New Age Islam Edit Bureau
17 August 2015
'Population Swap' Or 'Sectarian Cleansing?'
By Zeina Khodr
How Did ISIS Obtain Mustard Agent In Fight Against Kurds?
By Brooklyn Middleton
To Those Who Preached About Changes In The Middle East
By Abdulrahman Al-Rashed
Analyzing New Diplomatic Activity In The Middle East
By Raghida Dergham
A Last Chance For Syria
By Vijay Prashad
I Am Muslim; I Don’t Have a Ticket to Heaven
By Fa Abdul
Why Many Muslims Hate the West
By William R. Polk
Turkey Police Thwarted Against ISIL
By Abdullah Bozkurt
Population Swap Or Sectarian Cleansing?
By Zeina Khodr
15 Aug 2015
The Syrian opposition has broken off talks with the government, which was being represented by its ally Iran, over a peaceful settlement regarding two frontlines in the country.
The opposition accused Tehran of attempting to change the demographics in areas close to Damascus with the goal of partitioning the country.
If an agreement had been reached it would have been the first time the warring sides had agreed to transfer besieged communities as part of a deal in the Syrian conflict.
The mainly Sunni residents of Zabadani would have been be taken to rebel-controlled areas in northern Syria, while the Shia residents of Fua and Kefraya would be taken to territories under the control of the regime
A population swap. Some may call it ethnic cleansing.
The government and its allies, Iran and the Lebanese Shia movement Hezbollah, have been accused of moving forward with plans to cleanse areas from opponents in what is now being described as their "core region," which includes Damascus, Homs and the coastal cities.
"Iran insists on displacing civilians from Zabadani and nearby areas which we refused," Ahrar Al Sham, a rebel group leading the negotiations on the opposition side, said after announcing it would no longer abide by a ceasefire after negotiations failed.
"The plan for sect based displacement - emptying Damascus, its surroundings and all the areas along the border with Lebanon of Sunni presence is now in its final stages."
Zabadani is an important town and has been held by the rebels for the past three years.
The army and Hezbollah launched an offensive to recapture it in July.
It is the last significant rebel held area along Lebanon's border and would be vital to consolidate control of the "core region" and to protect Damascus.
Thousands of barrel bombs, rockets and artillery rounds landed in Zabadani in the course of the offensive to take the town and rebels are now trapped inside.
Changing Trajectory of Conflict
On Wednesday, a ceasefire was announced in Zabadani and on another frontline in Syria, with rebels agreeing to stop their assault against Fua and Kefraya.
Those two villages have managed to hold out after almost all of the rest of the northern province of Idlib fell into opposition hands.
The thousands of people there are government supporters. They are also Shia and they have been under siege for months.
The warring sides were negotiating a safe passage for rebels to leave Zabadani and allow the people of Fua and Kefraya to move to a regime controlled area.
But according to the opposition, the government had another condition - civilians and not just the fighters must leave Zabadani and go to territories under rebel control.
"If this happened it would be the first time a substantial transfer or swap of populations would take place in the Syrian conflict," Charles Lister, from the Brookings Institution, said.
"It is a significant shift in terms of the trajectory of the conflict. We have seen for some time pro-regime forces focusing on securing strategically valuable territories - some of them around Zabadani."
While both the government and the opposition publicly reject the partition of Syria - on the ground there is a different reality.
Syria is carved out into five zones - the regime controls an enclave in the west, ISIL in the east, the moderate opposition in the south, the Kurds in the northeast and the rebel alliance, which includes the al-Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front, in the north.
How Did ISIS Obtain Mustard Agent In Fight Against Kurds?
By Brooklyn Middleton
Mounting evidence indicates ISIS militants targeted Kurdish fighters with mustard agent in northern Iraq earlier this week. While Kurdish sources have claimed that ISIS cadres have carried out at least several other chemical weapon attacks in both Syria and Iraq, injuring dozens of Kurds, since July 2014, this is the first time the international community has immediately responded to such claims.
The United States publicly confirmed that it is currently assessing credible intelligence involving the assault, noting that, “U.S. intelligence agencies thought ISIS had at least a small supply of mustard agent even before this week’s clash with Iraqi Kurdish fighters.” Most crucially, the WSJ also noted that this report “hadn’t been made public.” There was no indication U.S. officials had shared this piece of intelligence with Kurdish fighters prior to the latest CW attack. If this knowledge was in fact not shared, it would represent the USA’s latest failure in dealings with the Kurds.
Meanwhile, Rudaw has since published photographs, reportedly showing blisters on fighters’ bodies that are apparently consistent with injuries sustained in a mustard gas attack.
A myriad of questions regarding how ISIS obtained mustard agent abound; amid widespread scepticism regarding the Russia-U.S. backed Assad regime chemical weapons ”deal” - that egregiously and absurdly allowed the Assad regime to self-report their inventory – it cannot be ruled out that such agents were seized from unsecured CW sites in Syria. In yet more unparalleled reporting from the WSJ in late July, an article noted that chemical weapon inspectors were, “…suspicious of Syria’s claim to have only 20 tons of ready-to-use mustard agent…U.S. intelligence agencies expected the Syrians to have hundreds of tons.”
Syrian Regime’s Use of Chlorine Gas
At the same time, failures of the chemical weapons deal – which completely excluded chlorine gas, a favourite of the Assad regime – continue to wreak havoc on Syrian civilians. In the newest reports, Syria’s true heroes, The White Helmets” posted photographs of an unidentified gel-like substance, that was packed into barrel bombs and dropped onto the town of Daraya. At least one UK-based analyst assessed that the substance was very likely napalm.
Continued chemical weapon attacks in the region were not an inevitable product of the ongoing, bloody Syrian conflict; the international community’s failure to seriously address the Assad regime’s massive Sarin attack nearly two years ago set a new level of acceptance for such brutality. Every chlorine attack carried out by the regime with impunity since has reinforced the notion that low-level chemical weapon attacks are now an acceptable method of warfare. At the same time, the ramifications of the disastrous plan to allow the Assad regime to self-report its own chemical weapons inventory are likely to continue indefinitely.
Perhaps it is worth noting that other features of the Syrian conflict, widespread, systematic torture and indiscriminate barrel bombings, are no less barbaric than chemical weapon attacks. But the chemical weapons initiative was one of the only ways the West, specifically the U.S., has ever actually confronted the Assad regime over its continued massacres.
Moreover, the West has mostly abandoned Syrian refugees, has repeatedly allowed the Syrian regime to treat humanitarian issues as bargaining chips and in the latest representation of a failure to communicate with sources on the ground, may have killed at least five Syrian children. As the chemical weapons deal continues unravelling, the U.S. should be pressured to revisit the deals shortcomings; in the meantime, there are few reasons to assess the region will not see continued chemical weapon attacks – by both ISIS and the Assad regime.
Brooklyn Middleton is an American Political and Security Risk Analyst reporting from Israel. Her work has appeared in Turkish and Israeli publications including The Times of Israel and Hürriyet Daily News. She has previously written about U.S. President Obama's policy in Syria as well as the emerging geopolitical threats Israel faces as it pursues its energy interests in the Eastern Mediterranean. She is currently researching Ayatollah Khomeini’s influence on Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad militant groups to complete her MA in Middle Eastern Studies.
To Those Who Preached About Changes in the Middle East
By Abdulrahman Al-Rashed
16 August 2015
Confusing between end results and facts produces myths, much like the news that circulated lately about promised changes in the region. It was said that the situation in Syria is starting to improve and that Russia changed its attitude toward Iran and is no longer clinging to Bashar al-Assad. We also heard that the Houthis retreat in Yemen is the outcome of a deal with Iran. We heard that Saudi Arabia abandoned the Syrian opposition and reconciled with Assad, while also hearing that the Lebanese can now elect a president following the Iranian nuclear deal. Some even claimed that new stances from the Iraqi Prime Minister were derived from an Iranian-Gulf reconciliation package and that Saudi Arabia has started to favour Hamas and has abandoned the Palestinian government.
Until now, there is no compelling evidence that these changes have indeed happened and I do not personally believe that any major political or military modifications will take place.
Those who hurried to analyze the increasing political activity over the past few weeks went on to preach that regional and international powers have finally decided to resolve all matters related to reconciliation in Syria, Yemen, Iraq, Lebanon and the Gulf.
The problem is that some of us often confuse between information and analysis, between news and opinion. For example, the meeting between the U.S. Secretary of State with Gulf ministers does not necessarily mean that there has been a change in attitudes towards the Syrian conflict.
As for Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif’s statements about Tehran desiring to cooperate and reconcile with Gulf States, they remain until this moment mere words with no real development. It can be nothing but an American desire that Iran shows a positive spirit towards its Gulf opponents so the latter stop criticizing the nuclear deal. Zarif did not propose anything specific. We are only witnessing diplomatic activity including Qatari and Omani efforts to reconcile with Iran. Iranians do not wish to relinquish Syria and Iraq, nor cooperate to resolve the dispute over positions in Lebanon which is considered an easy task. As for Yemen, improvements on the political scene were generated by military advancements in liberating Aden and defeating the rebels. It had nothing to do with Iranian political stances.
Putting an End to Rumours
The most important evidence to put an end to all these rumours is Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir’s remarks in Moscow, in which he said that the kingdom does not accept any solution to the Syrian conflict that involves Assad remaining in power. He said those words explicitly while sitting next to the Russian foreign minister who in turn maintained his anti-Saudi position. As for the shocking news that a Syrian security official visited Jeddah; this is supposed to be considered as accepted communication between opponents, even if the government in Damascus offered to present a new solution that Saudi Arabia may eventually welcome, it does not necessarily have to accept it. The same goes for the visit of exiled Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal to Saudi Arabia. It does not mean a change in Riyadh’s position which is based on a legal foundation and clear political interests. Legitimacy goes to the Palestinian Authority, but the government residing in Gaza is appears to be “resigned.” Here it is in the Saudi interest to support the legitimate authority and cooperate with the countries in the region, particularly Egypt. Rumours that Iran is unhappy with communications between Riyadh and Gaza are merely a product of Hamas propaganda to make Saudis turn to them and, most probably, vice versa.
Iran is the country who does not want a relationship with Hamas as it is seeking to pass the nuclear deal and offset Israel’s opposition to it. Tehran, which used to be dubbed the “axis of evil,” now wishes that Riyadh takes its place and becomes a state cooperating with internationally hated organizations so that Saudi Arabia stands in the extremist camp while Iran joins the moderates!
Let’s go back to the surge in fake scenarios about major changes in the Middle Eastern region. The only new fact is the Iranian agreement with the West and we are yet to know how it will affect the region later, whether positively or negatively.
The contentious issues between the countries of the region are deep-rooted. In Syria, the system collapsed with terrorist pro-Iranian and anti-Iranian organizations residing there. The war has swept all over the country from Zabadani to Daraa. In Yemen, the war liberated Aden while the capital Sanaa is about to be besieged. The situation in Iraq is still raging with fighting going on every day in the West and the quarter of Iraq that is still under ISIS occupation.
These conflicts are real and need more than few diplomatic visits and journalists’ imaginations to be resolved. A change in attitudes should provoke actual repercussions.
Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the former General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today.
Analyzing New Diplomatic Activity in the Middle East
By Raghida Dergham
16 August 2015
There has been a flurry of both converging and diverging ideas put forward to take Syria to a new phase. However, the mechanisms to achieve transition remain scarce, and subject to different interpretations, priorities, and alliances. Syria today is a market open to escalation at all levels, in the name of consensus on defeating the Islamic State group (ISIS). Despite the new developments, the theoretical approach to Syria remains that the country is a graveyard for all sides involved on the ground.
Russia, an ally to the regime in Damascus, has been all but entrusted to lead the political process while the Obama administration finds itself preoccupied selling the nuclear deal to Congress for the coming two months. However, differences remain between Washington and Moscow regarding the Assad problem – that is Assad’s ultimate fate in the solutions being proposed.
One common denominator between the Russian initiative, the Iranian initiative, and the initiative of U.N. Envoy Staffan De Mistura is that they all bypass the Geneva Communique. This is with regard to the internationally agreed transition based on establishing a governing body with full powers bringing together the regime and the opposition, to replace the regime and end Assad’s monopoly of power in Syria.
The three parties, Moscow, Tehran, and De Mistura, want the Gulf countries to reverse their positions opposed to Assad’s role and their commitment to Geneva I, and agree to a central role for Tehran in the solution in Syria. This would be on the basis of a reference framework replacing Geneva, despite all rhetoric coming from Moscow and De Mistura suggesting they are committed to Geneva I.
The Saudi foreign minister clarified Riyadh’s official position with respect to Assad, Geneva, and Iran’s role. But he also held remarkable talks with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov in Moscow this week, which did not only tackle the issue of Syria but also Yemen, Iraq, and bilateral relations.
Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, for his part, visited Lebanon and Syria, and will now head to Moscow and possibly Ankara, in a bid to give reassurances regarding the nuclear deal and call for dialogue.
In truth, examining the modified Iranian initiative for Syria reveals that the distance between ideas and serious implementation mechanisms remains vast. The road to Syria’s recovery is strewn with bodies and graves until further notice.
If ISIS Is Excluded?
The four points of the Iranian initiative are: a ceasefire; an expanded national unity government; amending the constitution to protect the rights of minorities; and elections overseen by international observers. Clearly, this initiative has no connection to the Geneva six-point framework. It is a coup against Geneva, which Tehran was explicitly opposed to from the get-go. The reason is that Tehran insists on Bashar al-Assad, and refused for him to be replaced by a transitional governing body that would prepare for elections ahead of establishing a new government.
At first glance, the four points may seem reasonable. But upon digging deeper, things become different. For example, regarding the ceasefire, there have been questions as to whether Tehran wants to legitimize the militias it has created in Syria. Others ask what would a ceasefire mean if ISIS is excluded?
The expanded national government, meanwhile, is clearly the antithesis of the transitional governing body with full powers – and therefore of Geneva I and the Geneva II process.
Tehran also wants to amend the constitution to guarantee the rights of ethnic and religious minorities. This brings back to mind the Taif Accord in Lebanon, which enshrined a sectarian power-sharing system in the country. This, in and of itself, means that Iran wants to be the sponsor of constitutional amendments in Syria.
More importantly, the Iranian, Russian, and De Mistura initiatives consecrate Iran as a key component of the solution in Syria in parallel with the coup against the Geneva framework. In other words, the three initiatives seek to bypass the Assad problem by removing demands for him to step down before or after the transitional phase, under the title of the two priorities of defeating ISIS and the political solution.
Moscow believes that demands for Assad to step down undermine the war on ISIS. Moscow believes that the survival of the regime is crucial for defeating ISIS, and that removing Assad would lead to the regime’s collapse. Therefore, Russia’s vision is that a political solution in Syria requires Assad to remain in his pose, even for an interim period, to allow the regime to regain its strength and defeat ISIS.
By contrast, Washington sees that preventing the regime’s collapse requires removing Assad. The forces needed to fight ISIS, from Turkey to the Gulf via the moderate armed opposition, will all not accept for ISIS to be defeated only for Assad to remain in power. Since the situation on the ground is not proceeding in favour of the regime, Washington believes that rescuing it from collapse necessitates that Moscow and Tehran accept there is no alternative to dislodging Assad, even if gradually, as Obama suggested last week.
In The Same Trench
Tehran speaks of a political solution, but practically, it is in the same trench with Damascus when it comes to insisting on a military solution through the Revolutionary Guards and Hezbollah. The regime in Damascus, led by Bashar al-Assad, wants to drag Iran deeper and deeper into military cooperation including via an expanded combat role for Hezbollah.
In Tehran, the tug of war has started between the hawks and the doves. But at least for now, President Rowhani and his Foreign Minister Zarif seem to still have a green light from Supreme Leader Khamenei to send out messages of reassurance and moderation. It seems they have the authority to speak on behalf of the state in the Islamic Republic, which is seeking understandings with its neighbors. What is not clear yet, however, is whether the Revolutionary Guard have the authority in parallel to speak on behalf of the revolution in Iran. The outcome of the tug of war will most certainly impact Syria.
At this stage, the stocks of political solutions are up regionally and internationally, in tandem with the continuation of fighting and arms deliveries on both sides. Initiatives abound, and there is talk of expanded talks bringing together the five major powers as well as regional powers including Egypt, Iran, and Turkey. There is also talk of a five-party contact group including the United States and Russia with Saudi Arabia, Iran and Turkey. Russia wants to demand "all parties" to the conflict in Syria to fight terrorism through a presidential statement from the Security Council.
Moscow has managed to introduce a new tone in the Security Council regarding Syria by imposing an anti-terror agenda on a draft presidential statement meant to support De Mistura’s efforts. Russia – with U.S. blessing – managed to introduce a clause in the statement that said the Security Council “reaffirms its resolve to address all aspects of the threat, and calls on all parties to commit to putting an end to terrorist acts perpetrated by ISIL, ANF and all other individuals, groups, undertakings and entities associated with Al-Qaida.” The United States and the European powers, meanwhile, did not include any clauses on Hezbollah’s role in Syria or the regime’s use of barrel bombs, and caved in to Russia’s prioritization of fighting ISIS, al-Nusra, and al-Qaeda over the implementation of Geneva I.
Venezuela, Moscow’s ally in the Security Council, sought to officially obstruct a clause in the draft statement calling for the implementation of the Geneva I communique. Venezuela said the clause did not take into account the position of the Syrian government, and claimed the establishment of a transitional governing body with full powers is unconstitutional and bypasses the legal system in Syria.
What is new is that the hitherto confrontational US-Russian dealing on Syria has become one of appeasement. The U.S. has washed its hands clean of Syria and left it to Moscow. Today, there is a cordial rhetoric between the two sides, at the level of their presidents, through the Syrian window. This follows the restoration of cordiality between them through the Iranian gateway and the nuclear deal. Thus, Lavrov and Kerry returned to smiles, embraces, and joint positions, as they launched their diplomatic initiative with the GCC countries in Doha last week.
Following the Doha meeting, signs emerged of a Russian-Saudi accord on a number of issues during the meeting between Adel al-Jubeir and Sergei Lavrov in Moscow this week. However, the divergence continued over Syria because of the Assad problem and the Geneva problem. They agreed on fighting ISIS and differed on Assad’s fate.
Their talks on the Iranian issue went beyond the nuclear program, tackling the details of the Iranian role in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, and Yemen. Lavrov publicized the conversation regarding Syria and counterterrorism. For his part, Jubeir insisted that Assad had no place in Syria’s future, and that he is part of the problem not the solution.
Jubeir also clarified Riyadh’s position regarding the Russian President Vladimir Putin’s call for a regional alliance to fight ISIS. He said that Riyadh would not be part of an alliance in which the regime in Damascus is a participant.
Moscow is fixated on the issue of terrorism. Syria is a top priority for it. And its relationship with Iran is one of alliance. Meanwhile, Moscow is content with the current state of relations with the Obama administration.
Russian diplomacy wants to continue dialogue with Saudi Arabia comprehensively and candidly. Moscow also wants to launch other dialogues regarding security arrangements in the Gulf that would include it and Iran.
But what matters is not just what Moscow and Tehran want in Syria and from the Gulf countries, or what Washington wants as it engaged with Tehran and entrusts Moscow with the task of managing regional solutions. What matters is that a breakthrough of some kind has emerged through ongoing diplomatic efforts, and this needs a profound analysis because the new Russian-Iranian-American rhetoric is sophisticated and U.N. envoy De Mistura has added an Italian twist to this ambiguity.
Raghida Dergham is Columnist and Senior Diplomatic Correspondent for the London-based Al Hayat, the leading independent Arabic daily, since 1989. She writes a regular weekly strategic column on International Political Affairs. Dergham is also a Political Analyst for NBC, MSNBC and the Arab satellite LBC. She is a Contributing Editor for LA Times Syndicate Global Viewpoint and has contributed to: The New York Times, The Washington Post, The International Herald Tribune and Newsweek Magazine. She serves on the Board of the International Women's Media Foundation, and has served on the Advisory Council of Princeton University's Institute for Transregional Studies of the contemporary Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia. She was also a member of the Women's Foreign Policy Group. She addressed U.N. General Assembly on the World Press Freedom Day when President of The United Nations Correspondents Association for 1997 and was appointed to the Task Force on the Reorientation of Public Information by U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan. She moderated a roundtable of 8 Presidents and Prime Ministers for UNCTAD at Bangkok in 1991. Dergham served as Chairman of the Dag Hammarskjold Fund Board in 2005.
A Last Chance for Syria
By Vijay Prashad
August 17, 2015
The latest proposal from Iran, backed by Russia, offers the war-devastated nation a glimmer of hope
In early August, the Foreign Ministers of Iran (Mohammad Javad Zarif) and Syria (Walid Muallem) and Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister (Mikhail Bogdanov) met in Tehran to discuss the Syrian war. The Iranians, now emboldened by the nuclear deal, presented a plan for a solution to the fratricidal Syrian war. Iran’s plan has four steps: 1. Forge an immediate cease-fire; 2. Create a national unity government; 3. Rewrite Syria’s Constitution with a more expansive inclusion of minorities; 4. Hold national elections under international supervision. These points are not new. The call for a ceasefire has been on the agenda since 2011, and the other steps have been discussed in the United Nations and in various regional gatherings over the past four years. What is novel is that the proposal comes from Iran, with Russian and Syrian backing. The idea of a national unity government implies that President Bashar al-Assad would not have to withdraw from politics. But it does suggest that Damascus has softened in its view that President Assad must be allowed to serve out his new term in office.
Western capitals should look at this proposal as an olive branch. This proposal does not roll out a complete path toward peace, but it does open the door to negotiations. Other Western approaches toward Syria have failed. The most recent attempt to create a moderate rebel force to take on both the Islamic State (IS) and the Assad government collapsed. The al-Qaeda affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra easily trounced Western-trained Division 30, seizing its arms and killing many of its fighters. That Western intelligence believed that Division 30 and its predecessors could hold their own on the dangerous battlefields of Syria, shows how out-of-touch they have become. The U.S. has now decided not to spend the $500 million it had allocated for the creation of a new rebel army.
Western diplomatic attempts to isolate Damascus have also not borne fruit. Confounded by the resilience of IS, even Saudi Arabia has opened discussion with the Assad government — Syrian intelligence chief Ali Mamlouk visited the kingdom in early August to discuss, among other things, the new proposals for a ceasefire. Saudi intelligence cables released by Wikileaks show the kingdom obsessed with Iranian power. But the fear of IS remains greater than their paranoia over Iran. This has come as a surprise to the West, which assumed that Saudi Arabia would be the least liable to alter its Syria strategy.
Chaos has now erupted in Syria’s north, where Turkish jets bomb the positions of the Syrian Kurdish militias (YPG), which are supported by the guerrilla wing of the Turko-Kurdish PKK. In exchange for this Turkish vendetta against the Kurdish gains, U.S. drone aircraft now use Turkish airfields to bomb IS positions. There is no question that the main Turkish firepower is for the Kurdish fighters, who have taken significant losses in the past week. The West has made a significant bet. Aerial bombing of IS has not yielded major gains on the ground. As an investigation from Airwars — a collaborative, not-for-profit transparency project, aimed both at tracking and archiving the international air war against IS, in both Iraq and Syria — shows, the allied bombing has resulted in considerable civilian casualties, offering IS propaganda against the idea of the West as deliverance. Meanwhile, the Turkish bombing of the YPG-PKK has pushed the Kurds to seek a new arrangement with the Assad government. Senior YPG officials are warm to the Iranian proposal for a national unity government. It would give them leverage against the Turkish assault. Turkey has been unable to secure its strategic ambitions. The West has been cool to its call for a “no-fly zone” in northern Syria. There is pressure within Turkey to stop the assault on the YPG-PKK, which many observers see as revenge for Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s inability to gain total victory in elections earlier this year.
The IS remains in control of its swath of territory across northern Iraq and Syria. Neither the Western air strikes nor the Iraqi military advances have been able to break through and clear IS from its major urban centres. Along the spinal cord of western Syria, the main advances are being made by al-Qaeda backed insurgents, such as Jabhat al-Nusra, Ahrar al-Sham and Jund al-Aqsa. Infighting between these groups in Idlib did not stop their coordinated attack on Division 30 and on the forces of the Syrian government. Even worse, Division 30, beaten by al-Nusra, nonetheless pledged that it “will not fight Jabhat al-Nusra.”
Western strategy to contain and defeat the growth of IS and al-Qaeda in Syria has utterly failed. Matters are so poor that Washington’s military and intelligence community has now taken to debate which is more of a threat — IS or al-Qaeda.
On July 26, Bashar al-Assad acknowledged Syria’s grave predicament. The war has devastated the country, torn it apart and create territorial fissures that will not be easily healed. No force is capable, at this time, of dislodging any other. Battles on the edges of these blocs of authority are bloody and largely futile. Refugees inside and outside Syria are in a permanent state of agitation. Their return home is not on the cards.
Meanwhile, the Syrian government’s forces suffer a severe crisis of manpower. Recruits are not easy to find. Reliance upon Lebanese and Iraqi militias as well as Iranian specialists is not enough. Assad admitted that his forces are exhausted. But so are the troops of the rebels. The IS cannot any longer easily recruit from the reservoir of the international jihadis. Access to Syria is harder than it was. The war is at a standstill though it does not seem like that for the fighters who are at the edge of their territories. For them the sound of gunfire is now normal, and yet terrifying. If a deal is on the horizon, will these fighters — who have given so much for so little — be able to understand the deals being made beyond the range of their rifles?
On August 3, Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, confident after the successful nuclear talks, published an opinion piece in leading Arabic language newspapers (Egypt’s al-Shorouk, Kuwait’s al-Rai, Lebanon’s As-Safir and Qatar’s al-Sharq). He called for a regional discussion to solve regional problems. Wars in Syria and Yemen, alongside the spread of extremist groups such as IS, poses a significant problem to the region. Mr Zarif went to Damascus to discuss the overture directly with President Bashar al-Assad. His visit came just as Turkey and Iran helped broker two crucial forty-eight hour ceasefires in Zabadani and in two towns in Idlib district. Such events indicate a willingness by the regional actors that needs to be supported. Every once in a while, the various parties to the war in Syria and their sponsors seem amenable to regional talks. The formation of the Syria Contact Group (Egypt, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Turkey) in 2012 was one such moment. This is another. The West and its Gulf Arab allies should take the démarche from Iran seriously. It might be the last chance for Syria.
Vijay Prashad, who teaches at Trinity College, is the author of Arab Spring, Libyan Winter.
I Am Muslim; I Don’t Have a Ticket to Heaven
By Fa Abdul
August 13, 2015
Nine year old Alicia who goes to Sekolah Kebangsaan Sri Hartamas came home from school last week and asked her mom if she will end up in hell when she dies.
“Mommy, Lina said her teacher told the Agama class that when we die, the Malays will go to heaven and non-Malays will go to hell. Is it true?”
Eleven year old Yasmin who goes to Sekolah Kebangsaan Taman Desa was confused over who her friends should be and decided to seek her mom’s advice.
“Ummi, my Ustaz says it is haram to be friends with Olivia and Annie. He said it is because they are not Muslim. But I like Olivia and Annie, they are my best friends. Will God be angry with me if I talk to them?”
Both incidents you just read about aren’t made up. The names have been changed to protect the identities of the children but the stories are very much real.
I can understand how confused those two girls are because I was confused myself having experienced it some 30 years ago.
“Bangsa lain tak sama dengan kita. Agama pun lain, perangai pun lain. Kalau kamu rapat sangat dengan depa tu, nanti terikut-ikut pula dengan perangai buruk,” my ustazah reminded me in my primary school days.
It seems to me that nothing has changed since my days at school. With every new Education Minister syllabuses, policies and guidelines change as well, but the core teachings never seem to change. Each Education Minister tries to outdo their predecessor but all they do is create a bigger mess.
Despite making press statement after press statement about unity and tolerance, our younger generation is taught the supremacy theory right from school. A few days ago, our new Education Minister, Dato’ Seri Mahdzir Khalid blamed the social media for inciting racial sentiments…but it is not just social media that is at fault. Instead of nurturing young minds to love and bond with each other, we are spawning hatred, fear and discrimination from within the system itself.
Why are we brainwashing our children if unity is what we hope to achieve?
The Honourable Minister also claimed to be in the midst of identifying programmes to foster racial ties among primary school children. He plans to gather students in one place, so that they can communicate, assimilate and get to know each other.
Excuse me, but isn’t that one of the objectives of sekolah kebangsaan?
We provide our children a platform to communicate and assimilate throughout their 6 years in primary school and 5 years in secondary school. But how can we eradicate racism when we have half brained teachers who teach absolute nonsense to our children?
We begin to segregate our children at age seven, sending off non-Muslims to learn moral and good behaviour while we teach Muslim students that the nons will go to hell because they are immoral. Seriously, aren’t our teachers and education officers the ones in need of lessons on unity and tolerance?
With all due respect, Dato’ Seri Mahdzir, perhaps you could begin your new portfolio by setting a good example to all our educators out there. Send your message of harmony, unity, tolerance and love, loud and clear. You may want to begin by apologising for your insensitive remarks about Christians…
To all Muslim parents, I urge you to talk to your children about what goes on in their Agama classes. Let it be known to them that being born a Muslim doesn’t necessarily entitle anyone to a ticket to heaven– even if you happen to be an ustazah or a minister – most especially if you are not kind, respectful and caring!
Why Many Muslims Hate the West
By William R. Polk
August 5, 2015
The issue of terrorist attacks on America has been so politically sensitive that most commentators have simply wrapped themselves in the flag and closed their eyes and ears. Yet, even in fairy tales, ostriches were never saved by burying their heads in the sand. It is not a good defensive posture and it wouldn’t be wise for real-life Americans to behave like make-believe ostriches.
If we want to be safe rather than sorry in the dangerous world we now inhabit, we need to be clear-headed, logical and informed. Those characteristics do not arise from anger or impulsiveness. They can arise only from sober assessment of causes and intelligent evaluation of possible actions. Achieving these qualities has become ever more necessary because we face an uncertain and increasingly complex future.
So in this first of two essays I will put together and consider what motivates terrorists, what they remember and what we have done; in Part 2 I’ll look at what we can do and what we cannot do to achieve what I have called “affordable world security.”
I begin with a simple fact of human nature: human beings, like even puny and ill-armed animals, strike out when they perceive an attack or threat to their psychological, cultural or physical existence. Protecting what Freud called the “ego,” the intrinsic sense of being, is the ultimate form of self-defense. Whether the attack is real or not, intended or accidental, it is perception that triggers and shapes the response. The key word is “perceive.”
Legal or moral justification, while usually vigorously proclaimed, does not play a key initial role in determination of action. Justification is usually claimed by both sides. It is usually equivocal and can be “proven” only by a selective gathering of events. That selection, naturally, is governed by the mindset of each side.
Moreover, it is time sensitive: yesterday’s attack may justify today’s response, but what about events that occurred the day before yesterday? The clock starts at different points for each party and the flow of events cannot be “cherry-picked,” except for propaganda purposes.
If we wish to understand – not to condone but to understand – we need at least temporarily to put aside the issues of guilt and justification. Rather, we need to attempt to see whole patterns including the views of our opponents. This is not a simple procedure and is not undertaken with slogans in a sound bite. So, how to do it?
My answer is analogous to the procedure of physicians in their attempt to understand an illness – taking a case history. That case history, by definition, cannot be just the events of the present or the immediate past. It requires digging into what I have called “deep history.” Only if the past is “squeezed” to bring out angers, hopes, fears and perceptions from their origins and through their mutations can a sensible approach be made to designing successful policies to deal with the present – and the future.
Otherwise, we are likely to make snap judgments that may exacerbate rather than solve the problem. That, I will argue, is what we are now doing with insurgency, guerrilla warfare and terrorism.
Hardest Step: Understanding
The first step in moving toward understanding may be the hardest. To understand, we need to credit the fact that our opponents believe in the rightness of their cause, just as we believe in ours. It is puerile to ascribe to them trivial or inappropriate motivations.
The second step is to inform ourselves. As the great Chinese strategist Sun Tzu wrote nearly 3,000 years ago, “Know yourself. Know your enemy. A thousand battles, a thousand victories.”
Despite his admonition, even such statesmen as Napoleon (in the Spanish guerrilla war against the French) and Churchill (in the Greek guerrilla war against the Germans first and then the British) denigrated their opponents.
As Churchill said of the Andartes, they were just “miserable Greek banditti.” Churchill got away with his blindness because America bailed out Britain’s Greek policy with the Truman Doctrine.
Napoleon was not so lucky. He lamented from his exile that the Spanish “little war,” la guerrilla, “destroyed me. … All the circumstances of my disasters are bound up in that fatal knot.” Too late, Napoleon began to understand that the Spanish guerrillas were motivated by ideas similar to those that gave his own forces and his own people their unity and power.
Ideas mattered then. Impelled by them, farmers became guerrillas. Similar ideas today are turning tribesmen, farmers, fishermen, religious students, teachers, shopkeepers and even lawyers into guerrillas, terrorists and suicide bombers. So what are the ideas?
The ideas that matter today – usually grouped under the headings of nationalism and religion – have long pedigrees. They began to take shape at the dawn of animal life on Earth. How this happened is now a fairly well-known story, but it was not a widely known story at the beginning of my own academic career and still may not be entirely familiar; so at the risk of duplication, allow me to touch on the main points.
To live in what Seventeenth and Eighteenth Century philosophers – Hobbes, Locke, Montesquieu and Rousseau – called “the state of nature,” early humans had to secure access to sources of food and water. So little groves of fruit and nut trees and patches of edible roots and legumes around a spring or pond became miniscule “states.” Among our remote ancestors, such “states” were no larger than a day’s walk across.
Living in them were miniature “nations,” usually composed of less than a hundred individuals whose survival depended on their defending, feeding and caring for one another. The tie that bound them together was kinship. But, because kinship erodes as generations pass, clans tended to sunder and move apart. Over about two million years, this process of continuous alienation populated the planet. Alienation is deeply “programmed” in all of us.
Then, about 10,000 years ago, people found ways to intensify their sources of food and to improve their means of collecting it. Doing so enabled them to gather together in unprecedented numbers. Hunters and gatherers became herders and farmers. Having more, they were less able to scatter.
Little bands settled into villages that grew into towns and then into cities. As they settled together and grew more numerous, kinship no longer was immediately evident and no longer provided a satisfactory means of defining their relationship to one another.
We don’t know exactly how it happened, but roughly 5,000 years ago, in various parts of the world, peoples independently discovered other sources of affinity. They became aware that even those they no longer recognized as cousins spoke in the same way, dressed in a similar fashion, ate the same foods – and did not eat other foods – and accepted as suitable shared customs and beliefs.
While they may still have thought of one another as somehow kindred, they began to enlarge that concept into the combination of custom and locality. Thus, they began to think of neighbours as surrogate kinsmen. As they grew closer together, they came to regard themselves as “the people” and to regard aliens as enemies or as virtually “non-people.” In fact, many of the words we use as names of primitive societies actually mean “the people” while some of the names of other societies mean “the enemy.” Fear of the foreigner is deeply ingrained in us.
As I have argued, perhaps the single most compelling force in the evolution of our social, political, commercial and military institutions has been the tension inherent in having to live contiguous to those who do not share “our” customs: that is, the dilemma of being simultaneously both neighbours and strangers. [See my book Neighbours and Strangers: The Fundamentals of Foreign Affairs (2000) for the results of this tension in the origins of all aspects of world affairs.]
“Imprinted,” generation after generation, century after century of warfare, with fear of foreigners, and despite sporadic and feeble attempts to achieve a sense of a common humanity, we still have trouble comprehending those whom we regard as “not us.”
This worldview is obvious in all our foreign relations and in many aspects of our domestic affairs. It is crucial in trying to reach an understanding of what I have called violent politics. [See my book Violent Politics (2008)]. So how are we doing in that quest?
Affinities and Animosities
Most of the books and articles I have read and practically all of the discussions I have heard, on insurgency, guerrilla warfare, terrorism and counterinsurgency, skip lightly over motivation to portray events. Many seem almost to revel in the ugliness of the conflict. This obviously sells books but hardly enlightens us.
While individual reporters are often very good at describing events, they rarely offer much help in guiding us to an understanding of causes. The media does not have much time for analysis. But their reports at least make clear that the situation we face has not improved and in many aspects is getting more dangerous.
What we read in the press is not much improved by the advice offered to governments by “think tanks.” Not surprisingly, the available reportage and advice has led to a dead end. We, the French, the British, the Russians reached that dead end in Afghanistan. The Chinese in Tibet and Central Asia are also approaching it.
That is where the governments of all the major powers now find themselves. Despite huge expenditures of blood and money, the rich “North” has not been successful in subduing conflict in the poor “South.” Nor, do intelligence and security services believe we can prevent attacks from the “South” on our own homeland.
The sequence appears unending: insurgents hit; dominant powers respond; they respond; we respond; they re-respond… And warfare becomes not only everlasting but ever more brutal and ugly.
As the great Nineteenth Century French student of war, Antoine-Henri Jomini, wrote on what he called “wars of opinion,” such wars “enlist the worst passions [of whole populations and] become vindictive, cruel and terrible…” Attacks and reprisal without restraint become virtually inevitable. [See: The Art of War (Précis de l’art de la guerre), which was first published in English in 1862 and was used as a textbook at West Point.]
In these circumstances, trying to suppress guerrilla warfare and terrorism by using lethal force has proved to have an effect similar to trying to douse a fire with gasoline. So what are the circumstances? What are Jomini’s “wars of opinion?”
A careful reading of history shows that what Jomini called wars of opinion are actions that whole societies come to believe aim at destroying not only their governments and institutions – what is now called “regime change” – but also their way of life and beliefs.
Feeling embattled, both sides believe themselves to be the victims; neither side is willing to understand, much less to excuse, the other. “Common ground” is demarcated by fear and hatred. “War” is transmuted from an issue – one partly governed by law – between governments into a deeper, unbridled, even primordial conflict among peoples.
And, as incident follows horrifying incident, this “opinion” comes to be shared ever more widely by both insurgents and counterinsurgents. Each side, virtually each person, comes to think of his opponent as intrinsically evil and himself as justified in taking any action, adopting any tactic, no matter how brutal or indiscriminate that is judged to be effective.
That cycle of hate, as I will illustrate is where we are today in the clash between “us,” the established nation-states of the “North,” and the Muslim insurgents of the “South.” (Ironically, when Samuel Huntington wrote “The Clash of Civilizations,” it was a gross simplification, but, inspired by it, governments have helped to turn the interpretation into reality.)
This conflict is not solely a matter of contemporary “opinion.” Rather there are deep and still vivid – indeed constantly renewed – memories that shape actions and beliefs today.
As with the physician’s case history, knowing and understanding them is crucial to our interpretation of our current dilemma and our possible choices of what to do about it. To elucidate them, I will touch on key elements in our past relationship that form the backdrop to the present. I begin where both insurgents and counterinsurgents begin, with religion.
Islam is the third and most recently announced of the great monotheistic religions, along with Judaism and Christianity. Each religion claims a direct and essentially unique relationship to the Divinity, but to a secular historian, the relationships among the three are obvious.
Judaism and Islam are particularly close and share many beliefs and customs. As the Quran defines Islam, it is “the religion of Abraham” from whose “true faith” Muslims believe the Jews strayed; to the contrary, Jews have always regarded Islam as an imperfect attempt to copy Judaism.
Islam and Christianity are less similar. Islam views Jesus as a prophet with a special relationship to God but holds that treating Jesus as “the son of God” or as a god himself is to commit the mortal sin of polytheism (Arabic: shirk). As viewed by the Christian Church Muslim denial is sacrilege. Even worse in Christian eyes was Judaism’s total rejection of Jesus.
So, despite or even because of their similarities, the three religions regarded one another as perversions. Each saw the very existence of the others as a sin against the true God-ordained faith which it alone held.
The attitude of each was partly shaped by geography and history. Christian Byzantium (East Rome) was the established world power defending against Islam. As the Islamic Caliphate expanded, conquering much of the Byzantine empire and all of the Sasanian Persian empire, it acquired resident Christian, Zoroastrian and Jewish communities. (And, ultimately, it acquired whole societies of Hindus whose polytheism it gradually came to ignore.)
Except in the heat of warfare, Islam incorporated these peoples into its system but left them free to practice their religions, engage in their distinctive diet and dress, enforce their own laws and customs and to govern themselves under their own authorities. This pattern of autonomous “nationhood,” (Arabic/Turkish: millet) grew out of the pagan Arab tribal custom of granting hospitality to a “protected stranger,” (Arabic: jar).
Both Christians and Jews generally lived securely in communities within Muslim states whereas both Jews and Muslims were always at risk and often persecuted, occasionally driven away or even slaughtered in Christian states.
Over centuries many Christians and Jews converted to Islam. That Islam forcibly converted them is a myth; actually, the Islamic states were keen that the conquered peoples remain non-Muslim because that status required them to pay an extra tax.
As Persian Zoroastrians converted, they continued to stress their non-Arab identity by a distinctive interpretation of Islam, Shiism. The development of Shiism within Islam, like Protestantism within Christianity, is complex but in part both were determined by ethnicity. The bitter relationships between Sunnism and Shiism today are reminiscent of the religious wars in early modern Europe. (And, as poorer Hindus converted to Islam, they escaped the tyranny of the caste system, exchanging the virtual slavery of being an “untouchable” (achuta or dalit) for the “brotherhood” (ikhwaniya) that is one of the most attractive aspects of Islam.) Historically, Islam has been the most tolerant of the three religions.
Judaism began, as we know from the Old Testament, as a far more militant and ruthless conqueror of the non-Jewish inhabitants of Palestine. It offered no means for non-Jews to achieve safety comparable to the status of protected community in Islam: its God, Yahweh, authorized the massacre of all who stood in the way of the Jewish nation.
It was the Roman Empire that pacified the Jewish nation. Breaking out of Israel, Jews became among the most civilized and cosmopolitan of the Romans. They drew back from militarism and, although they continued to convert distant peoples in Africa, Asia and Europe, they became politically passive. For that they have paid a terrible price. It was this tradition of passivity against which Zionists revolted and returned Judaism to militarism.
Christianity has been generally intolerant and violent in its relationship with both Jews and Muslims. Christians forced European Jews into ghettos, made them wear distinctive dress and subjected them to all sorts of indignities and dangers. The Crusades began with attacks on Jews resident in Europe.
Except in what became Spain, which was partly Muslim for about 700 years, and areas of southern Italy and France, Muslims were effectively banned from Europe. Whereas Jews and Christians established trading posts through the Islamic world, Muslims hardly ever dared visit Europe and until the rise of the Ottoman empire in the Fourteenth and Fifteenth centuries none became residents. [One of the great contributions to medieval history is the multivolume portrayal of the Jewish communities in the Mediterranean and particularly in Egypt by S.D. Goitein, A Mediterranean Society (1989)]
Wars between Christians and Muslims began during the lifetime of the Prophet Muhammad. This was partly because Islam was founded on the frontier of the great Christian empire of Byzantium. The first Christian-Muslim clash was in 636 AD. Wars have occurred intermittently ever since.
In campaign after campaign, European Christians fought Spanish, North African, Middle Eastern, Balkan and Central Asian Muslims. The campaigns of what we think of as theCrusades lasted 176 years – from 1096 to 1272. Among the victims were both European Jewish communities (the First Crusade started with an attack on them) and resident Christians in Palestine (who were burned to death in their Jerusalem church by the Crusaders when they finally reached Jerusalem).
Struggle became endemic in more modern times. And the nature of the conflict was partly transfigured from religion to imperialism. The record is both clear and asymmetrical: it was the Christian “North” that attacked the Muslim “South.” Here briefly are some of the key events:
The Wars on Islam
Portugal and Spain continued their moves against the “Moors” into Africa and then on to India while Russian tsars beginning with Ivan the Terrible moved south to crush kingdom after Muslim kingdom in Central Asia.
By the end of the Eighteenth Century, the French and the British had gained overwhelming military, commercial and organizational advantage. For them, as for the Russians, Muslim India was the ultimate prize. But the road to India was blocked by Muslim states that had to be subdued.
Relatively speaking these states lagged far behind Europe. Partly blinded by their vision of their past, the Muslim rulers and their medieval armies almost literally did not know what hit them. On the east, Peter the Great and Catherine defeated the horsemen of Asia one after another. The Russians were matched by the French on the west.
In one of the most colorful battles of all time, the gloriously dressed and splendidly mounted Mamluk horsemen of Egypt charged Napoleon’s artillery. They were not only slaughtered but humiliated. That was to be the fate of the Muslims in the centuries to follow.
In India, Britain first conquered Bengal and then set about destroying the great Mughal Empire. Already intent on blocking Russian expansion, the British then pushed toward Central Asia and the Middle East. They fought Afghan Muslims along the “Northwest Frontier” for generations; took over and ruled Egypt; defeated the Muslim revivalist movement, theMahdiyah, in the Sudan; established hegemony in the Persian Gulf; dominated Iran; and ultimately acquired control over what became Iraq, Jordan and Palestine.
Some of these conquests were particularly violent: in Afghanistan, the British killed hundreds of thousands of Afghans (but lost a whole army in one of its three wars), and in Iraq, the British wiped out Arab tribesmen with poison gas. Only on the “Northwest Frontier” was warfare still at least partly a Great Game.
For the Italians, war was no game; in Libya it became genocide. They tried to wipe out not only the Islamic revival movement, the Sanusiyah, but also the entire tribal population. Everywhere, the colonial campaigns were ugly.
“Subduing the natives,” as the Dutch did in their wars in Indonesia were brutal affairs. They reached the nadir in Congo where the Belgians killed between 10 and 15 million Africans – about twice the number of Jews killed by the Nazis in the Holocaust – engaged in systematic rape, cut off the hands or feet of unproductive natives and stripped Congo of its raw materials.
[While these horrible crimes were not attributable to Americans, natives both there and throughout the colonial world tended to group Americans with Europeans as “whites” so we have been damned by association. On the Congo see Adam Hochschild, King Leopold’s Ghost(1997). A summary was published by Andrew Osborn, “Belgium confronts its colonial demons,”The Guardian, July 18, 2002. Osborn points out that the scale of massacre was almost double that of the Holocaust yet Belgium has made neither apology nor restitution.]
Meanwhile, the French conquered North, West and Central Africa, killing hundreds of thousands of Muslims and destroying their social and religious organizations. The French invaded and brutally suppressed the people of Algeria, stealing their lands.
Having invaded Syria, they twice bombarded Damascus when the Syrians tried to prove that Europeans were wrong that they were “not yet able to stand by themselves under the strenuous conditions of the modern world…”
The Covenant of the League of Nations proclaimed a more polite version of “the White Man’s burden,” the “sacred trust of civilization.” France espoused the words but violated them in deeds.
The European thrusts into the “Muslim world” were combinations of religious, nationalist, colonial and imperialist ventures. They were often brutal, frequently nearly continuous and uniformly destructive of civic and religious institutions.
Except for the Philippines, these were not American wars, but the American role in the slave trade that bought millions of Africans to America is now being reevaluated. No one knows much about the enslaved peoples of Africa, but certainly a large portion of them were Muslims.
In short, Muslim experience mainly with Europeans but also to a lesser extent with Americans has been a key element in their attitude toward the white, Christian “North.”
Even if we, the Northerners, choose to ignore the history of our relationship, the descendants of the victims will not. Muslims, like Jews, increasingly probe into and publicize their holocaust. The memory of the “deep past” already plays a significant role in the growth of Muslim sentiment toward the Christian North. It will play an important role in international affairs far into the future. [Further, as Graham Fuller pointed out, “there are a dozen good reasons why there is bad blood between the West and the Middle East today, without any reference to Islam or to religion.”]
Memory of the “deep past” is a cause in the growth of Muslim hostility today in such movements as the Taliban, Al Qaeda, various movements of Salafiyah and more recently, the Islamic State. [Salafiyah is a complex doctrine and has been generally misunderstood: It is roughly comparable to the Puritan movement in Protestant Christianity. That is, it sought to gain strength and purity, and so to advance, by returning to the “pure” religion at its origin. I have discussed it in detail in my 2013 essay.]
But, one may object, that is all so far in the past that it surely can be put aside. To consider that opinion, look briefly at the more recent past. What has been the recent relationship of the Christian “North” and the Muslim “South.”
The Modern Era of Warfare
Dividing history into periods is useful for analysis, but it is a simplification. For the vast majority of the “Southern” people there was no new era; they continued to live as their parents and grandparents had lived. More rapidly and more nimbly, their rulers often tried to copy the drill, the uniforms and the weapons of the European invaders. This military modernization was particularly marked in Egypt under Mehmet Ali Pasha and in the Ottoman Empire under Sultans Selim III and Mahmud II. They thought that if they looked modern, they would be strong.
Deeply disturbed by change but growing aware of their weakness, some religious leaders tried to gain strength by going back to draw on their heritage. None of these activities slowed Western penetration.
The Industrial Revolution had given the West irresistible power. Handicraft industries collapsed before cheap imported goods. Governments became enmeshed in debt they hardly understood. Food crops were replaced by cotton for export. Intermediaries proliferated. Traditional patterns of land ownership were overturned by changes that converted Indian, Iraqi, Palestinian and Egyptian farmers into serfs.
Even styles in dress changed so the turban gave way to the Fez. Local authorities from Morocco to Indonesia were replaced or became puppets of the new, European-imposed order.
Among the small elite, nationalism was espoused – as it had been in Italy, Greece, Poland, Germany and France – as the guide to liberty and dignity. It was thought to be the “secret” of Western power. For many younger Arabs, Caucasians and Indian Muslims, the “Young Turks” became role models.
Then, encouraged by the proclamations of the First and Second World Wars, nationalist movements gained momentum. Those were heady days of manifestos, marches and the first real political parties. A new day seemed to have dawned. And, step by step, nationalism itself was refined toward its apex, secular Baathism.
But, along the way many of those who protested, marched and organized would become willing agents of the European rulers or their native agents. After what were often sharp lessons of the danger of speaking truth to power, most leaders quickly traded youthful exuberance for adult calculation. This transition was made easy and financially attractive by the Western-installed or Western-tolerated monarchs of Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Egypt, Libya and Morocco.
For both reformers and opportunists the issue of preservation of the cultural values of what had come to seem an archaic society became irrelevant. Soon it was overshadowed by the great new challenge of Communism, the dangers of resurgent Israel and the heady opportunities of the Cold War.
It was the Cold War that brought the United States into the Middle East. Taking over from Britain first in Greece and then generally throughout Africa and Asia, America assumed Britain’s role but played it with far more vigor and money and far less subtlety and skill.
Using the “façade rulers” whom the British had cultivated or creating new proxy rulers through subversion, bribery and threat became the strategy of the Dwight Eisenhower-John Foster Dulles-Allen Dulles period. Coups were organized and carried out in Iran, Iraq and Syria and help was given to prevent them in Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Libya and Morocco. Seeing these events, many of the next generation redirected their anger from Britain and France to America.
The best known action of America was the 1953 overthrow of Iranian Prime Minister Muhammad Mossadegh, an action proposed by the British to enable them to regain control of Iranian oil. Followed by the cooption of the Shah, the coup may be taken as the starting point for the Muslim reaction against America.
But already four years before in 1949, the CIA had engineered a coup d’état in Syria. In testimony in the U.S. Senate, it was shown to have tried to murder various Middle Eastern leaders including Prime Minister Qasim of Iraq and President Nasser of Egypt. A few years later in 1980, it helped to make a military coup in Turkey.
In the following years, America has intervened overtly or threatened invasion almost everywhere in the Middle East and parts of Africa. Additionally, it has imposed “crippling sanctions” that have impoverished and infuriated large numbers of people.
Arab, Pakistani, Kashmiri, Somali, Berber and other Muslim people, often led by secular rulers, have themselves engaged in a remarkable series of ugly violations of civil liberties, blunders and wars during this period. One after another, rulers have adopted the security state model: militarism without compensating civic institutions.
Generally speaking except for the oil-rich states, they have kept their people quiet by giving them little bread but many circuses. As a group the leaders and their cronies are known for their greed, corruption and brutality. Their records of torture and imprisonment are among the worst in the world. To the “man in the street,” there is little to distinguish the local tyrant from the foreign ruler.
In two crucial aspects, the Muslim states still suffer from the aftermath of imperialism: first, most of the governments have not grown from their own social “soil” but from foreign transplants. Consequently, civic institutions have rarely taken root.
Parliaments, law courts and the media remain, as they were under imperialism, tools in the hands of rulers. Military and security forces, the key legacy of foreign rule and the result more recently of subsidy and training, are the most – often the only – efficient, mobile and powerful organizations. They form autonomous states within nominal states.
A second heritage of the imperial period is disunity. Domestically, the older tradition of brotherhood (ikhwaniyah) and mutual responsibility has been largely replaced by individualism and selfishness. Those who can take, take; few any longer honor the Islamic obligation of tithe (Arabic: zakat). Enrichment by any means is avidly sought: “the Devil take the hindmost.”
As among individuals so among societies, there is little or no sense of unity. While rulers join interstate organizations and loudly proclaim their unity, they often bitterly and covertly work against what they publicly identify as common causes. Rulers connive in the overthrow of their peers and quietly make deals behind their backs.
This also is largely a heritage of imperialism. Each European state pulled its colonial elite into its own educational system. I observed this when, in 1953, the Rockefeller Foundation convened a meeting of the outstanding Arab intellectuals.
So “embedded” were they in the cultures of their former masters that some were comfortable only in French, others in English, one in Italian while none was able to express himself satisfactorily in standard Arabic. What was evident in language spilled over into law, politics, economics and bureaucratic organization.
The lack of unity has, of course, been heightened by subversion, espionage and foreign manipulation. Individuals have learned not to trust one another. And this sense of wariness has been heightened by the almost continuous wars with Israel and by the common belief that rulers and whole governments covertly collude with Israel. (In wars and other forms of conflict the more recent include 1948-1949, 1956, 1967, 1969-1970, 1973, 1982, 1982 1996, 2008, 2012 and 2014.)
Israeli intelligence operatives have been able to profit from this lack of cohesion. For instance, in 1970, I was asked by the chief of the office of the Israeli Prime Minister to negotiate a cease-fire on the Suez Canal with President Nasser of Egypt. To reassure me, the Israeli official casually mentioned that the Israelis knew Nasser’s opinion of me. There and elsewhere, Israeli intelligence had an often astonishing access to intimate information.
Failing the People
The bottom line is that a significant portion of Muslims and particularly of Arab Muslims believes that their governments have failed their peoples; they have not created institutions that are regarded as constructive, representative and honest; they have not created a sense of dignity which was their repeatedly proclaimed quest; they are generally believed to be corrupt, brutal and tyrannical.
Many believe that the governments we see today are only slightly veiled continuations of imperialism, installed either or both to protect such Western interests as oil, to underwrite American policy toward Israel or to bring about the complete subjugation of Islam. Many also would say that the few local rulers who tried to carry out an independent policy were deposed by force.
Nasser, Saddam and Gaddafi – dictators as they certainly were – were engaged in efforts to create a modern, progressive and self-sufficient society and to uplift their peoples. However unsavory they were politically, they did bring education, better health and security. We didn’t like them. We tried to kill Nasser and did kill Saddam and Gaddafi.
Nationalism and what was called “Arab Socialism” failed. All that was left was religion. To the forces now operating in the name of Islam, I will turn in the next essay.
William R. Polk is a veteran foreign policy consultant, author and professor who taught Middle Eastern studies at Harvard. President John F. Kennedy appointed Polk to the State Department’s Policy Planning Council where he served during the Cuban Missile Crisis. His books include: Violent Politics: Insurgency and Terrorism; Understanding Iraq; Understanding Iran; Personal History: Living in Interesting Times; Distant Thunder: Reflections on the Dangers of Our Times; and Humpty Dumpty: The Fate of Regime Change.
Turkey Police Thwarted Against ISIL
By Abdullah Bozkurt
August 14, 2015
The political Islamist government in Turkey has deliberately degraded the capabilities of the Turkish police department -- the main law enforcement agency in the country -- in counterterrorism efforts since the 2013 corruption investigations by removing unprecedented numbers of veteran officers, disbanding anti-terror departments that track and disrupt violent religious groups, destroying long-running investigations into radical groups and limiting the police authority to monitor terrorist groups.
That has been the cascading impact of the lack of political will on the part of Islamists in a corrupt government that has traditionally displayed an overt ideological bias towards radical and fanatical religious organizations in Turkey and the Middle East. This also explains Turkey's ambiguous political commitment and its questionable role in the battle against the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) terrorism as well as its lack of determination in cracking down on al-Qaeda and its affiliate groups operating in the country in the last two years. Now that the US has intensified the pressure on Turkey to act against ISIL, Islamists are pretending as if they are putting in place measures to go after ISIL cells at home when in fact they are playing a duplicitous game.
Among several documents signed last month between US and Turkish officials included a closer cooperation between Turkish and American law enforcement agencies in the fight against ISIL even though access to the Turkish military bases by the US-led coalition made the headlines. Judging from the track record of Islamists, this agreement involving closer police cooperation will most likely remain on paper. Even if the government really wanted to fulfill its pledge to Americans, the police department would not be able to measure up to the task. That is because President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his Islamist brethren in the government destroyed the capacity and capability of Turkish police department in counterterrorism by purging and reshuffling almost 100,000 police officers in an unprecedented move after he found out that police had investigated the corrupt dealings of his political and business associates as well as his family members.
When Erdoğan realized that graft investigators in the police and judiciary had uncovered his illegal financial dealings worth billions of dollars, he panicked that his controversial dealings with radical opposition groups fighting to topple the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria as well as other proxies operating in other countries would also come to light. He launched a massive defamation campaign against the police and prosecutors under the false theme of pervasive illegal wiretap charges. He successfully forced police intelligence into suspending all the technical and physical surveillance that had been maintained against al-Qaeda, ISIL and other radical groups. Therefore, not only veteran chiefs who had worked on these cases for decades were abruptly removed from their posts but also an intelligence gap was deliberately created with a two-year hiatus on surveillance of radical groups.
As a result, the Islamist regime has stripped the Turkish police of the ability to develop real and actionable intelligence against violent radical groups. Even if the police on occasion stumble on to the traffic of militants that were recruited by radical organizations, they do not touch them for fear of reprisals from political authorities. The only way the police can act against these groups is through pressure from allies, mainly the US, and that has to be accompanied with a provision of solid and targeted intelligence from the allies. Even then, there is no guarantee that the Islamist regime will refrain from double-dealing. The case of Mohamed Mahmoud, known as Abu Usamah al-Gharib, an Austrian of Egyptian origin who had for some time lived in Germany before joining ISIL, illustrates the Turkish government's cynical behavior. Germany sought his extradition when he was jailed in Turkey in 2014. Yet he was let go and he was free to join ISIL in Syria with no explanation. There is no shortage of similar examples involving fighters from the UK, Holland and other European countries that have stirred a diplomatic brawl with Turkey at one time or another.
Complicating matters further in the US-Turkey counterterrorism cooperation is the ongoing undeclared war between the Turkish National Intelligence Organization (MİT) and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) when it comes to handling Syria. The deep mistrust and growing divergence between MİT and the CIA turned the close cooperation in the initial years of the Syrian conflict into a bitter rivalry when the US came to realize that Erdoğan and his Islamists in the intel agency have a different understanding of developments in Syria and pursue a completely contrasting agenda. The CIA retaliated with tactical moves to foil plans cooked up by MİT. Jabhat al-Nusra, which was supported by MİT until last year, turned against Turkey when the CIA and its partners orchestrated the organization's leadership change.
MİT then tried to position the Ahrar al-Sham rebel faction as a counterbalance force to protect Islamist interests in the north of Syria. That plan was dealt a huge blow when al-Nusra captured members of Division 30, a rebel faction that Turkey trained in the Central Anatolian province of Kırşehir as part of a train-and-equip program with the approval of the US. Division 30 was designed by MİT to become embedded in Ahrar al-Sham; yet it failed when the CIA-led a clandestine operation alerting al-Nusra about the division's coordinates. Perhaps the US Consulate attack in Istanbul this week by leftist militants belonging to the far-leftist Revolutionary People's Liberation Army-Front (DHKP-C), an organization that was reportedly manipulated and controlled by Turkey, was MİT's response to the CIA for the botched operation involving Division 30. Considering that the wounded female assailant, who was later captured, was released from prison only months ago, it is almost impossible for MİT to be unaware about the plot to attack the US target.
In any case, US and European government officials may be hoping to get Turkey's Islamists really involved in the ISIL battle with law enforcement and intelligence work. But I would say they are simply dreaming as long as Erdoğan is the one pulling the strings on the Turkish side. The haven and hospitable environment for radical religious militants in Turkey will continue, hampering the US-led coalition battle against ISIL. Brett McGurk, deputy special representative of the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL, openly admitted that Turkey and the US have not even agreed on which group they would support to rely on in areas that will be cleared of ISIL. He certainly ruled out the possibility of working with MİT's favorite proxy, Ahrar al-Sham.
By the way, the lack of preventive work by law enforcement and the absence of a robust criminal justice system to go after militants is the least of Turkey's worries. Political Islamists have created the precise conditions for extremism to rise, flourish and be sustained by masterfully crafting policies, especially those in education, media and religious affairs. That would prove to be the most difficult challenge for Turkey to tackle in a post-Erdoğan era.