Applying an Accelerationist Model to Understand Jihadi Networks
by Casey Carr
Image credit: Jack Kirby – Lord of Light
INTRODUCTION TO ACCELJIHAD
A working definition of accelerationist jihad (or AccelJihad) as a model for insurgency organisation is the conceptual merging of the premise outlined in Srnicek and Williams’ 2013 #ACCELERATE MANIFESTO1 and various jihadi philosophies (if such a subject exists) manifested in the Syrian conflict from 2011 to 2016. As it stands, the Syrian conflict still rages on, with more than five armies descending upon the perceived remaining stronghold of Raqqa. “Lone-wolf” attacks, a term which is quickly losing its meaning, have popped up across Europe, with 22 March 2017, the anniversary of the 2016 Brussels attacks, bringing the recent assailant into the heart of London. A better term coined in the Ghost in the Shell anime series is Stand Alone Complex, for a 2002 series of the same name, as discussed by Jack Murphy of SOFREP News.2
My merging of the concepts for AccelJihad is not careless, as the implications of accelerating jihad to its ends is a direct antithesis for Srnicek & Williams’ call for accelerating capitalism, insomuch that “global” jihad is professed as a countering juxtaposition of unhinged global capitalism. Where accelerationism takes the opposing forces in the struggle against capitalism from vertical micro- to macro-levels, from local to global, or tactical to strategic respectively, AccelJihad presents the infinite diffractions of this narrative of global jihad to its local and contrasting horizontal nature. This model primarily measures the horizontal and dynamic localisation (by no means locality) by addressing the organisational structures which catalyzed this accelerated approach. In stark contrast to contemporary accelerationism, AccelJihad addresses the militant, and militarized, nature of such revolutionary actions inherent in any form of accelerationism: that by accelerating jihad, and thus capitalism, jihad itself is an accelerating force of the global war machine, the global military-industrial complex fostered by the last 60 years of pax neoliberalismi and global order.
AccelJihad focuses on the horizontal, pluralistic, revolutionary socio-cultural goals of transformation through jihad and its intricate organization and ideological interweaving to disrupt the current status quo. It does this through three primary means of accelerationist strategy: 1) building an intellectual infrastructure, 2) constructing wide-scale media reforms, 3) reconstituting various forms of class power. A 2014 Dutch intelligence report resists the tendency to use the word “organisations,” but opts for “networks” which have a decentralized collective self-guidance, strong mobilizing power, and flexible, adaptable resilience.3
IF THERE’S A BRIGHT CENTER TO THE UNIVERSE, YOU’RE ON THE PLANET THAT IT’S FARTHEST FROM.
The first mention of accelerationism is in Roger Zelazny’s forgotten 1968 sci-fi novel Lord of Light, which became the backdrop story for the joint Canadian and CIA rescue operation of American diplomats in 1979 revolutionary Iran, sensationalised in the film Argo (2012). AccelJihad is a return to this principle of militant accelerationism developed for the purpose of war and overthrowing technologically advanced deities, ironically structured around the philosophy of the Buddha. There is no mention of Islam in Zelazny’s book, and only an ideological struggle between followers of the futurist Buddha, or low-tech proletarians, and the cybernetic Hindu gods allied with a dark Christian force in the southern hemisphere of a distant alien planet plays out.
More relevant to the geocentric AccelJihad is Zelazny’s contemporary, Frank Herbert, and his Dune series, involving a galactic feudal system overthrown by a privileged prince who fulfills a post-Islamic (Fremen) prophecy on a desert planet by calling for galactic jihad. Dune, and its universe, is a thorough accelerationist trip through millennia of [capitalist] history in one individual organism’s mind – that of an overman, the God Emperor Leto II. Toward the end of Herbert’s life and his writing, as revealed in notes now turned into fictional work carried out by his son, the main characters nearly fail to escape the clutches of the returned Thinking Machines, in the form of an invisible tachyon net directed by a superintelligent hivemind. Here, Dune is a mentionable attempt to demonstrate accelerationism (less spectacularly, as speculation) in both capitalism as neo-feudalism and jihad as the fictional zen-sunnism. Without his son’s posthumous contributions to the Dune series, however, it is presented as an accelerationism without teleology, without telos, one which strives more to the philosophy of an endless, timeless future reminiscent of zen and nihilist conceptualisation.
This might not be news for the accelerationist community (wherever it has dispersed to), but it certainly places accelerationism in a less dynamic perspective. AccelJihad represents the rupture in this, by accelerating subjects such as jihad and hijra (i.e. migration) where Herbert even involves the impact of intergalactic migration. However, hijra means much more than this movement, and it is precisely this concept in the ideological structure of jihad that enables revolutionary change, reminiscent of the call in French philosophy for schizoanalysis, as developed in Deleuze and Guattari’s work. Thus AccelJihad is not a refuge in fascism in the flight from capitalism, but a schismatic process of self-creation.
So accurately captured in the ironic tweet, Karl Sharro says “Al-Qaeda has had franchises, mergers, acquisitions, spin-offs, takeovers and rebranding. And people wonder what ideology influenced it.”4 Indeed, a blog conversation between professor of economics at George Mason, Tyler Cowen, and Monash University’s Alex Burns reframed the Islamic State as “hypermodern momentum traders” and suggested that this pattern is “relevant to the proto-Marxist work on accelerationism and postcapitalism” of Nick Srnicek and Alex William’s Inventing the Future.5 French philosopher Bernard Stiegler has compared IS’ online strategy to the corporate model of Silicon Valley companies, including Google, Apple, Facebook, and Amazon in an interview for his upcoming book In the Age of Disruption.6 The Islamic State emulates this culture of innovative startups and venture capitalism, willing to support ideologically or hedge several foreign cells at even no cost, counting on the probability that at least a small percentage of attacks will be successfully perpetrated in their name before security services clamp down. Islamic State, and similarly other al-Qaeda affiliates of past or present, are more likely following the pattern of capitalism and current neoliberal institutions, in the full Marxist sense, yet within an Islamist context. This should be nothing unexpected, and follows the pattern of how the United States has continued to wage proxy war while avoiding neoliberal restrictions and international humanitarian law with the use of private military contractors. Blackwater, after a series of legal issues over the Nisour Square massacre in 2007 which prevented the company from operating in Iraq, reorganized and rebranded itself as Xe and once again in 2011 to Academi.7 As Sageman remarks, several “little al-Qaedas” with varying names have sprang up across the world, becoming a “‘franchise’ located in various indigenous communities with their own particular concerns and values.”8
YOU WERE ABOUT THE LAST ACCELERATIONIST LEFT IN THE WORLD, SAM. NO ONE WOULD HAVE THOUGHT YOU WERE ALSO THE DEADLIEST.
Accelerationism is the ideology encompassing the organizational structures of capitalism being “repurposed” to bring about radical social change. Within the context of jihad, this fits quite appropriately. As accelerationist commentator Steven Shaviro summarized Marx and Engels’ understanding that we must push through capitalism by means of “constant revolutionizing of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation,”9 ultimately leading to the collapse of its vertical infrastructure. In the West, social movements, such as Occupy, from late 2011 completely rejected verticality, which prevented mechanisms of spatial and temporal expansion for the movement and undermined any type of push “beyond folk political parameters.”10 This similarly applies to the Arab Spring of 2011. Meanwhile in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood, with its robust parochial ties, was able to unexpectedly take power following military takeover. Unfortunately, this was not the case for Syria, when it quickly escalated into a contest by jihadist spill-over from Iraq to wrest power from Assad. In Syria as in Benelux, two completely isolated groups of Islamists by 2011 protested for the same horizontal goal of a global caliphate. This case illustrates the difference between localized Occupy movements and the horizontalism of Sharia4 movements in Europe. Following the strategy of accelerationism, my own analysis presented the shifts in Islamist organizational structure toward a new horizon, reinventing politics and Islam while dissolving folk interpretations of both, and finally, establishing a new intelligentsia with a resiliency to challenge the current global system. The Islamic State has managed to accelerate current media technologies with spectacular displays of terrorism, and far before that, in 2012, was Sharia4Belgium’s use of social media platforms to organize demonstrations faster than mainstream media. Scott Atran criticizes the media as being “mostly designed to titillate the public rather than inform it.” It has thus “become child’s play for ISIS to turn our own propaganda machine, the world’s mightiest, into theirs.”11 Homegrown terrorism, with its low-cost and high-returns, brings the institutionalized, domestic security apparatus closer to collapse, as threats become so numerous they become impossible to manage under current neoliberal structures. The accelerationist militant drive for cascading attacks paralyses any retaliatory efforts by the state, providing a window for true terror and a very intimate form of Distributed Denial of Service attack.
Srnicek and Williams criticize the failures of folk politics, such as those of Occupy, to give rise to true revolutionary change. As Olivier Roy has stated with the failures of political Islam that “local organizations define themselves above all in relation to domestic politics,”12 though he did not look beyond the Muslim Brotherhood. Accelerationism moves toward an infinite horizontalism, exemplified during the Arab Spring when both football supporters and religious organizations descended upon Tahrir Square, organized workers were able to transform a general protest into a near general strike, shutting down the country.13 Folk politics is the ideology behind “common-sense ways of organizing, acting, and thinking” in protest movements.14 However, the Islamism of Benelux groups, as well as in Egypt and Syria, elevated this beyond the horizon. Michelsen comments on the ability of the concept of jihad to initiate mass mobilization, as it “uses various technologies and strategies to enact a ‘classical’ form of massed politics.”15 In addition, the realisation that IS is so measured in its media responses is fascinating. It requires every individual from the lowest level to understand the goals at the top, so as not to reveal secret information, stay active on social media without being banned, and to show a positive image so that more muhajireen become inspired. Academics may take IS fighters’ involvement in the ideological struggle for granted, but everyone plays a part, the pressure of war transforms foot soldiers into politicized thinkers. Roy states “jihad furnishes a discourse of legitimation for the new elite, but neither an organizational model nor a new political structure for the combatant society.”16 The Islamist intelligentsia is constantly being refurbished through this global jihad.
AN IXIAN MACHINE? YOU DEFY THE JIHAD!
Furthermore, a plethora of decentralized technology and platforms is enabling the global/local movement for perpetual revolution. While Elon Musk rants about Basic Universal Income becoming a reality soon, many Muslims can smirk at the fact that the first Abu Bakr established BUI under zakat during his reign 632-634AD. It is this historical relic that the Islamic State brings up in propaganda and it is no coincidence the first caliph of the Gregorian 21st century bears the same name. Decentralised currencies built on trustless blockchain can be easily integrated with the Islamic practice of hawala. Even eDinar has been conceptualised along with an IS text on the use of Bitcoin, all in line with Abu Mus’ab al-Suri’s outlined Global Islamic Resistance Call.
More on financing jihad in the digital era will be covered in future instalments. In conclusion, the principles outlined in Srnicek and Williams’ accelerationism, that of 1) building an intellectual infrastructure, 2) constructing wide-scale media reforms, 3) reconstituting various forms of class power are all present in global jihad and furthered by decentralizing technology in tactics. A similar comparison was drawn in John Robb’s Brave New War17 regarding the new insurgent market from the Cathedral to Bazaar, where the West is maladapted and ill-prepared for future open-source insurgencies such as a global [digital] jihadi movement.
Written by Casey Carr
1 Srnicek, Nick, and Alex Williams. #ACCELERATE MANIFESTO for an Accelerationist Politics.” Critical Legal Thinking . 14 Mar. 2013. Web.
2 Murphy, Jack. “Why killing Jihadi John Doesn’t Matter for America.” SOFREP News. 13 November 2015. Web. Stand Alone Complex refers to an emergent copycat crime or terror act, yet differing in that in S.A.C. there is no original, only simulacra.
3 “The Transformation of Jihadism in the Netherlands: Swarm Dynamics and New Strength.” The Hague; AIVD , September 2014. P. 23-25
4 Sharro, Karl (KarlreMarks). “Al-Qaeda has had franchises, mergers, acquisitions, spin-offs, takeovers and rebranding. And people wonder what ideology influenced it.” 28 July 2016, 14:23. Tweet. 28 July 2016.
5 Cowen, Tyler. “Islamic State as Hypermodern, Momentum Traders.” Marginal Revolution . Blog. November 27, 2015. Web. 5 May 2016
6 Nasi, Margherita. “Bernard Stiegler : « Ce N’est Qu’en Projetant Un Véritable Avenir Qu’on Pourra Combattre Daech ».” Le Monde.fr. , 26 Nov. 2015. Web. 29 Nov. 2015.
7 Hodge, Nathan. “Former Blackwater ditches Xe for yet another new name.” WSJ, Business. 12 Dec. 2011. Web.
8 Burke 2004; Sageman 2008, as cited in Michelsen, Nicholas. “Addressing the Schizophrenia of Global Jihad.” Critical Studies on Terrorism 2.3 (2009): 453-71.
9 Shaviro, Steven. “More on Accelerationism” The Pinocchio Theory. 17 November 2013. Blog. http://www.shaviro.com/Blog/?p=1174
10 Srnicek, Nick, and Alex Williams. Inventing the Future: Postcapitalism and a World without Work . London, Verso Books, 2015. E-Book. Ch. 2, sec. 3, par. 8
11 Atran, Scott. “Why ISIS Has the Potential to Be a World-altering Revolution” Aeon . 15 December 2015. Web. 30 December 2015. Par. 19
12 Roy, Olivier. The Failure of Political Islam . Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1994. Print. p. 112
13 Srnicek and Williams 2015, Ch. 2, sec. 3, par. 8
14 Ibid. Ch. 1, sec. 2
15 Cronin 2006, as cited in Michelsen 2009, p. 458
16 Roy 1994, p. 167
17 Robb, John. Brave New War: The next stage of terrorism and the end of globalization. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2007.