The Paris Attacks: How do we respond?

The slaughter of 131 civilians in Paris, one of the world’s most famous and vibrant cities, represents the worst terrorist attack to hit Europe since the Madrid bombings in 2004. It is another blow to a wounded nation in a string of attacks which have struck France in 2015 and an atrocity which dwarfs the horrific assault on Charlie Hebdo magazine’s headquarters by Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula on 7 January 2015.  There is no doubt these events are shocking, the events must be thoroughly analysed, the images are harrowing and the perpetrators of these crimes must be brought to justice. However these attacks must be put into context, policymakers must be scrutinised and our reactions at an individual, community and government level must be cautious as well as fearless in the short-term.

For all the horrors splashed across newspapers and television in recent days ISIS stands badly wounded. The organisation’s territories are shrinking under the combined pressure of a variety of international, regional and local forces. Bashar al-Assad and the Syrian Army in-coordination with Russian air-strikes, and supported by Iranian fire-power have retaken key territories and broke year-long jihadist siege of a military air base in the country’s north days before the massacre in Paris. Its forces are encircled by Iraqi Security Forces and its backbone of Shiite militia at Ramadi, whose seizure by ISIS in May, 2015 had policymakers and political commentators alike contemplating that an assault on Baghdad was imminent.  Similarly Tikrit, seized by ISIS in 2014 and the home of Saddam Hussein, was recaptured in April 2015.  More symbolically, Kurdish forces (supported by Yezidi militia) have recaptured Sinjar cutting the main road which connect ISIS’s Syrian headquarters in Raqqa (which is under sustained bombardment by Russian, U.S, and French aircraft) from its headquarters in Mosul, Iraq. The retaking of Sinjar, whose fall was followed by harrowing mass-executions, the ethnic cleansing of the Yezidi population, and an event which heralded ISIS’s emergence as a major player in the Middle Eastern wars represents a practical and symbolic military breakthrough while Mosul stands isolated should Kurdish and U.S Special Forces consolidate their gains at Sinjar.

ISIS is losing the conventional war. Their perverse idea of a ‘caliphate’, a far-cry from its envisaged utopia,  is cracking under sustained military pressure and it should not come as a surprise despite its vast array of fighters, its military and territorial gains in 2014, and its propaganda. ISIS’s twisted blend of revolutionary ultra-violence has united practically every international, regional and local powers against the organisation. At a conventional military level, as a functioning state it could never survive as a long-term political and economic entity.

However as the Paris attacks and the bombing of the Russian airline over the Sinai have illustrated, modern extremism is flexible, diverse, dynamic, fragmented and the equivalent of a modern hydra. Even if counterinsurgency eliminates leaders such as Osama Bin Laden, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi (the former leader of ISIS) and its executioners such as Mohammad Emwazi, new leaders and new extremists will fill the void. The death of Abu-Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of ISIS, would not symbolise the death-blow to the organisation. The death of Mohammad Emwazi (also known as Jihadi John) days before the Paris attacks demonstrate this paradox; ISIS have the capability to inflict deep damage on our societies even when Western policyymakers strike symbolic victories.  ISIS, Al-Qaeda, Al-Shabaab, Boko Haram and Jahbat al-Nusra and the modern phenomenon of militant Islamic extremism cannot be defeated by conventional warfare. Modern extremism is absent a conventional hierarchical structure.  ISIS is presented by politicians as monolithic yet it is the organisation’s very ambiguity which makes it difficult, if not impossible to completely eradicate, despite the bullish rhetoric of politicians such as Hollande, Cameron, and Obama in the wake of the Paris attacks.

While ISIS is part of the legacy of the catastrophic Iraq War, the Syrian Civil War and its ideology  was significantly developed by men such as Ayman al-Zawahiri, Osama Bin Laden, Abdullah Azzam and Seyed Qutb during the turbulent Cold War era, ISIS is also a brand, it is a system of ideas, it is a digital caliphate and it is a wider part of the upheaval created by the Information Age. ISIS is a thoroughly modern phenomenon. As Jason Burke notes ‘Islamic militants use social media because we use social media; they seek resources…money…hydrocarbons…weapons…in the way that many actors do across the world today…they multi-task as terrorists, insurgents and administrators because all play roles that are increasingly ill-defined; they exploit and are formed by the dramatic disruption…the Internet has brought…financing is crowd-sourced from donors…in a way that would be recognisable to any entrepreneurial start-up anywhere in the world.’ This is what differentiates ISIS from Al-Qaeda; it is a hybrid, a combination of old and new as globalisation and newer forms  global interaction of politics, economics, culture, technology and social organisation that dominate our contemporary world have rapidly ‘weakened older forms of authority.’

As ISIS’s conventional military operations and ambitions as a state faltered, it switched back to its most potent strategy; sowing political, communal and societal divisions and altering national politics and military policy for the worst through urban terrorism and asymmetrical warfare.  This classic formula of asymmetrical warfare has produced results. Suicide bombings hampered the Americans ill-fated state-building project in Iraq and proved to be a lethal catalyst for tit-for-tat Shiite and Sunni pogroms, the Ankara bombings were scheduled days before highly-charged elections in Turkey, and most devastatingly on September 11th 2001, the destruction of the World Trade Center led to the gross misapplication of American political and military power across the globe, to which the most devastating consequences were seen in the Middle East. These small attacks occuring in cities across the world, by comparison to the bloodshed and large-scale confrontations occurring across the Middle East, are more unnerving because they are difficult to prevent, they require a strong response by the targeted government, and their response, if heavy-handed and driven by ill-advised policies, can increase problems rather than alleviate them. In Paris the attacks were designed precisely to foment religious and racial war and strengthen hard-line right and right-wing parties just three weeks before regional elections in which parties such as Front National (led by Marine Le Pen) are ‘tipped to make historic gains.’ While the terrorist attacks witnessed in Paris were fanatical acts, they were first and foremost political acts dressed in religious rhetoric and designed to cause havoc at a hyper-sensitive moment in French politics.

At face-value Western values continue to be upheld, but in reality, at-least at a state-level, they may become an increasing illusion in the obsessive quest for security. Security is tightened, refugees, opposition and minorities are stereotyped and vilified, military arrests and operations are conducted and often kill more civilians, and the hunt for terrorists, their affiliates, and potential suspects justifies the violation and eradication of human rights. More disturbingly in Europe it empowers hard-right and right-wing politicians, journalists and commentators who seek to exploit the tragedy to advance unnerving political agendas, ideologies, and policies.

While the acts of violence are a consequence of extremism, they are also a product of gang violence, immigration problems, poverty, issues of societal segregation and integration, contextual regional and national politics, and the policies governments’ are using to pursue potential and real threats. These are all factors which are difficult for many governments to address under normal conditions and in an atmosphere of relative stability and now these socio-political and religious issues have been ruthlessly exploited by ISIS and its affiliates in times of grave political and economic crisis in Europe.

The narratives of terrorism and Islamic militancy dominate mainstream political, military, and media discourse as ‘Islamism, Islamic extremism, Islamic fundamentalism, Islamic theology, Islamic irrationalism – makes Islam seem more than ever a concept in search of some content while normalising hatred and prejudice against more than 1.5 billion people.’ At the other end of the spectrum ISIS has constructed an equally potent narrative. Its propaganda distorts local and national context, its warped interpretation and vile manipulation of religion (used as another form of politics) has alienated other factors driving conflict in the Middle East and has, as Medhi Hasan claims, ‘been a disaster for the public image of Islam – and a boon for the Islamophobia industry.’  ISIS is a symptom, not the cause of violence in the Middle East, and has been fueled by friend and foe alike in the region. Both polarised narratives feed off each other, promote disinformation, produce generalisations, they exacerbate intolerance and distort truth and they pollute the values of billions such as tolerance, religious diversity, multiculturalism, the exchange of ideas, innovation, enlightenment, spirituality, education, and progressive thinking. These are all values which are under threat. 

Security is an undeniable necessity in this age of crisis and war, we must remain vigilant against those individuals and organisations who seek to violently slaughter our families, our neighbours, our friends and our fellow citizens. Yet we cannot sacrifice our ideals, our principles, and our values for absolute security, a security which is practically impossible to enforce constantly in the face of modern extremism.

We must remain equally wary of individuals and groups within our own society who seek to exploit such pain to advance repugnant and racist forms of politics wrapped in promises of security. If we do not, if we harden our own attitudes, if we lash out wildly at provocation, if we scapegoat minorities and refugees and label them spies, outsiders and infiltrators because of the atrocities of the few, we will empower and give individuals and organisations who seek to advance their cause through force their twisted sense of justice, logic and legitimisation to conduct appalling violence and divide communities across the world. If we pursue this path, we give terrorists, politicians and people who seek to exploit tragedy their victory. How we react to the harrowing events of 13th-14th November, 2015 as a community of nations, as societies from all walks of life, as individuals will define whether these attacks were a resounding success or a spectacular failure.

I see only spectacular failure. The Paris attacks were a potent symbol of a world gripped by crisis, war and one which is dangerously polarised politically, religiously and fractured economically. These are undeniable realities facing us and they must be challenged. Yet the attacks were also a symbol of an unyielding determination of individuals and communities to act and stand courageously in the face of sorrow, extraordinary pain, and uncertainty. Time and again we have seen this across the world whether it be from Beirut to Paris, Tel Aviv to Damascus,  Baghdad to New York, Volgograd to London, Sydney to Mumbai and Ankara to Kabul. The shocking brutality and intolerance of the few is met by the same courage, the same raw outpourings of grief and love which are as beautiful as they are heart-wrenching to witness, and every time this ferocity is met with the same response by millions of families, friends, and individuals; they fearlessly say no to extremism, intolerance and violence every year against every attack and atrocity across the globe. So long as this continues, so long as even a single individual, regardless of their religion, political affiliation, culture or society, says no to the extremities of war and says no to violence as the only palpable outcome to disagreement while forsaking hatred and vengeance the principles and values which have seen man through the darkest of times can never be defeated. Liberté, egalité, fraternité.

Matthew Williams






The Syrian Civil War: The Failure of Humanity and Policy

Image via The New York Post
Image via The New York Post

The chilling image of drowned three-year old Aylan Kurdi has encapsulated the humanitarian catastrophe that is engulfing the Middle East and Europe while also demonstrating how Western policy continues to fail in the ongoing Syrian civil war.

Aylan’s tragedy is not a new phenomenon. His premature death in the Aegean confirms what governments have struggled to face, they continue to underestimate the harrowing Syrian conflict and the long-term implications it may have for the Middle East and Europe. The international community has long been desensitised to the pictures of children killed or maimed by ISIS suicide bombers or Assad’s barrel bombs. The people and its society have become abstracts, instruments of policy that have been caught between local, regional and global power struggles.

The response of the international community attempting to unite around Aylan’s tragedy to resolve the refugee crisis is a welcome change to challenging current policies and an apathetic mind-set to the Syrian conflict. However the need for such a grisly image to provoke a belated reaction speaks volumes of the indifference and resignation that has pervaded the Western world in the face of bloodshed in Syria in recent years. The image speaks volumes of our policy failures in Syria, the consequences of those failures for the wider region, and our inability to reshape policy into one that matches the realities on the ground.

Douma marketplace massacre (16th August 2015) Image via
Douma marketplace massacre (16th August 2015) Image via

There was little uproar when ISIS massacred 164 and injured 200 civilians in Kobani (Aylan’s home town) on 25th June 2015.  There was little uproar or public pressure to step up political solutions to the Syrian Civil War when Assad’s bombers indiscriminately slaughtered 112 of its civilians in the town square of Douma on 16th August 2015 in one of the more harrowing attacks of the conflict.  There was little uproar when Assad used napalm against his civilians in August 2015 and more horrifically in September 2013 when school children (including a seven month old baby boy) were brutally disfigured, burnt and maimed by the Syrian Air Force. As Patrick Cockburn summarises: ‘people worldwide have become inured to horrible things happening in the wars in Iraq and Syria’ and the fallout of the Syrian war, most notably the Syrian refugee crisis.

A core issue lies in how our foreign policy has jumped from one extreme end of the spectrum to the other.  In Iraq, civilians were collateral damage of a catastrophic state-building project, a self-inflicted mess where neo-liberal interventionism has scarred American and British credibility in the region. In Syria and Iraq we now wage a covert and endless war against ISIS, a symptom of the Syrian Civil War. In short the West, and in-particular the United Kingdom, is absent a coherent strategy which is frequently in contradiction to events occurring on the ground.

Civilians trapped between Assad’s ferocity and extremist rebel forces remain unprotected. Civilians remain besieged in city enclaves such as Aleppo, Homs and Damascus and continue to die under the barrage of napalm strikes, barrel bombs and chemical weapons while being targeted by an array of ‘moderate’ forces we support. These illusory moderates forces range from a shattered Free Syrian Army who fight out of necessity with battle-hardened extremist cells, Kurdish ethno-nationalists such as PKK, PYD and YPG that have ethnically cleansed areas of Iraq and Syria following the emergence of Islamic State, and Shiite militia that have slaughtered countless civilians. Equally the international coalition formed to defeat ISIS killed 125 Syrian civilians (January-July 2015) they claim to protect from ISIS. As summarised by Natalie Nougayrede:

“One of the most puzzling aspects of this new phase of American involvement is that it is in no way expressly intended to provide  protection for civilians. Yet it is precisely because civilians are not protected that Islamic State have been able to grow…Assad…cannot in any possible way be considered an anti-Islamic State weapon.”

Western policymakers’ and Western media’s obsession with the war against ISIS has distorted our perception of the conflict, worsened violence on the ground, and produced more refugees which Syria’s bordering countries Iraq, Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan can scarcely provide for.  Correspondingly a resurgent, but unwinnable, war on terror has, according to data gathered by the Syrian Network for Human Rights, distracted us from President Bashar al-Assad’s regime (which) ‘remains, for many Syrian civilians at least, the biggest threat to their lives. While the United States may be focusing its bombing campaign against the so-called ISIS, the terrorist militants are actually only responsible for a fraction of the civilian deaths in Syria.’

The West firstly underestimated the brutal counter-revolution of Assad (unconditionally supported by the Russian Federation and Iran) whose ‘readiness to literally burn down (his) country in order to cling to absolute power’ (Filiu, 2015) has produced grotesque political, extremist, paramilitary and sectarian violence. We expected the Syrian regime to fall ignominiously as Muammar al-Gaddafi’s Libya did, yet politicians did not pay attention to the Assad family’s natural tendency to be exceptionally stubborn both militarily and diplomatically, the latter of which has been firmly illustrated by their negotiations with Israel over returning the Golan Heights to Syria since 1967.

The Al-Nusra Front: Image vis The Telegraph
The Al-Nusra Front: Image via The Telegraph

Secondly the West and its allies such as Turkey and the Gulf States belatedly  funneled arms into the rebel groups before it fully understood the nature of the Syrian insurgency. This insurgency as early as 2012 has come to be dominated by Mohammad al-Jolani’s Al-Nusra Front, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s ISIS, and other local extremist groups. The declassified U.S Defense Intelligence Agency (2012) document argues that Al-Qaeda in Iraq (refashioned as contemporary ISIS) ‘supported the Syrian Opposition from the beginning’ and that ‘Western countries, the Gulf States, and Turkey (were) supporting (the) efforts’ of ‘opposition forces trying to control the eastern areas (Hasaka and Der Zor), adjacent to the Western Iraqi Provinces (Mosul and Anbar).’ All these areas are now threatened by, or under the control of ISIS. The warning of this document, which stipulated that continued the West’s covert support for this opposition would ‘create the ideal atmosphere for AQI to return to its old pockets in Mosul and Ramadi’ during the Iraq war and that ISI (now ISIS) ‘could also declare an ‘Islamic State’ through its union with other terrorist organisations in Iraq and Syria,’ has become a reality.

The moderate Syrian insurgents and the Free Syrian Army, under-equipped and inexperienced, turned to these groups and collaborated out of necessity to survive Assad’s onslaught. As a result the Syrian Revolution stalled, fragmented and ultimately failed while deteriorating into a brutal cycle of decentralised violence.

The gamble played by Assad to release hundreds of prisoners associated with terrorist cells like Al-Qaeda and ISIS in the early stages of the revolution to delegitimise the opposition by framing them in a terrorist narrative should not be underestimated. In May, 2015 there were many fears that the regime was buckling under a string of military defeats by Al-Nusra and the ‘Army of the Conquest’ after their seizure of key cities such as Jisr al Shugheur and Idlib in the north and an array of villages and towns in the southern Deraa province. Yarmouk on the outskirts of Damascus (Assad’s centre of power), home to the neutral Palestinian refugee population, has become a battleground between Islamic State affiliates and Assad’s paramilitary forces.  The continued threat of these groups to the regime disproves the myth that Damascus has been secured by the Syrian security apparatus gamble.

Bashar al-Assad
Image via BBC

Nevertheless Assad’s gamble has successfully divided the opposition and made moderates turn to alternatives that are equally as dismal an option as Assad and weakened the capacity for the international community to fashion a viable political settlement.  A military intervention against Assad, politically impossible and impractical strategically in current circumstances, will not solve the Syrian conflict. It would result in the death of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, more Syrian civilians and produce a new civil war between the splintered Syrian opposition and play into the hands of extremists such as ISIS and Al-Nusra that now spear-head the rebellion against the House of Assad.

Military options are being used, however they are focused on defeating ISIS, a bi-product of Syria’s instability not the root cause of the civil war. The West has strengthened ISIS by funnelling arms into ‘moderate’ such the FSA and Iraqi Security Forces, whose subsequent collapses during the Syrian civil war and ISIS’s Northern Offensive in Iraq (2014) provided the terrorist cell with a surplus of high-tech weaponery. However it cannot be forgotten that the ‘Islamic State of Iraq’ (“ISI”), as Filiu argues, was ‘one of main partners of Bashar al-Assad’s regime (and) Damascus was the main entry point’ into Iraq for foreign jihadists from 2003 onwards to undermine the U.S. occupation (2003-2011).

The surge of extremist organisations in the wider Middle East cannot, and should not, be entirely blamed on Western policymakers. It must be placed against the authoritarian regimes like Assad and Nouri al-Maliki which ‘played with jihadi fire to deny…substantial power-sharing.’ (Filiu, 2015) Western policymakers underestimated how secular authoritarians would use anti-terrorism narratives to further entrench their violent security apparatuses.

The international coalition is not designed to protect civilians from Assad, nor does it provide desperately needed financial and humanitarian aid to refugees. These military options of air-strikes and covert counter-terrorism operations are equally absent a diplomatic solution to the conflict which effectively means the coalition simply contributes to a conflict where no particular group can deliver a decisive military blow.

The pressure mounting on the Conservative government has forced David Cameron’s hand to provide resettlement to “thousands” more Syrian refugees in response to the worsening refugee crisis. Cameron has agreed to provide asylum to 20,000 refugees between 2015-2020, yet these are poultry numbers. Global refugee figures now stand at 51.2 million the highest since World War II . This looks set to increase and our admission of refugees remain pitiful numbers in a situation where, as Anton Guterres (UN High Commission for Refugees) states, ‘quantum numbers’ parallel the ‘quantum’ leap in the stakes of this regional crisis, one which has been grossly underestimated by policymakers.

Syrian Boy BeachThe language describing these people fleeing conflicts has to change. There is nothing wrong with what the majority of these people are doing and we should stop demonising these men, women and children. We should be thinking about a plan to integrate these refugees, the majority of whom aren’t just flooding Europe they are destabilising Lebanon (1.1 million Syrians), Jordan and Turkey which the EU has done little to address. This refugee problem has been dumped on countries throughout the Balkans such as Macedonia, Bulgaria, Bosnia as well as Greece and Italy all of whom are blighted by serious socio-economic problems and lack the capacity to deal with the huge influx of refugees fleeing conflict.

The majority of refugees are not a threat to the West, however they do present a big problem that cannot be ignored.  Humanitarian aid can become a substitute for effective and essential political and military solutions to the conflicts that caused the refugee crisis. Politically blind humanitarianism, failing to challenge our unimaginative air-campaign conjoined with ineffectual political solutions and framing the so-called ‘migrant crisis’ as a separate issue will serve to side-line an escalating war in Syria and exacerbate the refugee crisis.

It is not a moral argument; refugee crises, when inadequately addressed or aggressively attacked as a threat to particular governments and communities have caused violence, upheaval and instability. The refugee crisis in post-Second World War Europe as new borders formed led to a massive exchange of populations which sparked new waves of violence across the continent as illustrated by the civil war in Greece, ethnic cleansing in eastern Germany, Ukraine and Poland, racial, ideological and racial atrocities in the former Yugoslavia, and the First Arab-Israeli War.

Similarly in the wake of the Rwandan genocide, hundreds of thousands of refugees became a catalyst for the collapse of Zaire (The Democratic Republic of Congo) and Mobutu’s regime eventually producing  what Prunier coined ‘Africa’s World War’ as defeated Hutu Power extremists (a minority within a majority of the two million Rwandan refugees) sparked a local conflict in Kivu which, preluding collapse, was a combustible ‘zone of high-density population with demographic, ethnic and tribal contradictions.’  The local conflict, fuelled by Western humanitarian aid, in Kivu swiftly expanded into a bloody regional conflict across Central Africa which left an estimated five million dead. One extremely bloody civil war in a tiny country the size of Wales, and a subsequent refugee crisis in the Great Lakes region which was poorly addressed by regional and Western powers tore apart an entire region and shook the entire African continent.

The conflict in Central Africa in the 1990s and the Second World War are potent examples of when a refugee crisis can have disastrous consequences for a region that lacks the capacity to deal with millions of fleeing people who are moulded by persecution, desperation, and expectations. These examples, while historically different and contextual, still have lessons that can be learnt; we cannot underestimate the crisis facing the Middle East, North Africa and Europe and the long-term impact the Syrian war will have on demographic changes of the two regions nor should we consider the refugee crisis in Europe and the Middle East as separate issues. One region will invariable effect the other as the original domino effect of the Arab Spring (2010-2011) illustrates.

Image via Time
Crisis in the Balkans: Image via Time

Closing our borders to refugees will reinforce communal tensions between arriving refugees and local communities, particularly in Greece (which is dangerously unstable) and the Balkans which remains in dire economic straits and continues to struggle to come to terms with the various ethno-nationalist wars of the 1990s.

The countries with less severe social and economic problems in comparison, such as the UK, Germany and France, with (to some extent) more tolerant societies must shoulder the refugees because they have the capacity to do so. In doing so they may lessen the likelihood of civil conflict in both Western and Eastern Europe. The refugees arriving in Europe are a small fraction of those currently in Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq and Turkey.

Shutting out refugees and adopting an absolutist anti-refugee/anti-migrant stance in the name of security and an illogical war on terror will contribute to and foment crime, extremism, and terrorism if refugees are stranded in Europe and left to languish in squalid conditions, poverty and are isolated socially and economically. Integrating these people properly is absolutely essential, they must become a political reality that government’s cannot sweep under the carpet.  If not they will become a source of instability. However their integration must be done in parallel with searching for political solutions to the civil war otherwise it will further empower right-wing, anti-migrant parties in Europe who reflect the uglier side of Europe’s current political reality.

Taking in refugees fleeing from war zones and persecution should be priority but is the inability to solve the various political deadlocks and to challenge current Middle Eastern policies which remains the critical issue. By absorbing refugees we will be mitigating the symptoms of conflict. However absent a long-term solution to the Syrian conflict and a far-reaching social and economic plan for rebuilding post-conflict Syria, the number of refugees will increase creating underlying tensions between current and potential asylum seekers and local communities in Europe and the cycle of violence will continue.

Protecting civilians in Europe, Syria and Iraq should be our priority, not the war against ISIS which while a dangerous regional threat has become inflated by policymakers as a direct threat to Western security interests. ISIS is not a monolithic organisation and cannot be defeated by military means alone. Like a hydra, cutting off one head will only lead to several more to grow in its place, as the demise of Al-Qaeda and its replacement by ISIS illustrates.

Islamic State FlagAddressing its violence will require socio-economic solutions to rebel grievances as well as concentrated military pressure by regional and global powers to weaken ISIS. While ISIS should be a major regional concern, it should not become overly centralised in policy-making as it is not the predominant cause of civilian casualties. ISIS and its exhibitionist ultra-violence has served as a distraction from the continued havoc Assad’s state-sponsored violence continues to create which is accompanied by regional and Western military policies that have fueled violence rather than solved it. Marginalised civilians that are targeted by Assad and unprotected by the international community have swelled the ranks of rebels such as ISIS and the Al-Nusra Front as a result.

The Syrian Civil War continues to surpass one deadly impasse after another. Syria’s humanitarian catastrophe has finally reached central Europe, the conflict’s brutality has escalated while the stakes have increased for all the major actors involved as Syria has become the epicentre of a wider regional conflagration.  The nature of the conflict and the accompanying regional threats determine that we cannot ignore or simply contain Syria’s fall-out anymore. As Peter Bouckaert argues the ‘consequences of a further meltdown of the Middle East cannot easily be contained to the region, as is clearly evident from the spreading insecurity and instability, the increasing refugee flows out of the region, and the growing threat posed by ISIS-inspired attacks.’ Similarly Bouckaert goes on to add:

“The complexity of the conflict in Syria is no excuse to look away. Civilians in Douma (and refugees making the hazardous journey across the Aegean, the Mediterranean and Eastern Europe) like other civilians caught in conflict, be they in Sarajevo, Gaza, the Negev or Baghdad, deserve protection. There may not be an easy solution to each conflict, but there are always measures that can reduce civilian suffering.”

Granted, it is impossible to remove Assad by force, but it isn’t impossible for measures to be put in place which protect displaced refugees and civilians from both the Syrian military and extremist groups and providing them with safe haven. The refugee crisis brings new dynamics to the conflict as each European country and its populations’ absorbing or rejecting refugees will grapple with the crisis in different ways.

The Syrian conflict and the subsequent regional break-down has produced, as Pankaj Mishra contends, uncoordinated violence and conflict that ‘future historians may regard…as…the third, longest and the strangest of world wars’ which stretches from Iraq to the shores of the Levant, to Libya and Tunisia in North Africa and all the way to the southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula in Yemen. These overlapping Middle Eastern wars, with their own specific revolutions, counter-revolutions and causes, have drawn in superpowers such as Russia, the United States, major European powers, and major Middle Eastern powers such as Iran, Israel and Saudi Arabia in different shapes and forms. It is an illogical and contradictory Middle Eastern war that may require illogical solutions that has always typified Middle Eastern politics.

It would be foolish to ignore the dangers presented by the Arab Spring and the subsequent carnage which, while difficult to understand, has logic to it. Security, counter-terrorism, surveillance; these are a reflection of the times we live in. However without constructive solutions to resolving the United Kingdom’s enduring polarisation on refugees and terrorism, we will always be reacting to threats, creating new enemies at home and abroad, and empowering those who hold radical attitudes and alternatives to solving the conflict on the political right and left.

At worst, we remain reactive to terrorist attacks (microcosms of wider violence in the Middle East),relatively indifferent to war crimes and atrocities and unperturbed by regional and Western powers tampering with the revolutionary processes underway in the Middle East. These are processes we have yet to fully understand, including the consequences and implications of the West’s current and recent actions in the Middle East.

New approaches are needed by the European powers while conventional policies in Syria (military, humanitarian, diplomatic, as well as our perspective on the war on terror) require serious reform and scrutiny. Such a reform would require a shift in the attitudes of Russia and the United States who, along with their regional affiliates, have fuelled the conflict. Such an escalation in violence, an escalation of the arms race between proxy states such as Saudi Arabia and Iran, and an ever worsening refugee crisis can only spell further catastrophe if world powers continue to pave this path.

Direct military intervention is impossible, and should be avoided. Nonetheless there are certainly better avenues to solving the conflict then simply turning a blind-eye to Syria’s plight, bombing ISIS and crossing our fingers that our government will contain a monumental shift in Middle Eastern politics.

Image via Amnesty International
Image via Amnesty International

The tragedy of Aylan’s doomed voyage, his brother and mother’s death (and atleast nine others) and the tears of his father and a family who have lost everything have poignantly captured the Syrian people’s tragedy, the Middle East’s tragedy, and our policy failures in Syria. If this story and the harrowing images of Aylan, yet alone the countless other tragedies of Syria’s people that preceded it don’t change our attitude it is highly unlikely anything will change in the war. In such a case we will be sure to see more tragedies for the Syrian people such as Ghouta chemical attack, the napalm school bombings, the Douma and Houla massacres and other countless atrocities of a war that has now claimed a quarter of a million lives and displaced over half the Syrian population (21 million before the war).

Authentic refugees require our protection and humanitarian action remains a critical issue, but ultimately it is our policies, the narratives that drive our perception of the war, and our strategies that urgently require change.

Matthew Williams

Distorted Narratives: The War of Supposed ‘Values’


As an onlooker, the attacks in Paris were concerning for a variety of reasons. They are a symbol of a world gone hopelessly astray and not simply because of the acts carried out on that horrible day. They have encapsulated the war of supposed ‘values’, they encapsulate the various extremes set against each other, deemed incompatible and incomprehensibly different from one another. Ultimately both ‘sides’ are as off-putting and unappealing as the other and hundreds of thousands of innocent people have died and are dying for it. Pankaj Mishra suggests perfectly that ‘rigorous self-criticism’  and new narratives must be established to resolve the problems plaguing the Middle East and Europe. New narratives, new solutions, new values, new leadership and new perspectives are needed.

The attack on Charlie Hebdo was an attack on free-speech and an attack on journalism ‘that mocked and satirized the far right as bigots, extremists and racists…They were satirists, and all people, systems and organisations should be open to criticism and mockery (so long as it sticks within the laws of the land). They were democratic in their ridicule and satirisation. No one was exempt.

However our own reaction to the attacks invited such mockery from Charlie Hebdo and exemplified the various extremes affecting societies across Europe and the Middle East.

The democratic West, a place of reason, individual autonomy, multiculturalism and freedom of speech against the rest of the world. It is a wonderful fairy tale that distorts the reality of a society plagued by instant expectations, conspicuous consumption, and mental, physical, spiritual (non-religious), financial, and environmental imbalances. 

These imbalances  are sold off by the many across the globe as an absolute, a universal comfort-zone, “the highly contingent achievements of our culture as the final form and norm of human existence.”  The reality is ‘soaring unemployment, the unresolved crisis of the euro, rising anti-immigrant sentiment, and the stunning loss of a sense of possibility for young Europeans and Middle Easterns everywhere’ in an era of invisible bondholders, corruption and superficial forms of freedom, equality and harmony. These imbalances have fostered nationalism, separatism and extremism in Europe from a variety of angles. Our supposed paradise is a mirage.

This disorientation can in-part explain why thousands of European citizens have decided to rampage and die across Iraq and Syria with Al-Nusra, Al-Qaeda and ISIS committing humiliating and brutal acts of violence in the process. The violence while disturbing  is neither ‘medieval’ or ‘barbaric’ nor an illustration of so-called ‘Islamic fascism’ as Kevin Mcdonald argues:

“Contemporary jihadism is not a return to past. It is a modern, anti-traditional ideology with a very significant debt to western political history and culture….When he made his speech in July at Mosul’s Great Mosque declaring the creation of an Islamic state with himself as its caliph, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi quoted at length from the Indian/Pakistani thinker Abul A’la Maududi, the founder of the Jamaat-e-Islami party in 1941 and originator of the contemporary term Islamic state. Maududi’s Islamic state is profoundly shaped by western ideas and concepts.

ISIS military uniform

ISIS in some ways are our reflection, our responsibility and our creation. The video of the Jordanian pilot being incinerated, like other videos, are adorned with images of jihadists wearing replicas of U.S uniforms, orange jump-suits associated with American prisons and symbols of Western misadventures in the Middle East in the last century. Combine these images and symbols with the likes of ‘Jihadi John’ and their manipulated version of jihad and glorification of anything but a ‘caliphate’ make for quite a graphic interpretation of the war of ‘supposed values’ between radical individuals and radical groups from every corner of the spectrum in recent years.

Sensationalism and the sheer scale of the crisis hitting the region has warped the way in which policy is developed and how we should perceive the Middle Eastern revolutions unfolding. ISIS is a symptom, not the cause of the crisis and bombing them into oblivion will not solve the deeper roots and causes of the Middle Eastern crisis nor defeat the hydra that is terrorism.

Cut off one head and it will be replaced by another. ISIS, like Al-Qaeda, is not a monolithic whole, it is comprised of a variety of sub-factions  which include European and Middle Eastern foreign fighters, methodical and ideological extremists, lone wolves, nationalists, aggrieved Sunnis, neo-Wahabbists, criminals, psychopaths, outcasts, students, women, adventurers and unfortunately normal people. There are always different motives amongst groups fighting and committing indefensible violence, particularly in the modern age. Motives shift and change depending on context and environment. This was a similar situation with insurgents fighting the Soviets in the Afghanistan War in the 1980s. Policies responses should reflect the diversity of the situation, motives and objectives of individuals and groups joining ISIS and other extremist factions.

At this current moment values and identities are cherished violently and the Western framework has never and should never be exempt from this volatile cycle. Joint at the hip Europe is in dire shape and the Middle East is gripped by chaos. According to the rules of history, our mutual existence dictates that what happens in one region, will invariably affect the other.

An individual’s values and beliefs, a state’s persona, an ideology and  cultural and religious identities are not set in stone, they are water shifting and changing, the currents can pick up dramatically and violently or drift eloquently and peacefully, they are constant and interchangeable currents depending on the particular juncture of a particular river.

The Peloponnesian War between Athens and Sparta saw the decline of the former as a democracy and then an imperial power after misadventures abroad.

Russia has made the violent transition from imperial power to communist regime to dictatorship to kleptocracy (the latter courtesy of free-market capitalism and America’s victory in the Cold War) in the space of a century. America is frequently accused  by many scholars and journalists of being a sophisticated modern-day empire and recent events in Ferguson, the Snowden Case, and misadventures abroad have brought this into sharp focus at the beginning of the 21st century. The Roman Republic was not a constant and evolved into an Empire, Germany was not always (obviously) a fascist state, and Athens like Rome, made the transition from democracy to imperial power during the Peloponnesian War and a terrorist did not simply become a terrorist on simple ideological or simplified religious lines. Nor do they, once they form these off-putting characteristics, remain so indefinitely.

Leadership is lacking at every level externally and internally, with little or no convincing credibility or new strategies being deployed to solve the problems. There is certainly plenty of populist posturing by politicians and even worse European politicians who are willing to utilise security agendas and tensions between ‘natives’ and ‘Muslim immigrants’ to attract strong political support for far-right parties. Marine Le Pen, a day after the Charlie Hebdo offices were attacked offered the country a referendum on the death penalty stating that “The absolute refusal of Islamic fundamentalism must be proclaimed high and loud by whomever. Life and liberty are among the most precious values.” I shudder to think of the time when such a hypocritical person from any background or nation enters politics and obtains not only power but access to our security and surveillance systems.
Militarised police patrolling Ferguson, USA.

A ‘Fortress Europe’ or an ‘Islamic State’, excess security or spectacular acts of terrorism, Putinism or a floundering EU, and militarized police forces roaming American and European streets that quell dissent or terrorism (however you wish to define it) surely our choices can be better than this? The use of the word ‘anti-terrorist’ operations can easily simplify events and veil ulterior motives of parties involved.  These are presented as the only feasible options by leaders in our turbulent world. The simplified narratives are as equally debilitating as each other and ultimately nonconstructive. The violence is subtle or spectacular, but ultimately the same and the reactions depressingly familiar. That is the reality and these narratives can seduce all of us and I’ll admit I have fallen for many of them before as summarised by Chris Hedges.

“We fire missiles from the sky that incinerate families huddled in their houses. They incinerate a pilot cowering in a cage. We torture hostages in our black sites and choke them to death by stuffing rags down their throats. They torture hostages in squalid hovels and behead them. We organize Shiite death squads to kill Sunnis. They organize Sunni death squads to kill Shiites. We produce high-budget films such as “American Sniper” to glorify our war crimes. They produce inspirational videos to glorify their twisted version of jihad. The barbarism we condemn is the barbarism we commit. The line that separates us from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is technological, not moral. We are those we fight….Terror serves the interests of the war mongers on both sides of the divide….Terror is the engine of war. And terror is what all sides in this conflict produce in overabundance.”

Whilst I disagree with some of Chris Hedges idea’s on other topics, he highlights the increasing importance and necessity of challenging dialogue and subject matter that is too often spoon-fed to us by both mainstream media and extremists. We are as bad as each other, we merely proceed in different ways and inflict different methods of violence. ‘The clash of civilisations’, ‘the war of the worlds’, ‘us versus them’, ‘The West’s war against Islam’, ‘Islam’s War on the West’, modern-day ‘crusades’ and ‘jihads’, the all-conquering hordes of ISIS rampaging into America and likely conquering Hawaii; give it a rest. Context and perspectives are needed.

Two so-called ‘sides’ unwilling to come to terms with their own innate flaws and who claim to represent a particular way of life are destroying the very thing they claim to ‘protect’ and thus hypocrisy runs riot. They feed off each other with disastrous results. Instant news undermines necessary critical reflection and unconventional approaches to the multitude of crises across the globe are not making unconventional headlines and instant, short-term solutions seemingly and consistently fail to accommodate the necessity of long-term solutions. The result is continuous war and violence and widens the various chasms of understanding between different communities, individuals and groups and silences those trying to bridge the various islets of discontent and radicalism.

There are thousands of people fighting these damaging and poisonous assumptions across the world. They must be heard more frequently as voices of reason and they must be heard more often. That is when the pens being flourished after the Paris shootings will become mightier than the sword. That is when the brutality of human existence can be replaced by the humane expression of our diverse cultures, our diverse beliefs and our best values and ultimately determine our progress. That is a beautiful dream. 

Matthew Williams

Long-Term Strategy: The Middle East’s Salvation?

 Iraq Special Forces

 Iraq has collapsed. The United States and its allies are paying witness to the Republic of Iraq’s downfall and for the first time the international community is truly coming to terms with the catastrophic failure of the ‘Global War on Terror’.  Even if the current Iraqi government survives the Islamic State’s onslaught the nation itself will be irrevocably changed as it goes through yet another phase of convulsive violence. How will this invariably effect Iraq, Middle East, and the wider world (particularly the West) is open to interpretation alongside how we tackle the unfortunate present and future circumstances presented to us.

In my most recent article I covered the roots and rise of ISIL engineered by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and without doubt the Islamic State (IS) has contributed strongly to the anarchy that has consumed Iraq.  Yet Fuad Massoum and former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki have in equal measure constructed a path for ISIS. This was a path that the insurgents were not only able to exploit but walk down with worrying ease in bringing down America’s Iraq.

The replacement of al-Maliki, Haider al-Abadi

The replacement of al-Maliki, Haider al-Abadi, will face an uphill struggle. The first challenge fighting an tenacious jihadist insurgency cutting a swathe through Iraq and its minorities. The second will be consolidating the disputing Iraqi government as al-Maliki’s supporters claim that ousting al-Maliki was ‘a coup’ claiming it breached the constitution as he had thirty days left at his post. Internal chaos will all but guarantee ISIS an eventual victory over the politically leaderless and already demoralized Iraqi military.

Iraq and the Middle East is Western foreign policymakers new Yugoslavia. However one can only fear the repercussions of what they have helped unleash will make the consequences far more outreaching and costly. The failure of  Middle Eastern foreign policy in the last four years  is a tough psychological blow to the credibility of various countries within NATO and the EU, particularly the United States and United Kingdom.

The humanitarian operations comprising of airstrikes and aid for the escaping refugees and various minorities such as the Yazidis underway undoubtedly has to be undertaken. The operations however successful will only solve a small fraction of the issue. Northern Syria remains the primary headquarters and base of operations for ISIL. This has been the case since they commenced their campaign in Syria in April 2013. While the Syrian Civil War continues in its current format ISIL will continue possess the perfect environment in which it can continue to recruit local and foreign jihadists surrounded by stockpiles of weaponry from all corners of the Middle East and globe.

There are various choices that can be taken. Intervention on the ground in Syria is unfathomable. The infamous ‘redline’ of Obama following the Ghouta chemical attacks a year ago and the threat to strike Syria and intervene threatened a potential Third World War with China and the Russian Federation (whether rightly or wrongly) reeling in the bullish Obama administration in mid-August 2013. This idea was undermined similarly by American public opinion both in the military and public staunchly against intervention in another Middle Eastern conflict. The Obama administration has been left with the smoldering wreckage of Iraq by the hawkish Bush government.

Embedded image permalink Instability in Iraq would undoubtedly be worsened by the Syrian revolution. That is what the failure and criminality with which the Iraq war was waged would bring. The Iraq War has effectively blocked us from deploying soldiers into Syria, the memories of Iraq being too painful for many of the public  who are angered that  they were  systematically lied to and brushed aside by the Bush administration in 2003 as they plundered Iraq and killed Iraqi civilians. This stance against intervention in Syria and Iraq for many anti-interventionists is coupled with the tarnished reputation of the United States and the United Kingdom for their military adventurism in the international community.

Circumstances change. ISIL have rapidly changed the structure of the Middle Eastern conflicts and James Bloodworth makes some good points in his article regarding how we deal with ISIL. ‘Liberals are very good at calling for the bombs to stop, but now is the time for anyone of a remotely progressive temperament to call for an intensification of the military campaign against Isis.’

Without a doubt I agree with many of his views. I want nothing more, like any decent human being, to see the destruction of ISIL even if they were the spawn of the Iraq War and supported by various individuals within the Gulf monarchies, our allies, and in many circumstances ourselves. This is our mess and we owe the Iraqi people. The past cannot be unwritten and the Bush administration and Blair, who were quick to jump to their own defense in the wake of ISIL’s Northern Offensive, must answer some serious questions.


Yet what we need, as Obama suggests, is long-term strategy. Even if we had destroyed Assad in 2013 what then?  ISIL and various terrorists cells including Al-Qaeda and Al-Nusra were in existence in August 2013. Capable in guerrilla warfare perfected in the Iraq War, chaos and violence would remain and the civilians and soldiers alike would die as they did during the Iraq insurgency. Jihadists and would-be insurgents could manipulate humanitarian intervention into yet another example of Western adventurism in the Middle East and recruit more extremists. Unseating Assad would result in another post-Gadaffi/post-Saddam scenario where we would have indirectly supported the wrong factions (as seen in Libya) or de-stabalised the region as we witnessed in Iraq in 2003.

This question should be applied to ISIL. If we destroy them what then? Even if the Kurds and Iraqi ground units push back ISIL and by some miracle they are simultaneously destroyed by the Syrian rebels and Assad’s forces what then? The beliefs of ISIL like Al-Qaeda’s are now banners around which jihadists and militants rally and/or create their own organisations. The root problems lie at the heart of various versions of Islam and Western foreign policy.

The United States is protecting its economic and political interests in the Middle East currently whilst trying to save a faltering Iraqi government. Airstrikes, bombs, a ground invasion and humanitarian aid will not solve Syria, Iraq, Libya or the question of extremist Islamic beliefs. Military means (undoubtedly required when concerning terrorists) are short term alleviations and solutions to what is now a generational problem. Short term strategies must coincide with broader vision and much change must come from within Islam itself and how outsiders engage with the faith and political side of the religion. 

The Muslim communities are at war with each other as much as the extremists and ‘terrorists’ are at war with Western concepts.  The issue within Muslim societies is often what conversations moderates and intellectuals are not having.

This is  guided by both fear of violence and repercussions against families and individuals, but is also the result of a neglect to encourage or promote more diverse ways of thinking about the structures of their faith and establish an effective rapport between different communities which will challenge the norms and rules of Muslim society. What is lacking is a sufficient and convincing challenge against elements (previously mentioned) that wholly undermine the more enlightened and peaceful elements of both contemporary and historical Islam. These are problems the outside world can help solve, but ultimately not fix.

The fascistic subversion of Islam into neo-Wahabbist and neo-Salafist cores by factions such as ISIL, Al-Qaeda, and various terrorist factions have to be isolated and destroyed. This can only occur with a substantial reform to many educational systems across the Middle East which promote and staunchly protect radicalized versions of the Islamic faith, in-particular Saudi Arabia which, though an enemy of Al-Qaeda, promotes the 18th century Wahabbi version of Islam  to counter what it sees as the threat of Shi’a Muslims spreading their version of Islam. Islamists, Salafists, Wahabbists, Sunnis, Sh’ia Muslims and more  are divided and while this remains there is little hope that the issue will be resolved particularly when various segments of the Western population are misinformed on the finer details of how the faith works.

This problem coincides with the continued way in which the West conducts itself in Middle Eastern politics which not only failed dismally in Iraq, but also in the wake of the Arab Spring, the continued and uncompromising support of a violent and militant Israel and our inherent obsession with oil and petro-politics. The problems are vast and the solutions unattainable at present moment.  Destroying ISIL would not destroy the ideology of militant Islam. What is required is  a combination of carefully planned short-term political plans and military operations with that of long-term educational and intellectual solutions to the problems from within and outside the Middle East. Both sides need to take a good hard look at themselves. We need better ideas and the Middle East isn’t unsolvable as many contend.

Matthew Williams

The Israeli Firewall

Israeli soldiers Gaza

Israel is in a state of deep division and as always holds much controversy in regards to its history, its politics and its brutal conduct in the Arab-Israeli conflict. The 2013-2014 peace-talks presided over by the United States of America  once again stalled and finally collapsed on April 29, 2014 whilst violence has flared between Israelis and Palestinians after the bodies of three Israeli teenagers were found in a field near Hebron in the West Bank.   The broad opinion is that Israel (led by Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu)  facilitated the disintegration of prospects for a peace between the warring factions. The question is what Israel’s next move is  regarding the Palestinians, Gaza, and the firestorm of post-Arab Spring Middle Eastern politics?

The focus is once again on the Israeli occupation over the Palestinians. Eye for eye bloodshed has come to epitomize the Arab-Israeli conflict that has now been ongoing since 1948 and the instability in the Middle East look set to increase the stakes in the war. Recent events, a few good books on the real history of Israel and Palestine and re-watching the critically acclaimed District 9 has heightened my intrigue and horror at both the past and present crises involving Israel and the Middle East.

Betar Jerusalem Football Club is plagued by extreme Zionist youth movements

The real threat to Israel comes not from tiny, impoverished Gaza, but from the policies of Israel’s increasingly right-wing politicians. The Palestinian people are not welcome, they are not accepted, and they are dehumanized in Israeli media and propaganda where the #IsraelDemandsRevenge plagues Twitter and users on Instagram (most notably two very normal looking girls) post plaque cards stating that “To hate Arabs isn’t racism, it’s having values.”

Football hooligans (most notoriously Beitar Jerusalem’s supporters group ‘La Famila’ known for its anti-Arabism and racism), zealous Zionists and right-wing ultranationalists chant ‘Death to Arabs!‘, threaten and attack activists (with aid by the police in some cases), isolate the ‘traitors’ who criticize the state, and vandalize the property of Israeli dissenters, fellow Jews and Israeli Arabs.

In regards to Beitar Jerusalem, football so often reflects society. At its very worst it can represent hatred, class division, discrimination and disregard for diversity and there is no doubt that football hooligans and fanatics are deeply rooted in Israeli society and politics.  Israeli football, like its politics possesses ultra-nationalist and fascist/racist elements much like some sectors of Ukrainian and Russian football.

Alongside violent attacks, racial abuse and vandalism against Arabs and activists,  settlers recently kidnapped a Palestinian boy and forced him to drink petrol setting him alight and burning him to death. Doesn’t this make them hypocritical if the Palestinians are to be regarded in equal barbarity?

Embedded image permalink
“To hate Arabs isn’t racism, it’s having values. #IsraelDemandsRevenge”

It is exceedingly dangerous to dehumanize religious and ethnic groups. Dehumanizing and rendering other humans ‘alien’ has led to some of the world’s greatest atrocities and the treatment of the Palestinians is no exception to this. On average for one Israeli, dozens of Palestinians die and though the murder of those three Israeli was an unwelcome and horrific tragedy the Israeli Defence Forces have wounded and killed hundreds if not thousands of Palestinian children and teens since 2000 and imprisoned thousands more yet the mainstream media has normalized it. The imbalance in casualties in death, injuries and infrastructural damage is staggering. Invariably any death in war on both sides is a crime.

The gradual rise since the late 2000s and early 2010s of more radical Israeli groups are playing a disturbing rhyme to the annals of violent history.  The sensationalistic methods by which the Israeli teens’ deaths were reported has produced vicious public displays of racism. Hate crime against Arabs are rampant and largely ignored by the Israeli police whilst perhaps hundreds, maybe thousands of Palestinians are expected to die as supposed to a handful of Israeli citizens in the developing Gaza conflict.

Chris Hedges highlighted a interesting point via Isaiah Berlin known as “the conscience of Israel,” ‘warned that if Israel did not separate church and state it would give rise to a corrupt rabbinate that would warp Judaism into a fascistic cult. He quotes:

 “Religious nationalism is to religion what National Socialism was to socialism,” said Leibowitz, who died in 1994. He understood that the blind veneration of the military, especially after the 1967 war that captured the West Bank and East Jerusalem, was dangerous and would lead to the ultimate destruction of the Jewish state and any hope of democracy. He warned that the rise of a virulent racism would consume Israeli society. West Bank Wall

When I saw the remnants of the Berlin Wall for the first time and then for the first time saw images of the West Bank wall under construction I was horrified by its bone-chilling resemblance to the Berlin Wall. The Berlin Wall, a symbol of the Cold War, epitomized the war between the ideals of communism and western democracy/capitalism. Yet it was not a racial divide such as the one that exists between Israel and Palestine.

Walls, barbed wire, whitewashed racism, an increasing resemblance to apartheid South Africa, ethnic cleansing, extremism, religious/political manipulation, and permanent militarization.  It was unsurprising that the far right-wing Israeli government’s massive land theft and push to settle squatters on Palestinian land, and its sabotage of John Kerry’s peace initiative, would produce another round of violence.  While Palestinian militants also bear some responsibility, the majority of the blame rests with the Likud Party and its rapacious coalition partners. The Likud-Beiteinu coalition held 31 seats in the Israeli Knesset but the split now leaves Likud with 20 seats, one more than the centrist Yesh Atid party, and Lieberman’s Beiteinu party with 11.

What do the majority of Palestinians want? The majority just want to go home, they want justice, they want to live with the Israelis with compromise as shown by the peace-talks that recently failed. This hope has almost completely dissipated in the face of Israeli aggression and brutal  policies which has only served to radicalize, enrage and inflame the hearts and minds of the Palestinian people.

However the Palestinian radicals are predominantly Israel’s creation, a product of decades of occupation without a willingness in most cases to compromise at this given moment.

Israel at the end of the day is in part responsible for this escalation. This will shift attitudes across the world as international opinion turns against the Israeli government.

In the violent military campaign ‘Operation Cast Lead’ against the Gaza Strip in 2008-2009 Twitter, Tweetdeck and Facebook were being nurtured and were yet to become wholly politicized by events across the world. The Arab Spring, the Ukraine crisis, Snowden and the new Iraqi civil war have changed this. Amazingly #Israel and #Gaza managed to remain aside worldwide trends such as the historic dismantlement of the Brazilian football team by Germany at the 2014 World Cup (this was the most tweeted sporting event ever thus far).

Social media, the explosion of blogs and alternative news sites has aided the unshackling of the realities of the Israeli occupation that are sensitized or whitewashed by mainstream media and news outlets. Twitter can in many ways be regarded as the new public opinion outlook on current and trending world affairs. From various opinions both mainstream, groups, and individuals you can glean a more realistic interpretation of facts and realities on the ground, what is the truth, what isn’t being covered by mainstream media and what is manipulation and propaganda.

Social media can useful tools for peaceful condemnation and peaceful use to start a coherent international movement to boycott Israeli goods which though started along time ago can gain significant traction. This is not dissimilar to those wishing to promote extremist causes as seen by ISIS for example.

The military wing of Hamas, though undoubtedly doing little to ease the violence, pales in comparison to the Israeli occupation forces who have committed atrocities to safeguard Israeli citizens.

The most recent crimes include Operation Cast Lead (2000 civilians killed, thousands wounded + wide infrastructural destruction), the 2006 Lebanon War (1300 Lebanese civilians dead), Operation Pillar of Defence, and Operation Protective Edge. These crimes are deemed a necessity and acceptable for a ‘survivalist state’.

The Israeli’s have left little if any room for compromise. Criticism which is dished out on them is turned on its head by the Israeli state as summarized perfectly by Gideon Levy

“Anyone who dares criticize the occupation policy is branded an anti-Semite or a traitor, every act of resistance is perceived as an existential threat. All international opposition to the occupation is read as the “delegitimizing” of Israel and as a provocation to the country’s very existence. The world’s seven billion people – most of whom are against the occupation – are wrong, and six million Israeli Jews – most of whom support the occupation – are right. That’s the reality in the eyes of the average Israeli.”

Peace activists within  Israel are being muzzled. In some cases they receive death threats and are killed as seen in the pre-dawn hours of May 31, 2010 when Israeli military forces stormed the Mavi Marmara, one of six ships carrying humanitarian relief to Gaza. The Israelis killed (some by point blank range execution) at least nine activists and injured dozens of others. Film footage and pictures were destroyed to conceal the brutality of the Israeli forces.

The ship was searched before it left Turkey and was clear of weapons yet the Israeli media firestorm convinced its people otherwise that humanitarianism and peace activists were a looming ‘terrorist’ threat. Terrorism is the new dirty word, a pretext under which many government’s believe the can act with dictatorial impunity and Israel is one of many government’s which have acted under the cloak of ‘terror’ to gain political advantage and/or achieve local or international objectives.

Where do the keys lie to this crisis, one which has existed for so long and seems to be steadily worsening predominantly under the orchestration of Israel?

The key lies with Israel yet it is suffering an identity crisis. Does it continue down the path of alienating the international community or does it try to establish much needed peace and reaffirm itself with more democratic values alongside the Palestinians? The pervading boorish attitudes coupled with a rejectionist, uncompromising agenda, which has effectively replaced democracy with the leadership of the ‘strong’ (i.e. war-mongers) will only hasten the Middle East’s instability and lure jihadists and insurgencies more radical than Hamas to Israel’s (quite literal) doorstep. Unless an unlikely ceasefire is organised between the two conflicting factions, a new war on the Gaza strip is inevitable and the death toll is already steadily rising.

What is the difference we may ask? Surely Israel and Palestine have always been a problem? I answer to that with a resounding yes. However the geo-political earthquake since the Arab Spring has changed the situation that has existed since the Lebanon War and Operation Cast Lead.

The Arab Spring, the Islamic winter (as many would call it) or the Middle Eastern conflict has become an all-consuming blood-bath most notably seen in Syria. Yet the crisis is affecting  Lebanon, Jordan, Iran, Egypt, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Afghanistan and Iraq. It is a violent domino effect on the region and Israel will invariably have a role to play in safeguarding Middle Eastern security. Israel naturally has to be on a state of high alert lest it be sucked into a whirlwind of sectarian violence and insurgency.

What role it chooses to play in the wider context is subject to debate. The peace-talks that failed recently are an indication that Israeli government rather than choosing peace and compromise with Palestine has chosen the more destructive option; drones, fighter jets, bulldozers and bombs.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas

This will solve neither the short-term and long-terms between the two countries, nor will it solve the Middle Eastern crisis (now long-term) which Israel invariable has the power to influence. It cannot do so amidst rightful worldwide condemnation of orchestrating a more radical form of apartheid against the Palestinians than we witnessed in South Africa, coherent and growing calls for boycotting Israeli goods and dependence on the U.S tax dollar for military and economic support.

The United States and the Western world must take a firm stand on Israel and Palestine lest the situation become a serious headache rather than a potential invaluable asset to a peaceful future in the Middle East. Eventually the peace activists, the human rights movements, the non-governmental organisations, and boycotters will be heard. A reactionary Israel is the last thing the West or Middle East needs right now yet alone dealing with the escalation of the civil wars in Syria and Iraq and the emergence of ISIS.

Turning a blind eye to atrocities on both sides will not just condemn us to history as inactive onlookers, it will also add to collective and unnerving problem that is the Middle Eastern conflict.

War is built on deception and deceit. A state in permanent war with others and its ideals and built on fantasies and to some extent historical manipulation is a potent cocktail.

Israel needs to save itself from itself as much as the Palestinians need to be  a state free from Israeli occupation. These are critical times for both countries and both are vitally important to the future of the Middle East. Israel needs to be saved from the likes of Avigdor Liebermann, the Likud party and the young extremists that have been indoctrinated into a dangerous system. Israel needs peace and Palestine needs peace, it could be a symbol of hope for the future of the Middle East rather than a symbol of vituperative hate. Uncertainty must be replaced with hope. Cultural impunity must be replaced by co-existence.

This is the only sane way for this to end and invariably history tells us that something has eventually got to give. How the war will be decided, whether by extensive bloodshed or peace, is up to how the international community, Israel and Palestine choose for it to end.

Matthew Williams

Gaza Facts courtesy of Juan Cole:

This post originally ran on Juan Cole’s Web page.

  • Population of Palestinians of Gaza: 1.7 million
  • Number of Palestinians in Gaza whose families were expelled as refugees from their homes in what is now southern Israel: 1.2 million
  • Number of Palestinians in Gaza still living in the 8 recognized refugee camps, “which have one of the highest population densities in the world”:  over 500,00
  • Compensation Palestinians of Gaza have received for the billions of dollars of property taken from them by Israelis in Beersheva, Sderot, etc.:  $0
  • Years since Israel allowed Palestinians of Gaza to export what they produce:  7
  • Unemployment in Gaza as a result of Israeli blockade on civilians:  38.5%
  • Estimated unemployment rate in US during the Great Depression:  25%
  • Percentage of children in Gaza suffering from acute malnutrition:  13.2%
  • Rate of anemia in Palestinian Children in Gaza:  18.9%
  • Percentage of water in Gaza that is potable:  10%
  • Years, according the the UN, before Gaza becomes “uninhabitable”:  6
  • Number of airports in Gaza rendered inoperable by Israeli airstrikes: 1
  • Number of airports working in Gaza:  0
  • Number of ports allowed by Israelis to operate on Gaza’s Mediterranean coast:  0

The Arabian End Game

“War does not determine who is right – only who that is left”

Bertrand Russell

ISIS executionThe Arab Spring, now dubbed by many the Arabian winter, has consumed the Middle East and Northern Africa like a wildfire, uncontrollable and almost beyond taming from the outside. What looked like a series of short-term crises have molded into a long-term regional conflict.  Revolution and reform has festered into civil war, counter-revolution, coups, civil strife, insurgency, authoritarianism, terrorism and various humanitarian crises. Global refugee figures now stand at 51.2 million the highest since World War II and it only looks set to increase as annually violence intensifies and many borders that we see on maps are now the merest of illusions. As Anton Guterres (UN High Commission for Refugees) remarks the ‘quantum numbers’ parallel the ‘quantum’ leap in the stakes of this regional crisis. 

The Iraq crisis has served to exacerbate the severity of the regional collapse with the focus shifting from the Ukrainian borderlands back to the Middle East. Finger pointing has commenced in America as it struggles to come to terms with its new Vietnam, Obama in a potentially unattainable situation in regards to Iraq.

Naturally the focus has been on the Bush administration, the West’s legacy in Iraq and the denial and bitterness of key politicians who orchestrated and oversaw the Iraq invasion and occupation (2003-2011). The focus should undoubtedly remain on them and inquiries must be conducted in the UK and United States to explain all the controversy surrounding coalitions action regarding war crimes and the illegitimacy of the grounds for invasion.

Area of the world affected by civil strife, war, insurgency, violence, revolution, terrorism and chaos. Global crisis?
Areas of the world affected by serious civil strife, war, insurgency, violence, revolution, state of alert, terrorism and chaos. Global crisis?

However at the same time solutions for the now and the long-term have to be considered to resolving the crisis, lest men radicalized by conflict return or emerge on our shores and other regions of the world to promote extremism and violence. This could quite easily spill over into unstable Greece and Turkey, the former of whom is starting to support the more fascist elements within the political spectrum such as Golden Dawn. Turkey is likewise suffering from civil unrest, economic instability and the repression of many civil liberties (we saw the shut down of Twitter to quell political dissent online a tactic regularly used now by activists, insurgents and jihadists).

Containing the threat is as important as solving it and whilst the international community would like to see the bloodshed cease, most notably in Syria, the crisis in Middle East is starting to look beyond the direct control of the super-powers (such as the Russian Federation and the United States). This is largely due to the splintering of rebel factions into a variety of insurgents, hard-line jihadists with varying goals and objectives, freedom fighters, and those fighting for a secular government all of whom tend to overlap with one another.

Local powers hold the key to this crisis as the Western powers have either bungled their support for the pro-Western/democratic entities or have tainted their reputations with regard to conduct and policies in regards to Middle Eastern affairs. Nevertheless history and the continued Global War on Terror dictates that the West will remain key to the Middle East’s future.

The success or failure of the Iran nuclear deal could be an important factor in containing the Middle Eastern conflicts not to mention our relationship with Putin and the Kremlin over the Ukrainian civil war and the Syrian civil war. How the Iraqi government, its armed forces and political parties deal with the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/ISIS) in the coming weeks is also pivotal.

Using drones and air-strikes as Obama does in Pakistan as stated in a previous article is unlikely to deter the opposition who are well armed and from videos that have been seen on the ground it is an  urban war in the towns and cities of Iraq. Airstrikes would only incur heavy casualties both civilian and military and leave many embittered against the Obama administration, a useful propaganda tool for jihadist and insurgency organisations.

More crucially those who are pro-Western in Iraq would or could be a target of retribution and being pro-Western can be manipulated into anything from western affiliation to political and religious beliefs or ethnicity. This is in-part already happening but bombings would only accelerate the crimes against humanity not ease them.

The United States must also stop supplying weapons to hard-line jihadist and Islamic extremists in Syria, via their allies Qatar and Saudi Arabia, (who have supported hard-line extremists) such as the Al-Nusra Front and ISIS. According to Juan Cole of Truthdig neither thus far have openly criticized ISIS for their crimes. On October 20, 2010, U.S. State Department notified Congress of its intention to make the biggest arms sale in American history – an estimated $60.5 billion purchase by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Specific individuals are a key source of funding according to leaked U.S diplomatic cables in 2009  according to Hilary Clinton:

“It has been an ongoing challenge to persuade Saudi officials to treat terrorist financing emanating from Saudi Arabia as a strategic priority…Donors in Saudi Arabia constitute the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide” 

Both ISIS and Al-Nusra ideologies’ are predominantly Sunni, so whilst the Iraq invasion may have destroyed the fundamental military, police and security structures (an incompetent strategy employed by Rumsfeld then Secretary of Defence) the Obama administration has hardly curbed the rise of violent Islamism in Syria and Iraq. So technically many of us are inadvertently funding terrorism not just assisting refugees in the crises. This is a product of of deliberate and poor long term and short-term U.S/Western strategy in regards to the Middle East, seen most obviously in Iraq and Syria.

ISIS and the Al-Nusra Front have flourished and grown more powerful than than their affiliates Ayman al-Zawahiri and Al-Qaeda thanks to financial and logistical support from the West’s Middle Eastern allies and seized depots of Assad’s Syrian Army. The violence of both ISIS and Al-Nusra as seen by pictures and Youtube videos (warning contains very graphic content) posted by both organisations are horrific and easily found. Our allies often funded by government’s in Western Europe and America fund the very men we claim to fight, such as those who commited atrocities on 9/11, 7/7, Woolwich, in Madrid and Mumbai since 2001.

Interestingly ISIS’s social media propaganda campaign trends the most in Saudi Arabia’s region in the Middle East under the hash tag #itwillremain and #ISIS at 35.1% whilst Qatar and Iraq stands at 7.5%, the U.S.A at 9.1%. This is an attempt to recruit more foreign fighters and wealthy donors of which there are plenty in Saudi Arabia and 2022 World Cup hosts Qatar, the latter of which was no secret as far back as 2008 according to Wikileaks.

“U.S. officials have described Qatar’s counter-terrorism cooperation since 9/11 as significant; however, some observers have raised questions about possible support for Al Qaeda by some Qatari citizens, including members of Qatar’s large ruling family.”

Naturally the U.S.A may desire to support the moderates fighting Assad yet an ocean of oil lies beneath the Middle East and Saudi Arabia is the world’s top oil exporter and producer. Americans hunger to consume cheap oil and economics may influence political and moral decisions. Destabalizing Iraq’s oil supplies through civil war and disintegration will increase demand for Saudi Arabian oil exports.This is a recurring theme in past Middle Eastern history; blood oil and petro-politics.

Whether or not these pictures are real are disputed, ISIS’s and Al-Nusra’s atrocities are not on Youtube.

Supporting extremists is unlikely to fill the void of Assad’s government with a pro-Western affiliate nor will the ending of Assad’s regime guarantee a peaceful power transfer. In-fact a second civil war would likely occur if Assad was removed from power between the extremists, moderates, and insurgents and encourage the continuation of sectarian violence; essentially a repeat of Iraq. This is something we are seeing unfold in Libya since Gaddafi’s execution October 20th 2011 and NATO’s airstrikes against pro-Gaddafi forces.

Military rule in Egypt
Military rule in Egypt

The dilemma between authoritarianism and anarchy in the Middle East is particularly difficult and contentious issue that we must address. In Egypt Abdul Fattah al-Sisi has rapidly and brutally cracked down on the Muslim Brotherhood, however there a belief amongst many that a civil war would have began had the military not taken control in wake of the 2nd coup and ousting of democratically elected but incompetent and ineffective Mohammed Morsi.

Yet the death penalty for dissidents, and legitimate protesters as well as the detainment of thousands more is no peace, just martial law, a reversal of the gains made since Mubarak was removed by the protesters in a largely bloodless coup in 2011. The west is in a moral quandary not supporting elected Morsi while silently condoning the army coup.The Egyptian military is again in part funded by the United States and it is the same old story much like that of Saddam Hussein who was installed by the C.I.A  none other than President John F. Kennedy, conducted its own regime change in Baghdad, carried out in collaboration with Saddam.

Donald Rumsfeld and Saddam Hussein, December 20th 1983. Rumsfeld would later lead the U.S campaign in 2003 to topple Saddam. This was after the summer of 1983 when Iran had been reporting Iraqi use of using chemical weapons for some time.

As long as the government is pro-Western rather than democratic, these are the people we tend to back whether it be Saddam who used chemical weapons against the Iranians and Kurds but he is a deterrent to communist influence and secures Western oil interests, Saudi Arabians funding terrorists but being the world top exporters of oil or the Israeli pro-Western buffer state who have ethnically cleansed the Palestinians and bomb the Gaza Strip since 1948 and are increasingly right-wing and fascist under Prime Minister Benjamin Netenyahu.


This is not about democracy and the Arab Spring’s eventual decline into a series of regional  proxy wars highlights this. Iran and the Russian Federation aren’t innocent either. They back their ally Assad who uses napalm, barrel bombs, and other ruthless tactics including torture to fight both moderate and radical secular/religious factions. Both sides have been accused of using official and home-made nerve gas and sarin chemical weapons against each other. With extremists on both sides not just Assad’s that would not and should not surprise us.  It is either authoritarian rule or the proxy-conflicts and brutal caliphates/Islamic states of hard-line militants.

Will we see more troops on the ground under a future president of the United States and NATO? After all this is a long-term crisis that will most likely past Obama’s term in office which has spread to parts of Africa (asides North Africa) most notoriously Mali, Kenya and Nigeria while Somalia has been plagued by violent Islamism in the form of Al-Shabaab since the 1990s.

The frustration and isolation of Russian Muslims in the politics of the Kremlin as well as those in satellite states such as Chechnya and Dagestan only increase the problems. Conflict has torn apart the provinces creating power vacuums filled by warlords and fundamental groups determined to be independent Islamic states (radical or not).

The violence is beyond Western control unless stark military deployment is contemplated a route that many in the Western public is unlikely to support in the wake of the calamitous Iraq war nor will the Russians, Iranians, Assad, or China permit such a radical solution. The choices are difficult, imperfect peace or the pursuing of, whether subtlety or not, the continuation of violence.


Yet neither of these are the solution to the long-term problems as authoritarian regimes are susceptible to future protests, revolutions and acts of terror (whether or not they are done under just or unjust motives) whilst encouraging and supplying perpetrators (applied to all super-powers involved) of violence only makes the Middle East a hot-bed for radicalism, jihadi extremism, and human rights abuses. Ending the Syrian civil war and new Iraqi conflict is part of the solution to restoring a semblance of ‘order’ to the region, establishing dialogue with sides willing to engage and compromise and alienate support and further supplies to violent groups.

Easier said than done when you contemplate not only the divisions and rivalries but sheer number of sides involved. The procedure of the Geneva II Conference on Syria and the inability for several sides to come to a decisive political solution with little if no help from Sergei Lavrov and John Kerry indicates this issue.

Yes it is most certainly an Arabian winter in the Middle East. Hundreds of thousands are dead, thousands more starve, millions dwell in refugee camps and violence and torture tower over human rights in this political earthquake that has only gained momentum rather than being stopped. This is our generation’s concern and those of the future not just those who lived through the dialogue and ideologies of the Cold War.

The answers to solving the challenges between the West and Middle East cannot be presented in two-thousand words. The issue stretches out over most human debates conceivable be they social, economic, political, geographical, historical, religious, ideological concepts and more within both Europe and the Middle East.


These gaps have to narrowed on both sides of the spectrum if attitudes are to shift and radical elements are to be understood. Military power is the riskiest and least helpful way of solving the problem as summarised perfectly by author Jason Burke: ‘Language of high-tech weaponry, militarism and eradication. The latter may be useful to treat the symptom but does not, and will never, treat the disease’ (Al-Qaeda: The True Story of Radical Islam).

The past as well as the present holds the key to the crisis and the whys are as important as how in any local, regional or global conflict. Western Europe, eastern Europe, and the Middle East are  entwined in mutual history and experience and seeing the opposing sides as alien entities is the pathway to unending conflict.  Failure is the passageway to success. We can do better lest the Arabian end game is defined by madness rather than hope, development, education, peace and mutual existence.

Matthew Williams



The Iraq Crisis: The bitterness of Dick Cheney and the war-mongers

richard-dick-cheneyDick Cheney and the neo-conservatives are back to their old ways of lies and deceit. To solely blame the president for the disintegration of the coalition’s policy in Iraq since 2003 with open lies and neglecting his administration’s predominant responsibility for this fresh Iraqi  catastrophe is laughable as it is appalling. Nearly 5,000 U.S soldiers are dead, thousands more wounded alongside hundreds more coalition soldiers. They also take with them most importantly and tragically hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians, security and military forces.

Dick Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz, Paul Bremer, Donald Rumsfeld, and Tony Blair thus far have either evaded responsibility for their failures or placed the atrocities and slaughter currently unfolding in Iraq squarely at the feet of Obama. Such actions are not only cowardly, but obscene.

This isn’t a defence of Obama.  Mistakes have been made by the Obama administration in relation to the Syrian crisis without question. The red-line incident, the controversy  surrounding the supplying of Syrian rebels, the use of drones, the NSA scandal as well as the EU and NATO’s inability to condemn the fascist elements in the pro-Western Ukrainian movement which, combined with Russian actions and pro-Russian movements, have left Ukraine unstable and in the midst of a new civil war.

Their weapons supplied to anti-Assad military forces have often fallen into the hands of  jihadist extremists courtesy of Saudi Arabia and Qatar. However Robert Scheer points out that it was very fortunate that Barack Obama in fact didn’t ‘succumb to his critics demands that he supply the insurgents in Syria with more sophisticated weaponry’ lest they be used against the pro-American Iraqi government.

(U.S. Air Force A-10 Thunderbolt jets, also known as the Warthog. File photo)
Are airstrikes the solution to urban warfare on the ground?

What some see as weakness on Obama’s part for failing to maintain the standard hegemony should be taken as a dose of realism. The use of military force is not necessarily always the correct solution to a civil war particularly one as volatile and complicated as Iraq even it were to be based on humanitarian principles.

American air strikes would reek bloody carnage on the Shiite [ISIS] forces, yet how effective would air-power be in urban fighting, hand to hand street fighting? How effective would air-strikes be if ISIS  consolidate and shore up their defences in Mosul and other captured towns? Indiscriminate carpet bombing, even precision bombing of Baghdad risks killing more civilians and Obama would be at the center of the fiasco rather than the 2003 class. Thugs of George W. Bush, Cheney,  Wolfowitz,  Kristol and Paul Bremer, have been given airtime on the U.S networks and space in the opinion pages to condemn President Obama for the current crisis in Iraq.

Dick Cheney

Cheney wrote that “rarely has a U.S. president been so wrong about so much at the expense of so many” in the Wall Street Journal, pointing the finger yet evading his responsibility of the quagmire.Yet it was amusing to hear Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid state “Being on the wrong side of Dick Cheney is being on the right side of history.

Note Cheney a leader prides himself on restraint, control, realistic outlook, and calculation not grand illusions, global ideologies of democracy and favoring military force over diplomatic means the last of your options in your article. Read a dictionary and realize that terrorism is a tactic not an ideology or state several of which you have inflamed. In-fact read a book on radical Islam, any book on the danger of using grand ideologies to supplement war whilst overlooking regional socio-political and religious issues that stretch back decades and centuries. America must co-exist with the world, not spread Western ‘democracy’ at the edge of a sword. That is the reality and the Americans cannot control the upheaval in the Middle East in the wake of the Arab Spring.

The hawks, christian right and neo-conservative pundits and politicians are as wrong now as  they were when promoting the Iraq War back in 2003 under the trumped-up assumptions that Saddam Hussein was harboring members of Al-Qaeda, linked to the destruction of the World Trade Center, and possessing Weapons of Mass Destruction. Did I forget to mention that 15 of the 19 hijackers came from Saudi Arabia, not Iraq or Afghanistan?

It was Bush who decided in 2008 under the Status of Forces agreement with Iraq government that  US combat troops would depart 2011. Obama oversaw the last steps of a failed policy in Iraq and unfortunately the remnants of a now redundant policy of American exceptionalism, neo-conservatism, and stark militarism that has affected the liberties of those at home and abroad has latched on to Obama like a disease. It threatens to contaminate him.

Donald Rumsfeld. Former Secretary of Defence
Donald Rumsfeld. Former Secretary of Defence

He has inherited the mistakes of an administration that inadequately addressed both the Great Recession and destroyed the United States’ future abroad. Rumsfeld (Secretary of Defence) resignation was due to, according American generals, of gross strategic incompetence and military planning. He also supported the enhanced interegation techniques created by John Yoo (Deputy Assistant U.S. Attorney General in the Office of the Legal Council Department of Justice) whilst Paul Wolfowitz according to American professor and historian Andrew Bacevich was the key to the Bush Doctrine’s creation.

“Although none of the hijackers were Iraqi, within days of 9/11 you were promoting military action against Iraq. Critics have chalked this up to your supposed obsession with Saddam. The criticism is misplaced. The scale of your ambitions was vastly greater….to unshackle American power.”

Obama has made mistakes and he is struggling to contain militarists and interventionists such as Donald Kagan (who claims that Super Powers don’t retire).  Iraq is their Vietnam and 17% of the U.S’s debt is partly attributable to the cost of the Iraq War initiated by Bush according to International Spectator.


The PATRIOT Act was the beginning of a series of events that have only served to perhaps irrevocably harm the United States’ image and most importantly foreign civilians, their own civilians and soldiers. Nearly 7,000 U.S soldiers have been killed in the Global War on Terror, nearly eight times more wounded whilst hundreds of thousands suffered from post traumatic stress disorder. Nearly 20,000 Afghanistan civilians are dead and over 100,000 were left dead as a consequence of the American/British occupation in Iraq.

Tojo was hung in 1948 for Count 1: waging wars of aggression, and war or wars in violation of international law and Count 54: ordering, authorizing, and permitting inhumane treatment of Prisoners of War. Pardon me but don’t the crimes of the many within the Bush administration fall under these categories? No wonder Putin can act with impunity on Crimea.


These men spit in the face of the dead, maimed, and psychologically scarred of the conflict and not just of the American military but others across the globe. They have waged war on the American ideals and reduced the American constitution to a dead letter. The worst thing is they don’t care and this is the gulf between world of American elitists and politicians and the American people. They insult the ideals of America, they insult the American military, they insult Obama openly (a partisan hijack and tasteless), and they continue to smear their own reputations as they stand on mounds of dead Iraqi’s whilst possessing (just like in 2003) little if no understanding of the enemy we are fighting and why the enemy fight.

These politicians are the epitome of what is wrong with American politics at this moment in time and whether or not you are a Democrat or a Republican the criminals inside the Bush administration instead of holding high positions in American society should be cast out and held accountable for war crimes, wasting trillions of dollars on what can be best be described as war-mongering imperialism, and spiting the reputation of the United States. The injustice is infuriating as it is harrowing and summed up neatly by Tom Hayden:

Anti-war voices need to be amplified to help Obama stave off the most irrational forces during this crisis. We need to construct a narrative that blocks the hawks from blaming Obama for “losing” Iraq, and turns the focus on the neo-conservatives, Republicans, and Democratic hawks who took this country and that sorrowful region into a sea of blood.”

Barack Obama standing in front of a wooden writing desk and two flagpoles.

For those who frequently criticize Obama’s foreign policy as weak heed the warnings. A unethical form of patriotism and American exceptionalism stalks the nation and seats of power where using military power is cherished as one of the pillars of what means to be an American. Before their reluctant entry into World War I and their late entry into World War II, many Americans prided themselves as being a nation of restraint, that war was a folly that destroyed man as witnessed by hundreds of years of European  history. Obama has made misjudgments domestically and abroad particularly in regards to the conduct of his allies such as Israel, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, yet they pale in the face of the errors of the Bush administration.

Matthew Williams


The rise of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and ISIS: A Western Legacy

You’re free. And freedom is beautiful. And, you know, it’ll take time to restore chaos and order – order out of chaos. But we will.

George W. Bush, Washington, D.C., April 13, 2003

The fall of Mosul and the scenes of chaos within the city seem to be the first major and perhaps fatal challenge to Iraq’s fragile ‘democratic’ government. Can they see it through the whirlwind of sectarian violence and terrorist activity gripping the country unilaterally? Apparently not as Obama authorized renewed airstrikes against the barbaric ISIS and humanitarian airdrops for the besieged Yazidis. Either way it is a symbol of the utter failure of U.S and British policy in the country they invaded in 2003 and the Iraqi people are paying for it. 

What we are witnessing in the new Iraqi civil war is the violence that first began against coalition forces and among various sectarian groups. Now they deliver a severe challenge to the work of the U.S-British coalition  in Iraq. Not only were the Anglo-American forces unable to halt the violence, they only hastened the strife between Sunni and Shia.

A combination of long-term and short-term events have heralded this alarming turn of events. ISIS is a dual creation of the inherent instability created by the Bush administration and nurtured by the Syrian Civil War where U.S allies such Saudi Arabia and Qatar have been supplying the Sunni terrorist faction cutting a swath through Iraq. The social and economic deprivation of Iraq is well-documented and Iraq like every other nation in the region has been subject to dramatic change created by the Arab Spring (now very much in its bleak midwinter) which has created numerous pretexts for protest and violence whether it possesses moderate or extremist intentions.

In the vacuum of power created by the coalition in Operation Iraqi Freedom (2003) which saw the crude dismantlement of the political and military structure they have ironically witnessed the rise of new extremist factions, alongside Al-Qaeda, that Saddam Hussein was said to have harbored in 2003.  The latter accusation was proven false as was the fictional existence of WMDs. The Islamic State of Iraq in Syria (Isis) is so hard line that it was disavowed by Al-Qaeda leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri.

It seems that the Western powers are reacting to an event that was inbound for almost a year if not more. Media outlets had covered the increased rise in violence, bombing and sectarian slaughter in the build up to the elections. What is being witnessed in Iraq is not a surprise as Iraq already a divided state was feeling the effects of the Syrian Civil War, extremists were involved and likely to return to Iraq to impose their doctrines.  It seems very perplexing that American intelligence could have been caught so badly off guard by this escalation of violence.

The fall of Mosul to ISIS led by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi adds salt to the wounds of the politicians who took us into conflict without effective plan B, C and D. More importantly this impending disaster for Iraq spits in the face of all the men and women who have died or sustained physical and psychological trauma to their bodies under the inflexible and failed policies of their leaders in government. 4,487 U.S soldiers died for nothing as did nearly 600 coalition soldiers (315 of whom were British) and 160,000 Iraqi civilians (see Iraq casualties total on this link).

What did we fight for?  Ultimately it was not for the victims of 9/11, they were just the opportunity under which war could be undertaken. The military and political failure must be investigated by the Armed Forces and the Parliament thoroughly. If we salvage something from this bitter legacy that is Iraq and learn from it then it is the sole consolation in defeat (what else was it?).

Many have been foolish enough to propose that this was a victory and that the sacrifice was worth paying for creating a democracy within Iraq. The death in last year of 1000 people on average a month (the most horrific I remember being a Christmas day suicide bombing),  the fall of Mosul, the decent of Iraq into bloody civil war and its formation into a new ‘Somalia’ renders this void assumption laughable. The financial costs of this conflict are very apparent already. The threat to Iraq’s oil supply pushed global oil prices higher to $110 a barrel, adding to concerns about a supply shortfall from Libya. This will undoubtedly incur an American reaction as ISIS expand their financial firepower as well as the seizing key weapon caches in various towns and cities such as Mosul.

Though most of us are appalled by the violence consuming Syria, the gradual disintegration of Iraq since the withdrawal of firstly British and secondly U.S forces seems to indicate that the West does more harm than good when it comes to military intervention with no heed to long-term planning and consequences. If military intervention had occurred in August 2013 after the Ghouta chemical attacks who knows the damage we might have added to an already destabilised region.

Despite initial plans to keep some American soldiers in the country to assist the Iraqi security forces, no agreement could be reached between Baghdad and Washington, and the final US troops pulled out in December 2011 leaving security in the hands of the often less-than-effective Iraqi military (who had already sustained some 20,000 dead in the fight against militants between 2003 and 2011). Gradual withdrawal may have been a more viable solution to this problem now occurring in Iraq.

People, however, may be quick to condemn Obama, but the president was acting on one of the promises he kept in his presidential campaign; soldiers would return home from Iraq. This was the response to the demand of public opinion, a response to war exhaustion, a war which by 2008 had been quite completely exposed for all its violations whether it be human rights, the use of torture, international law, American ideals, and of the Iraqi people.

Saddam Hussein

That is the legacy of George Bush and his administration. Granted the joy of Saddam Hussein’s departure from power was welcome and clear to see in the wake of the initially successful invasion. His war crimes against the Kurds, the Iranians and brutal dictatorship he established over his own people were appalling however contentious the grounds for invading Iraq.

However when you create a void in power that has been established for decades under authoritarian rule what is required is covert, sensitive and patient long-term strategy that must be thoroughly planned before you topple the cruel structure lest it be replaced by a equally violent regime in the future.

This was the crucial  blunder of the world’s greatest military power. Some would argue I have the advantage of hindsight but it has been repeated again and again in U.S foreign policy throughout the 20th century.

It is the permanent stain upon Tony Blair’s foreign policy as Prime Minister when he followed Bush obediently into an unpredictable conflict. The shame is that people forget how well Blair performed in bringing an end to the civil war in Sierra Leone via Operation Palliser which defeated the murderous RUF in 2002. The British government pushed beyond their capabilities and bear equal shame in the unraveling of Iraq as a viable state.

The death of Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan at the hands of U.S Special Operations Forces is perhaps the only pitiful consolation the United States’ have. The costs are so heavy though for the future of the Middle East and the Iraqi people that it can only be labelled a Pyrrhic victory. The tears of Jessica Chastain portraying C.I.A agent Maya Lambert in critically acclaimed film ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ are a subtle testimony to the emptiness of ‘victory’.

Tony Blair’s assumptions that the Americans and British didn’t cause this crisis is wrong. However in 2011 the Arab Spring, as he asserts, would have brought about protest against the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein and potentially the same difficulties would have occurred. Though there are agreeable elements in Blair’s point about the Arab Spring that is a matter of debate rather than fact as he tries to deflect criticism.

For the United States numerous questioned should be asked of the previous administration whilst the current one reels in the wake of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s and ISIS’s most important victory yet. We shouldn’t be surprised as Richard Barrett, a former counter-terrorism chief with the British foreign intelligence service comments

“For the last 10 years or more, [Zawahiri] has been holed up in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border area and hasn’t really done very much more than issue a few statements and videos…Whereas Baghdadi has done an amazing amount — he has captured cities, he has mobilized huge amounts of people (estimates say 12,000), he is killing ruthlessly throughout Iraq and Syria…. If you were a guy who wanted action, you would go with Baghdadi.”

ISIS are rumored to be executing pro-Western soldiers and officials.

It is harrowing to imagine an Islamist organisation that is rumored to be too extreme for Al-Qaeda. ISIS will never achieve global dominion that is apparently part of its doctrine but it will wreak havoc regionally and inspire pro-ISIS factions to grow in other areas of the world. The Americans may claim that had they been able to intervene in Syria in August 2013 that ISIS may not be the power it is to today. That would be an oversimplification at best.

It is also evidence of how Western perceptions of Islamic extremism were so narrow particularly in media and Western culture. Al-Qaeda and perhaps Al-Shabaab were the most well-known radical entities to represent Islam at its worst. Now the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, Boko Haram and many more have joined their ranks or inspired groups. They have emerged  either through the upheaval of the Arab Spring, hatred of perceived Russian authoritarianism, Western hypocrisy and influences, or as seen in the Africa lack of development, corruption, poverty and instability.

The question is what is the viable solution to this crisis, which joins the numerous other regional crises in the Middle East? The US has naturally pledged  to support the current Iraqi government with shipments of military equipment to the government this year and ramped up training for security forces. Its final collapse would confirm the final humiliation for the former administration. The pledge of Obama to place $5 billion towards the ‘Global War on Terror’ (now re branded Overseas Contingency Operations) seems more relevant than ever as JP Sotille quotes:

“It is, in effect, the return of a key Cold War policy of “regime support” for clients and “regime change” for non-client states, particularly in strategically-located areas and resource-rich regions. Regimes—whether or not they actually “reflect American values”—can count on U.S. financial, military and mission-integrated diplomatic support so long as they can claim to be endangered…not by communists, but by terrorists.

The United States look set to remain a major player in the region. The definitions and words to define the conflict may have become less dramatic then Bush’s ‘crusade’ and ‘global war’ yet the intentions remain clear that preventive warfare  (now a little more subtle than before) will continue; the use of drones, the increased use of the special forces and the placement of 9,000 U.S soldiers to remain in Afghanistan after the planned withdrawal of the military are evidence to their continued state of military alert. ISIS are amongst many a constituted threat to the well-being of national security.

The importance of Iran in this equation holds greater significance than ever as does the stance of Israel and Egypt in the ensuing chaos. The former stands to lend military assistance potentially to their neighbours. Israel stands to be ever increasingly threatened by the rise of extremist jihadist and Islamist movements and the fall-out of the Arab Spring. Three states are in states of civil war; Syria, Iraq and Libya. Turkey is beset by internal unrest whilst groups within Yemen, Saudi Arabia and Iraq have made sure the Syrian civil war has evolved into a regional proxy war.

Ending the Syrian war and extremism in Iraq would be the first step on the road to stabilizing the region in part yet it has become such a vibrant hot-bed for radicalism.  Assad’s brutality has  radicalized segments now and these radicals comprised of Islamic extremism, political extremists and criminals are blotting out those who are fighting for democracy, human rights and the end of authoritarian government.

The stalemate  and the Syria Geneva Conference II peace talks appear to confirm that the more things change the more they stay the same, maps and regions are redrawn and new and dangerous players emerge alongside the continuation in Syrian politics and the battle for influence on the conflict between the United States, Russia, and China. There is no doubt that Syria has irrevocably changed, but if anything it has taken a large step back from where it was in 2011 when the civil war began with both rationale and objectives shifting amongst rebel factions and regime.

The difficulty is that the West holds no leverage in the Middle East as the democratic entities it claims to support are being overwhelmed by extremists and authoritarians. Combine this with the failure of the Iraq War and the military preoccupation in Afghanistan, the West lacks financial, military, political, and moral credibility as well as constraints with which they can deal with the Middle Eastern firestorm.

Ultimately the ones with which we have the poorest relations at the moment hold the keys to a measure of stability that being Iran, Putin, and Assad. The issue is that like most a-typical Cold War conflicts military shipments and financial power is vested in opposing sides by the larger powers and the continuation of this only hampers the peace process and endangers more civilians.

To align with Assad would be viewed by some as the ultimate betrayal of those who fight for liberal and democratic goals, much like America aligned with Saddam Hussein in the Iraq-Iran War. However what we have seen in Iraq is the sheer cost of removing or assisting the removal of a authoritarian regime without a viable, moderate and strong leadership to replace it. Assad’s fall it seems would only extend Syria’s prolonged suffering in hands of jihadists, extremists, drained moderates and a shattered government.

The Arab Spring has gained a deadly momentum one which threatens to consume the region for decades and it is taking the disturbing form (though completely different in context) of the Balkans in 1914, inherently unstable and threatening not just people who dwell in the Middle East but the doorstep of Europe.

With all options on the table according to Obama what’s next is a matter of dispute. A military intervention in Iraq would send ripples across the international scene.

 Matthew Williams (Six things that went wrong for Iraq)  (Who are ISIS?)