Quotulatiousness

January 26, 2016

Inventing ISIS

Filed under: Middle East, Religion, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Strategy Page looks at some of the prevailing beliefs about the origins of ISIS among refugees:

Interviews with refugees from the fighting in Iraq and Syria as well as people still in those countries shows that over 80 percent believe the Islamic terrorists in general and ISIL and al Qaeda in particular are creations of the West (particularly the United States) and Israel as a means to destroy their countries and Islam. This is nothing new and while all this is unbelievable to most Westerners and largely ignored by Western media and politicians it is very real and has been for a long time. Media in these countries is full of even more fanciful (to Westerners) inventions. This has caused problems for Western troops operating in those countries, although some have figured out how to take advantage of it.

All cultures have a certain belief in magic and what Westerners call “conspiracy theories” to explain otherwise unexplainable events. In the Islamic world, there is a lot of attention paid to sorcery and magic, and people accused of practicing such things are regularly attacked and sometimes executed because “sorcery” is a capital crime under Islamic law. Conspiracy theories are also a popular way to explain away inconvenient facts and this is often found useful in countries that are hostile to other forms of sorcery.

For example back in 2008 many Pakistanis believed that the then recent Islamic terrorist attack in Mumbai, India was actually the work of the Israeli Mossad or the American CIA and not the Pakistani terrorists who were killed or captured and identified. Such fantasies are a common explanation, in Moslem nations, for Islamic terrorist atrocities. Especially when Moslems, particularly women and children are among the victims. In response many Moslems tend to accept fantastic explanations shifting the blame to infidels (non-Moslems).

After the September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States, many Moslems again blamed Israel for staging those attacks. A favorite variation of this is that, before the attacks on the World Trade Center, a secret message went out to all Jews in the area to stay away. Another variation has it that the 19 attackers (all of them Arab, 15 from Saudi Arabia) were really not Arabs but falsely identified as part of the Israeli deception. In the United States some Americans insist that the attack was the work of the U.S. government, complete with the World Trade Center towers being brought down by prepositioned explosive charges. While few Americans accept this, the CIA and Mossad fantasies are widely accepted in the Moslem world. Even Western educated Arabs, speaking good English, will casually express, and accept, these tales of the Israeli Mossad staging the attacks, in an effort to trick the U.S. into attacking Afghanistan and Iraq. Americans are shocked at this, but the Moslems expressing these beliefs just shrug when confronted with contradictory evidence.

December 6, 2015

Does Canada have a “hero complex”?

Filed under: Cancon, Politics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

At Spiked, Irene Ogrizek looks at Canada’s view on the Syrian refugee crisis:

The Syrian refugee crisis is testing the limits of public compassion. As Sweden and Germany struggle with overwhelmed infrastructures, some states in the US have simply said no to refugees. For those Americans, memories of 9/11 were revived by the Paris attacks, and a collective sense of hunkering down and sitting out the finger-pointing asserted itself. In Canada, our new prime minister, Justin Trudeau, promised to bring 25,000 refugees over before Christmas. He has since taken the advice of his advisers and come up with a more reasonable timeframe. Canada will accept 10,000 before Christmas and 15,000 in the two months following.

As a nation of immigrants, there is reflexive awareness around the issue of immigration in Canada. It evokes deep feelings of patriotism and provides an opportunity for collective and individual heroism. Even a cursory look at our mainstream media reveals the pressure to be heroic. ‘As a nation, we must step up to the plate’ and ‘Canadians are compassionate and sponsor refugee families’, are common refrains. As the refugee crisis has unfolded, this desire to be heroic has manifested itself in an attempt to conquer perceived public fears of terrorism – and migration’s alleged role in spreading it.

However, in this, our politicians and media outlets are being disingenuous. It isn’t terrorism per se that frightens Canadians, but the domestic loss of freedom that so often follows terrorist attacks — a freedom, as evidenced in our laissez-faire attitude to law enforcement, that Canadians cherish. No offence to Brits or Americans, but Canadians don’t want to live under constant surveillance or become vigilant, gun-toting citizens. We really do prefer our boring status quo.

So why is the template of heroism so important? Mythologist and author Joseph Campbell says the hero’s adventure is ‘one he is ready for’ and that the ‘landscape and the condition of the environment will match his readiness’. But what happens if there are no opportunities to prove oneself, especially in a country as sedate as Canada? The late New York Times columnist David Carr said of his drug-addicted young self: ‘Tucked in safe suburban redoubts, kids who had it soft like me manufactured peril. When there is no edge, we make our own.’ There is a similar edge to this explosion of pro-refugee altruism in Canada — and, just like Carr’s experience, it has its roots in intoxication.

December 3, 2015

Bombing probably won’t change anything in Syria

Filed under: Middle East, Military, Politics — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Charles Stross looks at the role of Turkey in the fight against ISIS (that is, Turkey’s actions within the theatre of war, not strictly speaking, actions against ISIS):

Turkey was, prior to 1918 and the Sykes-Picot Agreement, the hegemonic imperial power in the middle east, in the form of the Ottoman Empire. Syria was as much a part of Turkey’s “sphere of influence” as the Eastern Ukraine was of Russia’s — incidentally, another zone where the post-1918 settlement is going up in gunsmoke and it’s raining airliners. More to the point, geopolitically Turkey is in a weird position. It was roped into NATO in the wake of the second world war as part of the USA’s policy of encirclement of the USSR—but Turkey’s national aspirations are intrinsically at odds with some of its NATO partners, spiking on occasion to the level of warfare. Let us not forget that Turkey was also the imperial hegemon that ruled Greece and the Balkans. And today Turkey controls a vital regional resource — the tributary rivers that flow into the Euphrates, the main supply of irrigation of water into Syria and northern Iraq. Turkey has been damming the Euphrates and restricting the water flow to Raqqa province, violating international water sharing conventions. Syrian anger over the Güney Doğu Anadolu project was a major reason why the Assad government began providing material support to the PKK insurgency in Turkey. In turn, Turkish control over the Euphrates headwaters is a potent weapon against the Kurdish independence movement.

I’m an outsider and not adequately informed on this area. However, it looks (from here) as if the Turkish centralizing obsession with suppressing the PKK has led to the destabilization of Syria and northern Iraq. Syria’s government encouraging a push towards water-intensive agriculture coincided with the most intense drought on record in Syria, from 2007 to 2010, then ran into the generalized political discord of the Arab Spring: the Ba’ath government badly mishandled the demographic/economic situation during the 00’s and it would be a mistake to lay the blame for the Syrian civil war entirely on Turkey. However, cutting the river water supply to a drought-stricken region in the middle of a period of popular discontent didn’t help.

Today, 4 years after the war began, Syria is a shattered mess. It’s noteworthy that Da’esh controls areas where the water supply has been most badly affected, crippling agriculture, the main support of the poor, mostly conservative Sunni locals. Add in lots of former Iraqi army officers (pushed into fighting by the de-Ba’athication policies imposed by the US occupation and then the anti-Sunni policies of the subsequent Shi’ite government in Baghdad) and a seasoning of Wahhabite fanatics, and you have the recipe for Da’esh to get started, take root, and hold territory.

September 16, 2015

The African migrants are not driven by demographic change

Filed under: Africa, Europe — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Matt Ridley explains that demography does not explain the sudden influx of refugees from Africa to the European Union:

Even the most compassionate of European liberals must wonder at times whether this year’s migration crisis is just the beginning of a 21st-century surge of poor people that will overwhelm the rich countries of our continent. With African populations growing fastest, are we glimpsing a future in which the scenes we saw on the Macedonian border, or on Kos or in the seas around Sicily last week will seem tame?

I don’t think so. The current migration crisis is being driven by war and oppression, not demography. Almost two thirds of the migrants reaching Europe by boat this year are from three small countries: Syria, Afghanistan and Eritrea. These are not even densely populated countries: their combined populations come to less than England’s, let alone Britain’s, and none of them is in the top 20 for population growth rates.

Well then, perhaps that is even more ominous. If these three relatively small countries can cause such turmoil, imagine what would happen if say the more populous countries in Africa fell into similar chaos. Today Africa’s population (north and sub-Saharan) is about 50 per cent larger than Europe’s (East and West). By 2050, when — according to United Nations estimates — Africa’s population will have more than doubled from 1.1 billion to about 2.4 billion people and Europe’s will have shrunk from 740 million to about 709 million, there will be more than three Africans for every European.

Actually, demography is a poor predictor of migration. Nowhere in the world are people leaving countries specifically because of population growth or density. The population density of Germany is five times as high as that of Afghanistan or Eritrea: unlike water, people often move up population gradients. Tiny Eritrea, with only five million people, is a hell-hole for purely political reasons. It has a totalitarian government that tries to make North Korea and the old East Germany look tame: it conscripts every 17-year-old into lifelong and total service of the state. No wonder 3 per cent of its people have already left.

September 4, 2015

The problem of moral pornography

Filed under: Media, Middle East — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

In the Spectator, Brendan O’Neill explains why sharing a photo of a dead Syrian child is a symptom of moral pornography:

Have you seen the dead Syrian child yet? Look at his lifeless body. His head buried in the sand. His sad, resigned posture after he and his family made the treacherous journey from Syria to Turkey only to wash up dead on a Turkish beach. Isn’t this just the saddest photo you’ve ever seen? And gross too? Quick, share it! Show it to your friends — on Twitter, Facebook — so that they will feel sad and grossed-out too. Gather round, everyone: stare at the dead Syrian child.

We all know about the problem of sexual pornography on the internet. Now we need to talk about the problem of moral pornography. And nothing better illustrates it than the photo of Aylan, a three-year-old Syrian who drowned alongside his five-year-old brother Galip, his mother and others fleeing the hell of Syria.

The global spreading of this snapshot — which appears on the front page of the Independent today and inside the Guardian, and is even callously being turned into a meme by sections of the weeping Twitterati — is justified as a way of raising awareness about the migrant crisis. Please. It’s more like a snuff photo for progressives, dead-child porn, designed not to start a serious debate about migration in the 21st century but to elicit a self-satisfied feeling of sadness among Western observers.

[…]

Did the newspapers who put this kid on their front pages contact his remaining family members in Syria to seek their permission? Doesn’t look like it. When it comes to producing moral porn for the right-on, it seems the normal rules of journalism — and civilisation — can be suspended. And he’s only Syrian, right? It’s not like his poor, war-battered next of kin will be looking at the internet. Except the Guardian has now discovered that he has family in Canada, so they will very likely see the photo. Oh well, no matter: crack on, publish it, marvel at the purity of your emotional response to it, and be sure to tell everyone what your emotional response was. ‘I cried so hard’ thousands of tweeters are saying. The operative word here being ‘I’.

June 20, 2015

ISIS and the endangered archaeological sites of the Middle East

Filed under: History, Middle East, Religion, Science — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Last month, Michael J. Totten described ISIS as “The Borg of the Middle East”:

ISIS has conquered Syria’s spectacular Roman Empire city of Palmyra, a UNESCO World Heritage site long known affectionately as the “bride of the desert,” and in all likelihood is gearing up to demolish it. We know this because they’ve done it before. ISIS used hammers, bulldozers, and explosives to destroy the ancient Iraqi cities of Hatra and Nimrud near Mosul, and they did it on video.

“These ruins that are behind me,” said an ISIS vandal on YouTube, “they are idols and statues that people in the past used to worship instead of Allah. The Prophet Muhammad took down idols with his bare hands when he went into Mecca. We were ordered by our prophet to take down idols and destroy them, and the companions of the prophet did this after this time, when they conquered countries.”

Muslims have ruled this part of the world for more than 1,000 years. All this time, they’ve been unbothered by the fact that Palmyra, Hatra, and Nimrud include pagan monuments, temples, statues, and inscriptions that predate Islam. Only now are these places doomed to annihilation. ISIS is more belligerently Philistine than any group that has inhabited the region for a millennium. The only modern analogue is the Taliban’s destruction of the ancient Buddhist statues at Bamiyan with anti-aircraft guns, artillery shells and dynamite in March 2001, mere months before their al-Qaida pals attacked New York City and Washington.

This attitude toward history harks back less to the seventh century than to the twentieth, when Pol Pot reset the calendar to Year Zero after the Khmer Rouge seized power in Cambodia, and when Mao Zedong’s Chinese Cultural Revolution murdered millions in the war against everything “old.”

Maamoun Adbulkarim, Syria’s antiquities chief, told Reuters that the army carted hundreds of ancient statues away to safety, but of course the giant Roman columns and the museum itself aren’t going anywhere except, perhaps, underneath the jaws of ISIS bulldozers. “This is the entire world’s battle,” he said.

That’s how bad things are in Syria now. The mass-murderers, war criminals, sectarian gangsters, and state sponsors of international terrorism in Bashar al-Assad’s Arab Socialist Baath Party regime can plausibly tout themselves as the defenders of civilization. In this particular case and in this particular place, they’re right.

June 18, 2015

Six Days in June

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

Published on 23 Feb 2014

Six Day War – Israeli victory – Documentary

The shooting lasted on six tense days in June 1967, but the Six Day War has never really ended. Every crisis that has ripped through this region in the ensuing decades stems from those six fateful days. On its 40th anniversary, the region remains trapped in conflict and is every bit as explosive as it was in 1967. “Six Day War” chronicles the events of forty years ago with a fresh historical perspective. Beginning with the buildup for the war, and the political and military maneuvering of Israeli Prime Minister Levi Eshkol and Egyptian President Jame Adel Nasser, the film takes us through the six days of fighting, the war with Jordan, the occupation of the West Bank and the annexation of Jerusalem. Featuring stunning archival footage and first-hand accounts of the war from both the Israeli and Arab soldiers who fought it, “Six Day War” explores how these events became the flash point in history that reshaped the regional political landscape, destroyed old systems and brought new forces to the fore.

March 12, 2015

ISIS recruiting is going great. Retention? That’s a bit more dodgy

Filed under: Media, Middle East, Military, Religion — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

At Strategy Page, a look at an under-reported phenomenon as ISIS struggles with retaining some of its foreign volunteers:

ISIL is having problems with its foreign recruits. Many of them arrive with the intention of simply living in an “Islamic state” not fighting to expand that state. ISIL tried to accommodate the foreigners, lest they return home and report unfavorably about life in ISIL controlled territory. This led to foreign recruits getting better treatment (housing, food, access to “wives” and all manner of creature comforts. This, naturally, led to resentment by local (Syria and Iraq) recruits. That led to more locals deserting, joining the growing number of foreigners who simply walked away. Or tried to walk away as in late 2014 ISIL began accusing those who left of desertion and jailing or executing them. This inspired more (but better planned) desertions and growing dissent within both the ranks and among commanders. ISIL does want skilled foreigners in their caliphate but most of the foreign volunteers have no useful skills and ISIL seeks to use them as fighters or suicide bombers. Few people with useful skills are eager to join ISIL.

Internal criticism is not the only problem ISIL is facing in 2015. ISIL has recently suffered prominent defeats in Iraq and Syria as well as continued rebellions in both countries. Even the Syrian Army is retaking ground from ISIL. The Kurds are defeating ISIL forces outside Kobane in Syria and near the Iraq border. In Iraq Kurds, Iraqi soldiers and Sunni and Shia militias are both stopping ISIL attacks and pushing back ISIL forces outside of Mosul, Kirkuk and Tikrit. An offensive to retake Mosul is expected before June. Meanwhile air attacks not only continue but are more frequent and more damaging. This makes it more difficult to stockpile supplies or move large numbers of gunmen quickly. More leaders are being found and killed by these air attacks. Important economic targets like oil refineries are being destroyed. Inside the ISIL run “caliphate” (eastern Syria and western Iraq) there are growing shortages of everything and ISIL is finding that conquest is easier than running an economy. The economic problems fuel the rebellions and desertions and it’s a vicious circle that is destroying ISIL from within. The problem with ISIL is that so far it has solved its supply (logistical) problems via looting. But there has been no new conquests to loot for over six months and the stockpiles of plunder taken in 2014 is nearly exhausted. It’s another example of the old military maxim, “amateurs study tactics while professionals study logistics.” The accountants always win in the end.

The forces arrayed against ISIL have a better grasp of the logistical problems and have done something with that awareness. Thus Kurdish and Iraqi forces operating along the border with Syria have cut the best supply routes between Syria and Iraq. ISIL can still move between these two areas but with greater difficulty (using more fuel and time to do so). Taking longer to travel puts ISIL more at greater risk of attack by coalition warplanes. Worse, it becomes impractical to move essential supplies (especially food and fuel) between Iraq and Syria.

September 23, 2014

“Arab civilization … is all but gone”

Filed under: History, Middle East, Politics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 11:14

In Politico, Hisham Melhem explains why the Middle East is in the current state of chaos:

With his decision to use force against the violent extremists of the Islamic State, President Obama is doing more than to knowingly enter a quagmire. He is doing more than play with the fates of two half-broken countries — Iraq and Syria — whose societies were gutted long before the Americans appeared on the horizon. Obama is stepping once again — and with understandably great reluctance — into the chaos of an entire civilization that has broken down.

Arab civilization, such as we knew it, is all but gone. The Arab world today is more violent, unstable, fragmented and driven by extremism — the extremism of the rulers and those in opposition — than at any time since the collapse of the Ottoman Empire a century ago. Every hope of modern Arab history has been betrayed. The promise of political empowerment, the return of politics, the restoration of human dignity heralded by the season of Arab uprisings in their early heydays — all has given way to civil wars, ethnic, sectarian and regional divisions and the reassertion of absolutism, both in its military and atavistic forms. With the dubious exception of the antiquated monarchies and emirates of the Gulf — which for the moment are holding out against the tide of chaos — and possibly Tunisia, there is no recognizable legitimacy left in the Arab world.

Is it any surprise that, like the vermin that take over a ruined city, the heirs to this self-destroyed civilization should be the nihilistic thugs of the Islamic State? And that there is no one else who can clean up the vast mess we Arabs have made of our world but the Americans and Western countries?

July 23, 2014

The Yom Kippur War of October 1973

Filed under: History, Middle East, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 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 14, 2014

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

Filed under: Books, Britain, Middle East, Religion — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 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.

June 27, 2014

Possible next moves for ISIS

Filed under: Middle East, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 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 22, 2014

ISIS gets ultra-medieval on Iraqis

Filed under: Middle East, Military, Religion — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 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 19, 2014

The Islamic version of the Thirty Years’ War

Filed under: Middle East, Military, Politics, Religion — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 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 14, 2014

Defense One‘s guide to ISIS

Filed under: Middle East, Military, Religion — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 10:59

The Islamic militant group ISIS didn’t come from nowhere, but most of us only started hearing about them quite recently. Defense One has a guide to the group that has been tearing up Iraq:

Islamic State in Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), a predominantly Sunni jihadist group, seeks to sow civil unrest in Iraq and the Levant with the aim of establishing a caliphate — a single, transnational Islamic state based on sharia. The group emerged in the ashes of the U.S.-led invasion to oust Saddam Hussein as al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), and the insurgency that followed provided it with fertile ground to wage a guerrilla war against coalition forces and their domestic allies.

After a U.S. counterterrorism campaign and Sunni efforts to maintain local security in what was known as the Tribal Awakening, AQI violence diminished from its peak in 2006–2007. But since the withdrawal of U.S. forces in late 2011, the group has increased attacks on mainly Shiite targets in what is seen as an attempt to reignite conflict between Iraq’s Sunni minority and the Shiite-dominated government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Burgeoning violence in 2013 left nearly eight thousand civilians dead, making it Iraq’s bloodiest year since 2008, according to the United Nations. Meanwhile, in 2012 the group adopted its new moniker, ISIS (sometimes translated as Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL) as an expression of its broadened ambitions as its fighters have crossed into neighboring Syria to challenge both the Assad regime and secular and Islamist opposition groups there. By June 2014, the group’s fighters had routed the Iraqi military in the major cities of Fallujah and Mosul and established territorial control and administrative structures on both sides of the Iraqi-Syrian border.

[…]

At odds with al-Qaeda’s aims, ISIS has since expanded its territorial control, establishing a “de facto state in the borderlands of Syria and Iraq” that exhibits some of the traditional markers of sovereignty, note Douglas A. Ollivant and Fishman. Beyond fielding a militia, it provides limited services and administers its ultraconservative brand of justice. Much of Anbar province has remained outside the central government’s authority since January 2014, and in June, ISIS wrested control of Mosul and its environs after the army, hobbled by desertions, retreated overnight. The takeovers highlighted Baghdad’s weakness: In Fallujah, Maliki called on Sunni tribesmen to resist ISIS, and in Mosul, which had been considered a model for the surge and Awakening, he called on the Kurdish security forces, the Peshmerga, to do the same.

Insurgents’ consolidation of territorial control is a concern for the United States, which believes such areas outside of state authority may become safe havens for those jihadis with ambitions oriented toward the “far enemy” — the West. The Obama administration has responded to the regional resurgence by increasing the CIA’s support for the Maliki government, including assistance to elite counterterrorism units that report directly to the prime minister, and providing Hellfire missiles and surveillance drones. After Iraqi forces retreated from Mosul, the insurgents who routed them released more than one thousand prisoners and picked up troves of U.S.-supplied matériel.

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