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Stratfor: Terrorism as Theater

Originally published: WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 27, 2014 – 03:55

By Robert D. Kaplan

The beheading of American journalist James Foley by the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq was much more than an altogether gruesome and tragic affair: rather, it was a very sophisticated and professional film production deliberately punctuated with powerful symbols. Foley was dressed in an orange jumpsuit reminiscent of the Muslim prisoners held by the United States at Guantanamo Bay. He made his confession forcefully, as if well rehearsed. His executioner, masked and clad in black, made an equally long statement in a calm, British accent, again, as if rehearsed. It was as if the killing was secondary to the message being sent.

The killing, in other words, became merely the requirement to send the message. As experts have told me, there are more painful ways to dispatch someone if you really hate the victim and want him to suffer. You can burn him alive. You can torture him. But beheading, on the other hand, causes the victim to lose consciousness within seconds once a major artery is cut in the neck, experts say. Beheading, though, is the best method for the sake of a visually dramatic video, because you can show the severed head atop the chest at the conclusion. Using a short knife, as in this case, rather than a sword, also makes the event both more chilling and intimate. Truly, I do not mean to be cruel, indifferent, or vulgar. I am only saying that without the possibility of videotaping the event, there would be no motive in the first place to execute someone in such a manner.

In producing a docu-drama in its own twisted way, the Islamic State was sending the following messages:

  • We don’t play by your rules. There are no limits to what we are willing to do.
  • America’s mistreatment of Muslim prisoners at Guantanamo Bay comes with a “price tag,” to quote a recently adopted phrase for retribution killings. After all, we are a state. We have our own enemy combatants as you can see from the video, and our own way of dealing with them.
  • Just because we observe no limits does not mean we lack sophistication. We can be just as sophisticated as you in the West. Just listen to the British accent of our executioner. And we can produce a very short film up to Hollywood standards.
  • We’re not like the drug lords in Mexico who regularly behead people and subsequently post the videos on the Internet. The drug lords deliver only a communal message, designed to intimidate only those people within their area of control. That is why the world at large pays little attention to them; in fact, the world is barely aware of them. By contrast, we of the Islamic State are delivering a global, meta-message. And the message is this: We want to destroy all of you in America, all of you in the West, and everyone in the Muslim world who does not accept our version of Islam.
  • We will triumph because we observe absolutely no constraints. It is because only we have access to the truth that anything we do is sanctified by God.

Welcome to the mass media age. You thought mass media was just insipid network anchormen and rude prime-time hosts interrupting talking heads on cable. It is that, of course. But just as World War I was different from the Franco-Prussian War, because in between came the culmination of the Industrial Age and thus the possibility of killing on an industrial scale, the wars of the 21st century will be different from those of the 20th because of the culmination of the first stage of the Information Age, with all of its visual ramifications.

Passion, deep belief, political protests and so forth have little meaning nowadays if they cannot be broadcast. Likewise, torture and gruesome death must be communicated to large numbers of people if they are to be effective. Technology, which the geeky billionaires of Silicon Valley and the Pacific Northwest claim has liberated us with new forms of self-expression, has also brought us back to the worst sorts of barbarism. Communications technology is value neutral, it has no intrinsic moral worth, even as it can at times encourage the most hideous forms of exhibitionism: to wit, the Foley execution.

We are back to a medieval world of theater, in which the audience is global. Theater, when the actors are well-trained, can be among the most powerful and revelatory art forms. And nothing works in theater as much as symbols which the playwright manipulates. A short knife, a Guantanamo jumpsuit, a black-clad executioner with a British accent in the heart of the Middle East, are, taken together, symbols of power, sophistication, and retribution. We mean business. Are you in America capable of taking us on?

It has been said that the murder of Czar Nicholas II and his family in 1918 in Ekaterinburg by Lenin’s new government was a seminal crime: because if the Bolsheviks were willing to execute not only the Czar but his wife and children, too, they were also capable of murdering en masse. Indeed, that crime presaged the horrors to come of Bolshevik rule. The same might be said of the 1958 murder of Iraqi King Faisal II and his family and servants by military coup plotters, and the subsequent mutilation of the body of Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Said by a Baghdad mob — events that presaged decades of increasingly totalitarian rule, culminating in Saddam Hussein. The theatrical murder of James Foley may appear as singular to some; more likely, it presages something truly terrible unfolding in the postmodern Middle East.

To be sure, the worse the chaos, the more extreme the ideology that emerges from it. Something has already emerged from the chaos of Syria and Iraq, even as Libya and Yemen — also in chaos — may be awaiting their own versions of the Islamic State. And remember, above all, what the video communicated was the fact that these people are literally capable of anything.

Terrorism as Theater is republished with permission of Stratfor.”

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In defiance of dire straits

Britain, US and France send warships
through Strait of Hormuz

 

Britain, America and France delivered a pointed signal to Iran, sending six warships led by a 100,000 ton aircraft carrier through the highly sensitive waters of the Strait of Hormuz.

 

By Chief Foreign Correspondent, The Telegraph

6:00AM GMT 23 Jan 2012
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This deployment defied explicit Iranian threats to close the waterway. It coincided with an escalation in the West’s confrontation with Iran over the country’s nuclear ambitions.

European Union foreign ministers are today expected to announce an embargo on Iranian oil exports, amounting to the most significant package of sanctions yet agreed. They are also likely to impose a partial freeze on assets held by the Iranian Central Bank in the EU.

Tehran has threatened to block the Strait of Hormuz in retaliation. Tankers carrying 17 million barrels of oil pass through this waterway every day, accounting for 35 per cent of the world’s seaborne crude shipments. At its narrowest point, located between Iran and Oman, the Strait is only 21 miles wide.

Last month, Admiral Habibollah Sayyari, commander of the Iranian navy, claimed that closing the Strait would be “easy,” adding: “As Iranians say, it will be easier than drinking a glass of water.”

But USS Abraham Lincoln, a nuclear-powered carrier capable of embarking 90 aircraft, passed through this channel and entered the Gulf without incident yesterday. HMS Argyll, a Type 23 frigate from the Royal Navy, was one of the escort vessels making up the carrier battle-group. A guided missile cruiser and two destroyers from the US Navy completed the flotilla, along with one warship from the French navy.

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China’s Strategic Modernisation

An interesting report on US-Sino relations and competition from the US State Department’s International Security Advisory Board (ISAB) – October 1, 2008.

China’s Strategic Modernization
Report from the ISAB Task Force

The Secretary’s International Security Advisory Board (ISAB) was asked to examine China’s strategic modernization, including the principal underlying motivations. Based on this review, the Board was asked to recommend approaches that~could “move the U.S. China security relationship toward greater transparency and mutual confidence, enhance cooperation, and reduce the likelihood of misunderstanding or miscalculation that can contribute to competition or conflict.”

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Iran’s Revolutionary Plan

The following March 1, 2006, excerpt from VizReport is unaltered. Though the forecast window elapsed without major incident, the subject matter and strategies contained therein remain highly relevant. It should be noted that the VizReport site was expertly hacked and its contents replaced by an image bearing a familiar Islamic religious pronouncement, on or about March 21st of that year.

(Note: Some hyperlinks in the attached text may have expired. Some have been updated to link to copies of original VizReport articles that have recently been re-published here.)


vizreport

 

March 1, 2006

Normally, this panel would feature an index of all the latest stories published on the site, but for the next three weeks (March 1-21, 2006), this is how our main page will appear. The site will return to its regular display format after the Spring Equinox. 


To locate any Viz, Jereboa, PointDexter or Millard Fillmore stories, access the index links to their materials at the left-hand side of your screen. 

Why the change?

Update: March 07, 2006
Some search engines have de-referenced all or some of this site, but I am glad to report that Google and MSN are no longer among them. The Google and MSN indices of this domain have been largely reinstated. Cool. Anyway, back to the issue at hand: the analytical determination that Iran may be on the verge of a major move against the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) states. 

So, here goes… 

(20060301)

Iran will, in all likelihood, nuke its “problematicAhwazi Arab constituency with a “Shahab V” missile at Abaddon and blame it on Israel and/or the West. 

(Note: It was an attack on Abaddon [alt. spelling: Abadan] by Iraq in September 1980 that started the Iran-Iraq War, during which the city was mostly destroyed. It was also at the centre of the British-American ouster, in 1953, of Iran’s then-president, Mohammed Mossadegh, which led to the installation of the Shah, Reza Pahlavi. Then, in August 1978, on the 25th anniversary of the Mossadegh coup, a terrible fire broke out in the city’s Rex Cinema where as many as 470 people may have died; though one report mentioned 444 deaths. [Does that number sound familiar, or is it just me?] The doors were intentionally barred and the building torched. The fire was reportedly set [according to the testimony of many eyewitnesses] by the same Islamic fundamentalists who immediately blamed the Shah [the king] for the crime, provoking widespread demonstrations that…you guessed it…led to the overthrow of the Shah by the theocratic Hojjatieh sect of Shia Islam that still rules Iran to this day. The leader of the sect, Ayatollah Khomeini, had attempted to ban the showing of films in Iran from his base in Paris. Three different cinemas were burned down around the same time, but only the Rex [“King” in Latin] suffered considerable casualties. Khomeini himself actually watched at least two Hollywood films in his life, The Messenger [a movie about the life of Mohammed starring Anthony Quinn] and Omar Mokhtar, both directed by Arabic director Mostafa Akkad. Ironically, Akkad was killed by Al Qaeda suicide attackers while attending a wedding in Amman, Jordan, a few months ago.)  

Following the next self-inflicted hit on Abaddon, IRGC-directed “Bassij” paramilitary irregulars from the Ansar ol-Mahdi (Army of the Messiah), along with a number of suicide brigades from the “Lovers of Martyrdom Garrison”, will carry out assaults throughout the northern and western Gulf region, including at Basra, Kuwait, Riyadh and certain of the emirates, after having flown waves of helicopters through the radioactive debris field along the Shatt al-Arab waterway as Western, Iraqi, Kuwaiti and Saudi forces retreat from the fallout. 

The Red Sea will be jammed at the north by an obstruction in the Suez Canal, as tested on February 8th. Even passenger vessels will be at risk; reference the February 3rd sinking of the Salaam Boccaccio 98 in the northern Red Sea. The straits at Bab el’Mandeb in the south will be blockaded by fast rocket/missile boats similar to those that took out the two American Sea Dragons in that area on February 17th

This “strike.self–blame.others” strategy has been working effectively for Iran’s cultish leaders for many years — and it still works like a charm, as was recently demonstrated by its February 22nd destruction of the Golden Dome mosque of Al-Askariya in Samarra, Iraq, as well as several of the recent bombings in Iran’s Khuzestan province, particularly near the key cities of Ahwaz and Abaddon

The aim is to confuse Western strategists long enough to isolate Mecca (the penultimate objective), while breaking Western fleets into four controllable zones: the Red, the Med, the Indian, and the Persian Gulf. This scenario will probably also include a significant attack on Jiddah by Libyan, Eritrean and Sudanese irregular forces after a rush across the double-plugged Red Sea, as well as a sweeping drive northward into the Mecca region by Yemeni AQ. 

The plan is designed to closely correspond with the Christian scripture of Revelation, Chapter 9, verses 9:1 to 9:11. This is completely intentional. The star that falls from heaven is called “shahab” in Farsi. Angel and star are used interchangeably in the verse. The prophecy speaks of the “fifth angel” — Shahab V in Persian. Although the Shahab IV is the latest known missile in Iran’s arsenal, and is still under development, the Shahab V is their pocket ace; possibly a Russian KH-55 cruise missile, referred to in its Iranian incarnation by Janes Defence Weekly as the X-55. The bottomless pit is nuclear power. It is prophesied to be unleashed where the star falls. And its name is forecast to be Abaddon. 

Window: Some time in the next three weeks. 

Today’s date: March 01, 2006. 

The preamble to this story has been edited at various times, but the portion of the page following the datestamp (20060301) has been left untouched. A copy of the original file has been date-locked for later validation. 

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