Syria

Refugee Hospitality and Humanitarian Action in Northern Lebanon: between Social Order and Transborder History

English Version: http://urd.org/Refugee-Hospitality-and

This short essay will discuss the social spaces which, in times of crisis, turn into host environments for refugees and displaced people, and where humanitarian programmes are implemented. It argues that the “hosting spaces” that populate the media and NGO reports which tackle refugee influxes are constructed with direct and indirect purposes. Hospitality, thus, becomes the official rhetoric which governments, UN agencies, NGOs, and international media adopt to speak of the consequences of conflict while preserving their moral aura and a convenient social order. The folkloristic idea of “host spaces”, inhabited by displaced people in the wake of emergency crises, helps domestic political actors and humanitarian agencies to preserve the social order that allows them to continue their activities and implement their agendas.

French Version: http://urd.org/L-hospitalite-envers-les-refugies

Cet article aborde la question des territoires qui, en temps de crise, se transforment en terres d’accueil pour réfugiés et déplacés, et où des programmes humanitaires sont mis en œuvre. Il soutient que ces « terres d’accueil », dont parlent les médias traitant de l’arrivée de réfugiés et les rapports des ONG, sont d’une certaine manière « fabriquées » à des fins directes et indirectes. L’hospitalité se transforme ainsi en une rhétorique officielle que le gouvernement, les agences des Nations unies, les ONG et les médias internationaux adoptent pour parler des conséquences du conflit tout en préservant leur aura morale et un ordre social bien commode. L’idée folklorique de « terres d’accueil », habitées par des populations déplacées à la suite de crises, aide en effet les acteurs politiques nationaux et les agences humanitaires à maintenir en place l’ordre social, ce qui leur permet de poursuivre leurs activités et de mettre en place leurs stratégies.

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Against Ontologies of Hospitality: About Syrian Refugeehood in Northern Lebanon (October, 2016)

http://www.mei.edu/content/map/against-ontologies-hospitality-about-syrian-refugeehood-northern-lebanon

This essay explores the relationship between Syrian refugees and local Lebanese. In particular, it discusses the dominance of the discourse of ‘hospitality’ in the international media depiction of this relationship and in the humanitarian response informed by it. As this essay will show, these tendencies have resulted in the ‘hospitality’ discourse informing and reinforcing the international response to the Syrian refugee influx into and presence in Lebanon.

More specifically, the essay unpacks the dominant ‘hospitality discourse,’ which rests on three interrelated notions. First, hospitality employed as a social order instrument characterizes the relationship between refugees and local Lebanese as defined chiefly by the latter’s generous offers of sanctuary. Second, hospitality as a media narrative and epistemic construction portrays Lebanon as a country straining under the weight of the refugee burden, depicted as “existential problem.” Finally, hospitality as a local way to respond to the official declaration of emergency crisis has allowed the “hosts” to “other” the refugees and instability threats.

Syrians in Lebanon: A Pre-Refugee Sociology

According to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), as of June 2016, there were more than one million registered Syrian refugees in Lebanon.[1] However, this massive influx is not the first ‘encounter’ between Syrians and Lebanese.

In the framework of an ambivalent Lebanese-Syrian nationhood in Akkar, which is used to sharing moral, social, and political capital across a historically porous border, hospitality has paved the way for a process of differentiation from people who did notused to be “the Other.” It is legitimate to wonder why this differentiation process, in a sense, needs to happen. Hence, what is the sociology underlying such a need to differentiate oneself from the economy of the Syrian refugee, while paradoxically making space for it? For a partial answer, we need to get back to the conflicted politics of gift and exchange[2] and the tension, put forward by Derrida, that characterizes the never exclusively voluntary act of hosting. Hosts must have power over the domain in which they host, as well as power over the guest.[3] The tension remains, and a people’s collective morality is evaluated according to the accomplishment of charitable acts. However, self-sufficiency—which the earlier Syrian laborers of Akkar certainly did not lack—is still demanded by the hosts. The legacy of the Syrian presence in Lebanon and Akkar in particular (1976–2005), as well as the common nationhood that ties the two peoples together, unearths the inappropriateness of a discourse built on the traditionallimits of hospitality and assimilation, which are in fact generous acts activated within society, “as long as one leaves Otherness behind.”[4]

Historically, Akkari hospitality goes beyond the politics of “spare couches.”

Historically, Akkari hospitality goes beyond the politics of “spare couches.” And to distinguish the non-economic migratory status of Syrian nationals from economic migrants has become even more nonsensical after March 2011, the start of the uprising in the main Syrian cities and the subsequent regime’s repression. Some Syrian nationals, in a sense, were also Akkaris, insofar as Akkaris themselves strived to get access to Syrian welfare, crossing the border to reach the nearby province of Homs rather than driving all the way down to Lebanon’s Tripoli to benefit from a scant welfare system. The lack of hospitals, schools, and means of transportation has long since rendered this region hostile to comfortable inhabitation and detached it from a modern state that was originally crafted as Beirut-centric. Moreover, it has encouraged foreign investments in the third sector rather than reinforcing basic services.[5]

Hospitality, when spontaneously offered in the first months of the Syrian crisis, was in fact conceived and enacted at a grassroots level as a religious[6] and cultural duty, a “sacred commandment of charity”[7] to assign strangers a place in a community whose functioning was already guaranteed by demographically hybrid forces of labor.

Since 2012 international humanitarian organizations have financed some local families to enable them to host the refugees temporarily. This ended up “internationalizing” the tacit and unmediated Syrian-Lebanese relationship. By thus interposing themselves, humanitarian agencies have played a key role in shaping social relations; for example, by ensuring that particular local resources are prioritized over others that are less functional to humanitarian global governance.

With the intervention of the humanitarian agencies and the “neoliberalization” of local hospitality by paying local families to host Syrian refugees for a limited period of time, usually over a maximum period of a year, hospitality has gradually become an aid toolkit item to be temporarily delivered. Yet, the sociological character of local hospitality does not fade away with the “humanitarianization” of the act of hosting, as the Albanian experience of hosting Kosovar refugees has proved.

Scholars and newsmakers have therefore used hospitality as a lens through which to understand the entanglement of Syrian-Lebanese relations over the past five and a half years. As such, it has repeatedly been defined as “limited” due to the massive influx of refugees, with Lebanon referred to as being “under strain.” Socio-economic accounts of the prosperity of Lebanese landlords and employers and the increase in productivity thanks to lower workforce costs have sought to turn the sword tip of blame toward Lebanese greed in an effort to alleviate the Syrian “guests” from the burden of being scapegoated at a national level and becoming targets of disdain for having a “large number of children” and a “different culture and mentality.”[8]

Unpacking the ‘Hospitality’ Trope

The common international media portrayal of the relationship between Syrian refugees and Lebanese tends to ‘hype’ the phenomenon of hospitality.[9] Commentators have sometimes seen the local hospitality phenomenon in Lebanon as turning a vertical power system into a horizontal one, despite the risk of neglecting the feudal societal fabric of northern Lebanon’s hosting villages, which rely on wealthy and powerful families.[10] In this region, the privileges of a few people contrast with the overall inadequacy of services and infrastructure.

Refugee-refugee—also called “South-South”[11]—hospitality has recently entered academic studies and finally re-consigned dignity to unofficial acts of coping with crisis and helping others to cope. The hospitality provided by local refugee communities in Lebanon opens up new spaces of recognition. It sheds light not only on refugees’ agency—which certainly does not wait for “northern” recognition in order to exist in practice—but also on new phenomena of alienation among “uninsured people,” whose self-reliance is inherently unachievable.[12]

Lebanese hospitality is neither simply a case-by-case negotiation to tackle the everyday refugee crisis nor solely a generous or interested act of offering shelter to communities that Lebanese feel proximity to refugees in several respects.

More specifically, Lebanese hospitality is neither simply a case-by-case negotiation to tackle the everyday refugee crisis nor solely a generous or interested act of offering shelter to communities that Lebanese feel proximity to refugees in several respects. Hospitality is also the narrative that local and international media and the humanitarian enterprise weave together. The idea of a “hosting Lebanon”—a country already struggling under the weight of its economic and political crises—is positioned in the space between historical truth and the necessity to maintain social order. In this sense, the idea delivered to the public is that of a Lebanon strained by the “refugee crisis” per se, where the humanitarian structures, in concert with the central government, are efficient actors calming local tensions and flattening historical complexities by promoting accounts of generosity and victimhood.

To clarify how hospitality is also an epistemic construction, it is necessary to highlight how the Syrian conflict and the refugees are conceived and spoken of at an official level. While the US government conceives of Syrian refugees as people fleeing shelling and persecution due to their sectarian or ethnic background, the refugees often mention that no one helped them change their political condition when they were still inside the country. Indeed, international humanitarian agencies traditionally deal with deserving humanitarian victims rather than victims of human rights violations.

“We cannot bear this burden; they should go back to Syria and resettle,” was the political proposal of Antoine Chedid, Lebanon’s ambassador to the United States.[13] To make people resettle in Syria by setting up camps inside the conflict-ridden country— “which is 18 times bigger than its Lebanese neighbor,” as Chedid pointed out—is a way of re-domesticating the conflict and the management of the conflict and an attractive alternative to opening borders to the displaced. By contrast, the international humanitarian machine, which represents the Geneva-based international community, has contributed to internationalizing[14] the Syrian conflict through programs and policies. Humanitarianism, which supports local hospitality and renders it sustainable, is increasingly employed as a conflict resolution force aimed at triggering friendships and social ties that surely preceded the crisis. It is therefore employed to pursue international security agendas as well.[15]

The idea of generosity, hospitality, and its limits implicitly accuses the Syrians of having overstayed their welcome, insofar as it foregrounds the chronic predicament of the Akkar region, the decrease in local employment due to the presence of cheaper menial labor, and the increase in the cost of living and housing owing to the newcomers’ influx. Hospitality therefore came to be described as an existential problem for Lebanon. Discourses of greed or grievance, as sparking enduring conflicts and war economies in the Middle East, are growing louder and louder, and have gradually silenced more important narratives.

In a nutshell, at a rhetorical level, Lebaneseness is stigmatized as generous in order to uphold humanitarian practices, which associate the importance of social order with their mission of being a conflict resolution force. At a historical-material level, local communities, whatever their social status, attempt to protect wealth accumulation or basic livelihoods through the act of hosting either for free or for pay to be able to host.

Hospitality on the Borderline between Normality and Crisis

Hospitality and hostility are two sides of the same coin, marking an undecided and ambivalent space between proximity and distance.[16] If hospitality implied an unconditional law, an absolute openness, it would be impossible to organize it into a law or politics;[17] moreover, it would destroy the host’s mastery of the home, which enables hospitality in the first place.[18] Rather than a home, we would be left with an indeterminate space that could offer nothing determinate, and hospitality per se would be ineffective.

That being said, in a country where intermarriage has always used to be a common social practice, why is 82 percent of the Lebanese population now reported to feel uncomfortable with the notion of marrying a Syrian?[19] And why do Syrian nationals claim to be mistreated, to the extent that they are now trying to change their accent in order not to be marked as “Syrian refugees” and undergo discrimination? The process of “othering” the Syrians in Lebanon took place during the process of refugeehood as an improvised way of dealing with the influx and marking the territory as theirs, that is to manage and control “the home.” In a geopolitical scenario officially declared as a “state of emergency,” safeguarding the home comes into play, along with as a responsibility toward the Other, as an in-crisis strategy of local self-determination. This has led local Akkaris to reinvent their relationship to the pre-existing presence of the Syrian nationals in response to the announced crisis.

In this way, in-crisis hospitality has produced spaces to which some inhabitants belong—insofar as their sense of belonging has been reinforced by their act of hosting—while others do not and instead turn into temporary guests. Indeed, before the crisis, Syrian nationals used to inhabit the same space mostly in the capacity of unskilled cheap laborers, marking the continuity of the sovereign Akkari host lord. In this sense, the social construction of hospitality has not only fed the political rhetoric of “Lebanon the bountiful” but has also acted as a societal fragmentation force, undermining the previous relations that these laborers used to hold in Akkar before moving to Lebanon with their own families due to the full-scale conflict.

In other words, as a form of unwilling humanitarianism, hospitality made the traditionally porous borders between Lebanon and Syria socially meaningful. The collective act of producing an outside has served the purpose of Lebanese Akkaris to prevent the spillover of violence and preserve relative social order. The absence of a well-bounded “Syrian community” in Akkar, “melting like sugar in tea,”[20] facilitated the task of “othering” the refugees.

Anywhere it takes place, Derrida’s “hostipitality”—a combination of hospis and hostis, of hostility and hospitality—characterizes contexts in which transit and permanent resettlement slip beyond individual and family acts of decision. The unsustainable limitlessness of hospitality has turned narratives on Akkar’s spirit from those of grievance to those of greed, acting as a force of global compassion toward the Syrian crisis. In settings of displacement and uncertainty, it becomes even more important to re-consign such ambivalence to hospitality, which goes far beyond unconditional receptiveness, regardless of historical conditions and trajectories.

We need an explanatory politics that combines daily struggle with calculation strategies-something both the hosts and the guests (including humanitarian agencies) are familiar with.

 


[1] U.N. High Commissioner of Refugees (UNHCR),http://data.unhcr.org/syrianrefugees/country.php?id=122.

[2] Marcel Mauss, The Gift: Forms and Functions of Exchange in Archaic Societies(London: Routledge, 1990).

[3] Jacques Derrida and Anne Dufourmantelle, Of Hospitality (Stanford, CA: Stanford California Press, 2000).

[4] Brian A. Watkins, “Asylum-Seekers, Spare Couches, and the Politics of Hospitality.” Paper presented at the American Anthropological Association, Denver, Colorado, November 20, 2015.

[5] Sahar T. Issa, Irna Van Der Molen, Manal R. Nader, and Jon C. Lovett, “Spatial Variation of Vulnerability in Geographic Areas of North Lebanon”, European Scientific Journal 2 (2014): 261-273.

[6] The Old and New Testaments and the Koran have many references to the commandment to shelter strangers.

[7] Heidrun Friese, “The Limits of Hospitality,” Paragraph 32, 1 (2009): 51.

[8] Author’s conversation with a Lebanese resident. ‘Ebrine, Northern Lebanon, April 2016.

[9] Doreen Abi Raad, “Lebanon strains under weight of refugees,” Catholic News Service, January 7, 2016, accessed October 23, 2016,http://www.catholicnews.com/services/englishnews/2016/lebanon-strains-un….

[10] Helen Mackreath, “Cosmopolitanism in Akkar? Why the Role of Host Families Is Significant,” E-International Relations, May 28, 2015, accessed October 23, 2016,http://www.e-ir.info/2015/05/28/cosmopolitanism-in-akkar-why-the-role-of….

[11] Julia Pacitto and Elena Fiddian-Qasmiyeh “Writing the ‘Other’ into Humanitarian Discourse: Framing Theory and Practice in South-South Humanitarian Responses to Forced Displacement,” Working Paper Series No. 93, Refugee Studies Centre, University of Oxford, 2013.

[12] Mark Duffield, Development, Security and Unending Wars: Governing the World of Peoples (Cambridge, UK: Polity Publications, 2007).

[13] Speech delivered by Antoine Chedid at the Wilson Center, Washington, D.C., October 29, 2013.

[14] Chedid himself rejected the specifically Lebanese responsibility of a conflict that is increasingly becoming regional by pointing out that the crisis is not of their making; rather, it is international. See conference recap webcast athttp://www.wilsoncenter.org/event/humanitarian-crisis-impact-syrian- refugees-lebanon.

[15] Mark Duffield, Development, Security and Unending Wars: Governing the World of Peoples (Cambridge, UK: Polity Publications, 2007).

[16] Heidrun Friese, “The Limits of Hospitality,” Paragraph 32, 1 (2009): 52.

[17] Jacques Derrida, “Autoimmunity: Real and Symbolic Suicides – A Dialogue with Jacques Derrida,” in G. Borradori, (ed.) Philosophy in a Time of Terror: Dialogues with Jurgen Habermas and Jacques Derrida (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2003) 129.

[18] Jacques Derrida, Acts of Religion (New York: Routledge, 2002) 364.

[19] Cathrine M. Thorleifsson, “The Limits of Hospitality: Coping Strategies among Displaced Syrians in Lebanon,” Third World Quarterly 37, 6 (2016): 1079.

[20] John Chalcraft, The Invisible CageSyrian Migrant Workers in Lebanon (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2008).

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Enhanced local coordination for effective aid provision: the case of Lebanon (September 2016)

The Policy brief I co-authored with UN Habitat (Beirut) and the ‘Issam Fares Institute (American University of Beirut) is finally out.

Here below its summary and the link to access it.

Lebanon’s refugee crisis has highlighted the need for much closer coordination among the various organisations and local authorities involved in the response. A new study has laid the groundwork for a series of recommendations, set out in this briefing, on how national, local and international humanitarian actors can work together more effectively to enhance urban refugee responses in Lebanon and perhaps in other countries. In the context of a protracted urban crisis, this briefing argues that humanitarians will only be able to ensure their responses are sustainable and meet needs on the ground if they work closely with local authorities.

Available online at: http://pubs.iied.org/17373IIED/

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Responding to the Syrian crisis in Lebanon: collaboration between aid agencies and local governance structures (September 2016)

The Urban Crisis Report I co-authored with UN Habitat (Beirut) and the Issam Fares Institute (American University of Beirut) is finally out!

Here below the executive summary and the link to access the whole report.

This working paper seeks to document and analyse collaboration mechanisms between local authorities and humanitarian actors in addressing the Syrian refugee crisis in urban and peri-urban settings in Lebanon. It outlines existing mechanisms of collaboration, analyses their potential strengths and weaknesses, and derives lessons and recommendations for improving refugee responses in Lebanon, and potentially in other national settings. The report focuses on two case studies: the largely hybrid urban district of Bourj Hammoud, one of the main commercial hubs of Greater Beirut, and the peri-urban coastal region of Sahel El Zahrani, located between Saida and Tyre in South Lebanon. The response to the Syrian refugee crisis in Lebanon,which broke out in 2011, faced many challenges initially; namely the lack of a solid national response strategy
and weak local governance capacities, which were needed to respond to a large-scale crisis. International non-governmental organisations (INGOs) and United Nations (UN) agencies took the initial lead in responding to the crisis. Local authorities, who were at the forefront of the response, lacked the adequate capacities to respond and thus were involved in a less organised manner. The humanitarian response suffered overall from weak coordination between international actors, the central government, and (in)formal local authorities, resulting in unequal and scattered aid distribution. As the crisis prolonged, the government of Lebanon (GoL) became increasingly involved and eventually, in 2015, led the development of the Lebanon Crisis
Response Plan (LCRP) jointly with UN agencies.
Various ministries took a more proactive role in the response, in particular the Ministry of Social Affairs (MoSA), which was designated by the Council of Ministers to take on an official role in the response. At the local level, municipalities and unions of
municipalities, despite lacking an official responsibility, made serious efforts to respond to the refugees due to increasing pressures in their localities and based on moral imperatives. International and UN agencies initially targeted Syrian refugees on the basis of the humanitarian principle of immediate alleviation of suffering following displacement. Local host communities, who were impacted by the crisis due
to the increase in the local population and a higher demand on limited basic services, were initially less involved and addressed in the response. This working paper explores the various formal and informal levels of collaboration, or lack thereof, between international and local organisations, UN agencies and local authorities. In Lebanon, establishing successful coordination mechanisms between national and local authorities and aid agencies is politically and logistically challenging. Due to funding constraints and limited programme timeframes, humanitarian organisations find it difficult to maintain a continuous long-term relationship with local municipalities and unions of municipalities.
Moreover, aid agencies often opt to bypass local authorities in project implementation in order to avoid local bureaucracy. Internal politics also create another challenge for coordination with local authorities, as this can interfere with the orientation of aid.
UN agencies and INGOs are now mostly turning short-term relief programmes into longer- term projects for development, and have shown serious efforts to adapt their responses to address local contexts more adequately. However, clearly defining roles among international and local non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and UN agencies and establishing solid coordination mechanisms remains a challenge and is important to enhancing overall public management in urban crisis contexts.
The research concludes that complementing sectoral approaches by adopting area-based approaches to respond to emergency crises allows humanitarian and development programmes to address the needs of different vulnerable groups, including refugees and local communities, in a more efficient and sustainable manner.
This allows the implementation of more inclusive needs-based responses, whilst also preventing unequal aid distribution and the ‘compartmentalisation’ of society.
Moreover, this working paper highlights the weakness in focusing and adapting responses to respond to urban settings which host the majority of refugees. As such, it is important to raise awareness and develop the necessary tools and coordination mechanisms to optimally address refugees in urban contexts, especially with more refugees settling in urban areas worldwide. Finally, coordination efforts and mutual aid agreements for emergency service provision can provide a solid ground for local actors to know: first, how to turn international aid into an opportunity rather than financial and political dependency or reason for domestic marginalisation, and, second, to learn the advantages of domestic coordination, internal agreement, and develop the capacities to manage foreign aid. Overall, reinforcing the role of local authorities and actors has
proven to be more efficient and manageable in the short-term; however, over time, it also faces political limitations thus challenging the ability to reach a broader consensus on the management of domestic issues. This paper proposes a multi-scalar coordination
approach to respond to crises and address diverse
social vulnerabilities.

The report can be fully accessed here: http://pubs.iied.org/10799IIED/

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Necro-politiche della disuguaglianza nel sud del Libano (July 2016)

http://www.sirialibano.com/lebanon/23368.html

Sarafand cimitero nuovo

(di Estella Carpi, per SiriaLibano). Siamo spesso erroneamente portati a credere che un cimitero ospiti solo morti, ricordi, rimorsi, gioie mai più ripresentatasi e sentimenti di questo tipo.

A Sarafand, la cui origine fenicia è Zarephath – piccola località costiera nella regione di Sahel az Zahrani tra Sidone e Tiro, nel sud del Libano – c’è un cimitero nuovo e uno vecchio. Basta una chiacchierata con gli abitanti della cittadina per rendersi conto che la gestione degli spazi cimiteriali rivela questioni di sovranità territoriale, una diversa dignità morale degli abitanti, e i poteri formali e informali esistenti che decidono della vita come della morte di tanti.

Il cimitero è solo una delle tante forme di politica dello spazio a Sarafand. In una realtà come il Libano in cui, ogniqualvolta si ripresentino crisi politico-umanitarie, la gestione dei servizi pubblici viene condotta da attori in gran parte esterni (agenzie Onu e organizzazioni non governative), la gestione delle morti e il diritto allo spazio e al riconoscimento socio-morale che ne deriva tornano nelle mani delle municipalità locali. E di queste si rispolverano così le croniche carenze amministrative e finanziarie. Questo accade in misura ancora più evidente a Sarafand, dove l’azione umanitaria delle agenzie internazionali si focalizza molto meno frequentemente.

Sarafand è abitata da lungo tempo da lavoratori siriani, spesso impiegati in lavori manuali, nella pulizia delle strade, nel settore edile e agricolo. Alla luce della crisi politica del 2011, migliaia di questi migranti hanno portato in Libano le loro famiglie estese. Il numero dei rifugiati siriani a Sarafand – di cui troppo spesso si fa un fascio d’erba unico – si dice ora superi quello della popolazione locale. Il comune di Sarafand e il capo dell’Unione delle municipalità di Sahel az Zahrani, evidenziano entrambi le difficoltà di trovare spazi per seppellire i morti. Un problema che precede di gran lunga la crisi siriana.

Secondo alcuni cittadini locali, i rifugiati siriani che abitano a Sarafand ormai da qualche anno sarebbero stati sul punto di organizzare un sit-in di carattere politico per rivendicare spazio per seppellire i propri morti. Conversando con i rifugiati di Sarafand, si tocca con mano la frustrazione che la vita nel Paese ospitante riserva ai profughi di guerra e violenze, e la condanna alla morte sociale di queste componenti demografiche. Se in tempo di crisi cibo, medicine, materassi e servizi forniti dalle agenzie umanitarie non possono di certo compensare la graduale perdita quotidiana della precedente normalità, essere riconosciuti come abitanti con dignità al diritto di sepoltura, di ricordo e di riconoscimento sociale post mortem solleva le medesime responsabilità umane.

In seguito a queste rivendicazioni e per evitare che le richieste assumessero infine la tinta di una protesta politica, il cimitero nuovo di Sarafand è stato allargato di qualche ettaro.

Secondo alcuni abitanti libanesi, la comunità palestinese locale è stata disposta a concedere parte del proprio spazio ai nuovi arrivati siriani per la sepoltura dei loro defunti. La comunità palestinese, dal proprio canto, non si è sentita invece interpellata in tale decisione municipale. Una giovane donna palestinese commenta che “essere figli di uno Stato non riconosciuto, di nessuna amministrazione, costringe alla limitazione dei propri diritti… Ci è stato forse chiesto cosa volessimo concedere? Non vi è nessun rappresentante della comunità palestinese né tantomeno nessuno è stato interpellato a questo riguardo… e ancora la definiscono una nostra concessione”.

Molti dei rifugiati siriani di Sarafand vivono in edifici nuovi, apparentemente costruiti per ghettizzare la popolazione non locale in spazi definiti e lontani dal resto della realtà urbana. C’è chi ritiene la municipalità efficiente e disponibile, ma impossibilitata a risolvere la questione dello spazio cimiteriale perché non all’interno delle proprie capacità giuridiche. C’è chi invece accusa la municipalità di riuscire ad avviare progetti ambiziosi di riciclaggio e preziose partnerships con agenzie internazionali, senza voler risolvere la questione dello spazio cimiteriale. “Nessuna speranza per ricordare. Nessuna speranza per morire in pace! La municipalità rifiuta la concessione di spazi per i nostri morti perché spera di liberarsi di noi… Ho provato a cercare in tutto il Libano un modo per non mandare il corpo di mia madre in Siria… Non ritornerò facilmente lì dove son cresciuto… Dovrei lasciarla appassire lontana dal mio ricordo e dalla mia devozione? Non è facile neanche ottenere un’ambulanza per un siriano durante le ore del coprifuoco serale… Il maltrattamento che subiamo all’ordine del giorno non renderà la nostra permanenza temporanea”, afferma in modo significativo un uomo siriano di mezza età.

Secondo alcune voci locali, tuttavia, non sarebbe lo status legale e neppure la nazionalità del defunto a garantire una degna sepoltura e una degna devozione da parte dei propri familiari. È piuttosto lo status sociale a determinare la dignità del vivo come del morto. “L’unica cosa che importa” – mi dice un venditore di schede telefoniche sulla strada principale di Sarafand –  “è che tipo di siriano sei, che tipo di palestinese sei, e così via… qual è il tuo status sociale, insomma”.

Della stessa opinione è un altro residente di Sarafand che accenna al fatto che “per seppellire il corpo di una persona illustre, miracolosamente, lo spazio si trova!”. Una cittadina libanese di Sarafand in modo analogo esclama: “La municipalità aveva appena negato la possibilità di nuove sepolture nel cimitero nuovo anche per noi libanesi, quand’ecco che un imprenditore ha avuto modo addirittura di farsi spazio in quello vecchio!”.

Classe sociale, status legale, wasta locale. I fattori che danno diritto a vivere e morire sono diversi quanto le narrative locali della diseguaglianza che ho dovuto digerire in un solo pomeriggio.

Con sgomento del grande Totò, neanche la morte, a Sarafand, è ‘na livella.

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Crisis & Control, (In)Formal Hybrid Security in Lebanon (July 2016)

The report I co-authored with Marie-Noelle Abi-Yaghi and Mariam Younes from Lebanon Support (Beirut) has just been published: http://cskc.daleel-madani.org/resource/crisis-control-informal-hybrid-security-lebanon. If you wish to access the resulting policy brief authored by Lebanon Support’s partner International Alert, click on the following link: http://www.international-alert.org/sites/default/files/Lebanon_LocalSecuritySyrianRefugees_PolicyBrief_EN_2016.pdf.

We have conducted 3-month field research in Aley, Shebaa, and Ebrine in Lebanon.

Here below the executive summary of our research.

This report aims to analyze how formal and informal security providers implement their respective social order agendas through a security “assemblage”. It also aims to inform the debate on refugee protection and security provision in urban settings, in the context of Lebanon’s hybrid security system. The accounts collected illustrate how state security institutions tacitly accept – or even rely on – informal security actors, managing at times to achieve their political and strategic goals through decentralized and/or illegal forms of control. In this vein, local municipalities imposed curfews and street patrols, which, far from being an institutional measure, follow a flexible and unpredictable pattern.1 Three localities have been selected for the purpose of this research – namely Aley in Mount Lebanon, Ebrine in North Lebanon, and Shebaa in South Lebanon. The choice of these localities was driven by their different political and social history, their demographic homogeneity or diversity, and their relationship with surrounding regions. The investigation of the Syrian refugees’ access to security systems constitutes an interpretative lens through which the analysis of securitization processes in Lebanon can be undertaken. The notion of security we will discuss here is polysemantic: it does not only encompass regional or domestic conflicts, but also suggests a particular social form of waiting; a climate of fear portending the worse that is yet to come. As a matter of fact, this climate of fear encourages preemptive security measures and serves as a deterrent against violent outbursts. Therefore, manifestations of insecurity or security threats are often routinized perceptions and, as such, integrated into accounts of ordinary everyday life. Security plays a multifaceted role in the three settings selected for thorough analysis. It builds the cohesiveness of the local communities, while fending off endemic societal fragmentation. This is mainly because local people tend to identify with a single homogenous entity that needs to protect itself against external threats, with these threats being represented nowadays by Syrian refugees, who may become “radicalized” and destabilize the “host” space. And since security goes beyond the exclusion of risk and jeopardy, the official discourse of local security providers entails the protection of refugees. While we draw on the classic normative distinction of security providers into formal and informal, our analysis moves beyond such a rigid differentiation. The formal/ informal dichotomy fades away when security is discussed as a hybrid assemblage of unpredictable and situational forces enforced in particular circumstances. Our findings confirm that formal security is partially implemented through informal local actors, providing a terrain of common interest in the preservation of social order. In addition, security cannot be viewed as a given “social fact”: it is rather a contextual process embedded in multiple power relations that preserve social order in a given space and reinforce social status and community identification.

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Il discorso confessionale e il fondamentalismo annesso (by Estella, May 2016)

http://www.rsi.ch/rete-due/programmi/cultura/attualita-culturale/Le-chiavi-di-lettura-occidentali-sui-confilitti-in-medio-oriente-un-paradigma-confessionale-Ne-parliamo-con-l-antropologa-sociale-Estella-Carpi-7299122.html

Edizione del 06.05.2016

Le chiavi di lettura occidentali sui confilitti in medio oriente: un paradigma confessionale? Ne parliamo con l’ antropologa sociale Estella Carpi

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Guerre al di là del Mediterraneo: ecco perché la religione non c’entra (by Estella Carpi and Enrico Bartolomei, April 2016)

Guerre in Siria, Iraq e Palestina: ecco perché la religione non c’entra

“Guerre in Siria, Iraq e Palestina: ecco perché la religione non c’entra”

Dalla Siria all’Iraq, dall’Afghanistan alla Palestina, passando per il Libano e i tumulti sull’altra sponda del Mediterraneo: il discorso confessionale ha oscurato le cause socio-economiche dei movimenti di protesta fornendo ai regimi autoritari il pretesto per presentarsi come garanti dell’unità nazionale.
MONDOULTIME NOTIZIE 29 APRILE 2016 17:16 di Davide Falcioni

Articolo a cura di Enrico Bartolomei e Estella Carpi *

Dall’inizio dei movimenti di contestazione nel mondo arabo, che hanno rovesciato regimi pluridecennali in apparenza incrollabili e rimesso in discussione gli equilibri di potere nella regione, nei principali media e nei circoli degli esperti di politica estera si è affermata la tendenza a spiegare le cause delle proteste attraverso le lenti del confessionalismo, per cui i fattori che determinano la vita politica nel mondo arabo-musulmano sarebbero le tradizioni religiose nella loro irriducibile differenza. Il discorso confessionale ha oscurato le cause socio-economiche dei movimenti di protesta, mascherando le ambizioni regionali delle potenze straniere e fornendo ai regimi autoritari il pretesto per presentarsi come garanti dell’unità nazionale.

Questa griglia di lettura della realtà ha radici profonde che vanno oltre il mondo arabo, ed è stata alimentata da una teoria molto influente delle relazioni internazionali inaugurata dal politologo americano Samuel Huntington, che ha avanzato la tesi dello “scontro di civiltà”, spiegando come alla base dei conflitti post-Guerra Fredda ci siano in primo luogo le differenze culturali e religiose tra i vari popoli. Questa visione semplicistica e fondamentalista degli eventi storici, per cui i gruppi sociali vengono definiti in base alle appartenenze etniche, religiose o comunitarie, non solo ignora la molteplicità dei fattori alla base dei conflitti contemporanei, ma anche l’uso politico che abili “manipolatori del confessionalismo” fanno di queste differenze per difendere i propri interessi.

La grande narrazione confessionale
Dopo gli attentati dell’11 settembre 2001, la guerra globale al “terrorismo islamico” – inaugurata dagli Stati Uniti con l’invasione dell’Afghanistan e dell’Iraq – è diventata la copertura usata dalle classi dirigenti di vari regimi per eliminare gruppi insorgenti, movimenti separatisti o di liberazione. All’indomani degli attentati, l’allora primo ministro israeliano Ariel Sharon paragonò il leader di al-Qaeda Osama Bin Laden al presidente palestinese Yasser Arafat, presentando l’invasione militare della Cisgiordania durante la Seconda Intifada come necessaria per “smantellare le infrastrutture del terrorismo”. Lo stesso discorso viene ora riproposto, questa volta nei confronti del partito politico palestinese Hamas, prima di ogni operazione militare nella Striscia di Gaza. Il nuovo clima politico post-11 settembre permise anche al presidente russo Vladimir Putin di ridefinire la seconda guerra cecena come guerra contro il terrorismo, giustificando agli occhi della comunità internazionale la brutale repressione della guerriglia cecena.

Recentemente, il primo ministro Benyamin Netanyahu non ha esitato a strumentalizzare l’ondata di razzismo e islamofobia seguita agli attentati di Parigi, equiparando il “terrorismo dell’ISIS” al “terrorismo palestinese” nel tentativo di convincere i dirigenti e l’opinione pubblica europea che la lotta di liberazione palestinese è mossa dallo stesso odio anti-ebraico e anti-occidentale che viene generalmente attribuito al salafismo jihadista.

I manipolatori delle identità confessionali
Lungi dall’essere entità omogenee con caratteristiche immutabili, le identità confessionali ed etniche sono costruzioni sociali, vale a dire il prodotto storico di conflitti tra vari gruppi sociali che hanno utilizzato le diversità tra le varie componenti sociali nella lotta per il controllo di risorse materiali. Le appartenenze confessionali nei conflitti sono state strumentalizzate politicamente in primis dai manipolatori delle identità, come le classi dirigenti o i gruppi in competizione per la costruzione del consenso o per il controllo delle risorse. Questi principali attori manipolatori sono a loro volta il prodotto di una complessa relazione con la costruzione della loro stessa identità e garanzia di potere politico. Pertanto, il discorso confessionale è pienamente impiegato nei rapporti di potere ed è spesso elaborato come razionalizzazione d’interessi politici e strutture di dominio.

La strategia coloniale del divide et impera
Il confessionalismo è servito a legittimare la spartizione coloniale europea del Medio Oriente in seguito alla prima guerra mondiale. Presentare i conflitti nel mondo arabo-musulmano come il risultato dell’eterna lotta tra sunniti e sciiti, dispensa l’occidente dalle sue responsabilità storiche di protettore o rivale di questo o quel gruppo religioso o etnico. Difatti, la Francia e la Gran Bretagna hanno cinicamente sfruttato queste diversità per assicurarsi il controllo geopolitico delle risorse energetiche e la sicurezza domestica nella regione, ridisegnando arbitrariamente i confini, creando entità statali artificiali e ostacolando l’emergere di movimenti e partiti multiconfessionali e transnazionali (come quello comunista e panarabista baathista, o nasserista) che ponevano al centro delle loro rivendicazioni l’emancipazione politica ed economica piuttosto che le appartenenze comunitarie, religiose o etniche.
in foto: Israeli security forces walk in the Jerusalem’s Old City near the al–Aqsa mosque
In altri casi, le potenze straniere hanno affidato alle “minoranze confessionali” le leve di un potere parziale rendendolo solo complementare agli interessi esteri. Ad esempio, in seguito alle lotte che i drusi del Monte Libano sotto l’egida britannica conducevano nel XIX secolo contro la componente cristiano-maronita – supportata dalla Francia – il confessionalismo fu istituzionalizzato nel sistema politico (1920) con la creazione dello stato libanese su base elitaria cristiano-maronita, contribuendo a innescare tensioni che hanno dato origine a decenni di guerra civile. In Palestina, la Gran Bretagna s’impegnò con la Dichiarazione di Balfour (1917) a sostenere il progetto sionista di creare uno Stato ebraico, favorendo l’immigrazione di coloni ebrei europei. In Siria, le truppe coloniali francesi arruolarono le minoranze, tra cui gli alawiti, per sedare la rivolta nazionalista araba. La setta alawita venne poi dichiarata ramo della corrente sciita negli anni Settanta a seguito di un avvicinamento politico tra il presidente siriano alawita Hafez al-Asad e l’Imam sciita Musa as-Sadr. A seguito dell’attuale conflitto siriano e l’escalation della violenza attuale, è significativo che un’élite di esponenti intellettuali della comunità alawita abbia dichiarato un distanziamento dal regime di Asad e quindi la propria indipendenza confessional-clericale dalla corrente sciita dell’Iran e del Hezbollah libanese, strenui difensori del regime siriano.

Il confessionalismo e l’autoritarismo delle élite arabe
L’utilizzo delle identità religiose o etniche a fini politici costituisce tuttora un capitolo importante nella strategia del divide et impera messa in atto da diversi attori politici, così come lo era al tempo della dominazione coloniale europea.

L’intervento USA in Iraq nel 2003, finalizzato all’instaurazione di un governo sciita per rispecchiare l’appartenenza confessionale di gran parte della popolazione, come anche la lotta per l’egemonia regionale tra Iran e Arabia Saudita, hanno rafforzato la retorica delle identità comunitarie, fomentando in particolare lo scontro binario tra sunniti e sciiti. I movimenti di contestazione popolare nel mondo arabo, incentrati su rivendicazioni di democratizzazione dei sistemi politici e di giustizia sociale, sono stati anch’essi deragliati sui binari del confessionalismo – se non dall’interferenza straniera – da regimi autoritari, élite al potere, o quei gruppi che vogliono ritagliarsi una fetta di legittimità, ergendosi a difensori di questa o quella comunità.
L’uso politico della religione ha inoltre permesso ai regimi autoritari di contrastare la creazione di fronti unitari, agitando lo spettro di una sanguinosa guerra civile e infondendo dunque un ampio desiderio di stabilità da raggiungere a qualsiasi costo. In Siria, la trasformazione della rivolta popolare in guerra civile a sfondo confessionale ha permesso al regime di Bashar al-Asad di giustificare la repressione militare dei manifestanti, descritti come terroristi tout court, così come alle potenze regionali come Iran da un lato, e vari Paesi del Golfo arabo dall’altro, di intervenire nel conflitto. A loro volta, le milizie sciite o sunnite si sono spesso presentate come difensori ufficiali delle rispettive comunità religiose. Formazioni jihadiste come il Fronte an-Nusra e lo “Stato Islamico” hanno proclamato di voler riscattare la comunità sunnita oppressa dal “regime eretico alawita” e dai suoi alleati sciiti.

Intimorite dinanzi alla prospettiva di un sollevamento popolare, anche le monarchie del Golfo hanno riproposto la tesi della lotta religiosa tra sunniti e sciiti per impedire il diffondersi di movimenti di contestazione interni. L’Arabia Saudita, ad esempio, ha potuto giustificare l’intervento militare in Bahrein presentando il movimento di protesta locale come una rivolta sciita orchestrata dall’Iran. Il governo del Bahrein, a sua volta, ha strumentalizzato le proprie politiche migratorie accogliendo solo rifugiati siriani sunniti – seppur in numero esiguo – pur di contrastare i sollevamenti popolari interni a maggioranza sciita. Il paradigma confessionale è stato utilizzato anche per liquidare le forze del cambiamento rivoluzionario e quindi restaurare quelle del vecchio regime. Il colpo di stato del generale Abdel Fattah as-Sisi nel luglio 2013 è stato presentato come necessario per impedire l’islamizzazione forzata dell’Egitto ad opera dei Fratelli Musulmani e i loro tentativi di provocare una guerra civile.

Dal discorso confessionale ai flussi migratori in Europa
All’interno di confini più simbolici che territoriali, le diverse componenti sociali han sentito il bisogno di definirsi come diverse l’una dall’altra e di reclamare diritti o adempiere ai doveri civili definendosi in termini identitari, piuttosto che come parte costituente di uno stato sociale che garantisce diritti e servizi di prima necessità.

Ma in che modo il discorso confessionale dello scontro di civiltà tocca le sponde europee? In nome della sicurezza contro la minaccia globale del terrorismo islamico, una serie di legislazioni anti-terrorismo limitano le libertà civili e i diritti fondamentali della persona. Anche negli stati che si definiscono democratici, lo “stato di diritto” lascia progressivamente il posto allo “stato d’emergenza”. Il discorso confessionale serve anche per giustificare la gestione militare e securitaria dei fenomeni migratori. Nella propaganda islamofobica e xenofoba, ormai non più appannaggio esclusivo dell’estrema destra, le categorie dei migranti e dei richiedenti asilo vengono sempre più associate al pericolo dell’invasione islamica, che metterebbe in discussione la purezza dei valori cristiani e occidentali, e alla minaccia del terrorismo jihadista. L’equazione clandestino-musulmano-terrorista diventa sempre più accettabile agli occhi dell’opinione pubblica europea.

L’uso di identità confessionali ed etniche per spiegare eventi storici, politici, e addirittura psicologici, è di per sé un atto fondamentalista. In questo senso, le violenze di oggi su scala globale e la convinzione che i flussi migratori siano un qualcosa da accogliere o rifiutare, fanno parte di una lotta all’affermazione di valori e principi propri che si vogliono sancire come universali.

Mentre il profugo o il migrante sono concepiti come elementi in eterna lotta, gli aiuti umanitari sono standardizzati, spesso tradendo la diversità dei bisogni dei beneficiari. La sofferenza dell’Altro, come la sua minacciosa violenza, sono rese omogenee e indivisibili. Quando episodi di violenza spezzano la normalità su cui son disegnate le nostre vite quotidiane, e quando tali episodi sono relazionabili a fenomeni transnazionali generati o facilitati da migrazioni o rivendicazioni di stampo confessionale – prevalentemente islamico – i clandestini che sbarcano, denigrati esclusivamente secondo la loro matrice identitaria confessionale, vengono meccanicamente associati al fallimento delle politiche europee e alle reti islamiche estremiste transnazionali.

In altre parole, la paura delle società occidentali di tradursi in spazi a rischio imprevedibile – cosa che finora ha prevalentemente turbato le vite umane nel “Sud globale” – è arginata tramite avanzate tecnologie di sicurezza e sorveglianza, nonché prontamente consolata da mezzi informativi e di assistenza sociale che tendono a mantenere i confini identitari del “diverso”: l’assimilazione o il riconoscimento dell’eterogeneità di quest’ultimo diluirebbero troppo la sua presenza all’interno delle società di arrivo.

Il “diverso”, da una parte, è in lotta col proprio simile nel Sud globale, in quanto parte di un mosaico identitario che va “sanato” da principi e diritti universali, propugnati dal nostro lato del Mediterraneo. Il “diverso” diventa invece uniformabile ai suoi simili quando il Sud globale si sposta verso il Nord globale, ponendo quest’ultimo al cospetto di nuove rivendicazioni. Mentre ci proponiamo di curare e arginare l’emergenza negli stati mediorientali attraverso agenzie umanitarie in loco, l’insicurezza imprevedibile alla quale siamo di fronte ora – la stessa che pone sullo stesso piano gli immaginari “Nord” e “Sud” – finisce per rafforzare questi totalitarismi identitari: i veri mali del nostro tempo.

* Enrico Bartolomei ha conseguito il dottorato di ricerca in storia dell’area euro-mediterranea all’Università di Macerata. E’ tra gli autori di Gaza e l’industria israeliana della violenza (DeriveApprodi 2015) e tra i curatori dell’edizione italiana di L’occupazione israeliana (Diabasis 2016) di Neve Gordon.

Estella Carpi ha conseguito un dottorato in antropologia sociale alla University of Sydney (Australia). Attualmente consulente di ricerca per la New York University (Abu Dhabi) e Lebanon Support (Beirut), si occupa principalmente di Levante arabo.

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Child Protection or Security Agendas? NGOs address the Syrian Refugee Crisis in Lebanon (Estella Carpi & Chiara Diana, March 2016)

March 1, 2016

by Estella Carpi and Chiara Diana

http://www.youthcirculations.com/blog/

     In the wake of the massive influx of refugees from Syria to Lebanon (2011-2014), some international NGOs have intervened in specific regions of Lebanon to prevent Lebanese and Syrian youth from “radicalizing” themselves and joining armed groups. In the presence of security and political risks, these NGOs play a sizable role in territories that often become destinations for refugees and migrants. We recognize their work as an effort to “neutralize” social spaces by stifling any factor causing local instability. 
     In this framework, youth quickly come to be addressed as objects of concern but rarely as subjects of decision-making and aware action. Our study seeks to unpack international NGOs’ discourses about children’s vulnerability and protection, which are generally formulated according to universalized conceptions of childhood. This research is aimed at understanding the space between global security agendas, child protection, and humanitarian action. Finally, our study shows the controversial character of humanitarian agencies that alternate between depoliticizing younger generations and complying with the social order established by local power holders.

Armed young boy in the Syrian War

Armed young boy in the Syrian War

Syria’s conflict is impacting neighboring countries in myriad ways. Since the conflict started in 2011 as a result of several anti-government street protests and the consequent heavy shelling of the opposition areas, more than one million Syrians fleeing violence and political persecution arrived in Lebanon. Among these Syrians are those who are registered with United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) and in search of social and legal protection.

Refugee influxes are generally considered to pose diverse challenges, ranging from the political to the socio-economic. Here, we choose to focus on the humanitarian programs meant to prevent North Lebanon-based children from joining armed groups currently combating in Syria. An example of these is Disarmament–Demobilization–Reintegration programs (DDRs) directed by international NGOs at 15-18 year-old youth. These programs target childhood in a bid to avert suitable conditions for armament.

Through ethnographic research, semi-structured interviews with two large international NGOs, and in-depth interviews with local residents (both Syrians and Lebanese) in North Lebanon, our study primarily focuses on the Akkar region and the city of Tripoli.

Child protection map of north Lebanon

Child protection map of north Lebanon

The research we are presently conducting unpacks international NGOs’ discourses about children’s vulnerability and protection, discourses formulated according to universalized conceptions of childhood. It also demonstrates the controversial character of humanitarian agencies that alternate between depoliticizing young generations and complying with the social order established by local power holders.

 Informal refugee camp next to the Syrian border. 'Akkar (North Lebanon), 2013. Photo taken by Estella Carpi.

 Informal refugee camp next to the Syrian border. ‘Akkar (North Lebanon), 2013. Photo taken by Estella Carpi.

A number of international NGOs[1]attempt to dissuade children who resettled in Lebanon from joining combating factions – especially the several armed Syrian opposition brigades—while prompting their families to send them to school and lead a “decent life.” Some of these NGOs provide vocational training to 14 and 15 year-old teenagers who dropped out of school in an attempt to discourage them from joining armed factions. “If the youth have education and professional skills, they won’t fear for their income and they won’t feel hopeless. That’s how they end up warring or even becoming suicide bombers,” an NGO worker affirmed during an interview.

Similarly, another international NGO offers common school programs to Syrians and Lebanese children and youth, as the education and overall future of both communities are jeopardized. Indeed, young men from both nationalities are in fact recruited in takfiri (Salafi ideology) armed groups combating in Syria. As “beneficiaries,” both Syrian and Lebanese children do not need to be “infantilized,” that is to say, emptied of their political afflatus. In any situation of conflict and violence, they are always defensible since they are presumed to never have individual viewpoints. While here we are not promoting practices which would simply place blame on children and youth, we rather seek to highlight that the youth are the easiest vessels of humanitarian sympathy and generosity (Rieff 2002: 26), and this belief often leads to the humanitarian misconceptions of childhood that we will illustrate below.

Informal refugee camp next to the Syrian border. 'Akkar (North Lebanon), 2013. Photo taken by Estella Carpi.  

Informal refugee camp next to the Syrian border. ‘Akkar (North Lebanon), 2013. Photo taken by Estella Carpi.

Although the Syrian government criminalized the recruitment of children by armed forces and non-institutional groups in 2013, such legal protection measures continue to be disregarded by all warring sides. As mentioned above, employment is considered the most effective dissuasive factor to avoid war recruitment. As a 2015 livelihoods assessment indicates (Save the Children and UNICEF 2015), families are struggling to meet their basic needs and feel they have no other alternative than putting their children to work, marrying off their daughters, and allowing their children to join armed groups. Moreover, official work permits are unlikely to be obtained nowadays for the Syrians who have relocated to neighboring nations. Without work permits, those working illegally risk imprisonment, fines, return to refugee camps, or even deportation to Syria. In addition, some children live in areas without functioning schools, as they have mostly been bombed by the Asad military aviation. Joining an armed group remains one of their few available options (HRW 2014: 2).

Nevertheless, it seems to be quite difficult to gather reliable and detailed information about recruitment efforts inside Syria and in the neighboring countries. Indeed, war recruitment is a strategy that is inherent neither to Jihadist groups nor to Lebanon. For instance, in the Kurdistan region of Iraq, a child labor assessment found that 30% of children interviewed had been approached for recruitment (UNICEF 2014). Therefore, in the whole region affected by the Syrian crisis, joining presents benefits to children. Children who join armed groups can in fact receive monthly salaries of up to US$400. Others participate without pay in order to join family members or friends, or because they have suffered on a personal level at the hands of one of the warring parties and desire to exact revenge.

There is also very limited information about the willingness of children and young boys to join and serve armed groups in Syria today. However, generally, it has been noted that many children and adolescents are abducted and conscripted at an early stage. They latter turn into loyal fighters (Depuy and Peters 2010: 67). Likewise, young people recruited by government forces, or informal groups of government-affiliated thugs–Asad’s shabbiha in Syria—are often told that they are protecting their families and homes against “terrorists” who oppose the government. In this sense, indoctrination in governmental armed groups becomes a continuation and expansion of state propaganda.

Children militarily recruited by the “Islamic State”

Children militarily recruited by the “Islamic State”

Reflecting media biases, international NGOs likewise maintain a number of misconceptions about the children they aim to serve. In fact, Syrian refugee children are homogeneously represented as vulnerable. They are quickly classified as innocent victims and impartial, with little opinion about the current conflict. More specifically, according to the analysis we have conducted so far, the misconceptions of the international NGOs are threefold. The first misconception resides in the definition of childhood and child vulnerability, influencing how need and aid are imagined. Indeed, the translation of “vulnerability” variously refers to local conceptions and ways of being addressed in Lebanon. “Vulnerable people” in Lebanon are often referred to with the expression “mustad’afun,” which literally means “the weakened.” This particularly stresses the political agentivity behind the low status and miserable condition of the individual. In other words, individuals are not weak per se, but they have been weakened by historical processes, usually started by political foes.

The second misconception of the international NGO apparatus lies in the standardization of age-focused individual rights and social categories as a result of a universalization of western cultural standards. Indeed, childhood is not approached as a relative process that varies according to culture and context, but rather as a fixed age range.

Thirdly, the NGOs addressing children tend to view regional sectarianism and violence as innate characteristics of Lebanon and Syria and as the very cause of conflict, thereby ignoring the territorial political issues and their connections to the whole region. Nevertheless, the lack of a constructive sense of citizenship and engaged civic participation are certainly not to be blamed on the international NGOs’ action per se, but rather on the longstanding state abandonment and state hostility in the northern Lebanese region, in addition to the widespread use of violence as an instrument to pursue political goals and elitist privileges.

NGO language and implementation strategies thus largely influence and reify the category of “children in need,” who, in the Lebanese context, are merely associated with war and displacement. In brief, youth quickly come to be addressed in terms of objects of concern and rarely subjects of decision-making and aware action.

Syrian primary school for refugee children, Tripoli (North Lebanon). Photo taken by Estella Carpi, 2013.  

Syrian primary school for refugee children, Tripoli (North Lebanon). Photo taken by Estella Carpi, 2013.

As our current analysis indicates, the international NGOs that operate in North Lebanon believe they can act in a social void, one in which armament and recruitment are regarded and addressed as motivated simply by the ongoing conflict in Syria and hardly ever correlated to longstanding social rifts and unresolved political issues–sometimes not associable with community frictions–which concern the local residents to greater extent.

From a local perspective, the children who join the activities promoted by these NGOs are not viewed in the same way as those exposed to higher risk of being recruited or voluntarily recruiting. According to the in-depth interviews that we conducted thus far with Tripoli’s residents connected to armed groups in Syria, the families whose children join the international NGOs’ activities are generally affluent or plugged in international networks. This local perception is noteworthy, as it illustrates how non-beneficiaries view addressed vulnerability as an empowered condition, as the privileged social status of some social groups. The parents collaborating with these NGOs are therefore believed as unwilling to send their children to fight, not being themselves prone to political violence.
On the one hand, our interlocutors have so far expressed perplexity about the external–essentially “western”–way of conducting studies on this issue. In an interview conducted in Tripoli, two Lebanese, ‘Abdallah and Walid, recounted, “international NGOs lack direct access to local communities, and end up addressing families that are not much prone to let their children fight in Syria and that have not been politically oppressed. How can they imagine having tangible results?”
On the other hand, the local interviewees who were neither addressed nor approached by international NGOs highlighted how their children were not “manipulated” to undertake violence for the parental cause, but rather they reasserted that childhood is integral part of the parental effort to implement local and regional social justice. The recruitment of young boys in armed groups, across Lebanon as elsewhere, is a product of much complex social factors which are not simply associable with “evil adult recruiters” or structural features. While international law wants to see adults as conveyers of an inherently and unchangeably “violent culture,” it aprioristically tackles children as unaware perpetrators and objects of manipulation (Rosen 2010: 50), therefore detachable from the local predominant culture and society in which they grow up. To the same extent, these international NGOs tend to believe that the institutional and cultural environments they are able to provide structurally enable children to start a better life, or at least protect them against armed violence on a sustainable basis.

While international humanitarianism is unlikely to see any act of the child as an expression of local culture and therefore “blameless,” the violence of adults is deemed as inherent to the cultural pattern at hand. This marks the epistemological contradiction which underlies the NGO efforts to foster an unconditioned primary depoliticization of children in North Lebanon. At the antipodes of a conception of childhood as politically engaged and aware beyond their exposition to war recruitment, international human rights protectors are overlooking a much more needed protection for children exposed to state and non-state terrorist attacks in schools and public spaces. This clearly points to a close correlation between child recruitment prevention and the generalized concerns of international security apparatuses. Our study will provide insights on how such global politics concerns are addressable through the ongoing NGOization of Lebanon.

Works Cited

Depuy, K. E., Peters, K. (2010) War and Children. A Reference Handbook, Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger Security International, in the Contemporary Military, Strategic, and Security Issues.

Human Rights Watch (2014) Maybe We Live, and Maybe We Die. Retrieved from:https://www.hrw.org/report/2014/06/22/maybe-we-live-and-maybe-we-die/recruitment-and-use-children-armed-groups-syria

Rieff, D. (2002) A Bed for the Night: Humanitarianism in Crisis. With an Afterword on Iraq, New York City, NY: Simon & Schuster Publishers.

Rosen, D. M. (2010) “Social Change and the Legal Construction of Child Soldier Recruitment in the Special Court for Sierra Leone”, in Childhood in Africa, an Interdisciplinary Journal, Issue 1, Vol. 2, p. 48-57.

Save the Children and UNICEF (July 2, 2015) Small Hands, Heavy Burden. How the Syria Conflict is Driving More Children into the Workforce. Retrieved from:http://reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/RS102356_CHILD%20LABOUR%20%285%29_low.pdf.

UNICEF (2014) Assessment of the Situation of Child Labor among Syrian Refugee Children in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq.

Estella Carpi is presently a Research Fellow at Lebanon Support (Beirut) and a Research Consultant for the New York University (Abu Dhabi). She received her PhD in Social Anthropology from the University of Sydney (Australia), with a research project on the social response to humanitarian assistance in Beirut’s southern suburbs and in the Akkar villages (Lebanon). In the past she also worked as a researcher at Trends Research & Advisory – Abu Dhabi, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) – Cairo, and the International Development Research Center (IDRC) – Cairo, mostly focusing on social development, welfare, NGOs, and humanitarian emergencies in the Middle East. She has lectured extensively in the Social Sciences in Italy, Lebanon, and Australia. After studying Arabic in Milan and Damascus (2002-2007), she wrote her MPhil dissertation in Linguistic Anthropology on the everyday speech in contemporary Lebanon (2008). To access all her publications: https://nyuad.academia.edu/ESTELLACARPI.

Chiara Diana is a Research Associate for the French Center for Economic, Juridical, Social Studies and Documentation (CEDEJ, Egypt). In 2015, she received her PhD in History from the Institute for Research and Studies on Arab and Muslim World (IREMAM) and the Aix-Marseille University (France). Her thesis research is a socio-history of social and political construction of childhood in Egypt during the Mubarak era (1981-2011). In the past, she taught at the Aix-Marseille University and the University of Sorbonne Nouvelle (Paris). Her current research interests include childhood and youth in Arab countries, activism and political socialization of young generations in revolutionary, post-revolutionary and conflict contexts. Her latest work is entitled “Children’s Citizenship: Revolution and the Seeds of an Alternative Future in Egypt” in Herrera Linda (ed.) and Sakr Rehab, Wired Citizenship: Youth Learning and Activism in the Middle East. New York: Routledge (2014). To access her publications:https://univ-amu.academia.edu/ChiaraDiana.

[1]The NGOs included in the present study will remain anonymous in order to protect the identity of their beneficiaries and their specific territories of intervention.

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A dialogue with the “Islamic State”?

Something I wrote in December 2015, in the aftermath of the Paris attacks. An excerpt was published in al-Jazeera a couple of weeks ago. The Al-Jazeera text is followed by the full (unpublished) original English version. Then I’m posting the full Italian version, which  was published in Osservatorio Iraq on March 1, 2016. 

daesh_bandiera

Machiavellians and ordinary youth in Syrian civil war

 

ISIL is likely to be dismantled militarily, but who will address the diverse grievances of its former militants?

 

To counter the ideals of the self-declared Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in the long-run and to identify potential negotiation partners, it is necessary to rethink the mainstream understanding of Sunni violent extremism and highlight its human and pragmatic features. Religious ideology is not the only driving force behind militancy.

In 2013, while in Syria, I got to know Abu Khalid, a rebel commander who was fighting in Ras al-Ayn for a Muslim Brotherhood-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) brigade (one of the so-called Shields). Later on, Abu Khalid pledged his military support to the al-Nusra Front, linked to al-Qaeda in Syria.

When Abu Khalid is asked about his reasons for siding with the al-Nusra Front, the pragmatic considerations – that is to say, for example, how the FSA’s corruption slowed down the overthrowing of the Asad regime – are greater than his commitment to al-Qaeda’s dogmatic tenets.

Total chaos

 

Paradoxically, Abu Khalid is now profiting from taking foreign hostages: he turned out to be after the money, just like the corrupt FSA, which was the target of his criticism.

The kidnapping business under the auspices of the al-Nusra Front has most likely upgraded his stature, something not possible under the FSA. He is also fully aware of his limited options in northern Syria, where the al-Nusra Front has almost wiped out the FSA.

Just like the clan leaders in Syria and Iraq – first under the Baath regimes, and then under ISIL – Abu Khalid sought protection and empowerment under the shadow of the umpteenth ruling party. It is worth remembering that the United States-backed Sunni tribal councils (also known as Sahawat or Awakening) were largely successful in crushing al-Qaeda’s insurgency in Iraq between 2007 and 2008, only because al-Qaeda had started challenging their interests – as in reconstruction contracts and illegal revenues – thus prompting Sunni tribal fighters to defect from al-Qaeda’s ranks.

However, Washington left them unemployed a few years later, when its troops started withdrawing from Iraq, and failed to integrate the defected Sunni tribals in the security apparatus due to the resistance of Nouri al-Maliki’s pro-Iranian central government.

The result was that many of these former tribal members rejoined insurgent groups. Numerous Iraqi tribes have remained neutralrejecting the US’ attempts to revive the Sahawat to fight ISIL, and they have their good reasons to do so in absence of long-term guarantees.

On the other hand, pragmatism might be understood as a call for a new patronage system between central governments and tribal leaders, which is one of the aspects of patriarchal autocracy the Arab youth rose up against in 2011. However, the most progressive Syrian activists have long been sidelined by the militarization of the uprising, and are unable to destabilise the ISIL territories.

Young people clearly are playing a crucial role in ISIL. Counterterrorism centres are obsessed with profiling “radicalised” youth. Nonetheless, even in Syria, the red lines between “moderate” and “radicalised” youth are particularly blurred.

No distinction for the Western powers

 

In 2011, during the peaceful phase of the Syrian uprising, I met a young Syrian musician in southern Damascus. We were chatting about politics and he touched upon the former leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, praising him as a fearless mujahidin who fought the Americans in Iraq.

He was passionate about a musical genre that originated in the US, but this did not prevent him from admiring Zarqawi, who would have despised his love for haram music. In his neighbourhood and in Syria in general, many young men went to fight for their “just cause” in Iraq during the US occupation.

If the musician, too, had gone to Iraq in those years, he could have become an ISIL militant. Would he have shown no regret in giving up on Western music – the same music that earned him a significant audience in Syria? As noted by some “terrorism” scholars, behind the balaclava, a jihadist is still a troubled human being.

The fascinating story of a young Syrian citizen journalist from Deir Az Zor is worth pondering: He saw his three best friends joining ISIL, and despite that, he kept meeting them secretly for a chat over a cigarette from time to time.

I got to know his story a few months ago. He still considered the militants as his friends, being aware that the reasons why they started fighting for ISIL were only partially ideological. They were given weapons, started earning a salary and found their own destructive redemption from the failure of the Syrian uprising they took part in.

However, they were not ready to spend the rest of their lives under the “Caliphate” and, later on, they managed to flee Syria. The journalist is now “exiled” in Turkey, fearing arrest at the hand of ISIL. He is deeply opposed to the Russian offensive on his city, which has resulted into the death of many civilians. In the end, even his friends could have remained trapped inside the country and died under the air strikes.

Unfortunately, international powers rush to conclusions when tracing the above-mentioned red lines between “moderates” and “radicals” in the conviction that shelling the militant youths and their families will eradicate ISIL from the region.

Their “civilised” response to ISIL brutality is merely a military one. No one seems to take into consideration the diverse array of motivations that pushed all these men to join “radical” factions, whether it was a voluntary choice and how they would act in times of peace.

Jihadists and local tribes will remain actively involved in the Syrian-Iraqi insurgency once the anti-ISIL war trumpets fall silent, unless they become the targets of far-sighted policies and are granted tangible benefits. After ISIL, young militants will keep fighting under a different banner for their “just cause” against foreign occupations and brutal dictatorships.

The mainstream opinion leaders have portrayed ISIL – and other “radical” groups – as an embodiment of absolute evil, while leaving out of the equation the social, political, ethical and economic variables. ISIL is likely to be dismantled militarily, but who will address the diverse grievances of its former militants?


Reasoning about a dialogue with the Islamic State

By Andrea Glioti

Shelling the “caliphate” is not going to work security-wise, socially and politically. The response should be instead based on a diversified political approach to the Islamic State (IS) in Syria and Iraq: an approach aimed to establish a unified anti-IS front in Syria and another one possibly involving dialogue with some components of IS in Iraq. In order to counter the ideals of this organisation in the long-run, it is also necessary to reshape the mainstream understanding of Sunni jihadist movements and highlight their human and pragmatic features.

Warmongering and bogeymen

If you had the disgraced idea of following the news in the last months, you have probably noticed the renewed war hysteria that has dominated the aftermath of the Paris attacks. In a few days the talk-shows were flooded with self-declared experts asserting the Western moral duty to defeat the self-declared Islamic State.

A new fully-functional bogeyman has taken the stage, definitely more effective than the communist bogeyman of the Cold War, since IS is a perfect embodiment of cultural, religious, social and ideological otherness with regards to the mainstream European contemporary zeitgeist. In other words, broadly speaking, waging a war on Muslim second/third-generation unemployed youth mobilized under the cloak of religious fanaticism (and migrants in general) has a wider mass appeal than waging a war against your communist neighbour, with whom you possibly had in common the same income and ethnicity. Not only that, when the war is against IS, you have Russia and the US in the same bed (albeit with divergences).

Warmongering against IS is even more appealing than George W. Bush’s war on terror: in the aftermath of 9/11 the US administration failed to convince its critics that attacking Afghanistan and Iraq was conductive to global security, as both governments were not directly involved in the WTC massacre (in the case of Iraq the casus belli was completely fabricated). In the case of IS, on the contrary, the followers of al-Baghdadi are constantly bragging about their responsibility for attacks. They also control a State no one dares to recognize. In the eyes of many Europeans, the US-led coalition, France and Russia are waging a war to defend their “art of living” (as president Hollande phrased it) and the civilians trapped in Syria are no more than collateral casualties to make sure European teenagers can return to safely attend concerts.

Security wise, a response that is exclusively centred on shelling the “caliphate” is not going to work. Even with boots on the ground, the cases of Iraq and Afghanistan stand as a reminder that resistance movements are going to survive despite the presence of militarily advanced occupiers. Back home, in Europe, suicide bombers will keep retaliating for the air raids, lone wolf attackers are not going to stand idle after the collapse of IS and training camps will be easily set up elsewhere, as it always happened. The counterterrorism rhetoric feeds arm dealers rather than providing a long-term securitisation.

The Syrian context: solving the conflict first

IS is not seen as an autochthonous organization in Syria, the leadership is an Iraqi one and many Syrians compare it to an occupying force. Its rise was made possible by the military escalation of the Syrian uprising and it would have never emerged outside of this context.  The IS leadership knows it well and this is why they forge alliances with local tribes, prompt Syrian rebel groups to surrender and pledge allegiance (baʻyah), and force local women to marry their fighters. It is all about “Syrianising” the base of IS supporters. If the world powers do not come around a table to unify the opponents of IS, it might be soon too late to defeat socially this organization, as it will have become Syrian enough to be perceived as a local resistance movement against Asad and the international airstrikes.

This leads us to the urgent need to reach a settlement in Syria and make the battle against IS a priority on both sides (rebel groups such as the al-Qaʿidist Nusra Front have collaborated with IS in several occasions, while the Syrian regime has concentrated its offensives on the opposition, regaining international legitimacy as the lesser of two evils in light of the uncontested rise of the “caliphate”). A nationwide ceasefire requires the armed opposition’s sponsors to overcome their divergences (for example, the US and Turkey need to reach a compromise and allow the Kurdish-led Popular Protection Units (YPG) to be part of a larger unified anti-IS front). Morally, the ousting of Asad should be part of the settlement, because you cannot expect people to drop their weapons and accept that the icon of the repression they stood up against remains in power, after almost five years of displacements and massacres. The crackdown of an Islamist uprising between 1976 and 1982, when Hafez al-Asad ordered to butcher much less civilians, has left deep scars in the Syrian social fabric, as it is clear to anyone who had a talk with a family that lost its relatives in those years; in certain regions the war has been in fact a recrudescence of some never-healed wounds.

Having said that, judging from the latest Russian intervention, it is self-evident that five years of atrocities have not prompted Asad’s allies to give up on him. Furthermore, the latest military developments seem to herald a debacle of the opposition in northern Syria. Although it implies a fair dose of realpolitik, the permanence of Asad might be accepted for the time being to speed up conflict resolution.

However, this  should be balanced by a set of concessions on the part of the regime, such as the release of political prisoners, the dropping of politically-motivated charges issued against Syrian expatriates and the engagement of all the so-called “terrorist” groups except IS in the transitional phase. In fact, to expect the opposition to come to terms with the staying of Asad in power and exclude the Nusra Front (possibly under the guises of its ally Ahrar ash-Sham) from the negotiations table is just wishful thinking. Only when a largely inclusive political settlement will be finalised on a national scale, the focus could be shifted towards IS to form a unified front.

The Iraqi context: engaging with the Baʿthists

The Iraqi case is a different one, IS is the last output of the Sunni jihadist resistance to the American invasion and the consequent empowerment of Iranian proxies. The followers of al-Baghdadi (previously known as the followers of Abu Musʻab az-Zarqawi) have been active in Iraq for more than ten years and they definitely have a stronger support base than in Syria. Even the term (Sahawat) used by IS to disparage its Sunni jihadist rivals in Syria is telling of its Iraqi nature, in a reference to the Sunni tribal militias supported by the US to counter al-Qaʿidah during the occupation.

To some extent, the “caliphate” stands for a comeback of what Saddam Hussein and the Iran-Iraq war represent in the memory of some Sunni Arabs: the containment of Shiʻa political expansionism. The presence of numerous former Iraqi Baʻthist officers in the echelons of IS (in some cases apparently entrusted with laying down the blueprint of the “caliphate”‘s efficient security apparatus) should stand as a reminder of the less visible components of this organisation. The Army of the Naqshbandi Order – a largely Baʻthist Sufi militia led by Saddam’s former aide ʻEzzat ad-Duri, therefore doctrinally at odds with the IS Salafi interpretation of Islam – has also repeatedly collaborated with the Islamic State.

The relationship between the Islamist and the Baʻthist elements within IS is a troubled one not exempt from internal strife, but it could be worth establishing contacts with the latter in order to split the organisation and open a political dialogue. It would be challenging to convince takfiri zealots that they should tolerate other religious communities, but Baʻthists are driven by political calculations: their cooperation with al-Qaʿidah in Iraq (AQI), under the US occupation, has always been a marriage of interests. Furthermore, this relationship traces its roots to the pragmatic Islamicisation of the Saddam regime in the nineties, which resulted in the cooptation of Sunni Islamists to serve the establishment without renouncing to Baʻthist secularism. Is it then so unconceivable to reach out to this component within IS and try to compensate for the idiocy of Operation Iraqi Freedom and the indiscriminate anti-Baʻthist purges that have exacerbated the rifts of the Iraqi society over the past 12 years? In the end, history is rich of examples of resistance movements (IRA,ETA) that were largely demilitarized through compromises and not violence alone.

Jihadists and tribes under the banner of…pragmatism

I think it is also time to stop analysing Sunni jihadists exclusively under the prism of religious ideology, as if it were the only driving force behind their affiliation to certain factions. This would also help us to identify other potential negotiation partners.

In 2013, while in Syria, I got to know Abu Khalid, a jihadist commander with mixed Arab-Kurdish roots who was fighting in Ras al-ʻAyn (north-eastern Syria) in a Free Syrian Army (FSA) brigade funded by the Muslim Brotherhood. In January 2013, when clashes erupted between the rebels and the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK)-allied YPG, according to the account of a Syrian colleague of mine with no jihadist sympathies, Abu Khalid was raising proudly the Alaya Rengîn Kurdistan flag, eager to reassure the Kurds despite fighting against a Kurdish faction.

Later on, he started showing a completely different attitude towards Kurdish cultural rights. In June, Abu Khalid was sitting in the same tent while I was arguing with a member of the hardline group Ansar ash-Shariʻa, who was affirming that the Kurds are not to be considered a distinct people and Arabic is a divine (samawiyyah) language inherently superior to Kurmanji. I turned to Abu Khalid and asked him what was his stance on this and he just said: “I agree with him.”

Later on, Abu Khalid pledged his military support (munasarah) to the Nusra Front, a group known for stifling ethno-religious diversity under the fist of Pan-Islamism, in what seemed to confirm the path of “radicalisation” taken by numerous opposition fighters or, in his case, the apparently utilitarian nature of his initial support for Kurdish rights.

However, when Abu Khalid is asked about his reasons for siding with the Nusra Front, the pragmatic dimension overwhelms his commitment to al-Qaʻidah’s dogmatic tenets (what is known as ʻaqidah in Islamic terms). “I’ve dealt with the leadership of the (“US-approved”) (FSA), they kept most of the funds for themselves and told us (fighters): ҅Make do with what you have (dabbir halkun)!ʼ The majority of these colonels are now in Europe. I’ve seen so many thefts committed by FSA members…If only they were organized like Daʿish when they seized the oil fields in 2013, Asad would be long gone! With the Jabhah (Nusra Front) it’s different: they pay each fighter 100$ per month, cover your rent if you’re married and they don’t steal. Unlike the  FSA, which has been infiltrated repeatedly by the regime and the PKK, their security apparatus is strong,” Abu Khalid told me in a recent conversation. Although his claims on plundering are disputed by similar reports on the Nusra Front, a widespread resentment against the corruption of  US-backed “moderately” Islamist factions such as the Syria Revolutionaries Front has indeed increased the popularity of hardliners in northern Syria.

Regardless of the credibility of Abu Khalid’s accusations – quite common among the Syrian armed opposition – each time we talked his apology of the Nusra Front was never based on the group’s call for global jihad but rather on pragmatic considerations (that is to say, for example, how the FSA’s conduct slowed down the overthrowing of the Asad regime). As far as I know from him, Abu Khalid is now profiting from the trade of foreign hostages, he turned out to be after the money, just like some of the US favourite rebels. Since his brigade used to be supported directly by the Muslim Brotherhood, Abu Khalid’s closer ties with the Nusra Front might be also a consequence of the warm relationship between one of the major regional sponsor of the Brotherhood, the Qatari royal family, and the al-Qaʿidah Syrian affiliate.

In response to this pragmatic interpretation of a jihadist behaviour, some would argue that “radical” Islamists tend to dissimulate their “true nature” in front of Westerners. This occurs in certain circumstances, but Abu Khalid was rather explicit in voicing his more controversial opinions (on the Kurds, for example) and, once, he even admitted having smuggled foreign fighters (muhajirin) into Syria only to regret that when they joined IS later on. During my experience in Syria, in 2013, those who were passionate about the global jihad call did not dissimulate their views in front of me: in the same conversation, the above-mentioned Ansar as-Shariʿa member told me about his ambition to establish an Islamic emirate in Lebanon. In another occasion, an Ahrar ash-Sham chief stationed in al-Hawl (north-eastern Syria) was particularly vocal of his support for al-Qaʿida and its allies in Mali, who took over large swathes of this country in 2012.

In the case of Abu Khalid, the kidnapping business under the auspices of the Nusra Front has most likely upgraded his status, something that was not possible under the FSA. He is also fully aware of his limited options in northern Syria, where the Nusra Front has almost wiped out the FSA. Similarly to what numerous clan leaders did in Syria and Iraq, under the Baʿth first and then under IS, Abu Khalid sought protection and empowerment under the shadow of the umpteenth ruling party.  With regards to this, it is worth remembering that, in what was one of the few calculated moves during the occupation of Iraq, the US army banked on the expedience of some Sunni tribes  and prompt them to defect from al-Qaʿidah and join the Sahawat starting from 2005. They basically supplied local clans with money and guns to secure their mobilization power, being aware that al-Qaʿida had started challenging their interests (reconstruction contracts, illegal revenues). The Sahawat were largely successful in crashing the al-Qaʿidist insurgency between 2007 and 2008. However, Washington left them unemployed a few years later, when the American troops started withdrawing from Iraqi cities, and failed to integrate them in the Iraqi security forces due to the resistance of the pro-Iranian central government. The predictable result was that many of these former Sahwa members re-joined insurgent groups.

IS controls Sunni Arab-majority tribal regions between Iraq and Syria, but the international community has not prioritised the formation of anti-IS clan-based brigades. The initiatives against the Islamic State have been limited to US-sponsored training programs for minor Syrian “moderate” rebel groups, a US-backed coalition of Kurds, Arabs and Syriac Christians known as the Syrian Democratic Forces, whose credentials among the Arab population are yet to be verified, and the Russian intervention in support of those State actors (the Iranian and the Syrian regimes) whose crimes are partially responsible for the “radicalisation” of Sunni Arab paramilitary actors.

Numerous Iraqi tribes have remained neutral rejecting the US attempts to revive the Sahawat to fight against IS and they have their good reasons to do that in absence of long-term guarantees on their role in a post-conflict context. The US commitment to the stability of Iraq – and that of its allies who invaded and ravaged the country in 2003 – cannot be limited to ad hoc interventions conceived to address emergencies. An inclusive approach towards the tribes is a complicated issue, the world powers will need to negotiate it with the future Syrian transitional government and Baghdad, to prevent any indiscriminate form of State retaliation against those clan members who joined IS.

Jihadists like Abu Khalid and many Syrian and Iraqi tribal leaders who pledged allegiance (baʿyah) to the “caliphate” do not care about ideology, their loyalty can be easily “bought” with a combination of privileges and fear. In the south of Syria, in the eastern countryside of as-Swaydaʼ, for example, the Arab tribes loyal to IS are still allowed to make business with local arm dealers.

Pragmatism might be legitimately understood as a call to establish a new patronage system between central governments and tribal leaders, which is one of the aspects of patriarchal autocracy the Arab youth rose against in 2011, but the most progressive Syrian activists have long been sidelined by the militarisation of the uprising, thus being currently unable to destabilise the IS territories.

Humanised young jihadists

Speaking about the youth, it clearly plays a crucial role also among the IS militants. Counter-terrorism centres are obsessed about tracing the profiles of this “radicalised” youth. Nonetheless, it remains challenging to single out “abnormity” and condemn unilaterally a crowd of misfits that might resemble too well the large segments of “ordinarily” disillusioned youth in European societies. The Islamic State, after all, is a clear anti-system magnet for young Western foreign fighters. Even in Syria, the red lines between “moderate” and “radicalised” youth are particularly blurred because of a wide range of factors.

In 2011, during the early phase of the Syrian uprising, I met with a young Syrian musician in al-Hajar al-Aswad (southern Damascus). We were chatting about politics and he touched upon the figure of az-Zarqawi, praising him as a fearless mujahid who fought the Americans in Iraq. He was passionate about a musical genre that originated in the US, but this did not prevent him from admiring az-Zarqawi, who would have despised his love for haram music. In al-Hajar al-Aswad, and in Syria in general, many young men went to fight for their just cause in Iraq during the US occupation. If the musician had gone to Iraq in those years, he could have become an IS militant. Would he had shown no regret in giving up on Western music, the same music that earned him a significant audience in Syria? As noted by some “terrorism” scholars, behind the balaclava, a jihadist is still a troubled human being with multifaceted interests.

Recently, I read the story of a young Syrian citizen journalist from Deyr az-Zawr I happen to know personally, who saw his three best friends joining IS and, despite that, he kept meeting them secretly for a chat over a cigarette from time to time. He still saw them as his friends, being aware that the reasons why they started fighting for IS were only partially ideological. They were given weapons, started earning a salary and found their own destructive redemption from the failure of the Syrian uprising they took part in. However, they were not ready to spend the rest of their lives under the “caliphate” and, later on, they managed to flee Syria.

The journalist is now “exiled” in Turkey, fearing an arrest at the hand of IS. He is deeply opposed to the militant group, but he equally rejects the Russian airstrikes on his city, which have resulted into the death of numerous civilians. In the end, even his friends could have remained trapped inside the country and been considered legitimate targets of the airstrikes.

On the contrary, the international powers are particularly expedite in tracing the above-mentioned red lines between “moderates” and “radicals” in the conviction that shelling the militant youths and their families will eradicate IS from the region. Their “civilised” response to the IS brutality is a merely military one. No one seems to take in consideration the diverse array of motivations that pushed each individual to join the “caliphate”, whether it was a voluntary choice and how they would act in times of peace.

Conclusion

IS is already running a State and, in spite of its propaganda, is arguably more interested in preserving its territories than conquering the whole world. The idea of opening a channel for negotiations with some components of this organisation is abhorred by the international community, even though world diplomats are accustomed to shake hands with a great deal of suite-dressed criminals. Therefore, the war on the Islamic State is about preserving a global order rather than an ethical one.

The leading assumption is that IS should not be normalised like any other violent State actor, even though it is already a de facto State. The paradox is that, at least in the Western circles, IS is often compared with a Nazi regime that must be destroyed to circumscribe its expansion, so actually with a fully fledged State entity. Let’s suppose IS was similar to Nazi Germany – an approximate parallelism for a set of reasons, including how it came into existence – then what leads us to believe that an uncompromising approach will limit the damages? If Nazi Germany had been split into factions to engage some of them in diplomatic talks and water down its regime’s ideology well before the war, Europe might have been spared millions of deaths. In particular, there is still a rich historical debate on how WWII could have been avoided and no agreement on a preemptive attack against Hitler as the only viable option. If the Treaty of Versailles (1919) was harsh on Germany upon the conclusion of WWI and it allowed Hitler to capitalise on social discontent, then post-Saddam Iraq has been harsh on the Baʿthists and it as allowed IS to capitalise on the grievances of Sunni Arabs. There is always room for learning from history.

On the contrary, when Putin hints at the use of nuclear warheads against IS, he reminds us of one of the worst ever epilogues of a conflict started under the motto of defending “freedom”. When the French Government feels entitled to enforce emergency laws and enhance surveillance tools, we are all losing the same “freedom” its jets claim to be fighting for in Syria and Iraq. Are we really willing to live in a police State for the sake of the illusion of eradicating IS – and what lies behind it – in a military confrontation?


Un dialogo con lo “Stato Islamico”?

di Andrea Glioti

Bombardare il sedicente Stato Islamico (IS) non può essere una soluzione, sul piano della sicurezza, socialmente e politicamente. La risposta dovrebbe essere basata invece su un approccio politico diversificato, a seconda del contesto, siriano o iracheno: un approccio mirato a creare un unico fronte anti-IS in Siria e un altro improntato al dialogo con alcuni componenti IS in Iraq. Al fine di contrastare gli ideali di questa organizzazione nel lungo termine, è anche necessario mettere in discussione la rappresentazione mainstream dei movimenti jihadisti sunniti e sottolineare i loro tratti umani e pragmatici.

Guerrafondai e spauracchi

Se avete avuto la sventurata idea di seguire le notizie negli ultimi mesi, avrete notato la rediviva isteria interventista che ha fatto seguito agli attacchi di Parigi. In pochi giorni i talk-show sono stati inondati di esperti (autoproclamatisi tali) fautori del presunto dovere morale occidentale di sconfiggere lo Stato Islamico.

Un nuovo spauracchio completamente funzionale è salito in scena, sicuramente più efficace dello spauracchio comunista della guerra fredda, in quanto IS è una perfetta incarnazione di alterità culturale, religiosa, sociale e ideologica rispetto allo zeitgeist dominante dell’Europa contemporanea. In altre parole, generalizzando, dichiarare guerra ai musulmani disoccupati di seconda/ terza generazione (e ai migranti in generale) mobilizzatisi sotto le spoglie del fanatismo religioso garantisce un gradimento di massa ben più ampio di una guerra contro il tuo vicino comunista, con il quale è probabile tu avessi in comune reddito ed etnia. Non solo, quando la guerra è contro IS, anche la Russia e gli Stati Uniti  condividono lo stesso letto (con le dovute divergenze).

Fare i guerrafondai contro IS riscuote più popolarità della guerra al “terrorismo” di George W. Bush: in seguito agli attentati dell’11 settembre, la Casa Bianca non era infatti riuscita a convincere i suoi critici che attaccare l’Afghanistan e l’Iraq avrebbe consolidato la sicurezza globale, poiché nessuno di questi due governi era coinvolto direttamente nel massacro del World Trade Center (nel caso dell’Iraq il casus belli venne completamente inventato). I seguaci di al-Baghdadi, invece, sono alquanto trasparenti nel rivendicare gli attacchi perpetrati e controllano uno Stato che nessuno osa riconoscere. Agli occhi di molti europei, la coalizione guidata dagli Stati Uniti, la Francia e la Russia stanno conducendo una guerra per difendere la loro “arte di vivere” (riprendendo le parole di Hollande) e i civili intrappolati in Siria non sono altro che vittime collaterali per assicurarsi che i teenager europei tornino ad assistere ai loro concerti in sicurezza.

Sul piano della sicurezza stessa, una risposta incentrata esclusivamente sui bombardamenti non può funzionare. Anche in caso si decida di inviare delle truppe via terra, l’ Iraq e l’Afghanistan servono da monito sulla sopravvivenza dei movimenti di resistenza a dispetto della presenza di occupanti miltarmente avanzati. In Europa, la replica ai raid aerei continueranno a essere gli attentati e gli attacchi dei cosiddetti lupi solitari non cesseranno certo con il crollo del “califfato”. Nel post-IS, i campi di addestramento dei militanti verranno facilmente allestiti altrove, come è sempre accaduto. Un circolo vizioso in cui la retorica dell’anti-terrorismo nutre i trafficanti d’armi piuttosto che garantire sicurezza.

Il contesto siriano: la priorità di risolvere il conflitto

IS non è visto come un’organizzazione autoctona in Siria, la leadership è irachena e molti siriani lo paragonano a una forza occupante. La sua ascesa è stata resa possibile dall’escalation militare della rivoluzione siriana e non sarebbe stata possibile al di fuori di tale contesto. I vertici ne sono consapevoli, ed è per questo che stringono alleanze con le tribù locali, costringono gruppi di ribelli siriani ad arrendersi e giurare fedeltà (ba‘yah), e obbligano le donne siriane a sposare i loro combattenti. Si tratta di una vera e propria “sirianizzazione” della base di sostenitori. Se le potenze internazionali non riusciranno a unificare gli avversari di IS, potrebbe essere presto troppo tardi per sconfiggere socialmente tale entità, poiché sarà diventata abbastanza siriana da essere percepita come un movimento locale di resistenza contro Asad e i bombardamenti internazionali .

Di qui la necessità urgente di raggiungere un accordo di pace in Siria e rendere lo smantellamento dello Stato Islamico una priorità su entrambi i fronti (gruppi ribelli come gli al-qaʿidisti del Fronte Nusra hanno collaborato con IS in diverse occasioni, mentre il regime siriano ha concentrato le sue offensive sull’opposizione, riguadagnando legittimità internazionale in qualità di male minore di fronte alla crescita incontrastata del “califfato”). Un cessate il fuoco su scala nazionale passa per il superamento delle divergenze esistenti tra gli sponsor dell’opposizione armata (per esempio, gli Stati Uniti dovrebbero convincere la Turchia a permettere il coinvolgimento delle Unità di Protezione Popolare (YPG) curde nella lotta all’IS). Sul piano morale, la cacciata di Asad dovrebbe essere parte della soluzione, perché non si può pretendere che la gente getti le armi e accetti che l’icona della repressione contro cui è insorta resti al potere, dopo quasi cinque anni di sfollamenti e massacri. L’insurrezione soffocata nel sangue tra il 1976 e il 1982, quando Hafez al-Asad ordinò il massacro di molti meno civili, ha lasciato cicatrici profonde nel tessuto sociale siriano, come è chiaro a chiunque abbia conosciuto una famiglia che ha perso i suoi parenti in quegli anni; in alcune regioni la guerra è stata di fatto una recrudescenza di alcune ferite mai rimarginate.

Detto ciò, a giudicare dall’intervento russo, è evidente che cinque anni di atrocità non hanno spinto gli alleati di Asad ad abbandonarlo. Gli ultimi sviluppi militari sembrano inoltre preludere a una debacle dell’opposizione nel nord del Paese. Anche se implica una buona dose di realpolitik, la permanenza di Asad potrebbe essere momentaneamente accettata, a patto di accelerare la risoluzione del conflitto.

Tuttavia, la permanenza del raʼis dovrebbe essere controbilanciata da una serie di concessioni da parte del regime, come il rilascio dei prigionieri politici, l’archiviazione dei capi d’accusa di natura politica emessi nei confronti degli espatriati siriani e il coinvolgimento di tutti i cosiddetti gruppi “terroristici” nella fase di transizione, con l’eccezione dello Stato Islamico. Non si può infatti pretendere che l’opposizione accetti la permanenza di Asad e, allo stesso tempo, l’esclusione dal tavolo dei negoziati del Fronte Nusrah (possibilmente sotto le sembianze “presentabili” del suo alleato Ahrar al-Sham). Solo quando un accordo politico senza “esclusi” sarà finalizzato su scala nazionale, l’attenzione potrà essere spostata verso la formazione di un fronte coeso anti-IS.

Il contesto iracheno: rivolgersi ai ba’thisti

Il caso iracheno è diverso, IS è l’ultimo prodotto della resistenza sunnita jihadista all’invasione americana e al conseguente rafforzamento degli alleati iracheni dell’Iran. I seguaci di al-Baghdadi (precedentemente noti come seguaci di Abu Musʻab az-Zarqawi) sono stati attivi in ​​Iraq da più di dieci anni e qui godono di una base di sostegno più consolidata che in Siria. Persino il termine (Sahawat) utilizzato da IS per denigrare i suoi rivali jihadisti sunniti in Siria tradisce la natura irachena del movimento, in riferimento alle milizie tribali sunnite foraggiate dagli Stati Uniti per contrastare al-Qaʻidah durante l’occupazione.

In un certo senso, il “califfato” è il ritorno di ciò che Saddam Hussein e la guerra tra Iran e Iraq rappresentano nella memoria di alcuni arabi sunniti: il contenimento dell’espansionismo politico sciita. La presenza di numerosi ex-ufficiali baʻthisti iracheni ai vertici di IS (ai quali, in alcuni casi, sarebbe stata affidata la progettazione dell’efficiente apparato di sicurezza del “califfato”) dovrebbe ricordarci le componenti meno visibili di questa organizzazione. L’esercito dell’Ordine Naqshbandita – una milizia sufi in gran parte baʻthista, guidata dall’ex-braccio destro di Saddam ʻEzzat ad-Duri, e pertanto agli antipodi dottrinali con l’interpretazione salafita dell’Islam propria dell’IS – ha più volte collaborato con lo Stato Islamico.

Il rapporto tra la componente islamica e quella baʻthista di IS è problematico e non esente da conflitti interni, ma si potrebbe tentare di stabilire dei contatti con quest’ultima al fine di dividere l’organizzazione e aprire un dialogo politico. Sarebbe difficile convincere dei fanatici takfiriti a tollerare le altre comunità religiose, ma i baʻthisti sono spinti da calcoli politici: la loro cooperazione con Al-Qaʻidah in Iraq (AQI), sotto l’occupazione statunitense, è sempre stata un matrimonio d’interesse. Inoltre, tale relazione affonda le sue radici nell’islamizzazione pragmatica del regime di Saddam negli anni novanta, che aveva portato alla cooptazione dei movimenti islamici sunniti al servizio delle istituzioni senza rinunciare alla laicità baʻthista.

E’ così inconcepibile mettersi in comunicazione con questa componente di IS e cercare di compensare l’idiozia di Operazione Iraqi Freedom e le purghe anti-baʻthiste che hanno esacerbato le divisioni della società irachena nel corso degli ultimi 12 anni? In fondo, la storia è ricca di esempi di movimenti di resistenza (IRA, ETA) che sono stati ampiamente demilitarizzati attraverso una serie di compromessi.

Jihadisti e tribù sotto la bandiera del … pragmatismo

Credo sia anche giunto il momento di smettere di analizzare i jihadisti sunniti esclusivamente attraverso il prisma dell’ideologia religiosa, come se fosse l’unica forza motrice dietro la loro affiliazione a determinate fazioni. Ciò faciliterebbe inoltre l’identificazione di altri potenziali partner con cui avviare dei negoziati.

Nel 2013, mentre mi trovavo in Siria, ho avuto modo di conoscere Abu Khalid, un comandante jihadista di origine arabo-curda che stava combattendo nella cittadina nordorientale di Ras al-ʻAyn in una brigata dell’Esercito Siriano Libero (Esl) finanziata dai Fratelli Musulmani. Nel gennaio del 2013, quando si erano scontrati i ribelli e le Unità di Protezione del Popolo (Ypg) affiliate al Partito dei Lavoratori del Kurdistan (Pkk), Abu Khalid aveva issato orgogliosamente la bandiera Alaya Rengin del Kurdistan, desideroso di rassicurare i Curdi, a dispetto della battaglia che lo vedeva contrapposto a una fazione curda. A riferirmelo era stato un collega siriano privo di simpatie jihadiste.

In seguito, Abu Khalid aveva iniziato a mostrare un atteggiamento completamente diverso nei confronti dei diritti culturali dei Curdi. Un giorno di giugno, Abu Khalid era seduto nella stessa tenda dove avevo intavolato una discussione con un membro del gruppo fondamentalista Ansar ash-Shariʻa, il quale sosteneva che i Curdi non dovessero essere considerati un popolo distinto e l’arabo fosse una lingua divina (samawiyyah) intrinsecamente superiore al Kurmanji. Mi ero voltato verso Abu Khalid e gli avevo chiesto cosa ne pensasse. “Sono d’accordo con lui,” era stata la sua risposta.

In seguito, Abu Khalid ha concesso il suo sostegno militare (munasarah) al Fronte Nusrah, un gruppo notoriamente dedito a soffocare il pluralismo etno-religioso nella morsa del panislamismo, a conferma apparente del percorso di “radicalizzazione” comune a numerosi combattenti dell’opposizione o, nel suo caso, della natura utilitaristica del suo supporto iniziale per i diritti dei Curdi.

Tuttavia, quando ad Abu Khalid viene chiesto perché si sia schierato con la Nusrah, la dimensione pragmatica prevale su una devozione pressoché inesistente ai principi dogmatici di al-Qaʻidah (ciò che è noto come ʻaqidah in termini islamici). “Ho avuto a che fare con i vertici dell’Esercito Libero (supportati dagli USA), si sono tenuti la maggior parte dei soldi e a noi (combattenti) hanno detto: ʻArrangiatevi (dabbiru halkun)!ʼ La maggioranza di questi colonnelli sono finiti in Europa. Ho visto tanti di quei furti commessi da membri dell’Esl…Se solo fossero stati organizzati come Daʻish quando avevano preso il controllo dei pozzi petroliferi nel 2013, Assad se ne sarebbe già andato da tempo! Con la Jabhah (il Fronte Nusrah) è diverso: pagano ogni combattente 100$ al mese, oltre all’affitto di chi è sposato, e non rubano. A differenza dell’Esercito Libero, che è stato più volte infiltrato dal regime e dal Pkk, il loro apparato di sicurezza è solido,” questo è quanto mi ha detto Abu Khalid in una conversazione recente. Anche se le accuse di razzie non risparmiano solitamente nemmeno la Nusrah in Siria, il risentimento diffuso contro la corruzione delle fazioni “moderatamente” islamiche appoggiate dagli USA come il Fronte dei  Rivoluzionari di Siria ha di fatti aumentato la popolarità delle formazioni più radicali nel nord del Paese.

Indipendentemente dalla credibilità delle invettive di Abu Khalid – abbastanza comuni tra i gruppi dell’opposizione armata – ogni volta che ho avuto occasione di affrontare l’argomento, la sua apologia della Nusrah non è mai stata fondata sull’appello del gruppo al jihad globale, ma piuttosto su considerazioni pragmatiche (vale a dire, per esempio, su come il comportamento dell’Esl abbia rallentato il rovesciamento del regime di Asad). Da un po’ di tempo a questa parte, Abu Khalid è dedito a trarre profitto dal commercio di ostaggi stranieri, ciò che gli interessava era il denaro, paradossalmente, proprio come alcuni dei ribelli sostenuti da Washington. Considerando poi che la sua brigata era un tempo finanziata direttamente dai Fratelli Musulmani, i legami più stretti di Abu Khalid con la Nusrah potrebbero essere anche una conseguenza delle ottime relazioni consolidatesi tra la famiglia reale qatarina – uno dei maggiori sponsor regionali dei Fratelli – e la filiale siriana di al-Qaʻidah.

In replica a una simile interpretazione pragmatica del comportamento di un jihadista, c’è chi obietterebbe che i gruppi islamici “radicali” tendono a dissimulare la loro “vera natura” agli occhi degli osservatori occidentali. Ciò avviene senz’altro in alcune circostanze, ma Abu Khalid è sempre stato piuttosto esplicito nell’esprimere le sue opinioni più controverse (sui curdi, per esempio) e, una volta, ha persino ammesso di aver facilitato l’ingresso di combattenti stranieri (muhajirin) in Siria, per poi pentirsi delle sue azioni nel momento in cui questi si sono arruolati nello Stato Islamico. Durante la mia esperienza in Siria, nel 2013, coloro su cui faceva presa il messaggio del jihad globale non dissimulavano certo le proprie opinioni al mio cospetto: nella conversazione sopracitata, lo stesso membro di Ansar as-Shariʿa mi aveva parlato della sua ambizione di fondare un emirato islamico in Libano. In un’altra occasione, un leader di Ahrar al-Sham di stanza ad al-Hawl (nord-est della Siria) era stato particolarmente esplicito nel suo sostegno ad al-Qaʿidah e alleati in Mali, in seguito alla loro conquista di buona parte del Paese nel 2012.

Nel caso di Abu Khalid, il business dei sequestri sotto gli auspici della Nusrah ha molto probabilmente innalzato il suo status, cosa che non era possibile nelle fila dell’Esercito Libero. E’ anche pienamente consapevole delle sue opzioni limitate nel nord della Siria, dove gli al-qaʿidisti hanno quasi spazzato via l’Esl.

Analogamente a come si sono comportati numerosi capi clan tribali in Siria e in Iraq, prima sotto il partito Baʿth e poi sotto IS, Abu Khalid ha perseguito protezione e potere all’ombra dell’ennesimo ente governante. A questo proposito, vale la pena ricordare che, in una delle poche mosse calcolate durante l’occupazione dell’Iraq, l’esercito statunitense aveva fatto affidamento sull’opportunismo di alcune tribù sunnite e le aveva indotte a disertare al-Qaʿidah e unirsi alle Sahawat a partire dal 2005. In pratica, i clan locali erano stati armati e foraggiati con l’intento di assicurarsi il loro potere di mobilitazione, nella consapevolezza che al-Qaʿidah aveva già iniziato a ledere i loro interessi (contratti per la ricostruzione, introiti illegali). Le Sahawat erano in gran parte riuscite a sedare l’insurrezione al-qaʻidista tra il 2007 e il 2008. Tuttavia, Washington le aveva lasciate senza lavoro qualche anno più tardi, quando le truppe americane avevano iniziato a ritirarsi dalle città irachene, senza riuscire a integrarle nelle forze di sicurezza irachene a causa della resistenza del governo centrale filo-iraniano. Il prevedibile risultato è stato che molti di questi ex-miliziani delle Sahawat sono tornati nelle fila degli insorti.

Lo Stato Islamico controlla regioni tribali a maggioranza arabo-sunnita sia in Iraq che in Siria, ma la comunità internazionale non ha prioritizzato la formazione di brigate su base clanica per combattere tale organizzazione. Le iniziative si sono limitate a programmi americani di addestramento a beneficio di gruppi ribelli siriani “moderati” minoritari, una coalizione di curdi, arabi e cristiani siriaci nota come Forze Democratiche Siriane, anch’essa sostenuta dagli USA, le cui credenziali tra la popolazione araba sono ancora tutte da verificare, e infine l’intervento russo a sostegno degli stessi attori statali (il regime siriano e quello iraniano) i cui crimini sono in parte responsabili della “radicalizzazione” degli attori paramilitari arabo-sunniti.

Numerose tribù irachene sono rimaste neutrali respingendo i tentativi statunitensi di ricreare le Sahawat per combattere IS, e hanno le loro buone ragioni per farlo in assenza di garanzie di lungo termine sul loro ruolo in un contesto post-bellico. L’impegno degli USA per la stabilità dell’Iraq – e quello dei loro alleati che hanno invaso e devastato il Paese nel 2003 – non può essere limitato ad interventi ad hoc in situazioni d’emergenza. Un approccio inclusivo nei confronti delle tribù è una questione complessa, le potenze mondiali dovranno infatti negoziarlo con il futuro governo di transizione siriano e con Baghdad, onde evitare forme indiscriminate di ritorsione contro i membri del clan che si sono uniti allo Stato Islamico.

I jihadisti come Abu Khalid e molti dei leader tribali siriani e iracheni che hanno giurato fedeltà (baʿyah) al “califfato” non si preoccupano degli aspetti ideologici, la loro affiliazione può essere facilmente “comprata” con una combinazione di privilegi e terrore. Nel sud della Siria, nella campagna orientale di as-Swaydaʼ, ad esempio, alle tribù arabe alleate di IS viene ancora permesso di fare affari con i trafficanti d’armi locali.

Il pragmatismo potrebbe essere legittimamente interpretato come un appello a ristabilire un nuovo sistema clientelare tra governi centrali e leader tribali, che è uno degli aspetti dell’autocrazia patriarcale contro cui la gioventù araba era insorta nel 2011, ma gli attivisti siriani più progressisti sono stati da tempo marginalizzati dalla militarizzazione della rivolta, essendo così attualmente incapaci di destabilizzare i territori dell’IS.

Giovani jihadisti umani

Rimanendo in tema di giovani, questi giocano chiaramente un ruolo cruciale anche tra i militanti dello Stato Islamico. I centri antiterrorismo sono ossessionati dalla necessità di tracciare i profili di questa gioventù “radicalizzata”. Tuttavia, resta difficile individuare i tratti “anormali” e condannare unilateralmente una folla di disadattati che potrebbero assomigliare troppo bene a quelle ampie fasce di giovani europei “ordinariamente” disillusi. Lo Stato Islamico, dopo tutto, è un chiaro magnete anti-sistema per i giovani combattenti occidentali. Anche in Siria, le linee rosse tra giovani “radicalizzati” e “moderati” sono particolarmente offuscate a causa di una vasta gamma di fattori.

Nel 2011, durante la prima fase della rivoluzione, ho incontrato un giovane musicista siriano ad al-Hajar al-Aswad (sud di Damasco). Stavamo chiacchierando di politica e aveva accennato alla figura di az-Zarqawi, lodando le sue qualità di mujahid intrepido battutosi a difesa dell’Iraq ai tempi dell’occupazione americana. Era appassionato di un genere musicale che ebbe origine negli Stati Uniti, ma questo non gli impediva di ammirare az-Zarqawi, il quale avrebbe disprezzato la sua passione per tale musica haram. Ad al-Hajar al-Aswad, e in Siria in generale, molti giovani andarono a combattere per la loro giusta causa in Iraq durante l’occupazione statunitense. Se il musicista si fosse recato in Iraq in quegli anni, sarebbe potuto diventare un militante di IS. Davvero non avrebbe rimpianto l’abbandono dello stesso genere di musica occidentale che gli aveva assicurato un seguito significativo in Siria? Come notato da alcuni studiosi di “terrorismo”, dietro il passamontagna un jihadista è pur sempre un essere umano tormentato con molteplici interessi.

Di recente, ho letto la storia di un giovane cittadino giornalista siriano di Deyr az-Zawr, che ha visto i suoi tre migliori amici arruolarsi nell’IS e, nonostante ciò, ha continuato a incontrarli in segreto per una sigaretta in compagnia di tanto in tanto. Li vedeva ancora come i suoi amici, nella consapevolezza che le ragioni per cui si erano uniti allo Stato Islamico erano solo in parte ideologiche. Avevano ricevuto delle armi e uno stipendio, e avevano trovato la propria redenzione distruttiva dal fallimento della rivoluzione siriana a cui avevano partecipato. Ciononostante, non erano pronti a passare il resto della loro vita sotto il “califfato” e, in seguito, sono riusciti a fuggire dalla Siria.

Conosco di persona il giornalista, è attualmente “esiliato” in Turchia, il timore di un arresto per mano dell’IS gli impedisce di tornare. E’ profondamente contrario a tale organizzazione, tanto quanto agli attacchi aerei russi sulla sua città, che hanno causato la morte di molti civili. In fin dei conti, anche i suoi amici sarebbero potuti rimanere intrappolati all’interno del Paese ed essere considerati bersagli legittimi dei bombardamenti.

Al contrario, le potenze internazionali sono particolarmente celeri nel tracciare le sopracitate linee rosse tra “moderati” e “radicali”, nella convinzione che bombardare i giovani militanti e le loro famiglie sradicherà lo Stato Islamico dalla regione. La loro risposta “civilizzata” alla brutalità di IS è meramente militare. Nessuno sembra prendere in considerazione le varie motivazioni che hanno spinto ogni individuo ad aderire al “califfato”, se si è trattato di una scelta volontaria e come si comporterebbe in tempo di pace.

Conclusione

IS è già uno Stato funzionante e, a dispetto della sua propaganda, è probabilmente più interessato a preservare i suoi territori che conquistare il mondo intero. L’idea di aprire dei negoziati con alcuni componenti di questa organizzazione è aborrita dalla comunità internazionale, nonostante i diplomatici siano abituati a stringere la mano a un gran numero di criminali in giacca e cravatta. Pertanto, l’obiettivo della guerra allo Stato Islamico rimane la preservazione di un ordine globale piuttosto che quella di uno etico.

La supposizione principale è che IS non debba essere normalizzato come qualsiasi altro attore violento statale, anche se è già uno Stato de facto. Il paradosso è che, almeno nei circoli occidentali, lo Stato Islamico viene spesso paragonato a un regime nazista che deve essere distrutto per arrestarne l’espansione, quindi in realtà a un’entità statale pienamente formata. Supponiamo che IS sia simile al Terzo Reich – un parallelismo approssimativo per una serie di ragioni, tra cui le circostanze d’origine – cosa ci porta a ritenere che un approccio senza compromessi possa limitare i danni? Se la Germania nazista fosse stato spaccata in fazioni per coinvolgere alcune di queste in trattative diplomatiche e diluire l’ideologia del suo regime ben prima della guerra, l’Europa avrebbe potuto risparmiarsi milioni di morti. In particolare, vi è ancora un nutrito dibattito storico su come la Seconda Guerra Mondiale avrebbe potuto essere evitata, e nessun consenso sull’attacco preventivo contro Hitler come l’unica opzione praticabile. Se il Trattato di Versailles (1919) aveva messo in ginocchio la Germania al termine del primo conflitto mondiale e aveva permesso a Hitler di capitalizzare sul malcontento sociale, l’Iraq del dopo-Saddam è stato duro con i Baʿthisti e ha consentito a IS di capitalizzare sull’insoddisfazione degli arabi sunniti. C’è sempre modo di imparare dalla storia.

Al contrario, quando Putin allude all’utilizzo di testate nucleari contro IS, ci ricorda uno dei peggiori epiloghi di sempre di un conflitto iniziato sotto il motto della difesa della “libertà”. Quando il governo francese si sente autorizzato a introdurre le leggi d’emergenza e potenziare gli strumenti di sorveglianza, stiamo tutti perdendo la stessa “libertà” in nome di cui vengono dispiegati i suoi aerei caccia in Siria e in Iraq. Siamo davvero disposti a vivere in uno Stato di polizia solo per illuderci di sradicare lo Stato Islamico – e ciò che vi giace dietro – in un confronto militare?

Categories: Al-Jazeera, Iraq, jihadismo, Medio Oriente, Siria, Syria, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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