Ideology, armed conflict, and terrorism studies

I wanted to share a new journal article I’m excited about: Ideology and Armed Conflict by Jonathan Leader Maynard in the Journal of Peace Research.

I’ve mentioned the increasing crossover between civil war studies and terrorism studies a few times on this blog (the newly-released Oxford Handbook of Terrorism is another example). This new article, Ideology and Armed Conflict, sits within this trend but goes even further. It encompasses civil war studies, terrorism studies, and also international relations, by helping make sense of a concept that’s crucially important for all these fields.

Civil war studies has only relatively recently been interrogating the concept of ideology, something that terrorism studies has been grappling with for decades. However, this article does so with greater theoretical rigour than some approaches within terrorism studies (which sometimes either takes ideology as a given, or alternatively expresses excessive scepticism that ideology matters).

Maynard explicitly conceptualises four mechanisms (commitment, adoption, conformity and instrumentalisation) through which ideology can exert a strong influence on armed conflict even when the proportion of “true believers” is remarkably small. He also proposes ways to understand when and how ideological change does, and does not, occur.

The article covers a wide scope, using examples from the Cold War:

Groups may, for example, stick with existing ideologies out of fear of membership defection, loss of public legitimacy and credibility, or the withdrawal of patron support (Drevon, 2017; Gutiérrez Sanín & Wood, 2014: 220). Even as sincere faith in orthodox communist ideology declined among Soviet elites in the 1980s, for example, ‘hardliners’ feared that abandoning the ideological struggle against global capitalism would weaken the militarized party–state apparatus, and so bitterly opposed reforms (English, 2002: 72–78, 83–87).

From jihadist movements:

Similarly, Salafi-Jihadism has become an attractive ideological framework for armed groups in part because it allows them to call upon the support of powerful transnational networks of jihadist activists and sympathizers (Adamson, 2005; Bakke, 2014; Hegghammer, 2010/11; Owen, 2010: ch. 7; Walter, 2017).

Ideologies are not static features of individuals, groups, organizations or societies, but change before, during, and after conflict. The consequences of such change can be profound: Hegghammer (2010/11), for example, suggests that ideological changes within transnational Islamist networks are crucial in explaining the rise of Muslim Foreign Fighters from the 1980s onwards (see also Bakke, 2014)…

And from the 2003 invasion of Iraq:

Ideological effects often arise, therefore, from networked interdependencies of different sorts of actors guided by different mechanisms, with the largest scale effects emerging from mutually reinforcing internalized and structural dynamics. For example, neoconservative justifications of the Iraq War – as an exercise in rapid democracy-promotion which would positively transform Middle Eastern regional security – were, in many respects, dramatic breaks from previous US policy assumptions and appear puzzling and dangerous from conventional strategic perspectives (Flibbert, 2006: 310–311; Gilpin, 2005: 5–6, 17). These justifications proved so consequential, however, because they were simultaneously longstanding commitments for key members of the Bush administration, provided a plausible roadmap of action for broader sympathetic constituencies after 9/11, were successfully institutionalized within the administration (as critics of the war were sidelined) in ways that created strong pressure for officials to support an emerging ideological consensus, and were instrumentally effective in mobilizing public support and legitimating the administration’s priorities (Flibbert, 2006).

It’s unfortunately behind a paywall, but if you can access it and are interested in ideology and conflict in any way, I recommend it. And I highly recommend it if you follow terrorism studies but want to see how the concept of ideology is used in other fields.

More writing and other updates

Following on from last week’s post, this post provides some further updates on my writing and on Australian terrorism-related news.

Writing updates

I’ve had a new piece published on AVERT Commentary. Its the second part of a series tracing how Australia’s jihadist plots transformed after the rise of Islamic State:

If you combine the table presented in those posts with the table of proven and alleged plots from pages 16-17 of my ASPI Counterterrorism Yearbook chapter, you’ll get quite a detailed overview of Australian jihadist activity since September 2014.

I also want to correct an error I made in the ASPI chapter. For footnote 86 I wrote “Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee, Estimates, transcript, 23 October 2018, 62–66.” I should have written pages 99-100.

I also wrote in the chapter that “Eight Australian juveniles have now been charged with terrorism offences, and at least four have been convicted.” It turns out that at least five had been convicted. They are known only as: HG, AH, EB, IM, and MHK. I had not known about EB as the non-publication order on his conviction was only lifted on 5 February. There might also be others I am unaware of.

Australian terrorism-related updates

Last week’s post mentioned that “there are several terrorism trials currently underway in Sydney (according to the NSW Courts Registry app) which should be incredibly interesting, but I’ve seen absolutely no media reporting of them so I am guessing that there are loads of suppression orders.” These cases are now being reported on.

The first was the trial of Mustafa Dirani. On 14 March a jury found him guilty of being involved in the 2015 murder of NSW Police employee Curtis Cheng (he was the fourth person to be convicted over this terrorist attack). You also might remember Mustafa Dirani from the false “plastic sword” claim.

The other case was the trial of the two men charged over the alleged 2017 Sydney plane bombing plot, which began to be reported this week.

Meanwhile Amer Khayat, an Australian man facing the death penalty in a Lebanese court due to alleged involvement in the alleged plane plot, has had his case adjourned until 30 April while the court prepares to examine documents provided by the Australian government. At a press conference in August 2017 the Australian Federal Police indicated that they believed that he had been duped, stating that “[w]e will be alleging that the person who was to carry the IED (improvised explosive device) on the plane had no idea they were going to be carrying an IED”.

In other local terrorism news, a new sentencing date has been set for Omarjan Azari.He will be sentenced on 29 March for his role in the terrorist plot disrupted by the Operation Appleby raids in September 2014.

On 15 March the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security held a public hearing on proposed new Temporary Exclusion Orders directed at foreign fighters. The transcript is now available.

A Turkish court has sentenced Neil Prakash, the most high-profile Australian member of Islamic State, to seven and half years in prison.

In Syria, a woman believed to be Australian Islamic State member Zehra Duman is attempting to return home.

Finally, the aftermath of the tragic terrorist attack against Muslims in Christchurch, perpetrated by an Australian white supremacist, has seen several potentially-related incidents occuring here (some linked, some possibly not). A Queensland man has been charged for allegedly ramming his car into a Mosque’s gates and screaming obscenities. An Adelaide man has been charged with weapons offences after reportedly posting online comments in support of the Christchurch massacre. And the NSW Joint Counter Terrorism Team searched properties in Sydney to support New Zealand’s investigation into the attack.

Resources: some background to the Christchurch massacre

This is another quick post, to share some resources relevant to the Christchurch massacre.

The perpetrator, an Australian white supremacist, murdered 50 people (so far) at two mosques in New Zealand, which is more people than were killed in most terrorist attacks in Western Europe and North America in recent decades (with some major exceptions such as Oklahoma 1995, the 9/11 attacks, Madrid 2004, London 2005, Oslo 2011, and Paris 2015). This is the largest death toll from any terrorist attack, and mass shooting, inside either Australia or New Zealand for nearly a century (since the atrocities against the Indigenous populations). The attack has left dozens more people maimed and wounded. And as terrorism is intended to, the attack has also had impact on a far wider audience than the immediate victims, traumatising entire communities.

It’s long-term political impact, in New Zealand, Australia and eslewhere, isn’t yet clear. Whether it leads to a moment of political unification rather than further polarisation, and whether it will prompt various mainstream political and media figures to repudiate the far-right and stop stigmatising Muslims rather than react unreflectively, depends on the choices people make in the coming weeks, months and years.

There’s been a lot of valuable commentary on this tragedy, but it’s still early days and there’s a lot we don’t know. So here are a some pieces of excellent research published before the massacre, which help provide context:

Jacob Aasland Ravndal and Tore Bjørgo , “Investigating Terrorism from the Extreme Right: A Review of Past and Present Research“, Perspectives on Terrorism, Volume XII, Issue 6, 2018. For an introduction to academic research on modern far-right violent extremism, this is probably the best single article to start with (it introduces a Special Issue of the journal).

J.M. Berger, “The Alt-Right Twitter Census: Defining and Describing the Audience for Alt-Right Content on Twitter“, VOX-Pol, 15 October 2018. This is one of the few quantitative studies available on online alt-right activity.

Alexander Meleagrou-Hitchens, “A Neo-Nationalist Network: The English Defence League and Europe’s Counter-Jihad Movement“, International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation, 14th March 2013. This report examines the transnational “counter-jihad” movement which influenced Anders Breivik and, less directly, Breivik copycats (though Breivik was also strongly influenced by more traditional extreme-right ideas).

I also would have shared Fred Halliday’s book chapter “Anti-Muslimism and Contemporary Politics: One Ideology or Many” from his 1995 book Islam and the Myth of Confrontation, but it doesn’t seem to be online.

Finally, I’ve been thinking recently about how victims of terrorism are rarely focused on in the field of terrorism studies, other than as statistics. The media has always done a much better job of conveying this human side of the story than the academy has, and social media at its best can do the same. So I strongly recommend Khaled Beydoun’s tweet thread which provides a personal story of each person murdered by this extremist.

Writing and other updates

This is another quick post for a few updates.

I recently had a chapter published in the Australian Strategic Policy Institute’s Counterterrorism Yearbook 2019, looking at counter-terrorism developments in Australia during the past year. You can read the chapter here or my Strategist post on it here.

I recently spoke to David Wroe for this article about the United States urging the Australian government to “take responsibility” for Australian Islamic State fighters captured in Syria. At some point I want to write a post on this issue, either on this blog, or AVERT, or elsewhere, to make clear how much of dilemma counter-terrorism authorities (not just in Australia) are facing. Leaving these Australians in hands of the Syrian Democratic Forces carries a whole range of risks, but my own preference (that the government make more efforts to prosecute them here) entails serious risks as well.

In other terrorism-related news, the Independent National Security Legislation Monitor has announced a review into the citenship-stripping legislation, which is a great idea.

Finally, there are several terrorism trials currently underway in Sydney (according to the NSW Courts Registry app) which should be incredibly interesting, but I’ve seen absolutely no media reporting of them so I am guessing that there are loads of suppression orders. Hopefully some of it becomes public soon.

Resources: terrorism and counter-terrorism in New Zealand

I made a small collection of resources about the recent history of terrorism and counter-terrorism in Aotearoa / New Zealand. Sometimes this history is closely linked to developments in Australia (such as the jihadist and Ananda Marga cases), while other times it’s quite separate.

General:

John Battersby, “Can Old Lessons Inform Current Directions: Australia, New Zealand, and Ananda Marga’s Trans-Tasman ‘Terrorism’ 1975–1978“, Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, Published online 20 Feb 2019 (paywalled).

John Battersby, “Terrorism Where Terror Is Not: Australian and New Zealand Terrorism Compared“, Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, Volume 41, Issue 1, 2018 (paywalled).

John Battersby, “Policing terrorism in a void“, New Zealand International Review, Volume 41, Issue 4, July 2016 (paywalled).

Aaron Y. Zelin, “New Zealand’s Jihadis“, New Zealand International Review, Volume 40, Issue 2, April 2015.

Richard Shortt, “Raising New Zealand’s Terrorism Threat Level: Is Transparency Important in National Security?“, Salus Journal, Issue 3, Number 1, 2015.

The formal agreement to establish the Australia-New Zealand Counter-Terrorism Committee in 2012.

B. K. Greener-Barcham, “Before September: A History of Counter-terrorism in New Zealand“, Australian Journal of Political Science, Volume 37, Issue 3, 2002 (paywalled).

John E Smith, “New Zealand’s Anti-Terrorism Campaign: Balancing Civil Liberties, National Security, And International Responsibilities“, Fulbright New Zealand, December 2003.

The Urewara raids:

Jo Lines-MacKenzie, “Tuhoe community 10 years after the Urewera raids“, Stuff, 14 October 2017.

OPERATION EIGHT: The Report of the Independent Police Conduct Authority“, Independent Police Conduct Authority of New Zealand, May 2013.

The Rainbow Warrior bombing:

Janet Wilson, “The Sinking of the Rainbow Warrior: Responses to an International Act of Terrorism“, Journal of Post-Colonial Cultures and Societies, Volume 1, Issue 1, January 2010.

Ramesh Thakur, “A Dispute of Many Colours: France, New Zealand and the ‘Rainbow Warrior’ Affair“, The World Today, Volume 42, Issue 12, December 1986 (paywalled).

Updates on terrorism court cases and parliamentary hearings

There have been a few developments in Australian counter-terrorism prosecutions and parliamentary hearings over the past month. This post helps keep track of them.

Shoma hearing

In Melbourne, Momena Shoma had a plea hearing on Tuesday 29 January. Shoma was the Bangladeshi student who stabbed her homestay host one month after arriving in Australia. She had told police that she entered Australia purely to carry out an attack in support of Islamic State (IS).

The hearing revealed that three days before the attack she messaged a friend through WhatsApp, saying that she needed “to gather more courage… to carry out his [Allah’s] blessing”. However, she is believed to have carried out the attack entirely on her own. In Bangladesh she had interacted with IS on Facebook and reportedly sought to marry a man who went on to fight for IS in Iraq, but there is no suggestion that IS directed the attack itself.

Most importantly, the hearing also revealed the trauma Shoma put her victims through. The stabbing victim, Roger Singaravelu, said that he lived in fear and was now unable work, telling the court that “I don’t believe I will ever recover,” and “I can’t escape what happened.” The court was also told that his daughter suffers flashbacks and nightmares.

Namoa and Baydeh sentencing

In Sydney, Alo-Bridget Namoa and Sameh Baydeh have been sentenced over their terrorist plot. They conspired to rob non-Muslims on New Years Eve 2015, and then to carry out further violence. They were sentenced to around four years each. These are the shortest sentences I’ve seen for anyone in Australia convicted of “conspiracy to do act(s) in preparation for terrorist act(s)”. According to the sentencing document, this is partly a result of them having renounced their beliefs and (particularly in the case of Baydeh) assisted authorities.

Azari hearing

Also in Sydney, Omarjan Azari had a sentence hearing on Friday 1 February. He the first person charged with a terrorism offence following the Operation Appleby raids in September 2014. This was when around 800 NSW Joint Counter Terrorism Team (JCTT) officers raided properties across Sydney, arresting and questioning 15 people, while 70 Queensland JCTT officers carried out raids in Brisbane.

These raids were a very dramatic event at the time. Now, IS is nowhere near as strong as it used to be and JCTT raids have become far more frequent and far less controversial, so it can be hard to remember the atmosphere of September 2014.  To provide some background:

Understanding these events requires briefly turning to the Middle East. September 2014 was a tumultuous month in the region, in which the confrontation between IS and the US-led military coalition reached a new level. By this time, IS had been able to successfully exploit the chaos of Syria’s civil war and the fragility of Iraq (as the political settlement forged to contain the outbreak of violence after the 2003 US invasion started to collapse). By June 2014 IS had conquered swathes of land in Iraq, including the million-strong city of Mosul, and declared itself a “Caliphate”. By August they conquered more territory, seized the Kurdish city of Sinjar and perpetrated acts of genocide against its Yazidi population, and were poised to expand further.

US President Barack Obama responded on 7 August by ordering airstrikes and assisting the Iraqi government and Kurdish Peshmerga to push back against IS. In reprisal, IS publicly murdered American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff. On 10 September, Obama announced a broad coalition including Australia and other traditional allies to “roll back this terrorist threat” and “ultimately destroy” IS.  Following this, IS escalated its overt and covert efforts to attack Western countries. …

….

Counter-terrorism authorities watched these developments with concern. The Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) monitored local IS supporters and urged the government to raise the National Terrorism Public Alert. On 12 September the alert was raised from Medium to High.  Then on 18 September security agencies launched Australia’s largest ever series of counter-terrorism raids after intercepting a message from a Syria-based Australian IS member allegedly ordering supporters at home to murder a random member of the public. More than 800 federal and state police officers raided locations across Sydney and Brisbane to disrupt the suspected plot and its surrounding networks.

The intercepted call was between Omarjan Azari in Sydney and Mohammed Ali Baryelei in Syria. Baryelei was later killed in a US air strike, while Azari was charged with terrorism offences. His trial was stalled several times but eventually went ahead. In November 2018 a jury found him guilty. There has been little media coverage (I have only found two stories), but that might change after he is sentenced. Hopefully more information will become public about what appears to be one of IS’s first virtually planned plots.

At his sentence hearing, the judge remarked that “What has been striking to me … is how many persons who ­become involved in terrorism ­offences are very young, and there is an immaturity involved in it”. Unfortunately, as several of the attacks in Australia show, someone does not have to be mature to be able to cause harm and suffering.

Azari will be sentenced on Wednesday.

Parliamentary hearing on citizenship laws

Meanwhile, on Wednesday 30 January the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security held a public hearing on the Australian Citizenship Amendment (Strengthening the Citizenship Loss Provisions) Bill 2018. The bill will essentially reduce some of the restrictions on the citizenship-stripping laws introduced in 2015. This new bill will make it easier to revoke Australian citizenship from convicted (if inside Australia) or suspected (if outside Australia) terrorists.

As regular readers of this blog may know, I view the terrorist threat as real and serious, but I’m sceptical of the general trend of introducing increasingly powerful counter-terrorism laws. I expressed several objections to citizenship-stripping back in 2015, and no developments since have led me to change these views. Certainly not the Prakash fiasco, which was discussed a lot at the hearing.

A transcript of the hearing is now available.

Update 1: (added 15 February 2019) Azari did not end being sentenced on Wednesday 13 February, though the NSW Court Lists had listed his sentencing for then.

Update 2: (added 15 February 2019) The Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security’s report on the new citizenship-stripping bill is now available. The committee was split, and the Labor members wrote a dissenting report (starting on page 41) opposing the bill.

Collected posts on terrorism studies and national security research

Following on from my 8 January post about the state of terrorism studies, I’ve made a collection of earlier Murphy Raid posts on terrorism studies and wider national security research.

Some of them simply list resources, others provide histories of particular fields or describe recent developments, reflecting my reading interests and ponderings at different times. I hope they’ll be useful to anyone interested in research in these areas.

Posts on terrorism studies:

Posts on national security, academia, and the public sphere: