Oct 19, 2009

Al Qaeda the Embodiment of Noopolitik?

Arquilla and Ronfeldt talk about emerging state models and communication tools but while reading their ideas for noopolitik and the noosphere I was left with more doubts and questions than anything else.

Like most theories surrounding the ability of communication tools (in particular digital communication) to create societal change, much of the description of noopolitik and the noosphere were very nebulous and almost 'pie in the sky' visions of what states should act like.

However, states simply do not act like that.

In Iran during the summer Presidential election the establishment went to great lengths to disable both outside communication coming in and on the ground information from Iran reaching the globe. The establishment's success in fighting the information war was marginal at best, but the hard power of the Basij and other state forces did prove powerful. For the most part, people did still come out in droves despite violence, but the state was set on maintaining hard power and for all intents and purposes it still does.

When the state did vie for soft power through communication it was Khameini's Jummah prayer sermon full of red herrings and allegations, a method that has been duplicated by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad himself. Though the civil society of Iran may be vying for a noopolitik ideal for their nation, the establishment is still stuck in realpolitik. The establishment wants to maintain control.

In Afghanistan, satellite television stations have proliferated and 25% of the population is cell phone enabled but even with an illegitimate government, the establishment is set on maintaining and maximizing their power.

The reading does eventually refer to Al Qaeda and it seems like they may be one of the only groups that are successful at using noopolitik ideals for their aims. After all, Bin Laden was ousted from Saudi Arabia to the Sudan for being critical of the monarchy much in the same way as he has been critical of Saddam Hussein and other leaders of Muslim states. Al Qaeda has become very adept at using print, broadcast, and online media to disseminate its propaganda. And in the end, Al Qaeda is all about doctrine. So it seems that by definition they have been the most successful at using this method for advancement of their cause and challenging the power of states for what they believe to be a greater societal "good."

In the end, I found the theory to be very interesting and worthy of excitement but one has to wonder what nation-state would give up realpolitik ideals (even if all they possess is negative sovereignty) for a system that would require true collaboration with the people of the nation and the world for a greater good?


  1. I was left with many questions, too. But then, I don't think we should expect Noöpolitik to provide any clear-cut ANSWERS per se... I see it more as a paradigm/approach in the analysis of the current state of affairs. It explains, sort of, what the situation is, but does not have to provide a WORKABLE "plan of action" as such, as there are too many assumptions (just as in any other paradigm).

    Still, I do like the idea itself, as it seems to be giving a more or less real picture of what is going on at the moment, bypassing all the fluffy arguments about the power of neoliberalism (which EVIDENTLY does not solve our post-modern problems; rather, makes them worse), and calling for action, FINALLY. Information is power, but HOW it is made use of needs to be reconsidered AND addressed, especially by states if they want to survive (EVEN MORE SO, by strong and influential states such as the US, China, Russia...).

    And yes, I agree that the insurgent movements have been much more successful in adopting the new "approach" and adapting to the changing environment than many of the conventional powers... Perhaps we all got a lot to learn from them, after all?

  2. You may just be deported for that. hah.

  3. hah. sure! Will Arquilla and Ronfeld be joining me too? :P