ISIS, Homeland, and Psychology

Yesterday The New York Times ran an intriguing article titled, “In Battle to Defang ISIS, U.S. Targets Its Psychology.” The piece featured the attempt by Maj. Gen. Michael K. Nagata, commander of American Special Operations forces in the Middle East, to better understand what motivates the members of ISIS and other, similar terrorist organizations.

Nagata was quoted saying:

We do not understand the movement, and until we do, we are not going to defeat it. We have not defeated the idea. We do not even understand the idea…. What makes I.S. so magnetic, inspirational? … deeply resonant with a specific but large portion of the Islamic population, particularly young men looking for a banner to flock to.

What struck me most, however, were some of the comments that had been posted:

I cannot help feeling dismayed…we have been at war for over 12 years in the area. We have world class military think tanks and leadership training facilities yet our military is still confounded about the why’s and wherefores of radical terrorism? I suspect that poverty, high unemployment among the target group of potential recruits, failure to thrive in adopted countries, disequilibrium of wealth that stagnates societies, corruption, lack of education (especially for females), all have something to do with the problem.


So why do they have such success in attracting recruits? I would say that because there is so much suffering, oppression, and brutality in the Arab/Muslim world, ISIS says join us and fight and win a better life. It works.


The same factors that caused the rise of Fascism in Europe at the end of the first world war causes the rise of ISIS et al. today. A bloom of a large number of youth without any prospects of a decent life and civilian jobs. Combine that with the use of religious symbols that these youth grew up. Next venerate the religion in the supposed good old days, some thousand years ago or so, add a fast talking snake oil sales man; and you have Fascism in Europe just under 100 years ago, or ISIS etc. today.

Indeed, it’s not rocket science and Nagata does not need a panel of academic experts to figure it out. But at least he acknowledges his ignorance. Maybe he will actually learn some simple truths. If he reads all of the comments on that article, it might help.

He could also watch Homeland. For some time, I felt ambivalent about the “guilty pleasure” I experienced watching it. I was afraid I was endorsing jingoistic propaganda. And I haven’t finished watching Season Four, so my appreciation of the series may sour when I do.

I haven’t read any reviews of the show and have discussed it with only one other person who has. So my thoughts about the program may be minority opinions. At the moment, however, it seems that Homeland does a fairly good job of understanding the terrorists, as The Wire did with drug gangs. And it presents the moral ambiguities that are involved, presenting various sides of the issues without telling the viewer what to believe. Rather, it merely attempts to clarify the reality, and leave it to the viewers to form their own judgments.

I say that’s better than sweeping matters under the rug.

Amazing Peace: A Christmas Poem by Maya Angelou

Thunder rumbles in the mountain passes
And lightning rattles the eaves of our houses.
Flood waters await us in our avenues.

Snow falls upon snow, falls upon snow to avalanche
Over unprotected villages.
The sky slips low and grey and threatening.

We question ourselves.
What have we done to so affront nature?
We worry God.
Are you there? Are you there really?
Does the covenant you made with us still hold?

Into this climate of fear and apprehension, Christmas enters,
Streaming lights of joy, ringing bells of hope
And singing carols of forgiveness high up in the bright air.
The world is encouraged to come away from rancor,
Come the way of friendship.

It is the Glad Season.
Thunder ebbs to silence and lightning sleeps quietly in the corner.
Flood waters recede into memory.
Snow becomes a yielding cushion to aid us
As we make our way to higher ground.

Hope is born again in the faces of children
It rides on the shoulders of our aged as they walk into their sunsets.
Hope spreads around the earth. Brightening all things,
Even hate which crouches breeding in dark corridors.

In our joy, we think we hear a whisper.
At first it is too soft. Then only half heard.
We listen carefully as it gathers strength.
We hear a sweetness.
The word is Peace.
It is loud now. It is louder.
Louder than the explosion of bombs.

We tremble at the sound. We are thrilled by its presence.
It is what we have hungered for.
Not just the absence of war. But, true Peace.
A harmony of spirit, a comfort of courtesies.
Security for our beloveds and their beloveds.

We clap hands and welcome the Peace of Christmas.
We beckon this good season to wait a while with us.
We, Baptist and Buddhist, Methodist and Muslim, say come.
Come and fill us and our world with your majesty.
We, the Jew and the Jainist, the Catholic and the Confucian,
Implore you, to stay a while with us.
So we may learn by your shimmering light
How to look beyond complexion and see community.

It is Christmas time, a halting of hate time.

On this platform of peace, we can create a language
To translate ourselves to ourselves and to each other.

At this Holy Instant, we celebrate the Birth of Jesus Christ
Into the great religions of the world.
We jubilate the precious advent of trust.
We shout with glorious tongues at the coming of hope.
All the earth’s tribes loosen their voices
To celebrate the promise of Peace.

We, Angels and Mortals, Believers and Non-Believers,
Look heavenward and speak the word aloud.
Peace. We look at our world and speak the word aloud.
Peace. We look at each other, then into ourselves
And we say without shyness or apology or hesitation.
Peace, My Brother.
Peace, My Sister.
Peace, My Soul.

Reader’s Comments

Following are responses to recent posts. Except when the author posted on public platform (Facebook, Wade’s Wire, or the Wades’ Weekly website) or asked me to identify them, the comments are anonymous.


Re: Escaping Xmas

“Santa Claus does not belong in Bethlehem.” Wade, Wade, Wade. What does that mean? This note my daughter sent me today, as to how I explained Santa Claus to her and my son, also explains why I would take the stress of Christmas with my loved ones vs. spending it in a gambling joint, uh, hotel.


“Mom and Dad,

The attached letter reminds me of how you responded to the “Santa” question all those years ago. Not exactly the same, but similar sentiment.

Love you both,…”


But to each his own Wade. Life is about choices I guess.

Merry Christmas,

NOTE: The attached letter referred to above beautifully explained who actually put the gifts under the tree and affirmed certain nonmaterial values. NOTE: The attached letter referred to above beautifully explained who actually put the gifts under their tree and affirmed certain nonmaterial values. In my reply, I commented on how I have no children, grandchildren, or any real community — and how Xmas has taken Christ out of Christmas.


hey Wade – that all sounds great. You sound renewed, revitalized, yes?
As for Santa, I never really cared so much for Christmas or Santa, but I’m feeling it a little different at the moment. Went to a talk at the Fellowship last week (your friend will be presenting there in January on MLK) and a great symbologist/mythologist talked about how the themes of Christmas are so Universal. there is something about this time of year… That there may be a universal human experience makes it more compelling to me. She had many relevant pieces of art including one that was very provocative — Santa Claus holding the baby Jesus – something about pagan Santa coming together with more traditional religious stuff — who knows…I always liked Jerry as Santa…Thinking about the difference between archetypes, deities, and saints.

interesting political times – so many people thought the mid terms were another catastrophe but instead Obama seems freed (in some ways – not all), i.e., Cuba is cool. The demonstrations across the country seem significant – very grass roots – I heard that when Jackson and Sharpton went to St Louis the people turned their backs on them..


Liked your post Wade!
–Sara Colm


The more I know about “living in the Now” the more I understand its practical application. There are profound spiritual implications that I get fleetingly and yet settling in to be satisfied with what is is a recently new one for me. As fast as we’ve grabbed life and lived consciously, I had the illusion that it would always be so. Guess I actually never made any serious plans for getting older and although I’ve had health challenges off and on all my life, I’ve lived through them and adapted each time to whatever needed adapting. None of us anticipated the economic downtown 2008, so I was feeling pretty proud of myself with my savings, good health, and eagerness to continue to work. Didn’t happen. Won’t happen now in any of the forms I had imagined… so now, I’m taking it a day at a time and pondering about the REALITY of truly “letting go” and TRUSTING that Spirit/God/the Divine is active in my life to the degree that I am not overwhelmed. Glad you wrote about how
you are
dealing with one of those “quick turns” that you’ve now encountered. And, yes, you ARE a writer… Blessings of Grace and Comfort this season, Wade.


We stayed at the Nugget this past summer and have done so before, too. We also enjoyed the big, round hot tub. In Reno, we enjoy walking along the river.

In terms of eating, our fav place there is the small, funky, veg Pneumatic Diner, though we also really enjoyed the hip, mixed Laughing Planet.


Sounds like a nice plan. Have a Merry Happy Holiday!


I‘m glad you’ve figured out a way to survive in the face of the Uber horror, Wade. I was worried about you.

And I’m glad you’re thriving despite the holidays, an annual challenge.

For good things in the New Year,


Re: Evolutionary Revolution

I wholeheartedly agree with this, Wade. A lot of talk about “revolution” is usually just empty rhetoric. Plus, from an organizing point of view, if people don’t see concrete results, the activists will just drift away.

Didn’t Saul Alinsky say something similar to what you wrote here? That in order to build a movement, people have to see some successes?

Evolutionary Revolution

For thirty years, I affirmed a “radical” activism and rejected “liberal” piecemeal reform. Then, one day, while listening to some recordings of speeches by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., one comment struck me like a lightning bolt. Dr. King’s point was simple: movements need to focus on winnable demands. I concluded that we radicals had been wrong when we attacked Dr. King for compromising.

Mahatma Gandhi, who influenced Dr. King profoundly, adopted a similar approach. He called it  “evolutionary revolution.” This visionary pragmatism acknowledges the value of short-term reforms that improve the quality of life for people who have been oppressed — as part of an ongoing, never-ending process that can eventually lead to the fundamental restructuring of our entire society. This evolution involves change in our way of thinking: a change of paradigm.

This perspective is not “either/or.” It integrates both liberal reform and radical transformation. It balances the short-term and the long-term, giving equal importance to each. Gandhi and King were neither radical nor liberal. They were both.

In biology, species are defined by their ability to reproduce themselves through interbreeding. Over time, biological evolution produces new species that become so different they can no longer breed with their predecessor species.

In a similar way, human societies evolve in ways that constitute a “revolution,” or transformation — a sudden, fundamental change in how we live, work, or govern ourselves. These transformations produce societies that are so different they feel “new.” They change the composition, structure, outward form, and appearance of a society.

Transformation, however, can also be taken to mean “to change (something)completely.” The butterfly emerging from the caterpillar is commonly used as a metaphor for this type of change. This definition of transformation is dangerous.

New species remain similar to other species within the same genus, including their predecessors. They are distinct, but they are not totally different.

Sustainable revolutions do not create new societies (or individuals) that differ from their predecessor as much as butterflies differ from caterpillars. That metaphor suggests change that is total, complete, not lacking anything, having all necessary parts, not limited in any way, not requiring more work, entirely done or completed, fully carried out, absolute, perfect.

This attitude is prone to totalitarianism, black-and-white thinking that demonizes opponents and attempts to use physical force to impose its will.

When we speak of transformation, we need to avoid language that implies “total” change. Individually, when we are “reborn,” we may feel like a new person, but we are not completely new. When we transform a community, it may look new, but it is not totally new. Transformation does not destroy. It builds on what preceded.

Gandhi and King were more than willing to compromise. Reconciliation and community were their ultimate goals. They saw revolution as a never-ending process. For them, “shut it down” was not a goal in and of itself — a reactiveoutrage against an injustice that would somehow spontaneously lead to revolution. Rather, such actions were part of a calculated, proactive strategyfor specific improvements in living conditions.

Their long-term vision was the beloved community. Their short-terms objectives were, respectively, independence and desegregation.

We need to update their vision by articulating it in contemporary language, and unite behind concrete, winnable demands concerning public policy that help us steadily transform our global society. To be winnable, demands must be measurable. It needs to be clear when we have achieved our objective. Movements build momentum with victories.

As I see it, the primary shift our society needs today is to move away from a selfish commitment to climbing the social ladder to a commitment to the common good of the entire Earth Community — the entire human family and all life. And we need to achieve that vision by democratizing our entire society with new public policies that establish new structures.

This transformation would discourage both selfishness and self-sacrifice. It would affirm that we can both love ourselves and love others. It would not reject ambition, the desire for economic security, and getting promoted to further one’s career. Rather, it affirms a balance between both self-interestand the common good, solidarity rather than isolation.

What specific reforms can best help us achieve that vision is another question. The list of demands forwarded by Ferguson Action  in response to the death of Michael Brown is suggestive. For instance, with regard to the use of deadly force by police, they call for “the development of best practices…, [including] the development of specific use of force standards … [and] a Department of Justice review trigger when continued excessive use of force occurs.”

When an officer feels threatened by someone who is 8-10 feet away, can the use of deadly force be justified? Aren’t there other options?

Thus far, most of the Black Lives Matter demonstrations are primarily acultural phenomenon that enhances awareness of important realities, as did Occupy. Hopefully consensus behind specific demands will soon help that movement develop into an effective political force.

Briefly blocking traffic and shutting down business gains publicity. But if that tactic becomes used more widely without a focus on winnable goals, it will backfire as resentment builds. Potential supporters want to know: what do the protestors want and how do they plan to get it?

Rejecting the need for incremental reforms is divisive and undermines unity. One correspondent, for example, recently told me:

The policy making process .. has rarely done anything good for [the marginalized]. …It has been curtailed, crippled, and suppressed into ineffectiveness. I do not think that we make sustainable progress with piecemeal policy change. What ever policy changes that are done to make liberal amendments to the current system are not sustainable because the whole structure and foundation is riddled. The whole house is burning; integration with that won’t get it.

Alas, however, in the foreseeable future, integration is inevitable. We cannot escape so long as our society does not completely collapse. That catastrophe may happen eventually, and we need to prepare for it as best we can. But to wish for it or try to help precipitate it would be morally irresponsible, due to the greatly increased suffering that would result.

In the late 1960s, we demanded “no more business as usual” and tried to achieve our goals by inflicting widespread inconvenience. Our primary accomplishment was the Reagan Revolution.

I would prefer to learn from those mistakes and push for specific reforms that steadily lead to the transformation of our global society into a compassionate Earth Community dedicated to preserving and enriching all life.

Escaping Xmas

Santa Claus does not belong in Bethlehem. So, dodging the stress and madness of Xmas in the Naked City, I find myself on the 23rd floor of the Nugget Hotel in Sparks, Nevada, just outside Reno, for $38 per night.

I like the solitude. It’s convenient. My room has free Wi-Fi and a desk. The fifth floor has a gym and a large glass-enclosed, tree-lined pool with birds flying around and the best Jacuzzi I’ve experienced (it has several different kinds of strong jets). And the food in the lobby is adequate and affordable.

Being away gives me distance and perspective, which leads to new insights. Better yet, being forced out of my routine helps me break bad habits and develop new ones that I hope to carry over when I return, such as: more exercise; stretching; writing at least 1-2 hours in the morning; avoiding late-night snacks; doing my late-night meditations; and, six days a week, staying sober while avoiding both caffeine and sugar.

In addition to forming those habits, I plan to use my time here on special projects, like reading real books, emptying my Inbox, posting my autobiography, and working on the budget for the rest of my life. In addition, of course, now that I’ve adjusted to the altitude and largely rid myself of a chest cold, on days the Warriors don’t play basketball I expect to win some money at blackjack (I did win $75 in ten minutes in an experiment on my way in, but haven’t yet been in shape to play seriously).

I had planned a road trip, including Canyon de Chelly, Joshua Tree National Monument, and New Year’s Eve on Fremont Street in downtown Las Vegas. But I like it here so much I may stay until I return home early next year. The less time I spend driving and getting settled in new locations, the more time I’ll have to be productive.

This approach may help me deal with my post-Uber life. Previously, my monthly check included at least several hundred dollars from my share of our co-op’s net profits. Now those profits are virtually zero. Moreover, when I drive, I earn 20-30% less per hour.

According to my latest calculations, when I move up the first-come, first-served list and get a Section 8 rent subsidy in about five years (hopefully), I can sell my medallion, invest the proceeds, and have enough money to manage until I’m 94, while slowly consuming my capital.

With this plan, until I sell my medallion, I’ll have to drive taxi 40 hours a week eleven months per year for the first time in my life, which means I’ll have to stop trying to save the world. I can take the weight of the world off my shoulders.

Going back and forth to the airport in my taxi can be a bit boring, but it’s not all that hard. I can still work on my devices while I’m parked at the airport waiting for a fare (more than an hour on average) and take home enough money to make ends meet.

I should be grateful I’m as well off as I am and have been able to do as much as I have with my life. So unless someone offers me a part-time job doing social-change work, my goals will have to be much more modest.

My inclination is to focus on writing, with a priority on Wade’s Weekly. The 120 or so subscribers to that blog is not a huge number. But writers like to have readers, and I very much appreciate the feedback I receive, and hope to put more time into engaging in dialog with my readers.

Who knows? Maybe I plant an occasional seed that blooms somewhere. Or maybe we just bolster one another in our resolve to contribute to human evolution as best we can.

Regardless, I have numerous ideas for essays on my mind that I really want to write. They say if you have to write, you are a writer. Maybe I am.

So, unless some miracle happens with the Residents’ Council while I’m away, or “Changing the System: A Proposal for a National Conference” develops in a way that involves me, I’ll once again try to drop my self-identity as a “community organizer” and fade away into the sunset, alone, pen in hand.