Posts Tagged ‘Saudi Arabia’

Daesh

 

What you find below is an expanded version of a comment we made elsewhere, Dear Reader, and we’d be really interested to know what you think.

Our "Collateral Damage Is People" t shirt is consistently one of our most popular.

Our “Collateral Damage Is People” t shirt is consistently one of our most popular.

As you know, we are profoundly against the current bombing campaign in Iraq and Syria, believing that the cost in innocent civilian casualties will be too high. We have long raged against the sanitisation of civilian casualties being sanitised as “Collateral Damage”. Collateral Damage is people, as the t-shirt says.

But everyone with half a brain supports preventing Daesh from behaving as they do. And people often ask, quite reasonably, “What else can be done besides bombing them?”

Well, there are no neat solutions, but here are some we should surely consider:

Stop selling arms and ammunition to Daesh – and to those who on-supply them to them. If we starve the group of armaments then they will find it harder to terrify their local population, and eventually become much easier to defeat with local forces.

The problem with this solution is we are not entirely sure who IS arming Daesh. Certainly they have some heritage armaments supplied to them by the West when they were fighting Assad and before they morphed into what they are now. These may have been supplied to them directly, or to other rebel groups that they have since defeated or subsumed. They may have been supplied through Saudi Arabia.

The study by the London-based small-arms research organisation Conflict Armament Research documented weapons seized by Kurdish forces from militants in Iraq and Syria over a 10-day period in July. The report said the militants disposed of “significant quantities” of US-made small arms including M16 assault rifles. It also included photos showing the markings “Property of US Govt.”

The report further found that anti-tank rockets used by Daesh in Syria were “identical to M79 rockets transferred by Saudi Arabia to forces operating under the so-called “Free Syrian Army” umbrella in 2013.

Iraqi Army soldiers fleeing Daesh attacks literally dropped most of their weapons. These weapons have now become part of the Daesh arsenal. The largely Shia soldiers were not well trained by US, and this duly led to their wholesale retreat from the rampant Sunni Daesh. Clearly, local forces need to be better trained, and above all armaments must not be allowed to fall into Daesh hands.

Lastly, criminal gangs of armament suppliers are illegally supplying Daesh with weaponry. A much more concerted effort needs to be made to cut off this supply chain and prosecute those involved.

Cut off their financial support.

Daesh receives money from a variety of sources in the Arab world, even from Western allies such as Qatar, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. This is because these countries see them as a bulwark against Shia influence in the region, specifically Iran. This financial support is not official, but nor is it officially interdicted effectively. Heavily leaning on our “allies” to stop having a bet each way as far as Daesh is concerned is long overdue.

There have been continual allegations that countries such as Turkey are profiting from an illegal trade in Daesh-controlled oil. (Which is why the first UK bombing attack was on an oil field.) It should also be noted Turkey denies these criticisms. But Daesh is selling their oil to someone … and that trade needs to be interdicted urgently.

But the simple fact is that many of the things we find so objectionable about Daesh – the subjugation of women, cruel executions for things we do not consider crimes, and a badly organised and chaotic legal system – are also features of much of the rest of the Arab world. Little wonder they do not seem as distressed about those matters as the West is.

Make the price of our trade and engagement with the Arab world that they take concrete and meaningful steps to sort out their own differences.

The Sunni v Shia conflict is a very old one. It flares up, it flares down. Yet Sunni and Shia Muslims have lived peacefully together for centuries. In many countries it has become common for members of the two sects to intermarry and pray at the same mosques. They share faith in the Quran and the Prophet Mohammed’s sayings and perform similar prayers, although they differ in rituals and interpretation of Islamic law.

As the Council on Foreign relations said:

Islam’s schism, simmering for fourteen centuries, doesn’t explain all the political, economic, and geostrategic factors involved in these conflicts, but it has become one prism through which to understand the underlying tensions. Two countries that compete for the leadership of Islam, Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shia Iran, have used the sectarian divide to further their ambitions. How their rivalry is settled will likely shape the political balance between Sunnis and Shias and the future of the region, especially in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Bahrain, and Yemen.

The dispute is currently in a “hot” phase, largely driven by the Wahabist philosophy that has held sway in certain parts of the Sunni Middle East since the 19th century, exported by Saudi Arabia.

We need to make it clear that we expect the Aran world to sort it’s own troubles out. That will not happen while we are always half-pregnant as regards military involvement in the region, veering from full-blown invasions to dropping a few bombs from on high.

We also need to make it clear that we will not engage, as if they are the same as our estimation of a state, with any state that places religious belief or theocracy above basic civil rights.

So, for example, we would maintain cool but not aggressive relations with Iran, Saudi Arabia and so on until they internally reform and cease their mutual jaw-boning.

If the Arab world wants to live in a medieval manner and a semi-permanent state of conflict then that’s their business. We will simply wait it out as best we can. Eventually, all conflicts exhaust themselves.

Developing our own energy independence – as the USA has now done – and improving our investment in non-fossil-fuel technologies would be a good start.

What is certain as of today is that Daesh wishes us to bomb them, know that we will slaughter civilians – gay and straight – in the process, and that we could do nothing better to help them recruit and maintain control in their areas. There are other courses of action, even though they might be more complex, more difficult to organise, and slower to take effect.

Nevertheless, they deserve serious consideration.

Please consider these arguments as you see Western bombs raining down on innocent civilians, or witness the next terrorist outrage on Western soil. We are being conned. By Daesh, by the countries of the region, and by our own short-sighted and incompetent political leadership.

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.

It is a nightmare of Kafkaesque proportions.

Raif Badawi received the first 50 of his lashes in January

His family now say that Raif Badawi, already sentenced to a vicious public flogging and appalling ten years in prison, could also be tried for apostasy, which carries the death penalty.

The case attracted worldwide condemnation when he was publicly flogged in January.

Now his family say they have been told he is to be tried for apostasy.

“Apostasy charge is punishable under Saudi law with the death penalty by beheading,” they said in a message posted on Facebook.

“We also received confirmed information that the Supreme Court has referred Raif case to the same judge, who sentenced Raif with flogging and 10 years imprisonment.This judge is biased against Raif.”

Background to the case:

In July 2013 human rights activist Raif Badawi was sentenced in Saudi Arabia to seven years in jail, and 600 lashes, for insulting Islam. His sentence has now been increased to ten years and 1,000 lashes.

Raif and his children in happier times: one can hardly imagine how his family are suffering.

Raif and his children in happier times: one can hardly imagine how his family are suffering.

Badawi, founder of the Saudi Liberal Network, was convicted of “creating a website insulting Islam” and criticising the role of the notorious religious police. Before his arrest, Badawi’s network announced a “Day of Liberalism” and called for an end to the influence of religion on public life in Saudi Arabia. He has been languishing in jail since June 2012.

According to this report, the lawsuit against him was instigated by Saudi  by clerics. An appeals court overturned the original sentence and sent the case back for the case back for retrial, which culminated in the even harsher sentence.

A further court upheld the 10-year jail sentence and 1,000 lashes – also ordered him to pay a fine of one million riyals ($266,666).

The rights group’s co-founder, Souad Al Shamari said:

The only hope now is an amnesty from the king or a swift move by the justice minister to form a fair judicial committee. Even the worst terrorists have not received such a harsh sentence.

Mr Badawi, 31, received the first 50 of his 1,000 lashes in January. The rest of his punishment has been postponed because of injuries he sustained.

The flogging was surreptitiously filmed on a mobile phone, with footage uploaded to the internet.

It was conducted with a flexible stick, in front of a large crowd in the public square by the al-Jafali mosque in the Red Sea city of Jeddah. Mr Badawi was allowed to keep his shirt on, as is normal in Saudi Arabia, lessening the effects somewhat, but he can still be seen to flinch.

“Raif told me he is in a lot of pain,” Mrs Haidar said in an earlier statement released by Amnesty International, which has campaigned on his behalf. “He said that when he was being flogged he took the pain silently and rose above it, so that history will know that he did not react to their punishment.

Badawi was also given a jail sentence and a fine of £175,000 after being convicted of insulting Islam on a liberal online forum he created.

His family said he could not originally be charged with apostasy – abandoning his faith – because the criminal court could not deal with crimes that carry the death penalty. That changed with a new regulation passed last year.

Ensaf Haidar, wife of Raif Badawi, takes part in a news conference calling for the release of her husband in January (Reuters)

Ensaf Haidar, wife of Raif Badawi, takes part in a news conference calling for the release of her husband in January (Reuters)

They asked that Mr Badawi be pardoned and allowed to travel to Canada, where his wife and three children are now living.

“We call on the world citizens and governments not to leave Raif dragged by such bigots to death,” they added.

The death penalty is the standard penalty for apostasy in the Muslim world, though it is rarely carried out, even in Saudi Arabia which still carries out regular executions.

The Prince of Wales is believed to have raised the case during meetings with King Salman during a visit to Saudi Arabia in February.

How long will this courageous man be permitted to suffer?

How long will this courageous man be permitted to suffer?

We can only hope that the gale of protest around the world at the treatment of this entirely innocent man can cause the new Saudi regime to release him. These are our ALLIES, after all, with whom we have a huge trade relationship. That should count for something in asking them to listen to our concerns.

If you wish to do something, why not tweet your call for Badawi to be immediately released, using the hashtag ‪#‎Raifbadawi‬ ?

Alternatively, or as well, sign the change.org petition? Click below, and thank you:

https://www.change.org/p/free-and-safeguard-the-liberal-saudi-raif-badawy-no-600-lashes

Or perhaps you could simple share this blog on your blog, or on your Facebook page?

Whatever you can do to help, thank you.

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.

Infowars is an interesting website. It is frequently full of the most egregiously nonsensical conspiracy theories or libertarian ramblings. But occasionally it also reports news that others largely ignore.

The linking (see below) of Saudi Arabia to terrorist bombings in Russia, for example, attempts to strip back the veil that normally covers the murky depths of international diplomacy, and reveals, yet again, why America defends its proxy allies like Saudi Arabia despite their appalling human rights and social justice records. Is the website right? Who knows. It is becoming nigh-impossible to unpick the miasma of government behaviour worldwide. Certainly, it bears investigating.

The other thing that strikes us forcibly is the difference in worldwide reaction to these tragic events to, say, the much less destructive (though no less morally horrendous) attack on the Boston Marathon. Or, indeed, the continual litany of attacks in Iraq and elsewhere. One cannot help but draw the conclusion that the deaths of Americans (or perhaps Londoners) somehow have a higher value than the deaths of innocent civilians in other countries. And that, Dear Reader, is wrong.

Looking at the bodies of the innocent victims reminds us that terrorists (or Governments) can destroy us at will. Young girls, commuters, families. People, indeed, just like us. While men and women resort to the tactics to achieve political ends it will be, as always, the completely innocent who will pay the price.

Paul Joseph Watson
Infowars.com
December 30, 2013

Twin blasts targeting a train station and a trolley bus in the city of Volgograd which killed at least 31 people follow a threat by Saudi Arabia to attack Russia using Chechen terrorists if Moscow did not withdraw its support for President Assad in Syria.

The first attack took place at Volgograd-1 station on Sunday morning, killing 17 people. CCTV footage shows an orange blast behind the main doors of the station, smashing windows and sending debris out into the street. The prime suspect is a female suicide bomber. (Note, later reports indicate that it was a recent Muslim convert Russian male.)

The second attack occurred near a busy market in Volgograd’s Dzerzhinsky district. A bus packed with people on their morning commute was ripped apart by a suicide bomber, killing 14.

Although no group has claimed responsibility for the blasts, suspicion immediately fell on Islamists from the North Caucasus region who routinely attack soft targets in Russia.

While the media has concentrated on the threat such groups pose to February’s Winter Olympics in Sochi, no scrutiny has been given to a warning issued by Saudi Prince Bandar bin Sultan back in August when he told Vladimir Putin that Saudi Arabia would activate the Chechen terrorist groups it controls to target Russia if Moscow refused to abandon its support for Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad.

As we reported at the time, the threat was made during a closed-door meeting between Prince Bandar and Putin at the beginning of August.

According to a transcript of the comments made during the meeting by Middle Eastern news agency Al Monitor, Bandar made a series of promises and threats to Putin in return for Moscow withdrawing its support for Assad in Syria.

“I can give you a guarantee to protect the Winter Olympics next year,” Bandar allegedly stated, adding, “The Chechen groups that threaten the security of the games are controlled by us.”

Bandar made it clear that his position was supported by the US government.

This “guarantee” to stop the Chechens from attacking the Sochi Olympics was also obviously a veiled threat that if Russia did not abandon Assad, terrorist attacks would be given the green light.

Given that Russia did not abandon Assad and indeed virtually single-handedly prevented a US military strike on Syria, much to the chagrin of Saudi Arabia which is the primary supplier of anti-Assad rebel jihadists, are we to believe that the Volgograd bombings are evidence of Bandar following through on his threat?

Saudi sheik warns women that driving will affect their ovaries and pelvises

Saudi sheik warns women that driving will affect their ovaries and pelvises
Saudi sheik warns women that driving will affect their ovaries and pelvises

A Saudi sheik has warned women that driving cars would adversely affect the health of their ovaries and pelvises.

The comment comes as a group of women plan to defy the country’s de facto ban on women drivers, sparked by a fatwah on the act that was issued in the 1990s.

The act of driving “could have a reverse physiological impact,” Sheikh al-Luhaydan told Saudi news website sabq.org (as translated by Al Arabia).

“Physiological science and functional medicine studied this side [and found] that it automatically affects ovaries and rolls up the pelvis. This is why we find for women who continuously drive cars their children are born with clinical disorders of varying degrees.

“The result of this is bad and they should wait and consider the negativities,” he said.

The sheik is a judicial and psychological consultant to the Gulf Psychological Association

Saudi activists have planned a day of female driving in protest to the ban.

Thousands of women have signed a declaration on oct26driving.com saying: “Since there are no clear justifications for the state to ban adult, capable women from driving. We call for enabling women to have driving tests and for issuing licenses for those who pass.”

A statement on the website says the campaign “has no anti-Islamic or political agenda for neither Islam nor the official laws of Saudi prohibit women from driving.

“Islam and the Basic Law of Saudi Arabia both ensure that all, regardless of gender, have the right to freedom of movement. King Abdullah has also stated that the ban is only societal,” the statement says.

Spokeswoman for the Women2Drive movement behind the campaign, Manal al-Sharif, was arrested in May 2011 after uploading a video of herself driving through the streets of the city of Khobar in Saudi Arabia.

M.I.A.’s ‘Bad Girls’ video was seen as a criticism of the Saudi fatwa. Photo: Youtube

The ban has sparked continued commentary in popular culture. British rapper M.I.A. made headlines in 2012 with her video for the song “Bad Girls,” which portrayed Saudi women stunt-driving cars in the desert and was taken as a criticism of the Saudi fatwa.

From Yahoo

Saudi Arabia behads about 80 people a year

Saudi Arabia beheads about 80 people a year

A Sri Lankan woman who was employed as a domestic worker in Saudi Arabia was beheaded by the Saudi authorities on Wednesday after she was accused of murdering an infant in her charge and then sentenced to death in a case that the Sri Lankan government and human rights groups said was deeply flawed.

The Saudi Interior Ministry announced in a brief statement released by the official Saudi news agency that the woman, Rizana Nafeek, had been executed. It said she strangled the infant because of differences between her and the baby’s mother. She was detained and interrogated and was sentenced after trial, the Saudi ministry reported. She had been on the job for only six weeks before the accusation was made against her in 2005.

Waiting patiently, but all hope is now ended.

Waiting patiently, but all hope is now ended. Rizana’s parents.

Her mother, Rafeena, told the BBC at the family’s tiny village home, where they keep one cow, that Rizana Nafeek went to Saudi Arabia to earn money to educate her three younger siblings.

In 2005, war was returning to this part of Sri Lanka between the military and Tamil Tiger rebels. Rizana’s father, Sulthan, could no longer go to the jungle to collect wood, which had been his job.

n Saudi Arabia, their daughter got domestic employment but was also given childcare duties, something her parents say she was not expecting.

Weeks after her arrival, tragedy struck. The baby in her care, Naif al-Quthaibi, died. A Saudi court convicted her of murder and sentenced her to death. She says that Naif choked during a feeding session and she was unable to save him.

The evidence that the accused was a minor when the alleged crime was committed is compelling.

The BBC visited her old school, the Imam Shafi Vidyalaya, and saw a register which says she was born in 1988. That matches her birth certificate.

Rizana Nafeek's name can clearly be seen on the Imam Shafi Vidyalaya school register.

Rizana Nafeek’s name can clearly be seen on the Imam Shafi Vidyalaya school register.

Her passport says she was born in 1982, but her family and neighbours say this was falsified by an unscrupulous Sri Lankan job agent.

If the 1988 date is correct, she was definitely only 17 and therefore a juvenile when the alleged crime took place.

Sri Lanka’s president, Mahinda Rajapaksa, had made several appeals to the Saudi government to halt the execution. Sri Lanka also sent ministers to the kingdom on similar appeals and arranged for the woman’s parents to visit their daughter in prison in 2008 and 2011, the Sri Lanka statement said.

“President Rajapaksa and the Government of Sri Lanka deplore the execution of Miss Rizana Nafeek despite all efforts at the highest level of the government and the outcry of the people locally and internationally over the death sentence of a juvenile housemaid,” it said.

Ms. Nafeek’s case was shrouded in controversy all along. Human Rights Watch, which along with other rights organizations had urged the Saudi government to halt the execution, said that she should have been treated as a minor in Saudi Arabia’s judicial system, and it also questioned whether she had been given a fair trial:

Though she was arrested in 2005, she did not have access to legal counsel until after a court in Dawadmi sentenced her to death in 2007. Nafeek has also retracted a confession that she said was made under duress, and says that the baby died in a choking accident while drinking from a bottle.

Human Rights Watch said that Ms. Nafeek’s birth certificate showed that she was 17 at the time of her arrest, but that a recruitment agency in Sri Lanka had altered the birth date on her passport to present her as 23 so she could migrate for work. Her birth certificate says she was born in 1988, said Nisha Varia, senior women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch, said in an interview, adding that she has a scanned image of the document.

The High Court in Colombo, Sri Lanka, sentenced two recruitment agents to two years in prison for falsifying her travel documents, she said.

In a statement that was released this week and updated on Wednesday when the sentence was carried out, Human Rights Watch said that international law prohibits the death penalty for crimes committed before the age of 18.

“Saudi Arabia is one of just three countries that executes people for crimes they committed as children,” Ms. Varia said. The others are Iran and Yemen, she said.

Amnesty International said in a statement that as a state party to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, Saudi Arabia is prohibited from imposing the death penalty on people under the age of 18 at the time of the alleged offense, and that if there was doubt, the courts were required to treat the suspect as a juvenile until the prosecution can confirm the age.

After the sentence was handed down in 2007, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch had called on the Saudi authorities for clemency, but the sentence was appealed and then later ratified by the country’s Supreme Court. King Abdullah signed off on it this week, Amnesty International said.

According to information gathered by Amnesty International, Ms. Nafeek said she was not allowed to present her birth certificate or other evidence of her age to the Court of First Instance in 2007. Amnesty International said it also appeared that the man who translated her statement to the court might not have been able adequately to go between Tamil and Arabic.

She also had no access to lawyers either during her pretrial interrogation or at her trial in 2007. Amnesty International said that although she initially confessed to the baby’s murder during her interrogation, “she later retracted and denied it was true, saying she had been forced to make the ‘confession’ under duress following a physical assault.”

Sri Lankan protests were on-going, but ultimately fruitless. The Saudi government and King appear to have simply disregarded them despite the serious doubts in  the case.

Sri Lankan protests were on-going, but ultimately fruitless. The Saudi government and King appear to have simply disregarded them despite the serious doubts in the case.

Ms. Varia said she had spoken on Wednesday to the Sri Lankan ambassador in Riyadh, who told her that Ms. Nafeek was unaware she was to be executed. Ms. Nafeek, a Muslim, is from an impoverished family. Her father is a woodcutter. “In cases where girls are migrating so young it shows how desperate families are for income,” she said.

The news of the execution came on the same day that the United Nations’ International Labor Organization issued a report saying that of the 52 million domestic workers worldwide, only 10 percent are covered by labor laws to the same extent as other workers, and more than one-quarter are completely excluded from national labor legislation. It called on countries to extend protections to such workers.

Saudi Arabia in particular was not keeping up with the international trend to improve protections for domestic workers, Ms. Varia said.

Wellthisiswhatithink has had cause to draw attention to the inadequacies and brutalities of the Saudi legal system before including the case of a woman executed for “witchcraft”. Other commentators have also noticed what’s going on, including threatening the death sentence to bloggers. And this story will again fuel the racist and ignorant perception that this is a country unworthy of acceptance into the modern world, but also – more accurately – one where justice is medieval, capricious, and biased against women and the poor.

The West will soon free itself of reliance on the oil under Saudi Arabia which has made its occupants so accidentally, ludicrously and obscenely rich. When that day comes, and they find world opinion firmly against them, they may regret the death of young girls like Rizana, made to kneel in the sand in terror while their head is brutally struck from their shoulders.

May she rest in peace.

Saudi woman beheaded - how should the West respond?

Saudi woman beheaded - how should the West respond?

I have actually deleted my first attempt at a post on this, because after due consideration I felt my views were so inflammatory they were unprintable.

Saudi women can’t drive in public? Well, quelle horreur! Western liberals faint with shock and write letters.

Well, now as ABC and Yahoo report, a Saudi woman has been beheaded after being convicted of practicing “witchcraft and sorcery,” according to the Saudi Interior Ministry, at least the second such execution for that “crime” this year.

The woman, Amina bint Abdulhalim Nassar, was executed in the northern Saudi province of al-Jawf on Monday.

A source close to the Saudi religious police told Arab newspaper al Hayat that authorities who searched Nassar’s home found a book about witchcraft, 35 veils and glass bottles full of “an unknown liquid used for sorcery” among her possessions. According to reports, authorities said Nassar claimed to be a healer and would sell a veil and three bottles for 1500 riyals, or about $400.

According to the ministry, Nassar’s death sentence was upheld by an appeals court and the Saudi Supreme Judicial Council.

Philip Luther, the interim director of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa program, condemned Nassar’s killing, calling it “deeply shocking.”

“The charges of ‘witchcraft and sorcery’ are not defined as crimes in Saudi Arabia and to use them to subject someone to the cruel and extreme penalty of execution is truly appalling,” Luther said.

Luther said that a charge of sorcery is often used by the Saudi government as a smokescreen under which they punish people for exercising freedom of speech.

Nassar was not the first person to be executed for alleged witchcraft by the Saudi government this year. In September, a Sudanese man was publicly decapitated with a sword in the city of Medina after he was found guilty of the same crime.

According to Amnesty International, at least 79 people have been executed in Saudi Arabia so far in 2011, more than three times as many as in 2010. The human rights group condemned the kingdom’s reliance on capital punishment.

“Where the death penalty is used, under international law it should only be applied to the most serious crimes,” Luther said.

The Saudi embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

All over the world, traditional medicine is used to treat a variety of ailments, some of it utter rubbish and a rip off, some of it harbouring the folk-wisdom of centuries. In the West, it’s been some hundreds of years since we stopped murdering weird old ladies who knew how to cure a sty or a wart, but who had also managed to offend someone in power. It’s time the Saudis did too.

Perhaps an even better reason to invest in renewable energy other than saving the planet might be that we can stop making these ugly regimes and those who run them vastly wealthy.

She was probably made to kneel down and her head was struck off with a sword. Let us hope they managed it in one blow. Can you imagine the fear she must have felt? And for what?

Are there nice, thoughtful, educated, liberal modern people in Saudi Arabia who would think this act as disgusting as I do? Yes, of course there are, many of them.

But until they … the Saudi people … demand a stop these excesses, that is not – repeat, not – the point. Such pressure as there might be to bring about reform will have to come from outside the borders of the country, and that means us.

And if we are silent, the bodies of the Amina bint Abdulhalim Nassars will continue to pile up, heads rolling away from them to lie uncared for on the bloodstained sand.

Britain continues to export death and destruction to those who are only too ready to deal it out to their own populations, or each other. A disgrace.

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/in-the-line-of-fire-a-date-with-despots-at-britains-arms-fair-2354314.html

Thankfully, not everyone is sitting idly by.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/sep/12/london-arms-fair-protest

Many, many years ago, I was offered a job working for an arms manufacturer. They offered me what was, in those days, a king’s ransom. I was a young man, they made all sorts of soothing political and philosophical noises seeking to justify their activities, and then they dangled yet more money in front of me.

I thought about it, and turned them down flat. Then, and now, I could see no moral difference between selling the arms to someone else, and firing them myself, knowing full well what the purchasers intended to do with them. I was not prepared to make my living, no matter at what scale of of arm’s length, by killing people.

Sometimes, we only have our own consciences to guide us, and sometimes all we can do is make a decision about our own lives. I cannot help but feel that if more people simply refused to countenance many of the world’s evils in their personal lives, then they would start to dissipate in a broader sense. My views, essentially, are no different from those Donovan sang about in Universal Soldier, the man “who gives his body as a weapon of the war. And without him, all this killing can’t go on.”

I have always loved Buffy St Marie’s version too … the vibrato in her voice. And something about a woman’s passion for peace illuminates the song even more. That’s on YouTube too – well worth checking out for the difference, and also a recent recording of Domovan singing it in 2010, which is fascinating.

“He’s the universal soldier, and he really is to blame, his orders come from far away no more. They come from here and there, and you and me, and brother, can’t you see? This is not the way we put the end to war.”

It’s so sad, to me, that the simple arguments in this seminal song are as true nearly 50 years after the song was released as they were then.The look of rapt attention – and hope – on many of the young faces in the crowd in 1965 is heartbreaking.

Perhaps all we can do, ultimately, is change ourselves. Not allow our body to be a weapon of the war, and not allow other people’s bodies to be used in our place, in our name.

Be the change we want to see in the world, Gandhi said. Well, something like that, anyhow, would be a start.