The Westdeutsche Allgemeine newspaper WAZ had the following front page article today (English translation follows):
El Kaida wirbt verstarkt
Junge Deutsche und Migranten im Visier
Karlsruhe. Das Terrornetzwerk El Kaida wird fur junge Deutsche oder in Deutschland lebende Migranten immer attraktiver, "weil es uber Geldmittel verfugt". Davon geht die Bundesanwaltschaft in Karlseruhe aus. In den letzten Monaten hatten im Bundesgbebiet mehrere Terror-Organizationen, die El Kaida auch "Kampfer fur den Heiligen Krieg" zuleiten, ihre Anwerbungen verstarkt. Im Visier der Ermittler stehen dabei besonders die "Deutschen Taliban Mudjahedin" und die "Islamische Bewegung Usbekistan". Derzeit laufen gegen zehn mutmasliche Islamisten Verfahren der obersten Anklagebehorde, weil sie sich in Lagern im afghanische-pakistanischen Grenzgebiet fur den Einsatz als Attentater schulen liesen.
(My Engilsh translation:)
"Al-Qaeda amps up its promotional (recruitment) activities
Young Germans and Immigrants are the target
Karlsruhe. The terrorist network Al Qaeda is becoming more and more attractive for young Germans or for immigrants living in Germany, "because it offers funding (i.e. a way to make a living). " says the Attorney General in Karlseruhe. In recent months, several Bundesgebiet terrorist organizations that are involved with al Qaeda "fighting for the Holy War" , amplified their enlistments. Investigators here are especially concerned about the "German Taliban mujahedin" and the "Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan". There are currently about ten suspected Islamists being prosecuted because they enrolled in training camps on the Afghan-Pakistani border area to be used as bombers."
While this news is disturbing ex facie, the article disturbs me on a more personal level too, as a social entrepreneur trying to run a non-profit organization (Solar CITIES) that seeks solutions to the poverty trap and to environmental injustices in developing countries and who seeks to start a training academy for young Germans and immigrants living here in Germany. I realize with not some small measure of anger that Al Qaida and its sister organizations are stealing our potential clients. I also realize that while we struggle to create a convincing business plan and get funding for our "Green Collar Job Training Academy" that can give disenfranchised youth and migrants a dignified and profitable way to get involved in "The Great Conversation" that societies are having about how to raise living and health standards and sustainability for their members, Al Qaida doesn't seem to have any problem getting money to attract its clients, its students, its members, its potential warriors to join its ideologically bankrupt cause.
It incenses me to be told yesterday when we presented our business plan "this is a great idea, but our chief concern is where the money is going to come from to support the education of jobless immigrants in sustainable development techologies" when at the same time the terrorist networks, if the WAZ article is correct, seem to be in awash in money to snatch these same people up for their nefarious brand of "education".
We were told, "for your business model to succeed you will need enough high paying clients to operate at a profit so that you can subsidize the poor to learn how to build these low-cost solar and biogas and water pumping systems, but we doubt there is enough interest in or demand for learning about low-tech environmental solutions to attract paying clients here in Germany". Yeah, sure -- if we were trying to create an academy to train people how to build apps for Iphones or sophisticated RF tracking devices, new generation computers or even hi-tech weapons systems (or even simply "business English"), we would probably have no problem recruiting and attracting both paying students and jobless immigrants in search of a better life. But would such a training academy really help the other 90%? And would it have any resonance with the people most likely to turn to the "free scholarships" now offered by Al Qaida?
On the following pages of today's newspaper another article discusses the "Spatfolgen eines Drohnenangriffs"(After-effects of a Drone Attack):saying "Wuppertaler Islamist starb bei einer amerikansichen Militaroperation in Pakistan. Bundesanwaltschaft pruft , ob gegen US-Truppen ermittelt wird" (An Islamist German from the Wuppertal region died in an American Military Operation in Pakistan. The Attorney General is investigating whether he was involved in operations against US Troops).
It is easy to dismiss young Germans or immigrants living in Germany who get sucked into the spiral of terror activities and end up going off to Pakistan to get "schooled in terror" as "crazies", but after almost a decade working with gang kids in Los Angeles, and a stint working with Hollywood film-composer BT, I read instead "a misplaced desire on the part of the disenfranchised to re-enfranchise, to join a cause and fight against the machine, to try and use aggression and terror (the currency de jour of frustrated social action that we learn to mimic from Hollywood films) to counter one's own reaction to perceived aggression and terror."
Most relevantly I had a very small part in BTs great score for the prophetic Rob Cohen action movie "Stealth" where technology (and the human military machinery behind it) gone amok makes Hollywood heroes of those who fight against the drones and rage against the machine -- as long as they are Americans. Mine is the Near Eastern sounding voice of bewilderment and pain wailing in the background of the haunting music that accompanies each drone attack's effects on Uzbekistan villagers who get no glory as collateral damage and certainly don't get the girl in the end if/when they try to resist. As in the movies "Star Wars" and "Avatar" and "Iron Man" and "V is for Vendetta" and a host of other stories we tell our children (like the textbook version of the American Revolution) there is always a tension over who the real aggressor is and how aggrieved parties should act or react.
The bottom line for me: Almost everybody who is able wants to belong to some movement bigger than themselves, and when you add a financial incentive on top of the possible glory of membership, and top it off with a confused perception of "justice" reinforced by generations of "David vs. Goliath" narratives, it isn't hard to see why young Europeans, particularly those with emotional ties to places where suffering and degradation are occurring, would want to "go back to school" in foreign camps where tuition, room and board and living wages as well as a supportive ideological atmosphere are guaranteed, particularly when there is no alternative offered at home.
I think I understand what motivates people here in Germany to join what I consider the "dark side" (especially when they think they are actually in the right; the use of impersonal Stealth drone aircraft certainly gives both Pakistani and Afghani villagers as well their quite rightful sympathizers in Europe, the impression that perhaps the real threat lies in the lands where people are trained in camps (called universities and businesses) to build increasingly destructive and impersonal weapons and not in the remote desert and mountain camps around them whose organizers claim to be the only antidote to their suffering).
What I don't understand precisely is how to create the counter-narrative and its supportive institutions and make it appealing to funders.
Transformative Action and the potential to inspire a non-violent, spiritually awakened "Green Mujahideen"
The idea of flipping Al Qaida's strategy on its head and creating an "anti-villain institution" more compelling than their fantasy reinforced "anti-hero" narrative seems plausible because it involves much more than mere inversion yet can also be viewed simplistically:
Set up training training camps in developed countries and regions that take the marginalized youth and jobless immigrants Al Qaida is now targeting and turn them into a wholly different kind of "mujahideen" if you like (since mujahideen doesn't literally mean "warrior" but "one who struggles in the way of God" and a "jihad" is not a holy war, but an internal struggle to conquer ones inner frailties and live a more spiritually sound life.). The "green mujahideen" would be also sent to other countries after their training , but sent to do good rather than mischief and sow seeds of bounty rather than terror. The same Margaret Meadic faith that a small number of dedicated people can change the world would be the guiding principle, but in absolute contrast to the terrorist networks the joyous network of green collar ambassadors would truly be returning home in their stints abroad to spread the benefits of what they learned "in camp", raising living standards and improving environments.
If it sounds like the Peace Corps (started in the Kennedy Administration in the 1960s), well, it should. The Peace Corps had great and similar ideas and did great and similar things. Where it was incomplete (as Ivan Illich is fond of pointing out, and made famous in his essay, 'To Hell with Good Intentions") is that its target group for recruitment was college educated white kids; in that sense it reinforced colonial and imperialist stereotypes for the most part . One notable exception was my Iraqi-American cousin, Yasmine Rassam, now a human rights lawyer, who spent her two years of Peace Corps duty in Mauritania where being of Arab heritage helped her win the confidence of the people.
The example of my cousin Yasmine subtends our idea for the Green Collar Immigrants Job Training camp. By building capacity for our immigrants and then allowing them to do their work and share what they learn in countries of their historical origin (or with similar cultural characteristics) we definitively end the claim to "meddling" that so many development organizations from the North and the West encounter (and perpetuate). By training those who have little or no formal education and are socially marginalized or are in poor paying, unsatisfying jobs or who are jobless we create a group of people who can more effectively bond with those in developing countries whose challenges they will better understand (this has certainly been the result of my experiences living in poverty, living and working in slums, living as an immigrant, and trying to survive under foreign and uncertain conditions).
If our idea sounds a bit like Bunker Roy's "Barefoot College" in Tilonia, Rajastan, it should, because we also drew inspiration from our visit there and our conversations with him. But where Bunker's laudable vision focuses primarily on illiterate women between 35 and 55 years of age from rural villages who come to his institution for six months to be trained in sustainable development technologies and are then sent home with micro-loans to start green business, ours fills another gap in the development landscape by focusing on primarily urban immigrants in European cities who can serve as environmental technology ambassadors for development to the immigrant sending regions, building credibility and strong international relations between countries and strengthening both areas.
My gut feeling is that we can out-class Al Qaida and co. My gut feeling is that people prefer to be super-heroes rather than super-villains, even when the back-story paints a sympathetic vision of the villain, explaining where he/she "went bad" (he was abused as a child, his family was raped tortured and killed, she was reduced to a mere number or a slave etc by unfeeling forces). I believe that if there were places where the disenfranchised and marginalized could go to get trained in a different art of resistance, a place where they could come together as full participants in The Great Conversation and where their voices could be heard and improvisational and innovation talents developed for game changing social and technological systems, they would flock there. But all of this only IF there was also a financial incentive as large or larger than what the terrorist groups are currently offering German youth and immigrants.
So there is another antidote, a real antidote in my opinion, and I believe it holds much more appeal than going to some remote mountain camp and learning how to build explosive devices and carry and gun and mimic poorly understood out-of-context verses in a different language from the same holy books we have in our libraries back home.
The antidote is a Sustainable Development Training Academy where those who feel powerless and pushed aside can now take center stage as innoventors and solution providers, learning the verse and vocabulary of development in a wide range of tongues, learning how to build not dirty bombs but water pumps, and how to handle not weapons and guns but biogas and wind-generators. It is a place where people can "rage against the machine" by taking machines apart and rebuilding them in a more human image for more humane purposes, and place where the real fight is against poverty and ignorance and intolerance.
It seems obvious to me. We can easily compete with Al Qaeda for our youth and our immigrant brothers and sisters.
The real question is still, "where will the funding come from?" and that leads of course to the auxiliary question "where does Al Qaeda and Co. get their funding?" Doubtless they will end up being similar entities. So perhaps our job is really asking those with capital "where would you really rather invest - in the dubious perpetual warfare of Nobel Laureate Kenneth Boulding's "Cowboy Economy" that keeps production of industrial goods constantly increasing but at great human and environmental cost, or in building capacity of all human beings for participation in what he called the "Spaceman Economy" with its infinite potential for expansion through movement toward the vast unknown?
The former requires merely training people to destroy life and property, the second requires training people to nurture and protect life and create new property, and involves understanding the depths of ecological economics and not just simplistic reductions of life's complexities and the creation of more opportunities to buy low/sell high. Our youth and jobless immigrants are now dying to see where the incentives and opportunities lie.
The choice of what we can offer them is ours.