[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] S [/yt_dropcap] audi columnist, Muhammad bin ‘Abd al-Latif Aal al-Sheikh: The ideology of the al-Salafiyah al-Jihadiyah movement is similar to, or even worse than the Nazi ideology. Both Jihadi-Salafi and Nazism are based on hatred and physical elimination of the other. Both ideologies share hatred of the other and eliminating through his physical extermination – and they have many other common denominators as well.
After the ruin, destruction, and bloodshed that Nazism brought upon mankind, the number of its victims reached tens of millions, the world arose to fight against this murderous ideology, and all steps were taken on the ideological, cultural, and political levels, to prevent this ideology from spreading anew.
The question arises is why, in light of the similarity between these two ideologies, we haven’t learned a lesson, and why we are not fighting against the foundations of al-Salafiyah al-Jihadiyah, its religious scholars, its theoreticians, and its preachers, just as we deal with criminals, murderers, and robbers? The concept of jihad has become a destructive terrorist concept, a call to murder.
In his next article titled “On the Contrary, They Are Worse than the Nazis and Stray More from the Right Path,” al-Sheikh writes: The terrorists have sullied Islam with blood and tarnished its name through violence, killing, explosions, and destruction, it is the obligation of clerics and everyone involved in Da’wah before anyone else to defend the religion and the peaceful people from among the Muslims and others. Have the clerics of our times fulfilled their duty? The most direct answer is: Sadly, no!
Imagine that the way of dealing with statements by al-Salafiyah al-Jihadiyah is comparable to the West’s way of dealing with Nazism, would TV channel, like the Qatari al-Jazeerah dare to spread this ideology and demand ‘freedom of speech’? Everybody knows that this channel in particular has had the greatest media impact on the shaping, spreading, and strengthening of this dangerous trend, and that it provides it with wide space to express its ‘acts of heroism’, its statements, and its videotaped operations, to the point where it has become the primary platform of [al-Salafiyah al-Jihadiyah] as is happening today in Iraq.
Therefore, one of the primary missions of the international community today is to repeat its experience with Nazism and to deal with this dangerous barbarian culture exactly as it dealt with the Nazi culture. If this does not happen, the near future is liable to bring consequences of which will be far more severe for all of humanity than [the consequences] of World War II (al-Jazeerah (Saudi Arabia), July 10, 2005, and July 24, 2005).
Umran Salman, a Bahraini journalist living in the U.S., criticizes the Sunni silence over the extermination of the Shi’ites in Iraq: Aren’t the Arabs Ashamed When Some of Them Massacre Iraqi Citizens?
When the Jordanian terrorist, Abu Mus’ab al-Zarqawi, declared war against the Shi’ites in Iraq, to blow up children, women, and the elderly, none of the Arabs uttered a word and none shed a tear for the thousands of Iraqis being murdered. Don’t the Arabs feel sense of shame when some of them kill and massacre Iraqi citizens? Don’t they feel pangs of conscience when they try to come up with excuses and justifications for the murderers and criminals whom they call the ‘resistance?’ How can they be silent and ignore declaration of the extermination of millions of people because of their sectarian affiliation? How is one to [describe] the Arab silence in light of the murder of Shi’ite Iraqis and their intimidation in the most despicable and base of ways? The murderers declare their positions publicly and consider them Jihad for the sake of Allah. How is one to explain [the silence of] politicians and members of the media?
What can we say in light of the attitude of the Arab media and the Arab satellite channels in particular, which report the killings, the slaughters, and the suicide bombings among Iraqi citizens coolly. The war being waged by the terrorists against the Shi’ites in Iraq is among the acts of collective extermination, which is rare in modern history.
There has been no case in the past in which somebody has declared a similar war against a race or a group as a whole, except Nazi Germany against the Jews. Muslim scholars in Arab countries have issued dozens of Fatawa about current political issues, but have not issued even a single fatwah declaring bin Laden, al-Zawahiri, or al-Zarqawi to be infidels. The world is witness that the Arabs and the Sunnis are silent and standing idly by, and some are even welcoming, the cold-blooded murder of the Shi’ites. They will bear this mark of shame for all eternity.
The Sunnis have persecuted the Shi’ites, declared them infidels, and continue to treat them in their countries as second-class citizens and have returned today to complete what they started in previous centuries. In the 21st century they are continuing their massacres and crimes against them, in full view of the world. Do these people not feel the shame and disgrace that shroud them? (www.elaph.com, October 15, 2005: MEMRI, no. 1010, October 21, 2005).
Saudi author, Badriyya al-Bishr, a lecturer in social sciences at King Saud University, in an article titled: “Imagine You Are a Woman”.
Imagine you’re a woman. You always need your guardian’s approval regarding each and every matter. You cannot study without your guardian’s approval, even if you reach a doctorate level. You cannot get a job and earn a living without your guardian’s approval. Imagine you’re a woman and the guardian who must accompany you wherever you go is your 15-year-old son or your brother. Imagine you’re a woman and you are subject to assault, beatings, or murder. In the event that your husband is the one who broke your ribs [people will say] that no doubt there was good reason for it.
Imagine you’re a woman whose husband breaks her nose, arm, or leg, and when you go to the Qadi to lodge a complaint, he responds reproachfully ‘That’s all?!’ In other words, beating is a technical situation that exists among all couples and lovers. Imagine you’re a woman and you are not permitted to drive. Imagine you’re a woman in the 21st century, and you see Fatawa by contemporary experts in Islamic law dealing with the rules regarding taking the women of the enemy prisoner and having sexual intercourse with them, even in times of peace.
Imagine you’re a woman who writes in a newspaper, and every time you write about [women’s] concerns, problems, poverty, unemployment, and legal status, they say about you: ‘Never mind her, it’s all women’s talk’ (al-Sharq al-Awsat, October 9, 2005: MEMRI, no. 1012, October 24, 2005)
The liberal Bahraini journalist, ‘Umran Salman, explains Arab-Muslim hatred. Hatred in the Arab and Muslim world is a general phenomenon that is not limited only to the Americans. It is possible that the Arabs and Muslims hate each other no less than they hate others. In the 1990s, over 200,000 citizens were killed in Algeria, most of them by extremist Islamic groups. What was the response of most of the Arabs and Muslims?
Presenting justifications for the murderers and terrorists. During those years, the Taliban movement also abused Shi’ites, Azeris, Tajikis, and other minorities, and no one did anything to stop it. In 1990, Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, occupied it, and expelled its residents. What was the response of the Arabs and Muslims? Nothing. On the contrary: Most Arabs and Muslims supported Saddam. And in 1991, Saddam murdered hundreds of thousands of Iraqi Shi’ites and Kurds, and Arabs and Muslims did not condemn it.
These days, Arab militias, supported by the Khartoum government, are continuing their racist campaign of annihilation against the African Muslims in Darfour. In Iraq, al-Zarqawi and the terror groups affiliated with him are slaughtering Shi’ites and blowing up their mosques and their schools, after declaring war on them. In both cases, none of the Arabs or the Muslims are acting to prevent this, or even to condemn the deeds.
In total, during a single decade alone no less than half a million Arab and Muslim victims were murdered by Arabs and Muslims. In addition, the religious, ethnic and national minorities in the Arab world, Shi’ites, Isma’ilis, Jews and Christians have been subject to humiliation, persecution, as characterized by racism.
The United States response to terror attacks of September 11, 2001, was aimed at accomplishing three goals:
First, to strike a crushing blow against the al-Qa’idah’ and its allies in the Taliban in Afghanistan. This goal was accomplished;
Second, to destroy the despotic regime of Saddam Hussein and of the fascist Ba’th party in Iraq. This goal too was accomplished;
Third, to spread democracy and freedom in the Middle East. This project will continue for decades to come, but will it succeed?
The first blow infuriated the Islamists; the second blow infuriated the pan-Arab nationalists; and the third blow infuriated the Arab regimes. Gradually, an unofficial alliance emerged between these three parties, with the long-term goal to thwart the new American policy.
Since this alliance is too weak to respond militarily, it responds in the media, the educational systems and the mosques with propaganda, as to distort the image of the U.S. in order to make the Arab citizens loathe everything American. This [propaganda] machine operated at full power in order to brainwash the Arab citizens, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, in order to fan the hatred against the U.S. (Mideast Transparent, October 25, 2005: MEMRI, no. 1016, November 2, 2005).
The Liberal Tunisian Dr. Iqbal al-Gharbi, in an article titled “Whither the Arabs and Muslims in the Age of Forgiveness and Pardon?”
The Muslims must take responsibility for their past, must stop blaming others, and must be self-critical. We still insist that we are always the victims, and that we are always innocent. Our history is angelic, our imperialism was a welcome conquest, our invaders were liberators, our violence was a holy jihad, our murderers were Shuhada’, and our defective understanding of the Qura’n and the daily violation of the rights of women, children, and minorities were a tolerant Shari’ah.
Since our societies have known, to date, only a culture of resentment, of hatred, and of seeking vengeance [the question arises] whether we are capable of reconsolidating cultural, moral, and humane relations with the other? Is it possible for us to abandon our current cultural heritage that is full of great illusions and of denigration of the other? There is no doubt that aggression, invasions, and wild acts of annihilation are engraved in human history and widespread across the globe amongst both Muslims and non-Muslims.
But what differentiates us today from others is the extent of our awareness of history… and the extent to which we justify in the name of Islam. What is happening today is an attempt to falsify our history in line with the extreme Islamist movements that call for a return to the illusion of the purity of the era of the first caliphs.
This comes at a time when the historical facts show clearly that the [early Islamic] state that we ennoble with an idyllic nature was a state of civil strife. Why are we hiding the facts and misleading our children? Why don’t we call things by their name, and set them in their historical context? Why do we insist on beautifying our history and on living outside it?
The new ideological atmosphere obliges us to adopt human rights, and to treat these rights as a cultural value and as an achievement – not as merely a tactical maneuver, waiting for a change in the international balance of power, or for the establishment of an Islamic caliphate. We must take a number of practical steps: we must renounce, once and for all, the Islam that is awash with accusations of unbelief and treachery that divides the world into the camp of Islam and the camp of unbelief, the camp of war and the camp of peace.
This division destroys any serious dialogue between religions and cultures. We must renounce the dhimmi laws, and apologize to the Christian and the Jewish minorities. We must put an end to our changing of the facts, and to the miserable fabrications that we created in an attempt to prove that these minorities enjoyed a high status in the Islamic state. We must assess Islamic history objectively, and issue an historic public apology to the Africans who were abducted, enslaved, and expelled from their homes.
The Arabs and the Muslims played a sizeable role in this loathsome trade. They alone caused the uprooting of 20 million people, from among the victims of the slave trade. We must apologize to the religious minorities and the small schools of Islamic thought, such as the Isma’ili, the Bahai, the Alawi, and the Druze, for the humiliation and denigration they suffered. Why don’t the Sunnis ask forgiveness from the Shi’ites for the slaughter at Karbala, and for the assassination of Hussein [the grandson of Muhammad], so as to bring to an end the painful past.
By bearing responsibility for our deeds and mistakes, we will abandon our narcissistic self-aggrandizement. Psychology teaches us that every person and every cultural group becomes more mature as it moves from the stage of placing responsibility and blame on others to the stage of self-examination and self-criticism (Metransparent, October 17, 2005: MEMRI, no. 1019 – November 4, 2005).
Regarding its years-long policy of granting safe haven to Muslim extremists; enabling them to spread their ideas in schools, mosques, and the media; giving them legal protection, in the name of freedom of expression and individual rights; and increased criticism of the “silent Muslim majority” and “moderate Muslim intellectuals”, who capitulate to Islamist pressure and do not speak out decisively. Europe must change its lenient treatment of Muslim extremists. Saudi intellectual Mashari al-Dhaydi wrote:
The time has come for those who turn a blind eye to notice that the enemies of freedom have, unfortunately, exploited the atmosphere of freedom provided by the European countries, to spread religious fanaticism everywhere. People who disseminate the ideological and political platform of bin Laden are the greatest enemies of the freedom that the European countries defend. Fundamentalist terrorism knows no borders, and it also threaten the West (al-Sharq al-Awsat, July 12, 2005).
‘Abd al-Rahman al-Rashed, director-general of the al-‘Arabiya TV channel, called for the expulsion of Muslim extremists:
For over 10 years now, we have warned against the dangers of leniency, not tolerance, in handling the extremism that is now spreading like a plague among Muslims in Britain. We were never understood why British authorities gave safe haven to suspicious characters previously involved in crimes of terrorism. Why would Britain grant asylum to Arabs who have been convicted of political crimes or religious extremism, or even sentenced to death? The terrorist groups make the most of freedom of speech and movement, by spreading extremist propaganda.
The time has come for British authorities to be realistic and resolute regarding extremism, before complete chaos is unleashed onto British society. In the past, we told you: ‘Stop them!’ Today, we tell you: ‘Expel them’ (al-Sharq al-Awsat, July 9, 2005).
Incitement on the Internet must be stopped. One terrorist group murders and a group of extremists justify the act, incite, and recruit others. The Internet has become a main tool for the terrorists. This is the most important and effective medium in corrupting Muslims’ thinking. The source of intellectual danger today is the media, as a whole, including the Internet. It must be censored (al-Sharq al-Awsat, July 18, 2005).
Arab columnist Diana Mukkaled writes that The BBC ”Panorama” special dealt with Islamic leaders in Britain who expressed their support for suicide operations against Israeli civilians yet condemned the London attacks. The questions that preoccupy Europe today is who are the enemies living among us; why do they label others as infidels; and why do they hate us?
British Muslim leaders expressed their viewpoints with the belief that ‘We are the believers and the people of paradise and they are the unbelievers and the people of hell’. Such is a language that is present on a daily basis and hardly any [Arab] broadcasting channels are free of such dispute. Yet within the minds of those who propagate these acts, lies the belief that the world will not heed their message when repeated in Arabic on Arab broadcasting channels.
These people will use different terminology when speaking in English on foreign television networks. The world is closely watching of what is written and broadcast in all Arab media. Therefore when a Muslim clerics referring Jews as “grandchildren of monkeys and pigs,” it is inevitable that such words will reach millions of people around the world. The problem does not lie in what the BBC said, but rather in what we say (al-Sharq al-Awsat, September 1, 2005).
The Islamist’s answer to the liberals’ criticism came from British Islamist Dr. ‘Azzam al-Tamimi. On August 29, 2005, he argued that Muslim critics are Islam’s worst enemies, whereas support from non-Islamic sympathizers is Islam’s greatest asset. He calls these liberal writers “traitors” and says that without their help, “Blair and Bush, and the leaders of Australia and New Zealand, would not have dared to act impudently toward Islam and the Muslims… but for the traitors among us,” who help them in a “frenzied attempt to destroy Islam.” In a BBC interview al-Tamimi stated: sacrificing myself for Palestine is a noble cause. It is the straight way to pleasing Allah, and I would do it if I had the opportunity” (BBC interview: November 2, 2004. al-Quds al-‘Arabi, MEMRI, September 7, 2005. No. 980).
al-Tamimi’s argument echoes a similar accusation by sheikh Omar Bakri Muhammad, the head of the Islamist al-Muhajirun movement in Britain, who was deported to Lebanon. He termed “the notorious fundamentalist” by the London Arabic-language daily al-Sharq al-Awsat. In his interview, Bakri said: “The Muslim community in Britain allows itself to join the British intelligence, security, and army. Therefore, I consider them responsible before Allah…” He also said, “I accuse those recruited by the British government, and they must account for their actions before Allah.”
There is no doubt that the forces of the extreme right and the racist movements and the Zionist lobby in this democratic system have been full of rancor and hatred, and that these events gave them the opportunity to spew their venom. while they justify the violations of human rights, civil liberties and the rule of law, under the pretext of fighting Islamic extremism and terrorism. Despite their small numbers, they are widespread, and the danger posed by those traitors, who reside in the liberal democratic countries is even higher than the rulers of Arab countries. These traitors are a far cry from the giants of the British left, Ken Livingstone and the fighter George Galloway who has allied himself with Muslims. The traitors are a small group full of envy and rancor. In our long-term war of defense against injustice and aggression, we will find in our midst leaders, politicians, writers, and academics standing in the other camp against us. They are the enemy (al-Sharq al-Awsat, August 30, 2005).
The Director of MEMRI Reform Project, has summed up the situation of the few Arab Intellectuals and reformists, stating that they are under threat by the Islamists. The restrictions placed on intellectuals’ freedom of expression in the Arab world and the death threats from Islamists are hampering the activities of reformist, secular, and moderate Arab intellectuals. Many of them have found asylum in Western countries, and are attempting to impact Arab and international public opinion from there. Some have stopped writing; others have been forced to request protection from the authorities (MEMRI, November 23, 2005, no. 254). This horrific situation has much worsened through the years to 2016:
Muhammad Sa’id al-‘Ashmawi, an Egyptian judge and author, threatened for his interpretation of Quoraanic verses according to their historical context, which was perceived by Islamists as undermining their religious validity.
Dr. Ahmad Al-Baghdadi, a reformist author who teaches political science at Kuwait University, published a public request for political asylum in a Western country. Accused of contempt for Islam, after he wrote in June 2004, in a Kuwaiti paper, that he would prefer his son study music rather than Qur’an. Claimed that there is a connection between studying Islam and reciting the Qur’an, and terrorism and intellectual backwardness.
Lafif al-Akhdar, accused of an anti-Islamic book defaming Muhammad. He issued a call urging civil society organizations around the world, and especially human rights organizations, to take legal measures to protect him. His chief accuser is Rashed al-Ghanushi, one of the extremist Islamists who enjoys political asylum in Britain, incites extremist Islamists to kill al-Akhdar.
Sayyed Al-Qimni, an Egyptian reformist author and researcher received death threats from Islamists, announced in July 2005, that he was retracting everything he had written in the past, and would no longer write or appear in the media. He had been spared a fate similar to that of the assistant editor of the al-Ahram, Ridha Hilal, who disappeared in August 2003 and the Egyptian security services have been unable to locate him or to discover what befell him.
Arab intellectual reaction to this was: what is the difference between killing a man with a gun and issuing a fatwah permitting his killing? We all know how these stories end: somebody accuses someone else of heresy and a third person, seeking reward in the hereafter, physically eliminates the one accused of heresy. The clerics who incite to terrorism are inciting the Muslim youth to carry out suicide acts and to murder innocent people. This is an incitement to murder the free intellectuals who call for democracy, secularism, and modernism. This is a religious terrorism.
Dr. Shaker al-Nabulsi accused Arab governments, which cannot do anything when it comes to clerics who sanction bloodshed. What have the Arab authorities done about Sheikh Al-Qaradhawi? What have the Western governments done about Rashed Al-Ghanushi, who lives in London? And what has Saudi Arabia done about the 26 clerics who published a fatwah legitimizing jihad in Iraq, which is, in essence, pure terrorism?
The international community should establish an international tribunal to try these people. The terror against the intellectuals reveals the cultural bankruptcy of the Arab regimes and of the Arab peoples. By Allah, the West should not be condemned for thinking that every Muslim is a terrorist, when it sees all these shameful deeds and the Muslims remain as silent as the dead.
The martyrs of free thought are such as Farag Foda [an Egyptian intellectual who was assassinated by fundamentalists] Hussein Muruwwa and Mahdi ‘Amel [Lebanese intellectuals who were assassinated by fundamentalists], Mahmoud Taha [a Sudanese intellectual who was executed by Hassan al-Turabi], Ahmad Al-Baghdadi [a Kuwaiti intellectual who was jailed for his views].
Landing in Riyadh: Geopolitics work in Putin’s favour
When Russian President Vladimir Putin lands in Riyadh this week for the second time in 12 years, his call for endorsement of his proposal to replace the US defense umbrella in the Gulf with a multilateral security architecture is likely to rank high on his agenda.
So is Mr. Putin’s push for Saudi Arabia to finalize the acquisition of Russia’s S-400 anti-missile defense system in the wake of the failure of US weaponry to intercept drones and missiles that last month struck key Saudi oil installations.
“We are ready to help Saudi Arabia protect their people. They need to make clever decisions…by deciding to buy the most advanced S-400 air-defence systems. These kinds of systems are capable of defending any kind of infrastructure in Saudi Arabia from any kind of attack,” Mr. Putin said immediately after the attacks.
Mr Putin’s push for a multilateral security approach is helped by changing realities in the Gulf as a result of President Donald J. Trump’s repeated recent demonstrations of his unreliability as an ally.
Doubts about Mr. Trump have been fuelled by his reluctance to respond more forcefully to perceived Iranian provocations, including the downing of a US drone in June and the September attacks on the Saudi facilities as well as his distancing himself from Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu following last month’s elections, and most recently, the president’s leaving the Kurds to their own devices as they confront a Turkish invasion in Syria.
Framed in transactional terms in which Saudi Arabia pays for a service, Mr. Trump’s decision this week to send up to 3,000 troops and additional air defences to the kingdom is likely to do little to enhance confidence in his reliability.
By comparison, Mr. Putin, with the backing of Chinese president Xi Jinping, seems a much more reliable partner even if Riyadh differs with Moscow and Beijing on key issues, including Iran, Syria and Turkey.
“While Russia is a reliable ally, the US is not. Many in the Middle East may not approve of Moscow supporting Bashar al-Assad’s regime, but they respect Vladimir Putin for sticking by Russia’s beleaguered ally in Syria,” said Middle East scholar and commentator Mark N. Katz.
In a twist of irony, Mr. Trump’s unreliability coupled with an Iran’s strategy of gradual escalation in response to the president’s imposition of harsh economic sanctions in a bid to force the Islamic republic to the negotiating table appear to have moderated what was perceived as a largely disastrous assertive and robust go-it alone Saudi foreign and defense policy posture in recent years.
While everyone would benefit from a dialling down of tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran, Mr. Trump’s overall performance as the guarantor of security in the Gulf could in the longer term pave the way for a more multilateral approach to the region’s security architecture.
In the latest sign of Saudi willingness to step back from the brink, Saudi Arabia is holding back channel talks for the first time in two years with Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen. The talks began after both sides declared partial ceasefires in the more than four year-long Yemeni war.
The talks potentially open the door to a broader Russian-sponsored deal in the context of some understanding about non-aggression between the kingdom and Iran, in which Saudi Arabia would re-establish diplomatic relations with Syria in exchange for the Islamic republic dropping its support for the Houthis.
Restoring diplomatic relations and reversing the Arab League’s suspension of Syrian membership because of the civil war would constitute a victory for Mr. Al-Assad’s main backers, Russia and Iran. It would grant greater legitimacy to a leader viewed by significant segments of the international community as a pariah.
A Saudi-Iranian swap of Syria for Yemen could also facilitate Saudi financial contributions to the reconstruction of war-ravaged Syria. Saudi Arabia was conspicuously absent at last month’s Rebuild Syria Expo in Damascus.
Mr. Putin is likely to further leverage his enhanced credibility as well as Saudi-Russian cooperation in curtailing oil production to boost prices to persuade Saudi Arabia to follow through on promises to invest in Russia.
Saudi Arabia had agreed to take a stake in Russia’s Novatek Arctic-2 liquefied natural gas complex, acquire Sibur, Russia’s largest petrochemical facility, and invest an additional US$6 billion in future projects.
Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak predicted that “about 30 agreements and contracts will be signed during President Putin’s visit to Saudi Arabia. We are working on it. These are investment projects, and the sum in question is billions of dollars.”
In anticipation of Mr. Putin’s visit, Russia’s sovereign wealth fund, the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF), said it was opening its first overseas office in Riyadh.
RDIF and the kingdom’s counterpart, the Public Investment Fund (PIF), are believed to be looking at some US$2.5 billion in investment in technology, medicine, infrastructure, transport and industrial production.
The Russian fund is also discussing with Aramco, the Saudi state-owned oil company, US$3 billion in investments in oil services and oil and gas conversion projects.
Saudi interest in economic cooperation with Russia goes beyond economics. Ensuring that world powers have an increasing stake in the kingdom’s security is one pillar of a more multilateral regional approach
Said Russian Middle East expert Alexey Khlebnikov: “Clearly, the recent attacks on Saudi Arabia’s oil facilities have changed many security calculations throughout the region.”
No peace for Kurds: Rojava still under attack
The Amazon is still on fire. The “lungs of the Earth” are hardly breathing while the flames are threatening people and nature reserves. As long as we do not see with our own eyes the burnt trees, the endangered species and the indigenous tribes fighting to save their dying forest, we seem incapable to understand the actual consequences.
Thousands of miles away from this environmental catastrophe, a different kind of tragedy is waiting to happen. Rojava-Northern Syria Federation — the self-declared autonomous region that Kurdish people managed to carve out in northeastern Syria during the Civil war — is burning again.
On September 24, Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan made a controversial speech to the United Nations General Assembly and proposed to create a “safe zone” in the north of Syria, in order to resettle up to 2 million Syrian refugees. He is hoping to establish a peace corridor with a depth of 32 kilometers and a length of 480 kilometers, which would easily turn the area into the world’s largest refugee camp. Despite the seemingly humanitarian purposes, this might represent the umpteenth attempt to destroy the Kurdish dream of an independent democratic enclave.
It is undeniably clear, in fact, how Turkey could take advantage of the situation: Erdoğan’s spokesman Ibrahim Kalin has already claimed that Ankara’s aim is also to clear the borders from “terrorist elements.”
The People’s Protection Units and the Women’s Protection Units (YPG/YPJ), which — along with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) — played a key role in the fought against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), are the official army of Rojava but currently designated as terrorist organizations. These armed groups, in fact, are considered as an extension of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), the far-left militant and political organization founded in 1978 by Abdullah Öcalan and often involved in armed clashes with Turkish security forces.
Kurdish people are about to be left alone once again and the recent decisions of the White House trigger alarm in the whole Middle East.
On October 7, president Donald Trump announced that the United States — so far the main financer, trainer and supporter of Kurds — would start pulling troops out of those territories, although it would not constitute a full withdrawal.
Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said that “The Department of Defense made clear to Turkey — as did the president — that we do not endorse a Turkish operation in Northern Syria,” and that “The US Armed Forces will not support, or be involved in any such operation.”
Mazlum Kobanê, the commander in chief of the SDF, announced that they will protect Syrian’s borders and fight back against Ankara’s army. Since the majority of Kurdish cities are located in this area, it is not difficult to understand how potentially devasting this ongoing operation could be.
Turkish assault is going to begin from the city of Gire Spi/Tell Abyad, once controlled by the so-called Caliphate and captured in 2015 by the YPG during the Tell Abyad offensive. The cities of Qamishli, Derek/Al Malikiya, Tell Tamer and Kobanê/Ayn al Arab are next to become target of air strikes and artillery fire as well.
It is no coincidence that shortly after the siege of Kobanê, Kurdish forces directed their efforts towards Tell Abyad, being such a strategic site for ISIL militias. The city, in fact, was better known in the West as the “Jihadi Highway”, a de-facto corridor for foreign fighters. In the chaos caused by the fighting, jihadists would surely try to regain strength and Turkish move is serving the cause.
At the Al-Hol camp — a huge detention female camp near Al-Hasakah — numerous riots have occurred in the past few weeks, and the managers of the structure believe that the women held in the prison — former jihadi brides — might be the vehicle for renewed forms of radicalization.
In view of the fact that US officials confirmed that they will not intervene nor will they seize control of those prisons, Kurdish forces called Washington’s move “a stab in the back”. Meanwhile in Raqqa, ISIL militants are still carrying out suicide bombing attacks against SDF positions.
Shervan Derwish, official spokesman of the Mambij Military Council, has expressed his concern with a very touching message on Twitter.
The YPG and YPJhave fought in many historical battles and their solitary resistance during the last Turkish Afrin offensive in January 2018 became a symbol of their resilience.
On the other hand, Turkey’s army will be backed by their well-known rebel allies: “The Turkish military, together with the Free Syrian Army (FSA), will cross the Turkish-Syrian border shortly, “wrote Fahrettin Altun — Turkey’s communications director — in a Washington Post column. Numerous military groups are active in the region and, although their nature is still debated, there are evidence of many connections with jihadi-inspired organizations.
Working in cooperation with the SDF, Rojava’s cantons are ready to resist and defend their independence, but Trump’s decision sounds like a betrayal.
If forests are burning, so will be democracy in Syria. The Rojava project is in imminent danger, and this time there will be no mountains for the Kurds to seek refuge in. Here in the West we are blessed not to directly witness the destruction of both tragedies, but it is still up to us whether to look those flames in the eye or remember them as the unique environments they actually were.
In loving memory of Mehmet Aksoy, who dedicated his life to the Kurdish cause.
Revisiting Saudi-Iranian Rivalry: From A Cold War Perspective
Middle East considered the “bridge between the East and West” has long grabbed attention of great power policy makers due to its geostrategic and geopolitical significance. After the discovery of oil in the early part of 20th Century, Iran and Saudi Arabia had gained a prominent position at the global international arena. The defining moment in their relation was the year 1968, when the British government announced its withdrawal from the “Persian Gulf,” threatening thereby the balance brought to an equilibrium by more than 150 years of English security guarantees to the sheikdoms. The international community largely sees the conflict in terms of sectarian and on religious grounds which is an inadequate approach and one that rules out other detrimental factor. There have been little analysis and studies undertaken on the conflict from a “Cold war” perspective, which can significantly help other states in maintaining a viable balance between Saudi Arabia and Iran.
The conflict dubbed as the “New Middle East Cold War” or “Saudi-Iranian Cold War” is not the first event termed as “Cold war” in the Middle Eastern history. Malcolm Kerr writing in his acclaimed book Arab Cold War 1958-67 termed the growing rivalry and quest for leadership in the Middle East at the aftermath of British and French withdrawal between Republican Egypt and conservative Arab monarchies as a regional equivalent of Cold war. The present relations of Saudi Arabia and Iran are short of war, a condition where although the contenders do not engage in open battlefields face to face, it is a ‘battle’ nevertheless fought on different fronts including the media. Daniel Serwer of John Hopkins writes that Saudi-Iran conflict is regional equivalent of20th century US-Soviet Cold war.
Characteristics of Cold War
The term ‘cold war’ had been in use before 1945 to describe period of extreme tensions between states that were just short of war. In the year 1893, German socialist Eduard Bernstein described the arms race between Germany and its neighbors as a kind of ‘cold war’ where “there is no shooting but bleeding.” The term rapidly came back into use when United States and Union of Soviet Socialist Republic (USSR) faced each other eyeball to eyeball. British writer George Orwell remarked on the significance of the moment foreseeing “a peace that is no peace” where the two mighty powers were to be “unconquerable and in a permanent state of cold war.”Anders Stephanson has defined the essence of a Cold War as consisting of characteristics whereby both sides deny each other the legitimacy as a regime, attempting to attack each other by all means short of war. This is in the view of the author, followed by an intense military buildup with a prolonged arms race.
Cold War since then has exclusively referred to as the ‘sustained state of political and military tensions’ between the 20th century superpowers. Although the rivalry had ceased with the disintegration of the Soviet Union, the term and subject-matter has remained ever relevant to an extent that the study of grand strategy and security is considered incomplete without the former’s inclusion. Saudi Arabia and Iran, in order to contain conflict and to ensure; that it ends up being short and as shallow as possible, need to revitalize the lessons of the ‘original Cold War.’ United States and Soviet Union despite their sustained rivalry developed a variety of mechanism for escalation and risk management. This was undertaken without foregoing their core national interests and ideologies. The leadership understood that there was ‘wisdom in engaging’ rather than isolating the other. The approach is more relevant today in the era of globalization than it was in those years. “Geo-economics must replace geopolitics” as the focal Saudi-Iranian approach in order to reach a ‘non-zero sum situation.’
Religious and political ideology plays an important role in the foreign policy between Riyadh and Tehran. The two offer competing ideologies and political model with a strong desire for strategic and geopolitical supremacy. The standoff, experts believe is also the result of the desire and aspirations of the two, for political leadership in the Islamic world. The conflict is not the result of alleged schism between Shia and Sunni school of Islam, but is rather a byproduct of centuries’ political and religious contestation that existed between empires and is now manifested into politics of these modern states.
Diplomacy is integral to the Middle East cold war. Since establishing relations in 1929, the two have had their ups and downs. In the years of the Shah, relations began to take the turn for worse when Shah’s ‘hegemonic desires’ and Saudi Arabia’s desire not to accept Iran predominant role in the Gulf and beyond. Nevertheless, relations remained intact at least diplomatically despite severity of incidents such as Gunboat coercion and the oil wars.
Wars have recognizable beginnings and they comprise of direct fighting between the adversaries with armistices and peace treaties as their conclusive ends. However, a Cold war has none of these characteristics, in words of Walter Lippman, “it brings neither peace nor honour to those who wage it.” The conflict between Iran and Saudi Arabia has “spillover effects” and repercussions beyond the region. States such as those in the West, and Pakistan in particular close in proximity to the two have had a tough time “balancing” their relations. A careful, delicate and pragmatic approach needs to be adopted on part of statesmen, taking into account the opportunities and challenges arising from a “Cold War” need to be taken into account. Media on both sides has an important role to play in patching up the hostilities by upholding ethical standards and avoiding propagandist contest to avoid further aggravation of the conflict.
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