On Borders and the Islamic State

Ever since I picked my dissertation back up in January after a year and a half of near-total inattention, I’ve tried to get back into the academic mindset by thinking about the security situation a bit. While I would have preferred that world peace had broken out in the interim and left me with nothing to write about, warfare is a depressingly consistent feature of international politics. That goes double for certain unlucky parts of the world, like any country sharing a border with Russia that isn’t China, or the whole of Western Asia, where borders in general now seem less meaningful than ever (despite Saudi Arabia’s best efforts).

I’ve always been interested in international borders. Two of my favorite books growing up were the New Penguin Atlas of Ancient History and the New Penguin Atlas of Medieval History, both compiled by Dr. Colin Mcevedy, who his 2005 obituary described as a “psychiatrist, historian, demographer and polymath” (in other words, the real-world version of Hari Seldon). You could pick one of these atlases up, thumb it like a novelty flipbook, and watch an animation of hundreds to thousands of years of human history, seen from near-Earth orbit, play out in a few seconds. Here’s a version on YouTube if you need help visualizing this.

Watching these things, one realizes that borders are what states make of them. That is to say, a stable border exists where two neighboring countries agree to put it. When one or both parties disagree, war tends to follow–or at least it did up until the latter part of the 20th century, when the United States and the Soviet Union, and then the United States alone, decided to spend its blood, treasure, and international credibility freezing most borders between countries in place.

In 2015, that rule is looking less like a permanent change and more like a blip on human history’s radar. Last year, the borders of Ukrainian Crimea vanished into Russia with a whiff of artillery fire, followed by a quick referendum. Meanwhile, certain disputed islands in the South China Sea currently enjoy six sets of borders at once, which might be some kind of modern record and frankly seems unsustainable.

But the real action is taking place in the countries formerly known as Iraq and Syria. These states are being steadily consumed from the inside out by the Islamic State, a virulent political cancer that is abhorrent and fascinating in equal measure.

Dreamers gonna dream.

The Islamic State doesn’t fit neatly into any of the analytical categories we use to describe political entities and substate actors in the 21st century. For instance, it is a successor organization to the terrorist group Al Qaeda in Iraq, and it uses the media to broadcast its atrocities like a terrorist group would. But it does other stuff that terrorist groups don’t typically do, in that it controls and governs large amounts of territory and is not primarily interested in extorting political concessions from a government.

It looks like a classic insurgency from some angles, particularly in its use of infiltration tactics and its steady efforts to take territory away from the Iraqi and Syrian governments, but it is also spending its resources cleansing the areas under its control of ethnic and religious undesirables, and it is replacing those it has killed or expelled with homesteading families from all over the world. It acts like a nation-state by fielding a regular army and governing the areas under its control–collecting taxes and providing services–but has also declared itself the center of a supranational caliphate which will eventually dissolve all international borders in the areas under its control:

“Nothing remains after the elimination of these borders, the borders of humiliation, and the breaking of the idol, the idol of nationalism, except the caliphate in accordance with the prophetic method.”

– Abu Muhammad al-Adnani, Islamic State spokesman

This is a fascinating quote on several levels. First, we have the reestablishment of the caliphate–and not just any old caliphate, like the Ummayad, the Abbasid, or the Ottoman varieties, all of which came to resemble secular imperial administrations to some degree–but the original article, the Rashidun, which was led by the Companions of the Prophet Muhammad.

The Atlantic’s Graeme Wood recently analyzed the religious scholarship of the Islamic State’s leadership, concluding that the June 2014 declaration of a new caliphate was meant to initiate the countdown to the apocalypse. The Islamic version of the apocalypse involves the armies of the righteous getting the tar kicked out of them by the Antichrist right up to the very last minute, when Jesus returns to Earth and leads them to final victory.

With this in mind, the Islamic State’s many gross provocations come into sharper focus. They’re following a script that requires them to turn literally the entire non-Salafi non-Sunni Muslim world into deadly enemies.

Needless to say, that is highly atypical (although not unprecedented) behavior for a state. So is the obsession with erasing the borders of the Middle East. Most irredentist regimes (such as Revolutionary Iran) are focused on redrawing borders and then fortifying them. Not the Islamic State. Al-Adnani’s references to “the borders of humiliation” and “the idol of nationalism” refer not only to the former colonial powers of the West, but the Westphalian system of nation-states itself. The degree to which the Islamic State’s ideology is actually Medieval in origin is debatable, but at least in this respect, the appellation fits.

It’s important to remember that the establishment and spread of the nation-state, along with the parceling out of the Earth’s territory into 200-odd sets of borders delineating who controls what, is a relatively recent phenomenon. A thousand or more years in the past, temporal and spiritual powers were conflated in both the Muslim world and in Christendom, and borders meant significantly less than they do now. Politics was characterized by multiple overlapping spheres of authority: the emperor or the king, the pope, and various flavors of liege lord in Europe, and the caliph, the emir, the city, and the tribe across the Middle East and North Africa. The people living on a single piece of territory might owe allegiance to several parallel organizations or hierarchies at the same time. Needless to say, it was a confusing and dangerous time to be alive.

The Islamic State is not at interested in restoring this kind of political system. It hopes to establish a highly centralized, totalitarian theocracy. But when you look at places like Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Libya, Nigeria, or Afghanistan–places where the state and its borders mean little, and the new caliphate and its allies have established a foothold–the facts on the ground spell out a similar kind of liminal space. It’s not quite anarchy, but it certainly isn’t hierarchy, either.

I very much doubt that the Islamic State will be able to erase the borders of the Middle East and reestablish the classical caliphate. However, I don’t think that the international community is going to be able to get rid of it very easily, either. The ideal behind it is powerful, it has romantic appeal, and it is loose in the wilds of the Internet. Although the meme resonates with only a very small fraction of Muslims globally, that will be enough to keep it alive longer than we might think.

The real risk is not that the Islamic State will explode. It is that it will persist indefinitely, allowing that small fraction a chance to tick upwards year by year. If it lasts another five years, or ten, how many people will be joining its ranks at that point? These guys aren’t in a rush. They’re making themselves comfortable and settling in for the long haul.

I am generally in favor of selective engagement when it comes to grand strategy, but when it comes to the Islamic State, I don’t think the United States can afford to wait. We, our allies, and as many of the nation-states of the Middle East as possible should act now, with overwhelming force, to strangle this particularly ugly baby in its crib.


America As Terror Victim, Then and Now

After 11+ years without an attack (barring several near misses, and perhaps controversially not including the 2009 Fort Hood shooting), yesterday’s carnage at the Boston Marathon is a tragic reminder of our civilian population’s vulnerability to terrorism. I briefly lived in Boston (okay, Medford, but it was on the Red Line) after college. While I can’t say I cared much for the weather or the freeways, I thought it was a great town, especially for American history buffs and higher education addicts. And when it comes to looking a threat straight in the eye and telling it to EFF OFF OUTTA HEAH, Bostonians are rivaled only by New Yorkers, who are their rivals in everything.

Maybe this is because it’s still early days, or because the scale of the strike hardly compares–or simply because I haven’t had much time to check which brands of hysterical nonsense the network news has been peddling–but I’ve noticed a major tonal difference in the coverage of, and reactions to, the attacks this time around. Basically, September 11th scared us senseless. Boston has deeply saddened us and reminded us that the world can be a terrible place, but I don’t think we’re scared.

The bombers didn’t succeed in terrifying us. We’re reacting deliberately, not irrationally. People are going about their business. The stock market went down somewhat but it was heading that direction anyway. The rhetoric coming out of Washington is, with a few exceptions, level-headed, responsible and mature. The media, at least on the web, seems to be tamping down on irresponsible rumors and innuendo. We’re all waiting for the facts to come out.

And that is where we can find some solace in the heart of this disaster. It may take time, but we’re going to find out exactly what happened in Boston, and that means that the people responsible for it are on borrowed time. When we place our faith in judicial procedure and the rule of law, allowing the state to do what it does best, the vast majority of the world stands with us. If we treat terrorists as the criminals they are, instead of making them an unknowable, unbeatable existential threat, they lose power over us.

Another small point about terrorism in America: one could argue that we have actually endured multiple mass-casualty terrorist attacks since September 11th, most of which were perpetrated by lone gunmen. Definitionally, terrorists are supposed to be working towards some political motive, and these mass shootings don’t fit that bill. On the other hand, if you examine some of the demands of terrorist groups like Al Qaeda, they are as impossibly maximalist as Jared Loughner’s desire to end the government’s grammar-based mind control program. In any event, maybe we’ve been somewhat inured to the idea of essentially random mass carnage since we have been exposed to it so regularly in recent years.



September 12th, 2012

What a difference eleven years can make.

In the immediate aftermath of the terrorist attacks on September 11th, 2001, the United States of America dropped into a boiling cauldron of pain, confusion, and anger. On September 12th, 2001, images of first responders desperately searching the rubble of the Twin Towers for survivors were juxtaposed against solemn Presidential press conferences, an outpouring of global condolences, and a tornado of speculation about the perpetrator of the attack. We were scared as hell.

What were we going to do about these Al Qaeda guys? What could be done against this kind of organization? It was based in essentially the least accessible country on Earth, led by veterans of a very successful insurgency against another military superpower, well-funded (at least by the standards of non-state actors), and stocked with additional affiliates, agents, and fellow travelers dispersed and hidden across every other continent. Dick Cheney thought it would take multiple generations to beat Al Qaeda, possibly even a century or more.

Well, it didn’t, even after a very costly excursion to Iraq. It took about a decade. The job’s not “done” in the usual sense of the word–putting an end to all terrorism and violent extremism everywhere isn’t even possible in comic books–but Bin Ladin’s organization is neutralized. It turns out that even the most sophisticated non-state actor isn’t going to last very long against the combined resources of the developed world.

Think about it this way. The United States made the dismantling of Al Qaeda one of its top foreign policy priorities. I say “one of the top” because AQ wasn’t President Bush’s top priority, although it probably took the #2 slot; AQ’s destruction has most certainly been President Obama’s top priority. This spot was formerly reserved for the job of containing the Soviet Union, which was by most accounts the second-most-powerful nation state in history. It was the world’s largest state geographically, and contained a workforce of about 150 million people who spent a lot of their productive capacity (in 1990, this amounted to about $2.7 trillion) building weapons.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is a threat. By comparison, the Al Qaeda organization proper consisted of a few thousand people working with hundreds of millions to a few billions of dollars. To be sure, many of these people were highly intelligent, skilled killers, as well as absolutely ruthless and willing to die for their cause… but we are still talking about a group that was three to four orders of magnitude smaller than the USSR.

And the US switched focus only ten years after the USSR dissolved. Much has been made of AQ’s revolutionary, internet-enabled, decentralized nature, and how it supposedly made the organization impervious to the kind of brute force a superpower can muster, but it’s clear that ten years of technological process in networking didn’t change the nature of the game enough to absorb this kind of heat. Thus, when we turned a substantial portion of the military-industrial-intelligence complex designed to crush the USSR in a vice on Al Qaeda, we didn’t just kill a mosquito with a sledgehammer, we hit it with an 18-wheeler.

My point here is not to bray about how awesome America is, or to pen a rah-rah triumphalist superpatriotic screed. In my opinion, our approach to defeating AQ has been inefficient, brutal, inhumane, and at times illegal, befitting a “total war” mentality that may have been appropriate against Nazi Germany, Imperial Japan, or Soviet Russia (although that is also debatable), but not against AQ. Nor, of course, do I want to minimize the suffering inflicted by Bin Ladin and Friends, here, in Europe, and throughout the Muslim world. These were very dangerous people. They had to go one way or another, and we have a mandate to insure their successors never become as dangerous.

It is merely to remember that they were–and are–human, and as such, neither infallible nor invincible. And in retrospect, it’s not that surprising they’re mostly dead now.

Mayday, Mayday, May Day!

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! With anarchists scheming and protestors screaming, our May Day is here!

May Day is supposed to be a relic of late 19th and early 20th century labor strife, right? A quaint figment of socialism and labor activism in this country, before it was vanquished by the expansion of the middle classes, multiple Red Scares, and the advent of the open shop and right-to-work laws. Or, more recently, an excuse for the Warsaw Pact to polish its warheads for a nice little missile parade.

But that’s still ancient history. Not only did the Reds lose, the Weather Underground blew itself up. The Students for a Democratic Society took the blue pill and woke up as middle management. Most of us born in the 1980s and 1990s are still stuck in our parents’ basements. We’re printing resumes, not leaflets or samizdat.

Well, not all of us. The FBI just nailed three “self-proclaimed anarchists” (and two fellow travelers) for trying to blow up a bridge near Cleveland with fake explosives, helpfully supplied by that same agency. The supposed ringleader, Douglas Wright, is 26. Three of his buddies are in their early 20s, and the fourth guy is 35. Prior to the bridge attempt, the quintet allegedly discussed blowing up Cleveland bank signs, or perhaps attacking a Chicago NATO meeting, or even assaulting the Republican National Convention this summer. The basic idea was to strike a blow against the 1%. See, Dad, our generation has plenty of ambition.

May Day Martyrs

I’m generally pretty skeptical when the FBI stuffs an aspirational plot like this one (or this one, or this one over here) and claims that it’s saved the U.S. from unthinkable devastation. Certainly some fraction of the terrorist plots disrupted by the FBI are real threats, because they are planned by real terrorists with real resources. But some of these other guys (like the Cleveland Five) clearly wouldn’t have gotten past the “big talk” phase without FBI agents and informers making it very, very easy for them.

To me, the case is more interesting as an example of the American Left’s potential for remilitarization. The Occupy movement was born camped out near Wall Street and firmly committed to non-violent resistance. That group’s success has inspired similar protest communities throughout the U.S. and beyond. It hasn’t inspired the formation of a hierarchical organization. In fact, many of the Occupy movements have explicitly rejected that step towards institutionalization as being essentially corporate and anti-Democratic.

I wonder how long this novel style of organization will last. Mancur Olson once argued that consensus-based methods of decision making almost never survive in groups larger than a handful of members. So what? For one thing, the Left’s violent fringe may currently be disguised by the non-violent majority. For another, to the extent that Occupy remains decentralized, it may also prove ineffective, prompting more enthusiastic members to doubt the efficacy of its tactics.

This incident also brings to mind David Rapoport’s Four Waves of Modern Terrorism, which started with the “Anarchist wave” and ran through the “anticolonial wave,” the “New Left” wave, and finally the “religious wave,” which we are currently grappling with. Rapoport makes the point that a wave is much more than any single organization, although it may be represented by one in the popular consciousness (such as Al Qaeda and the religious wave). Waves last for multiple decades and are characterized by unique motivating factors, tactics, and technologies.

What might a “Fifth wave” look like? If we follow Rapoport’s schema, we’re about 10 to 15 years early–the era of religious terrorism is still in full swing. Perhaps our timetable has been bumped up a bit by the global economic crisis, as well as the crisis of economic expectations right here at home.

An Internet-enabled, decentralized, but still essentially hierarchical Al Qaeda is representative of the late Fourth wave. Maybe the Fifth wave will be spearheaded by recombinant masses of smartphone-wielding teens. Or tiny “working groups” of very smart individuals who are very good with computers. Or very smart individuals who turn themselves into one-man extermination squads.

Today’s capture of the Cleveland Five mostly troubles me because it suggests that the motive and the frustration are there.

Quick Updates

Whoa! Hey! Six months can go by pretty quick when you’re buried in schoolwork. I’ve been neglecting this blog something fierce, but will be back on a regular posting schedule tout-suite now that my second field paper is in. For now, a quick series of bullets, bang-bang-bang:

Protest Propensity in Africa, 1990-2010

How likely is protest after a 1 std. dev. food price shock?

  • The food security/protest in Africa field paper passed, so it’s on to the dissertation prospectus… which will also be about food security. Probably.
  • I presented the above paper at MPSA in Chicago a few weeks ago, in poster format. You can download a copy working paper from the conference website here.
  • The poorer/less democratic the country, the more vulnerable it is to protest when food prices rise. That’s not very surprising. What is kind of surprising is the marginal increase in effect: about 400% from the most democratic countries to the least, and 300% from the richest countries to the poorest.
  • The major outlier on the heat map above is South Africa, which is both wealthy and democratic by African standards. I think this may have something to do with the legacy of Apartheid on protest in that country.
  • I’m currently cleaning the draft up for submission/publication. I’m not 100% happy with the statistics yet.
  • For my next trick, I have some interesting results lined up connecting international food price volatility to leadership transitions in Africa. The upshot is that only autocracies seem to be vulnerable. More on that soon.
  • My advisor, Michael Ross, has a new book out on The Oil Curse. It’s way good, and the implications therein are troubling. Save money (and trees), read on Kindle!
  • The world has moved on since I posted on Msrs. Breivik and Putin. Breivik’s on trial in Oslo trying to prove that he’s not insane so his political point will stick. Two teams of Norwegian shrinks split the vote on that one, but his rationality was never a question for me. Putin, meanwhile, has been subject to protests in an increasingly restive Russia, which I did not forsee.

Thoughts on “2083: A European Declaration of Independence”

Whenever some human-instigated evil of historic proportions occurs, like the recent Oslo massacres in Norway, I always try to read any writing the perpetrator may have produced. Some have felt that my desire to read this often extremely disturbing material is odd. I remember my mom, in college, being concerned by my fascination with Hitler’s writings and other essays by Nazi ideologues and propagandists, wondering out loud why I would want to subject myself to that kind of garbage.

That’s a reasonable question. Why would any reasonable person want to wade into a sea of madness, even in written form? Doesn’t reading this stuff have a corrosive effect on one’s own psyche and mood? It’s true that some percentage of these guys are just crackers (like Tucson shooter Jared Lee Loughner), and there’s little rational thought to be sifted out of their convoluted rambling. They’re simply compelled to murder people for no systematic reason, and there is little profit in trying to understand why.

However, it’s more often the case that some political subtext is identifiable; and when you read Charles Manson, Jim Jones, Timothy McVeigh, Ted Kaczynski, and Osama Bin Laden, to name a few of the more notable cases, it’s more than a subtext–it’s the main event. Gaining some insight into those politics may allow us to gain a better understanding of the environments that produced them.

Anders Breivik

Anders Breivik in ceremonial garb.

Anders Breivik, the 32-year-old Norwegian “patriotic European” responsible for the Oslo tragedy, is the latest notable manifesto author to get the treatment. As such documents go, Breivik’s 1500+ page screed is readable, even though English is his second language; rich with historical, political, and ideological content; and disarmingly lucid, at least until the final several hundred pages, where his habitual stimulant and steroid usage clearly started to catch up with him.

According to Breivik, the attacks were mounted primarily to disseminate and popularize the manifesto, and only secondarily to kill those he had targeted as “cultural Marxist and multiculturalist traitors.” He discusses his prior efforts to raise several million dollars through various IT startup businesses and use the money to finance distribution; he claims to have gotten fairly far along this path before suffering reverses in the market and deciding to murder people instead. In this respect he is not unlike Kaczynski, who famously (and successfully) demanded that his manifesto be published in the Washington Post and the New York times.

Breivik is proud of his business accomplishments and his intellectual abilities, going so far as to include a CV towards the end of his work. He doesn’t have much formal education past the secondary level–maybe the equivalent of a few years of college in the US system–but he is obviously intelligent. He has read considerably in his areas of interest, namely European politics, Islam, and social/ideological history, and offers up a self-designed syllabus of readings he considers important, from Herbert Marcuse and other thinkers from the Frankfurt School to ibn Battuta.

He is far from the ideal autodidact, being neither widely read nor broadly educated. The conclusions he draws from his readings are obviously logically flawed, as well as highly inflected by preexisting biases against Muslims and liberals. He leans especially heavily on writers like Bat Ye’or, who coined the term “Eurabia” and appears to have degenerated from a respected academic expert on religious minorities in Muslim lands to a conspiracy theorist.

Breivik focuses in particular on Ye’or’s concept of “Dhimmitude,” which denotes the relegation of Christians and Jews in lands conquered by Islam to second-class citizenship. The motto of Breivik’s (possibly imaginary) terrorist organization, the Knights Templar, is “Martyrdom before Dhimmitude.” He writes that his negative attitude towards the Muslim immigrant community was catalyzed by many encounters with Pakistani street gangs in Oslo, who are purportedly expanding their territories into “native” Norwegian areas. He asserts repeatedly that this is happening in cities all over Europe.

In the areas that they control, Breivik says, Muslim immigrants victimize whites with impunity, and he explicitly equates their expansion with Islam’s thrusts into Spain and Southeastern Europe during the Middle Ages. He further places himself on a level with the great military heroes of Christendom, such Charles Martel, Richard the Lionhearted and John III Sobieski, who did battle with the “Moors” and defended Christian territories from invasion.

And that is what Breivik believes he is fighting for: “Christendom” as a political and cultural entity, or Christian “civilization” in Samuel Huntington’s sense of the word. Although he has been characterized in the media as a Christian fundamentalist, Breivik displays a surprising level of indifference to the Christian religion, even while he adopts its cultural trappings and terminology.

He notes that when he visited a church to pray a few days before executing his “martyrdom operation,” it was the first time he had done anything of the sort in his adult life, since he has no “personal relationship with Jesus Christ and God.” As such, he recognizes non-Christian cultural conservatives, “Christian atheists,” and even members of other religions, such as Hindus, as potential allies in his “armed anti-Jihad” movement. “It is essential,” Breivik writes, “to understand the difference between a ‘Christian fundamentalist theocracy’ (everything we DO NOT want) and a secular European society based on our Christian cultural heritage (what we DO want).'”

Accordingly, he does not devote much time to addressing typical hot-button social issues among Christian fundamentalists, other than to decry the corrosive influence of “political correctness” on society. He is most interested in “Christian self-defense”, remarking that “the Bible couldn’t be clearer on the right, even the duty we have as Christians to self-defense.”

Thus, Breivik comes across in his writings as a quintessential product of liberal Northern European society. He had a comfortable childhood, during which he enjoyed the fruits of the “Cultural Marxist welfare state” he so abhors. He is multilingual, cosmopolitan, functionally areligious, and well-versed in the ways of the internet (“if you are a European patriot and not on Facebook you need to shape up and adapt”). His meditative rituals of choice are World of Warcraft, Call of Duty, and “vocal trance music” (shudder), and the tail end of his manifesto is filled with smiley faces and other emoticons.

Osama Bin Laden

OBL in 1998.

In this and in many other ways, Breivik strikes me as a Norwegian manifestation of Osama Bin Laden, another favored son who turned on and attempted to destroy the society that produced him. Like Bin Laden, he professes his own special interpretation of his religion’s means, but willfully ignores or misinterprets its ends. Like Bin Laden, he distinguishes between a “near enemy” and a “far enemy”. In Breivik’s case, the far enemy is dar al-Islam, which has adopted a policy of “demographic jihad” against Christendom and is bent on world domination. The near enemy is the cultural Marxist and multiculturalist elite of Europe, who are ensconced in the governing structures of the anti-democratic “EUSSR” and have treasonously thrown open Europe’s doors to the Islamic horde for the sake of a permanent voting majority (yes, that logic is more than a little paradoxical).

Like Bin Laden, Breivik is 100% certain that his political vision will become reality, and he is equally willing to wait for results. He lays out a three-phase plan for the Knights Templar and its allies to overthrow the multiculturalist governments of Europe, graduating from terrorism to guerrilla warfare to total civil war. He anticipates that the task will be complete by September 11th, 2083–exactly four hundred years after the Ottomans were repulsed at the gates of Vienna (yes, that date is more than a little chilling).

Like Bin Laden, he considers civilian casualties among the enemy to be justified and necessary. Bin Laden reserved the right to kill several million Americans in revenge for casualties among Muslims in Iraq, Bosnia, and the Caucasus, among other places. Breivik writes that under “the principle of proportionality,” the armed struggle should not produce more than 45,000 dead and 1 million wounded among the enemy, in revenge for depredations inflicted against Christians in European cities, Serbian deaths caused by NATO, and so on.

Like Bin Laden, who famously wrote that the acquisition of nuclear weapons was a “religious duty” for Muslims, Breivik notes that “in order for the attack to gain an influential effect… the use of weapons of mass destruction must be embraced.”

Finally, like Bin Laden, Breivik has maximalist goals. He is thinking big. Initially, he wants to see the governments of Europe fall to a wave of revolutions; the replacement of multiculturalist elite regimes with Putin-style “administered democracies”; the destruction of the European Union; and the expulsion of Europe’s entire Muslim population (those that are unwilling to “fully assimilate” via conversion, anyway) to Muslim countries.

After that happens, he dreams of Christian repossession of large parts of Anatolia and the Levant to recreate the old Crusader states. The ultimate goal is to implement a policy of “separation and containment of Islam” until such a policy is no longer necessary. As Breivik does not believe that Islam can be reformed, this is another way of saying that he wishes to extirpate it entirely, making him the antithesis of the radical Jihadi who wishes the entire world to convert.

How is Breivik NOT like Bin Laden? For one thing, his organizational ideas are very different. He is not out to build a Christian Al Qaeda, with an advanced fundraising apparatus, a central command, and hundreds of operatives stashed all over the world. “Obviously, you are immune to informants/treason if you work alone,” he notes in a criticism of Al Qaeda’s hierarchical cell structure.

Breivik conducted his operation as a solitary merchant of violence–he raised the funds, planned the strike, obtained the weapons, mixed the explosives, and then executed the plan all by himself.

On one level, it is extremely troubling that he was able to kill so many people without any help at all. Ted Kaczynski was also a lone wolf, but he didn’t manage to kill many people. Even McVeigh needed co-conspirator Terry Nichols to attack Oklahoma City. Breivik, on the other hand, was able to leverage his familiarity with the internet to learn how to produce highly sophisticated homemade explosives; his social capital as an upper middle-class Norwegian to remain undetected; his entrepreneurial abilities to raise the hundreds of thousands of dollars required; and his intelligence and education to put all these deadly ingredients together.

On the other hand, it is comforting to learn that Breivik is such an exceptional case. It seems unlikely that many other right-wing extremists share the unique blend of poisonous ethnic hatred, guile, skill, brains, money, and antisocial tendencies necessary to bring a plot like this to fruition. Furthermore, many people who might otherwise become lone wolf terrorists lack the psychological fortitude to remain solitary. Research indicates that peer pressure and group membership/socialization/indoctrination play a large role in terrorist networks. Indeed, Breivik essentially had to drug himself into oblivion in the weeks leading up to July 22nd to keep himself moving forward.

What lessons should we take away from all of this? In retrospect, it seems somewhat surprising that a right-wing, “Christian” terrorist response to Jihadism took this long to appear in the West, but the threat has been real all along. Breivik self-consciously notes that he and others like him can operate without the undue scrutiny from law enforcement ethnic minorities endure as a matter of course; his access to social resources and proximity to the levers of political power are what makes him exceptionally dangerous.

All of that said, murdering dozens of “cultural Marxist” children and young adults in cold blood will prove highly unproductive for Breivik’s cause. This one of the grand paradoxes of terrorism at work. Breivik could not popularize his political agenda without murdering people, mostly because there is little real market for most of its content to begin with. Unfortunately for him, the horror produced by those same murders will prevent that market from expanding, because the heinous nature of the act will surely overwhelm any sympathy a reader might have had for Breivik’s ideas.

Neither the Oslo massacres nor “2083” are likely to inspire future “Knights Templar” to labor in secret and sacrifice themselves for what Breivik believes to be the greater European good. It is far more likely to inspire dialogue and debate in European politics, while redoubling efforts to integrate immigrants into European society.