Saudi court sentences poet to death for apostasy

Palestinian poet and artist Ashraf Fayadh was first arrested after a reader complained his work could encourage atheism

Ashraf Fayadh (R) was initially arrested in 2013 but released after a day due to lack of evidence (Twitter)

A court in Saudi Arabia has sentenced a Palestinian poet to death for renouncing his religious faith, according to documents seen by Human Rights Watch.

Ashraf Fayadh was handed the sentence on Tuesday on charges of “doubting the existence of God,” according to court documents seen by the group’s Saudi Arabia researcher, Adam Coogle.

Fayadh, who was born to Palestinian parents but grew up in the Gulf kingdom, was arrested by religious police in late 2013 after a reader complained that one of his books, his 2008 poetry collection Inner Teachings, could encourage people to renounce Islam.

Fayadh, now 50, was released after a day due to lack of evidence, but was rearrested in January 2014 in the southwestern city of Abha.

The poet was arrested in a coffee shop after watching a game of football, and was threatened with being deported to Gaza, his father told France24 at the time.

Fayadh was initially sentenced to four years in prison and 800 lashes, but an appeal judge this week increased the sentence, handing down the death penalty.

The exact charges under which Fayadh was initially held were not made clear, although some have suggested that his arrest was linked to his publication of a video showing religious police in Abha beating a young man in public.

The arrest of Fayadh, also an expressionist artist who has shown his work in government-sponsored exhibitions, sparked anger last year, with hundreds of artists and writers signing a petition calling for his release.

Following news of the death sentence against Fayadh, the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information put out an urgent call for charges against him to be dropped.

Saudi Arabia has put to death nearly 150 people so far this year, the highest figure in two decades.

Most people are executed by beheading with a sword, a method Saudi authorities say is more humane than other alternatives.

Public executions remain common – filming such events is illegal, but activists recently circulated rare footage that captured a triple beheading.

The vast majority of death penalties handed down in the kingdom are for either non-violent drugs offences or murder, although there are exceptions.

The case of Ali al-Nimr, sentenced to death aged 17 after taking part in peaceful protests, has sparked an international outcry, with David Cameron, the British prime minister, stepping in to urge Saudi authorities not to carry out the execution.

(Source / 20.11.2015)

Italy pledges €15m for reconstructing Gaza

houses and buildings destroyed by Israeli airstrikes

File photo of houses and buildings destroyed by Israeli airstrikes

Palestinian Authority (PA) Planning and Financial Minister Shukri Bishara yesterday singed a deal with the Italian General Consul in Jerusalem, David Cecilia, to support the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip, local Palestinian news agency Sawa reported.

The money is aimed specifically at reconstructing houses demolished by the Israeli bombardment of the Gaza Strip during last year’s Israeli war.

Bishara said that this would improve and accelerate the reconstruction of Gaza, noting that the Italian government has signed a number of agreements to support several sectors in the Palestinian territories.

He also thanked the Italian government for its sustainable and continuous support for the Palestinian cause despite the financial crisis that hit Italy in 2007.

Meanwhile, Cecilia said that by signing this deal, Italy would have fulfilled its pledges towards the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip which it made during the Donor Conference held in Cairo, Egypt, one month after the end of last year’s Israeli offensive on coastal enclave.

He added that this payment was made in favour of a number of houses in Beit Hanoun, north of the Gaza Strip, and the Italian Residential Building in central Gaza City.

He also hailed the latest financial and administrative reforms carried out by the PA in a number of its ministries.

(Source / 20.11.2015)

None of the ISIS attackers in Paris were Syrian refugees

Even as law enforcement officials in Paris continue to identify and gradually mow down the terrorists responsible for the ISIS attack in Paris this past weekend, republican governors in the United States have resolved to block the entrance of any Syrian refugees into the United States on the grounds of security concerns. But there’s a problem with their rationale: France has already confirmed that none of the ISIS attackers were refugees.

French authorities took ten of the ISIS attackers out of action on Wednesday, arresting eight and killing two others. Each was in possession of a fake passport aimed at creating the illusion that they were Syrian refugees. However the ringleader of the attack came from Belgium. He appears to have issued his henchmen the phony passports so that if they were caught or killed it would create the impression that they were Syrian refugees or had snuck into France disguised as Syrian refugees, with the specific intent of scaring the world into banning refugees on false pretense.

Even as France continues to wipe out the attackers, its President has made clear that his nation will continue accepting Syrian refugees. That’s not a surprise; after all, it appears ISIS attacked Paris with the specific intent of trying to scare the nation into cutting off refugees. In contrast, republicans in the United States appear to have taken the bait and are indeed attempting to block Syrian refugees despite their having nothing to do with the ISIS attack.

(Source / 20.11.2015)

Israel is world’s premier producer and generator of terror

By Khalid Amayreh in occupied Palestine

“Germany needs to respond to terror like Israel does,” the head of Germany’s internal intelligence service (BfV), Hans-Georg Maassen, reportedly said this week.

With all due respect, the German official is wrong for the following reasons.

Israel, itself a gigantic crime against humanity by any moral standard imaginable, can never be considered part of the solution for the terror epidemic now hitting many countries. The naked facts on the ground lead to the ultimate and inevitable conclusion that Israel is one of the major root causes of terror and violence in our world today.

In 1948, Jewish-Zionist gangs coming from Eastern Europe ganged up on the peaceable people of Palestine, arrogating their homeland, slaughtering their children, destroying their homes, bulldozing their villages and dispersing the bulk of Palestinians all over the world.

This gigantic crime against humanity occurred thanks to concrete military and political support by the West.

The Palestinian people, a largely pastoral people lacking the advantage of powerful international connections, have been crying out for justice ever since, but to no avail.

In 1967, Israel completed the occupation of the Palestinian homeland, claiming that some Jews had been living in the country several thousand years ago.

Israel has had nearly 50 years to accommodate the Palestinians like Germany accommodates the millions of refugees arriving in Germany, fleeing death and persecution in countries like Syria and Iraq…and also Palestine.!

But Israel chose the racist way, viewing the Palestinians as sub-humans with utterly no rights, even no humanity.

Again, the Palestinians tried every possible avenue to free themselves from the diabolical clutches of Jewish oppression but to no avail.

And when they resorted to armed struggle, because every other door was slammed against their faces, they were called “terrorists and criminals.”!

Her Maassen, what are we supposed to do to liberate our country and free our people from this evil, called Zionism, which is based on the same elements that gave Nazism its evil essence?

Nazism was based on criminal racism (the master race), Zionism is based on criminal racism as well, namely the concept of the Chosen people. This is not an abstract idea which we can dismiss as a form of philosophical illusionism.

It is rather  practiced every hour and every day on the hills of the West Bank as Palestinians are assaulted, humiliated and even killed (even burned alive) because they are not members of “the holy tribe” and don’t worship the specific deity of that tribe.

It is this sick ideology that prompted the late mentor of Shas Rabbi Ovadia Yosef to declare that non-Jews, people like me and you, were donkeys or like donkeys, whom the Almighty created in a human shape in deference to Jews in order to serve Jews.

Needless to say, this poisonous racism was by no means an unrepresentative feature of the religious Zionist mindset. The opposite is actually true.

Herr Maassen: I want to remind you of the feelings permeating throughout Germany following the Versailles Treaty following the First World War.

Though Germany was widely perceived as the aggressor, many Germans felt German honor was deeply injured by the draconian sanctions and punishments imposed by the victorious powers.

We all know the rest of the story.

Herr Maassen: Israel, ever since the first day of its establishment, has committed every conceivable crime against our people. I myself lost three uncles to Zionist barbarianism even before I was born.

In fact, terror has always been and continues to be the official or unofficial modus operandi of Israel’s policies.

This is why you can’t understand the Palestinian question in the absence of this context. The Palestinian grievances are too real and too legitimate to be swept under the carpet.

I say this because Israel continues to be the main producer and manufacturer of terror in our region and in the world at large.

Remember, Herr Maassen, those to whom evil is done, do evil in return.

Maybe doing evil, even in return is not the ideal behavior, but it is often inevitable.

Wishing you good luck in fighting and defeating terror.

(Source / 20.11.2015)

More offensive posters targeting Palestine activists surface on campuses

Last week, students on at least three U.S. campuses found posters depicting Muslim Students Association (MSA) and Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) chapters as violent terrorists.

Students at American University in Washington, D.C., University of California – Los Angeles (UCLA), and University of California – San Diego (UCSD) reported flyers sporting the hashtag “#StopTheJihadOnCampus.”

One poster pictured alleged Al-Qaeda member Anwar Al-Awlaki in crosshairs and had “MSA terrorist” and “President: MSA Colorado State” written on it. Al-Awlaki—a U.S. citizen assassinated without charge or trial—was the president of the MSA chapter at Colorado State University while he was a student there.


Another poster showed a Middle Eastern child with a Kalashnikov rifle in front of a black flag presumably meant to represent the ISIS flag. The flag had “Students for Justice in Palestine” and “SJP” written on it and was accompanied by the caption, “SJP: Regardless of how they picture themselves, this is who they really are.”

Another flyer showed a disembodied hand stabbing the Star of David with a bloody knife. The text of the flyer attacked the nonviolent Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement: “The real meaning of BDS: Boycott, Divest, Stab”—an apparent reference to the recent escalation of violence in occupied Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank. The posters referring to SJP and BDS both included the hashtag “#JewHaters.”

On Sunday, the David Horowitz Freedom Center, a nonprofit founded by neoconservative David Horowitz and labeled a “hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center, claimed responsibility for the posters. Both hashtags are attributable to the Freedom Center’s campaign “Stop the Jihad on Campus,” which targets SJP and MSA groups because they “seek to further the goals of terrorist groups” through “the use of our universities as staging grounds for campaigns of hatred aimed at Jews and Christians and Muslims who do not support the agendas of ISIS, the Iranian mullahs and Hamas.” According to the Freedom Center’scampaign, the BDS movement and its demands for equal rights in Israel-Palestine are “genocidal.”

As numerous civil rights attorneys argue, including Palestine Solidarity Legal Support founder Dima Khalidi, the label of terrorism in this context is clearly meant to have a chilling effect on the activism and self-expression of Muslim and pro-Palestinian groups which are predominantly made up of undergraduate students of color. Especially given the political discourse of the post-9/11 United States, Khalidi says, “We have seen a number of examples of Zionist organizations making claims that groups or individuals are connected to terrorist organizations, or that their fundraisers are supporting terrorism, and publicizing that they reported them to law enforcement.”

As PhD student and president of UCLA SJP Yacoub Kureh explains, “SJP members were shocked by the posters and felt exceptionally threatened as there has been such a continual attack on them.” The imagery and their framing “feed the mainstream media narrative about Palestinians by perpetuating stereotypes.”

Indeed, the rampant conflation of Islam with terrorism endangers Muslim students regardless of political affiliation. UCSD SJP reports that both its members and members of MSA “felt very confused, unsafe and targeted due to this campaign,” to the extent that “some students felt that Friday prayer that day might be unsafe.”

These types of posters and harassment towards Palestine and Muslim activists aren’t a new phenomenon. They’re part of a pattern of repressive tactics employed by pro-Israel groups to demonize Palestine solidarity organizers by associating students with imagery most Americans associate with terrorism.

Among numerous incidents dating back to 2003, UCSD SJP recounts that conservative campus groups invited Horowitz to a talk in response to the MSA’s “Justice in Palestine Week” events. Horowitz disseminated “literature claiming that MSAs are ‘Jihadist terrorist networks,’ and accused MSA of affiliation with “Hitler Youth.”

This past February, during the week some SJP chapters held their annual Israeli Apartheid Week events, flyers were posted depicting masked gunmen with a hooded prisoner, with the words “Students for Justice in Palestine” and the hashtag “#JewHaters.”

The posters were found at Drake University, DePaul University, University of Massachusetts – Amherst, University of California – Irvine, and UCLA. The image was quickly identified as a photo of Hamas militants with a suspected Israeli collaborator in the Gaza Strip. Not long afterwards, the David Horowitz Freedom Center claimed responsibility for those posters as well.

The targeting of MSA and SJP chapters is revealing. As SJP and BDS campaigns continue to gain visibility in the U.S., it’s fair to say that the most brazen Israel advocates are hoping to align Palestine solidarity with the sort of violence most actively feared by Americans.

(Source / 20.11.2015)

Israeli forces raid home of Tel Aviv attacker, issue demolition order

HEBRON (Ma’an) — Israeli forces on Thursday evening raided the home of a Palestinian who reportedly carried out a stabbing attack in Tel Aviv earlier that day which killed two Israelis, witnesses said.

Sources close to the family of one of the suspected attackers, Raed Masalma, told Ma’an that Israeli forces raided the suspect’s home hours after the attack and informed the family that their house would be demolished after searching the property and questioning his wife.
Israeli soldiers initially told the family they would demolish the home within an hour of the search raid, but were then told the demolition would take place at a later time, locals said.Masalma is married and has five children. The family lives in Dura village in the southern occupied West Bank district of Hebron.Masalma is accused of killing two Israelis and injuring two others in a stabbing attack in southern Tel Aviv alongside another suspect who Israeli police has not yet identified.Israeli police spokesperson Luba al-Samri said the stabbing attack took place inside of the Panorama building on Ben Tsavi street in the city.Israeli police said Masalma attempted to enter a synagogue inside the building but was stopped by civilians.The police detained Masalma, who was moderately injured when the forces arrived to the scene, al-Samri added.Another suspect reportedly fled the scene, according to witnesses.Israeli media reported that Masalma received a work permit to enter Israel a month ago.Punitive home demolitionsThe swift demolition order on Masalma’s home marks the latest use of the punitive measure by Israeli authorities.Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expedited punitive home demolitions last month, in a supposed attempt to deter future attacks against Israelis.The move came despite past recommendations by an Israeli military committee that the practice did not deter attacks.While families who receive demolition orders are given the opportunity to appeal the measures, Israel’s High Court of Justice typically rejects such appeals, according to Israeli watchdog Hamoked.Israeli rights group B’Tselem meanwhile condemned the practice last month as “court sanctioned revenge” carried out on family members who have not committed crimes, amounting to collective punishment.In addition home demolitions, punitive measures including withholding the bodies of Palestinians involved in attacks, arbitrary detention of family members, and closure of neighborhoods have also been implemented against Palestinian communities.
(Source / 20.11.2015)

Jordanian monarch calls for intensifying anti-terror efforts

Madrid, Nov. 20 (BNA): Jordanian Monarch King Abdullah II has affirmed that terrorism remains the biggest regional and international challenge.

King Abdulla II was speaking to Spanish political, intellectual and academic figures with whom he reviewed the challenges facing the Middle East as well as the latest developments at the international level.

During the meeting, hosted by the Spanish Monarch Felipe VI, King Abdullah underscored the need to intensify regional and international efforts to fight terrorism and extremism.

He highlighted the Islamic religion’s precepts and principles which, he said, are based on moderation, tolerance and rejection of violence, extremism and fanaticism in all its forms and manifestations.

On the peace process, King Abdullah urged the international community to intensify its efforts to solve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict according to the two-state solution, reiterating his country’s rejection of all Israeli provocations and violations in the Muslim and Christian holy sites in Jerusalem.

The meeting touched on the Syrian crisis and the importance of finding a political solution to the crisis. It also reviewed the outcomes a recent meeting on the Syrian crisis, which was held in Vienna.

(Source / 20.11.2015)

Israeli abduction sweep rocks al-Khalil at crack of dawn

AL-KHALIL, (PIC)– Scores of Palestinian civilians were kidnapped in an arbitrary mass-abduction sweep launched by the Israeli occupation forces (IOF) across the southern West Bank district of al-Khalil at the crack of dawn on Friday.

Local sources said a heavily-armed Israeli patrol rolled into al-Khalil’s southern town of Beit Awa at dawn and kidnapped three Palestinian youths.

The IOF also rolled into Dura town and wreaked havoc on civilian homes before they kidnapped 60-year-old anti-occupation activist Hussein and another citizen, identified as Yasser Amr.

An alleged stabber’s father and brother were also kidnapped by the occupation soldiers from their own family home in Deir Samet.

The IOF further stormed Halhul town and rummaged into Palestinian family homes.

The campaign was carried out a few hours after the Israeli cabinet, on Thursday evening, approved calls to prop up military deployment across al-Khalil city in an attempt to chase down anti-occupation activists.

Meanwhile, youngster Muhammad Abu al-Hams was kidnapped by the IOF from his family home in Occupied Jerusalem’s village of al-Issawiya.

(Source / 20.11.2015)

On the trail of terror

A French policeman assists a blood-covered victim near the Bataclan concert hall following attacks in Paris, Nov. 14, 2015.

A French policeman assists a blood-covered victim near the Bataclan concert hall following attacks in Paris, Nov. 14, 2015

Four days, three countries, 3,000 kilometres, but just one story.

The Globe and Mail’s Senior International Correspondent Mark MacKinnon reports from a bleak Syrian refugee camp in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley to Beruit, Paris and Brussels, following a path of carnage left by the Islamic State

The maelstrom began as a chilly wind that whipped through the refugee tents of Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley. It was Thursday, Nov. 12, and I spent the day sitting on the floors of a succession of handmade dwellings, listening as refugees told tales of the horrors they had witnessed before fleeing the nightmare that is Syria. We also spoke worryingly of the long wars to come.

“Da’esh is fighting just over the mountains,” intoned the Lebanese aid worker who guided me along the narrow muddy paths that serve as roads in the informal refugee settlements. He nodded at the brown western slope of Mount Lebanon, the natural border between Lebanon and Syria. Da’esh is the Arabic acronym for the Islamic State, a name preferred by Muslims who don’t like to grant the extremist group any link with their religion.

That evening, as my taxi returned to Beirut, the radio started to crackle. Two suicide bombers had attacked the southern suburbs of the Lebanese capital, killing 43 people. IS, or rather Da’esh, immediately claimed responsibility.

Less than 30 hours later, eight (or more) IS militants were launching their deadly assault on Parisian lovers of music, food and sports, adding 129 to the dead and rattling one of the West’s great capitals to its core.

I spent part of Sunday running with a crowd of hundreds from a phantom follow-up attack on Paris’s central Place de la République. Someone heard a bang and thought it was a gunshot, and we all fled through the lobby of the adjacent Crowne Plaza hotel. I ran through the kitchen and took a staff elevator up to my room, where, along with several employees, we triple-locked the door and tried to figure out what we would do if the non-existent gunmen started moving floor by floor through the hotel.

The winds kept blowing. By Monday – four days after I sat in the refugee tents of the Bekaa Valley – I was in standing in the rain at a police line in the Brussels suburb of Molenbeek, the gritty streets that had produced at least three of those suspected of involvement in the Paris attacks.

Events had propelled me through three countries and more than 3,000 kilometres from Thursday to Monday. But it was all the same story.

A clash of civilizations?

In some ways, we have never seen an extremist organization like the Islamic State. The group controls a swath of Iraq and Syria that is larger in area than Britain. Millions of people live under its harsh rule. And over the past three weeks – as it bombed a Russian airliner, attacked a Shia neighbourhood of Beirut and then shot up the streets of Paris, all while battling the various armed groups that directly confront it in Iraq and Syria – it has shown a shocking willingness to fight everyone at the same time.

IS may yet achieve what seemed impossible: uniting such disparate forces as the United States, Russia, the European Union, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Iran against it, even as those forces seek very different outcomes for the region.

The self-declared caliphate can’t win the conflict militarily. But a bloody stalemate that sees the West lashing out at a Sunni Arab army while co-operating in one way or another with the region’s Kurds, Shiites, Christians and Jews (as well as a handful of Sunni autocrats) will only prolong and intensify what is already seen by many in the Middle East as a clash of civilizations.

The problem isn’t as simple as defeating IS. It is only the most awful symptom of a much wider illness. The real sickness is a Middle East shattered along sectarian lines that don’t match the borders as they are drawn. And if we don’t deal with that as part of our war against IS, the cancer will only continue to spread.

Crossings: How Syrians in Lebanon are living in limboLife for Syrian refugees in Lebanon is becoming more and more desperate. Families intent on migrating to the West legally rather than try their luck trekking to Europe face dwindling humanitarian aid, an increasingly reluctant host country and growing Islamophobia in the very places they one day hope to live

Every one of the refugees I met in the Bekaa Valley had horrifying tales to tell, and so – most worryingly – did their children. They had seen friends shot dead beside them, brothers and fathers executed. One girl, 12 years old, tried to explain to me what it looked like when a person’s jaw is blown off.

But almost all of the 1.1 million refugees in Lebanon – like the bulk of the 750,000 refugees in Jordan – had fled the Syrian army, not IS (the two million refugees in Turkey are a different matter, since most people fleeing IS-controlled eastern Syria would likely head there). Those were the Syrian army’s bullets, not Da’esh’s, shooting best friends where they stood, and tearing off jaws. The Syrian army, not incidentally, answers to commanders who are Alawite by faith, an offshoot of Shia Islam.

The rage those experiences produce – an anger that the Palestinian experience has taught us will be passed on for generations – is what IS feeds off. While the West debates shutting its borders to refugees over a single, suspiciously intact Syrian passport, the wars in Syria and Iraq are still producing thousands of new refugees and internally displaced people every day. And luring people like the Paris attacker to join the jihad.

The vast majority of Syrian refugees are Sunni Muslims, whether they are fleeing IS or Mr. al-Assad’s forces and their Shia militia allies from Iran and Lebanon. The same holds true in Iraq, where refugees I’ve met in the camps of Kurdistan tell chilling stories of IS brutality. But ask them why locals did not resist IS when the extremists arrived in Mosul and other cities, and they switch to tales of how Iraq’s Sunnis were persecuted by Iraq’s Shia-dominated military before IS arrived.

Syrian refugees stand outside their tents at a refugee camp in the town of Hosh Hareem, in the Bekaa valley, Lebanon, Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2015. The United Nations said Tuesday the worsening conflict in Syria has left 13.5 million people in need of aid and some form of protection, including more than six million children.

Syrian refugees stand outside their tents at a refugee camp in the town of Hosh Hareem, in the Bekaa valley, Lebanon, Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2015. The United Nations said Tuesday the worsening conflict in Syria has left 13.5 million people in need of aid and some form of protection, including more than six million children.

To the West, the IS militants are unqualified barbarians. In parts of Iraq and Syria, they are seen as needed protection against a sectarian foe.

Already we are seeing teenagers grow into young men who know only discrimination and violence. The generation coming up behind them includes hundreds of thousands of children who haven’t been to a school for years. And, like the Palestinians before them, they have no homeland now. Iraq and Syria, as they are structured, will never be places to which Sunni Muslims will happily return.

George W. Bush claimed that he was acting in the name of “Iraqi freedom” when he sent the U.S. military into Iraq in 2003 to topple Sunni dictator Saddam Hussein. But while Mr. Hussein’s ouster may have brought democracy to Iraqis – insofar as elections are held every few years – the invasion did not deliver freedom.

Iraqis can choose their own leaders now, but not their fate. Unless there is a sudden outbreak of secularism in the country, Iraq’s Shia majority – which suffered for decades as the Cold War superpowers took turns backing Mr. Hussein – knows that it will write the rules from here on out. The country’s Sunnis know that, as long as they are ruled by Baghdad, it’s their turn to suffer.

The problem isn’t as simple as defeating IS. It is only the most awful symptom of a much wider illness. The real sickness is a Middle East shattered along sectarian lines that don’t match the borders as they are drawn.

All the solutions on the table are messy, but the only one with a long-term chance of success is to let the Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds go their own ways. It’s difficult to envision. The Turkish and Iranian governments fear that a Kurdish state in northern Iraq and northern Syria will inspire fresh demands among their own Kurdish populations. The Sunni Arab kingdoms of the region worry that a dissolution of Syria and Iraq might cause their citizens to question the ruler-straight borders of their own countries. And how do you deal with multicultural cities like Baghdad and Damascus?

But history teaches that when pluralistic countries fail, nation states eventually emerge.

Europe rarely saw peace under the empires that existed before the First World War. Similarly, the peoples of the Balkans kept fighting each other until each had its own state. The borders of Iraq and Syria – lines drawn on a map 99 years ago by British and French civil servants – make even less sense than those of Austria-Hungary or Yugoslavia.

What does any of this have to do with the rise and reach of the Islamic State? Well, pretty much everything.

When IS seized control of Mosul – Iraq’s second-largest city – in the summer of 2014, the group celebrated with one of its more mundane videos, announcing the end of the Sykes-Picot agreement between Britain and France that drew the border between Iraq and Syria in 1917.

An image from and Islamic State video showing the breach of the Syrian border with Iraq.

An image from and Islamic State video showing the breach of the Syrian border with Iraq

Many of the horrific propaganda videos the group has released are aimed at instilling fear in its many enemies. Fear is the best weapon IS has. Fear has driven numerically superior Iraqi and Syrian forces to abandon their weapons and positions at word of an IS advance. Every foe of IS has seen the gruesome beheading videos, or the immolation of the Jordanian fighter pilot in a cage. Fear of another attack like the one on Paris is what we’re all talking about today.

But the video released in June, 2014, was aimed winning the hearts and minds of the people it sought to rule. In one of his few public appearances, IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi said from a Mosul mosque: “This blessed advance will not stop until we hit the last nail in the coffin of the Sykes-Picot conspiracy.”

Keeping Iraq together involves the West helping a predominantly Shia army crush a militia that claims to represent the country’s Sunni minority. Keeping Syria, a majority Sunni state, together seems to involve some kind of accommodation with at least parts of the Alawite-run regime of Bashar al-Assad.

This is not an argument for or against military intervention, although the West’s actions in the Middle East since 2003 (and arguably long before) have spectacularly backfired. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization, however involved deeply in the Balkan wars, can claim some successes – largely because it allowed and encouraged different peoples to go their different ways.

The Sunni Awakening

The first time I met Sheik Ali Hatem al-Suleimani was in the spring of 2008 at his fortified villa in Kerada, a Sunni neighbourhood of Baghdad. While an American journalist and I waited for our scheduled interview, Sheik al-Suleimani finished playing Black Hawk Down on his video-game console. It’s a game where the player takes the side of U.S. soldiers on a mission in Mogadishu, battling Somali militants eager to spill American blood.

The sheik, then 37 years old, was enjoying playing the American side. “I like it better,” he explained after finally putting down his controller. “They have better weapons. It’s easier to win.”

Sheik Ali Hatem al-Suleimani says much of credit for the declining violence in Iraq should go to the Sunni Awakening militias under his control. The fighters turned on al-Qaeda in exchange for salaries from the U.S. army.

Sheik Ali Hatem al-Suleimani says much of credit for the declining violence in Iraq should go to the Sunni Awakening militias under his control. The fighters turned on al-Qaeda in exchange for salaries from the U.S. army

Back then, he thought he was on the winning side. After years of fighting against the U.S. occupation – with some of his men doing so under the flag of al-Qaeda in Iraq – the head of the powerful al-Dulaimi tribe had been persuaded (with a lot of cash) to switch and turn his guns against the extremists. They would call it the Sunni Awakening, and the militias they formed became known as the Sons of Iraq. It all worked rather well – for a while. “Guns and tribes, this is my power,” the sheik boasted to me.

Iraq’s Sunnis had not been extremists under Saddam Hussein, Sheik al-Suleimani reminded me. They had been staunchly secular. The militant salafism that had spread in places like Fallujah and his hometown of Ramadi was foreign to most of those who lived there. Groups like al-Qaeda in Iraq had taken root only because the locals had become disillusioned with the U.S. occupation and the Shia politicians – like then-prime-minister Nouri al-Maliki – it was empowering.

The Sunni Awakening bested al-Qaeda in Iraq, but not Mr. al-Maliki. By 2013, the Iraqi government had disbanded the Sons of Iraq. The Sunni militias were no longer in charge of the streets of Mosul, Fallujah and Ramadi. Mr. Maliki’s Shia-dominated army was the only force allowed to publicly bear arms. Refugees fleeing the IS takeover of Mosul would later tell me how the Iraqi army would detain and sometimes torture young men simply because they had Sunni names.

Iraq’s descent back into chaos happened as Syria’s civil war – which had begun when Mr. al-Assad’s soldiers opened fire on peaceful (and predominantly Sunni) demonstrators at the end of the “Arab Spring” in 2011 – was entering a dangerous new phase. Proof emerged that his forces had used chemical weapons in the summer of 2013 against something that still existed then: religiously moderate Sunni rebels.

A child uses a megaphone to lead others in chanting Free Syrian Army slogans during a demonstration in the neighborhood of Bustan Al-Qasr, Aleppo, Syria, Friday, Jan. 4, 2013. By then, more than 60,000 people had been killed since Syria's crisis began in March 2011.

A child uses a megaphone to lead others in chanting Free Syrian Army slogans during a demonstration in the neighborhood of Bustan Al-Qasr, Aleppo, Syria, Friday, Jan. 4, 2013. By then, more than 60,000 people had been killed since Syria’s crisis began in March 2011

Desperate to avoid the fall of his regime, Mr. al-Assad had crossed every red line. U.S President Barack Obama sent American warships into the eastern Mediterranean Sea.

I was in Jordan’s sprawling Zaatari refugee camp that fall, meeting once more with emotionally and psychologically damaged Syrian refugee children. You could see then that the coming generation was an unfolding disaster, one that – left unattended – held the potential to destabilize the Middle East and the world for decades to come. I met a 13-year-old who watched his father being shot and killed by Mr. al-Assad’s forces three years ago. He told me that his only dream “when I turn 16 or 18” was to join the jihad.

But the refugee children’s parents, in the fall of 2013, saw hope in the expected Western military action against the al-Assad regime. “Everybody is waiting for the strike,” said Mahmoud Hoshan, a refugee who ran a mobile-phone shop in the camp. “We don’t want to be disappointed. People are selling their things, getting ready to go back.”

But the West, as we know, backed down. Russian President Vladimir Putin offered both his ally, Mr. al-Assad, and Mr. Obama an off-ramp from conflict – a deal to remove chemical weapons from the country – and both sides gratefully took it.

The war would continue. The al-Assad regime would use barrel bombs instead of chlorine gas. And even though reports occasionally surface suggesting that chemical weapons are still being used by various sides in Syria, no one would speak of red lines any more.

In the fall of 2013, IS was one militia among many in Syria’s conflict. Nine months later, by the summer of 2014, it had largely subsumed the local al-Qaeda affiliate, and had taken over territory from the edge of Aleppo to the outskirts of Baghdad.

To Mr. Obama, it probably looked like he was avoiding Mr. Bush’s mistakes, not to mention keeping a war-weary United States out of another intractable Middle Eastern conflict. But to the Sunnis fighting Mr. al-Assad – who briefly looked to the skies hoping American jets were coming to save them – it was a huge betrayal. After all, imaginary chemical weapons had been enough to trigger the invasion of Iraq and the toppling of a Sunni dictator. Now the use of real ones (against a Sunni population) was being allowed to go unpunished in Syria.

In the fall of 2013, IS was one militia among many in Syria’s conflict. Nine months later, by the summer of 2014, it had largely subsumed the local al-Qaeda affiliate, and had taken over territory from the edge of Aleppo to the outskirts of Baghdad.

With both the Iraqi capital and the Kurdish mini-state under threat, the West finally decided to intervene in Iraq and Syria. A broad U.S.-led coalition – including Canada, France and Britain, as well as the rattled Sunni Arab dictatorships of Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates – declared war on IS.

A root feeling of injustice

It was June of 2014 when I saw Sheik Ali Hatem al-Suleimani again. This time, he had agreed to meet a small group of foreign journalists on the mezzanine floor of a five-star hotel in Erbil, the capital of the Kurdish mini-state in northern Iraq.

In some ways, he was a refugee too. There was no place for a rich sheik in impeccably tailored white robes among the black-clad jihadis who that month had driven the Iraqi army from Mosul, Fallujah and Ramadi. But he still claimed leadership of the al-Dulaimi tribe. And he acknowledged that his tribesmen were now fighting alongside the Islamic State.

Speaking before the Western air strikes began, he foresaw at least two wars that needed to be fought. The first was the war that the region’s Sunnis were waging against the al-Maliki and al-Assad governments. After those fights were won, he said, the Sunnis would have an internal battle over what kind of state they wanted. Then sheiks like him might again have a role similar to the one they played in the Sunni Awakening of 2007 and 2008. “We are postponing our fight with Da’esh until later,” he said with almost none of the bravado he had displayed six years earlier.

A U.S. Air Force B-1B Lancer supersonic bomber flies over northern Iraq after conducting air strikes in Syria against IS targets September 27, 2014.

A U.S. Air Force B-1B Lancer supersonic bomber flies over northern Iraq after conducting air strikes in Syria against IS targets September 27, 2014

I asked him if he thought that Iraq was falling apart. His reply suggested that he would not mind if it did. “Dividing Iraq is better than us being killed every day.”

The lesson of Sheik al-Suleimani’s rise and fall is not that Western governments should invest in people like him again (though I wouldn’t be surprised if they do), but that there is a root feeling of injustice that each of these Sunni movements – al-Qaeda, the Sons of Iraq, IS – has used to fuel a fighting force.

We were shocked on Sept. 11, 2001, to discover that there was an angry army out there that blamed us for the troubles in their part of the world.

Fourteen years later – in the wake of another horrific attack on a Western capital – the unlearned lesson is that we won’t feel safe in our homes until the peoples of the Middle East feel safe in theirs.

Anger and resentment

As I walked through the rainy streets of Molenbeek on Monday, there were two words that connected it all, from the refugee camps I had been in a few days before, to the massacres in Paris, to the Molenbeek residents glaring at the police and journalists invading their neighbourhood: hatred and injustice.

Yes, they hate us. We (the West) now understand very well that there is a very committed and growing group of people who hate us and what we stand for.

But do they hate our culture – our openness, our wine drinking, even our tolerance – as many writers have suggested since the attacks on Paris?

No, those are just symbols of “us.” People in Raqqa and Mosul didn’t hate us in 2002. They may not have wanted to drink a bottle of wine with us and they definitely resented Western support of Israel, but they didn’t want to see Westerners bleed on the streets of Paris.

There were others who did – witness al-Qaeda’s attacks on the United States, London and Madrid – but that’s a different issue and a different story.

So why does IS seem so much more dangerous than the Algerian or Palestinian groups that we fretted about in the 1980s and 90s, or even al-Qaeda? It terms of capabilities, it is not. The attacks on the soft targets of Paris’s nightlife required none of the sophisticated planning and preparation that went into al-Qaeda’s 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, nor its previous operations against the USS Cole as it docked in Yemen or against a pair of U.S. embassies in Africa.

While the West debates shutting its borders to refugees over a single, suspiciously intact Syrian passport, the wars in Syria and Iraq are still producing thousands of new refugees and internally displaced people every day.

What IS has is a bigger pool of anger and resentment to draw on, young Muslims who now see the conflict as civilizational, rather than a beef with the U.S. government and its military. The Koran and its more dangerous interpretations have been with us for centuries. There is nothing new about the ideology of IS, the idea of a caliphate or the need to wage jihad against all non-believers.

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has none of Osama bin Laden’s creepily serene charisma. Nor is he a Saudi billionaire. He just has better timing.

Al-Qaeda grew out of Muslim anger over the Israel-Palestine conflict and – in the case of Mr. bin Laden and his immediate coterie – the presence of U.S. military bases in Saudi Arabia and other sacred lands of Mohammed. Now thecasus belli have multiplied to include Iraq and Syria.

So, too, has the pool of potential jihadis. As the Paris attacks demonstrated yet again, refugees are not the worry – at least not yet. As with the Madrid and London attacks in 2004 and 2005 and the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris in January, nearly all the perpetrators were born, bred, marginalized and radicalized in the European societies they attacked. The kerosene was everywhere; IS only provided the match.

Take a stroll through Molenbeek, on the edge of Brussels, where Friday’s assaults were hatched, or the Paris banlieue of Gennevilliers, the last address of the Charlie Hebdo attackers, and you enter worlds that sit inside – but are in many ways no part of – the Europe that surrounds them. Jobs are scare, education is a league behind what is offered in richer parts of the cities, the police are mistrusted.

Residents of the Brussels suburb of Molenbeek are searched by police before taking part in a memorial gathering to honour the victims of the recent deadly Paris attacks, in Brussels, Belgium, November 18, 2015.

Residents of the Brussels suburb of Molenbeek are searched by police before taking part in a memorial gathering to honour the victims of the recent deadly Paris attacks, in Brussels, Belgium, November 18, 2015

As Doug Saunders points out in his Focus essay this weekend, it is precisely these factors that help encourage homegrown extremists down the path to radicalization.

Many youths feel that they have no place in the France or Belgium to which their parents moved their families, so they look for another identity. IS, like al-Qaeda before it, is waiting for them – online and sometimes right in their neighbourhood – with narratives connecting their local troubles to faraway wars and a clash of civilizations.

A troubled path

There is no prescription here. Only a warning, a feeling I picked up during that ill wind that blew me from the Bekaa Valley to Brussels, via Paris.

It’s a simple one: Worse lies ahead down the road that world leaders are currently plotting. A Russian-French agreement to work together to punish IS, while necessarily empowering the remnants of the al-Assad regime to expand back into parts of the country where it is feared and reviled, will not stem the refugee flow from Syria. Nor will it convince the country’s Sunni Muslims that we care about their interests. The same applies in Iraq, where we bolster the Kurds and a hated national army against IS there.

“Why don’t they stay and fight for their country?” is one barb often aimed at the young men fleeing Iraq and Syria.

The root of the problem is, they don’t have one.

(Source / 20.11.2015)