By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on August 25, 2016
Originally published at The International Business Times, republished by The Syrian Intifada
This week, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) confirmed what everyone already suspected: the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad had lied repeatedly about its adherence to a deal worked out in 2013, under which it would surrender its chemical weapons of mass destruction (CWMD).
The Syrian uprising began in March 2011 with peaceful protests. By the end of the year, the Assad regime’s unrestrained brutality—which saw the murder of 5,000 people—provoked a militarised response as the population took up arms to defend itself.
Throughout 2012 the Assad regime escalated its response: artillery levelled sections of ancient cities like Homs, helicopter gunships were employed, fighter jets bombed urban centres, and Scud missiles—designed for inter-state warfare—were deployed internally, against civilians.
This strategy of collective punishment and mass-displacement as a means to suppress the uprising culminated with the Assad regime unleashing chemical weapons against civilians, probably first doing so in December 2012.
President Obama said in August 2012: “A red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilised. That would change my calculus.” In December 2012, Obama reiterated the threat, saying the use of CWMD would bring “consequences”.
But Assad repeatedly used nerve agents and other CWMD over the next six months, without consequence. In June 2013, the US publicly stated that Assad had used CWMD and the “consequence” would be the first provision of “military support” to the rebellion. But this lethal aid only started arriving in September 2013—after a massive CWMD attack.
On 21 August 2013, the Assad regime used sarin nerve agent to massacre more than 1,400 people in the Damascus suburbs of Ghouta. President Obama was set to launch a round of airstrikes—the French had prepared jets to join the attack—against Assad’s military and unconventional weapons sites when the matter was halted, put to a vote in Congress, and then abandoned completely for a “deal” with Russia, which in the administration’s telling meant Assad surrendered the CWMD he had heretofore denied possessing in exchange for the strikes being called off.
The reality was rather different. Obama had never intended to enforce his “red line”—it was a bluff that got called. Additionally, Obama had begun secret talks with Iran on the nuclear deal and from late 2012 Tehran had effectively taken control in regime-held areas of Syria. A conflict with Iran in Syria might derail the President’s legacy project.
The president’s signalling, therefore, was not that he would use force unless Assad gave up his CWMD: the stated aim was to punish Assad and uphold an international norm. The signal instead was that the President would take any available option to avoid doing what he did not want to, and Moscow provided the decommissioning of Assad’s stockpiles as a fig leaf.
Assad was made a partner in disarmament, extending him some legitimacy, as the Russians had wanted. The West was made complicit in campaigns of atrocity that were passed off as the regime “taking steps to secure” the exit routes for the CWMD, and Assad was, despite all reassurances to the contrary, handed “a license to kill with conventional weapons“. The effect on the moderate and Western-supported rebels was “devastating,” and radicalism on all sides was given a boost.
For this extreme price, Assad was not even disarmed of his CWMD—a sideshow in terms of what was inflicting the casualties. In June 2014, all declared CWMD was removed. This was, said President Obama, a demonstration that “the use of these abhorrent weapons has consequences”.
That October, OPCW found four secret CWMD facilities, one of them a production site. By summer 2015 it was clear in open-source that Assad had retained some CWMD, and US intelligence confirmed this in early 2016. Meanwhile, Assad began the routine use of alternate chemical weapons against Syrians, notably chlorine. A separate, simultaneous OPCW investigation has documented eight of these atrocities by the regime.
There have been no consequence for Assad trading sarin for chlorine—nor for the barrel bombs, incendiary weapons, starvation sieges, airstrikes, and use of death squads that have destroyed a country and ignited a region-wide war that has killed half-a-million people.
When asked about his decision to stand back from military strikes against Assad in 2013, President Obama said he was “very proud of this moment”. The US has all-but abandoned the stated regime-change policy, and is instead inching ever-closer to an accommodation that keeps Assad in place. The Russians managed, via their intervention, to turn the peace process inside-out: from a means of transitioning Assad out to a discussion about the terms on which he could stay.
That process was jointly killed earlier this year by Assad and al-Qaeda making the ceasefire untenable. But without an alteration in the balance-of-power on the ground in favour of the mainstream armed opposition, the terms of the discussion will remain the regime’s whenever the next round takes place.
The failure to punish Assad at the time for the Ghouta chemical massacre has done irreparable harm to one of the few international norms left, contributed beyond calculation to the radicalisation of Syria and the rise of anti-Western sentiments, and the course of events since has underlined the lesson that such criminality pays. It is now widely agreed—even by parts of the Turkish government, probably the most hawkishly anti-Assad—that Assad will to have some role in a “transition”. The contrast to the autocrats who were not prepared to kill on this scale and thus fell from power is stark.
It can also be guaranteed that just as Assad strung out the disarmament process so that he was always necessary—eternally disarming and never quite disarmed—any transition in Syria overseen by the dictator will be one in which Assad is always going and never actually gone.
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Devastation at M2 hospital in Aleppo after government air strikes (@aboali_majed)
The few doctors remaining in the besieged Syrian city of Aleppo have written an open letter to US President Barack Obama begging him to intervene against the war crimes being committed by the Assad regime and its sponsor, Putin. It is not clear whether the doctors are calling for a diplomatic or military intervention.
Last month, the Syrian Army took control of the last road into the city with the help of Russian air strikes.
Most of the doctors who remain in the city have urged Mr Obama to intervene and create a zone to Aleppo’s east which is protected from airstrikes.
They have also called for “international action to ensure Aleppo is never besieged again”.
The letter in full:
Dear President Obama,
We are 15 of the last doctors serving the remaining 300,000 citizens of eastern Aleppo. Regime troops have sought to surround and blockade the entire east of the city. Their losses have meant that a trickle of food has made its way into eastern Aleppo for the first time in weeks. Whether we live or die seems to be dependent on the ebbs and flows of the battlefield.
We have seen no effort on behalf of the United States to lift the siege or even use its influence to push the parties to protect civilians.
For five years, we have faced death from above on a daily basis. But we now face death from all around. For five years, we have borne witness as countless patients, friends and colleagues suffered violent, tormented deaths. For five years, the world has stood by and remarked how ‘complicated’ Syria is, while doing little to protect us. Recent offers of evacuation from the regime and Russia have sounded like thinly-veiled threats to residents – flee now or face annihilation ?
Last month, there were 42 attacks on medical facilities in Syria, 15 of which were hospitals in which we work. Right now, there is an attack on a medical facility every 17 hours. At this rate, our medical services in Aleppo could be completely destroyed in a month, leaving 300,000 people to die.
What pains us most, as doctors, is choosing who will live and who will die. Young children are sometimes brought into our emergency rooms so badly injured that we have to prioritize those with better chances, or simply don’t have the equipment to help them. Two weeks ago, four newborn babies gasping for air suffocated to death after a blast cut the oxygen supply to their incubators. Gasping for air, their lives ended before they had really begun.
Despite the horror, we choose to be here. We took a pledge to help those in need.
Our dedication to this pledge is absolute. Some of us were visiting our families when we heard the city was being besieged. So we rushed back – some on foot because the roads were too dangerous. Because without us even more of our friends and neighbors will die. We have a duty to remain and help.
Continued US inaction to protect the civilians of Syria means that our plight is being wilfully tolerated by those in the international corridors of power. The burden of responsibility for the crimes of the Syrian government and its Russian ally must therefore be shared by those, including the United States, who allow them to continue.
Unless a permanent lifeline to Aleppo is opened it will be only a matter of time until we are again surrounded by regime troops, hunger takes hold and hospitals’ supplies run completely dry. Death has seemed increasingly inescapable. We do not need to tell you that the systematic targeting of hospitals by Syrian regime and Russian warplanes is a war crime. We do not need to tell you that they are committing atrocities in Aleppo.
We do not need tears or sympathy or even prayers, we need your action. Prove that you are the friend of Syrians.
1. Dr. Abu Al Baraa, Pediatrician
2. Dr. Abu Tiem, Pediatrician
3. Dr. Hamza, Manager
4. Dr. Yahya, Pediatrician and head of Nutrition Program
5. Dr. Munther, Orthopedics
6. Dr. Abu Mohammad, General Surgeon
7. Dr. Abu Abdo, General Surgeon
8. Dr. Abd Al Rahman, Urologic Resident
9. Dr. Abu Tareq, ER Doctor
10. Dr. Farida, OBGYN
11. Dr. Hatem, Hospital Director
12. Dr. Usama, Pediatrician
13. Dr. Abu Zubeir, Pediatrician
14. Dr. Abu Maryam, Pediatric Surgeon
15. Dr. Abo Bakr, Neurologist
THE EU VOTE AND UK POLITICAL FAILURE ON SYRIA
From Syria Solidarity UK
High time to right a shared legacy of failure on Syria.
Reasons for the UK’s narrow vote to leave the EU are many. One is Syria: Both the Leave campaign and UKIP connected fears over immigration to the Syrian crisis. Assad’s war against Syria’s population has created the worst refugee crisis since the Second World War.
In or out of the EU, we have a duty to care for refugees. We also need to understand that this refugee crisis is not caused by EU rules on free movement; it’s caused by the failure of world leaders, including Britain’s leaders, to stop Assad.
Inaction has consequences. At every point when world leaders failed to act against Assad, the impact of the Syrian crisis on the world increased. The failure of British Government and Opposition leaders on the EU vote is in part a consequence of their failure on Syria, but this story doesn’t end with today’s result. Without action, Syria’s crisis will continue to impact on us all.
Leaders failed to act in October 2011 when Syrians took to the streets calling for a no-fly zone.
By the end of 2011 there were 8,000 Syrian refugees in the region.
Leaders failed to act in 2012 when journalists Marie Colvin and Remi Ochlik were killed reporting from the horror of besieged Homs.
By the end of 2012, there were nearly half a million Syrian refugees.
Leaders failed to act in 2013 when the Assad regime massacred as many as 1,700 civilians in one morning with chemical weapons. That August, there were 1.8 million registered Syrian refugees.
Also in 2013, the UK failed to act when the Free Syrian Army faced attacks by ISIS forces infiltrating from Iraq. Instead of strengthening the FSA to withstand this new threat, UK MPs denied moderate forces the means to defend themselves.
By the end of 2013, there were 2.3 million registered Syrian refugees.
Leaders failed to act in 2014 as the Assad regime ignored UN resolutions on barrel bombing, on torturing and besieging civilians. Diplomacy without military pressure only emboldened Assad to continue the slaughter.
By the end of 2014, there were 3.7 million Syrian refugees.
Leaders failed to act in 2015 as Russia joined Assad in bombing hospitals, humanitarian aid convoys, and rescue workers, and Syrians were denied any means to defend themselves.
By the end of 2015, there were over 4.5 million Syrian refugees.
Now the UK Government is failing to act as Assad breaks ceasefire agreements and breaks deadlines on letting aid into besieged communities. The UK has failed to deliver on airdrops. The UK has failed to apply serious pressure to stop Assad’s bombs.
There are now 4.8 million Syrian refugees in the region. There are many millions more displaced inside Syria. Just over a million Syrians have applied for asylum in Europe, but that is a fraction of the total who have fled their homes.
The refugee crisis is just one impact of Assad’s war on Syrians. Voting to leave the European Union won’t insulate Britain from further effects of Syria’s man-made disaster. This crisis can’t be contained and must be brought to an end, and it can only end with the end of Assad.
Act now. Break the sieges. Stop the bombs. Stop the torture. Stop Assad.
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This post, by Michael Ezra, first appeared at Harry’s Place:
In 2003 I did not just support the Iraq War, I supported an ideology associated with many of the most vocal proponents of that war: neoconservatism. The purpose of this post is not to criticise Tony Blair for his decision to go to war, although one has to admit that Iraq in 2016 is not the liberal democratic paradise of which many had dreamed, but to note that neoconservatism as an ideology is a soiled good.
There is no simple definition of neoconservatism and neoconservative writers have not all sung the exact same tune with the exact same words. In my opinion neoconservatism is about promoting democracy abroad, opposing regimes hostile to American interests, championing American military strength, and not shirking from using that military strength to further these ideals. The dream was a world reshaped in the American image. Neoconservative thinkers believed, as Francis Fukuyama put it, “history can be pushed along with the right application of power and will.” While neoconservatives are interested in more than foreign policy, it is the foreign policy aspect that has dominated discourse. It is that upon which I focus.
The neoconservatives are ideologues. Like other ideologues they believe that their ideology is right in the moral sense. They had, in their own minds, “moral clarity.” George Bush admitted that the book that influenced his view on foreign policy was Natan Sharansky’s The Case for Democracy. Bush also recommended his aides read the book. Sharansky divided the world into two types of countries: free societies and fear societies. He applied a simple test: “Can a person walk into the middle of the town square and express his or her views without fear of arrest, imprisonment, or physical harm? If he can, then that person is living in a free society. If not, it’s a fear society.” (pp.40-41). Sharansky formulated his argument based on his own experiences as a dissident in the Soviet Union. If one lives in a fear society, dissidents are arrested and thrown in prison. Fear societies become repressive and tyrannical. He argued, “There is a universal desire among all peoples not to live in fear.” (p.38) His book is a blue print for overturning every single middle eastern dictatorship, and to do so, if necessary, by force: “The free world should not wait for dictatorial regimes to consent to reform….if we condition reform on the agreement of nondemocratic leaders, it will never come. We must be prepared to move forward over their objections.” (p.278). It is a seductive argument. I was seduced.
With such an ideology, in order to morally justify using force for regime change one does not need a fear society to have Weapons of Mass Destruction that could threaten American interests. Regime change is carried out for the good of the citizens of the living in the regime of fear. Iraqi dissident Kanan Makiya informed President Bush that the Iraqi population would welcome American soldiers “with sweets and flowers.” Yet, one could argue, if intervention for the good of the citizens is sufficient, why pick on Iraq rather than any other country? The Weapons of Mass Destruction becomes a way of selling the military action to the population at home. (I am interested in the ideology, not the legality of the war, so there is no need to get into discussions as to United Nations votes and whether Bush and Blair did or did not believe Iraq had WMDs.)
At the time of the so-called Arab Spring the cracks began to appear. When there were huge demonstrations in Egypt against President Mubarak, the neoconservatives cheered on regime change and democracy. The hawks in the Israeli government, thought by many to be in line with the neoconservative ideal, were of a contrary opinion. They had a more realist view. If democracy led to the Muslim Brotherhood in charge of Egypt, they would prefer Mubarak. The Israelis thought the American neoconservatives hopelessly naïve.
Syria has been no better. While President Assad was busy killing his countrymen by the hundreds of thousands, the neoconservatives clamoured for his removal. They wanted America to provide massive military assistance to the so-called moderates opposed to his rule. However, these “moderates” were not necessarily moderate. Besides, it hardly helps either democracy promotion or American interests if weapons that America provided to these so-called “moderates” end up in the hands of the head-choppers of Al Qaeda and ISIS.
The problem with neoconservatism is therefore stark. Despite the view of the neoconservatives that the vast majority of people would far prefer a free democratic society than a dictatorship, when given a chance for the type of democracy that the neoconservatives have in mind, citizens of countries do not necessarily take it. Moreover, while the ideological position of believing you are right might be fine in theory, the empirical reality might be vastly different. One should not ignore what is patently obvious: neoconservatism is the God that failed. The neoconservatives need to be mugged by reality.
Jo Cox was both a dedicated constituency MP and a true internationalist. This is what she said in Parliament on 3 May this year about Aleppo, the betrayal of Syria and our duty to refugee children:
Jonathan Steel, the former Moscow correspondent of the Guardian, is one of a group of foreign correspondents (Robert Fisk and Patrick Coburn being two other notables) who use their professional reputations to boost Putin, Assad the Iranian regime and Hezbullah. Naturally, they are much beloved of the “anti-imperialist” liberal-left, conspiracy theorists everywhere and the so-called Stop The War Coalition.
Steele once accused Muslims who opposed Islamist rule in Tunisia of ‘Islamophobia’. He’s also written a spirited defense of the ‘tragically misunderstood’ Robert Mugabe and has even urged the West to make nice towards the regime in North Korea. Not surprisingly considering the ideological package he shows fealty towards, he’s also warned darkly of the Zionist influence on the U.S. media.
Like Fisk, Coburn, Tariq Ali and Seymour Hersh, Steele is a contributor to the London Review of Books, which seems to favour their brand of pro-Putin apologia in its political coverage. An article by Steel in the 21 April 2016 issue of the LRB, though superficially objective and even scholarly, in fact gave pretty much uncritical support to the official Russian version of events in Syria.
However, a letter in the present issue of the LRB from former International Marxist Group member Brian Slocock puts Steele in his place with regards to the real human cost and the true political objective of Putin’s bombing campaign; a letter from one Omar Naqib on Steele’s claim that the US and French military campaigns in Syria had ‘no basis in international law’ is also worth reading:
Putin in Syria
Jonathan Steele seems intent on downplaying the extent of civilian casualties resulting from Russia’s intensive bombing of Syria (LRB, 21 April). He cites an article published in the German news magazine Focus on 5 March, which reported that a leaked Nato document characterised the Russian bombing as ‘precise and efficient’. ‘Precise and efficient’ at doing what? Steele doesn’t tell us, but the Focus article does: it tells us that the Nato document calculates that only 20 per cent of Russian sorties were directed at Islamic State targets, then goes on to quote the Syrian Observatory on Human Rights to the effect that Russian operations resulted in more than 1700 deaths, including those of 423 children.
Steele draws on another source – Airwars – for data on the victims of coalition bombings, but passes over its monitoring of Russian operations. In a report entitled ‘Reckless Disregard for Civilian Lives’, Airwars estimates that from 30 September to 31 December, ‘between 1098 and 1450 non-combatants died in 192 separate Russian events.’ Russia has, it says, ‘systematically targeted civilian neighbourhoods and civilian infrastructure – including water plants, wells, marketplaces, bakeries, food depots and aid convoys … Russia and the coalition report carrying out a similar number of armed sorties. Yet civilian fatalities from Russian strikes were six times higher … more civilians appear to have been killed by Russia in the three months to 31 December than from all credibly reported coalition civilian fatality events since August 2014.’
Carrying the body count forward to February this year, the Violations Documentation Centre (the statistical source of choice for serious Syria-watchers) produces a final figure of 1989 civilian deaths, 486 of them children, as a result of the Russian bombing campaign.
Jonathan Steele writes that before obtaining UN Security Council backing, the United States and France’s initial military campaigns in Syria had ‘no basis in international law’. In fact both governments notified the Security Council that they were acting in defence of Iraq, which had requested their assistance to eradicate IS safe havens in northern Syria. The US also claimed it was acting in self-defence even though, unlike Iraq, it had never been attacked by Islamic State.
Although controversial, there is growing recognition in international law that states can (and do) use force in self-defence against terrorist groups operating out of countries whose governments are unwilling or unable to neutralise the group themselves. In justifying its operation, the US referred to the Assad government’s inability to tackle IS.
This right is by no means universally accepted, but a key indicator of whether a right exists in international law is how other states react when a government asserts the right in question: the only countries that objected to the legality of the US and French campaigns were Syria’s allies, Iran and Russia.
From Syria Solidarity UK (posted 28th April):
The killing of Dr Muhammad Waseem Maaz
Via The Syria Campaign on Facebook
I am Dr Hatem, the director of the Children’s Hospital in Aleppo.
Last night, 27 staff and patients were killed in an airstrike on Al Quds Hospital nearby. My friend Dr Muhammad Waseem Maaz (pictured), the city’s most qualified paediatrician, was killed in the attack.
He used to work at our Children’s Hospital during the day and then he’d go to Al Quds Hospital to attend to emergencies overnight.
Dr Maaz and I used to spend six hours a day together. He was friendly, kind and he used to joke a lot with the whole staff. He was the loveliest doctor in our hospital.
I’m in Turkey now, and he was supposed to visit his family here after I returned to Aleppo. He hadn’t seen them in four months.
Dr Maaz stayed in Aleppo, the most dangerous city in the world, because of his devotion to his patients. Hospitals are often targeted by government and Russian air forces.
Days before Dr Maaz’s life was taken, an airstrike hit only 200 metres away from our hospital. When the bombing intensifies, the medical staff run down to the ground floor of the hospital carrying the babies’ incubators in order to protect them.
Like so many others, Dr Maaz was killed for saving lives. Today we remember Dr Maaz’s humanity and his bravery. Please share his story so others may know what medics in Aleppo and across Syria are facing.
The situation today is critical – Aleppo may soon come under siege. We need the world to be watching.
Thank you for keeping us in your thoughts,
March With Medics Under Fire
Saturday 7th May at 2pm, Trafalgar Square, London.
Facebook event page.
Above: ‘Stop The War’ placards outside US embassy, June 2013
An idependent observers’ group says at least 1,015 civilians have been killed in Russian air strikes.
The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said late last month that close to a quarter of those killed were under the age of 18.
Russia, in support of the Assad regime, has consistently denied hitting civilian targets and insists it is battling “terrorists, but is in fact targeting anti-Assad forces rather than ISIS or the Nusra front.
Medicins Sans Frontières said seven people were killed when a facility it supports in Maaret al-Numan, Idlib province, was hit four times in two separate raids. Mego Terzian, MSF’s France president, told Reuters he thought that either Russia or Syrian government forces were responsible. Both have been engaged in an unrelenting aerial bombardment in Idlib.
The hospital, which has 54 staff and 30 beds, is financed by the medical charity, which also supplies medicine and equipment.
“The destruction of the hospital leaves the local population of about 40,000 people without access to medical services in an active zone of conflict,” said Massimiliano Rebaudengo, MSF’s head of mission in Syria.
Meanwhile the Assad regime has extended its policy of starving civilians in rebel-held towns, from Madaya (where the policy was first used) to Aleppo:
The UN says 4.5 million Syrians are living in besieged or hard-to-reach areas and desperately need humanitarian aid, with civilians prevented from leaving and aid workers blocked by the regime from bringing in food, medicine, fuel and other essentials
The official position of the Stop The War Coalition is to be against all interventions into Syria (with or without a UN mandate)… so we can expect a STW-organised mass mobilisation against Putin’s bombings, and a demo outside the Russian embassy any day now, eh ..?
Reblogged from Tendance Coatesy
Image from «Salafistes» Libération.
By Andrew Coates
In France the film, Les Salafistes, has created intense controversy. At one point it seemed as if it might be banned. Now the documentary has been released, with a certificate than denies cinema entry to under-18s. In Saturday’s Guardian Natalie Nougayréde discusses the picture, which includes videos from Daesh (Islamic State – IS, also ISIS) and al-Qaida au Maghreb islamique (AQMI), with interviews with Salafists (rigorist Islamists) and jihadi leaders (Les Salafistes is gruelling viewing – but it can help us understand terror.)
She states, “The most gruelling moment comes when an Isis propaganda films shows a line of captured men walking towards the banks of a river; jihadi militants then shoot them in the head, one by one. The waters of the river start flowing with blood. And we see the pleading, panic-stricken faces of Isis’s victims, filmed close-up just before they are killed.”
Nougayréde considers that Les Salafistes “opens our eyes to a fanatical world”, that we “need to understand that ideology, however twisted and repulsive” Claude Lanzmann – the director the monumental film on the Holocaust, Shoah, she notes, has defended the film and asked for the age limit to be withdrawn. The screen shows better than any book the reality of the most fanatical form of Islamism. Lemine Ould M. Salem et François Margolin, have created a “chef d’oeuvre”. Its formal beauty brings into sharp relief the brutality of the Islamists, and “everyday life under the Sharia in Timbuktu, Mauritania, in Mali, Tunisia (in areas which have been under AQMI occupation or influence), and in Iraq. The age restriction on entry should go. (Fleur Pellerin, ne privez pas les jeunes du film, Salafistes! Le Monde 29.1.16.)
Lanzmann also argues (which the Guardian columnist does not cite) that Les Salafistes shows that “any hope of change, any improvement, any understanding” with the violent Islamists it portrays, is “futile and illusory”.
In yesterday’s Le Monde (30. 1.16) there is a fuller account of Les Salafistes and the controversies surrounding it, as well as on Made in France a thriller that imagined a jihadist cell preparing an attack on Paris. With a planned release in November, as the Paris slaughters took place, it was withdrawn and now will be available only on VOD (View on Demand).
Timbuktu not les Salafistes.
Saturday’s Le Monde Editorial recommends seeing the 2014 fiction Timbuktu rather than Les Salafistes. The Islamic State has already paraded its murders and tortures before the world. Its “exhibitionnisme de l’horreur” poses a serious challenge to societies that value freedom of expression. In the past crimes against humanity, by Stain, Saddam Hussein, Hitler, Pol Pot or Pinochet, were carried out in secret. The Nazis or the Khmer Rouge’s propaganda was designed to hide the reality of genocide; Daesh’s videos are explicit and open, produced to terrorise their enemies and to rouse the spirits of their supporters. Margolin and Salem’s film does not, the Editorial argues, offer a sufficiently clear critical approach for a non-specialist audience. The victims only speak under the eyes of their butchers. The drama Timbuktu, where ordinary people in the city of that name are shown grappling with the everyday despotism of AQIM occupation – the rigorous application of the Islamists’ version of the Sharia, is a better way of thinking through the phenomenon of Jihadism. Its quiet and subversive message, the simple acts of playing prohibited music and smoking (banned), many would agree, unravels the absurdity and cruelty – the callous stoning of an ‘adulterous’ couple – of Islamism on a human scale.
Le Monde’s account of the controversy (La Terreur passe mal sur grand ecran) also observes that books about the Islamic State have reached a wide audience. They offer a better way, less influenced by the emotions that the cinema screen arouses, to understand Jihadism. It is equally the case that, through the Web, a substantial number of people have already seen the kind of horrific scenes Les Salafistes brings to the big screen.
The Empire of Fear.
Empire of Fear. Inside the Islamic State (2015) by the BBC correspondent Andrew Hosken is one of many accessible studies that have reached a wide audience. It is a thorough account of Daesh’s origins in the Al-Qaeda milieu and how it came to – separate – prominence in the aftermath of the US-led Coalition’s invasion of Iraq. Hosken has an eye for detail, tracing out the careers of key Daesh figures such as Zarqawi and Baghdadi. He challenges for example the widely claim that Islamic State leader Baghadadi and ‘Caliph’ was “radicalised” in a US prison in Southern Iraq in 2004. In fact “hardening evidence” indicates, “Baghdadi may have started his career as a jihadist fighter in Afghanistan and may even have known Zarqawi there.” (Page 126)
The failure of the occupation to establish a viable state in Iraq, the absence – to say the least – of the rule of law, and the importance of Shia mass sectarian killings of Sunnis in the Islamic State’s appearance. The inability of the Iraqi army to confront them, culminating in the fall of Mosul, were conditions for its spreading power, consolidation in the Caliphate, in both Iraq AND Syria, and international appeal.
Empire of Fear is valuable not only as history. Hosken states that by 2014 it was estimated that there were between five to seven million people living under Islamic State rule. “The caliphate has not delivered security, human dignity, happiness and the promise of eventual pace, let alone basic serves, but it has produced piles of corpses and promise to produce piles more.” (Page 200) He states that the “violent Islam-based takfirism” – the practice of declaring opponents ‘apostates’ worthy of death – has taken its methods from former Ba’athist recruits, always ready to slaughter opponents.
The suffering of those under the rule of Daesh is immense. “Men and children have been crucified and beheaded, homosexuals thrown to their deaths from high building and women stoned to death in main squares.” (Page 228) The Lion Cubs of the Khalfia, an army of children, are trained for battle. Even some Salafists initially allied with Daesh – with counterparts in Europe still offering succour to the dreams of returning to the golden days of the prophet, have begun to recoil. Hosken observes “..they have ended up with Baghdadi and his vision of an Islamic state with its systemic rapes, its slaves and concubines, child soldiers, murder, torture and genocide.” (Page 236)
The Islamic States efforts to capture more territory and people will continue with or without Baghadadi. The film title Salafistes reminds us that the Islamic State’s totalitarian Islamism is not isolated. It is connected to a broader collection of groups preaching rigorist – Salafist – Islamism, not all users of extreme violence, still less the public glorification of murder. The creation of all-embracing State disciplinary machines to mould their subjects to Islamic observance is a common objective of political Islam, from the Wahhabis in Saudi Arabia to Daesh’s mortal enemies in Iran. The religious cleansing of religious minorities, Yazidis and Middle Eastern Christians continues under a variety of Islamic forces. Yet the degree of oppression and genocide marks the Islamic State out.
The recent Channel Four Documentary The Jihadis Next Door indicated that there is a European audience, however small, for Daesh’s genocidal propaganda. In Britain alone up to 700 people have been attracted enough by Islamic State death videos to go and join their ranks. One can imagine that amongst them some will be capable of watching Les Salfistes in a spirit far from the critical intentions of the film’s directors. It is to be doubted that they would have been reached by the scorn for Islamist rule and the resilience of humanity displayed in Timbuktu.
Hosken concludes, the “group may end up destroying itself or being destroyed by its many enemies. However, whatever happens, its virulent ideology looks likely to survive in a Middle East now riven by sectarian division, injustice, war and authoritarianism,” (Page 257)
The British left, with no government at its command, is not in a position to negotiate in efforts that try to bring “security, justice dignity and peace to a deeply troubled region”. We have little leverage over Bashar Assad’s own despotism in Syria. But we may be able to help Syrian democrats, and those fighting the Islamic State, to give our support to those fighting for dear life for freedom – from the Kurds to Arab and Turkish democrats – by ensuring that there is no quarter given to Daesh’s Salafist allies in Europe and totalitarian Islamists of any kind, independently and against those who see the Syrian Ba’athists as an ultimate rampart against IS.
To defend human rights we need to align with the staunchest adversaries of all forms of oppression, the secularists, the humanists, the democratic left, and, above all, our Kurdish and Arab sisters and brothers who, with great courage, face Daesh every day on the battle field.
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