New Age Islam Edit Bureau
DEC. 9, 2015
• How ISIS Makes Radicals
By David Brooks
• As a political entity, Iraq is melting away
By Dr. John C. Hulsman
• How the battle against extremism can be won
By Tariq A. Al-Maeena
• Trump’s rampant Islamophobia
By Saudi Gazette
• Hopes fade for end to Russia-Turkey crisis
By Dr. Ali Al-Ghamdi
• Riyadh conference key in seeking alternative to Assad
By Abdulrahman al-Rashed
How ISIS Makes Radicals
By David Brooks
DEC. 8, 2015
After the terrorist attack in San Bernardino, some people’s minds flew to the materialistic element of the atrocity — the guns that were used in the killing. But the crucial issue, it seems to me, is what you might call the technology of persuasion — how is it that the Islamic State is able to radicalize a couple living in Redlands, Calif.? What psychological tools does it possess that enable it to wield this far-flung influence?
The best source of wisdom on this general subject is still “The True Believer,” by Eric Hoffer, which he wrote back in 1951. Hoffer distinguished between practical organizations and mass movements. The former, like a company or a school, offer opportunities for self-advancement. The central preoccupation of a mass movement, on the other hand, is self-sacrifice. The purpose of an organization like ISIS is to get people to negate themselves for a larger cause.
Mass movements, he argues, only arise in certain conditions, when a once sturdy social structure is in a state of decay or disintegration. This is a pretty good description of parts of the Arab world. To a lesser degree it is a good description of isolated pockets of our own segmenting, individualized society, where some people find themselves totally cut off.
The people who serve mass movements are not revolting against oppression. They are driven primarily by frustration. Their personal ambitions are unfulfilled. They have lost faith in their own abilities to realize their dreams. They sometimes live with an unrelieved boredom. Freedom aggravates their sense of frustration because they have no one to blame but themselves for their perceived mediocrity. Fanatics, the French philosopher Ernest Renan argued, fear liberty more than they fear persecution.
The successful mass movement tells such people that the cause of their frustration is outside themselves, and that the only way to alter their personal situation is to transform the world in some radical way.
To nurture this self-sacrificing attitude, the successful mass movement first denigrates the present. Its doctrine celebrates a glorious past and describes a utopian future, but the present is just an uninspiring pit. The golden future begins to seem more vivid and real than the present, and in this way the true believer begins to dissociate herself from the everyday facts of her life: Her home, her town, even her new child. Self-sacrifice is an irrational act, so mass movements get their followers to believe that ultimate truth exists in another realm and cannot be derived from lived experience and direct observation.
Next mass movements denigrate the individual self. Everything that is unique about an individual is either criticized, forbidden or diminished. The individual’s identity is defined by the collective group identity, and fortified by a cultivated hatred for other groups.
There’s a lot of self-renunciation going on here. Ironically the true believer’s feeling that he is selfless can lead to arrogance and merciless cruelty. It can also be addictive. If the true believer permitted himself to lose faith in his creed then all that self-imposed suffering would have been for nothing.
These movements generate a lot of hatred. But ultimately, Hoffer argues, they are driven by a wild hope. They believe an imminent perfect future can be realized if they proceed recklessly to destroy the present. The glorious end times are just around the corner.
This kind of thinking is fantastical. “In the practice of mass movements,” Hoffer continues, “make-believe plays perhaps a more enduring role than any other factor.” The fanatics stage acts of violent theatricality, acutely aware of their audience. They dress up in military costumes. They rent mysterious black SUVs. Shooting a bunch of unarmed innocents couldn’t be more pathetic, but they play it with all the theatrical dramaturgy of a Hollywood action movie.
Hoffer summarizes his thought this way, “For men to plunge headlong into an undertaking of vast change they must be intensely discontented yet not destitute, and they must have the feeling that by the possession of some potent doctrine, infallible leader or some new technique they have access to a source of irresistible power. They must also have an extravagant conception of the prospects and potentialities of the future. Finally, they must be wholly ignorant of the difficulties involved in their vast undertaking. Experience is a handicap.”
The big thing that has changed in the past 60 odd years is that you don’t actually have to join a mass movement any more. You can follow it online and participate remotely.
The correct response is still the same, however. First, try to heal the social disintegration that is the seedbed of these movements. Second, offer positive inspiring causes to replace the suicidal ones. Third, mass movements are conquered when their charisma is destroyed, when they are defeated militarily and humiliated. Then they can no longer offer hope, inspiration or a plausible way out for the disaffected.
As a political entity, Iraq is melting away
By Dr. John C. Hulsman
Tuesday, 8 December 2015
As a political-risk analyst, it is easy in the rush of every day to lose sight of what truly matters, the patterns behind the headlines that actually condition the world we find ourselves in. No region is this presently more true of than the Middle East, where immediate, dramatic stories tend to dominate the headlines and one’s thinking, and at times threaten to obscure the quieter but more important forces shaping things.
This past week three very disparate stories – on the face of it, none very important in and of themselves – have made clear a longer-term trend that is just now becoming dimly apparent, but which has the potential to upend any number of comfortable realities about the Middle East in general.
For Iraq as a political entity is ceasing to matter, as it is quickly becoming a state only in name.
Hapless, if well-meaning government
The first indication of this seminal event was the recent (and wholly justifiable) frustration that the U.S. Secretary of Defence Ash Carter exhibited about the hapless – if broadly well-meaning – government of Haidar al-Abadi. As ISIS has risen, the government in Baghdad, greatly worried it was about to lose total and final control of the Kurdish north and the Sunni centre and west of the country, demanded that Washington re-route all military supplies through the central government in Baghdad, to then be doled out to the restive regions. That way the Abadi government would in theory maintain some tenuous control over the situation.
But in practice the system has not worked well enough, in American eyes. The Kurds have been helped, but grudgingly, and the crucial Sunni tribal leaders, not much at all. Yet without a repeat of the Sahwa militia movement – when Sunni tribal leaders successfully turned on ISIS’s predecessor, al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), with American guns and logistical support – there will be no end to the massive instability in the region. In Secretary Carter’s mind, combating ISIS trumps the bruised sensibilities of the inept Abadi government. He made it clear that if the tribal leaders rise up, America will help arm them, directly if necessary.
Little comfort at home
If the Americans have had enough, Prime Minister Abadi has found little comfort at home, either. On Nov. 2, the Iraqi parliament voted to put an end to the premier’s tepid efforts at reform, which was just as well as the program did nothing to bridge Sunni-Shia divisions in the country, fight ISIS more effectively through revamping the Iraqi army, or combating the scourge of corruption. In other words, the plan deliberately ignored the larger issues pulling the country apart, instead focusing on the less controversial (and less important) need to better administer the bloated Iraqi government.
The reform agenda began in August 2015, in a blaze of optimism. In response to large protests in Baghdad and in the Shia-dominated south of the country, particularly relating to corruption and a lack of basic services (there were electricity black-outs in one of the hottest years in Iraq ever recorded) the timid Abadi at last moved to act. Bolstered by the full-throated support of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, easily the most popular and reputable man in the country, Abadi proposed streamlining government services.
But, as was true with the Americans over the armaments issue, there was simply no real follow up. Just three months later the reform agenda upon which Abadi seemed to stake all his limited political capital has come to nothing, ending in the damp squib of the past month. If the Abadi government have only a tenuous hold over possessing a foreign policy, they no longer seem to have a domestic programme, either.
But the Turkish incursion of the past week was probably the most humiliating blow of all. It seems that for the past year, the Erdogan government has been training its allies in the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) in the north of the country. Abadi was not informed of the Turkish deployment of hundreds of troops 30 kilometres northeast of Mosul, even though the Obama administration had long known of it. Instead, the Turks came at the request of their Kurdish allies.
Predictably, Baghdad was enraged, more for looking so completely out of their depth, than for any other reason. Calling in the Turkish Ambassador to Baghdad, the Abadi government is demanding the immediate withdrawal of Turkish forces, making it clear they considered the Turkish presence ‘a hostile act.’ Of course, this is not Turkey’s only incursion into what is nominally Iraqi territory; the Erdogan government has been regularly shelling their foes, the PKK, over the past few months, as the long-dormant conflict between Ankara and the Turkish Kurds has sprung back to life.
All these seemingly very different stories are in reality one increasingly powerful narrative: Iraq is increasingly no longer an actor on the Middle Eastern stage. Instead, like swathes of Syria, it is fast becoming merely an arena where other powers do as they like. Be it the Abadi government’s haplessness regarding the arming of sub-units of the Iraq state, its pathetic reform agenda, or Baghdad’s inability to control its borders (or even know what goes on within them), all signs point in the same ominous direction: Iraq is melting away.
Dr. John C. Hulsman is the President and Co-Founder of John C. Hulsman Enterprises (www.john-hulsman.com), a successful global political risk consulting firm. An eminent foreign policy expert, John is the senior columnist for City AM, the newspaper of the city of London. Hulsman is a Life Member of the Council on Foreign Relations. The author of all or part of 11 books, Hulsman has also given 1490 interviews, written over 410 articles, prepared over 1270 briefings, and delivered more than 460 speeches on foreign policy around the world.
How the battle against extremism can be won
By Tariq A. Al-Maeena
Dec 9, 2015
The rise of Islamophobia in many countries has reached unprecedented levels. Unfortunately, most of it is based on false assumptions by individuals who prey on the fears of their countrymen to seek an advantage either in the polls or in office. Donald Trump is an excellent example.
He lies about personally witnessing Muslims celebrating the fall of the Twin Towers as he drove around in New Jersey, a falsehood totally debunked by the then attorney general of the state who flatly dismissed such claims.
He now proposes that Muslims be barred from entering the United States. Trump is not alone in spreading such lies and preying on the fears of those who are not really aware of all the facts. The current crop of presidential hopefuls in the US are all lining up to take potshots at Islam and Muslims. They are from the same genre as their forefathers who burned and lynched Afro-Americans and others of color before the US Constitution stepped in and protected them.
But how has Islamic extremism been spawned in recent times? A writer who goes by the name Tyler Durden makes it simple and easy to understand the birth of militant groups who go about spreading their brand of terrorism in the name of Islam. He writes that “in order to understand the rise of militant Salafi groups like Daesh (the self-proclaimed IS) and Al-Qaeda; in order to wrap our minds around their heinous, abominable attacks on civilians in the US, France, Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Nigeria, Turkey, Yemen, Afghanistan and many, many more countries, we must rekindle this historical memory.
Where did militant Salafi groups like Daesh and Al-Qaeda come from? The answer is not as complicated as many make it out to be — but, to understand, we must delve into the history of the Cold War, the historical period lied about in the West perhaps more than any other.”
Durden contends that the opposition to the Russian forces who invaded Afghanistan was heavily financed and armed under the direction of the then US president Ronald Reagan who feared Soviet expansion and was very suspicious of their ideology. Under Osama Bin Laden, the Mujahideen, an international coalition of Islamic militia was organized and provided field training by the CIA and US military advisers and then sent out to help free Afghanistan from the Communists. They eventually morphed into both Al-Qaeda and the Taliban.
The UK daily, the Independent, portentously wrote many years ago: “When the history of the Afghan resistance movement is written, Mr Bin Laden’s own contribution to the Mujahideen – and the indirect result of his training and assistance – may turn out to be a turning point in the recent history of militant fundamentalism.”
Speaking to a gathering of students at the University of Colorado in Boulder in October 1998, just seven months before his death, Eqbal Ahmad, a Pakistani political scientist, writer, journalist, and anti-war activist, was strongly critical of the Middle Eastern strategy of the United States, and believed that US generosity in training and arming independent militia would one day backfire.
He said: “In Islamic history, jihad as an international violent phenomenon had disappeared in the last 400 years, for all practical purposes. It was revived suddenly with American help in the 1980s. When the Soviet Union intervened in Afghanistan, Zia ul-Haq, the US-backed military dictator of Pakistan, which borders on Afghanistan, saw an opportunity and launched a jihad there against godless communism. The US saw a God-sent opportunity to mobilize one billion Muslims against what Reagan called the ‘Evil Empire.’ Money started pouring in. CIA agents starting going all over the Muslim world recruiting people to fight in the great jihad.”
Once the jihad against the Russians was won, Ahmad was concerned that the lust for war in many of the veterans of that conflict would not easily dissipate. Noam Chomsky, another modern-day Cassandra, is more outspoken. “Everybody’s worried about stopping terrorism. Well, there’s a really easy way: stop participating in it.”
Bin Laden is gone but his twisted philosophy remains in the minds of those he left behind. With the fall of Iraq, more militant groups were liberated to form their own empires. They went about spreading their form of terror, always using Islam as a cover to justify their warped motives. They do not speak for all Muslims. It is now time for Muslims to demonstrate to a suspicious world that we are not terrorists. We must reach out to people of other faiths and establish that.
Pat Bergstresser, an American activist who has fought long and hard in the pursuit of justice for the dispossessed Palestinians said: “God created everything and for a good purpose. We must put our hearts, minds and spirits together to work on solutions based upon mutual respect and compassion rather than destruction of things that are different. If we destroy what God has created then are we disrespecting God?”
Trump’s rampant Islamophobia
By Saudi Gazette
Dec 9, 2015
It may be a stretch, but people need to take Donald Trump seriously. The leading Republican contender for the presidential ticket is not a joke. The fact that he makes himself look and sound ridiculous in the eyes of most thinking observers should not be allowed to obscure the reality that, in just over one year, it is perfectly possible that this man could be in the White House.
Trump started off as a populist politician with the simplistic message that just he had made himself a billionaire through his business dealings, he could make Americans rich again too. Apparently gauche, with a mouth that all too often ran away with him, Trump caught the attention of Middle America by launching attacks on liberal Political Correctness. He did not in fact put his finger on the excess of the PC lobby, which is that it has lost its liberal values by becoming utterly intolerant of anyone who does not kowtow to its received wisdom. But he nevertheless made people catch their breath with comments about ugly women and disabled reporters. Indeed, his very outrageousness has caused people to sit up and take notice.
But his apparent fearlessness conceals a profound ignorance. His carte blanche condemnation of immigrants and his vow to send home the millions who are in the United States illegally entirely overlooks the historic reality that America is a land built on immigration. Trump says immigrants do not understand US civilization. He vigorously backs deplorable moves in Congress to stop the Obama administration from accepting Syrian refugees. He does not appear to know or foolishly does not care that one of the archetypical US products owned worldwide, the Apple computers, phones and tablets, were created by the son of Syrian migrants, Steve Jobs.
But now Trump has excelled himself in his boorish, oafish pronouncements. He has called for all Muslims to be stopped from traveling to the US. This is a barely credible and deeply sinister idea. He is suggesting that absolutely every Muslim, be they businessmen and women, tourists, diplomats, students or people seeking healthcare or even US servicemen who are Muslims who have been serving their country abroad, should immediately be barred “while we work out what is going on in the Muslim world”
What is going on in the Muslim world Mr Trump is instability and conflict caused in no small measure by your country’s ill-informed and catastrophic interference in Iraq under President George W. Bush and the failure of his successor Barack Obama to act against the bloody Assad regime. What is also going on is the offensive and purblind insistence that all Muslims are terrorists and are, therefore, the enemy. What will this man say next? The logic of his chilling words is that American Muslims should themselves be thrown out of the country they love and revere.
The San Bernardino gun rampage by a clearly demented couple is being used by this would-be president as clear proof that all Muslims constitute an enemy in the midst of the United States. Trump of course makes no mention of non-Muslim US killers who regularly rampage with high-powered assault weapons, slaughtering innocents, including children. One of his rivals for the Republican nomination, Jeb Bush, has condemned Trump’s Islamophobia and called him “unhinged”. That is far too kind a description of this dangerous man.
Hopes fade for end to Russia-Turkey crisis
By Dr. Ali Al-Ghamdi
Dec 9, 2015
The downing of the Russian Su-24 fighter jet by Turkish F-16s for entering Turkish airspace without permission has led to a dangerous escalation between the two countries, and this badly affects their hitherto strong economic and commercial relations. From the Turkish point of view, the shooting down of the plane was imperative as it had violated the country’s airspace in spite of repeated warnings. Ankara claimed that Russian warplanes had earlier violated Turkish airspace several times and that Russia had apologized for it.
As for Russia, it considers the downing of the plane to be a hostile act. Russian President Vladimir Putin slammed the act saying: “This was a stab in the back by the accomplices of terrorists.” While strongly rebuffing Turkish justifications for the act, Putin announced a series of punitive measures in retaliation for the shooting down of the Russian jet. The Russian pilot who survived the crash said that the plane had not violated Turkish airspace and that he had not received any warning before being shot down.
In a move to calm the tense situation and safeguard the common interests of both countries, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan expressed his desire to meet with Putin face to face on the sidelines of the climate summit in Paris. But Putin refused to meet with his Turkish counterpart and instead insisted on an official apology from Turkey. While repeatedly emphasizing that the Russian jet had not strayed into Turkish airspace, Putin warned of painful sanctions against Turkey. Subsequently, Moscow imposed a package of sweeping sanctions against Ankara.
It is unfortunate that the Russian authorities, especially President Putin, are paying no heed to the language of reconciliation from Turkey in its attempt to ease the tense relations between the two countries. Erdogan reiterated that Turkey has never been in favor of triggering tensions and clashes, but Putin was emphatic when he vowed that Russia would never forget those who shot down its two pilots. “We don’t know why they did this and God alone knows about it. However, they will regret what they have done,” he said while accusing the Turkish leadership of abetting terror.
Ankara vehemently reacted to Putin’s allegation that Turkey is buying oil from Daesh (the self-proclaimed IS). Erdogan has challenged Putin to prove his allegations. “If such a thing is proven, the nobility of our nation would require that I no longer stay in office,” he said and added: “I am asking Mr. Putin, would you remain in office?” Erdogan also said that Russia’s presence in Syria is illegal; asking what is Russia doing in that country?
In another development, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov cancelled his visit to Turkey, which was scheduled before the downing of the Russian jet. However, Lavrov met his Turkish counterpart in Belgrade on the sidelines of the conference of the European Security and Cooperation Organization, and this created some optimism that it would be the beginning of a breakthrough in the crisis which has erupted between the two countries.
However, there is still no sign of a lessening of Russia’s anger over the Turkish act. This was evident in Russia’s declaration that it had stopped importing goods from Turkey and a series of other punitive measures.
Moreover, Russia sees Egypt as a better alternative to Turkey as a trading partner. It is interesting to note that Cairo has announced its readiness to supply Russia with fruit and vegetables. Cairo also sees it as an opportunity to punish its archrival Erdogan. Russia also suspended tourism to Turkey. This is a setback to Turkey as it relies heavily on tourism income, especially from Russian tourists.
A few days ago, Moscow suspended the Turkish Stream gas pipeline project, which was meant to take Russian gas across the Black Sea to Europe via Turkey. The giant project was highly significant for both countries and its suspension will affect the interests of the two states considerably. The loss will be much greater for Russia considering the large amount of money it has spent on this strategic project. According to observers, Russia’s suspension of the project was a tactical and preemptive move so as not to give Turkey the opportunity to suspend the project itself in retaliation for Moscow’s punitive measures.
Here, the crucial question is whether Russia will consider the punitive measures that it has already taken against Turkey in the economic, commercial and tourism sectors to be sufficient or if it will resort to military action as well. Even though Putin has hinted that Russia will not take military action to punish Turkey, the possibility of such an eventuality cannot be entirely ruled.
In a retaliatory act, Moscow might resort to shooting down one or more Turkish warplanes on the pretext that they have violated Syrian airspace if Turkey fails to apologize as Putin demands. In such an event, the reaction of Turkey might have disastrous consequences.
— Dr. Ali Al-Ghamdi is a former Saudi diplomat who specializes in Southeast Asian affairs.
Riyadh conference key in seeking alternative to Assad
By Abdulrahman al-Rashed
Tuesday, 8 December 2015
The upcoming Riyadh conference is the first serious attempt to map out Syria's future, and it's the first meeting of Syrian opposition groups to be held according to official and international desire.
It originated from the most recent Vienna talks and their sponsors, including the Russians. Representatives of different political and armed groups - Sunnis, Alawites, Druze and Christians - will attend the meeting. It will not, of course, include key players like ISIS and the al-Nusra Front.
The participants are required to reach an agreement in order to begin forming a transitional government within six months, so it can manage the country for a year and a half and then hold elections.
The Riyadh conference is the first step to convince the opposition of a plan for a peaceful solution, one that is supposed to end the authority of Bashar al-Assad and mobilize international support to militarily cleanse Syria of Iran's militias, as well as ISIS and other terrorist organizations. Although the purpose of the conference seems mythical and the mission seems impossible, the Syrian opposition must think with its mind.
The Trojan horse
Not all of those participating in the Riyadh conference belong to a real opposition against the Syrian regime, as some of them describe themselves as "independent opposition." We know well that some of these figures are affiliated with Iran and Assad's regime. The "flexibility" displayed in the list of those invited, including some figures affiliated with Iran, may reflect one of the requirements set by the recent Vienna talks, which requested that Saudi Arabia organize the Syrian opposition conference. I expect those figures aligned with Iran to play the role of a Trojan horse during the Riyadh meeting, and attempt to thwart the prospective agreement by prolonging the debate and sabotaging the conference.
During the Vienna talks, Iran made sure not to say "no" to the idea of a government alternative to Assad, which means reducing Assad's jurisdictions but not excluding him. This regime would be similar to Iraq's where the president has very limited jurisdictions and the prime minister and parliament speaker have more powers. Therefore, real Syrian opposition groups confront a big challenge, not only on the level of reaching an agreement among one another, but also on the level of not being dragged into the sabotage game that Iran's representatives, disguised as opposition, may play.
The opposition, and primarily the Syrian National Coalition, must engage in this project for partial change for the purpose of thwarting the Iranian-Russian plan, which says the Syrian opposition is incapable of reaching an agreement to be an alternative to Assad. If the Syrian opposition succeeds at rising above its differences and manages to reach a practical solution to form a transitional government, then we will reach the implementation phase and the Iranian proposal will thus be besieged, while Russia is expected to exit its current alliance.
The Syrian opposition groups have nothing to lose if they reach an agreement and cooperate, to speed up the implementation of the decisions of the Vienna talks. If however the opposition groups end up feuding, they will lose, because world superpowers will decide the future course of Syria on their behalf.
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.