Posts Tagged With: ISIS

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 The Al-Jazeera text is followed by the full (unpublished) original English version.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?

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Religion is not Archeology (by Daniel Martin Varisco, March 2015)

Middle East Muddle

Unless you are hibernating without a cellphone or internet in Siberia, you have heard a lot about ISIS, a.k.a. the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and its “IS”-related acronyms, in the news for the past year, even on Anthropology News.  People who thought the caliphate was something created for the Disney movie Aladdin have been confronted with bearded zealots brandishing kalashnikovs and waving black flags, chopping off heads for Youtube, burning a man in a cage, throwing gays to their death from a roof, raping women, and just about every horrific medieval act a sadistic horror movie might film for your neighborhood screen.  Only these scenarios are happening in real time to real people and generating real questions about the religion these individuals practice.   So what is the religion of a self-proclaimed caliph who is called al-Baghdadi or the Western convert rapper turned executioner Jihadi John.  Are they Muslims?  Are they really Muslims?  Is their Islam the trueIslam?

The ongoing debate over the semantic conundrum “Is ISIS Islamic?” or even “Is ISIS very Islamic?” brings up a wider point for reflection.  To the extent we isolate a concept like religion from the cultural context in which it is practiced and through which it has evolved, we fail to understand something about human behavior as such.  We humans and our primate ancestors are social animals; we have no choice but to get along with each other on some level, which gets more and more difficult the larger our numbers and groupings become.  Thus, it should not be a surprise, as both history and anthropology have shown in detail, that every social group, every society, every tribe, every people, every nation must have rules of behavior.  The glue that is essential for all groups at any level is what we often call morality, the rules and ideals of what is right or wrong, proper or improper.  No human society has ever been encountered, except in fiction, that does not have a moral order; our ape cousins share this essential glue, even if it does not seem to many people to have as much adhesive power.  If you think only humans are moral, listen to what Frans de Waal has to say before you read on.

Leonard Woolley, Photo Courtesy Wikimedia Commons
Leonard Woolley, Photo Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Almost half a century ago the historian Marshall Hodgson proposed separating the religious faith of Islam with all its doctrinal trappings from the mundane cultural context in which it is practiced, the latter being the “Islamicate.”  This neologism, useful as it can be, never really caught on, but it points to the essential problem of having to decide what exactly should be considered religious.  The danger in such a dichotomy is that the religious faith is reduced to its textual tradition and ritual practices, while anything that looks political or cultural is something else.  This is first and foremost a semantic danger, the downside of inventing a term like religion that can fit a wide variety of social moral systems but has been filtered through the major surviving monotheisms.  Our intellectual father Edward Tylor recognized this in expanding the notion of religion to fit issues of belief and ritual that did not fit the prevailing view of either the dominant Christian view or enlightenment rational emphasis of his day.  Yet, the notion that what we label religion could be so integral to the overall social system that it cannot adequately be separated out haunts us to this day.

Let me propose a telling metaphor to help us begin to dig our way out of this whole problem.  Religion is not archaeology.  When we study something we call we religion, it is not the same as excavating a site and looking for the first settlement.  We should baulk at the belief that we can dig our way back through layers of recoverable textual interpretation and arrive at something that can be labeled authentic.  When it comes to religion, all history is fill.  No magical time machine will allow us to go back and talk to Moses, Jesus, Muhammad, St. Anselm, Al-Ghazali, Jonathan Edwards, the Mad Mullah or even Joseph Smith.  Even if we did have such an opportunity to do retro-ethnography, we would only be able to have a sense of what they said and did.  We can never reach a point at which the real, authentic or pure religion is found. The only real Islam, for example, is what someone thinks is real, because that sense of what we call religion is woven into the fabric of living a life.

To the extent that ISIS or the proudly fundamentalist Baptist church I grew up in claims it is going back to the practices of the time of Muhammad or Jesus, we need to apply the right dating technique.  Such claims are surface finds, usually made without a sound understanding of the limited knowledge we do have of the past and just as often challenged and refuted by other individuals in the same so-called religion.  The only thing real about anything we call a religion is what is being said and done in a specific social, cultural, political and economic context.  Just as there is extraordinary diversity of all these interrelated variables, there is no ultimate truth apart from what is ultimately in the minds of the person claiming truth.  So the next time someone tells you this is what a group like ISIS is, don’t throw up your hands in despair at their inhumane terrorism, don’t throw in the towel of our academic tool chest, and do take up the trowel to dig through the fill as fill.

Daniel Martin Varisco is President of the American Institute for Yemeni Studies.  He is Research Professor of Social Science at Qatar U.  Since 1978 he has conducted ethnographic and historical research in Yemen, Egypt and Qatar.  His latest book is Reading Orientalism: Said and the Unsaid (U of Washington Press, 2007).  He currently serves as editor of Contemporary Islam and Editor-in-Chief of CyberOrient (www.cyberorient.net).

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Dr. Tim “Asad” Anderson: the abuse of academia to spread out propaganda

SYRIA-CONFLICT-AUSTRALIA

 

Part I

 

My name is Andrea Glioti, I’m the journalist who intervened at Dr. Tim Anderson’s talk at Sydney UNI “Why I went to Syria” on March 6 (2014), an event promoting a blatant apology of the Syrian regime under the pretext of “counter-information”. A professor of political economy, Tim Anderson (https://www.facebook.com/timand2037?fref=ts) has been part of a delegation led by the Wikileaks Party and the Asadist activist group “Hands Off Syria”, which paid its homage to the Syrian regime during a visit of solidarity in December 2013. This is a response to some of the absurdities I heard about the Syrian conflict and, apart from the single case of Anderson, it addresses several points continuously raised by the so-called “anti-imperialist left”. It would be actually fair to rename this ideological stubbornness on Syria as a Stalinist-Soviet approach, if we were between the 1950s the 1960s, Anderson and his likes would be probably denying the Hungarian and Czech revolts ever took place. If we were in the Spanish Civil War, they would probably defend the Soviet decision to crush the anarchists. As long as a government sits in the anti-American camp (no matter the hypocrisy of Syrian foreign policies in this regard), it doesn’t really matter if it tortures leftists in its own prisons. Dr Anderson and his likes claim to hold the truth on what’s going on in Syria, this truth could be sum up in a Western-backed plot denying any sort of agency to the Syrians who took the streets in 2011. In their eyes, they’re only puppets, they would have never risen up after more 40 years of authoritarianism , they needed the Zionist-Salafi-American trust to give them a green light.
I’m an Arabic speaking Middle Eastern politics graduate, who has been covering Syria from inside the country for 10 months between 2011 and 2013 and I spent the rest of the time between Turkey and Lebanon, mainly in the border regions, where most of the Syrian refugees are located. I’ve worked with a wide range of media including “corporate” and “leftist” magazines (The New Internationalist, the German TAZ, the Swiss-German WOZ fall in the second category), being a freelancer, therefore I don’t even fit into the category of mainstream corporate media. Having said this, the sources Dr Anderson relied upon during his presentation could hardly be considered “independent” sources of information, despite his efforts to present them as such: Russia Today, in the words of Putin, reflects the views of the Kremlin, just like the Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar reflects the views of the pro-Syrian (regime) 8 March coalition. Among the sources quoted there was also Mother Agnès de la Croix, a Palestinian-Lebanese nun closely related to the Asad regime (http://pulsemedia.org/2012/08/21/dead-journalists-and-sister-agnes-mariam/) and the French far-right (http://vicinoriente.wordpress.com/2012/05/20/la-monaca-di-assad/). Anderson’s talk was covered by the Iranian Press TV: if the station’s anti-US biases were combined with a minimum degree of professionalism, then my intervention wouldn’t have been censored, after I raised several critical points Anderson intentionally ignored.
Notwithstanding the political biases of Western and Gulf media [the focus on Syria in contrast with how Bahrain has been overlooked and the role played by certain American media in advocating war on Iraq in 2003, despite the lack of any evidence on its chemical arsenal, just to quote two examples], the solution is not to take at face value the version of events provided by pro-Syrian regime sources to come up with a credible alternative narrative. Journalism is about verifying facts, a strong ground-driven knowledge of the context you’re talking about, a reliable network of local contacts and, ideally, some fluency in the local language (Arabic): all these aspects were totally absent in Dr Anderson’s conference.

While retaining the right to be skeptical about the Western media’s coverage of Syria, everyone should bear in mind that the main reason of the conflicting news reports coming from this country is the restrictive context journalists are forced to operate in: while based in Damascus in 2011, I had to pretend being a student to avoid being monitored 24/h by security forces, my Brazilian colleague Germano Assad has been detained in confinement for five days under the only accusation of being a journalist. I have been denied access to Syria in 2012 and told I was not welcome there anymore on the grounds of the interviews I conducted with local political dissidents. I’m sure this was the reason, because of the content of the questions posed to my colleague Assad under interrogation. This is just an idea of what you have to endure as a Western journalist, if you’re not there on an official parade organized through government press visas. It goes without saying that Syrian journalists “enjoy” a much worse treatment: one of my personal acquaintances had to leave Syria recently, after having been tortured and put on trial for “working without a license” and “spreading lies”. Let us not forget WHY it is so difficult to work in Syria and inform about the ongoing events.

Going back to Anderson’s talk, first of all, you don’t claim to show support for one “nation”, if you only sat for pastries with Asad, that’s not showing solidarity with the “Syrian people”, that’s an official delegation voicing its support for a Government.
During my stay in Syria I had the chance to walk around without any escort, both in Damascus in 2011 and in the province of Hasakah in 2013: this clearly makes the difference from an official visit to Damascus (actually, to a certain extent, it makes the difference even in comparison to some other journalists, who have only been escorted into Syria by rebel brigades). As a matter of fact, Anderson didn’t meet with anyone from the opposition, neither from the armed factions nor from the civil peaceful movements (and there are lots of peaceful activists still active in Syria… http://www.syriauntold.com/en) .

There was a lot of talk on US imperialism and Zionism: could Anderson provide any actual evidence that the US have been willing to overthrow Asad? All the red lines have been crossed (including the use of chemical weapons), three years have passed and I haven’t seen any intervention. If they really wanted, they could have done it much earlier. This picture of Asad as a staunch anti-American also stands in contradiction with the rapprochement between Washington and Damascus in 2010, marked by the appointment of ambassador Robert Ford. The position of the US on the Syrian events has been largely stumbling, due also to the fact that they didn’t receive any green light from the Israelis. Did Anderson bother to listen to Rami Makhluf- Bashar al-Asad’s cousin and one of the most influential business figures in Syria- when the revolt started in 2011? He said clearly that the Israeli security was dependent on the permanence of the Asad regime.
If you brand the Asad regime as an anti-Zionist vanguard, then you probably disregard some historical facts: no offensive was launched against Israel since the October war in 1973; Hafez al-Asad’s Syria was willing to reach a peace agreement with the Israelis in 2000, on condition of the return of the occupied Golan Heights and a renewed access to the Sea of Galilee, hence a pragmatic approach concerned about national sovereignty rather than the Palestinian cause; Palestinians were slaughtered by far-right Lebanese Christian militias in cooperation with Syrian troops in the massacre of Tel Zaatar during the Lebanese civil war; the PLO has been at odds with the Syrian regime for a long time, since the latter was not willing to jeopardize its national interests for the sake of the Palestinian cause (See what the socialists have to say about this http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2000/06/assa-j16.html). I would also suggest Anderson and his likes read more on the so-called Red Line agreement between Israel and Syria during the Lebanese civil war, a deal brokered by Kissinger to share regions of influence (http://www.merip.org/mer/mer236/syria-lebanon-brotherhood-transformed#_5_).
The Israeli officials maintained an extremely low profile position on Syria during the events and why on earth should they have pushed for the removal of Asad, if he kept the Syrian-Israeli border quiet for forty years? They look more worried about a new unknown diverse galaxy of rebel groups controlling the border, whereas they know exactly what to expect from Asad. Have a look at what Noam Chomsky had to say about the Israeli stance on Syria (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9MQeGHoiPj4&feature=youtu.be Is he too part of the corporate media?): he clearly points at the fact that, if the Israelis wanted to support the opposition, they could have just opened another front on the Golan. Such a move would have weakened the Syrian army by opening a new front in the South: a much less costly option to support the armed opposition than an open scale offensive on Damascus. But nothing like this happened and Anderson still define it as a regime from the “Resistance” axis.

Until now, the Syrian regime is enforcing a devastating siege on the Yarmuk Palestinian refugee camp, because part of its inhabitants joined the rows of the opposition. I have been collecting evidence of the first anti-regime demonstrations in Yarmuk on my blog since June 2011 (in Italian https://mabisir.wordpress.com/2011/06/28/2-blogging-five-months-of-revolution-inside-syria-5-6-june-2011-golan-to-yarmuk-palestinians-joining-the-syrian-uprising/), when Palestinian protesters were shot at for chanting against the exploitation of the Naksa day at the hands of Ahmad Jibril’s PFLP-GC: in that case, the demonstrators voiced their indignation, after several residents of the camp were literally “thrown” in front of the Israeli rifles at the border in order to divert the attention from the Syrian uprising. Khaled Bakrawi, a Palestinian activist from Yarmuk, was killed under torture in the Syrian prisons in September 2013: he took part in the Naksa march and was outspoken about the way the Syrian regime had exploited the fervor of the Palestinian youth, despite having been himself wounded by the Israelis at the border (http://budourhassan.wordpress.com/2013/09/15/death-under-torture-in-syria-the-horrors-ignored-by-pacifists/).
I personally know several Palestinian leftist dissidents unknown to the media who had to leave Syria or ended up in its jails, but I cannot name them, as it might affect their upcoming trials or their return to Syria in the future. One of the most famous ones, Salameh Kaileh, a marxist Palestinian (http://links.org.au/node/2841), had to flee to Jordan after having been arrested and detained in 2012. Was he an Islamist too? Perhaps a Zionist?
Has Anderson ever read how the Palestinian anarchist Budour Hassan has totally debunked the claims of those who portrait Damascus as a champion of the Palestinian cause (http://budourhassan.wordpress.com/2012/07/22/analysis-the-myth-of-palestinian-neutrality-in-syria/)? What about the experience of Omar ‘Aziz, a Syrian anarchist who returned to his country upon the outbreak of the uprising to help organizing the first local revolutionary committees in Barzeh, which are considered “some of the most promising and lasting examples of non-hierarchical self organization” (http://tahriricn.wordpress.com/2013/08/23/syria-the-life-and-work-of-anarchist-omar-aziz-and-his-impact-on-self-organization-in-the-syrian-revolution/)? He died because of a heart attack in February 2013, after having been detained for three months in the Adra prison. During his talk, Anderson mentioned a visit to Adra, blaming the “radical Islamists” for the constant shelling, but I doubt he ever asked about whom is detained in the local prison, didn’t he?

A comparison with Afghanistan and its pre-Taliban empowerment of rural classes was made in the introduction and Anderson repeatedly labeled the Syrian regime a “socially inclusive” Government. This means he didn’t even bother to check the map of the areas controlled by the opposition: basically a wide portion of the countryside is in the hands of the rebels. Why? Because the uprising was more popular among the rural outcasts, namely those who have been impoverished by Bashar al-Asad’s shift towards neoliberalism and those who have been always marginalized under the Ba’th, like the Kurds living in the Northern countryside (See another Syrian socialist perspective on the “inclusiveness” of the regime’s economic policies http://www.internationalviewpoint.org/spip.php?article3380). Although it wouldn’t be objective to argue that the social gap in Syria was as wide as the Egyptian one, for example, the Syrian case is remote from “social inclusiveness”, it looks more like an economy controlled by a gang of affiliates and tycoons like Rami Makhluf, who are the antithesis of social justice.
Anderson depicted the uprising in Aleppo as led by religious fundamentalists, but he didn’t mention at all that a vast segment of the urban classes who sided with the regime are actually part of the Syrian bourgeoisie, epitomized by Aleppo’s traders. Did the so-called “anti-imperialist left” embrace a moral struggle to defend the urban upper classes against peasants, on the basis of the length of the beards of some of these peasants, who are homogeneously branded as “Islamists”? In July 2011, I visited a group of metalworkers in their workshop in Qadam (Southern Damascus), they were all taking part to the protests, one of them was a Syrian in his twenties with a degree in computer science he was never able to use: his father passed away and he had to seal shawarma machines to cover the expenses of his young brother living with him. This young graduate was also a hip hop singer from the group Refugees of Rap and we recorded a track together called “The Age of Silence” (Zaman as-Samt) (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=umQ3xGj4E2Y), which deals with the drive behind the protests. Is the “anti-imperialist left” supposed to empathize with the demands of this kind of marginalized urban youth or to side with the ruling classes?

Was the regime “socially inclusive” towards 2 to 4 million Kurds, who are mostly secular minded? Not at all. In 2013, I’ve spent five months in the province of Hasakah, a region affected by chronic poverty, despite its natural resources. The history written by the Ba’th is made up of racist Arab settlement policies confiscating wide shares of Kurdish lands in Hasakah (the so-called al-Hizam al-Arabi, the Arab Belt policy). The regime has also abided by a census conducted in 1962, who stripped off the Syrian citizenship thousands of Syrian Kurds. Even though the Kurdish regions are rich of oil, all the refineries were built in Homs and Banyas to impede the economic empowerment of rural peripheries.
During Anderson’s talk, I heard him praising “elections” and “pluralism” under the Ba’th and I confront this with the story of one of my close acquaintances in Hasakah, whose nails have been removed under torture on the grounds of its affiliation to the Yekiti Kurdi Parti. Is this the pluralism he’s talking about? Or is this pluralism about the Minister of Reconciliation Ali Haidar, the secretary general of the Syrian Social Nationalist Party (SSNP), that Anderson mentioned in the ridiculous attempt to provide evidence that other political forces are tolerated inside the Ba’thist government? Is Anderson aware that from 2005 until 2012, despite the dissident history of Antoun Saadeh’s party, its Damascene branch has been part of the National Progressive Front established by the Ba’th to create an umbrella of loyal parties behind the facade of pluralism? Is he aware that Ali Haidar has recently endorsed the candidacy of Bashar al-Asad for the upcoming presidential elections? I personally know some SSNP members, who quit the party, after they realized to which extent it had become involved in the recruitment of pro-government militias (shabbiha) in 2011.

As I said during my intervention at the talk, I attended several demonstrations both in Damascus and in the suburbs of the capital in 2011: I heard no sectarian slogans, saw children and women taking part to the uprising and witnessed live fire opened on demonstrators by security forces. Peaceful protesters were even beaten up in front of my eyes as soon as July 2011 in the Old City (in Italian https://mabisir.wordpress.com/2011/07/27/6-blogging-five-months-of-revolution-inside-syria-in-italiano-proteste-nel-centro-di-damasco-se-rimaniamo-fino-a-domattina-saremo-mezzo-milione-27-luglio-2011/), in the center of Damascus. My colleague Germano Assad has been prevented by government supporters from filming this demonstration, he had to escape after they started shouting at him: “This is not Syria!”. This is just an example of the state of denial some regime supporters live in, when it comes to recognizing the occurrence of peaceful protests: one of the attendants of Anderson’s talk, a Syrian who claimed to have lived in the Old City, insisted he never saw any protest in that part of Damascus. The aim is to deny protests ever took place, then to deny massacres occurred (as this was what Anderson’s conference was all about): it reminds me of the attitude of Holocaust’s deniers, or that of those Lebanese Phalangists who assert their party never slaughtered Palestinians in Sabra and Shatila. No matter the extent of evidence and accounts you gather, they will keep denying. In the end, their angle of view is identical to the one adopted by the Syrian State television: I remember very well the cameramen of al-Ikhbariyya filming the empty streets of Barzeh (Damascus) patrolled by security forces, while they were perfectly aware that a demonstration was going on a few blocks away.

I used to know personally one of the peaceful protesters who were chased by regime supporters in that occasion in the Old City: he died in 2013, after taking up weapons to fight the regime in Aleppo. Should we consider him as a terrorist as well? On which moral ground are we denying protesters the right to take up arms? One of the points raised during Anderson’s talk was that protesters were indeed armed since the beginning of the revolt. This was definitely the case in some regions, like Idlib, where demonstrators from Jisr ash-Shughur took up weapons to defend themselves as early as June 2011: I wrote about it and I criticized the way some Western media denied the presence of armed elements (http://www.majalla.com/eng/2012/04/article55230561), but I don’t understand why Syrians should be condemned for having resorted to violence against a brutal security apparatus.

 

Part II

 

The main argument used by Anderson to advocate support for the Syrian regime was the stereotypical juxtaposition between an allegedly secular government and a radical Islamist opposition. When I stressed the genuine roots of the Syrian uprising, the only answer Anderson could provide was: “Well, I don’t deny there have been mistakes committed by the police (what a nice euphemism for forty years of “mistakes”), but could you name one secular/non Islamist brigade in the opposition?” The premise of such response is that, as long as they’re Islamists, it’s perfectly fine to kill them. Islamists have been on the Middle Eastern “stage” for almost one century, they’re still there despite what happened in Hama, but Anderson (and numerous other Islamophobic “analysts”) still perceive them as a cancer implanted by Western agendas to be uprooted with violence. I wonder whether Anderson has ever argued the same about Hamas and Hezbollah on their resistance against Israel, weren’t they to be condemned on the grounds of being Islamist forces? If the West was to keep looking at Hezbollah through the lens of its original plan for the establishment of an Islamic republic in Lebanon and the abductions of foreign civilians carried out in the ’80s by the party’s first embryos, no one would have imagined to see the Shi’a militia accepting its current role in the Lebanese electoral system. The same goes for the recent prospects for US negotiations with the Talibans in Afghanistan, which were completely unforeseeable after 9-11. Then, why are we to rule out the possibility that some of the jihadist groups fighting in Syria today might change their position and accept to engage in parliamentarian politics later on?
What about the Iraqi resistance under American occupation? Has Anderson paid attention to the fact that most of the insurgents were actually jihadists and many of them are currently fighting against the Syrian regime? Are they to be considered “fallen heroes of anti-imperialists” suddenly turned into “NATO-backed mercenaries”, even though nothing changed in their ideological background?

Furthermore, Anderson made no reference whatsoever to what has been written on the ties between Damascus and a wide range of Islamist Sunni militant groups previously active in Lebanon and Iraq, now fighting on the side of the Syrian opposition, including Fatah al-Islam (http://wikileaks.org/gifiles/docs/214642_analysis-for-edit-syria-throws-fatah-al-islam-under-the-bus-.html) and Ghuraba’ ash-Sham (http://www.thenational.ae/thenationalconversation/comment/radicals-are-assads-best-friends). It was also completely omitted the fact that the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS), the militia responsible of the worst atrocities committed in Syria in the name of jihadism, has actually spent more time fighting other rebel factions than the regime and its headquarters are rarely targeted by air raids. There has been plenty of accusations from different political and military factions with regards to the ties between Damascus and ISIS ( https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=508278592619820&set=a.473931262721220.1073741828.473917376055942&type=1&theater, https://twitter.com/JadBantha/status/421263028978343936/photo/1, http://hawarnews.com/index.php/component/content/article/43-2013-02-24-21-16-12/7835-2013-11-13-12-04-59, http://claysbeach.blogspot.com.au/2014/01/bashar-al-jihad-is-isis-child-of-regime.html), whose rise perfectly suits the Syrian State media’s relentless efforts to portray the uprising as an Islamist one since its early phases. During my stay in Syria in 2013, I gathered local witness accounts on Ahmad Muhammad “Abu Rami”, the former Syrian military intelligence chief in Rmaylan (North-Eastern Syria), who allegedly joined the rows of the al-qa’idist Jabhat an-Nusra in November 2012. I also spoke with a former Syrian security official in Ras al-‘Ayn, who confirmed me how easily certain rebel brigades were infiltrated by figures known for their ties with the regime.
In addition to this, Anderson failed to mention how the regime granted amnesty to some of the top-leaders of the Islamist opposition back in May 2011 (including for example the Islamic Army’s Zahran ‘Allush), a few months after the outbreak of the uprising, in a move which could hardly be seen as “coincidental”, as it contributed to the sectarian drift of the revolt.

This is not meant to say that the Syrian regime and the Islamist hardliners share the same agenda and the latter ones do not aim at overthrowing the government; it also remains challenging to evaluate the truthfulness of certain reports, even when they’re built on intelligence sources, but we should bear in mind that they are often as credible as the reports putting the blame exclusively on the Gulf for the rise of radical Sunni groups. What is unquestionable, in my opinion, is the completely misleading portrait of Damascus as a champion in the struggle against Islamism in the light of its historical connections with Islamist networks.
These historical connections include the Syrian support for Hamas, Hizbullah, the Amal Movement (a group established with the explicit purpose to crush Lebanese communists), the Palestinian Islamic Jihad and several other Islamist groups. If the Syrian regime was a promoter of secularism in the region, then it should have restricted its support to secular anti-Zionist militant groups. If the Syrian regime were secular, then it shouldn’t allow Lebanese and Iraqi Shi’a militants to fight on its side against Sunnis, or did Islamism suddenly become an exclusively Sunni phenomenon? If the Syrian regime were secular, it wouldn’t have supported the ethnic “cleansing” (tathir, in the words recorded on video of one of the perpetrators, https://now.mmedia.me/lb/en/nownews/pro-regime-militant-speaks-of-cleansing-banias) of Sunnis in Bayda and Baniyas in May 2013. If the Syrian regime were secular, the Constitution wouldn’t prevent a Christian from becoming the president of the republic until now just like it wouldn’t state that “Islamic jurisprudence (fiqh) is a fundamental source of legislation.” (http://www.al-bab.com/arab/docs/syria/syria_draft_constitution_2012.htm). If the Syrian regime were secular, Alawis wouldn’t dominate the intelligence branches to the extent that their coastal dialect is mocked in every single joke on the security forces.
Having said that, I honestly don’t understand the point of defending a regime on the ground of its alleged secularism, if we take a look at how history is rich of examples of authoritarian secular rule such as the Reign of Terror in post-revolutionary France, Kemalist Turkey and the Soviet Union.

Another aspect of the rise of Islamist factions in the opposition Anderson and his likes fail to grasp is where “money and guns” come from or, to put it clearly, they know where they come from, but they consider this an outcome of the Islamist ideology of all the insurgents. They seem to ignore the reality of those fighters who had to turn to an outward version of Islamism to catalyse financial and military support: this was the case of the Farouq Brigades from Homs, that quickly became the equivalent of a franchise capable of attracting Qatari funds and, for this reason, it started to attract a wide range of groups under its name (http://www.arab-reform.net/sites/default/files/empowering%20the%20democratic%20resistance.pdf). This didn’t mean there was an Islamist unified vision among all the groups gathered under the Farouq brand, whose Islamist outlook might well have been as pragmatic as the Salafi-looking beard grown by the Farouq’s young commander Abdul-Razzaq Tlass, upon his rise to fame. During Anderson’s talk, when I mentioned the Farouq Brigades as an example of a non-Islamist group, I probably failed to make clear that this was not meant to claim that they are secular, but that their Islamist facade has been pragmatically motivated rather than related to an uncompromising commitment to the establishment of an Islamic state. It is the same pragmatism which led Hezbollah to accept funds from Qatar – a State with whom the party could hardly share any political and religious identity – for the reconstruction of war-ravaged Lebanon following the Israeli aggression in 2006. It is the same pragmatism which saw Hamas, on the other hand, receiving Iranian funds, regardless of their political and religious affiliation with the Muslim Brotherhood.
As the Syrian conflict kept growing in intensity, securing funds became a crucial factor behind the mushrooming of Islamist hardline factions, in comparison with the initial “low cost” peaceful phase almost void of sectarian drifts. In 2013, I spoke with a Syrian journalist who visited the Eastern Ghuta (Damascus) between March and April and he reported to me how Free Syrian Army soldiers had a daily limit of around 30 bullets (the figure might be higher, but the point was that their ammunition was limited), whereas the Islamic Front could count on unlimited ammunition. This obviously led to an increased number of fighters joining the ranks of the Islamist factions. In June 2013, I travelled towards al-Hul (Southern al-Hasakah) on a truck driven by a Kurdish rebel fighting on the side of ISIS and Ahrar ash-Sham: he kept joking about his beard and how he had to grow it to be accepted among jihadists, while promising to go back drinking arak as soon as the war was over. The umpteenth confirmation of how pragmatism was often a priority at the expense of the ideological drive.

As a matter of fact, there are few groups with a distinct leftist stance within the rows of the opposition: one of these exceptions are the recently formed Factions of the People’s Liberation (Fasa’il Taharrur ash-Sha’b https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=sR5wcCzLyzo), set up in Duma in March 2014. These groups saw the light in the explicit attempt to counter both the regime and the most obscurantist forces of the opposition, but their capabilities are clearly limited due to lack of funds.
Anderson thinks he can wave the banner of anti-imperialism from the pulpit of his lectures in Australia, but he doesn’t seem to care about the fate of those real Syrian anti-imperialists, who are perishing on the ground without receiving a single cent from the Gulf monarchies. It would have been enough to use the funds wasted on the Wikileaks delegation’s trip to Damascus to relief the budget of the Factions of the People’s Liberation, if the aim was to support popular resistance, but Anderson’s farce is more about “copy pasting” Hugo Chavez’s quotes on Asad to feel the revolutionary vibes on Facebook.

Another paradox of Anderson’s unconditional support for secularism against Islamism is that he resorts to the good-for-all-purposes scaremonger of Christian persecutions to back the Asad regime, so that when I mentioned the Farouq Brigades, I got reminded the way “they expelled Christians from their neighbourhoods in Homs”. First of all, to argue that Christians were evicted on the basis of their faith and not as a result of the conflict is an assumption even contested by Catholic sources (www.catholicculture.org/news/headlines/index.cfm?storyid=13804). Secondly, Anderson and other “minorities-obsessed” scholars take for granted that Christians are always persecuted because of their religion, while dismissing the possibility for some of them to have been targeted as collaborators of the regime or because of their affluence (for example, the wealth of some urbanized Syriacs was behind their kidnappings in Hasakah and Qamishli in 2013): the implicit premise to this discourse is that Christians are all innocent, they never took sides (not a single word is spent on the loyalist stance of most Syrian clerical institutions throughout the uprising) and they are suddenly in need of Western assistance to escape Islamic zealots. When the idea that Middle Eastern Christians are in need of protection was part of the French Mandate’s search for legitimacy, it was despised by “anti-imperialists” as colonialist propaganda, whereas now it is at the core of the concerns they happen to share with pro-Asad Western fascist and Catholic circles (with whom they also share sources like Mother Agnès de la Croix). As the French scholar Thomas Pierret wrote on his Facebook page, after the hypocritical indignation aroused by the displacement of Armenians from Kassab at the hands of Syrian rebels among the same people who turn a blind eye on the regime’s daily use of barrel bombs on the neighbourhoods of Aleppo controlled by the opposition, “whoever cares more for an Armenian from Kassab than for a Sunni from eastern Aleppo is a racist”.

During his visit to Syria, Anderson claims he had the chance to witness the coexistence between Christians and Muslims under the shelter of the regime, thus envisaging a future of religious persecutions, if the opposition will ever take over the country. First of all, this is a distortion of Syrian history, where there is absolutely nothing proving a higher rate of anti-Christian violence before the Ba’thist coup in 1963. Anderson went on specifying that most of the rebels are actually foreigners, an allegation common among Asadists returning from government-sponsored tours of Syria, where they never met with one single opposition fighter, just like Anderson did. I personally met with combatants from a wide range of anti-government factions in Lebanon, Turkey and Syria, and the overwhelming majority of them were Syrians, including the hardliners from Ahrar ash-Sham , Ghuraba’ ash-Sham and Ansar ash-Shari’a. Most foreigners fight within the rows of ISIS and they advocate a brutal form of Islamic autocracy Syrians are unfamiliar with: when the militants of this group vandalized a church in Raqqa, its Syrian residents took the streets to protest against religious intolerance, but they didn’t certainly call for the return of the regime. Of course, all of this was not mentioned in Anderson’s talk, where the message needed to remain “foreign Islamists make up most of the opposition and they pose a threat to the Ba’thist religious tolerance.” This was actually the same message conveyed by a Syrian woman who stood up to intervene during Anderson’s talk, when she accused the opposition of organizing protests from inside the mosques, thus suggesting the movement was already an Islamist one since its outbreak. As usual, it went completely ignored the fact that mosques were used by all protesters, regardless of their political and religious beliefs, because of the ban on unauthorized public gatherings. Over these years I spent covering the Syrian uprising, I never met someone who obtained a government license to organize a rally against the regime.

During the conference, there was also room for some racist remarks on the Bedouin roots of the Gulf sponsors of the opposition, as Anderson reported, laughing at the comments of a Syrian government official on their status of camel riders/shepherds (I cannot recall the exact words, but it was definitely a stereotypical racist joke on Arab Gulf tribes). As if it wasn’t enough to resort to Islamophobia under the guise of secularism and religious tolerance, Anderson turned to blanketing the (Sunni) Arab tribes as a bunch of rural barbarians, probably ignoring the fact that millions of Syrians are clan members with kinship links in Gulf countries.

Lastly, Anderson attempted to prove Syria never witnessed an uprising by asserting that “no revolution has ever targeted schools and hospitals and prevented kids from education.” Such assertion implies the absurd claim that the government forces have never targeted schools and hospitals. In addition to this, Anderson ignores all the initiatives launched in opposition-held areas to support education, civil society and local projects, despite the continuous bloodshed (http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2014/04/education-aleppo-syria-war.html?utm_source=Al-Monitor+Newsletter+%5BEnglish%5D&utm_campaign=23ea4fcada-January_9_20141_8_2014&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_28264b27a0-23ea4fcada-93102377). In 2013, I visited several times the city of Ras al-Ayn (North-Eastern Syria), when it was still under joint Arab-Kurdish control without any presence of the regime: no one told me of kids prevented from going to school and the hospitals and the small clinics were actually struggling to function, thanks to the voluntary efforts of the doctors affiliated to the rebel militias. Unfortunately, most of these armed groups were prioritizing the arms trade over the availability of medicines and I wrote about this issue (https://mabisir.wordpress.com/2013/05/16/free-syrian-army-neglects-health-sector-in-ras-al-ayn-sere-kanye/), but I was also aware that the same hospitals could not be used to heal wounded protesters when they were controlled by the regime. The reality is much more complicated, if you verify it on the ground, but what you get from Anderson is just that the rebels are medieval bogeymen targeting schools and hospitals.

In conclusion, if some of you had the patience to read through all of this, my personal advice is to remain sceptic of those scholars who abuse their academic positions to spread out ideological propaganda on issues they are completely unfamiliar with. If I happen to spend two weeks during a phase of political turmoil in Cuba, a country Anderson is probably more knowledgeable than me about on the basis of his experience, I would remain aware of my ignorance on Cuba and wary about claiming to hold the truth on the unfolding events. I would expect Anderson and his likes to do the same. Thanks.

I also welcome every Syrian who lived through the uprising to express his/her indignation at Anderson’s denial of his/her efforts to depose the current regime.

Categories: Arab Gulf, Israel, Kurdistan, Lebanon, Palestine, Syria | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

Baghdad: Copertura mediatica delle elezioni parlamentari irachene (30 aprile 2014)

Un’articolo che scrissi per Arab Media Report sulla copertura mediatica delle emittenti irachene durante la campagna elettorale che ha preceduto le elezioni dell’aprile 2014. 

(Photo’s source: ash-Sharq al-Awsat English)

Elezioni in Iraq, dai pulpiti mediatici le ricette di stabilità di laici e islamici

An Iraqi employee of a printing house puts together campaign posters showing former Baghdad governor Salah Abdul Razzaq and Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki (R) on March 31, 2014 in the Iraqi capital, ahead of a general election due to be held on April 30. Despite the disarray caused by the sudden mass resignation of election chiefs ahead of next month's polls, candidates for seats in the Iraqi parliament are pressing ahead with unofficial campaigning. Salah Abdul Razzaq is a member of the State of Law coalition headed by al-Maliki who bids for a third term.  AFP PHOTO/AHMAD AL-RUBAYE

An Iraqi employee of a printing house puts together campaign posters showing former Baghdad governor Salah Abdul Razzaq and Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki (R) on March 31, 2014 in the Iraqi capital, ahead of a general election due to be held on April 30. Despite the disarray caused by the sudden mass resignation of election chiefs ahead of next month’s polls, candidates for seats in the Iraqi parliament are pressing ahead with unofficial campaigning. Salah Abdul Razzaq is a member of the State of Law coalition headed by al-Maliki who bids for a third term. AFP PHOTO/AHMAD AL-RUBAYE

Il 30 aprile si vota per le elezioni parlamentari in Iraq e il fittissimo panorama mediatico iracheno si è già trasformato nel pulpito di un numero spropositato di coalizioni e partiti. Il numero di candidati ufficiali annunciati dalla commissione elettorale parlamentare è di 9,045.

A livello mediatico, la proliferazione di nuove liste viene in parte attribuita all’emendamento della legge elettorale approvato il 4 novembre 2013, visto da alcune fazioni politiche minori come una svolta in direzione di un sistema proporzionale. D’altro canto, c’è chi sottolinea come si tratti di “una proposta di legge” (muqtarah qanun) approvata dal parlamento e la corte suprema irachena rimanga teoricamente in grado di dichiarare incostituzionali (art. 60) le proposte di legge che non sono state ideate dall’esecutivo. Ne parla anche lo storico esperto di Iraq Reidar Visser, il quale sostiene inoltre che l’emendamento in questione caratterizzerebbe al contrario il sistema elettorale in senso più maggioritario, e di ciò è pienamente consapevole anche la deputata Hanan al-Fatlawi della Coalizione dello Stato di Diritto (I’tilaf Dawla al-Qanun) guidata dal premier Nouri al-Maliki.

Uno degli argomenti all’ordine del giorno nei palinsesti televisivi è la contesa tra partiti laici e islamici e, in particolare, la possibilità che la successione di governi corrotti, dominati da partiti islamici negli ultimi dieci anni, possa fornire chance maggiori alle liste laiche. Ed è proprio parlando di “fallimento (fashl)” degli islamici e delle potenzialità dei partiti laici che il conduttore apre questa puntata del 23 aprile 2014 del programma Sabahi jadid (La mia mattina è nuova), in onda sul canale indipendente Al-Sumaria. Si concede spazio all’ospite Jasim al-Hilfi, esponente dell’Alleanza Civile Democratica (al-Tahaluf al-Madaniyy al-Dimuqratiyy), il quale insiste sulla necessità di porre fine al sistema vigente fondato sulla ripartizione delle cariche sulla base di “quote confessionali” (al-muhassasa at-ta’ifiyya).

Nel replicare a Hilfi, l’altro ospite in studio, Kamal al-Saadi, esponente della coalizione di Maliki, sostiene che nessuna dottrina islamica sia mai stata imposta alla gente e insiste su come le “competenze (kafa’at)” dei governanti non vengano intaccate dalle loro peculiarità ideologiche. Al di là della necessità di sottrarre qualche voto ai partiti laici e sunniti, in cui si inserisce una simile retorica, al-Saadi è ben consapevole del ruolo cruciale giocato dalle autorità religiose nel catalizzare il supporto degli elettori: basti osservare questo video pubblicato da un gruppo di sostenitori di Maliki, preoccupatisi di reperire un comunicato ufficiale di uno dei porta voci dell’Ayatollah Sistani, in cui si conferma che l’eminente autorità sciita di Najaf non supporta il Blocco al-Muwatin (Il Cittadino) di Ammar al-Hakim. Le autorità religiose si sono tra l’altro espresse diverse volte contro i partiti laici, basti pensare a quando l’Ayatollah iraniano al-Ha’iri, fonte di riferimento (marja’iyyah) diMoqtada al-Sadr, aveva espresso la sua contrarietà a un probabile voto di Sadr – che è ora uscito dalla scena politica – a sostegno di partiti non islamici, confermando l’interesse del clero sciita ad assicurarsi che l’Iraq continui a essere dominato da forze politiche di matrice ideologica religiosa.

Secondo l’autore iracheno Mustafa al-Khadimi, è proprio la tinta confessionale a dominare la competizione elettorale, in assenza di programmi elettorali dettagliati, dal momento che la maggioranza delle liste sembrano sottovalutare la esigenze dell’elettore iracheno e preferiscono sommergerlo di slogan. Ed è difficile dargli torto osservando le pagine Facebook e Twitter create a sostegno di alcuni dei principali candidati alla presidenza del consiglio: Maliki viene presentato come il capo delle forze armate, l’unico “duce” (qa’id) in grado di guidare l’Iraq a patto che riesca a formare un “governo di maggioranza” (hukuma al-aghlabiyya), ma anche come un premier orgoglioso della sua “identità sciita” (shi’iyy al-huwiyya). Dal canto suo, il presidente sunnita della camera, Usama al-Nujaifi, candidato della lista al-Muttahidun (Gli Uniti) ha messo in guardia il Consiglio degli Ulema di Baghdad dal “cambiamento demografico” (al-taghiir al-dimughrafiyy) in atto nella capitale, vale a dire l’aumento degli sciiti a scapito dei sunniti, insistendo su quanto il voto sunnita sia fondamentale nel contrastare l’emarginazione politica di tale comunità.

Sia la retorica militarista che le tensioni interconfessionali non possono essere scisse dalla situazione della provincia occidentale dell’Anbar, ancora contesa tra truppe governative, miliziani di ISIS (lo Stato Islamico dell’Iraq e del Levante) e clan sunniti insorti contro Baghdad. Chi si propone come un’alternativa alla classe dirigente è chiamato pertanto a rassicurare gli elettori circa la sua intransigenza sulla minaccia dei “terroristi” (irhabiyyun): al-Hilfi (Alleanza Civile Democratica) si preoccupa pertanto di sottolineare il suo supporto per “l’impavido” (basil) esercito iracheno nella lotta “contro le forze terroristiche che intendono riportare l’Iraq sotto una dittatura”. Nello stesso ambito, è interessante notare come la libertà di espressione sia tollerata, dal punto di vista dell’establishment, a patto che non miri alla “distruzione dello Stato” (tahdim al-dawla): è questa infatti la descrizione dell’agenda delle emittenti “prezzolate” (ma’jura) e prive di “oggettività” (mawdu’iyya) fornita da al-Saadi, in un chiaro riferimento a Baghdad, il canale espressione del dissenso sunnita, finanziato dal Partito Islamico di Tareq al-Hashimi. Al-Saadi, in qualità di rappresentate di una coalizione di forze islamiche sciite e secondo un canovaccio ben noto alle classi dirigenti irachene, utilizza sempre la situazione precaria della sicurezza per giustificare i fallimenti degli ultimi dieci anni: “Stiamo ricostruendo lo Stato dalle fondamenta, in condizioni innaturali, confrontando il terrorismo, e possiamo pertanto parlare di successi relativi e non di fallimento da parte dei partiti islamici.”

La gestione del dossier della sicurezza viene invece utilizzata come prova della corruzione e del carattere fallimentare dei due mandati Maliki (2006-2010, 2010-2014) nei programmi schierati apertamente contro il governo.  È questo il caso di Sanawat al-Fashl (“Gli Anni del Fallimento”), programma del canale indipendente al-Baghdadia presentato da Abdul-Hamid al-Sa’ih, lanciato a fine marzo con l’intento di passare in rassegna i fallimenti dei governi Maliki, dedicando una serie di episodi a ogni ministero. In questa puntata del 13 aprile 2014, si menziona l’aumento delle vittime del terrorismo a partire dal 2013 (9571 vittime), dopo un netto miglioramento tra il 2009 e il 2012 (4587 caduti nel 2012). In meno di quattro mesi dall’inizio del 2014 sono state uccise 3354 persone, un numero quasi equivalente al totale dei caduti del 2012.

Si ricorda inoltre l’importazione dal Regno Unito di 6000 attrezzature per la rivelazione di ordigni esplosivi (ajhiza kashf al-mutafajjirat), per un costo complessivo di 100 milioni di dollari, attrezzature di cui i politici iracheni avevano garantito l’efficienza al 100 percento e che si sono rivelate una truffa colossale ideata da tale James McCornick, il quale le aveva assemblate in modo artigianale in Inghilterra.

Infine, vengono citate le ricorrenti evasioni di prigionieri al-qa’idisti dalle carceri irachene, emblema della corruzione esistente all’interno degli istituti penitenziari: la fuga più clamorosa si è registrata a luglio del 2012 a Tikrit, città natale di Saddam Hussein, mettendo in libertà 102 membri di al-Qa’ida, di cui 47 condannati a morte.

Alla vigilia delle elezioni parlamentari irachene, la sicurezza risulta quindi uno dei cavalli di battaglia di entrambi i fronti. Da una parte, la sicurezza giustifica i limiti dei successi governativi, invitando i cittadini ad assicurarsi che la guerra contro i “terroristi” venga condotta da chi l’ha guidata sin dal rovesciamento di Saddam. Dall’altra, la sicurezza è emblema dei fallimenti di Maliki e dovrebbe spronare gli elettori a votare per il cambiamento, per una maggiore trasparenza nella gestione di un ministero dell’interno sprofondato nella corruzione come le altre “branchie” del potere esecutivo.

Categories: Iraq | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

ISIL e al-Qa’ida nel panorama mediatico siriano, libanese e iracheno: spauracchi e avanguardia comunicativa

Un’analisi che scrissi per Arab Media Report sulla rappresentazione mediatica di ISIL (Da’ish) e al-Qa’ida in Siria, Libano e Iraq, prendendo in considerazione sia le emittenti siriane, irachene e libanesi che i video di propaganda delle due organizzazioni armate. L’analisi era stato scritta nel gennaio del 2014, quando la scissione tra al-Qa’ida e ISIL si era appena concretizzata a livello ufficiale, non vi è quindi distinzione tra queste due formazioni a livello ideologico e pragmatico e ci si concentra sul confronto tra rappresentazione istituzionale (e pertanto derogatoria) del jihadismo salafita sunnita e propaganda destinata alla promozione delle sua causa. 

(Photo’s source: al-Jazeera)

Al-Qaeda nel Levante e in Iraq: tra strumentalizzazione ed efficacia comunicativa

jolani announcem aljaz

L’ascesa in Siria di due formazioni al-qaediste, lo Stato Islamico dell’Iraq e del Levante (ISIS l’acronimo in inglese, Da’ish quello in arabo) eJabhat al-Nusra (Il Fronte del Supporto), e le conseguenti ripercussioni sulla sicurezza del Libano e dell’Iraq hanno riportato lo spauracchio di al-Qaeda alla ribalta mediatica nei tre Paesi. La minaccia terroristica si presta alle strumentalizzazioni politiche: accostare i rivali all’insurrezionalismo islamico significa demonizzarli e marginalizzarne le rivendicazioni originarie. Lontano dall’ipocrisia dei programmi elettorali, la militanza al-qaedista si presenta dal suo canto come unica fonte di salvezza degli oppressi. Senza alcuna necessità di velare le connotazioni confessionali, a differenza degli attori istituzionali, il messaggio al-qaedista offre una valvola di sfogo riservata ai sunniti emarginati di questi tre Paesi, i quali condividono la convinzione di essere stati abbandonati dallo Stato e dalla comunità internazionale.


Noi non siamo come loro: Al-Qaeda e il riscatto degli ultimi

Le forme più radicali del jihadismo sunnita maturate in Iraq hanno trovato nuova linfa vitale in Siria e uno sbocco potenziale in Libano. Osservare i punti di forza del messaggio degli al-qaedisti attivi nel contesto siriano può pertanto aiutare a comprendere i successi del loro proselitismo. In un video pro-ISIS diffuso su YouTube in data 5 gennaio 2014, il mujahidviene presentato come ultima speranza dei sunniti siriani, abbandonati sia dai governi che da quei dotti islamici asserviti all’inazione dell’Occidente. Sicché il mufti dell’Arabia Saudita, Abdul-’Aziz Al-Shaykh, il quale ha definito l’adescamento dei giovani musulmani perché partano per il jihad in Siria un “tradimento dell’Umma [la comunità dei fedeli]“, viene accusato di essere al servizio dei “collaborazionisti” (Sahawat è il termine utilizzato, in riferimento alle milizie sunnite irachene addestrate dagli Usa per combattere contro al-Qaeda). Il video agisce sulle corde più sensibili dell’opinione pubblica musulmana: immagini di bambini uccisi da armamenti chimici, donne costrette a imbracciare le armi a causa del gran numero di uomini massacrati.

Nella puntata di “Liqa’ al-Yawm” (L’Incontro di Oggi) del 19 dicembre 2013, Taysir ‘Alwani di Al-Jazeera ha realizzato una lunga intervista con Abu Mohammad al-Jawlani, l’emiro di Jabhat al-Nusra. Il gruppo è senza dubbio la formazione al-qaedista più popolare in Siria, contando sulla militanza di meno stranieri rispetto a ISIS.

Il leader della Nusra articola innanzitutto la sua captatio benevolentiae nei confronti dei siriani, collocando il suo movimento sul cammino della militanza jihadista repressa a Hama nel 1982.

A tre anni dallo scoppio della rivoluzione, le parole di al-Jawlani rispecchiano inoltre la visione di molti siriani, per i quali la paralisi dell’Occidente equivale a un sostegno per il regime di Asad: “La comunità internazionale ha offerto rose ai sunniti siriani, mentre li accoltellava alle spalle”. Secondo il leader della Nusra, la popolarità dei mujahidin cresce in modo direttamente proporzionale alla connivenza tra comunità internazionale e regime siriano, risvegliando finalmente le coscienze sunnite contro i despoti miscredenti scelti dall’Occidente a tutela dei confini israeliani, vale a dire i “disertori” (rawafid) sciiti e alauiti. Facendosi megafono di numerosi siriani rimasti nelle aree più devastate del Paese, al-Jawlani liquida i negoziati tenutisi a Ginevra tra 22 e il 31 gennaio come un compromesso inaccettabile, un tentativo di sostituire Bashar al-Asad con un suo collaboratore, sul modello dell’accordo raggiunto in Yemen per la deposizione di ‘Ali ‘Abdullah Saleh.
Siria: Ve l’avevamo detto che erano tutti terroristi

Nell’ottica del regime siriano, l’ascesa di al-Qaeda è giunta invece alla vigilia dei colloqui di Ginevra, a sottolineare come la permanenza di Bashar al-Asad sia negli interessi della lotta al terrorismo dell’Occidente.

Secondo un servizio datato 1 dicembre 2013 dell’emittente statale Al-Ikhbariya, i crimini di ISIS in Siria e in Iraq sono da imputare ai “mezzi uomini” della casa regnante saudita, che starebbero puntando tutto su al-Qaeda dopo essere stati isolati dal riavvicinamento tra Iran e Usa suggellato dall’accordo sul nucleare del 24 novembre 2013).

La visione di Damasco coincide con quella delle emittenti sciite filo-governative irachene. Nel documentario “Al-Imarat al-Sawda’ (L’Emirato Nero)”, trasmesso il 20 novembre da Al-Ahd, canale dell’ex-milizia ‘Asa’ib Ahl al-Haqq (La Lega dei Giusti), l’analista Ahmad al-Hatif adduce l’espulsione di Al-Qaeda quale fine legittimo dell’offensiva lanciata dal regime siriano nella Ghuta, la piana ad est di Damasco, ignorando la presenza limitata di gruppi al-qaedisti in questa regione. L’intento è lo stesso del regime siriano, di presentare la composita galassia dei ribelli come un monolite al-qaedista.

Dal gennaio del 2014, con il lancio delle operazioni militari culminate nella riconquista di Fallujah, la città irachena della provincia occidentale di Anbar caduta nelle mani di ISIS , l’industria propagandistica di Damasco ha trovato un alleato ancora più solido in Bagdad. “La responsabilità di ciò che è successo è anche di quei Paesi che hanno armato l’opposizione siriana, perché ora queste armi vengono usate in Iraq,” afferma ‘Ali al-Shalah, deputato della coalizione guidata dal premier iracheno Nouri al-Maliki, nell’edizione dell’8 gennaio del programma “Hadith al-Watan (Il Discorso della Nazione)”, in onda sull’emittente libanese filo-siriana Al-Mayadeen.
A dispetto della tinta omogenea utilizzata da Damasco e Baghdad nel dipingere i ribelli siriani, è un dato di fatto come ISIS venga ormai identificato come un corpo estraneo all’opposizione sia dalle sue componenti laiche che da quelle islamiche. Il gruppo al-qaedista si è infatti reso protagonista di una serie interminabile di esecuzioni sommarie nelle regioni controllate dagli insorti. Il 10 dicembre 2013, sulle frequenze del canale Shadaa al-Hurria (Il Canto della Libertà), persino lo sceicco salafita siriano ‘Adnan al-’Ar’ur si è mostrato fortemente critico, denunciando l’illegittimità delle sentenze emesse da ISIS, definito “una fazione rappresentante il 5% dei siriani e non uno Stato.” Il 3 gennaio 2014, la maggiore formazione islamica siriana, al-Jabhat al-Islamiyya (il Fronte Islamico), ha infine dichiarato guerra a ISIS , colpevole di aver ucciso Abu Rayyan, uno dei comandanti della brigata Ahrar as-Sham (I Liberi del Levante).

Lo sguardo degli attivisti laici siriani sul fenomeno ISIS è sintetizzato da “Kif tasna’u al-Da’ishi (Come si Produce un Militante di ISIS)“, cortometraggio animato satirico diffuso il 23 gennaio dal collettivo di artisti arabi Kharabeesh (Scarabocchi): il combattente locale di ISIS viene rappresentato come un pupazzo agli ordini di un fantoccio straniero, l’emiro, pilotato delle agenzie dell’intelligence internazionali. Nella didascalia del video, si ironizza su come la nuova ondata destabilizzante al-qaedista “susciti lo stupore degli osservatori del Medio Oriente,” pur giungendo alle porte di Ginevra II.
Iraq: Ve l’avevamo detto che erano tutti terroristi pt. II

In Iraq, il taglio dei programmi che celebrano il dispiegamento delle truppe in Anbar in funzione anti-qaedista è molto simile alla propaganda, che ha accompagnato le operazioni dell’esercito e delle forze di sicurezza siriane durante la rivoluzione: musica trionfale, confessioni intimorite dei “ratti” (jirdhan) al-qaedisti – come li definisce in uno speciale del 29 dicembre 2013 il canale Al-Afaq, di proprietà del partito di Maliki, ad-Da’wat al-Islamiyya (Il Richiamo Islamico) – al ritmo incalzante dei quesiti degli inquirenti, incarnazione mediatica delle istituzioni irachene dominate dagli sciiti.

Sul fronte dell’opposizione – oggi marcatamente sunnita – si contesta come la minaccia di ISIS abbia eclissato le ragioni di una contestazione anti-governativa esplosa già a dicembre del 2012, in segno di protesta contro il ricorso sistematico alla legge anti-terrorismo per attaccare gli esponente sunniti dell’opposizione.

In un servizio del 2 gennaio 2014, Al-Arabiya dedica spazio alle istanze dei clan sunniti dell’Anbar, insorti contro l’arresto del parlamentare sunnita Ahmad al-’Alwani il 28 dicembre 2013, i quali respingono le accuse del premier Maliki di aver facilitato la successiva presa di Falluja da parte di ISIS . La versione dell’opposizione è che a creare le condizioni caotiche favorevoli all’ingresso di al-Qaeda sarebbero stati invece gli scontri tra le tribù locali e l’esercito inviato da Bagdad. Su questo nodo si innesta la polemica tra l’emittente statale Al-Iraqiya e una delle voci dell’opposizione, Baghdad TV, di orientamento islamico sunnita. In un servizio del 12 gennaio, Baghdad TV replica alle accuse di istigazione alla violenza provenienti da Al-Iraqiya, difendendo il diritto di esigere chiarezza sulla natura delle operazioni militari condotte nell’Anbar e di mostrare le proteste degli abitanti di Falluja contro l’arrivo delle truppe nella città di al-Ramadi.

Viene inoltre criticata la rappresentazione dell’Anbar come focolaio di violenza, immagine del resto già cristallizzata nei media filo-governativi: il sopracitato documentario, trasmesso da Al-’Ahd il 20 novembre, descriveva per esempio le regioni occidentali irachene come “il rifugio sicuro di ISIS .” D’altro canto, non stupisce come il messaggio al-qaedista faccia da tempo breccia in Iraq, un Paese dove la comunità internazionale non ha saputo opporsi all’insediamento della classe dirigente sciita per mano dell’occupazione statunitense e alla conseguente marginalizzazione di ampi strati della popolazione sunnita.

Libano: vecchi fantasmi e polarizzazione

Per quanto riguarda i media libanesi, la minaccia al-qaedista viene localizzata nei campi profughi palestinesi, considerati un “ricettacolo” di destabilizzazione sin dai tempi della guerra civile. Sul fatto che i campi profughi offrano un riparo agli estremisti sono tutti d’accordo, dalle emittenti più vicine alla coalizione anti-siriana del 14 Marzo (LBC) a quelle controllate dagli asadisti dell’8 Marzo (OTV).

La polarizzazione degli schieramenti libanesi riemerge invece nell’identificare il mandante dei recenti attentati al-qaedisti a Beirut. In un servizio della LBC del 20 dicembre 2013, si sottolinea l’interesse condiviso tra ISIS e il regime siriano, intenzionato a presentarsi impegnato nella lotta al terrorismo di fronte all’Occidente. Diverso l’approccio dei canali più vicini a Damasco, propensi a rappresentare l’opposizione siriana come un agglomerato indistinto di estremisti islamici e una minaccia alla sovranità nazionale libanese. È questa la linea adottata da Al-Jadeed il 2 ottobre, sottolineando le ambizioni estese a tutto il Levante non solo di ISIS, ma anche delle tredici formazioni “estremiste” islamiche allontanatesi il 24 settembre dalla Coalizione Nazionale delle Forze Siriane della Rivoluzionarie e dell’Opposizione filo-occidentale.

Alcune emittenti esterne al panorama libanese, come Al-Arabiya, abbozzano una contestualizzazione socio-economica del radicalismo sunnita libanese piuttosto che una sua demonizzazione. Nella puntata del 3 maggio del programma “Sina’at al-Mawt (La Fabbrica della Morte)”, l’ospite è un giovane tripolino simpatizzante di al-Qaeda, che combatte al fianco dei ribelli in Siria. L’intervistato afferma di non saper leggere il Corano, estrae dal portafoglio le poche banconote rimastegli e la carta d’identità e si lamenta: “Questa [carta d’identità] non serve neanche a farmi ricoverare in ospedale in Libano! […] Cosa devo fare? Iniziare a rapire gli stranieri e chiedere il riscatto? […] Torno in Siria a combattere, non ho nulla da perdere”.

Al-Arabiya riesce a inquadrare la precarietà sociale del potenziale fondamentalista, ma tradisce la sua faziosità filo-saudita nel dare voce quasi esclusivamente ai sunniti nell’ambito di un’inchiesta sulla presenza di al-Qaeda in Libano.

Nel Paese dei cedri , l’ascesa di al-Qaeda potrebbe cavalcare l’attesa di una rivalsa sunnita cronicamente delusa dalle forze elettorali dai tempi dell’uccisione del premier Rafiq al-Hariri (2005), in un contesto da allora dominato dall’egemonia politico-militare di Hezbollah. Come in Iraq e in Siria, la comunità internazionale ha dato prova d’impotenza: nel caso del Tribunale Speciale per il Libano istituito dall’Onu, l’immunità de facto dei mandanti e degli esecutori dell’omicidio Hariri ha esposto la vulnerabilità dei politici sunniti assurti a icone di opposizione al regime siriano e ai suoi alleati.

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