DC in Chaos as Interns Declare Caliphate

A Satirical Piece I decided to write. Hopefully I’ll be able to put some more serious posts up soon.

Chaos hit the streets in DC as a group of interns managed to overrun large parts of two different think tanks located in Dupont Circle declare that they have created a new caliphate. The announcement came as a surprise to many who have largely turned away from the various problems happening in the region.

“We thought the interns were bogged down in their location with a heavy workload and dealing with competition from other interns. This will have a destabilizing effect among the greater think tank world.” Said J.M. Berger of Brookings Institution.

After declaring the establishment of a caliphate, the mysterious leader, supposedly a research associate from one of the conquered think tanks, appeared in a video asking for all interns to rush to the new caliphate.

“Rush o interns, to your think tank. Yes, your think tank. It is not a think tank simply for the conservatives or liberals, nor for the Asian experts or Latin American researchers. All interns, no matter your specialty, this is where you can apply your skills.”

Little is known about this research associate. Most likely he was never formally hired or paid, leaving a very small paper trail for people to trace. The video of him has yet to be authenticated. In the video, he also called out of several think tanks and other agencies for violation against interns.

“From Amnesty International to the State Department, be warned. Your crimes against us will end. It might take a while, but we will have our revenge.”

Republican policymakers were quick to blame the Obama administration for failing to arm moderate interns. Senator John McCain was perhaps the most vocal on the issue.

“The failure of the Obama administration to act decisively against these radical interns and the failure to help the moderates out. If the administration had worked to give money and supplies to the moderates, IS probably would never have gained power.”

Others disagreed. “The moderate interns were never that well organized. Between work and trying to make money, the moderate groups lacked the organizational cohesion to actually compete against the radicals.” According to George Washington University Professor Marc Lynch. “The few interns that were given supplies took their tablets and pens to IS due to their frustration with the inefficiency of the moderate groups.”

The repercussions against interns around DC was being felt in public. Public figures such as Sam Harris and Bill Maher have come out and said that the establishment of IS proves the inherently violent nature of internship. Sam Harris has warned that even 20% of interns should be considered radical. Asked to expand on this, he had this to say,

“Well, again, you have to parse this on specific points, like do you favor getting paid for your work, do you think there should be a job guarantee? Even among interns, you’d find more subscribing to one versus the other, depending on the poll you trust. But I didn’t just pull the number out of a hat. There’s a group at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill that has conducted 40 years of study in the intern world – literally every intern that has been hired – and found that these views were prevalent among 15 percent of the interns.

So I would say that if you take this number 15 percent who agree with payment, and then you look at the poll results on specific implementation of intern’s demands – do you want research fellows and government officials to give recommendation letters or should you be hired – you never find the number, with very few exceptions, you never find the number as low as 15 percent voting in favor of these deals. It’s often 60 percent depending on the type of internship. So I believe nudging that up to something around 20 percent is still a conservative estimate of the percentage of interns worldwide who have values relating to employment and work ethics that are really in zero sum contests with our own.”

Despite the complete nonsensical, bullshit logic behind this, this view has remained popular among internphobes.

Interns meanwhile have come out strongly to condemn IS and suggest the should not be perceived as real interns.

“Just look at them and their background. They act like they’re good interns, but look at their pasts. They rarely did any work. They would show up late, never get the projects done, and spend the entire day on Facebook and Twitter. These are just crazy people who have become distant in disenchanted with their own internships, and have turned to what they view as a crazy utopia to fill that empty hole inside them.” Said an intern from Carnegie.

This looks like it will be a long term struggle against these interns.

Graeme Wood’s Article in the Atlantic and responses

So Graeme Wood wrote a provoking article for The Atlantic titled “What ISIS Really Wants“. In it, he argues that rather than ISIS being a fringe groups of psychopaths, its ideology is based on Islamic ideology. Although he mentions that (albeit briefly) their doctrine is not mainstream Islam, nor does it followers represent the overwhelming majority of Muslims, ISIS is still Islamic. This has generated plenty of discussion and responses. Here are the ones worth reading.

Jack Jenkins at Think Progress

Tony Ortega at Raw Story

Ross Douthat at New York Times

Haroon Moghul at Salon

Fareed Zakaria at the Washington Post

Matt Fisher at Vox

J.M. Berger at Brookings

Shadi Hamid (whose tweets were helpfully compiled)

Murtaza Hussain at the Intercept

Mohamed Ghilan at MIddle East Eye

Ishaan Tharoor at the Washington Post

Jack Jenkins at Think Progress (2)

All these are useful readings. Rather than waste more internet space with my own words, its easier to let these articles to the talking. My own views tend to be a lot closer to Berger’s and Hamid’s responses.

Update:

So Graeme wrote a very short followup to his article. It contains some of the responses I posted here, as well as some interesting reactions from an Islamist and some ISIS and AQ supporters. Definitely worth checking out.

My First Article

Hey,

For the very, very, very few people who read this blog, I just published my first article at the International Affairs Review. This is a graduate student journal at George Washington University. Its a relatively short article on Hindutva, a topic I had discussed here previously. Of course, what I was able to write was limited, so I didn’t get the chance to expand on the history of the movement or the circumstances of why they became powerful. Hopefully in the future, I will have the chance to expand, but that’s publishing for you. Also, I didn’t come up with the summary that was put there. A subscriber to Hindutva ideology is different from a right wing BJP member. To put it simply, a right wing BJP member is like a conservative in the US, different from a evangelical Christian that is more common on the Christian right.

Anyway, enjoy.

Weekly Linkages

How Ibn Khaldun explains the success of many militant groups today.

To understand ISIS, you have to understand the history of Wahhabism (or Salafi) in Saudi Arabia.

Here’s an effective way to respond to the atrocities of ISIS, with humor.

The great blog Political Violence @ a glance has some fantastic posts giving some background on ISIS, its strategy in broadcasting its atrocities, and the need to think of a political strategy when fighting the organization.

Hindu nationalists and their love for the ‘love jihad’. I had briefly discussed the subject here. Another article discusses the parallel narratives of Modi’s government, one of good governance, one of Hindu nationalism.

Husain Haqqani examines the protests in Pakistan.

Jonah Blank looks at how Kashmir will be affected by the U.S. draw down in Afghanistan.

A good National Interest article giving some background on the burgeoning Indo-U.S. defense relationship

Paul Pillar talks about the temptation by hawks to lump everything Islamist together.

Finally at Vice News, John Horgan discusses the difficulty in explaining why people join terrorist organizations, and Natasha Lennard argues that deradicalization programs are the wrong response to ISIS.

Al Qaeda’s new branch in India

Fighters in Karachi. Image credit to AFP

Al Qaeda recently announced that they shall be creating a new branch of their franchise for the Indian Subcontinent. The countries that will be targeted by this new branch include India, Bangladesh, and Myanmar. The new head of this organization is Umar Asim, a commander of the Pakistani Taliban. AQIS (Al Qaeda in the Indian subcontinent (Arabic: جماعة قاعدة الجهاد في شبة القارة الهندية) literally Group (or Organization) of the base for Jihad in the Indian Subcontinent), according to Zarawahiri, is to essentially ‘liberate’ the Muslims in the aforementioned areas from injustice and oppression. By Zawahiri’s account, this new extension has been in the works for the last two years. Whether this is true or not, the formation of this group cannot be viewed in isolation.

The timing of this new branch, like most commentators have already discussed, is coming in a period where Al Qaeda has suffered a loss in credibility and prestige with the recent success of ISIS in the Middle East. Not only has ISIS controlled such a large area (along with governing it), it has also successfully held off Al Qaeda’s local franchise (Jabhat Al Nusra) as well as the Assad government. Indeed, with the death of Osama Bin Laden (a charismatic speaker) and its weakening franchises (like Al Shabaab), and other franchises declaring loyalty to ISIS (like AQAP), AQ needs a booster.

So what can Al Qaeda do? They focus on the one region where ISIS does not have strong connections. South Asia has a long history of jihadi terrorism as well as several issues that can appeal to Muslims in the subcontinent (like the fear of Buddhist and Hindu extremists). There is a fear that ISIS will make inroads into South Asia. ISIS pamphlets have already been seen distributed in Pakistan, has attracted some Indians to come fight (a rare thing as I briefly discussed here), and has proliferated multiple recruitment videos in South Asian languages, AQ has a real fear that ISIS will overtake them in a region where they currently have the advantage.

Yet AQIS is a threat to the subcontinent. Both India and Bangladesh are relatively weak states (in the sense they cannot properly implement the rule of law in all areas they control (more discussion about this in a future post)) that already have to worry about a well-established terrorist network in South Asia (established by groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba). There have also been indications that the fighters for the Indian Mujahideen have started to align themselves with Al Qaeda (thanks to the leadership of the organization having been captured). Although AQIS might not become the most powerful group in South Asia (an unfortunate honor that can arguably be given to LeT), it could gain the operational capability to threaten the region in the near future. Indeed, both the Indian and Bangladeshi governments have stated that they are taking the issue seriously.

But the importance of India to jihadis is often overstated. Although Bin Laden and other Al Qaeda members made reference to India as a potential target (the Zionist-Crusader-Hindu alliance), it was actually never a serious threat. The previous mentions of India or Kashmir had usually been minor, especially compared to their statements against the United States. Even in the first instance Bin Laden mentioned the Zionist-Crusader-Hindu alliance, the country of Sudan was mentioned and criticized more than Hindus, India or Kashmir. Even in the ideology of many transnational jihadist groups (most based in the Middle East), the focus has been on America and Israel, as well as the so called secular Arab regimes. In fact, the addition of Hindu to the alliance was done by Pakistani groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba in order to try to integrate their objectives with the global jihadi movement. Indeed, LeT has aided Al Qaeda while it has been stationed in Pakistan, although LeT has enough power and its own objectives to be independent from the infamous terrorist organization. With the organization suffering a loss in prestige, it will attempt to try and appeal to Muslims in areas that ISIS has little to no influence. As a result, it would not be surprising if Al Qaeda will continue to integrate its ideology more with the current Pakistani jihadist beliefs.

It will take some time to see whether this group will turn out to be a serious threat or not. Although some Indian commentators have insinuated that China and Pakistan will support this group (both directly and indirectly), this is also unlikely.  Other authors have accused the ISI of supporting Al Qaeda, but much of this is based on circumstantial evidence. It is also very unlikely that China would support an Islamist group against India that could possibly turn to the Uighur problem next.

At this time, not enough information has been released about the group to get a clearer picture of this organization. As time goes on, we will become more acquainted with this new branch, although we should really hope not.