~ If you want total security, go to prison… The only thing lacking is freedom. Dwight D. Eisenhower
And now we have Brussels to add to a list that can never grow shorter. Only longer. There are many names on this list. Many cities. Many countries. In some minds the list has grown faster ever since the global community’s major powers formally declared ‘war’ against such extremism and the killing of innocents.
To many that seems bitterly ironic and heinously inappropriate. As leaders all over the world lined up to express their horror and offer sincere condolences to the people of Belgium, there is one sentiment repeatedly expressed: we must all truly unite to fight off such old-world barbarism. While I understand the sentiment and the angry frustration residing deep inside it, I fear it is also an impossible dream for a reason we do not openly discuss. Namely, there can be no perfect security where there is already perfect freedom. It is not a tension. It is not a problem of imperfect policy. It is not the failure of executing proper countermeasures. It is an axiom: if we are to be free as a society then we can never be idyllically safe as well. The two interests are in contrast to one another. And that, much more than suffering from terrorism while the world declares war against it, is the profoundly bitter irony we must all adjust to. For as with all axioms, it shall never be reversed.
This is not a standard exposition on the quaint platitudes that we often read and will no doubt read again in the immediate aftermath of Brussels. About how freedom isn’t free or how the person willing to give up liberty for security is deserving of neither. This is not a criticism of people in the modern day as much as a confession as to what democratic freedom truly means in society. Freedom of movement; freedom of association; freedom to travel; freedom of belief; freedom of information; freedom from unlawful search and seizure; freedom from unjust prosecution. These things we hold to be so basic, so fundamentally rooted in the essence of our free societies, that we forget such precious things also come with severe consequences. The most important of which is the general mystery and secrecy with which we can all live our lives. Even in the hyper-technological 21st century, where most of us are either online or recently were online, our every movement, location, and thought potentially transmitted and revealed to friend and stranger alike, it is remarkable that we forget how easy it is to NOT be noticed at all. There is an old Russian proverb I love to remind people of: if you only knew how little people think of you, you wouldn’t worry about what people think. It is a humbling reminder of how fantastically small we all are in a giant world of billions. No matter how big, how famous, or how well-known in our individual spheres of influence we become, the reality is for most of us that 99% of the world does not know us or care to. Why does this matter and how does it pertain to Brussels? Quite simply, it explains why a free society can never achieve perfect security: exactly because of its freedom and how people can so easily remain disconnected from each other’s attention.
Many people do not know that several of the terrorists who perpetrated 9/11 in the United States learned how to fly jumbo jets on simulators in various private flight schools in small-town America. Fewer still realize that these men with foreign-sounding names and middling English-language skills were adamant in insisting to their instructors that they be taught how to take off and fly but showed no interest whatsoever in learning how to land. One astute American even went so far, given the unique weirdness of the situation, to call in to his local FBI office and report it. Unfortunately, the unique weirdness was so unique and so weird and so out of the ordinary that the local agent was unable to consider it anything except the random oddity one sometimes finds in a truly free land. This is America, after all, where anyone can pretty much do whatever they want. And thus, it went uninvestigated and several unique and weird men were allowed to acquire a few odd aviation skills that would literally change the geopolitical landscape of the 21st century. The point of this quirky little anecdote is to show how hard it is to be noticed in a free society even when you are doing things that should in all rights be noticed quite readily. Now just imagine when you are actually trying to not be noticed and subtly undertake multiple strategies to be unseen and unheard, both physically and digitally. In a free society it is remarkably, and scarily, easy to do. And that horrific but righteous combination, to be free and unnoticed, is what makes Brussels happen. And San Bernadino. And Paris. And Nigeria. And Kenya. And Madrid. And London. And Moscow. And New York. And countless other cities and countries most of us don’t even know because we were too busy being free to bother noticing.
Remember that I said ‘perfect security.’ For if there is any silver lining in this black cloud of analysis it is that for every Brussels and Paris and New York there are one hundred, one thousand, ten thousand avoided Brussels and Parises and New Yorks. Some of them we hear of. Most of them we don’t. But even if we did I doubt it would give much relief to those caught up in the wake of the terror of the successful 1%. For that is the truly heinous nature of terrorism in the modern age: our technology and policing and intelligence capabilities are so advanced and keen that we truly do succeed in stopping 99% of possible incidents, preventing those who wish do us harm simply because our societies are unjustly judged evil and unholy and perverted. But the intensity and shocking insecurity of that remaining miniscule percentage makes us contemplate Grand Strategies and call upon global unified collaborations to sweep up that final 1%. And that, alas, is the saddest news of all: the 1% will never be swept up. This is not because of the brilliance of the planners or the cunning of the executors. That miniscule 1% succeeds because we do in fact live in free societies. And any society that gets close to being perfectly free can never ever hope to also be perfectly secure. That irony may be bitter, but it is also glorious. I hope we can always remember that in the aftermath of such tragedies like Brussels.
New technologies, artificial intelligence aid fight against global terrorism
Although terrorists have become skilled at manipulating the Internet and other new technologies, artificial intelligence or AI, is a powerful tool in the fight against them, a top UN counter-terrorism official said this week at a high-level conference on strengthening international cooperation against the scourge.
Co-organized by Belarus and the United Nations Office of Counter-Terrorism (UNOCT), “Countering terrorism through innovative approaches and the use of new and emerging technologies” concluded on Wednesday in Minsk.
The internet “expands technological boundaries literally every day” and AI, 3D printing biotechnology innovations, can help to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), said Vladimir Voronkov, the first-ever Under Secretary-General for the UN Counter-Terrorism Office.
But it also provides “live video broadcasting of brutal killings”, he continued, citing the recent attack in the New Zealand city of Christchurch, where dozens of Muslim worshippers were killed by a self-avowed white supremacist.
“This is done in order to spread fear and split society”, maintained the UNOCT chief, warning of more serious developments, such as attempts by terrorists to create home-made biological weapons.
He pointed out that terrorists have the capacity to use drones to deliver chemical, biological or radiological materials, which Mr. Voronkov said, “are even hard to imagine.”
But the international community is “not sitting idly by”, he stressed, noting that developments in this area allow the processing and identification of key information, which can counter terrorist operations with lightning speed.
“The Internet content of terrorists is detected and deleted faster than ever”, elaborated the UNOCT chief. “Fifteen to twenty minutes is enough to detect and remove such content thanks to machine algorithms”.
Crediting quantum computing coupled with the use of AI, he explained that accelerated information processing enables terrorist tracing.
Mr. Voronkov added that the use of blockchain registration – a growing list of records, or blocks, that are linked using cryptography – is also being explored to identify companies and individuals responsible for financing terrorism.
“It is necessary to increase the exchange of expert knowledge on technologies such as 3D printing, synthetic biology, nanotechnology, robotics, the synthesis of the human face and autonomous weapons”, he underscored. “This will help to better identify and respond to risks before it is too late”.
The two-day conference was divided into three themed sessions that focused at global, regional and national levels on the misuse of new technologies and AI by terrorists; approaches and strategies to counteract terrorist propaganda; and the misuse of scientific innovations.
Afghanistan bloodshed mars 100 years of independence
Afghanistan is at a “crucial moment” in its history as it marks 100 years of independence, the head of the UN Mission there said on Monday, following a series of terror attacks in recent days.
In a statement on Monday, Tadamichi Yamamoto, who heads the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), said that despite decades of conflict, Afghans remain committed to a nation that is stable, peaceful and prosperous, and that upholds the human rights of women and men alike.
Mr. Yamamoto also expressed hope that elections due to take place next month would give voice to the people, while also maintaining that there was “a real possibility for breakthroughs in peace” after so many years of war – a reference to on-going negotiations between Taliban leaders and the United States, that it is hoped will lead to a lasting ceasefire and talks involving the Afghan Government.
The UNAMA chief’s comments come amid numerous recent terror attacks on civilians, including a suicide bombing towards the end of a large wedding party on Saturday, that claimed the lives of 63 people and injured over 180.
In a statement released on Sunday, UN Secretary-General António Guterres “strongly condemned” the “horrific” attack, and expressed his “deepest sympathies to the families of the victims, and the Government and people of Afghanistan.”
The attack took place in the Shahr-e-Dubai Wedding Hall in West Kabul where approximately 1,000 people were gathered for a Shia wedding ceremony, said UNAMA in a statement, adding that the mission’s human rights team would investigate the incident.
According to news reports, a local affiliate of the ISIL terrorist group claimed responsibility for the suicide attack.
“An attack deliberately targeting civilians is an outrage, and deeply troubling, as it can only be described as a cowardly act of terror,” said Mr. Yamamoto. “I condemn these deliberate attacks on civilians that signal a deliberate intent to spread fear among the population, which has already suffered too much.”
The wedding hall where the attack took place is situated in an area of the city heavily populated by Afghanistan’s Shia Muslim minority. UNAMA has documented several previous attacks deliberately carried out against this community.
“The pace of such atrocious attacks indicates that current measures in place to protect must be strengthened, and that those who have organized and enabled such attacks must be brought to justice and held to account,” said the UNAMA chief. “The United Nations stands with all Afghans in solidarity and remains committed to an Afghan-led peace process that will end the war and bring about a lasting peace.”
Does Kenya Really Want To End Terrorism?
New dangerous dynamics are emerging at the Horn of Africa. Political tension emanating from maritime territory that Somalia and Kenya, both claim it as part of their legitimate border is getting more volatile. As the International Court of Justice gets ready to hold public hearings on “Maritime Delimitation in the Indian Ocean (Somalia v. Kenya)” September 9-13, Kenya continues to intensify its efforts to lobby the U.N, and key allies to help add al-Shabab to UNSC Resolution 1267.
If you are wondering what does al-Shabab have to do with this matter, you apparently are not part of the Kenyan political pundits, law-makers, and credulous Somalis who have been cheerleading for this unjustifiable initiative.
It Is What It Is
Let us imagine that it is late September, the time when leaders representing 195 member states would be attending the 74th UN General Assembly. Let us imagine during one of the debate sessions, this multiple choice question was raised:
What is al-Shabab?
- A law-abiding neighborhood watch group
- A self-less patriots fighting for self-determination
- A ruthless terrorist group
How many do you think will stutter with the answer, or not know that al-Shabab is a terrorist organization? By all legal and moral standards, al-Shabab is a terrorist organization.
If al-Shabab was not already considered a terrorist organization by the UN, why would the Security Council mandate AMISOM to fight them along the Somali National Army and periodically capture territories from them? So, since al-Shabab is already considered a terrorist organization, why spend such energy and political capital on redundancy? Or rather bluntly: who is Kenya’s real target?
Widening The Net
While fingers were frantically pointing at o all directions as to who was behind the Kismayo terrorist attack that killed 26 people including a beloved Somali-Canadian journalist, HodanNalayeh, Kenya’s top diplomat—Monica Juma—went on politicking on twitter. Before offering any condolences, she wrote: “This attack is another reminder to the international community of the imperative to list the al-Shabaab, like all other terrorist groups, under the UNSC resolution 1267.”
On the surface this may seem ordinary attempt to tighten the screws on al-Shabab, but it is far from that.
Said resolution, also known as the ISIS/al-Qaida resolution, mandates the harshest international sanctions on assets freeze and travel ban measures on individuals, entities and groups who are suspected of being remotely associated with those terrorist groups. And that blanket condemnation increases the chance of innocents in the periphery getting caught in the net or communities suffering as a result.
Though this could get some Kenya Defense Force officials who operate an illicit business with al-Shabab that the Kenyatta government has been turning a blind eye in serious trouble, Kenya is eager to advance the initiative in order to use it as an insurance against any unfavorable decision from ICJ.
If Kenya’s endeavor succeeds, it will give Kenya the freehand to pressure and coerce top politicians and influential business leaders who have various investments and retain residential statuses in Kenya to assist her in achieving its objective of annexing the maritime territory- blocks that it already marketed for oil exploration. It is also an insurance policy against some of her Somali allies such as Ahmed Islam (Madobe)—president of Jubbaland federal state—who is currently much closer to Kenya than to the Federal Government of Somalia. Kenya is not oblivious to the fluidity of clan politics and the unpredictability of how Madobe, with his shady past, may act once it becomes clear to him that he was exploited as the game-changing pawn.
Feeling The Weight
A few months back as Kenya’s hostile diplomacy grew more aggressive, Somalia’s diplomacy grew more diffident and passive. As Kenya suspended diplomatic ties with Somalia, invited a delegation from Somaliland, humiliated Somali Ministers by denying them to transit through Kenya, FGS opted to respond passively.
This was consistent with FGS’ ill-advised decision to turn a blind eye to Kenya’s unilateral decision to build a border wall that would divide Somali families, undermine businesses, and deprive them essential services such as health care, and allow Kenya to establish new facts of the ground that will in due course make a case for annexation of territories that belong to Somalia.
Lately, Kenya has been under intense U.S. diplomatic pressure to drop its bid and not make the Horn of Africa more volatile than it already is. This pressure is likely to increase now that 16 senior national security and humanitarian officials have written an open letter urging the U.S. to stop Kenya from creating a grave humanitarian disaster as the resolution at hand does not allow any type of exemption for humanitarian delivery. Against that backdrop, Kenya resorted to strengthen its Plan B- legislative support to annex the maritime territory by any means necessary.
In attempt to lend Kenyatta’s government the legislative support to declare war against Somalia should ICJ rules its favor, the Kenya National Assembly, led by Hon. Aden Duale, is set to pass a perfectly tailored bill that makes the disputed maritime territory as part and parcel of Kenya’s territorial integrity. The impetus motion cites Article 241 (3) of the country’s constitution that the Kenya Defense Forces are responsible for protecting Kenya’s ‘territorial integrity’. “Unless the People of Kenya resolve by way of referendum to alter the territory of Kenya,” said Duale.
Make no mistake, terrorism poses a threat to international peace and security and Kenya did suffer its share of terrorist attacks, therefore it is in our best interest to collectively address that threat. However, that would be extremely difficult now that we know that Kenya’s real objective is not “to annihilate the extremist group (al-Shabab).”
Political rhetoric aside, Kenya, like a number of other foreign actors in Somalia, would’ve been eager to invent al-Shabab had it not already existed. To some, al-Shabab as a manageable threat is strategically convenient. After all, it was Kenya’s pretext for 2011 invasion of today’s Jubbaland, also for the 2012 integration of KDF into AMISOM, also for the 2017 unilaterally initiated border-altering wall.
Five years after Somalia filed the boundary delimitation dispute with the ICJ and millions of dollars were spent by both sides, no one is sure how the end result might be. The only sure thing is that any attempt to solve this matter militarily will only make the current crisis a catastrophe.
If Kenya decides to go with the military option as some intellectuals have openly been advocating, it is likely to prove both positive and negative:
Positive as it is likely to unite the now divided Somalis to rally against a single common threat. Negative as it would ignite domestic disharmony and, in due course, make Nairobi the epicenter of terrorism and compel foreign investors such as China flee with their fat wallets.
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