The murder in Toulouse and Montauban France this month of 7 innocent people including three school children was committed by a Wahhabi-Salafi-Jihadi-Takfiri cult member Mohamed Merah.
Even though known to authorities to be an extremist and being ‘watched’ and even though the Americans also knew of him and put him on a no-fly to US list, he could not be arrested authorities say because French Prime Minister Francois Fillon argues, “Belonging to a Salafist organisation is not an offence in and of itself…We cannot mix up religious fundamentalism with terrorism, even if we know there are elements that unite them.”
Perhaps Monsieur Fillon would do well to (take a leaf out of his mother’s book and) study history. Who was behind most of the terrorist attacks in the West since 1990? The media made it look like ‘nutters’ like the underpants bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab and ‘freaks’ like Richard Reid the Shoe bomber were ad hoc potential criminals who just so happened to have a background that included coming from an Islamic background. However if one looks carefully at the global Jihadi attacks for the past 20 years and Mohammed Merah’s path into the cult behind his motivation for the attacks one will see that the same cult was behind many others radicalization that lead to terrorist attacks in the West. Then Prime Minister Fillon will know what France is up against and understand that their new foe is no less organized committed and lethal than the Nazi’s were and that their Republic is in great danger unless they deal with the extremist conveyor belt of this cult at its source and help strengthen traditional Islam which is in as much mortal danger as the French State. If Fillon does not ‘join the dots’ Toulouse will only be the beginning.
Mohamed was born in France from Algerian parents and grew up with his three brothers and two sisters in a troubled high-rise estate called ‘Les Izards’, home to a large North African population, in Toulouse, South West France. He was first arrested at 16 for stealing and again at aged 18 and 20. Even though he had a reputation for extremist tendencies on his own housing estate in Toulouse and his brother Abdelkader Merah, had links to jihadists in Libya, Mohamed’s path to radical Islam began when he was 18 in Toulouse in 2007 while serving a prison sentence for robbery.
He was like so many troubled Muslim youths approached by Salafist groups like Forsane Alizza (FA- The Knights of Pride) and encouraged to progress his study their cult which was their brand of militant Salafi ‘Islam’ from their radical mosques or private ‘prayer groups’ and if suitable for mission training Al Qaeda operatives then arranged for the acolyte go to Pakistan for deeper indoctrination into the cult and specialist weapons and bomb training when he got out.
Forsane Alizza aka ‘Sharia4France’ is ostensibly an anti-Islamophobia group but authorities say it is a terrorist organization that used the mantra of anti-Islamophobia to mask its deeper purpose of radicalizing disenchanted youth from Islamic backgrounds. They followed the rhetoric of fellow terrorists like Yemeni-American cleric Anwar al-Awlaki to recruit disillusioned youth from Islamic communities in the West away from the traditional Islamic faith of their parents who immigrated to the West and instead adopt their cult. Their cult made everything from their plight to the perceived injustice of Muslims around the world easily understood in a populist way and in the vernacular. The converts were shown a way out of their sin and into heaven by taking the express lane of radical militancy to attack all enemies of the Wahhabi-Salafi Jihadi’s (the only true Muslims) whether they be Crusader-Zionists in AF-PAK, Shia Muslims, Sufi Muslims or Moderate Sunni Muslims (all apostates in the cults eyes to be excommunicated (Takfiri) and worthy of death) or non-Sharia democracies in the West. The ultimate goal of the cult is establishing a kind of ‘Third Reich’ Salafist caliphate stretching from Chechnya to the Philippines that will restore pride and power to “Muslims” (the ones that are left after the bad Muslims have been enlightened as to the true ‘path’ or eliminated); hence their name Forsane Alizza -The Knights of Pride.
Forsane Alizza has links to other radical Islamist groups in Europe, such as al-Muhajiroun / ‘Islam4UK’ in Britain and ‘Shariah4Belgium’, ‘Muslims Against Crusades’ as well as ‘Revolution Muslim’ in the United States. Al-Muhajiroun means “the Emigrants”. The name comes from their ‘target market’, the children of traditional Islamic parents who immigrated to the West. These Islamo-Fascist cult’s modus operandi is not unlike the Hitler Youth movement of the Nazi’s, brainwashing the youth with magazines, and sending them to specialized indoctrination schools and camps with their ‘brothers’ and SS style (Mujahedeen) elite training, how to be ‘good Muslims’ just like the Nazi’s did in the 1930’s by teaching the ‘jugend’ how to be ‘good Germans’. The devotees would then have no qualms about the war ahead and what had to be done to the ‘untermench’ (Jews, Crusaders and Takfiri or moderate/traditional Muslims). The allies upon liberating Eastern Europe could not believe how civilized people could commit the atrocities that the Einsatzgruppen did especially against women and children. These Hitler Youth graduates were formed into heartless death squads responsible for the murders of over 1,000,000 people, mainly Jews including women and children in occupied Eastern Europe between 1939 and 1944.
It is no surprise then that when today’s Wahhabi Salafi Takfiri Jihadi’s strike whether its Bali, Beslan or Toulouse, they do so without mercy and show no remorse afterward if they survive. Indeed they often laugh and smile chanting “Allahu Akbar” like the Bali mass murderer Amrozi bin Nurhasyim did when sentenced by an Indonesian Court rejecting his defence that his actions in 2002 planting bombs that indiscriminately killed 202 tourists because he was seeking to ‘strike at America and its allies, especially Israel’ were justified under Islam.
Similarly, the Chechen war of nationalism against Russia turned into an Islamist cause and with it came the Islamo-Fascist propaganda that could justify any form of atrocity on ideological grounds. From the mid 1990’s Saudi charities like Al-Haramain , Benevolence International Foundation (BIF was started by OBL’s brother-in-law Mohammed Jamal Khalifa who also funded 9/11’s precursor the Bojinka Plot), and Wahhabi extremist commanders like Ibn al-Khattab poured millions of dollars and thousands of human resources into establishing several military training and religious indoctrination camps in Chechnya. After the US launched its war in Afghanistan even more Mujahedeen troops and preachers poured into Chechnya subsidizing and thereby taking over traditional Chechen Sufi mosques and Islamic schools spreading Wahhabi-Salafi extremism. This culminated in the 2002 Moscow theatre siege and then the even more devastating and heartless 2004 Beslan massacre in which Wahhabi-Salafi-Takfiri-Jihadi’s took hostage and murdered 335 innocent Russian school children. The message sent by the terrorist cult is that there are no moral boundaries for them.
Groups like AF and Al- Muhajiroun have apart from their proselytizing role for the Wahhabi-Salafi-Takfiri-Jihadi cult have also been involved in many public confrontational incidents including wild demonstrations against the West.
In the UK al Muhajiroun has many modern incarnations/name changes to stay out of the slow moving UK Terrorist Legislation definitions of proscribed Terrorist Organization (such as al-Ghurabaa (AG), the Saviour/Saved Sect (SS), Ahlus Sunnah Wal Jama’aah, Call to Submission, Islamic Path, London School of Shiria, Muslims Against Crusades, Supporters of Sharia and Islam4UK and has been closely linked with Hizb ut-Tahrir). Al Muhajiroun has been associated with the radicalization of Muslim communities away from their traditional moderate beliefs to the Wahhabi-Salafi-Takfiri-Jihadi cult.
Abu Hamza (al-Masri)
Prominent figures include ex-Imam of the radical Finsbury Park Mosque, Abu Hamza al-Masri who discipled the shoe bomber Richard Reid and Anjem Choudary al-Masri’s successor.
It was Finsbury Parks 2ic Choudary who in 2006 arranged a notorious demonstration in London against the Danish cartoons stating “Behead those who insult Islam…Europe take some lessons from 9/11…you will pay demolition is on its way.”
According to surveys carried out by respected Centre for Social Cohesion (CSC), a significant number of UK nationals convicted of Al-Qaeda related terrorist offences had links to FA’s British ‘sister group’, al Muhajiroun (Islam4UK) as a ‘gateway’ into terrorism, providing ideological indoctrination at the beginning of the Salafist extremist “path” and later access to Al-Qaeda recruiters in their Wahhabi funded Mosques who would then prepare them for terrorist ‘finishing schools’ in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, North West Pakistan and ‘blooding’ in FATA with Afghanistan insurgents.
In France it can be about the French laws banning women from wearing a full veil (niqab) in public places and posted a number of well-produced videos of its protests in French cities. Forsane Alizza promoted on its website the Wahhabi- Salfai-Takfiri-Jihadi group Al Qaeda’s English-language magazine ‘Inspire’ which has a section dedicated to helping terrorist sympathizers in the West carry out attacks on Western targets.
AF has since been banned by French Interior Ministry for inciting racial hatred in January 2012.
FA’s Mohammed Achamlane, aka Abu Hamza
FA’s leader Achamlane then simply changed its name to ’Force de Défense Musulmane sur Internet’, which says its only mission is to have so called “Islamophobic” material removed from French websites.
The main thing to note about the Islamic Clerics that propagate the Wahhabi-Salafi-Takfiri-Jihadi cult’s beliefs is that they legitimize notions of murder as acts of divine Islamic ordinance and so are direct causal links to the acts of terrorism that follow.
Mohamed Merah’s ‘path’ in the cult was not unlike his fellow countryman, Zacarias Moussaoui (involved in 9/11). He too was from parents who had a traditional Islamic faith from their homeland (Morocco for the Moussaoui family). Unlike Merah, Zacarias Moussaoui had intellect having a master’s degree in International Business from South Bank University in London, having enrolled in 1993 and graduated in 1995. However that intellect did not stop Moussaoui from being proselytised by al Muhajiroun who radicalized him as thoroughly as Forsane Alizza messed with Mohamed Merah’s mind.
Mohamed Merah went to Afghanistan and Pakistan several times between 2008 and 2011 to further his ‘studies’, as they all do. On his first trip in 2008, Mohamed went to Pakistan to be further radicalized before being sent to al Qaeda insurgency operations group in Afghanistan under the leadership, Hamza el Alami, a French Moroccan.
In fact in 2008 he was captured fighting against the US and coalition forces with Al Qaeda insurgents and imprisoned in Kandahar but escaped in a mass breakout in 2008.
In 2011 he may have met with Umar Patek, an Indonesian Salafist terrorist involved in the Bali bombings just before he was caught in Abbottabad Pakistan (the same town OBL was killed later that same year by US Navy Seals). If so then what happened in Toulouse may well have had direct Al Qaeda support and sanction in addition to local sign off from the Wahhabi-Salafi-Takfiri-Jihadi’s in France.
Upon his return it was obvious that he had been brainwashed AF-PAK, he tried to indoctrinate Muslim youngsters in his neighbourhood by showing them video footage of men being decapitated (perhaps it was the beheading of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl in Pakistan in 2002 by the self-confessed fellow Wahhabi Salafai Takfiri Jihadi, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed the 9/11 mastermind).
Mohamed Merah went about his killing in Toulouse school playground without remorse and in fact filmed all three attacks as he was doing them (just like his hero Khalid Sheikh Mohammed did when he gruesomely videotaped beheading Daniel Pearle).
Mohamed Merah despite the fact that both he and his brother were on the police ‘radar’ for involvement with Jihadist causes was not put under surveillance and so was able to amass a huge stock pile of weapons and began to plot his ‘glorious heroic martyrdom’ by murdering school children.
In 2008, the Frenchdomestic intelligence service, the DCRI (Central Directorate of Interior Intelligence) was formed as a merger between the Central Directorate of General Intelligence (RG) and the Directorate of Territorial Surveillance (DST). The Toulouse massacres just goes to show that merely creating a bureaucracy without addressing the legal definitions of who a terrorist is, will not stop these atrocities in the future.
French authorities (including Bernard Squarcini chief of domestic intelligence service, the DCRI (Central Directorate of Interior Intelligence) faced justifiable criticism as to why the convicted Jihadist had not been more closely watched and allowed to amass such a large arsenal of weapons. Perhaps it was Mohamed’s close association with a so-called ‘anti-Islamophobia’ group that used the media that caused ‘political correctness’ to turn their gaze away in fear that they may unleash controversy in an election year.
Anti-terrorism chief Francois Molinssaid Mohamed Merah had trained with Al Qaeda terrorists in the Pakistani militant stronghold of Waziristan, and had been planning to kill two soldiers and a policeman. Merah, described himself as an “Islamic warrior” who wanted to take revenge for what was happening to Muslims in the world.
His first murder was on March 11 in Toulouse where he killed an off duty soldier Sgt Imad Ibn Ziaten outside a gym.
Then on March 15 in nearby Montauban he killed two off duty but uniformed soldiers, Corporal Abel Chennouf, 24 and Private Mohamed Legouad, 26 and seriously injured a third 28-year-old Corporal Loic Liber who is still in a coma. In the attacks on the two soldiers in Montauban after shouting out “Allah Akbar”, he acted calmly, stopping to change the magazine of his pistol. Witnesses described how he had turned over one of the wounded men who was trying to crawl away, and fired three more shots into him.
Then on March 18 he dined out with his brother Abdelkader (who as well known to police because in 2007 he was arrested for supporting Salafi jihadists travelling to Iraq to push out Christians and Shia’s and establish their own Islamic Republic based on their cult. But there was insufficient evidence to charge him). One wonders what topics were discussed on the eve of the horrors that were to befall the children at the local Jewish school the next day.
The next day March 19 this self-professed ‘Islamic warrior’ decided to “bring France to its knees” as he later told police during the siege at his flat and so he set off for a Jewish school in Toulouse.
Reminiscent of what his Wahhabi-Salafi-Takfiri-Jihadi ‘brothers’ did in Beslan with such monstrous lack of feeling for children, he set upon a killing spree at the school. Mohammed Merah casually killed Rabbi Jonathan Sandler, 30, who tried in vain to shield his sons from Mohamed. Their father dead, Mohamed took his time and murdered at close range Mr Sandler’s two young sons, 4 year old Gabriel and 5 year-old Arieh. He actually had only wounded Arieh with his first shot so walked after him as the five year old was desperately crawling away and then came up to him and shot him.
Then he turned his attention to a beautiful little eight year old girl Miriam whom he chased into the courtyard, caught her by her hair and raised a gun to shoot her. The gun jammed at this point and Merah changed weapons from what the police identified as a 9-mm pistol to a .45 calibre gun, and having time to think about what he was doing to this poor little girl nevertheless shot 8 year old Miriam in her temple at point-blank range.
Mohammed Merah was shot dead by Police after a two day siege in his flat on March 22, 2012.
During the siege he wanted “to die as a mujahedeen with a weapon in his hands and he would therefore go to paradise. Whereas if it was policemen who were killed, for them it would be too bad…. he had expressed no regrets other than “not having claimed more victims” and was proud of having “brought France to its knees.”
The French authorities need to see this tragedy in context of how the Wahhabi-Salafi-Takfiri-Jihadi’s operate at source and upon execution and change their laws to interdict terrorist instigators before these tragic mass murders take place.
New ISIL called the MEK
Only in the operation of the hypocrites who became famous for engineering operations, they scoured and slaughtered three soldiers and one shaft alive. Live the burning of a three-years-old girl, burn a bus with all her passengers, and even shoot a 19-years-old teenager in her mother’s arms!
ISIL’s global reputation as a transnational threat that has now come to the heart of Europe has made this terrorist group known in the world as one of the greatest security threats in the world today. Although we know that behind ISIL’s global reputation there is a trace of American goals with the goals of Islam phobia and planning to enter the Middle East, but this global reputation is also of a different nature, perhaps the most important of which is the excessive use of violence, assassination and doping The use of the most modern media tools to reflect these broader measures. Although public opinion in the world and even our country today recognizes ISIS as the most violent and most brutal terrorist group, Iran history shows that in the past not too distant, ISIS and even in some cases have been much more brutal.
The Mojahedin-e Khalq Organization (MEK) or the same terrorist group of the hypocrites, committed crimes in Iran about three decades ago, which in some cases may have exceeded the limits of the actions of ISIS today. Of course, this is not the only point of contact between the two terrorist groups, and a look at the records. And the current situation of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) represents more and more points with ISIS today. This comparison not only provides a more tangible retrieval of the records of the hypocrites in Iran, but also the success of the Islamic Republic in dealing with faced with the group of hypocrisy and experience of the nation of Iran and even Iraq this terrorist group, the behavioral and functional comparison of these two groups, has created the opportunity to better identify and explain more and more ISIS and its objectives to elucidate the implementation strategies to deal more effectively with it. First, the similarities between ISIL and the hypocrites must be two categories of intellectual structures and operational measures, each of which has many components for comparing and the two adapting.
Similarity in intellectual structures
The most important component in comparing the intellectual structures of these two terrorist groups is to return to the claims of Islam following these two groups. Although the hypocrites, as part of the struggle, have publicly stated that they are pursuing a Marxist approach as a method of struggle, the appearances and propaganda in this group show a claim to follow the Shi’a religion, as ISIS expresses its claim to follow Satan’s religion. In one phrase, the hypocrites can be considered as Shiite and ISI brands as Sunni brand of an eclectic and deviant Islam, which merely provided the basis for creating an ideological structure in both of these groups. Both ISIS and hypocrites provided a false impression of Islam and added Providence and subjectivism have managed to apply sectarian control over their forces.
Although the explanation of the ideological deviations of these two groups and their contradiction with Islam is not boring in this debate, merely mentioning some examples of sectarian control behaviors in ISIL and the hypocrites can indicate the contradiction between these two acts and the teachings of genuine Islam. The parties during their period of activity has always applied the most important sectarian control methods to its forces, including the confinement of forces in isolated and remote communities. The organization’s contributions to members’ deployment sites, including the Ashraf Garrison and the French Overs Sauer base over more than three decades from the life of the hypocrites they have been able to Organizational limitations and regulations are always used as a means of isolating forces.
The group’s restrictions on forces are including the lack of free access to the media, including television, newspapers and other sources of information to the prohibition of free association with family members and relatives, including the organizational laws of the group, so that the forces cannot hear anything other than the subjective implications of the leaders. And these behaviors of the hypocrites, even in the years before the revolution in the prisons of SAVAK, were observed in such a way that the members were only allowed to read the journals, books and writings of the organization, and were even prohibited from communicating with other prisoners of revolution, in order to create subjective contradictions and angled out the teeth Kilat is not formed in them.
ISIL is also today limiting its members to the use of media and electronic devices. They also prohibit free use of communication tools and even books for religious forces with religious fatwas that contain organizational orders. Acts such as Jihad-al-Nakah, which, with the earliest study of Islam, can be seen as contradictory to religious laws, is a clear example of the same is true of controlling forces. The second component is in the methods of absorbing these two groups, which is still influenced by the Muslim claim in the stage of absorption and application of mental manipulation methods for controlling and maintaining power. In other words, both groups abuse the religious sentiment and attract them in the name of religion and religion, and then they are motivated. The infallibles and hypocrites both promise, at the stage of absorbing the true and utopian Islam, that they are among the aspirations Islam, and this suggests that it can be achieved with the dedication of the members and stepping up the path of resistance.
This way, the hypocrites could convince some of its sympathizers and sympathizers from Europe to participate in the Mersad operation, which was in fact a mass suicide, in the 1980s. As for ISIS, today we see how this terrorist group uses tools as social networks attract people from Europe and bring them to the deserts of Iraq for war. However, none of the forces, after entering the organization, cannot be separated by any excuse; in fact, as the separation of a person from the organization of the hypocrites is convincing it was considered by him to be removed, in Da’ish, this is also the case with Nair what is used.
Similarity in operational measures
The first and perhaps most prominent similarity of these two groups can be seen at the height of their brutality and brutality in operational actions and assassinations. Both groups of hypocrites and ISIS use the most violence in their operations.
For example, in 1980s terrorist attacks of the hypocrites pointed out that only one operation, which later became known as the engineering operation, scratched and slaughtered three soldiers and one shaft alive. Burning live a three-years-old girl, burning a bus with all her passengers, and even firing a 19-years-old teenager in her mother’s arms!
ISIS today also uses strange methods of burning cages, burning alive and etc. killing. Both groups have even met in exactly the same measure, only one example of which can be found on the Mersad scene. The hypocrites entered Mersad Hospital in Kermanshah and opposed all customary and international rules of wounding and wounded warriors in the hospital’s courtyard.
During the operation, the members of the organization ordered that they target each creature and set fire to their agricultural fields. While ISIS also wounded the massacre during the attack on Mosul and did not even have mercy on the fields, trees and monuments in Syria and Iraq.
A review of the hypocrites in the 1980s shows that the purpose of such measures as the assassination of people in the street and the public in general and brutal methods of killing was only to cause general fear and fear, so that people, due to fear of being killed, cease to support Take revolution.
For this reason, we see that during the same period, the hypocrites, using their official publication and the Mojahed magazine, covered every terrorist act that they were trying to exploit widely in terms of its propaganda in society. It was also aimed at creating fear and fear. It uses harsh methods of killing and massacres and uses the most up-to-date media equipment to try to cover its actions and broadly reflect them in a very fatal view.
Today there are some ISIL terrorist acts that are almost as large as the number of weapons, video cameras present in various faces to record the incident. ISIS’s rebound has been seen repeatedly in Iraq as a reflection of its actions. As a result, many cities and villages have been captured by the people in the hearts of the people without any resistance and at the lowest cost. Other common behavior of these two groups can be seen in the methods of financing. The hypocrites have steeled and looted from time to time to finance themselves. This group is both in pre-revolutionary activities, which had the money to steal from the bank and the currency exchange office, or after the revolution, whose operational units of assassination had the duty to steal after its killing every pro-revolutionary shopkeeper.
This behavior continued in Iraq with theft of its oil resources, so that millions of dollars of Iraqi oil resources were deposited into the accounts of this group. ISIL is also providing its financing today through ways such as the theft of cash from Iraqi banks in the captured cities and oil sales of the Iraqi people.
The comparison of the two groups in the political arena also yields similar results. Both the Islamic Revolutionary Guardsmen and the Islamic State are supported by the West African countries, and especially the United States, and this is due to both of them within the framework of the soft strategy of the United States of America in the region.
Manage and command, supply and circulation of arms and equipping three components of Western support for the hypocrites and ISIL terrorists. Americans, who no longer have military presence in the region either because of the imposition of financial charges or because of public exposure, use terrorist groups as proxy armies. That is why the behavior of the two groups is entirely defined in the American interests puzzle in the region.
Examples of direct American support for ISIS include the transfer of multiples military equipment from the sky (Which was later explained as a mistake!) and intelligence assistance. Meanwhile, the close association of American retired politicians with the hypocrites at the Seminars of this group in Europe is also the evidence of American support for this terrorist group.
There are, of course, many examples of US support for these two groups, and it is not in the interest of this piece, but for another example, the support of the United States of America in the region can be mentioned from both of them. The most prominent of these countries is Saudi Arabia, which is in the interests of its regional organization is producing and equipping terrorist groups in the region. Saudi Arabia’s paternal and supportive attitude to the hypocrites and ISIS is also evident.
Despite all the support provided by the United States, there are limits and limits to these two groups, due to the West’s equal look at both of them, these limits are common in many ways. One of the most prominent western red lines in the case of these two terrorist groups is the ban on the entry of these members into the geographical range of the Western countries. Nevertheless, neither Europe nor the United States are willing to threaten their security by accepting terrorists; ISIL is today a victim of the West.
Despite the expulsion of Iraq, the hypocrites are still in doubt as a result of the pretext of Western refugee countries to accept their terrorist members, and eventually they have only been able to find a refugee camp in Albania by way of UN consultation. What they point out it was only a part of the most important components of the similarities between ISIL and the hypocrites, and, as noted earlier, due to the similarity of the two in the functions and missions, similar methods could be used to confront them. The experience of the Islamic Republic of Iran in the conflicts of the 1980s with the hypocrites showed that the most important factor in dealing with this terrorist group is the popular forces.
This issue is easily visible in Iraq today. In the countries involved with ISIL, including Syria and Iraq in particular, just as the popular forces arrived, ISIL received deadly blows, and this issue can be described as the best way to deal with the ISIL terrorist group, with the reasons for it.
Countering Extremism: Jihadist Ideology Reigns Supreme
The sad truth is that governments, law enforcement, security forces, intellectuals and journalists do not have an ideological response to political violence’s latest reiteration, jihadism. Moreover, the struggle against political violence, is not one that is predominantly ideological.
To add to this, mistakes are being repeated. Al Qaeda produced the counterterrorism industry in the context of a response that was focussed on law enforcement, security and military engagement. To be sure, that has produced significant results. It has enhanced security across the globe, stopped plots before they could be executed, driven Al Qaeda into caves, and deprived the Islamic State of its territorial base.
All of that, however has not solved the problem, nor has it fundamentally reduced the attraction of religiously-cloaked extremism. No doubt, social media has provided militants with a megaphone. But let’s be clear: social media are vehicles, media channels, they are not drivers. Yet, much like the terrorism industry, the call for a counter-narrative has produced an industry of its own. Like the terrorism industry, it has vested interests of its own: its sustainability is dependent on the continued existence of perceived real threats.
Further troubling the waters is the fact that the public and private anti-terrorism and counternarrative industries see human rights as second to ensuring security and safety; have little interest in addressing the problem through notions of alienation, marginalization, socio-economic disenfranchisement, youth aspirations and basic rights in which counterterrorism and counter-narratives would be embedded. Aiding and abetting the problem are the ever more evident campaigns by non-egalitarian and non-inclusive democratic societies as well as autocratic Middle Eastern and North African regimes that either have reduced interest in independent analysis and reporting, seek to restrict freedoms of expression and the press, or define any form of dissent as terrorism.
The notion that one can eradicate political violence is illusionary. Political violence has been a fixture of human history since day one and is likely to remain a fact of life. Its ebbs and flows often co-relate to economic, social and political up and down turns. In other words, counterterrorism and counternarratives will only be effective if they are embedded in far broader policies that tackle root causes.
And that is where the shoe pinches. To develop policies that tackle root causes, that are inclusive and aim to ensure that at least the vast majority, if not everyone, has a stake in society, the economy and the political system involves painful decisions, revising often long-standing policies and tackling vested interests. Few politicians and bureaucrats are inclined to do so.
Starting with Al Qaeda’s 9/11 attacks, militants have benefitted from the fact that the world was entering a cyclical period in which populations lose confidence in political systems and leaderships. The single largest success of Osama bin Laden and subsequent militants is the fact that they were able to disrupt efforts to forge inclusive, multicultural societies, nowhere more so than first in Europe, then the United States with the rise of Donald Trump, and exploit ripple effects in Asia.
The result is the rise of secular and religious nationalism, populism, greater acceptance of autocratic or illiberal rule, and the erosion of democratic values and institutions. Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, and other forms of ethnic and religious prejudice that no doubt existed but lived under a cloud of primarily social taboos and have become socially acceptable and often politically convenient. Of course, the refugee crisis put oil on the fire.
Nonetheless, what makes this cycle of lack of confidence more worrisome and goes directly to the question of the ideological challenge is how it differs from the late 1960s, the last time that we witnessed a breakdown in confidence and leadership on a global scale.
The difference between then and now is that then there were all kinds of worldviews on offer: anti-authoritarianism, anarchism, socialism, communism, concepts of extra-parliamentary opposition, and in the Middle East and North Africa, Arab nationalism and Arab socialism. Today, the only thing on offer are militant interpretations of Islam and jihadism.
Human rights activist and former Tunisian president Moncef Marzouki was asked in a Wall Street Journal interview why it was not only those who lacked opportunity and felt that they had no prospects and no hopes but also educated Tunisians with jobs who were joining the Islamic State. His answer was: “It’s not simply a matter of tackling socioeconomic roots. You have to go deeper and understand that these guys have a dream—and we don’t. We had a dream—our dream was called the Arab Spring. And our dream is now turning into a nightmare. But the young people need a dream, and the only dream available to them now is the caliphate.”
Its hard to build an ideological challenge or develop counternarratives without a dream. With democracy on the defense, free market enterprise having failed significant segments of the public, and newly found legitimacy for prejudice, bias and bigotry, democratic governments are incapable of credibly projecting a dream, one that is backed up by policies that hold out realistic hope of producing results.
Autocrats are in a no better situation. The mayhem in the Middle East and North Africa is not exclusively, but in many ways, due to their inability and failure to deliver public goods and services. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman appeared to be holding out a dream for his kingdom. But that dream increasingly is being shattered both in Yemen and at home. Autocrats in the Middle East and North Africa are about upgrading and modernizing their regimes to ensure their survival, not about real sustainable change. Elsewhere, populists and nationalists advocating racial, ethnic and religious purity and protectionist economic policies are unlikely to fare any better.
What this means is that identifying the root causes of political violence demands self-inspection on the part of governments and societies across the globe. It is those governments and societies that are both part of the problem and part of the solution. It is those governments and elites that are at the root of loss of confidence.
Translating the need to tackle root causes into policy is proving difficult, primarily because it is based on a truth that has far-reaching consequences for every member of the international community. It involves governments putting their money where their mouth is and changing long-standing, ingrained policies at home that marginalize, exclude, stereotype and stigmatize significant segments of society; emphasize security at the expense of freedoms that encourage healthy debate; and in more autocratic states that are abetted by the West, seek to reduce citizens to obedient subjects through harsh repression and adaptations of religious and political beliefs to suit the interests of rulers.
The result is a vicious circle: government policies often clash with the state or regime’s professed values. As a result, dividing lines sharpen as already marginalized, disenfranchised or discriminated segments of society see the contradiction between policies and values as hypocritical and re-confirmation of the basis of their discontent.
Creating a policy framework that is conducive to an environment in the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia that would favour pluralism and respect of human rights and counter the appeal of jihadism and emerging sectarian-based nationalism is not simply a question of encouraging and supporting voices in the region, first and foremost those of youth, or of revisiting assumptions of Western foreign policies and definitions of national security. It involves fostering inclusive national identities that can accommodate ethnic, sectarian and tribal sub-identities as legitimate and fully accepted sub-identities in Middle Eastern, North African, and South Asian, as well as in Western countries. It involves changing domestic policies towards minorities, refugees and migrants.
Inclusiveness means, that victory has to be secured as much in militant strongholds in a swath of land that stretches from the Mediterranean to the Indian Ocean as in the dismal banlieues, run-down, primarily minority-populated, suburbs of French cities that furnished the Islamic State with its largest contingent of European foreign fighters; in the popular neighbourhoods in Tunisia that accounted for the single largest group of foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq; in Riyadh, seat of a government whose citizens accounted for the second largest number of foreign fighters and whose well-funded, decades-long effort to propagate a puritan, intolerant, interpretation of Islam has been a far more important feeding ground for jihadist thinking than the writings of militant Islamist thinkers like Sayyid Qutb; and in Western capitals with Washington in the lead who view retrograde, repressive regimes like those of Saudi Arabia and Egypt as part of the solution rather than part of the problem.
In territorial terms, the Islamic States has been defeated but the problem remains unresolved. Al Qaeda was degraded, to use the language of the Obama administration. In the process, it weakened a jihadist force that increasingly had advocated a gradual approach to the establishment of its harsh interpretation of Islamic law in a bid to ensure public support. Instead of reducing the threat of political violence, the largely military effort to defeat Al Qaeda produced ever more virulent forms of jihadism as embodied by the Islamic State. It may be hard to imagine anything more brutal than the group, but it is a fair assumption that defeating the Islamic State without tackling root causes could lead to something that is even more violent and more vicious.
Defining repressive, autocratic rule and the Islamic State as the greatest threat to stability and security and the furthering of more liberal notions is problematic. In the case of the Islamic State, that definition elevates jihadism – the violent establishment of Pan-Islamic rule based on narrow interpretations of Islamic law and scripture — to the status of a root cause rather than a symptom and expression of a greater and more complex problem. It is an approach that focuses on the immediate nature of the threat and ways to neutralize it rather than on what sparked it. It also neglects the fact that the ideological debate in the Muslim world is to a large extent dominated by schools of thought that do not advocate more open, liberal and pluralistic interpretations of Islam.
That is where one real challenge lies. It is a challenge first and foremost to Muslims, but also to an international community that would give more liberal Muslim voices significant credibility if it put its money where its mouth is. Support for self-serving regimes and their religious supporters, as in the case of Saudi Arabia and Egypt, reduces the international community’s choices to one between bad and worse, rather than to a palate of policy options that take a stab at rooting out the problem and its underlying causes.
There are no quick solutions or short cuts and the value of partial solutions is questionable. The key is the articulation of policies that over the medium term can help generate an environment more conducive to change rather than the continuous opting for knee-jerk reactions to events and facts on the ground.
One place to look for alternative approaches is Norway. In contrast to most reactions to political violence and expression of pro-jihadist sentiment, Norway’s response to right-wing extremist Anders Behring Breivik’s traumatic attacks in 2011 that killed 77 people stands as a model for how societies can and should uphold concepts of pluralism and human rights. Norway refrained from declaring war on terror, treated Breivik as a common criminal, and refused to compromise on its democratic values. In doing so, Norway offered a successful example of refusing to stigmatise any one group in society by adopting inclusiveness rather than profiling and upholding the very values that autocrats and jihadists challenge.
The result of exclusively security-focussed approaches, coupled with the exploitation of economic opportunity by autocratic Middle Eastern and North African regimes and Western governments, is an increasingly insecure region in which the creation of pluralistic societies that honour human rights seems ever more distant. Said an Egyptian Islamist militant, whose non-violent anti-government activism is as much aimed at opposing the regime of general-turned-president Abdel Fattah Al Sisi as it is designed to persuade increasingly frustrated youth that there are alternatives to nihilistic violence: “The strategy of brutality, repression and restricting freedom has failed to impose subservience. It hasn’t produced solutions. Governments need to give people space. They need to prove that they can address the problems of a youth that has lost hope. We have nothing to lose if they don’t.” The Egyptian’s inclinations pointed towards peaceful protest in favour of a more liberal society, albeit bound by Islamic morality codes; his options, however, left him little choice but to drift towards jihadism.
Edited remarks at India Foundation conference, Changing Contours of Global Terror, Gurugram, Haryana, 14-16 March 2018
How Can Hollywood Help Fight ISIS and Similar Terrorist Groups?
Authors: Anne Speckhard & Ardian Shajkovci
BAGHDAD – The International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism (ICSVE) researchers recently took part in Department of Defense (DOD – CENTCOM) and Iraqi government jointly sponsored incubator program held in Baghdad, Iraq. Facilitated also by American Abroad Media (AAM), the program served to bring together Iraqi forces, Iraqi filmmakers, and personalities from the Hollywood film industry, such as Bill Marsilii, Janet Batchler, and Tim Clemente. The participants shared important ideas on how to narrate and recreate powerful and appealing stories of Iraq’s recent war with ISIS, including how to create appropriate images of struggle, heroism, and unity in a war against one of the most barbaric terrorist groups to date, and how to attract audiences to such stories in a manner that builds national unity, heals wounds of sectarianism, and binds back a society torn apart by terrorist ideologies and actions.
During the conference, Iraqi forces and filmmakers featured a number of intriguing war stories presented on film, particularly of heroes who gave their all trying to rescue their country out of the hands of a brutal terrorist group, portraying them from different perspectives and with varying objectives. The conference also shed light on the relationship between the armed forces and the film industry. Both Hollywood participants and members of the Iraqi military reminded us of the prevailing popularity of movies and documentaries about heroic men and women in the battlefield and the ordinary citizens whose amazing courage sets examples for all of us.
Members of the Iraqi military chronicled stories of honor, heroism, patriotism, and the Iraqi army’s ability to protect the nation. They also portrayed acts of courage, as they did those of human suffering and tragedy in equal measure. Many found such stories emotional yet uplifting. Army soldier Hussein died while saving the weak and carrying injured companions to safety. In death, in the words of those who knew him personally, he gained fame as a “national hero.” Reminiscent of Mona Parson’s courage in hiding Allied airmen in her house in the outskirts of Amsterdam during the Nazi occupation, Umm Qusai, a brave Iraqi woman, courageously pulled it off without being caught by ISIS. She was determined to enter a clandestine world of rescuing the vulnerable, by some accounts saving dozens of Iraqi soldiers from ISIS by sheltering them in her home. The story of Baiji refinery, just north of the capital, Baghdad, and the brave men who stoically fought back against ISIS was depicted as a symbol of national resistance against ISIS, while also serving to celebrate the government’s determination to prevail over the terrorist group.
ISIS-related horror stories also took center stage in many of the presented documentaries, as though the Iraqi military and security establishment was seeking a way to eliminate future carnage. Hiding in plain sight, there were also images of those who seem to want to go on with their lives, exhausted and disinterested in revisiting the conflict. Some suggested injecting laughter in the midst of death and destruction found in the recent conflict. As we listened to numerous presentations by the Iraqi military and young movie producers, we also wondered if images of peace, romance, and comedy often found during times of war could augment those of cinematic combat in restoring a sense of hope for the future. The movie Life is Beautiful comes to mind, a touching fictional movie of a Jewish father determined to shelter his son from the horrors of the Holocaust by convincing him that their time in a concentration camp is merely a game.
Conferences such as these highlight not only the importance of rebuilding national identity and solidarity through documenting heroic stories of war and human suffering, but also countering the narrative of terrorist groups like ISIS. The Hollywood screenwriters and producers offered their expertise in creating story lines that could challenge ISIS and other terrorist groups’ powerful use of video and imagery, especially important in the face of ISIS’ prolific Internet distributed video productions and their clever use of social media to identify and contact vulnerable youth who like, share, Retweet or otherwise endorse such products—swarming in to lure them further into the group. Given Hollywood’s long-standing history of countering enemy narratives, it seems that they might have just the “medicine” for dealing with the ISIS poison spewed out over the Internet over the last five years and capable of luring over 30,000 foreign fighters to Syria and Iraq to cause devastation and suffering to so many.
Hollywood screenwriter, Janet Batchler reminded participants that many Westerners have stood up to neo-Nazism in modern day times precisely because they learned from movies that the symbols of Nazism represent evil. Similarly, today we need new films to help youth recognize the lies of groups like ISIS and to redirect them to better paths to truly heroic acts, finding significance and to pursuing nationhood.
We at ICSVE continue to understand the importance of generating theatrical productions that capture audience attention and imagination. In our Breaking the ISIS Brand Counter Narratives Project, we use the voices of actual ISIS insiders—defectors, returnees and ISIS cadre prisoners—we have interviewed on film to denounce the group as the un-Islamic, barbaric and corrupt group they found it to be. We use ISIS propaganda pictures and videos to illustrate the horror stories they tell, effectively turning ISIS’ propaganda back on them. At ICSVE, we know the power of film to turn hearts and minds. The presence of Hollywood filmmakers in Baghdad this past week was crucial to further strengthen the fight against terrorist groups like ISIS and advance education in filmmaking in ways relevant to furthering the Iraqi national context.
first published in our partner ICSVE
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