... in terrorism

Terrorism and urban planning

16 Jan 2017 | 244 words | terrorism syria urbanism united states

From the novel I am currently reading:

Back in his hotel room he remembered that Mohammed Atta , the famous World Trade Center hijacker, had been a student of urban planning in hamburg in Germany. Was there a connection between the two things – terror and planning? It was possible. Atta in his religious way, had wanted the perfect religious city &emdash; his thesis was on Aleppo in Syria. In the end though his urge to design took a different form &emdash; het took down the twin monstrosities of the towers over Manhattan, and there, in a single day he accomplished what no other planner could have, erasing the cold shadows of those vile boastful buildings of the sun-filled streets of the city.

While “the association of small bombs” is a work of fiction it appears that the fact that Mohammed Atta has indeed written his thesis on Aleppo is not. Given this the recent events in Aleppo, which have lead to the almost complete destruction of the city, feel like the completion of a circle of violence that has been started by Atta and his companions on 9/111. It is probably vain hope to expect this to be the end of the circle, but with the whole geo-political situation changing quite dramatically, nothing seems impossible these days.

Live broadcast of russian drone footage monitoring the evacuation of civilians from Aleppo (15/12/16)

  1. the area where the twin towers stood used to be ‘Little Syria’ ↩︎

For some there was too little terrorism this Christmas...

26 Dec 2010 | 339 words | journalism netherlands security terrorism

Xmas is almost over and unfortunately (for the news-media) there have been no instances of (attempted) terrorism this year (well that is no terrorism in the west, since bomb attacks in pakistan do not diminish the well being of us westerners). one of the entities suffering from the absence of terrorist activity is the website of the german weekly ‘der spiegel‘.

Instead of reverting to publishing ‘the 10 most … of 2010’ lists spiegel online descended like a vulture on the arrest of 12 somalis that were accused of planning a terrorist attack in the Netherlands. As usual no weapons or explosives were found, which makes you wonder how these people could have possibly been capable of carrying out an attack in the immediate future. My prediction: all of them will be released or turned over to la migra before the end of the year.

While this arrest made headlines on spiegel online (one of those +++ EILMELDUNG +++ boxes) it hardy made it to the top of any news-media here in the Netherlands (for example it is completely absent from geenstijl.nl which usually jumps on anything violent and/or related to migrants). today, a day after the arrest spiegel online is forced to run an article in which it reports that the first 5 of the 12 suspected somalis have been released from custody (surprisingly no evidence has been found for them being terrorists).

Now this would not be spiegel online if they would not use this article to continue making completely baseless insinuations directed at the somali community in the Netherlands. This culminates in the following sentence which runs afoul or pretty much every journalistic principle i am aware of:

DE: Insider rechnen damit, dass einige von ihnen Verbindungen zu Extremisten in der völlig zerrütteten ostafrikanischen Heimat haben könnten. / EN: Insiders expect that some of them [PK: somalis living in NL] could have connections to extremists in their completly torn east-african country.

I really love the combination of unidentified insiders who expect that someone could have connections…

resilience | /ɹə.zɪl.ɪ.əns/

03 Jul 2010 | 384 words | airtravel amsterdam security terrorism

Last week thursday night someone tried to break in to our offices on the fourth floor of a building on the Keizersgracht in Amsterdam. in order to gain access to the office the wannabe-burglar(s) kicked in the door, pushing one of the wooden door panels into the room. it appears that they then waited to see if there was an alarm system and that they quickly left the building without taking anything from the office when the alarm sounded 20 seconds after the door was kicked in.

So while they had more or less unrestricted access to the office they did not take anything: Not one of our apple cinema displays, nor the cash box or even one of the bottles of fine french wine that we keep to entertain our guests. in other words, our system to prevent burglaries worked as intended: someone intended to break into the office but did not do any substantial damage because the alarm system went of and scared the wannabe-burglar(s) away.

Now the strange thing is that when you tell this story to others they react completely different: instead of recognizing this story as and example of something working as intended, people tend to see it as something negative (‘oh that’s terrible!’ is the usual reaction). Of course this reaction does not make any sense because this kind of event is exactly why we have an alarm in the first place.

Unfortunately this cognitive is not limited to smal scale burglary. It is very similar to how the public tends to react to failed terrorist plots like the shoe-bomber or the pants-bomber or the assorted idiots that are not even capable of blowing up their own cars (exhibit 1, exhibit 2). In all of these events the system worked as intended: no harm was done because the wanna-be terrorists did not manage to acquire explosives capable of inflicting actual harm or because they were simply too stupid to carry out their plots.

Instead of looking at these events as proof that open societies actually display a good measure of built in resilience, the public tends to interpret these events as proof that the terrorists are alive and well and the ‘security’ agencies thankfully exploit this cognitive bias to come up with more (and often absurd) ‘security’ measures.

'Terrorist' watch list... (weekend reading list)

18 Oct 2008 | 221 words | war religion islamofobia terrorism afghanistan

So the Atlantic has another well written article (‘The Things He Carried‘ by Jeffrey Goldberg) that shows the absurdity of the security theater that we endure at the airports (note that the situation in europe is a bit different, as they do check your boarding pass against ID at the boarding gate), which among other things illustrates that no-fly lists are a rather dumb instrument if you want to catch Terrorists.

So if the ‘terrorists’ are not on the no-fly watch list, where are they then? Conventional wisdom seems to suggest that they are in Afghanistan hanging out with the Taliban. Nir Rosen (who apparently has in inclination for hanging out in and reporting from dangerous places) has hung out with them as well and documented his trip into the Taliban controlled province of Ghazni for the Rolling Stone (‘How we lost the war we won‘). Along his trip he also managed to take some beautiful photos:

Taliban fighters in the Andar district , photo Nir Rosen/Roling Stone

Now of course the Taliban do not really qualify as ‘terrorists’ either but that does not deter both US presidential candidates from making plans for sending more troops to Afghanistan [and possibly Pakistan]. If you want to understand why this is a rather dumb idea, Rosen’s article is a good place to start…

Ba____ka dolls

07 Jun 2008 | 120 words | budapest terrorism drone wars

Spend the last couple of days in Budapest and have come to the conclusion that i really do not like the place. Sure there are spectacular exceptions but that is about it. However it seems that the city has a few other hidden gems: yesterday evening my colleague Nikki (who claims that she likes the place) came back with this picture that she had taken at a souvenir stall on castle hill:

hussein, osama, clinton babushkas on castle hill in budapest hungary

Guess the most significant aspect of this display is that there is no George W. Bush version. Maybe that hints at the fact that we will finally be rid of that idiot in the not so distant future…

This is not a bomb, this is just for the lulz

Speaking about silliness of the struggle against terrorism, it seems that a bunch of people in Boston have teamed up to celebrate the one year anniversary of the aqua team hunger force LED ads bomb scare in the only sensible way, that is by putting up lots of LED art up on the streets, walls and bridges of boston:

This is interesting – it seems that a group of artists have celebrated 1-31-07 in their own way and have created a series of political themed LED art sculptures and (you guessed it) placed them all over Boston. […] Get there before the robots do. [via make check out their site for many more photos]

The Power of Nightmares

29 Jan 2008 | 264 words | movies london imagination terrorism security

Just finished watching the BBC documentary (from 2004) ‘the power of nightmares – the rise of the politics of fear‘ by Adam Curtis. This three part mini series compares the rise of the American Neo-Conservative movement and the radical Islamist movement, making comparisons on their origins and noting strong similarities between the two. Curtis argues that the threat of radical Islamism as a massive, sinister organized force of destruction, specifically in the form of al-Qaeda, is in fact a myth perpetrated by politicians in the west in an attempt to unite and inspire their people.

While i generally agree with this analysis, the series has one central weakness. In part three (‘The Shadows in the Cave’) he describes in detail how none of the 600+ people arrested under the post 9/11 UK anti terrorism legislation until 2004 had any connection with Al Qaeda and how none of them was actually arrested for (planning to) carry out terrorist attacks. While this is factually true it sounds quite different when seen from todays perspective as it merely demonstrates that the UK anti-terrorist organizations failed to recognize the activities of the 7/7 bombers before they carried out their attacks.

However i would still argue that Curtis has a point (which is aptly illustrated by the silliness that the UK security forces have demonstrated in the post 7/7 period (see here, here, here & here) and if you have not seen the power of nightmares yet, you would probably want to download it from a torrent tracker near you.

Still of Sayyid Qutb from The power of Nightmares

When i am president (Obama vs. Osama) ...

Just read a fairly impressive speech on terrorism by US presidential candidate (technically he is a candidate for nomination as a candidate) Barack Obama. The speech it is quite a contrast to what you hear from the current US administration and for large parts actually makes sense even though it contains a fair share of patriotic pathos. For all i know this speech is the first time i have come across a US presidential candidate (who actually has a realistic chance of winning) who seems to realize that there are people outside of the US who hate the US not because they hate freedom but because of the way the US are bullying around the rest of the world:

When you travel to the world’s trouble spots as a United States Senator, much of what you see is from a helicopter […] And it makes you stop and wonder: when those faces look up at an American helicopter, do they feel hope, or do they feel hate?

I guess realizing that the way the US are behaving themselves in the rest of the world is one of the root causes of what is labeled ‘global terrorism’ is one of the core qualifications you would wish any future president of the US to have. Lets hope that he still remembers this should he ever come to sit in one of these new presidential helicopters. Now unfortunately Mr Obama gets a little bit over-excited about his proverbial helicopter ride in the rest of his speech:

[…] That child looking up at the helicopter must see America and feel hope. […] I will speak directly to that child who looks up at that helicopter, and my message will be clear: “You matter to us. Your future is our future. And our moment is now.” […] The America I know is the last, best hope for that child looking up at a helicopter. It’s the country that put a man on the moon; that defeated fascism and helped rebuild Europe. […] And we can be what that child looking up at a helicopter needs us to be: the relentless opponent of terror and tyranny, and the light of hope to the world.

Not sure if this is a particularly realistic scenario [especially since mr. Obama also hints at invading pakistan in this speech]. Also, given the demographics of your typical ‘terrorist’ i think he should be more concerned about (young) adults than children, but then politicians seem to be generally unable to formulate unrealistic scenarios without referring to children. Guess this is because they are ‘pure’ or ‘innocent’ or both….

Update [22.08.07]: Shudda adds: ‘Nobody invades Pakistan without India’. Interesting times ahead indeed…

Apparently the war on terror has been won

01 Jul 2007 | 292 words | terrorism media stupidity england

Have been following the recent events in the UK with a mix of amusement and amazement. Did not really expect that the next ‘wave of attacks‘ would be even more incompetent than the last one.

There are a couple of good articles that call these ‘terrorist attacks’ for what they are (‘Terrorist Special Olympics in the UK‘ on Bruce Schneiders blog, ‘Beavis and Butthead in London jihad‘ by Thomas C Greene and ‘‘al-Qaeda’ puts on big shoes, red nose, takes custard pie‘ by Lewis Page both on the register). All three are well worth reading. This quote from the article by Lewis Page kind of sums it up:

If these guys at the weekend really were anything to do with al-Qaeda, all one can really say is that it looks as though the War on Terror is won. This whole hoo-ha kicked off, remember, with 9/11: an extremely effective attack. Then we had the Bali and Madrid bombings, not by any measure as shocking and bloody but still nasty stuff. Then we had London 7/7, a further significant drop in bodycount but still competently planned and executed (Not too many groups would have been able to mix up that much peroxide-based explosive first try without an own goal).

Now we have this; one terror-clown badly burnt and nobody else hurt at all. An event about as significant as the teenagers burning cars down my way – and don’t I wish those little sods got as much police attention and jail time.

Reading this article brought back some fond memories of blowing up propane gas canisters in on construction sites in Hannover Davenstedt when i was 14 or so. And in case you are intrested in real car bombs, go read this book

Mike Davis: Fear and Money in Dubai

15 Dec 2006 | 550 words | dubai emirates bombay india terrorism cities

Coming back to the Waag i found the printout of Fear and Money in Dubai by Mike Davis on my table (placed there by the invaluable Patrice, who seems to have never heard of such things as emails and hyperlinks, but then you can read printouts in your bathtub, which is not a bad thing either). The article turns out to be an excellent piece about the state of affairs in Dubai, with a number of interesting observations about piracy/smuggling/terrorism/falcon-hunting:

The platform for Dubai’s extraordinary ambitions has been its long history as a haven for smugglers, gold dealers and pirates. […] Pearl fishing and smuggling were the mainstays until oil wealth began to generate increased demand for Dubai’s commercial savvy and port services. Up to 1956, when the first concrete building was constructed, the entire population lived in traditional ‘barastri’ homes made from palm fronds, drawing water from communal wells and tethering their goats in the narrow streets. […]

Following Khomeini’s revolution in 1979, it also became the Persian Gulf’s Miami, providing refuge to a large community of Iranian exiles, many of whom specialized in smuggling gold, untaxed cigarettes and liquor to their puritanical homeland, and to India. More recently, Dubai under the tolerant gaze of Tehran has attracted large numbers of wealthy Iranians who use the city “more like Hong Kong than Miami” as a base for trade and bi-national life-styles. […] Building on such clandestine connections, Dubai in the 1980s and early 1990s became the Gulf’s principal dirty-money laundry as well as a bolthole for some of the region’s most notorious gangsters and terrorists. […]

Indeed, since 9/11 a huge investigative literature has explored Dubai’s role as ‘the financial hub for Islamic militant groups’, especially al-Qaeda and the Taliban: ‘all roads lead to Dubai when it comes to [terrorist] money’, claims a former high-ranking us Treasury official. Bin Laden reportedly transferred large sums through the government-owned Dubai Islamic Bank, while the Taliban used the city’s unregulated gold markets to transform their opium taxes, paid in gold bullion, into laundered dollars. In his best-selling Ghost Wars, Steve Coll claims that after the catastrophic al-Qaeda bombings of the us embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam, a cia scheme to target bin Laden with cruise missiles while he was falcon hunting in southern Afghanistan had to be aborted because he was in the company of unnamed Emirati royalty. […]

In addition, al-Maktoum for almost a decade provided luxurious sanctuary for Bombay’s Al Capone, the legendary gangster Dawood Ibrahim. His presence in the sheikhdom in the late 1980s was hardly low-key. ‘Dubai’, writes Suketu Mehta, ‘suited Dawood; he re-created Bombay in lavish parties, flying in scores of the city’s top film stars and cricketers as guests, and took a film starlet, Mandakini, as his mistress’. In early 1993, according to the Indian government, Dawood, working with Pakistani intelligence officials, used Dubai as a base for organizing the infamous ‘Black Friday’ bombings in Bombay that killed 257 people. Although India immediately requested Dubai to arrest Dawood, he was allowed to flee to Karachi, where he is still sheltered by the Pakistani government […]

Read the full article here. Also 2 clicks away from endnote 48 is one of the most deadly restaurant critiques i have ever read (especially if you are british!)

meanwhile... is the personal weblog of Paul Keller. I am currently policy director at Open Future and President of the COMMUNIA Association for the Public Domain. This weblog is largely inactive but contains an archive of posts (mixing both work and personal) going back to 2005.

I also maintain a collection of cards from African mediums (which is the reason for the domain name), a collection of photos on flickr and a website collecting my professional writings and appearances.

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