by Sahar Pirzada*
(So why Paris? On the part of Daesh this has been the implementation of a cruel strategy. World reaction to the terror in Paris has planted a false notion into the Muslim psyche that young Muslims do not belong in Europe and the only place they can really feel at home in is in the ‘Caliphate’… A solution lies in addressing the conflation of socio-economic grievances and in helping Muslims feel more integrated with the communities of the different countries in which they live. Harmony can only be expected when harmony is bred. Escalation of war means just that, escalation of war, on both ends. – Author)
Why Paris? The world is shocked as if taken off guard, after all, this is not the Islamic State’s usual footprint, but let us be sure of one thing, this was not a surprise. France has received 20 media threats from ISIS in the last two years surpassed only by Russia who has received 25.
On 13th November, the events that took place changed European complacency regarding the war mantra of ISIS as a problem of the ‘others’ dwelling in a place far away from their insular worlds with the only decision effecting them being the policy on Syrian refugees. They had never imagined the horror of being on the wrong end of a group ideology adamant on asserting its presence, power and excecution-effectiveness. That night the world stood witness to a series of terror attacks in Paris and its northern suburb, Saint-Denis where the Stade de France succumbed to three suicide bombings followed by a series of shootings at cafes, restaurants and a music venue, the Bataclan in Paris.
130 people lost their lives, there were 368 injuries and 89 of the 130 died at the Bataclan where the perpetrators took hostages before engaging in a standoff with the police. “The attacks were the deadliest on France since World War II, and the deadliest in the European Union since the Madrid train bombings in 2004.”1
A state of emergency was declared by President Hollande of France which has now been extended to three months and on, 15th November, France launched the biggest airstrike of Opération Chammal striking ISIS targets, now referred to as Daesh as more favoured term, in Al-Raqqah. On 18th November, the suspected lead operative of the attacks, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, was killed in a police raid in Saint-Denis, along with at least two other people but one can rest assured that this was but merely a lashing of revenge by the French, a reflexive action, a band-aid to the bleeding wound, and the problem is far from over. In fact, the problem may just be on its way to getting worse.
For starters, when President Hollande delared, “Nous somme dans la guerre”, we are at war, he has in a way acknowledged Daesh’s self-declared caliphate as a State which no one has so far recognized as such, and with a possibility of sending ground troops in the future, played into its hands by setting the stage for conventional combat on the radical organization’s own turf. Daesh has in a way legitimized its assertions.
Before one dwells further into the ‘how’ or the incredulity surrounding the Paris attacks it would be pertinent to examine some elements of the ‘why’.
France has the largest Muslim population of any country in Europe and there is an increasing mass of the Muslim middle class permeating its workforce. However, a large majority of Muslims live isolated lives in grim suburbs bearing high unemployment rates. Exacerbating their feelings of alienation is religious and class discrimination and the practice of the French constitutional exercise of “Laicite” which was designed in 1905 to curb the power of the Catholic Church and the clergy2 but which now restricts Muslim’s right to free religious expression especially in public, connoting a sense of intolerance. Muslim communities are increasingly beginning to take on the rotting odour of marginalized societies stripped of their basic religious freedoms and identity with laws like the Laicite, and with being tainted by an ‘assumed guilty -till -proven –otherwise’ posture in European society.
Muslim blue collar workers that were brought in years ago to build the cafes and theatres that support the pillars of a free, secular liberalism were then forgotten and pushed to the outskirts of towns, out of sight with the general assumption that they were not there. This is where the majority grew, in the lap of exclusionism, which with the help of online presence, Daesh uses to peddle its promises and also contributes to its success in recruiting disenfranchised Muslims and even non Muslims into its fold with young people in search of an identity, inclusion and glory.
This phenomenon is mirrored globally and in the post 9/11 world scenario where Muslims are viewed generally with suspicion and distrust, the Muslims according to Reza Aslan in his book “no god but God” have been “otherized”. He stresses that whatever across Europe and North America is fearful, whatever is alien, whatever apprehension people have about everything from a faltering economy to a political order that they do not understand is being tossed into the receptacle of Islam. In fact the “otherizing of Islam” is not a new phenomenon and on the contrary, “from the Crusades to the Clash of Civilizations, Islam has always played the role of the West’s quintessential ‘other’.” The Clash of Civilizations now an ubiquitous term, was first used by Samuel Huntington to describe the differences between the West and Islam.
The French government’s decision to extend the period of the state of emergency imposed will further conflagrate the festering exclusionism and polarization of communities through warrantless searches and targeting of suspects on grounds of perception; suspects who will inevitably be Muslim. A throbbing wound in society now is at risk of being exacerbated by a reaction prompted by panic and anger.
Within these increasingly polarized constructs of society Muslims are being pushed further and further out of the frame and though the law remains the same for everyone, in the words of George Orwell, “all animals are equal, it’s just that some are more equal than others”.
In the aftermath of the Paris attacks the i100 has composed an infographic that shows the estimated number of ISIS fighters per capita in 15 different countries. Belgium was the highest scoring European country with an estimated 40 fighters per one million people.3 According to the study this throws light on the conflation of complicated socio-economic factors at play and the “many influences such as war and marginalization that can push these numbers up”.
Recently in the United States the frontrunner for the Republican Party, Donald Trump suggested that Muslims be made to wear special badges or carry special identification showing they were Muslim. He later denied having said that exactly, but the damage had been done and the ghost of a genocide past had been called into the public psyche once again with feelings of outrage and with publications such as the Financial Tribune painting Trump as the new face of ‘white supremacy’4. These are the echoes of outrage and discrimination on the part of the Muslims. The cleave between the West and the ‘others’ keeps getting deeper, providing extremist organizations with a fertile soil for recruits.
Abdul Rashid Moten, writing for the Southeast Asia Regional Centre for Counterterrorism, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Govt of Malaysia, talks about Islamophobia and the viscious cycle of extremism on both ends. “Islamophobia and extremism reinforce each other and the two terms are alike in their hatred of the ‘other’. Islamophobia is akin to extremism whose practitioners provoke reactions from Muslims leading to an inflationary spiral of violence….. Islamophobia and extremism have two things in common: the hatred of the ‘other’ and the resultant militancy and violence in both the camps. The two terms are also related in the sense that the more Islamophobia rises and manifests in extremism, the more Muslims organise against it and inversely, the more the Muslim resistance, the more Islamophobic tendencies amplify. Given the predominance of the West, the scholarly community has emphasized the need to quell Muslim extremism without focusing much on Islamophobia which is manifested through extremism that gives rise to Muslim extremism.”5
Stats in the Saga of Alienation and Radicalization:
There are probably around 50,000 to 100,000 active jihadists in the world today of which around 10,000 to 20,000 represent a core leadership group. There are an additional 200,000 to possibly 300,000 militants that have had some training and some battlefield experience, that are committed jihadists, but are not necessarily active.
Intelligence agencies estimate that there are probably 20,000 jihadist and committed jihadist sympathizers in Europe, of which around 5,000 to 10,000 are in France. There is probably a comparable number in the United Kingdom. In the United States that number is believed to be between 1,000 and 2,000 militants.6
In addition, there is a significant pool of sympathizers who identify with the jihadist movement, support it financially, and are generally in agreement with their aims even though they themselves will not actively participate in jihadist violence. This is perhaps the hardest group to identify. A number of recent surveys suggest that this last group may amount to between 10 and 20% of the world’s Muslim population and if this figure is an accurate estimate that would mean anywhere between 150 – 300 million people.7
Along with disenfranchised Muslims other non- Muslim elements also fall victim to the utopian promise of glory, purpose and recognition of joining the Islamic State’s war. Some 20- 25% of French recruits are thought to be converts to Islam.8 What most of these jihadis have in common is a lack of serious religious training and according to some studies there appears “an inverse relationship between Muslim piety and attraction to jihad.” A recent example of this phenomenon is Hasna Ait Boulahcen, 26, cousin of alleged ringleader Abdel Hamid Abaaoud – both of whom died in the recent shootout in Paris for their involvement in the attacks. She was not known to be Islamic, smoked and drank was not in possession of the Quran and had only just recently started covering her head.
So how do you attempt to de-radicalize the youth of Europe? Last year, the European Commission launched the Radicalisation Awareness Network (RAN) made up of 700 experts and frontline practitioners from all over Europe. Moad El Boudaati who works on the programme says de-radicalising is a complex process. “It’s not like you put a youngster into a washing machine, after 10 minutes you put him out of the washing machine and then he’s cleaned up? Or that you have a programme where, after 10 minutes, after 10 months, the youngster is de-radicalised”9 He says better relations between mosques and social workers could help stop youngsters being lured towards extremism. But he warns that bombing Syria makes his job much harder and recruiting new jihadists in Europe far, far easier.
Modi ed Modus Operandi:
It is a well known fact that Daesh has a distinct modus operandi and though it has franchised to smaller indigenous outfits globally, it asserts itself mainly in Iraq & Syria. Recently it has made its appearance on the international stage in Paris, Beirut and by downing of the Russian jet in Egypt. According to Eric Schmitt the overseas operations planning cell offers guidance and a training facility along with funding but leaves the actual, where, when and how to the trusted operatives on the ground. This is forcing the powers that be to consider it more than just a regional threat.10 The attacks highlight an evolution in its strategy. One possible reason could be that now that it has captured a reasonably large swathe of land in Iraq and Syria providing them with a sanctuary and with a tangible space to form a caliphate and “act with impunity, they (have) turned to external attacks.”11 It appears that attacks such as Beirut and Paris are conducted by locals but there is evidence that in Paris Abdel Hamid Abaaoud was in electronic communication with leaders of Daesh in Syria. Beirut bore the same footprint. The attack on the Russian airliner, it appears, was conducted autonomously by the groups affiliate in Egypt.
It is thought that a 38 year old Syrian named Mohammad al Adnani, is the man who directs all international operations. Though hidden from the camera in his video messages, he is the spokesman for the organization being one of Abu Bakr al Baghdadis most trusted men. He is best known for his 40 minute video released on social media in September 2014 calling on Muslims living in the west to kill non- Muslims around them without further instructions from the leaders in Syria. Consequently he has a $5 million bounty on his head.
In a study conducted by Javier Lesaca, a visiting scholar at George Washington University’s School of Public and Media affairs, “ Mr Adnani’s stature and operational focus are revealed in an analysis of over 1000 videos released by Daesh on social media in the past two years.”12
It is a wonder that the world stands surprised by the international attacks, especially the recent one in Paris because in the last two years France has received 20 threats via video from Daesh, surpassed only by Russia that has received 25. Is it then a surprise that a Russian airliner was brought down and a complex, coordinated attack in Paris was staged shortly after, creating the same theatre of horror that it is well known for. Staging multiple attacks so close together displays obvious proficiency in planning and is aimed not just to create terror but awe through their perceived coordination and outreach.
Belgian born Mr Abaaoud too has been profiled to have been working under al Adnani and had spent time with him in Syria in a town called Azaz. According to activists from Aleppo he was stationed there as an emir in charge of training the various foreign fighters who arrived there. He kept a low profile but had gathered acclaim and a reputation fighting in skirmishes with groups calling themselves the Free Syrian Army that oppose both Daesh and President Assad of Syria. He was referred to by his enemies as the ‘Mongoose’ because he could operate with stealthy, discreet effectiveness. He was then assigned to a bigger operation of organizing attack missions in Europe and according to French authorities he was involved in at least four of the six plots the French authorities had broken up just this year.
But Why Was Paris On Daesh’s Terror Map? What’s So Special About Paris?
To begin with, the general “interventionist posture” towards Muslims was introduced under Sarkozy’s government and became even more defined under Hollande who according to journalist Adam Shatz “revealed himself as the heir of Guy Mollet, the socialist Prime Minister who presided over the Suez and the war in Algeria”. Also it was France that aided Libyan rebels after Bernard Henry Levy’s expedition to Benghazi”13 He is the French playboy philosopher who toppled Gaddafi and thus is hated by many14 because after Gaddafi Libya was left in the hands of militants and collapse. According to Conn Hallinan of ‘Foreign Policy Focus’, French intelligence plotted to overthrow Gaddafi and help itself to Libya’s oil.15 Further President Hollande has deepened his ties to Israel and has criminalized support for the ‘Boycott Divestment and Sanctions Movement’. Also, his deepening ties with Saudi Arabia whose wahabist doctrines and its code of “one religion, one God and one leader (the House of Saud)”16 is vulnerable to the philosophy of Daesh who aim to replace the one ruler taken at the moment to be the House of Saud with the Caliph Al Baghdadi. Additionally, it was France that came to the rescue of Saudi Arabia in 1979 when Mecca came under siege by radical Islamists and which was eventually ended with the help of French commandos. The Islamists were later beheaded publically en masse. France has also aligned itself with Saudi Arabia over Iran’s nuclear technology. To the radical Islamist mindset, these are reasons enough and as stated earlier, they have openly declared though social media no less than 20 times in the last two years that France is on their hit list.
Quite obviously then, in todays globalized war between radicals and Western cultural and political presets, the war, quite organically becomes porous and finds itself a battleground not more than a stone’s throw away from La Tour Eiffel.
Though the French government may remain in denial of these triggers there are people of insight who have commented on the obvious correlations of cause and effect that led to this chaos of mammoth proportions not just in terms of loss of life and property of the French but the sense of security and disaffectedness from a battle being waged miles away on distant coordinates. It has not been a surprise to those who have viewed it without rose tinted glasses from atop their soap boxes. “Marc Trivedic a magistrate who specializes in terrorism cases warned in ‘Paris Match’ that France has become IS’s number one enemy because of its activities in the Middle East. It’s always the same story…. We let terrorists, grow into a monster, and when it attacks us, we are surprised…… and we are friends with countries that are responsible for disseminating this ideology – Saudi Arabia…. We are in a total paradox.”17 Daesh has declared that these attacks were in retaliation to French airstrikes on ISIS’s targets in Iraq and Syria. According to President Hollande these attacks were an act of war by ISIS, planned in Syria, organized in Belgium, and perpetrated with French complicity.18
To understand why France features on Daesh’s terror map along with Russia and by this logic even potentially Britain, we must glimpse at a brief history of the Sykes Picot Agreement. The Sykes–Picot Agreement was “a secret agreement between the governments of the United Kingdom and France, with the assent of Russia, defining their proposed spheres of influence and control in the Middle East if the Ottoman Empire was to be carved out and defeated during World War I. The agreement effectively divided the Arab provinces of the Ottoman Empire outside the Arabian peninsula into areas of future British and French control or influence. The terms were negotiated by the French diplomat François Georges-Picot and Briton Sir Mark Sykes. The Russian Tsarist government was a minor party to the Sykes–Picot agreement, and when, following the Russian Revolution of October 1917, the Bolsheviks exposed the agreement, “the British were embarrassed, the Arabs dismayed and the Turks delighted.”19 This imposition of arbitrary borders drawn by foreigners that diminished the possibility of a border-free Muslim state also acts as a trigger-point now in the Islamic State’s lament and fury of imagined injustice to them.
It is now logical to think that two of the three countries that were involved in Sykes –Picot have been hit and probably the UK is next. It could likely be nervousness on this account which has compelled the UK to join the war offensive in Syria, as Daesh’s aim, in its attempt to legitimize a bogus caliphate, is to eliminate the frontiers of Sykes Picot and perhaps teach those involved in drawing them a lesson.
Capturing of Virtual Reality and Actual Territory:
Daesh’s expansionist agenda is something other organizations like Al Qaeda could never have imagined – capturing actual territory. Perhaps this is because Al Qaeda was preparing for an apocolypse somewhere in the distant future while Daesh moved up the timetable on this agenda. For that they needed actual land, and not just a presence, to set the tone for a future event. Iraq and Syria fell victim to this desire. Daesh was on a march for land and wealth accumulation to oil the engines not just of its obscurantist ideology, but its proto-state.
Presently world opinion rests on the assumption that Paris most likely happened because Daesh was running out of options around its strongholds, grabbing lands and pulling recruits into a Sunni –Muslim narrative of their making, the latter being just as important a keg in its strategy. It appeared that now they had nowhere to go claiming to be defenders of Sunnism. In the North there are the Kurds, In the East Shiite Iraqis. In the South, Lebanon is worried about taking in more Syrian refugees, the Jordanians are still in horror and reeling over their burnt pilot. The Palestinians have not succumbed to the fascination of Daesh; having their plate full with having to assert their identity as a State, they are in no hurry to join a fledgling, ideological state identity. In the Middle East, at least, Deash has been temporarily stalled. So fresh geographical targets needed to be found, not just for land annexure but to fuel recruitment.
Resting on past resentments of Sykes- Picot et al Paris was so obvious a choice. Now the wave of anti Muslim sentiment that this event will spark will be exactly the catalyst Daesh needs to find space for recruitment through virtual reality where borders and geographical distances disappear at the click of a button on a blog or a chatroom. The Muslims in France and other parts of Europe who will now feel further colonized in their forgotten suburbs – where even after three generations of French citizenship they are still referred to as immigrants – will churn out recruits faster than you can say “Oh mon Dieu!”
Paris has been a success for them in terms of a psychological victory not just through a window of fear but a doorway into the reserves of potential human capital.
Falling straight into the Machiavellian trap set by Daesh, President Hollande who after the Charlie Hedbo incident stressed on the need to differentiate between Islam and terrorism, in stark contrast, acted in complete conflict with that assertion and closed borders, insinuating that the attackers were foreigners. The ‘otherisation’ that existed deepened and will likely allow for Daesh to conquer more territory in virtual reality whose borders are not restricted by Sykes Picot, immigration laws, nor frontier lines and constructs. Cyberspace is fluid and transnational.
Syrian Refugees – A Conscience Closed Shut:
In the aftermath of the Paris attacks a great piece of humanity was lost. The image of the Syrian Child Ayyan washed up on a beach that had captured the hearts of people of all cast, colour and creed was washed off of the global conscience. Fear always trumps compassion and Syrian refugees are finding themselves in yet another predicament of fear- directed xenophobia. Arms that were held wide open for a compassionate embrace are falling slowly to the sides directed by paranoia and self-preservation.
This year 700 000 migrants have arrived in Europe in wave upon wave of heart-wrenching helplessness. Some welcomed them with open arms in a flush of human empathy while others built fences wrapped in barbed wire. Whichever the case, the terror attacks in Paris have brought to the fore the viability of a borderless Schengen which is a core idea of an integrated Europe. It now forces Europe to question the liberties and free-flow it allows itself between the borders of its 26 member zone. The idea was hatched in Schengen, Luxemburg which would allow for lack of internal border control with stricter external control, but post-Paris, it seems the idea is not only steering towards dead but deadly. Unfortunately one of the terrorists involved in the attacks was a Syrian refugee who travelled through Greece, Serbia & Macedonia. The other a Belgian national.
The problem with the Schengen is that it coordinates between different sovereign states that have their own differing foreign policies and parameters for information-sharing between countries. This gives rise to growing tensions between sovereign nations and the European ‘supranational integrated identity”. Resultantly as Loretta Napoleoni a London-based author said, “France can only work within France but jihadis can move freely.” The first response to terror is always paralysis and panic. France did the same and closed its borders temporarily and reinstated border control which Sweden, Germany & Austria have already done to bring method to the madness of refugee influx. Some countries are better equipped than others to deal with the situation and commenting on the sustainability of the Schengen, Welsley Walk a security expert at the University of Ottawa expounds “The attack could spell the end of the original idea of the more idealistic vision of a borderless Europe”.20 Germany invoked the right to suspend Schengen with its border to Austria which restricted movement from Hungary who in turn started imprisoning illegal migrants from Serbia. Though in special circumstances the border control of Schengen can be reinstated if internal security becomes a threat but this can usually not be done for longer than a month. With a powerful entity in Europe like Germany reinstating its borders other smaller countries will have fewer qualms about doing so too. Similarly France’s far right politicians, like Marie Le Pen of the National Front, might invoke this right too, not directly but by selling insecurity to the people, Hollande will not want to be too far left of her opinions in this shaky political climate.
People now feel that with the concept of borderless Schengen, Brussel’s bureaucracy is in no position to protect them because they need to, as a duty, filter all people entering the country with hostile intent but they are failing to do so.
According to an article in the Economist, “What happens at Europe’s borders often telegraphs momentous change. The Soviet blockade of Berlin in 1948 foreshadowed the cold war. The scrapping of a Hungarian fence on the frontier with Austria in May 1989 doomed Soviet rule in Eastern Europe months before protests toppled its leaders. Now the re-imposition of some border controls by Germany and Austria, to stanch the flow of refugees and migrants, is the harbinger of something dramatic: the erosion and possible demise of the Schengen free-travel area, one of the European Union’s most striking achievements.”
With the incidents in Paris, Europe could consider two routes: repair the Schengen or revert to national systems. These could be both politically and economically damaging but in any event the greatest damage the Paris carnage has done is take away peoples trust in the idea of a porous integrated Union. So what should Europe do? Tinker, fix or do away with the Schengen idea?
That being said, we cannot sit back with smug schadenfreude and wash our hands off the refugee crisis because it does not hit us directly. Every life counts and every life is connected. Cursed with the fate of being born in a war torn country, war that is a creation of the greed of mankind, we cannot deny the human potential locked within every refugee baby and child. Within or outside Europe we cannot absolve ourselves of responsibility: the responsibility of helping the refugees or the responsibility we bear of helping create this mess. Turkey and Lebanon are doing their part and are allowing themselves to be inundated with refugees. We could alternately work towards bringing an end to these proxy wars being fought erasing futures and generations of intellect. Yet regretfully, at a meeting of interior ministers in September, Eastern European countries blocked plans for 120,000 refugees to be resettled across EU under a system of quotas.
Borderless Schengen might bring up challenges, but it is not time for Europe to close its arms. The conflict in Syria might take years to resolve and closing its borders is just a band-aid solution. And after seeing the whole Grexit issue unfold and Britain going towards a referendum on its relationship and role in EU, if Schengen too erodes and the Euro continues to lose its glamour, countries could start to question the entire point of the EU and not just how porous the Schengen borders are.
Every life matters, European and Syrian, and contains within it the power to change the world. It might be pertinent to reflect here before we turn back the refugees towards death, that Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple computers was the son of a Syrian refugee.
Relationships of Reason – Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Russia et al & Syria:
Syria is a cacophony of shouting voices and a self-defeating clash of violent forces annihilating each other in tandem. It is a complex weave. Who can untangle Gordian’s knot?
If President Assad of Syria had quit according to a process agreed on at a Syrian conference in Geneva in June 2012 that had set out a path to peace and political transition, most of this bloodshed could have been avoided.21 Syria is a landscape fragmented by opposition to Assad’s government which manages to find friends and foes in a game of international political chess.
Iran has a keen interest in keeping Assad in power given its Shiite-centric aspirations. Obviously this makes for nervous reactions from the Sunni world. The clerics in Saudi Arabia who, according to Reuters, are not affiliated with the government, said on October 12th in a call to all Sunni governments to “give all moral, material, political and military in the battle against Assad”. According to Newsweek the statement said, “this is a real war on Sunnis, their countries and their identities… the holy warriors of Syria are defending the whole Islamic nation. Trust them and support them…because if we are defeated, God forbid, it will be the turn of one Sunni country after another.”22 The Syrian conflict is part of a broader struggle between Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shiite Iran for regional supremacy. In addition to that struggle is the element of Sunni Daesh carving out a space for the Caliphate of Al Baghdadi. This has conflagrated sectarian divisions across the Middle East and fuelled this triumvirate to draw in religiously motivated fighters on both the Shiite and Sunni sides, hurling the region into chaos.
Though Iran denies deployment of Iranian troops in Syria, in October it was reported by BBC that hundreds of troops had arrived in Syria for an imminent assault on rebel-held areas.23 Most of the fighters are classified as “volunteers” by Iran in an effort to counter allegations that Iranian troops are involved in combat directly. In June 2015, the official news agency said that at least 400 Iranian and Iran-based Afghan “volunteers” had been killed in the past four years.24 Lebanese sources informed Reuters that “hundreds of Iranian troops had reached Syria with weapons to mount a major ground offensive. This would be backed by Assad’s Lebanese Hezbollah Allies and Shiite militia fighters from Iraq while Russia would provide air support”25 Iran however, claims that it only sends military advisers to Syria.
Saudi Arabia has characterized Assad’s use of air power and artillery in Syrian cities as ‘genocidal’ and has described the presence of Iranian military forces and Iraqi Shiites and Lebanese militia there as ‘foreign occupation.’
Turkey, like Saudi Arabia is interested in overthrowing Assad’s government to curb Iranian expansion in the Middle East and maintain stability in the region. Turkey might also have a lesser known interest in supporting the Sunni side. Allegedly Turkey is buying oil from the Sunni Daesh . Of course there are vehement denials from Ankara but the Russians have captured images of oil trucks passing into Turkey. If the oil is not for Turkey, it is easily passing ‘through’ Turkey in container trucks owned by BMZ group. One of the owners of the group is Bilal Erdogan, son of Tayyep Erdogan, the President of Turkey. 26
Russia has joined the fight in Syria in support of Assad. This alliance takes on many shades and one is forced to contemplate Russian motives which might just as easily be a desire to form an alliance with the West and also to reestablish itself as a world power once again. Gulf States on the other hand feel Russia’s motive is only to save Assad as they have hit other terrorist groups opposed to Assad and that counterterrorism is just a smokescreen for their support of the regime.
France in the meantime, even though it is bombing Syria, has launched an investigation of war crimes and crimes committed against humanity by Assad. In the face of sustained Russian support for the Syrian government, France recently joined other western powers in softening earlier demands that President Assad leaves office as a precondition for peace talks. 27 From the UK, “Speaking on his way to address the UN, David Cameron dubbed the Syrian leader ‘one of the great recruiting sergeants for ISIS’, arguing his atrocities were driving people to join the jihadist group.”
“He has butchered his own people,” the Prime Minister added. “He has helped create this conflict and this migration crisis.”
At a counter-terrorism summit at the UN, Barack Obama also said President Assad must go. “We’re ready to work with Russia but not Assad over Syria – Obama.” 28
Hues & Variegations of World Opinion on Assad:
Since the conflict in Syria is joined to the hip with the activities of Daesh it is important to succinctly examine world opinion on Syria’s Presidency. On 30 October, meeting of world powers in Vienna on a nine-point plan hopes to pave the way for a ceasefire in Syria – however, the caucus remain divided on what happens to President Assad.
“Russia is one of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s most important international backers and the survival of the regime is critical to maintaining Russian interests in the country.
It has blocked resolutions critical of President Assad at the UN Security Council and has continued to supply weapons to the Syrian military despite international criticism.
Moscow wants to protect a key naval facility which it leases at the Syrian port of Tartous, which serves as Russia’s sole Mediterranean base for its Black Sea fleet. It also has forces at an air base in Latakia, President Assad’s Shia Alawite heartland.
In September 2015 Russia began launching air strikes against rebels, saying the so-called Islamic State (IS) and “all terrorists” were targets. However, Western-backed groups were reported to have been hit.”29
“The US has accused President Assad of responsibility for widespread atrocities and says he must go. But it agrees on the need for a negotiated settlement to end the war and the formation of a transitional administration.
The US supports Syria’s main opposition alliance, the National Coalition, and provides limited military assistance to “moderate” rebels.
Since September 2014, the US has been conducting air strikes on IS and other jihadist groups in Syria as part of an international coalition against the jihadist group. But it has avoided attacks that might benefit Mr Assad’s forces or intervening in battles between them and the rebels.”30
“The Sunni-ruled Gulf kingdom says President Assad cannot be part of a solution to the conflict and must hand over power to a transitional administration or be removed by force.
Riyadh is a major provider of military and financial assistance to several rebel groups, including those with Islamist ideologies, and has called for a no-fly zone to be imposed to protect civilians from bombardment by Syrian government forces.
Saudi leaders were angered by the Obama administration’s decision not to intervene militarily in Syria after a 2013 chemical attack blamed on Mr Assad’s forces.
They later agreed to take part in the US-led coalition air campaign against IS, concerned by the group’s advances and its popularity among a minority of Saudis.”
“The Turkish government has been a staunch critic of Mr Assad since the start of the uprising in Syria.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said it was impossible for Syrians to “accept a dictator who has led to the deaths of up to 350,000 people”.
Turkey is a key supporter of the Syrian opposition and has faced the burden of hosting almost two million refugees. But its policy of allowing rebel fighters, arms shipments and refugees to pass through its territory has been exploited by foreign jihadists wanting to join IS.
Turkey agreed to let the US-led coalition against IS to use its air bases for strikes on Syria after an IS bomb attack in July 2015.
They have though been critical of coalition support for the Syrian Kurdish Popular Protection Units (YPG) – an affiliate of the banned Turkish Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) deemed a terrorist group by Turkey, the EU and the US.”
“Regional Shia power Iran is believed to be spending billions of dollars a year to prop up President Assad and his Alawite-dominated government, providing military advisers and subsidised weapons, as well as lines of credit and oil transfers.
Mr Assad is Iran’s closest Arab ally and Syria is the main transit point for Iranian weapons shipments to the Lebanese Shia Islamist movement, Hezbollah.
Iran is also believed to have been influential in Hezbollah’s decision to send fighters to western Syria to assist pro-Assad forces.
Militiamen from Iran and Iraq who say they are protecting Shia holy sites are also fighting alongside Syrian troops.”
Iran has proposed a peaceful transition in Syria that would culminate in free, multi-party elections. It was involved in peace talks over Syria’s future for the first time when world powers met in Vienna.”31
In the aftermath, is Russia Showing off?
How has Paris helped Russia? Will the post- Paris scenario give Russia an opportunity to flex its military muscle and reassert its dominance on the world stage?
Russian intervention in Syria doubles its airpower and though only 34 planes, they are equipped with the most sophisticated avionics and elite crew in the world.32 Though it is a serious game changer, there is no guarantee that it will ensure a win, ie without men on the ground. Airpower is not a panacea, “it is just an important part of the effort to defeat an insurgency.”
But Russia went a step further and fired 26 long range SS-N-30A Kalibr cruise missiles from 4 surface ships in the Caspian Sea against 11 targets in Syria.33 Since long range cruise missiles are a “near ubiquitous tool in Western arsenal” Putin’s choice to use them when it would take an hour and a half to reach moving targets in Syria is not a wise choice. But it reveals a great deal about Russia’s priorities and its willingness to compare its arsenal with the Tomahawk Land Attack Missile which has been in service since 1983 within NATO, thereby, showing Russia’s long range power delivery capabilities that match those of the US. If a missile can target Syria from the Caspian Sea, it can also target a US base in the Middle East. This is Russia asserting itself as a peer in military power.
“Similarly, the deployment of multi-role Su-30SM fighter aircraft which have significant air-to-air capabilities, along with Pantsir-S1 air defence systems at Latakia, and the guided missile cruiser Moskva – armed with a complement of 64 formidable S-300 surface-to-air missiles off the coast of Syria – are strange if viewed as part of “counterterrorism” operations against armed groups with no air force.
However, by being able to pose a credible threat to coalition air assets over large parts of Syria, Russia forces the US and its allies to consult with it on mission planning and deconfliction efforts.”34
Russia’s response to the Paris attacks and show of support for Assad is more than meets the eye. It is flexing its muscles and reminding the world of its Cold War successes in a move to be a central geoplolitical actor in the Middle East. Russia is inviting itself to the party.
“Deconflict” Sky and Boots on the Ground:
The buzz word with the air strikes on Syria is “deconflict”. At present there are Russian, American, Turkish and occasionally Israeli planes over Syria. In this mesh of man and machine there is a dire need for control of airspace and there seems to be a future possibility of ground battle space too – of putting boots on the ground. One wonders who controls the airspace and directs measures of altitude, areas of operation and strike zones? Coordinating air and battle space is no ordinary feat, especially when 4 nations are involved.
Public opinion leans towards the assumption that defeating ISIS by Russia was just a ruse to actually support Assad and this is where the American strategy differs so strongly from Russia’s. Where the US is reluctant to put boots on the ground, Russia understands that it can use the ground force of the Syrian Army, Hezbollah, and Iranian Quds Force formations.
Russia has sent more than 50 planes (in conflict with the previous source that places the figure at 34) and helicopters to Syria and there are 1500 men in total involved in this operation. Pentagon officials have recommended that 8 apache helicopters and their crew be deployed to Iraq.35
To be candid is to admit that just airstrikes will not do much to push back Daesh and that military ground power and men are needed to back up the air offensive which, no matter how precisely planned, will have little effect and will resultantly cause more collateral damage.
So far the US is bombing Syria with the help of the Kurds and supports the local rebels but the West cannot depend on Kurdish forces alone to defeat ISIS. Also the Kurds are not that interested in driving out ISIS other than from its own areas in the North where they want to form their new state, Kurdistan. Though increased air offensive after Paris seem to be working, “It is facilitating a series of advances on the ground almost Syrian and Iraqi Kurds, small groups of national opposition fighters and Iranian Revolutionary Guard who have pushed ISIS back to just over half its territory.”36
The United States is also reluctant to send ground troops because it does not want to play into Daesh’s hands and repeat history from its first time in Iraq that gave rise to the Islamic State and militant leaders like Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Zarqawi excitedly referred to the Americans’ 2003 intervention as “the Blessed Invasion.”37 The group bases its ideology on prophetic texts stating that Islam will be victorious after an apocalyptic battle to be set off once Western armies come to the region and when US troops do that the prophecy would be fulfilled and a swell of recruits will surge. So if the United States does send ground troops Daesh will be jubilant for in the words of Napolean Bonaparte, “Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake.”
One must also consider this though, “ Charles Lister of Brookings Doha Centre reckons that there are over 100 armed factions with a total of 75,000 fighters, many of whom operate under the Free Syrian Army umbrella, who could be considered “moderate” by Syrian standards. Many of these have already been “vetted” by the CIA and are receiving weapons and other assistance, albeit on a fairly small scale. They do not yet remotely resemble a cohesive force. But with time and the right political incentives they could perhaps be formed into one.
The YPG militia, which numbers around 55,000, has shown its mettle by pushing IS out of Kobane and moving west to take on IS at Jarabulus, the last border town with Turkey it holds. But despite the YPG’s success when helped by coalition air power, its main interest is in carving out a contiguous area of control along the border with Turkey.”38
Iran already sends personnel thinly masked as ‘volunteers’ and Turkey is more interested in fighting the Kurds rather than buttressing Assad’s government and supporting the Sunni influence in the area. Saudi Arabia hardly has a strong military and has always had others do its bidding.
To Battle or Not to Battle, That is the Question (Anti-Escalation of War Forces Make their Case) :
The United Kingdom won a massive victory for escalation of war in Syria on the premise that “better it is Syrian children that die rather than ours.” And although British tornado fighters boast highly accurate Brimstone missiles and a sophisticated intelligence gathering pod, no one in reality believes that air power alone can defeat Daesh. Meanwhile, in the United States, which has been neck deep in this war in the Middle East for over a decade now, the same kind of public support for ‘boots on ground’ and escalation of war does not exist because the indigenous opportunity cost of lives lost and debt accumulated is too high.
Advocacy groups in the United States are vociferous in their opposition to putting boots on the ground. For one, if Iraq is any example we must remember that power vacuums are inevitably filled by terrorists. And in the aptly resounding words of Albert Einstien, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
National Priorities Project- “U.S. boots on the ground in Syria should give Americans a sense of dangerous déjà vu. Have the failed wars in Iraq and Afghanistan taught us nothing?”
Peace Action- “We should know by now that the first law of military conflicts is escalation. That’s why sending these troops into battle should trouble all Americans. With the ‘no boots on the ground’ promise broken there’s no telling how many U.S. troops will ultimately be sent to Iraq and Syria. Over a year into the U.S.-led bombing campaign what have we accomplished? The United States has spent over $4.75 billion on over 6059 airstrikes in Iraq and Syria. Watching the tragic refugee crisis spreading, we know that more bombing isn’t making the Syrian people any safer. A U.S. led attack in Syria, with its inevitable civilian casualties, strengthens recruitment for ISIS.”
Win Without War- “If bombing Iraq and Syria was going to bring peace and stability, they would be the most peaceful countries on earth by now.”
And then there are those who believe the US contemplating sending ground troops is just a case of Putin-envy. It is reminiscent of the Cold War period, where the leading world powers did not just have to keep pace but constantly up each other to establish superiority.
David Rothkopf, FP Group- “Putin and politics are behind Obama’s decision to send troops to Syria. When military moves seem too small to make a difference, there’s usually another reason for them. If the Russian president hadn’t made his move into Syria, the United States would not have felt compelled to finally, belatedly, shore up support for anti-Islamic State and anti-Assad allies in that embattled, long-suffering country.”39
War on a Common Noun:
After 9/11 the War on Terror was declared. How can one declare war on a common noun? Was it perhaps aimed at halting the radical ideological assertion of the ‘others’? What end is in sight? In Shireen Mazari’s words, “if Al Qaeda recruited primarily from the Muslim world, ISIS ironically found its recruits from the marginalized European Muslim youth.” Where does this war begin and where does it end? Where are its battlefields?
History stands witness to the challenges faced in Iraq and Libya by international helping efforts so how can one expect that confronting Daesh militarily will put an end to both the demand and imagined grievances of the radical Islamist mindset that makes itself heard through the medium it knows, the medium of war. How will the indiscriminate annihilation of state structures in Syria alone rid the world of Daesh? A uni-dimensional strategy of aerial attacks are, at best, a pseudo attempt to appease public panic and insecurity regarding policies made that in reality put ordinary citizens at risk.
So why Paris? On the part of Daesh this has been the implementation of a cruel strategy. World reaction to the terror in Paris has planted a false notion into the Muslim psyche that young Muslims do not belong in Europe and the only place they can really feel at home in is in the ‘Caliphate’. Additionally, it has, unfortunately, made people in places far off feel insecure in areas close to home and has also sent a cruel message to the escaped Syrian refugees by creating hostile international environs for them; that they are being punished for leaving home. Inadvertently perhaps, to some degree, one has played into Daesh’s hands. By pausing to reflect on long-term strategy rather than on reactionary self-survival instincts and by adopting a more calculated response, perhaps Daesh can be stopped from preying on global vulnerabilities and we can make this war less easy for them. A solution also lies in addressing the conflation of socio- economic grievances and in helping Muslims feel more integrated with the communities of the different countries in which they live. Harmony can only be expected when harmony is bred. Escalation of war means just that, escalation of war, on both ends.
- http://www.npr.org/2015/03/04/390757722/french-law-laicite-restricts-muslim-religious-expression – March 4 2015
- http://www.iflscience.com/editors-blog/belgium-contributes-most-isis-fighters-capita-any-eu-country Which EU Country Produces The Most ISIS Fighters?November 19, 2015 | by Elise Andrew
- http://financialtribune.com/articles/international/24685/donald-trump-new-face-white-supremacy August 31, 2015
- http://www.searcct.gov.my/publications/our-publications?id=42 The West, Islam And The Muslim : Islamophobia And Extremism – Abdul Rashid Moten
- London Review of Books Vol. 37 No. 23 – http://www.lrb.co.uk/v37/n23/adam-shatz/magical-thinking-about-isis -Adam Shatz · 3 December 2015
- International New York Times 24th Nov 2015
- London Review of Books Vol. 37 No. 23 – http://www.lrb.co.uk/v37/n23/adam-shatz/magical-thinking-about-isis -Adam Shatz · 3 December 2015
- http://observer.com/2015/05/why-does-everyone-hate-bernard-henri-levy/ Jacques Hyzagi • 05/01/15
- http://fpif.org/ripped-from-hillarys-emails-french-plot-to-overthrow-gaddafi-and-help-itself-to-libyas-oil/ – Conn Hallinan, July 9, 2015
- Tracing the Islamic States DNA – Sahar Pirzada – Criterion Quarterly
- No 15
- Ibid No 1
- http://www.thestar.com/news/world/2015/11/17/paris-attacks-threaten-europes-borderless-schengen-area.html : Marina Jimenez- Nov 17 2015
- http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3270466/Saudi-Arabian-clerics-declare-jihad-against-Assad-Putin-s-forces-urging-Sunni-Muslims-join-rebels-shortly-rockets-fired-Russian-embassy-Syria.html.13 October 2015
- http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-34572756Iran quietly deepens involvement in Syria’s war By Hossein Bastani BBC Persian – 20 October 2015
- Iran Troops Join Syria War – Reuters – by Laila Bassam and Andrew Osborn – 2-10-2015
- http://www.counterpunch.org/2015/12/03/isis-oil/ December 3, 2015 ISIS Oil by Vijay Prashad
- http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/france-launches-war-crimes-and-crimes-against-humanity-investigation-into-bashar-al-assads-regime-a6673151.html – France launches war crimes and crimes against humanity investigation into Bashar al-Assad’s regime
- https://www.reddit.com/r/syriancivilwar/comments/3mzxuj/russian_ intervention_in_syria_requires_ground/
- Al Jazeera . http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2015/10/analysis-russia-flexing-missiles-syria-151007184604543.html 15th Oct 2015 Justin Bronk 8 Oct 2015
- http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2015-10-28/us-ground-troops-syria-illegal-big-mistake-russia-warns-obama-unpredictable-conseque by Tyler Durden on 10/28/2015
- http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/nov/17/syria-future-ground-troops-west-defeat-isis THE GUARDIANMichael Clarke 17 November 2015
- The New York Times http://www.nytimes.com/2015/12/08/world/middleeast/us-strategy-seeks-to-avoid-isis-prophecy.html?smid=tw-nytimes&smtyp=cur&_ r=0 Times By RUKMINI CALLIMACHIDEC. 7, 2015
- The Economist. http://www.economist.com/news/middle-east-and- africa/21679461-defeat-islamic-state-west-needs-sunni-arab-allies-price-will-be ?fsrc=scn%2Ffb%2Fte%2Fpe%2Fed%2Fthesearchforbootsontheground – 5th Dec 2015
- http://winwithoutwar.org/statements-ground-troops-10-30/ October 30, 2015
* The author is an editor of the journal and an educationist.