Saturday, July 23, 2016

'Killing Game'–ISIS & Augmented Reality

Review by Bill Doughty

Radical jihadist movements like ISIS, al Qaeda and Boko Haram attract young people with mental problems–men and women who are subject to addictions and delusions, drawn to hatred, with access to guns, bombs and other weapons, according to author Mark Bourrie, "The Killing Game: Martyrdom, Murder and the Lure of ISIS" (2016, HarperCollins). 

Canada's Bourrie helps us get not only an international perspective but also the historical and scientific context of homegrown terrorism while dissecting the family dynamics of turncoat terrorists.

The international perspective is timely in the wake of recent rampages in Nice, Orlando, Brussels, Baghdad, Bangladesh, Somalia, Turkey and Afghanistan by ISIS-inspired killers.

Today at least 80 people are dead in Kabul after a jihadist suicide bomb attack, and ISIS claimed responsibility.

Recruitment of terrorists has deep roots in history.

Great Britain helped the Confederacy recruit Canadians to fight in the U.S. Civil War. During the Spanish-American War young men from Canada fought in the Spanish Republican Army because they looked "to fascism for solutions to their personal problems and economic messes..."

Haj Amin al-Husseini and Adolf Hitler on 28 November 1941
Similarly, foreign fighters were attracted to Nazi Germany, according to Bourrie, especially in the last years of World War II. "Hitler and his murderous henchman Heinrich Himmler had a strange fascination with Islam. It was, and still is, reciprocated."

Today, the self-proclaimed Islamic State (ISIS, ISIL or Daesh) and related extremists use sophisticated ways to reach, teach and recruit young people worldwide. They employ new media, promote video games and develop apps, pushing their message of hate and violence on Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and other platforms. When it comes to ISIS, or ISIL, "No other organization ... set out to find brutal ways to kill and novel ways to publicize atrocities."
"So much of ISIS's war-porn propaganda is directed at ... bored young people who aren't engaged by the consumer ethos of their own society and who feel that adventure is passing them by. They want to step into the video games that have become so important to them and be the heroes that they play on the small screen. As Abu Sumayyah al-Britani, a British fighter with ISIS, posted on Twitter, war is the ultimate in virtual reality."
According to Bourrie, young people grow up playing violent games so routinely that they are "desensitized to the sight of killing."

This affects–and effects–parts of the brain.

Bourrie notes that researchers in China studying the impact of Internet addiction have found that excessive online gaming leads to depression, irritability and impulsiveness and can affect the structure of the brain.

"Anyone who can tap into the minds of young people and connect with their desires and insecurities can exploit them," Bourrie writes. "ISIS's brand of religion, with its simple answers to complex and disturbing modern questions, appeals to people in shattered societies."

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi
Fear leads to an attraction to authoritarianism. After World War I, "Mussolini offered a return to the Roman Empire. Hitler offered Germany domination of Europe. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, ISIS's leader and self-styled caliph offers the return of the glory days of Islam, when armies ravaged what was left of the eastern Roman Empire."

Bourrie reminds us that millions of Americans struggled to give meaning to the attacks of September 11, 2001, "just as they struggled to turn Pearl Harbor into a crusade against fascism and militarism" in 1941.

How can Western nations prevent ISIS recruitment of mentally unstable, deluded or sociopathic young people in their societies?

Can young would-be terrorists be deprogrammed and reeducated? One of the most important keys lies in the Muslim community, Bourrie writes:
"Radical Islam is vulnerable to several counterattacks. The most potent comes from persuasive, learned Muslims who can argue back against ISIS's simplistic and violent interpretation of Islam. This is already happening, but more Muslims need to get involved, and they need the media skills to be able to face ISIS on the Internet. Moderate Muslims also need to ensure that their mosques and social groups aren't dominated or hijacked by radicals. At the same time, authorities in Canada and other Western countries should back these people up and do more than just arrest terror suspects. They need to look at the way European states work with the families of extremists and develop a ... system that provides effective intervention and support for the relatives of people drawn to extremism. Right now, some Muslims feel intimidated by the extremists. They need protection so they can speak out."
Canada's Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Brian Dickson
He says, "There needs to be even more international cooperation to share information and fight jihadi recruitment." And he says marginalization of Muslim communities is not the answer; hatred is not the answer. He includes a quote from Supreme Court of Canada's Chief Justice Brian Dickson about the dangers of hate speech:
"Hatred is predicated on destruction, and hatred against identifiable groups therefore thrives on insensitivity, bigotry and destruction of both the target group and the values of our society. Hatred in this sense is a most extreme emotion that belies reason; an emotion that, if exercised against members of an identifiable group, implies that those individuals are to be despised, scorned, denied respect and made subject to ill-treatment on the basis of group affiliation."
Hate begets hate. People who fear and hate, for different reasons, cause death and destruction every day. Only a small percentage of violent deaths in the United States are caused by violent Islamist extremists. 

Remembering victims in Nice, France.
Bourrie reminds us of mass murders by white supremacists in Charleston, South Carolina (9 African Americans gunned down); Oslo, Norway in 2011 (77 people, mostly children, murdered); and Oklahoma City, Oklahoma in 2001 (when Timothy McVeigh assassinated 168 men, women and children). An attack in Munich, Germany yesterday killed 9 people and occurred five years, to the day, of the Norway massacre.

But it's sobering to consider the scale of hatred and killing in the name of Islam worldwide in recent decades, especially in the last few years. Wikipedia publishes a list, which as this gets posted hasn't been updated with the most recent attacks–including today's horrific suicide bombings in Kabul, reportedly part of ongoing Sunni-Shiite hatred.

Bourrie concludes:
"It's my view that we're seeing the beginning of a general war in the Islamic world. It may be fought simultaneously, or the fighting may move from one country to another. Internal forces will tear apart Saudi Arabia and continue to threaten the regime in Iran. Shiites, backed by Tehran, push against Sunnis backed by the Saudis. The regime in Egypt, the most populous country in the region, survives because the army still has the ability to suppress Islamism, but time may be running out for Egypt's generals."
Meanwhile the radical jihadists and other extremists continue their spew of propaganda, trying to entice young people with promises of sex, glory, kittens and personalized iPhone covers. "One fact ISIS propaganda never mentions is that–if the fates of known Western fighters are any indication–ISIS fighters don't usually live long." 

Kudos to Patrick Crean Editions and HarperCollins for the disconcerting cover with blazing blue eyes, remarkably similar to the face of a great folk singer who is the antithesis of hatred and is instead dedicated to understanding, hope and love–James Taylor ("You've Got a Friend" and "Fire and Rain")–which makes the impact of the cover that more powerful.

Here's to "understanding, hope and love" in the real world and in augmented reality now and in the future.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

The U.S. Constitution's Amazing 'Visionary'

Review by Bill Doughty

"John Quincy Adams: American Visionary" (2014, HarperCollins)

This book was recommended recently by John Kirby, spokesman for Secretary of State John Kerry and former Chief of Navy Information.

Like his father, John Quincy Adams was a complicated hero of a young nation. A voracious reader, world-traveler and deep-thinking moralist, JQA recognized the sin of slavery and saw the need for a strong navy and army.

In "American Visionary" we get an international perspective at a time when "The United States still had no army or navy of consequence."

John Quincy Adams – and books – in 1843.
JQA had a front-row seat to French and British confiscation of American ships, British impressment of American sailors (which brought about the War of 1812), the return of Napoleon in France, and the effects of a trade embargo. He was intimately involved in the nation's response of the British warship Leopold agains USS Chesapeake, and he was intensely interested in the inventions of Robert Fulton, including the steamboat and torpedo.

Adams was an early proponent of strength through national inclusion, innovation and infrastructure-building. He "strongly believed that the roads, canals and harbors were essential to the future prosperity of the country and the promotion of national unity."

Two hundred years ago, just after the War of 1812, John Quincy Adams served as a diplomatic envoy in London. A lover of poetry and literature, he immersed himself in the evenings in reading, reciting and studying William Shakespeare and attending theatrical performances of Shakespeare's work.

During the day he worked to represent the interests of the United States in Europe, including negotiating trade agreements, and  helped the needs of American citizens abroad. Here's a very early look at veteran homelessness from Kaplan's and Adams's description:
"And there was constant applications from American sailors, often reduced to begging, who had been impressed (forced) into the British Navy, and from American prisoners of war released from the infamous Dartmouth prison ... British poverty was palpably visible. Hungry wanderers begged for food at the door of Little Boston House, 'each with a different hideous tale of misery ... The extremes of opulence and of want are more remarkable and more constantly obvious in this country than in any other that I ever saw.' ... That there were beggars in America John Quincy knew from experience. But the numbers in Great Britain made American poverty seem minuscule and easily managed. In the United States there was more work to be had, even in hard times. It pained Adams to see starving Americans, many able-bodied, some damaged by war and imprisonment, forced to beg in the streets of a foreign country. He worked tirelessly, and stretched his own and the embassy's resources to assist them."
Adams had a long and distinguished career as a statesman even at an early age. He had lived throughout Europe. He played a role in patching up misunderstandings, reaching compromises and building peace.

In 1817 President Monroe appointed him Secretary of State.

That pivot point in JQA's life ignites Fred Kaplan's biography.

Adams's journey from England to the United States in July and August of 1817 to accept appointment as Secretary of State took 51 days, a time to consider challenges with France, Britain and Spain over the Great Lakes, Louisiana and Florida, among other areas and territories.
"On shipboard, he pondered his and his country's future. As much as he worried about foreign affairs, he had an even more pervasive anxiety: the internal health of the nation. Like both his parents, he believed as deeply in the union as he believed in his life. During his father's presidency, both Republicans and Federalists had threatened disunion. After the passage of the Alien and Sedition Acts, Jefferson and Madison had claimed the right to secession. Now the South as demanding that new states allow slavery. Whether they had moral objections or not, Northern states objected to the additional congressional and electoral votes that the South would have. The British could be handled, though there would be difficulties. So too could Spain, which Adams had reason to believe would in the end capitulate. There were trade issues with France, though at their worst they were not not likely to result in armed conflict. To Adams, domestic tensions seemed most threatening in the long run. The Declaration of Independence and slavery were, he believed, incompatible. Still, maintaining the union was paramount. 'Much as I must disapprove of the general tenor of Southern politics I would rather even yield to their unreasonable pretensions, and suffer much for their wrongs, than break the chain that binds us altogether ... if it is once broken we shall soon divide into a parcel of petty tribes at perpetual war with one another.' The War of 1812 had 'revealed our darkest side, or tendency to faction, sectionalism, and disunion.' The future contained the threat of 'the dissolution of the Union and a civil war.'"
Adams saw the Sandy Hook lighthouses as his ship came close to the American shore. He visited officials in New York, going aboard the first steam frigate that used both sail and steam, USS John Adams, before heading to see his parents in Quincy, Massachusetts aboard the steamship Fulton. In a visit to Boston he boarded both the the USS Constitution and USS Guerriere.

Kaplan reveals the internecine political thorns Adams faced close to the seat of power as Secretary of State, a position both Jefferson and Monroe had held. "More so than Monroe, Adams believed that American prosperity required greater power for the federal government to promote internal improvements and a modern banking system, encourage manufacturing, advance education and science, and strengthen the military."

"Slaves Waiting for Sale" first sketched by British artist Eyre Crowe ten years after Adams died.
Kaplan shows us his strong aversion to slavery and so-called "divine rights," a full generation before the nation plunged into the War Between the States.

His one term as president was followed by service in the House of Representatives, where he became a strong and committed voice for abolition, "proposing a constitutional amendment 'abolishing hereditary slavery in the United States, prohibiting admission of new slave states, and abolishing slavery and the slave trade in the District of Columbia.' He had moved from discreet tactfulness to outspoken radicalism," writes Kaplan. Congress voted 114 to 108 for a continuing gag rule to prevent voting on the amendment, and Adams earned countless death threats from slavery proponents.

He stepped up before the Supreme Court to successfully defend  imprisoned Africans aboard the Amistad after the slave ship was rescued and recovered by USS Washington, when "racism, proslavery sentiment and national politics were a toxic mix."

Kaplan presents Adams as a respected statesman who was selected to present the nation's eulogy for Lafayette, help establish the Smithsonian Institution and protect the rights of American Indian tribes. His position against annexation of Texas in support of  Great Britain in the opium war in China – not to mention women's rights – are perplexing until we consider his circumstances.

Human nature dictates that people are often limited in their imagination by their place in space and time. JQA was no different, believing women were denied the right to vote, for example, because of "nature's foundation in natural law and God's will" and that "the preservation of the values of the Declaration and the Constitution did not require it."

Nevertheless, Adams argued for progress in the nullification of slavery using founding documents. Kaplan writes:
"The values that should shape the present, he argued, as he had done many times before, were those inherent in the history of the nation and in its foundational documents. His major target was the doctrine of nullification, its arbitrary and willful insult to the facts and values of American history. The history he summarized was, of course, Adams' version, with its emphasis on the rationale for the revolution in specific events and natural law. Freedom was everything. Liberty and morality were the highest values. The Declaration of Independence provided the principles, the Constitution the implementation. The brilliance of the Constitution was that it was both stable and elastic – it was both stable and elastic – it was a living document. The Bill of Rights, he observed, had corrected a flaw. More corrections were necessary. The Constitution mandated that the federal government 'promote the general welfare.' That meant new initiatives, such as public improvements, that the authors could not have anticipated but had made provision for in general terms. And its most precious gift was union. It was a sacred contract."
Sailors present a wreath at the tomb of John Quincy Adams in 2009. (Photo by Lt. Chad Murphy)
Kaplan gives us details of the challenges, triumphs and failures in Adams's long life, a life filled with illness and injury, including a hand seriously hurt by a misfiring handgun leading to infections, and problems with his eyes – extreme problems for a poet, writer and reader. In addition to Shakespeare, Adams read Plutarch, Cicero, Voltaire, Hume, Samuel Johnson, Edmund Burke, Lord Byron, Alexander Pope, John Milton, the Bible and a French translation of the Koran (Quo'ran).

A theme of JQA's life was "stoic courage and acceptance of adversity and death." He experienced the death of most of his immediate and extended family, often at an early age. One son, George Washington Adams was "erratic and unstable" and committed suicide. Another son, John Adams II, died from the effects of alcoholism at 31.

The book opens with his father's death, as Quincy Adams hurries home, hoping in vain to see his beloved father before he died.

Both John Adams and Thomas Jefferson passed away hours apart on July 4th, 1826.