Tag: saudi arabia

Why religion can’t be absolved of all responsibility for violence

By Daniel Margrain

Stock photo of surveillance cameras

In light of the recent spate of terror attacks, it’s worth reminding readers to this blog of a speech that former UK Prime Minister, David Cameron made in Birmingham a year ago this month. The speech, which was ostensibly low on substance and high on rhetoric, unveiled what could loosely be termed as a less than coherent strategy to tackle Islamist extremism. Cameron’s nonsense would have almost certainly gone down well with many of his core Friends of Israel Tory MPS, some of whose constituents have left the UK to fight for Israel against the occupied and oppressed Palestinian’s whilst others have gone to fight alongside the Kurdish Peshmerga.

Are we ever likely to have a future UK Prime Minister talking condescendingly to the Jewish community in the Golder’s Green district of North London about strategies to tackle Jewish-Zionist extremism? Moreover, is a future leader likely to debate in leafy Surrey, the Christian-Zionist fundamentalism of Blair and Bush which resulted in the deaths of at least half a million Iraqi’s on the basis of a pack of lies? The questions of course are rhetorical since we know the answer.

Unlike the Tory-voting wealthy middle classes and Friends of Israel, mostly anti-Tory Muslims within a de–industrialized urban landscapes like Birmingham are regarded as political fair game for Tory shenanigans. Ignoring many of the causal factors that drive a small minority of mainly young Muslims to ISIS, such as the Wests endless wars in Muslim lands, Cameron outlined the Tory five-year vision to defeat home-grown extremism. The former PM set out four major areas that needed attention: countering the ‘warped’ extremist ideology, the process of radicalisation, the ‘drowning-out’ of moderate Muslim voices and the ‘identity crisis’ among some British-born Muslims.

The then PM spoke about the need to enforce British values citing “equal rights regardless of race, sex, sexuality or faith” as a core aspect of these values despite the fact that he voted in support of the homophobic Clause 28 as recently as 2003. Cameron then claimed that Islamic extremism can have nothing to do with Western intervention since the invasion of Iraq came after 9/11. He appears to be unaware of a century of imperial intervention before that. In the Tories vision ISIS popped out of thin air. It had nothing to do with a vacuum left as a direct result of US-British intervention in Iraq.

The most hypocritical thing is how the establishment pick and choose their Muslims. A well-worn narrative is that Muslims are incapable of coping with modern values. However, a succession of British Foreign Secretaries – including the latest, the pathological liar, Philip Hammond – are only too happy to be photographed and dined alongside the Saudi royal family who don’t accept any of the values the establishment call British. And when the likes of the current PM, Theresa May, talk about the British values we should accept, she’s not talking about the values her lot used to build an empire on.

In his speech, Cameron went on to conflate what British values were not by referencing forced marriage and female genital mutilation. The implication being that these manifestations of ‘un-Britishness’ are unique to Muslim culture which of course they are not. “No more turning a blind eye on the basis of cultural sensitivities”he said. Fine! I’ll now wait in eager anticipation for a similar speech by Theresa May to the Jewish community in Stamford Hill.

Cameron continued, “I want to work with you to defeat this poison [of Islamist extremism]”he said. Presumably, ‘defeating’ ISIS doesn’t involve the counterproductive action of bombing to smithereens yet more innocent civilians as the justification for mission creep or unconditionally supporting the Sunni authoritarian regimes, the ideology and funding of which helped spawn the likes of Al-Qaida and ISIS in the first place.

The one (unintended) positive that emerged from his speech was when he talked about the differentiation between Islamist extremism on the one hand, and Islam the religion, on the other. As such he brought into focus the wider questions regarding the differing interpretations seemingly inherent to religious doctrine.

Jon Snow of Channel 4 News quoted the Muslim Council of Great Britain saying:

“We need to define tightly and closely what extremism is rather than perpetuate a deep misunderstanding of Islam and rhetoric which invariably facilitates extremists to thrive.”

Do we know what Islamic extremism is exactly? Is there a distinction between Islam and extremism peddled in the name of Islam? Can a distinction be made between the Wahabbi version of Islam in Saudi Arabia and extremism? Surely the former is indistinguishable from the latter?

In order to tackle the problem associated with certain extremist interpretations of Islam, it makes sense to want to tackle the problem at source. But crucially, this was the aspect missing from Cameron’s speech. For if he was to highlight it, he would have been cutting off his nose to spite his face. That’s because Britain has a an extremely cozy relationship with the oppressive totalitarian states’ of the Arab Gulf Peninsula, all of whom without exception, adhere to the extremist theocratic Islamic ideologies.described but nevertheless represent extremely good business for Great Britain PLC.

Is it the duty of Muslims living, in say, Birmingham to defend other Muslims living, in say, Baghdad? Conversely, can the killing of innocent people in Western liberal democracies’ ever be considered justifiable on the basis that theoretically the populations within these nations often elect governments’ who initiate wars of aggression against Muslims in their name? Can violent acts in these circumstances ever be justified? Does this, in the minds of extremists, justify Jihad against Westerners by Muslims irrespective of where either reside in the world?

Some moderate Muslims like Baroness Warsi insist that Jihad is about “self-improvement, self-evaluation, questioning injustice and being prepared to raise your voice when you see injustice.” This contrasts with the more extreme interpretation of Jihad in which external factors like the taking of arms are seen as the precursor to the kind of self-evaluation outlined by Warsi. How can these seemingly irreconcilable differences be reconciled?

One of the main problems that needs to be addressed, but tends to be constantly evaded, relates to the contradictory aspect of religion itself. Christians, Jews and others of all denominations will often claim piety with one hand but adopt the role of arm-chair generals holding a metaphorical grenade with the other. Moreover, irrespective of whether one is a follower of ISIS, or whether one is a part of the vast majority of the wider Muslim community of Sunni or Shia, all groups and sects will self-identify with, and hence, claim they are the true representatives of Islam and all will justify their opposing positions by cherry-picking appropriate verses from their religious book.

These contradictory positions, in turn, are exploited politically by racists and Islamophobes. Islamophobia is not just a human reaction to cultural difference. It has been purposely perpetuated as a result of the politicisation of religion of which the creation of an Islamophobia industry is a reflection. The governments Prevent Strategy and the policies of the Henry Jackson Society are integral to the functioning of this industry. Cage, the London-based advocacy organisation, wrote of the Prevent strategy:

“Prevents causal analysis and theory is fundamentally flawed. According to the strategy, the cause of violence in the Muslim world is rooted in ideology. Whereas in reality the cause is the political struggle of Muslims in response to unrepresentative regimes, often aided by Western policy and occupations.”

This assessment appears to be consistent with the analysis of Stephen Holmes, who in relation to the attacks on New York and the Pentagon, implied that the goal of ISIS and Al Qaida is no different from other national liberation movements – to achieve independence by forcing the imperialist powers to retreat:

“The vast majority of Bin Laden’s public statements provide secular, not religious, rationales for 9/11. The principal purpose of the attack was to punish the ‘unjust and tyrannical America’. The casus belli he invokes over and over again is injustice not impiety. True, he occasionally remarks that the United States has declared war on god, but such statements would carry little conviction if not seconded by claims that the United States is tyrannising and exploiting Muslim people… Bin Laden almost never justified terrorism against the West as a means for subordinating Western unbelievers to the true faith. Instead, he almost always justified terrorism against the West as a form of legitimate self-defence.”

According to Holmes then, whilst political objectives maybe expressed in religious terms, in essence, the goal of ISIS/Al Qaida is the same as previous secular-nationalist movements in the Middle East—the defeat of US imperialism and its allies in the region.

However, as I will outline below, to claim that that all instances of jihadist violence do not have religious rationales is misleading. Nevertheless, the anti-Muslim ideology of the right-wing Henry Jackson Society, alongside the creation of the illiberal Prevent Strategy, meant that the establishment have been quick to exploit the media’s often sensationalist reporting as well as the fear and panic Muslim’s generate for their own narrow political propaganda purposes.

The former, for example, set up Student Rights which produced a report that manufactured panic around gender segregation on campuses. Cameron weighed in. Though strangely he never spoke about gender segregation at Eton. Catherine Heseltine of the Muslim Public Affairs Committee UK spoke of how growth in the fear of Islam has gone along with policies pushed by governments. She said:

“Immediately after 9/11 only 10 percent of people in Britain saw Islam as a religion as a threat…Since then that figure has just about tripled.”

According to Bob Ferguson, teacher and convener for Newham Stand Up Against Racism, since the passing of the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act in February last year, Islamophobia has been taken to a new level. Teaching staff at universities and schools now have a statutory duty to report people who may be vulnerable to “Islamic non-violent extremism”. One clause that is particularly pernicious, requires teachers and lecturers to report discussions on ‘Grievances to which terrorist organisations claim to have a solution’. That one clause wipes out any possibility of discussing imperialism.

Ferguson says :

“There was a minute’s silence for the victims of the beach attack in Tunisia. All the Muslims I know at my school thought those murders were a vile, reactionary crime. Many also regard the slaughter of three boys playing football on the beach in Gaza by Israel as a vile, reactionary crime. Expressing the first sentiment proves you are a good Muslim, but expressing the second could get you seen as an extremist.”

In conclusion, the issues are complex and multifaceted and not one aspect by itself is the reason why some young people join up with groups like ISIS. Although many moderates would deny to their last breath the religious rationale that underpins the violence of groups like ISIS and Al Qaeda, these groups would make similar claims against them. Whether moderate and peaceful Muslims disagree with their violent counterparts is a moot point since all groups self-identify as Muslims and justify their respective actions as Muslims based on the interpretation of passages contained within the holy book.

In Iraq, religious Sunni/Shia sectarian violence was unleashed following the illegal allied invasion of that country. Saddam had kept a lid on it up until that point. That’s just one example where religion is a major contributory cause of violence. Similarly, Zionist Jews justify continued illegal settlement building predicated on the Biblical imperative, and Bush and Blair were alleged to have got down on their knees in the name of their Christian God prior to the invasion of Iraq.

Some religious followers who interpret their books literally, cherry pick certain violent quotes from them in order to justify to themselves their beliefs, mainly for political purposes. This is true of religious extremists whether they be Salafist Muslims, Zionist Jews or Christian fundamentalists.

 

 

The psychology of ISIS and how to combat them.

By Daniel Margrain

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“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.

 

 

Putin calls Obama’s bluff

By Daniel Margrain

On the October 7 edition of Channel 4 News, anchor Jon Snow said of Russia’s firing of 26 cruise missiles on eleven targets in Syria from ships in the Caspian sea, as “a significant escalation in the Syrian crisis”. The reporter Jonathan Rugman belittled Putin’s attempt at cooperating with the American’s despite the fact that it was president Obama who denied the former the coordinates with which to target ISIS. Instead, Russia has reportedly attacked CIA backed rebels with the apparent aim of scuppering their hopes of toppling the Assad regime.

The context in which Russia has entered the conflict comes on the back of 3,731 coalition air strikes on Syria since August 2014, the deaths of an estimated 200,000 people in the four and a half years of the “civil war” and, as the Washington Post quoting US officials reported in June, the CIA have trained and equipped nearly 10,000 “rebel” terrorist fighters. According to Patrick Cockburn, half of the 22 million Syrians have been either displaced inside the country or are external refugees. Syria represents one of the last bastions of resistance to US power and its gateway to Iran.

The illegal US-led invasion and overthrow of the Saddam regime was the catalyst for the current wave of chaos from which Al-Qaeda and then ISIS emerged which, according to a recently declassified US intelligence report, written in August 2012, was a development the United States government welcomed.

The report also indicates that the US effectively welcomed the prospect of a “Salafist principality” in eastern Syria and an Al-Qaida-controlled Islamic state in Syria and Iraq. In stark contrast to western claims at the time, the Defense Intelligence Agency document identifies Al-Qaida in Iraq and fellow Salafists as the “major forces driving the insurgency in Syria” – and states that “western countries, the Gulf states and Turkey” were supporting the opposition’s efforts to take control of eastern Syria. Raising the “possibility of establishing a declared or undeclared Salafist principality”,

The Pentagon report continues, “this is exactly what the supporting powers to the opposition want, in order to isolate the Syrian regime, which is considered the strategic depth of the Shia expansion (Iraq and Iran)”. This is consistent with the charge that the initial violence in March 2011 (on the back of the Arab Spring) in the border city of Dara’a involved covert support to Islamic terrorists by Mossad and/or Western intelligence in which radical Salafist groups (supported by Israel) played a part. Other reports have pointed to the role of Saudi Arabia in financing the protest movement. Jeremy Salt, associate professor in Middle Eastern History and Politics at Bilkent University, Ankara,wrote:

“The armed groups are well armed and well organised. Large shipments of weapons have been smuggled into Syria from Lebanon and Turkey. They include pump action shotguns, machine guns, Kalashnikovs, RPG launchers, Israeli-made hand grenades and numerous other explosives. It is not clear who is providing these weapons but someone is, and someone is paying for them.”

This is not to say the US created Al-Qaeda- ISIS, but it has certainly exploited its existence against other forces in the region as part of a wider drive to maintain western hegemony. Moreover, the Gulf states are backing other groups in the Syrian war, such as the Nusra Front. These are the groups Russia is reportedly requesting coordinates for, but which the US is refusing. The US also supports Saudi Arabia’s military campaign against Iranian-backed Houthi forces in Yemen which over the last few days have killed hundreds of civilians.

Obama’s policy is as weak and muddled as Putin’s is strong and clear. Syrian’s understand that ISIS and it’s affiliates won’t be defeated by the same powers that brought them to Iraq which is why they want Russia to intervene to help regain some kind of control over a situation that long ago spun out of control. They understand that prior to Iraq there was relative stability in the region and therefore prefer Assad remaining in power than the chaos the west has brought.

Peace cannot return to Syria and Iraq until ISIS is defeated which, for it’s own narrow geopolitical and strategic interests, America has no intention of letting happen. Regardless, Putin seems intent on forcing the hand of his imperialist adversary.

At his news conference on Friday, Obama said, “in my discussions with President Putin, I was very clear that the only way to solve the problem in Syria is to have a political transition that is inclusive — that keeps the state intact, that keeps the military intact, that maintains cohesion, but that is inclusive — and the only way to accomplish that is for Mr. Assad to transition [out], because you cannot rehabilitate him in the eyes of Syrians. This is not a judgment I’m making; it is a judgment that the overwhelming majority of Syrians make.”

But Obama did not explain how he knew what “the overwhelming majority of Syrians” want. Many Syrians – especially the Christians, Alawites, Shiites and secular Sunnis – appear to see Assad and his military as their protectors, the last bulwark against the horror of a victory by the Islamic State or Al Qaeda’s Nusra Front, which is a major player in the so-called “Army of Conquest,” as both groups make major gains across Syria.

Obama’s inaction against the terrorists he effectively supports as part of what is now widely accepted as a policy of regime change in Syria, has been exposed by Putin for what it is. Obama adopted a similar approach toward Libya which is now a failed state. Putin’s decisive intervention in Syria is the third time he has wrong-footed Obama – the first when he called him out over the veto with regards to UN resolution 1973 in relation to Libya, and the second was his overstepping of Obama’s ‘red line’ in respect to the unproven Assad-chemical weapons allegations.