The CSS Blog

The Art World Fights the Islamic State’s Stolen Antiquities Industry

Courtesy Rach / Flickr

Courtesy Rach / Flickr

This article was originally published by War is Boring on 19 August 2016.

Daesh loots ancient sites for profit — and the stolen artifacts wind up on the collector’s market

The Islamic State makes millions of dollars selling looted artifacts on the black market. A few years ago, the world watched in horror as Daesh uploaded videos of its followers destroying antiquities in the name of its ultra-puritanical ideology.

The militants have since wised up. Daesh realized it could both rid itself of the influence of pre-Islamic culture and fund its caliphate at the same time. Black market trade in archaeological artifacts has become quite the industry for the terror group.

Documents seized by U.S. Army Delta Force commandos during the May raid which killed militant Abu Sayyaf Al Iraqi revealed that the group has “established an Antiquities Division with units dedicated to researching known archaeological sites, exploring new ones, and marketing antiquities,” a recent Government Accountability Office report stated.

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A Look at the American ‘Countering Violent Extremism’ Strategy

Stop Terrorism

Courtesy bykst/Pixabay

This article was originally published by Saferworld on 26 July 2016.

The US Department of State and USAID have laid out how American development and diplomacy agencies will work together to reduce violent extremism abroad. David Alpher urges caution in the melding of development and security agendas – a prospect that risks undermining the objectives of both.

The Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) agenda has grown so rapidly in American policy that, “at this point,” one government official jokes, “even the lunch ladies in the cafeteria are doing CVE.” The White House held a head-of-state level summit on the subject in 2015, and the State Department recently merged its CVE and counter-terrorism work into one combined bureau—but until May 2016, the term had never been officially uttered by USAID. Alternative phrasing like The Development Response to Violent Extremism, for examplethe title of the last USAID report on the subject — helped insulate American development and peacebuilding efforts from the securitized aspects of the rapidly growing CVE agenda.

The Department of State & USAID Joint Strategy on Countering Violent Extremism – released at the end of May, officially changed all that. The strategy sets out how American development and diplomacy will work together to help to reduce violent extremism. Navigating this cooperation is a complicated and at times dangerous path, and following the upcoming election, the next US administration will have a good deal of work ahead to decide whether it is really progress or not. My thoughts on that are here.

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The Polarizing Effect of Islamic State Aggression on the Global Jihadist Movement

Torn billboard

Courtesy wwwuppertal/Flickr

This article was originally published by the Combating Terrorism Center on 27 July 2016.

The Islamic State will struggle to hold onto the governments it builds and the territory it captures outside of Syria and Iraq because it antagonizes local jihadist competitors and powerful non-Muslim states. The Islamic State could soften its antagonism toward these entities for the sake of expediency, but then it would no longer be able to recruit followers as the uncompromising champion of the global jihadist ideal.

Since it announced its caliphate in the summer of 2014, the Islamic State has taken on 17 affiliates or “governorates” that operate in 12 countries outside of Syria and Iraq. Many of the governorates were preexisting jihadist groups or factions that joined the Islamic State because they identified with its antagonism toward local jihadist competitors and its unyielding animosity toward non-Muslim nations. Yet this hostility subsequently limits the group’s ability to build governments or take territory beyond the confines of Syria and Iraq. In most countries where the Islamic State has planted its flag, its aggression prompted powerful local jihadist rivals[a] or international foes to check its advances. The Islamic State could soften its antagonism to one or the other for the sake of convenience, but this would compromise its recruiting ability and tarnish its reputation as the uncompromising champion of the global jihadist ideal.

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The Struggle Over Bangladesh’s Future

Joflong Stone Quarry, Bangladesh

Courtesy David Stanley/Flickr

This interview was originally published by the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) on 25 July 2016.

On July 1, militants attacked a restaurant in one of the Bangladeshi capital’s affluent neighborhoods, taking dozens hostage. Twenty-nine people died, including the five gunmen and eighteen foreign victims. This incident was the most deadly in a recent rise in violence linked to Islamist extremists and occurs amid a polarizing political debate over Bangladesh’s identity and what the role of Islam should be, says CFR senior fellow Alyssa Ayres. “The July 1 attack suddenly pitches Bangladesh into the larger battleground of international terrorism,” Ayres says, emphasizing the decision of the militants to affiliate themselves with a global terrorist movement at the time of the attack. “The Islamic State dimension comes on top of an already tense political climate,” she says.

There has been a recent rise in extremist violence in Bangladesh. Why?

The rise of Islamist extremism in Bangladesh has been noticeable in the last year and a half. But the July 1 attack was different because of the overt desire by those terrorists to affiliate themselves with global terrorism as the attack was unfolding. Prior attacks in Bangladesh were harder to link explicitly to international groups. Though responsibility was sometimes claimed by the self-proclaimed Islamic State or al-Qaeda in the Indian subcontinent, these claims were widely disputed in Bangladesh, where the government tended to blame domestic groups. The July attack was different, not only in terms of scale but also in terms of communication. Islamic State-affiliated media tweeted scenes from the attack as it was underway, and later posted photos of the attackers with an [Islamic State] flag, making it hard to deny a connection. The July 1 attack suddenly pitches Bangladesh into the larger battleground of international terrorism.

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We Need to Rethink the Relationship between Mental Health and Political Violence

 

Abstract image of a face with red eyes

Courtesy of Surlan Soosay/Flickr

This article was originally published by openDemocracy on 28 July 2016

Simplistic, sensationalist media coverage of terrorism obscures our understanding of its causes, and hinders our ability to prevent it.

After each atrocity, social media hosts the well-rehearsed rituals of mourning. News of the identification of the perpetrators is frequently followed by condemnation of the double-standard of media coverage – in relation to geography (sometimes misguided), and to language, particularly regarding the word ‘terrorist’. (It’s worth reading the BBC’s guidance about why it prefers not to use the term altogether). In recent months, it has become clear that there is frustration about the application of mental health diagnoses, especially in relation to white male violence, as well as confusion about the relationship between mental illness and terrorism. This is a fraught and difficult subject, rarely discussed sensitively on a platform such as Twitter, which rewards simplification and polarisation.

After the killing of Jo Cox, there was justifiable anger at ‘de-politicisation’ of her murder: many media outlets chose not to highlight Thomas Mair’s links to far-right white supremacist groups. His act certainly fits the definition of terrorism (‘one who uses violence or the threat of violence to further their political aims’) – although this does not discount the possibility that Mair may suffer from mental illness, nor does it negate the importance of a diagnosis. Rather than a reductionist either/or (“Is it ideology, or is it pathology? Chemicals in the brain, or ideas in the mind?”), it’s important to acknowledge that mental illness can be a contributory factor, because violence is often a confluence of personal, social and ideological elements. There’s a public bravura that prevents politicians from acknowledging this nuance (those that dissent are forced to state the obvious: ‘to understand is not to justify’) – all of which serves as an indulgence of ignorance, a dangerous form of self-denial.

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