Wednesday, March 30, 2016

The Sunni Tragedy/ North Lebanon by Bernard Rougier

Lebanese Sunni militants of “Ansar”, supporters of the anti-Syrian opposition pose while securing an alley in the neighborhood of Baba al-Tabbaneh in the coastal city of Tripoli north of Lebanon on Saturday, February 11, 2012

The Sunni Tragedy in the Middle East; Northern Lebanon from Al-Qaeda to ISIS by Bernard Rougier

[ This is a dense book, filled with characters and events. I will present  excerpts  in the following order: first the scene in North Lebanon, focusing on Tripoli ;then the author’s methodological essay followed by a combination of introductory and  concluding remarks. Finally I will reproduce select passages that provide unusual insights into his topic.]

The Disenfranchised Region

Today, the North is the poorest region of Lebanon. It’s population  comprises 21% of the Lebanon population, yet includes 38% of the ‘poor population’ and 46% of the  ‘extremely poor population,” a larger proportion than any other governorate (region). The city of Tripoli and the Akkar and Miniyeh regions are especially poor, with infant mortality rates far above those of Beirut. Deteriorating economic conditions have coincided with social and cultural regression. Tripoli lost any significant Christian population after the civil war [1975-1990]. The ‘contented modernity’ of the 1960s, which the historian Khaled Ziyadeh described in his ‘urban biography’ of the city, gave way to a constellation of urban islands, enclaves increasingly withdrawn from each other and increasingly parochial. The economist Charbel Nahas evoked several instances  of “spatial trauma” to explain the city’s geographic evolution and its shrinking sphere of influence. After 1976, the civil war’s rifts deprived Tripoli of its trade relations with Christian areas, including Zghorta, Bsharre, and Batrun. During the civil war, these areas were directly connected to Beirut via a road network designed to bypass Tripoli. On the coastal road from the capital to Tripoli, militia checkpoints discouraged trade flows, leaving the ill-named “Capital of the North’ on its own to bear the pressure of an influx of migrants from the furthest villages of its mountainous hinterland. Finally, the city suffered from the opening of the Lebanese economy to the Syrian market. Flooded with cheap goods and labor, it was unwillingly integrated ‘into a partial regional market, different from the national market in terms of prices.’ This led to the ‘decline of craftsmanship and ‘industry’ in the city, as well as to a ‘fall in agricultural investment and revenue.’

Tripoli’s present-day social and physical geography bears witness to that period. The avenue that crosses the city from north to south, skirting around al-Tell square, divides Tripoli into two urban segments: the wealthy and the middle class live in the west, the poor inhabit the east. Following the flood of the Abu Ali river in 1955, the poor rural population poured into the historic city center, which had housed the administrative of the Ottoman vilayet (province) of Trablus al Sham, with its Mamluk mosques, khans and markets, and stately French and Ottoman buildings. The ancient olive groves of Qubbeh and Abu Samra sheltered the residents of the old town when the fled the flood; the more affluence residents moved out and settled on the western side of the city. In the early 70s, these two neighborhoods underwent a similar phase of impoverishment, and soon afterward, the civil wat accelerated their economic deterioration. For example, the neighborhoods of Bab al-Tabbaneh, with over 50,000 inhabitants, has the chiaroscuro of a medieval city – towering buildings, crowded homes (seven people per household on average), and unsanitary, damp, dark apartments, often at risk of collapse. In 2008, 60% of the neighborhood’s families lived below the ‘extreme poverty ‘ threshold ($2 a day per person or less).

This ‘Tripoli of the poor’ connects to the rural areas of Akkar and Dinniyeh, but it has few links with the western side of the city, built around the broad avenues that link al-Tell Square and the al-Mina neighborhood on the seafront.  It is the former district, along with its geographical extensions into the countryside, that provided a setting for the process of militant mobilization analyzed in the last four chapters of this book. In fact, the dynamics of ‘enclosure’ underscored by geographers and urban planning experts have not prevented this area from forming connections within the region and across the world. There was a time when Tripoli envisioned itself as a Arab version of modernity, when it welcomed, for example, the bold projects of avant-garde Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer, who designed its international fairground. The war put an end to those progressive dreams. Now it is a broken town, fragmented into multiple militant spheres, capturing, in way, a larger process that is going on across the Levant.

(this sites the twin bombings of 2013)


This book is an augmented and updated version of my Oumma en fragments ( A Fragmented Umma) published in French in 2011 at the Presses Universitaires de France. The two new chapters have been added, as well as other hitherto unpublished material. It is the result of many years of research. My first contact with North Lebanon was in the late 1990s. At the time I was studying the development of a jihadi identity in the Ayn al-Helweh Palestinian refugee camp for my doctoral dissertation. Relations between the camp sheikhs and religious figures in Tripoli later orientated me towards the unexplored field of religious circles in North Lebanon. While teaching political science in French Universities, I devoted the time between school sessions to investigating the various “Sunni worlds” from a most propitious vantage point – the city of Tripoli and its environs. On each subsequent trip, I tried to preserve the ties made in the previous years and to further broaden my circle of relations. I collected the first data at the beginning of the 2000s and complete fieldwork in May 2014. This extended period of research was critical, for it enabled me to gain the trust of my various sources, and to familiarizer myself with the factors shaping their particular social, political, and economic environments. Repeated trips to Tripoli made it possible to analyze the shift in the positions of different actors that took place as the regional situation evolved and to understand, from within, the constant negotiation between beliefs and opportunism, between strategy and tactics, and between risk-taking and preservation. To account for the competition of influence that occurs between different levels of decision-making, I tried to consider individuals of different social backgrounds, searching out the mosque preacher and the former militant, the local notable and the petty criminal, the minister and the local security officers.

Among my various institutional interlocutors, I met several times with Wissam al-Hassan, the former head of the Information Branch of the Internal Security Forces (ISF). His able investigations played an important role in uncovering the murderous network behind the assassination of Rafiq al-Hariri, making it possible for the Special Tribunal for Lebanon to issue an indictment incriminating members of Hezbollah. Despite the numerous precautions he took, Wissam al-Hassan was himself assassinated in 2012 in the Christian neighborhood of Ashrafieh in East Beirut. There is no doubt he tried to influence my analysis of regional events in general, and in North Lebanon in particular – such is the nature of any interview between a researcher and a leading actor. It is part of a researcher’s job to understand the factors that might lead such an actors to assume a particular stance in his account of  events. Nonetheless, al-Hassan had no doubts as to the sincerity of the religious figures he dealt with. When asked if he trusted the Salafi sheiks of the North, his answer was “No!” – illustrating the complexity of power relations within the multi-faceted and divided Sunni world that the contradictions of the North encapsulate. In his windowless office at the ISF, he continuously received phone calls soliciting a favor or an intervention, each time engaging his phenomenal memory so as to identify the possible plan and the beneficiary of such an intervention.

In addition to Wissam al-Hassan,any people gave me their trust (or part of it.) Like al-Hassan, some were assassinated, Kamal Madhat, representative of Mahmud Abbas in Lebanon, among them. On the other side of the regional political spectrum is Sheik Sa’ad al-Din al-Ghiyyeh, himself at the crossroads of Jihadi Islamism and collaboration with the Syrian intelligence services, who was assassinated shortly before this book went to press. As I was recommended to him by Rif’at Eid, Ali’s son and the new chief of the Alawite community in Ba’al Mohsen, Ghiyyeh welcomed me several times into his home in the Qubbeh neighborhood, and provided increasingly dramatic revelations about his intersecting relationships with the heads of Syrian intelligence and Syrian jihadi militants. As a combatant who trained in Abu Nidal’s group in the late 1980s, as a jihadi volunteer in Iraq with Zarqawi in 2003, and with close ties to the Alawite community of Ba’al  Mohsen (his mother’s denomination), the ‘sheikh’ was clearly a man of action, but he was also a seasoned adventurer in the arena of politics. Fearing for his safety (and rightly so), he always carried a miniature revolver in the pocket of his three-piece suit. During one of our last meetings, he claimed he wanted to submit for approval to his Syrian contacts a “made in the Iranian embassy in Damascus’ plan that would make him the leaders of Hezbollah in Northern Lebanon. In 2011, with no explanation, he abruptly put an end to our meetings. I never knew if he took this decision on his own, or if his superiors instructed him to stop talking to me out of fear of his volubility.

I was immersed in the work that would serve this book not only time-wise, but geographically as well. In Australia, I made new connections and studied transnational solidarity networks, without which my fieldwork in Lebanon would have been unintelligible. The material for this book encompasses a broad array of documentary sources – hundreds of interviews, sermons, flyers, and legal documents. Chapter 1 in particular is informed by legal documents supplied by lawyers acquainted with the “McDonald’s network’ affair [bombings of McD’s restaurants in 2002] – over one hundreds handwritten pages recording the ‘confessions’ of arrested persons. I had access to part of the report of the prosecutor investigating the Fatah al-Islam* affair, after the arrests of suspects in the camp previous to the establishment of the group. Wissam al-Hassan had also the writing of a memoir entitled Fatah al-Islam: From the Cradle to the Grave, a few pages of which he let me read during an interview in the summer of 2008.  On the other side, I also received from Hamas militants testimonials by the families of the groups fighters, which underlined the presumed responsibility of those close to Hariri in North Lebanon. Thanks to the sum of knowledge accumulated patiently over the years, I was able to make both an external and internal critique of these various documents. As the French historian Antoine Prost writes, “One must first be an historian to make a critique of a document, since in essence, it means confronting that document with everything one already knows about the subject it deals with, the place and the time it concerns.”

Such a critique thus demanded a certain number of methodological precautions so as to take possible distortions into account: the data obtained may have been extracted under duress, with the result  that the ‘testimonies’ of the accused persons are a priori to be regarded with caution unless they are confirmed by other sources or, at least, proved consistent with the overall narrative framework that emerged from the questioning. Far from any normative judgment judgment of one person or another’s responsibility, I was above all concerned with trying to discern, in concrete terms, how a jihadi group had constituted itself, and gave priority to understanding the conditions that made possible the successive play of encounters between individuals of different backgrounds and professional pathways. The main preoccupation of the officials in charge of the inquiry, by contrast, was to establish the degree of responsibility of persons directly involved in carrying out terrorist acts. My work as a researcher was to recreate a part of the social, political, and religious universe, so as to shed light on the circumstances underlying the creation of a terrorist network in North Lebanon, which required a very different vernacular.

It will up to the reader to judge whether the interpretation given here reflects the respect for objective criteria that has always guided this research. Contrary to postmodern epistemology, the author of these lines believes that social reality exists, and that it is possible to objectively reconstruct the perceptions that actors have of it at diverse moments of their actions.

These documents, like the interviews with the lawyers of the accused, are nonetheless of exceptional value. They provide wealth of information and detail, once one has calibrated the weight of the private code that saturates the text with its own ‘language game.” Pieced together, these documents reveal a progression of events that enable one to follow, over roughly a decade, the evolution of different categories of actors that ‘make’ Middle Eastern politics today.

 Rather than impose the very broad and imprecise category of “Islamism’ on the communal and regional divisions within North Lebanon, we have forged the three Weberian-inspired ideal types – the muqwatil (local combatant), the muqawim (resistance fighter), and the mujahid (jihadi) – that enable us to get a better grasp of the situation.

The 1978 Iranian revolution promoted the muqawim as a representative of revolutionary, third world Islam aiming to oust western influence in the region. The muqawim built a power system linking Tehran to the eastern Mediterranean, taking as his Lebanese representatives the pro-Iranian Lebanese Hezbollah. In concert  with the Pasdaran  (The Iranian Revolutionary Guard), Hezbollah has been fighting in Syria since January 2012 in defense of the Assad regime.

The mujahid emerged from the Afghan jihad of the 1980s that attempted to build a power base in Greater Syria. Through informal networks, he claims to defend the whole Islamic community (umma) against the West and secular Muslims. Beyond the  al-Qaeda organization, the mujahid is currently exploiting the Syrian civil war to build an underground organization and base of power.

Finally, the muqatil symbolizes an attitude of local defiance towards external aggression. He lacks a sophisticated ideology, drawing his identity instead from his concrete environment and conceptualizing his fight as against an alien intruder. While the muqawim and the mujahid attempt to impose their reading of religion on other Muslims by force, this defining themselves as Islamic militants, the fighter assumes an Islamic or non-Islamic outlook depending upon his political socialization and preferences.

These categories ae only meant to function as an aid in understanding the political reality of the Arab Middle East. Obviously, they do not correspond to the more complex realty on the ground, where individuals and groups may even pass from one form to another as shifting circumstances dictate.

*FAI (Fatah al-Islam) Name of the jihadi organization proclaimed by its leader, Shaker al-Absi, on November 26, 2006, in the Palestinian refugee camp Nahr al Bared, neat Tripoli. The organizations core is made up of former Zarqawi associates present in Iraq a few months before the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003. In late 2005, it refocused its activities on Lebanon, taking control of the infrastructure (training camps, offices, buildings) left behind by the Damascus-based Palestinian organization Fatah al-Intifada, whose leaders, expelled from the PLO in 1983, had formed a special relationship with the Syrian intelligence services. The organization represented a grave threat to the March 14 anti-Syrian coalition. The group’s true aim was to shatter the Sunni, anti-Syrian confessional movement from within by turning its own militants against the Hariri family –accused of betraying Islam by allying himself with the West. A vicious war between this jihadi militia and the Lebanese army ensued.

 A Sunni Tragedy

When Lebanon’s civil war ended in 1990, the county’s North fell under the firm grip of the Syrian imperium. For the ensuing fifteen years it remained essentially marginalized from both national and regional  politics. However, with the assassination of former prime minister Rafiq al-Hariri and the subsequent end of the Syrian military occupation of Lebanon, the North has become an arena in which various forces struggle to impose hegemony over Sunni political and religious expression.

Backed by the West and Saudi Arabia, Rafiq’s son, Sa’ad al- Hariri, used his seat in Beirut to construct and lead a broad anti-Assad coalition and champion Lebanon’s sovereignty. This bloc became the March 14th Movement, names after the date of a mass demonstration against the Syrian regime that took place in downtown Beirut on that date in 2005. His opponents were Bashar al-Assad’s regime and its local allies, including the powerful pro-Iranian Hezbollah – named  March 8th  after the date of an earlier demonstration reaffirming Lebanese solidarity with the Syrian regime and the goal of “Resistance’ against Israel.

But al-Hariri and his allies also confronted a number of amorphous Sunni religious networks that were vying to become the new leaders of Lebanon’s Sunni community. The fact that all of these forces had ties with  political power bases or religious hubs outside Lebanon – political bureaus in Riyad, Damascus, or Tehran; religious centers in Medina or Mecca; Iraq  militant networks in al-Anbar; charities in Doha; even cells meeting in mosque basements in Copenhagen and Sydney – turned North Lebanon into a cauldron in which competing and often irreconcilable regional and transnational interests clashed.

During this period, jihadism emerged and held the ground against a host of foes. At first it took the form of an underground network, then evolved into an armed movement that threatened to upset the internal equilibrium of the Sunni community. North Lebanon thus offers the first example of how jihadism, revolutionary by nature, contrived to seize control of the Sunni community by sidelining its political elite and frightening its middle classes.

Since the outbreak of the civil war in Syria in 2011, thousands of Syrians have sought refuge in the northern cities of Tripoli, Akkar, and Dinniyeh.

on this map the Syrian City of Homs is just a few kilometers from the north end of lake Oattinah

Volunteers from the Free Syrian Army (FSA) also sought safe haven, but quickly came to realize that they would have to remain underground if they were to escape the reach of the Syrian regime’s local allies. At the end of 2013, Islamist rebels from the Syrian “Islamic Front, as well as radical jihadis from Jabhat al Nusra (Al-Qaeda in Syria) and from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), followed the FSA fighters to North Lebanon. Hezbollah’s massive intervention in the Syrian civil war starting from 2012, combined with the influx of Syrian refugees in North Lebanon, rendered the border between Lebanon and Syria more and more irrelevant, which in turn facilitated the enrollment of young Lebanese into ISIS’s so-called caliphate.

What makes North Lebanon such an interesting and troubling setting is what it lacks, or only weakly possesses. It is not an intellectual hub generating new political rhetoric and local innovation. The region is instead a locus of hybridization, a crucible for multiple influences, and a cradle for mobilization –factors which give it an exceptional relevance. The wealth of the region’s external connections  means that it is not a passive recipient of influences, for these connections run in both directions. The actors who occupy this space are not only at the receiving end of these influences, but also themselves influence a range of external communities. North Lebanon is an arena in which a plethora of militant and political agendas intersect. At stake is the ability of Sunni Islam in the Levant to create a unified civilian leadership in a highly fragmented political and religious environment. This region has been particularly important to the Sunni community since the end of the civil war, when the influence of Sunni notables who had previously  enjoyed local powerbases in the cities of Sidon, Beirut, and Tripoli precipitously decline. The dominant demographic is Sunni, but this observation conceals more. The governorate of North Lebanon, whether we are speaking of its urban center, the city of Tripoli, or its rural and mountainous areas, the sub-districts of Akkar and Dinjniyeh, is are heterogeneous spaces: consider the many Christian villages in Akkar, the proximity of the Maronite town of Zghorta; and the existence of the Alawite minority neighborhood of Ba’al Mohsen. This relative confessional and political diversity results in an internal division of space, with militarization arising inmixed areas where invisible borders now separate Sunni villages controlled by Salafi militants from Alawite villages under the sway of militias backed by the Syrian regime.

Sunni elites in the Levant are threatened by the diffusion of Islamist norms that directly undermine their political legitimacy. As much as Islamist has restructured Shi’a communities that were once divided and dominated by others in Iraq and Lebanon, it has had the opposite effect of de-structuring the Sunni communities of Bilad al-Sham. The reason for this lies with the fact that Shi’a Islamism managed to domesticate a state apparatus in Iran in the wake of the 1979 revolution, whereas Sunni radical; Islamism rejected the state system entirely – whether regional or international – and created its own mythology during the jihad against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan in the 1980s

In the Levant, perhaps more than elsewhere, events confirm the Hegelian notion according to which only a community able to fight retains the freedom to make its own decisions. The problem is that most of the Sunni militants ready to fight and to die are doing so in the name of jihad “for God’s sake”. By definition, jihadism cannot find accommodation within an existing political framework. Jihadism is the enemy of the modern secular state. The only way it can get beyond this irresolvable  internal contradiction is by manufacturer a political framework of its own – hence the proclamation of an alleged Islamic State straddling Iraq and Syria. Likewise, the jihadi ideologues preferred means of imposing hegemony over the Sunni community is to placed that community in a relationship of permanent conflict with the Shi’ites. The establishment of an Islamic State from Mosul to Tripoli is also the only way to avoid becoming a powerless minority in Iraq and Lebanon. Crushed jointly by Iran, Syria, Hezbollah, rendered defenseless by the West’s indecision, the Syrian and Lebanese aspiration to freedom has evolved into a jihadist nightmare.

Jihadi groups are also exploiting a specifically Sunni social revolution that sees young men – little educated and socially marginalized- managing to become local chiefs, community leaders, and religious judges. Jihadi values give them the means to overturn social hierarchies, for inherent in the jihadi ideology is virtually permanent mobilization in defense of Islam against its man enemies. This radicalization may turn into the death knell for the political  zu’ama* in the Sunni milieu, once youths are no longer willing to serve as cannon fodder for the political ambitions of others that bring them no benefit.

In the context where forty years of dictatorship has deprived Sunni society of memories of its urban political history, the effort for military emancipation has been hard pressed to find political and institutional expression. Without Western support but with an abundance of funding from the Gulf countries, those who continue fighting in the ruins of Homs, Aleppo and Damascus are prepared to weather the horrors of enemy bombings and to die in God’s  name. Thus, the continuation of the war reinforces the territorial and ideological disintegration of the community. The longer the struggle goes on, the more it consolidates value systems incompatible with an enduring political community. In such conditions, Sunni elites will find it more difficult still to reconstitute the political memory of their community and incorporate it into a national framework reconciling liberalism and Arab identity.

* The Lebanese political system is characterised by a patron-client system, that is: a system of personal ties between a political leader called za’im (plural zu’ama) and the voter. The za’im provides services for the client in exchange for political support. These services can consist of getting them a telephone connection or a job, a promotion or protection from the police. The zu’ama were often members of families of landowners like the Karami family (Sunnis from Tripoli) or at least families that were always represented in parliament.


The External Provider: The Role of Bilal Khaz’al
Born in Tripoli in 1970, Khaz’al was raised by his grandmother and aunt, as his parents lived in Australia. He spent part of his adolescent years as a militant in the branch of the Tawhid Movement* that Hashem Minqara controlled in the al-Mina district. At the time, young recruits were initiated into Islam through reading Sayyid  Qutb’s ( founder of the Muslim Brotherhood) texts. In 1985, the Syrian army’s invasion of the city forced the family into permanent exile in Australia.

There young Bilal lived in the Lakemba district, a southwest suburb of Sydney. The main street offers the casual visitor several miles of “Little Lebanon, with Arabic shop signs, a number of Lebanese cafes and restaurants, and several Islamic bookshops. The religious buildings of the district chronicle successive waves of immigration that have formed multiple strata in this neighborhood where human geography recreates invisible borders similar to those inside Lebanon, the source of all the immigrants. Migration to Australia accelerated remarkably after the start of the civil war, with the number of Lebanese born in Australia doubling after 1975. In the 1980s, a final wave consisted mainly of Sunnis from Tripoli or its surrounding areas. Most of these immigrants lacked both skills and resources. Khaz’al, still an adolescent when he arrived, had only completed a primary school education. He began religious studies in the Lakemba mosque, established in 19778 on the outskirts of Lakemba.

Sheikh Taj al-Din al-Hilali was his teacher. Born in 1941 in Upper Egypt and trained by the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, Sheikh al-Hilali had arrived in Australia from Lebanon in 1982, four years before his young student. Asa ember of the University of al-Azhar’s mission in Lebanon (which retreated to Tripoli after the Israeli invasion of June 1982), he had taken part in the foundation of the Tawhid Movement. Soon after his arrival in Sydney, a group of worshippers from the Lakemba mosque encouraged him to stand for election as Sheikh of the mosque, in hopes of ousting the incumbent, Ahmad Zayudan, who was close to the Kata’ib Christian party and had the local Iraqi Ba’athist  party’s support. Representatives of the Kata’ib party in Sydney, worried about al-Halili’s influence, tried to have him deported by the federal government but the move only consolidated the Sheikh’s religious legitimacy.

Al-Halili’s election marked a turning point in the way Lebanese immigrants organized and defined themselves in Australia. For the Sunnis, religion began to take on greater importance than one’s village or origin, the identity marker that mattered the most to earlier generations of immigrants. This of religious criteria of identification intrinsically implied the labeling and rejection of non-Sunni Lebanese as alien to the group. In addition this allowed religious elites to take advantage of a framework in which they could directly negotiate with national and local government representatives. These representatives had become convinced since the 1970s that a ‘multiculturalist’ policy towards religious and ethnic minorities was beneficial. Being accustomed to the Lebanese political scene, which was structured by the subtle linguistic codes of intercommunal dynamics, these new religious elites had no trouble mastering the discourse of ‘interethnic harmony’ in their dealings with Australians, yet so no contradiction between this mode of political action and their Islamist orientation.

Young Bilal’s poor English prevented him from continuing his studies, and he took a job as a baggage handler for  Qantas. IN doing so, he managed to avoid some of the social problems faced by the ‘third wave’ of Lebanese immigrants which in the 1990s included unemployment for over a third of the working age population. Those who had recently arrives were poorly integrated into Australian society and survived largely on welfare benefits. With an average of four to six children per household, Muslim families had the highest birthrate in the country at the time. Khaz’al;, on the other hand, was integrated both socially and economically. He had little reason to embrace an Australian cultural model that inflated the meaning and value of the esthetic, erotic and athletic aspects of the body, since such an ethic ran counter to the strict teachings he had received from Sheikh Salem al-Rafi’i during his adolescence in the Tawhid ‘emirate’.

It is difficult to determine how Khaz’al became involved in jihadism at a time when no Internet or satellite television was available. At the beginning of the 1990s, the jihadi ideologue Abu Qatada toured the Islamic centers of Sydney and Melbourne, and it is possible that Khaz’al crossed paths wit him. In August 1992, at the age of twenty-two, he left Australia for two months- his destination remains unknown,. Immediately after he returned, he launched the monthly jihadi magazine Nida’u al-Islam. Its forty issues contained interviews and articles dedicated to the main figureheads of jihadism. Including Osama bin Laden, as well as the texts they penned. The magazine was published in both English and Arabic and presented itself as the voice of the Islamic Youth Movement created by ‘Sheikh  Bilal Khaz’al’. This association had a prayer room on the second floor of a modest building on Haldon Street.

The creation of the Islamic Youth Movement constituted a definitive rupture from al-Hilali. The Egyptian sheikh disapproved of thoe whose “short robes and long beards are their only assets in the science of religion,” and stated that Abu Qatada had ‘excommunicated him’ during  the latter’s visit to Australia. The quarrel between the two men should be seen in the broader context of harsh criticism  by the jihadi movement of the Muslim Brotherhood’s behavior. Khaz’al had no choice but to give up all hope of taking control of the Lakemba mosque, which was attended by many worshippers during Friday sermons and enjoyed generous Libyan and Saudi funding.. This failure in conquest of local Islam incited Khaz’al to shift the focus of his action. In 1998, he met Osama bin Laden and Ayman al- Zawahiri at the jihadi training camp  in Taliban controlled Afghanistan. Khaz’al’s path- the experience of military defeat, followed by exile abroad- coincided with that of other militants who had broken with nationalist Islamist movements to refocus on a transnational struggle.

From Australia, Khaz’al would go on to affect the evolution  Ka’keh’s group in the environs of Tripoli. He influenced its orientation, approved of the assassination strategy, and transmitted messages and money. The magazine publisher became and interlocutor and facilitators of connections between different networks, a person who provided the resources that made it possible to develop a network over a shot period of time and established links between jihadis whose experiences and backgrounds varied.
 In September, Khaz’al published a one-hundred page jihadi manifesto- using an alias- entitled Handbook of the Rules of Jihad: Essential Rules of Jurisprudence and Organizational Orientation Concerning every Fighter and Mujahid Who Fights Impiety….

Thus a baggage handler for Qantas, with no more than and elementary school education in his home country, contributed to a body of jihadi writings that has seen continual growth  since the advent of the Internet in the mid-1990s. This corpus first appeared at the time of the Afghan war in the 1980s, and expanded as subsequent Middle East events generated additions. In unabashed ignorance of the different schools of Islamic jurisprudence’s methodological traditions, Khaz’al justified the use of terrorism by equating prophetic precedents with the contemporary situation. This Khaz’al placed himself in the category of ‘haddith-shouters,’ who who used litanies of sacred narratives to drown out their critic. ‘Religious law’ is proclaimed generously through-out his manifesto in an effort to confer divine authority on and justify an anthology of  prescriptions chosen for their usefulness to his cause.

The global scale of the struggle paradoxically allow Khaz’al to renter the Tripolitan scene from his Lakemba suburb of Sydney. He helped al- Ka’keh (‘the engineer’) become more influential within a group  of about 25 jihadists by using the latter’s voice to advocate assassination as the main mode of action. Nonetheless, before organizing a deadly operation, the group first proved itself in a more limited way (bombing western restaurants like McD’s and Pizza Hut)

*MUI/Tawdid (Islamic Unification Movement):  proclaimed on August 25, 1982 in Tripoli, during the Israeli invasion of Lebanon. Strongly influenced by the Iranian revolution, the Tawhid Movement, which groups together various neighborhood militias, has  managed to dominate the city by imposing strict religious directives (bans on alcohol and mixed schools). In 1986, the Tawhid defended Tripoli against the Syrian army assault, while its chief, emir Said Sha’ban, protected by Ayatollah Khomeini, negotiated the city’s surrender with Syria’s president in September. On December 19, 1986, Syrian soldiers and their local allies took revenge for Tripoli’s resistance and massacred several hundred persons in the Bab al-Tabbaneh area.


Yielding jihadi power in  local militias has its difficulties as Sheikh Kana’an Naji recited  to the author about  his experience running the ‘Islamic emirate’ in Tripoli:

We became involved in messy dealings . . . We shouldn’t have gotten involved in these sorts of issues . . .People would come to us and say “so-and-so insulted so-and-so ..Do something!” Someone says to you: “You must intervene . . .” So you send over some youth to deal with the problem . . .but sometimes he would mess up .. .act dictatorially.. The lesson we must learn is that Muslims mustn’t get involved in these kinds of issues, issues of the actual forces on the ground . . .The most delicate and dangerous thing is justice. It takes ten years of study to become a judge. And even with ten years of study, it’s still difficult. The toughest job is dispensing justice to people And all of a sudden someone who can barely write shows up and wants top mete out justice! . . Because he represents de facto power! This is what happened in Tripoli, exactly as it happened in the rest of Lebanon. Tripoli was no different. Power corrupts.

Al-Qaeda and Fatah al-Islam

Jordanian-Palestinian Abu Muhammad al- Maqdisi.

Fatah al-Islam’s leaders came from the Syrian-Iraqi jihadi universe in which Abu Mus’ab al-Zarqawi was a signal authority. This network existed in parallel to al-Qaeda’s network, without being a part of it. In Shaker al-Absi’s view, acquiring the ‘al-Qaeda franchise’ would increase Fata h al-Islam’s regional prestige, In other words, such recognition would end speculation that Syria was sponsoring the group to further its own regional interests. This suspicion had been undermining his tial new  group’s credibility and causing potential new recruits to hesitate about joining the group.

Before granting Fatah al Islam this recognition, the historic leaders of al-Qaeda investigated the group In 2005 al;-Qaeda-Central had chosen  Tripolitan sheikh Nabil Rahim as their representative in Lebanon, tasking him  to coordinate at all times with al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and in the “Land of Two Rivers’ (Iraq). In 2006  Rahim met with with al-Qaeda leaders in Mecca while performing the ‘umra’ ( lesser pilgrimage, a chance to collect some funds for the group he was patiently forming in Tripoli. In early 2007, sheikh Rahim received an al-Qaeda emissary, Saudi Sheikh Addallah al-Bishi who had previously taught Sunni Kurds in Sanandaj, the capital of Iranian Kurdistan, where he was hosted by none other than Sheik Rahim, who then invited him  to Lebanon.

During his roughly two week stay al-Bishi ( the al-Qaeda ambassador) taught Islamic studies courses in the Samer center and the Cooperative. He listened to some young Saudi volunteer’s grievances about being confined to their camp despite having contributed thousands of dollars and promised the opportunity to fight in Iraq. Sheikh al-Bishi believed that they should be allowed to go home if they desired. No religious obstacle should prevent them from doing so. This ruling angered Shaker al-Absi ( leader of Fatah-al Islam) as he felt the presence of the Saudis strengthened his organization and added to its credibility. At any rate, he thought, they might be detained while crossing borders and ‘spill beans’, a concern that later proved justified.

Sheikh al-Bishi saw too many shortcomings in Fatah-al-Islam, even beyond the situation with the Saudi volunteers. There seemed tio be no good reason why al-Absi’s refusal to deal with the (Palestinian) Fatah was not extended to all Palestinian factions, all being equally guilty of impiety in al-Bishi’s opinion. He also seemed opposed to the practice of robbing banks- the source of most of Fatah al-Islam’s funds. In a more practical vein, the group’s open existence in a camp in North Lebanon raised the possibility of infiltration by the region’s intelligence services. Al-Bishi’s ‘jihadist audit’ did not produce the results Fatah al-Islam’s leaders hoped for and under threat from its more radical members, had to flee the camp. He was arrested by Lebanese authorities while crossing into Syria on his way to Iraq on a mission to attempt to stop Zarqawi’s attempt to regain control of Al-Qaeda in that country.

Establishing ties with al-Qaeda also required that a respected ‘alim’ (scholar of Islamic law) within the jihadi community get involved. To this end al-Absi contacted the Jordanian-Palestinian Abu Muhammad al- Maqdisi.

The categories that Sheikh Maqdisi used to structure his ideas frequently appeared in Fatah al-Islam’s communiques. To him, rigorous divine unity (Tawhid) meant that believers would refuse to acknowledge and follow rules other than those emanating from God alone. Hence, true believers should disobey their political leaders (corrupt tyrants) because the norms of government in modern states are not inspired by divine texts. In fact, the leaders of Fatah –al Islam identified with al- Maqdisi’s idea that any participation in state institutions was tantamount to apostasy. Thus, they did not hesitate to deride secular Arab leaders with the insulting term zanadiq, whose semantic field extends from ‘heretics’ to ‘drunken libertines’. Moreover, al Absi the activist and al Maqdisi the intellectual had both distanced themselves from Zarqawi’s descent into anti-Shi’ite sectarianism, despite the history they shared with him as militants and detainees.

Al- Maqdisi’s obsession with releasing believers from the hold of positive law in every field also legitimized the jihadi groups practice of committing common-law crimes ( theft, hostage-taking, etc.) This explains why Fatah al-Islam’s leaders began robbing banks. Yet far from earning al-Maqdisi’s support, this practice met with his censure. In a letter to Shaker al-Absi, al-Maqdisi questioned the relation ship between means and ends in Fatah- al-Islam practices.

Do not expect me to encourage our brothers resort to pillage! Are such actions logically part of the path of jihad? Did they pledge allegiance to us for that purpose? They pledged allegiance to us on the basis that we were al-Qaeda, and I have been asked time and time again, “Where are the resources, the equipment, the weapons?”: And when I told them to be patient, that we were preparing for all that, they answered: “Did we not pledge an oath to al-Qaeda. Only a  few volunteers who are unable to leave the camp are convinced that robberies are authorized by religion. The others want to kill and fight . . .Please answer me clearly … either we continue working together, or we will provide you with fraternal support.’

Sheikh al-Maqdisi’s questons are typical of the mixture on interest and wariness that characterized responses to Fatah al-Islam by other famous jihadi figureheads able to grant religious legitimacy. His doubts reflected his refusal to become an involuntary role model for a group without real recognition that was locked into a cycle of common-law criminality,at a time when he was endeavoring to improve his image in Arab public opinion.

Jihadi Ideology and Resources
The jihadi ideology worked symbolically: real people were treated as symbols, stripped of their historical, national, and anthropologically substance. The Maronite patriarch, a potential tart for assassination, was no longer viewed as the leader of one of the oldest Christian communities in the Middle East. He was disembodied, labeled, and assimilated to be a representative of America, the West, or Christianity. As such, he was to be fought against and eliminated if possible. Similarly, Fatah was mot a Palestinian organization struggling to recover its territory, but a secular entity despised for politically acknowledging impious entities, including the West, Israel and Arab regimes. Jihadi symbols were used to destroy religious systems deeply rooted in the political and religious history of the region. Whereas Islamic law was designed to set boundaries on the arbitrary actions of Men, in its jihadi guise it left open the possibility of actions unrestrained by any limits.

To legitimize assassination as a tactic, Khaz’al cited a hadith about a Jewish woman who was strangled for insulting the Prophet of Ismam. BY not intervening, the prophet Mohammad was said to legfitimize the murder of anyone who insulted the religion. According to Khaz’al, because the killer did not ask the Prophet’s permission, all believers were justified in taking this kind of initiative when someone insulted Islam. No external authority was required, not even that of the Messenger of God

The words of the Prophet were interpreted eschatologically, as if current political events were of no intrinsic interest, often only to be interpreted in the future perfect, because their significance lay in what was to come, a divine intervention to save humanity, as signs of the fulfillment of prophetic passages in the sayings and actions of the Prophet recorded in the 7th century. Khaz’al’s “Orientations” also included many comparisons between present-day Muslim leaders and famous traitors of Islamic history including Abi Righal, ‘who offered his services to the Ethiopian King Abraha when Abraha was endeavoring to conquer Mecca. He also cited Ibn al-Alqami and the religious scholar Sadr al-Din al-Tusi, who served the Mongol invader Hulagu after he had killed “The Caliph and the statesmen, and destroyed Baghdad while exterminating from 800,000 to a million, or maybe two million people  in what is known as the worse massacre in the history of humanity.’ History repeats itself, with its share of “defeats and disasters,” because ‘this umma never encounters a single foreign enemy without someone appearing to assist them, to io them favors, to justify their crimes, to defend their policy, to spread their ideas and to show them their weakness, as did Abu Righal, Ibn al-Alqami and Sadr al Din al Tusi,” During the 200-3 Iraq war, “Abu Righal became king and under his authority, religious sheikhs gave legitimacy to the Crusaders and Zionists.”

 In Weberian terms, Fatah al-Islam leaders and other jihadi sought to induce Sunnis to trade their ethics of responsibility for the ethics of conviction, in order to extract them from their communitarian frameworks, yet these frameworks are important resources for their terror schemes. Life in the neighborhoods offered many opportunities for  interaction. In a context where preachers readily brandish believers’ faith  to lambast the state for neglecting its religious duties, either internationally or towards its own society, and charismatic leaders could infuse jihadism into deeply anchored musical and poetic traditions, refusing to do a favor for a friend, or even an acquaintance, led to crippling moral censure in in communities where everyone knows everybody else. Slowly, jihadist interactions in neighborhoods  facilitated reciprocity of exchanges and building of trust. They could also evoke memories of allegiances and debts owned one faction or the other in the wake of past conflicts, sacralizing past victories or defeats to build loyalty, or fuel resentment.


The Saydnaya military prison in Syria  was of great importance. It functioned as a uniquely convenient place where various individuals’ paths crossed, consolidating past ties and creating new commitments. Likewise, the prison pooled individuals among whom Syrian  intelligence services could identify new recruits, and from which they could gather information about Islamist networks. The Syrian regime acquiesced in part to the opposition’s desire to wage jihad, but only so long as this took place outside Syria or in accordance with their policy objectives. Likewise, the Roumieh prison in Beirut- overcrowded with appalling conditions where riots and break-outs occur- is a place where solidarities and new jihadi networks are created for the future.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Irish Terror Trouble by Richard English

Why do significant terrorist campaigns begin?  How are terrorist campaigns sustained? Why does terrorism end?

Each side in the Irish conflict preferred an outcome which would see the state representing their own national tradition (Irish or British), their own religious orientation (Catholic or Protestant), their own economic interests (broadly, Protestant Ulster had thrived within the industrial, imperial UK framework more strikingly than had the more nationalist remainder of the island), and their own cultural (more Gaelic-influenced for nationalists, more emphatically centered on Britain for the unionists.) There was, therefore a long-rooted problem of contested legitimacy in Ireland, and the resolution of this in the 1920s was messy.  The partitioning of Ireland into north and south left a sizeable minority of Irish nationalists  in the Northern Irish part of the UK, many of them feeling that the state they inhabited was neither legitimate or fair. If the whole of Ireland were to be separated from Britain, then a strong and concentrated north-eastern minority of unionists would themselves be in the wrong state and hostile to it. Thus the politics of nationalism and the problem of unresolved self-determination were long present in the Irish-British relationship and they formed the vital historical context within which to place the eruptions of various terrorisms in Ireland (1969-2005).

The political aims and justifications of terrorism- whether Irish Republican (opposed to UK membership), or pro-UK Ulster loyalist – therefore had deep historical roots. In each case, there was for the practitioners of violence not only an urgent need for such aggressive action, but also a legitimization of it in terms of the nation: even though most co-nationals did not enthuse over your violence, it was still seen as essentially democratic  because it was carried out in pursuit of what were perceived as historically legitimate national rights. The Provisional IRA in the 1970s presented themselves and their violence (they killed 1,045 people during the decade) in precisely these terms, pointing back to the authentic Irish republic which had been declared by the Easter rebel of 1916 and then embodied in the legitimate Irish Republican parliaments created during 1918- 21. According to this view, the IRA was

the direct representative of the 1918 Dail Eireann parliament . . .as such they are the legal and lawful government of the Irish Republic . . . The Irish Republican Army, as the legal representatives of the Irish people, are morally justified in carrying out  a campaign of resistance against foreign occupation forces and domestic collaborators…the moral position of the IRA, its right to engage in warfare is based on: (a) the right to resist foreign aggression; (b) the right to revolt against tyranny and oppression; and (c) the direct lineal succession with the Provisional government of 1916, and the second Dail of 1921.

According to such views, IRA violence was not anti-democratic terrorism but rather democratically justifiable struggle in pursuit of national rights and freedom, against the by day-to day unfairness and Catholic communal disadvantages they experienced under British rule which then prompted the 1960S civil rights movement for reform precipitating inter-communal conflict from which the Troubles subsequently ensued. So too in the 1970s, the IRA claimed that the source of violence lay ‘in the social and economic deprivation suffered by the nationalist’s people in Northern Ireland’: peaceful attempts to deal with the problems had failed, force was ‘the only means of removing the evil of the British presence in Ireland.’

The specific sequence of events which led to the birth of the Provisional IRA points to other key aspects of explanation and understanding. One is the psychological and emotional force behind such violence. As civil rights demonstrators clashed with rival unionist/loyalist protestors and with policed, and inter-communal violence escalated during 1969, there emerged an understandable urge within some Catholic areas towards the provision of a new IRA defense force. But just as the existence, actions and fear of the IRA had helped prompt awful loyalist violence in the 1960S, so too violence from the loyalists and then from tye British army after its 1969 deployment, in turn generated a nationalist desire to strike back. The Provisionals were rarely ever abler to defend their community effectively; they did, however succeed in hitting back: ‘first, I think, it was defense of the ghettos . . . and then to retaliate too. Defense and retaliation were the terms we used to use. With increasing friction between British soldiers and the Catholic working class, searches, arrests, and street and other clashes  led to an increasing desire for revenge. Why join the IRA?  One ex-member reflected: ‘It was because of a process of British repression as clearly distinct from any sort of attachment to republican ideology.’

For some in the movement, ideological inheritance a tradition did mean a considerable amount… Future Brighton bomber Patrick Magee had an IRA grandfather, but he also stressed that his own arrest and beating-up at the hands of British soldiers played its part in leading him to join the IRA; there was, he says, ‘a sense of anger. Real anger. I felt I just couldn’t walk away from this, and I did join up.’  Another man reflected: ‘Probably one of  the deciding factors would have been constant harassment of British troops on the streets. It generally created an atmosphere of violence and the desire to fight back and not accept that type of state.’

In addition to the desire to strike back and exact revenge paramilitary recruits also gained rewards in terms of status, power, prestige, excitement, camaraderie, influence and kudos among one’s peers.

Evidence accumulated that, really, the six-county area (Northern Ireland) was irreformable, that it was impossible to change it by civil means. ‘Irish history is littered with the corpses of Irish politicians who genuinely believed that political processes set up by the English would achieve justice and freedom. The six counties is a politically contrived and manipulated ‘state’ designed specifically to allow the permanent domination of one section of the community over the other. Any reforms which it is forced to accept are only cosmetic and not worth the paper they are written on . . the Republican movement will not settle for anything less than British withdrawal.’ As Gerry Adams said in 1989: ‘The British government does not respond to the force of argument. It only understands the argument of force, this is why armed struggle is a fact of life, and death, in the six counties’

The IRA strategy is very clear. At some point in the future, due to the pressure of the continuing and sustained armed struggle, the will of the British government to remain in this country will be broken. That is the objective of the armed struggle . . .we can state confidently today that there will be no ceasefire and no truces until Britain declares its intent to withdraw and leave our people in peace.

Bombs in British cities and violence against British soldiers was an attempt to coerce the wider public into pressurizing their own government towards giving the IRA what it wanted. It was the well know  Clausewitzean strategy of war: your opponent had to be put in a position which was more oppressive to them than it would be for them to give you what you wanted.

If dispassionate analysis is necessary to explain the complexities which produced serious terrorism [albeit in an abbreviated form here], then what of our second question: How are terrorist campaigns sustained? The Provisional IRA 1969-2005 campaign provides a bloody and durable case study. In the first place, however it is not simply true that “Once you start the business of killing, you just get ‘deeper and deeper, without limits. Although escalating communal violence  played an important role in the emergence of the Provisional IRA as a serious force, the highest rates of annual killing occurred early on, the later conflict characterized by much lower rates of fatal violence. A better explanation for the ‘sustainability’ of the Ulster Troubles was escalating violence on the part of the British government. The Falls Curfew in July 1970 : an extensive search  of Belfast’s Lower Falls district during which many houses were damages, and people killed. Though many weapons were seized, in Gerry Adam’s words, “The Falls Road Curfew made popular opposition to the British Army absolute in Belfast … After that recruitment to the IRA was massive.” Then the British government was induced by Ulster Unionists to introduce internment without trial and in August hundreds of people were  lifted on the basis of weak intelligence and given very harsh treatment. When British soldiers fatally shot fourteen anti-internment marchers on 30 January 1972 in Derry (Bloody Sunday’) the IRA gained more potential recruits than it could easily cope with. Both republican and loyalists played their parts in the escalating hostility but violence against civilians, one-sidedly directed at the Catholic communes played a dramatic part in stimulating the growth of precisely that organization against which their actions had been  directed.

Sustained by inter-communal violence and the heavy-hand of the government, intra-communal violence also played a role in sustaining the terrorist strategy. Within the Republican movement there repeatedly developed feuds and splits between the warring Provisional and Official factions which spawned a hostile offshoot in the form of the Irish National Liberation Army. In these intra-movement battles tit-for-tat vengeance played a part, as did rival conceptions of the best strategy or ideological path and competition between alternative leaders and leaderships. Similar intra-communal struggles were apparent also on the loyalist side.

Although leaders of the IRA initially expected an early success, in  the late 70s  most had settled into the prospect of a long war, Gerry Adams by 1973. As they saw it their war was just, the Irish had rights to national self-determination and to liberation from colonial enslavement: it was destined for success, as suggested by the late twentieth-century decline of the British Empire.  Sustenance  was also provided by cultural-national enthusiasm or socialist millenarianism. Support also came from external actors , such as diasporic sympathizers in the USA and Colonel Gaddafi. Mundane but significant momentum was provided by organizational dynamics themselves: training, meetings, campaigning, fund-raising, commemorations establish the identity, solidarity and comradeship.

But one cannot explain the durability of the Provos brutal campaign without acknowledging that behind it was a serious and recognizably important contest over political legitimacy.

Multiple causation is clearly at work in the generation and sustenance of terrorism, and the same is true when we turn to our third major question: Why does terrorism end?

By 1986 Gerry Adams had acknowledged the reality of a situation of deadlock in which the IRA was able to block the imposition of a British solution but were unable to force the British to withdraw.. By 1990, this military stalemate was being clearly noted by other sharp-eyed republicans. Adams himself had apparently been in indirect dialogue with British politicians during 1986-, a crucial factor. Provisional IRA violence had emphatically political roots and aims and- potentially- resolution; those involved were as normal and rational as other political actors tend to be, and when years of struggle had taught the lesson that violence was bringing, not the anticipated victory, but instead pointless stalemate, then such people looked for alternate ways of achieving political momentum. When those involved in terrorist violence recognized that they had potentially more to gain from non-violent than from violent politics, they eschewed the latter in favor of the former.

The distinctive  1990s engagement with Northern Ireland by the Clinton regime in Washington added impetus towards a fruitful peace process (especially as it reassured Irish republicans that there was someone involved in the initiative who as more powerful than the British and who was, if anything, sympathetic to the nationalist rather than the unionist politics in Ireland.) The harmonious relationship of British and Irish politicians and civil servants within the European Union context facilitated a joint London-Dublin approach to Northern Ireland in ways that offered a framework for negotiations. Again, for those republicans whose struggle had involved a hard-leftist commitment to destroying capitalism, the death of communism closed-off expected revolutionary progress and made compromise seem more sensible. Later on, the impulse to abandon terrorism was strengthened by the atrocity of 9/11 [by which you might infer the author means, success in persuading the British voters to blame their own government for the situation seemed less imaginable.] And, of course, through the course of the long war the British public simply became accustomed to the violence [just as Americans do mass shootings in their own country.

If the British could endure the IRA’s lethal activities of 1971-6 (during which they killed an average of 144 people a year), would increasingly lower level of fatal activity ( never more than 100 people a year between 1977-2001) really be likely to produce a better outcome? Part of this shift lay in the increasing effectiveness of state counter-terrorism, although this should not be over-stated. The IRA remained in a position to achieve huge and damaging bombings in Britain as well as fatal attacks in Ireland. But the latter years of the war were ones during which the Provisional’s ranks were riddled with agents and informers. Accurate intelligence,  was of far greater benefit in the fight against terrorism than the more formal military muscle.

Furthermore, there is considerable evidence to suggest that sharp-eyed republicans came by the early 1990S to acknowledge that their reading of the Ulster unionists had been simplistic and na├»ve. ‘In a way we made them into non-people. We just said: you can’t move the unionists until you move the Brits. So we didn’t even see them as part of the problem, never mind as being part of the solution.’ Once  the unionists were placed more centrally in view, as an enduring obstacle rather  than just a tool of the British, then more subtle ways of dealing with the problem became possible.

Similarly, it was recognized that prompt British withdrawal from the North would in fact have catastrophic economic consequences for a region that was propped up by British state subvention.  Most decisively of all, perhaps, it became clear  that the main obstacle to achieving Irish unity lay not in London, but rather in the complex range of views in Ireland itself, North and South. With unionist recalcitrance, with obdurate loyalist resistance, and with the southern electorates and governments which were markedly ambivalent about the prospect of unity anyway, the feasibility of the IRA’s traditional goal now seemed questionable.

So in Northern Ireland it was not that a prior peace process addressed the root causes of the conflict and the the terrorism ended, but rather that the key terrorist movement recognized that its violence was not producing what it had expected it to produce, that there might e greater rewards from peaceful politics, and political realities demanded a rethinking of strategy. This sea change decisively allowed for the construction of a peace process that could address some of the root causes of the conflict in ways that allowed for the prospect of sustainable peace in the North of Ireland.

The deal which emerged was one which took lengthy and difficult work both too construct and then to implement.

[Did terrorism work in Northern Ireland? The author thinks not. It did not convince the British to leave. Yet the long campaign of terror eventually led those who conducted it, and those against whom it was conducted, it to pursue a different course. There is no telling what how the situation in Northern Ireland would have developed had there been no terror campaign. The certainty is the that roots of The Troubles could not be simply ‘wished-away’.]

Monday, March 21, 2016

The Bergen-Belsen Heap by Mark Celinscak

In 2007, Simone Veil, a French survivor of Bergen-Belsen who later became a renown lawyer and politician, addressed the United Nations in New York during the International Day of Commemoration in the Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust. “I can still see the horrified faces of the soldiers,” she said of the troops who entered thee Bergen-Belsen concentration camp on 15 April 1945, adding solemnly that there were “no cries of joy on our part –only silence and tears.”

According to the nineteenth-century Hasidic Rabbi Menachem Medel  Morgenztern of Kotzk,  there were three ways open to a man who is in sorrow. He who stands on the normal rung weeps, he who stands higher is silent, but he who stands on the topmost rung converts his sorrow into song. For Kotzker Rebbe, the latter is the preferable response; but  Leslie Hardman of the Canadian Chaplain Services  could not remain steadfast, nor could he feel admiration for a higher power. “I could not accept,” he explained, “with perfect faith and equanimity as Aaron did, nor could I sing praises to God.” When face to face with overwhelming misery, he could not transcend the ‘rungs’ of his grief. “Keep a stiff upper lip, Padre” was the universal recommendation but it seemed utterly impossible. In those early days of ‘liberation’ Hardman became ill with dysentery, depressed and openly wept.

Among the Allied forces there were no plans to liberate the camps.  Reports of the crimes and the location of some camps were known by the Allied governments relatively early into the war and reconnaissance missions provided aerial views of Bergen-Belsen in 1942 and again in 1944, the specific functions of the Nazi camps were not well known. Despite basic knowledge of Nazis crimes, Allied governments were not prepared to meet the challenges that they ultimately faced during the spring and summer of 1945. They failed to comprehend the extremely desperate needs of the victims who had  suffered at the hands of the Nazis. And for the small number of government officials who did know the specifics of the crimes, many either could not accept it or refused to act. After securing a cease fire with beleaguered German Army units in the neighborhood, British and Canadian troops simply arrived at the gates of the camp, completely unprepared for what they were about to witness and the measures that would be required to rescue 60,000 people from what many could only describe as an inferno. In the first weeks of Allied occupation 19,000  of the inmates at Bergen-Belsen died.

The coverage in both Britain and Canada of  crimes occurring in Nazi Europe during the war years, while scant, are easily discovered and relatively accurate. There was, however, a chasm between what was “known” and what was “believed.” The fact that some information has been mentioned once or even a hundred times in secret reports or in mass circulation newspapers does not necessarily mean that it has been accepted or understood. Big figures become statistics, and statistics rarely have profound psychological impacts.

From the fall of 1944 to Mach 1945, Canadian coverage of crimes in Europe was almost non-existent. A rare feature was the September 1944 issue of Maclean’s magazine,an American reporter’s article “Mass Murder!" her observations while traveling with the Red Army. “Jews of eastern-Europe,” she wrote, ‘have been slaughtered –destroyed by a plan pursued with German thoroughness – until almost none remain." During the fall of 1944 and early winter of 1945, camps were being liberated by the Red Army. Upon  discovering  Belzec, Sobibor and Treblinka,   the Soviets issued no major press releases. The publicity of the liberation of Auschwitz was minimal. Because the reports that did get through were perceived to come from less-than-trusted sources, news of the camps made little impression on the public’s imagination. It would take the liberation of the camps in western Europe by the apparently more reliable American, British and Canadian forces before the horrors were believed and appreciated.

Anticipation is prior imagination and the extent of one’s capacity to imagine a profound event has important bearing upon the way one is able to respond. For Allied troops arriving at Bergen-Belsen, the experience was one of shock and profound disturbance. While warnings were issued to many who entered the camps in the days that followed ,detailed reports, photographs and moving images had not yet been distributed and many found it difficult  to perceive or prepare themselves for such horrors. Indeed, those who arrived three to even seven days after the surrender of the camp, viewed virtually the same conditions of those who, on the afternoon of 15 April, first entered the camp.

Bergen-Belsen was a ‘space of abjection.” Put simply, the ‘abject” is that which is both part of and thoroughly rejected by the self. The writings of theorist and critic Julia Kristeva provide substantial insight on the complex notion of abjection. To operate as a social being, one must expel or do away with elements which the collective order considers contaminated or impure, such as waste, excrement, blood, vomit, bodily fluids, cadavers and the like. ‘Refuse and corpses show me what I permanently thrust aside in order to live. These bodily fluids, this defilement, this shit are what life withstands, hardly and with difficulty, on the part of death.” However, these elements, which we try to cast off, can never be completely disregarded. They linger and remain, haunting us – the subject, the self – in different ways, threatening with the suspension or interruption  of our very being. As the philosopher Giorgio Agamben acknowledges, “Whoever experiences disgust has in some way recognized himself in the object of his loathing and fears being recognized in turn.”

  Kristeva contends that the abject “draws me towards that place where boundaries are erased and meaning collapses.” Thousands of corpses scattered around the camp grounds, inside and outside the decrepit barracks, along with the waste, excrement and filth, disturbed, horrified and sickened military personnel. And yet many were fascinated, drawn to the site of abjection, despite warnings of the horrors. Bergen-Belen became kind of a ‘tourist attraction’ for troops passing through the area.

For many inside the camp and working against the unfolding catastrophe, with limited personnel and scant resources, irony and sarcasm became a way of coping. Comments were often harsh, cruel, untimely, frequently deployed as type of cognitive wall, similar to the zoomorphic language and animal metaphors used in letters home and in memoirs by those who first entered the camp. Sarcasm, irony and dark humor were rhetorical devices used in order to keep a distance, either physically or psychologically from the desperate situation. It helped them to achieve the detachment necessary to complete their assigned tasks such as choosing who should receive immediate medical attention and thus perhaps live while  leaving others  where they lay to face certain death, witnessing the last breaths of orphaned children, or burying thousands of unidentifiable people  in mass graves.

While the crimes in Bergen-Belsen and other concentration camps were being publicized through-out the Western world, a clinical study was taking place at the University of Minnesota under the lead investigator and American scientist Dr Ancey Keys. Beginning in 1944, in what was known as the “Minnesota Starvation Experiment,” Keys and his team scrutinized the physiological and psychological effects of severe and prolonged malnourishment in healthy men. The findings of the project were intended to later guide the Allied powers in their dealings with the victims of famine in Europe and Asia at the end of the Second World War.  Formally published in 1950, the work was instantly regarded as a landmark treatise on the subject. As biochemist Jack Drummond – an advisor to the Ministry of Food and nutrition consultant to the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force and the Allied Control Commissions-acknowledges in the book’s forward, “My admiration was tinted with only one regret, that the investigation had not begun three years earlier.”

It is interesting to observe the overlap in the findings of Dr. Keys study and the candid accounts of Allied medical personnel.  Canadian John F. McCreary served with the RCAF Nutrition Group during the war. In 1944 McCreary and his team were seconded to SHAEF to conduct clinical surveys of children in various concentration camps across northwest Europe. They traveled to Bergen-Belsen in early May 1945 to survey the conditions of the inmates.  Upon his return to Canada, McCreary gave an address at the Empire Club of Canada in Toronto. According to McCreary, the internees could be divided into three main groups: the first cluster included recent arrivals that, because of their brief time in the camps, remained relatively fit. The third and final group involved those too ill to digest any type of food and as a result had the highest death rate. In regards to the second group of inmates, McCreary describes them as those who had deteriorated physically but, with proper diet, could once again regain their bodily strength. However, their mental recovery would take additional time. In McCreary’s point of view, this group

had been so disturbed mentally by so long a period in the camp that their mental return was far from as rapid as their physical return. When we saw the people in the camp some had even lost their ability to see. They had of course no idea what their names were. They had no idea where they came from. They didn’t know how long they had been there. They were simply mute. They were the people whose only noise was a high pitched cry. There we were thousands of these people and they represented the most disturbing sight to be seen in the Belsen concentration camp. It looked for a long time as if there was absolutely no hope of any return to normal for this group.

Complicity in these crimes and attempts at judging the guilty became subjects of some concern in the immediate responses of Allied personnel to the camp and all subsequent narratives of the holocaust.  [In the author’s view] one scholar in particular offers a useful model in which to investigate the context of such judgments. A native of northern Germany, Karl Jaspers was a psychiatrist and philosopher. He wrote his treatise – ‘The Question of German Guilt” (1947)- for a population, of which he was one, who lived through and mostly supported, albeit often submissively, the Nazis regime.

Jaspers had a fourfold schema on the question of guilt: criminal, political, moral and metaphysical. The first, criminal guilt, includes offenses that violate the law, and whose prosecution remains with the Courts [like murder, battery, robbery, kidnapping and extortion]. The second type of guilt, political guilt, involves all citizens of a modern state. The citizens of the state are accountable for the conduct of their governments. Jurisdiction, in this instance, rests with the victorious  powers. Moral guilt encompasses personal responsibility for one’s actions. In this instance, jurisdiction involves one’s own conscience. Morally, an individual can condemn only his or herself and no one else. Finally, the fourth type, metaphysical guilt, involves everyone’s responsibility for the crimes and injustices in the world. This is especially true for offenses of which one has knowledge or that were committed in one’s presence. According to Jaspers, jurisdiction for metaphysical guilt remains with “God alone.” Jaspers did not conclude that he himself was criminally guilty of Nazis crimes.

Allied troops occupying Bergen-Belsen had no question in their mind that what they witnessed was a crime. They differed in their opinions as to how guilt should be assigned. [In my view, it is remarkable how few summary, extra-judicial executions actually occurred, how few people were blamed in a political sense. As ever, the question of moral responsibility and the burdens of wounded conscience were easily displaced as many Germans were able, in post-war conditions, to view themselves as victims. The judgment of God is pending.]

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

The Folly of Progressive Islam by Michael Mohammad Knight

[ Readers unfamiliar with the subject might want to consider an analogy not just between progressive Muslims and progressive Christians but also the Qur’an as equivalent in some respects to the Constitution, the hadith and tafsir to the narratives and legal precedents surrounding the notion of ‘original intent’, deployed with equal trust and vigor by all positions in the American political polemic.]

For a variety of reasons, many of the great scholars and thinkers who have contributed to the “Progressive Muslim” scene – whether or not they self-identify as ‘”progressive Muslims” – have chosen the Qur’an as the chief terrain on which battles over issues such as gender equality are to be fought.  While the Qur’an is placed at the center of progressive arguments, progressive Muslims often position the hadith corpus and/or its primary advocates as Islam’s greatest obstacle against gender justice. It remains a popular sentiment among progressive Muslims that if we can push away the historically accumulated hadith and tafsir (exegesis/interpretation) that have concealed the Qur’an’s true meaning, finding out way to a new and “direct’ encounter with the text, we will successfully find Islam- defined here entirely within the eternal message of the Qur’an – to be wholly resonant with ideals of modern feminism. Like science-obsessed modernist Muslims who sought to prove that the Qur’an displays miraculously advanced knowledge of natural phenomena, some progressive Muslims would claim that the Qur’an’s original message included a call for gender equality that could only be fully comprehended fourteen centuries later.

The Qur’an-centered nature of progressive Muslim arguments could be situated within the same intellectual trends and historical shifts that made Qur’an-centered Islam so appealing to so many Muslims from the nineteenth century onward. There is also the question of the particular training that progressive Muslim intellectuals bring to their sources. Equipped with Western literary theory and modern hermeneutics, which had first developed through the attempts of Christian scholars to investigate the Bible, progressive Muslim thinkers perhaps find their tool boxes more intuitively applicable to reinterpreting divine scripture than sorting through the unique problems of hadith studies. Meanwhile, for many progressive Muslims, the mere mention of hadiths evokes nightmares of puritanical religiosity, unsophisticated textural literalism, repressive legalism, superstitious  ritualism, sectarian intolerance, and the vaguely defined boogeyman of “Wahhabism, often racialized as ethnocentric “Arab Islam” and caricatured with reference to the beards and clothing choices of its  adherents. Finally, the status of the Qur’an as God’s word means that people can theoretically conceive of it as free from the constraints of earthy patriarchy; while the revelation was delivered through a man, this man does not own  the words as their “author.” In contrast, the hadith corpus remains bound to this earth and is inescapably the work of men who were products of their historical setting, with all the limitations that imposed on them. Again, we must recognize that even when we read narrations attributed to A’isha or any other women of the Salaf, we do not have direct access to her voice, but rather her voice as represented by male-dominated scholarly networks and institutions of knowledge. The hadith corpus can therefore be exposed to varieties of critique from which the Qur’an would be protected.

To get into progressive “Qur’anic hermeneutics” projects, we must first work with a few assumptions: (1) that we have access to the Qur’an in its original and eternal form, its integrity perfectly preserved, absolutely innocent of any human interventions to add or redact content; (2) that the Qur’an can speak in “universals” such as universal justice, universal equality, universal anything; (3) that the Qur’an’s “universal” messages represent broader themes of the text, even if they do not necessarily find harmony with the specific content of every verse; (4) that the relationship of any particular verse to the Qur’an’s universal or thematic truth provides a measure by which we should weigh its value against other verses; (5) because the Qur’an’s universal themes are what really matters, any isolated verse of the Qur’an can be over-ruled by what we have named as the Qur’an’s true heart. By the logic of this approach, if the Qur’an’s universal message calls us to greater justice and mercy, but domestic violence betrays what we recognize as mercy and justice, then domestic violence cannot be possibly endorsed by the Qur’an, no matter what a specific verse appears to be saying.

Maybe the Qur’an’s statements of spiritual equality between women and men should erase verses articulating their inequality, and maybe the Qur’an’s monotheism is betrayed by hierarchal relationships between human beings. I don’t know. This all rests on what you personally assume about the Qur’an’s ultimate purpose and how this text is supposed to work. Maybe the Qur’an’s references to God with male pronouns occur only due to limitations of Arabic grammar, and maybe the divine “he” doesn’t relate to any broader gender logic running through the text. Again, this isn’t simply the self-evident truth of the Qur’an, but a conclusion you might reach with the pre-existing values that you bring to your reading. For the Qur’an to express an obvious opposition to patriarchy, I have to decide this is what want to see. Even if I reject the traditionalists verse-by-verse reading method that progressive Muslims disdain, choosing instead to read “thematically” with an eye for the Qur’an’s broader message, there’s till a reasonable chance that I can find patriarchy fully endorsed by the Qur’an, even as one of the Qur’an’s ‘universal” themes. Contrary to the notion of a god so absolutely transcendent and wholly other that this god could never be contained within human constructions of gender, I can also read the Qur’an as speaking for a he-god who assumes men’s domination of women to be the natural, normative order of the universe. This reading, after all, does not seem to have experienced meaningful challenges prior to the modern interest in gender equality.

Gender-sensitive Qur’an hermeneutics works like a shell game in which shells are pushed around to make us miss where the hetero-sexist pea has been hidden. Ebrahim Moses describes this privileging of our favorite verses to control the meaning of less charming ones as “hermeneutical acrobatics or a hermeneutics of wishful thinking.” Though I personally agree with Amina Wadud’s response to Moosa ( that such disparagement from privileged, self-identified ‘progressive” male scholars provide nothing useful and can only be destructive), this doesn’t make the problem go away. What hermeneutics offers seem to be less a critical method than a critical-sounding means of affirming, “The text says whatever I want it to say.”

I would ask what gives us the eyes to claim our universals, especially when the concepts that we hold as universal, such as gender egalitarianism, lead us to radical breaks from the ways in which the Qur’an has been comprehended for nearly fifteen centuries. Isn’t our interest in the Qur’an’s gender egalitarianism itself the product of historical forces that asked new questions of the text? Don’t we also read from within the bounds of time and place, or have our sophisticated methods methods enable us to step out of the world that gave us those very methods? We defend our universal Qur’anic ethics, while exiling other readers to their particular contexts, through our use of modern (and postmodern) Western literary theories; we forget that these theories themselves, rather than universalize our voices, only locate us within particular intellectual genealogies and our own narrow context. While accusing other thinkers of misreading the Qur’an through the filters of their cultural backgrounds, Western-educated scholars find the Qur’an’s “universal” truth with tools developed by the nineteenth- century European Christians who has sought new understandings of their Bible, or mid-twentieth-century European Marxists and Marist-inspired thinkers who examined the importance of power and context in our constructions of reality.

Like a liberal mirror of Salafism, progressive Muslim hermeneutics confidently tells us which methods of interpretation transcend interpretation and which ones have strayed from the pure origins. Like the Salafiyya, progressives plant their flag on the origins of Islam, present themselves as heirs to the Qur’an’s truest spirit, and condemn various traditional authorities as innovators and corruptors. While calling our attention to the Qur’an’s multiplicity of meanings and the subjectivity of interpretation, progressivists nonetheless tend to make proclamations against those whom they accuse of having read the Qur’an wrong. Even when celebrating the individual reader as the true locus of meaning, these emancipators of texts can be as hegemonic and authoritarian as the most rigid literalists, and their flexing of Western academic training and literary theories can execute power plays just as much as mystical hierarchies do appeals to capitalized “Tradition.”

There’s a political stake here, as the progressivist reform project cannot be neutral in matters of empire. Progressive Muslim hermeneutics happens to hare some overlap with the agendas of forces such as the RAND Corporation., the conservative think-tank that associated close observation of Muslim rituals (such as prayer and fasting) and behavioral codes (such as hijab) with “backwardness and under-development, which in turn are the breeding ground for social and political problems of all sorts.” The RAND Corporation has advocated for Muslims to be restrained in their approach to the Qur’an, namely, to be fed new methods of reading that would disenfranchise traditional institutions and modes of authority, creating a new kind of Muslim. Because the Qur’an says much less in terms of rituals and embodied practices than the hadith corpus, Qur’an only Islam ( particularly when the Qur’an is read with what Sabah Mahood has called ‘secular hermeneutics) can more effectively produce the kind of liberal, rational, autonomous, Protestantized Muslim that RAND Corporations want to see…

Various parties make claims that the Qur’an is inherently liberatory or oppressive or progressive or violent. The lived reality of language says that the Qur’an is inherently nothing but uncontrollable…

Here's the pivot point, after a long historiographical prologue: Malcolm, Sunna, Hadith, Hanbal, al-Afghani, crystallization of the Salif in the 1920S, Cold War, 5 Percenters:
" If I'm a stranger to myself , If I'm a product of unknown ancestors, I can't know my lord. So I stare at the big flowcharts of names and these arrows of influence pointing in all directions, trying to tie my religion together ,seeing not an Islam of eternal consistency but only something frail and vulnerable, subject to whatever causes history to move; and it has me wondering about the options for a fundamentalism that looks like apostasy, in which Islam can only come to me as side effects, instabilities, fragments, random molecules, brokenness and rupture and cross-fertilization forever, nothing staying in place, forever new empires promoting new books."
[Is this sad? Malcolm X was alive- moving through the vortex of history but now he's dead, finished, nothing more to say about himself. He weeps ,like David Bowie, 'everybody knows me now'. The eternal repose. The infinite 'fuck you' to the living.]

 "Why I am a Salafi" by Michael Muhammad Knight