New Age Islam Edit Bureau
11 Dec 2015
Who Represents The Syrian People?
By Lamis Andoni
Racism in the US - the melting pot is boiling
By John Metta
ISISís propaganda success, and how to fight it
By Maria Dubovikova
Who Represents The Syrian People?
By Lamis Andoni
10 Dec 2015
World powers, regional players, the Syrian regime, the splintered opposition and even the gangsters of the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) are positioning themselves, directly or indirectly, for negotiations over the future of the country, in the absence of a unified and credible voice for the forces that started the Syrian revolution.
What is clear is that almost all parties are ready to compromise either Syria's unity or sovereignty, or both, to further their interests and influence the shape of a new regime - with or without President Bashar al-Assad. What all powers, including Russia, are looking for is a malleable regime and, in the case of the US, one that does not present "a threat to Israel".
For all external powers, Syria is a "failed state" that can be reconstructed to their own liking, ignoring the demands and aspirations expressed by the Syrian people who rose up against the regime’s oppression and creeping marginalisation of the lower socioeconomic strata.
Vehicles for egoistic leaders
Therefore, it is especially disturbing that the Syrian people, who are paying with their lives, are not adequately represented in either diplomatic efforts or the military campaign; not only is the self-declared Syrian opposition splintered, but most of the factions have become tools for different governments or vehicles for egoistic leaders seeking power positions in Syria's future.
However, the biggest blow for Syrian aspirations for freedom and justice was the emergence of fanatical groups such as ISIL, and extremist factions such as Jabhat al-Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham, which are bent on transforming the struggle into a sectarian conflict between the Sunnis and the ruling Alawite elite.
The ascension of such groups has not only distorted the popular struggle but also boosted the regime’s attempts to delegitimise the uprising, describing its opponents as "terrorists" and posing "as the protector" of Christians and minorities inside Syria and beyond.
Fear of ISIL and its ilk inside Syria, and their targeting of Christians and ethnic minorities, have further complicated the crucial question of representation and legitimacy of the revolution. Unlike in the first months or even the first year of the uprising, there are now Syrians who are ready to live with the tyranny of Assad as the lesser of two evils.
While weighing an oppressive regime against chaos and instability could be understood in psychological and humanistic terms, it does not make the murderous regime a true representative of the Syrians.
Militarisation of the revolution
The fleeing of hundreds of thousands of Syrians who are risking their lives across the tumultuous seas lays the blame first and foremost at the regime's door, for its initial cruel crackdown on protesters, mostly children, which proved to be the spark that ignited a wider uprising.
It could be reasonably argued that the militarisation of the revolution was a mistake that undermined the political representation of the revolution, as it allowed agenda-driven foreign interventions, giving the regime the upper hand, and blurred the distinction between the revolutionaries and groups such as ISIL and others.
Yet at the same time it is also arguably a predictable result, considering the ferocity of the regime's reactions. What is important here is that a strong political voice for the revolution was eclipsed by the ensuing explosion of armed violence - confusing a legitimate resistance with pure criminal acts committed by the extremist fanatical factions.
But it was the opposition factions' apparent loss of independence to one party or another, including agreeing to place their fighters under US sponsorship, which has caused internal frictions, and undercut their popularity inside and outside Syria.
The attitude of most opposition groups served the regime's propaganda that there was no revolution but "a foreign conspiracy", denying its own repressive record and, of late, the dire consequences of Iran's involvement in the turmoil.
For a while, it was understandable that the opposition could not operate in a vacuum and would need to build ties with regional states, especially neighbouring Arab countries. Many of its personalities have become puppets for these regimes to advance their own personal ambitions.
That has not only affected the credibility of the opposition, but it has also impeded the formation of a united front and the formulation of a nationalist agenda away from the influences of Arab regimes, reducing them to pawns in a regional and international struggle over Syria.
The fact is that somewhere along the way, the revolution was hijacked by opportunists, including some Syrian personalities in exile, the corrupt beneficiaries of an avalanche of Western and Arab funding. The revolution was also needlessly complicated by both regional and Western interference.
The Syrian opposition failed to articulate one voice, and succumbed to the influence of one external power or another to the point of near subservience, exploiting the despair of the Syrians, many of whom are yearning to be saved at any price from the regime's yoke.
The gap between activists "inside Syria" and opposition in exile has also further undermined unity and consensus, making it more difficult to convey a message that could put forward a political programme to the Syrian people and the rest of the world.
While it is wrong to idealise grassroots activists inside Syria, there has not been a concerted effort to restore the voice of the revolutionaries, or to truly pay attention to the legitimate grievances that compelled Syrians to defy a dreadful police state.
As the world has become obsessed with ISIL and a renewed version of the "war on terror", the narrative is no longer about a revolution but about defeating "terrorism", thus weakening grassroots activism and enabling the regime to justify its mass killings as it is engaged in a battle to defeat "terrorism".
Even if some countries, especially Western countries, talk about a transition to a democratic system, we have the foreboding experience of Iraq post US-led invasion that shows how Washington was more interested in pitting Shia and Sunni against each other than state-building.
To save Syria from an already accelerating fragmentation, it is the responsibility of the Syrian opposition to draw up a national salvation strategy that unites the Syrian people and speaks for them, and challenges all relevant parties within the country.
There is little cause to have faith in the outcome of the opposition's ongoing meeting in Riyadh, as the beginning of the solution lies in the emergence of a unified, credible leadership that brings together both activists within Syria or in exile to raise a unified voice before it is too late - for both the country and its agonised people.
Lamis Andoni is an analyst and commentator on Middle Eastern and Palestinian affairs.
Racism in the US - the melting pot is boiling
10 Dec 2015
Something's happening in the United States. We see it in the protests in the streets, we hear it in the speeches of our leaders. We can feel it in our fearful hearts when we watch the news.
There is a … heat, here. Something is brewing.
We are brewing.
Of course, heat is nothing new. This great melting pot has been on the stove for a long time, and has boiled over before. When slavery boiled us, we turned down the heat with freedom. When Jim Crow boiled us, we turned down the heat with equal rights under law. But the burner was always on. The melting pot always feels the heat, and though we might turn it down a bit from time to time, there's still heat, and more heat.
This melting pot is boiling.
Nowhere is this more evident than the current presidential campaign, with its rhetoric that borders on white-hot racism.
The entertainer Donald Trump headlines this. Using racist statements and outright lies, he's run the gamut from openly mocking blacks, Hispanics, and people with disabilities - to promoting Nazi-era protocols to identify Muslims. His bigoted rhetoric, coupled with an actual admission that he doesn't bother checking facts, combine to give the US a chance of having a president with the intellectual capacity and emotional control of a toddler having a temper tantrum.
And make no mistake, Trump is a real contender for the throne - something that is in itself terrifying.
But Trump is not alone.
The Grand Old Party (GOP) is a seething cauldron of racism and xenophobia. We saw this when the Syrian refugee crisis, which began more than four years ago while none of them were paying any attention, became a political platform. Trump's neo-Nazi Muslim ID cards was shocking, but Ted Cruz suggested we should restrict entry to allow only Christians in, and Rubio has essentially called for the Christian version of Sharia law. Even Ben Carson compared Syrian refugees to rabid dogs.
Send us your tired, your hungry, your white and your Christian. This is our America, where even a black man will easily use racism for political gain.
None of this is limited to the presidential race. Republican Rhode Island State Senator Elaine Morgan thinks Muslim refugees should live in segregated camps and more than half of US governors took the stance of publicly refusing Syrian refugees - this despite the fact that they have no say in the matter because refugee immigration is regulated under federal law.
Even Roanoke - Virginia's Mayor David Bowers thinks that we should look at the Japanese internment camps of World War II as our example for housing refugees. Our darkest hour has become an inspiration.
Proudly racist rhetoric from local to national leaders suggests that our American melting pot is boiling with a heat that it hasn't felt since the mid-1800s and the 1960s. Black Lives Matter protesters proclaim: "This ain't your mama's civil rights movement," while white supremacist groups rally with what feels like increased support from political leaders. Latino communities exercise increased political power even as the Supreme Court threatens to diminish the Latino vote in favour of more voting strength for white populations.
The US is boiling, and politicians know it, especially Trump. Happy to make money from Muslims, he pals around with them in Dubai calling them his friends, but he'll stand on a stump saying we should ban Muslims from the country because he knows that such racist language will win him votes.
Meanwhile, we have a two-term democratic president, and if history is any judge, there's very little the Democrats can do to win. As evidence, see the ineffectual campaigns of Clinton and Sanders - both of whom seem dedicated to little more than checking the "at least I tried" box.
The GOP can say what they want because the majority of its voting base in the US seems to agree with its racist ideology. In fact, racism is the biggest card that the Republican party has in this game, and it's a Trump card.
As grim as this scenario sounds, it actually gives me some hope.
It seems racism is on the rise. But today, the black community is mobilised in a way not seen since - or even during - the Civil Rights Movement. Black voters are vocal in the streets and on social media, and are increasingly demanding that Democrats "earn this damn vote or lose it". Gone are the days of being assured of the black vote while supporting policies that destroy black communities.
Black and Hispanic people are increasingly taking roles in government while white population numbers are dwindling. Even the acceptance of white norms are unabashedly fought by entertainers such as Nicki Minaj and Kanye West.
The world is changing, white supremacy is under threat. I'm not just talking about skinheads, I'm talking about the implicit white supremacy that allows the media to label white mass murders as "quiet" while labelling innocent black murder victims "the son of drug users".
I'm talking about the white supremacy that created the war on drugs that disproportionately convicts black and Hispanic people for drug use even though white people are more likely to use, abuse, and deal drugs.
The melting pot has always worked because it's been a cream base with a few extra ingredients. But within a generation, white people will be the minority. Many people are afraid of this - interestingly, they are often those who would argue that racial inequality is an imagined issue. If that's so, why would a white minority be a problem? Becoming a minority wouldn't be scary if we honestly believed minorities were treated with equity.
But we don't believe that, so weapons are being drawn in the battle for white supremacy's reign.
I think the violence and rhetoric is from people who realise the party's over - not tomorrow, we still have work to do, but better days are coming. There's a manic kind of violence in today's white supremacy - whether it's in the Chicago police department, Fox media, or Dylann Roof. White supremacy is a cornered rat that sees its own mortality and wants to cause as much damage as possible on its way to the grave.
But this mania is countered by a confident strength in our minority communities. Black women are standing topless in the streets with their fists in the air. Hispanic communities are unapologetically flexing their political power. Even Muslims - who are taking this racist xenophobia on the chin - are refusing to feel guilty and asking why everyday Christians don't feel the need to apologise for Christian 'terrorists'. And I'm heartened by the increasing volume in voices of white people, many formerly silent, who are saying, "We can do better than this."
White supremacy has had its run, but it will fight in increasingly violent displays as it's dying. Trump and the rest of the GOP contenders know this and want to capitalise on it. They are stoking fear of a changing world to their advantage. They don't care about their voter base. They don't care about the next generation, or even really about this one. They care only about winning the election, and they're willing to crank up the heat and burn us all to do it.
John Metta has worked as a cook, groundskeeper, store clerk, park ranger, Navy submariner, Army wartime medic, hydrologist, school teacher, software developer, mathematical modeller, and underwater archaeologist. Before any of these jobs, and during them all, he was writing. Always writing.
ISIS’s propaganda success, and how to fight it
By Maria Dubovikova
Thursday, 10 December 2015
ISIS is the first terrorist organization to have successfully gained power through the use of modern media.
Its media system is working in two key dimensions. First of all, it targets the audience inside the ISIS ranks. Propaganda is used to maintain morale and to manipulate ISIS fighters.
Secondly it targets the ìoutsideî audience. The propaganda is performed on both systemic level ñ through the so-called Al Hayat Media Center, the ISIS media arm ñ and on the network level, through social media, messengers, Skype and the direct work on the ground of so-called ìISIS emissariesî, or recruiters.
The Al Hayat Media Center produces videos shared via social media and mobile messengers, as well as publishing journals in several languages, with most issues weighing in at 60 to 70 pages.
Thatís 60 to 70 glossy pages of total evil, blood and terror ñ with the name of Allah and quotations from the Quran repeated on the each page, even though ISIS has nothing in common either with Allah or the Quran. The group just use both for the sake of its own devilish and bloody interests.
The core of the propaganda is the idea of ìus and themî. We are righteous Muslims, ISIS declare. ìTheyî are kafirs ñ infidels ñ and crusaders.
But ISIS is also putting Muslim communities under pressure, through threats and oppression. The group knows that even the calmest Muslims cannot bear sustained oppression and humiliation for a long time, and finally they will become radicalized.
So why is ISIS propaganda proving so successful? The reasons are simple.
1. Visual communication
The first reason is the high quality work produced by ISIS ideologists, with specialist design and promotion. The visual quality of their journals is very high. Across the world, societies value images over text, and so ISIS has chosen the right form of propaganda. By spreading images through the modern media, ISIS reaches millions of people.
2. Preying on ignorance
The second reason is the historically ill-conceived system of integration of Muslim immigrants in Western societies, and the lack of a coherent promotion of the true image of moderate Islam to the broader public. ISIS is successfully using religious texts, playing on the weak religious literacy of some Muslims, and an absolute ignorance of many non-Muslims about Islam.
3. Westís Mideast policy
The third reason is the Western countriesí policy in the Middle East leading to the chaos in the region. The dangerous play on the discords and the regional contradictions, and the imposition of Western models of behavior and politics inapplicable to the region, lead to the growth of anti-Western sentiments and tensions inside the societies. This is successfully used by the ISIS ideologists. ISIS constantly reminds people of what it sees as historical injustice, or a constant humiliation by the West ñ the ëkafirsí, the ëcrusadersí ñ on Muslim civilization. ISIS uses the actions of the international coalition and Russian ideologists to promote the idea that the West and Russia are waging a war against the Muslim world.
4. Social environment
The fourth reason for the propaganda success is the state of the social environment. The modern world is gradually losing its reference points for values. This is witnessed in the mutation of the institution of family, social isolation, and the paradox of wealthy societies, in which some are led to seek thrilling experiences. The social inequality and lack of justice also play to the hand of ISIS. And to the lonely, ISIS promotes the idea of a society where everyone is a brother or sister. They promise justice and equality. But they also propose a ëthrillingí experience ñ to those who are seeking it: to kill not only in PC games, but in real life.
How to fight the war
The moment to counter the propaganda battle is already lost. And while there is no guarantee we will win the wider war, there is still a chance to fight an idea with another. And the words of the Quran, and the true sense of Islam, should be the main weapon in this war on ISIS propaganda.
Maria Dubovikova is a President of IMESClub and CEO of MEPFoundation. Alumni of MGIMO (Moscow State Institute of International Relations [University] of Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia), now she is a PhD Candidate there. Her research fields are in Russian foreign policy in the Middle East, Euro-Arab dialogue, policy in France and the U.S. towards the Mediterranean, France-Russia bilateral relations, humanitarian cooperation and open diplomacy. She can be followed on Twitter: @politblogme