The open source jihad is America's worst nightmare.
— Al Qaeda's Inspire magazine
Open source jihad is Al Qaeda's catchy brand name for the attacks currently taking place across Europe and the USA on an almost daily basis. Whilst there are some fundamental differences of opinion between Al Qaeda and ISIS, they are in agreement when it comes to tactics.
The point of open-source warfare is to take the old Al Qaeda's loose command structure of autonomous cells to the next level and have no command structure, or even membership. They put their ideology out there, promulgate information about how to commit attacks cheaply and easily, then leave it to like-minded individuals to put the ideas into practice as and when and however they wish. The advantages of this are obvious, and the traditional disadvantages simply don't apply. Militaries — and traditional terrorist organisations such as the IRA — maintain and enforce centralised command in order to coordinate strategy and to avoid taking ineffective or counterproductive action. That makes sense when the death of the enemy is merely a means to a strategic end. But, when the death of the enemy is an end in itself, and for an organisation that welcomes the deaths even of its own soldiers, there is no such thing as a counterproductive attack. Kill a hundred infidels? Great. Kill one infidel? Still great. Invite massive retaliation? Great: an opportunity for more killing. Get caught? Great: an opportunity to make converts in prison. Get killed? Great: you're going to paradise. For jihadis, there's never a downside.
The lack of command structure, of course, means that the familiar ritual of going through the war criminal du jour's computer looking for evidence of a connection to... well, to a command structure, is ridiculous. After every attack, the police announce that the attacker was yet another "lone wolf" because they couldn't find a copy of his official orders from a superior officer. Every war starts with a leadership intent on fighting the last war, but then they're supposed to adapt to the new paradigm or make way for those who can. It's been fifteen years now, and there's still no sign of that happening.
Take, for instance, the British Government's official advice on what to do when there's a terrorist attack:
RUN to a place of safety. This is a far better option than to surrender or negotiate. If there’s nowhere to go, then…
HIDE. It’s better to hide than to confront. Remember to turn your phone to silent and turn off vibrate. Barricade yourself in if you can. Then finally and only when it is safe to do so…
TELL the police by calling 999.
ABANDON every one of your fellow human beings to their fate. Remember, it's not as if you even know them.
This is not the optimum way to approach this problem.
Now, at this point, the jeering starts. It is not only the advice of our rulers but also the prevailing fashion to assume that we are all incapable of courage. Ben Carson, for instance, faced worldwide mockery when he claimed that he would fight back:
I would not just stand there and let him shoot me. I would say, ‘Hey, guys, everybody attack him. He may shoot me, but he can’t get us all.’
The derision and vitriol were everywhere at the time. Ladd Everitt's comments were typical:
His suggesting that if he had been there, he could have taken the shooter down through the power of Christ or somehow, it’s just unbelievable. You begin to question this man’s mental health, doing this with a smile on his face and thinking it’s acceptable.
So were Wonkette's:
Ben Carson continues his hilarious winning strategy of telling America that the victims of last week’s massacre were a bunch of pussies, because who in their right mind gets shot? That’s so lame. He has either refused to consider that maybe shitting on victims of a massacre isn’t a particularly smart strategy, or maybe he’s decided that there are more rightwing morons who explain in internet comments how they’d take that shooter down than there are people who are appalled at his comments.
Note the assumption of utter helplessness. What Carson actually said was quite clear: that, if a large number of people rush a gunman, some will be shot and probably die, but not all of them, and those who die will save some lives by doing so. Yet Ladd characterises this as "through the power of Christ or somehow", explicitly calling it "insane", and Wonkette refers to "rightwing morons who explain in internet comments how they’d take that shooter down". The idea that it's actually possible is treated as so absurd that it's not even up for discussion: resisting an armed attacker either relies on a delusional belief in magic or is the empty boasting of blowhards. And this is now the prevailing attitude of our culture.
A couple of generations ago, we had the Little Ships. How have we fallen this far?
Honesty is overrated. One of the greatest social transgressions you can make in modern public life is that of hypocrisy. When we discover that someone — especially a politician, but, increasingly, just anyone — has acted contrary to their professed ideals, we do two things: we ridicule them mercilessly, and we reject their advice. The ridicule is fair enough, especially for public figures. But rejecting their advice, not so much. If a man who preaches that men should be faithful to their wives is discovered to have contracted HIV through his profligate use of prostitutes, being faithful to your wife remains a good idea.
The derisive reaction to Ben Carson — and to anyone who makes similar claims or gives similar advice — is based on attacking his hypocrisy. We think it's bluster, boastfulness, a big-headed fantasy of being an action hero that Carson wouldn't live up to in real life, and so, because we assume he wouldn't really step up, we attack not only him for his perceived hypocrisy but also the advice itself. There are several problems with this.
There's the assumption that he — and everyone else — is incapable of bravery. Some people are brave and do amazing things when they unexpectedly have to, often to their own surprise. Why can't Carson be one of them? Why can't any of us?
There's the fact that Carson's advice is in fact correct. We know this. The passengers of United 93 worked it out while the rest of us were still gawping in horror at the World Trade Center. Four men with Stanley knives cannot overpower forty people — if those forty are willing to risk getting stabbed. The same goes for guns: a handful of men with automatic weapons cannot beat a crowd of hundreds — if those hundreds are willing to risk getting shot. These attacks rely on their victims behaving as selfish individuals and trying to avoid getting hurt. Which is why I despair that our government is telling us to behave as selfish individuals and try to avoid getting hurt.
And there's the belief that someone's claims and their actions are independent. Either Carson is a bona-fide action hero and therefore has the right to talk about fighting back, or he isn't and so he should shut up. There's no consideration given to the idea that his claims might influence his future actions, or the actions of others. But of course they do. Talking about our capabilities changes the way we act. We even have a common everyday expression for this: psyching yourself up.
On 9/11, of all the planes flying across the US that day, what are the chances the jihadis would pick the one full of action heroes? Of course they didn't. The passengers of United 93 were ordinary people who realised what they had to do — and who were willing to risk their lives for others.
What are the chances that Abdel Rahim tried to blow up the one flight that day full of people willing to throw themselves on top of a bomb? Of course he didn't. In the aftermath of 9/11, people were thinking about what they'd do in the event of an attack, and so every flight in the world was full of people willing to throw themselves on top of a bomb. They were merely people who realised what they had to do and who were willing to risk their lives for others.
What are the chances that, of all the carriages on all the trains in France, Ayoub El-Khazzani would pick one that contained not only two American servicemen (bad luck, Ayoub) but also a student, a banker, a businessman, a teacher, and an off-duty train driver who were all willing to take on a man armed with an AK and a knife collection? In fact, to pile coincidence upon coincidence, the banker was the first to tackle El-Khazzani because he happened to be going to the toilet just as El-Khazzani emerged from it to start his attack. Again, what are the chances that the bravest man on the train would happen to have a full bladder at exactly that moment? But of course he wasn't. He was simply a man who realised what he had to do and was willing to risk his life for others.
What are the chances that Mohammed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel would choose to drive a truck down a route containing three separate heroes willing to make like Indiana Jones and jump onto a moving truck and fight the driver? But of course Franck, Alexander Migues, and Gwenael Leriche were ordinary people who, like all of us — especially the French — have been thinking about what they'd do in the event of a terrorist attack. They hadn't trained specifically in how to jump onto moving vehicles; I doubt they had much experience of having guns pointed in their faces. And I'm pretty sure there isn't a road in France that doesn't contain such people: people who are ready to do something heroic not because they're superhuman ex-special-forces professional action heroes who've been training for this moment their entire life, but just because they've been thinking about this sort of thing. They've been psyching themselves up. Franck (a man so humble nobody appears to know his surname) describes himself as "un mec normal. Pas un héros, un citoyen": "a normal bloke. Not a hero, a citizen." He's right. But he's also a fucking hero.
There is nothing our professional security services can do to prevent attacks like the one in Nice. Yes, they can — and do — do a lot of work to track and disrupt anyone trying to get hold of illegal weapons or engaging in the necessary organisation and communication to stage a coordinated group attack, but there's nothing anyone can do to stop one man hiring a truck or buying a kitchen knife. The bastards can strike at any time. And, as the old saying goes, when every second counts, the police are just minutes away. The only people who can be guaranteed always to be there when it matters are the targets: us. When the shit hits the fan, do you want to call the police and wait? Or do you want someone to do something right now? If so, perhaps that someone should be you.
I have no idea what I'd do in the event of a terrorist attack. I like to think I'd try to do something that matters, but I'm certainly not boasting here: I'm entirely open to the suggestion that I'd turn and run. I don't know anything about fighting, I'm not particularly strong, and I don't have the comfort of belief in an afterlife. But I do know this: because I aspire to do something that matters, I am more likely to do it than someone who aspires to turn and run. If we all tell ourselves, and each other, that we are able and willing to fight back, then some of us will. Maybe only a small fraction of us, but that's still tens of thousands of people. If we all tell ourselves, and each other, that we're cowards, none of us are going to be surprised.
We civilians did not choose to be soldiers in a war. I would certainly be a lot happier if our enemies would fight by the old-fashioned rules of warfare established by civilised nation-states and we could therefore leave the actual fighting to the professionals, as our government wants us to. But they don't. We have no choice about this: we are targets. But we do have a choice about what kind of targets we are: the kind that runs away or the kind that fights back. The open source jihad should be met by the open source resistance: millions of people with no chain of command or special training, just the willingness to run towards murderers instead of away from them, and give them a damn good kicking.
We should psych ourselves up.
We need to realise what we have to do and be willing to risk our lives for others.
And our leaders need to realise it too, and stop telling us to run and hide.