The rise of lockdown radicalism

Author: Farooq Yousaf

COVID-19 lockdowns throughout the world have aggravated socio-political inequalities, especially in the Global South as governments try to respond to the pandemic. Various terrorist, radical and violent extremist groups, especially the so-called Islamic State, are trying to cash in on these inequalities to propagate hate-filled narratives.

Filipino soldiers are pictured on the site of an explosion in Jolo Island, Sulu province, Philippines, 24 August 2020 (Photo: Reuters/Nickee Butlangan).

In Nigeria, for instance, Boko Haram has called the closure of mosques — a precaution taken in response to COVID-19 — a direct ‘attack on Islam’. Similarly, there remains fear among security experts that as the lockdowns continue to confine people to their homes, radical and violent extremist groups are gaining an opportunity to radicalise ‘younger’ audiences who are spending more unsupervised time on the Internet.

The Australian Security Intelligence Organisation’s (ASIO) Deputy Director-General Heather Cook, speaking at the Australian Parliament’s Joint Intelligence and Security Committee, also warned that the conditions arising out of the pandemic have provided extremist groups, including neo-Nazi organisations, the means to radicalise more people.

In a recent meeting of the UN Security Council on pressing global security issues in August, counter-terrorism experts noted a spike in the so-called Islamic State’s (IS) online activities. Experts also reiterated the importance of repatriating terrorist families stranded in the Middle East to prevent IS from spreading its influence. These concerns indicate that the threat from violent extremist and terrorist groups such as IS remains within both ‘virtual’ (online) and ‘physical’ (family) networks.

In recent months, IS’s online propaganda campaign — unlike its coherent media campaigns during the group’s peak before 2017 — has mushroomed, with supporters all over the world running individual campaigns. According to Michael Krona, much of the IS literature is now propagated by IS supporters through bots on Telegram and other social media platforms. Moreover, in order to avoid detection by law enforcement agencies, IS and its supporters have increased their online activity in recent months through the constant renewal of online hyperlinks and the migration to and from different platforms.

Security agencies in South Asia have also witnessed a spike in IS’s online activity intended to radicalise a younger audience. India’s National Investigation Agency (NIA) reported a rise in online activity from IS supporters, especially in the southern states of Kerala, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, where 122 accused have so far been arrested. Bangladesh similarly reported a surge in online IS propaganda activities mainly targeting urban, educated youths.

Family terror networks remain a prominent feature of IS’s global operations. These networks, even today, present a major global security threat mostly because of legal, social and privacy concerns that make it challenging to monitor family units and their activities extensively. Several high-profile terrorist attacks under the banner of IS, in recent times, have involved marriage and relatives. In one instance on 24 August, ‘widows’ of two prominent IS militants carried out twin suicide bombings in Jolo town in the Philippines, killing 15. Similarly, this October, security agencies in the Philippines arrested another woman planning a suicide attack in the country. Rezky Fantasya Rullie is believed to be the wife of a militant killed in Sulu in August and possibly the daughter of two suicide bombers who conducted an attack on a Catholic cathedral in Jolo in 2019.

That members of the same family unit are involved in radicalisation activities and terrorist attacks warrants attention from security strategists and policymakers. With lockdowns in place in most of the world and IS supporters increasing their online presence, the probability that traditional conservative families will be targeted by IS for radicalisation is higher. In such families, older male members are generally revered, making it easier to persuade both younger and female members into joining extremist political, religious and violent groups.

There is now a specific focus among extremist groups on recruiting female operatives, especially in Bangladesh, suggesting these groups are increasingly turning to women to radicalise other members of the family. Other groups in South Asia such as Lashkar-e-Taiba — the Pakistani militant group accused of engaging in proxy-warfare in Indian Kashmir — have effectively targeted and used females to convince their sons to wage jihad against India.

The twin threats of virtual and physical recruitment present short and long-term implications for states in the Global South that lack the infrastructure and capabilities to combat radicalisation and terrorism. Although technological advancements enable the monitoring of terrorists on online networks, monitoring and countering physical family networks still presents significant policy challenges.

As witnessed in the well-coordinated 2019 Easter attacks in Sri Lanka — involving members of two families — even though the operational capacity of IS has taken a significant hit in the Middle East, the threat of online and family terror networks, especially in South Asia, cannot be underestimated.

Farooq Yousaf holds a PhD in politics from the University of Newcastle, Australia.

This article is part of an EAF special feature series on the novel coronavirus crisis and its impact.

Why Bose Sleepbuds™ II might just be the solution for young researchers with sleep issues

Disclaimer: This is not a paid review or promotion. These are personal experiences and views on a product that helped me regain some of my lost sleep. These observations are based on my own specific personal circumstances. I am not an expert on sleep issues, therefore, I am not generalizing the benefits of this products nor claiming that this product will help everyone.

Coming from an academic, research and journalism background, this review is not something I would usually write. Many of my friends, colleagues and peers might even be surprised and enquire as to what prompted me to write this review for something that has nothing to do with my profession.

However, I have a simple answer; an excellent product, with an amazing after-sales service, which helped me regain some of my lost sleep.

Source: https://www.bose.com.au/en_au

Being an early career researcher has its ups and downs. One of the biggest ‘downs’ in that regard is uneven sleeping hours, mainly due to the random patterns of our research, reading and writing. Even though I succeeded in completing my PhD thesis on time, it was last year (after finishing my PhD) that I realized the massive negative impact my research had on my sleep. Even with little stress and work pressures, I was sleeping late and waking up early in the morning. A lack of sleep ultimately had a negative impact on my mental health, making me more agitated and less calm.

It was then that I started looking into products that could help me sleep better. Ultimately, I landed on the Bose Sleepbuds (Version 1).

Initially, I was unwilling to spend over $300 AUD on a product that looked like just ‘another’ pair of earbuds, with some pre-set sounds and tunes. However, I decided to give it a shot. Initially, I was unable to get used to sleeping with the earbuds. However, after a couple of weeks, I did not only get used to the product, but it also started improving, and increasing, my sleeping hours without waking up in the middle of the night. The Sleepbuds also helped me get 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep, which also had a positive impact on my overall day to day functioning.

As fate would have it, after few months of use, I started noticing major issues with the battery. The battery was only charging up to 57% (for some reason), and draining in less than four hours, compared to the eight hours promised by Bose. I still persisted with the product as, due to my previous experiences with other brands, I did not believe that I will get a product replacement after almost a year of use. In the meantime, I also landed on a news story stating that Bose had recalled the whole batch of its Sleepbuds due to battery issues and it was also offering replacements and refunds. However, I had missed the deadline for a refund.

Source: https://www.bose.com.au/en_au

Ironically, I still persisted with the product until one of the magnets (that holds the earbuds in the charging station) lost it magnetic power, making it impossible for me to recharge one of the buds. In the meantime, I had also backed a similar product on a crowdfunding platform, hoping that the product might be good replacement for my Bose buds. Once the product arrived, I realized why Bose buds’ cost what they cost and why the new buds were nowhere near Bose in terms of quality, battery time, and the length (and loops) of sounds and tunes. The sound loops for many might not be a major deal. However, longer sound loops ensure that you get less distractions and disruptions while listening to your sounds before sleeping.

Finally, I decided to contact Bose customer service, hoping to get some resolution for my product, and encountered my first pleasant surprise. Due to my introverted nature, I avoid “calling” customer service helplines. Therefore, I was really glad that Bose had a WhatsApp chat service. The customer service officer, responding on WhatsApp, chat was not only courteous and helpful, but they also resolved my issue within a few hours. It was also then I encountered my second shock. Bose offered to replace my Version 1 with Version 2 (released recently), free of cost. I couldn’t believe this offer until I physically had my hands on the replacement, and the product arrived within two weeks.

With the new product, I noticed a number of major upgrades.

First, the earbuds had a better design and fit better in the ears.

Second, the battery charging was better and faster with a USB-C port. Even though Bose claims that the battery lasts between 8-10 hours (compared to Version 1’s maximum 8 hours), I have had 30% battery left even after 10 hours of usage. This means that Bose has remained on the cautious side in terms of its battery claims, which is understandable as Version 1 mainly failed due to battery issues. The battery lasts longer than 10 hours, which is an amazing upgrade.

Third, unlike a limited number of pre-set sounds and tunes on Version 1, Version 2 has three times more the sounds and tunes. This allows the user to choose between different sounds and tunes, and ultimately selecting the one that suits them the best.

Fourth, the new buds have a separate magnet in them for better alignment with the charging case. The buds now automatically fit (and stick) on the charging case, with a stronger magnet, without having to look for the ‘magnet’ in the case. A separate magnet in the earbuds might look like a trivial thing, however, the magnet ensures that the buds are placed perfectly in the charging case, even in dark, without much effort.

Finally, where previously transferring a new tune or sound took hours, Version 2 takes 10-15 minutes to transfer a new tune to your earbuds.  

In short, so far, I have been really satisfied with Bose Sleepbuds II. The price tag might seem a bit high to young researchers, academics and students. However, from personal experience, I can definitely and safely say that it is worth the investment. Having said that, I still think that like other major services and products on the market, Bose can look into offering the product at a discounted price to students and young academics, to attract a segment of customers that will definitely gain benefits from this product.

As I mentioned in the disclaimer above, I am not a sleep expert, and not claiming that the product will help everyone with sleep issues. However, the product helped me regain some of my lost sleep. Therefore, for researchers with similar issues, it might be worth giving this product a shot; even if it is a free trial 90-day offered by Bose.