Tag: raqqa

Addressing the motivations that drive Islamist obscurantists will help defeat them

By Daniel Margrain

Motivation guides behaviors

“The first step to combating Isis is to understand it. We have yet to do so. That failure costs us dear.” (Anthropologist, Scott Atran).

The murder of 85-year-old parish priest, Father Jacques Hamel during morning mass in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray,  northwest of Paris, by two adherents to the religious-based cult ISIS was yet another illustration of not only the depravity that this cult represents, but of the failure of domestic and international strategy of governments to deal with them. The lesson from almost a decade and a half of fighting terror with bombs is that the strategy has been an epic failure.

After the mass killings by ISIS in Paris, each subsequent attack on French soil has been marked by familiar-sounding televised addresses of condemnation of the perpetrators by president, Hollande followed by a determination to defeat them militarily. Meanwhile, French foreign policy in the Middle East continues along the same trajectory, presumably based on the premise that only through fighting fire with fire will the war against ISIS be won.

However, it would appear that with the exception of world leaders like Hollande and Britain’s Theresa May, most rational thinking people believe this eventuality to be an unrealistic proposition. ISIS are not like a traditional army and therefore can’t be fought as though they are one. Indeed, it’s the unpredictability and the random nature of their attacks in an era of globalisation which transcend the limitations associated with the traditional armies embedded within the structure of the nation-state, that sets them apart.

Although repeating the same failed foreign policy objectives undertaken by state actors in order to address the threat posed by an international terror network and ‘lone-wolf’ killers may be regarded as a sign of insanity by most, it nevertheless doesn’t appear to deter those who are motivated by the need to satisfy the financial interests of the lobbyists who profit from war.

Although it is widely understood that bombs and drones are counterproductive, it’s perhaps less understood that the establishment appear to want it that way on the basis, it would seem, that terrorist retaliation justifies the further use of bombs and drones. Ken Livingstone was surely correct in his analysis on BBCs Question Time programme last November when he suggested that bombing Raqqa will play into the hands of ISIS from a propaganda perspective enabling them to bolster their number of recruits on the back of it.

Indeed, it is clear that the aim of the religious-based cultists is to provoke an international bombing campaign precisely in order to achieve this objective. The ‘strategy’ of indiscriminate bombing of transnational ‘targets’ as a means of ending the cycle of terrorism and counter-terrorism is a policy of despair. What is needed is a total rethink that involves, in the first instance, a serious attempt at addressing the ideological motivations that drive ISIS as an organisation as well as the reasons why mainly young people are driven into the hands of this murderous cult.

The motivations seem to be varied and complex, embracing historical, theological, psychological and ideological factors. The first of these relates to the injustices meted out to the people of the region by the imperial powers. These injustices primarily originate from a series of secret meetings during World War 1 in London and Paris between the French diplomat, François Georges-Picot and the British politician, Sir Mark Sykes.

During these meetings, straight lines were drawn on a map of the middle east intended to effectively outline the control of land that was to be divided between the two countries. The French were to get Syria, Lebanon and parts of northern Iraq, while the British decided on southern Iraq, Jordan and Palestine. The idea was that instead of giving independence to the Arabs which was promised following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, the imperial powers would run them on their behalf.

The ensuing chaos has largely stemmed from this agreement. What drives ISIS is their need to fill power vacuums in a post-colonial world in which the artificial imperial borders created by Sykes-Picot are collapsing. Robert Fisk made the astute point that the first video ISIS produced was of a bulldozer destroying the border between Syria and Iraq. The camera panned down to a piece of paper with the words “End of Sykes-Picot” written on it.

The wider “Arab Awakening,” as Fisk puts it, represents a rejection of the history of the region since Sykes-Picot during which time the Arabs have been denied freedom, dignity and justice. According to Fisk, ISIS is a weapon that’s not primarily aimed at the West but at the Shia which the Sunni Gulf States’ want to keep at bay. This explains why the funding for ISIS is principally coming from the Sunni states’ of Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

The possibility of closer U.S-Iranian ties in the future will likely result in pressure being put on these states’ to ‘switch off’ their funding to ISIS which Fisk claims was one of the main topics of discussion at the Geneva nuclear talks between the two countries. A couple of months ago, the goal of ISIS was to maintain the Caliphate, but they now realize that this objective is in jeopardy. Consequently they are attempting to re-organise. This involves them reverting back to a guerilla-style organisational structure. The purpose of directly commanded attacks, is to prove to their followers throughout the world that despite the set-backs described, they still remain a strong fighting force.

French-American anthropologist, Scott Atran, widens the net further by suggesting that the young are motivated more by excitement and a sense of belonging than theology or political ideology:

“When you look at young people like the ones who grew up to blow up trains in Madrid in 2004, carried out the slaughter on the London underground in 2005, hoped to blast airliners out of the sky en route to the United States in 2006 and 2009, and journeyed far to die killing infidels in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen or Somalia; when you look at whom they idolize, how they organize, what bonds them and what drives them; then you see that what inspires the most lethal terrorists in the world today is not so much the Koran or religious teachings as a thrilling cause and call to action that promises glory and esteem in the eyes of friends, and through friends, eternal respect and remembrance in the wider world that they will never live to enjoy…. Jihad is an egalitarian, equal-opportunity employer: …fraternal, fast-breaking, thrilling, glorious, and cool.”

Atran posits that the appeal of ISIS seems to be their offering of a Utopian society and the sense of belonging and empowerment that the religious obscurantists claim is lacking in Western society. The narrative is a future of peace and harmony, at least, under their interpretation, but with the recognition that brutality is also needed to get there.

The underlying aspect of this Utopianism is the retreat from the kind of unconditional freedom where many young people feel pressured into certain social actions, towards a different kind of freedom free from ambiguity and ambivalence that, for those concerned, enhances a form of creativity that restraint helps nurture. ISIS exploits this dichotomy by outlining a way towards significance in a society that treats the alienated as insignificant.

Maajid Nawaz depicts ISIS as akin to a brand that in order to be defeated needs to be discredited as part of a long-term strategy. This involves the creation of alternative narratives and the engendering of alternative forms of belonging and identity. Nawaz argues that the mission statement, as part of a generational struggle, has to be that the kind of obscurantist ideology that ISIS adhere to, is made as un-appealing as Stalinism or Hitler fascism is today. “We’ve got to be careful that we don’t become fixated about destroying the organization itself as part of a long-term strategy, but rather to focus on destroying the ISIS brand”, he says.

Irrespective of whether the discourse emanates from either the left or the right of the political spectrum, Nawaz argues that it needs to be more nuanced than has hitherto been the case:

“We seem to focus too much on binary approaches which on the one hand suggest that no problem exist within Islam [the perspective of many within the political left], or on the other, where all Muslims are perceived as the problem [the perspective of the far-right]. I would argue that to address the root problem we need to find a pathway between sensationalism and denialism.”

This approach will surely need to be run alongside a recognition by Western governments that their foreign policy strategies are not working. Instead of spending billions on ineffectual and counterproductive war, the money would be far better spent on effective prevention programmes on the ground. This could involve, as middle east scholar Ed Husain has argued, employing former jihadists to reach out to help educate young people about the dangers of ISIS and other extremists.

At some point, channels of communication will have to be opened up with radical Muslim groups who are willing to engage with experts outside the Muslim world to come to some kind of compromise agreement. This might even involve the formation of an Caliphate-type enclave based on ISIS lines. What is certain is the current path we are on is the wrong one.

The lack of any meaningful attempt to implement an effective strategy to weaken or destroy radical Islamism is self-evident. Ideologies cannot be defeated by bombs. Any U.S insistence that it’s dictatorial regional allies and proxies – Saudi Arabia and Qatar – deplete ISIS of funds, will go a long way to achieving desired short-term goals.

The West might have to come to terms with making a short-term pact with the devil as part of a long-term strategy that undercuts the kind of psychological and ideological motivations that drive young people into the arms of religious obscurantists in the first place.

 

 

Is Western corruption & duplicity fanning the flames of ISIS?

By Daniel Margrain

On October 23 the mainstream media reported the obliteration by both Russian and US coalition forces of an ISIS oilfield and supply routes in the heart of Islamic State territory in Syria. Following the UK government’s decision to extend its military campaign from Iraq into Syria, a subsequent BBC report highlighted an additional bombing raid on December 5 in that country. But it has since transpired that this second raid targeted the precise location hit by the Russian and US coalition forces.

So the question arises, why would RAF warplanes hit a target that had already been obliterated five weeks prior to the second raid? A possible explanation is that the oilfield and supply routes described were in the process of being hastily reconstructed. However, this seems highly unlikely given that the BBC report cites Ministry of Defense claims that the RAFs Tornado and Typhoon warplanes were involved in eight attacks in which Paveway IV bombs were offloaded resulting in the destruction of wellheads….“thus cutting off the terrorists’ oil revenue at the very source”.

The impression given that the UK government had actively engaged in degrading the infrastructural and financial capability of their latest bogeyman, ISIS, appears therefore, to be a deception. In any event, one of David Cameron’s major justifications for his case for more war, was that Brimstone missiles, as opposed to Paveway bombs, were to be deployed against ISIS targets in Syria on account of their greater level of accuracy, thus limiting the possibility of civilian casualties.

It follows that in the unlikely event that what was being bombed was actually a site in the process of reconstruction, as opposed to an already existing obliterated terrain, the use of Paveway bombs would have greatly increased the risk of death to the civilian construction workers working on the site. This totally undermines Cameron’s claim that the UK would not attack civilians.

Whatever the truth of the situation, the fact that the RAF attacked a civilian target rather than a military base, would suggest that the government’s alleged intention to bring closure to this conflict at the earliest opportunity is bogus. The prospect of lengthy war provides a boost to the profits of the arms and weapons companies’. ISIS have gained access to weapons allegedly exported by the UK to the Middle East in the wake of 2003 invasion.

But gaining access to weapons is not possible without the access to money to purchase them. Tackling the flow and source of criminal money which helps sustain the lifeblood of ISIS, is the most effective strategy in dealing with the root cause of the terrorist organization. A second consideration, is ascertaining what the overriding medium to long-term motivation of the great imperial powers and their allies that underpins the strategy for war is. The answers to these questions are most likely to be found within the belly of the beast of the political establishment who, to a large extent, appear to be pulling the financial strings that determine the control, flow and maintaining of oil revenues.

One of the leading figures who allegedly plays a pivotal role in this regard is the British politician Nadhim Zahawi whose financial interests in Genel Energy suggests he is vulnerable to lobbying. As a member of David Cameron’s government, it is alleged that the Conservative MP for Stratford-upon-Avon has traded black market oil derived from ISIS controlled fields in Iraq prior to the black stuff being transported and sold, in part, to European markets through Turkey and the Mediterranean Sea, with the main purchaser said to be Israel.

The allegations against Zahawi come against the backdrop of evidence which indicates that ISIS sell oil emanating from nearly a dozen oil fields in northern Iraq and Syria’s Raqqa province that they control. It then passes through Turkey and Iraq’s Kurdistan region. Back in 2014, David Cohen, US Treasury under-secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, claimed that middlemen from Turkey and Iraq’s Kurdistan region buy black market oil from ISIS that earns the terror group some $1 million a day.

In September last year, in a briefing to the European Parliament Foreign Affairs Committee, EU Ambassador to Iraq Jana Hybaskova, conceded that some European countries have purchased crude from ISIS from the areas in northern Iraq and Syria they have captured. Given that the most effective way of countering ISIS is to attack the source of their funding rather than using bombs to attack civilians, it was unsurprising that Shadow Foreign Secretary, Hilary Benn’s initial position was to oppose military intervention in Syria. However, inexplicably, two weeks later, he changed his mind and voted in favour of bombing.

Something appeared to have happened in the two week period up to December 2 which influenced Benn’s decision to change his mind. Perhaps it had something to do with the fact that war is good for boosting the profits of those connected to the military-industrial complex and that he had been lobbied by those who stood to gain financially from any change of heart.

Although share prices in the manufacturers of British WMD, BAE Systems, were depressed in late October they subsequently jumped after the announcement to bomb was made. Being in the pocket of the arms industry is concomitant to the notion of being favourable to war, which clearly explains his careful positioning to usurp the anti-war Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn for the Labour leadership.

Across the Atlantic, major defense contractors Raytheon, Oshkosh, and Lockheed Martin assured investors that they stand to gain from the escalating conflicts in the Middle East. Lockheed Martin Executive Vice President Bruce Tanner said his company will see “indirect benefits” from the war in Syria, citing the Turkish military’s recent decision to shoot down a Russian warplane.

Meanwhile, a deal that authorized $607 billion in defense spending brokered by the U.S Congress, was described as a “treat” for the industry. What better way to benefit from this “treat” than for the major powers to secure the “hydrocarbon potential” of Syria’s offshore resources with the aim of reducing European dependence on Russian gas and boosting the potential for an energy independence.

Israel is part of a broader strategy to dismember Syria with a view to toppling Syrian president Bashar al – Assad leading to the annexation of the Golan Heights, captured from Syria during the 1967 war. This is being aided by one of the most concerted media propaganda offensives since the Iraq debacle. At the forefront of this offensive is the Murdoch printed press.

But what are Murdoch’s reasons for pushing so hard for war? The answer is Genie Energy. Israel has granted oil exploration rights inside Syria, in the occupied Golan Heights, to this multinational corporation. Major shareholders of the company – which also has interests in shale gas in the United States and shale oil in Israel – include Rupert Murdoch and Lord Jacob Rothschild. The following is from a 2010 Genie Energy press release

Claude Pupkin, CEO of Genie Oil and Gas, commented, “Genie’s success will ultimately depend, in part, on access to the expertise of the oil and gas industry and to the financial markets. Jacob Rothschild and Rupert Murdoch are extremely well regarded by and connected to leaders in these sectors. Their guidance and participation will prove invaluable.”

“I am grateful to Howard Jonas and IDT for the opportunity to invest in this important initiative,” Lord Rothschild said. “Rupert Murdoch’s extraordinary achievements speak for themselves and we are very pleased he has agreed to be our partner. Genie Energy is making good technological progress to tap the world’s substantial oil shale deposits which could transform the future prospects of Israel, the Middle East and our allies around the world.”

Other players involved include the Israeli subsidiary, Afek Oil and Gas,  American Shale, French Total and BP. Thus there exists a broad and powerful nexus of US, British, French and Israeli interests, encompassing defense, security, energy and media sectors, at the forefront of pushing for the break-up of Syria and the control of what is believed to be potentially vast untapped oil and gas resources in the country, as well as reining in Russian and Iranian influence in the region.

The West’s intention to augment its geopolitical and economic strategic influence in Syria and the region more widely is premised primarily on a militaristic, as opposed to, a political solution. This gives rise to conflicting attitudes to the Assad regime in terms of ascertaining who are, and who are not, terrorists. In this complex web, some players are more motivated to destroy ISIS than others.

NATO member Turkey’s geo-strategic motivation, for instance, is the obliteration by Turkish forces of the Kurdish YPG who conversely happen to be one of the key fighting forces opposed to ISIS on the ground. The YPG are ostensibly supported by the British and American’s who in turn desire the overthrow of Assad whose forces are the only real credible presence on the ground.

On the other hand, it’s in both Russia’s and Iran’s interest to keep Assad in power – the latter on the basis of maintaining a link to Hezbollah in Lebanon. If ever there was an illustration for the need for a properly coordinated and multi-pronged diplomatic approach to solve a complex problem that transcends narrow self interest, then Syria and the wider Middle East is it. But instead the world powers’ are blundering from one major crisis to another with no apparent end point in sight.

 

 

The psychology of ISIS and how to combat them.

By Daniel Margrain

Embedded image permalink

“The first step to combating Isis is to understand it. We have yet to do so. That failure costs us dear.” (Anthropologist, Scott Atran).

The lesson from almost a decade and a half of fighting terror with bombs is that the strategy has been an epic failure. And yet the UK government under the leadership of David Cameron seems intent on repeating the misguided foreign policy in Iraq in relation to dealing with ISIS in Syria presumably on the basis that the result will be different even though there is no evidence for this. Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result may be a sign of insanity for most, but not, apparently, if you happen to be motivated by the need to satisfy the financial interests of the lobbyists who profit from war.

Although it is widely understood that bombs and drones are counterproductive, it’s perhaps less understood that the establishment appear to want it that way on the basis, it would seem, that terrorist retaliation justifies the further use of bombs and drones. Ken Livingstone was surely correct in his analysis on BBCs Question Time programme last Thursday (November 26), when he suggested that bombing Raqqa will play into the hands of ISIS from a propaganda perspective enabling them to bolster their number of recruits on the back of it. Indeed, it is clear that the aim of the extremists is to provoke an international bombing campaign precisely in order to achieve this objective.

The “strategy” of indiscriminate bombing of transnational “targets” as a means to ending the cycle of terrorism and counter-terrorism is a policy of despair. What is needed is a total rethink that involves, in the first instance, a serious attempt at addressing the causes that include the historical injustices meted out to the people of the region by the imperial powers. These injustices primarily stem from a series of secret meetings during World War 1 in London and Paris between the French diplomat, François Georges-Picot and the British politician, Sir Mark Sykes.

During these meetings, straight lines were drawn on a map of the middle east intended to effectively outline the control of land that was to be divided between the two countries. The French were to get Syria, Lebanon and parts of northern Iraq, while the British decided on southern Iraq, Jordan and Palestine. The idea was that instead of giving independence to the Arabs which was promised following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, the imperial powers would run them on their behalf. The ensuing chaos over the next century stemmed from this agreement. ISIS is essentially motivated by power in a post-colonial world in which the artificial imperial borders created by Sykes-Picot are collapsing.

Robert Fisk points out that the first video ISIS produced was of a bulldozer destroying the border between Syria and Iraq. The camera panned down to a piece of paper with the words “End of Sykes-Picot” written on it. The wider “Arab Awakening,” as Fisk puts it, represents a rejection of the history of the region since Sykes-Picot during which time the Arabs have been denied freedom, dignity and justice.

According to Fisk, ISIS is a weapon that’s not primarily aimed at the West but at the Shia which the Sunni Gulf States’ want to keep at bay. This explains why the funding for ISIS is principally coming from the Sunni states’ of Saudi Arabia and Qatar. The possibility of closer U.S-Iranian ties in the future will likely result in pressure being put on these states’ to ‘switch off’ their funding to ISIS which Fisk claims was one of the main topics of discussion at the Geneva nuclear talks between the two countries.

American and French anthropologist, Scott Atran, outlines the underlying ideological glue that binds the followers of ISIS together:

“When you look at young people like the ones who grew up to blow up trains in Madrid in 2004, carried out the slaughter on the London underground in 2005, hoped to blast airliners out of the sky en route to the United States in 2006 and 2009, and journeyed far to die killing infidels in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen or Somalia; when you look at whom they idolize, how they organize, what bonds them and what drives them; then you see that what inspires the most lethal terrorists in the world today is not so much the Koran or religious teachings as a thrilling cause and call to action that promises glory and esteem in the eyes of friends, and through friends, eternal respect and remembrance in the wider world that they will never live to enjoy…. Jihad is an egalitarian, equal-opportunity employer: …fraternal, fast-breaking, thrilling, glorious, and cool.”

Atran posits that the appeal of ISIS seems to be their offering of a Utopian society and the sense of belonging and empowerment that they claim is lacking in Western society. The narrative is a future of peace and harmony, at least, under their interpretation, but with the recognition that brutality is also needed to get there. The underlying aspect of this Utopianism is the retreat from the kind of unconditional freedom where many young people feel pressured into certain social actions, towards a different kind of freedom free from ambiguity and ambivalence that, for those concerned, enhances a form of creativity that restraint helps nurture. ISIS exploits this dichotomy by outlining a way towards significance in a society that treats the alienated as insignificant.

It seems to me that the most effective way to counter ISIS propaganda is for governments’ to remove the “pull factors” of ISIS by giving young people a sense of hope for the future, offering them more of the “carrot” of opportunity instead of just the “stick” of despair. One of the major problems is that there is not the same kind of  government investment in prevention by way of guidance and decision making channels that are relevant to young people to avoid them becoming alienated enough to want to seek out ISIS. It seems to me that this is where ISIS have the upper hand, evidenced by the fact that they spend countless hours and cash luring people in.

Instead of spending billions on ineffectual war, the money would be far better spent on effective prevention programmes on the ground. This could involve, as middle east scholar Ed Husain has argued, employing former jihadists to reach out to help educate young people about the dangers of ISIS and other extremists. At some point, channels of communication will have to be opened up with radical Muslim groups who are willing to engage with experts outside the Muslim world to come to some kind of agreement that might even involve the formation of an enclave based on ISIS lines.

What is certain is the current path we are on is the wrong one in terms of the lack of any meaningful attempt to implement any effective strategy to weaken or destroy radical Islamism. Ideologies cannot be defeated by bombs, although the strategic use of broader coalition forces on the ground allied with a serious attempt by the U.S to insist that it’s dictatorial regional allies – Saudi Arabia and Qatar – deplete ISIS of funds, will go a long way to achieving the desired outcome. In order to defeat Hitler, Churchill was prepared to make a pact with the devil. The West might have to come to terms in doing the same with ISIS.