Posts Tagged ‘ISIS’

Errorists – Blair, Howard, Bush.

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Those who forget history are fated to repeat it. Don't let people forget. Buy the shirt.

Those who forget history are fated to repeat it. Don’t let people forget. Buy the shirt.

 

Head to http://www.cafepress.com/yolly.431431250

We also urge you to read the Guardian’s editorial on the Chilcot enquiry. It encapsulates the total betrayal of the West by its then political leadership perfectly.

At least 500,000 dead. At least 1 million displaced. The entire Middle East thrown into chaos. Decades of misery ensured. The rise of ISIS.

Head to http://www.cafepress.com/yolly.431431250. Wear the shirt. Don’t let people forget.

#iraqreport #iraq #chilcotreport #chilcot #auspol #uk #usa #australia #war #peace

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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.

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.

An activist group which secretly documents life inside the Islamic State-controlled Syrian city of Raqqa has reported that militants publicly executed 13 teenage boys for watching the Asian Cup football match between Iraq and Jordan.

Syria Being Slaughtered Silently, quoting Jordanian news agency Petra and other unspecified Iraqi media, reported that the teenagers were rounded up and shot by firing squad in the IS-stronghold of Mosul, in northern Iraq.

According to the report, the boys were caught watching the match and were being accused of breaking Islamic principles.

In a response to IBTimes UK, the group has confirmed the executions have taken place after corroborating the information with local Iraqi activists.

“The bodies remained lying in the open and their parents were unable to withdraw them for fear of murder by terrorist organisation,” the group also wrote on their website.

Before the victims were executed, their ‘crimes’ were announced on the streets of Mosul on a loud-speaker, the activists said.

The report has not been confirmed by international news agencies or Iraqi authorities and IBTimes UK cannot independently verify it.

The activist group secretly documents the executions carried out by the Sunni Islamist group in various places controlled by them.

The latest chilling execution emerges alongside the threat made by an IS militant, suspected to be “Jihadi John”, to behead two Japanese hostages if their ransom demands are not met.

The masked man – who is believed to be the same militant who appeared in earlier videos executing western hostages James Foley, Steven Sotloff, David Haines and Alan Henning – has asked for $200m (£132m) within the next 72 hours to free the Japanese captives.

Akidi

Akidi

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.

Azzawi

Azzawi

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.

plane

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.

This very important article in Vox, based on Russian research, reveals an apparently staggering level of support for ISIS in Europe, and in France in particular, where one in six people report supporting the extreme terrorist Sunni group that has been slaughtering Christians, Shias, Sunnis who don’t agree with them, and anyone else who gets in their way.

And the level of support rises as respondents get younger.

 

Very, very worrying.

Very, very worrying.

 

We somewhat doubt the veracity of the research and wonder if people are confabulating “ISIS”, “Gaza” and “Hamas” in their minds. In any event, it’s a sad and sorry finding even if it’s only partly accurate, and the radicalisation of Islamic youth is one of the most distressing and tragically predictable outcomes of the growth of so-called “identity politics”, which is now playing out throughout the West, and increasingly in a new black-white divide in America, as well.

But despite this survey it would be wrong to see this phenomenon as something unique to young followers of Islam. Indeed, as one of the sources quoted in the article remarked:

The rise of identity politics has helped create a more fragmented, tribal society, and made sectarian hatred more acceptable generally. At the same time, the emergence of “anti-politics,” the growing contempt for mainstream politics and politicians noticeable throughout Europe, has laid the groundwork for a melding of radicalism and bigotry. Many perceive a world out of control and driven by malign forces; conspiracy theories, once confined to the fringes of politics, have become mainstream.

It is so. This isn’t a religious thing. It’s all about contemptuous disenchantment and disempowerment.

That said, the fact that we actually find most interesting in the graph above is the much LOWER figure – virtually negligible, in fact, in polling terms – in Germany.

In our analysis, this can be explained by three simple factors.

Whilst there is racial tension within Germany – particularly where the Turkish immigrant population is concerned, it is less of a problem than elsewhere.

Even with the persistent (if small) growth in Neo-Nazi skinhead violence, the vast majority of Germans utterly reject the balkanisation of politics based on race. Given their recent history, and the efforts the State makes to prevent racial abuse or anything that smacks of it, this is laudable and not at all surprising.

Another differentiator, of course, is that much of the Islamo-fascism currently being exhibited in the world is explicitly anti-Israeli and by extention anti-Jewish, and expressing sentiments that could possibly be interpreted or misinterpreted as anti-Jewish in Germany is still well-nigh impossible, again for very obvious reasons.

The third reason, and this is very significant, is that the German economy is significantly wealthier and more successful than the British, or the French. There is plenty of education and work to be had, and both are the perfect balm for the vast majority of young people, of all racial backgrounds, who might otherwise be led into more extreme conclusions about society.

Recent riots in France were painted as "Islamic" by commentators, in fact, as the placard being carried by one demonstrator, it was more accurately an explosion of frustrated youth violence, like previous riots in the UK and elsewhere.

Recent riots in France were painted as “Islamic” by commentators, but in fact, as the placard being carried by one demonstrator says, it was more accurately an explosion of frustrated youth violence, like previous riots in the UK and elsewhere.

Unemployment – especially youth unemployment – is the perfectly fertilised and endlessly productive seed bed for extremism of all kinds, whether you look at 1789 France or France last year, 1917 Russia, 1933 Germany, 1970s Northern Ireland, the “Arab Spring” of 2011, or America, France and Britain today.

And where that unemployment falls most onerously on any particular racial or religious groupings, particularly a grouping that considers itself as a minority, then you have a recipe for immediate and predictable disaster.

But even when that miserable judgement is made, it is the generalised “anti politics” trend that concerns us most – even more than any passing fad for Islamic extremism that threatens us today.

The simple fact is that when people perceive their leaders as corrupt, when people perceive them as petty, when people perceive them as habitual liars, (with plenty of evidence), when people perceive them as lacking in required levels of intelligence or leadership skills, then they do not blame the individuals as much as they blame the system. And variously, they turn (and they can turn very quickly) to revolutionary creeds – Marxism, Fascism, religious extremism: whatever is around and easily grasped as a panacea, really.

Anti-democrats don't start out carrying a sign saying "crush democracy". They know it frightens the horses. And they can be alluring - Stalin was quite a hunk as a youngster.

Anti-democrats don’t start out carrying a sign saying “crush democracy”. They know it frightens the horses. And they can be superficially attractive – Josef Stalin was quite a hunk as a youngster, for example.

This is precisely why we have frequently labelled America a ‘pre-Fascist” state* – not because we believe there are organised groups of people seeking to subvert the American constitution and replace it with some Hitler-style figure – there are such groups, but they are still largely fringe dwellers, and there are also big money groups that wield far too much malign financial power over the political system, such as the Koch brothers, but their influence is still basically visible and trackable – rather, it is because the fracturing of America into potentially warring tribes is so very palpably obvious when viewed from a distance, matched (equally obviously) by an increasingly careless disregard for civil rights and privacy from the authorities.

A frightening realisation that often comes later in life is that democracy, in all its expressions, contains within it the seeds of its own destruction. The very thing that makes democracy so worth preserving – freedom of opinion and the resulting freedom of speech – is the very weapon that can tear it down.

History teaches us, again and again, that there is a tipping point when a majority of people despair of the system and when they do they are prepared to consider a replacement – any replacement. Or it can be a highly motivated minority, with good organisational skills.

Shorn of the wonderful, soaring rhetoric of its core principles by the behaviour of its key players – our political leaders, and the media – democracy simply seems increasingly and hopelessly out of touch and irrelevant. All it needs is a half-credible populist to repeat the people’s complaints alluringly, and the complaints are worldwide, and they are devastatingly simple and enticing:

“I don’t trust them”, “They’re all just in it for themselves”, “They don’t know what to do”, “They’re just taking the piss out of the rest of us, and we’re paying”, “They don’t care about us.” “What can I do? They won’t listen to me.”

At one and the same time, powerful cabals in business and the military foolishly consider they can take advantage of such unrest to position themselves to take over as “a strong voice”, to run things (skimming off the top, of course) while the hubbub of dissent dies down, until – inevitably – they realise they have seized a tiger by the tail, and they can’t control it. “Temporary” restrictions on freedom become permanent, and apply to these fellow travellers as much as they do to the rest of us. They imagine themselves isolated from the crackdown by their money, except – as they invariably discover – they are not.

Anti-politics. It is louder in the West than we can remember at any time since we started paying attention in the 1960s.

“They don’t care about little people.” “Just a bunch of snouts in a trough.” “They’re all stupid.”  “There’s no real difference between them, anyway. It’s all a game.” “I just don’t trust ’em. Any of ’em.”

Indeed, as we write these phrases, it is all we can do to stop from nodding in agreement. They are so seductive.

A son of the aristocracy, Churchill never lost his early passion for democracy that was often found in those days in the ranks of the independently wealthy.

A son of the aristocracy, Churchill never lost his early passion for democracy that was often found in those days in the ranks of the independently wealthy.

Except if we are seduced by them, we will hate what comes after. As Winston Churchill supposedly famously remarked:

“Democracy is the worst form of government, it’s just better than all the others.”

Actually, and somewhat ironically, the most famous defender of modern democracy might not have actually generated those words, although in his lifetime he did say a lot about democracy, especially when its survival was threatened with the horrors of German and Austro-Hungarian Nazism, Italian and Spanish Fascism (amongst others), and Soviet-style “marxism”.

Churchill did say something like this in the House of Commons on  11 Novem­ber 1947) but it appears he was quot­ing an unknown pre­de­ces­sor. From Churchill by Him­self, page 574:

Many forms of Gov­ern­ment have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pre­tends that democ­racy is per­fect or all-wise. Indeed it has been said that democ­racy is the worst form of Gov­ern­ment except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.

So, although these are Churchill’s words, it is an amusing historical footnote that he clearly did not orig­i­nate the famous remark about democracy. We wonder who did. Anyhow, here are some orig­i­nal things that the great man did say about democracy over 70 years in public life:

If I had to sum up the imme­di­ate future of demo­c­ra­tic pol­i­tics in a sin­gle word I should say “insurance.” That is the future — insurance against dan­gers from abroad, insur­ance against dangers scarcely less grave and much more near and con­stant which threaten us here at home in our own island.
Free Trade Hall, Man­ches­ter, 23 May 1909

At the bot­tom of all the trib­utes paid to democ­racy is the lit­tle man, walk­ing into the lit­tle booth, with a lit­tle pen­cil, mak­ing a lit­tle cross on a lit­tle bit of paper—no amount of rhetoric or volu­mi­nous dis­cus­sion can pos­si­bly dimin­ish the over­whelm­ing impor­tance of that point.
House of Com­mons, 31 Octo­ber 1944

How is that word “democ­racy” to be inter­preted? My idea of it is that the plain, hum­ble, com­mon man, just the ordi­nary man who keeps a wife and fam­ily, who goes off to fight for his coun­try when it is in trou­ble, goes to the poll at the appro­pri­ate time, and puts his cross on the bal­lot paper show­ing the can­di­date he wishes to be elected to Parliament—that he is the foun­da­tion of democ­racy. And it is also essen­tial to this foun­da­tion that this man or woman should do this with­out fear, and with­out any form of intim­i­da­tion or vic­tim­iza­tion. He marks his bal­lot paper in strict secrecy, and then elected rep­re­sen­ta­tives and together decide what gov­ern­ment, or even in times of stress, what form of gov­ern­ment they wish to have in their coun­try. If that is democ­racy, I salute it. I espouse it. I would work for it.”
House of Com­mons, 8 Decem­ber 1944

Stirring stuff. And how unlike any modern politicians that come to mind, except, perhaps, the trio of dead American heroes, JFK, RFK, and MLK. Little wonder that they seized the imagination so thoroughly, and are still revered to this day, even though their feet of clay have been comprehensively documented. They talked about the principles of Government, not just the outcomes.

Democracy is more than a system, it is a concept.

Democracy is more than a system, it is a concept that breeds a system.

In today’s world, once again – and urgently, in our view – we need to make the argument for democracy itself. Not for nothing do the appalling leadership of extremist Islam, epitomised at its most horrible by ISIS, reject the very concept of democracy at the very same time as so-many of their co-religionists seek to acquire and embrace it. ISIS and others of their ilk know they are engaged in a death struggle for their narrow view of the universe against the very principles that democracy uniquely espouses: the principle of protection under the law whoever you are, whatever your creed, sex or colour, true justice that is separated from the government and which can hold the government itself to account, freedom to express oneself fearlessly, genuinely participatory government, the rights of women and minorities to be treated as equals, and much, much more.

For our own internal stability, and in defence of those who dream of democratic freedom everywhere, we need to make our passion for democracy loud and clear, recapturing why we believe it to be superior to the alternatives.

Even if we don’t care about personal freedom, let us carol from the rooftops that it has been shown to be more economically successful – and more sustainably – than any other system.

Even Communist China, containing fully one-third of the world’s
population, enjoying its hugely successful democracy in chinaexperiment in State-directed capitalism, is increasingly recognising that it cannot endlessly stifle the opinions and behaviour of the governed.

They have recognised that they can release a gale of innovation and improvement by asking the opinion of their own people (a truly alien view for the whole of Chinese history thus far) and thus they are taking faltering steps to introduce more freedom into their system without triggering a cataclysm of change.

As just one measurement, the level of openly critical comment in China today is measured in vast multiples compared to even ten years ago, as is the nationwide passion to tackle corruption, which has been endemic in China since time immemorial.

How ironic that the People’s Republic of China – until recently a vile and periodically vicious autocracy – is cautiously embracing a belief set that we seem essentially content to see wither on the vine. Certainly when measured by the public behaviour of our elite.

If nothing else, our leaders and opinion formers should be arguing for the success of liberal democracy as an economic vehicle – not, please note, arguing in favour of unfettered capitalism – as the proven way forward for humankind.

The evidence is that democracy spreads wealth better than any other system, to the widest possible number of people, even while it grapples with the excesses of the runaway freight train of capitalism. Democracy actually restrains the worst features of capital’s behaviour – environmental vandalism, for example. (And if you want to see the results of capitalism that is not fettered by democracy, both in terms of economic failure, cronyism, violence, and environmental vandalism, just have a look at Russia today.)

But more than mere words, more than argument, we need to make democracy work for the governed.

As a beginning, we need to act with utter ruthlessness when evidence of corruption or rorting the system is uncovered.

Sad Statue of LibertyWe need to be deeply suspicious of centralising power, and passionate and enthusiastic about devolving power to the lowest practical level concomitant with effective decision-making.

(For this reason, we are tentatively in favour of Scotland voting for its independence next month, despite acknowledging that it might not appear to be a sound decision economically, at least in the short term. Not that we think it will.)

We must watch our security services and police like hawks, ensuring that the work they do is effective, but that their understanding of the proper limits on their powers is thorough and genuine.

We must defend and encourage media diversity, because a plehtora of opinions expressed openly is the best possible way to generate the ideas we need to successfully navigate our new century and beyond. Anything that compresses media ownership into fewer and fewer hands, blithely covered up with promises of editorial independence that everyone knows are false – is actively dangerous. NewsCorp, and those like unto it, are bad for the health of democracy. “State-owned” news outlets – unless protected by the most rigorous legislation – are a contradiction in terms, wherever they are.

We must encourage bi-partisanship, not because we want our democracy reduced merely to fudge and lazy compromise, but because the public needs to see – to witness – people of good faith working together on their behalf or the social compact with the governed will collapse.

It follows that the role of Opposition is to oppose what it truly believes to be wrong, rather than simply “everything”, and that Government should habitually respect and consider the opinions of those who disagree with it. The impasse between Obama and the Congress in recent years was an economic annoyance, to be sure. But it was a political catastrophe.

Where disagreement is genuine, then the debate should be conducted with civility. Even when one considers another person foolish in the extreme, misguided, or lacking perception, the skill is to make that point in such a manner that they will at least consider you may be wiser or in possesion of a better idea, and also so you may carry public opinion with you. And so that the public can see your good intentions, and not just your muscular antagonism.

We “dumb down” our debates at great cost and at our peril.

If something is “dumb”, the people know they can do without it. When politicans dumb down their discourse, when they are relentlessly trite or scathingly negative, encouraged, aided and abetted by a media that has an increasingly – vanishingly – small attention span, they are not playing some clever stratagem.

In risking a backlash against democracy itself, they are lining themselves up to be thrown in a prison, or worse, by the tidal wave that replaces what they blindly thought was inexorable and irreplaceable. They are beating ploughshares into pikes, and putting them into the hands of those who – when they aren’t even offered complex, thoughtful or educated opinion to consider – can see no reason why they shouldn’t adopt simpler ideas expressed in slogans.

working mensAs democracy swept across Europe in the mid-late 19th century and into the 20th century, it was buttressed by wise souls who ensured that every village, every town, had facilities for the dis-semination of ideas and knowledge, for the edification of the working poor, (such as with the Working Men’s Institutes of Britain), so that they would become participatory members of a new compact.

The privileged who led these conscious efforts to uprate the skills and learnings of the poor were driven by belief, not by an empirical calculation that they were providing a safety valve for the expectations of the people. They believed that a government of all cannot exist if the all is disenfranchised through ignorance or lack of opportunity. So they set about creating the knowledge that would let people fully participate.

Yet today the efforts of those great communicators have been hijacked. Today they are largely directed into providing an endless diet of sport, or reality TV, or mind-numbing time-consuming soap opera and unedifying “popular” drama. Modern media resembles nothing more than an electronically-delivered diet of “bread and circuses” – a tactic for mind control, remember, employed by the Roman dictatorship very successfully for 400 years. “Don’t worry about how we are governing, or who for – here’s a load of bread and a free ticket to watch the gladiators. Come back tomorrow for more of the same.”

And today, devoid of any understanding of why democracy matters, the governed have essentially lost interest, and satiate themselves instead on a diet of moronic “entertainment”.

Ask yourself: where are the civics classes in our schools and universities? Where are our unions, who taught people not just how but why they should defend their rights? Where are the rhetoricians, stirring our minds with ideas and concepts? (Answer, making a “Ted Talk” to their fellow intellectual and financial elite.) Why have our political parties shrunk to be miniscule mockeries of their former selves, with memberships so ludicrously small as to make them nothing more than stripped-down bureaucracies, homes for duelling apparatchicks?

Un-engaged and uncomprehending, the people are ripe to be captured by that simplest and most terrifying of ideas.

“It’s all their fault. Let’s go get ’em.”

Who “they” are varies from theatre to theatre, of course. Alarmist? Look at that graph at the top of the page again.

Democracy is not the natural form of government for humanity. Violence is. Democracy has been hard won with the stout arms and often the lives of millions, for over 2,000 years.

Democracy will not persist if it is dysfunctional. Democracy will not persist if it is not protected. Democracy will not persist if we lose the argument.

Think about it. Discuss.

 

*For history buffs, there is a famous quotation, “When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross.”

  • Many variants of this exist, but the earliest known incident of such a comment appears to be a partial quote from James Waterman Wise, Jr., reported in a 1936 issue of The Christian Century that in a recent address here before the liberal John Reed club said that Hearst and Coughlin were the two chief exponents of fascism in America. If fascism comes, he added, it will not be identified with any “shirt” movement, nor with an “insignia,” but it will probably be wrapped up in the American flag and heralded as a plea for liberty and preservation of the constitution.
  • Another early quote is that of Halford E. Luccock, in Keeping Life Out of Confusion (1938): When and if fascism comes to America it will not be labeled “made in Germany”; it will not be marked with a swastika; it will not even be called fascism; it will be called, of course, “Americanism.”
  • Harrison Evans Salisbury in 1971 remarked: “Sinclair Lewis aptly predicted in It Can’t Happen Here that if fascism came to America it would come wrapped in the flag and whistling ‘The Star Spangled Banner.'”
Russian SU25s are in action in Iraq. Who is flying them or telling them what to attack is less clear.

Russian SU25s are in action in Iraq. Who is flying them or telling them what to attack is less clear.

The current emergence of the ISIS (Islamic State) insurgency in Syria and Iraq reveals the curious nature of the background diplomacy that goes on all the time, invisible to the man in the street, because you have to read the news stories BEHIND the news stories to work out what is really going on.

The ritualistic condemnation of Russia over the shooting down (most likely by separatist pro-Russian rebels) of MH17 near Donetsk (and the previous less violent kerfuffle over the Crimea) has led to mild sanctions being employed by the West, and a lot of publicly-expressed anger, at least some of which was undoubtedly sincere.

In return, Putin and his cronies have placed bans on certain imports from the West, such as Australian wheat, which are going to be virtually ineffective as we can’t produce enough wheat for world demand as it is, and the Russian business will be quickly replaced by delivering the wheat to countries like Indonesia, instead. Nevertheless, there has been a general chilling of the relationship between the West and Russia, or at least it appears so on the surface.

And as usual, the relationship between America and Iran seems pretty well stuck in deep freeze, although some very minor steps towards a rapprochement have taken place recently, and especially since the departure of the conservative idealogue Ahmadinejad and his replacement with the much more pragmatic and moderate Hassan Rouhani.

Ironically, though, America, the West in general, and Russia and Iran find themselves on the same side against the Sunni insurgents now slicing off the heads of those they disagree with – including, according to some sources, beheading children and putting their heads on display in a public park in Mosul – stoning so-called adulterous women, perpetrating the most horrific massacres, driving out religious minorities including Christians, and generally proving themselves to be the worst of the world’s current crop of uncivilised, idiotic savages.

In a shocking revelation, it has emerged that in the week-long Islamic State offensive in Sinjar, which began last Sunday, the militants killed at least 500 Christian Yazidis, according to Iraq’s human rights minister.

Several residents, including children, were buried alive, while around 300 women (believed to be from those Buried_aliveChristians who chose to pay a fine rather than leave the area or convert to Islam) have been kidnapped as slaves. The revelation was made by Iraq’s human rights minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani. In an interview al-Sudani alleged that the ISIS buried some of their victims alive, including women and children.

“We have striking evidence obtained from Yazidis fleeing Sinjar and some who escaped death, and also crime scene images that show indisputably that the gangs of the Islamic States have executed at least 500 Yazidis after seizing Sinjar,” Sudani pointed out.

“Some of the victims, including women and children were buried alive in scattered mass graves in and around Sinjar,” Sudani said.

In response to the Yazidi crisis, President Obama has authorised air drops of relief food to fleeing refugees and air strikes against the murderous ISIS, but interestingly recent air strikes have been claimed not to be by US jets. In which case, who is doing the bombing?

The most likely answer is almost certainly a mixture of Iraqi planes, flown and maintained by Russian and Iranian pilots and engineers, as the nascent Iraqi Shia government hasn’t got around to training its air force yet, and Iran has definitely bombed ISIS previously as their fighters neared the iranian border. Or it may have been Iraqis themselves, although this is considered unlikely. Or even Turkish fighters, as Turkey (especially the Turkish military establishment) is alarmed in the extreme about the pressure on the Kurds in the north (who, despite their antipathy towards Turkey, provide a useful buffer against the chaos further south) and their fears that the extremist Sunni ISIS could start to destabilise their secular democracy even more than it is already being notoriously weakened by the populist and increasingly authoritarian President Erdogan who was re-elected over the weekend in a poorly-attended poll.

This interesting article seeks to make sense of the conflicting signals coming out of northern Iraq currently.

What is certain is that behind the scenes, American, Russian, Turkish and Iranian diplomats and spooks are undergoing a much less antagonistic relationship than we see in public. Information sharing is the very least that’s going on – in all probability, “real time” battlefield intelligence is also being shared to make the fight against ISIS more effective.

Which is yet another modern example of the famous old adage Amicus meus, inimicus inimici mei or “the enemy of my enemy is my friend”. This understanding has powered geo-politics since it was first expressed in Sanskrit in the 4th century BC by Kautilya, the “Indian Machiavelli”, so perhaps it’s unsurprising to see it happening again.

As the fiercely anti-Communist British Prime Minister Winston Churchill declared during the Second World War, “If Hitler invaded Hell, I would make at least a favourable reference to the Devil in the House of Commons,” when speaking in support of British aid to Soviet forces.

So the next time you hear a politician thumping the table and weighing in against some other country, bear in mind the reality of what’s happening behind the scenes may be far different. Or to put it more simply, politicians frequently feed us bullshit.

Really, who knew?

 

Fog of war

Some days ago, we reported a widespread conspiracy theory (not of our making) that the shooting down of Malaysian Flight 17 was a “false flag” attack conducted by the Ukrainian government to put pressure on Russia’s leadership.

We came in for a lot of flak from a variety of people for giving oxygen to the theory, despite saying that our best guess was, in fact, that pro-Russian Ukrainian rebels shot the plane down, either as the result of a ghastly error or an act of unbelievable bastardy.

Why conspiracy theories need answering

On this blog and elsewhere we pointed out that any criticism of Russia needed to be watertight, and thus the conspiracy theories needed to be answered – debunked – to prevent Putin and his cronies being able to slough off responsibility.

Well, now, the Russians – entirely predictably – are making much of the alleged presence of a Ukrainian jet fighter near the ill-fated civilian aircraft.

The Russian claims

They have responded to the widespread opinion that Russia is responsible for the downing of MH17 by reportedly claiming that it has flight records showing a Ukranian fighter jet was close to the passenger jet before it crashed.

At a specially called briefing, Russian Lieutenant-General Andrey Kartopolov said MH17 had strayed from its regular route (why?) and had been recorded in the proximity of a Ukranian SU-25 fighter jet, which is equipped with air-to-air missiles.

“An altitude gain was recorded for a Ukrainian armed forces plane,” he said, adding that the fighter jet is capable of reaching a height of 10,000 metres. “Its distance from the Malaysian Boeing was three to five kilometres.”

“With what aim was a military plane flying along a civilian aviation route practically at the same time and at the same flight level as a passenger liner? We would like to receive an answer to this question.”

 

The Russian briefing earlier.

 

The Lieutenant-General, head of main operational department of Russian military’s General Staff, left, can be seen above speaking  to the media during a news conference in Moscow. (Photo: AP.) General Kartopolov further claimed that the Russian Defence Ministry had detected a significant reduction in Ukranian radar stations after the accident.

Citing data displayed on slides and charts, General Kartopolov claimed that nine radar stations, which are used to operate missile systems, were operating close to the site of the MH17 crash on the day of the tragedy. Within 48 hours, only two remained.

He also strongly denied Russia supplying Buk missile systems to Ukranian separatists, which has been widely speculated across the world.

“I want to stress that Russia did not give the rebels Buk missile systems or any other kinds of weapons or military hardware.” Well, whilst the first part of that sentence could be true, the last half is very obviously not. (Rebels are using Russian-supplied tanks in Donetsk as we speak.) So does that mean the whole sentence is rubbish? You be the judge.

Elsewhere, US network NBC reported that a report on Russia’s Channel One claimed the CIA was to blame for the shooting down of MH17.

LATER UPDATE

In the interests of integrity, we also point out this story, which has Western defence experts arguing that what damage pattern can be seen on the plane would seem to indicate a ground launched Buk-type missile rather than an air-to-air missile. If that is the case it would seem to be a crucial piece of information to be verified as quickly as possible. US intelligence officials think that the most “plausible” case scenario (and we agree) is that these separatists were not aware that MH17 was a passenger flight when they fired what the United States believes was a Russian-made SA-11 surface-to-air missile.

Seeing through the fog

So what’s going on here? Bluster? Fact? Mis-information? Genuine disagreement? Are these the bleatings of a regime (and an unpleasant one, at that) who which to avoid responsibility being sheeted home to them, or the legitimate complaints of a Government that does not wish to be unfairly blamed for a murderous tragedy?

We do not purport to know. We really do not, and we do not make a judgement. It is virtually impossible to parse what is going on without access to all the technical information and analysis of a dozen intelligence agencies, and certainly not by wandering the internet and watching media.

We do say, however, which has been our point all along, that the world deserves to know the answer, if only to lay the blame where it accurately lies.

In the meantime, therefore, we urge caution.

Cui Bono

In particular, we would also urge consideration of the Latin phrase Cui bono /kwˈbn/ “to whose benefit?”, literally “with benefit to whom?”. It is also rendered as cui prodest.

This Latin adage is used either to suggest a hidden motive or to indicate that the party responsible for something may not be who it appears at first to be, or to argue that the way to find out who perpetrated a crime can be determined by asking ourselves “Who benefits?” Or equally, “Who is harmed?”

We confess that one nagging thought eats away at us. If you wanted to gain traction for a push back against the pro-Russian rebels, and in general terms to stymie the expansionist tone of Russian rhetoric and behaviour after their successful annexation of Crimea, (and noting the lascivious glances they are casting towards the now-independent Baltic states, for example), then what better means than to create an incident of such transcendent horror as to shoot down a civilian plane and blame the rebels directly and Russia by association?

We note, also, that while the world is focused on the crash site and the event itself, the Ukrainian government forces have seized the opportunity to mount a full-blown assault on Donetsk, moving from their foothold at the airport to assault the railway station and surrounding areas, as the first step in what may be a bloody battle to recover the whole city, which is the “second city” of Ukraine and a key target for the Government.

Too bizarre? Maybe. At the Wellthisiswhatithink desk we are not, by nature, enthusiastic supporters of conspiracy theories. We have even seen it suggested – follow this if you can – that the extremist lunatics of ISIS murdered the three Jewish teenagers to provoke Israel into attacking Hamas in Gaza (and effectively destroying Hamas) while simultaneously causing huge outrage both locally and worldwide at the civilian casualties, so that ISIS (or their fellow travellers) can take over in Gaza when Hamas is basically marginalised.

The Israelis know the invasion of Gaza is wildly popular inside their own country, and the Americans, playing a long game, believe that the Israelis can effectively defeat Hamas and then resist ISIS incursion (probably by effectively re-occupying Gaza, which we must remember they left voluntarily, using the region’s strongest army and navy, unlike the weak resistance to ISIS put up by the Iraqi central authorities) so they arrange, via the Ukrainians, to shoot down Malaysian 17 because it takes the world’s attention off Israeli aggression in the key early days of the ground invasion of Gaza, and gives Russia a bloody nose at the same time. Winner winner chicken dinner thinks the CIA and the shadowy forces in the military-industrial regime.

Could such a hideously realpolitik and convoluted scenario ever possibly be true? The answer is, it could. Anything could be true. False flag attacks are common throughout recent history. (Just Google them.) We pray it is not, because what it says about the nature of governance in the world (and especially our bit of the world) is chilling indeed.

The cock-up theory of events

But in the final wash up, we are more pragmatic. Our instinct is always to accept the cock-up theory of international relations – essentially, anything that can go wrong will go wrong –  and we still hold to that view in this case, which is why we tend towards the “idiot Ukrainian rebel makes mistake on the readout on the Buk system and fires missile at Malaysian airliner”. Especially as we know the system had been used to attack military aircraft within the last two weeks. The Buk system “reads” the transponders of the aircraft it is tracking and theoretically identifies that aircraft to the man with his finger on the button. But we know to our cost that transponders on aircraft can give false readings.

Cock up. Bang. Right there. Three hundred bodies fall from the sky.

The absolute need for clarity

However, although that’s our best guess, we nevertheless urge all the authorities concerned to tackle the mysteries involved in this case as speedily as possible. As the Independent (amongst other people) pointed out yesterday, the really bizarre thing about conspiracy theories is that just occasionally, very occasionally, they are actually true. And if this was a false flag attack, then the world assuredly needs to know. Can you just imagine the Governments that would tumble? That’s why, above all, the truth would probably never come out even if it was, improbably, the case. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try and find out.

But if it wasn’t, as we suspect, then we need to know who was responsible for this act: fast, and with certain proof. The level of international tension currently exhibited on all sides demands it. In California, Diane Feinstein opined that the level of tension between the West and Russia is now as high as at the height of the Cold War. That’s an exaggeration, to be sure, but it’s not a happy thought even if it’s only half true.

And for that reason alone, before the world stumbles ever closer to the precipice of conflict between its major powers, even the craziest of conspiracy theories need putting to bed, and right now.

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.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/fareed-zakaria-who-lost-iraq-the-iraqis-did-with-an-assist-from-george-w-bush/2014/06/12/35c5a418-f25c-11e3-914c-1fbd0614e2d4_story.html

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

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/iraq/10896711/Iraq-crisis-Rebels-are-fighting-with-a-moral-force-that-the-army-lacks.html

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.

stoning

In case anyone was wondering what the nature of the extreme Islamist groups running the “Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL)” are like, reports are emerging that they just stoned to death a young Syrian girl for membership of the Facebook social network.

The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Arabic: الدولة الاسلامية في العراق والشام‎ ad-Dawla al-Islāmiyya fi al-‘Irāq wa-sh-Shām), abbreviated as ISIS, is an armed resistance group active in Iraq and Syria. It was established in the early years of the Iraq War, and pledged allegiance to al-Qaeda in 2004, becoming known as “al-Qaeda in Iraq”. The group was composed of and supported by a variety of insurgent groups, including its predecessor organisation, the Mujahideen Shura Council, Al-QaedaJaysh al-FatiheenJund al-SahabaKatbiyan Ansar Al-Tawhid wal SunnahJeish al-Taiifa al-Mansoura, etc., and other clans whose population is of Sunni faith. It aimed to establish a caliphate in the Sunni majority populated regions of Iraq, later expanding this to include Syria.

In an unprecedented move in February 2014, al-Qaeda cut off all ties to the ISIS. The new generation of radicals appear too extreme even for what has hitherto been considered the world’s most extreme terrorist organisation.

The ISIL militants took the Syrian girl, Fatoum Al-Jassem, to Al-Reqqa religious court and the judge ruled that membership in Facebook is tantamount to adultery and sentenced her to death by stoning, the Iranian news agency FNA reported on February 12 quoting the Arabic news and opinion website Al-Rai Al-Youm.

ISIL, an Iraq-based militant group, is now fighting against Syrian government. Syria has been experiencing unrest since March 2011 with organised attacks by well-armed terrorists and militants against the Syrian army and civilians across the country.

Thousands of people have been killed since terrorist and armed groups turned protest rallies into armed clashes.

The Syrian Government – also one of the most murderous regimes anywhere in the world – blames outlaws, saboteurs, and armed terrorist groups for the deaths, stressing that the unrest is being orchestrated from abroad.

What is also certain, however, is that some of the groups fighting them make the cure look worse than the illness. How ironic, too, that the Syrian rebel forces are being armed by the West, and that many of those arms are now in the hands of groups like ISIL, which wages war against the West relentlessly in other countries.

syria-strangling

Alleged strangling of a young woman in Manbij, Aleppo

Ironically, rebel groups frequently make full use of social media including Facebook to publicise their beliefs and actions. YouTube is full of scenes of beheadings and, in one particularly tragic case allegedly involving ISIS, that came to light about two days ago, the unverified murder by strangulation with wire of a young woman who refused to agree with the prevailing philosophy of the group. We forced ourselves to watch the video out of respect to the woman concerned. If a death is not witnessed, the murderers live on with impunity.

As Syria lurches yet deeper into violence as the peace talks stumble, the West needs to choose its allies with great care, and a long view.

The image at the head of this article is a scene from the movie The Stoning of Soraya M. The movie makes horrendous viewing, but is strongly recommended, to understand how cultural influences rob innocent women in many situations of even the most basic human rights, condemning them to horrific deaths.