The Return of the Gold Dinar: What is ISIS Up To?

ISIS Video: The Return of the Gold Dinar

ISIS is extremely proud of their latest video but, trust me, it’s a bit of a snorefest. But, it’s also very different. The horrific violence they’re known for is there but only in comparatively small doses. Instead they’ve opted to take a lot of fringe financial theory (the kind you might have heard already if you pay attention to Ron Paul or Glenn Beck ) and wrap it The Mummy Returns production values. Then, just like a college freshmen who has taken one economics class and read a dozen conspiracy theory websites, they drone on and on and on. It’s weird – just not weird enough to be interesting.

Of course, what we really need to know is why they’re going to all of this trouble. I’m still processing this but from their perspective:

  1. The production values project authority and capability. Their internal and external audiences both need reassurance.
  2. The pseudo-intellectual financial theory will not impress economists but it will resonate with people who view alternative financial systems as a rejection of current political systems. There are large numbers of people in the Middle East – and the United States who share this view.
  3. It checks the theology box by claiming to be a model that is more inline with Islamic principals.
  4. Money is central to statehood so this reinforces that claim.
  5. At the end of the day the ISIS wants to be seen as a viable alternative to existing powers. Videos like this (and the factors mentioned above) help support that case – at least in the eyes of potential recruits and supporters.

The alignment with the non-Islamic conspiracy thought in the West is the most intriguing aspect of this communication. Is this convergence intentional or is it a coincidence arising out of the fact that these ideas on the financial fringe have been circulating for a long time? I can’t make a call on that at the moment but it is certainly a question worth considering.


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Why Terrorism Fails: A Discussion with Max Abrahms

We know that terrorism succeeds at terrorizing its targets but does it help the groups behind it achieve their political goals? In this episode I’m joined by Northeastern University professor and terrorism theorist Max Abrahms who makes a persuasive case that terrorism does not succeed where other more selective uses of violence might. I made a similar argument in episode 7 when I said that the much discussed (and very barbaric) ISIS social media campaign would ultimately be considered a failure because it had helped permanently undermine any possibility that the group could ever transition to political legitimacy.

You can follow Max on Twitter @MaxAbrahms and read his work at I also recommend reading The Political Effectiveness of Terrorism Revisited for a more comprehensive breakdown of Max’s research and arguments on this subject.


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Counterterrorism Challenges – Pondering Seemingly Unsolvable Problems with Phillip Smyth

The first Covert Contact interview features University of Maryland Laboratory for Computational Cultural Dynamics researcher Phillip Smyth. Phillip is also well known for his Hizballah Cavalcade project on Jihadology

Phillip specializes in Shia militias, and we touch on that topic, but most of the interview is spent looking at the big challenges we face in countering terrorism and its sponsors. It’s an interesting conversation that illustrates the dynamic and difficult problems that we continue to face in places like Syria, Iran, Pakistan, Lebanon, Yemen, and Bahrain.


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The Senate Torture Report

It is always disheartening when America does not live up to the standards many of us expect and in the adoption and execution of enhanced interrogation we have failed to do that on many levels.

The primary failure is that our elected officials and the people who serve them strayed into territory where most of us instinctively know America does not belong. The failures continued though – there were failures in implementation, failures in oversight, and failures even today as our political class is failing to find a collaborative resolution to this problem that does not further harm American interests. But America, unlike some countries, is dynamic and very much a work in progress. When we stumble, and we do, it is important that we acknowledge our mistakes, make improvements, and continue moving forward.

Hot Wars are ugly terrible things. Cold wars are too. It is only the scale of the ugliness which changes. America has never been able to find morally comfortable ground in the most violent parts of either despite, at times, excelling at both. Perhaps it says something about our struggle to attain the ideal even while the forces that rage against us fully embrace the darkest parts of humanity. That is the most optimistic take on it all but it is also the one I believe. At our best, American’s have a brighter vision of the world than most others, and while we are far from perfect, we do continue to make progress. Hold that up to the world envisioned by our many of our enemies and the contrast is striking. I want it to stay that way.

That is one reason it is important to confront and rethink the practices we put in place after 9/11. Perhaps some of it can be rationalized. Much of it likely not. But either way the systematic abuse of people, even terrible people, is not a machine that we, as a nation, should put into motion. As a realist I can conjure up scenarios where almost anything is justified but I expect those cases to be the exception. When there is a bureaucracy, workforce, documentation, legal findings, and a language to support that abuse the exceptional threatens to become routine.

Some would say that water-boarding, humiliation, threats, sleep deprivation and other enhanced interrogation tactics fall far short of the brutality exhibited by our enemies. That’s true but it does not make widespread adoption of those tactics acceptable. I trust that America is in no rush to match the inhumanity of it’s enemies. Barbarism is growing and if we chose to we could match and exceed the inhumanity of our enemies with the press of a button. But we don’t do that. We take the hard way. We try to avoid unnecessary suffering even at the cost of the lives and limbs of our own. We are different. We are not them. And we should strive to remain that way even if it is the most difficult road to travel.

The release of this report, and the reaction that has followed, is intensely political and partisan. Rather than scramble to score points for their party all Americans should be looking at this and asking if it fits the their vision for their country and if it will help us tackle the growing threat of Islamic extremism and terrorism. Are we doing what is right and are we being effective? If not, we will eventually suffer collectively.

America is a nation that should advance the most optimistic vision for humanity. It should have a firm sense of itself and what is right. No enemy should ever be able to use fear to drive us one inch closer to systematically adopting the extremes that they embrace. We face enemies with no limits, no constraints on the terrible things they can do to advance their cause, but we can beat them without becoming them. In fact, that is the only way that we will win.


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