Quotulatiousness

July 25, 2014

The eternal refugee problem

Filed under: History, Middle East, Religion — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:19

Mark Steyn quotes himself extensively about the Palestinian refugees:

I’m often asked why I don’t write more about the Palestinian situation, and the reason I don’t is because the central fact of the dispute — the Palestinians’ Jew hatred — never changes. So I said what I had to say about it many years ago, and there’s very little to add. For example, in The National Post on April 18th 2002 I quoted an old Colonial Office hand:

    “All British officials tend to become pro-Arab, or, perhaps, more accurately anti-Jew,” wrote Sir John Hope-Simpson in the 1920s wrapping up a stint in the British Mandate of Palestine. “Personally, I can quite well understand this trait. The helplessness of the fellah appeals to the British official. The offensive assertion of the Jewish immigrant is, on the other hand, repellent.” Progressive humanitarianism, as much as old-school colonialism, prefers its clientele “helpless,” and, despite Iranian weaponry and Iraqi money and the human sacrifice of its schoolchildren, the Palestinians have been masters at selling their “helplessness” to the West.

In Europe, colonialism may be over, but colonialist condescension endures as progressive activism, and the Palestinians are the perfect cause. Everywhere else, from Nigeria to Nauru, at some point the natives say to the paternalist Europeans, “Thanks very much, but we’ll take it from here.” But the Palestinians? Can you think of any other “people” who’d be content to live as UN “refugees” for four generations? They’re the only “people” with their own dedicated UN agency, and its regime has lasted almost three times as long as Britain’s Palestine mandate did. To quote again from that 2002 Post column:

    This is only the most extreme example of how the less sense the Arabs make the more the debate is framed in their terms. For all the tedious bleating of the Euroninnies, what Israel is doing is perfectly legal. Even if you sincerely believe that “Chairman” Arafat is entirely blameless when it comes to the suicide bombers, when a neighbouring jurisdiction is the base for hostile incursions, a sovereign state has the right of hot pursuit. Britain has certainly availed herself of this internationally recognized principle: In the 19th century, when the Fenians launched raids on Canada from upstate New York, the British thought nothing of infringing American sovereignty to hit back — and Washington accepted they were entitled to do so. But the rights every other sovereign state takes for granted are denied to Israel. “The Jews are a peculiar people: things permitted to other nations are forbidden to the Jews,” wrote America’s great longshoreman philosopher Eric Hoffer after the 1967 war. “Other nations drive out thousands, even millions of people and there is no refugee problem … But everyone insists that Israel must take back every single Arab … Other nations when victorious on the battlefield dictate peace terms. But when Israel is victorious it must sue for peace. Everyone expects the Jews to be the only real Christians in this world.”

    Thus, the massive population displacements in Europe at the end of the Second World War are forever, but those in Palestine a mere three years later must be corrected and reversed. On the Continent, losing wars comes with a territorial price: The Germans aren’t going to be back in Danzig any time soon. But, in the Middle East, no matter how often the Arabs attack Israel and lose, their claims to their lost territory manage to be both inviolable but endlessly transferable.

And so land won in battle from Jordan and Egypt somehow has to be ceded to Fatah and Hamas.

As I said, this is all the stuff that never changes, and the likelihood that it will change lessens with every passing half-decade. I wrote the above column at the time Jenin and the other Palestinian “refugee camps” were celebrating their Golden Jubilee. That’s to say, the “UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees” is older than most African, Caribbean or Pacific states. What sort of human capital do you wind up with after four generations have been born as “refugees”? If you’ve ever met a charming, urbane Palestinian doctor or lawyer in London or Paris, you’ll know that anyone who isn’t a total idiot — ie, the kind of people you need to build a nation — got out long ago. The nominal control of the land has passed from Jordan and Egypt to Israel to Arafat to Abbas to Hamas, but the UNRWA is forever, runnning its Mister Magoo ground operation and, during the periodic flare-ups, issuing its usual befuddled statements professing complete shock at discovering that Hamas is operating rocket launchers from the local kindergarten.

US Marine Corps Commandant goes off-message

Filed under: Media, Middle East, Military, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 06:56

James Joyner discusses the problem with depending on partial reporting:

Many of us have experienced occasions where we’ve read about an event in which we were a participant — either as a direct actor or merely an observer — and found ourselves perplexed by the written account. Whether because of an ideological agenda, an inadequate understanding of the topic, or — more commonly — a desire for a juicy headline and a scandal, reporters frequently misrepresent what transpired or was said. Paradoxically, however, we instinctively treat reports about events where we were not present as gospel.

Recently, a collaborator and I fell into this trap. A series of venues reported some remarks by General Jim Amos, the Commandant of the Marine Corps, which seemingly questioned the president’s leadership on issues of international security, blamed the current crisis in Iraq on his fecklessness, and strongly implied that the president had betrayed the sacrifices of American warriors who had died there. As strong advocates for civilian control of the military, we submitted a blistering piece to War on the Rocks outlining the proper limitations for general officers publicly speaking on matters of policy, explaining the rationale for those limitations, and ending with Amos standing at attention in the Oval Office being reminded of his place in the chain of command. It was right on all counts — except for the not so minor detail that Amos hadn’t done what we were criticizing him for doing.

July 23, 2014

The Yom Kippur War of October 1973

Filed under: History, Middle East, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:02

In History Today, Colin Shindler reviews a recent collection of essays on the initially successful surprise attack on Israeli forces by Egypt, Syria, and a token brigade from Jordan in early October, 1973.

During the early afternoon of October 6th, 1973 the Egyptian army crossed the Suez Canal and overran the Israeli Bar-Lev line on the eastern bank. This assault on Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar, was designed to reverse Israel’s conquest of the Sinai peninsula during the 1967 Six Day War.

Six hundred Syrian tanks, outnumbering Israel’s 178, also advanced to reclaim the Golan Heights and to threaten a penetration of Israel’s heartland. The mehdal (blunder) indicated a profound intelligence failure and cost 2,691 Israeli lives. Forty years on, Asaf Siniver has gathered his colleagues to dissect this war in a series of essays.

The October or Ramadan War – as it is known in Egypt – is celebrated as a holiday even though Arab losses were around 18,000. The Yom Kippur war – as it is known in Israel – is regarded more as an enforced stalemate, even though Israeli forces crossed back over the canal, encircled the Egyptian Third Army and were 60 miles from Cairo. The Syrians, too, were pushed back and the Israelis shelled the outer suburbs of Damascus. Soviet threats to involve the USSR directly in the conflict forced President Nixon to stop the Israelis in their tracks.

Yom Kippur War - Sinai front 6 October -15 October (via Wikipedia)

Yom Kippur War – Sinai front 6-15 October, 1973 (via Wikipedia)

Yom Kippur War - Sinai front 15-23 October, 1973 (via Wikipedia)

Yom Kippur War – Sinai front 15-23 October, 1973 (via Wikipedia)

Yom Kippur War - Golan Heights front (via Wikipedia)

Yom Kippur War – Golan Heights front (via Wikipedia)

July 18, 2014

The Israeli-Palestinian situation is difficult to solve, but not complex

Filed under: Media, Middle East, Military — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:14

David Harsanyi responds to a silly post at Vox by Max Fisher:

    This is the one thing that both Hamas and Israel seem to share: a willingness to adopt military tactics that will put Palestinian civilians at direct risk and that contribute, however unintentionally, to the deaths of Palestinian civilians. Partisans in the Israel-Palestine conflict want to make that an argument over which “side” has greater moral culpability in the continued killings of Palestinian civilians. And there is validity to asking whether Hamas should so ensconce itself among civilians in a way that will invite attacks, just as there is validity to asking why Israel seems to show so little restraint in dropping bombs over Gaza neighborhoods. But even that argument over moral superiority ultimately treats those dying Palestinian families as pawns in the conflict, tokens to be counted for or against, their humanity and suffering so easily disregarded.

A “partisan” writing about a conflict as if he we an honest broker is distracting, but read it again. You might note that one of the institutions he’s talking about is the governing authority of the Palestinian people in Gaza, which, applying even the most basic standards of decency, should task itself with safeguarding the lives of civilians. Instead, it makes martyrs out of children and relies on the compassion of Israelis to protect its weapons. This is a tragedy, of course, but Israel does have to bomb caches of rockets hidden by “militants” in Mosques, schools, and hospitals. Since Hamas’ terrorist complex is deeply embedded in Gaza’s civilian infrastructure there is really no other way. And that only tells us that one of the two organizations mentioned by Fisher has purposely decided to use Palestinian as pawns and put civilians in harm’s way.

It is also preposterous to claim that Israel is showing “little restraint in dropping bombs over Gaza neighborhoods.” Actually, Israel is far more concerned with the wellbeing of Palestinians civilians than Hamas. This week, 13 Hamas fighters used a tunnel into Israel and attempted to murder 150 civilians in Kibbutz Sufa, with Kalashnikovs and anti-tank weapons. On the same day, Israel issued early warnings before attacking Hamas targets – as it often has throughout this conflict in an effort to avoid needless civilian deaths Hamas is hoping for. It was Israel that agreed to a five-hour cease-fire so that UN aid could flow into Gaza last week. It is Israel that sends hundreds of thousands of tons of food to Gaza every year, millions of articles of clothing and medical aid. That’s more than restraint.

[...]

I often hear people claim that the Israel-Palestinian situation is complex. It isn’t. It’s difficult to solve, indeed, but it’s not complex. One side refuses to engage in any serious efforts to make peace with modernity and with Jews. So, for those like Andrew Sullivan and some of the folks at The American Conservative, who argue that Israel is the one drifting from Western ideals, I think Douglas Murray has the best retort:

    A gap may well be emerging. But not because Israel has drifted away from the West. Rather because today in much of the West, as we bask in the afterglow of our achievements — eager to enjoy our rights, but unwilling to defend them — it is the West that is, slowly but surely, drifting away from itself.

Update: Charles Krauthammer says this is a rare moment of moral clarity.

Israel accepts an Egyptian-proposed Gaza ceasefire; Hamas keeps firing. Hamas deliberately aims rockets at civilians; Israel painstakingly tries to avoid them, actually telephoning civilians in the area and dropping warning charges, so-called roof knocking.

“Here’s the difference between us,” explains the Israeli prime minister. “We’re using missile defense to protect our civilians and they’re using their civilians to protect their missiles.”

Rarely does international politics present a moment of such moral clarity. Yet we routinely hear this Israel–Gaza fighting described as a morally equivalent “cycle of violence.” This is absurd. What possible interest can Israel have in cross-border fighting? Everyone knows Hamas set off this mini-war. And everyone knows Hamas’s proudly self-declared raison d’être: the eradication of Israel and its Jews.

[...]

Why? The rockets can’t even inflict serious damage, being almost uniformly intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome anti-missile system. Even West Bank leader Mahmoud Abbas has asked: “What are you trying to achieve by sending rockets?”

It makes no sense. Unless you understand, as a Washington Post editorial explained, that the whole point is to draw Israeli counterfire.

This produces dead Palestinians for international television. Which is why Hamas perversely urges its own people not to seek safety when Israel drops leaflets warning of an imminent attack.

To deliberately wage war so that your own people can be telegenically killed is indeed moral and tactical insanity. But it rests on a very rational premise: Given the Orwellian state of the world’s treatment of Israel (see: the U.N.’s grotesque Human Rights Council), fueled by a mix of classic anti-Semitism, near-total historical ignorance, and reflexive sympathy for the ostensible Third World underdog, these eruptions featuring Palestinian casualties ultimately undermine support for Israel’s legitimacy and right to self-defense.

July 17, 2014

Israel’s Iron Dome systems

Filed under: Middle East, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:01

Austin Bay discusses the relative success of the Israeli anti-missile defence system called Iron Dome:

According to the Israeli government, in this latest round of Israel-Hamas combat, Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system has (so far) intercepted 90 percent of targeted incoming Hamas rockets.

Iron Dome is a very sophisticated tactical (short-range) anti-missile and anti-artillery projectile defense system. In terms of combat operations, Iron Dome’s “sensor-shooter” system is a drastically scaled-down strategic anti-missile defense system, a mini-ABM system in the mold of the Reagan administration’s Strategic Defense Initiative. In fact, Iron Dome is an SDI descendant and a cousin of the current U.S. Missile Defense program. I will return to the cousin connection in a moment.

For good reason the 2006 Israel-Lebanese Hezbollah War is also called “The Rocket War.” Hezbollah fired several thousand unguided rockets into Israeli territory.

Human Rights Watch, a non-governmental human rights organization, accused Hezbollah and the Israeli Defense Forces of launching “indiscriminate” attacks that killed civilians on both sides of the border. As usual, HRW’s legalistic accusations against Israel received more international media attention. Though Hezbollah rocketeers frequently fired from positions within civilian neighborhoods (as Hamas rocket teams are doing in 2014), HRW argued that the Israelis “failed to distinguish between civilian and military targets.” HRW berated the IDF for employing cluster munitions.

However, to its credit, HRW’s detailed 2007 investigation of Hezbollah confirmed the harsh but obvious conclusion that Hezbollah had “deliberately targeted” civilian areas within Israel. HRW’s report concluded that, “Hezbollah repeatedly fired rockets in the direction of civilian-populated areas in which there was no evident military target.”

An HRW press release summarizing the investigation said that indiscriminate rocket fire directed at densely populated civilian neighborhoods “killed or injured civilians in Jewish, Arab and mixed villages, towns and cities.” In other words, Hezbollah wanted to spill civilian blood — lots of blood — and if it happened to be Arab blood, so be it.

[...]

In the last two weeks, Iron Dome has demonstrated that it can successfully protect people. Several press reports have noted the Israeli claim that Iron Dome’s demonstrated capabilities have given the Israeli government something very precious in a crisis: time. Instead of facing demands to strike back immediately, the government can consider military and political options.

July 16, 2014

Consistency in US foreign policy

Filed under: Government, Middle East, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:53

Nick Gillespie on why the shift from Bush-era policies in the Middle East and elsewhere to Obama-era policies wasn’t so much a shift as a continuation:

Obama’s foreign policy certainly hasn’t lacked for the use of force. It has, however, lacked for successes, as became clear during an unintentionally hilarious yet telling State Department press conference in May. State’s Jen Psaki said that, in her view, “the president doesn’t give himself enough credit for what he’s done around the world.”

“Credit for what?” one reporter interrupted. “I’m sorry, credit for what?” The others in the room started laughing.

Around the same time, NBC’s Richard Engel, who is not known as a staunch critic for the administration, was asked to name a few countries with which relations have improved under Obama. His reply? “I think you would be hard pressed to find that…I think the reason is our allies have become confused.”

First under Bush and now under Obama, the one constant in American foreign policy is a lack of any conceivable constraint on whatever the president deems expedient at any moment in time. This is disastrous, especially when it comes to military and covert actions, because it precludes any serious public discussion and prioritization.

That’s not just bad for the U.S. It’s also bad for our allies, who have no framework by which to structure their own actions and expectations. The president is allowed to both declare red lines and then to ignore them when they are crossed, to dispatch troops or planes or supplies according to whim. In all of this, Obama in no way represents a break from Bush, but perfect continuity.

As The Daily Beast’s Eli Lake wrote for Reason back in 2010, the roots of this particularly strident new sense of imperial power can be traced back to the authorization of use of military force (AUMF) signed into law just a few days after the 9/11 attacks.

“Just as President Bush said the 9/14 resolution gave him the wartime powers to detain, interrogate, capture, and kill terrorists all over the world,” wrote Lake, “so too does President Obama.” Until recently — and because of pushback from characters such as Rand Paul, his fellow Republican Sen. Mike Lee, and Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden — Congress has been especially deferential to all aspects of executive power when it comes to foreign policy and war-making.

The results are plain to see in the still-smoldering battlefields across the globe and the rapidly deteriorating situations in places as different as Ukraine, Egypt, and even the U.S. border with Mexico. When the executive branch has carte blanche to act however it wants, it can’t act effectively.

July 14, 2014

Militant wings – “the evil twins of geopolitics”

Filed under: Middle East, Military, Politics — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:50

Jim Geraghty from today’s Morning Jolt email:

Ah, the “military wing.” Hamas’ Khaled Meshaal told Al-Jazeera last month, “Hamas is comprised of a political wing and a military wing.”

Really? Because from over here, it looks like a public-relations wing and a convenient-scapegoat wing. “Oh, it wasn’t us that fired those rockets! It was our militant wing!” Militant wings are the evil twins of geopolitics. If your organization has a military wing — as opposed to an actual, declared, uniforms-and-everything-military — you’re probably a troublemaker. You notice the good guys in life rarely have a militant wing. “I’m with a hardline faction of the Red Cross.” “I’m with Mother Theresa’s paramilitary branch.”

These groups really seem to think that the political wing can’t be blamed for what the militant wing does. Guys, you’re two halves of the same chicken. Colonel Sanders just sees one bird.

The Israeli Defense Forces Twitter feed declared this morning that: “Since July 8, 38 rockets fired from Gaza have fallen within Gaza. Hamas fires from civilian areas … and hits its own people.” They’ve also released video of three airstrikes called off because of risk to civilians.

Hamas uses its own people as human shields, in an effort to get international sympathy. How does Hamas continually sell this strategy to the Palestinians? Remember, they’ve won elections! How do you win at the ballot box with the slogan, “To protect ourselves, we’re going to use you and your children as human shields!”? You’re really awful, Fatah; you lost an election to an alternative that promises to get the voters killed!

They may have been terrorists, but they weren’t particularly religious

Filed under: Britain, Middle East, Religion — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:38

Janet Daley talks about two recently arrested “jihadis” in Britain:

In the midst of the deeply unfunny news coverage of the two young British jihadi volunteers who were arrested on terror charges when they arrived back from Syria, there was one moment of comic absurdity. It seems that before setting off on their mission, Mohammed Ahmed and Yusuf Sarwar found it necessary to place orders with Amazon for those invaluable scholarly treatises, Islam for Dummies, The Koran for Dummies and Arabic for Dummies. Hilarity aside, there is something important to be noted here.

First, these 22-year-olds were obviously not the products of some extreme mosque which had drilled them in Islamist fundamentalism. In fact, they were so untutored in the religion to which they were nominally affiliated that they had to equip themselves with a crash course in its basic principles. Nor had they come from families which were inclined to endorse their terrorist fantasies. Indeed, their own parents were so horrified when they learned of the men’s activities that they turned them in to the police. So we need to ask, as a matter of urgency, where it came from, this bizarre determination to be inducted into a campaign of seditious murder that (we can assume from their decision to plead guilty to the terror charges) they fully intended to bring home with them. What causes young men to risk their own lives, and those of who knows how many others, for a cause about which they know so little that they have to mug it up before they catch the plane?

[...]

There has come to be something of a consensus that this is a problem that only the moderate Muslim community can deal with through its own moral authority. But parents as courageous and civically responsible as these two would-be jihadis had are not going to be ten-a-penny. And it is unfair for the society at large to wash its hands and leave it all to the families and the neighbours, most of whom are as new to all this as we are. If too many young Britons are drawn to a hateful, barely understood dogma because it seems to bring some magical sense of belonging, then something is clearly wrong with their lives in this country. There is apparently nothing on offer here that can compete with the promise of exaltation that is available for the price of a plane ticket.

Contrary to all the educational shibboleths of our time, young men are motivated by aggression and power: their dreams are of glorious triumph over rivals. If they are denied these things — even in the ritualised forms that used to be provided by an education system that understood how dangerous male adolescence was — then they will seek them wherever they can be found. Gang violence, with its criminal initiation rites, or Muslim fanaticism can fill a void, offering not just a licence for brutality but for banding together into hostile tribes. There was a time — before characteristically male behaviour was devalued in favour of the female virtues of empathy and conciliation — when these proclivities were dealt with quite effectively by combative team sports and military cadet corps. Institutionalised aggression was supervised by adult authority until the young men grew up and became responsible for their own impulses.

H/T to Mark Collins for the link.

July 7, 2014

“The Obama administration has done a stunning job in making the United States look like an inept ditherer”

Filed under: Europe, Middle East — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:45

Mark Collins linked to this interesting blog post by Charles Crawford, retired British diplomat:

… the key feature of the global scene now is the decline and fall of authority. The Obama administration has done a stunning job in making the United States look like an inept ditherer. Vladimir Putin, ISIS and all sorts of unpredictable phenomena are moving to assert themselves. For most of our lifetimes the default position has been to respect certain basic global rules: the benefits of grabbing something have looked a lot less than the risks associated with the consequences of doing so.

That abruptly has been turned on its head. The default position for Putin and ISIS instead is: “Look what we are doing! Breaking your rules, right under your noses! So … what precisely are you going to do about THAT?”

It is staggering to see the loss of ‘Western’ nerve in the face of Islamist the-worse-the-better insanity. These ISIS people not only commit war crimes. They race to post them on YouTube, gloating and sniggering at the world’s indecision. While they are doing that they threaten to collapse sundry key borders across the Middle East. What does it take for the UN Security Council to call emergency meetings and name specific ISIS leaders as leading global wanted war crimes suspects representing a clear immediate threat to international peace and security, ‘framing’ the issues in a way that pushes back against the confident ISIS/AQ message of Islamist extremist inevitability?

It has been depressing to see the Foreign Office doing so much to champion the issue of Sexual Violence in Conflict, while being meticulous in its language of avoiding getting dragged in to the carnage in Iraq. It’s not so much the actual policy – it is hard to know what to do for the best against these lunatics. But whereas sexual violence against women in conflict is a theme that now prompts a torrent if not a tsunami of FCO moral urgency, YouTube videos of men being murdered in cold blood is all just a bit too … complicated. Why should our UN diplomats take a firm leadership position on anything as morbid as that, when it’s so much more FUN to have a Gay Pride bus-ride in New York?

In other words, at least our feeble leaders do (for now) have to pay some attention to the international treaties they have signed. And in the case of NATO, the fact that NATO exists does give V Putin pause for thought when he mulls over options for stirring up the Russian-speaking communities in Estonia and Latvia as part of his schemes to redefine the post-Cold War deal in ways more favourable to an overtly nationalistic, greedy Russia.

June 27, 2014

Possible next moves for ISIS

Filed under: Middle East, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:56

Charles Lister provides some ideas on what ISIS will do next after its stunning run of insurgent successes against the Iraqi military:

It is the wealthiest militant organisation in the world; it controls large swathes of territory — stretching from al-Bab in eastern Aleppo province in Syria to as far as Suleiman Bek 415 miles (670km) away in Iraq’s Salahuddin province — and it explicitly wants to establish an Islamic state.

In the immediate term, Isis will seek to sustain momentum in Iraq through further acquisitions of territory and finance-earning assets.

But crucially, Isis is not the only actor involved in fighting against the Iraqi government. Despite a few isolated clashes, a “coalition of convenience” — broadly encompassing Islamists, Sufis, Baathists, and tribes — has come to existentially undermine the legitimacy of Prime Minister Nouri Maliki.

How long this loose coalition holds will determine the nature of Isis’ role in what has effectively become a Sunni uprising in Iraq.

[...]

An immediate objective for Isis will be to cement its control over border towns on both sides.

Recent Isis incursions around Albu Kamal in Syria, and the defection to Isis of several key Nusra Front members in that town symbolises exactly the strategy Isis will likely seek to conduct — that of exploiting its sky-high reputation to undermine competing groups in strategically-valuable areas

ISIS controlled areas in Iraq 20140627

June 24, 2014

ISIS rejected Al Qaeda’s “rules”

Filed under: Middle East, Military, Politics, Religion — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 11:51

In Slate, Will Saletan explains how ISIS deliberately cast aside Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda’s “seven rules for effective terrorism”. Is this evidence that ISIS is too extreme and will destroy itself or is it wishful thinking?

The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria is scaring the hell out of everyone. It has infested Syria, overrun Iraq, alarmed Iran, and convinced U.S. politicians it’s the most dangerous terrorist organization ever. But frightening everyone isn’t a long-term growth strategy. ISIS is destroying itself.

Al-Qaida, the organization from which ISIS recently split, understands this truth. For years, Osama Bin Laden and his lieutenants tried to explain to their affiliates the folly of unchecked brutality. In letters and directives captured in the 2011 raid on his compound, Bin Laden stressed the importance of patience, discretion, and public opinion. His advice, boiled down to seven rules, forms a clear outline of ISIS’s mistakes.

1. Don’t fight civil wars. Bin Laden recognized that battling for territory against local governments was a lousy way to get to theocracy. [...]

2. Don’t kill civilians. That was Bin Laden’s principal regret. He called for guidelines that would instruct jihadists to avoid “unnecessary civilian casualties.” [...]

3. Don’t flaunt your bloodlust. One of the captured al-Qaida letters, believed to have been written by Bin Laden or his aide, Atiyah Abd al-Rahman, urges al-Qaida’s Yemeni affiliate to “stay away from words that will affect the people’s support to the mujahidin.” [...]

4. Don’t rule harshly. Bin Laden was a theocratic fundamentalist, but he cautioned his allies to avoid the “alienation from harshness” that was “taking over the public opinion.” [...]

5. Don’t claim territory unless you can feed the people. [...]

6. Don’t fight with your allies. Bin Laden tried to rein in the fratricidal belligerence of ISIS’s precursor organization, al-Qaida in Iraq. [...]

7. Don’t alarm your enemies prematurely. In 2010, Bin Laden advised his followers in Yemen not to escalate the war there, in part because “the emergence of a force in control of the Mujahidin in Yemen is a matter that provokes our enemies internationally and locally and puts them on a great state of alert.”

June 22, 2014

ISIS gets ultra-medieval on Iraqis

Filed under: Middle East, Military, Religion — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:55

In the Daily Express, Adrian Lee reports on what happens to a town when ISIS takes over:

When the gunmen arrived in town one of their first tasks was to raid shops and confiscate every carton of cigarettes. The tobacco was loaded on to a truck and was soon burning on a giant pyre under the watchful eyes of the fanatics.

For residents in Raqqa near the border with Iraq in northern Syria this display of power was just a taste of life to come under Isis. Within days the radical Muslim group that is bulldozing through the region had decreed that women could not raise their voices in public or walk at a late hour without a male chaperone.

From elsewhere have come horrific stories of brutality including the alleged filming of mass executions. Now this group controls half of Iraq and is knocking on the door of the capital Baghdad.

Led by a man who has been described as the new Osama Bin Laden, the aim of Isis is a new Muslim state straddling Syria and Iraq, which is to be run under ultrastrict sharia law.

For anyone stepping out of line the punishments are harsh. Isis believes in crucifixion and the amputation of limbs for criminal acts. It’s claimed that to set an example the heads of their dead enemies are boiled in oil.

It is a return to the Dark Ages last witnessed when the Taliban joylessly governed Afghanistan.

ISIS is enforcing a particularly grim and joyless form of religious and social behaviour:

Singing and dancing are banned along with alcohol, cigarettes and the popular hookah pipe.

“Songs and music are forbidden in Islam as they prevent one from the remembrance of god and the koran and are a temptation and corruption of the heart,” according to a statement issued by Isis.

“Every smoker should be aware that with every cigarette he smokes in a state of trance and vanity he is disobeying god.”

Shop owners are forbidden from displaying images of people in their windows and ordered to close 10 minutes before prayer time. It’s also considered a sin to build elaborate tombstones. Under Islamic law death is final and resting places should be unadorned.

June 21, 2014

ISIS displays mastery of modern social media recruiting techniques

Filed under: Media, Middle East, Religion — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:09

Lara Prendergast on the successful techniques of recruiting-by-social-media being used by ISIS propagandists:

Yesterday evening, I returned home, made a cup of tea and slumped down to catch up on the day’s news. A piece on Twitter caught my eye. Posted by Channel 4, it was titled ‘#Jihad: how ISIS is using social media to win support‘. Click. Soon I was learning about how ISIS was calling for global support via a sophisticated social media campaign, branded the ‘one billion campaign’. Click, click. Onto YouTube, where I found graphic videos recorded and uploaded by ISIS members. Click, click, click. Ten minutes later, and I was on Twitter, being recruited by jihadis to come join them.

Clearly, I am not about to head to Syria or Iraq. But I was struck by how quickly I found material asking me to show support and help the cause. If I was an impressionable young Muslim man, perhaps I would have found it alluring. I came across a podcast uploaded by the British jihadi Abu Summayyah al-Britani, which suggested that fighting in Syria was better than playing Call of Duty.

The imagery ISIS promotes is also absorbing, in a dark, sinister way. The black and white flag is the new Jolly Roger; balaclavas and AK47s the new uniform. ‘Come fight with us, brother’ it screams. It looks dangerous and exciting. This belligerent propaganda has zipped round the world at an unprecedented speed. It’s a potent mix of graphic imagery and piratic behaviour blended with a fanatical message. It’s hard not to look, no matter how much you try.

June 19, 2014

The Islamic version of the Thirty Years’ War

Filed under: Middle East, Military, Politics, Religion — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:25

One of the most destructive wars in Europe ran from 1618 to 1648 and involved the repeated devastation of much of central Europe. The term “Thirty Years’ War” is a convenient term for the series of overlapping and interlinked conflicts between and among the combatants originally religious in nature (Protestant versus Catholic) and later becoming more of a struggle for political control (Wikipedia‘s entry covers most of the issues).

In the Spectator, Douglas Murray says this is a good model to help us understand what is happening right now in the middle east:

Syria has fallen apart. Major cities in Iraq have fallen to al-Qa’eda. Egypt may have stabilised slightly after a counter-coup. But Lebanon is starting once again to fragment. Beneath all these facts — beneath all the explosions, exhortations and blood — certain themes are emerging.

Some years ago, before the Arab ‘Spring’ ever sprung, I remember asking one top security official about the region. What, I wondered, was their single biggest fear? The answer was striking and precise: ‘That the region will clarify.’ That is a fear which now appears to be coming true.

The Middle East is not simply falling apart. It is taking a different shape, along very clear lines — far older ones than those the western powers rudely imposed on the region nearly a century ago. Across the whole continent those borders are in the process of cracking and breaking. But while that happens the region’s two most ambitious centres of power — the house of Saud and the Ayatollahs in Iran — find themselves fighting each other not just for influence but even, perhaps, for survival.

[...]

There are those who think that the region as a whole may be starting to go through something similar to what Europe went through in the early 17th century during the Thirty Years’ War, when Protestant and Catholic states battled it out. This is a conflict which is not only bigger than al-Qa’eda and similar groups, but far bigger than any of us. It is one which will re-align not only the Middle East, but the religion of Islam.

Over the last decade, many people have “explained” the unsettled and unstable situation among the various middle eastern Islamic states by pointing out that Islam never went through the sort of wrenching religious/political upheaval like the Protestant Reformation in Europe. We may actually be seeing this process live right now.

June 17, 2014

Game of Thrones lessons learned by ISIS

Filed under: History, Media, Middle East — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:56

I haven’t been watching Game of Thrones, but I’ve seen enough of it that James Delingpole‘s observations seem rather accurate:

Consider some of the Isis footage now doing the rounds on the internet. One video is filmed from the point of view of some young men in car, driving along a highway outside a town somewhere in northern Iraq, looking for cars to shoot up with their AK-47s. The innocent drivers clearly aren’t expecting this. By the time they’re aware what’s going on, it’s too late: soon, their bullet-riddled cars are veering off the roads, their dead or wounded drivers slumped at the wheel. Next, eager as puppies, out pop the jihadis to inspect the damage, gleefully filming their dying victims and then finishing them off. It’s like an episode of Grand Theft Auto Mosul, only acted out for real.

What kind of mindset do you need to carry out this kind of barbaric violence? Well I hesitate to say a “Medieval” one because then the Medievalists get all upset. But let’s agree shall we that it is a mindset almost completely alien to Western Judeo-Christian culture. Yes, there are exceptions to every rule: the obvious one being Germany in World War II. At the risk of crudely generalising though, I’d say that however much society breaks down in the West I can’t ever see any of us reaching the point where we start machine gunning road users just for the sheer hell of it, any more than I can ever imagine us beheading or crucifying prisoners. We got all that stuff out of our system, over the centuries, in a succession of savage conflicts like the Thirty Years War and the Wars of The Roses.

It’s from the Wars of the Roses, of course, that George RR Martin gets a lot of his gory detail, including the kill-or-be-killed mindset of his protagonists. They don’t think like us because they don’t enjoy the luxury of living in a society as advanced as ours. What to us might seem like basic human decency would strike the Game of Thrones protagonists as fatal weakness. Hence, for example, the House Bolton’s practice of flaying its prisoners: a) a dead enemy is never going to kill you and b) it so terrifies your foes that — as Isis have found in Iraq — they would rather flee for their lives than face you in battle.

This kind of insight is, I’m sure, one of the main reasons why Game of Thrones has grown to achieve its status as unmissable, landmark television. Yes, of course, the fine acting, great locations, pert breasts and CGI dragons are a big draw too. But what really makes it stick out is that, unlike almost any other fiction set in the past, it chooses not to imbue its characters with the liberal values of the present. This brutal honesty is at once exhilaratingly novel but also deeply unsettling, for it opens a window onto a world where people may look like us and apparently share the same hopes, dreams and fears as us, but where the progressive pieties to which we’ve become accustomed in the post-war years simply don’t apply. Not only do they not apply but they actually look foolish, counterproductive, suicidal.

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