Compiled By New Age Islam Edit Bureau
28 July, 2014
• ISIS: Rapid Transformation from Militia to State
By Raed Omari
• Driven From Their Country, Syrian Refugees Consider Suicide
By Veronique Abu Ghazaleh
• How Islamic Is The ISIS?
By Muhammad Abu Talib
• Aleppo’s Rebels Struggle to Hold on as Regime, IS Advance
By Mohammed Al-Khatieb
• Maliki Furious Over Jordan-Hosted Sunni Opposition Conference
By Omar Al-Jaffal
ISIS: Rapid Transformation From Militia To State
By Raed Omari
27 July 2014
The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria has probably undergone the quickest transformation to statehood in modern history. In less than two months, it has gone from a militia to a self-proclaimed caliphate.
ISIS controls large parts of Iraq and Syria. In addition to its military power, it is said to be building an economy from taxes, theft, and black-market oil and gas sales.
Its horrific abuses have led to anger among those under its rule. However, there has been a gradual acceptance of a new reality, and a preference to the sectarian rule of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. I was shocked to hear this from Syrians and Iraqis living under ISIS.
The detachment of ISIS from Al-Qaeda has enabled ISIS to act independently without caring al-Qaeda's reputation and baggage. The near future is expected to bring about an abrupt change in Al-Qaeda’s radical ideology towards more moderation due to ISIS’s brutality and intolerance. This resembles the decades-old ideological disagreements between the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafist movement: when one shows extremism, the other shows moderation.
The relationship between ISIS and Al-Qaeda also resembles that between the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. As ISIS is an offshoot of Al-Qaeda, the Taliban in Afghanistan were either members of the latter, or received military training and guidance from it. Given present realities, we may even see ISIS with a central place at the negotiating table.
Exploiting the state of chaos and sectarianism prevailing Iraq and Syria, where the Arab Sunnis blame Shiite Iran for their marginalization, ISIS has presented itself as the defender of the Sunni identity in a bid to gain the sympathy of those sidelined segments. Prominent Islamist groups’ researcher Hassan Abu Hanieh has written an insightful piece on such a notion, attributing ISIS’s success in building alliances with the Iraqi Arab Sunnis to the latter’s belief in the Sunni Islamist militia’s willingness to eradicate Maliki’s Shiite government.
Throughout its state-building endeavour, ISIS has been adopting an “alluring” narrative, so to speak, full of anti-Iran sentiments in an effort to add legitimacy to its rule over the Sunni communities in Syria and Iraq. Its abhorrence of the “imposed” territorial state as opposed to the collective Islamic state, or Caliphate, has no doubt attracted supporters who still blame the Levant’s and Arab Peninsula’s woes to the 1916 Sykes-Picot Agreement. A video showing ISIS members from Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and other countries tearing and burning their passports was meant to show the group’s alluring belief in the collective Muslim identity.
All in all, ISIS’s presence and rule within the region is largely linked to Syria and Iraq restoring their security and stability. Once people in those pivotal war-torn countries succeed in eliminating the totalitarian rule of Assad and Maliki, their next target will be definitely destroying ISIS's "caliphate."
ISIS’s horrific attitudes within a region historically known for its religious, ethnic and cultural diversity might not be the direct reason behind its demolition one day inasmuch as it is the group’s declared confrontation with al-Qaeda affiliate al-Nusra Front.
In a tit-for-tat move against ISIS’s declaration of its Caliphate, al-Nusra has recently announced its own version of Islamic state, declared as Emarat Al Sham (the Islamic Emirate of the Levant). The new state was declared in an audio on June 29 circulated on social media, claimed to be of the al-Qaeda affiliate leader Abu Mohammad al-Joulani’s statement. The leader supposedly said that an Emirate would implement Sharia law and would form courts for that purpose.
The two radical groups, ISIS and al-Nusra, have been engaged in ideological disputes over the past period is manifested in their leaders trading accusations of deviation from Sharia law. Since his release from prison, which coincided with ISIS’s declaration of its Caliphate, Jordanian Salafist leader Isam al-Barqawi — better known as Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi – has been attacking Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s Islamist "state." Sheikh al-Maqdisi, perceived as supportive of al-Nusra’s ideology, has forcefully rejected ISIS’s declaration of a new caliphate and branded the newly-formed group “deviant."
In the ideological division and military confrontations between al-Baghdadi’s ISIS and al-Jounali’s al-Nusra Front have much resemblance to those confrontations between the Afghan Islamist leaders Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and Ahmad Shah Massoud following the Soviet Union withdrawal from Afghanistan The two leaders’ infighting during Afghanistan’s Civil War had had an immense impact on the alluring image of the Afghan revolution which ended has struggle over power.
Added to the existing abhorrence between ISIS and al-Nusra has been ideological disputes and military confrontations between al-Baghdadi and al-Joulani’s fighters - this will definitely have a negative impact on the state models the two groups have been promoting.
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. He can be reached via email@example.com, or on Twitter @RaedAlOmari2
Driven From Their Country, Syrian Refugees Consider Suicide
By Veronique Abu Ghazaleh
July 27, 2014
Despite all that has been said about the state of Syrian refugees in Lebanon, be they children, elderly or young people in the prime of life, words cannot adequately convey the reality on the ground. The longer the war in Syria endures the bigger and more complicated the refugees' problems become. Refugees are failing to secure any of their basic needs in Lebanon, from acceptable lodging to security or educational and vocational programs to assimilate the skills brought by Syrian youth with them from their home country.
The result, as seen through data submitted by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), in a study prepared in coordination with UNICEF, UNESCO, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and Save the Children International, is shocking: 41% of Syrian youth in Lebanon have thought about committing suicide as a result of feeling insecure. More specifically, 17% of displaced youth have “thought a lot about committing suicide,” while 24% have been sometimes “tempted” by the thought when they felt that no doors were opening up.
What, then, are the factors that are so negatively impacting these young refugees in Lebanon to the point that they would rather die than go on living?
Mustafa N. is a young Syrian man who holds a degree in Arabic literature. He came to Lebanon about two years ago. He openly admits that he has thought about suicide many times as a result of feeling that his life had grown meaningless. His degree is worthless in Lebanon, he said. He is unable even to give private tutoring lessons to Lebanese students, with the hope of paying for the medicine needed by his elderly parents.
Mustafa has forsaken his degree several times and sought other types of jobs, such as in agriculture or construction. He was surprised by how low the wages were and the great disregard to the lives of Syrian workers who were assigned all the dangerous jobs on site. It is from this grim perspective that Mustafa looks upon his life in Lebanon and asks: “What is it that would prevent us from committing suicide, at a time when we face such humiliation and hardships, unknown to all but those who have lived as refugees?”
Mustafa’s words are backed up by the numbers in the study, which determined that there are 185,000 young Syrian refugees in Lebanon between the ages of 15 to 24 who get paid an average monthly wage of 379,000 Lebanese pounds [$252], or 56% of the official minimum wage.
While this is the situation faced by young men, young women have it much worse. The study showed their average monthly wages were 30% less than their male counterparts.
This data leads to many questions: Can a young man, who is probably his family’s only breadwinner, live in Lebanon with his family on $252 per month? Can suicide be ruled out under such circumstances?
Risky behaviour by young people is what the UNFPA study is trying to warn against. The bitter reality engenders many types of exploitation, violence and trafficking. About 80% of young respondents asserted that they were prepared to perform any job, even if it was not on par with their qualifications. This opens the door wide to them being exploited as a result of their dire financial situation and the fact that providing for their families takes utmost priority.
Concerning young women specifically, the study confirmed the wide-scale spread of sexual harassment, exploitation and abuse. In this regard, a Syrian girl working in the agricultural sector told researchers that she was not allowed a break or a drink of water throughout the 15-hour workday unless she performed inappropriate acts. All these factors spread insecurity among Syrian youth in Lebanon. In addition to sexual exploitation and humiliation at work, some municipalities have implemented harsh measures against them, greatly restricting their lives.
The study concluded that the Syrian youth felt the Lebanese to be condescending. Despair prevailed as economic and social difficulties compounded the effects of such behaviour. It is not easy for any young man or woman to live in the same space with eight other people, while finding himself or herself rejected or even “hated” when mingling with Lebanese society, as many Syrian youth have affirmed.
Samar Haidour, a social activist who works closely with Syrian refugees through a local organization, said that the only solution to this problem was to bridge the gap between young refugees and the Lebanese, created as a result of the rejection and racially motivated fear from which they were suffering. To that end, Samar and her colleagues were trying to bring Lebanese and Syrians closer together by attempting to find them job opportunities and increase the numbers of volunteers needed to conduct visits to camps and communicate with young people.
Haidour stressed the urgent need for collective psychological treatment for refugees, as a result of the trauma they had suffered as a result of leaving their country, having to live in camps and being dependent on handouts. However, at a time when the Lebanese state is unable even to guarantee their security and prevent their exploitation, who can provide young refugees with such treatment?
How Islamic is the ISIS?
By Muhammad Abu Talib
July 25, 2014
A recent news story left me utterly shocked and angry. Yesterday, the Islamic State (formerly known as the ISIS), a militant outfit, blew up and levelled one of the most well known and revered shrines in Mosul, Iraq – the resting place of Prophet Younus (AS). The militants blew up the shrine in front of a large number of people.
The Islamic State (IS) has razed 15 mosques so far, belonging to both Sunni and Shia sects and, interestingly, this recent destruction of Prophet Younus’s (AS) shrine was done under the supervision of a proclaimed ‘caliph’.
In the middle of all this chaos, my questions are simple.
What sort of a caliphate is this that believes in annihilating our prophets’ resting places?
Is this what Islam preaches?
What twisted version of Islam does the ISIS follow when it blows up holy places and destroys nearly 30 shrines?
It is all beyond my understanding.
The IS aims to bring forward an anti-western political doctrine. Following a hard-lined extremist ideology, similar to that of the al Qaeda, and complying with the global jihadist principles, it is determined to establish an Islamic state of its own that will follow radical religious interpretation as deemed fit by the IS. Due to the sheer brutality of the IS, al Qaeda severed all ties with the rogue establishment in 2014.
After the joint militant rebellion in Syria halted, mainly due to inter-militant fights, the then so-called ISIS faced intense opposition from its allies, mainly al Nusra and the free Syrian army; limiting the ISIS’s control only to the borders of Syria.
In the beginning of April 2013, however, the ISIS militia made a fierce comeback, subjugating large parts of northern Syria, affecting the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights to an extent that they labelled the ISIS the strongest militant group in the country. Not only Syria, the bloody group left its mark in Turkey as well, carrying out the deadliest act of terrorism ever to take place on Turkish soil.
Now the ISIS exploited the weakness of the Iraqi army and was quick to occupy Iraq’s northern lands. Call it the incompetency of the Iraqi civilian government or the corruption rampant amongst Iraqi Army generals, but the bottom line is, Iraq fell prey to such a group due to its executives’ ineptness. The prime minister as well as different influential clerics urged the nation to take up arms against the outfit, causing severe civilian unrest, allowing critics to label this a major failure on the governments’ part.
ISIS was on the rise, though they were unable to reach Baghdad, they conquered enough to call their occupied land an independent state, the Islamic state, and create a self-proclaimed caliphate of their own. But if the ISIS was a true representative of Islamic ideology, it would’ve been enraged at the atrocities being committed in Gaza. It would have confronted the Zionists to free Palestine from their occupation. Yet they remain silent.
The Gaza issue seems to have preoccupied Pakistani minds but what our people seem to have forgotten is that they are still being targeted – every now and then – not by the Jews but by radical Muslim militants. Are we so naïve that are willing to ignore the constant threat that lingers around us? Has our emotions overridden our rationale? Yes, Israel’s violation of human rights in Palestine should be strongly condemned, but is it not more important to save your land first so that you may be in a position to help those in need?
Pakistan is already infected with the disease of terrorism; the Taliban, al Qaeda, Jundullah, all operate here. With the operation, the Pakistani government has taken a bold step to fight the insurgency, but this is happening without an effective strategy to deal with the internally displaced people. The Pakistani army might be able to carry out the operation successfully, but the question is, is extremist insurgency the result of only a group of wild, militarily trained, blood thirsty individuals or is it the result of a provocative ideology? An ideology so powerful it promises the establishment utopia once the motives are fulfilled? This ideology aims to establish the promised land of Khorasan, the land which, when established, will mark the beginning of the supposed Islamic glory.
In recent years, al Qaeda has become weaker and the Pakistani Taliban has been disowned by the Afghan Taliban, but does this make our work any easier? Are we finally moving towards the end of extremism in this region? Even if this holds true, the rise of the ISIS poses a big threat to these ideas.
The Pakistani government’s inactive response to foreign militants has allowed them to grow, spread their views and expand their ideologies within the country. So much so, that they’ve been able to make a state within a state in the tribal areas of Pakistan, questioning and successfully undermining the government’s writ and authority in those regions.
Even as the military counteraction is in progress, the success of the ISIS can serve as a motivational boost to the militants fighting the army. Tensions between the al Qaeda and ISIS seem to be of a temporary nature. Sooner or later, the socio-political narrative that influences both these groups will cause them to reconcile their positions, and a unified al Qaeda-ISIS with a common agenda is a horrifying thought indeed.
As Pakistan has seen itself, militants do develop alliances with other militant groups to serve a joint purpose. The rise of the ISIS can serve as inspiration for militant groups or even stimulate them to form an alliance. The militias in Pakistan can serve as an ally of the ISIS and unless it is stopped, it won’t be long before the ISIS comes around knocking on Pakistan’s door – and eventually breaking it down.
The army’s operation in North Waziristan is aimed to destroy the militants’ strategic and operational ‘headquarters’. The degree of success of the Pakistan army depends on the level of back up the government provides. Reportedly, some of the militants have escaped into South Waziristan and the government has not done anything much to give the army a helping hand.
Government think tanks have to come up with ways to limit the spread of extremist narratives within the country. This malignant ideology has to be resisted, uprooted and removed. Islam is way more broad-minded and progressive, even in its fundamentals, than portrayed by these militant groups.
The misconception, misinterpretation, misplacement or rather cherry picking of religious narratives out of their contexts by pseudo-Ulema have dented the true Islamic ideology as a whole. Pakistan, as a people, has become a confused lot due to which people are unable to speak out against these militant outfits with full certainty. The masses still seem to have a soft corner for these outfits because of the manipulative facade they have disseminated; the facade that they are reviving and spreading Islam. The Islam they plan to ‘revive’ has little resemblance to the actual religion.
The government’s challenge is to provide the nation with a clear narrative, explain to them the dangers caused by these militant groups to our existence as a progressive nation and urge them to stand united against them.
Muhammad Abu Talib is an A-levels student and an active social commentator. He dabbles in debate competitions, blog writings and sports.
Aleppo’s Rebels Struggle to Hold on as Regime, IS Advance
By Mohammed Al-Khatieb
July 27, 2014
Opposition fighters in the city of Aleppo are not hiding their concern about fast-moving events on the outskirts of their city and in the north-eastern countryside. The progress being made by regime forces and the Islamic State (IS) has become worrisome and extremely dangerous.
A group of activists have gathered in the village of Tal Shaeer to provide support for opposition fighters. Tal Shaeer is the closest rebel foothold to the Sheikh Najjar Industrial City, which fell to regime forces and allied militias on July 5. The activists knew that they might soon be encircled, so they decided to send their best fighters to help prevent it in an operation dubbed the Sword of Aleppo for the People of the Levant.
Not far from the front line with regime forces in Sheikh Najjar, four Free Syrian Army fighters sat under a tree and enjoyed the cool breeze. They looked exhausted after long shifts on guard duty in the intense heat. Momtaz Abu Mohammad, a Sword of Aleppo activist, brought food and cold water to the fighters, who discussed the battlefront.
While pouring water on his colleagues’ heads, one of them confidently said, “The situation has become very good now. The attack was thwarted, and we have fortified our positions effectively. The war is about hit-and-run, while the leaders are preparing a plan. An attack to recover the industrial city is expected within weeks.”
A young man with a rural accent disagreed. He replied, “Brother, we don’t even know whom we should be repelling? IS is advancing in the countryside, and the regime [is advancing] in the city. … I fought on the Akhtrin front against IS, and they now ask us to repel the regime attack on Sheikh Najjar. How can we do all that?”
Abu Mohammad interrupted the young man and pointed to a helicopter in the sky. The aircraft seemed near, probably above the Hanano Housings neighborhood. The fighters watched, powerless, as the helicopter dropped two barrels and retreated toward the south.
When we got to the Handarat district on the way back to Aleppo, Abu Mohammad said that he feared the only main road connecting the city’s “liberated” area would be cut. He stated, “In military work, you have to expect anything. The regime is not too far from this road. We have to do what we can to support the fighters.”
The Sword of Aleppo initiative has fortified the front lines and the sensitive fronts in the city. The activists are providing daily support of food and water to the fighters, in addition to setting up mobile medical sites when battles are raging.
Abu Mohammad said, “Our first objective is to strengthen the coordination between the rebels’ military factions and let the [fighters focus on the fighting] while we provide all the logistical support they need.”
When asked about developments on the fronts and the rebels’ plan, he replied, “I am not saying that the situation is great, but it’s good. There doesn’t have to be progress. Now it’s more important to strike the regime at sensitive points and hold our positions.”
Losing Sheikh Najjar was a shock to opposition fighters. They had controlled it for more than two years. Its fortified factories had been a deterrent to regime forces as they crept toward east Aleppo. The opposition now fears that the industrial city will become a launching point for regime forces to advance toward the west and close the military cordon around Aleppo’s “liberated” neighbourhoods while being helped by surrounding hills, which the regime controls. The opposition will have a hard time recovering the lost areas if the regime controls the hills.
Lt. Col. Abu Bakr, commander of Jaish al-Mujahedeen, one of the rebel factions in Aleppo, said that regime forces had been able to advance on the industrial city because the rebels stationed in the area had to withdraw to the northern Aleppo countryside to protect their hometowns, which were being attacked by IS.
Abu Bakr told Al-Monitor, “We have sent more reinforcements to the battlefronts in Aleppo, especially to the area of ??Sheikh Najjar and al-Ramousah. The field situation is excellent defence-wise. But conducting an attack now requires quality weapons. Surprises are being prepared.” He refused to elaborate.
The commander added, “The lack of support and the absence of quality weapons were some of the main reasons why regime forces were able to advance. Weapons are pouring in to the regime from the eastern gates while the opposition, which is fighting IS and the regime concurrently, is being deprived of weapons.”
Rebel fighters in Aleppo are monitoring the Islamic State's victories in eastern Syria and in Iraq with great concern because they understand the implications. IS has gained control over all the areas that the rebels had once held in Deir ez-Zor. This means that IS is now free to move westward, in particular toward the north Aleppo countryside. Indeed, IS captured three villages in the Ain Arab countryside, north of Aleppo, on July 5. IS is now engaged in fierce battles against the rebels on the edge of Akhtrin.
Yahya Mayo, an official in the media office of Jaish al-Mujahedeen said, “There is no doubt that there is close coordination between the Islamic State and the regime. Several positions support that view. Most recently, the Islamic State withdrew from the area of ??Shamer. This facilitated the regime’s entry to and subsequent control of the industrial city.”
It is still a widely held belief among rebels here that IS and the regime are still collaborating, despite a major IS assault last week on the regime-held al-Shaer gas field in Homs province, which the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says resulted in roughly 270 deaths.
Mayo stated, “Oil and gas are a top priority for IS. They are willing to put all other interests aside in order to get their hands on the oil, which provides them with continuous funding.”
Mayo concluded, “I think that after this ordeal, all factions have become threatened by either the regime or the Islamic State. Thus, all factions have realized that the only solution possible is if they unite. And we, as Jaish al-Mujahedeen, consider ourselves part of an army that includes all the country’s components, and we are striving to achieve [this unity].”
Maliki Furious Over Jordan-Hosted Sunni Opposition Conference
By Omar Al-Jaffal
July 27, 2014
In his weekly speech delivered July 23, caretaker Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki appeared as if he had lost a regional ally. On July 15, the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan allowed 150 opposition Iraqi figures from various religious, tribal, armed and Baathist factions to convene a two-day conference in Amman. The participants called on the international community to “end its support for the current government” and “back the people’s revolution and its demands.” Jordan was thus been transformed into a host for figures who strongly oppose Maliki, among them the businessman Khamis al-Khanjar, who backed the 2013 demonstrations in Anbar.
Iraqi reactions to the conference were sharp. Some parliamentarians suggested that the government sever economic ties with Jordan and withdraw its preferential prices for oil exports. Others described the conference as an attempt to undermine the political process in Iraq, which prompted the Foreign Ministry to recall Baghdad's ambassador from Jordan for consultation.
Despite a number of participants proclaiming the Jordanian government’s sponsorship of the conference, Amman categorically denied doing so. In this regard, Jordanian author and journalist Mohammad al-Fadeilat told Al-Monitor in a phone interview, “Jordan was endeavouring to appease Iraqi anger about Amman’s hosting of a conference of revolutionary forces that called for the toppling of outgoing Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.”
The conference was held amid a deteriorating political and security situation in Iraq, with tensions mounting between the Baghdad central government and the Kurdistan Regional Government and with Sunni factions rebelling against the government. This situation led to the fall of a number of Iraqi cities to militants of the Islamic State (IS) and allied armed tribal factions and former members of the constitutionally outlawed Baath Party.
The conference represented a new development on many levels for the factions opposing the Maliki government. None of the Sunni personalities or parties taking part in the Iraqi political process were in attendance, yet numerous Sunni lawmakers called afterward for considering some of the conference resolutions, which reflect the demands of the Iraqi Sunnis who have become a problem for the Maliki government, which they continually describe as “sectarian.”
The conference could be viewed as the embodiment of the 13 demands raised by demonstrators in four Sunni provinces in 2013. Maliki’s government never took the demands seriously or made an effort to address them, leading to matters further deteriorating on the ground. The struggle came to a head in the Hawija incident in April, when 54 demonstrators were killed.
It appears that an understanding cannot be reached between any Maliki-led government and opposition members who assert that they were “forced to defend themselves with weapons.” The closing statement of the conference considered the removal of “Maliki as a prelude to any future political process to save Iraq.”
Meanwhile, on July 23, Maliki expressed his regret that “we are seeing on television screens a conference of blood mongers who embrace sectarianism and terrorism, meeting in a brotherly neighborly country, with which we have strong friendly ties.” He also said that he hoped that “Jordan’s position vis-à-vis the conference would reflect the friendship and relationship that exists between the two countries.”
In addition, Fadeilat, who attended the conference in his capacity as a journalist, stated, “The Kingdom of Jordan is concerned about losing the oil privileges offered by its easterly neighbor? But it is finding itself in a difficult situation as it tries to appease Maliki without repudiating the conference, which received official Jordanian support in a clear show of political bias against the Maliki administration, and the danger of the latter falling under the control of the Shiite crescent [Iranian influence], decried by the Jordanian monarch.” Fadeilat also concluded, “Prior to defining its future relationship with Baghdad, Jordan awaits the results of the Iraqi political process in light of the events on the ground.”