Monday, July 18, 2016

Quotable: Amy Zalman on hybrid terrorists and the battle of ideas

"Quotable: Amy Zalman on hybrid terrorists and the battle of ideas,"

image (not from article) from

Sunday, July 17th 2016
“Today, a hybrid type [of terrorist] appears to be evolving: someone who works without full organizational support or direction, but who is not working in total isolation from others.  We may call this the ‘hybrid’ or ‘networked’ terrorist, who may be or feel himself to be associated distantly with a group or an idea, but who may still carry out all or some of his activities without the direction of an organizational leader.” 

This concept was explored by Amy Zalman in an article, “Fighting Terrorists? Needed: More Effective Battle of Ideas,” that appeared on the website of The Globalist on July 17, 2016.  Zalman, a member of the Public Diplomacy Council, is the principal owner of the Strategic Narrative Institute LLC and adjunct Professor of Strategic Foresight Methods at Georgetown University.  For Public Diplomacy practitioners, her discussion of “global educational standards” is suggestive.  Here are some key points:

  • The 20th century featured either groups with specific ethnic-nationalist goals, such as Basque Homeland and Freedom (ETA, in Basque) and the Kurdish Worker’s Party (PKK). Or they had revolutionary objectives, exemplified by groups like the Black Panthers or the Baader Meinhof Group, for example.

  • As violent actors become more likely to act without leaders, they can afford to be less connected to the socialization processes of radical groups.

  • In its place, they are connected to digital as well as social networks — and capable of developing destructive capabilities with limited help from others.

  • In contrast to terrorists of the past century, today’s may not be physically isolated from the rest of the world in training camps.

  • They are isolated, instead, in an imaginative construct of their own. They pick from the information available to them, those bits that help them make sense of the world and their role in it.

  • . . . rigidity of mind, a profound sense of displacement or other feelings of dissonance and the ability to personalize digital information sources means he more likely lives in a narrow, self-reinforcing narrative that closes off alternative ways of viewing himself or the world.

  • There is nothing more challenging to uproot than another person’s worldview. One way not to do it is with “counter-narratives” that simply oppose or offer alternatives with no connection to the cultural or ideological fabric of an extremist’s worldview.

  • Nevertheless, this was the general premise of the “war of ideas” for the last decade.

  • Now is the time to acknowledge the complex makeup of individuals who engage in violent activity.

  • They have ideological, temperamental, circumstantial, psychological and other motivations. Addressing only one promises to leave all of the others intact.

  • There is strong evidence of a fairly consistent psychological profile among violent protagonists in different ideological and regional settings.

  • These include rigid turn of mind and feelings of alienation or marginalization, for example. This knowledge offers clues to the prevention of extremism.

  • Most important, it suggests itself as a global call for educational standards that highlight flexibility of mind, the ability to withhold judgment, self-reflection and other abilities that help people develop constructive narratives about themselves and the world around them.

  • In order to present alternative narratives, the United States must be able to traverse those existing pathways in their international projects and their counterterrorism communications.

  • This ability may draw on empirical facts about the cultural contours or dominant media messages suffusing an extremist network.

  • . . . it is imperative to keep unrelated issues and domestic politics from muddying the water.

  • Immigration reform, for example, is not the place for a counterterrorism strategy: people do not move to extremist violence because they are from another country.

  • Rather, they do so because they are vulnerable to ideological influence, feel disenfranchised and find that a narrative of violence helps them make sense to themselves.

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