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Social Media War on Daesh Should Go Global: New Age Islam's Selection, 27 January 2016

New Age Islam Edit Bureau

27 January 2016

Social Media War on Daesh Should Go Global

By Allan Jacob

ISIL Prolongs US War of Contradictions In Afghanistan

Aimal Faizi

Does Joe Biden Really Mean What He Says On ISIS?

By Raed Omari

Has The West Betrayed The Syrian People?

By Marwan Bishara

Compiled by New Age Islam Edit Bureau


Social Media War on Daesh Should Go Global

By Allan Jacob

January 27, 2016

UAE makes a good start with Sawab, other countries should join campaign.

No war on terrorism is complete without a war on the ideology that drives terrorists and makes them do the despicable things they do. One reason why the fight against Daesh failed four years ago. But now, the UAE has opened a new front on social media even as extremist groups seek lone wolves and activate operatives across the world to complete the bloody task begun in Syria and Iraq.

Renewed airstrikes on Daesh targets by the US and Russia, followed by the counter-offensive by the Kurds and the Iraqi army have helped take back 30 per cent of territory held by the group.

But social media is an open space, a wider expanse, where anonymity often has dangerous dimensions, which the group has exploited to attract sympathisers to its cause.

Recruiters trawl the Net for the unsuspecting, vulnerable and the lost, and play to their doubts - taking over mind space, so to speak. Paris, San Bernardino, the Russian jet bombing, and the attacks in Turkey and Indonesia are an extension of the ground war in the heart of the Middle.

But the counter-narrative from the UAE is backed by the right institutional framework. The government has roped in scholars and other leaders to target this ideology of hate. Named Sawab (the right path), is backed by the United States, but what is required is a global social media campaign involving other countries and intelligence agencies for effective surveillance and targeted messaging against extremist thought.

Taking back online space from extremists is a tough task as tech savvy groups like Daesh slip into the shadows and traverses multiple media channels in different avatars.

Dozens of Daesh accounts appear on Twitter every day, according to Veryan Khan, a leading expert, who closely monitors Twitter activity of the group. The Terrorism Research and Analysis Consortium (TRAC), the US-based agency she works for says there are 6,000 Daesh 'confirmed' accounts in 13 languages. Veryan also studies the group's recruitment patterns. There are over 300,000 Daesh random accounts on social media which send out thousands of messages to wannabe terrorists in remote corners of the world. ''The real question is how many of those 300K accounts (not our 6,000 because we manually check) are real people? Daesh uses a lot of "bots" to auto-puff up their presence online,'' she says.

The UAE and the US know if they are to push back terror elements across the world and in Syria and Iraq, this new front on the Net must take on Daesh's ideology of hate. Sawab (@sawabcenter on Twitter and) is asking people to report suspicious Daesh content.

Disenchanted folk are being lured to the cause of extremists groups, who promise them a cure for all ills as they slay, brutalise, and rape people in the name of religion. Members of Daesh trawl the Web, connect with potential recruits and mentor them. Once indoctrinated, they are set on the path of violence. Some make the journey to join the militants in badlands of Syria and Iraq while others stay in their home countries and wait for an opportunity to strike.

A Good Start

Veryan says Sawab is a good start. But officially branded national government campaigns can prove tricky because they are usually met with suspicion and scepticism from those they are meant to target.

"Even if its possible to entirely censor Daesh's message on social media, the pendulum would not shift away from the global messages already in circulation."

One critical miscalculation made by most governments is to look for one single catch-all counter-narrative to battle Daesh's narratives which run into hundreds. ''No one message can be created to alleviate this cancer to society at large, no one agency can manage this effort, no one country can combat it on their own, no single individual can persuade,'' says the online counter-terror expert.

There is also a virtual ''collective Daesh fan club'' that not only offers an "undergird'' for the propaganda machine but also holds an imaginary world of acceptance, love and community for potential recruits''. If you ignore or underestimate this virtual community Daesh follower, you are making a big mistake, says Veryan.

With Twitter being under close watch for suspicious Daesh activity, the group has moved to Telegram to spread their message and contact potential recruits. Telegram is used more by not only Daesh supporters, but militants in the field. The group uses Telegram first to post images and videos, according to TRAC.

There are just too many features Telegram offers that are critical to getting messages across - like being able to download a file of any size without needing an external URL. Encryption and secret chats that auto-destruct after reading make Telegram attractive to Daesh.

While the UAE's Sawab is a good start, it's important that other countries join this counter-narrative against terror on all social networks (not just Twitter) to nullify Daesh's efforts. The online battle has only begun.



ISIL Prolongs US War of Contradictions In Afghanistan

Aimal Faizi

26 Jan 2016

We will bury ISIL in Afghanistan. This was the stark warning from Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, speaking to the BBC in Davos last weekend.

After welcoming the United States administration's decision to give full authority to the US military to target ISIL affiliated groups in Afghanistan, Ghani says Daesh has "confronted the wrong people and they need to know the consequences".

But are these the words of a defiant leader, or is Ghani now simply an embattled president desperately trying to justify a never-ending war, led by the US, in Afghanistan?

And after 15 years of an aimless and failed war against a mythical enemy, why should Afghans allow another US war to take place, this time with a new enemy, the so-called "Islamic State", in Afghanistan?

The extension of the current unfruitful "war on terror" taking place in Afghan homes and villages will only make the US a country on a perpetual war footing, but not one that attempts to defuse conflicts and in turn improves security, stabilising Afghanistan and indeed the region.

Rules Of Engagement

In May 2015, in an opinion piece for Al Jazeera, I wrote: "Never mind the assurances, the US is determined to prolong its war and its presence in Afghanistan and ISIL is preparing the ground for it."

Just last week, US President Barack Obama's administration loosened its rules of engagement for US troops in Afghanistan and the new authorisation places ISIL in the "same category as Al-Qaeda" in the country. US forces can now "kill ISIL [militants] in Afghanistan just for wearing the T-shirt or waving their flag".

The change comes as the Pentagon earlier stated that "the existence of other extremist groups in Afghanistan, such as ISIL-Khorasan Province, which could develop an interest in attacking US persons, allies and interests, requires a US presence in the region that can continue to monitor and address threats, even as the US builds an Afghan capability to deter terrorist exploitation of Afghan territory."

ISIL fighters at an undisclosed location in Kunar province, Afghanistan [EPA]

The report adds that ISIL in Afghanistan is fighting "for the establishment of a safe haven" and it has "successfully seized pockets of terrain" in the country.

But I quiz the US military leadership on the hows and whys of ISIL's progress in Afghanistan. How has ISIL, a non-indigenous force, progressed in Afghanistan under the "close watch" of the US? Who are its militants and how and where do they get their support from?

How did ISIL make headway in Afghanistan?

Official US statements on the topic are riddled with contradictions. On February 12, 2015, speaking before the Senate Armed Services Committee, General John F Campbell, the top US commander in Afghanistan, stated: "We are keeping our eye on the potential emergence of the Islamic State."

Nascent Threat

How has ISIL, a non-indigenous force, progressed in Afghanistan under the 'close watch' of the US?

Later, he affirmed that ISIL remains one of his "priority intelligence requirements" and its threat is "nascent". In June 2015, the Pentagon asserted that it "closely watches ISIL" in Afghanistan. In their messages, the US military sources were describing ISIL's activities as "limited recruiting efforts" and its affiliates were named "rebranded" Taliban.

In the US, the leadership described ISIL as being in its "exploratory phase" and downplayed its presence in Afghanistan.

So it has come as a great surprise to many to see the Afghan president exploit fears of ISIL in the country, laying the groundwork for the extension of US military presence and ongoing operations.

On the national and international stages, Ghani called "Daesh [ISIL] terrorism version 6" and "windows 7.0", comparing it to Al-Qaeda, as described by him, "Windows 1.0".

In July 2015, he even went as far as proposing Afghanistan be used as a "regional hub" in the fight against ISIL by the US, after meeting with the US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in Kabul.

Meanwhile, between July and December 2015, unimaginable atrocities were committed by cold-blooded terrorists coming from the FATA region (belonging to the Pakistan's state-sponsored terrorist organisation Lashkar-e-Taiba) on the Afghans, mainly in the eastern part of the country, under the name and black flag of ISIL.

Non-Indigenous Force

Afghans perceive ISIL as a non-indigenous force and the terrorist activities taking place under its name as part of a foreign intelligence design, spreading from neighbouring Pakistan into their country. Afghan parliamentarians continue to blame the US and the Afghan national unity government for not curbing ISIL activities in the country.

First deputy of the Lower House of the Parliament, Zahir Qadir accused Ghani's government of "inaction" and "backing Daesh [ISIL]" in the eastern province of Nangarhar. Residents of the province and Afghan senators claimed that ISIL militants are being "dropped" by "unidentified helicopters" at night in their areas.

All this further increases suspicions about Washington's objectives and motives in Afghanistan and, of course, for the region. In order to counter the growing threat of terrorism in Afghanistan, Russia, Iran and China now "seek unlikely alliance" with the Taliban as they see "interests objectively coincide".

This begs the question, with the presence of some 9,800 US troops and several thousand NATO military personnel in Afghanistan, how did ISIL, a non-native force; make such headway in the country within a year? Is this a failure on the part of the US military and should they be held accountable for ISIL's progress? Finally, why should Afghans now take more US bombs for it?

The US must embrace the protection of Afghan lives, and this should be central to its war policy in the country. Alongside Russia, China, India and Iran, Washington should commit to building cooperative diplomatic and political solutions to maintain security and peace.

Or else, perpetual US military operations within Afghanistan will not be a game changer in achieving security and defeating terrorism; rather they will form a policy of invasion, occupation and empire.

Aimal Faizi is an Afghan journalist and former spokesperson for former Afghan President Hamid Karzai from 2011-2014.



Does Joe Biden Really Mean What He Says On ISIS?

By Raed Omari

26 January 2016

In several public speeches and interviews U.S. Vice President Joe Biden has reiterated “I always say what I mean.” I wonder whether his recent remarks on ISIS can really fit into this mould, especially with facts on the ground suggesting the exact opposite.

In a joint press conference with Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu in Istanbul recently, Biden said the U.S. and Turkey are prepared for a military solution against ISIS in Syria should the Syrian government and rebel-opposition forces fail to reach a peace agreement during their upcoming meeting in Geneva.

Even if we assume that Biden really meant what he said, there are undeniable complications that would hinder the implementation of his conditional warning – paramount of which is Russia’s presence in Syria.

It is pertinent to ask how the U.S. can fight ISIS in Syria without any cooperation and coordination with the Russians whose jet fighters control the country’s airspace.

The outcome that Moscow seeks in Syria is all overwhelmingly inimical to long-term U.S. interests

Zero military cooperation with Russia has been an established principle of the U.S. since the end of the World War II, unless things really change on the ground or if there is convergence of interests between Moscow and Washington on Syria. Americans so far maintain there is no such thing.

Also, how can Ankara be involved in any of Washington’s military action in Syria given its unabridged enmity toward Moscow? Answers to these questions might provide the context for his remarks.


Biden’s remarks are also inconsistent with the Obama Administration’s position on Syria. ISIS, as put in one way or another by Biden, is Washington’s only stake in Syria. However, President Obama has himself has affirmed and re-affirmed that ending Syria’s longstanding dictatorship is the U.S.’s top priority.

For Obama, the Assad regime is the source of all terror in Syria while it is ISIS for Biden. And if defeating ISIS is Washington’s first and foremost priority in Syria – as understood from his press remarks – then Washington may need to cooperate with Assad or soften its position toward him. This would be very embarrassing for President Obama considering his unaltered firmness that “Assad must go”.

If the U.S. really has a military plan in place for ISIS in Syria (not for Syria), which it wants to implement without the need to coordinate with the Russians, it has to be in the form of intensified airstrikes and not with American boots on the ground.

However, the question is who will carry out such a plan? Depending on the White House pledges and statements, ground troops fighting ISIS would neither be American nor Syrian Kurds – to avoid angering the Turks.

They will probably constitute Syrian rebels that are seen as moderate by Washington. But what happens if Syrian rebels get busy fighting ISIS giving Assad the opportunity to make gains on the ground? Or what if Assad joins in with the fight?

Moscow’s Interests

Fact remains that Obama has been hesitant to go to war since the early days of his presidency and doesn’t seem to be changing this position in its final leg. If Syria peace talks are meant to destroy ISIS, this entails Washington’s willingness to cooperate with Assad.

The other question is whether Russia’s primary motivation in Syria is indeed a broad counterterrorism campaign. Moscow’s intervention is driven by multiple overlapping motives – of which the fight against ISIS is just one.

The outcome that Moscow seeks – including strengthening of the Assad regime, preserving Russia’s military access to the Mediterranean and gaining leverage for its policies in Ukraine – are all overwhelmingly inimical to long-term U.S. interests.

Even though Washington and Moscow share a tactical interest in eliminating ISIS, embracing Putin’s current approach toward Syria does not make for a sound U.S. policy.

Russia is not really fighting against ISIS. It is propping up the Syrian regime. If Russia were truly engaged against ISIS, its promises and desires would deserve a serious look. But it’s simply backing a brutal dictator and sticking it to the U.S. in doing so.

Raed Omari is a Jordanian journalist, political analyst, parliamentary affairs expert, and commentator on local and regional political affairs. His writing focuses on the Arab Spring, press freedoms, Islamist groups, emerging economies, climate change, natural disasters, agriculture, the environment and social media. He is a writer for The Jordan Times, and contributes to Al Arabiya English.



Has The West Betrayed The Syrian People?

By Marwan Bishara

26 Jan 2016

Listening to Staffan de Mistura during Tuesday's press conference, I could only shake my head in amazement. The charming UN mediator has tried to fudge and blur the true nature of the diplomatic process he's fronting, but he left little doubt in my mind as to who's dictating the preconditions for a Geneva-3.

The Swedish Italian diplomat insisted that there would be no Syrian precondition to the kicking off of what he called "proximity talks" between the regime and various delegations, but he neglected to mention that the entire diplomatic process has been hostage to Russian-Iranian preconditions.

The shift in the West's approach to Syria started on September 30, 2015, with the Russian military intervention on the side of the weakened Syrian regime.

The Obama administration's timid reaction to the Russian aerial bombings of the Syrian opposition groups, many of whom it presumably supported, only emboldened and expanded Moscow's role in the ruined nation.

Consequences of Russia's Interference

Although he warned of the dangerous consequences of Russia's interference, US President Barack Obama has in reality built on the Russian military involvement.

The US-Russian-led international Syria meetings in Vienna on October 30 and November 14 revealed Washington's true intentions. The latter meeting came against the backdrop of the Paris attacks, and for all practical purpose, focused the West's attention on fighting ISIL, instead of ridding Syria of Assad.

After the meeting adopted a far-reaching road map that ends in 2017, US Secretary of State John Kerry invited Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to New York on December 18. At the UN, the US embraced the Russian draft for a new UN Security Council resolution on Syria, despite opposition from Washington's Middle East allies such as Turkey and Saudi Arabia.

UNSC resolution 2254 gave the diplomatic process a new momentum, but it also stripped the Syria opposition of much of its gains. It also mandated De Mistura to designate the opposition representatives to be officially invited to the talks.

Previous agreement about a transitional Syrian government with executive powers that sidelines Assad, has apparently been replaced with a Russian plan of unity government with Assad on top, leading to elections in which Assad can run.

Ultimately, as Russia's foreign minister boasted, Moscow's military intervention has turned the tables in its favour in Russia, and its ally the Syrian dictator while, in the words of US Secretary of State John Kerry, US interference in Syria is focused on fighting terrorism only.

Slippery Slope

Kerry's statement contradicts previous US positions and policies that provided support, albeit meagre, for the opposition, and underlined the need for Assad to go.

Washington and Moscow might have swapped positions, and De Mistura has proven far more pleasant than Dennis Ross, but the cynicism of the world's superpowers is just the same. Except this time around, it's Russia that's dictating the process.

From the outset, Obama has raised the expectations of the Syria people, but the US did little or nothing about the genocide carried out against them. An estimated quarter of a million Syrians have perished and millions more have been displaced by war over the past five years, mostly at the hands of the regime.

But the US president backed down even when the Syrian regime trampled over Washington and the world's redline regarding the use of chemical weapons. The Obama administration accepted a Russian proposal to disarm Assad of his weapons of mass destruction without a fight, but the regime has since turned ever bloodier.

On the political front, it was the US that worked along with its allies to help unite the Syrian opposition; first in the Syrian National Council and later in the National Coalition, which Washington believed was "inclusive", and recognised it at the end of 2012 as the sole "representative of the Syrian people".

And last December 8-9, the Syrian National coalition met with other groups, including the two most formidable fighting groups, Ahrar al-Sham and Jaish al-Islam, and agreed on the negotiation teams as well as a vision of a democratic and civil Syria that respects human rights.

Deja-Vu All Over Again

However, by the end of 2015, Washington had changed its position once again, or more accurately, it had realigned its Syria policy with Moscow's, strategically, politically and diplomatically. In essence, it has turned its back on the Syrian people who struggled, fought and died defending against the Russia-supported Assad regime.

De Mistura's diplomatic nudge and fudge over Syrian "proximity talks" reminds me of more of the same diplomatic jargon one heard from the failed Oslo Process over the years.

Washington and Moscow might have swapped positions, and De Mistura has proven far more pleasant than Dennis Ross, but the cynicism of the world's superpowers is just the same. Except this time around, it's Russia that's dictating the process.

What both parties don't see (or perhaps they do!), is that their attempts to sacrifice the Syrian people in the fight against ISIL will resolve nothing. It will instead lead to more extremism, instability and violence.

Marwan Bishara is the senior political analyst at Al Jazeera.