New Age Islam Edit Bureau
11 August 2015
Iran, Daesh and Terrorism — One Company!
By Dr. Khaled M. Batarfi
Reassessing the Still-Born U.S. Rebel Program in Syria
By Sharif Nashashibi
Does Egypt Lack Ideas Or Resources?
By Mohammed Nosseir
ISIS-Infested Iraq Has Time to Worry About Porn Sites
By Diana Moukalled
Tunisia Is Sacrificing Its Democracy For Safety
By Larbi Sadiki
The Intellectual Terrorist
By Bikram Vohra
The Sovereign Terror
By Nazmul Sultan
If Barack Obama Ever Had a Strategy for Syria, It’s been Turned on Its Head
By Natalie Nougayrède
Iran, Daesh and Terrorism — One Company!
By Dr. Khaled M. Batarfi
DAESH hit a place of prayer again in the holy land. This time it chose a Sunni mosque in a Salafi region. Instead of their preferred day, Friday, they opted for the afternoon prayer, last Thursday.
The attack resulted in the deaths and injuries of over 20 worshipers, mostly young cadets. This is another redline crossed. Daesh, who draws much of its legitimacy from being the “Protector of Sunnis,” had never attacked Sunni mosques before.
This begs the questions: Who is really behind them? And what is their real purpose? Iran's fingerprints are all over the guns and hands of ‘Daesh’ — probably in retaliation to Saudi victory, in Yemen.
Before the bombing campaign started, Iran’s stooge, Hezbollah’s Hassan Nasrallah, had announced what was coming — exactly. Iran’s Head of Security Council, Ali Shamakhani, echoed similar threats.
Other Iranian officials have warned Saudi Arabia, recently, of security consequences for its military campaign in Yemen and its support of Syrian opposition.
Shortly afterwards, the Interior Ministry netted hundreds of Daesh operatives, planning to do exactly what Iran and Hezbollah said they would.
Still, they managed to attack two Shiite mosques and a security checkpoint … and now this! Some of the explosive materials found with the terrorists are of the same substance in shipments smuggled by Iran via Bahrain to Saudi Eastern Region and to Bahrain itself.
Daesh, ladies and gentlemen, is an Iranian creation. The first 1,500 strong who formed the organization were Al-Qaeda members released from the Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad on the orders of Iran’s agent Nuri Al Malki, Iraq’s former prime minister.
They easily passed the Syrian border, found a base in northern Syria with enough arms and cash to fight the Syrian Free Army and reframe the regime war on its people as a war on terror.
It worked, for a while, and many Western countries, including the US, hesitated in its support for the Syrian resistance and the regime change.
Interestingly enough, while Al-Qaeda and Daesh terrorist operations reached as far as the US, Europe and North Africa, they never came close to neighboring Iran or its embassies and interests.
Let’s not forget that Iran is the logistics corridor between Afghanistan and Iraq for Al-Qaeda and Daesh, and many Qaeda leaders and their families found in it safe haven after US war on Taliban, in response to 9/11.
As for bombing holy places, Iran’s Revolutionary Guards had started this trend in Iraq and against Shiite mosques, like Al-Eskri holy site, and Sunni mosques to start sectarian wars.
Therefore, they gave themselves an excuse to enter the scene as protectors of Shiites and in support of Iraqi security forces against Salafi “terrorists.”
So why is Daesh attacking Saudi Arabia. Many reasons: 1. In retaliation to the Kingdom’s participation in the international coalition fighting them in Syria and Iraq.
2. Saudi hosts Islam’s holiest lands. To get the ultimate legitimacy for their Islamic caliphate they dream of ruling the two holy cities of Makkah and Madinah.
3. Saudi Arabia is a safe and prosperous oasis in a fire-stricken region. To destroy and reconstruct the Middle East, they need to strike at the strongest and most secured structure.
4. To relieve the pressure on their stooges and agents in Yemen, Syria, Bahrain and Lebanon, Iran is trying to engage Saudi in an internal war with Daesh.
The international community must act against the Iranian exportation of revolution and terrorism. They did it before when the UN punished Iran for its terror business with economic sanctions.
After the nuclear agreement, those sanctions are about to be lifted, altogether, whether related to nuclear or terrorism activities.
It is not the first time that Daesh has tried to attack security and religious targets. However, the Interior Ministry’s pre-emptive strikes had foiled many of these schemes.
In the month of Ramadan alone, seven attempts were thwarted, including the bombing of the Special Forces mosque in Riyadh during Friday prayer, on the ninth of the holy month.
The strategy is not new, the tactic is! The war against Daesh will be won, eventually. The sacred lines they crossed make their acts increasingly indefensible.
We should build on that. This war is not going to be won with security campaigns alone, as strong as they are. We must, also, win hearts and souls.
Behind every maniac terrorist there are lots of religious literature and references, used by legions of educators and preachers.
We need to revisit, clarify and cleanse the school of thoughts that produced this literature. Ministries of education, religious affairs, information and culture and youth affairs should work hand in hand with the Interior Ministry to fight religious extremism and cut it at the roots.
Our media, academic and research institutions are very much needed in such effort. Only with such focus and cooperation we may hope to dry up the springs of support for religious extremism.
Dr. Khaled M. Batarfi is a Saudi writer based in Jeddah.
Brain, Not Brawn, Will Solve Boko Haram
By Basil Fadipe
August 11, 2015
DEAR Mr. President, it was a privilege to have read your write up in the African Executive Journal titled “Nigeria on path to progress.” The extract below in my view goes ominously evocative.
“…In our efforts at combating the activities of Boko Haram, the new Government has sought and obtained the support of not only our neighbours but other international friends and partners.
“Regrettably, the blanket application of the Leahy Law by the United States on the grounds of unproven allegations of human rights violations levelled against our forces has denied us access to appropriate strategic weapons to prosecute the war against the insurgents.
“In the face of abduction of innocent school girls from their hostels, indiscriminate bombings of civilians in markets and places of worship, our forces have remained largely impotent because they do not possess the appropriate weapons and technology which they could have had, had the so-called human rights violations not been an obstacle.
“Unwittingly, and I dare say, unintentionally, the application of the Leahy law amendment by the U.S. Government has aided and abated the Boko Haram terrorist group in the prosecution of its extremist ideology and hate, the indiscriminate killings and maiming of civilians, in raping of women and girls, and in their other heinous crimes.
“I believe this is not the spirit of the Leahy Laws.
I know the American people cannot support any group engaged in these crimes.I, therefore, strongly appeal to both the Executive Arm and the U.S. Congress to examine how the U.S. Government can provide us with far more substantial counter-terrorism assistance with minimal strings.
“The longer we delay, the deadlier the Boko Haram gets. At all events, we have re-written the rules of engagement protecting the rights of combatants and in particular safeguarding civilians in theatres of conflict…”
President Muhammadu Buhari, I’m worried …that your solution to the Boko Haram carnage seems more carnage!! And that by the time notice is taken that guns alone don’t solve this kind of problem, too many Nigerians would have needlessly died gunned down either by insurgents or counter insurgents.
Is it your take, your Excellency that in the absence of American guns, Boko Haram is here to stay? Why would you want to think American guns or any for that matter will eliminate Boko Haram.
Are there any examples of any terrorism anywhere eliminated by mere guns. If America with all its guns, has itself been unable to shake off the terrorist albatross round her own neck, what other evidence need be sought that going after American guns is wrong move; ….the harder her guns have boomed, the higher has gone the number of “terrorists”huddledin her path. Guns have achieved nothing beyond entrenched bitterness on all sides.
Since Second World War, neither state nor non-state actors have ever won any conflict by simply throwing bullets into the brew. And in the particular case of “terrorism” rooted as it always seems in some political discontent, very little of the phenomenon, if any, has ever lent itself to militaristic heavy handedness. Discontent and disaffection rooted in varying mix of ignorance, poverty and injustice, have always been the tectonic faultlines behind most of the problematic convulsions.
The late 80s saw me in Borno State, a visiting faculty official recruited for the then nascent medical school, the University of Maiduguri. I did six months!! ….still one of the most memorable half years of my entire career … well ordained campus and newly minted infrastructure…wonderful students, as keen as they were ambitious.
This is the conundrum that needs analyzing and the route to that analysis would not pass through Washington or the Pentagon. Pulling triggers no matter where the guns are sourced, will achieve nothing beyond a suspended animation within the insurgent biosphere only to reawaken and regroup after the guns have gone silent.
To redirect the trade winds against the colourful and attractive masts of pirate insurgency, I, therefore, suggest that for every dollar you pass to western arm merchants, spend 10, to lift up the lives of citizens in Borno State and elsewhere. Give them something better than suicide. Make life among us so much more attractive than the promise of any imaginary paradise after death. Unless you do this, it will always be more tempting for the hungry or needy or neglected to buy into the charmed promise of a paradise through martyrdom.
For every dollar extorted from you by arms merchants, can Your Excellency spend 10 building good schools, good hospitals, good community centres, well equipped sports facilities, comfortable infrastructure, water and electricity supply: anything that will out-compete the imaginary gains of martyrdom.
And can you do more to screen members of your team to be sure they are not dupes, siphoning money meant for the community into their own pockets, thereby converting the poor into the poor-bitter, perfect purchase materials for the terror merchants and terror evangelists.
Evidently, you need some containment in the interim and so some coercive forces, but means and ends must never be confused. Leahy law may not have been kind to your stated strategy, but may be just as well; with a Nigerian Army or Police not much better than the average American cop, who when faced with ‘difference or ‘underdog’, throws banal passion not honed professionalism, hate not ethics, anger not analysis into the encounter.
Guns will not only be unsafe in such hands, they may by sheer brutality, actually come to win more enemies for the state and more friends for the enemy. Your Excellency should find a twin track: the one to push the enemy away, another to pull the marginalised back into the fold.
Fadipe wrote from West Indies.
Reassessing the Still-Born U.S. Rebel Program in Syria
By Sharif Nashashibi
10 August 2015
The U.S. program to train and equip vetted Syria rebels to fight the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) was launched in May amid little fanfare and low expectations, even from American officials. Since then, the prospects of the program making any difference whatsoever have only dimmed further.
Among the myriad problems it faces, recent events have clearly shown that it is the victim of Washington’s own decision, when launching the coalition air campaign a year ago, to target Al-Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate Al-Nusra Front as well as ISIS. This despite the two jihadist groups being at war with each other, and despite Al-Nusra being a key ground player among Syrian rebels in the fight against ISIS.
In the last fortnight and in a series of incidents, Al-Nusra has kidnapped and killed rebels involved in the U.S. program, days after an Al-Qaeda leader, Muhsin al-Fadhli, was reportedly killed by a coalition airstrike in Syria.
It was not difficult to foresee such an outcome. Al-Nusra’s leader, Abu Mohammed al-Golani, warned in May that although his organization “doesn’t have any plans or directives to target the West... our options are open when it comes to targeting the Americans if they will continue their attacks against us in Syria. Everyone has the right to defend themselves.”
In its attacks against U.S.-backed rebels, Al-Nusra described them as “the arms” of the American government in Syria. The numbers of those killed and captured are disputed, but they are enough to have forced the U.S.-backed rebels to leave their headquarters, declare their refusal to fight Al-Nusra, and express their opposition to airstrikes against it.
Those killed and kidnapped represent a significant proportion of the program’s total recruits, who numbered a paltry several dozen even before Al-Nusra's attacks (in recent months, it also defeated two Western-backed rebel groups, forcing them to disband).
If Al-Nusra continues its campaign against the U.S. program, ISIS may end up not having to fight the latter’s recruits at all, and the program itself may collapse. Recruits have reportedly already been leaving due to various frustrations, and the refusal to fight Al-Nusra may represent a crippling division between recruits and their American backers.
As such, while much has been made of Washington’s recent decision to provide air cover for the recruits against any force that fights them (including the regime and its allies), such support is likely to be inconsequential.
A year of airstrikes against Al-Nusra and ISIS has done nothing to degrade their capabilities. The former is still one of the most formidable rebel groups, and U.S. intelligence agencies (including the CIA) acknowledged this month that the latter is no weaker than it was when the coalition air campaign began, despite billions of dollars spent and more than 10,000 jihadists allegedly killed. In some areas in Syria and Iraq, ISIS is still advancing.
With the pitiful pace of recruitment, Al-Nusra’s attacks, the program’s primary foe ISIS being far stronger, and the hostility of the regime and its allies, there may not even be a rebel force to protect from the air.
Obstacles and Enemies
The program is also viewed with suspicion and antagonism by other rebel groups, including those that are not Islamist. They are wary of American intentions, antagonistic over arms supplies and funding (some have brandished American weapons after capturing them from U.S.-backed rebels), and angry that the force is designed only to take on ISIS rather than the regime.
As such, they view the U.S. program as diversionary and divisive, and hence of potential benefit to the regime at a time when rebel coordination has contributed to a string of battlefield successes against Damascus.
The program has so far proven still-born, and with the array of internal and external obstacles and enemies it faces, as well as poor American decision-making, it is difficult to see any developments on the horizon that could resuscitate it.
Rather than simply continuing to invest resources and manpower into this failed project, Washington needs an urgent reassessment not just of the program, but of its entire policy toward the Syrian conflict, and the wider war against ISIS.
Sharif Nashashibi, a regular contributor to Al Arabiya News, The Middle East magazine and the Guardian, is an award-winning journalist and frequent interviewee on Arab affairs. He is co-founder of Arab Media Watch, an independent, non-profit watchdog set up in 2000 to strive for objective coverage of Arab issues in the British media. With an MA in International Journalism from London's City University, Nashashibi has worked and trained at Dow Jones Newswires, Reuters, the U.N. Development Programme in Palestine, the Middle East Broadcasting Centre, the Middle East Economic Survey in Cyprus, and the Middle East Times, among others. In 2008, he received the International Media Council's "Breakaway Award," given to promising new journalists, "for both facilitating and producing consistently balanced reporting on the highly emotive and polarized arena that is the Middle East."
Does Egypt Lack Ideas Or Resources?
By Mohammed Nosseir
10 August 2015
Over the past few decades, consecutive Egyptian rulers have continuously told their citizens that the country’s needs far surpass its resources, accusing the increasing population of consuming most of Egypt’s resources.
In their attempts to narrow the gap between resources and needs, Egyptian rulers tend to rely on regional and international loans and grants (most of the West and the Arab Gulf states are regular donors). However, does the government manage its resources efficiently, providing us with the maximum possible outcomes?
Whereas ideas are always evolving and progressing, the Egyptian government is renowned for its sluggish bureaucracy, and proud of its obsolete notions that do not comply with today’s technological world or with the expectations of citizens.
By default, and regardless of the ruler’s ideology, our government is driven by a handful of bureaucrats who lack the basic faculty of thought, are notorious for their low levels of productivity, and are not held accountable for their shortcomings. Egyptian government bureaucracy regularly rejects citizens’ ideas because its outdated mindset and limited exposure are incapable of accommodating original, innovative ideas.
Known to lack the fundamentals of good governance, Egypt has continuously failed to come up with new ideas that can better address the root causes behind our challenges and enhance our poorly-managed resources. Our recent uprisings have ended in the swapping of a few top executives for new ones who continue to be picked from the same outdated, traditional pool, coupled with a zealous preservation of the same archaic government mindset.
Accelerating project implementation while continuing to follow the obsolete course of increasing project spending, without first evaluating feasibility and misleading citizens with false propaganda, can only result in the rapid failure of any new project.
Egyptian intellectuals affiliated with the ruling regime have been blaming the government for its poor performance while praising the ruler for his vision, completely disregarding the fact that the ruler (and no one else) appoints the government. To illustrate this point, one of the current ruler’s affiliates has said that while the president is riding a rocket, his cabinet members are riding bicycles.
Why has our president not appointed ministers capable of riding the same rocket as he? The sad truth is that he is on board a fantasy rocket, while his cabinet members are cycling through the alleys of actual government bureaucracy.
Prior to embarking on new projects, we need to decide whether there is room to maximize the revenues obtained from our existing resources, such as the Nile River, our beachfronts, tourist resorts, seaports, roads and many more. A quick comparison between privately-managed Nile River boat restaurants and state-managed ones (quality of food, services and profitability) shows the huge advantage that private boat restaurants have over state-owned ones.
The argument is not about expanding or shrinking the role of the private sector (actually, due to their incremental managerial problems and huge losses, most of the remaining public-sector firms are of no interest to investors).
We need to work on dismantling the government’s single-minded thinking mechanism, and replacing it with a mechanism capable of adopting citizens’ ideas and embracing their willingness to bear responsibility for their ideas. It is essential that we corroborate ideas prior to implementing them, rather than run from one failed government project to another, using meaningless justifications to defend our failures.
We must demand that the entire government step down from the task of producing ideas and initiating and managing projects. We must strive to have this mission delegated entirely to the Egyptian people, leaving the task of project regulation and monitoring to the government. We are underestimating the potential of our people (with their diversified experiences and their willingness to shoulder responsibility) for the benefit of power-hungry bureaucrats.
The financial contributions of non-Egyptian donors are highly appreciated, but they should be accompanied by ideas on how best to spend the donated money. Focusing only on using external aid to reduce our financial resource deficiencies will turn us into a dull, thoughtless society.
Mohammed Nosseir is an Egyptian liberal politician who advocates for advancing liberalism, political participation, and economic freedom. Mohammed was member of the higher committee at the Democratic Front Party from 2007 to 2012, and then member of the political bureau of the Free Egyptian Party till mid 2013. Mohammed advocates for his work through providing the Egyptian government with a number of schemes to better reform its government institutes, as well as he is a regular contributor to various Egyptian newspapers. Mohammed also has extensive experience in the private sector, working with a number of international companies assisting them in expanding their businesses in the Middle East. Mohammed graduated from Faculty of Commerce, Ain Shams University, Cairo (1986); he participated at Aspen Seminar on Leadership, Values and Good Society (2011), Eisenhower Fellow, Multi-National Program (2009) and Stanford Fellow for Democracy, Development & Rule of Law (2008).
ISIS-Infested Iraq Has Time to Worry About Porn Sites
By Diana Moukalled
10 August 2015
Iraqis, beware of pornography websites as they are the biggest threat to you - at least this is what we should conclude from the current campaign to ban porn sites. In a nutshell: “Never mind the angry protests, or political parties’ violations of freedoms, or the rise of religious parties, or government’s increased failures; only worry about porn sites.”
This rhetoric is present in a country where innocent people are victims of explosions, murder and slaughter; where the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has celebrated its second year in control of Iraqi areas; and where Iran proves its status as a political and military authority. All this is happening amid political bickering that divides the Iraqi people and destroys whatever is left of a state that is woefully corrupt.
The momentum of the campaign against porn sites was increased by the involvement of top Shiite cleric Ali al-Sistani, who issued a fatwa (religious edict) prohibiting such sites. The fatwa mobilized MPs to gain approval and collect signatures to legislate a law that bans these sites. Such religious and political enthusiasm has never been available for other problems that affect Iraqi lives and livelihoods, such as violence and corruption.
Since 2003, Iraqi markets have been selling videos of murder, torture and horror under former President Saddam Hussein, Al-Qaeda and now ISIS. He who shows up today warning of the threat of pornography amid all this violence does not mean to protect Iraqis as much as tighten his grip on them.
Yes, there are millions in the Arab and Muslim worlds who surf porn sites. According to Google, the 10 countries that watch the most porn include countries in the Middle East. Google also shows what words and footage are searched for when viewing these sites.
Links with Violence
“Pain” is the fourth word in the search engine from Iraq when surfing such sites. These details reveal changes in society, and imply that violence has found its way into collective sexual awareness. This indicates the progress of violence, and shows it as an imminent threat as sex can become ordinary when void of violence. For sex to be linked to violence means that what threatens Iraqis is violence, not porn sites.
Arab and Muslim countries declare strict, conservative social values and punish whoever violates them. However, facts and numbers show that reality is completely different, as we evade the fact that some Muslim countries are among those that watch the most porn, at a time when the region is suffering from war and violence.
Is there a link between the spreading of violence and preoccupation with porn sites? Sigmund Freud says most people’s sexuality includes aggression. The relation between violence, authority and sex is something worth looking into in our countries, which are still governed by this triad.
Diana Moukalled is the Web Editor at the Lebanon-based Future Television and was the Production & Programming Manager with at the channel. Previously, she worked there as Editor in Chief, Producer and Presenter of “Bilayan al Mujaradah,” a documentary that covers hot zones in the Arab world and elsewhere, News and war correspondent and Local news correspondent. She currently writes a regular column in AlSharq AlAwsat. She also wrote for Al-Hayat Newspaper and Al-Wasat Magazine, besides producing news bulletins and documentaries for Reuters TV
Tunisia Is Sacrificing Its Democracy for Safety
By Larbi Sadiki
10 Aug 2015
After two years of division and various provisions, Tunisia's democratically elected 217-member unicameral parliament legislated a new counterterrorism law on July 24.
It was passed with overwhelming approval: While 172 voted in favour, 10 members abstained, and only a limited number of members objected the law.
This bill may have been legally adopted, but that doesn't make it right .
By siding with the ruling Nidaa Tounes, the Islamist Ennahdha and leftist Popular Front leadership chose short-term power politics over long-term democratic substance.
There are some problems with the new law.
The partly reactionary law proposal was rushed in response to the Bardo museum and Sousse beach attacks of this year.
Moreover, the new law was hastily approved with Ennahdha's House Speaker Abdelfattah Mourou hurrying the legislation process and not extending the consultation period.
Consequently, the passing of the bill coincided with the July 25 Republican Day - a hollow attempt at symbolism given what was at stake in libertarian and democratic terms.
And, as a piece of legislation, it threatens the incipient and fragile democratic structures of Tunisia, which are newly in place since their adoption in early 2014.
Quick fixes and gimmicks
This new law replaces the 2003 anti-terrorism law adopted by the ousted Zine El Abidine Ben Ali regime.
The law echoes Ben Ali's fixation with solving terrorism through bad lawmaking and draconianism - not to mention the quest for quick fixes and gimmicks - and it threatens fundamental freedoms and liberties during a critical phase of democratic reconstruction in Tunisia.
What is regressive about the law is that it is, in parts, worse than the law it has replaced - the 2003 anti-terrorism law previously adopted by the ousted dictator's regime.
For instance, there are a number of questions that can be raised relating to the rights of accused citizens, especially during the investigation phase for alleged acts of terrorism.
In the new law, detention without a court order is up to two weeks. The law also annuls the right to legal assistance during interrogations.
In the 2003 law, the detention period could not exceed six days.
In my personal discussions with both secularist and Islamist intellectuals who support the bill, many have raised the superficial argument that even the United States has illiberal anti-terrorism laws in place.
Those same people seem to ignore the fact that the US enjoys strongly independent judiciary and legislative branches, in addition to an array of consolidated civil and civic structures that function with the explicit purpose of inhibiting and punishing illegal actions.
Moral High Ground
It is important to note that the US has regularly committed illegal acts (eg, rendition flights, Guantanamo Bay detentions) off of American soil and out of reach of the accountability of its own judiciary systems.
In Tunisia, public opinion seem to be backing up the new law.
The state claimed it acted from a "high moral ground", and the media - with very few qualified exceptions - followed suit.
It was a failed test of free speech in which dissenters from parliament and civil society came under attack.
The pressure was such that even Ennahdha jumped on the bandwagon to support a bad law, which does not bode well for Tunisia's democratic citizenship and democratisation.
There have been no tangible measures taken thus far to address extremism effectively.
No one has made efforts to integrate civil society and legal watchdogs to cooperate more effectively to holistically fight against terrorism.
This approach is vital given that the new law seeks to revive Tunisia's powerful and pervasive state-run security and intelligence capacity, as well as to appease the security die-hards from the Ben Ali era.
The risk lies in the fact that the new law could legitimise heavy-handedness and secrecy as necessary measures and tactics in the fight against terrorism in the birthplace of the Arab Spring.
Similarly worrying are the unrealistic plans of Prime Minister Habib Essid, who's attempting to build a sand barrier along the porous Libyan border.
While the recently-passed law cannot be seen in isolation as it accompanies the securitisation of the border with Libya, a barrier - a la Israel - will be a drain on the civilian economy, which does not have the means to direct its scant resources and materials towards anti-terrorism security mobilisation.
Like its neighbours in the Maghreb region, Tunisia has joined the long queue of nations fighting terrorism and following the security "route" at a critical historical juncture of democratic trail and learning.
While "security" measures are discussed almost universally in the national discourse of extremism, no clear interpretation of the concept has emerged.
It is almost a recipe for fighting fire with fire, and with the new anti-terrorism law, it becomes fighting terror with "legal" terror.
In the absence of conceptual and legal clarity of the term, the security apparatus indirectly empowered by the new anti-terrorism law will be tempted to define its own mandate in the fight against terrorism.
The history of unchecked discretion in such matters has left many democratising states collapsing back into dictatorship after vesting too much in security at the expense of democracy.
Treading an Uncharted Route
Like Abdel Fattah el-Sisi in Egypt, Nidaa and company in Tunisia could tread an uncharted route, threading the line between lawful defence of state, citizen's rights, and illegality - similar to the era of Ben Ali - in the fight against extremism.
US President Barack Obama announced that Tunisia is a major non-NATO ally, which qualifies it for closer strategic and military cooperation with the US and the EU.
This endorsement will not help the embattled Tunisian leadership in developing new, out-of-the-box strategies on both local and global levels.
Following a path characterised by the rolling back of democratic rights - and of political institutions strategically using national security to their advantage - is one sure way of eliciting acquiescence on the part of scared citizens and an international community more than willing to buy into the narrative of the "war on terror".
Even with the Bush era having come to an end, the Obama administration has no less needed to chase its fair share of bogeymen.
In that kind of understanding, freedom was seen as a threat that comes with a lack of control over undesirable and disgruntled elements of society.
If rule of law and due process are undermined during initial democratisation - as in Tunisia's case - politicisations of the legal system and political expediency forever will dictate how justice is meted out.
The mass mobilisation of army and police forces can quickly become the tool of a resurgent authoritarianism - especially in a country with a long history of it.
Given the pervasiveness of the security apparatus under the ousted regime, many fear it could easily re-emerge.
Tunisia's leaders must recognise that for Obama and other Western powers, there are more pressing issues and interests than the democratisation process of a single North African country.
Historically speaking, the US, the EU and their allies overlooked democratic deficits in Muslim majority countries as long as such countries were in line with Western ideology or their economic and strategic interests.
For now, it seems Nidaa Tounes and its partners in parliament are bluffing their way through politics via blind pro-US policy preferences - which does not equate to pro-democracy predilections.
One can only hope that these decisions do not lead Tunisia towards becoming a national security state clad in the veneer of democratic trappings.
Larbi Sadiki is an academic at Qatar University where he teaches international affairs. He is the author of Rethinking Arab Democratization published by Oxford in 2009 and 2011 and is editor of the Routledge Handbook of the Arab Spring, which was recessed in 2015.
The Intellectual Terrorist Is and Is More Devious and Dangerous Than A Thousand Foot Soldiers
By Bikram Vohra
1 August 2015
I confess I am not a computer expert. I use mine as a glorified typewriter. But I am smart enough to recognize the fact that in the “right” hands, it is a high-grade weapon, powerful enough to make TNT obsolete.
I read a book the other day in which the author says that one day we will long for the scruffy terrorist with the used AK-47 as opposed to the intellectual terrorist who is now in our midst. He is erudite, educated, urbane, holds a responsible post in a working hierarchy and his mindset is more devious and dangerous than a thousand foot soldiers.
The gun-toting caricature of the current militant, regardless of which part of the world he is in, will be vanilla compared to what a handful of such people can do by way of tearing apart the social fabric.
It got me thinking that either the author had a fertile imagination or that society was in peril now and we are hurtling, sans geographical boundaries, into a new world where the terrorist per se is being aided and abetted by you and I thanks to our servile surrender to social media. Put it into perspective. If Stephen Hawkins can speak of the possibility of artificial intelligence going berserk and taking over our world because we created it but could not control it (and this happening in our time), why cannot the extremist use the same tools to wreak havoc?
Take this urbane terrorist. He or she shares exactly the same priorities as the college student on the couch, texting madly to a friend. The depressed housewife making 4,752 friends across the world and feeling wanted or more meaningfully, needed. Along with electrons, Narcissism is the primary active ingredient in the Internet.
It is you. The executive sharing insider information in cryptic code confident that it cannot be broken. Hackers wearing a mantle of romance as they inveigle themselves into your lives as insidiously as HIV. In fact, there could be five legs on the evil toadstool.
The computer-savvy extremist: Texting madly, he would send his messages to create awareness, build tension, generate a daisy chain, provide knowledge to his cohorts, a knowledge that we would so unstintingly volunteer and keep updating.
The depressed housewife: Who are those lonely people, where do they come from, where do they belong? People living lives of lonely despair are perfect recruits for the “good” fight. Eleanor Rigby has a million facsimiles and they are cannon fodder so easily led astray by blandishment and flattery, their excruciating need to be wanted. They will flock to the recruiter and his cause. Somebody “understands” them.
The overnight success: Spewing data about himself and his wealth, he will give any half-witted terror cell leader information. The amount of information we so freely dispense in these public forums underscores an ignorance that, for the evildoer, is pure bliss.
The executive playing the odds: He is an ideal choice for tracking and since he is already cheating and breaking the laws, what better person to befriend? So dramatically are we all brainwashed into seeing a terrorist in a Brooks Brothers suit using his Ipad to play Candy Crush, that we cannot possibly see him plotting mayhem. You better believe it, we are getting there.
Hackers: They target the ones they need for specific reasons and the lonely people, the misled and the easily swayed are all marked for mental slaughter ... which could then lead to the worst case scenarios of violence executed by self-imposed martyrdom. If law enforcement agencies of the world can hire hackers, why can’t threat and coercion be used to enlist such geniuses by the cells? It is a no-brainer.
Last week, over a billion android mobile phones were made vulnerable to malware that would access personal data, including photographs, messages and private correspondence.
So there is no difference between the 21st century spawning of the intellectual terrorist and the student on the couch. He can spread the message in real time. He can get funding directly or by proxy. He can recruit with consummate ease. He can sit at home over breakfast and generate a campaign over the long haul, provide a chat room for the truly deranged and by bouncing his signals and using cut-outs, he can be reasonably confident that he will not be traced.
There is no doubt that Twitter, Facebook and their other cousins were started with benign intent. To communicate with one another in a networking environment that broke the barriers of caste, colour and creed.
That turned malignant a long time ago and with every new addition to the information surge, the most benefited are the ones with violence on their minds. Armed with cyber-weaponry (and this is no joke), this growing army will not look at suicide vests and a dozen victims, but will seek the “pleasures” of mega-deaths.
The defence is riddled with more holes than Swiss cheese. The law enforcement agencies of the world are defeated by the population that is now its biggest adversary. Ergo, it is sworn to protect those that let them down. This bitter irony is not yet visible to the majority and it is all too surreal for us to really take it seriously. This is sci-fi with popcorn and cola.
Terrorism is a commodity. It has to be advertised and sold. Indeed, it is a brand and brand-building is what is done through these platforms.
The anonymity of not just the sender but even the camouflaged content makes it ideal as the spearhead of knowledge. You can lie with elan and nobody will be any wiser. Often, exactly the opposite can occur. There is no need to soften the message or edit the offensive videos. You can put it all up and the devil takes the hindmost. There will always be takers and for the others to be intimidated, fear is the key.
Since we, the people, are integral to the problem, is there a solution? Let’s be very clear. These are precarious times. There is no silver bullet.
There have been several scenarios including upgrades in surveillance, sharing of international databases and eye in the sky activity coupled with tailing suspects on the information highway. But it is a very large terrain for an unequal battle. One of the more bizarre suggestions has been to grade every single human being for his threat-level based on data in the personal file. Unless there is some global awakening, we will feast at the banquet of consequences.
Let us make another comparison. It has been said that the net is a good servant but a vicious master. To say it runs our lives is an understatement. Take a corporation, a multi-national or a bank. For all such organizations, there are real risks to using social media, ranging from damaging the brand to stealing secrets, exposing proprietary information, inviting lawsuits for copyright infringement and shovelling huge sums of money into building firewalls.
The militant has no such fears. Everything falls in his favor even if it goes off track temporarily. To him, all exposure is publicity and he thrives on it. And yet, what makes it all so insidious is that he is also the head of an organization, with a functioning hierarchy. So how can we but lose to him. We have given him all the cards.
Malfunctioning computers can bring cities to a halt. Yes, we have all seen those movies but we cannot get away from the fact that the fault lies not in our stars but in ourselves that we let it get so far. We never realized that from petty crime and seamy chat rooms, it was a small, very small step to full-blown terrorism via the net.
From silly little six-digit passwords being our personal security to the mountain of data processed and available, we are vulnerable. Perhaps the first step is to individually exercise caution in sharing and giving those who might harm us undue publicity by passing on their written ideology or photographs. The frightening part is we do not even know we are doing it.
If Barack Obama Ever Had a Strategy for Syria, It’s Been Turned on Its Head
By Natalie Nougayrède
10 August 2015
Barack Obama is busy burnishing his foreign policy legacy with Iran and Cuba – but on Syria, the public relations effort seems doomed. Syria is going down as the US president’s most serious, tragic, far-reaching and long-lasting foreign policy failure. Recent American cooperation with Russia in the United Nations over chemical weapons use in Syria will do little to erase the fact that the war is grinding on, entering its fifth year with a death toll of around a quarter of a million people, more than 10 million people displaced or refugees, and far-reaching consequences for international security.
Bill Clinton wrote in his memoirs that his big regret from his time in office was not stopping the Rwandan genocide. Perhaps Obama has long calculated that historians will be lenient with him over the Syrian tragedy. After all, as he once said in a UN speech, the US cannot carry all the world’s burdens alone. But there is more than the obvious complexity of the task behind the US’s failure in Syria, and that may boil down to a form of indifference in the White House – in tune with a largely inward-looking American public opinion.
In 2013 Obama was asked in an interview with The New Republic how he wrestled, morally, with the ongoing violence in Syria. His response came in the form of a question: “How do I weigh tens of thousands who’ve been killed in Syria versus the tens of thousands who are currently being killed in the Congo?” It sounded as if he was trying to describe the horror in Syria as something relative. And it was also a fair point about the limits of American interventionism.
The arguments in defence of Obama’s approach have long been spelled out: there was no easy or obvious solution in Syria; it was important not to get dragged into another Middle Eastern quagmire, and realism dictates that Syria is at best “contained”, rather than actively solved. These arguments may have been at least partly true at one point or another, but they have unravelled fast.
Faced with a crisis of such magnitude, the choice for an American president tends to be between a bad option and a worse one. But whatever Obama has chosen to do or not to do, the outcome has been far from convincing: there seems to be no end to this war. And however long and hard the president may have refrained from getting involved in Syria, the US is now dragged back into a quagmire. And Syria has not been contained. The conflict has metastasised throughout the region; it is the nexus of the Sunni-Shia clash in the Middle East and a powder keg of Islamic radicalisation whose consequences are felt far beyond the region.
If there has ever been a clear-cut American strategy on this crisis, it now seems to have turned on its head. The US has now said it will provide close air support for a small group of 60 Syrian rebels that it has trained, and that it is considering setting up a safe zone along the Turkish-Syria border where anti-Islamic State fighters will be able to base themselves. One of the most puzzling aspects of this new phase of American involvement is that it is in no way expressly intended to provide protection for civilians. Yet it is precisely because civilians are not being protected that Isis has been able to grow.
Isis has been able to cast itself as the sole protector of Sunni civilians as they continue to be massacred by the barrel bombs and air power of the Syrian regime. As Ken Roth, the head of Human Rights Watch keeps pointing out, the Assad regime is the number one cause of civilian deaths in Syria, not Isis. Why, he rightly asks, is nothing done to stop Assad’s helicopter-dropped barrel bombs, which kill huge numbers of civilians indiscriminately, and cannot in any possible way be considered an anti-Isis weapon?
Procrastination has been Obama’s worst characteristic in this crisis. In the summer of 2012 key members of the US administration, including Hillary Clinton, tried to weigh in for active military support for the anti-Assad rebels. The logic was that this could tip the balance of forces and constrain Assad into peace negotiations, as happened in Bosnia in 1995 with Slobodan Milošević. Obama refused that option, at a time when it could have most counted. The result is that Islamic radicalisation gradually took hold in Syria, bringing fertile ground for Isis. That radicalisation explains why the US has this year found only 60 rebels it could vet for a train-and-equip programme. The paradox of fighting a force (Isis) that the rest of your policy (not protecting civilians) actually helps grow stronger is at the core of Obama’s current policy failure in Syria.
To be fair, Obama has had many hard calls to make, but the other aspect of his failure in Syria has to do with moral responsibility. It is about how the United States, the world’s most powerful democracy, largely failed to uphold a convincing moral stand in the face of one of the worst humanitarian catastrophes since the Second World War.
It is hard, these days, to find any strong American high-level language denouncing the slaughterhouse that Bashar al-Assad has brought down on his own people. Nor is there any talk of an international tribunal that might deal one day with these crimes. Of course Russia would veto any of this, but why not at least expose Moscow’s complicity by raising the question of mass atrocities – not just chemical weapon use – in the UN security council?
In the case of Syria, a whole body of international norms meant to counter state-sponsored massacres of civilians has been put aside, including the notion of the “responsibility to protect” which was voted in the UN 10 years ago. It is a paradox, because Obama has on his team one of the staunchest advocates of American activism in countering genocide and crimes against humanity: Samantha Power, the current American ambassador to the UN.
In her 2003 book, A Problem from Hell, Power wrote this about how in the past US administrations failed to act in a timely manner to stop mass atrocities: “The inertia of the governed cannot be disentangled from the indifference of the government.” Obama’s apparent indifference to the plight of Syrian civilians – not just the fact that he failed to work out a solution – will be part of his legacy.