Sunday, November 30, 2008

Mumbai, 9/11, Lashkar e Taiba, Al Qaeda, and Lessons (Not?) Learned

It's already tomorrow (December 1, 2008) in India. Mumbai is cleaning up after a terrible attack. The death toll is heading in the direction of 200. The last I heard, bodies were still being carried out of the Taj Mahal hotel.

Right now, it looks like either a group based in Pakistan, or Al Qaeda, are responsible. Maybe both.

Or, maybe neither. I'd say it's too early to tell.

I think Indian government officials could learn from what American authorities experienced, while investigating what happened in the 9/11 attack: and who was responsible.

Indian Investigators Sorting Out Evidence

The surviving terrorist said that he had been told to 'kill until the last breath'. (MailOnline (November 30, 2008)) Indian authorities say his name is Azam Amir Kasab, that he's 21, and from Pakistan.

(from MailOnline, used without permission)
Mighty Muslim? Holy Hindu? Patriotic Pakistani?
Bottom line: He's alive, lots of others are dead.

I sincerely wish that more of the ten terrorists in the Mumbai attack were still alive. Partly because I value life, partly because survivors are generally more informative than corpses.

Mumbai, Blame, India, and Pakistan

International diplomacy is proceeding normally: India says that the terrorists came from Pakistan; Pakistan's leaders say 'we didn't do it!' And, that Pakistan may move troops from the Afghanistan border to the Indian border.

Which may be a good thing. That way, coalition forces may only have Al Qaeda, the Taliban, and local sympathizers shooting at them. Pakistani forces may or may not have been ordered to shoot Americans trying to deal with terrorists in the wrong places.

I don't blame Pakistan's leaders for being a bit touchy on the subject of providing a base of operations for whoever killed over ten dozen people in Mumbai. Between differences of opinion about whether or not Pakistani troops have been ordered to shoot American soldiers who are trying to protect Pakistan, and the odd coincidences surrounding Benazir Bhutto's assassination, I get the impression that Pakistan is somewhere between India and Somalia in terms of having a stable, competent, government.

Why Blame Pakistan or Al Qaeda?

It's not that there aren't non-Islamic terrorists.

Hindu terrorists (or activists, or whatever) tend to tear down mosques or burn people. (Remember the Babri Mosque, back in 1992?); or the missionary flambe incident in 1999?)

Forming mobs or planting bombs seems to be their style: not putting together a well-planned military operation like the Mumbai incident.

Members of India's many ethnic minorities who think that their people should have their very own little independent territory, and that it's okay to kill other people to get what they want. (India isn't the only country with terrorists within its borders. America's Timothy McVeigh wasn't the only person in the country willing to kill those don't have the 'right' ethnicity and/or beliefs.)

But India's separatists, like the National Socialist Council of Nagaland, don't seem quite up to planning and executing the recent attack on Mumbai. (The NSCN., or National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Khaplang-Kitovi), or Isak-Muivah, or KK, says it isn't a separatist movement: that the territory it wants was never part of India. I give them points for ingenuity, if nothing else.)

All of which narrows the field.

Pakistan's military or intelligence organizations might have mounted the attack: Pakistan and India both want Kashmir. Besides, Pakistan is a predominantly Muslim country, India is predominantly Hindu: It's easy to assume that Pakistan's government is behind the attack.

Maybe they were.

But the attack is very much Al Qaeda's style:
  • Big
  • Well-planned
  • Indiscriminately lethal
  • Very high-profile
It's quite easy to assume that Al Qaeda is responsible.

LeT, Lashkar e Taiba, Lashkar e-Tayyiba: Trouble, No Matter How It's Spelled

It may not be Al Qaeda, though. The one surviving terrorist says that he's with Lashkar e Taiba, or LeT.

LeT is a group that operates in Pakistan. And, as is often the case, has a name that's spelled quite a few different ways in English:
  • LeT
  • Lashkar-e-Taiba
  • Lashkar e-Tayyiba
Just to make things more interesting, Lashkar e Taiba is also called
  • LT
  • Jamaat ud-Dawa and Al Monsooreen
  • Lashkar e-Toiba1, Lashkar-i-Taiba
  • Paasban-e-Ahle-Hadis
  • Paasban-e-Kashmir
  • Paasban-i-Ahle-Hadith
  • Pasban-e-Kashmir
No matter how it's spelled, or what it's called, the group is trouble. This "Army of the Pure and Righteous" is on the American State Department's list of terrorist organizations; is supported by Al Qaeda; gets money from Pakistani communities in the United Kingdom and the Persian Gulf region, and from Islamic Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs). It's been banned in Pakistan since 2002.

But, since LeT's goal is to kick India out of Kashmir, there's the suspicion that Pakistan's government, that wants Kashmir, pretends it doesn't notice LeT installations in Pakistan.

In fact, in India at least, it's assumed that "the LeT has been a 100% owned subsidiary of the ISI's anti-India operations." (Times of India, December 1, 2008) (ISI stands for Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, or Inter-Services Intelligence. (

Unlike Al Qaeda, LeT tends to use heavy infantry, not suicide bombers.

Since the attack on Mumbai was essentially an infantry operation, and since there don't seem to be reports of beheadings, this looks like it might not be an Al Qaeda operation. And, that it might be something Lashkar e Taiba planned.

And, the survivor says that he and the others were trained by LeT. Of course, he could be lying.

Even if Lashkar e Taiba is responsible for the attacks, that doesn't mean that Pakistan's current government - the one that got elected after Bhuto was assassinated - is behind the Mumbai massacre. LeT probably is supported by, or politely ignored by, the ISI, but the civilian government doesn't control the ISI, and neither does Pakistan's military. "The ISI has become a state within a state, answerable neither to the leadership of the army, nor to the President or the Prime Minister." ( Sounds like the ISI is like the die-hard American liberal's view of the CIA.

Mumbai and 9/11: Something to be Learned

It could be that 'the usual suspects' are behind the latest Mumbai attack. Or, some group other than Lashkar e Taiba or Al Qaeda may be to blame.

It's too early to tell.

The last I heard, Indian authorities were still taking bodies out of the Taj Mahal hotel. The last terrorists were killed this weekend. It looks like this attack took a year to plan: it will probably take a few days, at least, to put all the pieces together.

Let's remember the 9/11 attack, and the days following it.
  • By the afternoon of September 11, 2001, there were strong indications that "Saudi militant Osama bin Laden" was behind the attack
  • Lots of Saudi Nationals left America, after
    • National airspace re-opened on September 13, 2001
    • Being checked by the FBI
  • All but four of the hijackers were from Saudi Arabia
    • At least, they had the names of Saudi nationals
Apparently, though, the Saudi government didn't have anything to do with the 9/11 attack. Although, considering the antics of Saudi clerics - some of them in official positions - it's still easy enough to imagine Saudi involvement.

But, imagination and reality aren't the same thing.

Related posts: News and views: Background:

Friday, November 28, 2008

'India's 9/11' - Who Did It?

I've heard the attack on Mumbai called 'India's 9/11.' It's a reasonable comparison: Mumbai is enormously important to India's economy, and is a major port city, just like New York City. And, the attack on Mumbai earlier this week was a large-scale operation, like the 9/11 attacks on America.

Thankfully, it looks like the Mumbai attack has killed less than a tenth as many people as 9/11.

The last I saw, part of the Taj Mahal hotel was still on fire, and two or three terrorists are still inside.

Over at the Chabad house, the killing is over. The terrorists missed a two-year-old boy, thanks to a quick-thinking cook, but got most of the rest of the Jews.

Enter the Experts

Experts are proclaiming that this is obviously the work of the Pakistani military, or Al Qaeda, or some other outfit. At least one of them is likely to be right.

I agree with those who say that the scale and organization of this suggests Al Qaeda, as it was when it hit America back on 9/11. But, at this point it might be any bunch that could plan and coordinate an attack like this.

Related posts: In the news:

Obama, Al Qaeda, Malcolm X, and the War on Terror

Al Qaeda's number 2 leader took me on a trip down memory lane in his November 19 message. That's when al-Zawahri called president-elect Obama a "house slave," he also compared Obama - unfavorably - to Malcolm X.

With Obama in the White House, and Al Qaeda's view of American culture and what pushes our buttons, I've wondered if Malcom X isn't going to have a sort of renaissance as an American cultural icon.

An online biography of Malcom X starts with "African American civil rights leader Malcolm X was a major twentieth-century spokesman for black nationalism," and discusses his commitment to 'Black Muslims,' or Lost-Found Nation of Islam. And now, apparently, 'American Muslim Mission' and 'Nation of Islam.'

I was reminded of Ayman al-Zawahri's invocation of Malcolm X, when a fellow-blogger commented on a previous post:

"kingnour said...

"I think the Somali have the right to hajik the Saudi Ship and rest of world are dumping waste in somali coastal. Ironically, the world is not talking about how the Saudi GOV flowing money in somali just to preach its ideology. This lady I think she is working with the CIA, and we should do backgraound check on her.
"November 27, 2008 1:26 AM

I was intrigued by kingnour's assertion that "rest of world are dumping waste in somali coastal." His Blogger profile identified kingnour as "nour ali," a 20-something student in a midwestern state, here America.

I'm taking the liberty of quoting his About Me entry:
August 22, 2009 - A note from this blogger

An anonymous person claiming to be "kingour" left two comments on this post. The most important assertion Anonymous made was that I might have violated Google TOS by quoting from his public online profile. This is possible, although I have found no such a restriction or rule in Google's Terms Of Service.

However, I see that I have violated my own standards, by providing enough information in this post to identify "kingnour" - and, particularly considering the irrational attitude held by some Americans toward people who aren't 'real Americans' (by their dubious standards) , I'm redacting this post.

Too bad, since "kingnour" did a find job of explaining a philosophy - and giving a look at the beliefs of a Muslim living (temporarily, it seems) in America.

A paraphrase of what "kingnour" about himself said is that he relies of meditation in Allah, reason and sound logic, love, and enthusiasm. He also had good things to say about faith, sorrow, contemplation, knowledge, patience and submission to the Divine Will. Also prayer.

Obviously, I'm leaving quite a bit out: but that's the point of this redaction.

I don't think that retaining his reading list is potentially harmful, however, so I'm retaining that.

Anonymous - assuming that this is the same person - clarified some points he'd brought up. You'll find that in the comments.

His favorite books include
  • "Nahj al-Balaghah ( Imam Ali (A.S.)Social Justice in Islam"
  • "The Autobiography of Malcolm X"
  • "The Great War for Civilisation: The Conquest of the Middle East"
  • "Hegemony Or Survival: America's quest for global dominance By Noam Chomsky"

Barack Obama isn't Malcolm X

As one of the great figures of the civil rights movement, I think that Malcolm X will be mentioned quite a bit during the next few years. Mostly in comparison with President Barack Obama, and particularly since quite a few people seem convinced that the War on Terror is a matter of America declaring war on Islam.

The president-elect, despite his somewhat colorful preferences in college professors, is no Malcolm X, and - arguably - no Marxist either. Both of which will probably disappoint quite a few people: on several ends of the political spectrum.

Related post:

Ayman al-Zawahri's Islam and American Culture: Common Ground, Almost

Another message from Al Qaeda: Ayman al-Zawahri released another video today. Part of it, at least, seems aimed at Americans. The bottom line is pretty much the same as always: convert or perish.

That's a familiar offer. Considering what the loudest Islamic voices have been saying - and doing - it's very easy to assume that Islam offers non-Muslims a choice:
  • Convert to Islam
  • Pay taxes to Muslims if you're a Jew or Christian
  • Die
Rather broad-minded of them, in a way, acknowledging the other children and foster-children of Abraham.

Not quite the way the rest of us do things, though.

Ayman al-Zawahri had more to say, of course, including:
  1. America will fail in Iraq
  2. Those pesky Iraqi Awakening Councils won't be accepted
    1. They're Sunni, Iraq's Shiite
  3. The economic crisis is America's fault, for
    1. Being greedy
    2. "Wading in Muslim blood"
    3. Wasting money on war
  4. Al Qaeda doesn't kill innocent civilians
    1. That's western propaganda
  5. Americans should "embrace Islam" and live a life free of
    1. Greed
    2. Exploitation
    3. Forbidden wealth

Today's Message From Al Qaeda: Haven't We Heard This Before?

If that sounds familiar, it should. It's pretty much what al-Zawahri and others like him have said before.

If you're around my age, and think you heard pronouncements like al Zawahri's before 9/11: you're probably remembering your college years. Actually, judging from what comes out of places like Berkeley, anyone who's passed through the halls of ivy may find this familiar:
  • 1. America will fail (except maybe in civil rights and related movements)
  • 3. a. & c.Things are America's fault, for being greedy and wasting money on war
  • 5. Americans should reject greed, exploitation, and forbidden wealth
There are differences, of course: Zawahri, being a sort of ultra-Muslim, probably doesn't approve of hooch (I haven't confirmed that, though). In American culture, it's some of the super-conservative Protestant groups that regard drinking alcohol as a terrible sin, while booze is a rather central part of most American college campuses.

Except for that implied false note, though, I'd say that al Zawahri's message is in line with much of what's been said by American academia's best and brightest 1 over the last few decades. Just the same, if Al Qaeda succeeded in converting America, I doubt that they would tolerate having another group telling people what to think and believe.

In the news: Related posts, on censorship, propaganda, and freedom of speech.
1If you're not sure whether the liberal intellectuals are the best and brightest of all: just ask them.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Why Attack Mumbai? And, Why the Taj Mahal Hotel?

I'm no expert, but I figured that terrorists hit Mumbai because it's India's analog to New York City. Or, New York City is America's Mumbai. It depends on how you look at it.

Both cities are vital economic centers, with lots of foreigners around. Wealthy foreigners.

Kill people and set fire to buildings there, and you're in the international news.

Looks like the experts agree with me. Well, one expert. Actually, it's an opinion piece in the Daily Telegraph, over in the U.K.

Here's what Peter Foster said:

"By choosing to attack Bombay's most opulent and iconic hotel, the Islamist terrorists have sent a powerful message to India's leaders, foreign investors and tourists as well as the country's new economic elite...."

Mr. Foster has quite a bit more to say, including:

"... Legend has it that its creator, a Parsi industrialist called Jamsetji Nusserwanji Tata, commissioned the building after being refused entry to the now-defunct Apollo Hotel, which had a strict Europeans-only policy.

"However with its colonnades of shops stuffed with the world's most expensive brands, what Bombay's rich set consider the ultimate in cosmopolitan luxury, would equally be perceived by Islamist ideologues as a symbol of Western decadence...."

"Western decadence?" Maybe: but it's also an opportunity for locals to cash in on the spending habits of foreigners whose pockets hold cash undergoing spontaneous combustion.

How 'Un-Islamic' Can You Get?!

Assuming that it really is Islamic terrorists who are running this operation, those two hotels are natural targets: places where women run around without a burqa, and may even spend their own money and drive cars (shocking!).

Then, there's the matter of alcohol. The Al Qaeda end of Islam has more in common than they may think with some of the more stiffly starched American Protestants: Both outfits seem convinced that alcohol is bad. Period.

The Deccan Mujahideen Did This, Right?

Maybe. Somebody claiming to represent the group seems to have said so. But, some 'experts' don't believe it. I can see their point. The Mumbai attack was a huge operation, very well planned and executed. The Deccan Mujahideen wasn't known (UPDATE November 29, 2008) before yesterday. You'd think that an outfit capable of killing so many people, and knowing where the elevators are, would have been on the radar.

Who and what killed well upwards of a hundred people in Mumbai will probably be discussed for quite a while. My guess is that the organization is on the same page with Al Qaeda.

Not because I think that all terrorists are Muslims.

India has a huge Hindu majority. This attack seems aimed at Indian interests. A few Hindus in India have blown up things and killed people, but their targets were, by and large, Muslim. Chauvinists among India's ethnic minorities have killed people, but I can't see them putting together an operation on this scale.

And, yesterday's attacks were aimed at foreigners. Particularly those with American or British passports. That, together with the indiscriminate bloodshed, is characteristic of the 'death to the' brand of Islamic activists.

Hitting the Taj Mahal: A Little Too Effective?

Mr. Foster ends his op-ed piece with:

"...To have pictures of burning Taj Hotel broadcast around the world will have a deeper impact than even perhaps the terrorists intended, striking a blow against a symbol of Indian wealth and progress and sending shivers down the spine of some of the richest and most powerful people on the planet."

Which reminded me of what's happening in Somalia. The Somali pirates seemed to be getting along with Somalia's Islamic fanatics, until they hijacked a Saudi ship. Piracy is a no-no in Sharia law, apparently, if the victim is Muslim. According to one Somali group's version of the one true Islam.

Now, the pirates have most of the world against them: and a bunch of crazed Muslims in their own territory. And, may be interested in negotiating a way to stay alive.

It's too early to tell, but it's possible that whoever attacked Mumbai has ticked off too many of the wrong people.

Related posts: In the news:
UPDATE (November 29, 2008)

A comment on this post encouraged me to do some checking. Sure enough: Something-Mujahideen have a history in India.

There's what comes into English as the Indian Mujahideen; and there's the Deccan Mujahideen. "Deccan Mujahideen" means "Southern Jihadists" - according to a Mark Dunn, writing in the

It's possible that the two names both refer to the same group, or that the groups are closely associated.

These articles give a little background: I still don't know that the Indian Mujahideen and the Deccan Mujahideen are the same group - and I certainly don't know who is behind the Mumbai attack. But, like so many others, I have opinions.

More, at Links to still more related posts at Finally, although the focus of attention is on the assumed link to Islamic terrorism, there are non-Muslim players in India. And several ways that we're supposed to think about them, including: Who's being accurate about what, when it comes to terrorism in India, is something I haven't sorted out.

Gateway of India? Taj Mahal Hotel - in Mumbai? What - and Where - Are These Places?

I looked up some spots in Mumbai that have been in the news lately: Gateway of India; Nariman House; Taj Mahal Hotel; and Oberoi Hotel. They're among the ten places hit by terrorists yesterday.

The reason I concentrated on these four is that, unlike the Chhatrapati Shivaji railway station and the Cama and Albless Hospital, they've shown up quite often in the American and international English-language news I read.

The information didn't quite fit into the two posts I've written so far, and I hate to let research go to waste, so here's a little background on what I'll call the international targets in Mumbai.

Gateway of India

(from Hotels in Mumbai, used without permission)

King George V and Queen Mary of England visited Mumbai in 1911. The Gateway of India's foundation stone was laid that year, the foundations finished around 1920, and the Viceroy, Early of Reading, opened the monument on December 4, 1924.

In 1947, the last British troops left India by way of the Gateway.

View Larger Map

Nariman House

(from CNN, used without permission)

This place is a little hard to find, outside news articles, since it's called Chabad of India. No wonder the terrorists hit this place. It's "a Jewish organization that provides social, educational, and religious programing for all.... An institution where you can question your faith and not be afraid of judgment....

"...where one can gain a deeper understanding and appreciation of ones Jewish heritage...."

(from Chabad of India, used without permission)

Taj Mahal Hotel

(from The New York Times, used without permission)

The Taj Mahal Palace & Tower, Mumbai is what happened when architects used Moorish, Oriental and Florentine styles to design a seriously upscale hotel. They also used a lot of wood, which is part of the reason that parts of it are still on fire today.

View Larger Map

Oberoi Hotel

(from, used without permission)

The The Oberoi Hotel, Mumbai, is an award-winning (literally) and very expensive hotel, which seems to focus on business travelers.
Their home page is displaying this message, at the moment:

"Mumbai situation update
"November 27, 2008

"We all are deeply saddened by the tragic events in Mumbai.
We are very concerned about the safety of our guests and staff at the hotels in Mumbai. Our thoughts are with their families.

"Despite all efforts we are unable to make contact with the persons inside the hotel. Therefore at present, we do not have more information than what is being relayed by the media. We will update you as soon as we have confirmed information on further developments....

"...The safety of our guests and staff remains our primary concern.

"If you have any questions or need assistance in making contact with your family or friends that may be at the hotel, please call us at +91-11-2389 0606 or call Toll Free. Our attempt will be to assist you as best as we can."

Elsewhere, the site lists Oberoi Hotels & Resorts toll free telephone numbers for over 30 countries.

View Larger Map

Related posts: In the news:

Holiday Attack on New York City Planned - Maybe

It's all very iffy: federal officials learned about discussions between Al Qaeda members, of plans to set off bombs in New York City's mass transit system; the information they got made sense, but they haven't been able to confirm it yet.

The New York Police Department's Paul J. Browne, said that the city's mass transit system was being assigned more more officers in "an 'abundance of caution.' "

And now, it's in the news: so a whole lot of people know about the possible plot.

Sounds good to me.

America's leaders may finally understand that Al Qaeda is a bigger threat than the FBI. (Quite a few of the discussions of FISA didn't do much to improve my opinion of America's congress ("FISA: Senate Decides Al Qaeda Bigger Threat than FBI").)

Of course, the federal officials involved were almost certainly in law enforcement and security: a somewhat more level-headed bunch, I think, than the politicos who are protecting us from Richard Nixon and J. Edgar Hoover.

It's What We Haven't Seen, That's Impressive

I think this sort of "abundance of caution" is a big part of the reason we haven't seen a replay of the 9/11 attack. Al Qaeda and like-minded groups are still quite eager to kill in support of their notion of Islam. The fighting in Mumbai right now shows that the war on terror is still very real.

What impresses me almost as much as the lack of a second major attack in America is the comparative lack of fussing about being warned about possible attacks. I have not heard of anyone complaining about how much money is being wasted by sending more cops to guard the New York subways.

That's Interesting

Our old friend, the unnamed source, says that information about the planned attack comes from the tribal areas of Pakistan. Hardly surprising: Pakistan's government doesn't seem to have much control over that area, and has had a far from perfect record of cooperating with foreign powers like America, which are trying to help.

In the news:

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Bad Night in Mumbai: Islamic Terrorists This Time

People in Mumbai (Bombay, it was, when I was growing up) are having a very bad time right now.

Some outfit calling itself the Deccan Mujahideen says they are the ones who attacked a train station, a couple of luxury hotels, a hospital, and other places in Mumbai a few hours ago. The killing started around 10:30 p.m. local time, or 17:00 UTC. (Right now, UTC time, it's 1:15 a.m., November 27, 2008.)

People with foreign passports - particularly those from America or the United Kingdom - were selected by the terrorists. Quite a few hostages have been taken, and many people are dead. The numbers keep going up.

Meanwhile, over in West Bengal, there's an alert on that includes Kolkatta (that's a less inaccurate spelling of "Calcutta" for English.)

Terrorism: It's Not Just the Middle East and America

India has been having serious trouble with terrorists: Muslims killing Hindus; Hindus killing Muslims; Ethnic minorities killing in the hope that it will get them their own little independent country.

And, a lot of Muslims, Hindus, and people whose ancestors were a minority, who have lives to lead: and don't kill people they don't like, don't approve of, or who make inviting targets.

Attacking hotels seems to be the new trend in terrorism, which is going to have a bad effect on the hospitality industry (The Long War Journal). I'll give these terrorists credit: they know how to do damage that spreads 'way beyond what their guns and bombs do.

Hats off to someone in the BlogCatalog online community, for giving me a lead in his discussion thread: "Mumbai, Oh Mumbai."

Related posts: In the news:

Negotiated End to Somali Piracy - This Just Might Work

I wasn't very hopeful when I read that Somali pirates holding the Saudi tanker had stopped talking to the Saudis and wanted to negotiate with a wealthy Virginia woman. It looked like they wanted to deal with someone with lots of money, a big heart, and not much knowledge of the area.

At that point, I didn't know about Michele Lynn Ballarin. And, I'm a trifle dubious about people who are chiefly known for having a lot of money. Think Paris Hilton.

I was even more dubious, when I found out that she not only planned to free the ships and the hostages. She plans to end Somali piracy altogether.

Now, I think she has a better chance of ending the Somali piracy mess than the Saudis, India, America, or the United Nations. And, may be able to do it without running that part of Somalia through the meat grinder of a military operation.

Mommy Warbucks

Michele Lynn Ballarin runs SelectArmor, that designs and makes body armor and provides security services. She's certainly part of the "military-industrial complex," but probably isn't a CIA spook. People related to American intelligence and military communities are on the board of another of her companies, though. That company's name is Black Star.

She says that she's out to profit by ending piracy, helping Somalia get on its feet, and then marketing Black Star's services to other failed states.

Sounds good to me.

Impending Death Encourages Clarity of Thought

Ballarin says that Al Shabaab's threat to hunt down the Somali pirates "has concentrated the minds of the pirates," as an article in put it.

"She says the pirates understand the gravy train they have ridden for the last few years from their ill-gotten gains is coming to an end.

" 'They have snatched too many ships. They have too many navies watching them and now Al Shabab enters the picture,' she explained. 'So they know they're not going to be able to maintain this activity.' "

But, She's Unclean!

Ballarin certainly isn't a peacemaker of the Code Pink or Cindy Sheehan stamp. Which is why I think that she's got a chance of succeeding.

It's nice to want to "give peace a chance," but it helps to know a little bit about people, what motivates them, and what doesn't. I think that Ballarin has that knowledge: You don't run a successful business if you don't.

As for her close ties with the American military and the CIA, that may disqualify her from speaking at some of the 'better' American colleges and universities. On the other hand, I'm used to the idea that people with colorful backgrounds can do some good. And have: like Jean Lafitte.

In the news:

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Somali Pirates, Sunken Trawlers, Missing Crews, and Fuming Hostages

Remember that pirate 'mother ship' that the Indian navy sank last week?

You Sank My Trawler!

The owner of the Ekawat Nava 5 is not at all happy. He says that his fishing trawler was chased by pirates and called for help. When the Indian frigate INS Tabar showed up, it sank his trawler.

He could be right.

One of the Ekawat Nava 5's crew survived six days in the water before getting rescued, another is quite definitely dead, and the rest are missing: quite possibly on the bottom of the ocean, along with the ship.

The Indian navy says that it can tell the difference between a fishing trawler asking for help, and a pirate mother ship whose crew is threatening to blow them up. And, that what they sank was not a fishing trawler.

They could be right.

It's quite possible that the pirate ship sank the trawler, and then the Indian warship sank the pirate ship. Why the pirates would sink a ship, rather than hold it for ransom, I don't know. Maybe they figured it would be more profitable to loot the trawler and sink it.

I'm glad I'm not one of the people who has to sort that mess out.

Pirates Not Winning Popularity Contests

Actually, a sailor who was freed after his ship was ransomed said, " 'I wish that no one else ever has to go through this -- (hijackers) are not human but rather animals,' " perhaps rather strongly put, but he had been under a great deal of stress.

Pirates: Popular, no; Rolling in Money, Yes

Looks like the Somali pirates, as a group, made $150,000,000 in ransoms in 12 months. I don't know what their overhead is, but my guess is that they've managed to hang on to quite a bit of that.

And, glad as I am to see hostages freed with no more damage than a deep-seated grudge, paying ransom does have drawbacks: " 'What other alternative does a shipowner have?' said Peter Hinchcliffe, marine director of the London-based International Chamber of Shipping. 'It is an appalling situation paying money, knowing that that will further enhance the capability of the criminals ashore.' "

In other words, shipowners are paying the pirates to upgrade their ships and weapons, so they can hijack more ships.


21st Century Piracy: Not Likely to End Nicely

I'm no 'hawk,' but I doubt that the pirates in Somalia - and start up operations in east Asia - will stop pulling in six figures a year just because someone asks them nicely.

Centuries of diplomacy and sweet reason didn't stop the Barbary pirates a few centuries back, but the Marines did. And yes, there were other players involved, too.

I'm afraid that, sooner or later, someone's going to have to use force to end today's piracy.

In the news:

Monday, November 24, 2008

Looting in the News: Rape, Pillage, and the America Way

There's looting, and then there's looting.

To Loot, or Not to Loot: That is the Question

I'm no fan of moral equivalence, so I see what an acquaintance of mine did as quite different from what happened in Kibati. (Kibati?! I'll get back to that.)

Someone I'd met knew about a building that was scheduled for demolition the next day. A succession of owners, residents, and visitors had neglected to destroy a beautiful stained glass window. Local customs and the demolition company's work order being what they were, the nearly-irreplaceable window would soon be in shards.

Demonstrating qualities which had earned his ancestors an honored place in their homeland, that night he liberated the window and transported it to a secure location.

The next day, a local historical society won control of the building, and noticed that one of their windows was missing. They spread the word that, if the window was returned, there would be no questions asked.

My acquaintance, a reasonable man, returned the window.1

What, if Anything, Does This Have to do With the War on Terror?!

I get the idea that "everybody knows," in some American sub-cultures, what American soldiers are like: brutal, vicious brutes; always oppressing and/or killing helpless, innocent men, women, and children. That's when the American soldier isn't an oppressed minority, forced into the military by racism, poor education and lack of social programs.
American Soldiers? You Know What They're Like!
I can see how someone could have that view, particularly the way traditional news media tends to handle the American soldier's 'typical' experience in Iraq: like the Haditha incident, and Abu Ghraib.

Between the news media and Al Qaeda's version of what the foreigners were like, Iraqis saw coalition soldiers, including Americans, as foreign oppressors: until they had a chance to see how American soldiers and other members of the coalition acted.

Iraqis seem to be as sensible as anyone else. They had to choose between
  1. Doing nothing
  2. Helping people
    1. With a tendency to behead people they don't like
    2. Who tend to rebuild roads, water plants and hospitals
      • When they're not shooting the beheaders
After consideration, #2b seemed like a reasonable choice.

Yes, Virginia, There Are Brutal Soldiers

No question about it. Some soldiers are just plain nasty. Like the fellows who got in the international news this weekend.
Soldiers Target Blankets, Pots, Pans, and Women
Well, one woman, anyway. And the nitwits apparently shot her before they could have any 'fun.'

Here's how the 20-year-old woman got shot, according to a man who had fled to Kitabi, Congo, with his family.

" 'Last night some soldiers came and started a fight among themselves. One of them wanted to have the girl for himself. Another one wanted to stop him. A shot was fired and the girl was hit here with a stray bullet,' he said, pointing to the centre of his forehead."
(Perth Now)

Another account says "A 20-year-old woman was killed at Kibati on Thursday night when a bullet pierced her tent and hit her in the head."

Upwards of 67,000 people live in the refugee camp near Kitabi. I'm sure they'd rather be somewhere else, but there's a war going on: and has been for years. It's between a group whose leader says he's protecting Tutsis from Hutus, and soldiers of the leader who controls the territory now. The Tutsis from Hutus are standing on land that's rich in minerals, which may or may not be a factor.
Kitabi, Where's that?
This Kitabi is a village one north of Goma, in the Democratic Republic of Congo: not the one in Republic of the Congo.

View Larger Map
Congolese Soldiers Behaving Badly
That business with the soldiers, the woman, and the stray bullet, isn't an isolated incident. United Nations peacekeepers were attacked recently. On the other hand, about 25 men in a U.N. convoy were arrested: the idea is that they were rebel soldiers. Some of them, anyway.

Some of the looting victims are very understanding. One man "said his house also was looted by soldiers Sunday night who stole food and a bucket but he did not blame them.

" 'It was just an accident, that they stole from us,' he said. 'They are hungry.' "

There's no way of knowing whether his statement comes from a remarkably forgiving heart, from the enlightened self-interest of a man trying to stay alive, or a little of both.

American Soldiers, Rape and Pillage, and a Reality Check

I've noticed a pattern. In situations like we've got in the Democratic Republic of Congo, two things are likely to be true:
  1. Soldiers will rape and pillage
  2. They won't be wearing American uniforms
The examples I picked were in Africa, but the problem isn't limited to that continent. Germany and Russia are still sorting out whether or not what they looted from each other was stolen fair and square, or whether they need to give the stuff back.

I think it has less to do with the quality of chow that countries give their soldiers, and more to do with the culture of the countries: military and otherwise. This may be regarded as an intolerant, hateful, elitist, statement, but: I think that Americans, by and large, don't think that rape and looting are nice - even if you do it to someone else's tribe or clan. My ancestors didn't always see things this way, and some people still don't.

Times have changed since my ancestors were on both sides of the Viking raids.

American soldiers come from today's American culture. Then, on top of what they brought in with them, the American military tries to instill notions like duty and honor. People who believe in the World According to Berkeley won't agree, but that's not my problem.

Yes: Once in a while something like Abu Ghraib happens. But that's the exception, not the rule. America, and every other country that doesn't live down to the standards set by Al Qaeda, the Taliban, and related groups, is in for a long, hard, conflict.

I think it would be a good idea to remember that the American military is not a threat to America: and that some other organizations are.

More-or-less related posts: In the news:
1 I have to be vague about what country, and what decade, this incident happened in. For one thing, I don't want to make trouble for the enterprising fellow.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Piracy and the War on Terror

As I discussed in a previous post, today's piracy and terrorism seem to be related.

To make the "piracy posts" a little easier to find, I've started this list:

Somali Piracy, Islamic Law, and Maybe a Piece of the Action

I should have seen this coming.

When Somali pirates hijacked the Sirius Star, they ticked off the House of Saud ("Pirates Hijack Saudi Supertanker: Not the Brightest Idea?" (November 18, 2008)).

They also offended an Islamic 'militant' group in Sudan. It's name translates as "youth," or "the youth," and gets Latinized as the Shibab, al-Shabab, the Shebab, or Al-Shabaab.

It seems that, under (their version of) Islamic law, piracy is
  • A capital offense
  • If the ship is from an Islamic country
    • " is impermissible to detain the ship of an Islamic country..."
      (Mareeg Online)
That makes sense, sort of, in an antique sort of way: You don't pillage or kill your own people; but outsiders are fair game. Some of my ancestors, a thousand years or so back, experienced that sort of law - from both sides.

High Ideals, High Finance, and Spiritual Warfare

Since countries don't get much more "Islamic" than Saudi Arabia, Al-Shabaab is seriously ticked with the pirates. They've issued an ultimatum: release the ship, or get attacked.

Someone living in Harardhere, where the excitement (and the ship) is, thinks that what Al-Shabaab actually wants is a piece of the action. Which, considering that there's a multi-million-dollar ransom involved, is quite possible. The armored personnel carriers that Al-Shabaab uses to practice its form of spirituality cost money.

Piracy: From Boom Times to 'Kaboom?'

The Somali pirates may not be in the best position. Sure, they're living like kings with the ransom money that's flowing in.

But they've made shipping in the Gulf of Aden so dicey, that companies are diverting cargo around the Cape of Good Hope: longer trip, more expensive, but safer. Shipping companies don't like that, and neither do their customers: who get stuck with higher shipping costs.

Which makes countries like Russia, India, and America upset with the pirates. Saudi Arabia went on the list when their supertanker was hijacked.

The Somali government, for what it's worth, has threatened military action.

The United Nations is remarkably clear about not approving of what the pirates are doing.

And now, at least one bunch of Islamic militants is coming after the pirates.

My guess is that, if anyone wants to try the 'let's sit down and talk' sort of diplomacy, they'll have to hurry.

In the news:

Friday, November 21, 2008

Worm Spreading Fast in Pentagon Computers: (not) in the News

I've been impressed, over the years, at what is "news," and what isn't.

Today, for example, I found quite a bit about topics like these: I have no problem with the first item. Americans are naturally interested in where the first family's children will go to school. Personally, I think it's smart to have them go to a private school. For security reasons, if nothing else.

The second news item has been handled a few ways. The Los Angeles Times didn't do anywhere near as much hand-wringing and/or gloating over how America won't be so powerful, 17 years from now.

Actually, that report seems to say that things are going to be different in 17 years. No surprises there. Today isn't just like 1991, and there's no indication that change is going to stop now.

From what I got out of the summaries, and a really quick glance at the report, America may lose a little ground, but the big changes include China, Russia, India, and Brazil becoming more powerful players in world affairs. Bottom line, there are other big kids on the block.

Another Day, a Few More Details About the Pentagon Worm

I had to dig a little, to find more information about the worm that's in the Pentagon computers.

Although quite a few news services are using the more familiar term, "virus," what's working its way through the Department of Defense networks is a worm: a self-replicating bit of code that sends copies of itself around a network, and can do other things when it's not replicating.

From the sounds of it, this is almost certainly a deliberate attack: not some bozo downloading the wrong Beyoncé video. The Pentagon is being very careful about what they let the news media tell us - and whoever is behind this. I'd love to know more about this, but I'm willing to wait. "National security" is a phrase that got a bad reputation several decades back, but sometimes it is a good idea not to tell a hacker what did, and didn't work in the latest attack.

One detail that isn't public is just what the worm is. Apparently, it's shown up in networks outside the American military's: so whatever marks this as a probable attack may be something in the way it got started in the Pentagon.

I also found out that Wired seems to have broken the story. I really ought to pay more attention to that publication.

Defense Department Computer Network Being Eaten by a Worm - and This isn't News?!

I might have missed something, but ABC, NBC, CBS, and CNN don't seem to be covering this story. Why, I don't know. I'd like to think that the news editors are sophisticated enough to realize that malware spreading in America's military computer networks is a problem, and could affect American citizens: but I can't see why it isn't being mentioned.

  • "Global Trends 2025: A Transformed World"
    Office of the Director of National Intelligence (November 2008)
    • (Hardcopy may be purchased from the Government Printing Office (ISBN 978-0-16-081834-9)
    • Available in PDF format online
In the news:

Al Aqaeda Leader's "House Slave" Remarks Not Big Hit With American Muslims

Al Qaeda number two leader, Ayman al-Zawahri, told the world that president-elect Barack Obama is a "house negro." Some translations said "house slave." Apparently, in some parts of the world, those are considered equivalent terms.

Back here in America, some Muslim groups reacted to the 'Islamic' leader's remarks.
  • " 'We condemn these racist slurs in the strongest possible terms, unequivocally reject Al Qaeda's philosophy, and reaffirm our opposition to all forms of bigotry, intolerance and racism' "
    The American Muslim Taskforce on Civil Rights and Elections
  • " 'As Muslims and as Americans, we will never let terrorist groups or terror leaders falsely claim to represent us or our faith,' "
    Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR)
(Pakistan Dawn)

I don't always (or often) agree with the Los Angeles times editorializing, but I think they're spot-on with this remark:

"...This isn't the America of 1963. In the decades since Malcolm X divided blacks into those akin to slaves who worked in the fields (abused and rebellious) and those akin to slaves who worked in the master's house (comfortable and servile), the racial complexities and the racial complexion of the country have changed dramatically...." (Los Angeles Times)

Unlike the Los Angeles Times, I think that many of American's own leaders and 'great thinkers' don't realize that it's not 1963, 1964, or even 1967, any more.

Woodstock is history, disco is dead, black members of congress make the news because of what they do, not what they look like, and America will very soon swear in its first black president.

I get the impression that educators like professor Churchill, political leaders like Alcee Hastings, and groups like the Congressional Black Caucus, haven't changed their calendars, or their minds, in several decades.

Meanwhile, I'm glad to see some American Muslim groups disagree with the Al Qaeda leader. I rather thought this would happen, America culture being what it (really) is, but it's nice to have an opinion confirmed.

Previous post on this topic: In the news:

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Al Qaeda Leader Calls President-Elect Obama "House Negro"

And that's the polite translation. The phrase might be more accurately translated as "house slave."

And, said that Obama would continue the war against Islam started by Bush, and that Barack Obama has a heart full of hate.

So: Barack Obama is a tool of George W. Bush?!

And a house slave??!

I don't know how the Islamic world will take al-Zawahri's latest words of wisdom, but here in America I think they'll go over about as well as "Obama Half-Breed Muslin" did during the recent election.

Here's how The New York Times started its article about Ayman al-Zawahri's latest audio release:

"In a propaganda salvo by Al Qaeda aimed at undercutting the enthusiasm of Muslims worldwide about the American election, Osama bin Laden's top deputy condemned President-elect Barack Obama as a 'house Negro' who would continue a campaign against Islam that Al Qaeda’s leaders said was begun by President Bush.

"Appealing to the “weak and oppressed” around the world, the Qaeda deputy, Ayman al-Zawahri, said in a video released Wednesday that the 'new face' of America only masked a 'heart full of hate.'..."

In the news:

Pentagon Hacked, Removable Media Banned: Cyberattack Hits American Military

The memo reads: "Due to the presence of commercial malware, CDR USSTRATCOM has banned the use of removable media (thumb drives, CDRs/DVDRs, floppy disks) on all DoD networks and computers effective immediately."

This is serious, big: and mostly classified at this point. The news broke a few hours ago.

Today's issue with "commercial malware" could be a sort of accident: someone making the wrong assumption about a file they found. Or, it could be much more serious.

And, cyberattacks are nothing new.

Last year, China said they didn't do it. I expect they'll say the same this year.

Previous blogs on cyberattacks: In the news:

Piracy, Terrorism, and a Changing World

Piracy makes for rousing adventure stories: like the "Pirates of the Caribbean" movies.

When the pirates are real, and part of today's news, they're not so much fun.

Piracy: Not Exactly Terrorism, but Related

I know: this is the "Another War-on-Terror Blog," not the "Piracy Blog." I think that pirates and terrorists are related, though.

Not so much because many of the pirates are Muslim. Somalis are almost all Sunni Muslims. It should be no surprise that many Somali pirates are Muslim. Think about it this way: if a criminal operation were to get started in northern Minnesota, a lot of the people involved would be Lutherans. That wouldn't make it a Lutheran crime league.

I think piracy, and terrorism, are part of a set of issues being sorted out now: and that the War on Terror is part of the process.

Like the more familiar (so far) terrorists, pirates operate outside the law, and rely in part on fear to reach their goals.

Unlike your usual Islamic terrorist, the pirates aren't particularly interested in blowing themselves up, establishing a world-wide pirate kingdom, or getting rewarded with eternal membership in a celestial whoopee club.

Today's pirates, like their historical counterparts, are in it for the booty. And, in Somalia, their booty has gotten pretty big. To the point where they're hiring caterers to provide western food to some of their hostages.
Piracy, Terrorism, and Transitional Times
I think that today's piracy and terrorism exist in large part because the world is going through a great deal of change - rather quickly.

A messy set of independence movements has left many countries with dubiously competent governments - which gives people who don't particularly want to obey the law an opportunity to express themselves.

People who were living in a culture that hadn't changed all that much since Abraham moved out or Ur suddenly had to deal with cell phones, television, movies, Coca-Cola, Mickey Mouse and Barbie. Some of them took it hard, and started killing people who didn't agree with them, or wore the wrong kind of clothes.

Pirates, India, Russia, and Korea: No More Mister Nice Guy

It looks like the Indian navy sank a pirate 'mother ship' this week. More Russian warships are headed for the Somali coast, and Korea is withdrawing troops from Iraq, to protect their own shipping.

A half-millennia ago, it took a couple centuries and a colonial uprising to deal with piracy. We may see a much faster transition between diplomacy and ransom, and practical action, this time around.

Piracy is spreading, though. Somali pirates are making so much from the ransoms, that ethically-challenged people in Asia are starting their own operations.

Pirates, Terrorists, and the Information Age

I see (nominally) Islamic terrorism and the rise of piracy as related.

I'm not blaming western civilization, but it's a fact that, starting about five centuries back, European powers started taking over huge tracts of land around the world. And, developed technologies that sparked the Industrial Revolution.

More recently, European colonial holdings became independent nations - often with borders determined more by European conquest than by regional cultures and languages. That resulted in people who didn't necessarily get along being forced into cooperation on a national level. In some cases, it worked out about as well as might have been expected.

Meanwhile, the Industrial Age had started, and petroleum became a valuable commodity. That brought oil-rich countries into direct contact with outsiders.

Then, western civilization developed the telegraph, the telephone, the Internet, and YouTube.

Between the Industrial Age's demand for petroleum, and the dawning Information Age's revolutionary communications technologies, there's been whole lot of change going on. More so for some people than for others.
Terrorism: Militant Nostalgia?
People whose ancestors had, for centuries, lived without noticing the rest of the world - and vice versa - had a world of Barbies and civil rights drop on their communities of burqas and honor killings.

They're experiencing these changes over a period of years, or decades. Most other cultures had centuries, or millennia, to adjust. Under stress like that, it's hardly surprising that some people want to bring back the 'good old days.'
Piracy: Taking Advantage of Chaos
One reason that pirates can use Somalia as a base of operations is the lack of an effective central government. Somalia is having a worse time than many new nations, making things work.

Somalia is the result of a British and an Italian colony being merged into an independent nation in 1960. With about 85% of the people being Somali, and speaking the same language, they're in a better position than some countries. And, Somalis seem to be mostly Sunni Muslim, which lends a sort of unity.

On the other hand, Somalia has had a rough time, with none-too-constitutional regime changes, border disputes with Puntland, a do-it-yourself autonomous state, and people who forced a United Nations humanitarian project to pull out.

Right now, Somalia has a temporary national government that almost has control of the capital city.

A place like that is almost perfect for piracy: desperately poor; no law enforcement to speak of; sitting on top of one of the world's busiest sea lanes.

It's possible that if Portuguese traders, the British East India Company, and Italy hadn't interfered, sultans would be arguing about who owned what part of Somalia, and maintaining some sort of order for their own convenience. Arguably, a better situation than we have now.

Unless the sultans were like the current leaders of Sudan.

Background: In the news:

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Note! Although I believe that these websites and blogs are useful resources for understanding the War on Terror, I do not necessarily agree with their opinions. 1 1 Given a recent misunderstanding of the phrase "useful resources," a clarification: I do not limit my reading to resources which support my views, or even to those which appear to be accurate. Reading opinions contrary to what I believed has been very useful at times: sometimes verifying my previous assumptions, sometimes encouraging me to change them.

Even resources which, in my opinion, are simply inaccurate are sometimes useful: these can give valuable insights into why some people or groups believe what they do.

In short, It is my opinion that some of the resources in this blogroll are neither accurate, nor unbiased. I do, however, believe that they are useful in understanding the War on Terror, the many versions of Islam, terrorism, and related topics.