Sunday, November 15, 2015

Yonatan Zunger (Google+ Chief Architect) on Da'esh's attack on Paris

Updated: November 18 - added a few new links and another endnote (*) .

The chief architect for Google+ has posted a long but thoughtful* (and admittedly frustrated) piece about the Paris attacks by Da'esh (the organization formerly known as ISIS). He downplays the role of religion (and oil) as having "little to nothing to do with what we're seeing," which I think is an overstatement** if in some ways true in this case, but his online rant against the "Internet and the airwaves alike [being] filled with profound waves of self-serving nonsense and stupidity from left and right alike" is otherwise a pretty good overview of the complexity of this situation - and lack of simple solutions - in general. For additional recent and historical commentary on terrorism that I have found interesting, see this page.

* But it's still too early to say anything for sure on that Syrian refugee passport.

** John Horgan, Irish psychologist and terrorism expert, provides what I think is a more accurate and modest assessment of the role of religion in terrorism:
"Just like talking about 'terrorism,' it has become impossible to talk about the relationship between Islam and terrorism without causing great offense to some. Debate is so polarized now between those who say that we if we want to understand terrorism, Islam is 'everything,' and those who say that Islam is completely irrelevant. Both positions are incorrect. I certainly think the role of Islam, and religious ideology more generally, is vastly overstated as a mobilizing agent for involvement in political violence. I believe it is far more relevant in terms of sustaining commitment and continued engagement with a group. Islamic content is used both as a defense of activity as well as a justification for certain kinds of tactics. This is not unique to Islam, however, and I think any 'believer' can take great comfort from religious precepts especially if they are struggling to justify to themselves (as well as others) what they have now gotten themselves into. It’s the uncritical embracing of religious ideology that is often associated with terrorism. This is why I think converts appear especially susceptible to terrorist recruiters. They don’t have the deeper religious knowledge that could easily rebut many of the clichéd arguments used by recruiters attempting to inspire young Muslims to mobilize in the first place."
Finally, evolutionary anthropologist Scott Atran digs some into the real sources of inspiration:
"[W]hat inspires the most uncompromisingly lethal actors in the world today is not so much the Qur’an or religious teachings. It’s a thrilling cause that promises glory and esteem. Jihad is an egalitarian, equal-opportunity employer: fraternal, fast-breaking, glorious, cool – and persuasive."