For VICE I Interviewed an expert on Shiite militias — groups that function as our partners against ISIS but are also helping to sustain the Assad regime in Syria and fuel the sectarian conflicts that define Iraq.
Not all of these militia groups pledge allegiance to Iran, the Shiite stronghold trying to position itself as a champion for Muslims and minorities against Sunni jihadists like ISIS. But the influx of Shiite fighters reveals the tendrils of Iran’s influence. Shiite militias that aid us in a pragmatic, Machiavellian way also help sustain the Assad regime in Syria and, through retribution against Sunnis, feed the entrenched, sectarian animus that defines Iraqi society. As more forces are activated to combat ISIS, many scholars have argued that Iran stands to gain, on the ground in Damascus and Baghdad and in the zoomed-out power game.
Among them is Phillip Smyth, a researcher at the University of Maryland and adjunct fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. In an in-depth study on Shiite militarism, Smyth argues that the militias represent a mobile army of Iran’s bidding. VICE spoke to Smyth about the future of Iraq, Iran’s foreign policy, and the consequences of sectarian war.
For New York, I Interviewed Hassan Hassan, a Syrian journalist and researcher who is out with a new book, “ISIS: Inside the Army of Terror,” co-authored by Michael Weiss. Hassan interviewed dozens of ISIS fighters, clerics, propagandists. We explore their motivations, the history of Iraqi and Syrian conflict, and American foreign policy.
One of the goals of the book is to put ISIS in historical context, to explain its roots. Can you talk about the American decision, after the invasion of Iraq, to prevent Baath Party members from participating in public life?
The origins of ISIS go even further. Saddam Hussein tried to Islamize Baathism. And the result of that was the radicalization of an already violent group. That was a dangerous mix. Many of these people turned against Saddam Hussein even during his reign.
When the war happened in 2003, a lot of these people, former Baathists, but also people who were disbanded, naturally joined the insurgency. All of a sudden they felt that they no longer held power, which is always a powerful sentiment. So a lot of these officers who joined the insurgency, they weren’t fighting for Saddam Hussein, they were fighting for their own class and sect.
After the insurgency, ISIS, or the previous incarnation of ISIS, began to have a more central role. This was because of the power vacuum left by the Americans and the Iraqi government. But also because they learned from the mistake they made before, which was basically to alienate the local population without trying to establish a presence and loyalty with the Sunni population in Iraq. The top leadership of ISIS is dominated by individuals who had some sort of background with the previous Iraqi regime, so Baathists brought all this experience to bear with ISIS. So they have a very strong, nascent security apparatus that’s conscious of the potential weaknesses of the group.
For Slate I reported on a Senate hearing on the Internet of things and explored the political dangers of pervasive health tracking:
At the Senate hearing on the Internet of Things earlier this month,innovation wasn’t just a hand-me-down buzzword from the Valley. It was an ideology. Sen. Cory Booker spoke of the nascent industry of connected devices as an evangelical preaches miracles. Concerns over destructive malware, colossal data breaches, and the brazen unraveling of privacy were given voice, but they were drowned out by the gospel of market efficiency. The path to riches may be paved by ubiquitous data capture, but policymakers are failing to see its ultimate costs.
Sara Corbett, of the New York Times Magazine, on Airbnb in Tokyo:
Amid the million or so rental listings on Airbnb, amid the castles (at last count, there were 1,200 castles) and fantasy beach spreads, amid houseboats and ski gondolas and tree houses in the jungle, amid the scores of assiduously vacuumed urban apartments showcasing vividly printed bedspreads and devotion to Ikea minimalism, Yoppy’s place is eye-catching for being none of that. Its governing aesthetic is what I’d term “salaryman bachelor.”
For The Verge I wrote about a new government report on the internet of things and the dangers of pervasive data collection.
As a political document, the FTC’s report has the sterile touch of evenhandedness. In its pursuit to illuminate the social ramifications of car trackers, healthcare wearables, and thinking thermostats, the commission had to simultaneously manage the regulatory anxiety of hardware manufacturers, analytics firms, and insurance providers. And in the Beltway balancing act of public interest on the one hand and capital “I” Innovation on the other, the FTC appears almost too timid to follow through on its own research.
David Streitfeld of the New York Times explores the idea and practice of a consumer score, the phenomenon where not only are products and hotels and drivers rated, but customers are rated as well. Streitfeld breaks down a new academic paper that examines online reputation. He also discusses how businesses are implementing consumer scores and what dangers they might represent.
“Highly specific pools of reputation information will become more useful in aggregate,” said Mr. Fertik, co-author with David C. Thompson of “The Reputation Economy,” a guide to optimizing digital footprints. “If you’re a really good Uber passenger, that may be useful information for Amtrak or American Airlines. But if you add in your reputation from Airbnb plus OpenTable plus eBay, it starts to get useful globally.” He added: “It’s inevitable that these review systems are coming. What I’m worried about is whether they’re accurate enough. Otherwise, we’re going to get a disinformation economy.” Will a review system know that someone gets out to the cab a little late because of mobility issues, instead of discourtesy?
For Motherboard, I wrote about the dark side of social media, and how it may undermine protest movements in the long run.
Following Evgeny Morozov’s pivotal and persuasive The Net Delusion, (the book equivalent of a weekend’s worth of Snapchats from your friend Eddie Snowden) Tufekci illustrates how governments are subverting communication tools with overt repression and shrewd finesse, embodying all those high school essays juxtaposing Orwell’s vision of the future with Huxley’s.