Posts Tagged ‘Syria’

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At the Wellthisiswhatithink desk, deep in darkest Melbourne, people occasionally pass us vital documents they think should be broadcast to a wider audience.

This is how we stumbled across this revelatory but top secret intelligence briefing on the situation in Syria and Iraq.

With luck, this highly restricted document will clear up any confusion you have on the situation over there. We publish so that the truth may be known. Eat your heart out, Wikileaks.

So … (deep breath) …


Let’s kick off with Syria. President Assad (who is bad) is a nasty guy with a bad moustache who only got the job because his Dad had it before, but then he got so nasty that his people rebelled and the Rebels (who are good) started winning. (Hurrah!) This is despite the dorky Assad having a rather dishy British wife who was universally believed to be good, until she spent too much on shoes and stuff and became generally considered to be bad.

Things were sort of going OK for the good rebels but then some of them turned more than a bit nasty and are now called IS or ISIL or Islamic State or Daesh (doesn’t matter what they’re called, they are definitely bad) and some rebels continued to support democracy (who are still good) and some we are just not all that sure about (who may be bad, or good, but time will tell).

IS are so bad even Al Qaeda (really bad too) don’t like them and start fighting them.

The Americans (who are good) start bombing Islamic State (who are bad) and giving arms to the Syrian Rebels (who are good) so they could fight Assad (who is still bad), which was good. But this ironically puts America on the same side as Al Qaeda in Syria, which is just plain odd.

Now. There is a breakaway state in the north run by the Kurds who want to fight IS (which is a good thing) but the Turkish authorities think they are bad, so we have to say they are bad whilst secretly thinking they’re good and giving them guns to fight IS (which is good) but that is another matter altogether and we’ll get more confused so we’ll let it go. Meanwhile the Turks have shot down a Russian plane which they say was flying in their airspace (which is definitely bad).

Anyway, getting back to Syria and Iraq.

So President Putin (who is bad, because he invaded Crimea and thejoker Ukraine and killed lots of folks including that nice Russian man in London with polonium-poisoned sushi) has decided to back Assad (who is still bad) by attacking ISIS (who are also bad) which is sort of a good thing?

But Putin (still bad) thinks the Syrian Rebels (who are good) are also bad, and so he bombs them too, much to the annoyance of the Americans (who are good) who are busy backing and arming the rebels (who are also good).

Now Iran (who used to be bad, but now they have agreed not to build any nuclear weapons and bomb Israel with them are now sort-of good) are going to provide ground troops to support Assad (still bad) as are the Russians (bad) who now have both ground troops and aircraft in Syria.

So a new Coalition of Assad (still bad) Putin (extra bad) and the Iranians (good, but in a bad sort of way) are going to attack IS (who are very bad) which is a good thing, but also the Syrian Rebels (who are good), which is bad.

Annoyingly, now the British (obviously good, except that funny and rather confused Mr Corbyn, who is probably bad in an ineffective sort of way) and the Americans (also good) and the Australians (who are generally considered good because they’re mainly about cold beer and beaches) cannot attack Assad (still bad) for fear of upsetting Putin (bad) and Iran (good/bad) so now they have to accept that Assad might not be that bad after all compared to IS (who are super bad).

So Assad (bad) is now probably good, being better than IS (but let’s face it, drinking your own wee is better than IS, so no real choice there) and since Putin and Iran are also fighting IS that may now make them good.

America (still good) will find it hard to arm a group of rebels being attacked by the Russians for fear of upsetting Mr Putin (now good) and that nice mad Ayatollah in Iran (sort of good) and so they may be forced to say that the Rebels are now bad, or at the very least abandon them to their fate. This will lead most of them to flee to Turkey and then on to Europe (which is bad) or join IS (still the only constantly bad group, and that would be really bad).

For all the Sunni Muslims in the area, an attack by Shia Muslims and Alawites (Iran and Assad) backed by Russians (infidels) will be seen as something of a Holy War, and the ranks of Daesh will now be seen by the Sunnis as the only Jihadis fighting in the Holy War. Hence many Muslims will now see IS as good even though they are the baddest of the bad. (Doh!)

Sunni Muslims will also see the lack of action by Britain and America in support of their (good) Sunni rebel brothers as something of a betrayal (not to mention we didn’t do anything about a corrupt Shia government being imposed on Sunnis when we took over Iraq: hmmm, might have a point there) and hence we will be seen as more Bad. Again.

A few million refugees are now out of harm’s way (good) but nobody really wants them (bad) and now winter’s coming (bad). Lots of people think the refugees are how IS will sneak bad guys into Europe (which would be bad, but there’s no evidence of it happening, which is good, but that doesn’t stop people being frightened of them even though they have no reason to be, which is bad). Meanwhile the French have decided to bomb Iraq to pay back IS for the attacks (bad) in Paris and other countries like Lebanon and Jordan also look like getting dragged further and further into the conflict (bad).

So now we have America (now bad) and Britain (also bad) and Australia (bad, but with good beer), providing limited support to Sunni Rebels (bad) many of whom are looking to IS (good/bad depending on your point of view, even though they’re still really bad) for support against Assad (now good) who, along with Iran (also good) and Putin (also, now, unbelievably, good) are attempting to retake the country Assad used to run before all this started?

There. I hope that this clears it all up for you.

And if in doubt, fuck it, let’s all just bomb someone else. ‘Cause that will help.

To be utterly frank, Dear Reader, we do not even pretend to fully understand the current Middle East crisis and have even less idea what to do about it. It is times like this that we are very pleased we no longer pursue politics as a career.

This map, for example, purports to show Daesh’s view of a future Caliphate. It suggests that its ambitions stretch at least as far as the historical spread of Islam. The white lines, incidentally, do not relate to modern boundaries, but to Daesh-suggested administrative boundaries, as Daesh does not recognise modern nation states.

Daesh map

Anyhow, in the search for clarity, we reproduce in full below a long but scholarly article which first appeared in New Statesman in early March this year, and then in New Republic, because to us it has the smack of good research and commonsense.

It is a trenchant and thorough re-evaluation of the by-now famous article in The Atlantic (which we were impressed by at the time, and which we believe still has value, as regards, at least, the leadership of IS) which argued that IS – or as French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius now urges us to call them, Daesh – is an eschatological “end times” cult that wants nothing more than to provoke a wholesale invasion of Syria and Iraq by the West to usher in the return of Christ and thus the end of the world.

Both articles appear well researched and credible, revealing again (as if we really need to have it reinforced) that this is a highly complex issue that does not succumb to simplistic explanations.

In any event, we urge you to read this article as well, because it goes to the motivation of people to join Daesh and it squarely argues that it is NOT an Islamic movement, and, indeed, that labelling it as such is aiding its existence and even growth. Given recent events worldwide, that analysis is more pressing than ever.

What’s more, as the leader of the “free world” this is a live issue for President Obama, in particular, who is enduring considerable criticism for his nuanced and oft-expressed view that Daesh is not an “Islamic” or “Islamic terrorist” problem. It may be that his reasons for doing so are simply too subtle for many social media readers and posters, especially those who detest Obama anyway, but if this article is credible then his attitude thus far is completely justified.

What is more important is that this is a discussion that every community in the Western world needs to have, as non-Muslim and Muslim communities seek to live peaceably together.

Whatever the precise truth of the situation we now face – and like all situations, there are layers upon layers of meaning and evidence – this article places the responsibility for the radicalisation of Muslim and recent-convert Muslim youth absolutely specifically to the aftermath of the Iraq war, and the subsequent bias and incompetence of the Shia government in Baghdad.

And it asserts – with compelling evidence from experts working in the intelligence field – that grievances in Western societies (poor housing, perceived racism, lack of opportunity, and a desire for belonging and meaning, above all) are all merely exacerbated by the echoes of 2003 and afterwards.

In effect, the article is saying that the war in Iraq never really ended, and that it is now conflated to include Syria.

We might also note that the next domino to fall, in this regard, would be Lebanon, which puts last week’s murderous bombing in Beirut into a critical context.

Please. Take the time to read this article.

UnderstandingWe believe it is an important contribution to current discussions, and should be taken into account as we examine what on earth to do next.

And if there is ever to be peace in the Middle East, we have to start somewhere.

In that regard, understanding what is going on seems a good place to start.

Article begins:

It is difficult to forget the names, or the images, of James Foley, Steven Sotloff, David Haines, Alan Henning and Peter Kassig. The barbaric beheadings between August and November 2014, in cold blood and on camera, of these five jumpsuit-clad western hostages by the self-styled Islamic State, or ISIS, provoked widespread outrage and condemnation.

Liberation newspaper journalist Didier Francois who was freed after 10 months in captivity.

Liberation newspaper journalist Didier Francois who was freed after 10 months in captivity.

However, we should also remember the name of Didier François, a French journalist who was held by ISIS in Syria for ten months before being released in April 2014. François has since given us a rare insight into life inside what the Atlantic’s Graeme Wood, in a recent report for the magazine, has called the “hermit kingdom” of ISIS, where “few have gone . . . and returned.”

And it is an insight that threatens to turn the conventional wisdom about the world’s most fearsome terrorist organisation on its head.

“There was never really discussion about texts,” the French journalist told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour last month, referring to his captors. “It was not a religious discussion. It was a political discussion.”

According to François, “It was more hammering what they were believing than teaching us about the Quran. Because it has nothing to do with the Quran.” And the former hostage revealed to a startled Amanpour: “We didn’t even have the Quran. They didn’t want even to give us a Quran.”

The rise of ISIS in Iraq and Syria has been a disaster for the public image of Islam – and a boon for the Islamophobia industry. Here, after all, is a group that calls itself Islamic State; that claims the support of Islamic texts to justify its medieval punishments, from the stoning of adulterers to the amputation of the hands of thieves; and that has a leader with a PhD in Islamic studies who declares himself to be a “caliph,” or ruler over all Muslims, and has even renamed himself in honour of the first Muslim caliph, Abu Bakr.

The consequences are, perhaps, as expected. In September 2014, a Zogby poll found that only 27 percent of Americans had a favourable view of Islam—down from 35 per cent in 2010. By February 2015, more than a quarter of Americans (27 per cent) were telling the pollsters LifeWay Research that they believed that life under ISIS rule “gives a true indication of what an Islamic society looks like.”

Yet what is much more worrying is that it isn’t just ill-informed, ignorant or bigoted members of the public who take such a view. “The reality is that the Islamic State is Islamic. Very Islamic,” wrote Wood in his widely read 10,000-word cover report (“What ISIS really wants”) in the March issue of Atlantic, in which he argued, “The religion preached by its most ardent followers derives from coherent and even learned interpretations of Islam.”

Bernard Haykel of Princeton University, the only scholar of Islam whom Wood bothered to interview, described Muslims who considered ISIS to be un-Islamic, or anti-Islamic, as “embarrassed and politically correct, with a cotton-candy view of their own religion,” and declared that the hand-choppers and throat-slitters of ISIS “have just as much legitimacy” as any other Muslims, because Islam is “what Muslims do and how they interpret their texts.”

Many other analysts across the political spectrum agree and have denounced the Obama administration for refusing, in the words of the journalist-turned-terrorism-expert Peter Bergen, to make “the connection between Islamist terrorism and ultra-fundamentalist forms of Islam.” Writing on the CNN website in February, Bergen declared, “ISIS may be a perversion of Islam, but Islamic it is.”

“Will it take the end of the world for Obama to recognise ISIS as ‘Islamic’?” screamed a headline on the Daily Beast website in the same month. “Which will come first, flying cars and vacations to Mars, or a simple acknowledgment that beliefs guide behaviour and that certain religious ideas—jihad, martyrdom, blasphemy, apostasy—reliably lead to oppression and murder?” asked Sam Harris, the neuroscientist and high priest of the “New Atheism” movement.

So, is ISIS a recognisably “Islamic” movement? Are ISIS recruits motivated by religious fervour and faith?

The Analyst

“Our exploration of the intuitive psychologist’s shortcomings must start with his general tendency to overestimate the importance of personal or dispositional factors relative to environmental influences,” wrote the American social anthropologist Lee Ross in 1977.

It was Ross who coined the phrase “fundamental attribution error”, which refers to the phenomenon in which we place excessive emphasis on internal motivations to explain the behaviour of others, in any given situation, rather than considering the relevant external factors.

SagemanNowhere is the fundamental attribution error more prevalent, suggests the forensic psychiatrist Marc Sageman, than in our navel-gazing analysis of wannabe terrorists and what does or doesn’t motivate them.

“You attribute other people’s behaviour to internal motivations but your own to circumstances. ‘They’re attacking us and therefore we have to attack them.’” Yet, he tells me, we rarely do the reverse.

Few experts have done more to try to understand the mindset of the young men and women who aspire to join the blood-drenched ranks of groups such as ISIS and Al Qaeda than Sageman. And few can match his qualifications, credentials or background. The 61-year-old, Polish-born psychiatrist and academic is a former CIA operations officer who was based in Pakistan in the late 1980s. There he worked closely with the Afghan mujahedin.

He has since advised the New York City Police Department on counterterrorism issues, testified in front of the 9/11 Commission in Washington, D.C., and, in his acclaimed works Understanding Terror Networks and Leaderless Jihad, closely analysed the biographies of several hundred terrorists.

Does he see religion as a useful analytical prism through which to view the rise of ISIS and the process by which thousands of young people arrive in Syria and Iraq, ready to fight and die for the group?

“Religion has a role but it is a role of justification,” he tells me. “It’s not why they do this [or] why young people go there.”

ISIS members, he says, are using religion to advance a political vision, rather than using politics to advance a religious vision. “To give themselves a bit more legitimacy, they use Islam as their justification. It’s not about religion, it’s about identity . . . You identify with the victims, [with] the guys being killed by your enemies.”

For converts to Islam in particular, he adds, “Identity is important to them. They have . . . invested a lot of their own efforts and identity to become this ‘Muslim’ and, because of this, identity is so important to them. They see other Muslims being slaughtered [and say], ‘I need to protect my community.’” (A recent study found that converts to Islam were involved in 31 per cent of Muslim terrorism convictions in the UK between 2001 and 2010.)

Sageman believes that it isn’t religious faith but, rather, a “sense of emotional and moral outrage” at what they see on their television screens or on YouTube that propels people from Portsmouth to Peshawar, from Berlin to Beirut, to head for war zones and to sign up for the so-called jihad. Today, he notes archly, “Orwell would be [considered as foreign fighter like] a jihadi,” referring to the writer’s involvement in the anti-fascist campaign during the Spanish civil war.

Religion, according to this view, plays a role not as a driver of behaviour but as a vehicle for outrage and, crucially, a marker of identity. Religion is important in the sense that it happens to “define your identity”, Sageman says, and not because you are “more pious than anybody else.” He invokes the political scientist Benedict Anderson’s conception of a nation state as an “imagined political community”, arguing that the “imagined community of Muslims” is what drives the terrorists, the allure of being members of – and defenders of – the ultimate “in-group.”

JJ“You don’t have the most religious folks going there,” he points out.

ISIS fighters from the west, in particular, “tend to have rediscovered Islam as teenagers, or as converts”; they are angry, or even bored, young men in search of a call to arms and a thrilling cause. The ISIS executioner Mohammed Emwazi, also known as “Jihadi John” – who was raised and educated in the UK – was described, for instance, by two British medics who met him at a Syrian hospital as “quiet but a bit of an adrenalin junkie”.

Sageman’s viewpoint should not really surprise us. Writing in his 2011 book The Black Banners: the Inside Story of 9/11 and the War Against al-Qaeda, the Lebanese-American former FBI agent Ali H Soufan, who led the bureau’s pre-9/11 investigation into Al Qaeda, observed: “When I first began interrogating AL Qaeda members, I found that while they could quote Bin Laden’s sayings by heart, I knew far more of the Quran than they did—and in fact some barely knew classical Arabic, the language of both the hadithand the Quran. An understanding of their thought process and the limits of their knowledge enabled me and my colleagues to use their claimed piousness against them.”

Three years earlier, in 2008, a classified briefing note on radicalisation, prepared by MI5’s behavioural science unit, was obtained by the Guardian.

It revealed: “Far from being religious zealots, a large number of those involved in terrorism do not practise their faith regularly. Many lack religious literacy and could . . . be regarded as religious novices.”

The MI5 analysts noted the disproportionate number of converts and the high propensity for “drug-taking, drinking alcohol and visiting prostitutes”. The newspaper claimed they concluded, “A well-established religious identity actually protects against violent radicalisation.”

As I have pointed out on these pages before, Mohammed Ahmed and Yusuf Sarwar, the two young British Muslim men from Birmingham who were convicted on terrorism charges in 2014 after travelling to fight in Syria, bought copies of Islam for Dummies and The Koran for Dummies from Amazon prior to their departure. Religious novices, indeed.

Sageman, the former CIA officer, says we have to locate terrorism and extremism in local conflicts rather than in grand or sweeping ideological narratives – the grievances and the anger come first, he argues, followed by the convenient and self-serving ideological justifications. For example, he says, the origins of ISIS as a terror group lie not in this or that Islamic book or school of thought, but in the “slaughter of Sunnis in Iraq.” He reminds me how, in April 2013, when there was a peaceful Sunni demonstration asking the Shia-led Maliki government in Baghdad to reapportion to the various provinces what the government was getting in oil revenues, Iraqi security forces shot into the crowds.

“That was the start of this [current] insurrection.”

Before that, it was the brutal, US-led occupation, under which Iraq became ground zero for suicide bombers from across the region and spurred the creation of new terrorist organisations, such as Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI).

ISIS is the “remnant” of AQI, Sageman adds. He believes that any analysis of the group and of the ongoing violence and chaos in Iraq that doesn’t take into account the long period of war, torture, occupation and sectarian cleansing is inadequate—and a convenient way of exonerating the west of any responsibility. “Without the invasion of Iraq, [ISIS] would not exist. We created it by our presence there.”

The Spy

BarrettLike Marc Sageman, Richard Barrett has devoted his professional life to understanding terrorism, extremism and radicalization.

The silver-haired 65-year-old was the director of global counterterrorism operations for MI6, both before and after the 11 September 2001 attacks, and he subsequently led the Al Qaeda and Taliban monitoring team at the United Nations between 2004 and 2013.

Unlike Sageman, however, Barrett partly sympathises with Graeme Wood’s and Bernard Haykel’s thesis that “the Islamic State is Islamic”. He tells me that some ISIS followers “are clearly convinced they are following Allah’s will” and he insists: “We should not underestimate the extent of their belief.” However, Barrett concedes that such beliefs and views “will not be the only thing that drew them to the Islamic State”.

The former MI6 officer, who recently published a report on foreign fighters in Syria, agrees with the ex-CIA man on the key issue of what motivates young men to join—and fight for—groups such as ISIS in the first place. Rather than religious faith, it has “mostly to do with the search for identity . . . coupled with a search for belonging and purpose. The Islamic State offers all that and empowers the individual within a collective. It does not judge and accepts all with no concern about their past. This can be very appealing for people who think that they washed up on the wrong shore.”

Whether they are unemployed losers or well-educated professionals, joining ISIS offers new recruits the chance to “believe that they are special . . . that they are part of something that is new, secret and powerful.”

While Barrett doesn’t dismiss the theological angle in the way that Sageman does, he nevertheless acknowledges, “Acting in the name of Islam means that, for the ignorant at least, the groups have some legitimacy for their actions . . . They can pretend it is not just about power and money.”

LouiseThis irreligious lust for power and money is a significant and often overlooked part of the ISIS equation.

The group—often described as messianic and uncompromising—had no qualms about demanding a $200m ransom for the lives of two Japanese hostages in January; nor has it desisted from smuggling pornography into and out of Iraq, according to Louise Shelley, director of the Terrorism, Transnational Crime and Corruption Centre at George Mason University in Virginia. (Shelley has referred to Isis as a “diversified criminal operation”.)

Then there is the often-ignored alliance at the heart of ISIS between the so-called violent Islamists, led by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, and the remnants of Saddam Hussein’s secular Ba’athist regime – an alliance that Barrett has referred to as a “marriage of convenience.” If ISIS is the apocalyptic religious cult that Wood and others believe it is, why was Baghdadi’s deputy in Iraq Abu Muslim al-Afari al-Turkmani, a former senior special forces officer in Hussein’s army? Why is Baghdadi’s number two in Syria Abu Ali al-Anbari, a former major general under Hussein? (Welthisiswhatithink note; al-Anbari was reported killed in Libya in June.) 

“The Ba’athist element was certainly very important . . . as it gave the Islamic State military and administrative capability,” Barrett says. “It also made it possible [for ISIS to] take Mosul so quickly and cause defections and surrenders from the Iraqi army. There was and continues to be a coincidence of interest between Islamic State and other anti-government Sunni groups.”

Here again, it seems, is the fundamental attribution error in play. We neglect to focus on the “interests” of groups such as ISIS and obsess over their supposedly messianic and apocalyptic “beliefs.” The “end of times” strain may be very strong in ISIS, Barrett warns, but: “The Ba’athist elements are still key in Iraq and without them the Islamic State would probably not be able to hold on to the city of Mosul.”

Baghdadi’s appointment as leader of ISIS in 2010 was orchestrated by a former Ba’athist colonel in Hussein’s army, Haji Bakr, (killed in January 2014) according to another recent study produced by Barrett, in which he noted how Bakr had “initially attracted criticism from fellow members of the group for his lack of a proper beard and lax observance of other dictates of their religious practice”. Nevertheless, pragmatism trumped ideology as Bakr’s “organisational skills . . . and network of fellow ex-Ba’athists made him a valuable resource” for ISIS.

Apparently, Baghdadi’s supposed caliphate in Iraq and Syria was less the will of God and more the will of Saddam.

The Theologian

Perhaps the most astonishing achievement of Isis has been not the sheer size of the territory it has captured, but the way in which it has united the world’s disparate (and often divided) 1.6 billion Muslims against it.

Whether Sunni or Shia, Salafi or Sufi, conservative or liberal, Muslims – and Muslim leaders – have almost unanimously condemned and denounced ISIS not merely as un-Islamic but actively anti-Islamic.

Sheikh Abdul Aziz al-Sheikh, the Saudi grand mufti.

Sheikh Abdul Aziz al-Sheikh, the Saudi grand mufti.

Consider the various statements of Muslim groups such as the Organisation of Islamic Co-operation, representing 57 countries (ISIS has “nothing to do with Islam”); the Islamic Society of North America (ISIS’ actions are “in no way representative of what Islam actually teaches”); al-Azhar University in Cairo, the most prestigious seat of learning in the Sunni Muslim world (ISIS is acting “under the guise of this holy religion . . . in an attempt to export their false Islam”); and even Saudi Arabia’s Salafist Grand Mufti, Abdul Aziz al ash-Sheikh (ISIS is “the number-one enemy of Islam”).

In September 2014, more than 120 Islamic scholars co-signed an 18-page open letter to Baghdadi, written in Arabic, containing what the Slate website’s Filipa Ioannou described as a “technical point-by-point criticism of ISIS’ actions and ideology based on the Quran and classical religious texts.”

hannityYet buffoonish right-wingers such as the Fox News host Sean Hannity continue to refer to the alleged “silence of Muslims” over the actions of ISIS and ask, “Where are the Muslim leaders?” Meanwhile, academics who should know better, such as Princeton’s Bernard Haykel, insist that the leaders of ISIS “have just as much legitimacy as anyone else.”

MuradLegitimacy, however, “comes through endorsement by religious leaders. If Sunni Islam’s leaders consider ISIS inauthentic, then that is what it is,” says Abdal Hakim Murad, who teaches Islamic studies at Cambridge University and serves as the dean of the Cambridge Muslim College, which trains imams for British mosques. The blond-haired, 54-year-old Murad is a convert and is also known as Timothy Winter (his brother is the Telegraph football writer Henry). Murad has been described by the Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Centre in Jordan as “one of the most well-respected western theologians”, whose “accomplishments place him amongst the most significant Muslims in the world”.

The religious world, whether Muslim, Jewish or Christian, is “packed with fringe and fundamentalist groups that claim the mantle of total authenticity,” Murad tells me. To accept those groups’ assertions at face value is “either naive or tendentious.”

He continues: “Just as Christianity in Bosnia 20 years ago was not properly represented by the churchgoing militias of Radovan Karadzic and just as Judaism is not represented by West Bank settlers who burn mosques, so, too, Islam is not represented by ISIS.”

Contrary to a lazy conventional wisdom which suggests that a 1,400-year-old faith with more than a billion adherents has no hierarchy, “Islam has its leadership, its universities, its muftis and its academies, which unanimously repudiate ISIS,” Murad explains. For the likes of Haykel to claim that the ISIS interpretation of Islam has “just as much legitimacy” as the mainstream view, he adds, is “unscholarly,” “incendiary” and likely to “raise prejudice and comfort the far-right political formations”.

As for ISIS’ obsession with beheadings, crucifixions, hand-chopping and the rest, Murad argues: “With regard to classical sharia punishments, the religion’s teachings in every age are determined by scholarly consensus on the meaning of the complex scriptural texts”—rather than by self-appointed “sharia councils” in the midst of conflict zones.

Many analysts have laid the blame for violent extremism among Muslims at the ideological door of Salafism, a regressive and ultra-conservative brand of Islam, which owes a great deal to the controversial teachings of an 18th-century preacher named Muhammad Ibn Abd al-Wahhab and which today tends to be behind much of the misogyny and sectarianism in the Muslim-majority world. Yet, as even Wood concedes in his Atlantic report, “Most Salafis are not jihadists and most adhere to sects that reject the Islamic State.”

Salafists tend to be apolitical, whereas groups such as ISIS are intensely political. Even the traditionalist Murad, who has little time for what he has deemed the “cult-like universe of the Salafist mindset”, agrees that the rise of extremism within the movement is a consequence, rather than a cause, of violence and conflict.

“The roots of ISIS have been located in rage against . . . the 2003 occupation of Iraq. Before that event, Salafist extremism was hardly heard of in Syria and Iraq, even though the mosques were full in those countries,” Murad says. “Angry men, often having suffered in US detention, have reached for the narrowest and most violent interpretation of their religion they can find. This is a psychological reaction, not a faithful adherence to classical Muslim norms of jurisprudence.”

In the view of this particular Muslim theologian, ISIS owes a “debt to European far-right thinking.” The group’s “imposition of a monolithic reading of the huge and hugely complex founding literature of the religion is something very new in Islamic civilisation, representing a totalitarian impulse that seems closer to European fascism than to classical Islamic norms.”

The Radical

Raised in Toronto, the son of Indian immigrant parents, Mubin Shaikh went from enjoying a hedonistic teenage lifestyle involving drugs, girls and parties to embracing a militant and “jihadist” view of the world, full of hate and anger.

CSIS and RCMP informant Mubin Shaikh at his Toronto home on February 6th, 2007. Shaikh's information led to the arrest of dozens of terror suspects in the summer of 2006.

CSIS and RCMP informant Mubin Shaikh at his Toronto home on February 6th, 2007. Shaikh’s information led to the arrest of dozens of terror suspects in the summer of 2006.

He felt as though he “had become a stranger in my own land, my own home,” Shaikh told PBS in 2007, referring to an identity crisis that helped spark his “jihadi bug.” After 11 September 2001, he wanted to fight in Afghanistan or Chechnya because: “It felt like the right thing to do.”

It is a familiar path, trodden by the likes of Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the brothers accused of bombing the Boston Marathon, as well as Chérif and Saïd Kouachi, the Charlie Hebdo attackers in Paris. (A former friend of Chérif said that the younger, pot-smoking Kouachi “couldn’t differentiate between Islam and Catholicism” before he became radicalized by “images of American soldiers humiliating Muslims at the Abu Ghraib prison”, as the New York Times put it.)

Yet Shaikh eventually relinquished his violent views after studying Sufi Islam in the Middle East and then boldly volunteered with the Canadian Security Intelligence Service to infiltrate several radical groups in Toronto.

The bald and bearded Shaikh, now aged 39 and an adviser to Canadian officials, tells me it is “preposterous” to claim that the killing of Christians and Yazidis by ISIS is rooted in Islamic scripture or doctrine. If it was, “Muslims would have been doing those sorts of things for the past 50-plus years. Yet we find no such thing.”

YAZIDIS(Wellthisiswhatithink insert: This becomes a particularly trenchant comment as a mass grave believed to contain the remains of more than 70 female members of Iraq’s Yazidi minority has been recently discovered east of Sinjar town after Kurdish forces claimed victory over Daesh militants in the area, the mayor and locals have said.

The insurgents overran the Yazidi heartland of Sinjar in north-west Iraq in August 2014, systematically killing, capturing and enslaving thousands of its inhabitants in what the United Nations has said may have constituted attempted genocide.

The mayor of Sinjar and local Yazidis who visited the site of the mass grave said last Saturday that they saw clumps of hair, bones, money and keys which they believed belonged to older women from the village of Kocho, whom the militants separated from younger women during their onslaught.)

Shaikh offers three distinct explanations for why ISIS should not be considered or treated as an “Islamic” phenomenon. First, he argues, “The claim that ISIS is ‘Islamic’ because it superficially uses Islamic sources is ridiculous, because the Islamic sources themselves say that those who do so [manifest Islam superficially] are specifically un-Islamic.”

He points to an order issued by the first and original Muslim caliph, Abu Bakr, which declared: “Neither kill a child, women [nor] the elderly . . . When you come upon those who have taken to live in monasteries, leave them alone.”

Takfiris are those who declare other Muslims to be apostates and, for Shaikh, “It is the height of incredulity to suggest that they [members of ISIS] are in fact ‘Islamic’ – an opinion shared only by ISIS and [Islamophobes] who echo their claims.”

As for Baghdadi’s supposed scholarly credentials, Shaikh jokes, “Even the devil can quote scripture.”

Second, he argues, it is dangerous to grant ISIS any kind of theological legitimacy amid efforts to formulate a coherent “countering violent extremism” (CVE) strategy in the West. “It is quite possibly a fatal blow in that regard because, essentially, it is telling Muslims to condemn that which is Islamic.” It is, he says, a “schizophrenic approach to CVE which will never succeed”.

Third, Shaikh reminds me how the former U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld often included verses from the Bible at the top of the intelligence briefings that he presented to President George W Bush. “Could we say [Iraq] was a ‘Christianity-motivated war’? How about verses of the Bible [reportedly] engraved on to rifles for use in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars?”

The former radical points out that highlighting only the role of religion in the radicalization process to the exclusion of, or above, other factors is short-sighted. “Fear, money . . . adventure, alienation and, most certainly, anger at the west for what happened in Iraq . . . [also] explain why people join [ISIS],” he tells me.

Shaikh therefore wants a counterterrorism approach focused not merely on faith or theology, but on “political, social and psychological” factors.

The Pollster

What Dalia Mogahed doesn’t know about Muslim public opinion probably isn’t worth knowing. And the former Gallup pollster and co-author, with the US academic John L Esposito, of Who Speaks for Islam? What a Billion Muslims Really Think, based on six years of research and 50,000 interviews with Muslims in more than 35 countries, says that the survey evidence is clear: the overwhelming majority of the world’s Muslims reject ISIS-style violence.

DaliaGallup polling conducted for Mogahed’s book found, for instance, that 93 per cent of Muslims condemned the terror attacks of September 11, 2001.

The 40-year-old Egyptian-American scholar tells me, “In follow-up questions, Gallup found that not a single respondent of the nearly 50,000 interviewed cited a verse from the Quran in defence of terrorism but, rather, religion was only mentioned to explain why 9/11 was immoral.”

The 7 per cent of Muslims who sympathised with the attacks on the twin towers “defended this position entirely with secular political justifications or distorted concepts of ‘reciprocity’, as in: ‘They kill our civilians. We can kill theirs.’”

It is thus empirically unsound to conflate heightened religious belief with greater support for violence. Mogahed, who became the first hijab-wearing Muslim woman to hold a position at the White House when she served on Barack Obama’s advisory council on “faith-based and neighbourhood partnerships”, says that she was “surprised” by the results, as they “flew in the face of everything we were being told and every assumption we were making in our counter-terrorism strategy.”

As for Haykel’s claim that Islam is merely “what Muslims do and how they interpret their texts”, Mogahed is scathingly dismissive. “If Islam is indeed ‘what Muslims do’, then certainly numbers should be a powerful factor dictating which Muslims we see as representing it,” she says.

“ISIS is a tiny minority whose victims are, in fact, mostly other Muslims.

“By what logic would this gang of killers, which has been universally condemned and brutalizes Muslims more than anyone else, get to represent the global [Muslim] community?”

The former White House adviser continues: “Any philosophy or ideology, from Christianity to capitalism, has normative principles and authorities that speak to those norms. Each also has deviants who distort it to meet political or other goals. If I deny the existence of Christ but call myself a Christian, I’d be wrong. If I say the state should usurp all private property and redistribute it equally among citizens but call myself a capitalist, I would be wrong. Islam is no different.”

Echoing Murad, Mogahed points out, “Islam’s authorities have loudly and unanimously declared ISIS un-Islamic.”

Because of this, “Making a claim that violates normative principles of a philosophy, as defined by those with the authority to decide, is illegitimate.”

What about Haykel’s claim that ISIS fighters are constantly quoting Quranic verses and the hadith, or traditions from the life of the Prophet, and that they “mug for their cameras and repeat their basic doctrines in formulaic fashion and they do it all the time”? Why do they do that if they don’t believe this stuff – if it isn’t sincere?

“The Quran [and] hadith according to whom?” she responds. “As interpreted by whom? As understood by whom?”

Mogahed, who served as the executive director of the Gallup Centre for Muslim Studies until 2012 and who now works for the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding (ISPU) and runs her own consulting firm based in Washington DC, argues that ISIS uses Islamic language and symbols today for the same reason as Palestinian militant groups used the language of secular Arab nationalism in the 1960s and 1970s.

“Any organisation uses the dominant social medium of its society,” she says. “Today, the dominant social currency in the Arab world is Islam. More than 90 per cent of Arab Muslims say religion is an important part of their daily life, according to Gallup research. Everyone, not just IS, speaks in Islamic language, from pro-democracy advocates to civil society groups fighting illiteracy.”

For Mogahed, therefore, “a violent reading of the Quran is not leading to political violence. Political violence is leading to a violent reading of the Quran.”

In a recent despatch from Zarqa in Jordan, birthplace of the late AQI leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and “one of the country’s most notorious hotbeds of Islamic radicalism,” Foreign Policy magazine’s David Kenner sat down with a group of young, male ISIS supporters.

“None of them appeared to be particularly religious,” Kenner noted. “Not once did the conversation turn to matters of faith, and none budged from their seats when the call to prayer sounded. They appeared driven by anger at humiliations big and small – from the police officers who treated them like criminals outside their homes to the massacres of Sunnis in Syria and Iraq – rather than by a detailed exegesis of religious texts.”

It cannot be said often enough: it isn’t the most pious or devout of Muslims who embrace terrorism, or join groups such as IS. Nor has a raft of studies and surveys uncovered any evidence of a “conveyor belt” that turns people of firm faith into purveyors of violence.

Religion plays little, if any, role in the radicalisation process, as Sageman and countless experts testify.

It is an excuse, rather than a reason. ISIS is as much the product of political repression, organised crime and a marriage of convenience with secular, power-hungry Ba’athists as it is the result of a perversion of Islamic beliefs and practices.

As for Islamic scholars, they “unanimously repudiate” ISIS, to quote Murad, while ordinary Muslims “universally condemn” Baghdadi and his bloodthirsty followers, in the words of Mogahed.

The so-called Islamic State is, therefore, “Islamic” in the way the British National Party is “British” or the Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea (DPRK) is “democratic.”

No serious analyst considers the latter two entities to be representative of either Britishness or democracy; few commentators claim that those who join the BNP do so out of a sense of patriotism and nor do they demand that all democrats publicly denounce the DPRK as undemocratic. So why the double standard in relation to the self-styled Islamic State and the religion of Islam? Why the willingness to believe the hype and rhetoric from the spin doctors and propagandists of ISIS?

We must be wary of the trap set for us by Baghdadi’s group – a trap that far too many people who should know better have frustratingly fallen for. A former U.S. State Department official who has worked on counterterrorism issues tells me how worried he is that the arguments of the Atlantic’s Wood, Haykel, Bergen and others have been gaining traction in policymaking circles in recent months. “It was disconcerting to be at [President Obama’s Countering Violent Extremism summit in February] and hear so many people discussing the [Atlantic] article while the president and others were trying to marginalise extremist claims to Islamic legitimacy.”

Mogahed is full-square behind her former boss’s decision to delink violent extremism from the Islamic faith in his public pronouncements.

“As [Obama] recently remarked, giving groups like IS religious legitimacy is handing them the ideological victory they desperately desire,” she says. This may be the most significant point of all to understand, as politicians, policymakers and security officials try (and fail) to formulate a coherent response to violent extremism in general and IS in particular.

To claim that IS is Islamic is egregiously inaccurate and empirically unsustainable, not to mention insulting to the 1.6 billion non-violent adherents of Islam across the planet.

Above all else, it is dangerous and self-defeating, as it provides Baghdadi and his minions with the propaganda prize and recruiting tool that they most crave.

We are spending a lot more time than usual thinking about Dr Who in the Wellthisiswhatithink household.

Robert Lloyd and a Tardis made entirely of Lego. It's a long story.

Robert Lloyd and a Tardis made entirely of Lego. It’s a long story.

This is primarily because we have become friendly with a great guy who is deeply obsessed with the series and its history – Robert Lloyd.

And not least because he bears an uncanny resemblance to the tenth doctor, David Tennant, which allows the clever chap to make at least a partial living attending fan conferences as a lookalike host, not to mention producing his own very touching and funny Dr Who shows in Australia and overseas.

“Wait … what?”

Indeed, we are thinking of tracking down the real Mr Tennant simply so we can go up to him and ask “Aren’t you Robert Lloyd?”, because that’s the sort of silly joke that appeals to your indefatigable correspondent when the painkillers for our sore shoulder really kick in, and should you happen to run across the hugely talented Scots actor, Dear Reader, we urge you to do the same.

Anyhow, as we are breathlessly making our way through the new series of Doctor Who hiding behind the couch and peeping out occasionally, we have become inevitably more involved in all things Whovian, which is how we came to read fellow scriber Lee Zachariah’s review of the last episode.

It would be a shame to allow the episode to pass unremarked, as it carried a strong – some would say visceral – anti-war message, delivered by the Doctor to the leaders of the Zygon rebellion and Earth’s “Unit”. (Regular viewers will know what we are on about.) The speech is making news in the Twitter-blogo-internety-sphere thing, and rightly so.

soldierThe interesting thing is that this seminal solliloqy was timed to coincide, in the UK, with Remembrance Sunday, which we wrote about yesterday.

Lee’s review, which is well worth a read, contains this trenchant paragraph.

the Doctor delivered a more-than-ten-minute speech (go back and time it if you don’t believe me) about the pointlessness and devastation of war. It’s a sentiment we’ve heard many times before, but not like this. Peter Capaldi delivers the tremendous mostly-monologue brilliantly, and it never ditches the story for the metaphor, or vice-versa.

Which is a good point, well made, in two wises.

Firstly, it would be hard to imagine any television programme – especially one that is “popular” in the sense that it has a hugely wide and generally low-brow demographic appeal – dedicated Whovians will object to that characterisation, but fair play, you aficionados, it is prime time entertainment, you know, not the answer to life, the Universe and everything – that can weave in a ten minute speech to its script on, you know, anything, let alone a passionate and carefully constructed pacifist argument.

We were reminded of the famous attack on the current level of mindless jingoism in America by Jeff Daniels when he was playing news anchor Will McEvoy in the consistently excellent Newsroom, which was cancelled after just three short seasons (disgracefully) and which included one of the finest soliloquies ever delivered in the modern era.

It has been seen literally millions of times, and is constantly being referenced in social media. We would honestly be delighted if it was seen at least once by every American citizen. It’s also a mesmerising performance by Daniels. If you haven’t seen it, do yourself a favour and watch it now.


The second point to be made is that the speech in this weekend’s episode of Who absolutely required an actor of the staggering intensity and compassion of Peter Capaldi, the latest (and we hope long-lasting) iteration of the Doctor, both to deliver such a speech with any degree of conviction, and to hold the audience’s attention while he does.

Capaldi’s take on Who is a refreshing change from the whimsical boy-child performances of Matt Smith – he is argumentative, sometimes intolerant, excoriatingly witty, and less human.

Just as Smith emphasised the light-hearted whimsicality of a Time Lord who knows everything and nothing – but who exhibited a fine and moving line in pathos, too – and was perfectly balanced by the bubbly effusion of Karen Gillan – so Capaldi is a conviction Who for a modern era. An era that insistently offers us imminent climate change, dozens of very nasty global conflicts, an apparently unstoppable arms trade, a renewed nuclear arms race, newly intense superpower tensions, the horrors of IS and 4 million Syrian refugees.

Capaldi’s version of Who is perfectly nuanced for today. Just as his soon-to-depart companion Jenna Coleman has had a questioning demeanor and fiery temper and is thus appropriately and winningly less likely to fall for standard Time Lord snake oil shlock.

Anyway, back to the speech itself. As Capaldi fixes us with his near-manic gaze, we are commanded to listen carefully, which in turns allows the writers to try and do something serious with all that transfixed attention.

Talking to the Zygon rebel leader who is threatening to destroy humanity, Capaldi rages:

“The only way anyone can live in peace, is if they’re prepared to forgive. And when this was is over, when you have a homeland free from humans, what do think it’s going to be like? Do you know? Have you thought about it? Have you given it any consideration? Because you’re very close to getting what you want.

“What’s it going to be like? Paint me a picture. Are you going to live in houses? Do you want people to go to work? Will there be holidays? Oh! Will there be music? Do you think peole will be allowed to play violins?”

“Well … oh you don’t actually know do you? Because, like every other tantrumming child in history, you don’t actually know what you want.”

“So let me ask you a question about this brave new world of yours. When you’ve killed all the bad guys, and when it’s all perfect, and just and fair, and when you have finally got it, exactly they way you want it, what are you going to do with the people like you? The trouble makers. How are you going to protect your glorious revolution from the next one?

Well maybe you will win. But nobody wins for long. The wheel just keeps turning. So, come on. Break the cycle.”

As he hammers home his points, Capaldi traverses an astonishing range of emotion and meaning in the speech – anger, sarcasm, pleading, fear, intellectual superiority, terror, far-sightedness, urgency.

“Because it’s always the same. When you fire that first shot, no matter how right you feel, you don’t know who’s going to die. You don’t know whose children are going to scream and burn. How many hearts will be broken. How many lives shattered. How much blood will spill until everyone does what they were always going to do from the very beginning. SIT … DOWN … AND … TALK.”

Please. Watch it.



This cultural memorandum is for the attention of David Cameron, Barack Obama, Francois Hollande, Vladimir Putin, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, Bashar al-Assad, Hassan Rouhani, Benjamin Netanyahu, Malcolm Turnbull, Jean-Claude Juncker, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, Ban Ki-moon, Pope Francis, Xi Jinping, Abubakar Shekau, Idriss Deby, Muhammadu Buhari, Shinzō Abe, Justin Trudeau …

A fascinating story has emerged from Syria of the way IS chose to treat a Christian priest and his community, reported by the BBC.

Father Jack Murad

Father Jack Murad spoke to BBC Arabic about his ordeal

Fr Jack told BBC Arabic what happened. He remembers how he and Botros Hanna were blindfolded and had their hands tied, before the car they were forced into sped away to an unknown destination “in the mountains around al-Qaryatain”.

After four days, the two men were blindfolded and handcuffed again, before being forced on a much longer journey.

They ended up in a cell somewhere in Raqqa, IS’s stronghold, where they were kept for 84 days.

The captives were well-fed, given medical treatment and never tortured, Fr Jack explained. But what stood out, he said, was the verbal abuse.

Fr Jack and Botros Hannah were repeatedly called “infidels” and told that they had strayed from the true religion of “Islam” – in particular, “Islamic State’s interpretation of Islam”.

Intriguingly, though, Fr Jack says his captors all seemed curious about his Christian beliefs.

“They would ask about my theology – God, the Holy Trinity, Christ, and the Crucifixion,” he said.

But he thought it pointless trying to answer.

“What’s the point of debating with someone who’s put you in prison and pointing their rifle at you?” Fr Jack asked rhetorically. “When I was forced to respond, I’d say ‘I’m not prepared to change my religion’.”

Death threats

Despite otherwise treating them well, the militants he met would scare prisoners, telling them they would be killed if they refused to convert.

‘For them, my fate for refusing to convert to Islam was death. To frighten us, they would even tell us in detail how we would die. They are truly gifted at using words and imagery to terrorise,” Fr Jack recalled.

The priest said the experience only strengthened his faith, although at the time he expected to be beheaded.

“On Day 84, the last day, an emir arrived, telling us “the Christians of al-Qaryatain have been pestering us about you and want you back, so come on, move.”

Ruins of Mar Elian Monastery (August 2015)

IS militants destroyed Fr Jack’s ancient monastery

‘We went past Palmyra and Sawwaneh, then the car disappeared into a tunnel. We were taken out of the car, and the emir took me by the hand towards a large iron door. He opened it, and I saw two guys from my parish standing there.”

They hugged and then Fr Jack looked up to find an astonishing scene.

“All the Christians of al-Qaryatain, my whole parish, my children were there. I was in shock. They were surprised and happy. They all came to embrace me.”

During his captivity, the town of al-Qaryatain had been captured by IS.

All of them were held captive another 20 days.

Finally, on the 31 August, Fr Jack was summoned before several IS clerics.

They wanted to convey what IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi had decided about the fate of the Christians of al-Qaryatain.

Various options were on the table, including killing the men and enslaving the women.

Instead the IS leader chose to give the Christians the “right to live as citizens in territory held by Islamic State”, which meant returning their land, homes, and money in return for conditional IS protection.

‘Land of blasphemy’

Fr Jack told them everything he was asked about the churches and the monastery in al-Qaryatain, but omitted to mention Saint Elian’s grave, hoping he could spare it from destruction.

But it was difficult to fool the IS militants.

“They know everything, every detail.” Revealingly, the priest added “We tend to think of them as uncultured Bedouins. The opposite is true. They’re clever, educated, with university degrees, and meticulous in their planning.”

During his captivity the monastery had been confiscated by IS as a spoil of war during the battle for al-Qaryatain and was destroyed.

The IS clerics read out to him the terms of an agreement between the Christians of al-Qaryatain and Islamic State.


Under the deal, they could travel anywhere inside IS territory as far away as Mosul, but not to Homs or Mahin (which are closer, but outside IS control), “because to them, this is the land of blasphemy.”

Still, Fr Jack managed to leave the IS-held territory. Botros Hanna, the volunteer, also escaped with him.

“The area is a battlefield. On the one hand, the air force is shelling. On the other, we are not safe staying in al-Qaryatain. I felt that as long as I was there, the people would stay. So I felt I had to leave to encourage others to do the same.”

But not many more followed him afterwards.

“In fact many want to stay because they have nowhere else to go. Some can’t accept the idea of being displaced and would rather die at home. Others are convinced the Islamic State, with which they have a contract, will protect them.’

Fr Jack says 160 or so Christians are left in al-Qaryatain.

“They have stayed because they want to. We ask God to protect them because our town is a dangerous battlefield. There is no shelter, nowhere is safe.”

What does this story tell us about IS? On the surface, it tells us that their reality may be more nuanced than we might assume.

Or is that simply what they want us to think?

Did their leadership – who appear to have an excellent grasp of publicity, especially via social media – think that sparing the Christians would receive approving coverage in the rest of the world? Perhaps.

And yet their motivation for such a move is unclear. The “end times” cult that is IS positively welcomes the invasion of their Caliphate as the precursor to the Second Coming of Christ and their eventual triumph over the whole world. In short, they don’t care what we think of them, and have an agenda to provoke us.

Then again, maybe IS is like all organisations, made up of different strands of opinion, and on this occasion a less belligerent faction prevailed.

It is impossible to say, as we can’t ask them. And meanwhile, the slaughterhouse grinds on, and neighbouring countries struggle to deal with millions of people fleeing all the combatants, none of whom are innocent of terrible human rights abuses.

The failure of the world to prevent this entirely predictable mess, and our apparent inability to resolve it, is sobering indeed.

Reporting of Father Jack’s story by BBC Arabic’s Assaf Abboud and Rami Ruhayem


Seven dead after Greek coastguard vessel hits migrant boat

The lifeless body of a young child was carried out of the water after a migrant boat sank after colliding with a Greek coastguard vessel.


This the tragic moment a young child’s dead body was pulled from the sea after a Greek coastguard ship collided with a migrant vessel near the island of Lesbos.

At least seven people, including four children, died when the wooden boat travelling from Turkey to Europe sank on Thursday. The boat sank within minutes of the crash with a 30-metre patrol vessel on Thursday morning, in circumstances that were being investigated. Sources said the boat was seeking to evade the patrol vessel.

Three other victims, “a woman, a man and a minor”, were found later, the coastguard said as Greek rescuers backed by a Portuguese ship and an EU border agency Frontex helicopter combed the waters for the missing.

The 31 survivors who were brought to safety had reported a total of eight people missing.


An AFP photographer who witnessed the crash from the shores of Lesbos said the boat went down just two or three minutes after the collision, which took place some two kilometres from land.

The photographer saw rescuers scrambling to pull people out of the water, with a second coastguard vessel and a Frontex helicopter arriving on the scene around 10 minutes later.

The nationalities of the migrants is not yet known but Greece is the primary destination of Syrian migrants fleeing the civil war, via Turkey, trying to find sanctuary in the EU.


Two men carry a woman's lifeless body from the sea after she drowned off the coast of Lesbos. Source: Reuters.

Two men carry a woman’s lifeless body from the sea after she drowned off the coast of Lesbos. Source: Reuters.

Scores of migrants have died making the perilous Aegean Sea crossing from Turkey to Greece.

On Wednesday, a woman, a young girl and a baby died after their boat sank off Lesbos. In total, more than 450,000 people have arrived in Greece, most of them fleeing the civil war in Syria. The International Organization for Migration says more than 600,000 migrants have landed on Europe’s shores since January, while more than 3,000 had died or gone missing in the attempt. Approximately 4 million Syrians are internally or externally displaced.

What this latest tragedy underscores, yet again, is the crucial need for the countries surrounding the Middle East to open up more legal channels for people fleeing war and persecution, so that they do not have to risk their lives to reach safety, a point made repeatedly by the UN refugee agency.

Some years ago, we predicted with shattering accuracy in this blog exactly what was about to occur in Syria. Before it started.

If the future conflict in all its horror was clear to a blogger thousands of miles away in Australia, we cannot understand how it was ignored by all the great and good, by those who are paid to know, by those who are tasked to avoid these things.

Instead we stumbled into an entirely avoidable civil war, with hundreds of thousands of dead and injured, with vast swathes of land now ruled by a murderous end-of-days fundamentalist regime that murders and destroys at will and is very likely un-defeatable, with other areas controlled by an Al-Qaeda affiliate that is apparently now our ally, with 4 million refugees, and a once relatively wealthy country reduced to rubble. And with a disgusting fascist regime clinging tenaciously to power, supported by a superpower ally who is now steadily installing forces in the regime’s defence on the ground.

You may wish to consider purchasing this t-shirt. It is consistently one of the most popular I sell, and the most commented on when I wear it myself. Buy a shirt, change the world, one person’s opinion at a time. It might not seem much, but it’s better than doing nothing. And the great strength of the design is that it doesn’t matter which side of the conflict you “support” … and it is also, of course, applicable to a variety of other conflicts worldwide.

Stop bombing civilians

Buy the shirt, change the world one person’s opinion at a time.

Oh, and if you’re one of those asking why Syrian refugees don’t go back where they came from, well, this is why.

Destroyed buildings in Syria's besieged central city of Homs following shelling during fighting between government and opposition forces.

Destroyed buildings in Syria’s besieged central city of Homs following shelling during fighting between government and opposition forces.

The ruling Coalition in Australia has agreed to provide 12,000 Syrian refugees with permanent safety in Australia.1 It’s a complete turnaround on Tony Abbott’s decision last week not to increase refugee intake – and a victory demonstrating the power people created when we stand together in hope and compassion.

Less than a week ago, we all awoke to the harrowing photo of little Aylan Kurdi, drowned. We read the story of a family torn apart by a tragedy marked by global indifference. And we saw our government’s attempt to shut down compassion with their usual mindless, endlessly-repeated slogan, ‘Stop the Boats’.

The pressure group Get Up decided to take action in response to our government’s indifference. To shine a light in the dark – with thousands of us organising and attending vigils all over the Australia, vigils that hit front pages, headlines, and news bulletins all over the country.

Together, GetUp members and our friends across the movement transformed the community grief and despair from the death of Aylan Kurdi into powerful public pressure to offer safety to Syrian refugees. Now the lives of 12,000 people fleeing danger will dramatically change for the better.

This is an incredible new beginning. We have broken through the wall of cruelty that has stood around Australian refugee policy for far too long. Now, let’s bring it tumbling down completely.

We must not stop until fairness and compassion are always the Australian response.

The story of a successful movement of voters.

On Monday, GetUp members and friends, family and allies came together to act – lighting the dark in the tens of thousands in cities and towns across the country. And images of those vigils didn’t only light up the front pages and nightly news; they lit a fire under MPs and leaders on both sides of the political divide. Politicians arguing for generosity pointed to our vigils as a sign of powerful public sentiment.2

The effect of this mass movement demanding compassion is clear. On Monday morning, Tony Abbott was still refusing to move more than a token amount. But after the nationwide vigils began, on Tuesday morning this was the remarkable front page of the right-leaning Murdoch-published Victorian Herald Sun:

Front Page of Herald Sun 8 Sep 2015

And today? Today we’ve changed everything.

For the first time in so long, the Australian government is acting with true humanity towards refugees, providing real, permanent safety to those in need, genuinely beginning to step up and play its part in the biggest refugee crisis since World War II.

Last Thursday, many of us felt helpless. But today, we can be filled with pride in Australia, and hope for what comes next. 

Because of what ordinary people did. Stood up and were counted.

The Prime Minister’s announcement isn’t perfect. But it’s so much more than anyone imagined was possible last week. Together, the people have moved the national conversation from fear and boats to understanding and welcome. We’ve moved from talking about whether Australia will help, to talking about how much Australia will do. Our headlines have been full of politicians of all stripes calling for Australia to do more for refugees, and be the generous country we know we can be. The same change of heart has been seen in most Western countries – with the very obvious exception of the USA. Of that, more another day.

The tide has changed.

Adelaide Light The Dark - SA crowd
Light The Dark - Syd crowd

LIght The Dark - Melb kid
Light The Dark - Perth mom & kids
Light The Dark - Perth crowd

Extraordinary moments like this can’t happen in a vacuum – they’re only possible because of the tireless work of volunteers, organisers, allies, and the incredible commitment of so many people all over the country. Well done to them.

When it comes to Australia’s treatment of refugees, hope can be hard to come by. But by standing shoulder to shoulder this week, we proved just how much is possible. So a big thank you and congratulations to all the communities and people who have raised their voices this week, including the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, Amnesty International Australia, Welcome to Australia, Love Makes a Way, Refugee Action Coalition, ChillOut, Care Australia, Oxfam, and so many more for being a part of Light the Dark events and making bold statements for a better Australia.

[1] ‘Australia to accept an extra 12,000 Syrian refugees and will join US-led airstrikes’, The Guardian, 9 September 2015
[2] ‘Tony Abbott to confirm Syrian airstrikes as pressure grows over refugees’, The Guardian, 8 September 2015.

Most of all, a big thank you to the ORDINARY Australians who stood up to the counted – teenagers, mothers with small babies in their arms, fathers, brothers, Grandparents, working class, middle class, workers, retirees, people in suits straight from city offices, tradies in their overalls – the most mixed crowd we have ever seen at such an event. Ordinary people, saying “enough is enough”.

If people want to make an immediate donation to help 4 million Syrian refugees, the most direct way will be via the UNHCR Syria Crisis – Urgent Lifeline Appeal.


An intake of refugees from Syria would provide an economic boost to a host country like Australia, according to a leading economic commentator.

While a humanitarian crisis has been declared as millions of Syrians seek to leave their war-torn country, nations that agree to take in refugees are also likely to benefit economically. 

Speaking at the Festival of Dangerous Ideas at the Sydney Opera House on Sunday, Helen Joyce, international editor of The Economist, said the Syria situation is the greatest migrant crisis since the Second World War. 

“At The Economist we are in favour of the free movement of labour, capital and people,” Joyce said.

“If you’re a Syrian refugee camping out in large numbers in other countries, then that [working] capital is locked up and cannot be used by other countries.”

Joyce said the Syrian refugees should be moved to a stable country and given the right to work, a development that will benefit the entire host country.

“The evidence suggests that immigrants pay in more [money to the state] than they take out, providing they are allowed to work,” Joyce said.

“Let them in and let them work so they can integrate to become an Australian, German or British citizen.”

Joyce also stressed that the Syrian refugees are “motivated people.”

“You don’t get on a boat to do an incredibly dangerous journey unless you are a motivated person,” Joyce said.

“I understand that it’s politically unpalatable to say this to people who believe that immigrants are taking the jobs, but the evidence we have says that immigrants are not stealing the jobs.

“Immigrants are coming in and increasing demand and helping the economy. Real leadership from a politician would mean making this argument,” Joyce added.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics have also stated that the idea of refugees taking Australian jobs is a myth, as humanitarian migrants have the highest rate of business ownership of all recent migrants, meaning they are creating more jobs for the Australian economy.

(Yahoo Finance)


Refugees are not breaking the law. They should always be treated with respect, and with courtesy. They should not be met with armed guards and batons.

They are not the problem. They are the result of the problem.

When our countries sell arms to dictators to attack their own people, we create the problem.

When through our own lack of care those arms find their way through nefarious means to extremist groups, we create the problem.

When we prefer war-war to jaw-jaw, we create the problem.

When we allow, through our indifference, those that rule us to carve up the world into opposing camps that jostle and claw for preference, we create the problem.

When we demonise those we disagree with as sub-human, not-like-us, dirty, feckless or dangerous, we create the problem.

Every time we applaud a simple slogan uttered by a self-seeking politician or media commentator, instead of working harder and seeking to understand the depth of a situation, we create the problem.

When we keep the wealth of the world gathered into our hands instead of sharing it fairly, when we allow traders to destabilise whole country’s economies to achieve a profitable statistical blip on their trading charts, and when as night follows day when those countries dissolve into riots and civil strife, then we create the problem.

Refugees are not the problem. They are the result of the problem.

And we cause the problem.



If you want to make an immediate donation to help 4 million Syrian refugees, the most direct way will be via the UNHCR. Click here.

Why do we not show a more graphic image to illustrate this story? Because that would be playing precisely into IS's hands.

Why do we not show a more graphic image to illustrate this story? Because that would be playing precisely into IS’s hands.

Why does the so-called Islamic State engage in such brutal and shocking practices as beheadings, not to say crucifixions and burning people alive?

Of course, the practice of beheading is invoked in the Koran, and certain Muslim States still use it to inflict the death penalty – most notably and regrettably the Western ally Saudi Arabia – but only the most extreme Islamic non-governmental militants carry it out in the modern day. Why?

Psychological warfare is a key part of the Islamic State’s military strategy

Even where outnumbered, as they were in Mosul in June, the IS fighters have used their reputation for terror to dissuade Iraqi forces from ever seeking battle.

Which poorly paid soldier wishes to risk decapitation, impalement, or amputation for the sake of a distant, crumbling government?

As strategists have noted from the Roman Empire onwards, fear is a uniquely effective weapon. Down through history, regimes and insurgents have all behaved in hideously violent manners to discourage their opponents from fighting effectively. This is one reason IS is so deliberately and theatrically brutal.

Seven-year-old Bosniak child, Nermin Divovic, lies mortally wounded in a pool of blood as unidentified American and British U.N. firefighters arrive to assist after he was shot in the head by Serbian snipers in Sarajevo Friday, November 18, 1994. The U.N. firefighters were at his side almost immediately, but the boy died outright. Serbs terrorized Sarajevo civilians and killed at least 1500 children in the besieged Bosnian capital. (Photographer: Enric Marti)

Seven-year-old Bosniak child, Nermin Divovic, lies mortally wounded in a pool of blood as unidentified American and British U.N. personnel arrive to assist after he was shot in the head by Serbian snipers in Sarajevo on November 18, 1994. The U.N. firefighters were at his side almost immediately, but the boy died outright. Serbs terrorized Sarajevo civilians and killed at least 1500 children in the besieged Bosnian capital. (Photographer: Enric Marti)

By no means is this limited to terrorist organisations, or Muslim extremists. The tactics of the indiscriminate use of snipers, wholesale slaughter of populations, systematic rape of the civilian population and more were all evident in the conflict in the “civilised” Balkans in the recent past, enacted by all sides.

It has been acknowledged that the initial Allied assault on Iraq’s capital was intended to create “Shock and Awe”, to the point of naming the assault precisely that, to deter the local population from supporting the regime and to encourage the largely poorly trained conscript army to lay down its weapons.

The atomic slaughter of hundreds of thousands of civilians at Hiroshima and Nagasaki by America was deliberately designed to force the Japanese Government to sue for peace. It was undoubtedly a “terrorist” act – designed to sow terror – but it has been long argued that the terror was justified to shorten the war and prevent a greater loss of life. That is as may be – the argument will continue forever – but it was unquestionably the most dramatic example of psychological warfare before or since in the history of mankind

Brutality is a form of deterrence

Slicing through the neck and vertebrae of a journalist or aid worker is one thing. With horrible calculation, IS understands that Western governments are, to some extent at least, dissuaded by the prospect of a British or American soldier meeting with a similar fate. It would mean not just political embarrassment, but also an unimaginable propaganda boost for the jihadist cause. Which is why, two days before declaring their caliphate, IS threatened to attack the US if they were targeted militarily. Their rhetoric presently outstrips their capabilities, as former MI6 chief Richard Dearlove has argued, but the track record of massacre and torture gives these threats, to Western audiences, added menace. Brutality is therefore also a form of deterrence, affecting both politicians and public.

Propaganda by the deed

The murderers of British soldier Lee Rigby - beheaded on the streets of London - knew exactly what they were trying to achieve.

The murderers of British soldier Lee Rigby – beheaded on the streets of London – knew exactly what they were trying to achieve.

Terrorism is a form of propaganda by the deed. And the more chilling the deed, the more impactful the propaganda. The graphic nature of beheading, the focus on the individual, and the act of bodily desecration involved all render this far more chilling than the explosion of a bomb, even where the latter’s death toll is greater.

In the UK, the killing of Trooper Lee Rigby was uniquely horrific because of the targeted, mechanical quality of the murder.

There’s little new in this approach, particularly the massacre of captives and the method of beheading for the purposes of terrorisation. The American journalist Daniel Pearl was beheaded in Pakistan in 2002, the American businessman Nick Berg in Iraq in 2004, and several others thereafter.

Does all this actually work?

It can. But there are two ways in which a strategy of brutality can backfire, as well.

The first is that it can induce your enemies to fight even harder, because surrendering is such an awful option. One academic study showed that the Wehrmacht’s policy of treating Soviet POWs brutally undercut German military effectiveness on the Eastern front. Moreover, the Soviets’ own relative brutality to Germans meant that German soldiers fought harder in Russia than in Normandy. The lesson? IS can make its enemies flee, but it would be a foolish Iraqi unit that surrendered – and the net effect is that the “Islamic State” has to fight all the harder.

The second problem is that IS says it is in the state-building game: creating “the caliphate”. It is out to conquer, not merely to annihilate. But it was precisely such excessive and indiscriminate violence that proved the downfall of IS’s precursor, al-Qaeda in Iraq. Sunni groups, armed and protected by a surge of US forces, turned on the group in the so-called Awakening, expelling it from the same Sunni-majority areas in which it’s now encamped. Although IS initially sought to restrain itself in the places it seized over the first half of this year, its record has been patchy, to put it mildly. Iraqis may be accustomed to being ruled by terror, but it doesn’t mean they like it. The conjoining of local Sunni militia (some of which have previously been in conflict with the USA) to fight IS is happening again now. The West’s attitude – especially given the extremely variable quality of the Iraqi army in contesting ground with IS – is obviously “better the Devil you know”, or, if you like, “the lesser of two evils”.

This is one of the reasons – in addition to the Islamic State’s megalomania – that the group was expelled from al-Qaeda earlier this year. As Osama bin Laden wrote in a letter, pursuing jihad “without exercising caution … would lead us to winning several battles while losing the war”. Thus the modern jihadist’s dilemma: when does a strategy of calibrated terror turn into a self-defeating orgy of violence?

One more factor, however, is especially chilling. It is that IS doesn’t really care if it wins or not, and might even be doing all it can to “lose”. It has been argued that the eschatological “end times” cult actually believes it will be defeated by a coalition of opponents on the fields of Iraq – reduced to 5,000 fighters – but in that moment Jesus Christ will return and defeat the invaders, ushering in the end of the world. Read more in this brilliantly researched article in the Atlantic at What does IS really want?

For the end times to happen, IS needs to suck in as many foreign opponents as possible, by becoming increasingly violent and threatening. But as The Atlantic article says:

… the risks of escalation are enormous. The biggest proponent of an American invasion is the Islamic State itself. The provocative videos, in which a black-hooded executioner addresses President Obama by name, are clearly made to draw America into the fight. An invasion would be a huge propaganda victory for jihadists worldwide: irrespective of whether they have given baya’a to the caliph, they all believe that the United States wants to embark on a modern-day Crusade and kill Muslims. Yet another invasion and occupation would confirm that suspicion, and bolster recruitment. Add the incompetence of our previous efforts as occupiers, and we have reason for reluctance. The rise of ISIS, after all, happened only because our previous occupation created space for Zarqawi and his followers. Who knows the consequences of another botched job?

Acknowledgement: Partly taken from an article by Shashank Joshi, Senior Research Fellow of the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) and a PhD Candidate at Harvard University in the Telegraph newspaper.

Panorama of Dushanbe

Dushanbe – next stop for IS?

This article by Deidrie Tynan from the impeccably credentialled makes sobering reading. In the West we have been focused on the IS threat to Syria and Iraq and some other concerns about the ideological cover they give other extremists in North Africa, Nigeria and the Arabian peninsula. But were the eschatological lunacies of the jihadists – obsessed with their “end of days” interpretation of Islam – to also take root throughout central Asia then the cataclysmic effect on their weak civic societies could be catastrophic. And then they will also be cheek by jowl with China, too.

This fearful tide is digging its roots deep into the disposessed and desperate minds of the young in many areas. It will only be rolled back by a whole of world effort. The world’s superpowers must immediately co-operate to crush the group and return the areas it now controls to normality. And then, crucially, economic aid must flow in to rebuild the countries and provide legitimacy for the removal of IS.

Tajikistan commander Gulmurod Khalimov, chief of Tajikistan's paramilitary police unit (OMON) appeared on an ISIS propaganda video released on 27 May 2015.

Tajikistan commander Gulmurod Khalimov, chief of Tajikistan’s paramilitary police unit (OMON), appeared on an ISIS propaganda video released on 27 May 2015.

The appearance of Colonel Gulmurod Khalimov in an Islamic State (IS) propaganda video on 27 May has sent a chill across Central Asia. The head of Tajikistan’s Special Assignment Police Unit (OMON), a key element in President Emomali Rahmon’s security apparatus, had disappeared shortly before. In the video he promised to return to Tajikistan to wage violent jihad.

A trained-in-Russia-and-America veteran of brutal Tajik government operations, Khalimov has the qualifications. And Tajikistan, a desperately poor country ruled by a venal elite, is a vulnerable target. As I drove to its capital, Dushanbe, last summer through the ancient city of Khujand and the rickety, fume-filled, Iranian-built Shariston tunnel, I saw poverty and isolation that eclipses the worst pockets of deprivation in neighbouring Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan.

Khalimov has been an intimate of that elite, but at 40 years old he is relatively young and forceful, unlike the elderly, usually corrupt figures who have previously promoted themselves as Islamist guerrilla leaders in Tajikistan. His defection is a blow to Rahmon’s regime on many levels. He speaks to the parts of the elite not yet bought off and to the alienation of a substantial segment of society.

His message may be draped in Islamic fundamentalist rhetoric, but it is based on some of the potent, more worldly aspects of IS appeal. “Going out to work every morning, look at yourself in the mirror and ask yourself: Are you ready to die for this state or not”, he said directly to the underpaid, overstretched Tajik security forces. “I am ready to die for the Caliphate – are you?”

More than one million Tajik migrants work low-paid jobs in Russia. The remittances they send back make up more than 40 per cent of its GDP. But the value of the remittances is plummeting as Russia veers toward economic crisis. Nearly 200,000 of the migrants went home to bleak prospects in the second half of 2014 alone.

To Tajiks still in Russia, the police commander’s message was “you have become the slaves of non-believers. Why do you humiliate yourself working for non-believers while they must work for you? Join us, brothers … there are no nationalities or states in the Islamic State and our nationality is Islam”.

The eight million people of Tajikistan have known much violence already in their quarter-century of independence since the Soviet Union’s collapse. Rahmon, the only president the country has had, consolidated his power in a civil war against Islamists that ended in 1997. By side-lining the relatively moderate Islamic Renaissance Party earlier this year, he further alienated the devout and gave plausibility to those who argue that with other options closed, extremism is only the politics of last resort.

IS and other foreign fighters, probably the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, are already operating on Tajikistan’s southern border, but that is not the only fault line. Gorno-Badakhshan, high in the Pamirs – a twelve- to fifteen-hour drive when roads are passable – is inhabited by ethnically distinct Pamiris, who were with the rebels in the civil war and barely accept central power today.

Badakhshan has a long, open border with Afghanistan to the south, Kyrgyzstan to the north and China to the east. The Taliban are already active on the immediate Afghan side of that border. It may only be a matter of time before IS is there too.

The Tajik-Afghan border already attracts Russian attention. Even two years ago, an official of the Moscow-led Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) of a half-dozen ex-Soviet republics told me it was uncontrollable and deadly. This year a Russian diplomat said privately that if the Tajik government requested it, Russia would return troops to it.

The apprehension does not stop there. Neighbouring Uzbekistan – Central Asia’s most populated and most authoritarian state – and chaotic, coup-prone Kyrgyzstan, would be deeply troubled by serious unrest in Tajikistan.

International Crisis Group has been in Central Asia for fifteen years, arguing that the West, particularly the U.S., is building a dangerous debit sheet here. To gain logistical help for war in Afghanistan, it has partnered with dictators like Rahmon and Uzbekistan’s Karimov, accepting excesses excused as counter-terrorism, including repression of peaceful Islamic manifestations.

If other security figures follow Khalimov’s lead, the bill to pay could be steep, and there will not be credit left to pay it with.

Whenever there is a terrorist outrage, we often hear a call in the West for “Muslims to condemn the terrorists”.

This faux anger at the worldwide Muslim community (once has to wonder at the motivation for it) ignores the very obvious fact that hundreds of thousands of Muslims are actively involved in the fight against IS, (and Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula as well), and also the oft-ignored fact that opinion in the Muslim world is as diverse as in any other multi-faceted community.

One of my favourite saying is “put two Jews in a room and get three opinions.” Exactly the same could be said of Muslims. The idea that Islam is one great monolithic set of beliefs or attitudes is simply nonsensical.

The West and Islam are often shown to be in conflict, largely because of the vitriolic propaganda and appalling actions of small but effective numbers of people allied to IS, Al Qaeda and others. But the fact is that an existential conflict is actually underway for the soul of Islam throughout the Middle East and beyond and we forget that the vast majority of violence in the area is Muslim versus Muslim.

Al-Azhar University

Al-Azhar University

Anyway, it would be hard to imagine a more trenchant response from the Muslim community to the latest outrage from IS than that which we have seen from Jordan in the last 24 hours, including what seems to have been a very effective air raid against extremist positions, and then this AFP report from Cairo: Al-Azhar, Sunni Islam’s most prestigious centre of learning, has expressed outrage at the (Sunni) Islamic State group for burning to death a captive Jordanian pilot, saying its militants deserve to be killed or crucified.

Ahmed al Tayeb

Ahmed al Tayeb

After a video was released showing the caged fighter pilot, Maaz al-Kassasbeh, dying engulfed in flames, the Cairo-based authority’s head, Ahmed al-Tayib, expressed his “strong dismay at this cowardly act”.

This “requires the punishment mentioned in the Koran for these corrupt oppressors who fight against God and his prophet: killing, crucifixion or chopping of the limbs.”

“Islam forbids killing of the innocent human soul … It forbids mutilating the human soul by burning or in any other way even during wars against an enemy that attacks you,” Tayib added in a statement.

US "spy" crucified in Yemen

US “spy” crucified in Yemen

Ironically, IS itself has implemented such punishments against its own members for robbery at checkpoints or stealing funds from religious endowments in territories controlled by the group in Iraq and Syria. Jihadist group Ansar al-Shariah have also crucified “US sympathisers” in Yemen.

Despite the efforts of some to paint it otherwise, IS and other groups are regarded as deluded, mad and evil by millions of Muslims.

To say otherwise is, quite simply, to lie.



You can see, in this beautiful, soft face, the gentle soul of a professional who dedicated her life to helping others. A soul with hopes, fears, dreams, just like the rest of us. And now she is dead. For being a dentist.

We are posting this photograph in memory of Dr. Rou’aa Diab, a female dentist, who was arrested by the Islamic State on August 22, 2014.

She was arrested with four others in Al-Mayadeen, a city on the border of Iraq.

Without a trial, Diab was charged with the crime of “treating male patients”, and was executed by decapitation.

Dr. Diab was was beheaded for the crime of helping prevent and treat dental disease. She should be recognised by the dental community, and the world community, for her innocence, and her bravery and dedication.

And her name should never be forgotten.

May you rest in peace Dr. Rou’aa Diab.

IS are rabid animals who have slaughtered thousands upon thousands of completely innocent people. They must be put down.

Abdullah ElmirA Sydney teenager who ran away to join jihadists in Syria is the pawn of terrorists who “groomed” him just like pedophiles groom their child victims, a terror expert says.

Abdullah Elmir has turned up in a propaganda video for the IS group, also known as ISIL, after disappearing from his Bankstown home in June, saying he was going fishing.

The video is the fourth in a series called “Message of the Mujahid” which features foreign fighters, with previous releases showing British, French and Moroccan jihadists.

Grand Mufti quick to condemn "Islamic" extremists

Grand Mufti quick to condemn “Islamic” extremists

The Grand Mufti of Australia, Dr Ibrahim Abu Mohammad, urged Muslims to reject calls from abroad tocommit violence against Australia and said it was “utterly deplorable for violent extremists to use Islam as a cover for their crimes and atrocities”.

In a joint statement, the nation’s peak Muslim organisations expressed “profound concerns and sadness” over Abdullah’s appearance in the Islamic State video and said there was an “urgent need” to examine how and why the teenager felt the need to leave the country and fight with a terrorist organisation.

In the clip, the 17-year-old threatens Australia and any nation that would try to stand in the group’s way.

Professor Greg Barton from Monash University’s Global Terrorism Research Centre says Elmir was recruited by wanted terrorist Mohammad Ali Baryalei, an Australian based in Syria.

He says terror recruiters lure targets by making friends through social media, like many sexual predators.

“It’s like sexual predation,” Professor Barton told the media.

“Somebody might strike up a friendship in an online chat forum and present themselves in a different fashion – to try to get them into their web. By the time they actually meet the people they’re speaking with, they may be in too deep to know better.”

He says the boy appears as a “pawn in the machine” in the chilling video.

“He thinks he’s the star … but the reality is, his new friends have got him a one-way ticket,” he said. “He’s not in charge of his own destiny at all, he’s being used.”

Prof Barton says young people are the easiest to radicalise.

“Teenagers, 20-somethings, particularly young men more than young women, are vulnerable to making rash judgments,” he said. “And they tend to be more rebellious toward (older) generations and sceptical of establishment figures.”

It is believed former Kings Cross bouncer Mr Baryalei, 33, recruited Elmir through western Sydney street preaching group Parramatta Street Dawah.

“He’s said to have recruited 30 plus young people – mostly in western Sydney through Street Dawah” Professor Barton said.

We agree with Professor Barton. What we are seeing is teenage braggadocio. No 17 year old understands the geo politics behind the likes of IS, they have no idea what the reality of death and injury is on the battlefield, they do not yet have an understanding of the terrible implications of the violence they may wreak on other families or what it really means to take another life, nor do they have the discretion to understand varying views of their own religion. What we are seeing here is the sophisticated internet version of the gathering of child soldiers by unprincipled militia in Africa and elsewhere.

abdullahThis young man will, one day, without any doubt, die a bloody death unknown, unmourned and unmarked in the conflict in Iraq. Those who recruited him as a footsoldier will not bat an eyelid at his passing.

Even if he does not, his life is effectively ruined, as he will no longer be welcome in his home country. The very best outlook he probaby has is to become a stateless refugee, in hiding.

It is all very sad, and a huge burden of guilt lies on the souls of those who recruit our innocents. The cases recently of two young Austrian women who travelled to join IS only to find themselves pimped out to fighters, impregnated, and now unable to leave after becoming utterly disillusioned, is yet more evidence that these people deserve our unflinching condemnation.

Meanwhile,  Abdullah’s family have said they are shocked and devastated. They believe he has been “brainwashed” and they want to know who paid for his air ticket and encouraged him to go. They have described him as academically bright and caring: and it is often so – those with intelligence, compassion and passion are the easiest to turn to the darkness.

We should all pray this young man somehow survives and is reuinted with those who can care for him. That, however, is vanishingly unlikely.



As the world focuses its attention on Ebola, Kurdish Journalist Muhanad Akidi and Iraqi cameraman Raad al-Azzawi have been murdered by Islamic State as acts of pure spite against those who oppose them.

Kurdish journalist Muhanad Akidi was murdered by IS militants on 13 October reportedly in retaliation for Kurdish self-defence in the north of Iraq and Syria.

His death was confirmed by the Kurdistan Democratic Party, who said he was executed at the Ghazlani military base.

Akidi’s death has not received as much coverage in the West as the beheading of American and british aid workers and journos. Akidi was reportedly captured two months ago whilst on assignment in the IS-held city of Mosul. He had been working as a journalist for a local news agency and also presented a television show.



News of the journalist’s death comes just days after reports that Iraqi cameraman Raad al-Azzawi was publicly executed near Tikrit.

The 37-year-old is believed to have been executed with a single shot, alongside his brother and two other civilians in the small village of Samra on Friday. It is thought they had refused to declare their support for Islamic State and work for the extremist group.

Their murders have also received relatively little attention in the West.

One of al-Azzawi’s relatives later said: “They came to his home and took him and his brother. He did nothing wrong; his only crime was to be a cameraman. He was just doing his job.”

Al-Azzawi, a father of three, was detained by IS militants on 7 September, according to Reporters without Borders.

Social media users have been circulating photos of Akidi and al-Azzawi, specifically calling for them to be remembered like western journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff, who were beheaded.

The barbaric terrorists of “Islamic State” have declared that any journalist wanting to work in their territory must declare their allegiance to the caliphate or face execution.

One resident of the Islamic State-held city of Raqqa in Syria has confirmed that anyone who speaks to someone from the Western media will be killed.

British aid worker Alan Henning who is threatened with death

British aid worker Alan Henning who is threatened with death

With great anger and sadness, we regret to report that it has been reported today that Alan Henning has been murdered. We will not be commenting further out of respect for the Henning family, to whom we send our deepest sympathies.

Original story begins: The wife of a British aid worker being held by Islamic State insurgents has made a renewed appeal for his release, a week after receiving an audio message from her husband.

Alan Henning, 47, was part of an aid convoy taking medical supplies to a hospital in northwest Syria in December last year when it was stopped by gunmen and he was abducted.

He appeared in a video released by IS earlier this month, which showed the murder of another Briton, David Haines. In it, a masked man said Henning would also be killed if British Prime Minister David Cameron kept supporting the fight against IS.

Last week Britain’s parliament approved air strikes against IS insurgents in Iraq.

“We are at a loss why those leading Islamic State cannot open their hearts and minds to the truth about Alan’s humanitarian motives for going to Syria,” Barbara Henning said in a televised statement.

Barbara Henning’s courage and dignity beggars belief.

She said she had not had any contact from IS since she was sent an audio message last week of Alan pleading for his life. She pointed out that Muslims around the world have called for his release, and that Alan was working “with his Muslim friends”.

“Surely those who wish to be seen as a state will act in a statesman-like way by showing mercy and providing clemency. I ask again, supported by the voices across the world, for Islamic State to spare Alan’s life.”

We agree, and appeal from the bottom of our hearts to IS to spare this man’s life and to release him. What can be achieved by killing a man whose mission was to help the very people you seek to represent?

Readers, we urge you to post this story to your Facebook page, to your own blog, to tweet it, and so on. Perhaps if enough of the world speaks up, IS may listen. The life of a good man whose only crime was to try and get supplies to a hospital is at stake.


If only he WAS going to be flying one of the jets, Abbott might not be quite so enthusiastic.

In the last couple of weeks, we have watched dismayed as Australia has become perhaps the most gung ho of all the world’s nations waiting to wade in and “stop” IS – the so-called Islamic “State”.

Let there be no mistake – we also think these appalling thugs need expunging from the world, and as soon as practicable.

But we are alarmed and worried by the enthusiasm with which the Australian government – especially Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop – have not just fallen in lock-step with our Western allies. but have been seen to be stoking the fires of conflict with a triumphalist air that amounts to “Look at us, we’re strong leaders, and you want strong leaders, right?”

We are undoubtedly already seeing the first signs of a deeply unpopular government using the conflict to bolster its electoral fortunes – a so-called “khaki election” looms – and given that our bravura chest-beating almost certainly increases the likelihood of a terrorist attack against Australians, that’s a very risky card to play. Nevertheless, for a Prime Minister with a Government that has proven itself both tone-deaf and gaffe-laden, the conflict with IS is the gift that keeps on giving. “Hey! Let’s all stop worrying about Medicare co-payments and go BOMB something, already!”

This rhetorical style has been echoed to a lesser extent by Cameron in the UK and the Republicans in America, especially the surely past-pensionable John McCain, but much less so by a carefully-nuanced President Obama. It’s almost as if Barack phoned Tony and Dave and said “Ramp it up a bit, will ya, cobbers? We’re a bit bruised over here and I have to be a more laid back.” Surely not?

There’s no question that IS are pretty much the worst of the worst going round at the moment, but let us be absolutely clear what their murderous public tactics are designed to achieve. These are people playing a long game, who have no respect or care for their own lives or for others. They are trying to drag the democratic West, against which they have a visceral, systemic hatred, into a seemingly endless conflict in a war zone where the alliances and influences shift weekly, and where the sectarian divisions are about as deep as it is possible to find them. It’s virtually impossible to “pick winners” in this environment, because this week’s ally is last week’s mortal enemy. As even Abbott himself once presciently remarked about Syria, “it’s a choice between baddies and baddies”.

We have already seen America co-operating with Iran and Russia to attack IS – both countries currently under sanctions and blockades from the West. We have seen America calling openly for Iran to aid in the fight against IS, despite the fact that they already are, a call that has been rejected by the top Ayotollah, despite the fact that this is exactly what they are already doing.

We have moved from being a day away from air strikes against Assad in Syria (thankfully averted when it became clear that the gas attacks on the Syrian public were probably carried out by rebels, and perhaps that the White House knew that all along, and even allegedly that the rebels were deliberately encouraged to do so, under Western guidance) to now cautiously needing to support him against IS, which will lead to the partial abandonment of the non-extremist Syrian opposition, or what may be even more bizarre, the joining of Assad with his former enemies to create a newly viable Syrian state to defeat the IS and Al Nusra insurgents.

How anyone is supposed to conduct a sane rational policy in this environment is beyond us. It’s a floating, shifting miasma of shifting lines, and we see no end to it. We are reasonably sure, though, that bellicose trumpeting is the least helpful thing we can do, especially as we have no idea how that plays amongst the general public in the contested regions.

What IS knows is that in this confused environment, mistakes can and will happen. IS and their backers know that the first time a bunker buster hits a school in Mosul there will be a flood of worldwide sympathy from both within the Sunni Muslim community and without it, and there’ll be a fresh rash of recruits flooding to a simpler, less complex view of the world than that offered by democracy. The angst and confusion created by the Israeli bombardment of Gaza will be seen to be just a shadow of what’s going to happen in northern Iraq and parts of Syria. Indeed, the mistakes (and concomitant slaughter of innocent civilians) are already happening, even if they’re not being widely reported in mainstream media.

Is there any question Bishop sees this as her chance to leap Malcom Turnbull and become Abbott's obvious replacement? We think not. Mind you, if we could win wars just with her "death stare", we'd be home and hosed. She scares the hell out of us, wonder what she does to IS?

Is there any question Bishop sees this conflict – and that with Russia in the Ukraine – as her chance to leap Turnbull and become Abbott’s most obvious replacement? We think not. Mind you, if we could win wars just with her “death stare”, we’d be home and hosed. She scares the hell out of us, wonder what she does to IS?

But that’s only the half of it. We cannot deploy hundreds of Australian troops (and thousands of Americans) plus people from all parts of the globe, and not expect some of them to fall into IS hands.

If we see that the road to war has been greased by the appalling executions of journalists and aid workers, not to mention the mass slaughter of civilians, Peshmerga and Iraqi army fighters, then imagine what will happen the first time video is released of a clean-cut Aussie or Yank fighter pilot or special forces hero having his head clumsily sawn off for the camera.

The calls for “boots on the ground” would surely become irresistible, especially if a newly-bolstered Iraqi army makes no discernible progress in recapturing rebel-held areas, or in forming a more broadly based Government capable of yoiking together Sunni and Shia in a workable state.

Having failed once to pacify Iraq, there is little doubt that we are very close to being dragged into the same maelstrom again, with a side serve of Syria and for all we know Lebanon and God knows where else as as well. We do not purport to know what the answer is – although one thing we cannot understand is why the Arab states, who are at least as much at risk from IS as anyone else, especially Saudi Arabia, cannot be prevailed upon to play a much more intrinsic role – perhaps they are so aware of the powder keg many of them sit upon that they dare not risk enraging them by sending ground troops to attack the Sunni IS as 85-90% of Saudis are Sunni – but as a start we could at least begin by not looking so goddamned happy to be heading off to war again.

We are not alone in our caution, which frankly borders on despair. This excellent opinion piece by experienced Middle East hand Paul McGeogh in the Sydney Morning Herald deserves to be widely read. His neat skewering of the lack of Arab co-operation, the unseemly rush to attack and the lack of an exit strategy (yet again) is spot on, and echoes our own concerns.

war sheepIt seems to us that only those who have actually fought wars show real reluctance to engage in them again. That is rarely politicians, especially those who have spent their entirely career crawling slowly up the political ladder.

Having seen the slaughter of innocents, the gore, the messy incompleteness of most military solutions, military men are almost invariably more cautious before setting off to the trenches once more.

But politicians revel in the limelight. It’s that set jaw, that gleam in the eye, the grimly-expressed determination. Not a hint of doubt, or worry, or regret. Nothing is allowed to ruffle their seeming purposefulness.

The prelude to war always looks to us like people with their egos way out of control about to play roulette with other people’s lives, and right now, it sure as hell looks that way again.

The Guardian reports that the Mayor of London (and probably Britain’s most popular Conservative politician, a possible replacement for Prime Minister David Cameron) has issued a strong condemnation of the former prime minister’s views on the Middle East.

Boris JohnstonBoris Johnson, (seen left) said the former prime minister is unhinged in his attempt to rewrite history and is undermining arguments for western intervention in Iraq, the London mayor claimed in an extraordinary personal attack on the former Prime Minister. (Photograph: Stuart C Wilson/Getty)Blair took to the media over the weekend to make the case for a tough response to the extremist insurgency in Iraq, insisting it was caused by a failure to deal with the Syria crisis rather than the 2003 US-led invasion which he helped to instigate.His intervention was met with widespread criticism from Labour figures and others as extremists posted pictures apparently showing the killing of dozens of Iraqi soldiers by jihadist fighters.

In his condemnation of Blair the London Mayor accused the ex-Labour leader of having sent British forces into the bloody conflict in part to gain personal “grandeur”.

Exactly echoing what we said a couple of days ago, Johnson said in his Daily Telegraph column that Blair and then-US president George Bush had shown “unbelievable arrogance” to believe toppling Saddam Hussein would not result in instability which resulted directly to the deaths of 100,000 Iraqis and hundreds of British and American troops. In fact, the figure of Iraqi losses is well over 500,000, according to a range of impeccable sources.

He suggested there were “specific and targeted” actions that could be taken by the US and its allies to deal with latest threat – as Barack Obama considers a range of military options short of ground troops.

But he said that by refusing to accept that the 2003 war was “a tragic mistake”, “Blair is now undermining the very cause he advocates: the possibility of serious and effective intervention.

“Somebody needs to get on to Tony Blair and tell him to put a sock in it, or at least to accept the reality of the disaster he helped to engender. Then he might be worth hearing,” Johnson concluded. And he is exactly right.

Unhinged? You be the judge.

Unhinged? You be the judge.


As to whether Blair is actually unhinged, we couldn’t possibly say. But there is something about the messianic glare that overcomes his eyes when he is defending his position that we find quite disturbing to watch.

The row over the events of 11 years ago came amid suggestions of serious atrocities being committed in the militants’ advance.

Taking on critics in an eight-page essay on his website, Blair rejected as “bizarre” claims that Iraq might be more stable today if he had not helped topple Saddam.

The former premier – now a Middle East peace envoy – said Iraq was “in mortal danger”, but pinned the blame on the sectarianism of the al-Maliki government and the spread of Syria’s brutal three-year civil war, not on the instability created by the West’s invasion of Iraq.

“The choices are all pretty ugly, it is true,” he wrote in a push for military intervention – though not necessarily a return to ground forces. “But for three years we have watched Syria descend into the abyss and as it is going down, it is slowly but surely wrapping its cords around us, pulling us down with it. We have to put aside the differences of the past and act now to save the future. Where the extremists are fighting, they have to be countered hard, with force. Every time we put off action, the action we will be forced to take will be ultimately greater.”

Former foreign minister and United Nations Depity Secretary-general Lord Malloch Brown urged Blair to “stay quiet” because his presence in the debate was driving people to oppose what might be the necessary response.

Clare Short, one of a number of MPs who quit Blair’s cabinet over the 2003 invasion, said he had been “absolutely, consistently wrong, wrong, wrong” on the issue, and opposed more strikes.

A victim of US bombing in Iraq.

A victim of US bombing in Iraq.

We were wildly opposed to the “allied” invasion of Iraq all along.

It was blindly obvious to millions of people around the world that the West had blurred reasons for invading, that the “weapons of mass destruction” argument was almost certainly a nonsense cooked up by Neo-Con influencers in Whitehall and Washington, that oil was probably the real reason for the war (as later confirmed by Australian Foreign Minister Alistair Downer) and the net result would be to de-stabilise the country and the entire region, with hundreds of thousands of likely civilian deaths – as predicted by the Australian Defence Force Chiefs, amongst others – and thousands of Western forces deaths, too.

Do we really have the appetite for this again?

Do we really have the appetite for this again?

Indeed, we were on 3AW radio with John Howard BEFORE the invasion asking him to justify that coming loss of civilian lives.

He flatly denied it would happen. The host, populist right-winger Neil Mitchell, cut the call before we could challenge the then-Prime Minister’s staggering complacency.

No United Nations approval for the invasion was ever obtained, making Howard, Bush and Blair nothing more nor less than war criminals, in our opinion. But history, of course, is written by the victors. Even when that “victory” was won at such painful cost in terms of our own losses and those of those surrounding our invasion.

For the record, the death toll of civilians in Iraq currently stands at over 500,000. Hardly a family has not been affected.

Now, the entirely predictable southward march of the ultra-extremist ISIS has the West in a flat panic again, and with good reason.

With typical shoot from the hip macho-man thoughtlessness, today the Australian Prime Minister has already signalled that the country might join another invasion of the country. Washington is weighing up “boots on the ground” versus air-strikes, versus doing nothing like a rabbit stuck in headlights.

Perhaps Abbott should remember his unusually pertinent comment on Syria, that “it’s hard to know what to do, because it’s essentially baddies against baddies”. It’s just about the only thing he’s ever said we agreed with. Apparently, he can’t seem to get his head around the fact that Iraq is the same.

The following articles are educatory and very relevant to what the West does next.

How George Bush and Al-Maliki lost Iraq.

How ‘Iraq’ was never going to be, and Al-Maliki’s failure.

The following facts are certain:

The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is currently the world’s most appalling extremist bunch of thugs, and must be opposed. If they were to take over Iraq it would be an utter disaster for local people, and the world. They make the Taliban and even Al-Qaeda look like mild-mannered nuisances.


Isis at a glance

ISIS at a glance


ISIS is a response to Sunnis being pushed to the margins by the Alawite-led Shia in Syria and the Shia in Iraq. Western meddling in both countries has made the situation uncountably worse.

Saddam Hussein was a brute. So is Hafez Assad. Unfortunately, we now look very much like we are replacing them with something even worse.

ISIS executes prisoners in Syria

ISIS executes prisoners in Syria

Do we know what to do? No, we don’t. We suspect the West’s response will be airstrikes on the insurgents, to uncertain effect strategically, and to the certain effect of enraging Sunni opinion yet further.

What is certain is that whatever happens next will not be a long term solution to the tensions of the Middle East, and the ongoing conflict between Sunnis and Shia in particular.

The only long-term solution will be a political one, involving mutual respect, and effective power-sharing. The recent developments in Iraq have renewed the possibility, much discussed during the war a decade ago, and a possibility that we considered made much sense at the time, that Iraq be divided into three separate regions or even nations – the mostly Shiite section, made up of Baghdad and much of the south and east bordering Iran; a Sunni area, comprised of western Iraq and parts of the north; and a Kurdish zone, also in the north and including the cities of Erbil and Kirkuk, which Saddam tried to populate with Arabs.

ISIS - well organised, well disciplined, utterly fanatical, and extremely dangerous.

ISIS – well organised, well disciplined, utterly fanatical, and extremely dangerous.

As night follows day, the fundamental drive to create such a solution will have to come from the Mid-East’s own Islamic populations.

And given their inability to resolve the issue in the last thousand plus years, we should be prepared for it to take some time yet, perhaps generations. If the population fail to create the peace, it is they that shall be mired in seemingly endless conflict, it is their children, wives, husbands, brothers, uncles, sisters and mothers who will be oppressed and slaughtered.

In the meantime, the rest of the world needs to do this:

  • stay out of ill-thought out military adventures in the region,
  • create energy independence for itself,
  • support those in the Middle East who argue for a secular, peaceful, long-term solution, not merely those who appear to be aligned with our perceived interests, and
  • STOP the flow of weaponry to the region, which merely fuels the endless conflict. (We need to remember that well over 90% of people killed in conflicts in the world are not killed by bombs, rockets or missiles, but by bullets.)

The devil is in the detail, of course, but the broad brushstrokes are clear to Blind Freddie. If all the think-tanks in the world can’t get Governments to understand, we give up.

But it needs to be seen.

It needs to be shared widely. That you to Pat L for bringing it to my attention.

And we need to learn this lesson, not just for the country mentioned at the end, but also for EVERY country where conflict is occurring.



Collateral damage is people

We cannot praise the creative brains behind this enough, and the cast, especially the little girl.

If you’d like to walk your disapproval of the death of innocents on your local streets, you could do worse than invest in this t-shirt I designed a few years back. This pic links to one shirt, like most Radical tees it comes in various shapes and sizes. If you can’t find what you want, message me.

The photo is of my daughter, aged 2.

I created the shirt the day I realised the collateral damage they were talking about on the TV was other people’s daughters.

There are some other shirts in the Anti-War section you may like too.

Here’s one:


If we do nothing else to save the children of the world, at least we can say “Not in my name.”

Click and buy now.

And no, we’re not doing it for the money.


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speaks to the masses of people not reading this blog

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