Sunday, April 12, 2009

Google, Hezbollah and Taliban

The three words that stand out in the popular Silicon Valley lexicon are "Risk", "Disrupt" and "Change". Almost all high-tech aficionados love to talk about entrepreneurs taking "risks" to "disrupt" the existing technologies, products, markets and systems to bring about fundamental "change" in how we live, work and play. The search giant Google is often cited as epitomizing risk-taking, disruption and change.

Some serious observers and writers are now taking this discussion a step further into the realm of violent insurgent groups such as the Hezbollah and the Taliban and how they are becoming a powerful disruptive force for geopolitical change.

Author Joshua Cooper Ramo, in his book "Age of Unthinkable" talks about how Hezbollah has become a powerful disruptive force in the Middle East. In a recent commentary, Ramo says, " my dealings with Hezbollah over the years as a journalist, I had found myself fascinated by their capacity for innovation, even in the pursuit of shocking ends. Their obsession with finding better ways to fight under the pressure of Israeli attack was astonishing. In 2006, for instance, fewer than 500 Hezbollah fighters had frustrated a 30,000-man Israeli attack."

Talking about Fouad, Hezbollah's Chief Technology Officer, Ramo writes in his book, "Fouad reminded me of friends of mine who had started Internet companies or people I knew managing gigantic hedge funds. This was the generation that had built the Web into something useful and revolutionary, that had assembled huge and unregulatable financial firms churning out billions in profits while creating trillions of dollars of risk. These people see destabilization of the existing order as not only necessary but inevitable. You don’t dare draw an equivalency between the crimes of Hezbollah and the innovations of Google, but you can see in each the workings of a powerful energy. These hot cells of innovation draw the very best minds of a generation: math geniuses to hedge funds, computer savants to tech startups and, well, “Our e-mail is flooded with CVs,” Fouad told me."

Then Ramo wonders out loud if the established order in the US can take on these new insurgents. He says, "When I thought of these rebels I knew in the context of other friends of mine, such as the suits working in the National Security Council or the U.S. Army or Time Warner, I realized that there was no chance those conservative places could compete. They were locked in a vision of the world that was out of date. As a perplexed Alan Greenspan confessed to Congress about his own thinking in 2008: “I have found a flaw. I don’t know how significant or permanent it is. But I have been very distressed by the fact.” The congressman questioning him asked, “In other words, you found that your view of the world, your ideology, was not right. It was not working?” Greenspan replied, “Absolutely. Precisely. You know that’s precisely the reason I was shocked. Because I have been going for 40 years or more with very considerable evidence that it was working exceptionally well.”

Recently, Texas Rep. Pete Sessions encouraged House Republicans to see the Taliban as a model for "how to disrupt and change" the control of Washington by the entrenched Democrats in both the executive and legislative branches of the US government. Here's how he is quoted by Los Angeles Times:

Insurgency we understand perhaps a little bit more because of the Taliban. And that is that they went about systematically understanding how to disrupt and change a person's entire processes. And these Taliban -- I'm not trying to say the Republican Party is the Taliban -- no, that's not what we're saying. I'm saying an example of how you go about is to change a person from their messaging to their operations to their front line message. And we need to understand that insurgency may be required when the other side, the House leadership, does not follow the same commands, which we entered the game with.

I think insurgency is a mindset and an attitude that we're going to have to search for and find ways to get our message out and to be prepared to see things for what they are, rather than trying to do something about them, I think what's happened is that the line was drawn in the sand.... We either work together, or we're going to find a way to get our message out.

It is becoming increasingly obvious that the world is witnessing the start of a dramatic change in the international order. As Ramo puts it:

What we face isn’t one single shift like the end of World War II or a financial crisis, so much as an avalanche of change. We are entering, in short, a revolutionary age. On the one hand, this revolution is creating unprecedented disruption. But it is also creating new fortunes, new power and fresh hope. Revolutions, after all, don’t produce only losers. They also produce a new cast of historical champions. If we are living in the Age of the Unthinkable now — when surprise and unimagined danger confronts us on many fronts — we are not living in the age of the unexplainable.

To master this new world, it is important for us to learn from the revolutionaries. Whether we see them as the good guys or the bad guys, they do understand the new laws of power in this new world.

Related Links:

Congressman Pete Sessions on Emulating Taliban

Learning how to navigate 'Age of Unthinkable'


Anonymous said...

Let us try to rationalize the motivation of Taliban :

1. Their belief that islam is the only religion to reach god and what is told by Prophet and practices are not changeable

2. Islamic belief bans all type of enjoyment for the belivers and he / she is expected to only pray

3. Why does not believe in islam are infidels or followers of satanic rituals.

4. Death is a glory to heaven where they will be offered 79 virgins.

So the motivating factor is the belief which is instill on people using strong brainwashing techniques quoting the religious scriptures.

Second is the making the palestine as the reason for the victims to believe that the whole world is against islam

Third, in the short run display high integrity to show that the democratci process are fully corrupt and taliban can deliver immediate justice. It is like justice from the road side thug.

Fourth english educated moderate muslim are collaborator to the US.

Riaz Haq said...

Anon: There may be a very narrow band of ideologues among the Taliban, but I think the vast majority of them are fighting against the status quo that marginalizes and dismisses them as mere terrorists. They are the kind of rebels that cannot be explained on the basis of religious beliefs or conventional wisdom alone. These rebels are just as determined to remake the world as the entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley or anywhere else, though the outcomes they seek are very very different.

Anonymous said...


I did not expect this response from an objective guy who has seen the world. It is just a concern about the neighbouring country. However it does not matter otherwise.

Probably that is the reason even army of pakistan feels that taliban is part of them. Resulting in the country to brink of dis-integration.

However when Taliban looks at civil society, it see those people including Muslims are colored by western thoughts / infidels. Hence they don't mind striking it hard where it hurts.

What i had given were just observation of these so called talibans over a period of time.

Anonymous said...

Hate or Fear(survival instincts) when properly channelised is good motivating factor for inventions and innovations. We can see that most of the inventions like Internet, calculators/ computers,jet engines were primarily developed for military which then percolated to civilian areas.

Nazis pioneered work in nuclear weapons,cruise missiles,ballistic missiles and jet engines..

Al-Qaeda's 9/11 attacks were master pieces of innovation by striking buildings at the right place to take it down..
Nazis and Al-Qaeda/Taliban/Hamas/Hezbollah's innovations are best examples of channelization of hate..The propaganda of Iranians and Hamas in their national television is so funny..plz watch them on youtube..

Israelis miraculously defeating arab armies attacking from multiple fronts is the best illustration for survival instincts..

Anonymous said...

Well, any country like US, Pakistan have to play by some rules. For any policy change, the USA has to talk to 2-3 countries for over weeks to do anything. There r no rules that are applied on Talibans, so thats where the Taliban's ingenuity and creativity come from.

Anonymous said...


You must be monitoring it, but in case if you have missed it, the news item. In this way, if it goes, it is not too far that the whole country including the army will be ruled by taliban. So be the will of god

After Swat, Pakistan Taliban starts spreading fear in Buner

Islamabad: Pakistani Taliban are imposing their rule in a Pakistani mountain valley they took over last week, spreading fear in the area only 100 km from the capital, police and residents said on Monday.
Surging militant violence across Pakistan and the spread of Taliban influence through the northwest are reviving concerns about the stability of the nuclear-armed US ally.
Clashes erupted in Buner district last week after scores of Taliban moved in unopposed from the neighbouring Swat valley, where authorities struck a deal with Islamists in February to enforce Islamic law in a bid to end violence.
Buner residents formed a militia, or “lashkar,” to resist the militants and 13 people, including eight Taliban, three policemen and two villagers, were killed in clashes. Authorities say they are negotiating with the militants to persuade them to withdraw but the Taliban have stayed put and appeared determined to take over the valley. “They are everywhere,” said Arsala Khan a deputy superintendent of police in Buner.
“They are visiting mosques, they are visiting bazaars asking people to help them in enforcing Sharia,” he said. “Buner is fast turning into Swat.”
Swat, to the west of Buner, was one of Pakistan’s main tourist destinations until 2007 when militants infiltrated into the North West Frontier Province valley from strongholds on the Afghan border to support a radical cleric.
Authorities agreed to a demand for sharia law in Swat in February to end the fighting but critics said appeasement would only embolden the militants to take over other areas. Pakistan’s Western allies fear such pacts create havens for Taliban and Al Qaida. REUTERS

Gilani pressures Zardari to pass Swat Sharia deal

Pakistan’s prime minister joined opposition leaders on Monday to pressure the president to sign a law that would impose Islamic rule in a Swat valley in exchange for peace with the Taliban. Amid criticism, President Zardari delayed signing the agreement. Gilani said on Monday, he was present at meetings with Zardari and the local government “where the president gave the consent that you should go ahead and have (the) deal.”

Mosques used to recruit youth:

Having forcibly taken over Buner district, Taliban militants have begun using mosques in the area as “recruitment centres” to attract youths to join their ranks and help enforce Sharia in the Malakand division.

Pak warns US against conditions :

Gilani accused US on Monday of generating “ill will” and warned senator John Kerry against attaching conditions to aid packages. Relations between Pakistan and the US should be based on “mutual respect,” Gilani said.

Riaz Haq said...

Anon: "Well, any country like US, Pakistan have to play by some rules."

It seems to me that the Taliban play their own game by their own rules. They are very nimble and highly adaptive, as any Si Valley startup. And they appear to have the upper hand at the moment.

And the Americans are conceding Taliban's gains and looking for scapegoats to blame...Karazai, ISI, Kiyani, Pakistan etc. The short-term objectives for U.S. forces in Afghanistan have narrowed under President Obama's new strategy, Defense Secretary Robert Gates has told "FOX News Sunday."

Gates is responding by the usual talk (it was dubbed called Vietnamization when US was losing in 1960s) by saying the U.S. needs to focus its efforts on making headway and reversing the Taliban's momentum, and strengthening the Afghan army and police -- while really going after Al Qaeda.

Anonymous said...

Talibans play by rules?

Are u denying that Talibans and their affiliated groups r blowing up Shia mosques?

Do u also consider mukti bahini in such adaptive groups as Silicon Valley startups and Talibans?

What about Baloch insurgents?

What about Mohammad cartoonists or other Blashphemers?

Jadev said...

I think it is childish to congratulate Taliban or Hezbollah for innovative tactics to commit murder.
Charity works apart..can these guys rule a country and give welfare to people? Throwing money around and doing PR-charity work from funds they get from Arab Charities.. and running a country is a whole different ball game.Hezbollah/Hamas is helped by experts from Iranian Al-Quds special forces and Taliban is splendidly trained and manned by former Pak Army commandos and intelligence people apart from generous ISI support.Al-Qaeda field manual was prepared by a Muslim former US Special Forces officer. Apart from that most Al-Qaeda senior leaders(operational level) have served in militaries of their respective countries.

The whole point is ..they are thoroughly over-rated..
Hezbollah or Hamas haven't displayed any out of the box tactics in their operations..The sole advantage for them is they extensively use civilians as human shields and an attack on their personnel will invariable lead to civilian deaths which is bad PR..

To compare idealistic and elite google hackers to destructively oriented groups is appalling..
I would say ..apples and oranges ..

Anonymous said...


That is the habbit of america. REad the history carefully.

Iran took money as gold for american embassy hostage during the revolution

America made iraq powerful and fight with iran for mutual distruction.

Iraq / sadam thought he is more powerful. Invaded kuwait. america became the saviour of the arab world. SA / kuwait pay protection money to america. They sold oil at few pennies for half a century.

America invented WMD,fooled the whole world and destroyed iraq.

America created taliban for destroying the ussr. When they turned against them, they took pakistan to screw them in pak border and their force for destruction

Only difference between middle east and afghan is that there is oil to compensate for america where as there is no such thing in neither pak nor in afghan. So they want throw few billion 1.2 billion per annum [ there cost per day is 1.2 billion dollar ] to get pakistan to fight their cause. As bankcrupt pak government does not have any choice. They systematically removed musharaf, because they thought he is trying to act smart. Hence they got this rubber stamp zardari as the president and not nava sherif.

In all what has america to loose. It is just letting of its agent. They might even do the same in afghan and karzai will be hanged by talibans.

But US army in my percepiton is using the af-pak as the place to perfect their drone war game system with out loosing any humans.

This will only push pak into real medival age which taliban want to bring in the name of sharia rule. perfect match.

In this whole game there is one concerned player on nuclear armed pakistan and that is isreal who does not listen at times to america.

God saves asia from all this madness.

Anonymous said...

the article makes a valid point. violent upheavels have always been part of human history. there is no reason to believe they will disappear from the historical scene. neither have these upheavels been carried out by intellectually or morally superior people; rather always the opposite. witness the visigoths, the vandals, the huns, the mongols. none of these were in any sense an advanced race; they were all quarrelsome and bloodthirsty marauders; yet they excelled with ruthless warfare for any of their hapless victims to be able to stand up to them; and they took no prisoners.

a more philosophical view should make us realize that nature uses these agents of destruction for destruction's sake, for a purpose. and that is to do a violent and hard reset, so things can start afresh, when they have deteriorated beyond all acceptable limits in human affairs. don't u think that a case can be made that the region that we are talking about may be ripe for such an upheavel?

wise sages in eastern medicine do it on purpose by administering very potent and violent cleaning agents (call it jullab or mus-hill or whatever) to ruthlessly cleanse the body of the toxic wastes lest they destroy the body itself. there may indeed be some method to all this madness after all.

there is a horrible violent mess out there; of that there is no doubt. but for many (like me also), there is no dog in this fight. the animals, be they white, brown, unshaven and uncouth or supposedly civilized, will do their job and disappear from the scene. a lot of us would have gotten our just desserts because our inaction and decadence led to this. as chengiz khan told the weeping notables of bokhara "i am god's punishment sent forth to destroy you". those who fail to learn from history are condemned to re-live it over and over again.

new generation may be able to start with a clean slate. here is to that future ...

Riaz Haq said...

Arab protesters demand democracy, but not secularism, says Michael Scheuer, former Bin Laden hunter at the CIA:

The Arab world’s unrest has brought forth gushing, rather adolescent analysis about what the region will look like a year or more hence. Americans have decided that these upheavals have everything to do with the advent of liberalism, secularism, and Westernization in the region and that Islamist militant groups like al-Qaeda have been sidelined by the historically inevitable triumph of democracy—a belief that sounds a bit like the old Marxist-Leninist claptrap about iron laws of history and communism’s inexorable triumph.

How has this judgment been reached? Primarily by disregarding facts, logic, and history, and instead relying on (a) the thin veneer of young, educated, pro-democracy, and English-speaking Muslims who can be found on Facebook and Twitter and (b) the employees of the BBC, CNN, and most other media networks, who have suspended genuine journalism in favor of cheerleading for secularism and democracy on the basis of a non-representative sample of English-speaking street demonstrators and users of social-networking sites. The West’s assessment of Arab unrest so far has been—to paraphrase Sam Spade’s comment about the Maltese Falcon—the stuff that dreams, not reality, are made of.

A year from now, we will find that most Arab Muslims have neither embraced nor installed what they have long regarded as an irreligious and even pagan ideology—secular democracy. They will have instead adhered even more closely to the faith that has graced, ordered, and regulated their lives for more than 1400 years, and which helped them endure the oppressive rule of Western-supported tyrants and kleptocrats.

This does not mean that fanatically religious regimes will dominate the region, but a seven-year Gallup survey of the Muslim world published in 2007 shows that a greater degree of Sharia law in governance is favored by young and old, moderates and militants, men and even women in most Muslim countries. While a façade of democracy may well appear in new regimes in places like Egypt and Tunisia, their governments will be heavily influenced by the military and by Islamist organizations like the Muslim Brotherhood and al-Qaeda. If for no other reason, the Islamist groups will have a powerful pull because they have strong organizational capabilities; wide allegiance among the highly educated in the military, hard sciences, engineering, religious faculties, and medicine; and a reservoir of patience for a two-steps-forward, one-step-back strategy that is beyond Western comprehension. We in the West too often forget, for example, that the Muslim Brotherhood and al-Qaeda draw from Muslim society’s best and brightest, not its dregs; that al-Qaeda has been waging its struggle for 25 years, the Muslim Brotherhood for nearly 85 years; and that Islam has been in the process of globalizing since the 7th century.

As new Arab regimes develop, Westerners also are likely to find that their own deep sense of superiority over devout Muslims—which is especially strong among the secular left, Christian evangelicals, and neoconservatives—is unwarranted. The nearly universal assumption in the West is that Islamic governance could not possibly satisfy the aspirations of Muslims for greater freedom and increased economic opportunity—this even though Iran has a more representative political system than that of any state in the region presided over by a Western-backed dictator. No regime run by the Muslim Brotherhood would look like Canada, but it would be significantly less oppressive than those run by the al-Sauds and Mubarak. This is not to say it would be similar to or more friendly toward the West—neither will be the case—but in terms of respecting and addressing basic human concerns they will be less monstrous.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's NY Times Nobel Laureate economist-columnist on Ibn Khaldun's lessons for Microsoft and other established powers:

The trouble for Microsoft came with the rise of new devices whose importance it famously failed to grasp. “There’s no chance,” declared Mr. Ballmer in 2007, “that the iPhone is going to get any significant market share.”

How could Microsoft have been so blind? Here’s where Ibn Khaldun comes in. He was a 14th-century Islamic philosopher who basically invented what we would now call the social sciences. And one insight he had, based on the history of his native North Africa, was that there was a rhythm to the rise and fall of dynasties.

Desert tribesmen, he argued, always have more courage and social cohesion than settled, civilized folk, so every once in a while they will sweep in and conquer lands whose rulers have become corrupt and complacent. They create a new dynasty — and, over time, become corrupt and complacent themselves, ready to be overrun by a new set of barbarians.

I don’t think it’s much of a stretch to apply this story to Microsoft, a company that did so well with its operating-system monopoly that it lost focus, while Apple — still wandering in the wilderness after all those years — was alert to new opportunities. And so the barbarians swept in from the desert.

Sometimes, by the way, barbarians are invited in by a domestic faction seeking a shake-up. This may be what’s happening at Yahoo: Marissa Mayer doesn’t look much like a fierce Bedouin chieftain, but she’s arguably filling the same functional role.

Anyway, the funny thing is that Apple’s position in mobile devices now bears a strong resemblance to Microsoft’s former position in operating systems. True, Apple produces high-quality products. But they are, by most accounts, little if any better than those of rivals, while selling at premium prices.

So why do people buy them? Network externalities: lots of other people use iWhatevers, there are more apps for iOS than for other systems, so Apple becomes the safe and easy choice. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

Is there a policy moral here? Let me make at least a negative case: Even though Microsoft did not, in fact, end up taking over the world, those antitrust concerns weren’t misplaced. Microsoft was a monopolist, it did extract a lot of monopoly rents, and it did inhibit innovation. Creative destruction means that monopolies aren’t forever, but it doesn’t mean that they’re harmless while they last. This was true for Microsoft yesterday; it may be true for Apple, or Google, or someone not yet on our radar, tomorrow.

Riaz Haq said...

Assange believes #Google is an extension US govt and instrument of US Policy. …

From Newsweek by Julian Assange of Wikileaks:

It was at this point that I realized Eric Schmidt might not have been an emissary of Google alone. Whether officially or not, he had been keeping some company that placed him very close to Washington, D.C., including a well-documented relationship with President Obama. Not only had Hillary Clinton’s people known that Eric Schmidt’s partner had visited me, but they had also elected to use her as a back channel.

While WikiLeaks had been deeply involved in publishing the inner archive of the U.S. State Department, the U.S. State Department had, in effect, snuck into the WikiLeaks command center and hit me up for a free lunch. Two years later, in the wake of his early 2013 visits to China, North Korea and Burma, it would come to be appreciated that the chairman of Google might be conducting, in one way or another, “back-channel diplomacy” for Washington. But at the time it was a novel thought.

I put it aside until February 2012, when WikiLeaks—along with over thirty of our international media partners—began publishing the Global Intelligence Files: the internal email spool from the Texas-based private intelligence firm Stratfor. One of our stronger investigative partners—the Beirut-based newspaper Al Akhbar— scoured the emails for intelligence on Jared Cohen.

The people at Stratfor, who liked to think of themselves as a sort of corporate CIA, were acutely conscious of other ventures that they perceived as making inroads into their sector. Google had turned up on their radar. In a series of colorful emails they discussed a pattern of activity conducted by Cohen under the Google Ideas aegis, suggesting what the “do” in “think/do tank” actually means.

Cohen’s directorate appeared to cross over from public relations and “corporate responsibility” work into active corporate intervention in foreign affairs at a level that is normally reserved for states. Jared Cohen could be wryly named Google’s “director of regime change.”

According to the emails, he was trying to plant his fingerprints on some of the major historical events in the contemporary Middle East. He could be placed in Egypt during the revolution, meeting with Wael Ghonim, the Google employee whose arrest and imprisonment hours later would make him a PR-friendly symbol of the uprising in the Western press. Meetings had been planned in Palestine and Turkey, both of which—claimed Stratfor emails—were killed by the senior Google leadership as too risky.

Looking for something more concrete, I began to search in WikiLeaks’ archive for information on Cohen. State Department cables released as part of Cablegate reveal that Cohen had been in Afghanistan in 2009, trying to convince the four major Afghan mobile phone companies to move their antennas onto U.S. military bases. In Lebanon, he quietly worked to establish an intellectual and clerical rival to Hezbollah, the “Higher Shia League.” And in London he offered Bollywood movie executives funds to insert anti-extremist content into their films, and promised to connect them to related networks in Hollywood.


If the future of the Internet is to be Google, that should be of serious concern to people all over the world—in Latin America, East and Southeast Asia, the Indian subcontinent, the Middle East, sub-Saharan Africa, the former Soviet Union and even in Europe—for whom the Internet embodies the promise of an alternative to U.S. cultural, economic, and strategic hegemony.

A “don’t be evil” empire is still an empire.

Extracted from When Google Met Wikileaks by Julian Assange published by OR Books. Newsweek readers can obtain a 20 percent discount on the cover price when ordering from the OR Books website and including the offer code word NEWSWEEK.

Riaz Haq said...

Why #ISIS has potential to be a world-altering revolution — How can it be stopped? #terrorism #Syria … via @aeonmag

Treating the Islamic State as merely a form of terrorism or violent extremism masks the menace. All novel developments are ‘extremist’ compared with what was the norm before. What matters for history is whether these movements survive and thrive against the competition. For our singularly self-predatory species, success has depended on willingness to shed blood, including the sacrifice of one’s own, not merely for family and tribe, wealth or status, but for some greater cause. This has been especially true since the start of the Axial Age more than two millennia ago. At that time, large-scale civilisations arose under the watchful gaze of powerful divinities, who mercilessly punished moral transgressors – thus ensuring that even strangers in multiethnic empires would work and fight as one.

Call it ‘god’ or whatever secular ideology one prefers, including any of the great modern salvational -isms: colonialism, socialism, anarchism, communism, fascism and liberalism. In Leviathan (1651), Thomas Hobbes deemed sacrifice for a transcendent ideal ‘the privilege of absurdity to which no creature but man is subject’. Humans make their greatest commitments and exertions, for ill or good, for the sake of ideas that give a sense of significance. In an inherently chaotic universe, where humans alone recognise that death is unavoidable, there is an overwhelming psychological impetus to overcome this tragedy of cognition: to realise ‘why I am’ and ‘who we are’.

In The Descent of Man (1871), Charles Darwin cast this devotion as the virtue of ‘morality… the spirit of patriotism, fidelity, obedience, courage, and sympathy’ with which winning groups are better endowed in history’s spiralling competition for survival and dominance. It is the sacred values, immune to material tradeoffs, that bind us most. In any culture, an unwillingness to sell out one’s kin or religious and political brotherhoods and motherlands is the line we usually will not cross. Devotion to these values can drive successes which are out of all proportion to expected outcomes.

Asymmetric operations involving spectacular killings to destabilise the social order is a tactic that has been around as long as recorded history

Often these values, tethered to beliefs such as our ‘God is great, bodiless but omnipotent’ or our ‘free markets are always wise’, are attributed to Providence or Nature. They can never be verified by empirical evidence, and their meaning is impossible to pin down. The term ‘sacred values’ intuitively denotes religious belief, as when land is holy, but can also include the ‘secularised sacred’ such as the ‘hallowed ground’ of Gettysburg or the site of the attacks on New York City of 11 September 2001 (9/11). The foundational beliefs of the great ideological -isms and the quasi-religious notion of the Nation itself have been ritualised in song and ceremony and sacrifice.