The Independent’s Partrick Cockburn writes: “West poised to join forces with President Assad in face of Islamic State”.
This is absolute rubbish. Not one British official is quoted saying they would work with Assad against ISIS. Not even anonymously.
When the British Foreign Secretary was asked on Friday by the BBC if the UK was planning to work with Assad against ISIS, he said “No” outright. He added that working with Assad would “poison what we are trying to achieve”. And said it was not “practical or sensible”.
The UK’s sole role in the Iraqi crisis so far has been to provide humanitarian aid. Military involvement would lead to demands for a vote in Parliament, and that’s not happened yet (and unlikely it will happen soon). So far, we are even refraining from air-strikes, let alone working with Assad.
Could it be happening behind the scenes? Also unlikely. The UK has been helping the (moderate) rebels against Assad for years. We have also continuously called for Assad to go. There is absolutely no trust between the UK and Assad. So the chances that we would suddenly start cooperating and trusting each other is remote.
Is the United States working with him? The sole evidence is the Independent’s claim that the US army passed on intelligence about the exact location of “jihadi leaders” through the the German intelligence service to Assad. But Assad has always known where ISIS are because he has been tracking their movements carefully.
One U.S. General has called for Obama to work with Assad against ISIS, but its not yet official US government policy.
We would be foolish to work with Assad against ISIS anyway
Doing so would be a monumental disaster for two reasons.
First, it would mean we neatly fell into Assad’s gameplan. We had always known from the start that Assad wanted to play on the west’s fears by portraying his opposition as Islamic radicals. When he failed in convincing people, he actively worked to build up ISIS.
As recently as 2012, Isil was a marginalised movement confined to a small area of Iraq. Then Mr Assad emptied Sednaya jail near Damascus of some of its most dangerous jihadist prisoners. If he hoped that these men would join Isil and strengthen its leadership, then that aspiration was certainly fulfilled. A number of figures in the movement’s hierarchy are believed to be former inmates of Syrian prisons, carefully released by the regime.
By 2013, Isil had managed to capture oilfields in eastern Syria. But to profit from these assets, they needed to find a customer for the oil. Mr Assad’s regime stepped in and began buying oil from Isil, thereby helping to fund the movement, according to Western and Middle Eastern governments.
Assad always knew that the west is more scared of Islamic militants than dictators. So he helped build ISIL / ISIS as his exit strategy, so we would reach a point where we’d work with him to defeat them, thereby ensuring Assad stays in power.
Working with Assad against ISIS would make us absolute suckers who fell for his grand plan. There are even cartoons across the Middle East that say it explicitly.
Secondly, working with Assad would be the best recruiting agent for jihadis across the world. Assad is reviled across the Muslim world, having destroyed Syria and killed nearly 200,000 people. He has made millions homeless and forced them into refugee camps.
I can't imagine a better recruiting line for ISIS than: "hey look Muslims, USA and UK are working with the guy who killed 200k of you" #wato
— Sunny Hundal (@sunny_hundal) August 22, 2014
This sort of short-termist, idiotic thinking from the West helps the jihadis. By working with Assad the West would end up creating more Jihadis and threaten our security for generations.
Let’s get two caveats out of the way first: I’m neither a Muslim and nor am I religious in any sense (I come from a Sikh family). Secondly, anyone who’s read my work knows I have zero sympathy for religiously motivated terrorists. In fact I even supported the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 to take out the Taliban.
Yesterday the Evening Standard said in its Editorial Comment: “Muslim communities must be far more outspoken about this: we look to them, for instance, to organise protests against the Islamic State.”
I’ve also seen various tweets by people asking why more Muslims aren’t speaking out against ISIS, or condemning it. In response there’s this.
If you think Muslims aren't condemning ISIS, it's not because Muslims aren't condemning ISIS. It's because you're not listening to Muslims.
— Hend (@LibyaLiberty) August 20, 2014
But even asking for condemnations is ridiculous. Muslims globally are no more responsible for the actions of ISIS than British Jews are for Israeli war-crimes. During the Gaza offensive no one asked British Jews to apologise for the Israeli bombs that killed hundreds of children. This is despite the fact that British Jews do go and fight in the IDF.
Demanding that Muslims condemn ISIS is xenophobic because it implies that they are sympathetic to the terrorist group unless they state otherwise. It implies all Muslims are responsible for the actions of terrorists. And there’s a double-standard because other minorities aren’t held to the same standard.
Yes, I’m aware that British Muslims have gone to fight with ISIS. But we live in a free country and British Mosques can’t stop people from travelling to Syria any more than the police can stop crimes before they happen.
Furthemore, the condemnations are useless, however reassuring they may sound. This is all a charade, like how politicians feel obliged to make a public statement of grief when someone famous dies.
The jihadis at ISIS and their sympathisers already see 99% British Muslim organisations and commentators as apostates. They’re executing religious Shias in Iraq daily – you think they care what the Muslim Council of Britain has to say? They don’t even care for the Muslim Brotherhood.
Lastly, it’s worth noting that most of the victims, and most of those fighting ISIS daily, are Muslims. The image above is of Kurdish soldiers fighting ISIS.
In other words, Muslims are being criticised for not condemning a group that is mostly killing Muslims. It’s ridiculous.
Britain needs a serious discussion about how to counter those people with extreme views here. We also need a discussion of British foreign policy in the Middle East. But asking all Muslims to condemn ISIS does not advance either of those much needed debates, it just illustrates idiocy.
There are three common rules when people discuss politics:
1) they are willing to believe anything on the internet if it confirms their prejudices
2) they don’t want to accept people of their tribe do awful things
3) they find a way to blame America or the UK for most of the world’s problems
A recent example: the claim that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi – the self proclaimed leader of Islamic State in Syria and Iraq – was funded or trained by the CIA or Israel’s Mossad, and that this was apparently revealed by Edward Snowden.
Stories claiming this hoax have gone viral all over the web (example 1, example 2, example 3). This is simply not true. In fact I asked the reporter Glenn Greenwald, who has had more contact with Snowden than most people – this question directly.
@sunny_hundal I've never heard him say any such thing, nor have I ever heard any credible source quoting him saying anything like that.
— Glenn Greenwald (@ggreenwald) August 6, 2014
Furthermore, Edward Snowden’s lawyer called this claim a hoax too.
So where did ISIS money and the guns come from?
I explain this briefly in my New Statesman article:
“After initially funding its efforts with extortion, smuggling and private donations, it literally struck gold in June when it made off with $400m in cash and gold from the central bank in Mosul.
“Since then it has also captured oil fields and earns up to £3m a day by selling the resource on the black market.
“The group also has a modernised arsenal from the weapons and vehicles it has captured from the Iraqi army. Even the well-trained and feared Kurdish forces are being pushed back in places.”
But America is still to blame, right?
In some ways, yes. The New York Times recently reported:
“The Pentagon says that Mr. Baghdadi, after being arrested in Falluja in early 2004, was released that December with a large group of other prisoners deemed low level. But Hisham al-Hashimi, an Iraqi scholar who has researched Mr. Baghdadi’s life, sometimes on behalf of Iraqi intelligence, said that Mr. Baghdadi had spent five years in an American detention facility where, like many ISIS fighters now on the battlefield, he became more radicalized.”
From there he joined al-Qaeda, and later split off into his own group which later became ISIS and Islamic State.
But what about all the pictures?
If you see any pictures, supposedly of al-Baghdadi meeting someone (like John McCain!), they’re also fake. McCain met some Syrian opposition leaders but he didn’t meet Baghdadi. These pics never reveal their source, time, date or location. Unless a pic does that, so it can be verified, its a fake.
So where did ISIS come from?
ISIS were initially an al-Qaeda offshoot:
“The Islamic State is the current incarnation of al-Qaeda in Iraq(AQI), which was created when Abu Mus’ab al-Zarqawi swore allegiance to Osama bin Laden in October 2004. The Islamic State of Iraq (ISI) was declared in October 2006, four months after a U.S. airstrike killed Zarqawi. This was not just a naming convention: according to its organizers, AQI ceased to exist at that point, as the ISI was intended to be a governing institution independent from al-Qaeda and a practical step toward ultimately declaring a Caliphate.”
But ISIS split from Al-Qaeda and went its on way to establish a Caliphate. Its only over the last year they have made serious inroads towards their aims and have therefore become much more prominent.
Now, stop spreading conspiracy theories please.
In the Observer today, I debate Nick Cohen on whether the Tricycle Theatre in London was right to ask the UK Jewish film festival to ‘reconsider’ its funding from the Israeli government.
There are two additional points I want to make that I didn’t have the space for.
The slippery slope
Nick Cohen ends by writing:
From George Galloway declaring Bradford an “Israel-free zone” to Islamists in the East End of London raising jihadist flags, a dangerous antisemitic mood is growing. By defending worthless bureaucrats who intimidate a Jewish – not an Israeli but a Jewish – festival because it won’t accept their double standards, you are adding to it – thoughtlessly, I am sure.
My response to him is this:
I think the slippery slope argument is worth keeping in mind, but I don’t think we are there yet. You have been criticised plenty of times for demonising Muslims and contributing towards an Islamophobic atmosphere too, and I’m sure you’ll appreciate the irony.
We can all stand up against racism while rejecting tainted money. I fully condemn Galloway and his ilk, and I believe my voice carries more weight because I also condemn the attacks in Gaza. If the slippery slope argument was carried towards its full logical conclusion every time, then you (Nick Cohen) and others (including myself), would not be allowed to criticise Islamists for fear it would further inflame Islamophobia.
Nick Cohen applies this standard to Jews but not Muslims
‘Asking Jews to take a stance on Israel’
The other key point made by critics of Tricycle is that by asking the UKJFF to reject Israeli funding, Jews as a whole are being take a stance on Israel.
But let’s flip this around. That stance implies we can’t ask Muslim groups to reject Saudi money because that’s asking them all to state their allegiance regarding the Saudis.
It would also mean no Hindu or Indian group could be criticised for taking Indian government money, even though there may be several good reasons in certain circumstances for doing so. Persian groups wouldn’t have to account for Iranian money… and so on.
That would make it near impossible to debate the influence of foreign money because this charge could be raised by almost any ethnic group at any time.
I don’t think Tricycle raised the issue because they wanted all Jews to take a side. It was a legitimate response to the pressure they had given the ongoing conflict.
If I had a penny for every time someone said this to me on Twitter, I’d have bought myself a min-island in the Bermuda by now.
Yes, the United States supports Israel with military aid every year. It also licenses American companies to sell Israel military equipment every year.
But Israel won’t collapse tomorrow if the US cut off their aid. Let’s just go over the numbers to explain.
The United States gave approximately $3.2 Billion to Israel last year. Here’s the breakdown
That includes a sum of $3.1 billion as military aid.
It provides another $504 million in funding: for Israel’s Iron Dome anti-rocket system ($235 million) and the joint US-Israel missile defense systems David’s Sling ($149.7 million)
And there are a few other systems that amount to around $100m. There’s a breakdown here (PDF)
As a proportion of Israeli spending that used to mean a lot – sometimes as much as a quarter of Israel’s defense budget.
It doesn’t any more, primarily because Israel has had a healthy and growing economy. In 2000, Israel GDP was $124.9 Billion. Last year it was more than double that – $291.3 Billion. In comparison, Egypt has a smaller GDP ($271 BN) even though it has 10x the population (more comparison: India’s GDP: $1.8 Trillion; UK $2.5 TR; USA $16.8 TR).
In other words, US military aid to Israel is now worth merely 1% of its GDP. It’s a bonus, not essential money.
The country is doing so well it has more cash than needs, thanks to the recent discovery of gas reserves. It is discussing setting up a sovereign fund and discussing where to invest that surplus.
In fact, this situation has even led some pro-Israelis to call for the military aid to be cut to Israel, on the basis that Israel would then have to rely even less on its ally. They don’t want Israel to be seen as subservient to US interests and clearly think Israel will do just fine without American money.
The point is, US military aid to Israel has largely become an irrelevant factor in this war or the future. Cutting it off won’t hobble Israel. If America abruptly withdraws it over illegal Israeli action, then it may force a change in behaviour but that is a highly unlikely scenario.
A court judgement out this week sheds light on a very under-reported and rarely-discussed problem within South Asian communities in the UK.
In 2007 I reported for BBC Asian Network on women who come to the UK as brides from South Asia, and the potential problems they face. Since many don’t speak English (and are sometimes discouraged from learning it!) – they are more vulnerable to being abused, exploited, beaten or abandoned. One way to help, I argued, was to make it compulsory for them to learn English, so they could more easier seek help when needed and play an active role in British society.
Here are the facts of the case, as laid out in the court judgement. What’s extraordinary about this case is that a British law-firm (Dawson Cornwell) fought on behalf of this woman and won a judgement against the man. I hope it sets a precedent and serves as a warning to other men thinking of abandoning their wives.
* * * * * *
A very young wife was lawfully brought to the United Kingdom, where she was dependent upon her husband and his family, and where she gave birth to a child who has major disabilities. Her husband made little effort to secure for her the immigration status to which she was entitled and when the marriage got into difficulties, she was then sent out of the country with no right to re-enter. The result is that she and her child have been separated for the past three years, a situation that is a wholesale breach of their right to respect for their family life under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
The child, S, was born in 2005 and is nearly 9 years old. He has very severe learning and communication disabilities. His parents are both of Pakistani origin. The father was born in England while the mother came here in June 2002 after an arranged marriage that was celebrated in Pakistan in 2000 when she was around 15 years old.
In December 2012, the father pronounced a talaq. In August 2013, the mother remarried in Pakistan. She says that this marriage was a marriage of convenience. Her father was planning to arrange for her remarriage to a person of his choice and she went through a ceremony of marriage with someone else to prevent this. Her evidence is that she has never lived with this “husband” and has no intention of doing so in future or of bringing him to the United Kingdom.
The mother described several occasions on which the father and his mother would slap and kick her and pull her hair. These did not cause major injury and she did not seek medical treatment or, in general, complain to the authorities. However, on 7 February 2011, she did make a police report and went overnight to a refuge. She explains this as being because the father struck S on that occasion. The father denies any violence whatever.
The judge also writes:
The father’s failure to secure the mother’s immigration status was a gross dereliction of his responsibility towards her and towards S. In his evidence, he claims that he was unaware of her precarious position, having left matters of that kind to his own father. He says that when she left the country in July 2011 he did not know what the position was. I found the father’s evidence incredible and I reject it. He knew perfectly well that if the mother left, she could not return. The reason why the father and his family were so careless of the mother’s position was because it suited them.
Having considered all the evidence on this issue, the judge found that the mother was tricked into going to Pakistan. He also made it easier for her to travel back to the UK and see her son, and forced the father to give her some visitation rights.
Well done on the judge on handling this so well.
It may be that this case also sets a precedent for other ‘stranded’ spouses. As the judge said right at the beginning:
Where one party to a failing marriage has secure immigration status and the other does not, the opportunity arises for the former to exploit the latter’s weakness by taking advantage of immigration controls. This case is a bad, but by no means unique, example of what has come to be known as the stranded spouse.
If you are being affected by this (or other issues like a forced marriage) and need some support, get in touch with Sharan Project
The other day, in a discussion among friends on Israel’s attack on Gaza (I generally avoid them, even on Twitter), one said Hamas started the latest round of shelling by bombarding Israeli towns and inviting a response.
I have no way of verifying this, so I shrugged. Its irrelevant who started it.
On social media I’ve seen Israelis blame Hamas and say they’re merely defending themselves, so they’re justified in attacking Gaza. Israelis ask “what would you do if someone attacked you with rockets?“. Its a really counter-productive question to ask, and it misses the wood for the trees.
Palestinians are a desperate people who live in an open-air prison camp controlled by Israel. Their lives are lived in squalor and poverty. This is beyond dispute; even Israelis know it. Israel blocks drinking water and proper sanitation even when its not attacking Gaza. It keeps building illegal settlements when there isn’t a war going on.
Palestinians aren’t stupid – they can see Israel wants to slowly annex their land until its too late for independence. In fact, its PM Benjamin Netanyahu stated quite explicitly in a (very under-reported) speech just last week that Palestinian weren’t going to get independence.
That makes it even more likely that Hamas will provoke Israel into an angry response. They see it as the only real option available to them.
Every time Israel responds it is goaded into spending money, becoming more extreme, killing more Palestinians children and becoming more isolated from international opinion.
Sooner or later something has to give. The Palestinians have little to lose by carrying on by goading Israel. They already live their lives in squalor and under occupation.
Israel on the other hand has over-stepped the mark already to the point it has alienated most of European public opinion. A few more missteps, coupled with the rise of social media, and American opinion could rapidly turn against them too.
Once that happens Israel really will face an existential crisis.
The question for Israelis shouldn’t be “what would you do?“, but “how do we break out of this cycle?“. But they’re not asking that. Benjamin Netanyahu has stoked up his country enough that the majority want immediate respite and instant revenge. They’ve lost sight of the broader picture.
Israel may be winning the battle on the strength of its military now, but Hamas is winning the longer strategic war.
The Washington Institute recently published a note titled ‘The War Between ISIS and al-Qaeda for Supremacy of the Global Jihadist Movement’ – on tensions between the two movements.
Its worth emphasising briefly that there are differences between the two, mostly that ISIS are even more brutal than AQ and freely break many rules that Osama Bin Laden set for his own people.
But I think al-Qaeda has effectively lost the battle for terrorism supremacy to ISIS / Islamic State already.
All the world’s focus, the momentum and the expansion is on side of ISIS, not al-Qaeda, which matters to the impressionable men who want to be on the side of winners not losers (like most people, really).
Plus ISIS is based in the Levant, which has much bigger symbolic value for Muslims than the mountains of Afghanistan. In Afghanistan and Pakistan, Al Qaeda militants have to hide from US drones or the Pakistani army. In Iraq and Syria, they have near free rein and their opposition is melting away (for now).
Most importantly, ISIS claim to have established an Islamic State – which has even more symbolic and religious value for the kind of impressionable men who want to get involved in jihad. I suspect more fighters will abandon Al Qaeda and join ISIS over coming months, effectively finishing off Osama Bin Laden’s brainchild.
But what prompted me to write this short note was news of heightened security warnings across US airports. I suspect that US Homeland Security officials have come to the same conclusion and know this infighting has grave consequences.
Al-Qaeda leaders will be making the same calculations about ISIS and will likely re-double their efforts to regain momentum and attention. And in the terrorist world there’s only one way to do that: by launching terrorist attacks in the West.
Orthodox British Muslims are frequently accused of ignoring the voices of women, especially liberal Muslim women, for good reasons. But they aren’t the only ones doing it: liberal Muslim women are also frequently ignored and used by right-wingers with their own agenda.
It turns out that right-wingers are also happy to ally with liberal Muslim women to criticise orthodox Muslims, but will ignore these voices when it doesn’t suit their agenda. Yep, I’m as shocked as you are!
This particular case involves the long-running dispute over the proposed ‘Mega Mosque’ in East London.
Tehmina Kazi, director for British Muslims for Secular Democracy, was the ‘star witness’ against the proposed mosque in a newly opened public inquiry, because she earlier objected to the anti-woman bias of Tablighi Jamaat, the group behind it.
But a few weeks ago she withdrew from the public inquiry.
Alan Craig, director of the ‘Mega Mosque No Thanks’ campaign, also described as a Christian fundamentalist, sent out a press release saying she was “intimidated by misogynist mosque supporters”.
He repeated the claim in a video for by the homophobic and xenophobic group Christian Concern, which earlier objected to Aaqil Ahmed being appointed head of religion at the BBC just because he was Muslim.
But here’s the thing – they’re ignoring what Tehmina Kazi herself said.
The veteran religion journalist Ruth Gledhill wrote:
Alan Craig, director of the MegaMosqueNoThanks campaign, said she was ‘intimidated by misogynist mosque supporters’. But Ms Kazi said: ‘Withdrawing was a decision I did not undertake lightly. I did it after consultation with several trusted people and a number of assurances on women’s increased participation and involvement in the new facility.’
However, Ms Kazi told Lapido Media that she had been neither harried nor pressured but had accepted the reassurances she had been given about the place of women in the mega-mosque community.
The claim she was intimidated was also repeated by Douglas Murray from the Henry Jackson Society a few weeks ago, who pretty much swept aside Tehmina’s point and heavily implied she was intimidated into dropping her opposition to the mosque.
All this reflects the ugly tactics being deployed in the desperate desire to win public opinion.
The pros and cons of the proposed East London centre and mosque should be judged on its own merit by the inquiry. I’m not bothered either way.
But what shouldn’t happen, inquiry or not, is the misrepresentation and spinning of a leading liberal Muslim woman’s opinion, just because it doesn’t fit the narrative of some right-wingers.
To me, this is a reflection of the same misogyny that Douglas Murray and his compatriots rail against.
A few observations on the ongoing crisis in Iraq and Syria.
1) British foreign policy is dead
Ed Miliband’s fairly gentle questioning of Cameron yesterday in PMQs illustrated the obvious: there is consensus among the three main parties that there will be no military intervention in Iraq again. The same goes for President Obama, who has been proceeding far more carefully than he is given credit by the left and right. In one sense Syria has sealed the fate of military intervention: when a humanitarian and strategic disaster on that scale cannot elicit a US-UK response, its highly unlikely Iraq will. For better or for worse, we have given up major on military interventions in other countries. The American and British public are firmly against them, despite what commentators in the press say.
2) China is more worried about Iraqi oil than the USA
Less than a quarter of American oil imports are from the Middle East. The US isn’t just a net energy exporter now, some say it may become the world’s largest producer of oil by next year. Meanwhile, a majority of oil exports from the Middle East now go to Asia, and China is particularly exposed. If oil prices shoot up because of ISIS, I suspect China will throw money towards Iran to send more troops into Iraq and wipe them out. The geo-political plates have shifted significantly over the last ten years.
3) We’ll look back at ‘stable’ ME dictatorships
The US supported dictatorships across the Middle East because they provided stability. I suspect we are about to see commentators on the left and right, who earlier wanted to see democracy across the Middle East, going back to supporting dictatorships for the same reason. To take one example, Mehdi Hasan would like the US government to prop up Bashar al-Assad in Syria. I’ve debated other lefties too who would prefer to see Assad propped up in Syria. The same may soon apply to Iraq, and will be an argument against popular uprisings in Bahrain, Yemen and elsewhere.
4) Kurdistan may arise
The strength of ISIS has strengthened the hand of Iraqi Kurds who, in the face of a disintegrating national Iraqi government, may demand an independent Kurdistan. This is on balance a good thing because the Kurds are a persecuted minority and don’t have a homeland. But it may also increase sectarian tensions and there will be questions of how an independent Kurdistan would protect itself.
In my view there is little doubt the invasion of Iraq in 2003 lit the tinderbox across Iraq, but the conflict has taken a life of its own because its driven by deep-rooted sectarian differences. There is no appetite for military intervention in the foreseeable future, among politicians or the public, unless we are under provable, imminent threat. Whether that means we see a more peaceful world, or one where other countries (Russia, China) try and take advantage, remains to be seen.
NEWS ARTICLES ARCHIVE