I was reading Ex's link to Chris Fair and Daniel Byman's piece about idiotic jihadis and thought some thoughts that I thought were probably fairly relevant. But more importantly, I saw a golden opportunity to link to a clip I've been wanting to share for ages (more on that in a bit).
So, are jihadis cunning, resourceful, steel eyed shadow warriors, or are they a bunch of bumbling fools? Chris and Daniel make a great case for the idiot argument with tales of would-be suicide bombers hugging their comrades one last time and accidentally vapourising everyone, Talibs engaging in frolics with farmyard animals and - my personal favourite - the weed smoking Miami wannabe jihadis.
I've been drawn to the bumbling-fools line of argument since the time I attended a rally organised by al Muhajiroon in London. On the shared bus from the mosque to the site, I was stifling laughter when the teenage demonstrators started cracking open the neatly packed lunches their mothers had prepared thinking their sons were off on training courses. Followed by the full-on jihadi fashionista behind-the-catwalk bitch-fest when it came time to fix on the face-covering Palestinian scarves.
The point was only enhanced for me a few months later when I saw the video testaments of the failed airline bomb plotters...I mean seriously, I'm pretty sure at least two of them couldn't read the script.
At about the same time, I interviewed a 15-year old in London who told me, "Amil, the war is coming. I'm a soldier. But, bruvver, you gotta pick your side." He then got stoned, tried to rap for me, forgot the words and asked to borrow money for the bus ride home."
This might all sound fairly reassuring, but I think the ineptitude is just one side of a wider trend. Keeping the argument to Britain for now; before 9/11, to become an extremist, you had to be fairly committed. There was none of the reflected glamour of being associated with people capable of scaring polite society. In those days, extremists were overzealous, a bit nerdy, waay too into religion and generally uncool. As Chris and Daniel's example of 9/11 lead attacker Mohammed Atta suggests, in such an environment, a potential recruit is more likely to possess a certain awareness, commitment and focus. Of course, there are examples of pre 9/11 Jihadiots, but in general terms, the cause was as cool as chess club and membership reflected that.
Now that the cause is much more glamorous, many more people want some of the action. So the fact that there are numerous instances of idiocy means that extremists have been able to lots of idiots. And, just one idiot who manages to press the right button at the right time is a huge problem.
But more than that, if you are going to get lots of recruits, most will be idiots but you are also going to get a larger proportion of useful people. i bet something similar happens in conventional fighting forces like the British army. Thinking of which, I'm reminded of an occurrence related to me by an army guy I was hanging around with who told me of a young recruit from the north of England who after a session of learning about grenades put a live one in the pocket of his camo jacket and blew himself up. So, for every few dozen Sargodha type recruits you get someone who can devise complex strategies, hack computer systems or influence millions. In Pakistan, these types of recruits have been busy running double agents, expertly executing raids on Pakistani army installations and running circles around everyone else's communication efforts.
There are further differences amongst extremists than just their level of competence. Britain, for example, and Afghanistan are two totally different environments. The threat coming from them does not manifest itself in the same way. However, the general principle probably still holds; if porn-loving young Afghans have signed up to the Taliban, it suggests that the group is growing in popularity and attracting followers because it is successful and not because of whatever it is seen to stand for.
Daniel and Chris mention the importance of denying extremists havens to limit their capacity to train followers, and I'd totally agree. I'd also add if we accept that extremists can gather more recruits than before 9/11, and that some of these people have to be competent, that means that more safe havens will result in many, many more potentially lethal extremists.
So, should we laugh at the Jihadiots? Absolutely! I mean, sometimes, it's really hard not to. Check out this trailer for a recently released British film to see what I mean: