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Israel’s army is no longer a deterrent, even to Palestinian children

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By Motasem A Dalloul

File photo of Palestinian children confronting Israeli soldiers at a protest near Nabi Saleh

File photo of Palestinian children confronting Israeli soldiers at a protest near Nabi Saleh

Following the three Israeli wars waged on the people of Gaza between 2008 and 2014, dozens of political, strategic and military analysts acknowledged what is a bitter pill for the Israeli army to swallow: it is no longer a deterrent to the Palestinian fighters in the beleaguered coastal territory, not even the children.

Writing after the end of the 2008/9 Israeli offensive, David Makovsky of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said, “Israel believes its deterrence was lost in that war.” During last year’s 51-day Israeli war on Gaza, when more than 2,260 Palestinian were killed, Israeli columnist Shlomi Eldar wrote, “Israel lost its power of deterrence and the leaders of the strongest state in the Middle East are in a quandary.”

The senior researcher of the Washington Institute and the Israeli columnist reached their conclusions after looking at the outcome of the conflicts, where Israeli soldiers faced armed Palestinian fighters. It has to be remembered that these were asymmetrical in terms of the armaments and personnel available to the two sides.

The current uprising – intifada – in the occupied West Bank and Jerusalem has also been notable for the Israeli army losing any deterrent factor that it once had. The image of the Israeli soldier has changed from one who is “invincible” to one who is weak and scared.

This new image is depicted in several examples of footage showing little Palestinian boys and girls running after well-equipped Israeli soldiers in attempts to stab them. Their weapons are clearly small kitchen knives, which would probably have difficulty cutting very thin string.

A 12-year old Palestinian boy from Jerusalem, Mo’awiyeh Alqam, was arrested last week in an alleged stabbing attempt. He appeared handcuffed and surrounded by several armed Israeli policemen while smiling, demonstrating to what extent this little boy belittles such hollow individuals.

On Tuesday, the Israeli Police Commander of the occupied West Bank, Shlomi Michael, resigned just nine months after taking office. He did not explain why he was resigning, but observers pointed out that he had served in the elite Israeli security services and did not want to damage his reputation by being unable to deter a wave of civilian protests.

One elite commander made it clear that the Israeli army has nothing to deal with the current wave of Palestinian protests, waged mainly by young people with stones as their weapons. He acknowledged that this is a challenge. “It is a very big challenge with the current terror [sic],” Paratroop Brigade Commander Colonel Nimrod Aloni told Army Radio on Thursday. “There is a great deal of confusion over how to deal with it.” Is there any chance to win, he asked rhetorically. “I think this is very much not a military question, it is very much tied to political decisions.”

According to a Palestinian specialist in Israeli affairs, Dr Saleh al-Na’ami, Colonel Aloni’s remarks are a new slap in the face for Israeli politicians. He also believes that the old image of the Israeli soldier has gone forever. “The invincible image is no more,” he concluded.

(Source / 28.11.2015)

Written by altahrir

November 28, 2015 at 10:22 pm

Addressing discrimination against Saudi women

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Samar Fatany
The women’s sections in government offices are marginalized and ineffective. They do not have the authority to serve the needs of women or address their problems, according to Abdulaziz Al-Magly, the Director of the Monitoring and Investigation Department of Human Services. The government has lately stepped up its inspection campaigns on various ministries and conducts regular investigations to discover any negligence or inadequacies. It is comforting to know that officials are supporting the official role of women in government.

The appointment of women to the Shoura Council has also given the progressives among us some hope. Nevertheless, progress is still slow and women have yet to create pressure groups in all sectors of society to address social and political needs.

Women face barriers in municipal elections

It is still unclear whether women running for election to municipal councils will succeed and it remains to be seen whether, if elected, society will acknowledge their role on these councils. There are many skeptics who think that there are too many social barriers and that the majority will not support the move.

Many women did not run because of the inaccurate information that preceded the registration for elections. Official rules were deliberately misinterpreted to discourage women from participating. Many felt insulted by claims that any woman who was found in the company of men during the election campaign would be fined or face a prison sentence. Another equally demeaning claim was that women candidates would not be allowed to present their programs in person but needed to appoint a male representative to speak on their behalf.

Extremists and ill-informed scholars have twisted facts and made women subservient to their male guardians

Samar Fatany

Unfortunately, there was no immediate clarification of the rules governing the elections. It was later explained that women candidates were required to specify the name of a male representative who would be officially recognized to speak on their behalf in case they were unable to attend a certain function. As for the fines, they were only intended to restrict any individual man or woman from entering undesignated sections of the election headquarters.

The social conflict continues between progressives and extremists who advocate the unjustified discrimination against women in society. The negative attitude toward women remains a cause of public discontent and a source of frustration to many citizens in society today. What is needed is a push for a paradigm shift in attitude toward women.

Discriminatory laws

Meanwhile, women should reflect upon their role in society and should not be dissuaded by those who stand against progress. They need to be more effective in ending male domination that deprives them of their basic rights. They need to be more assertive in rejecting discriminatory laws imposing male guardian controls that include: their right to employment; litigation; the issuance of passports; the execution of private and governmental contracts; and discharge from rehabilitation or detention institutions and others.

The issue of full citizenship for women was recently the subject of a long debate among members of the Shoura Council. Women in the Shoura Council on October 13, 2015 were able to push for the amendment of the Civil Status Law calling for enhancing women’s citizenship and eliminating any form of discrimination against women, especially the right of women to have their own ID cards and the right to pass their citizenship to their children or their husband.

Other discriminatory laws include retirement regulations for women stipulating that a woman cannot have her retirement benefits if her husband is also retired. There are also laws that allow child marriages, arbitrary divorce, confinement and the absolute male domination over women in this day and age.

In the absence of public transportation, women are confined to the four walls of their homes and are unable to practice their right of movement. There is no justification in ignoring this legitimate right at both religious and social levels.

Hopefully, the amendments will eliminate the contradictions in the laws that govern the legal rights of women and will stipulate compliance with the laws with pertinent procedures.

Laws governing civil society need to be amended in order to grant legal permits for social institutions that can protect the rights of women and support the empowerment of women nationwide.

Extremists and ill-informed scholars have twisted facts and made women subservient to their male guardians. Women today should arm themselves with proper Islamic education to confront the rigid interpretations of the Holy Qur’an and adopt the true teachings of Shariah to refute the discriminations against them in the name of Islam.

Those in the Shoura and municipal councils have a duty to help society evolve and support women who may be unaware of a better way of life. They should put more pressure on religious scholars to promote a more tolerant narrative which declares that it is not un-Islamic to adopt a modern lifestyle in order to serve the modern-day needs of women at work and in their homes.

(Source / 25.11.2015)

Written by altahrir

November 25, 2015 at 10:03 pm

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PLO ‘likes’ Israel: Palestinian Liberation Organization launches Facebook page in Hebrew!

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PLO is using a Hebrew-language Facebook page to connect with Israelis. (Shutterstock)

PLO is using a Hebrew-language Facebook page to connect with Israelis

The Palestinian national movement has launched a Hebrew-language Facebook page whose purpose is to make the Palestinians’ case to Israeli Jews.

The Palestine Liberation Organization’s “Committee for Interaction with Israeli Society” published its first post on the social network last week.

Titled “Palestine in Hebrew,” the page’s messages are geared toward Israelis and their concerns, telling them, “The occupation is the enemy, oppressing our lives and corrupting yours.”
It employs hashtags, a kind of tagging that sorts posts by searchable subjects, that urge Israelis to act politically, such as “#be_responsible_end_the_occupation.”
And it includes high-production-value videos that counter Israeli perceptions of international moves taken by the Palestinian Authority in recent years, such as explaining in Hebrew that “the appeal to the UN” for recognition of a state of Palestine “was never meant to isolate Israel or hurt its legitimacy, but to emphasize the illegitimacy of the occupation that began in 1967 in order to end it.”
It also carries a speech by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
The page had a scant 179 “likes” by Sunday morning, though millions of Israelis are on Facebook, by far the most popular social network among Hebrew speakers.
But it has already drawn Israeli Jewish responses and counter-arguments to the claims made in its posts, and its establishment was reported in mainstream Israeli media Sunday, including Israel Radio’s morning news broadcast.
One Israeli posted to the page a 1910 newspaper clipping of an Arab attack on a Jew in Jaffa, with the sarcastic comment, “Because of the occupation,” suggesting that Arab violence against Jews preceded the 1967 conquest of the West Bank and Gaza.
In one post, the PLO page complained of Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked’s proposal to require political advocacy groups to wear tags in the Knesset similar to those worn by lobbyists, saying, “We will be identified by the tags Shaked is requiring us to wear.”
That first-person reference led one commenter on the page to say, “It appears that this page is actually run by Israeli left-wingers in the PLO’s name.”
There was no immediate word on the identity of the page’s administrators, though the Hebrew is fluent and largely error-free, including when translating linguistically difficult passages from the poems of the Palestinian national poet, Mohammed Darwish.
(Source / 21.11.2015)

Written by altahrir

November 22, 2015 at 12:00 am

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Paris attackers ‘did not follow Islam’

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A French gendarme enforcing the Vigipirate plan, France's national security alert system, patrols in a railway station the capital, Paris, November 19, 2015. (Photo by AFP)

A French gendarme enforcing the Vigipirate plan, France’s national security alert system, patrols in a railway station the capital, Paris, November 19, 2015

New details about two of the suspects in the attacks on the French capital last week indicate that despite the generalized characterization of the duo as Muslims, they not only did not follow Islam but also grossly strayed from Islamic teachings.

New reports showed Thursday that the Abdeslam brothers, Brahim and Salah, ran a bar in the Belgian capital, Brussels, and used a lot of drugs and drank alcohol, which are forbidden in Islam.

Police had reportedly shut their Les Beguines bar, where people consumed “banned hallucinogenic substances.”

Local residents said the two brothers did not comply with the Islamic principles and had never been seen at a mosque.

“On Fridays (when Muslims hold their main weekly prayers), they would stay smoking on the terrace. I never saw them at the mosque,” said Karim, a young man who lived above the bar.

Another friend of the brothers also said the men weren’t practicing Muslims and that they used to drink.

The new details corroborate the earlier description of Ibrahim Abdeslam by his ex-wife as a non-believer who smoked drugs every day and never went to the mosque. Speaking to Belgian media, Ibrahim’s 36-year-old wife, Naima, said she was unaware Brahim had become a Daesh member.

“I only knew that at the time he was not religious. His parents had to force him to take part in Ramadan,” she said in reference to the Muslim fasting month.

People light candles to pay tribute to victims near the site of the last Friday attack at Le Carillon cafe in Paris, November 19, 2015

At least 129 people were killed and 352 others injured when assailants, including Brahim and Salah, struck at least six different venues in and around Paris on November 13.

In a statement the day after, the Takfiri Daesh terrorist group claimed responsibility for the attacks.

The Abdeslam brothers apparently attacked people in Paris’ 10th and 11th districts. Brahim later blew himself up outside a cafe on Boulevard Voltaire before police could apprehend him, while Salah still remains at large.

French officials say the suspected mastermind of the Paris attacks, Abdel Hamid Abaaoud, was killed during a police operation early Wednesday.

It was initially thought that Abaaoud was in Syria, but further investigations revealed that he was based in the Paris suburb of Saint-Denis, where the Wednesday police raid.

(Source / 21.11.2015)

Written by altahrir

November 21, 2015 at 11:56 pm

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Zionist controlled US media spreading Islamophobia: Activist

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The Zionist controlled media in the United States has created an environment of Islamophobia and shortsightedness for over a decade in the country, a Muslim African American activist and speaker says.

There has been a collaboration between the US and Israel to create terrorist and extremist groups in the Middle East to serve Zionist and Western interests, said Abdul Alim Musa, director of Masjid Al-Islam in Washington, DC and member of the Institute of Contemporary Islamic Thought.

The rise of groups like al-Qaeda, Taliban and Daesh (ISIL) are part of an “evil plot” to justify the invasion and domination of Muslim lands, Musa said Saturday during an interview with Press TV.

Musa said the recent Islamophobic comments by US Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump are the visible part of this evil plot; a war against Muslims that has been going on for decades.

On Thursday, Trump said he would be open to having a “Muslim database” in America for security reasons, two days after he said that the US would have “absolutely no choice” but to close down some mosques.

Hours later, the Republican frontrunner doubled down on his previous remarks when asked by NBC News if he would create a national database to register all Muslims living in the US to protect the country against terrorism. “I would certainly implement that, absolutely.”

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) has voiced concerns over a spike in Islamophobia in the US, following the recent attacks in Paris.

The Muslim advocacy organization has called for additional safety measures in the Islamic places of worship in the wake of the attacks, which the Daesh Takfiri group has claimed responsibility for.

Since last week’s Paris attacks, there have been a series of anti-Muslim incidents reported, including terror threats to Florida mosques, vandalism at a Nebraska mosque, shots fired at a Florida Muslim family’s home, hate graffiti targeting a Connecticut Muslim student, a tweet threatening Michigan Muslims, and innumerable hate messages sent online and by phone.

(Source / 21.11.2015)

Written by altahrir

November 21, 2015 at 10:27 pm

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Israel is world’s premier producer and generator of terror

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By Khalid Amayreh in occupied Palestine

“Germany needs to respond to terror like Israel does,” the head of Germany’s internal intelligence service (BfV), Hans-Georg Maassen, reportedly said this week.

With all due respect, the German official is wrong for the following reasons.

Israel, itself a gigantic crime against humanity by any moral standard imaginable, can never be considered part of the solution for the terror epidemic now hitting many countries. The naked facts on the ground lead to the ultimate and inevitable conclusion that Israel is one of the major root causes of terror and violence in our world today.

In 1948, Jewish-Zionist gangs coming from Eastern Europe ganged up on the peaceable people of Palestine, arrogating their homeland, slaughtering their children, destroying their homes, bulldozing their villages and dispersing the bulk of Palestinians all over the world.

This gigantic crime against humanity occurred thanks to concrete military and political support by the West.

The Palestinian people, a largely pastoral people lacking the advantage of powerful international connections, have been crying out for justice ever since, but to no avail.

In 1967, Israel completed the occupation of the Palestinian homeland, claiming that some Jews had been living in the country several thousand years ago.

Israel has had nearly 50 years to accommodate the Palestinians like Germany accommodates the millions of refugees arriving in Germany, fleeing death and persecution in countries like Syria and Iraq…and also Palestine.!

But Israel chose the racist way, viewing the Palestinians as sub-humans with utterly no rights, even no humanity.

Again, the Palestinians tried every possible avenue to free themselves from the diabolical clutches of Jewish oppression but to no avail.

And when they resorted to armed struggle, because every other door was slammed against their faces, they were called “terrorists and criminals.”!

Her Maassen, what are we supposed to do to liberate our country and free our people from this evil, called Zionism, which is based on the same elements that gave Nazism its evil essence?

Nazism was based on criminal racism (the master race), Zionism is based on criminal racism as well, namely the concept of the Chosen people. This is not an abstract idea which we can dismiss as a form of philosophical illusionism.

It is rather  practiced every hour and every day on the hills of the West Bank as Palestinians are assaulted, humiliated and even killed (even burned alive) because they are not members of “the holy tribe” and don’t worship the specific deity of that tribe.

It is this sick ideology that prompted the late mentor of Shas Rabbi Ovadia Yosef to declare that non-Jews, people like me and you, were donkeys or like donkeys, whom the Almighty created in a human shape in deference to Jews in order to serve Jews.

Needless to say, this poisonous racism was by no means an unrepresentative feature of the religious Zionist mindset. The opposite is actually true.

Herr Maassen: I want to remind you of the feelings permeating throughout Germany following the Versailles Treaty following the First World War.

Though Germany was widely perceived as the aggressor, many Germans felt German honor was deeply injured by the draconian sanctions and punishments imposed by the victorious powers.

We all know the rest of the story.

Herr Maassen: Israel, ever since the first day of its establishment, has committed every conceivable crime against our people. I myself lost three uncles to Zionist barbarianism even before I was born.

In fact, terror has always been and continues to be the official or unofficial modus operandi of Israel’s policies.

This is why you can’t understand the Palestinian question in the absence of this context. The Palestinian grievances are too real and too legitimate to be swept under the carpet.

I say this because Israel continues to be the main producer and manufacturer of terror in our region and in the world at large.

Remember, Herr Maassen, those to whom evil is done, do evil in return.

Maybe doing evil, even in return is not the ideal behavior, but it is often inevitable.

Wishing you good luck in fighting and defeating terror.

(Source / 20.11.2015)

Written by altahrir

November 20, 2015 at 10:01 pm

On the trail of terror

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A French policeman assists a blood-covered victim near the Bataclan concert hall following attacks in Paris, Nov. 14, 2015.

A French policeman assists a blood-covered victim near the Bataclan concert hall following attacks in Paris, Nov. 14, 2015

Four days, three countries, 3,000 kilometres, but just one story.

The Globe and Mail’s Senior International Correspondent Mark MacKinnon reports from a bleak Syrian refugee camp in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley to Beruit, Paris and Brussels, following a path of carnage left by the Islamic State

The maelstrom began as a chilly wind that whipped through the refugee tents of Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley. It was Thursday, Nov. 12, and I spent the day sitting on the floors of a succession of handmade dwellings, listening as refugees told tales of the horrors they had witnessed before fleeing the nightmare that is Syria. We also spoke worryingly of the long wars to come.

“Da’esh is fighting just over the mountains,” intoned the Lebanese aid worker who guided me along the narrow muddy paths that serve as roads in the informal refugee settlements. He nodded at the brown western slope of Mount Lebanon, the natural border between Lebanon and Syria. Da’esh is the Arabic acronym for the Islamic State, a name preferred by Muslims who don’t like to grant the extremist group any link with their religion.

That evening, as my taxi returned to Beirut, the radio started to crackle. Two suicide bombers had attacked the southern suburbs of the Lebanese capital, killing 43 people. IS, or rather Da’esh, immediately claimed responsibility.

Less than 30 hours later, eight (or more) IS militants were launching their deadly assault on Parisian lovers of music, food and sports, adding 129 to the dead and rattling one of the West’s great capitals to its core.

I spent part of Sunday running with a crowd of hundreds from a phantom follow-up attack on Paris’s central Place de la République. Someone heard a bang and thought it was a gunshot, and we all fled through the lobby of the adjacent Crowne Plaza hotel. I ran through the kitchen and took a staff elevator up to my room, where, along with several employees, we triple-locked the door and tried to figure out what we would do if the non-existent gunmen started moving floor by floor through the hotel.

The winds kept blowing. By Monday – four days after I sat in the refugee tents of the Bekaa Valley – I was in standing in the rain at a police line in the Brussels suburb of Molenbeek, the gritty streets that had produced at least three of those suspected of involvement in the Paris attacks.

Events had propelled me through three countries and more than 3,000 kilometres from Thursday to Monday. But it was all the same story.

A clash of civilizations?

In some ways, we have never seen an extremist organization like the Islamic State. The group controls a swath of Iraq and Syria that is larger in area than Britain. Millions of people live under its harsh rule. And over the past three weeks – as it bombed a Russian airliner, attacked a Shia neighbourhood of Beirut and then shot up the streets of Paris, all while battling the various armed groups that directly confront it in Iraq and Syria – it has shown a shocking willingness to fight everyone at the same time.

IS may yet achieve what seemed impossible: uniting such disparate forces as the United States, Russia, the European Union, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Iran against it, even as those forces seek very different outcomes for the region.

The self-declared caliphate can’t win the conflict militarily. But a bloody stalemate that sees the West lashing out at a Sunni Arab army while co-operating in one way or another with the region’s Kurds, Shiites, Christians and Jews (as well as a handful of Sunni autocrats) will only prolong and intensify what is already seen by many in the Middle East as a clash of civilizations.

The problem isn’t as simple as defeating IS. It is only the most awful symptom of a much wider illness. The real sickness is a Middle East shattered along sectarian lines that don’t match the borders as they are drawn. And if we don’t deal with that as part of our war against IS, the cancer will only continue to spread.

Crossings: How Syrians in Lebanon are living in limboLife for Syrian refugees in Lebanon is becoming more and more desperate. Families intent on migrating to the West legally rather than try their luck trekking to Europe face dwindling humanitarian aid, an increasingly reluctant host country and growing Islamophobia in the very places they one day hope to live

Every one of the refugees I met in the Bekaa Valley had horrifying tales to tell, and so – most worryingly – did their children. They had seen friends shot dead beside them, brothers and fathers executed. One girl, 12 years old, tried to explain to me what it looked like when a person’s jaw is blown off.

But almost all of the 1.1 million refugees in Lebanon – like the bulk of the 750,000 refugees in Jordan – had fled the Syrian army, not IS (the two million refugees in Turkey are a different matter, since most people fleeing IS-controlled eastern Syria would likely head there). Those were the Syrian army’s bullets, not Da’esh’s, shooting best friends where they stood, and tearing off jaws. The Syrian army, not incidentally, answers to commanders who are Alawite by faith, an offshoot of Shia Islam.

The rage those experiences produce – an anger that the Palestinian experience has taught us will be passed on for generations – is what IS feeds off. While the West debates shutting its borders to refugees over a single, suspiciously intact Syrian passport, the wars in Syria and Iraq are still producing thousands of new refugees and internally displaced people every day. And luring people like the Paris attacker to join the jihad.

The vast majority of Syrian refugees are Sunni Muslims, whether they are fleeing IS or Mr. al-Assad’s forces and their Shia militia allies from Iran and Lebanon. The same holds true in Iraq, where refugees I’ve met in the camps of Kurdistan tell chilling stories of IS brutality. But ask them why locals did not resist IS when the extremists arrived in Mosul and other cities, and they switch to tales of how Iraq’s Sunnis were persecuted by Iraq’s Shia-dominated military before IS arrived.

Syrian refugees stand outside their tents at a refugee camp in the town of Hosh Hareem, in the Bekaa valley, Lebanon, Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2015. The United Nations said Tuesday the worsening conflict in Syria has left 13.5 million people in need of aid and some form of protection, including more than six million children.

Syrian refugees stand outside their tents at a refugee camp in the town of Hosh Hareem, in the Bekaa valley, Lebanon, Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2015. The United Nations said Tuesday the worsening conflict in Syria has left 13.5 million people in need of aid and some form of protection, including more than six million children.

To the West, the IS militants are unqualified barbarians. In parts of Iraq and Syria, they are seen as needed protection against a sectarian foe.

Already we are seeing teenagers grow into young men who know only discrimination and violence. The generation coming up behind them includes hundreds of thousands of children who haven’t been to a school for years. And, like the Palestinians before them, they have no homeland now. Iraq and Syria, as they are structured, will never be places to which Sunni Muslims will happily return.

George W. Bush claimed that he was acting in the name of “Iraqi freedom” when he sent the U.S. military into Iraq in 2003 to topple Sunni dictator Saddam Hussein. But while Mr. Hussein’s ouster may have brought democracy to Iraqis – insofar as elections are held every few years – the invasion did not deliver freedom.

Iraqis can choose their own leaders now, but not their fate. Unless there is a sudden outbreak of secularism in the country, Iraq’s Shia majority – which suffered for decades as the Cold War superpowers took turns backing Mr. Hussein – knows that it will write the rules from here on out. The country’s Sunnis know that, as long as they are ruled by Baghdad, it’s their turn to suffer.

The problem isn’t as simple as defeating IS. It is only the most awful symptom of a much wider illness. The real sickness is a Middle East shattered along sectarian lines that don’t match the borders as they are drawn.

All the solutions on the table are messy, but the only one with a long-term chance of success is to let the Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds go their own ways. It’s difficult to envision. The Turkish and Iranian governments fear that a Kurdish state in northern Iraq and northern Syria will inspire fresh demands among their own Kurdish populations. The Sunni Arab kingdoms of the region worry that a dissolution of Syria and Iraq might cause their citizens to question the ruler-straight borders of their own countries. And how do you deal with multicultural cities like Baghdad and Damascus?

But history teaches that when pluralistic countries fail, nation states eventually emerge.

Europe rarely saw peace under the empires that existed before the First World War. Similarly, the peoples of the Balkans kept fighting each other until each had its own state. The borders of Iraq and Syria – lines drawn on a map 99 years ago by British and French civil servants – make even less sense than those of Austria-Hungary or Yugoslavia.

What does any of this have to do with the rise and reach of the Islamic State? Well, pretty much everything.

When IS seized control of Mosul – Iraq’s second-largest city – in the summer of 2014, the group celebrated with one of its more mundane videos, announcing the end of the Sykes-Picot agreement between Britain and France that drew the border between Iraq and Syria in 1917.

An image from and Islamic State video showing the breach of the Syrian border with Iraq.

An image from and Islamic State video showing the breach of the Syrian border with Iraq

Many of the horrific propaganda videos the group has released are aimed at instilling fear in its many enemies. Fear is the best weapon IS has. Fear has driven numerically superior Iraqi and Syrian forces to abandon their weapons and positions at word of an IS advance. Every foe of IS has seen the gruesome beheading videos, or the immolation of the Jordanian fighter pilot in a cage. Fear of another attack like the one on Paris is what we’re all talking about today.

But the video released in June, 2014, was aimed winning the hearts and minds of the people it sought to rule. In one of his few public appearances, IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi said from a Mosul mosque: “This blessed advance will not stop until we hit the last nail in the coffin of the Sykes-Picot conspiracy.”

Keeping Iraq together involves the West helping a predominantly Shia army crush a militia that claims to represent the country’s Sunni minority. Keeping Syria, a majority Sunni state, together seems to involve some kind of accommodation with at least parts of the Alawite-run regime of Bashar al-Assad.

This is not an argument for or against military intervention, although the West’s actions in the Middle East since 2003 (and arguably long before) have spectacularly backfired. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization, however involved deeply in the Balkan wars, can claim some successes – largely because it allowed and encouraged different peoples to go their different ways.

The Sunni Awakening

The first time I met Sheik Ali Hatem al-Suleimani was in the spring of 2008 at his fortified villa in Kerada, a Sunni neighbourhood of Baghdad. While an American journalist and I waited for our scheduled interview, Sheik al-Suleimani finished playing Black Hawk Down on his video-game console. It’s a game where the player takes the side of U.S. soldiers on a mission in Mogadishu, battling Somali militants eager to spill American blood.

The sheik, then 37 years old, was enjoying playing the American side. “I like it better,” he explained after finally putting down his controller. “They have better weapons. It’s easier to win.”

Sheik Ali Hatem al-Suleimani says much of credit for the declining violence in Iraq should go to the Sunni Awakening militias under his control. The fighters turned on al-Qaeda in exchange for salaries from the U.S. army.

Sheik Ali Hatem al-Suleimani says much of credit for the declining violence in Iraq should go to the Sunni Awakening militias under his control. The fighters turned on al-Qaeda in exchange for salaries from the U.S. army

Back then, he thought he was on the winning side. After years of fighting against the U.S. occupation – with some of his men doing so under the flag of al-Qaeda in Iraq – the head of the powerful al-Dulaimi tribe had been persuaded (with a lot of cash) to switch and turn his guns against the extremists. They would call it the Sunni Awakening, and the militias they formed became known as the Sons of Iraq. It all worked rather well – for a while. “Guns and tribes, this is my power,” the sheik boasted to me.

Iraq’s Sunnis had not been extremists under Saddam Hussein, Sheik al-Suleimani reminded me. They had been staunchly secular. The militant salafism that had spread in places like Fallujah and his hometown of Ramadi was foreign to most of those who lived there. Groups like al-Qaeda in Iraq had taken root only because the locals had become disillusioned with the U.S. occupation and the Shia politicians – like then-prime-minister Nouri al-Maliki – it was empowering.

The Sunni Awakening bested al-Qaeda in Iraq, but not Mr. al-Maliki. By 2013, the Iraqi government had disbanded the Sons of Iraq. The Sunni militias were no longer in charge of the streets of Mosul, Fallujah and Ramadi. Mr. Maliki’s Shia-dominated army was the only force allowed to publicly bear arms. Refugees fleeing the IS takeover of Mosul would later tell me how the Iraqi army would detain and sometimes torture young men simply because they had Sunni names.

Iraq’s descent back into chaos happened as Syria’s civil war – which had begun when Mr. al-Assad’s soldiers opened fire on peaceful (and predominantly Sunni) demonstrators at the end of the “Arab Spring” in 2011 – was entering a dangerous new phase. Proof emerged that his forces had used chemical weapons in the summer of 2013 against something that still existed then: religiously moderate Sunni rebels.

A child uses a megaphone to lead others in chanting Free Syrian Army slogans during a demonstration in the neighborhood of Bustan Al-Qasr, Aleppo, Syria, Friday, Jan. 4, 2013. By then, more than 60,000 people had been killed since Syria's crisis began in March 2011.

A child uses a megaphone to lead others in chanting Free Syrian Army slogans during a demonstration in the neighborhood of Bustan Al-Qasr, Aleppo, Syria, Friday, Jan. 4, 2013. By then, more than 60,000 people had been killed since Syria’s crisis began in March 2011

Desperate to avoid the fall of his regime, Mr. al-Assad had crossed every red line. U.S President Barack Obama sent American warships into the eastern Mediterranean Sea.

I was in Jordan’s sprawling Zaatari refugee camp that fall, meeting once more with emotionally and psychologically damaged Syrian refugee children. You could see then that the coming generation was an unfolding disaster, one that – left unattended – held the potential to destabilize the Middle East and the world for decades to come. I met a 13-year-old who watched his father being shot and killed by Mr. al-Assad’s forces three years ago. He told me that his only dream “when I turn 16 or 18” was to join the jihad.

But the refugee children’s parents, in the fall of 2013, saw hope in the expected Western military action against the al-Assad regime. “Everybody is waiting for the strike,” said Mahmoud Hoshan, a refugee who ran a mobile-phone shop in the camp. “We don’t want to be disappointed. People are selling their things, getting ready to go back.”

But the West, as we know, backed down. Russian President Vladimir Putin offered both his ally, Mr. al-Assad, and Mr. Obama an off-ramp from conflict – a deal to remove chemical weapons from the country – and both sides gratefully took it.

The war would continue. The al-Assad regime would use barrel bombs instead of chlorine gas. And even though reports occasionally surface suggesting that chemical weapons are still being used by various sides in Syria, no one would speak of red lines any more.

In the fall of 2013, IS was one militia among many in Syria’s conflict. Nine months later, by the summer of 2014, it had largely subsumed the local al-Qaeda affiliate, and had taken over territory from the edge of Aleppo to the outskirts of Baghdad.

To Mr. Obama, it probably looked like he was avoiding Mr. Bush’s mistakes, not to mention keeping a war-weary United States out of another intractable Middle Eastern conflict. But to the Sunnis fighting Mr. al-Assad – who briefly looked to the skies hoping American jets were coming to save them – it was a huge betrayal. After all, imaginary chemical weapons had been enough to trigger the invasion of Iraq and the toppling of a Sunni dictator. Now the use of real ones (against a Sunni population) was being allowed to go unpunished in Syria.

In the fall of 2013, IS was one militia among many in Syria’s conflict. Nine months later, by the summer of 2014, it had largely subsumed the local al-Qaeda affiliate, and had taken over territory from the edge of Aleppo to the outskirts of Baghdad.

With both the Iraqi capital and the Kurdish mini-state under threat, the West finally decided to intervene in Iraq and Syria. A broad U.S.-led coalition – including Canada, France and Britain, as well as the rattled Sunni Arab dictatorships of Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates – declared war on IS.

A root feeling of injustice

It was June of 2014 when I saw Sheik Ali Hatem al-Suleimani again. This time, he had agreed to meet a small group of foreign journalists on the mezzanine floor of a five-star hotel in Erbil, the capital of the Kurdish mini-state in northern Iraq.

In some ways, he was a refugee too. There was no place for a rich sheik in impeccably tailored white robes among the black-clad jihadis who that month had driven the Iraqi army from Mosul, Fallujah and Ramadi. But he still claimed leadership of the al-Dulaimi tribe. And he acknowledged that his tribesmen were now fighting alongside the Islamic State.

Speaking before the Western air strikes began, he foresaw at least two wars that needed to be fought. The first was the war that the region’s Sunnis were waging against the al-Maliki and al-Assad governments. After those fights were won, he said, the Sunnis would have an internal battle over what kind of state they wanted. Then sheiks like him might again have a role similar to the one they played in the Sunni Awakening of 2007 and 2008. “We are postponing our fight with Da’esh until later,” he said with almost none of the bravado he had displayed six years earlier.

A U.S. Air Force B-1B Lancer supersonic bomber flies over northern Iraq after conducting air strikes in Syria against IS targets September 27, 2014.

A U.S. Air Force B-1B Lancer supersonic bomber flies over northern Iraq after conducting air strikes in Syria against IS targets September 27, 2014

I asked him if he thought that Iraq was falling apart. His reply suggested that he would not mind if it did. “Dividing Iraq is better than us being killed every day.”

The lesson of Sheik al-Suleimani’s rise and fall is not that Western governments should invest in people like him again (though I wouldn’t be surprised if they do), but that there is a root feeling of injustice that each of these Sunni movements – al-Qaeda, the Sons of Iraq, IS – has used to fuel a fighting force.

We were shocked on Sept. 11, 2001, to discover that there was an angry army out there that blamed us for the troubles in their part of the world.

Fourteen years later – in the wake of another horrific attack on a Western capital – the unlearned lesson is that we won’t feel safe in our homes until the peoples of the Middle East feel safe in theirs.

Anger and resentment

As I walked through the rainy streets of Molenbeek on Monday, there were two words that connected it all, from the refugee camps I had been in a few days before, to the massacres in Paris, to the Molenbeek residents glaring at the police and journalists invading their neighbourhood: hatred and injustice.

Yes, they hate us. We (the West) now understand very well that there is a very committed and growing group of people who hate us and what we stand for.

But do they hate our culture – our openness, our wine drinking, even our tolerance – as many writers have suggested since the attacks on Paris?

No, those are just symbols of “us.” People in Raqqa and Mosul didn’t hate us in 2002. They may not have wanted to drink a bottle of wine with us and they definitely resented Western support of Israel, but they didn’t want to see Westerners bleed on the streets of Paris.

There were others who did – witness al-Qaeda’s attacks on the United States, London and Madrid – but that’s a different issue and a different story.

So why does IS seem so much more dangerous than the Algerian or Palestinian groups that we fretted about in the 1980s and 90s, or even al-Qaeda? It terms of capabilities, it is not. The attacks on the soft targets of Paris’s nightlife required none of the sophisticated planning and preparation that went into al-Qaeda’s 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, nor its previous operations against the USS Cole as it docked in Yemen or against a pair of U.S. embassies in Africa.

While the West debates shutting its borders to refugees over a single, suspiciously intact Syrian passport, the wars in Syria and Iraq are still producing thousands of new refugees and internally displaced people every day.

What IS has is a bigger pool of anger and resentment to draw on, young Muslims who now see the conflict as civilizational, rather than a beef with the U.S. government and its military. The Koran and its more dangerous interpretations have been with us for centuries. There is nothing new about the ideology of IS, the idea of a caliphate or the need to wage jihad against all non-believers.

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has none of Osama bin Laden’s creepily serene charisma. Nor is he a Saudi billionaire. He just has better timing.

Al-Qaeda grew out of Muslim anger over the Israel-Palestine conflict and – in the case of Mr. bin Laden and his immediate coterie – the presence of U.S. military bases in Saudi Arabia and other sacred lands of Mohammed. Now thecasus belli have multiplied to include Iraq and Syria.

So, too, has the pool of potential jihadis. As the Paris attacks demonstrated yet again, refugees are not the worry – at least not yet. As with the Madrid and London attacks in 2004 and 2005 and the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris in January, nearly all the perpetrators were born, bred, marginalized and radicalized in the European societies they attacked. The kerosene was everywhere; IS only provided the match.

Take a stroll through Molenbeek, on the edge of Brussels, where Friday’s assaults were hatched, or the Paris banlieue of Gennevilliers, the last address of the Charlie Hebdo attackers, and you enter worlds that sit inside – but are in many ways no part of – the Europe that surrounds them. Jobs are scare, education is a league behind what is offered in richer parts of the cities, the police are mistrusted.

Residents of the Brussels suburb of Molenbeek are searched by police before taking part in a memorial gathering to honour the victims of the recent deadly Paris attacks, in Brussels, Belgium, November 18, 2015.

Residents of the Brussels suburb of Molenbeek are searched by police before taking part in a memorial gathering to honour the victims of the recent deadly Paris attacks, in Brussels, Belgium, November 18, 2015

As Doug Saunders points out in his Focus essay this weekend, it is precisely these factors that help encourage homegrown extremists down the path to radicalization.

Many youths feel that they have no place in the France or Belgium to which their parents moved their families, so they look for another identity. IS, like al-Qaeda before it, is waiting for them – online and sometimes right in their neighbourhood – with narratives connecting their local troubles to faraway wars and a clash of civilizations.

A troubled path

There is no prescription here. Only a warning, a feeling I picked up during that ill wind that blew me from the Bekaa Valley to Brussels, via Paris.

It’s a simple one: Worse lies ahead down the road that world leaders are currently plotting. A Russian-French agreement to work together to punish IS, while necessarily empowering the remnants of the al-Assad regime to expand back into parts of the country where it is feared and reviled, will not stem the refugee flow from Syria. Nor will it convince the country’s Sunni Muslims that we care about their interests. The same applies in Iraq, where we bolster the Kurds and a hated national army against IS there.

“Why don’t they stay and fight for their country?” is one barb often aimed at the young men fleeing Iraq and Syria.

The root of the problem is, they don’t have one.

(Source / 20.11.2015)

Written by altahrir

November 20, 2015 at 9:01 pm


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