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.
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.
Iraq has fractured, almost beyond repair. The strings that held the county together, namely the U.S-led occupation and Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship, have disintegrated and ignited an inferno. While sectarian violence, which is crudely dividing Iraq into homogeneous enclaves, lies near the heart of the Iraqi Civil War, numerous other factors are fueling the war. Facilitating a solution to this complex conflict will be a major challenge to any policymaker.
Iraq is plagued by conflict and will continue to be, particularly if socio-economic grievances are not addressed. Whilst religion is a factor in the conflict, it would be an oversimplification to only assess the civil war along sectarian lines and the role of the Islamic State as mainstream media does. The resumption of severe violence in Iraq (2013 – present), while inextricably linked to the consequential occupation of Iraq, is also connected to the wider crisis engulfing the Middle East and the Islamic State is a symptom of Iraq’s core issue; inclusion.
The Arab Spring is about poverty, resentment, and economic inequalities. Socio-economic inequalities are the main driving forces behind the Arab Spring. They triggered all the original revolutions and it is the core problem of the matter which has made places like Iraq and Syria hot-beds for radicalism, allowed sectarian issues to fester, and sent shock-waves across the Middle East. In order to look for solutions to Middle East current and dismal predicament of perpetual war, pursuit of socio-economic policies must be adopted alongside military solutions for military problems.
Islamic State is a bi-product of the Syrian Civil War and it was in Syria where it was able to considerably hone its military skills and capacity. However it is also a product of protests which began in Iraq in 2012 when ordinary citizens frustrated by marginalisation, poor national security, poor public services, unemployment and naturally abuses of anti-terrorism laws took to the streets.
Under former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, elections were plagued by corruption, intimidation and terror as secular and religious candidates were targeted and many were arrested and disqualified from elections under contentious pretexts of being associated with the former regime of Saddam Hussein.
The UN and several other human rights groups, according to Al Jazeera, had heavily criticised al-Maliki’s government for executions and the perpetration of torture.
Prisoners, both men and women, were forced to drink copious amounts of water without being able to urinate, fingernails were torn off by pliers, people were hung upside down while being whipped and beaten with metal pipes and rods, they were punched, starved, raped, incarcerated in darkness, hung by the wrists, waterboarded and humiliated for their protests against what they perceived to be a sectarian driven, Sh’ia dominated government. As Arab journalist Zaki Chehab notes in Iraq Ablaze in his research of the 2005 insurgency ‘there is no underestimating the significance of honor in Arab society’ and al-Maliki’s excesses, particularly those of the militias, reminded protesters (an assortment of tribal, religious (including Sh’ia), political and secular protesters) of their perceived subjugation.
Between December 2012 and April 2013 hundreds of thousands have demonstrated and prayed on the main highway linking Baghdad and Anbar Province. They were frequently met with a violent crackdown by Iraqi Security Forces which, as the American actions did in 2004, ignited a tribal war as tribes of Zoba, Al-Jumeilat, Al-Bu Issa tribal factions joined to the Dulaim tribe in engaging the al-Maliki’s security forces in Fallujah in late 2013. Attempts to pursue peaceful methods of protest had failed.
These major protests occurred across major cities which are now hotly contested arenas of war between Islamic State and Sh’ia militias allied with Iraqi Security Forces such as Mosul, Samarra, Tikrit, and Fallujah. The latter, “the city of tribes”, the epicentre of the uprising against the U.S military in 2004 and thorn in the side of Saddam’s regime, once again kick-started the revolt, this time against Al-Maliki’s government. ISIS took root in this revolt by allying themselves with the many tribal factions opposed to the actions of Iraqi Security Forces.
The local realpolitik (politics or diplomacy based primarily on power and on practical and material factors and considerations), the dynamics of tribal politics in Iraq alongside wider religious, secular and national issues played into the hands of insurgents. Tribal leaders were more than willing to ally themselves with al-Qaeda militants if it meant they could consolidate their local power and autonomy. Al-Qaeda’s support uprooted and ejected government police and security forces from Fallujah during the Anbar Campaign. The Washington Post article by Liz Sly reported on 3rd January, 2014:
While local tribal militia and militants also fought against the rejuvenated Islamic State it was unclear as to whether all the tribal fighters battling the al-Qaeda-affiliated militants were doing so in alliance with the Iraqi government.
The reemergence of spectacular violence was a symptom of political gridlock in Baghdad and the violation by an increasingly authoritarian/national government of the unwritten agreements on the relative authority and autonomy of local factions and fiefdoms in regional provinces.
ISIS broke this rule in 2007 when they were formerly known as Al-Qaeda in Iraq. Despite ISIS providing protection to Sunni refugees during the sectarian civil war in Baghdad (2005-2007), the deployment of suicide bombs against Iraqi civilians and the execution and assassination of local Sunnis under puritanical Islamic law in their self-proclaimed caliphate in Ammaria led to numerous insurgent and tribal groups to turn against the insurgent group.
U.S forces under General Petraeus was able to exploit this opportunity provided by AQI’s political and military blunders during the Surge and inflicted a strategic defeat on them after he struck effective short-term political bargains with local warlords, tribal leaders, and Sunni insurgents. However if socio-economic inequalities and the issue of inclusion were not provided with a viable long-term solution, extremist groups could return to exploit it as exemplified by the current campaign of the ISIS.
Fast-forward to 2015 and ISIS control large swaths of territory in Iraq and Syria in a self-proclaimed ‘caliphate’ which dwarfs the ‘caliphate’ established in the 2000s during the American occupation. The movement had learned their lesson the hard way and edited their strategy as exemplified by the Anbar Campaign in early 2014.
ISIS’s brand of political violence is hardly Islamic, an Islamic caliphate is a secondary goal, the by-product of a good society (the primary objective) and one encompassing tolerance. ISIS have done little to realise their envisioned physical and spiritual ‘paradise’.
As Sageman argues (through Mehdi Hasan’s necessary reading on ISIS How Islamic is the Islamic State?) ‘Religion has a role but it is a role of justification…religion plays a role not as a driver of behavior but as a vehicle for outrage and, crucially, a marker of identity.’ Hasan’s article goes on to quote Lebanese-American former FBI agent Ali H Soufan;
The disorientation can in-part explain why thousands of European and Middle Eastern 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:
Like Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge, ISIS are the mutations of a western state/state-sponsored terror. The predominant drivers of violence based on sectarian lines are the Iraqi government and the associated Sh’ia militia and extremists; the backbone of the Iraqi Army. It is undeniable that ISIS have perpetrated ethno-religious violence and ethnic/cultural cleansing against Sh’ia, Sunnis and Kurds as well as minorities such as the Yezidis, the Mandaeans, Assyrian Christians, Turkmens, and Shabaks.
However such is the fluidity of the organisation and the diversity of the recruits within its ranks it is difficult to suggest that ISIS’s objectives can purely be sectarian even if they propose to be an ‘Islamic State’. ISIS is not a monolithic organisation, it is a loose alliance of sub-factions, tribal groups and splinter terrorist cells united in name. Allies and affiliates will have different local and regional objectives and different motives be they secular, national or religious and Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and his clique have managed to some extent serve the interests of various local actors.
The violence of the Sh’ia militias has been frequently overlooked in our obsession to defeat the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. There are always more subtle actors and subtle horrors in war. Is it little wonder that thousands of refugees have fled the violence when the onslaught on Tikrit is being spear-headed by militias responsible for the deaths of thousands of civilians in southern Iraq since 2004? The ethnic cleansing perpetrated by death-squads in the 2005-2007 war was not limited to Baghdad either; according to Ledwidge, Basra’s Sunni population had been reduced from 15% at the beginning of the war in 2005 (of a population of a million) to an estimated 4% whilst in Al Zubayr, its Sunni population lost about half of its population by 2007.
The emergence of ISIS as a threat to the Sh’ia dominated government has led to a resumption of pogroms being committed against Sunnis and other minorities in southern Iraq by militias and gangs aligned with Muqtada al-Sadr’s party in government. Al-Maliki’s authoritarian rule contradicted the plan to re-unify the country and meant that the Surge effectively prepared the country for potential de-centralisation and a second round of sectarian civil war. The incorporation of a mere twenty percent of Petraeus’s Sunni allies ‘Sons of Iraq’ into Iraqi Security Forces illustrated the reluctance of al-Maliki’s government to share power with the Sunnis, the prime minister stating: “You could be creating a new militia…We’re talking about 105,000 Sunnis who do not trust the government. They were against Al-Qaeda, but they weren’t pro-government.”
The government’s paranoia, opposed by moderate Sh’ia, has shone through in recent months. Amnesty International published a harrowing report, Absolute Impunity: Militia Rule in Iraq, a twenty-four page documentation of Iraqi Security Forces and affiliated militia’s (Badr Brigades, the Mahdi Army, the League of the Righteous, and Hizbullah Brigades) abduction, torture and executions of hundreds if not thousands of Sunnis.
ISIS’s extreme brutality, its viral videos, and propaganda has drawn of our attention away from the violence of extremist Sh’ia. Cockburn quoted that the mass-execution of Iraqi soldiers cadets near Tikrit by a line of ISIS gunmen as they stood in front of a shallow open grave reminded him of pictures of the SS murdering Jews in Russia and Poland during World War II. The stories of Sh’ia militia executing civilians at road-blocks reminded me of Interahamwe Hutu paramilitary units (instruments of the Rwandan government) checking Tutsi and moderate Hutus’ identity cards at roadblocks before subsequently hacking them to death with machete during the Rwandan genocide.
This is not to emphasise that Iraq is heading towards a genocide; the point is that there are several narratives in the conflict besides that of ISIS and its particular brand of political violence. ISIS is a symptom of conflict, not a causality.
How does the conflict end? It inevitability depends on the situation in Syria which has served as a destabalising factor to it neighbor Iraq. The international community has been left horrified by the Islamic State and Barack Obama has assembled an anti-ISIS coalition to ‘degrade and ultimately destroy ISIS’ in response to the Iraqi government’s plea for assistance after the gains of the fluid rebel movement. ISIS, in its brutality has alienated and turned a large swath of the Middle East against it (including the Gulf States and external influences that funded it in Syria in the fight against Bashar al-Assad). Military solutions must inevitably be accompanied by sustainable socio-economic solutions, development programmes and an effective disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration programme and effective security sector reforms which accommodate local and regional needs of Iraq’s minorities, tribes and political factions.
The international community and the Obama administration cannot provide that directly with boots on the ground.The assumptions of the Bush administration, the waging of an illegal war in 2003 organised by the likes of Dick Cheney, Paul Bremer, Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz have left U.S credibility and ideals blood spattered and in the dust . The question as to whether they can even provide effective support indirectly is another matter. American air-strikes cannot win the political war in Iraq and the current process of arming the Iraqi government and it accompanying extremist elements and the Kurds may return to haunt Western policy makers. While the Kurds have a unique opportunity to build future Kurdistan and demand greater autonomy than before the current crisis from the Iraqi government, diplomats and non-governmental organsations alike have labelled PKK and YPG militant groups various actions against Arab populations as war crimes and campaigns of ethnic cleansing.
De-legitimising and defeating ISIS will require non-violent solutions, waiting for its revolution to crumble at local level (as it did in 2007) and accompanying this collapse in credibility with concentrated external pressure by regional actors using military force.
However if the political situation predating the conflict does not change, future troubles whether it is in the next decade or several is guaranteed.
There is no perfect solution to this inherently complex situation. The cost of doing nothing is high and there is no good option in Iraq. A violent Iraqi government? Carving up Iraq into separate states? A so-called ‘Islamic State’? Boots on the ground? Jihadists? The role of Iran? Either way the agonising evolution of the violence in the civil war will leave a deep wound on Iraqi society for generations.
Iraq as a nation may endure yet it has fallen from grace, it has lost something in the blood-bath and it convulsive revolutionary changes catalysed by the American occupation. It has been torn apart by invasive external actors and destroyed by internal actors both of whom fighting in the name of economics, sanctions, politics, and power.
Whether it be the neo-conservative agendas of the Project for the New American Century, Abu-Bakr al-Baghdadi’s ‘Islamic State’, Saddam’s dictatorship, al-Maliki’s authoritarian mindset, or the Iranian ideal for a client Iraq dominated by the Sh’ia; warped ideals and supposed ‘values’ have torn the societal and cultural fabric of Iraq and its people asunder.
Indigenous cultures, ancient religions, museums, and historical sites, have disappeared beneath the boots of extremists, vandals and looters. Hundreds of thousands of people have vanished, permanent refugees displaced by the ferocity of two decades of constant war, the West’s destabilizing presence, and intolerance perpetuated by Iraq’s new political dialogues.
Hundreds of thousands are maimed, raped and wounded, others slowly die from US fired depleted uranium (DU) weapons or disease brought about by the lack of basic resources and food, and innumerable coalition soldiers, insurgents, jihadists and Iraqi civilians suffer from PTSD. Thousands more families are homeless and their children’s futures’, as their nation’s, have been shattered by the realities of war.
Then there are the dead, the hundreds of thousands more faces of men, women and children that once encompassed a vibrant, multi-cultural, and largely tolerant society. They are gone, never to return. They are ghosts, victims of occupation, suicide bombs, increasing sectarianism, extremism, and war. Iraq endures, yet it is hollowed out and empty. This is the ultimate tragedy for the Cradle of Civilisation.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
Ukrainian Revolution 2014: A priest stands between Viktor Yanukovych police and protesters during a historic regime change in February. The protests were subsequently followed by the annexation of Crimea and a tense standoff between Russia and NATO.
Desolation: The Syrian city of Deir Ezzor lies in ruins as the Syrian Civil War nears its forth year.
18th November 2014: Four Israelis were killed and several injured as two Palestinians armed with a pistol and meat cleavers attacked a West Jerusalem synagogue.
February 2014: Sketches by former prisoners in North Korean gulag camps published.
June-July 2014: Religious and ethnic tensions have reemerged between Buddhists and Muslims in Burma with deadly consequences.
US Marines and British Armed Forces end their thirteen year stay in Afghanistan. Over 20,000 Afghan civilians and 3,479 Coalition troops have been killed since 2001.
Ethnic cleansing and genocidal violence in the Central African Republic: Between November 2013 – March 2014 Christian milita, commonly known as the anti-balaka, fighting the violent Muslim group Séléka ethnically cleanse the Muslim population. Thousands of Muslims are killed by machete and hundred of thousands of Muslims are systematically removed from the country.
August 9, 2014: Shooting of teenager Michael Brown sparks protests and riots across the United States against police brutality, racism and fears of police militarisation.
From Russia with Love: Following the Ukrainian revolution Vladamir Putin and his ‘little green men’, annex Crimea sparking the Crimea crisis (February 23, 2014 – March 19, 2014). This has led to increasingly strained relations between NATO and the Russian Federation.
The Northern Offensive: During the 2014 World Cup, the terrorist organisation known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) began a major offensive in northern Iraq against Nouri al-Maliki‘s U.S sponsored government. The latter’s forces melt away in the wake of ISIS’s advance and shocks the world.
Viral Executions: ISIS have indiscriminately committed war crimes against various Muslim communities including Sunnis and perpetrated genocidal violence against Iraq’s Christian minorities (most notably the Yazidi population). The neo-Wahabbist organisation have publicly executed POWs, journalists and humanitarian aid workers.
16th May 2014: Libya’s instability between 2011-2013 reignited civil war which is mainly being fought between Islamist forces and Libyan parliamentary forces.
17th July 2014: A scheduled international passenger flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur is shot down during the Ukrainian civil war/pro-Russian unrest, killing all 283 passengers and 15 crew on board. The Russian Federation is condemned by the international community for supplying pro-Russian rebels.
Jihadi John: A British citizen and a member of ISIS who has come to encapsulate ISIS’s violent rampage. He publicly murdered U.S citizens James Foley, Steven Sotloff, and Peter Kassig and British citizens David Haines and Alan Henning and oversaw the beheadings of 18 Syrian soldiers.
September 10th 2014: After a summer of blood, Barack Obama speaks to the American people outlining his plan to fight ISIS.
December 16th 2014: Using suicide bombs and fire-arms militants from the Pakistani Taliban have attacked an army-run school in Peshawar, killing 141 people, 132 of them children. It is the organisation’s worst atrocity.
The world’s youngest nation South Sudan has been embroiled in civil war since December 15th 2013 between government and rebel forces. The ethnic groups (Dinka and Nuer) have been targeting each other and the resulting violence has killed thousands of people and displaced hundreds of thousands more. Both sides have committed genocidal violence.
31 March 2014: A major report by the UN states that the impacts of global warming are likely to be “severe, pervasive and irreversible.” On 21st September, protestors across the world stage the Climate march in the face of impending climate change.
March 2014: Pro-Russian protestors occupy governmental building across eastern Ukraine, most notably Donetsk and Sloviansk. Over 5,000 are killed in protests and by the Ukranian Armed Forces, often indiscriminate ‘terrorist’ crackdowns.
March 18th 2014: President Vladimir Putin speech following the official annexation of Crimea.
15th December 2014: A hostage escapes the Sydney Siege. Three people (including gunman and ISIS inspired Man Haron Monis ) are killed in the ensuing struggle at Lindt Cafe in Martin Place.
Epidemic: Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea have been afflicted by the worst outbreak of Ebola in recorded human history. The death toll from Ebola in the three worst-affected countries in West Africa has risen to 7,373 among 19,031 cases known to date there.
Drone warfare: The use of drones, particularly in Palestine, Yemen, Afghanistan and Pakistan has been condemned by international onlookers, various journalists and activists as violations of international law.
21st January: The BBC state that there is clear evidence that Syria has systematically tortured and executed about 11,000 detainees. Syria has encapsulated the continued problem of the perpetration of torture by police, military units and governments across the globe.
Nigeria’s insurgency: Boko Haram, the militant Islamic group based in north-east Nigeria, has cut a swathe through the country killing thousands of civilians in a wave of suicide bombings and armed raids. They have also kidnapped hundreds of civilians including young women and children.
December Revelations: While unsurprising to the majority of the world, the Senate Intelligence Committee released the damning executive summary of its five-year review of the CIA’s detention and interrogation programme initiated by the Bush administration during the Global War on Terror.
The 2nd Gaza War and the Silent Intifada (June – present 2014): The kidnap of three Israeli teenagers by Hamas inspired militants and the incineration of a Palestinian teenager by Israeli settlers helps spark the 2nd Gaza War and the silent/third intifada.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“From the beginning men used God to justify the unjustifiable.”
The Middle Eastern conflicts continue to lurch from one calamity to the next and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) stick to the depressing script by committing stark and bloody brutality that seem barely fathomable to the average Westerner. ISIS’s developing caliphate is the spawn of the Syrian Civil War and George Bush’s and Tony Blair’s 2003 invasion of Iraq. Yet who are these men, where did they come from, how are they organised and what do they want as they relentlessly wage war on the greater Middle East?
It all started with the Iraq War (19 March 2003 – 15 December 2011). The largely fabricated pretexts for the invasion were that Saddam Hussein allegedly possessed weapons of mass-destruction and harbored affiliates of Al-Qaeda who had recently carried out the world’s most devastating terrorist attack on American soil at the World Trade Centre, September 11th 2001.
Both assumptions concocted by the hawkish Bush administration were lies and costly lies which cost the United States over $4 trillion and left 4,487 U.S soldiers dead, 32,226 wounded and the United Kingdom death toll stood at 179. More importantly the Iraqi dead varied between 150,000 to perhaps 500,000 while thousands were detained and/or tortured. U.S credibility and ideals were blood spattered and in the dust as the result of the illegal war organised by the likes of Dick Cheney, Paul Bremer, Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz.
Iraq’s infrastructure was de-stabilized by the coalition forces destruction. Alongside this a shambles of a ‘democracy’ was put in place crudely by the Bush administration without competent consideration to the colonial history and the multicultural melting pot that is Iraq.
Jama’at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad was originally the organisation from which ISIS evolved. Created in Europe between 1999-2000 by Abu Masab al-Zarqawi the aim of al-Tawhid wal-Jihad was primarily to overthrow the Jordanian monarchy and (like ISIS intends to now) create an Islamic caliphate. Al-Zarqawi was an experienced in insurgency and terrorist activities fighting with mujaheddin in the insurgency against the Soviet Union during their invasion of Afghanistan in the 1980s. He also ran Al-Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan, where he taught recruits to use chemical and biological weapons. From 2001 onward he controlled a chain of regional terrorist groups across Europe, which carried out several terrorist attacks in the UK, France, Russia and the harrowing train bombing in Madrid in 2004.
It was during the ground invasion of Iraq in 2003 that Al-Zarqawi re-named the organisation Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) (which would later become the Islamic State of Iraq)and within a year the faction had pledged itself to Al-Qaeda.
This was where its power began to be nurtured by conflict and bolstered by funding by Al-Qaeda, raids, and individual and foreign support from Syria and Iran. The United States invaded looking for Saddam’s ‘terrorists’ and ironically they had in-part created their very own who were now looking to resist the occupation.
Al-Zarqawi had entered Iraq after NATO’s invasion of Afghanistan before the invasion however intelligence showed that Al-Zarqawi had no connections to the former dictator. ISI was one amongst many nationalists, Shi’a and Sunni armed resistance/terrorist movements that sprung up over large areas of Iraq such as ‘The Strugglers of Iraq’, Al-Qaeda in Iraq (ASI), ‘The Islamic Army of Iraq’, ‘The Army of Muhammad’ and more.
Al-Zarqawi’s organisation effectively became an extension of the Al-Qaeda network From the very beginning came to be associated with extreme violence. Like most Islamist terrorist factions AQI did not distinguish between Western civilians and soldiers. Collaborators were hunted down with ruthless efficiency nor were the Shi’a exempt from targeted terror attacks as the faction declared war on Shi’a Muslims.
AQI/ISI was like the a-typical Islamist terror cell and adopted effective guerrilla tactics to disrupt the coalition forces which made up for their (then) deficiencies in direct combat with American soldiers. Various strategies were adopted such as targeting institutions and personnel associated with the newly installed government, the use of spectacular violence such as car bombs, kidnap, executions and the targeting of minorities (for instance Shia Muslims, Christians. Coalition forces, the new Iraqi Armed Forces and police were obvious targets.
The barbarism we are watching unfold in Iraq, the terror tactics used on Iraqi Armed Forces in June 2014, Iraqi Christians and the Yazidis such as the beheading and execution of prisoners (most famously American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff) were carried out by AQI during the insurgency period 2003-2011. The most notorious during this period were the separate executions of American hostages Nicholas Berg (May 2004) and Eugene Armstrong (September 2004). Their executions was carried out by Al-Zarqawi personally.
AQI managed to master the guerrilla tactics considerably. The physical trauma and psychological stress of urban warfare took its toll on the American military in the likes of Baghdad, Fallujah, Mosul and Kirkuk. We cannot underestimate how important this period was in molding ISIS into increasingly independent entity.This autonomy would have been accelerated by the death of Al-Zarqawi who was killed when a American jet dropped two 500-pound guided bombs, a laser-guided GBU-12 and GPS-guided GBU-38 on his safehouse north of Baqubah, June 7th, 2006.
In 2008 Bush made the decision under the Status of Forces agreement with the Iraqi government that US combat troops would depart in 2011. Those who argue that it was Barack Obama’s decision to withdraw from Iraq are incorrect, he was merely carrying out the policy of his predecessor and also upholding his promise to the American people that troops would return home. However the role of America in creating ISIS will return later in the narrative.
The announcement of the American retreat saw a sharp rise in suicide attacks and AQI in-particular carried out devastating coordinated attacks on October 25th, 2009 and December 8th, 2009 (pictured above) which, combined, killed 282 civilians. The future of Iraq hardly looked promising in the face of such well-planned atrocity and cracks were already appearing in the new state which with all it newly trained armed forces and reformed government looked fragile at the core.
The U.S abandoned Iraq with a system of governance based on ethnicity and sectarianism with the Shi’a majority with Nouri al-Maliki as Prime Minister rule being characterized by corruption and inaccessibility for the minorities to the political scene which in turn exacerbated violence between Sunni and Shi’a factions. This was hardly aided by the fact that al-Maliki was to be regarded by many as an illegitimate puppet put in place by invading U.S forces.
This double blow was then followed by the black op which resulted in the killing of Osama Bin Laden on May 2nd, 2011 in Pakistan. Al-Qaeda was weakening. The cries of ‘U.S.A! U.S.A! U.S.A!’ chorused outside the White House and across America into the spring night.
As AQI reeled with its decimated ally the Arab Spring began to gather momentum. In late 2010 revolutionary demonstrations and protests swept Northern Africa and the Middle East rendering it an inviting hot-bed for radicalism as civil wars broke out in Libya andIraq’s neighbor Syria. Syria was to provide an avenue by-which ISI would not only re-group but consolidate its power and become a bigger challenge to local and Western politicians.
The Arab Spring and the alarming growth in terrorist organisations across the Middle East and Africa were to serve Jason Burke’s analysis of Islamic extremism perfectly: “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.” AQI was about to place itself on the map as ISIS and become more powerful than its affiliate Al-Qaeda. There were several internal and external factors by which ISIS would rise to prominence.
In the wake of the deaths of al-Masri and al-Baghdadi, a Islamist radical stepped out the shadows to assume control of AQI. The man was known as Dr. Abu Dua, Ibrahim bin Awad Al-Samarra’i who would later become known as ISIS’s ruthless and charismatic leader Abu Bakir Al-Baghdadi. It has widely been accepted by Western political leaders, the international media and journalists alike that al-Baghdadi has played a massive role in engineering the rise of ISIS into an independent terrorist organisation.
Like the leaders of Al-Qaeda Zawahiri and Bin Laden who were both wealthy and educated individuals alongside their conservatism (which when combined with a sense of injustice can be potent in the hands of intelligent dissidents) Al-Samarra’i comes from an highly educated background which seems odd given the psychotic and violent nature of his organisation. He undertook Islamic studies and history at the university of Baghdad where alongside his dedication to his studies he became a teacher, an intellectual, and a preacher at mosques across Baghdad. He obtained a doctorate at Islamic University in Baghdad and became known to many as Dr. Ibrahim.
All these factors paint Al-Samarra’i as a deeply conservative individual who grew up during the years of savage dictatorship under Saddam Hussein, the Iraq-Iran War (1980 –1988), the Gulf War (1990-1991) and American meddling in Iraq as far back at the 1960s which only increased during his lifetime. The Gulf War destroyed critical infrastructure such as hospitals, roads, bridges and water treatment plants and Saddam Hussein’s regime was placed under sanctions by the United States which led to starvation of thousands of Iraqi civilians under Clinton’s authorization.
His deep seated hatred of Americans may have begun during this period of instability in Iraq as America propped up Saddam’s Baathist dictatorship despite their knowledge of his use of chemical weapons against the Iranians and Kurds. However what mattered to the United States was that he was a deterrent to communist influence, a check on Iranian power and secured Western oil interests, Al-Samarra’i’s hatred of the United States and Western influences would have been cemented by the 2003 invasion and occupation of Iraq when the Shi’a government and the Kurds under al-Maliki was to alienate the Sunnis from the halls of power.
Al-Samarra’i became thoroughly radicalized by the insurgency period and war against U.S occupation forces. In 2005, he was captured by American forces and spent the next four years a prisoner in the Bucca Camp in southern Iraq until his release in 2009 although there is some debate as to whether he was held for less than a year in 2004.
Incarceration, likely interrogation and the destruction of many parts of Iraq by coalition combat troops pushed al-Samarra’i further into the neo-Wahabbist terrorist cells in Iraq where he began to gain influence. He would likely in his 30s have been exposed to the more radical subversion of Wahhabist extremist ideologies espoused by Bin Laden, al-Zarqawi, and Zawahiri. During this time he assumed the name Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
The turning point for al-Baghdadi came in April 2010 when the United States struck at the leadership of AQI/ISI and at its lowest ebb since its creation al-Baghdadi having gained significant influence in the ranks of Al-Qaeda assumed command of ISI from the deceased al-Masri and Abu Abdullah al-Baghdadi.
Over four remarkable years several important changes occurred within the organisation which was influenced by significant geo-political events and al-Baghdadi’s ability to react to these events All this occurred along his harrowing and quite unique strategic vision we are witnessing unfold.
Meanwhile al-Baghdadi had stabilized AQI and was responsible for several bombing and assassinations in Iraq during 2011 as United States military withdrew and AQI aimed at immediately undoing the ‘successes’ of the occupation.
It seemed that the scalp of Bin Laden was a small victory in a disastrous decade for U.S foreign policy. Not content with sitting on his opening flourish of success in 2011, al-Bagdadi expanded his war against almost everything and everyone.
During the U.S occupation AQI had struggled in close quarter fighting with combat troops. Syria provided the jihadists a battleground in which they could hone their fighting skills and make a name for themselves slaughtering rebels and Syrian government troops alike as well as attracting foreign fighters. This would not be so difficult as under al-Zarqawi the group was originally comprised of locals and foreign jihadists.
The Syrian war as al-Baghdadi envisaged would make ISIS a more coherent, well-armed, experienced, uniform organisation, a powerful military force that was able to conduct two major operations under al-Baghdadi. Firstly Iraq was to be rendered inherently unstable and ISI would exploit the discontent of the Sunni minority in the face of Shi’a dominance by continuing its guerrilla war. Secondly they would become an effective military force. Syria had become a massive weapons depot with the United States and Russia supplying each side with the necessary weapons to win the conflict.
The process by which ISIS entered into the war is important. Syria is where ISIS began its Northern Iraq Offensive in June 2014. Many Syrians were part of the AQI/ISI during the occupation period as it was composed of many foreign fighters. Many of these Syrians of ISI crossed the border under the command of Abu Mohammed al-Joulani to establish a foothold in the war-torn country and aid the Free Syrian Army in fighting Assad’s forces at Aleppo in late 2011.
Despite differences in ideology and the secular moderates worry for the theocratic/ fundamentalist nature of Al-Nusra, they fought cohesively together. In-fact Al-Nusra was identified by Syrians as more ‘moderate’ than hard-line ISIS despite being an extension of Al-Qaeda.
During 2012 the Al-Nusra Front gained power through its incursions into Syrian territory. With borders seen on a map virtually non-existent in reality, the Islamic State of Iraq deployed itself in northern Syria in April 2013 and formerly became ISIL or as we know it the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
ISIS’s objectives were ambitious and terrifying as rebels, Syrian soldiers on both sides, and civilians caught in the cross fire were to discover. Al-Baghdadi was determined to create a cleansed Islamic state and impose brutal sharia law with immediate effect on any seized towns and territories, in effect a caliphate which al-Baghdadi would ‘rule’ over all ‘world Muslims’. This caliphate would stretch from Iraq to as far as Israel and Lebanon and be based on neo-Wahabbist/neo-Salfist Islam which regards Shi’a, Sufi, Jews, and Christians as heretics and women as second-class citizens. It was a 18th century fascistic, twisted, and violent off-shoot of Islamic worship.
Idealistic in practice and perhaps unrealistic it was the creation of a brilliant yet psychotic mind molded by first and foremost extremism but also extensive education in Islamic studies, Middle Eastern history and many, many sharia committee meeting in Iraq. Yet the grounds on which it can be formed would constitute ethnic cleansing and genocide as the plight of the Iraqi Christians, Kurds, Shi’a Muslims and the Yazidis illustrates.
This is where the divisions began to appear between Al-Nusra, Al-Qaeda and the newly proclaimed ISIS. As Sarah Birke summarises in her article on ISIS:
ISIS were effectively regarded as ‘invaders’ whilst Al-Nusra though the creation of Syrians who had previously been of ISIS were ‘Syrian’.Thus they were deemed a domestic issue rather than a foreign faction despite its capacity for inflicting human suffering. Al-Baghdadi arrived in Syria seeking to absorb the Al-Nusra Front into ISIS the former of which had been officially blessed by Al-Qaeda as a terrorist organisation separated from the control of Al-Baghdadi.
The dispute over how to follow up success, objectives, and the ultra-violent way in which ISIS imposed itself on Syria throughout 2013 led to Al-Qaeda dissociating itself from ISIS in February 2014. Zawahiri stated:
This severing of ties was a combination of Zawahiri’s disdain for the growing power of al-Baghdadi and the latter’s ambition to become a covert and independent organisation. This disdain was coupled with ISIS’s hard-line outlook on how to impose an Islamic state. Al-Qaeda was also now weaker than ISIS and al-Baghdadi calculations were likely to have been formed after Al-Qaeda’s leadership was targeted by the Obama administration.
The statement of Al-Qaeda has had little effect on the logistical capabilities of ISIS. Al-Nusra’s Mohammed al-Joulani followed suit after the killing of one of its members Abu Khaled al-Souri and went further declaring war on ISIS. An intra-jihadist civil war had erupted.
The arrival of ISIS effectively created what was originally a war between various rebel factions glued crudely together against Assad into a two front war where the Free Syrian Army and Al-Nusra would be caught between Assad’s forces and those of ISIS.
“ISIS is the strongest group in Northern Syria – 100% and anyone who tells you anything else is lying.”
I do not need to go into detail on the trail of horror and grotesque brutality they left in their wake (mass executions, beheading, rape, mass murder, crucifixion and more) but what is happening in Iraq was inflicted on Syrian men, women and children and soldiers.
The campaign in northern Syria was relatively successful with key battles and successes won in Aleppo, the city of Raqqa and very recently ISIS were able to launch several incursions into Lebanese territory, 41% of the population of whom are Christians while 27% of the Muslims are Shia. Turkey’s most devastating terrorist attack was carried out by ISIS in May 2013, a month after they entered Syria whilst Fallujah was seized in Iraq by the faction. Now ISIS and Kurdish soldiers are fighting tooth and nail for the border town of Kobane in Northern Syria.
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:
This comment by Alex Spillius may state that it sponsors Al-Qaeda, yet we must remember that ISIS used to be ‘Al-Qaeda in Iraq’ so at some stage they will have received logistical support from the Saudi, Syrian and Qatari governments.
Both ISIS and Al-Nusra ideologies’ are combination of neo-Wahhabist, Salafist and Sunni, so whilst the Iraq invasion may have destroyed the fundamental military, police and security structures the Obama administration has hardly curbed the rise of ISIS in Syria and Iraq. Technically many of us are inadvertently funding terrorism not just assisting refugees in the Syrian war. 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 flourished and grew 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 the weaponery seized from 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 violent.
The Arab Spring had ushered in an online propaganda war between power and people. Twitter in-particular has been utilized to tremendous effect to not only rapidly post tweets in quick 140 word bursts but to trend to gain international attention when specific breaking news or events are occurring.
It is also a useful place to privately or publicly interact with followers and other users and the younger generation have often found ways to use the system even if it blocked by intelligence and government networks as seen by the Turkish riots of this year.
This was to become useful to ISIS in promoting their brand, notoriety, power, objectives, ideology, terror tactics (pictures of mass executions, crucifixions and beheading) and successes through Youtube and Twitter accounts or admirers of the organisation reach and influence. Their current hashtag campaigns are achieving considerable international attention as are the lone wolves who seek to support and promote their cause. Even then ISIS don’t have to do it themselves. We are doing it by #ISIS to spread the terrible stories and as they gain traction they grow richer and more powerful as they attract investment.
They even have (bizarrely) merchandise now selling t-shirts and making cakes and promoting their cause via smartphone! For all its utter barbarity there is a very modern and sophisticated way in which ISIS conducts itself. The deployment of tactics a-typical of protesters in the early stages of the Arab Spring, with the objective to spread terror, despair, and their barbaric ideology have been particularly effective. Their annual report is as impressive as it is chilling.
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.
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. America’s hunger to consume cheap oil may influence political and moral decisions. Destabilizing 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.
By June 2014 Al-Baghdadi and ISIS now stood ready to take the fight to the Iraqi government installed by the U.S government now deeply unpopular with the Sunni minority. As al-Baghdadi predicted the Iraqi Sunnis would be more than willing to turn to the jihadists and foreign fighters when their political future was non-existent under Nouri al-Maliki. An ample amount of U.S hardware lay in sight to seize and rub further salt in the wounds of America’s new Vietnam.
Independent, the wealthiest terror cell in the world, battle-hardened, uniformed, at-least 15,000 strong and most importantly unified and determined. ISIS’s rise to the full public awareness was nearly complete and as I have analysed with a considerable amount of depth it was through a variety of factors that they came into being.
While Obama seeks to contain the Islamic state by airstrikes (a tactic that did not prevent Khmer Rouge from seizing power in Cambodia in 1975) it cannot avoid the several depressing conclusions: this is the legacy of the Iraq War, this is the legacy of unchecked colonialism, this is the product of America’s Middle Eastern politics, and without doubt this is the bloodiest chapter in the Middle East’s bleak mid-winter. For all the strategic genius and charisma of al-Baghdadi his extremist faction have opened up one of the darker chapters in the history of the Middle East. The Arab Spring if not dying now lies murdered in its cradle. The Middle East’s future for now is ISIS; jet black, a battle ground for authoritarian regimes and Islamic militants.
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.
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?
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:
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
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.
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.
“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.”
Jason Burke, Al-Qaeda: The True Story of Radical Islam, p.294
The ‘Global War on Terror’ (GWOT) or now known under the Obama administration as ‘Overseas Contingency Operations’ against Islamic extremism (predominantly) is an unwinnable conflict. It is de-facto permanent war and the reality checks for the Western powers have been stark as they have come across an ever evolving entity that cannot be destroyed by conventional means only. Understanding why Islamic radicalism is flourishing and why it exists is a much more important than how states counter the jihadists, mujahideen, terrorists, and insurgents.
In Greek mythology the Learnaen Hydra was a serpent which possessed many heads. Heracles arrived on orders King Eurystheus to perform his second of his fabled Twelve Labors to kill the beast. He engaged with the Hydra and crushed the heads with his club only to be exasperated as with each Hydra head he destroyed, another two would replace it. Again and again and again he tried to slash and hack at the creature until he was forced to retreat in exhaustion. For all his might, the strongest man in the world could not defeat the creature by normal means.
His nephew then came upon the idea of using a firebrand to scorch the neck stumps after each decapitation. Heracles cut off each head and Iolaus cauterized the open stumps until eventually he defeated the great creature, burying the immortal head under the rocks so that it would not re-emerge.
Naturally we shouldn’t take the Hydra story as a way to interpret Islamic radicalism. As mentioned before presenting it as a single entitey would be to misconstrue how we interpret the complex world that is Islam. The message of this story is that Heracles had to find an alternate tactic to defeat the Hydra as simple brute force could not work. Defeating Islamic extremism through the use of simple brute force and counter-terrorism will not deal with the problems blighting the Middle East. The death of Osama of Bin Laden and the recline in influence of Al-Qaeda is the most obvious testimony to this as is the idea to see the conflict as a ‘us versus them’ scenario, ‘good versus evil’, the ‘clash of civilisations’ or a GWOT.
Terrorism will always exist and has done long before the events of 9/11. One hundred years ago the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand by the Black Hand Serbian terrorist organisation sparked the First World War (alongside other factors). Terrorism cannot be eliminated because the relations of states and civilians, minorities, and oppressed peoples are built on resisting whether just or unjust to what they consider excessively powerful and corrupt authorities.
It creates new enemies and ISIS, the Al-Nusra Front, Boko Haram, Al-Shabaab have joined the burgeoning ranks of extremists (though differing goals and objectives). These are four of many diverse factions and splinter groups. In 2011, the death of Osama Bin Laden appeared to symbolise in the eyes of the White House that the war against the most violent elements of Islamism were over. Notable terrorist activity in Nigeria, Somalia, Kenya, Egypt, the division of opposition in Syria, the attacks on Volgograd, the continued instability in the Caucasus the beheading of Lee Rigby in London, and the Boston Bombing suggest otherwise. Eighteen countries and its civilians felt the wroth of radical Islam in 2013 alone.
All encompassing global application overlooksthe importance of regional and local political, social and religious issues that affect the evolution and formation of a ‘terrorist’ organisation. As Jason Burke notes ‘to blame…contemporary Islamic militancy…on one man….is gross oversimplification. Building bin Laden up to be a global mastermind directing….a network of terror is counter productive.’
Nor should we see Islamic extremism as the product or sheer fanaticism, of just psychotic personalities and deluded, nor are they simply always suffering in poverty and seeking a way out. They certainly are prevalent in many radical movements, but not all, not amongst the tens of thousands of men and women across the globe who fight for their faith. Individuals as well as groups vary in both motive and extremes of promoting their faith. Leaders of Al-Qaeda Zawahiri and Bin Laden were both wealthy and educated individuals alongside their conservatism which when combined with a sense of injustice can be potent in the hands of intelligent dissidents.
Supplying weapons to Syrian rebels be they the Islamic Front, the Free Syrian Army, or jihadists is not even containing the cure. The New York Times doesn’t even deny that jihadists are being supplied by Saudi Arabia and Qatar who recieve shipments from allies of the Western sphere to the Al-Nusra Front and ISIS. Making Syria and Iraq weapon depots and combining that with national, religious and/or political and social grievances enflamed by the Arab Spring only make the problems more complex. Nor is using drones and airstrikes a solution to endearing the West to Middle-Eastern countries or the families suffering on the grounds.
Things are worse now than they ever were before 9/11 and this is a problem which will extend into a long-term issue for the Middle East, the United States and Eastern Europe. The 2nd Ukrainian Civil War, though a serious situation unseen for decades in Europe, is still a recoverable situation despite the violence between the eastern Ukrainians and the government of Poroshenko in Kiev.
So if it becomes a long-standing issue how do we fight it? To discount military means completely would be to leave innocent civilians vulnerable. Security and development must work hand in hand and at this current moment the gross imbalance in prizing military strength over diplomatic, soft power, and development is worrying. Short-term objectives must be combined with long-term strategy.
Radical changes in attitudes in our own society on the Middle East must change and incorporating the Arab Spring, the history of the Middle East and Islam as a compulsory part of our education system would be a first very important step. Answers lie in the past as well as the present and future.
9/11 should be understood from looking at both sides of the coin. Why do some Islamic radicals hate us and often each other? Why did the United States become so involved in Middle Eastern affairs? How does Islamic society, politics and religion work?
The main point of this is that rather than understanding the motivations of the men and the build up and aftermath of the tragedy of 9/11 the West chose a more militant stance against it which has not only cost us man-power and destabalised the region, but cost excessive amounts of money and the blood of both soldiers and civilians. We have encouraged radical extremism to flourish rather than recede. Al-Qaeda did not exist under Saddam Hussein rule and now ISIS and civil war occupy the Iraqi people.
The emergence of militant Islam in Africa is a clear indicator that development, poverty, and the failure of government’s to meet the needs of their people can be a traction to join terrorist organisations alongside the questions of faith and radical ideologies. The violence in Nigeria, Mali, Somalia and Kenya are such examples. People also forget to ask what will become of the Muslim refugees in the Central African Republic? Will they be radicalised by their suffering, their increased poverty and the ethnic cleansing of the Christians?
This is a problem with no quick remedy, it is a product of contemporary issues created and aided by misunderstanding historical ‘clashes’. The Crusades were not simply wars between Christians and Muslims. They involved numerous secular and religious conflicts often Muslims fighting Muslims, Christians fighting Christians or pagans fighting Christians and though often shrouded by religious motives were wars a-typical of medival times; factions, tribes, fiefdoms, kingdoms, empire, anarchy and violence.
Once regarded as a valuable and complex centre of human civilisation, intellectual discourse Islam, like Europe, has a confusing and difficult histories of empire which divided Muslim cultures just as it did Christian society during medieval times and the Renaissance period.
Muslims have a European history, the Ottoman Empire, one of the most powerful in the world stretched, at it zenith, to the doors of Vienna in Austria back to the deserts of Iran. What we see is a faith of a supposed ‘other world’ with unfathomable concepts, largely devoid of European significance.
The Crusades were not wars of civilizations which was often used as propaganda by the papacy to meet secular goals and increase its influence in the holy land, ‘the land of milk and honey’, the latter statement alluding to the economic value of the Middle East even in medieval times. Almost sounds like George Bush using the Global War on Terror as a pretext to restore American influence in the Middle East, ‘the land of oil’! Patterns.
Oversimplifying the answers to an inherently complex issue is bound to get a poor grade. Saying that the Crusades were simply wars between Christians and Muslims is like answering the question ‘What is Al-Qaeda?’ with ‘it is a fanatical global terrorist organisation’. This is in-part correct but it is only a basic explanation.
Generosity and the spirit of the intellectual were key pillars in Islamic civilisation. What we choose to see or only hear of now, and they are serious problems, is the attempt to enforce sharia law, calls to jihad, prejudice against homo-sexuals, horror stories of forced marriages and honor killings, rape, and acid attacks that maim innocent and beautiful women because they challenge their faith and for arguing for the notions of femininity, education, and freedom and against the imposition or choices made by many to embrace of extremist doctrines. All we here is the brutality of the Al-Nusra Front and the violence of ISIS in Syria and Iraq.
We also sometimes fall prey to the idea that Islamic extremism is the sole threat. Presenting Islam as a wholly anti-western pillar only serves to alienate the minority and in many circumstances radicalise those on the wrong end of racism and xenophobia, particularly the United States and Europe. Few remember that the greatest atrocities carried out in Europe in recent memory were targeted against Muslims during the break-up of Yugoslavia by Serbian nationalists in the 1990s.
Nor do many pay heed to the ethnic cleansing of Muslims in the Central African Republic by Christian militia (the anti-balaka) currently, the blood of thousands staining the country’s soil. Let us also not forget that the most horrifying act of mass murder and terrorism in Europe was perpetrated by Anders Breivik, a Norweigian far-right fanatic, operating in the name of Islamophobic white supremacy, his own warped crusade.
The problems of history are linked with the contemporary problems facing Islam. However there is only so much the West can solve. The Muslim communities are at war with each other as much as the moderates, extremists and ‘terrorists’ are at war with Western concepts.
The issue within Muslim societies is what conversations moderates and intellectuals are not having in the debate; the adaptability and the balance between religion and politics. Some argue they should be unquestionably linked whilst other argue that compromise must be instituted. Those who demand for compromise and restraint get denounced as heretics and not Muslim and open themselves up to reprisal from extremist factions. Why? Because to many Islamic intellectuals like Qutb a solely political state would become decadent and corrupt in partnership with unfettered Western capitalism without the spirituality and codes of Islam as seen by his time spent in America in the 1940s.
The lack of conversations and debate is in part 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 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, moderate and peaceful elements of both contemporary and historical Islam. Military power must be used to combat extremism up to a point, but it will not solve a problem that is predominantly social and economic.
“War does not determine who is right – only who that is left”
The 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Dick 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.
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.
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?
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:
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.