The coming Global War on Hacking?


I’ve got a suspicion that 2013 could very well go down as a fulcrum point in contemporary history, as well as in my own meager part in it. Julian Assange’s pinprick has now become Edward Snowden’s stab to the jugular vein, and meanwhile, I’ve had to provisionally decide how I’m going to steer the imminent deluge.

Here’s my thought process, and I’ll put it frankly to my audience: we should all be expecting in the near future the replacement of the GWOT (Global War on Terrorism) with the GWOH (Global War on Hacking). Consider: all it would take would be one massive power grid failure or some other similar immense infrastructural disruption, and then a logical but ultimately evidence-independent speculation (“we have reason to believe hackers were behind it”) to roll out new Patriot Act-like powers that effectively render criminal any technological attempt to maintain individual or collective privacy, much less to peer into the secrets of power.

The idea is not strictly-speaking mine. I heard it mumbled about in some quarters at the recent OHM2013 convention. However, other than an obscure comment to a 2011 editorial (copied in the post-script of this post), there’s nothing about in on the public web. So, let me spell it out a bit here, and then explain my own position, which I hope is moderate. And if not moderate, then at least independent…

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Counter-martyrdom and the trial of bin Laden

In my last post, I talked briefly about the disturbing paganistic and technophilic aspects to Osama bin Laden’s brand of Islamism and the Americans’ War on Terror. Along the way, I remarked that I would have “infinitely more” preferred bin Laden to have been put on trial, although I still believed “justice had been served”. I feel that I should clarify both remarks, then invite my readers to share their thoughts.

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The poetry of a terrorist’s death

I read the news this morning with a kind of muted surprise: Osama bin Laden is finally dead. There’s lots to puzzle over at the moment, from his secret compound outside the Pakistani capital and literally down the street from a military academy (yet more evidence of the complexities of the region), to whether it would have been better to capture him and put him on trial (I would have infinitely more favored that approach, especially given the fact that the adventurous way in which he was killed shall doubtlessly result in yet more accusations of American imperial cowboyism).

Personally-speaking, though, as a New Yorker and as a Baha’i, I’m — how best to say this? — stilled that justice has finally been served. Bin Laden’s ideology of hatred gave terrible credence to Baha’u’llah’s warning, “Religious fanaticism and hatred are a world-devouring fire, whose violence none can quench.” At the same time, however, it is precisely that violence I’m so exhausted by, and not only the physical violence, but the emotional and intellectual violence, as well. Some kind of blinding madness has seized control of parts of the Muslim and Western worlds; sensibility and conversation has ceased for many, and in its place has been the din of irrationality.

A key part of this has been the modernization of some very ancient and animalistic impulses. Consider this poem, written by bin Laden himself:

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Is Transhumanism the next Nazism or Islamism?

I’ve been reading Paul Berman‘s The Flight of the Intellectuals (many thanks to my boss here at RFE/RL, Jay Tolson, for lending me a copy). Although the book’s primary goal is to unearth the true ideology of Tariq Ramadan, a man whom both fans and opponents alike acknowledge is difficult to pin down, its elucidations of the links between Islamism and Nazism, located roughly speaking in the first half of the book, are extremely valuable. Berman not only provides an excellent summary of the most recent and important scholarly research into the topic, but he accomplishes the goal of making an intimate call to arms within the reader to face up to the true horrific countenance of certain ideologies.

This theme of avoidance, in Berman’s words, “the multi-motivated disinclination to discuss or even think about the very largest of crimes,” on the part of Western intellectuals, “The urge to look somewhere else — to look anywhere at all, except at the main thing,” is central to his book, and serves as the diving board for this reflection. You see, this little blog of mine is saturated by Transhumanist themes, and insofar as it reflects my mind (as close friends and sharp readers have noted, I’m not entirely candid in this digital space) it can be said to be an expression of a worldview that is, although not exclusively Transhumanist, is nevertheless deeply informed by such an outlook.

So, you’ll understand the depth of my concern when I say that Transhumanism, or at least some varieities of it, may be the Nazism, Communism, and Islamism of the future. Specifically, I fear that, if so, then it may one day be looked upon by distant generations from now as the twenty-first century’s equivalent of the antisemitism and eugenicism of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries — in other words, a belief system that promotes horrifying goals via terrible means, yet somehow is espoused by otherwise perfectly rational and decent people.

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The Prophet’s dialectic

I co-authored the following paper, “The Dialectic of Islam: an historiographical interpretation of Islamist political violence”, with my friend Mamed Askerov.  It was published in the United Nations University for Peace’s student journal, The Peace and Conflict Monitor. Typical of both our styles of thinking, the paper is a sweeping overview of Islamic history that seeks to give a new direction to the debate on Muslim spirituality and radicalism.  We ultimately argue that the very same forces which compel many Muslims to violence are also the same means by which the world can bring about inter-religious dialogue and peace.

Mamed’s contribution is the notion of the Muslim dialectic itself and the original skeleton draft, as well as the embryonic thoughts that eventually comprised the first post-script.  I added the section on the Golden Age and the second post-script, as well as fleshed out the entire paper.   It was an especially fun paper to write and we’re hoping to expand it further into something peer-reviewable.


This paper aims to analyze the debate over political violence in contemporary Islam from the viewpoint of its historical roots. At the heart of the matter are two currents that have existed in the Muslim community since its very beginning: a dialectic between the intellectual and the martial, and competing interpretations of an idyllic patristic era, with several practical and ideological consequences. This paper will demonstrate how today’s debate can be framed within this vision of Islamic history.

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If the shoe (bomb?) fits… Patriotism, professionalism, military intervention, and journalistic integrity

Did Muntader az-Zaidi cross the line between professionalism and activism, or was he acting in the journalistic spirit?
Did Muntader az-Zaidi cross the line between professionalism and activism, or was he acting in the journalistic spirit?

Hopefully this will be my last post on “shoe-gate,” or, the “shoe intifada.” I’m heading off for South Africa in a few days and I need to concentrate on preparations.  So, as you can see from my extended subtitle, I intend to kill a lot of birds with one (shoe).

Ali the Translator, an Iraqi blogger, on the day of Muntader az-Zaidi gave his now famed send-off for his dearly beloved Bush, remarks, “No matter how funny it was, it was kinda disappointing at the same time cuz ‘Journalists’ are supposed to be professional and neutral.”

Consider also American blogger Rick Perlstein, who waves his finger at liberals:

Liberals should not make light of or license the physical assault on the leader of a sovereign state, no matter how much he’s deservedly hated. This is not how we do politics, unless we’re in favor something tending toward anarchy, or fascism.  This seems open and shut to me: the Iraqi journalist should go to jail for a rather long time.

And indeed, Perlstein may very well get his wish.  The BBC reports that az-Zaidi is getting a warm reception in Iraqi jail, and by “warm” I mean a broken hand, broken ribs and internal bleeding. Which leads me to a troubling phenomenon: the defamation of Iraqis as “ungrateful” by American bloggers.

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