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Politically and Economically Driven Middle East Violence: How the Web Can Stop It

Nancy Bordier's picture

Nancy Bordier and Joseph M. Firestone

Our thesis is that the violence engulfing the Middle East is driven primarily by political and economic factors. The roots of this violence derive from complex chains of political and economic causes. Prominent among the causes is indigenous populations' lack of civil, political and human rights, and their inability to compel their governments to provide basic necessities, education, job skills, living wage jobs, and wealth creating opportunities providing lifelong financial security.

In addition, Western governments' political, economic and military interventions in the Middle East in support of extractive industries such as oil, when coupled with their alliance with oppressive regimes in the region, compounded the difficulties faced by indigenous populations plagued by systemic injustice and poverty. The failure of efforts to bring peace to the troubled relationships between Palestinians and Israelis added an inflammatory mix of religious, communal and tribal tensions to the political and economic roots of the violence.

While the recent popular uprising in the Middle East known as the "Arab Spring" initially appeared to pave the way to the political and economic enfranchisement of indigenous populations, the rigidity of traditional political institutions prevented the development of a consensus among the protagonists about how to translate popular discontent into broad-based consensus-building and democratic decision-making processes. The result was a rapid restoration of the prior political status quo, as in the case of Egypt, while elsewhere anarchy prevailed and failed states unable to maintain law and order emerged, such as in Libya.

One of the major outgrowths of this chain of events has been the emergence of a brutal new fighting force in the region comprised of armed militias operating under the aegis of the self-proclaimed "Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant" (ISIL). ISIL and its assorted allies throughout the region have been able to gain control of large swaths of territory in Iraq and Syria and at the same time gradually extend their reach to a diaspora of direct and indirect affiliates in Africa and elsewhere. One of the main attractions drawing together their respective supporters and fighters appears to be common bonds of shared rage, hatred and desire for revenge against oppressive Middle East governments and their Western allies, especially the United States in the aftermath of its invasion of Iraq in 2003.

These complex chains of political and economic causality have not gone unnoticed by these powers. U.S. President Barack Obama recently acknowledged in a taped interview that the emergence of ISIL is an "unintended consequence" of the U.S invasion of Iraq. He also attributed the emergence of ISIL to the failure of the post-invasion Iraqi government to establish effective and inclusive democratic institutions capable of overcoming sectarian divisions, particularly between Shiites and Sunnis. The U.S. president is also reported to have expressed the view that "oppression feeds violent extremism" and to have urged Middle East governments to address grievances stemming from indigenous populations' belief that there is no pathway open to them to escape injustice and impoverished living conditions.

In spite of these views, the U.S. has taken a lead role in orchestrating a concerted military offensive to defeat ISIL in response to the savagery and oppression ISIL has inflicted on its captives (including public beheadings), its success in recruiting tens of thousands of supporters to travel to its Middle East enclaves from countries around the world, as well as its threats and encouragement of lone wolf attacks against Western targets.

While international observers and military experts predict that contemporary ISIL combatants and affiliates will ultimately be defeated, many also deem it likely that the military and civilian casualities resulting from the offensive, combined with the degradation of the habitability of the terrain of battle, will exacerbate the root political and economic causes that led to the conflict in the first place. The rage, hatred and desire for revenge that brought ISIL into being is likely to engender similar feelings in their survivors and extended communities as long as the oppressive and impoverished conditions they are opposing remain intact -- which appears likely. The continuation of these feelings and their extension geographically could result in a steady stream of vengeful attacks and counterattacks for the foreseeable future -- along with escalating numbers of casualties throughout the world.

These prospects are leading to dire prophecies that Middle East violence will lead to a perpetual state of war and possibly set off a Third World War. We tend to think these prophecies should be taken seriously due to the improbability that the protagonists will seek or agree to non-violent resolution of their conflicts, as well as the absence of venues through which they could seek common ground even if they were willing to do so.

What makes non-violent resolution of the conflict even more unlikely are the following factors: a) the tendency of the heads of state of the nations involved and their domestic political parties to exaggerate external threats and make provocative public statements; b) their proclivity to use military force rather than non-violent methods to resolve conflicts; and c) their lack of democratic accountability to their all too often disempowered electorates whose preferences for peace rather than war they would prefer to ignore.

Although the United Nations could theoretically provide a venue for finding common ground, it has long been prevented from doing so by the veto power of the five permanent member states of the Security Council. And while regional treaty organizations could intervene, they typically withdraw when confronted by the concerted action of interventionist powers, especially when the world's sole remaining superpower, the U.S., is among them.

It is the foregoing factors that prompt us to focus attention on the most promising alternative to perpetual Middle East violence: the peace making potential of the World Wide Web and the capabilities of emerging web technologies like the Interactive Voter Choice System (IVCS).

The combination of the Web's potential to facilitate large scale collective action with the capacity of IVCS to promote problem solving and the generation of collective intelligence on a global scale empower citizen peace makers in the region and around the world to collectively devise and implement solutions to violence that originated in the Middle East but is now spreading well beyond the Middle East.

The group forming power of the web and the collective intelligence generating capacity of IVCS make it possible for vast numbers of people to connect online via a single computing platform, and use their collective intelligence and problem solving capabilities to devise and implement non-violent solutions that are well beyond the capabilities and propensities of the small numbers of decision makers currently calling the shots in the Middle East.

Specifically, the IVCS web platform provides unique agenda setting, political organizing and consensus building tools designed to enable these collective problem-solvers to devise transpartisan peace plans and legislative agendas and then form transnational voting blocs, political parties, and electoral coalitions (BPCs) that can acquire the political clout they need to get their plans and agendas implemented.

BPCs can acquire the influence they need by using the IVCS platform and tools to reach out to build consensus on the part of such large numbers of voters, within and across nation-state boundaries, that they can decide who is actually elected to govern their countries and make war and peace decisions -- including the implementation of the peace plans and legislative agendas of the voters who put them in office.

What enables them to do so is their capacity to use the IVCS platform to build transpartisan electoral bases larger than the electoral base of any single political party. They can use their electoral bases to oust parties, elected lawmakers and even heads of state who refuse to implement their agendas and plans and replace them with candidates of their choice who pledge to exert their best efforts to enact BPC plans and legislative mandates. If these lawmakers fail to honor the will of the voters who elected them, they too can be ousted in the next election.

This phenomenal voter-driven shift of power to the grassroots will be facilitated by breakthrough web applications that enable large numbers of people to make decisions together through collective deliberation. The MIT Center for Collective Intelligence is providing pioneering leadership in this highly specialized field, per the following examples of work in progress:

We are confident that the development of these deliberative technologies will ultimately scale to the size of the user base of the Internet while at the same time enabling user-voters to form groups of virtually any size to solve any societal problem, crisis or conflict. What is clear is that the intricate webs of relationships and internecine conflicts in the Middle East require vast numbers of citizen problem solvers and peace makers to devise solutions that match the complexity of the relationships and conflicts.

Structured, moderated deliberation will be necessary to attain high levels of coherence, feasibility and bottom up participation in developing the solutions that are ultimately adopted. The development by self-organizing groups of citizens of these democratic modes of interaction will be far more effective in solving difficult problems than the hyper-partisan and increasingly undemocratic modes of decision-making that currently characterize the large majority of ostensibly democratic forms of government.

Decisions made by large numbers of citizen activists united by the desire to build consensus around complex transpartisan solutions to complex problems are likely to be far more effective than decisions made by highly partisan elected lawmakers divided by contrived political conflicts artificially created to increase their prospects of re-election.

In fact, the global IVCS platform will be the world's first large scale consensus building and conflict resolution platform, designed to enable large numbers of people across all ideological and partisan lines to solve problems, crises and conflicts both within and across nation state boundaries.

In the Middle East, it has the potential to enable not only indigenous populations to build large scale consensus to stop politically and economically driven violence. The platform can also provide an alternative to potential recruits to aggrieved groups like ISIL by enabling them to join citizen peace makers from all over the world in online efforts to devise and implement peace plans and legislative agendas to overcome the injustice, oppression and impoverishment that led to the emergence of ISIL.

It will give prospective recruits experiential opportunities to participate in building new political institutions and organizations -- especially popularly-controlled voting blocs, political parties and electoral coalitions (BPCs) that can grow large enough to determine the outcomes of electoral and legislative processes within and across nation state boundaries.

By creating consensus around common plans and agendas on the part of large cross-sections of voters, publicizing their solutions and pressuring lawmakers to enact them, citizen peace makers and the BPCs they build will ultimately obtain the political clout they need to get their solutions to crises and conflicts enacted even in countries where oppressive regimes have previously denied indigenous populations the right to exercise their fundamental civil, political and human rights.

While it will take time for each and every member of indigenous populations to obtain and learn how to fully utilize the state-of-the-art digital devices they will need to get control of their governments, few people doubt this day will come. And while governmental efforts will undoubtedly continue to surreptitiously surveil online activism and attempt to prevent it, few people who witnessed the power of digital media to power the Arab Spring uprisings doubt these efforts will eventually fail and fall by the wayside.

In light of the foregoing considerations, we are confident that the best and possibly the only alternative to the prospect of perpetual war in the Middle East spreading outward around the world is the consensus building and conflict resolution capability of IVCS web technology. It will ultimately enable all the protagonists in Middle East conflicts to recognize through first hand online peace making that non-violent solutions can be collectively devised and implemented to replace the use of force.

We are equally confident that this technology represents a transformative catalytic force with an unequalled and unique capability to stop politically and economically driven violence in the region by promoting simultaneous national and transnational consensus building and conflict resolution through democratically controlled electoral and legislative processes that simultaneously protect all parties' vital interests without the use of force.


A schematic diagram of the Interactive Voter Choice System (IVCS) can be accessed here. Additional information about the IVCS technology can be accessed at

Below is a generic step-by-step view of how IVCS works. First, it describes the steps by which IVCS can be used by entire electorates to build domestic voting blocs, political parties and electoral coalitions (BPCs) that can determine who runs for office, who gets elected, and what laws are passed.

Secondly, it describes how IVCS facilitates the formation of transnational BPCs that can devise agendas and peace plans and get them enacted by having their members form domestic BPCs in their home countries that can get transnational BPC agendas and plans enacted using domestic electoral and legislative processes.

A Step by Step View
  1. Voters create personal accounts and profiles on and use IVCS agenda setting tools and databases to set individual legislative agendas.
  2. Voters connect with like-minded voters across the political and ideological spectrum on with similar agendas.
  3. Like-minded voters with similar agendas join forces to build online voting blocs, political parties and electoral coalitions (BPCs), and negotiate and vote on common agendas using the IVCS voting utility.
  4. BPC members surmount partisan differences and legislative deadlocks by setting transpartisan legislative agendas that cross political, ideological and sectarian lines.
  5. BPCs nominate transpartisan slates of candidates and build winning transpartisan electoral bases larger than the electoral base of any single political party, enabling their candidates to run for office independently without becoming dependent on special interest campaign financing.
  6. BPCs use IVCS outreach tools to recruit new members, merge with other BPCs to increase their electoral strength, and plan and implement get-out-the-vote campaigns to vote their candidates into office.
  7. BPCs use their agendas to provide legislative mandates to their elected representatives and oversee their legislative actions.
  8. BPCs pressure elected representatives to enact their agendas by signing online petitions, holding online referendums and conducting online straw recall votes using the IVCS voting utility.
  9. BPCs compare their agendas to their representatives' agendas and legislative track records in order to decide whether to support them in the next election or run opposing candidates to defeat them.

In addition to building BPCs within a country, voters can create transnational BPCs that work across national boundaries to solve transnational problems, crises and conflicts.

  1. Transnational BPC members discuss, debate and vote on common solutions, peace plans and legislative agendas (SPAs).
  2. Voter-controlled transnational BPCs evaluate the costs and benefits of alternative non-violent solutions to transnational challenges and contrast their pros and cons with those of solutions that involve the use of force.
  3. After transnational BPCs adopt common SPAs, their members form domestic BPCs in their home countries dedicated to getting their SPAs enacted.
  4. Domestic BPC arms of transnational BPCs pressure lawmakers to enact their SPAs, and if they refuse, the BPCs can replace them by nominating and electing lawmakers who pledge to enact them.
  5. Transnational BPCs with national arms capable of electing the nation's lawmakers end cross-national conflicts that lawmakers and heads of state have proved themselves unwilling and/or incapable of resolving.
  6. Transnational BPCs use their SPAs to overcome the paralysis of international agencies whose nation-state members cannot agree on policies for ending transnational crises and conflicts.
  7. The ability of BPCs to act transnationally and nationally simultaneously to autonomously devise and legislatively implement non-violent solutions to crises and conflicts can countermand decisions by lawmakers and heads of state to implement transnational policies involving the use of force without consulting and obtaining the support of their citizens for such policies.
  8. BPCs that take effective action transnationally and nationally will motivate politically, economically and socially disenfranchised and marginalized groups to use the IVCS platform to form their own BPCs and use them to take control of electoral and legislative processes and their outcomes.

Jim Acosta. Obama calls on world to focus on roots of ISIS, al Qaeda extremism. CNN, 19 February 2015.

Peter Baker and Julie Hirschfeld Davis. On Terror, Gentle Hand or Iron Fist: Obama Calls for Expansion of Human Rights to Combat Extremism. New York Times, 19 February 2015.

Nick Robins Early. Have We Got ISIS All Wrong? World Post, 21 February 2015, updated 23 February 2015.

Nick Robins Early. What Is The State Of Political Islam Today? World Post, 21 March 2015, updated 24 March 2015.

Luca Iandoli (University of Naples Federico II, Italy), Mark Klein (Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA) and Giuseppe Zollo (University of Naples Federico II, Italy) (2009). Enabling On-Line Deliberation and Collective Decision-Making through Large-Scale Argumentation: A New Approach to the Design of an Internet-Based Mass Collaboration Platform. International Journal of Decision Support Technology, Volume 1, Issue 1.

Mark Klein, Paolo Spada, & Raffaele Calabretta, (2012). Enabling Deliberations in a Political Party Using Large-Scale Argumentation: A Preliminary Report. Proceedings from 10th International Conference on the Design of Cooperative Systems. Marseille, France.

Shane Smith. President Obama Speaks with Vice News. Vice News, 17 March 2015.

Omar Taspinar.
You Can't Understand Why People Join ISIS Without Understanding Relative Deprivation.
World Post, 25 March 2015.

(Cross-posted from New Economic Perspectives.)

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