Workings of the Myth

How stereotyping abets ISIS and the authoritarian state

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Aftermath of Iraqi Army’s battle with ISIS

by Bente Scheller

Brussels, Paris, Istanbul, Baghdad, Nice: The attacks in recent months have claimed the lives of hundreds of people. Whether the so-called “Islamic State” (Daesh/ISIS) admits to being responsible for the attacks or whether investigations reveal its delinquency is of secondary importance: in the words of Achim Rohde, ISIS has become the regularly reappearing “enemy of humanity” (Rohde, 2016).[1] Several levels come together in the assessment of the risk that this enemy—as its predecessor al-Qaida before it— poses to Western societies: a fundamental fear trickles into everyday life, a fear of a hardly calculable force that arbitrarily accepts civilian victims and explicitly targets them; and that fear melds with Islamophobia and racism. This amalgam ensures that the fight against terrorism is oftentimes defined by populist responses that detract from practical political decision, decisions that are not always easy to promulgate.

The lack of a widely accepted definition of terrorism leaves it open to subjective interpretation. Right-wing movements invariably mobilize against the unassimilable  “other”. The more alien and violent the depiction of the “other”, the easier it becomes to distance oneself and to construct one’s own moral superiority by demonising the “other”.

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Glenn Greenwald’s Sympathy for the Devil

After five years of equivocation on Syria, Glenn Greenwald has finally taken a stance. He is attacking Syria’s leading dissident who spent 16 years in Assad’s notorious prisons for his left-wing politics, whose two brothers were abducted by ISIS, and whose wife was disappeared three years ago.

Greenwald’s charge? That Yassin al Haj Saleh doesn’t mention Obama in his criticisms; and that in an interview with The Intercept Saleh accuses most leftists of being Assad sympathisers without naming them.

Does Yassin omit Obama in his criticisms?

“Nothing could diminish the despicable crime the Obama administration has committed against Syria and its population. And history will not forget this for a long time. ”

Yes, those are Yassin’s words. He has never been shy to indict Obama or the rest of the world.

Does Yassin criticise leftists without naming them?

Yassin names and shames them where necessary. But when he is talking about general trends he has no obligation.

But let me oblige Greenwald and name one prominent leftist who is objectively pro-Assad: Glenn Greenwald.

Sorry Glenn, but that common throat clearing preamble—”Of course Assad is bad but…”—will give you only limited protection when you devote your entire time to maligning and attacking the regime’s opponents.

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Aleppo in a Time of Monsters

For the US, there is no categorical imperative against genocide. “Never again” is retrospective grandstanding.

During the Siege of Sarajevo in 1994, when a Bosnian Serb mortar shell landed in a marketplace, killing 68 and wounding 144, US president Bill Clinton, who had campaigned on a promise of “never again” to genocide, threw up his arms. “Until those folks get tired of killing each other over there, bad things will continue to happen,” he said.

Two decades later, confronted with indiscriminate bombings in Aleppo and a starvation siege in Madaya, Barack Obama waxed similarly fatalistic. “The Middle East is going through a transformation that will play out for a generation”; this, he said, was “rooted in conflicts that date back millennia.”

There are no conflicts in the Middle East that date back millennia. The conflict in Syria is just over five years old. Nothing about it is fixed. In its scope and its intensity, in its balance of forces and its cast of characters, the conflict has constantly evolved. The only thing that has remained static, however, is the international response.

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The Syrian volunteers who rush to bombed buildings to save victims

PBS News Hour on the White Helmets. (Please ensure that this year the Nobel Peace Prize goes to real heroes).

Once tailors, bakers, pharmacists, some 3,000 ordinary Syrians are now the unwitting heroes of the Syrian war. Nicknamed “the White Helmets,” members of the Syrian Civil Defense work under the harshest conditions to claw through the remains of buildings flattened by barrel bombs, the Syrian regime’s weapon of choice. Special correspondent Marcia Biggs reports from Turkey.

Reporting—and Mis-reporting—ISIS

by Gilbert Achcar

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Displaced Iraqis from the Yazidi religious minority flee Islamic State fighters by walking towards the Syrian

Most people prefer to keep referring to the self-proclaimed Islamic State by the acronym of its previous name: ISIS, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (or, more accurately ‘al-Sham’—Greater Syria—approximately translated by some as ‘the Levant’, with the acronym hence turned into ISIL). On this thus-named ISIS, close to forty books and counting have been hitherto published in English, of which the three reviewed here are the best-selling in the UK.

Of these, Patrick Cockburn’s was one of the very first books written on ISIS. It came out in 2014 under the title The Jihadis Return. The one reviewed here is an updated edition with a new title. It recapitulates the views that the author developed in his coverage of events in Iraq and Syria for The Independent. It is written in a most readable journalistic style by an author who is well acquainted with this part of the world, having covered it for many years (especially Iraq). However, the book contains hardly any references to substantiate its numerous assertions other than Cockburn’s personal testimony, often quite anecdotal.

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Syria: Under Russia’s fist

Since September 30, 2015 Russia has been carrying out air strikes in Syria in support of its ally President Bashar al-Assad. The campaign has been relentless and growing in intensity, with Russian jets flying 444 combat sorties against more than 1,500 targets between February 10 and 16 alone.

Moscow insists these attacks have only been aimed at fighters from ISIL and other “terrorist groups” such as al-Nusra Front. But monitoring groups, including the Violations Documentation Center and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, say thousands of non-combatants have also been killed or wounded. Amnesty International and others have said the bombings may be war crimes. Indeed, Amnesty has also cited consistent reports of second bombardments from planes returning to kill and injure rescue workers, paramedics and civilians attempting to evacuate the wounded and the dead from earlier raids.

So are civilians being deliberately targeted – and could Russia be guilty as charged? In this exclusive report for People & Power, Danish born filmmaker and journalist Nagieb Khaja went to investigate. His remarkable film, shot in Aleppo, Idlib and other rebel-held areas of Syria at the end of last year, is a harrowing, tense and at times breathtaking portrayal of life underneath the Kremlin’s bombs.

Strangers in their own Land

An important documentary on the disgraceful treatment of minorities in Pakistan. The way the country has shirked its duties toward its most vulnerable citizens—Christians, Hindus, Shias, Ahmadis—bespeaks a failure of moral and political leadership. This needs to change. Pakistan’s Sunni majority has a duty to protect these communities from the terror of the extremists among them.

International Legacies of the Genocide in Rwanda

James Traub, journalist and author, gives a presentation addressing how the United States’ reaction to the crisis in Syria does and does not reflect lessons learned from the genocide in Rwanda, during the Symposium on the 20th anniversary of the Genocide against the Tutsi that took place on March 31, 2014.