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The Blog Formerly Known as…

[ by Charles Cameron — Leah Farrall on the state of counterterrorism ]

Until recently, friend and blog-friend Leah Farrall‘s highly-regarded blog carried this header:

No more.

Leah, the former al-Qaeda subject matter specialist and senior Counter Terrorism Intelligence Analyst with the Australian Federal Police — Andrew Exum once called her the “Aussie goddess of all things counter-terrorism” — hasn’t been blogging a whole lot recently.

Today, the header of her blog looks just a little different. It now reads:

To understand why, you’ll want to read the series of seven posts she uploaded today under the new header.


The title for the series goes with the first post:

When words have consequences: on labeling children “terror spawn,” and some stories and thoughts on agency …

The series continues:

II: The situation of children born into jihad
III: Bin Laden’s children
IV The situation of other children and the lack of options
V Understanding the pressures against leaving and the dangers it can entail
VI Addressing this issue without exploiting already traumatized victims

Leah concludes the series with a post in which she lays out a more general critique of the field, and explains the reasoning behind her decision to change the name of her blog:

VII A Personal Prologue.


Caitlin Fitz Gerald (@caidid) was among the first to note Leah’s posts on Twitter, and wrote:

Confirmed: @allthingsct series is required reading. Set aside some time this weekend, start here and read all 7.

J.M. Berger (@intelwire) took the time to do so, and tweeted:

Just finished the entirety of @allthingsct’s epic series starting here and I cannot stress enough that you shld read it.

It is a great exposition of something rarely discussed, with broader implications as well. Also very human.


Leah has written a moving and courageous essay: I commend it highly.


I have also invited Leah to write a guest-post for us here at Zenpundit expanding on her critique of current trends in counterterrorism, and she’s agreed. So that’s something to keep an keen eye out for, date uncertain at this point.

6 Responses to “The Blog Formerly Known as…”

  1. Steve Hynd Says:

    I read Leah’s posts when they came out yesterday. Stunningly good stuff, and the final piece is a showstopper. I just hope that she doesn’t get relegated to the ranks of the “un-serious” by those her essay is aimed at. That would be a great unjustice.

  2. tdaxp Says:

    This was a weird series by Leah. What’s the point?  “Duhumanizing labeling”? We’re supposed to take that seriously? PC nonsense?

    Kids all over the USA get stuck in low-SES homes. Kids get blown up by bombs in war. Labels are the least of kids problems.  

  3. michael robinson Says:

    Thanks, the final piece is particularly moving.  One thinks of an analogous situation explored in ‘Hitler’s Children,’ a documentary examining the dilemma of five of the  surviving children of senior members of the Nazi administration, which asked to what extent the sins of the fathers should become the burden of their sons and daughters? Two reviews: the Daily Telegraph, and Jasper Rees at Arts Desk
    Residents of the UK can view the program on the BBC’s i-player here

  4. Curtis Gale Weeks Says:

    I didn’t think I was going to read through all this, thought I would skim it, but found myself reading from start to finish.
    A little tired right now after an all-nighter, so might respond more fully later.
    I think that the author made some interesting observations and a worthy plea, but doesn’t go into the sort of analytic detail I would like.
    I would have to disagree with The Doctor above:   labels are extremely important.  But what are labels, exactly?  This question will probably inform my next comment on the subject.

  5. Charles Cameron Says:

    Greetings, all:
    There’s a remarkable parallel between, and also a notable gap between, Sun Tzu’s teaching that we should know our enemies, and Christ’s that we should love them.  On a less rarefied plane, one may recommend a given course of action because it is strategically advantageous, or because it is only right and proper to take it.  Likewise in the world of philanthropy, you can give because your tax attorney tells you it will cost you nothing, or because you wish to “give and not to count the cost”. 
    It’s great where both types of motive — the practical and the altruistic — overlap.
    Leah makes it pretty clear that in her opinion, both as a working counterterrorism specialist and more recently as an academic researcher of the subject, it is strategically to our advantage not to mock our enemies, and more specifically the children born into their camp (in both metaphoric and literal senses). 
    She also holds that it is morally right to treat one’s enemy with respect – and in this she has the history of chivalry behind her, and the excellent argument that if we lower our own standards in response to barbarities of others, we shall have lost the very thing most valuable about ourselves and our civilization in the first place.
    As an Australian, Leah also finds these twin reasons echoed in her country’s stated policies:

    A response based on our democratic values and universal human rights serves to undermine the narrative of terrorist groups that seek to portray our actions, and those of our allies, as oppressive…

    Nowhere in all of this do I see signs of “political correctness”.

  6. Curtis Gale Weeks Says:

    I largely agree with your last comment.
    However, despite the fact that there is so much more I would say on the topic — been mulling this over — I will say for now that two interrelated questions keep pounding the front of my forehead (the inside part.)
    First, I’m guessing that Leah’s Twitter interlocutor will probably not be read by those children wanting to escape their situation, whether they succeed or not.  Similarly, I doubt that there will be much direct contact between any of Leah’s readers and those children.  So I have to wonder what she is trying to accomplish, exactly?  Who is she preaching to, and what good will come of her preaching to her select audience?  (I do not know the readership of her blog, but she is targeting them directly.)
    I think it must be a given that those children, upon escaping, might run into individuals who would look down upon them.  They would probably see characterizations of themselves or at least the whole “jihadi culture” in the media; although not targeted directly at them, the labels used in some media might seem to include them.  So, second, I’m wondering if Leah’s effort is to change a narrative that is entrenched.   That seems to be her impression of that narrative.  This would be, I think, a monumental task requiring much more than a mere series of blog posts on a single blog.  I’m not even sure she has a clear vision of the scope of the effort that might be required; so, while I appreciate what she wrote in her series of blog posts, I can see where her efforts might seem a bit wee and too-too
    But as I said, there’s more I might say.   The idea of inspiring or organizing an effort to help those children leave is a very good one, quite beyond the issue of narrative.
    Been mulling a truism, call it a tentative hypothesis maybe:  Labels are icons that all too often become idols.  (Per our last conversation here on ZP.)  Hmmm.

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