Saturday, January 10, 2015

War Begets War: It’s Not about Islam; It Never Was

By Ramzy Baroud
Is it not possible that Muslims are angered by something much more subtle and profound than Charlie Hebdo’s tasteless art?
It is still not about Islam, even if the media and militants attacking western targetssay so. Actually, it never was. But it was important for many to conflate politics with religion; partly because it is convenient and self-validating.
First, let’s be clear on some points. Islam has set in motion a system to abolish slavery over 1,200 years before the slave trade reached its peak in the western world.
Freeing the slaves, who were owned by pagan Arab tribes, was a recurring theme in the Koran, always linked to the most basic signs of piety and virtue:
“The charities are to go to the poor, and the needy, and those who work to collect them, and those whose hearts have been united, and to free the slaves, and those in debt, and in the cause of God, and the traveller. A duty from God, and God is Knowledgeable, Wise.” [Al-Koran. 9:60]
It is unfortunate that such reminders would have to be regularly restated, thanks to constant anti-Islam propaganda in many western countries. The outlandish and often barbaric behaviour of the so-called Islamic State (IS) has given greater impetus to existing prejudices and propaganda.
Second, gender equality in Islam has been enshrined in the language of the Koranand the legacy of the Prophet Mohammed.
“For Muslim men and women, for believing men and women, for devout men and women, for truthful men and women, for patient men and women, for humble men and women, for charitable men and women, for fasting men and women, for chaste men and women, and for men and women who remember God often – for them has Allah prepared forgiveness and great reward.” [33:35]
Third, the sanctity of life is paramount in Islam to the extent that “…if any one slew a person (..) it would be as if he slew the whole people: and if any one saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of the whole people.” [5:32]
Still, this is not about Islam. This is about why Islam is the subject of this discussion in the first place, when we should be addressing the real roots of violence.
When Islam was introduced to Arabia many centuries ago, it was, and in fact remains, a revolutionary religion. It was and remains radical, certainly the kind of radicalism that, if viewed objectively, would be considered a real challenge to classism in society, to inequality in all of its forms, and more importantly, to capitalism and its embedded insatiability, greed and callousness.
To avoid a rational discussion about real issues, many make non-issues the crux of the debate. So Islam is discussed alongside IS, Nigerian tribal and sectarian conflicts, Palestinian resistance to Israeli occupation, immigration issues in Europe and much more.
While much violence happens across the world in the name of Christianity, Judaism, even Buddhism in Burma and Sri Lanka, rarely do entire collectives get stigmatised by the media. Yet, all Muslims are held directly or otherwise accountable by many, even if a criminal who happened to be a Muslim went out on a violent rampage. Yes, he may still be designated as a “lone wolf”, but one can be almost certain that Muslims and Islam somehow become relevant to the media debate afterwards.
In their desperate attempt to fend off accusations, many Muslims, often led by credible intellectuals and journalists have, for nearly two decades staged a counter effort to distance Islam from violence and to fight the persisting stereotype. With time, these efforts culminated into a constant stream of collective apologies on behalf of Islam.
When a Muslim in Brazil or Libya reacts to a hostage crisis in Sydney, Australia, condemning violence on behalf of Islam, and frantically attempting to defend Islam and disown militancy, and so on, the question is, why? Why does the media make Muslims feel accountable for anything carried out in the name of Islam, even by some deranged person? Why are members of other religions not held to the same standards? Why aren’t Swedish Christians asked to explain and apologise for the behaviour of Uganda’s Lord’s Resistance Army, or Argentinean Jews to explain the daily, systematic violence and terror carried out by Jewish extremists in Jerusalem and the West Bank?
Since Francis Fukuyama declared the “End of History” in 1992 – revelling that free markets and “liberal democracies” will reign supreme forever – followed by Samuel Huntington’s supposed contrasting, but still equally conceited, view of the “Clash of Civilizations and the need to “remake the world order”, a whole new intellectual industry has embroiled many in Washington, London and elsewhere. Once the Cold War had triumphantly ended with an inflated sense of political validation, the Middle East became the new playground for ideas about dominion and military hardware.
Since then, it has been an all-out war, either instigated by or involving various western powers. It was a protracted, multi-dimensional war: a destructive war on the ground, an economic war (blockades on the one hand and globalisation and free market exploitation on the other), cultural invasion (that made westernisation of society equivalent to modernity); topped with a massive propaganda war targeting the Middle East’s leading religion: Islam.
The war on Islam was particularly vital, as it seemed to unify a large range of western intellectuals, conservative, liberal, religious and secular alike. All done for good reasons:
- Islam is not just a religion, but a way of life. By demonising Islam, you demonise everything associated with it, including, of course, Muslims.
- The vilification of Islam which morphed into massive western-led Islamophobia helped validate the actions of western governments, however violent and abusive. The dehumanisation of Muslims became an essential weapon in war.
- It was also strategic: hating Islam and all Muslims is a very flexible tool that would make military intervention and economic sanctions possible anywhere where the West has political and economic interests. Hating Islam became a unifying rally-cry from advocates of sanctions on Sudan to anti-immigrant neo-Nazi groups in Germany, and everywhere else. The issue is no longer the violent means used to achieve political domination and control of natural resources, but, magically, it all was reduced to one single word: Islam; or, at best, Islam and something else: freedom of expression, women rights, and so forth.
Thus, it was no surprise to see the likes of Ian Black commenting in the Guardian, hours after gunmen carried out a lethal attack in Paris against a French Magazine on Wednesday, 7 January with the starting line: “Satire and Islam do not sit well together…”
Not a word on the French military and other forms of intervention in the Middle East; its destructive role in Syria; its leadership role in the war in Libya; its war in Mali, and so on. Not even a word on François Holland’s recent statement about being “ready” to bomb Libyan rebels, although it was made only few days earlier.
Sure, the pornographic satire of Charlie Hebdo and its targeting of Prophet Mohammed was mentioned, but little was said, by Black, or the many others who were quick to link the subject to “7th century Islam”, to the hideous wars and their horrible, pornographic manifestations of torture, rape and other unspeakable acts; acts that victimised millions of people; Muslim people. Instead, it about western art and Muslim intolerance. The subtle line was: yes, indeed, it is a “clash of civilisations”.
Did any of these “intellectuals” pause to think that maybe, just maybe, the violent responses to demeaning Islamic symbols reflect a real political sentiment, say for example, a collective feeling of humiliation, hurt, pain and racism that extend to every corner of the globe?
And that it is natural that war which is constantly exported from the West to the rest of the world, could ultimately be exported back to western cities?
Is it not possible that Muslims are angered by something much more subtle and profound than Charlie Hebdo’s tasteless art?
Avoiding the answer is likely to delay a serious attempt at finding a solution, which must start with the end of western interventionism in the Middle East.
- Ramzy Baroud is an internationally-syndicated columnist, a media consultant, an author of several books and the founder of He is currently completing his PhD studies at the University of Exeter. His latest book is My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story (Pluto Press, London).

Will France Repeat America’s Mistakes?

by , January 10, 2015
First, a hat tip to Elias Groll, assistant editor at Foreign Policy, whose report just a few hours after the killings on Wednesday at the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, included this key piece of background on the younger of the two brother suspects:
“Carif Kouachi was previously known to the authorities, as he was convicted by a French court in 2008 of trying to travel to Iraq to fight in that country’s insurgent movement. Kouachi told the court that he wished to fight the American occupation after viewing images of detainee abuse at Abu Ghraib prison.”
The next morning, Amy Goodman of and Juan Cole (in his blog) also carried this highly instructive aspect of the story of the unconscionable terrorist attack, noting that the brothers were well known to French intelligence; that the younger brother, Cherif, had been sentenced to three years in prison for his role in a network involved in sending volunteer fighters to Iraq to fight alongside al-Qaeda; and that he said he had been motivated by seeing the images of atrocities by U.S. troops at Abu Ghraib.
An article in the Christian Science Monitor added: “During Cherif Kouachi’s 2008 trial, he told the court, ‘I really believed in the idea’ of fighting the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq.” But one would look in vain for any allusion to Abu Ghraib or U.S. torture in coverage by the Wall Street Journal or Washington Post. If you read to the end of a New York Times article, you would find in paragraph 10 of 10 a brief (CYA?) reference to Abu Ghraib.
So I guess we’ll have to try to do their work for them. Would it be unpatriotic to suggest that a war of aggression and part of its “accumulated evil” – torture – as well as other kinds of state terrorism like drone killings are principal catalysts for this kind of non-state terrorism? Do any Parisians yet see blowback from France’s Siamese-twin relationship with the U.S. on war in the Middle East and the Mahgreb, together with their government’s failure to speak out against torture by Americans? Might this fit some sort of pattern?
Well, duh. Not that this realization should be anything new. In an interview on Dec. 3, 2008, Amy Goodman posed some highly relevant questions to a former U.S. Air Force Major who uses the pseudonym Matthew Alexander, who personally conducted more than 300 interrogations in Iraq and supervised more than a thousand.
AMY GOODMAN: “I want to go to some larger issues, this very important point that you make that you believe that more than 3,000 U.S. soldiers were killed in Iraq – I mean, this is a huge number – because of torture, because of U.S. practices of torture. Explain what you mean.”
MATTHEW ALEXANDER: “Well, you know, when I was in Iraq, we routinely handled foreign fighters, who we would capture. Many of – several of them had been scheduled to be suicide bombers, and we had captured them before they carried out their missions.
“They came from all over the area. They came from Yemen. They came from northern Africa. They came from Saudi. All over the place. And the number one reason these foreign fighters gave for coming to Iraq was routinely because of Abu Ghraib, because of Guantanamo Bay, because of torture practices.
“In their eyes, they see us as not living up to the ideals that we have subscribed to. You know, we say that we represent freedom, liberty and justice. But when we torture people, we’re not living up to those ideals. And it’s a huge incentive for them to join al-Qaeda.
“You also have to kind of put this in the context of Arab culture and Muslim culture and how important shame, the role of shame in that culture. And when we torture people, we bring a tremendous amount of shame on them. And so, it is a huge motivator for these people to join al-Qaeda and come to Iraq.”
However, if you listen to the corporate media, there is almost no discussion about why so many people in the Muslim world object to U.S. policies so strongly that they resist violently and even resort to suicide attacks. The average consumer of this thin gruel of “information” might come away thinking that Muslims are hard-wired to despise Westerners or they might recall President George W. Bush’s favorite explanation, “they hate our freedoms.”
One has to go back five years to find a White House correspondent worth his or her salt who bluntly raised this central question. In early January 2010, after President Barack Obama gave a flaccid account of the intelligence screw-up that almost downed an airliner over Detroit on Christmas Day 2009, the late Helen Thomas asked why the culprit, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, did what he did.
Like Carif Kouachi, he had trained in Yemen; like Carif Kouachi, he had slipped through the U.S. counter-terrorist security sieve despite intelligence that should have nailed him – and despite the billions of dollars frivolously spent on eavesdropping on virtually everyone in the world. (The eavesdropping had created such a giant haystack of data that intelligence analysts couldn’t locate the crucial needle – even when Abdulmutallab’s father called to warn U.S. officials about his son’s dangerous radicalization.)
Here’s the revealing exchange between Thomas and John Brennan, who was then White House counterterrorism adviser and is now CIA director:
Thomas: “And what is the motivation? We never hear what you find out on why.”
Brennan: “Al Qaeda is an organization that is dedicated to murder and wanton slaughter of innocents… They attract individuals like Mr. Abdulmutallab and use them for these types of attacks. He was motivated by a sense of religious sort of drive. Unfortunately, al Qaeda has perverted Islam, and has corrupted the concept of Islam, so that he’s (sic) able to attract these individuals. But al Qaeda has the agenda of destruction and death.”
Thomas: “And you’re saying it’s because of religion?”
Brennan: “I’m saying it’s because of an al Qaeda organization that used the banner of religion in a very perverse and corrupt way.”
Thomas: “Why?”
Brennan: “I think this is a – long issue, but al Qaeda is just determined to carry out attacks here against the homeland.”
Thomas: “But you haven’t explained why.”
Neither did President Obama, nor anyone else in the U.S. political/media hierarchy. All the American public gets is the boilerplate about how al-Qaeda evildoers are perverting a religion and exploiting impressionable young men.
Palace Pundits Make It Worse
The intelligence tradecraft term of art for a “cooperating” journalist, businessperson or academic is “agent of influence.” Some housebroken journalists take such scrupulous notes that they end up sounding dangerously close to their confidential government sources. Some have gone even further and actually worked for the CIA.
For a recent example of the housebroken variety, count the number of cooperating journalists who repeated the CIA and Republican line that the Senate Intelligence Committee report on torture released last month was “flawed and partisan,” even though it was based on CIA cables and other original documents.
Or think further back to those vengeful days in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 and the macho pose taken by President George W. Bush, who won oohs and aahs for posturing with a bullhorn and throwing an opening pitch at a Yankees game (and later for dressing up in a flight suit as he arrived to deliver his “Mission Accomplished” speech).
CIA operative Gary Schroen told National Public Radio that, just days after 9/11, Counterterrorist chief Cofer Black sent him to Afghanistan with orders to “Capture bin Laden, kill him, and bring his head back in a box on dry ice.” As for other al-Qaeda leaders, Black reportedly said, “I want their heads up on pikes.”
This bloodthirsty tone reverberated among Bush-friendly pundits who sought to out-macho each other. One consummate insider, Washington Post veteran Jim Hoagland went so far as to publish a letter to President Bush on Oct. 31, 2001, that was no Halloween prank. Rather, Hoagland strongly endorsed what he termed the “wish” for “Osama bin Laden’s head on a pike,” which he claimed was the objective of Bush’s “generals and diplomats.”
In his open letter to Bush, Hoagland also lifted the curtain on the actual neoconservative game plan by giving Bush the following ordering of priorities: “The need to deal with Iraq’s continuing accumulation of biological and chemical weapons and the technology to build a nuclear bomb can in no way be lessened by the demands of the Afghan campaign. You must conduct that campaign so that you can pivot quickly from it to end the threat Saddam Hussein’s regime poses.”
Thus, Hoagland had the “pivot” idea three weeks before Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld called Gen. Tommy Franks to tell him the President wanted the military to shift focus to Iraq. Franks and his senior aides had been working on plans for attacks on Tora Bora where bin Laden was believed hiding but attention, planning and resources were abruptly diverted toward Iraq. And Osama bin Laden, of course, walked out of Tora Bora through the mountain passes to Pakistan.
The point here is that some media favorites are extremely well briefed partly because they are willing to promote what the powerful want to do and because they are careful not to bite the hands that feed them by criticizing the CIA or other national security agencies. Still fewer are inclined to point out basic structural faults – not to mention the crimes of recent years.
So it is up to those of us who know something of intelligence and how structural faults, above-the-law mentality and flexible consciences can spell disaster – how reckless reactions to terrorist provocations can make matters worse by accelerating a truly vicious cycle and doing nothing to address the underlying causes that prompted the violence in the first place.
Because of the refusal to seriously address the question of why that Helen Thomas posed to John Brennan – or to do more than compete like bodybuilders adopting the most muscular poses – disaster after disaster is what the West is in for, if it does not come to its senses.
Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, a publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. He is a 30-year veteran of the CIA and Army intelligence and co-founder of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS). McGovern served for considerable periods in all four of CIA’s main directorates.

Egypt to Wipe Out Entire City of Rafah for Border ‘Buffer’ Zone

Thousands of Families to Be Expelled for Demolition

While smaller than its sister city of the Gaza Strip side of the border, Rafah, Egypt has long been an important city in the northern portion of the Sinai Peninsula, of economic and strategic import.
Today, Egypt began displacing the residents of Rafah with a plan to “eradicate” the entire city, expelling thousands of families and demolition every last home as part of a plan to create a 2 km “buffer zone” between Sinai and the Gaza Strip.
Egypt demolished significant numbers of homes back in October to create a 500 meter buffer, but has since decided to expand that to encompass materially the entire city. They have claimed Sinai rebels, who have resisted the junta since the 2013 coup, are using Gaza to resupply.
Sinai Government Abdel Fattah Harhour denied that the plan amounted to the destruction of Rafah, claiming Egypt would build a “new Rafah” a couple kilometers west of the old one. Whether anyone will choose to live there, with policy established that anything near the border might get wiped out for dubious military reasons, remains to be seen.

Why Charlie Hebdo attack is not about Islam

Charlie Hebdo massacre is rooted in generations of violence, hypocrisy and greed.

By Mark LeVine

Twelve people were massacred in Paris on Wednesday merely for expressing their opinion through art. Many might not like the art that prompted the carnage. They may consider it obscene and even an attack on their faith. But in the 21st, 15th or 57th century - whatever your religion, calendar, or country - there is no excuse or justification for responding to art with murder.
But there is a clear and frightening explanation for this violence, one that demands not merely outrage at the act itself, but at the system that has made it both predictable and inevitable. The problem is that this system is hundreds of years old, implicates most everyone, and has only become more entrenched in the last several decades as the world has become ever more globalised.
The beginning
Where does the story begin? Quite simply with colonialism. It's no mere coincidence that at least two of the Charlie Hebdo attackers are reportedly of Algerian descent and the third from Senegal. France's 1830 invasion of Algeria began a 130-year odyssey of murder, expropriation, racism, exploitation and misrule that only ended after a vicious anti-colonial struggle costing well over one million Algerian lives.
Charlie Hebdo attack: View of a Muslim cartoonist
"Colonisation brought the genocide of our identity, of our history, of our language, of our traditions" is how President Abdelaziz Bouteflika well described it. French rule in sub-Saharan West Africa was even more costly, particularly in the context of the centuries-long slave trade.
Of course, as in so many newly independent countries, post-independence Algeria and Senegal were ruled by a government that was tied umbilically to the former coloniser and which, however "postcolonial" their official ideology and credentials, became increasing authoritarian and corrupt.
In Algeria, the petroleum-rich FLN state - known as "the pouvoir" because of its all-pervasive power - went so far as to launch a brutal internal war that claimed 100,000 lives in the 1990s with the direct support of the West, all to preserve its absolute grip on power. Nigeria, another major oil producer, received similar support for its even more ruinous war against Biafra in the late 1960s. The devastation it caused, including at least one million dead, is one of the rarely discussed causes of the Boko Haram phenomenon.
The experiences of Algeria and Senegal are in no way unique. They comprise the story of the modern Muslim world, where with the exception of Turkey, Iran and part of the Arabian peninsula most every society from Morocco to Indonesia fell under generations of European rule in the 19th and 20th centuries. The collective wound of colonialism, its distortion and often destruction of existing pathways to modernity, is for all practical purposes immeasurable. As with a body that takes only seconds to stab or shoot, the deep wounds of foreign domination and postcolonial dictatorship can take a lifetime to heal properly, if ever.
Chances of healing
Indeed, the chances of healing - of some level of local, democratically accountable control of political and economic development - have become even more remote in the era of neoliberal globalisation, which has been rightly seen by many across the region as essentially colonialism dressed in new clothes (IMF and World Bank policies strongly resemble those of the international banks that brought Tunisia, Egypt and the Ottoman Empire to bankruptcy, and ultimately foreign control, between 1863 and 1875).
Decades of the combined onslaught of extreme capitalism and extreme religion have shaped a necropolitics of the oppressed that is the mirror image of the necropolitics of local and western governments, and the oppression and violence they've imposed.
Radical Islam has today charted a path that mirrors radical capitalism, using violence only shocks "us" because we've managed to make the violence unleashed and supported for so long in our name morally and politically invisible.
The major world powers have long coddled favoured local despots of whatever ideological stripe. But the strength of the relationships between western governments and the petroleum-rich states of the Arab world, secured by trillions of dollars cycling back and forth between them through oil and arms sales, finance and heavy industry, is historically unprecedented.
Neo-liberalism and jihadism are in fact happy bedfellows (the famous Charlie Hebdo cover of an Islamist and a secular Frenchman kissing would have more accurately depicted a banker, not a hipster.)
Both are rapidly anti-democratic, support the concentration of wealth and power, and draw much of their strength from violence, war and a manageable level of chaos that keep oil prices high and petrodollars recycled via everything from fancy weapons to even fancier real estate.
French reckoning
As one of the world's top arms sellers and home to one of the five "supermajor" oil companies, Total, France has been at the heart of this dynamic. It is not surprising that one of the main long term clients of France has been the Assad family in Syria, whose refusal to honour a shred of the legitimate democratic aspirations of its people produced the horrific civil war whose violence and lawlessness were the perfect petri dish for the growth of al-Qaeda 2.0 (its policies towards Gaddafi's Libya and its former Maghrebi and West African colonies have been no better.)
Add to that the ongoing and well-documented structural racism against France's large Arab/Muslim and African communities, which has included mass murder in the streets of Paris and remains "rampant" not merely in the poor suburbs of major cities, where concentrated poverty and marginalisation lead so many to crime, drugs, prison and, not uncommonly, to radicalisation.
When newspapers such as the left-leaning Liberation declare that "Europe's leaders are in shock" over the latest attack, their naivety is hard to forgive.
It's no more shocking that some Muslims have become psychotic enough to murder, rape and pillage their way across eastern Nigeria and eastern Paris than it is that France, home of "liberty", "equality", and "fraternity", sells billions of dollars of weapons and otherwise provides political and diplomatic support to countries that practice the polar opposite of all three; that the US kills thousands of civilians with drones (and tens of thousands with conventional weapons) that are as merciless as the terrorists they presumably target; that Israel kills 1,500 Palestinians with the complete acquiescence of the US and Europe; or that most every Muslim government condemning the attack on Charlie Hebdo routinely imprisons and tortures artists and activists for far less offensive expression, all with the support of the West.
As the Lebanese cartoonist Karl Sharro (aka Karl reMarkspoints out, ultimately the violence against Charlie Hebdo is not about Islam per se; it's about a contemporary world system that is particularly adept at grinding down whatever decent values exist in Islam and other faith systems (and in liberal capitalism as well). Decades of the combined onslaught of extreme capitalism and extreme religion have shaped a necropolitics of the oppressed that is the mirror image of the necropolitics of local and western governments, and the oppression and violence they've imposed.
Former Charlie Hebdo editor Philippe Val, who lost most of his close friends on Wednesday, lamented that "our country will never be the same", and called on France's Muslim community to "be with us" as they confront the scourge of nihilistic terror. But to what France can Muslims truly belong? And which Islam can empower them towards a modernity that provides at least a modicum of "bread, dignity and social justice" - to quote the catch phrase of the now distant Arab Spring.
If Charlie Hebdo reminds us of anything it is that the arc of blowback can stretch for decades, growing more uncontrollable as the political, economic, social and technological chaos of the contemporary world increases.
Mark LeVine is a professor of Middle Eastern History at University of California, Irvine, and a Distinguished Visiting Professor at Lund University. His new book is One Land, Two States: Israel and Palestine as Parallel States, co-edited with Ambassador Mathias Mossberg.

Friday, January 9, 2015

French Muslims Fear Backlash, Increased Islamophobia After Charlie Hebdo Attack

Democracy Now!

"Muslims across France are fearing a backlash after Wednesday’s attack on the Charlie Hebdo magazine. Several mosques have been attacked. A bomb exploded at a kebab shop in Paris. We speak to Muhammad El Khaoua, a graduate student in international relations at the Paris Institute for Political Science. He grew up in the outskirts of Paris where he was involved with different grassroots associations, including Salaam, a student association dedicated to promoting interfaith dialogue and a better understanding of Islam. Also joining is Lebanese-French academic Gilbert Achcar, professor at the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London...."

Gilbert Achcar on the Clash of Barbarisms from the Massacre in Paris to the U.S. Occupation of Iraq

Democracy Now!

"French police have surrounded a building in a northern town near Charles de Gaulle Airport as part of a massive manhunt for the two men accused of carrying out the Charlie Hebdo massacre. Police say they believe the suspects, Said and Chérif Kouachi, are holed up in a small printing business where they have taken a hostage. Meanwhile, French officials are now saying there is a link between the two brothers accused of the Charlie Hebdo attack and the heavily armed man who shot dead a French policewoman on Thursday. That man is now holding five hostages, including women and children, at a kosher supermarket in Paris. Sources told Reuters the three men were all members of the same Paris cell that a decade ago sent young French volunteers to Iraq to fight U.S. forces. Chérif Kouachi served 18 months in prison for his role in the group. At the time, he told the court that he had been motivated to travel to Iraq by images of atrocities committed by U.S. troops in Abu Ghraib prison. We speak to Lebanese-French academic Gilbert Achcar, professor at the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London....."


Blowback: Paris Killings Likely Revenge for French Military Interventionism

Analysts Warn Foreign Policy Inciting Such Attacks

The whole world stood aghast as a pair of gunmen, angered by free speech itself, stormed into a satirical magazine, mowing down cartoonists and writers who they saw as “insulting Islam.” 12 were killed, simply because of caricatures.
Lots of people buy that story, just like a lot of people bought the idea that 9/11 was done because “they hate us for our freedom.” In both cases, the underlying context isn’t examined too carefully.
The truth of the matter is, France has gotten extremely aggressive militarily in recent years, engaging in multiple military interventions across Africa and the Middle East, The same week of the attack, French officials were beating the war drums on Libya.
Blowback is a far more reasonable explanation for the sudden and violent attack in Paris. Charlie Hebdo may have been the convenient target, but many analysts agree that it was French foreign policy thatwas the real inciter.
The deaths of the cartoonists has sparked a beautiful narrative around the inviolability of free speech, and the price that must be paid to ensure freedom to future generations.
Yet ultimately, the attacks on “offensive” cartoonists are less about the cartoonists themselves than they are about the anger and desperation fueled by military intervention abroad. The lesson will be lost on many, of course, as the most convenient explanation is that the worst cases of terrorism are happening for their own sake.

Palestinians at The Hague

Abbas’ Big Bluff on War Crimes Bid Against Israel



Intense pressure from Israel and the US last week on members of the United Nations Security Council narrowly averted Washington’s embarrassment at being forced to veto a Palestinian resolution to end the occupation.
The Palestinians’ failure to get the necessary votes saved the White House’s blushes but at a cost: the claim that the US can oversee a peace process promising as its outcome a Palestinian state is simply no longer credible.
Looming is the post-peace process era. Its advent appears to have been marked by Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas’ decision in the immediate wake of the Security Council vote to join the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Hague.
Israel furiously opposes the move, justifiably fearful that its politicians, military commanders and settler-leaders may now be put on trial for war crimes.
But the Palestinian leadership has long been apprehensive about such a move too. Abbas has spent years postponing the decision to sign the Rome Statute, which paves the way to the ICC.
Israeli statements at the weekend implied that Abbas’ reticence signalled a concern that he might expose himself to war crimes charges as well. Israel had “quite a bit of ammunition” against him and his Palestinian Authority, said one official menacingly.
In truth, the Palestinian president has other, more pressing concerns that delayed a decision to move to the legal battlefield of the Hague.
The first is the severe retaliation the Palestinians can now expect from the US and, even more so, from Israel. Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu began by halting the transfer of tax revenues Israel collects on the Palestinians’ behalf. Israel is also preparing to lobby the US Congress to enforce legislation that would halt aid to the PA in the event of it launching an ICC action. More punishments are due to be announced.
In selecting the “nuclear option”, as Israeli analysts characterised it, Abbas has also left himself empty-handed in future diplomatic confrontations – and for no obvious immediate gain. War crimes allegations may take years to reach the court and, even then, be stymied by pressures the US will bring to bear in the Hague, just as it currently does in the Security Council.
But most problematic of all, as Abbas knows well, a decision to pursue war crimes trials against Israel threatens the PA’s very existence.
The PA was the offspring of the two-decade-old Oslo accords, which invested it with two temporary functions. It was supposed to maintain stability in the parts of the occupied territories it governed while serving as Israel’s interlocutor for the five years of negotiations that were supposed to lead towards Palestinian statehood.
It has excelled in both roles. Under Abbas, the PA has been doggedly faithful to the idea of the peace process, even as Netanyahu spurned meaningful talks at every turn.
Meanwhile, the PA’s security forces – in coordination with Israel’s – have kept the West Bank remarkably quiet even as Israel expanded and accelerated its settlement programme.
But as Avigdor Lieberman, Israel’s foreign minister, argued on Sunday, the Palestinians’ move to the Hague court is further proof that the Oslo accords have expired.
Without a peace process, or any Israeli commitment to Palestinian statehood, why would the PA continue to cooperate on security matters with Israel, let alone consider such coordination “sacred”, as Abbas termed it last year? If the accords are seen to be dead, the impression can only grow that the PA is nothing more than Israel’s security contractor, assisting in its own people’s oppression.
Until now, that reality had been partially obscured by Abbas’ image as the Palestinian peace-maker. But if the process is indeed over, the contradictions in the PA’s role will be dramatically on show.
Right now, Palestinian security forces are committed to coordinating with the very people the PA is intending to indict as war criminals. And by maintaining calm in the West Bank, the PA is furthering the building of the very settlements the Rome Statute defines as a war crime.
Abbas is in a bind. If he ends coordination and goes on the offensive, why would Israel allow the PA to continue functioning? But if his security forces continue to collaborate with Israel, how can he retain credibility with his people?
This leaves the Palestinian leader with only two credible strategic options – aside from dissolving the PA himself.
The first is to adopt a sophisticated model of armed resistance, though the PA has specifically rejected this in the past and is poorly equipped for it compared with militant factions like Hamas.
The other is to accept that Palestinian statehood is a lost cause and adopt a new kind of struggle, one for equal civil rights in a single state. But the PA’s rationale and bureaucratic structure preclude that. It is in no position to lead a popular struggle.
That is why Abbas will continue pursuing a Palestinian state through the UN, as he promised again at the weekend, undeterred by the realisation that it is unlikely ever to come to fruition.
The door to the Hague may be open, but Abbas is in no hurry to venture through it.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

It's going to get worse for French Muslims

The problem with drawings that fuel sectarian tensions.

The attack on the Charlie Hebdo office was one of the deadliest attacks against civilians in France since 1980 and the most serious waged against a newspaper since the war in Algeria.
Twelve people were killed by men armed with Kalashnikovs at the headquarters of this satirical weekly in Paris. Could this attack have been motivated by the editorial slant of the newspaper that has been subject to threats? Could this attack have been perpetrated by foreign groups to "punish" France for its commitment in Mali or Chad?
Police in France have identified and released the photographs of two brothers suspected to be involved in the attack while early speculation focused on the premise that Muslim extremists were behind the dreadful act, especially given the magazine's long history of satirising Islam and other religions. The two brothers have been identified as 32-year-old Said Kouachi and 34-year-old Cherif Kouachi.
This attack must be condemned with the utmost firmness and its perpetrators arrested and convicted. Nothing can justify such an act; whatever the reasons, whoever the perpetrators. But we also have to understand the context, as this aggression could arouse dangerous reactions within French society.
Where it all began
Charlie Hebdo was founded in February 1969. It was then politically positioned on the extreme left with anarchist tendencies and a taste for provocation. In November 1970, following the death of General de Gaulle, it published a cover with the headline: "Tragic prom in Colombey [de Gaulle's city of origin], one dead", which resulted in it being banned by the Ministry of Interior.
But since 2000, under its new editor Philippe Val, Charlie Hebdo shifted direction, taking a stand against the Palestinians and supporting the Israeli aggression against Lebanon in 2006... This came during the second Intifada.
The newspaper started to launch Islamophobic campaigns. In 2006, it republished the cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad that were previously published in Denmark. A number of intellectuals then pointed out that while in France we cannot accept censorship; sometimes it can be irresponsible to publish drawings fuelling sectarian tensions in the country.
At the same time, the newspaper started to launch Islamophobic campaigns. In 2006, it republished the cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad that were previously published in Denmark.
A number of intellectuals then pointed out that while in France we cannot accept censorship, sometimes it can be irresponsible to publish drawings fuelling sectarian tensions in the country.
In March 2006, Val signed "The Twelve's Manifesto: Together Against the New Totalitarianism" published in the weekly magazine L'Express, by Bernard-Henri Levy, Caroline Fourest, and Antoine Sfeir.
"After having overcome Fascism, Nazism and Stalinism, the world now faces a new global threat of a totalitarian nature: Islamism. We - writers, journalists and intellectuals - call for resistance against religious totalitarianism and to promote freedom, equal opportunity and secular values for all."
Healthy debate
But these positions divided the team and several members resigned. While claiming to stand for press freedom, Charlie Hebdo dismissed one of its star cartoonists, Sine, due to false accusations of anti-Semitism.
It then came as no surprise that, when elected, President Nicolas Sarkozy promoted Philippe Val to executive editor of France-Inter (a public radio station).
Nevertheless, press freedom cannot be compromised and the situation currently rocking Paris is all the more condemnable showing that this could have serious consequences on the internal situation in France. It may encourage a wave of Islamophobia that overwhelms the country - as well as other European countries - and could designate Muslims as the "internal enemy".
However, perhaps it is about time to engage in a substantive debate on the "war against terrorism" revived by the West and the "international community", in the aftermath of the expansion of ISIL.
Assessing the outcomes of such a campaign (more violent actions around the world, finding justifications for attacks on freedom, new anti-terrorism legislation, worsening sectarian tensions, more support for Middle East dictatorships and so on), isn't it about time to change our methods?
Remember, the wave of the Arab Spring uprisings in 2011 and 2012 resulted in a loss of credit for al-Qaeda, as they paved a path for political and democratic change in Arab countries.
Alain Gresh is deputy director of Le Monde Diplomatique and a specialist on the Middle East.
This article was written in French by Alain Gresh and translated into English by Ali Saad.

Scholar Tariq Ramadan, Harper’s Rick MacArthur on Charlie Hebdo Attack & How the West Treats Muslims

Democracy Now!

"France is in a state of mourning after the deadly attack on the offices of the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo. A massive manhunt is underway for the suspected gunmen, two French-born brothers of Algerian descent. Charlie Hebdo had come under threat and was firebombed in 2011 after publishing controversial caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad. We begin our coverage of the Paris attack with a discussion between two guests: Tariq Ramadan, a professor of contemporary Islamic studies at Oxford University and one of the most prominent Muslim intellectuals in Europe; and John R. MacArthur, publisher of Harper’s Magazine, which in 2006 became one of the first U.S. publications to reprint the controversial Danish cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad that sparked international protests.."

Comics Legend Art Spiegelman & Scholar Tariq Ramadan on Charlie Hebdo & the Power Dynamic of Satire

Democracy Now!

"We continue our coverage of the Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris by looking at the magazine’s background and its controversial history of satire. We are joined by two guests: Art Spiegelman, the renowned American cartoonist, editor and comics advocate whose Pulitzer Prize-winning "Maus" is considered one of the most important graphic novels ever published and one of the most influential works on the Nazi Holocaust; and Tariq Ramadan, a professor of contemporary Islamic studies at Oxford University and one of Europe’s most prominent Muslim intellectuals....."

"A Clash of Barbarisms": After Paris Attack, How U.S. Policy in Middle East Helps Fuel Extremism

Democracy Now!

"We discuss the Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris with the Lebanese-French academic Gilbert Achcar, professor at the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London. "We have to put all this in context," Achcar says. "The Western intervention, the Western action in the Middle East, has been creating the ground for all this. This is what I called previously the clash of barbarisms, with a major barbarism represented by Western intervention." Achcar also discusses the close relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia, which he calls "the ideological source of the most fanatical, most reactionary interpretation of Islam."...."

Current Al-Jazeera (Arabic) Online Poll

Do you consider offenses against religious beliefs to be a part of freedom of expression?

So far, 90% have voted no.

Alain Gresh speaks out: What now for France?

The editor of Le Monde Diplomatique speaks exclusively to al-Araby al-Jadeed about the implications of the deadly attack on Charlie Hebdo's office.
The murder of 12 people in a terrorist attack on the Paris offices of a satirical magazine can only feed a misplaced idea of the Muslim threat to French values, according to the editor of Le Monde Diplomatique.

Alain Gresh told al-Araby al-Jadeed that Wednesday's attack on Charlie Hebdo magazine's offices would inflame an already tense situation for Muslims in France, and would be seized on by far-right parties such as the National Front to push their anti-Islam agenda.

"This horrendous act will not be seen to be just about terrorism but it will feed into the misplaced idea that Islam is a threat to our values, freedom of speech, women and so on," Gresh said.

"It is a very tense situation for Muslims in France right now, just as we are seeing across much of Europe. This attack could confirm the belief many people harbour, that Islam is a threat and Muslims are the enemy.
    The only political force that could benefit from this attack is the National Front

"The only political force that could benefit from this attack is the National Front. They have abandonded their anti-Jewish and anti-Israeli rhetoric and directed it to Islam."

 has in recent years taken an anti-Islamic and anti-Palestinian stance in its satire. According to Gresh "it was not targeted by chance".    

On the morning of the massacre the magazine published a cartoon mocking the leader of the Islamic State group, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

Gresh however said that despite the French media being the target of the events on Wednesday, its influence in shaping opinions was often overstated.

"I am not worried that the media will exploit or inflame this situation and I will be trying to convey what I feel is important during these trying times but we can overstate our own influence sometimes.

"The reality is out there on the streets and the musings of people like me will only make so much difference."

Gresh cautioned against the introduction of tougher laws against radicalism in France, a response that many other countries have taken to attacks by extremist groups.

Towards the end of 2014, the French parliament enacted laws to stop citizens travelling to areas controlled by the IS group.

The legislation authoriseds travel bans on suspects, and allows for punishment on the basis of "assumed terrorism".

A bad move in Gresh's view.

"Like the Patriot Act in the US after 9/11, this is very bad. We have enough laws and it is creating an atmosphere of fear and Islamophobia."

He said the government of Francois Hollande would also use the attack to justify its policy against the Islamic State group, if the attackers were confirmed as being sympathtic to its cause.

France on Tuesday decided to send the Charles De Gaulle aircraft carrier and its fleet to the Gulf to support operations against the group, according to reports. The president is due to confirm the deployment in a speech on January 14, according to the military news site Mer et Marine.
Gresh however said violence in response to violence was not the answer. "I argue we are only going to increase the level of destruction there and create more problems for us here," he said. "We need political solutions but there is no real direction to this campaign."