Saud Al-Zaid: Some of you in the audi­ence have read the write-up for this talk. You prob­a­bly rec­og­nize that I was wrong. And please don’t mis­un­der­stand me, that’s not a bad thing. I wish I’m wrong like this every­day for the rest of my life. But unfor­tu­nate­ly, I prob­a­bly won’t be wrong for long. 

My pre­dic­tion was that there would be some form of an attack in the United States or pos­si­bly in the for­eign ter­ri­to­ries or inter­ests. My talk would have been a break­down or dis­sec­tion and con­tex­tu­al­iza­tion of the event. And of course, so far in the Trump admin­is­tra­tion there’s no attack. Well, at least no real ones. Some of us might remem­ber Bowling Green. 

The sit­u­a­tion is set up in such an awful way. The world we live in seems so unpre­dictable. I’m sure many of you feel it and that we rec­og­nize that even the small­est event could be tru­ly explo­sive on a plan­e­tary scale. Just to tell you a lit­tle bit about myself, I’ve been study­ing this top­ic, rad­i­cal Islamic thought and gov­ern­men­tal reac­tions to polit­i­cal rad­i­cal­ism, for about fif­teen years now. I’ve done field work and know some of the most influ­en­tial fig­ures, pol­i­cy­mak­ers, and thinkers in this domain. I’ve had lunch with this Osama bin Laden’s sec­re­tary from the 80s and 90s, but I’ve also stud­ied with every­one from Madeleine Albright to Slavoj Žižek. I like to joke that I’m one degree of sep­a­ra­tion from Obama and Osama. 

But most of the peo­ple who I think are even more impor­tant to under­stand­ing what will hap­pen after the next attack are not house­hold names. These are diplo­mats, financiers, mil­i­tary fig­ures, lawyers, politi­cians, and activists, most­ly oper­at­ing in the Arab world. These can be peo­ple whose job descrip­tion on their busi­ness card may not actu­al­ly fit what they real­ly do in real life. I talked to sev­er­al peo­ple at var­i­ous lengths, told them about this talk—and you know how I came short—and promised that they would remain anony­mous. I asked what they thought would hap­pen, with one con­stant being Donald Trump, which is…not quite the right con­stant. Today we’ll have a curat­ed men­tal exer­cise to think about what will hap­pen when the unthink­able hap­pens. I will start with back­ground infor­ma­tion, then delve into some pret­ty grim sce­nar­ios, and end with prospects in a post-Trump future. 

I want to start out very basic here. The first ques­tion that comes to mind of course is what is an attack. And this is not as obvi­ous as it may seem. An attack from 1 point of view can come into rather dis­tinct forms. What I mean here is some­thing very spe­cif­ic, and comes from like the intel­li­gence com­mit­tee lin­go. And they come in two forms. 

The lone wolf attack is con­ceived, planned, and exe­cut­ed large­ly with­in one con­scious­ness. It’s one guy—almost 100% of these kinds of attacks are com­mit­ted by males—decides that the world’s in cri­sis, and it’s his mis­sion to do some­thing vio­lent. This is the Fort Hood shoot­ing, this is the truck attack in Nice, and even here in the Christmas mar­ket in Berlin. And even in my opin­ion, this is the Boston Marathon shoot­ings and bomb­ing, and what hap­pened in San Bernardino. 

The basic idea here is that what­ev­er con­tact they had with the exter­nal world, it was of min­i­mal impor­tance to the exe­cu­tion of the attack. The chat room dis­cus­sion, that kind of YouTube recruit­ment video that they had in their brows­er his­to­ry, even if they got a lit­tle bit of help from some­one, that’s actu­al­ly insignif­i­cant because the attack would have hap­pened regard­less of that. It is more than one piece of data that explains a per­son. One pix­el does not rep­re­sent a com­plete image. In my opin­ion, lone wolf attacks are best stud­ied with­in the con­text of men­tal health—psychology, psy­chi­atric imbal­ance, fam­i­ly history—rather than in the con­text of larg­er schema­ta like geopol­i­tics, eco­nom­ics, reli­gion, ide­ol­o­gy, or whatever.

The 2016 Orlando shoot­ing at the LGBT club Pulse is the exam­ple of this par excel­lence. The shoot­er clear­ly had prob­lems, but the exis­ten­tial sta­tus of the glob­al jihad was not one of them. Remember, the most suc­cess­ful lone wolves are actu­al­ly white guys. Like the Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh and more recent­ly James Holmes, the Dark Knight Aurora shooter. 

On the oth­er side, the net­work attack, all the dif­fer­ent nodes are impor­tant for the plan­ning, exe­cu­tion, and even under­stand­ing of the attack. These con­nec­tions col­or under­stand­ing of what hap­pened and why it hap­pened. And these con­nec­tions don’t even have to be true, as in the case of Saddam Hussein and 9‍/‍11. The worst kind of con­nec­tions is when some­one links two Sunni extrem­ists for instance, like Iran and Hezbollah to Al-Qaeda. This is non­sense, because the Shia and Sunni con­flict right now is more or less absolute, unless you come from a non-religious per­spec­tive. But there is also non­sense from the oth­er side. For exam­ple when Muslims con­nect Russia with the United States. Ooh. Wait. That actu­al­ly may be hap­pen­ing now, but I want to get you to the idea that when things are com­pli­cat­ed, they need clos­er and clos­er analysis. 

A net­work is aware an attack can hap­pen in a way that nor­mal peo­ple who are out­side the net­work don’t. And the rea­sons for this are com­pli­cat­ed. Networks can be linked because of shared val­ues or inter­ests, or a shared hos­til­i­ty towards a tar­get. Within that shared hos­til­i­ty, the term agi­ta­tor means those peo­ple who wel­come or even encour­age an attack, with every­one from reli­gious fig­ures giv­ing ser­mons to rel­a­tives, friends, strangers on the street or on the Internet. Anyone who encour­ages some kind of action. 

Enablers are more linked to the attack because their sup­port was crit­i­cal for the exe­cu­tion of the attack. Though agi­ta­tors can be enablers by pro­vid­ing finan­cial or logis­ti­cal sup­port, some enablers may sim­ply be help­ing the attack for oth­er rea­sons, such as to make mon­ey. If the enabler is in the black mar­ket for guns or explo­sives, they can be indif­fer­ent to the cause. The pri­ma­ry con­cern for them is of course mak­ing money. 

Last but def­i­nite­ly not least you have the fight­ers who exe­cute the attack. And I say fight­ers” and not ter­ror­ists or jihadis; I don’t even like the word com­bat­ant” because that would include some agi­ta­tors though not cer­tain enablers. I think we need a sim­pler term for those guys who are com­mit­ting the vio­lence, and fight­ers” fits the bill on an ana­lyt­i­cal level. 

Fighters sup­port­ed by a net­work is why the attacks in Paris, for instance in the Bataclan was sig­nif­i­cant­ly dif­fer­ent from the attack in the night club in Orlando. When things get com­pli­cat­ed, I like to rely on the­o­ret­i­cal frame­works that can han­dle com­plex­i­ty. And none are more com­pli­cat­ed than Niklas Luhmann and his sys­tems, as some of you might know. If you know Luhmann, then you know I can kill this room with bore­dom faster than you can say socio­cy­ber­net­ics,” but I promise you I won’t—I’ll try not to at last. 

A net­work is a kind of social sys­tem. Luhmann’s idea is that a social sys­tem becomes self-aware through com­mu­ni­ca­tion, and through mak­ing a dis­tinc­tion between itself and its envi­ron­ment. If the same mes­sage is com­mu­ni­cat­ed over and over again, that dis­tinc­tion becomes stronger and stronger. What I want you to imag­ine is how Muslims are think­ing of them­selves and their envi­ron­ment with the rise of Trump and oth­er hyper­na­tion­al­ist move­ments. And I want you to think of Trump him­self as a real­i­ty tele­vi­sion star. 

Some of Luhmann’s most impor­tant work revolves around the idea of the real­i­ty of the mass media. How things are made real by rep­e­ti­tion and dis­tri­b­u­tion. For Luhmann, the num­ber of copies of a piece of media, the num­ber of times it gets dupli­cat­ed, is impor­tant. Even if not all the pieces are con­sumed. So say if a trashy news­pa­per is print­ed in large enough num­bers, even if it isn’t read, the fact that there are a mil­lion copies cir­cu­lat­ing mat­ters to the con­struc­tion of real­i­ty. So, all those copies of Bild, or Sun, or those—you know, news­pa­pers you don’t actu­al­ly read, they influ­ence the world around you in a sig­nif­i­cant way. This was a devel­op­ment, or real­ly a break, from Marshall McLuhan’s the media is the mes­sage” to being some­thing more like an equa­tion, or media times dis­tri­b­u­tion equals the mes­sage.” Repetition here is the impor­tant factor. 

And this is Riz Ahmed. You may know him from recent shows like The Night Of or the hip hop group The Sweatshop Boys. Or even fur­ther back, the best film ever made about ter­ror­ism in Europe, Four Lions, which I high­ly high­ly rec­om­mend. Here he is to British Parliament about the rep­re­sen­ta­tion of Muslims in British media. And this real­ly sums up the sit­u­a­tion I’m try­ing to describe quite nice­ly from the Muslim side. [plays video clip]

Every time you see your­self in a mag­a­zine, a bill­board, TV, film, it’s a mes­sage that you mat­ter. You’re part of the nation­al sto­ry. That you’re val­ued. If you rep­re­sent­ed. Now. if we fail to rep­re­sent peo­ple in our main­stream nar­ra­tives, they’ll switch off. They’ll retreat to fringe nar­ra­tives, to fil­ter bub­bles online, and some­times even off to Syria. In the mind of the ISIS recruit, he’s a ver­sion of James Bond, right. In their mind every­one thinks they’re the good guy. Have you seen some of these ISIS pro­pa­gan­da videos? They’re cut like action movies. Where’s the coun­ternar­ra­tive? Where are we telling these kids that they can be heroes in our sto­ries? That they’re valued? 

I saw an inter­est­ing sur­vey recent­ly. It was a Gallup poll. It was a sur­vey of a bil­lion Muslims. And it took years and years to get done. I’m cit­ing [?]. And it was real­ly inter­est­ing. They asked a bil­lion Muslims what are their key griev­ances with the quote-unquote West; I have prob­lems with that term. But, what are their key grievances. 

And num­ber one was—conversation for anoth­er day. You know, the dis­con­nect between the West’s stat­ed val­ues and their for­eign pol­i­cy. We’ll talk about that anoth­er day, if you invite me back. But num­ber two on their list of griev­ances was the depic­tion of Muslims in the media.
Riz Ahmed

In a talk I gave them the last Chaos Congress, I dis­cussed the depic­tion of Muslim and Arab males in video games, par­tic­u­lar­ly first-person shoot­ers. My the­sis is the clash of dig­i­tal­iza­tions. It’s a response to Samuel Huntington’s clash of civ­i­liza­tion idea. It is about the dan­ger of when peo­ple start inter­pret­ing things in this kind of black and white. When we repeat the mes­sage over and over again in all forms of media. Both sides to do this, not just the West. This is light ver­sus dark­ness, this is in Arabic nūr ver­sus jāhilīyah, this is the kind of dis­course that gets us nowhere clos­er to the truth of the con­flict, it is quite lit­er­al­ly what fuels the fire. 

For me, this begs the ques­tion what is civ­i­liza­tion? Is it the abil­i­ty to invade two-thirds of the world? No. It isn’t. Civilization is the abil­i­ty to bring peace and pros­per­i­ty to the world that it had not seen before. The forces that dri­ve us away from this vision of progress are diverse. And they are rid­dled by mis­un­der­stand­ing, greed, and above all igno­rance. Which to me is the real mean­ing of bar­barism. It’s the real jāhilīyah.

The crazy sit­u­a­tion we find our­selves in def­i­nite­ly sees the world in neg­a­tive terms. The think­ing goes, if the Muslim world can’t get civ­i­lized, then pop­ulist, racist polit­i­cal move­ments in the US and Europe will gain pow­er over the mil­i­tary and force them into sub­mis­sion. A domes­tic attack is the per­fect rea­son to do so. Virtually the first thing the Trump admin­is­tra­tion did when it came to pow­er was enforce the Muslim ban to trav­el into the United States. I feel with an attack this kind of pol­i­cy will increase tremen­dous­ly. Even today, the ban­ning of lap­tops and tablets on flights from the Gulf are an obvi­ous exam­ple of racism dis­guis­ing itself as pro­tec­tive paranoia. 

Comparing the two pres­i­den­cies of course is dif­fi­cult, because they have such rad­i­cal­ly dif­fer­ent per­son­al­i­ties. If the Obama doc­trine can be sum­ma­rized it, Don’t do stu­pid shit.” Both pres­i­dents inher­it­ed sig­nif­i­cant con­flicts and infra­struc­ture to han­dle those con­flicts. The intelligence/military sym­bio­sis had def­i­nite ideas about how to wage the war, with mass sur­veil­lance and expan­sive wars. What Obama chose to do is only to suc­cumb to those tar­gets that were pushed upon him that max­i­mized return in terms of gains. 

Unfortunately this large­ly back­fired. This is [?] al-Awlaki, an American imam who was killed in a drone strike in Yemen and is now the lead­ing fig­ure of jihad on YouTube, after he’s dead. He’s the kind of the­o­rist of the lone wolf attacks in jiha­di thought because he him­self went through a lot of sur­veil­lance. His basic mes­sage for wannabe jihadis is that you don’t trust any­one. If you want to go on a sui­cide mis­sion, you just go ahead and do it. Don’t tell any­one ahead of time. Thus it was a clear fac­tor he was an influ­ence to the Fort Hood shooter—who actu­al­ly tried to con­tact him—and also the cou­ple from San Bernadino. He’s a fig­ure that would nor­mal­ly be con­demned by main­stream Muslims, except he was killed by a drone strike with­out tri­al. The first US cit­i­zen on record since the American Civil War, along with his son, who was also killed dur­ing Obama’s time, and his daugh­ter who was killed in the first Special Forces mis­sion ordered by Donald Trump. This is the very def­i­n­i­tion of doing stu­pid shit. And the fact that there was no tri­al or major pub­lic inquiry into the mat­ter is a mas­sive sore insult to the Muslim com­mu­ni­ty around the world. 

This over here is Erik Prince. The pic­ture he is show­ing is what he does for a liv­ing. Some of you might know the name Blackwater. That’s the com­pa­ny he found­ed and then renamed many times. Prince is the son of a bil­lion­aire. He’s also an ex Navy SEAL, one of the most elite spe­cial oper­a­tion units in the US mil­i­tary. If the American pres­i­den­cy is a kind of game of thrones, then Erik Prince is…Jaime Lannister. Like Jamie, Erik Prince served mul­ti­ple reigns, but of course they have a favorite, his House Lannister. His fam­i­ly donat­ed mil­lions to the Trump cam­paign, and his sis­ter is Betsy DeVos, the cur­rent Education Secretary. It’s fun­ny, sis­ters are kind of a touchy sub­ject in the Game of Thrones show as well. Touchy-feely, maybe.

Prince start­ed train­ing American law enforce­ment, focused on school shoot­ings after Columbine. But he became the head of the biggest mer­ce­nary net­work. This hap­pened after 9‍/‍11 with sup­port from Cheney, Rumsfeld, and the CIA. The rea­son his busi­ness grew was because of the pos­si­bil­i­ty for deni­a­bil­i­ty, par­tic­u­lar­ly when things go wrong. The way it was mod­eled is that they had con­trac­tors and sub­con­trac­tors as a way to dis­perse blame an to have these kind of covert assas­si­na­tions that were tech­ni­cal­ly against the law. 

He is some­one who has Top Secret clear­ance, the ear of President Trump, and accord­ing to some reports he’s become a kind of secret envoy for the President. He also hap­pens to be under inves­ti­ga­tion in four dif­fer­ent coun­tries for war crimes. Many of the peo­ple I talked to actu­al­ly kept men­tion­ing Erik Prince. He’s a mer­ce­nary, a paid fight­er in a war, and a lib­er­tar­i­an who believes in lim­it­ed government. 

Though ini­tial­ly sup­port­ed by Cheney and Rumsfeld his oper­a­tion expand­ed along with the expan­sion of the War on Terror. And now he’s the most influ­en­tial pri­vate mil­i­tary con­trac­tor, even big­ger than the com­pa­nies you may be famil­iar with. Prince wants to see the pri­va­ti­za­tion of spe­cial forces and secu­ri­ty, basi­cal­ly the most sen­si­tive parts of a mod­ern state. He’s even quot­ed as say­ing that he wants Blackwater to do to the mil­i­tary what FedEx the to the Postal Service. 

Blackwater went through exten­sive rebrand­ing since their fight­ers shot up inno­cent civil­ians in a crowd­ed mar­ket in Iraq. Besides hav­ing their own drone pro­gram, Prince is now build­ing his own air force that would be capa­ble of drop­ping bombs. And this begs sev­er­al ques­tions, the first of which can cor­po­ra­tions wage war? Also, isn’t peace then bad for busi­ness? If there are no wars to fight, then what will these guys do, you know. 

And at this point its par­tic­u­lar­ly inter­est­ing because some of the most impor­tant gen­er­als in ISIS were trained by Blackwater. This is Abu Omar al-Shishani, who’s actu­al­ly from Georgia in the Black Sea, and he was trained as part of the Islamic mod­er­ate rebels against
Bashar al-Assad. The sec­ond he crossed the bor­der from Iraq to Syria he joined the group Jabhat al-Nusra, which was the first allied with Al-Qaeda and would even­tu­al­ly become ISIS. This is the very def­i­n­i­tion of stu­pid shit. 

And the stu­pid­i­ty gets bet­ter some­how in the Trump era. This is Sebastian Gorka, the most pub­lic White House expert on rad­i­cal Islam and Deputy Assistant to President Trump. There’s some sig­nif­i­cant evi­dence that he’s con­nect­ed to an anti­se­mit­ic orga­ni­za­tion in Hungary. Gorka has sug­gest­ed that an appro­pri­ate reac­tion to a ter­ror­ist attack in the United States is to bomb the grand shrine in Mecca. This is the most impor­tant loca­tion in Islam, the direc­tion Muslims pray to five times a day. And I want to empha­size this. This is one of the lead­ing experts on rad­i­cal Islam in the Trump administration. 

Unfortunately, the best experts on Islamic jihad are cur­rent­ly too busy fight­ing each oth­er. These are the two French aca­d­e­mics Olivier Roy Giles Kepel, and they are at a very pub­lic tête-à-tête. Olivier Roy believes that rad­i­cal­ism is being Islamized, or basi­cal­ly that the major­i­ty of attacks are being done by thugs using Islamic rhetoric to jus­ti­fy their vio­lence. It’s a par­a­digm that’s more akin to crim­i­nol­o­gy. Kepel on the oth­er hand sees the prob­lem to be with­in Islam itself. That is, Islam is being rad­i­cal­ized because the pro­gres­sive West is too easy on Islamic con­ser­vatism, which is cre­at­ing a bub­ble with­in Europe and kind of a struc­tur­al stress to the system. 

I think both are func­tion­al­ly wrong because they’re not pay­ing atten­tion to the larg­er scope of the prob­lem. Not just focus­ing on the social sys­tem, to use Luhmann’s term, but also in the glob­al envi­ron­ment the sys­tem is oper­at­ing from, the media young Muslims are exposed to rein­forces their alien­ation. The con­stant secu­ri­ty region that phys­i­cal­ly search­es their per­son when they go to an air­port, or vir­tu­al­ly infects their com­put­ers and phones with sur­veil­lance soft­ware. It’s inter­est­ing to hear reports from ISIS fight­ers about how free they feel them­selves to be when they’re in the Islamic State. That they can final­ly breathe and so on. Fighting the prob­lem is a big part of the prob­lem, and this kind of lack of reflex­ive real­iza­tion is real­ly an issue. 

And here I want peo­ple in the audi­ence to think about the next attack in this kind of way. Like boom, was it a lim­it­ed lone wolf attack, or was it a net­work multi-hit attacked like September 11. This makes a dif­fer­ence. Because the reac­tion can be either small, sym­bol­ic, and appropriate—which I don’t think any­one’s expect­ing from the Trump admin­is­tra­tion. Or it’s going to be a large, per­va­sive, and catastrophic. 

The worst-case sce­nario is not so much the attack, it’s the after­math of the attack. What will the Trump admin­is­tra­tion do? Will some­one like Gorka sway the sit­u­a­tion room to bomb Mecca? But this is lit­er­al­ly the stu­pid­est thing they can do, as 1.6 bil­lion Muslims will basi­cal­ly begin riot­ing in unison. 

But let’s think about the sec­ond stu­pid­est thing, which is repeat­ing the George W. Bush for­mu­la of invad­ing anoth­er coun­try. As Frank Rieger, the spokesman for the Chaos Computer Club recent­ly dis­cussed, the price of oil may be the major fac­tor in the future con­flict between the US and the rest of the world. And he spoke in the con­text of North Korea, Russia, and China. But it’s equal­ly true for the Middle East. 

Currently there’s a proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia and Yemen. And a lot of the pre­dic­tions I’m hear­ing is that Yemen, even more so than Syria, is the prime can­di­date for America’s next inter­ven­tion in the Middle East. The rea­son should be obvi­ous from this pic­ture, because if you stop the ves­sels going through the Suez Canal…almost half the world’s oil goes through this route, and much of the world’s trade. 

And if you think this sounds crazy, con­sid­er that President Trump’s first for­eign trip is the Saudi Arabia. I know he’s known for being unpre­dictable but this kind of Abrahamic reli­gions tour…you know, Saudi, Israel, Vatican…I don’t think it’s just sil­ly sym­bol­ism. And oth­er peo­ple agree that the Western econ­o­my right now is thriv­ing because of the low price of oil. 

Of the top ten coun­tries with proven oil reserves, six are Muslim major­i­ty coun­tries. Two of them are Venezuela and Russia. So in the case of an all-out war, America has to rely on its own oil and Canada—which is shale and now most­ly frack­ing, so it’s pret­ty expen­sive. And one of the sce­nar­ios that was large­ly dis­cussed was that the sov­er­eign wealth funds of the oil-rich states would dein­vest from the United States. And the Gulf economies are also the top investors in the cur­rent eco­nom­ic order. Of the largest pub­lic funds five through sev­en are from oil-rich states. And also four­teen; sor­ry Qatar. 

Most of the invest­ment is in the United States and in Western Europe. If these Muslim coun­tries feel threat­ened by the idio­cy, by the pri­va­ti­za­tion of the con­flict along their bor­ders, many of them have spo­ken to—kept going through the sce­nario of dein­vest­ing from the West, even at a loss, as a form of influ­enc­ing pol­i­cy. The big wor­ry is that some­thing like the Islamic State is here to stay in the Iraq/Syria region. No mat­ter how the war is waged, the most alien­at­ed Muslims in the world will find them­selves there. And this presents a fear for neigh­bor­ing states. Most of the finan­cial sup­port to their kind of neigh­bor­ing exis­ten­tial threat is com­ing from their own sub­jects. These regimes are pay­ing for sta­bil­i­ty, and if they don’t get their mon­ey’s worth they’ll have to find oth­er sources of stability. 

Right now, the oppo­si­tion sheikhs of Twitter…this strat­e­gy would com­plete­ly sat­is­fy the Islamic oppo­si­tion in the Gulf. I know there is this image of rad­i­cal Muslims in the Gulf kind of finan­cial­ly sup­port­ing ISIS, but the trend isn’t that clear. This was true from 2011 to 2015. They now see ISIS and Daesh as a Western plot to make their move­ment look bad. They dis­cuss the preva­lence of recent con­verts, their access to Western weapon sys­tems, and they real­ly split hairs with them on doc­tri­nal issues like the caliphate. After all, after the fall of the broth­er­hood in Egypt they kind of are right­ful­ly pes­simistic about like, the democ­ra­ti­za­tion of the Middle East.” For them, vio­lence done in the name of Islam is not Islamic, it is rather a symp­tom of the prob­lems in the Arab world after the so-called Arab Spring. Figures like Hakim [?], who is usu­al­ly sym­pa­thet­ic to rad­i­cal Islamic lib­er­a­tion move­ments calls Daesh counter rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies. Another sheikh called Hamid [?] says he regrets rais­ing mil­lions to the Syrian oppo­si­tion with­out know­ing more about their views. 

When they see the alle­ga­tions of Trump col­lud­ing with Putin, their reac­tion is We’ve been say­ing this all along.” Erik Prince now actu­al­ly has a res­i­dence in Abu Dhabi, where he’s in close con­tact with the crown prince, and appar­ent­ly China is now a big investor in his secu­ri­ty busi­ness. But is it a real­ly secu­ri­ty busi­ness, or mere­ly a busi­ness focused on keep­ing a state of per­pet­u­al war and low oil prices? 

It’s okay to be wrong about fore­cast­ing the future. It’s not okay as mem­bers of civ­i­lized soci­eties to sus­pend our most closely-held val­ues because of con­tin­gency. Or more offi­cial­ly phrased, a state of emer­gency. This clear­ly will not end in the next four years. But what we will see is the most ridicu­lous expres­sions of emer­gency law. We’re already see­ing it. And hence, if you work in secu­ri­ty, if you work in the legal, polit­i­cal, bureau­crat­ic, or mil­i­tary fields, don’t focus on the emer­gency as much as you should focus on the sit­u­a­tion or the per­son at hand, the per­son in front of you, and how to get them through this with­out mak­ing the sit­u­a­tion worse. Without increas­ing the alien­ation. That’s an intel­li­gent way to get through the next four years. And then maybe we can sup­port a real­is­tic can­di­date that can gen­uine­ly be a con­duit for peace. Activists need to keep this in mind when they decide on how to sup­port a can­di­date if they care about the future of peace. And sor­ry, I’m not that opti­mistic about Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump kind of solv­ing the Middle East issue right now, so…neither should you. 

I tru­ly believe in the long term that the path to peace will take the form of a truth and rec­on­cil­i­a­tion com­mis­sion, ana­lyz­ing and end­ing once and for all the War on Terror. It will be glob­al in scope, and the truth part will start on accu­rate fig­ures on the num­ber of casu­al­ties sus­tained in the Muslim world dur­ing the War on Terror. The rec­on­cil­i­a­tion should take the form of finan­cial and logis­ti­cal com­pen­sa­tion for the death and destruc­tion that was­n’t already inflict­ed. Currently the war in Afghanistan has cost more in today’s dol­lar than the Marshall Plan did to rebuild Europe after World War II. The Marshall Plan infused cash to six­teen European coun­tries that had far more com­pli­cat­ed economies—in 1945—than Afghanistan is today. This kind of war where marines car­ry duf­fel bags full of cash to war­lords to appease them and to secure their flim­sy alliance to the United States has only added more fuel to the fire. And today Afghanistan is one of the most cor­rupt coun­tries on the planet. 

This is clear­ly not the val­ues of the West’s broad­ly defined. You guys stopped fight­ing each oth­er after World War II, but you need to stop fight­ing your oth­er oth­ers. You make choic­es with the media you con­sume as well as the media you con­done. When you see a show that depicts young Muslim men as de fac­to ter­ror­ists, you need to reject that show as racist and to be repulsed by it as if you saw an anti­se­mit­ic show or a show that’s racist towards black peo­ple. This repul­sion needs to come from the same source as your fear about a ter­ror­ist attack, because they are connected. 

People like Trump, peo­ple like Marine Le Pen—thankfully—Geert Wilders, maybe their time is up, but they still have time to kind of cause sig­nif­i­cant dam­age. And it’s our time to think about the future after the next attack, and not so much obsess about the fear of the attack itself. Thank you very much. 

Moderator: Thank you very much, Saud, on this talk. Are there any ques­tions to Saud? 

Audience 1: Hello. So, I’ve nev­er heard of a sov­er­eign wealth fund, so excuse my igno­rance, but at one point you said that oil-rich coun­tries will stop invest­ing in it because they invest in it because they val­ue secu­ri­ty around their neigh­bors. So my ques­tion is, isn’t Saudi Arabia for exam­ple also fund­ing ISIS or some oth­er group in that war, in that region?

Saud Al-Zaid: This is kind of a mis­un­der­stand­ing that they did fund in the begin­ning of the Arab Spring any­thing that was anti Bashar al-Assad. The proxy war that was actu­al­ly hap­pen­ing in Iraq was kind of a dif­fer­ent, free-ranging con­flict where they were more inter­est­ed in the safe­ty of Sunnis liv­ing in Iraq. And this was­n’t small sums of mon­ey, but it also was­n’t a con­tin­u­ous check. And it did­n’t seem to have come with influ­ence that was­n’t kind of super­fi­cial. So them declar­ing the caliphate very much goes against the offi­cial Saudi regime’s view of itself and view of the world. The idea that in the past they fund­ed ISIS, will they fund in the future, and cur­rent­ly it’s not look­ing that way at all. It’s look­ing like it’s almost now an autonomous unit that can self-sustain by sell­ing oil on the black mar­ket, for instance. 

The idea that they are ide­o­log­i­cal­ly aligned is actu­al­ly mis­in­formed. I don’t think that Saudi Arabia wants to have an Islamic state, because they’re ner­vous that it would expand to Saudi Arabia, nat­u­ral­ly. And here you have to make a dis­tinc­tion between say, the Saudi peo­ple or the Saudi regime, and of course you’re talk­ing about very large groups. And there is a small per­cent­age in Saudi Arabia, in the Gulf, that do sup­port ISIS but I think those num­bers are actu­al­ly com­pa­ra­ble to what you have in Europe, more or less. That the actu­al Saudi regime, like the Minister of Defense prob­a­bly wants ISIS to go away more than any­one else. I hope that answers your question.

Moderator: We are to your right, Saud, and there’s anoth­er question.

Audience 2: Hi. So my ques­tion is more about social media. So we know that ISIS and oth­er rad­i­cal­ist groups recruit from there, but we also know that the right-wing nation­al­ists live on Twitter and are very hap­py there. So, in terms of curb­ing that using tech­no­log­i­cal mea­sures… So we can detect racism and we can detect right-wing rhetorics and Islamic rhetorics, how do you think those kind of tool should work without…really cen­sor­ing the free­dom of speech and tak­ing that into account?

Al-Zaid: So, my point of view about it is that free­dom of speech is a cen­tral human right val­ue that I don’t nec­es­sar­i­ly in my own work kind of nego­ti­ate with. The way I look at the prob­lem is actu­al­ly more aggre­gate social feel­ings, as it were, at the oth­er end. And I think the true ori­gins of these neg­a­tive feel­ings is feel­ings of being dis­graced, of being at a dis­ad­van­tage, of being alien­at­ed. And like the Riz Ahmed quote like, the idea that when they see heroes in ISIS, that they feel sym­pa­thet­i­cal to the cause, and maybe even alt-right like the 4chans and what­ev­er, when they see Donald Trump and every­one’s against them, it gives them the sense of group feel­ing. And I’m more inter­est­ed in how to dif­fuse those feel­ings, and I think that gov­ern­ments have a lot of agency to actu­al­ly do this. And instead of spend­ing tril­lions on mil­i­tary infra­struc­ture, they should maybe spend it on infra­struc­ture infra­struc­ture, or projects to keep you know, the Muslim world kind of afloat. In a kind of…in the mod­el of the Marshall Plan. That instead of repeat­ing the World War I and World War II, they were like you know what, let’s keep the Germans busy to build their Autobahns and oth­er things. I think a sim­i­lar thing has to hap­pen in the Arab world, and a real kind of hon­est reflec­tion and income redis­tri­b­u­tion. And this might be actu­al­ly… Some imams who are pro…kind of in a weird way pro-Trump because he’s the accel­er­a­tionist can­di­date. They want their own regions to real­ize that maybe United States isn’t the best ally to have and that this will even­tu­al­ly kind of say hey, maybe we need to invest in oth­er things than the United States.

I don’t look for­ward to an Internet that’s cen­sored. And I hope it does­n’t. But I think there… There are oth­er experts here that actu­al­ly do this spe­cif­ic thing. 

Audience 3: Thank you very much for this real­ly great and inter­est­ing talk. You men­tioned the Marshall Plan, and that some­thing needs to be part of a truth and rec­on­cil­i­a­tion process, a thought that I find very inter­est­ing. A key ele­ment for the Marshall Plan, at least in Western Europe, was that mon­ey went into func­tion­ing or starting-to-function democ­ra­cies. So the mon­ey was not spend in non-democratic soci­ety, at least in Western Europe. So, what’s the con­nec­tion with your idea of a Marshall Fund 2.0, and democ­ra­ti­za­tion in the Middle East?

Al-Zaid: I hate to say this because I think it should be self-evident that we have the tech­nol­o­gy to have even a more advanced sys­tem than the Marshall Plan. So for instance one of the largest back­ers for Transparency International is actu­al­ly Kuwait, which has a lot of cor­rup­tion. But there are in a sense local civic soci­ety orga­ni­za­tions that are real­ly real­ly pissed off at the duf­fel bags full of cash exchang­ing hands. And that if we actu­al­ly had a sys­tem where we tracked dol­lar by dol­lar where things are going and how they’re being spent that this could be done in a way bet­ter admin­is­trat­ed than the Marshall Plan, say. It’s kind of heart­break­ing that instead of that, they give it to Blackwater, who gives it too a hun­dred mer­ce­nar­ies, who gives it to anoth­er you know, like— The idea is that this isn’t help­ing. This is actu­al­ly part of the prob­lem, and we need to in a sense be con­vinced of our own rhetoric which I think is real­ly a prob­lem of the democ­ra­ti­za­tion nar­ra­tive after the Arab Spring. That peo­ple did­n’t think that Cairo or Egypt would be ready for democ­ra­cy. And that we did­n’t give the Morsi exper­i­ment the chance to play itself out. Which maybe now in ret­ro­spect was a bad idea.

Audience 4: Thank you very much for your talk. I like this idea of clash of dig­i­tal­iza­tions much. Its a very nice word to remem­ber. I have just one ques­tion. You talk about alien­ation from peo­ple liv­ing in the US or in the West, Muslim pop­u­la­tion. But what about the peo­ple from Tunisia or Saudi Arabia? So a lot of them are going to Daesh and they are not the poor­est ones. So, how can you explain this fact?

Al-Zaid: Tunisia is actu­al­ly a super inter­est­ing case, because it’s actually—of the Arab recruits, some sta­tis­tics say that Tunisians are the most, and Tunisians have been involved in a lot of the ter­ror­ist attacks also in Europe in the Bataclan on and so forth. And the Arab Spring also start­ed in Tunisia with the self-immolation. But it’s one of those things that’s under­stud­ied, to under­stand why it’s going on in Tunisia. And part of the rea­son from my point of view is because a big part of the Palestinian refugee com­mu­ni­ty lives in Tunisia, that this is actu­al­ly kind of a fac­tor that they see the injus­tice very much first-hand. And the Palestinians in Tunisia are inte­grat­ing in a way that they’re not in oth­er places, so I think this also shows you how the Israeli-Palestinian cri­sis is still kind of one of the strong fis­sure points. And to under­stand it in the con­text of the 21st cen­tu­ry is actu­al­ly real­ly com­pli­cat­ed. But yeah, Tunisia is a point of con­flict both in the Middle East and in Europe, and we need to under­stand it. We sim­ply don’t.

Audience 5: Hi. You point­ed out I think quite cor­rect­ly that one of the major prob­lems with this whole issue is the rep­re­sen­ta­tion and the per­cep­tion of young Muslims in the Western soci­ety. And I was won­der­ing what your reac­tion for exam­ple when the trav­el ban first came down, and when the imme­di­ate response in the US was you had pro­test­ers shut­ting down major air­ports and basi­cal­ly say­ing No, we’re not hav­ing any of that.” And the courts than say­ing We actu­al­ly can’t do this, pres­i­dent or not.” Do you think this is a step in the right direction?

Al-Zaid: So, I think the protest move­ment has to keep going and has to do it at a very high reg­is­ter, and I’m sort of ner­vous that they can’t main­tain it. When the first trav­el ban hap­pened, I trav­el very fre­quent­ly between United States and Kuwait and Germany, and I got very ner­vous and para­noid even about fly­ing in. And thank­ful­ly I did­n’t have any prob­lems but the first time I flew in, I felt there was a lot of atten­tion from my friends on the oth­er side. But then after the sec­ond or third time my friends were like Hey, we don’t need to pick you up from the air­port any­more.” And this is actu­al­ly like you know, when you put your guard down this might be when it’s most dan­ger­ous as, it were. Especially me because I do these pub­lic talks that some­times get attention. 

And this is kind of mak­ing me ner­vous. So like, the ACLU, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, all these civ­il soci­ety things have to wor­ry about fatigue. I think because they’re going to encounter a lot of case law for spe­cif­ic instances. And they have to devel­op new sys­tems to get through the four years and pos­si­bly longer, and oth­er infra­struc­tures to set up regime change in the United States. Hopefully.

Moderator: Thank you very much, I did­n’t see— Oh yeah. There’s anoth­er ques­tion. We still have some time left. And I think it’s a top­ic worth investigating.

Audience 6: Hello. So my ques­tion is why did you name your whole pre­sen­ta­tion Terrorism in the Trump era? Like what is going to be so spe­cif­ic? What is strong going to do that’s so inter­est­ing that he deserves your atten­tion if there is a ter­ror­ist attack in the United States? Compare this to the times of Obama or Hillary Clinton if she was chosen.

Al-Zaid: I think the major thing is the poten­tial for over­re­ac­tion. Especially because he’s sur­round­ed him­self with mil­i­tary gen­er­als that will in a way— The dis­tri­b­u­tion of the American mil­i­tary sys­tem is that there’s a civil­ian branch and a mil­i­tary branch, but now ex-generals are in charge of the civil­ian branch. So they’re very in a way ori­ent­ed toward mak­ing mis­sions, and doing things that are on an active lev­el rather than say diplo­ma­cy or think­ing about longer-term reper­cus­sions. And it shows you like— My impres­sion or the read or the White House was that the Awlaki case file was very much pushed in Obama’s face until he actu­al­ly autho­rized it. And it’s clear that they want­ed to fin­ish it off” when Trump came into pow­er and Awlaki’s daugh­ter died right after that. 

I think the Trump era will be more trigger-happy in these kind of lim­it­ed attacks, the same sys­tem that Obama set up. But the real fear is the Bannon Strategic Initiative office which is chang­ing the entire idea between the Chief of Staff and sort of a more deci­sion­mak­ing process. And we’re see­ing that Trump is being pulled away from this stuff, but also when he’s put in a cor­ner seems to take advice from peo­ple who are not autho­rized. And fig­ures like Erik Prince is some­one you should maybe focus more about, that it’s going to be hyperpri­va­tized. And there’s going to be a lot of deni­a­bil­i­ty over like no, America did­n’t do any­thing; these were…some com­pa­ny or what­ev­er. And I think this will actu­al­ly start look­ing more and more like Arabic pri­vate secu­ri­ty firms. So you’re going to have these pri­vate mer­ce­nar­ies that look like it’s an Arabic firm doing mis­sions in Syria, Iraq, or what­ev­er, and they’re going to have zero over­sight from the United States even though, not to get too con­spir­a­to­r­i­al, but this is where it looks like it’s head­ing. Him mov­ing to Abu Dhabi is evi­dence to this. And set­ting up an invest­ment firm that’s con­nect­ed with China is also high­ly suspicious. 

And to pre­dict the unpre­dictable is kind of a los­ing game, right. That you real­ly can’t pre­dict what you can’t think about it, because it’s unthink­able by def­i­n­i­tion. But I want to set up a sys­tem of thought, or a way for people—like nor­mal people—to think about say hey, is this a crazy per­son who just shot up a club in some city, or is this a coor­di­nat­ed attack with mul­ti­ple peo­ple and need­ed very strate­gic equip­ment and all this stuff. And this makes a dif­fer­ence, right. It gives you an idea of how com­pe­tent peo­ple are react­ing to the cur­rent sit­u­a­tion. So this is why the Trump era I do believe it going to be dif­fer­ent than Obama. And I hope not. I hope some­how that this restraint will con­tin­ue, but I’m not that opti­mistic unfor­tu­nate­ly. so.

Audience 7: Hi. I have some issues with your talk so I’ll pick one. I think it’s very tempt­ing to look at these con­flicts and pick names and then describe the con­flict by point­ing at some per­sons. And that gives us all the impres­sion as if there were some key play­ers who push a con­flict in a cer­tain direc­tion and who active­ly prop­a­gate a con­flict in a cer­tain way. Looking at some­one like Erik Prince, yeah, that’s very tempt­ing. It’s good brand­ing. Blackwater’s this name most of us rec­og­nize in one way or the oth­er. The fact is that com­pa­nies like Blackwater have exist­ed for the last thir­ty years in many places around the globe, out­side our per­cep­tion because they’re not as well brand­ed, in a way. And they hap­pen to act more in places like Africa. 

But if you then look at these con­flicts and point out key play­ers, it becomes like this…a lit­tle bit taint­ed like a con­spir­a­cy the­o­ry. That there are key play­ers and they work togeth­er. But the whole thing— I’ve worked on this issue myself for quite some time and have a pre­sen­ta­tion the day after tomor­row on some­what of that top­ic. The prob­lem with this con­flict is that every­one, even the peo­ple involved, think they play the sys­tem, and play the game, and they con­trol every­one around them. And then that cre­ates vac­u­ums for groups like ISIS. They fill by chance. It’s more a coin­ci­dence that ISIS comes into pow­er. And sud­den­ly we have to deal with it. 

So I think it’s very prob­lem­at­ic if you then hap­pen— And they act with those peo­ple, and they w— We nev­er get to a good con­clu­sion on that if we try to under­stand this con­flict in a way where we have the key play­er who brought us here, actively.

Al-Zaid: Good ques­tion, and the way I would respond is I look at how the sys­tem is incen­tivized. What does it mean in the post-Cold War world that the largest employ­er in the world is the United States Department of Defense? That has the largest bud­get of any sin­gle enti­ty. And what does it mean when you have peo­ple who are prof­i­teers of war? What’s their incen­tive struc­ture? And the metaphor you usu­al­ly hear pol­i­cy ana­lysts talk­ing about is that they describe them like doctors. 

So when doc­tors cure a patient, they have oth­er patients to cure, cor­rect? But in this case, in the Middle East in par­tic­u­lar, the patient seems to be kept in a sick state. That the amount of mon­ey that is being cir­cu­lat­ed both for…on paper, caus­ing sta­bil­i­ty in the region ver­sus the oil out­put that is com­ing from the region, is in a way…that there is a mar­gin of prof­i­teer­ing that is just high­er. That why is there a black mar­ket of oil? How can we— You know, they can search every part of your body but yet they can’t locate oil tankers that are com­ing out of the Islamic State seems absurd. That these resources aren’t allo­cat­ed prop­er­ly, on just the most basic level. 

And you’re right, pick­ing on Erik Prince is kind of in a way easy. But he has been an inno­va­tor in this field, in the same way like you would say Steve Jobs has been with smart­phones. That he’s real­ly changed how peo­ple think about the pri­vate mil­i­tary con­trac­tor. That it was­n’t these big com­pa­nies that are parts of like Halliburton or McDonnell Douglas or what­ev­er, that these guys aren’t just cre­at­ing infra­struc­ture, that these guys are actu­al­ly pro­vid­ing mil­i­tary strate­gic objec­tives on demand, you know. From tak­ing out some­one to man­ag­ing a secret prison. Which is the dif­fer­ent require­ments of a ter­ror­ism era than a Cold War era, for instance, right. Like there’s no need for nuclear arse­nals and so forth. You need more like these fast movements.

And you’re right, it’s not an easy…one-to-one to blame Erik Prince for all of these prob­lems. He’s react­ing to the times but he’s also prof­i­teer­ing from it. I was in a way tempt­ed also to bring up Bannon, and to bring up oth­er fig­ures that are caus­ing ide­o­log­i­cal issues to be in play. And I think they need to be scru­ti­nized. I real­ly do. I think the press needs to do a bet­ter job of report­ing the con­nec­tions. For instance, the San Bernadino shoot­er, his broth­er works for Blackwater. I’m not say­ing this in a con­spir­a­to­r­i­al tone, I’m just say­ing this is an envi­ron­ment of height­ened and prof­i­teer­ing violence. 

Audience 7: You men­tioned your­self that you’re one degree away from Obama and Osama. And now you bring up these degrees of sep­a­ra­tion. [crosstalk] That doesn’t—

Al-Zaid: Mm hm. Yeah. I am a prod­uct of—

Audience 7: No, but that brings you— If I do a pre­sen­ta­tion I could say well I heard this guy Saud Al-Azaid say he’s also con­nect­ed to these peo­ple. That does­n’t real­ly help. That cre­ates this envi­ron­ment of con­spir­a­cies. These guys, like— These are stu­pid idiots like Gorka. They’re just crazy peo­ple. Now with the media envi­ron­ment we’re in, peo­ple start lis­ten­ing to them. They’re just— They have no idea what they’re talk­ing about. And so now we sur­round them, we enve­lope them in this con­spir­a­cy fear that’s just not there.

Al-Zaid: We should­n’t let them oper­ate in the shad­ows. And you’re right. My degrees of sep­a­ra­tion cause me to get searched in var­i­ous places, to get scru­ti­nized by intel­li­gence net­works in dif­fer­ent ways. It def­i­nite­ly col­ors my view of the con­flict, you know. And to say— In a way I think you’re doing this kind of sci­en­tif­ic thing where in objec­tive real­i­ty, if you look at things in a lab­o­ra­to­ry… I don’t think that’s how it works. I think feel­ings and how peo­ple are approach­ing the issue real­ly much col­ors this con­flict. I think this is large­ly an emo­tion­al bat­tle­field. [audi­ence applauds]

And I look for­ward to your talk. I’m def­i­nite­ly com­ing now, so.

Audience 8: Hi there. Taking a step back at the nation­al lev­el of dif­fer­ent coun­tries, the USA for exam­ple, what are your thoughts on how easy and how sim­ple it can be for peo­ple to access guns, small­er arms gen­er­al­ly, and then use them in very destruc­tive ways and settings?

Al-Zaid: Definitely. Like again, to go back to a theme, we have the tech­nol­o­gy,” right. A sin­gle iPhone can track every man­u­fac­tured bul­let in this world. That you have an iden­ti­fi­ca­tion num­ber and you can show this chain of trans­mis­sion. We have the com­put­ing pow­er to do this yet we choose not to. Small arms is like a growth indus­try right now in Belgium and Austria and so forth. And these are weapons that are end­ing up in the bat­tle­field. And so as civ­il soci­ety we need to be demand­ing not just from like the United States, but from your Western European coun­tries like hey, who are we sell­ing these guns to? Can we have more over­sight about who gets them and what con­text? And even if you only do it for 5 or 10% of small arms, I think you can still in a way make a dent in under­stand­ing how this black shad­owy mar­ket is work­ing. Yeah, I hope that answers. 

Moderator: Okay. Thank you very much Saud Al-Zaid.

Al-Zaid: Thank you all so much for staying.

Further Reference

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