Tag: Iraq (page 1 of 7)

Iraq's Chemical Arsenal: Justification for War?

Yesterday, a student asked me about the recent news reports indicating that Iraq did, in fact, have “weapons of mass destruction” back in 2002 and 2003 when the U.S. was attempting to justify a “preemptive” war. The New York Times reported that American soldiers were injured in the past decade by chemically-armed munitions found in Iraq.

Already, a slew of articles in the media have debunked the claim that this vindicates George W. Bush and his Iraq misadventure. This Washington Post piece is perhaps the best since it primarily quotes Bush administration claims from the pre-war period.

The Times piece certainly does not try to claim that Bush is vindicated:

Continue reading

FacebookTwitterGoogle+TumblrRedditShare

Tweets of the week #4

This was another busy week in global politics and I’m going to highlight some of the best tweets in my Twitter feed. Before starting, however, I will acknowledge that this post is late.

I believe my excuse is pretty good as it involves lots of late night baseball. I grew up in Kansas rooting for the local team — and the Kansas City Royals are in the playoffs for the first time since winning the World Series in 1985. Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday, the Royals won three consecutive extra inning games. All ended after 1 am Eastern Time. I then had to read for 30 to 45 minutes after the long and exciting games just to unwind enough to sleep.

None of those victories featured  the longest game of the week. As DC residents know, the Washington Nationals lost to the San Francisco Giants 2-1 in the 18th inning. I caught a bit of that contest:

Continue reading

Tweets of the Week #2

09_2013_47

Welcome to the second edition of “Tweets of the Week.” It was a busy seven days for news and my twitter feed provided much useful information — in micro-form.

The Scottish independence referendum featured especially prominently in my feed. This was perhaps my favorite tweet about the final result:

Prior to the vote, my feed was filled with some great tweets about the #indyref. Here are a few of the shorter ones that I found especially helpful:

https://twitter.com/ZiggyRoswell/status/510153980144787457

The Scottish referendum, of course, was not the only interesting issue in global politics this week. And, over the long haul, it almost assuredly wasn’t the most important either.

For example, the continuing spread of Ebola might be the biggest near-term threat to international security — depending upon how we define “security.”

No matter how depressed you might be about the prospect of new war in the Middle East, this tweet helps provide context:

But read this too, on ISIS/ISIL:

It also seems appropriate to be worried about Ukraine:

Finally, here’s a blast from the past that might be quite helpful in a class that is discussing renewed war in Iraq:

Tweets of the Week

Though I’ve been blogging at the Duck of Minerva for more than 9 years, I haven’t posted much content for several years. My last post here was in mid-February. You can find maybe half a dozen posts in 2013 and 2014. It’s a terrible record. Embarrassingly, I had to look up my username just to log in.

There are multiple explanations for my silence: the U.S. withdrew from Iraq, which was my original blogging muse. I became department chair. My hair is turning very gray. Blah, blah, blah.

However, in my own defense, I should note that I am a much more frequent contributor to the Tweets sidebar here at the Duck. In fact, I can only conclude that I’m now a “microblogger,” at least primarily. Is that worthwhile?

With that question in mind, I’m going to try to post a regular “Tweets of the week” piece. This will mostly be retweets from my Twitter feed, though I may slip in one or two of my own original tweets. I’ll try to highlight major issues of the week.

Re: Ebola

Re: Upcoming Scottish Independence Vote (which captured my attention while traveling there in August)

Re: ISIS (this is a parking ticket issued by ISIL):

https://twitter.com/acoyne/status/508642960851079168

Re: AU department chair:

The New Blitzkrieg, Part II

isis convoyAs I wrote a few days ago, a new pattern of warfare is emerging in the Middle East and Africa. This “new blitzkrieg” isn’t really new, but it is asymmetric warfare at its best, pitting swarms of fast-moving, lightly armed fighters operating as a network against hidebound hierarchies of Western-trained and equipped “professional soldiers”. These state forces have a bad track record of crumbling under the tempo of swarming, networked attackers; and the only thing that has proven capable of stemming the tide is early airstrikes followed with a robust military “prop-up and mop-up” campaign, as demonstrated by French and African Union forces in Mali. The outcomes aren’t that great in any of the recent cases – but it’s much, much worse when any regional government has fallen to the non-state forces. Continue reading

The New Blitzkrieg

A new version of maneuver warfare is being utilized mainly by Islamic fundamentalist forces to seize territory from government forces trained, equipped and organized along the Western model.

This “new blitzkrieg” relies on lightly armed fighters mounted on “technicals” – 4×4 trucks with heavy machine-guns, light cannons, or automatic grenade launchers mounted on the vehicle. Here are some key factors we should be thinking about in order to potentially combat these forces in the future. Continue reading

Path Dependence, Iraq Edition

With the fall of Mosul to the jihadists of Syria and Iraq, there is much blame-casting to be had.  Some are blaming Obama for not keeping a residual force in Iraq although it is not clear that a small US force would have kept the Iraqi military from breaking.

This always, always frustrates me because it ignores what the US faced in 2009–the accumulation of dynamics produced by the bad decisions of the past.  In this case, if people remember, there were many stories where Iraqi elites said two things: yes, we want the U.S. to stay, but no, we cannot say that in public.  Why?

Continue reading

2014 Grawemeyer Award Winner

Congratulations to Jacques E.C. Hymans for winning the 2014 Grawemeyer Award for Ideas Improving World Order. The award is administered by the University of Louisville’s Department of Political Science. Disclosure: I’m currently the Department chair and for 17 years I directed the award (1994-2011). There’s more on the local angle at the end of this post.

Hymans won the $100,000 prize for his 2012 book Achieving Nuclear Ambitions; Scientists, Politicians, and Proliferation. Here’s a brief description from the Cambridge University Press webpage: Continue reading

Guest Post by Tom Nichols — Iraq War Debate too Driven by Bush Resentment: A Response to Bob Kelly’s Iraq Posts”

imagesCAI6BD5TI am happy to invite my friend Tom Nichols to guest-post about the continuing Iraq War debate. Tom responded so substantially to my original post series on the war (one, two, three), that I invited him to provide a longer write-up. Tom is a professor of national security affairs at the U.S. Naval War College and an adjunct professor in the Harvard Extension School. His blog can be found here, his twitter here. His opinions of course are his own, so whenever he says I’m wrong, you probably shouldn’t listen… REK

I’ve been reading Bob’s thoughts – cogent as always – on the tenth anniversary of the Iraq War. I reject Bob’s exploration of the “culpability” of the IR field for providing any kind of intellectual infrastructure for the war, mostly because I don’t think anyone in Washington, then or now, listens to us, and for good reason. Joe Nye long ago lamented that lack of influence elsewhere, and others agree (by “others” I mean “me”). So I won’t rehearse it here.

Bob and I sort of agree that the outcome of the war doesn’t say much about the prescience of at least some of the war’s opponents: there were people whose default position was almost any exercise of U.S. power is likely to be bad, and they don’t get points for being right by accident. Continue reading

Guest Post by Tom Nichols — Iraq War Debate too Driven by Bush Resentment: A Response to Bob Kelly’s Iraq Posts”

imagesCAI6BD5TI am happy to invite my friend Tom Nichols to guest-post about the continuing Iraq War debate. Tom responded so substantially to my original post series on the war (one, two, three), that I invited him to provide a longer write-up. Tom is a professor of national security affairs at the U.S. Naval War College and an adjunct professor in the Harvard Extension School. His blog can be found here, his twitter here. His opinions of course are his own, so whenever he says I’m wrong, you probably shouldn’t listen… REK

I’ve been reading Bob’s thoughts – cogent as always – on the tenth anniversary of the Iraq War. I reject Bob’s exploration of the “culpability” of the IR field for providing any kind of intellectual infrastructure for the war, mostly because I don’t think anyone in Washington, then or now, listens to us, and for good reason. Joe Nye long ago lamented that lack of influence elsewhere, and others agree (by “others” I mean “me”). So I won’t rehearse it here.

Bob and I sort of agree that the outcome of the war doesn’t say much about the prescience of at least some of the war’s opponents: there were people whose default position was almost any exercise of U.S. power is likely to be bad, and they don’t get points for being right by accident. Continue reading

The US-Iraq Conflict: A War of Rivalry?

This is a guest post by Konstantinos Travlos of the University of Illinois and Brandon Valeriano of the University of Glasgow.

The mark of the ten year anniversary of the beginning of the US invasion of Iraq in 2003 has been, as such anniversaries tend to be, a chance for scholars, pundits and politicians to take stock of the past and evaluate the present. Reactions have ranged from a stubborn support of the war  to quasi-celebrations on the side of opponents of the war. For all sides, the causes of the war have been a major point of contention. We concern ourselves with this part of the debate.

Very little rigorous analysis of the causes of the war has taken place. Explanations about the Iraq War have tended to be dominated by narratives that focus on neo-conservative policy goals, the Israel-lobby, oil, personal animosity, and the fear associated with Weapons of Mass Destruction. Usually these mono-causal explanations are amended by ad-hoc additions in order to accommodate the impossibility of any one cause explaining a war. This results in causal stories that are incoherent or lacking a uniting element that would make sense as an orientating device and macro explanation. Using Chapter 6 of Valeriano’s recent book – Becoming Rivals – as the basis, we argue that interstate rivalry is the common thread that links the many different events and behaviors that contributed to the onset of the second Iraq war.

Continue reading

Foreign Entanglements: Iraq Anniversary Edition

Continue reading

Iraq 10 Years Later (3): Why the Neocon Theory behind the War Failed

gulf_war_poster1

My first post on the Iraq War asked if academic IR had any responsibility to slow the march to war.

The second tried to formulate what the   neoconservative theory of the war was, because many of us, in retrospect of a conflict gone so badly, desperately want to un-remember that there really was a logic to the war, that it was at least somewhat intellectually defensible, and that a lot of us believed it. We may want to retroactively exculpate ourselves by suggesting it was just W the cowboy acting ridiculous, or a neocon hijacking of the policy process, or Halliburton oil imperialism, and all the other reasons so popular on the left. And some of that is true of course.

But it ducks the crucial point that the war was popular until it flew wildly off-the-rails, which in turn revealed the staggering incompetence of the Bush administration to act on the neocon logic the country had embraced by March 2003. In short, I argued that the Iraq invasion was not about WMD, preemption, or democracy, although that rationale was played up in the wake of the failure to find WMD. The real neocon goal was to scare the daylights out of the Arabs and their elites by punching one of their worst regimes in the face, thereby showing what was coming to rest of the region unless it cleaned up its act, i.e., crack down on salafism and liberalize so as to defuse the cultural extremism that lead to 9/11. (Read Ajami saying in January 2003 that the war is ‘to modernize the Arabs;’ that’s about as a good a pre-war summary of this logic as you’ll get.)

So what went wrong?

Continue reading

Blog Archeology: The Discursive Bundle that Justified the Iraq War

Yesterday morning I forgot to link the National Security Archive’s “Iraq War Ten Years After” page. It highlights some of the greatest hits of the period. I founded the Duck after the start of the Iraq War, but, as was the case for many US political and international-affairs blogs, the team blogged a fair amount on the subject.

Given Jon’s recent post, I thought I’d dredge up an old one that I wrote on the framing of the Iraq War. Given how recent apologias have emphasized certain aspects of pro-war rhetoric, such as the call to democratize Iraq, I think it remains relevant.

Continue reading

Yes, Bush and Cheney sold the war, but why did Americans buy it?

url

OK,  the 10-year retrospectives on the Iraq War are in and the debate is on.  Yes, Bush, Cheney, and the neocons sold the country a bill of goods on Iraq.  They are war criminals and should be held accountable.  Iraq was a strategic disaster, it was a financial disaster, and for far too many it was a human and humanitarian disaster.  Yes, yes, yes, the intelligence was faulty, the pundit class failed, Judith Miller was wrong, and the New York Times screwed up.  The list goes on.

But, this isn’t the first time we’ve seen all of this, and it won’t be the last. Read on and be sure to take the time to watch the video clip at the end. Continue reading

Iraq 10 Years Later (2): What was the Neocon Theory behind the War?

Learn-About-the-Iraq-War-300x210

My first thoughts on the war’s ten year anniversary are here. There I asked if there was any defensible theory behind the war, anything that might explain why we launched it, because weapons of mass destruction were not really the reason. Paul Wolfowitz notoriously admitted they were just a pretext to rally the country behind the invasion. And it’s hard to argue it was about pre-emption either; Iraq was hardly a looming military threat in 2003. So here’s my guess about the real neoconservative logic. I should say up front, I do not endorse this rationale. I’m just trying to lay it out what I bet neocons were saying to each other in 2002:

The Iraq invasion was to serve two neocon purposes: 1) It was to be a demonstration strike against the Arab states. Islamist anti-western pathologies from the Middle East lead to 9/11, so the Iraq invasion was a warning to Arabs, and Muslims generally, to never to attack the US like that again. As Cheney put it in the film W, ‘don’t ever f— with us again.’ 2) It was to be a hammer strike to break the frozen, dysfunctional Arab political status quo which generated those pathologies; this would force the region toward democracy it would never attain on its own. This thinking was summarized in the widely used expression at the time, ‘drain the swamp.’

Continue reading

Iraq 10 Years Later (1): How Culpable is Academic International Relations?

300px-UStanks_baghdad_2003

I’ve been thinking a lot about the war this month. I’ll be teaching it in the next few weeks at school because of the decade anniversary (March 20). My quick sense is that any defensible theory behind the war was simply buried by an execution so awful, disorganized, mismanaged, and incompetent that it invalidated the whole premise.

The whole episode became just shameful, and regularly teaching and conferencing with non-Americans these last few years has made this so painfully clear. My students particularly are just bewildered to the point of incredulity. Again and again, the basic thought behind the questions is, ‘what the hell happened to you people? 9/11 made you lose your minds there?’ *sigh* (NB: when Asians ask me about guns in the US, the ‘what the hell is wrong with you people?’ bafflement is the same.)

Hence, the post title purposefully implies that the invasion was a bad idea. But to be fair, that should be the first question: what, if any, arguments at this point can be mustered to defend the war? IR should try to answer this seriously, because I’m all but positive that the journalistic debate will be not be driven by the state of Iraq or US foreign policy today, but by the high personal reputational costs faced by so many pundits supportive of the war. It would not surprise me at all if folks like the Kagans, Krauthammer, or Thomas Friedman miraculously found that the war was worth it after all. McNamara-style mea culpas only happen at the end of a career (so I give Sullivan and Fukuyama credit for theirs on Iraq). But IR should be more honest than that.

Continue reading

The Difference Parties Don't Make?

To the best of my knowledge, no prominent peer-reviewed article in political science has reported a difference in the frequency with which the United States enters into conflict under Democratic presidents relative to Republican presidents.  That’s not because no one has looked for such a difference (I know I have).  It’s because, to date, no one has found one.  This is the file drawer problem in action.

Now, we want to be careful not to over-interpret that.  Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.  There could be lots of reasons why we might fail to observe such a difference even if it was true that one party was significantly more hawkish than the other.  But when we look at other democracies, we DO find clear evidence that left-leaning governments involve their nations in conflict less often than do right-leaning governments.

As we head into the third presidential debate, it’s worth keeping this in mind.  I am reluctant to say that there’s  not much difference between what US foreign policy would look like under a second Obama administration and what it would look like under a Romney administration.  I can’t know that for a certainty.  But the past provides relatively little clear evidence that those who believe it will can point to.

But wait, you say.  What about Bush?  How can I believe that a Gore administration would have taken the US to war in Iraq?

Well, for starters, Clinton may have selected Gore to be his running mate in 1992 in part because he voted to authorize the Gulf War whereas most prominent Democrats had not.  In the closing days of the 1992 campaign, Gore essentially accused Bush of appeasing Saddam, suggesting that there’d have been no need for war if Bush hadn’t tried so hard to befriend him.  Soft on Iraq, Al Gore was not.  Or you might consider all the statements made by Democrats in the late nineties up through 2002 about Iraq and WMD (seriously, go click on that link), or the international town hall meeting the Clinton administration held in February of 1998 to communicate the administration’s dedication to destroying Iraq’s stockpile of WMD, or the bill passed with bipartisan support in the same year calling for regime change.  And, again, there’s the fact that the US has not involved itself in conflict more often under Republicans than Democrats since 1945.  But if you’re still convinced that the 2000 presidential election proved to be very consequential for foreign policy — and I’m willing to entertain such arguments, even if I’m less willing than most to accept them on face value — that doesn’t tell us whether the same will hold in 2012.

There are two important points here.  First, what candidates say they will do in terms of foreign policy is not exactly a perfect predictor of what they’ll actually do in office, any more than opposition to policies enacted by someone else after the fact proves that one would not have pursued the same policy.  Note that Obama’s primary victory over Clinton may well have been driven by the perception of him as an anti-war candidate.  Granted, those who were surprised when he escalated US involvement in Afghanistan clearly didn’t pay close enough attention to what he actually said on the campaign trail.  But neither did he position himself as the type of person who would conduct more drone strikes than Bush (by a considerable margin), nor was it clear that Obama would keep Gitmo open, declare it legal to kill US citizens without first trying and convicting them of crimes, and so forth.

Second, note that Romney’s foreign policy platform to date can be summarized as “I’ll do what Obama would do, but I’ll do it with more swagger.”  Even setting aside concerns about how well campaign rhetoric predicts policy choices made in office (has anyone looked at this systematically?), there’s relatively little difference between the policies these two candidates are currently telling us that they would pursue.

There may not even be much of a puzzle here.  Studies that have found systematic differences in the frequency with which democratic states enter into conflict under left-leaning governments relative to right-leaning governments, such as the one I linked to above, largely focus on minor powers who are allied with the US.  In such countries, foreign policy is largely a luxury good.  By that, I mean that these states look to the US to address their greatest security threats.  A left-leaning government in such a state can refrain from responding to minor incidents in a hostile manner without much affecting their security.  Similarly, a right-leaning government can behave a bit more aggressively when dealing with minor incidents, content in the knowledge that their actions will have little impact on the nation’s security.  Put differently, when you outsource large part of your security policy to a superpower, you can afford to treat the areas you retain control over as a venue for symbolic politics.  The smaller you are, the more you can afford to cater to your base without compromising your security.  Superpowers might be playing by different rules though.

Again, to be clear, I’m not saying that we know for a certainty that there’s no difference between US foreign policy under Democratic and Republican presidents.  What I’m saying is that we have some theoretical reason to expect that there might not be much difference, and an absence of persuasive evidence that there is much of a difference.  There’s always the possibility that existing attempts to establish a difference between the parties have overlooked something important, or that this time will be different.  And I haven’t said a word about the impact of the party of the president on domestic policy (nor shall I, since that’s a subject that’s well outside my area of expertise).  But it’s at least plausible that the difference between how Democratic and Republican presidents behave in office, with respect to foreign policy, is far smaller than many realize.

The Difference Parties Don’t Make?

To the best of my knowledge, no prominent peer-reviewed article in political science has reported a difference in the frequency with which the United States enters into conflict under Democratic presidents relative to Republican presidents.  That’s not because no one has looked for such a difference (I know I have).  It’s because, to date, no one has found one.  This is the file drawer problem in action.

Now, we want to be careful not to over-interpret that.  Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.  There could be lots of reasons why we might fail to observe such a difference even if it was true that one party was significantly more hawkish than the other.  But when we look at other democracies, we DO find clear evidence that left-leaning governments involve their nations in conflict less often than do right-leaning governments.

As we head into the third presidential debate, it’s worth keeping this in mind.  I am reluctant to say that there’s  not much difference between what US foreign policy would look like under a second Obama administration and what it would look like under a Romney administration.  I can’t know that for a certainty.  But the past provides relatively little clear evidence that those who believe it will can point to.

But wait, you say.  What about Bush?  How can I believe that a Gore administration would have taken the US to war in Iraq?

Well, for starters, Clinton may have selected Gore to be his running mate in 1992 in part because he voted to authorize the Gulf War whereas most prominent Democrats had not.  In the closing days of the 1992 campaign, Gore essentially accused Bush of appeasing Saddam, suggesting that there’d have been no need for war if Bush hadn’t tried so hard to befriend him.  Soft on Iraq, Al Gore was not.  Or you might consider all the statements made by Democrats in the late nineties up through 2002 about Iraq and WMD (seriously, go click on that link), or the international town hall meeting the Clinton administration held in February of 1998 to communicate the administration’s dedication to destroying Iraq’s stockpile of WMD, or the bill passed with bipartisan support in the same year calling for regime change.  And, again, there’s the fact that the US has not involved itself in conflict more often under Republicans than Democrats since 1945.  But if you’re still convinced that the 2000 presidential election proved to be very consequential for foreign policy — and I’m willing to entertain such arguments, even if I’m less willing than most to accept them on face value — that doesn’t tell us whether the same will hold in 2012.

There are two important points here.  First, what candidates say they will do in terms of foreign policy is not exactly a perfect predictor of what they’ll actually do in office, any more than opposition to policies enacted by someone else after the fact proves that one would not have pursued the same policy.  Note that Obama’s primary victory over Clinton may well have been driven by the perception of him as an anti-war candidate.  Granted, those who were surprised when he escalated US involvement in Afghanistan clearly didn’t pay close enough attention to what he actually said on the campaign trail.  But neither did he position himself as the type of person who would conduct more drone strikes than Bush (by a considerable margin), nor was it clear that Obama would keep Gitmo open, declare it legal to kill US citizens without first trying and convicting them of crimes, and so forth.

Second, note that Romney’s foreign policy platform to date can be summarized as “I’ll do what Obama would do, but I’ll do it with more swagger.”  Even setting aside concerns about how well campaign rhetoric predicts policy choices made in office (has anyone looked at this systematically?), there’s relatively little difference between the policies these two candidates are currently telling us that they would pursue.

There may not even be much of a puzzle here.  Studies that have found systematic differences in the frequency with which democratic states enter into conflict under left-leaning governments relative to right-leaning governments, such as the one I linked to above, largely focus on minor powers who are allied with the US.  In such countries, foreign policy is largely a luxury good.  By that, I mean that these states look to the US to address their greatest security threats.  A left-leaning government in such a state can refrain from responding to minor incidents in a hostile manner without much affecting their security.  Similarly, a right-leaning government can behave a bit more aggressively when dealing with minor incidents, content in the knowledge that their actions will have little impact on the nation’s security.  Put differently, when you outsource large part of your security policy to a superpower, you can afford to treat the areas you retain control over as a venue for symbolic politics.  The smaller you are, the more you can afford to cater to your base without compromising your security.  Superpowers might be playing by different rules though.

Again, to be clear, I’m not saying that we know for a certainty that there’s no difference between US foreign policy under Democratic and Republican presidents.  What I’m saying is that we have some theoretical reason to expect that there might not be much difference, and an absence of persuasive evidence that there is much of a difference.  There’s always the possibility that existing attempts to establish a difference between the parties have overlooked something important, or that this time will be different.  And I haven’t said a word about the impact of the party of the president on domestic policy (nor shall I, since that’s a subject that’s well outside my area of expertise).  But it’s at least plausible that the difference between how Democratic and Republican presidents behave in office, with respect to foreign policy, is far smaller than many realize.

Gender, Violence and Digital Emergence

One of the most unsettling findings of our media and radicalisation research was the way in which the suffering of certain individual women is turned into a cause by radical Islamic groups that leads to violence by men in those women’s names. The availability of digital media, combined with a certain doctrinal entrepreneurialism by those using religion to justify political violence, has resulted in the widespread dissemination of amateur video clips depicting a specific woman’s plight and calling for reprisals. If you want to understand the link between online propaganda and offline action, it appears that representations of women’s bodies and their “honour” are often central. My project colleagues and I document two such cases in a research article published this week.

Dua Khalil Aswad, an Iraqi teenage girl of the Yazidi faith, was stoned to death on 7 April 2007 by a Yazidi mob consisting of tens of men, mostly her relatives, for eloping and spending the night with a Muslim man. Her death was recorded on a mobile cameraphone by a bystander and circulated on the internet. It was eventually picked up by NGOs and international media, where the killing was framed in terms of human rights abuses. However, the clip was also identified by so-called ‘mujahideen’ in Iraq, namely Al-Qaeda in Iraq and affiliated groups. They claimed Dua was killed because she converted to Islam. They argued her killing demonstrated how non-Islamic faiths violate human rights (they know how to call upon human rights discourse too), and that this warranted the mujahideen bringing their own kind of justice to Dua’s killers. Between April and September 2007 a series of high-profile retaliatory attacks saw the individual and collective killing of hundreds of Yazidis and the wounding and displacement of more. One of the jihadist groups involved in these attacks, Ansar Al-Sunna, posted a video justifying their violence. Dua’s death was woven into a longer strategic narrative perpetuated by jihadists concerning a war between Islam and other faiths.

Three years later, in 2010, we found considerable religious tension in Egypt and the Arab world stemming from several cases of young female Coptic Christians in Egypt who had allegedly converted to Islam and were forced by the Coptic Church, with the aid of the former Mubarak security forces, to return to Christianity. The alleged plight of these women became the subject of media debates, street demonstrations and protests by Muslims and counter-efforts by Copts in Egypt, inflammatory editorials, online speculation, and finally, violence against innocent people. One of the most prominent episodes occurred in July 2010. Camilia Shehata, a female Copt Christian in Egypt, disappeared, and allegedly converted to Islam. She then returned under the shelter of the Coptic Church and released various videos to explain her case. Her story was amplified by Christian and Muslim groups alike, but subsequent attacks in her name occurred in Iraq rather than Egypt. Al-Qaeda in Iraq took hostages in a Baghdad church in October 2010 and announced on YouTube:

Through the directions of the Ministry of War of the Islamic State of Iraq, and in defence of our weak and oppressed, imprisoned Muslim sisters in the Muslim land of Egypt, and after detailed choices and planning, a small group of jealous Mujahideen, beloved servants of Allah, launched an offensive against a filthy center of Shirk [the Church] which Christians in Iraq have for so long taken as a place from which to wage their war and plot against Islam. By Allah’s Grace, we were able to capture those who had gathered there and take control over all entrances.

The Mujahideen of the Islamic State of Iraq give the Christian Church of Egypt 48 hours to clarify the condition of our Muslim sisters imprisoned in the churches of Egypt, and to free them all without exception, and that they announce this through the media which must reach the Mujahideen within the given time period.

The Iraqi government chose to attack the hostage-takers rather than negotiate. The hostage-takers detonated their suicide bombs in the church and 53 people died.

These events confirm one thing we know: terrorist groups can derive asymmetrical benefit from digital media, since content from individual lives and incidents can be rapidly reframed to bolster longstanding narratives such as the notion of a clash between Islam and other religions. But what struck us as particularly significant was the degree of contingency involved. The line from the initial acts to the eventual victims and the way in which events are incorporated into others’ narratives seems chaotic, escaping the control of the initial actors. The economy of exchange through media is irregular: digital footage may emerge today, in a year or never, and it may emerge anywhere to anyone. The concept of agency becomes complicated. The span of things done ‘by’ Al-Qaeda is beyond its control. Is distributed agency something new, only made possible by digital connectivity, or have social and religious movements always depended upon – and hoped for – a degree of contingent taking-up of their cause?

While we cannot know why the Yazidi man with a digital camera recorded the stoning of Dua (or why he recorded others recording it with their cameras), the increasing recording of everyday life certainly produces more material for political and religious exploitation. As we have seen, this allowed Al-Qaeda to instantly reframe a woman’s life as a “sister’s” life to shame men into action. If the killing of Neda Soltan during the Iranian election protests in 2009 represented one face of today’s mix of gender, violence and digital emergence, the cases of Dua and Camilla show another.

Cross-posted from the journal Global Policy

Older posts

© 2015 Duck of Minerva

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑