Authors: Anne Speckhard, Ph.D. & Ardian Shajkovci, Ph.D.
AMMAN, Jordan: What does Abu Qatada, the so-called “spiritual father” of al-Qaeda in Europe and man responsible for a fatwa on Algeria that some argue offered ideological justifications for killing civilian family members of Algerian military officers, resulting in the beheadings of many, have to say about the Trump Presidency and the territorial defeat of ISIS? Last January, shortly after the inauguration of President Trump, ICSVE’s Anne Speckhard and Ardian Shajkovci sat down with him on the outskirts of Amman, Jordan, to ask him for his opinion on the Trump presidency and the future of the Middle East. Because his son was briefly imprisoned, by the Jordanians, Abu Qatada requested that we not publish this piece until now. Since then we have interviewed him twice again, in December 2017, during which he surprised us greatly with his views on the legitimacy of terrorist attacks against civilians (see part two of this series). This is thus a two-part series based on four total conversations over the past year with Abu Qatada.
Abu Qatada: Part One
Dressed in a long dark thobe and his grey beard reaching over his chest, Abu Qatada hosts us in a large diwan in his stone hewn home on the outskirts of Amman, Jordan, its walls filled with scholarly books about Islam. As we are served coffee on a tray that Abu Qatada accepts from uknown female hands beyond a doorway inside his home, I glance about the room. His desk is filled with books, and like mine at home there are many piled up beside his chair. It’s obvious we are in the home of a scholar.
While an angry ideologue, Abu Qatada is also an articulate man who can illuminate how those supporting al-Qaeda consider how their strategic plans might unfold. He is a barometer of sorts on a whole other type of thinking. We start our discussion on President Trump and the future of the Middle East.
“It’s a very difficult question,” Abu Qatada answers regarding our question about what he thinks will be the future of the Middle East. “There is something coming, which nothing can stop it from changing this area,” he predicts, as his large brown eyes gaze across the room trying to glimpse what the future may hold. “The region will be more fragmented. This system of nation-states that was created after World War II will disappear in our region. Saudi, Yemen, Iraq, Syria, and Jordan will dissolve. Their central governments will end.”
He told us the same in November 2016, mentioning that Yemen, Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, and Syria had already collapsed, or were about to, and it was just a matter of time before the entire region of propped up dictators would fall and the region would be engulfed in conflicts.
“What will come in its place?” we ask.
“It will become more fragmented. I’m not sure, it could happen in America too,” he states. But here, I am sure it will happen, because the differences in society are becoming strong and the gap is deepening.” As Qatada continues.
As we consider his answer, one cannot help but reflect on the perceptions of class conflict that has also grown more prevalent in the recent years in the United States. How often, these days, the same words are said about American society in regards to tensions between the poor and the rich and to the losses in the middle class? Could inequalities in income and wealth ultimately lead to rebellion even beyond the Middle East, or even globally? Highly improbable, but points out the potential societal costs of inequality and the divisive politics it may potentially lead to both at home and more likely, abroad.
We ask him what differences in society he is speaking of in the Middle Eastern context. “Shia and Sunnis are part of the scene, but are not the whole thing. The Jewish dream of dominating from the Nile to the Euphrates according to the Torah—you cannot accomplish it because of human nature. This also is part of the issue,” he explains, harking back to his own Palestinian roots and his longstanding anger at the establishment of the Jewish state and according to him, the illegitimate Israeli overtaking of Palestinian lands.
“Israelis cannot control Gaza. It’s the human dimension they cannot control. It’s the same with the Shia. They don’t have the human depth to rule this area. They could have [ruled], before the Syrian uprising. They could have been accepted. Everyone started for their own reasons loving Hezbollah after July’s war [with Israel], he says, referring to the 2006 Israeli incursion into Lebanon. “But after Syria, the ones that like Hezbollah cannot be mentioned in Sunni circles,” he adds.
Indeed, speaking today with Iraqis, Jordanians, and Syrians in the Middle East, we hear much more today about the Shia-Sunni divide—and anger directed at the Shia by the Sunnis—whereas only ten years ago, this anger would more likely have been directed at Israel and the Jews.
The 2003-2006 U.S.- Coalition led war into Iraq followed by al Qaeda in Iraq’s Abu Musab Zarqawi unleashing a furious jihad against the Shia and their subsequent retaliations, coupled now with the Syrian conflict and the war in Iraq restarting, have all opened a sectarian rift and left scars of murderous rage alongside desires for revenge among the victims and their sympathizers on both sides of that divide. It is not about Palestinians and Jews anymore. It has become a much wider sectarian conflict engulfing larger regions in the Middle East.
“Sunnah is not a sect. It is the original,” Abu Qatada asserts, echoing ISIS and al-Qaeda claims that Sunnis have the correct interpretation of Islam. Indeed, these groups claim to follow the original and true form of Islam, and call Takfir—that is deemed worthy to be killed—all those who do not adhere to their strict and brutal interpretations of Islam. As a person, Abu Qatada is more gentle than they are, but his ideological teachings are of the same ilk.
The Shiites, politically, I’m no longer afraid of them,” Abu Qatada explains. “And militarily, I’m not scared of them. The issue could be more complex. What stops the Sunnis from wiping out the Shiites? Are the regimes of the Sunni states?” he asks. “Let’s take Saudi Arabia, for example. The Sunni society in Saudi can achieve a big victory against the Houthis [Shia-led insurgency] in Yemen,” he says, predicting what soon starts to occur over the last months. “What is stopping them is the regime itself. What is stopping a Sunni leader appearing there are the Sunni regimes themselves, and not the Shite.”
“Right now the regimes are stopping the Sunni leadership and putting them in prison,” Abu Qatada states referring to his Islamist and militant jihadi brothers. “There is a marginalization of the Sunni power. If the regimes fall, there is Sunni power to wipe out the Shia power. Take the Lebanese, for example, this mosaic. If the state goes, supported by all the disputed parties, the Sunni power, with the Palestinian camps, will lead to getting rid of the Shia parties and its allies.” Abu Qatada again harks to his belief in Palestinian militancy and alludes to the proxy war in Syria and parts of Iraq, in which Iranians and Gulf actors serve as sources of financial support for both state leaders and terrorist groups.
“Now Sunnis in Iraq are the majority,” Abu Qatada stresses, although factually this is not true, even if Kurds are lumped in with Sunnis. “Everything is confirming that Sunnis in Iraq are the majority. Shia leadership belonging to Arab regimes, they are ruining the Sunni project in Iraq.”
“The vision and idea of the Middle East that is upcoming and in which those states will no longer exist brings important questions,” Abu Qatada states. “Will their collapse mean that there will be an invasion from the West to our region?”
This is the important question for those of Abu Qatada’s following. If the West is non-interventionist, perhaps his vision can come into being with the Sunni Islamists rising to take power, as ISIS tried and briefly established its so-called “Islamic State”. If the West stays out will some or many of the Middle Eastern governments collapse, as Abu Qatada predicts, making way for something else, his vision of reshaping the region?
“So what do you think of President Trump?” we ask.
“I don’t see the problem in Trump,” Abu Qatada answers. “I worry after Trump, what will come to us on the land of al Bab [we presume he refers to Syria], the destroyed land of al Bab.”
Abu Qatada is angry about the injustices and bad governance in his region. Perhaps in some ways his anger mirrors the anger and fear over similar issues in the U.S. that propelled the most unlikely of candidates into the U.S. presidency.
“Trump is not the abnormal in the American situation. He didn’t’ come with an [armed] revolution. Trump is a simple man and he is a reflection of a phenomenon. This is a big loss given that a person like this was able to convince a wide spectrum.”
“In our region we should expect a lot of developments in the West that will affect us,” Abu Qatada explains. “In reality, when it comes to our [Islamist] goals, Trump may be a benefit. What matters most to us is if he is going to continue his support to those regimes who rely on American support? If he is an isolationist, will he stop the financial support for some regimes? If so, that will be very effective for us.” Abu Qatada states.
The reordering of American engagement in the Middle East keeps preoccupying Abu Qatada’s thought. He clearly wants the West to withdraw all of its support for current Arab leaders in hopes that their governments will collapse, hastening his version of the Islamic State that he would love to usher into the region in their place. He makes no mention of whether U.S. support that emboldens dictators to use coercive measures at home to suppress extremist dissent actually undermines the credibility of democratic values. Yet that too is an important concern globally as groups like al-Qaeda and ISIS rally the downtrodden and those with real and perceived grievances against their governments to believe in a totally alternative form of governance—as in the ISIS Caliphate—supposedly governed by Islamic ideals. This is Abu Qatada’s dream as well although in a less brutal form.
In President Trump’s first moves, he invited King Abdullah to the White House and the U.S. continues unabated in its over one-and-a-half-billion-dollar annual investment in Jordan. At that meeting, President Trump reiterated his commitment to Jordan’s stability and security while both parties pledged continuing contributions to defeat the Islamic State. The extent of their partnership could be further exemplified by the withdrawal of the U.S. Ambassador in Jordan at the request of King Abdullah. Similarly, President Trump visited Saudi Arabia in May 2017 where he similarly reinforced U.S. support for their government. Abu Qatada also might be quite disappointed at the amount of public praise President Trump gave for the Arab leaders in the region.
What about the surrounding region—will the support continue despite poor governance, corruption, and human rights violations? Will the U.S. continue to lend military support for the governments of Iraq and Syria to be bolstered to remain strong? These are questions Abu Qatada worries over, as U.S. involvement and support for existing governments in the Middle East could thwart his plans.
“He is only interested in money,” Abu Qatada states. “Withdrawal and money. Will Trump, the businessman, give more money to these ally states? Will he continue the financial aid?”
Indeed, these are important questions as the West must come to terms with whether dictatorships should be supported to the extent they have in light of them ignominiously suppressing not only Islamist but also democratic movements in the Middle East. How should a U.S. President deal with authoritarian rulers who vehemently object to any criticism of their wrong doing or their human rights record, as is the case with many authoritarian rulers in the Middle East? These are important questions that may or may not be answered in this administration.
One must not forget that al-Qaeda rose out of the idea that Arabs would never be able to win dignity and justice as long as the West was propping up dictators who get in the way of movements seeking freedoms, using torture and imprisonments to do it, hence the al-Qaeda idea of going for the “head of the snake”—attacking the West to someday achieve freedom for Arab Muslims from dictatorial regimes.
“What will happen to ISIS?” we ask, changing the conversation to looking at the current Islamic State.
“ISIS is on its way to disappearing,” Abu Qatada answers (in January 2017). In November 2016, he refused to criticize ISIS because they were on their knees and militarily in retreat, but it was clear even then that he was not supportive of their brutal tactics and rush to declare a Caliphate—a premature move in his opinion.
“This leadership is gone. But something new coming is very possible. ISIS will be defeated, but is it the end of ISIS? Al Qaeda and Nusra are over in Syria. It is a reality. Al Qaeda and al Nusra ended in Syria, but a new development happened. A new organization appeared, not ISIS, but Tahrir al Sham, Fateh al Sham. This development will continue,” he adds referring to Salafi organizations formed from al-Nusra and other groups that appear to be continuing in the same ideology despite claiming to be no longer affiliated with al Qaeda.
“So, an armed Sunni rebellion and wanting to take control will continue?” we ask.
“In Syria, one hundred percent, yes,” he answers. “In Iraq, I don’t know. I cannot judge on this.”
Turning back to President Trump, Abu Qatada states, “There is no strategic vision of Trump on ISIS. It’s very clear he has a cowboy mentality. His way of solving a problem is carrying a gun and shooting, but the world is more complex than that. The Americans don’t have experience in our region, like the Europeans do. You have seen how things get out of your control,” he says, referring to the 2003 U.S.-led coalition invasion of Iraq and the current Syrian war.
“Bush did a lot of killing, he was like the raging bull. Obama’s strategy was surgical operation. But with all of this, there are more losses for them. The problem is that people are running toward the problem and are not afraid of it.”
Ruminating about Trump, Abu Qatada asks, “Was he chosen for internal or external reasons? If they [the American people] chose Trump for external reasons, then the Americans are so stupid, worse than stupid, they are morons imbeciles, idiots.” We laugh as he says it. Indeed, President Trump in his first months in office does not seem to be able to take a nuanced view of the Middle East, but perhaps Abu Qatada underestimates the U.S. military and Congress, or the President himself to catch on?
“Putin took advantage of the weakness of Obama,” Abu Qatada answers. “Obama was unable to solve this problem. I have no vision of the economic situation of Russia, but I wonder if their economic situation will allow them to intervene more? But there is obviously a romance going on with Trump.” Interestingly enough, we failed to ask if he thought of the relationship as being more than just a “romance,” as he calls it, perhaps an attempt to reinvigorate old alliances and find new allies to unlock indolent and frozen decades-old conflicts in the Middle East, as some claim?
Clearly Abu Qatada’s hope is that all Western powers will stay out of the region. He hopes that the existing governments will fall and that Sunnis will rise up to create their wider Islamic State.
“What will it look after ISIS?” we ask.
“To look as ISIS as being only the problem in the area is extremely wrong,” Abu Qatada states. Indeed, al-Qaeda in Iraq first rose in response to the U.S. invasion of Iraq and gained support and momentum in response to Sunni leadership being sent home while Shias rose to dominance and Zarqawi came sowing his seeds of terrorist discord. A similar thing happened with ISIS. Lacking security, justice, and dignity, the Sunni population easily supported them in their first moves inside Iraq. Thus, we see that the real answer to terrorism is not only to defeat terrorists but to remedy the political issues that gave rise to them—issues that require fair and effective governance that delivers security and justice for everyone.
“This is an Islamic problem,” Abu Qatada states. “To look at ISIS and to think that we are fighting ISIS in Syria, Libya, and Yemen is wrong. ISIS is not even shining the most important aspect in this area. It’s part of an explosive and flaming problem in the area for the Muslims. All Muslims need answers. What is our problem? The situation is very bad, inside and out, and people know that the only way for change is fighting, and the only way to solve our problems is to have an Islamic State. There may be differences, but they all share the vision of an Islamic State. To talk about ISIS only is to forget the fact that we have a problem.”
While Abu Qatada insists that armed conflict will come to pass in order for Middle Easterners to be ruled justly, his words find a chord. Focus testing our Breaking the ISIS Brand Counter Narrative videos in which former ISIS cadres denounce the group, Jordanian youth told us, “You know we all want the Caliphate. We just aren’t sure if we want the ISIS Caliphate.” This view was reiterated multiple times. Clearly, there is a search for a just form of governance and that makes youth and others vulnerable to groups like ISIS.
“Please, clarify the “problems?” we ask. “Are you speaking about justice, unemployment, what problems exactly?
“We are not talking only about injustices. Forget this. To convince the people we are on the right path,” Abu Qatada states imagining his vision of the Arab region. Qadafi is gone. Assad doesn’t control two thirds of Syria. Yemen is all fragmented. They are over,” he states, perhaps mistakenly discounting the influential Putin-Assad relationship, with Syrian President Bashar al Assad still controlling the areas of Syria that are of most strategic importance to him thanks to Russian airstrikes targeting everyone who threatens his regime.
“We can no longer talk about social justice as the problem. Now the issue is to reestablish the region. Now the organizations are talking about getting rid of injustice, but now we have a problem of defining the future. Those who think that we will simply put these states back together are mistaken.”
“The situation is developing in a very dramatic way,” Abu Qatada insists. “Forget about ISIS. I believe what Wael Hallaq [an American professor at Columbia University, specializing in Islamic jurisprudence] says, that the Islamic State is impossible to achieve given the context in the international world, in the West. These internal differences in the West are creating a bigger gap, but it will not be an Islamic State,” Abu Qatada continues. “States that fall will not be replaced. But it will be all the Muslims in the region living under Islamic rule, not a state, but as an Islamic nation.”
This was the vision of ISIS that is now disintegrating, but despite their loss of territory and capacity, the vision has staying power in a region that is plagued with corruption, security violations, injustice, and unemployment. While Abu Qatada believes that President Trump will play into his hand, hastening the fall of current Arab governance, one would hope that all Middle Eastern rulers from Syria to Iraq, to Saudi Arabia and beyond would realize the need for better decision-making and the need to provide security, justice, economic possibilities and real freedoms to ward off future iterations of terrorist groups like ISIS.
When we return to talk with Abu Qatada in January of 2017, President Trump has been one year in office and has just recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. He has not been the non-interventionist in the region that Abu Qatada had hoped for, the American leader withdrawing all support from who he sees as corrupt regional leaders. And now the U.S. President has handed Jerusalem to the Israelis without any concession to the Palestinians.
“You are talking of Kushner with the deal of the century,” Abu Qatada states. “They want to get rid of us, kick us out of our country. But come to me after five years, keep on visiting me, but after five years, and all these grand [dealings] will be a mirage. It will have no reality on the ground,” Abu Qatada predicts.
“Israel is becoming a burden on the world.”
Referring to President Trump’s time Abu Qatada points out, “When did Trump carry out this decision, what day did he do it, announce it? It was Dec 6, 100 years since Dec 6 1917 when the Balfour Declaration took place [allowing for the creation of Israel]. Do you think this is a coincidence?” he asks. “Trump has been now a year, why did he chose this day, definitely there is an ideological issue with it.”
When I tell Abu Qatada that not all Americans agreed with this decision, he states, “I’ve learned with Westerners, you always try to lessen the sharpness of the pain inside of us. You always try to soften the blow.”
“Despair could come out of it,” he says referring to the loss to Palestinians, “but take it as a basis of principle. There is something that exists in history, the reality of history, and it is the blunder,” Abu Qatada warns. “This blunder becomes stronger. The stronger the mistake is, the more powerful the mistake is in its destruction. Israel is a settlement state—a garrison state—and garrison states always will always be defeated. I describe settlements as putting a foreign entity in your body. You always need serums and injections to support them.”
Turning back to the larger Arab world, Abu Qatada predicts, “There will be strategic changes in the world and America will be affected by the changing situation. I believe there will be new governments in Saudi and Egypt. They will deal with the U.S. as Iran is dealing with America. They will say the word ‘no’. And the quiet majority will be crying over what Trump did. After Trump new things will come…”
While Abu Qatada is certainly correct in regard to regional alliances shifting and Arab leaders that may continue to be toppled, and that the region is and may continue to be plagued with challenges from corruption, suppression of human rights, religiously linked terrorism and armed conflict, how the Trump administration plays its hand in the region may make for something far less violent than he is predicting. On that, only time will tell.
Reference for this Article: Speckhard, Anne & Shajkovci, Ardian (February 14, 2018) Speaking to Abu Qatada about Donald Trump’s Presidency and the Future of the Middle East. ICSVE Research Reports. http://www.icsve.org/research-reports/talking-to-abu-qatada-about-donald-trumps-presidency-and-the-future-of-the-middle-east/
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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