How You Can Stop Terrorism

Want to know how you can help stop ISIL? Stop buying their brand.

A 24/7 help desk that offers support to ongoing operations. A marketing machine that enhances and speaks to the organization’s mission in the world. A top-notch human resource recruiting capability that identifies motivated, potential employees. All things any new startup would want to have as part of its go-to-market strategy. Unfortunately, in this case, the start-up is ISIL and it’s not really a startup, but a savvy, violent organization bent on destruction. ISIL has successfully co-opted modern corporate strategies and brought them to the business of terror. Indeed, the brand they're selling is commercially successful.

ISIL Help Desk

According to Dr. Aaron Brantly of the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, ISIL has created a support capability of five to six members that offer guidance on how to use encryption, hide personally identifying information from authorities, and use apps like Twitter while avoiding detection. The support team is a group of IT specialists all around the globe. "I would say they're quite technically sophisticated on the whole," Brantly said.

Some of the questions the ISIL help desk answers?

  • How to conceal your phone number when signing up for apps like Telegram: One example provided to CNNMoney showed a 28-page guide to faking your phone number when creating accounts on both Telegram and Twitter.
  • Questions on whether jihadists should use Skype to communicate.
  • Precautions users should take when using Instagram to avoid releasing their location, and tips for thwarting facial-recognition technology.
  • Which apps are best for making a phone call?
  • How to digitally communicate if Internet access is cut off.
  • How to securely browse the web.

ISIL Marketing

Routinely, ISIL produces and distributes a sophisticated, slick, propaganda-laden magazine aimed at influencing the message around its activity. Created by ISIL’s marketing arm, the al-Hayat Media Centre, and dubbed Dabiq, the magazine bills itself as “a periodical magazine focusing on the issues of tawhid (unity), manhaj (truth-seeking), hijrah (migration), jihad (holy war), and jama'ah (community). It will also contain photo reports, current events, and informative articles on matters relating to the Islamic State.”

There have been 12 issues of Dabiq released thus far, covering topics like the justification of sex slavery and the glorification of children soldiers. The most recent issue covers the terrorist attacks in Paris, the double-bombing in Beirut, and the downing of a Russian plane in Sinai.

Dabiq takes its name from a town in northern Syria. According to Islamic prophecy, the town will be the site where the caliphate’s forces will destroy “Rome” and bring about the apocalypse, a theme essential to ISIL’s recruiting. As Mother Jones reports, Dabiq “is a recruitment tool for ISIS, which uses the publication to deliver ‘informative’ updates from its territory and articulate lengthy religious arguments that the group says justify its brutal tactics."

In justifying the attacks on Paris earlier this month, Dabiq says:

“A year earlier, on '19 September 2014,' France haughtily began executing airstrikes against the Khilāfah [Caliphate]. Like Russia, it was blinded by hubris, thinking that its geographical distance from the lands of the Khilāfah would protect it from the justice of the mujāhidīn. It also did not grasp that its mockery of the Messenger would not be left unavenged. Thus, the Islamic State dispatched its brave knights to wage war in the homelands of the wicked crusaders, leaving Paris and its residents 'shocked and awed.' The eight knights brought Paris down on its knees, after years of French conceit in the face of Islam.”

ISIL Recruitment

In a Brookings Institution study released this spring, it was discovered that ISIL supporters used at least 46,000 Twitter accounts. On average, those accounts had about 1,000 followers each. The scope and breadth of ISIL’s reach via social media is astounding as other statistics from that study show:

  • Almost one in five ISIS supporters selected English as their primary language when using Twitter. Three quarters selected Arabic.
  • Much of ISIS’ social media success can be attributed to a relatively small group of hyperactive users, numbering between 500 and 2,000 accounts, which tweet in concentrated bursts of high volume.
  • Typical ISIS supporters were located within the organization’s territories in Syria and Iraq, as well as in regions contested by ISIS. Hundreds of ISIS-supporting accounts sent tweets with location metadata embedded.

"There are thousands of messages being put out into the ethersphere and they're just hoping that they land on an individual who's susceptible to that type of terrorist propaganda," said John Carlin, assistant attorney general of the U.S. Justice Department's national security division.

"This is not your grandfather's al-Qaida," FBI Director James Comey told the Senate Judiciary Committee earlier this year. "This is a group of people using social media to reach thousands and thousands of followers, find the ones who might be interested in committing acts of violence, and then moving them to an (end-to-end) encrypted messaging app."

ISIL truly has the most successful global recruitment and communications strategy of any terror group in the world. And like corporate competition in capital markets, we can cause their failure. If we treat ISIL as a brand, as a commodity, as a business, we can apply strategic messaging and branding tactics that force their demise. In much the same way as two corporate competitors battle head to head for market share, we can interrupt their supply chain and disrupt their financing.

If you want to know what you can do to fight terrorism, to end the cycle of brutality and fear, stop buying the ISIL brand. Stop watching the videos; stop re-tweeting their messages; and tell others to do the same.

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Experts argue the jaws of an ancient European ape reveal a key human ancestor.

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  • The jaw bones of an 8-million-year-old ape were discovered at Nikiti, Greece, in the '90s.
  • Researchers speculate it could be a previously unknown species and one of humanity's earliest evolutionary ancestors.
  • These fossils may change how we view the evolution of our species.

Homo sapiens have been on earth for 200,000 years — give or take a few ten-thousand-year stretches. Much of that time is shrouded in the fog of prehistory. What we do know has been pieced together by deciphering the fossil record through the principles of evolutionary theory. Yet new discoveries contain the potential to refashion that knowledge and lead scientists to new, previously unconsidered conclusions.

A set of 8-million-year-old teeth may have done just that. Researchers recently inspected the upper and lower jaw of an ancient European ape. Their conclusions suggest that humanity's forebearers may have arisen in Europe before migrating to Africa, potentially upending a scientific consensus that has stood since Darwin's day.

Rethinking humanity's origin story

The frontispiece of Thomas Huxley's Evidence as to Man's Place in Nature (1863) sketched by natural history artist Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

As reported in New Scientist, the 8- to 9-million-year-old hominin jaw bones were found at Nikiti, northern Greece, in the '90s. Scientists originally pegged the chompers as belonging to a member of Ouranopithecus, an genus of extinct Eurasian ape.

David Begun, an anthropologist at the University of Toronto, and his team recently reexamined the jaw bones. They argue that the original identification was incorrect. Based on the fossil's hominin-like canines and premolar roots, they identify that the ape belongs to a previously unknown proto-hominin.

The researchers hypothesize that these proto-hominins were the evolutionary ancestors of another European great ape Graecopithecus, which the same team tentatively identified as an early hominin in 2017. Graecopithecus lived in south-east Europe 7.2 million years ago. If the premise is correct, these hominins would have migrated to Africa 7 million years ago, after undergoing much of their evolutionary development in Europe.

Begun points out that south-east Europe was once occupied by the ancestors of animals like the giraffe and rhino, too. "It's widely agreed that this was the found fauna of most of what we see in Africa today," he told New Scientists. "If the antelopes and giraffes could get into Africa 7 million years ago, why not the apes?"

He recently outlined this idea at a conference of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists.

It's worth noting that Begun has made similar hypotheses before. Writing for the Journal of Human Evolution in 2002, Begun and Elmar Heizmann of the Natural history Museum of Stuttgart discussed a great ape fossil found in Germany that they argued could be the ancestor (broadly speaking) of all living great apes and humans.

"Found in Germany 20 years ago, this specimen is about 16.5 million years old, some 1.5 million years older than similar species from East Africa," Begun said in a statement then. "It suggests that the great ape and human lineage first appeared in Eurasia and not Africa."

Migrating out of Africa

In the Descent of Man, Charles Darwin proposed that hominins descended out of Africa. Considering the relatively few fossils available at the time, it is a testament to Darwin's astuteness that his hypothesis remains the leading theory.

Since Darwin's time, we have unearthed many more fossils and discovered new evidence in genetics. As such, our African-origin story has undergone many updates and revisions since 1871. Today, it has splintered into two theories: the "out of Africa" theory and the "multi-regional" theory.

The out of Africa theory suggests that the cradle of all humanity was Africa. Homo sapiens evolved exclusively and recently on that continent. At some point in prehistory, our ancestors migrated from Africa to Eurasia and replaced other subspecies of the genus Homo, such as Neanderthals. This is the dominant theory among scientists, and current evidence seems to support it best — though, say that in some circles and be prepared for a late-night debate that goes well past last call.

The multi-regional theory suggests that humans evolved in parallel across various regions. According to this model, the hominins Homo erectus left Africa to settle across Eurasia and (maybe) Australia. These disparate populations eventually evolved into modern humans thanks to a helping dollop of gene flow.

Of course, there are the broad strokes of very nuanced models, and we're leaving a lot of discussion out. There is, for example, a debate as to whether African Homo erectus fossils should be considered alongside Asian ones or should be labeled as a different subspecies, Homo ergaster.

Proponents of the out-of-Africa model aren't sure whether non-African humans descended from a single migration out of Africa or at least two major waves of migration followed by a lot of interbreeding.

Did we head east or south of Eden?

Not all anthropologists agree with Begun and his team's conclusions. As noted by New Scientist, it is possible that the Nikiti ape is not related to hominins at all. It may have evolved similar features independently, developing teeth to eat similar foods or chew in a similar manner as early hominins.

Ultimately, Nikiti ape alone doesn't offer enough evidence to upend the out of Africa model, which is supported by a more robust fossil record and DNA evidence. But additional evidence may be uncovered to lend further credence to Begun's hypothesis or lead us to yet unconsidered ideas about humanity's evolution.