It dawned on me this afternoon as I was working out–as sad as it is to ponder–terrorist attacks seem to be the new normal. Please realize, I am not saying we should accept this new normal by any stretch, but after waking up to the tragedy in Dhaka, the Bangladeshi capital, it really has me thinking. This adversary—ISIS, ISIL, IS, Daesh, Radical Islam, Radical Islamic Terrorism—I’m not sure we can even agree on what or who the adversary is. If we don’t know how to address this foe, how do we communicate in combatting it? Or, is terrorism a new third rail? If we can’t communicate we can’t collaborate against said foe, and sadly if we can’t communicate and collaborate, we can not muster creative solutions and the virus spreads.
This is not a political statement, religious or spiritual stance. It is simply a call to confront the issue and perhaps a fictional lens through which to examine the crisis.
Let’s review the latest attack. Sumon Reza, a kitchen worker, told reporters that armed men entered a restaurant where approximately 20 foreigners were dining at about 8:45 p.m. on a Friday. The attackers shouted “Allah Akbar” (Allah is great) before opening fire and detonating several explosives.
The attacks have raised more strategic fears that the once moderate country of Bangladesh is in the grip of a wave of violence coordinated by international terrorist groups, although the government has insisted that the attacks are committed by local groups and not coordinated by outside forces.
Ali Riaz, a political science professor at Illinois State University notes, “What we’re witnessing can’t be small groups coming together. It is clearly a very coordinated attack. If this doesn’t convince them to come out of denial, then I don’t know what will.”
The terrorist group that burst onto the scene by professing to create a religious state is increasingly becoming a larger more sophisticated version of its stateless rival, Al Qaeda. Traditional military efforts are just one approach to deterring, preventing, and dealing with threats. These far-flung and chiefly civilian targets are also a growing priority demanding law enforcement and intelligence services attention as well. What we have done up to this point is simply not working. These threats demand new, innovative, strategic thinking and leadership.
John O. Brennan, the Central Intelligence Agency Director, is unusually blunt about the slow nature of progress in the fight against the Islamic State outside Syria and Iraq. He has voiced fears that allied policy is not keeping up with a formidable and resilient enemy that is accelerating its shift to a new phase of terrorism.
Dhaka is just the most recent of more than a dozen attacks that have been claimed by or are suspected of being carried out by the Islamic State in Bangladesh.
Panning out from Bangladesh, there have been 1,200 people outside of Iraq and Syria killed in attacks inspired or coordinated by the Islamic State, according to a New York Times analysis.
Strategic Question: Red vs Blue
In military field or fleet exercises, the two sides in the simulated or planned battle are typically called “red” and “blue“, to avoid naming a particular adversary
In U.S. and NATO exercises, this naming convention dates from the Cold War construct where the principal geo-political adversaries of the U.S. and NATO of the period, specifically the Soviet Union, the People’s Republic of China and their various proxy states were viewed as “red” forces based on their national flags and the association of communism with the color red, whereas friendly forces were depicted by the color blue.
Now visualize the map above is there more red or blue? Strategically thinking– is blue increasingly relevant and influential or is blue’s influence waining? Consider the influence of a resurgent Russia, a growing China, Iran, North Korea—and issues in several African countries–all in addition to the rise of ISIS and Al Queda– we begin to overlay today’s world map with a spread of a contaminant.
The Fictional Apocalypse
In a zombie apocalypse, a widespread (usually global) rise of zombies hostile to human life engages in a general assault on civilization. Victims of zombies may become zombies themselves. This causes the outbreak to become an exponentially growing crisis: the spreading phenomenon swamps normal military and law enforcement organizations, leading to the panicked collapse of civilized society until only isolated pockets of survivors remain, scavenging for food and supplies in a world reduced to a pre-industrial hostile wilderness.
One scholar concluded that “more than any other monster, zombies are fully and literally apocalyptic … they signal the end of the world as we have known it.” While zombie apocalypse scenarios are secular, they may follow a religious pattern.
Zombie Stories Elements
- Initial contacts with zombies are extremely dangerous and traumatic, causing shock, panic, disbelief and possibly denial, hampering survivors’ ability to deal with hostile encounters.
- The response of authorities to the threat is slower than its rate of growth, giving the zombie plague time to expand beyond containment. This results in the collapse of the given society. Zombies take full control, while small groups of the living must fight for their survival.
The stories usually follow a single group of survivors, caught up in the sudden rush of the crisis. The narrative generally progresses from the onset of the zombie plague, then initial attempts to seek the aid of authorities, the failure of those authorities, through to the sudden catastrophic collapse of all large-scale organization and the characters’ subsequent attempts to survive on their own. Such stories are often squarely focused on the way the characters react to such an extreme catastrophe, and how their personalities are changed by the stress, often acting on more primal motivations (fear, self-preservation) than they would display in normal life.
The parallels are stark—but the key is obvious—Leadership. Courageous, creative, bold, humble, audacious leadership—a leader to guide us through the complexity, crisis, and confusion of our world today. In order to operate in this new age of hyper-change, connectivity and growing uncertainty, it is imperative we learn and develop a new competency—anticipatory leadership. A leader who embodies the qualities of the futurist, the strategist, and the integrator—a leader who encourages genuine intellectual curiosity, not governed by a concern for popularity, but guided by principles and a moral obligation to confront unequivocally the major anxiety of the people in our time.
Zombie apocalypse or a global ideological clash—leadership, strategy, and creativity is the solution—enabled through communication, collaboration, and innovation. The question—in our tribal world, where the other side is always wrong and vilified—can we lead—can we think—can we innovate our way out of the this crisis? I would like the believe the best is still within our nation.
“All of the great leaders have had one characteristic in common: it was the willingness to confront unequivocally the major anxiety of their people in their time. This, and not much else, is the essence of leadership.” – John Kenneth Galbraith
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