Back when I was a teenager, a mate of mine decided that he was going to give up on school and would get in some combat. He was a bit of bigot and not exactly the brightest of people. So he went to Rhodesia and eventually worked his way into the Rhodesian Light Infantry. A few years later I heard that he’d been killed in action.
There seems to be a thing about young males and wanting action and excitement that has been around for quite a while.The obvious analogies in NZ history are the mass volunteers for the NZ civil wars of the 1860s and 1870s, the Boer war, and two world wars.
These were the people from my grandparents and great grandparents generations. Many of them volunteered out of an urge for action and duty, went to war, came back and then never ever talked about it except at the RSA – or after I’d done some basic training. They were the most solid citizens I ever ran across and had a rather strong aversion to any form of excitement.
My mate wasn’t the only one with an urge for action in my generation. A number of other kids I knew went off and joined up with various silly causes or joined our armed forces. At the time I heard about his death, I had been in the NZ territorials for several years. Fortunately I never wound up having to use the training I received.
John Key with his dumb and irrelevant attempts to prevent young hoons going off to get themselves some combat training and experience probably doesn’t get it. His version of the young mens risk appears to have just been to play around with other peoples money.
Probably the best explanation of this effect comes irreverently from the War Nerd*. Back in March he wrote about one of the foreign Jihardists being blocked from leaving the US. This young and stupid pillock below… Reading about him so reminded me of my mate from 40 years ago.
Last week the feds pulled a guy named Nicholas Teausant, who looks sort of like Napoleon Dynamite would if he was getting chemotherapy, off a bus going to Canada and charged him with planning to join the jihadist group I.S.I.S. in Syria. Nicholas (pictured above) had pretty much made their case for them by writing online comments like…
“I despise america and want its down fall but yeah haha. Lol I been part of the army for two years now and I would love to Allah’s army but I don’t even know how to start” and adding modestly that he planned to become a “commander…in front of every single newspaper in the country.”
Lol pretty much sums it up.
Stories like this show up every few weeks, allowing thousands of Homeland Security people to justify their paychecks, and helping the terminally timid to remain frightened, which is their preferred state. But nobody bothers to ask the obvious questions about this alleged “homegrown jihadi” threat – questions like, “How many of these guys are there, actually?” and “What’s their real combat value?”
The answers to those two questions are simple: “Remarkably few, actually” and “Nil, as long as they’re fighting in a conventional war like Syria.”
The last few paragraphs essentially give the real state of the security world when it comes to these kinds of security ‘threats’. We have a security apparatus even in NZ who really have no particular use in normal times. However unlike our armed forces who spend a lot of time training for events like the Christchurch earthquake or public order like Timor (and the odd war), they seem to be averse to being regarded as an trained insurance policy. Instead they invent strange threats like the ridiculous and farcical Operation 8.
They trade on the fears of the timid (as measured by National’s pollster David Farrar), the fantasies of armchair generals (Cameron Slater being a prime example), and the need for our rather inadequate media searching for their next headline. So we wind up with the type of stupid law about passports that John Key is planning to put before parliament as he mindlessly follows the example of Tony Abbott over in Aussie who appears to mindlessly follow the strange protocols of US Homeland security.
Is it going to make people any safer here? Ah no. If restrained in NZ, these testosterone driven pillocks will just buy a fast car and will proceed to inflict car accidents on other motorists instead.
As the War Nerd points out talking about the profile of jihardists coming from other countries.
But once you get past the testosterone tilt of jihadi stats, you find that country by country, region by region, there are huge variations.
In Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, jihadis are mostly from successful families.
In Australia, though, studies have shown that those who join jihadist groups are generally poorer and less-educated than the norm.
And in the US, where jihad is not just eccentric but reviled, recruits are very scarce, with the few who do appear falling into two groups: A few are serious young men with a family connection to jihad, and the remainder, those who have no family or ethnic link to jihad, are, to put it bluntly, scraped off the bottom of the barrel.
And that is it in a nutshell. How in the hell do you tell the difference between a kid of immigrants going off to see his family wherever or on the Hajj, against someone going off to joining an old family tradition. I’m pretty damn sure that the morons in the police’s operation 8 team who thought that “catapulting a bus on to George Bush’s head” was a viable threat to NZ security wouldn’t have a shit show of figuring that out.
The drips like Nicholas above? Let them go. If they survive then it will probably be the making of them.
If there’s anything unusual about Nicholas the Wannabe Warrior, it’s that he’s a poor specimen. He needed to look all the way to Syria to find some way to make a “snowflake” of himself. Most find a sanity-saving fiction nearer home—but then most didn’t have to live in a trailer in Acampo. That’s where Nicholas was living when he came up with the idea of making his name with I.S.I.S in Syria, and if you know anything about the boondocks of California, “Acampo” tells you a lot. Remember the Creedence song, “Stuck in Lodi Again”? Well, Acampo is on the outskirts of Lodi. People in Acampo would give anything to be stuck in Lodi; it’s like downtown Tokyo compared to Acampo. It’s not easy to be Nicholas Teausant of Acampo. Fight Club again: “We’re the middle children of history, man. No purpose or place. We have no Great War. No Great Depression. Our Great War’s a spiritual war… our Great Depression is our lives.”
Like the War Nerd, I’m not surprised that we get a few kids going off for a life-defining experience. I’m just surprised that there are so damn few of them leaking out of the desperate places of the first world.
Once again—and I know I keep repeating this, but it’s something standard media rules make it almost impossible to acknowledge—once again, it’s not why Nicholas took to jihad (or tried to, the poor fool); what’s amazing, what’s odd, is that there are so few Nicholases signing up. What gravitational field keeps them in Acampo? There are ten thousand towns like Acampo in America, and hundreds of thousands across the Muslim world that make Acampo look like Palm Springs—but they’re not delivering a flood of jihadis.
It’s true there are some real jihadis going to Syria, fighting and dying there, but the numbers are very small—probably between 5,000 and 10,000 on the Sunni side, and fewer than that fighting with Hezbollah for the Alawites.
The scare headlines you see about the increase in their numbers comes from one of the oldest tricks in the statistician’s book: If the raw numbers are tiny, any increase is going to sound huge if expressed as a percentage. If I have one lousy jihadi fighting for me, and he talks his unmarriageable cousin into joining him, I can claim a 100% increase in jihadi support. Of course there’s another way of inflating your numbers, beloved of military propagandists everywhere: Just plain lie, claim to have a lot more men than you really do. That’s another standby in Syria, where every faction has its video team and PR flack, lovingly filming every dead enemy and tweeting ridiculous claims about your casualties (what casualties?) and theirs (thousands, nay, millions).
The other question war reporters should be asking about jihadis is, “So what?” Or, to amplify, “What is the real military value of a few hundred foreign amateurs in a conventional war like Syria?”
My answer would be, “Their net value is a negative integer, a large one.” Foreign troops aren’t easy to like, especially when they think they know how you should live. And foreigners who’ve only taken up arms for ideological reasons, with no particular skill in using them, are not much a help. Anyone with two arms can fire an AK, but that doesn’t make him a useful soldier—and most of the jihadis who end up in Syria are not ex-military but ordinary urban young men (again, their ordinariness is their key trait), with no special skills to contribute. So their inevitable alienation of Syrian civilians most likely outweighs their very marginal military value.
What is the military value of four amateurs in ski masks? The Sunni in Syria don’t need more men with AKs, they need a unified command and a little goddamn discipline, and these goofy foreigners are about the last people to provide any of that. What they’ll do is whine about the food and the toilet facilities like first-worlders always do, then get impatient, shoot some civilian for not praying loudly enough—and in general, make Assad’s job a whole lot easier. Their military value is negative you-name-it.
As for the fabled white-convert jihadis, those unicorns of jihad, their value is even less than that of these second- or third-generation Pakistani-British volunteers. So why do we keep hearing about them? Because they’re white, for starters. And because they’re so unlikely. The media love anything unlikely and white and potentially scary, no matter how lame the scare is.
If you’re Nicholas Teausant, sitting in your trailer in Acampo, that sort of attention is the biggest incentive of all to Google “jihad” and pretend to be the next Osama. Losers have a long tradition of joining up with whatever scares the rubes most. For Lee Harvey Oswald, it was the commies, or the Russians, or both; he didn’t really know, any more than Nicholas Teausant knows anything about Islam.
Sure our security people may want to keep an eye on them. But stop them – you’re kidding me! We can all only benefit from them going off to war
The probability is that they will learn something about themselves that they didn’t know – how good their potential life is if they work at it. If they come back (and most do), then people coming from combat zones are in my experience very unlikely to want much more excitement.
The ones that actually worry me aren’t the ones going off to combat zones. It is the ones who go off to be taught mind-bending philosophies or how to lower cars who are dangerous. Often both. But in both cases they are usually pretty useless at most things practical as our WOF inspections regularly prove. As has been proven time and time again, most bomb makers and terrorists are terrible technically. You have a much higher probability of getting killed by a fool with poorly mounted brakes than someone with a Sarin gas attack or a fertilizer bomb.
The ones that could worry me because they are competent are the people who did significant amounts of science and engineering education. I did the former and usually work with the latter. We really know of a lot of ways to be very dangerous. However we tend not to be particularly susceptible to the siren calls of ideology or bigotry or their variants of religion, and far more interested in what we are doing than why the world is unfair to others. I know – I am a very strange exception.
What really worries me is that the paranoid and bigoted idiots who seem to wind up in our security services. They appear to be incapable of distinguishing between activities designed to enhance our democracy and society and those that are not. Because of the way that they interfere with the processes that blow off steam for our society and allow it to change.
Our best and brightest competent tech-heads don’t get particularly interested in politics until they or their friends and family start getting treated as social enemies by the chattering classes and their security pinheads. You see this in every country that has had real security problems, it isn’t until you get the techs interested that things start getting seriously dangerous. A few lo-techs going off to war aren’t going affect that.
Long after John Key has finished lying about the purpose of this legislation (just as John Key did over the metadata aspects GCSB bill last year – does anyone actually believe his denials? ) and had his photo-op with whoever it was designed to impress, we will find the security idiots interfering with legitimate activities like disagreeing with trade policy or wanting something done about climate change. Their use of poorly written and fundamentally dangerous laws to drag people through the courts as examples is the type of dumbarse thing that eventually causes effective “terrorism”.
* If you haven’t read The War Nerd, then I suggest you rectify your ignorance – at pando and exiledonline. I particularly recommend the topical “Here’s everything you need to know about “too extreme for Al Qaeda” I.S.I.S.” on the foolish over hyping of ISIS.