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The Never Was

by on August 24, 2016

The Never Was

                                                          by Marco M. Pardi

“When you live with one foot in the past and one foot in the future you end up pissing on the present.” Anon

All comments welcome.  To those readers who have been hesitant to comment, please be assured you may do so freely. In recent days several new people have signed on as followers, enabling them to comment freely, and it is hoped they will. All previous posts are open for comment by clicking on “un-categorized”. Reader participation keeps this site vibrant. MMP


I almost did not write this.  I had just started when the Voices told me to take a break and peruse some of the on-line journals to which I subscribe.  In doing so I was startled to come across the articles I have included below. While several of the themes in these articles mesh with what I have concluded over the years, I will make every effort to not borrow from them without citation. So, here is my take.

Since the early 1960’s I’ve been involved in one or another form of counter-insurgency and/or counter-guerrilla activity, closing my career with several years in counter-terrorism.  Teaching at colleges where I had no research and publication responsibilities and working in applied international medical venues afforded both the time and the acceptable persona to travel and function at first on an ad hoc basis and finally full time.

Although the expressions and tactics of terror based movements have varied greatly over the centuries and recent decades, two basic questions underlie attempts to understand and more effectively address the specific act of terrorism: Who are they? And, why do they do it?

Approaching these questions is not as simple as it seems.  The oft quoted statement, “One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter” was introduced by Gerald Seymour in his 1975 book,  Harry’s Game. It has been quoted by many since then.  After 9/11 the agency for which I worked, cognizant of my public speaking experience, dispatched me to speak to audiences seeking answers to these questions.  I’ve written of this elsewhere, but will restate a basic point.  Since the focus at these talks was on Islam I explained the principle that an act against the Umma (the body of Islam) was taken as an act against all Muslims.  Hence, citing examples such as the Israeli treatment of Palestinians, many felt obligated to act in return.  This should not seem strange or exotic; it characterizes most religions and nationalities.  Just listen to how many Americans feel when Americans are attacked overseas.  Or how other religious people feel when their religion and especially missionaries or clergy are so attacked.

Looking into history from remote times until the very recent era we find that philosophies (the basis of forming goals) and actions (the enactment of tactics to achieve objectives toward those goals) were more closely married and more specifically enacted.  Targets and perpetrators were much more easily identifiable, even predictable.  Reports in antiquity of diseased bodies vaulted over a city wall or dumped into city wells, or a modern car bomb in Tel Aviv instantly brought to mind the likely perpetrators, with a “How could it not be?” justification for that assumption. 

Things changed somewhat with the emergence of “Carlos the Jackal” – Ilich Ramirez Sanchez, a Venezuelan educated variously in Venezuela, Cuba, England, and Russia. Although he had joined the PFLP – Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine as early as 1970 and was an avowed Marxist, his rather broad tactics, resulting in death and injury to by-standers morphed him into an icon of unpredictable danger to the public at large; an agent of terror, he became a “terrorist”.

Since his arrest and interrogations it has become clear that this was an individual in search of an outlet for a vaguely defined world view.  That the liberation of Palestinians from the Europeans who had been foisted on them somehow coalesced in his mind with world communism is an interesting example of the power of a flag of convenience.  A person who is essentially an indiscriminate killer ennobles his actions as for a greater cause.

The flag of convenience has flown over many movements.  During the Crusades it flew over the “Christians” as they raped, robbed and murdered their way from Western Europe to the Levant.  It has flown as New Age, or Jesus Freak, or New Jerusalem over many dozens of failed communes in the 1960’s and ’70’s.  It flew over Black Panthers and Grey Panthers and other such groups. It has flown, and still does as signs, “tags”, or tattoos over a variety of gangs and their claimed territories. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center – SPLC, there are some 850 hate groups in the U.S. alone, many armed, some heavily armed. Imagine a scenario in which some social engineer devised a single flag under which they could all rally.

But the flag of convenience is flying now as the black banner of the self proclaimed Islamic State, or (aspired) Caliphate.  A common element among these groups is, albeit with outliers, the age group they attract.  Another common element is what they fear.

I’ve written elsewhere of a phenomenon described in Anthropology: Conversion syndrome.  Appearing almost entirely in the adolescent years, now reckoned as 12 to 22, it is characterized by a search for meaning and need for belonging to something other and greater than family.  Through time many have exploited this.  Recently, Robert Baden-Powell created the Boy Scouts in England (1907).  Following this model, Benito Mussolini originated the Figli Della Lupa – Sons of the Wolf; the Hitler administration followed with the Jugend Korps, often called the Hitler Youth; Iosif Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili (Joseph Stalin) originated the Young Pioneers; and, the American Republican Party developed the Young Americans for Freedom in the 1960’s.  The common denominator among these groups is not simply religion, economic status, education, or any of the other single factors often claimed by analysts.  It is the upwelling of separation anxiety from family with uncertainty over a future sense of belonging.  The groups above, and others like them, posit a mythic Golden Age society preceding the “Fall” into the current state of society, a state characterized as lacking in moral compass, uncaring for the youth being targeted, and destined to become worse unless reversed by the movement.  The call of the Caliphate differs from the groups cited above in this respect: If you don’t get it here, you will get it in the afterlife. 

In 1970 Alvin Toffler’s book, Future Shock jarred the world.  The essential premise was when culture changes more quickly than people can adapt, people develop an uncertainty, hence fear, for the continuation of their circumstances.  This fear is not the sole province of any particular religion, socio-economic class, or educational status.  It is built in to an animal (humans) that finds comfort and security in the status quo. That it is exploitable with lasting effects can be seen in the fear of Other underlying the resistance on the part of many Americans to immigration and even lawful actions by existing citizens. This latter is currently seen in Georgia, a heavily Republican State still throbbing with the successfully induced terror of the G. W. Bush administration rhetoric about “Islamo-Fascism” (now gentrified into “Radical Islam”) and Sharia law. (To me, a person who uses the term Islamo-Fascism clearly knows nothing of Islam and less about Fascism.)  A North Georgia county has just declared a moratorium on the building of further religious sites because a mosque, which owns the land they seek to develop, has applied for permission to expand an existing building and develop a cemetery on its land. Huge public outcry, which brought on the moratorium, included claims it would be “an ISIS training camp”.  While I at first thought the complainants should be informed of currently existing “Christian militia” training camps, I realized those would quickly gain approval.  

Thus, the terrorists and the terrified share something in common: Fear of change.  The terrorists fear a progressively changing state which, they are told, will marginalize them and leave them behind. The terrified fear a “new normal”, a state of continual uncertainty for which they currently blame the terrorists of the day.  No single factor other than this basic fear, not religion or economic status or educational level has the power of this fear of change. The current marriage of a thoroughly twisted interpretation of Islam and terrorist acts is a marriage of convenience, not ideology. 

The answer to fear of change is not bombs, bullets or border walls; the answer to fear is to acknowledge it, to bring it into the open, and to address it.  The Europeans have done a great job of taking in immigrants and refugees.  They have done a poor job of intervening in the chronic cycle of self segregation and alienation, especially where the youth and the potential labor force is concerned. True, segregation has often been forced upon them, leaving them in a ghetto like holding pattern.  The new Special Forces in this fight should be platoons of social scientists, bi-lingual social workers, masters and doctoral candidates in international affairs and international economics and other related fields.  Instead of playing whack-a-mole with the actions of terror, we should be addressing the causes of terror.  And that can only be done by addressing the fear generating and fear supporting conditions which play into the hands of those who would dazzle recruits with promises of a Golden Age.   

But what a Golden Age for universities throughout the world.  Instead of approving graduate student theses and dissertations on the tired rantings of dead White guys, direct those students to do their work in the fields of applied anthropology, applied foreign relations, applied economics, etc., with field work only approved when it reflects on the ground analyses of those settings throughout much of Europe from which young people trek to Syria or Iraq or Afghanistan for ISIS training and experience and then return to Europe to await their chance. Have them analyze the chronic problems of assimilation versus culture loss. Have them identify the positive potentials especially in the younger generations and devise ways to channel those potentials satisfactorily for all concerned. If I were still young and vigorous enough to Chair a Doctoral Dissertation committee I think I would find such a venture my Golden Age, even if it was my last one.  


Alan Jay Levinovitz is an assistant professor of philosophy and religion at James Madison University in Virginia. His most recent book is The Gluten Lie: And Other Myths About What You Eat (2015).

Nostalgia exerts a strong allure, and extracts a steep price | Aeon Essays


Here’s Why Lone Wolf Terrorism Is On The Rise

A published researcher talks about lone wolf terrorism and explains why it’s so hard to stop. By Ryan Biek | May 10, 2016

U.S. Coast Guard Seaman and personal friend Cody Pajunen wrote a paper on the psychological basis of political violence. It was published by International Relations Insights & Analysis, a thinktank that promotes young scholars. I talked to him about the growing trend of lone-wolf terrorism. Pajunen, a recent graduate of California Polytechnic State University, spoke to me while he was at sea.

“Specific to ISIS, what we’ve been seeing a lot more is people taking up arms on behalf of the group without necessarily being part of the group itself.

“Lone wolf terrorists are completely autonomous actors, basically meaning that they operate on their own accord.

“They get their own weapons. They have their own communications systems.

“Technically, they are a part of ISIS, because ISIS claims credibility for their attacks … And ISIS is a very effective broker of violence.

“By spreading their name and their label, more people are drawn to either supporting them or fearing them.

“If you fear them, people see them as a legitimate entity, which is what they want. If they support them, they give them money, they give them personnel, they give them funding, they give them credibility or encouragement.

“So there’s a lot of different resources that ISIS can accumulate from these lone wolf terrorist attacks.

“The thing with ISIS is people think that the violence is all derived from religion … It’s not necessarily that; it’s socioeconomic, and it’s relative deprivation. People are relatively disenfranchised. They don’t have a lot going in their lives, and ISIS is able to effectively pick up on that.

“It’s harder to just single out people, so you aggregate large amounts of data. That’s what the government currently does. You know, people who’ve been recruited to ISIS, for instance, where they come from. What’s their socioeconomic backgrounds? What their educational background is.

“Smaller-scale, lone wolf attacks under the banner of larger groups will become more common because they’re so hard to detect.

“ISIS wants to propel this idea of a religious war. It is not that. You do not have to fear anyone in the Islamic faith … the worst thing you could possibly do is to fear a religion, and then try to exclude that from your society.”



From → Uncategorized

  1. My Journey Out of Darkness permalink

    Reblogged this on Ethereal Beings In My Life and commented:
    Marco has stated my feelings on this matter much more eloquently than I ever could so I had to reblog this. Thank you, Marco!


  2. Once again with this type of article is that it glosses over the problems without a concrete solution table. Granted that this is a blog and not a thesis paper. It gives a sliver of the solution.


  3. Thank you for writing this. I recently completed a “terrorism” class in which the instructor made an effort to focus on homegrown terrorist (caucasian Christian males) and why they act. Of course some of the more “right” leaning students tried to inject ISIL into every assignment/conversation and dismiss the “other” as simply being a mental health issue and not terrorism. It was shocking to learn that most of the students believed Muslims were taking over entire cities across the United States and that Americans lived under the constant threat of being attacked. Needless to say, this exaggerated fear of ISIL/Islam and Muslims in general, as irrational, has become the new normal.


    • Thank you, Candice. I share your dismay at the ignorance and the “easy solutions” held by so many, especially when it comes to labeling others in so glib a fashion. I’ve seen it in my classes. Far too much attention is devoted to the means of what passes for terrorism and not the causes. Until, like you, we have the courage to examine and address these causes the means will vary but the causes will always be there. Marco


  4. Terrorism has existed since the beginning of time, and will probably exist until time’s end. As you say, the causes vary, as do the means with which we deal with them, but as long as humans are involved, I see no final solution, ever!

    To quote (or paraphrase) Caligula, “Let them hate us so long as they fear us.” Fear is the ultimate goal of those who spread terror, and in that they are successful. They have only to set one bomb, perpetrate one mass shooting, for people to live in fear of the “next time”.

    I think what most people fail to understand is how very different thought processes are in other parts of the world. Did you take notice how swiftly the recent attempted coup in Turkey was squelched? If I had to guess, I’d say the perpetrators are, at best, imprisoned for the rest of their lives; at worst, already dead. Perhaps I have that backwards; Turkish prisons are not the country clubs they are here, but stark places where even being fed is not a certainty. My point is, human life has a different value there.

    Certainly, terrorism must not be tolerated in any form; but, if we let the actions of a few be blamed on the many, they have won. If we allow those actions to dictate how we go about our lives on a daily basis, they have won. I choose not to allow this to happen.


    • Thank you, Rose. Your experience of living long in Turkey brought you understanding far beyond those simple borders. I agree, the Turks can be swift and Draconian. Still, that plays into the martyr mythos. We must identify and address the driving factors even before the critical period of the conversion syndrome. As of now, they are many steps ahead of us with madrassas that specifically shape children into readiness for this syndrome.


    • Rose, what a wonderful mantra, and so typical of your wisdom: “If we allow those actions to dictate how we go about our lives on a daily basis, they have won. I choose not to allow this to happen.”


  5. Ray Rivers permalink

    Great article Marco – insightful and thorough. Thanks for the thought provoking read.


    • Thank you, Ray. As I was writing this you often came to mind as a person with the training and the real world experience to Chair university committees and guide graduate students into actually productive work. My confidence level would be greatly enhanced if I knew people such as you were actually in place and empowered to do something.


  6. The following was sent to me with the wish to remain anonymous. It is a comment from a faculty scientist, and speaks for itself. Marco

    “Very well done…great ideas…another fear is that we are losing the continuity of great thinkers and their applied science. As we age out of the workforce there has been alarming consensus among my colleagues of the unprecedented lack of transition planning as we boomers are exiting. It just seems we keep almost solving the same problems over and over with little inclination to advance the game as it were…”


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