New Age Islam Edit Bureau
01 September 2017
ISIS Crisis: Setbacks Bring Change to
By Dr. Halla Diyab
The Deal between Hezbollah and Daesh
By Diana Moukalled
The Afghan Quagmire
By Zaid M. Belbagi
Aung San Suu Kyi Has Just Run Out Of
By Dr. Azeem Ibrahim
Who Killed Palestinian Political
Caricaturist Naji Al-Ali?
By Abdulrahman Al-Rashed
Compiled By New Age Islam Edit Bureau
ISIS Crisis: Setbacks Bring Change To
31 August 2017
Notwithstanding the steady increase in
number of Muslims joining the terrorist group ISIS from around the world, the
group has started to lose territories on a daily basis. Currently, all its
routes are closed and it is unable to stem the heavy loss of life, particularly
of its militants currently besieged in Raqqa. This has raised the question
whether the group will be forced to change its military strategy, replacing its
pattern of offensive warfare with defensive tactics to pick up the pieces of
its shattered legacy.
Video in Spanish
Following the surfeit of international
media reports on the Barcelona attack, ISIS released a bizarre video, titled
‘The Conquest of Barcelona’ that featured the Spanish-speaking militant Abu
Layth al Qurtubi. Wearing battle fatigues and feigning a Che Guevara look, al
Qurtubi speaks softly with his lithe frame shown to the waist only. The video
shows how the group is reshaping its war rhetoric and its media campaign. With
a ‘Nasheed’ playing in the background, a Marxist revolutionary look-alike
speaks in Spanish to woo new recruits to his cause. This new style of
inveigling the impressionable reflects the desperation in the group to regain
its popularity among the youth.
Unlike the earlier slick videos, which
featured the decapitation of foreign hostages, where the camera used wide angle
to then pan a vast horizontal and vertical stretch, this new video restricts
itself to just a close-up of the militant and has minimal background music and
no graphics. The group seems to be directing the viewer’s attention only to the
message being delivered and not to any visuals. Raising a threatening finger,
al-Qurtubi seeks to exploit the historical bitterness between the Spanish
population and Arabs by invoking the history of the Spanish Inquisition, and
its brutality against Muslims. Thus, it introduces a new dimension to the
group’s militant discourse. What sets this video apart from its predecessors is
the lack of bluster about the group’s globalist outreach and the alternating
discourse from issuance of threat to denunciation of so-called tyranny.
From ‘Hijirah’ To Lone Wolf
The rapid loss of territory for the group
has dealt a knockout blow to its propaganda machinery that was once highly
effective in garnering global recruits for it. But with proliferation of
stories regarding the lack of security provided to militants from the group and
rise in number of deserters, who are now joining rival forces in Syria and
Iraq, ISIS is losing its credibility and popularity at a rapid clip. This
situation has brought about a change in the group’s rhetoric as the mission of
foreign recruits is now not linked to the performance of the so-called ‘hijra’,
but to carrying out terrorist attacks wherever the group’s sympathizers may be.
This implies that the group’s legacy and existence is neither connected to
fighting on the front-line in Syria or Iraq, nor conditioned with their
territorial expansion or loss as al-Qurtabi put it in the video: “The jihadists
(sic) can perform jihad (sic) wherever they are and it will be accepted and
they will triumph”.
Another change in the group’s strategy lies
in its bid to make “new enemies” so that ISIS could create a facade of waging a
so-called defensive jihad (i.e. we kill them because they kill and fight us).
‘The Conquest of Barcelona’ video threatens the people of Spain and states that
ISIS is now going to attack them to reclaim that country back from the
Crusader, even though Spain has never been in any fight with the ISIS. However
such rhetoric feeds their mentality of victimization and their refrain is “we
will take revenge for your massacre, the one you are carrying out now against
the Islamic State.”
Playing the Victim Card
This marks a departure in the group’s
propaganda in that its belligerent rhetoric has now changed to a more sympathy
evoking message, highlighting the so-called atrocities and injustices to which
Muslims are supposedly being subjected, in order to present the fight for
justified and noble reasons.
The use of the indigenous language and
local vernacular is another addition to the new radicalisation tactic.
Militants featuring in the group’s current crop of videos speak the language of
their target audience, not only to attract more foreign recruits but to
demonstrate that the group has grown globally in its militant outlook. Loss of
territory in the so-called bastion of the Islamic Caliphate has forced the
group to redirect its fight to the territory of its foes. Although their videos
have become more acerbic and vitriolic in tone, replacing the earlier poetic
expressions of nostalgia, ISIS narrative is now replete with symbolism like
their seven-minute film “This Fertile Nation” which features two children
(Yusef and Abdullah), wherein a 10-year-old American boy threatens Trump that
their battle will conclude in his land (the USA).
Nearly Destroyed, But Not Defeated
Although ISIS has failed to prove itself a
formidable opponent, its ability to change its tactics, where designated roles
and methods of its personnel are not fixed or conventional, but continuously
morph and change shape suggests that the ISIS threat is not going to end with
the dissolution of its “territory of terror”, but the outreach of its divisive
and violent rhetoric will continue to threaten the world.
The deal that Hezbollah brokered with
Daesh, supported by Damascus, Tehran and probably Moscow, has caused confusion
that extends beyond Lebanon’s borders. The deal stipulated the withdrawal of
300 Daesh fighters from Lebanon’s eastern barrens to the Iraqi-Syrian border,
in exchange for the release of Hezbollah prisoners, and revealing the fate of
Lebanese soldiers taken hostage by the terrorist group.
In Lebanon, despite Hezbollah’s control
over decision-making, many reject the humiliating deal, especially since
Hezbollah had previously prevented the state from negotiating over the soldiers
or militarily resolving the matter via the national army. Hezbollah has led a
propaganda campaign portraying Lebanon’s government and people as affiliated to
it, the Syrian regime and Iran.
The deal has stirred international and
regional dismay, including from Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi. In
addition, the US-led coalition carried out a strike to prevent the passage of
the convoy of Daesh evacuees — a clear sign of Washington’s rejection of the
Practically, Hezbollah won, but the battle
in the barrens, whose details remain unclear, was not a military victory.
Hezbollah won because its Lebanese opponents were defeated, and because of a
significant change in the regional map. Ever since Hezbollah launched the
battle, there has been talk of international and US resentment, yet it achieved
what it wanted to.
When the Lebanese Army was in the midst of
battle in Ras Baalbek and Al-Qaa, Hezbollah and the Syrian Army announced their
coordination with the Lebanese military despite the latter’s denial. Hezbollah
wanted to prove this coordination by announcing the start and end of the
battle. With its success, its sponsor Iran can more easily fulfill its regional
Weak Lebanese and Iraqi objections over the
transfer of Daesh fighters do not challenge Tehran’s interests. US talk of
fending off Iran’s regional influence is not backed by any real accomplishment.
There is no political or practical vision to curb this influence. The US-led
coalition strike that caused a crater on the road on which the Daesh convoy was
passing can only be regarded as Washington’s transient discontent.
Hezbollah is at the heart of political
power in Lebanon, and its orders are always obeyed. Yet the recent speech by
its Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah showed great unease. He attacked all
those who oppose what he is doing. Hezbollah’s media has also led a campaign of
intimidation and threats. Nasrallah responded to Baghdad’s objections lamely,
saying the Daesh fighters were moved from one Syrian region to another.
Regional and international deals have
allowed Hezbollah, Iran and the Syrian regime to control the region and the
fate of its peoples. Everyone is talking about victories, but what kind of
victories exterminates people and destroy cities while the whole world watches
Following President Donald Trump’s
announcement on Aug. 21 of a troop surge in Afghanistan, the futility of
America’s longest war is strikingly clear. Since the conflict began in 2001,
the US has spent more than $800 billion on the war. Compounded by supplementary
funding such as veterans’ care, the number easily exceeds $1 trillion. As the
Afghan government loses control over vast areas of the country, the power of
the Taliban lingers.
The most pertinent feature of the struggle
in Afghanistan is the central government’s state of perpetual malaise. More
than 15 years after Operation Enduring Freedom began, the Taliban is making
major gains — the government now controls only 63.4 percent of the country.
With a life expectancy of 44 years, no wonder Afghans make up 27-30 percent of
the global refugee population.
The wobbly US-brokered political coalition
of sworn enemies, put together after the fall of the Taliban, has long required
review. The executive branch is split between two discordant personalities:
President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah.
As Kabul is plagued by infighting, the
government and US commanders have relied heavily on local warlords to govern
the country. Some are aligned with the government, but the most powerful remain
outside the political system, too formidable to pacify and too critical to
Infighting between warlords is what
propelled the Taliban to power in 1996. It is no coincidence that where
insurgents have most recently succeeded is in the northern provinces, where
warlords have long been resented. In this context, it is critical that a
strategy be developed whereby the traditional apparatus of governance in
Afghanistan is brought into Kabul’s central decision-making process.
Reliant on external aid, outward-looking
decision-makers in Afghanistan have been able to cling to power without
significant internal support. Indeed, former President Hamid Karzai held on to
power for a decade despite major losses against the Taliban and the
government’s failure to improve the lot of Afghans (only 6 percent of the
population have access to stable electrical power).
Of course, Afghanistan’s problems existed
long before US involvement. Since the Soviet invasion in 1979, the country has
been in a state of continuous conflict. This has left 1 million Afghans dead
and more than 3 million maimed. The self-perpetuating cycle of state collapse,
radicalization and foreign intervention has caused concern among US
decision-makers weary of pursuing an endless war.
US efforts at state-building at a time of
conflict are unlikely to succeed. Afghan institutions have been unable to grow
amid a violent insurgency, highlighted by the fact that the loss of Afghan
security forces is just shy of the number of militants who have been killed. US
forces and the Afghan government have been overly reliant on local warlords to
fight the Taliban; this has alienated them from normal Afghans and undermined
the government’s legitimacy.
Rather ominously, America’s new Afghanistan
strategy — crafted by Defense Secretary James Mattis and National Security
Adviser H.R. McMaster — provides more troops to assist the Afghan government
without outlining a clear timetable for their withdrawal. It is as though the
US has reconciled itself to a generational commitment to Afghanistan in light
of the real challenges it faces in keeping the peace.
This US admission is not dissimilar to the
British imperial experience. Almost continuously, between 1849 and 1947 large
military expeditions left British India to quell unrest in the northwest.
Before 1900 alone, there were 60 such campaigns.
The largest British force ever deployed in
Asia — 44,000 men — was sent to Afghanistan in 1897 to quell a Pashtun
rebellion. The British never achieved the peace they sought in the area and
simply left in 1947, having failed to achieve long-term peace and stability.
The geopolitical reality is that
Afghanistan is trapped in the ambitions of its neighbors: Russia to the north,
squeezed by Iran and China to the east and west, and tied up in the
Indo-Pakistani war of attrition. As the Soviets withdrew from Afghanistan in
the 1990s, Pakistani intelligence filled the void, creating many of the funding
and arms-smuggling networks that the US counteracts today.
A viable solution to the war in Afghanistan
requires neighboring powers to be brought into the process. Interestingly,
during the first 30 minutes of his address, Trump failed to mention what role
Russia, China and Iran might play to help end the war.
The complexity of the relationship between
the US and these geopolitical rivals is negatively affecting the course of the
war in Afghanistan. And as the Indian government is encouraged to invest in
infrastructure that Afghanistan desperately needs, Pakistani generals lament
losing the upper hand among tribal factions they have supported for decades.
Amid these myriad political and
geostrategic tensions, militants are able to exploit vacuums in the
government’s ability to project central authority. As the US seeks to hinder
the Taliban’s ability to regroup, a new challenge looms: Ethnic disintegration
of the state.
The conflict did not begin as an ethnic
one, though as the state collapsed, community identities have been reinforced,
hardening divisions and creating yet another barrier to peace. Given the
medieval circumstances in Afghanistan, it is worth noting that state-building
in similar circumstances in Europe took centuries.
It is increasingly clear that the US model
of compressed and rapid development is unrealistic, and as Rome and Britain
before it, the overstretched American empire will find itself drawn into
The Final Report of UN Commission to
Rakhine State led by Kofi Annan has just been published and its recommendations
must use its existing nominal citizenship pathway processes to actually extend
citizenship to over one million Rohingya who are entitled to it.
must overhaul the 1982 Citizenship Law which the Myanmar authorities have used
to render almost the entire Rohingya population stateless in the land of their
birth, against the prescriptions of international law.
must lift restrictions against the freedom of movment of Rohingya in the state.
must close the internally displaced people’s (IDP) camps and allow the Rohingya
interred there to return to their properties.
must allow full humanitarian access to UN agencies and international NGOs.
must allow full access to both local and international media to document the
situation in the State.
must allow the Rohingya and any other minority group equal access to healthcare
and education to every other citizen of the country.
must allow and facilitate representation of the Rohingya and any other minority
groups in local and central government.
judiciary must practice the rule of law and abide by international standards of
impartiality and transparency.
All perfectly sensible recommendations
which those of us in the international community who have been following the
plight of the Rohingya have been calling for years.
In the past, the Myanmar government used to
deflect such recommendations, whether they were put forward by UN humanitarian
officials, or NGOs such as Médecins Sans Frontières, on the grounds that they
were put forward by ‘international pressure groups’ who were politically
hostile to the government. Even after the 2015 election which brought Nobel
Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi to power, the same line was taken: Suu Kyi
has always said that the situation in Rakhine state is complicated, and nobody
should rush to specific solutions.
It was in fact in this context that she commissioned
Kofi Annan to investigate and produce a report on the matter. The Annan
Commission was a political ploy to demonstrate to the world that she is doing
what she can, getting to the bottom of the problem with the help of one of the
world’s most respected diplomats. It is on the back of this approach that she
even managed to get sanctions lifted from Myanmar by convincing former US
President Obama that things were moving towards resolution in Rakhine state at
reasonable speed. All the while, she was playing to the domestic crowd and to
the Army, by dragging things out and taking no action on the ground against
either the ultra-nationalist civilian groups, the Rakhine State authorities, or
the segments of the federal security forces who were carying out the abuses
against the Rohingya.
But now matters have come to a head.
Despite the artificially restricted remit Annan was given for his
investigations, the findings are much the same as those of the previous
humanitarian observers – if couched in somewhat more placid language to mollify
the Myanmar government. And the recommendations are what we knew was needed and
what we have called for all along. Suu Kyi asked for neutral recommendations
from a globally respected international diplomat and she got them. What happens
This is where the politics of the matter
become difficult for Suu Kyi. She can no longer tow the neutral line in the
middle and pretend to be all things to all people. She must now choose a side.
Is she on the side human rights and international humanitarian and ethical
standards, or is she on the side of the ultra-nationalists and the Army
hardliners in her country? Is she a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, or just another
craven politician who will abide by ‘ethnic cleansing’ to not rock the boat,
and allow her to stay in power unchallenged.
The last time I saw Naji al-Ali, the
well-known caricaturist, was at a dinner in his house a short while before he
was assassinated. I was with colleague Adib Abu Alwan and some other mutual
friends. We did not politically agree with each other but we appreciated Naji a
lot for he was a creative artist. It never crossed our mind that someone may
think of assassinating an artist no matter how much a dispute escalated. The
media society in London was shocked by this unprecedented terrible crime but
that was it as perhaps many avoided engaging in the mud of politics.
The British police has decided to reopen
the case 30 years later. Perhaps they have new leads and perhaps the sleeping
consciences will awake as even if the perpetrator is not arrested or if the
masterminds are not exposed, it’s still important to awaken the public
conscience which forgot about this crime. He who opened fire killing Naji is
one criminal but those who colluded through their silence over the truth are
actually many or rather an entire society. They kept silent as a result of a
culture that steps on values and people in the name of slogans and the cause.
Naji as a political caricaturist had his
opinions against peace and against the Palestinian Liberation Organization and
its leader Yasser Arafat. The crime was a personal vendetta as caricatures and
articles do not have the power the change no matter how expressive they are.
It was not even easy to voice suspicions
but we know that the PLO, like all ideological military institutions such as
Hezbollah and Hamas, resort to distortion in the name of higher interest and
license murder for its causes. When Arafat was told that he was accused of
lying and equivocation, he said: “If I kill for Palestine, I will most
certainly lie for it.” Truth be told, the late president, despite his love for
conspiracies and enthusiastic speeches, was not known for violence or for
killing off rivals - though there are doubts that his organization is behind
killing Naji in London 30 years ago. Was Arafat the one who gave the order to
kill him? Or was it one of his intelligence apparatuses? Or was it a party that
was in harmony with Arafat or a party against him and against Naji? This is
something that only police and time can reveal.
Arafat’s anger towards Naji was no secret
as in the same year when Naji was killed, many noted this anger. Arafat had
asked Kuwait to shut Naji up so it opted it keep him away so he settled in
London. Everyone colluded with whoever committed the crime either through
silence or through denial.
To avoid embarrassment, Israel was accused
because it is the usual suspect and it’s easy to accuse it of killing heroes,
good men and even evil men. In Arab media, Israel was accused because it killed
Ghassan Kanfani and Kamal Nasser before. However, evidence which surfaced
during the trial of suspects involved in Naji’s assassination suggested
otherwise. It turned out that there were Israeli spies who had known about the
weapon and about one of the suspects and that they were tracking him down in
case the target was Israeli. It seems the Israelis were aware of the plot but
they let the criminal kill Naji. They did not order the hit and it did not harm
them – or at least this is what the investigation showed at the time.
Reopening the case of Naji’s murder is a
historical and moral duty, and the aim is not to fuel differences.