophy, I made the claim that modern Islamism was deeply influenced by Western political philosophers (and, I claimed, by the Romantic movement that could claim a descendent in Nazism). This came from some peripheral references in the chunks of Qutb I read that made me think of Fanon, and by the close fit of Fanon’s Romantic beliefs into the worldview of radical Islamists.

Well, to quote one of my favorite books – “Christ, what an imagination I’ve got!” It turns out that the connection may be more direct than my casual fantasies.I picked up Bernard Lewis’ collection of essays ‘From Babel to Dragomans‘ and have been working through it in my odd moments. One of his essays, on Pan-Arabism, makes the following connections:

…the first theoretical statement of pan-Arabism is the work of a certain ‘Abd al-Rahman al-Kawakibi (?1849 – 1902), nowadays generally regarded as the ideological pioneer of pan-Arabism…He is principally remembered for two books, both of which were attacks on the Ottoman Sultanate in general and on the reigning Sultan, Abdulhamid II, in particular…The second [book], entitled Umm al-Qura (The Mother of Cities, i.e. Mecca)…is hardly more original than the other [Lewis suggests that Kawakibi’s first book was a hash of Della Tirannide, by Alfieri], being to a large extent a reflection of the views expressed by the English Romantic poet Wilfred Scawen Blunt in his book The Future of Islam, published in 1881 and setting forth the idea of an Arab Caliphate.

Bin-Laden’s core philosophy is thus the restoration of something that never was – an Arab (as opposed to Turkish) Caliphate. Something suggested originally by a British Romantic poet. The philosophical lineage is there; now it just needs to be explored. Blunt’s book is at the UCLA library, and sometime in the next few weeks, I’ll go pick it up and report.

But we’re not done yet.

Lewis continues:

The second intellectual precursor of pan-Arabism was another Syrian, this time a Christian, Negib (Najib) Azoury (birthdate unknown – died 1916). Azoury was a Maronite or Uniate Catholic Christian who studied in Istanbul and Paris and later became a provincial official in Jerusalem. He left his post in unknown circumstances and seems to have been condemned to death in absentia in 1904, when he fled to Paris. In the following year, he published a book, Le reveil de la nation arabe. He spent most of the remaining years of his life in Paris, where he formed an organization – probably a one-man show – called the ‘Ligue de la patrie arabe’ … The name, it has been remarked is reminiscent of the anti-Drefusard ‘Ligue de la patrie francaise’, which flourished in the late eighteen nineties. His writings reflect the anti-Semetic obsessions with worldwide Jewish power which were current in anti-Dreyfusard circles…

So the roots of Islamist thought can be seen as going back to the salons of London and cafes of Paris. That matters, both because it shows that the philosophy we’re fighting against is a relatively recent one – this isn’t thousands of years old – and that it had other paths to follow:

The new and significant elements in Kawakibi’s writings are 1) his clear and explicit rejection of the Ottoman Caliphate; 2) his insistence on the Arabic-speaking peoples as a corporate entity with political rights of its own and 3) most radical of all, his idea of a spiritual Caliphate which would presumably leave politics and government to a secular authority separate from religious authority and law, entirely within the scope of human decision and action.
(emphasis added)

That last is why I’m posting this on a Good News Friday.

Because I believe this demonstrates that there are roots in Islam – in recent Islam – that we need to water and cultivate as a part of creating our own ‘Good Philosophy’ antibodies to Bad Philosophy. That won’t be easy, but I’ll suggest that we have to try.