Religious extremism, this is not just about Daesh

The world is going crazy over religion at the moment. People have finally come to understand that Daesh (ISIS) want the nations of the world to send in ground troops so as to trigger the ‘end of time’ prophecy. This leaves the governments with a major problem, they are not able to defeat Daesh just from the air and sending in ground troops would be a major boost to Daesh as they would use it to show the prophecy is coming true. What to do?

Then there was the spectacle of Donald Trump saying he would ban all Muslims from entering the USA. Basically tarring them all with the same brush of suspicion after the San Bernadino shootings by two people who had pledged allegiance to Daesh. But we must also not forget the role of far-right ‘Christians’, they too believe they can hasten the return of Jesus and the final great battle of Armageddon. For Daesh it is about provoking the return of the Mahdi and the final great war. Spot the similarities? We have a situation where people, so called Christians and so called Muslims actually believe they can make God change his timing. That has to be the height of arrogance.

While we are talking about religion I should also mention Israel. The Jews too are awaiting Messiah and believe it can only happen when the biblical borders of Israel have been re-established and the land inhabited only by Jews. The number of Orthodox Jews is increasing rapidly, as is their political power and is the reason why they don’t care what the world thinks about their treatment of Palestinians. They are determined to have their way, no matter what. They also have the support of many in the USA, many of whom hold positions of power, so called ‘Christians’ who also believe that the full borders of Israel must be re-established and all the Jews collected to the Holy Land before the end can come.

When it comes down to it, at the heart of many of the dangers facing the world today, the cause can be summed up in one word, Religion. People using what has been written to fit their own world view. It isn’t only in the MIddle East and the West that we have this problem, In India and other parts of Asia we are seeing a rise in Hindu extremism, which is responsible for growing violence and murders. This problem will not solve itself and will only become worse as the world becomes more divided.

What can the solution be? A time is coming when the governments of the world will decide enough is enough and close down all organised religion, but more than that, they will dismantle the apparatus which permits those organizations to function, stripping out everything of value. This will be done in the belief that in doing so the reasons for all the dangers we face today will vanish. If there is no central religion or place of worship, there can be no return of a Messiah or Mahdi, the main cause of much of the religious extremism today, whether it be Islamic, Christian or Jewish.

If you think I exaggerate the danger posed by those who follow a ‘Christianity’ which is about as far away from the bible as it is possible to be, I suggest you check the religious beliefs of those in the US government who took us to war in Iraq as they wanted to shape the world in a way that fitted with their world view based on a twisted belief of what is written in the bible. On a smaller scale but no less extremist, are all those so called ‘Christians’ who commit acts of violence at abortion clinics and those who quietly support them. True, the bible forbids abortion, but it also says that God is the judge, not humans, by attacking women who abort their children they are setting themselves up as judge,  saying they are doing God’s will. They are not. We have no right to judge anybody.

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Russia and USA. The pushing and shoving continues

Turkey shooting down the Russian jet today was a response to Russia increasing its influence in the Middle East through its action in Syria. Turkey, as a member of NATO would not have done this without some sort of approval from the USA. Russia and USA do not want direct conflict but they both like proxy war. The pushing and shoving between them continues. So much happening, I need a while to get all the information in order to write in depth.

The war against Daesh (ISIS)

The resolution at the United Nations last week to declare the world is at war with Daesh is all well and good, but….

How do you destroy an idea which has spread around the world and becomes stronger with every bomb that is directed against that idea? Bombs have a certain effect but killing the idea, that takes real work.

Attacks on France. Losing the war on terror

How is a person supposed to live their life, when not knowing if going to a restaurant, a concert or going on holiday will end with them being yet another casualty of a deadly terrorist attack. This has become the new reality. The deadly attacks in France hammer this home in a way that can leave no doubt. We live in extremely dangerous times.

My original plan had been to write about the growing evidence that a Daesh (ISIS) bomb brought down the Russian plane as holiday-makers flew home from Sharm el Sheikh. But this week too there was a deadly suicide bombing by Daesh in Beirut with 43 dead and more than 200 wounded. Now there is Paris, drenched in blood. Where will be next?

What many don’t understand is the reasoning behind these attacks. Daesh are trying to provoke the international community into putting boots on the ground in Syria, they believe than in so doing they will bring about Judgement Day, this is part of their twisted theology. They believe that when the armies of the world gather together to fight them, God will bring about the end of times. There can be no reasoning with them. Going back to the probability it was a bomb that brought down the Russian plane highlights the point. Russia while very active in Syria has been concentrating its efforts on attacking the rebels who are against Bashar al Assad, leaving Daesh (ISIS) pretty much unscathed. The bombing of the plane is a direct message to Moscow, ‘Come and get us if you can, we want you to try and take us on’ The only way to try to defeat them is to put boots on the ground, air-strikes alone are not effective, they want to suck the world into war on their terms.This is one of the reasons for their terror attacks.

The dreadful attacks in Paris highlight the fact that the ‘war on terror’ is not being won despite the enhanced ability of governments to gather information and intelligence from pretty much all electronic communication. Hopefully it will also help people in general understand just how organized and capable Daesh are, yes they are blood thirsty but they know what they are doing and are a global organization, never under-estimate them.

A result of the attack in Paris will be the curtailing of yet more civil liberties in the name of security. Travelling by plane will become even more arduous than it already is, I would not be surprised to see travel by train also effected, security at large public gatherings will be tightened,  more of our personal communications will be monitored, the police will be viewing everybody with suspicion, finger ready on the trigger. This is one of the goals of Daesh, besides wanting to have all the major powers of the world put troops on the ground in Syria it also wants to permanently disrupt the lives of all who don’t follow its twisted philosophy. With the attack in Paris and the bringing down of the Russian plane, it has succeeded in doing exactly that. The fear of terror they are creating is maybe more effective at interrupting our lives than the acts of terror themselves. As long as Daesh are permitted to exist we can expect there to be a lot more innocent blood splattered on the streets. The question has to be, what will the USA, Russia, Iran, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and others do about it. Will they stop playing their geo-political games, which have included turning a blind eye to Daesh (ISIS) and work together for once? Time will tell.

Who is fighting against Daesh (ISIS)?

The question of who is attacking Daesh (ISIS) has to be asked because as far as I can tell from conversations with my contacts on the ground in Syria, very little effective action appears to be directed against them on an international level.

The USA is carrying out some airstrikes against Daesh but from the information received is not proving very effective. None of the airstrikes have caused Daesh any serious problems so far and often they have already left the area by the time the bombs and missiles arrive. Having said that, the USA is continuing its funding and supplying of The Free Syrian Army (FSA), who are fighting on two fronts, against the Assad regime and against Daesh. Reports in the media that the USA is going to cut funding is regarding one small program only, the vast bulk of support is continuing. At the same time the USA does not want the FSA to capture too much territory, it is part of their plan for a divided and weakened Syria

Russia claims to be targeting Daesh but all the evidence points to the vast majority of attacks being against the FSA. Yesterday I heard news that Russia is using indiscriminate cluster bombs in its attacks against the FSA, wanting to confirm this I put word out that I was looking for evidence of cluster bomb use. In a few hours I had a link to a video shot yesterday of them being used in the Hama region of Syria. You can see for yourselves in the video.

Russia is more focused on supporting the Assad regime than fighting Daesh. Assad is Russia’s only Arab ally and after 4 years of fighting, with its military on the brink of collapse, Russia was left with no choice but to send in direct air and ground support. That it is using totally indiscriminate munitions such as cluster bombs shows how desperate and immoral both the Syrian regime and Russia truly are.

Turkey says it is against Daesh but its actions prove otherwise. It is more interested in seeing the Kurds weakened and has been turning a blind eye to Daesh crossing its borders. The recent suicide attack in Ankara was most likely by a member of Daesh, the focus of the attack being a demonstration for peace by Kurds in Turkey. Turkey has a working relationship with Daesh, when I wrote in April last year about Turkey guarding the tomb in Syria of Suleyman Shah, the grandfather of Osman the 1st, the founder of the Ottoman empire, President Erdogan of Turkey was quoted as saying “Right now, the issue is not about ISIL” ISIL being Daesh, the arab term for them, and were only a few hundred metres from the tomb. Turkey is happy that Daesh is fighting the Kurds, it saves him a lot of bother so why should he be interested in trying to stop them. Rather he is trying to provoke the Kurds in Turkey into action so he can justify the use of force and he is working with Daesh to do this.

Syria, after four years of fighting its army is exhausted and has lost over 80,000 men. Now Assad is trying to reinforce the territory he does hold and is not in a position to fight on many different fronts, hence the reason for Russia stepping into the fray. Assad too is less interested in fighting Daesh than against the FSA. In conversation with a friend on the ground in Syria an interesting bit of information came out, Daesh and Assad face each other along a 60km front which runs from the prison to the ex infantry school in Aleppo region, an area I know and drove along many times two years ago when I was in Syria. In all the time Daesh has held this territory not a single shot has been fired between the Syrian army and Daesh. There is quite a cozy relationship between the two, who are more interested in fighting the FSA than each other. The Syrian army has always chosen attacking the FSA rather than the extremists. It would seem this is down to the proxy war nature of this conflict, the USA supporting the FSA and Russia with Iran supporting Assad.

Iran is a natural ally of Bashar al Assad, Assad being an Alawite, a branch of the Shia muslim faith as opposed to 70% of the Syrian population being of the Sunni muslim faith. Religion and war, it is a story as old as human history. Under no circumstance does it want to see Assad go and will do everything in its power to support him. It too sees Daesh as a useful tool in the fight against the FSA and by extension the proxy war with the USA.

Saudi Arabia and UAE. The families that govern these countries are, for want of a better word, despicable, they finance terrorism and have given a lot of financial support to Daesh and other terrorist organisations. May God bring a plague upon their houses. They help create the problems and then refuse to accept or help the people, fellow muslims, who are forced to flee their homes and countries as a result. So much for brotherhood. I’m glad I’m not a muslim.

As an aside, now that both Russia and the USA are directly involved in Syria, the risk of accidental confrontation is high, if it were to happen, the results could be an escalation of the conflict with global repercussions.

Losing the war on terror?

Like the war on drugs, the war on terror against groups such as Islamic State (Daesh) simply isn’t working. Fighting these groups is trying to deal with the symptoms rather than get to the cause of why extremism has grown so rapidly this century.

There are several reasons for this, the first is religious and political ideology supported by a belief that the only way to bring change is with the use of force and revolution. History is littered with examples, the French revolution, the Bolshevik revolution, the English civil war. All happened because of deep dissatisfaction with the existing ruling classes who thought only of themselves and not of the common people. Yet in each example after the overthrow of an unjust political system, all led to further bloodshed, in France many innocent people were sent to the guillotine, after the Bolshevik revolution Stalin ruled by fear and had many thousands executed for no good reason, Oliver Cromwell increased persecution against catholics after the protestant “Rounheads” won the English civil war. So we come to today, the “Arab Spring” the revolutions to overthrow unjust and power crazy rulers in north Africa and most notably Syria have created so much bloodshed and allowed new power crazy and religious groups to enter the vacuum, which is invariably created after a revolution. The question has to be, why and how relatively small numbers of those with extremist ideology are able to gather so much support?

Take Nazi Germany as an example, Hitler was able to come to power because so many ordinary people were suffering terrible financial hardship and unemployment, here was someone who promised to rebuild their country and give them a sense of pride and identity once again. Groups such as IS (Daesh) work along similar lines. They appeal to many who feel abandoned, using very slick propaganda to create a sense of identity, somewhere they can belong. The mistake is made that this is just about religion, it is not, it is about creating a sense of being part of something bigger where they can play a part, religion is just one of the tools used. The real motivation of Daesh is power. They would also not be where they are today if they didn’t have money or if other countries didn’t find Daesh useful in the international game of geo-politics.

Then there is the fact that these groups are good for business, as they create regional wars, the arms manufactures rub their hands together in glee, war is good for business so long as it is contained to a region far away. Like the war on drugs, so the war on terror is very good for business, ethics don’t even come into the equation.

Now with the terrorist attack in France and the shooting of tourists in Tunisia we witness what is surely the beginning of a far greater threat to what we consider the western way of life. Global political malfeasance, the purely self interested interference in the middle east, the rulers of middle eastern countries who have never taken care to give opportunities for education and work to large minority groups. All together allowed the development of Daesh. Now Daesh want to spread fear around the world as payback. Finally governments are waking up to this very real threat, which is ironic as they helped create the threat in the first place by their playing of geo-political games.

So what might happen next? For a start, more intense blocking of refugees trying to escape from these troubled lands for fear that some among them could be terrorists. Tunisia is closing a large number of mosques in the wake of the shooting of tourists as these mosques are said to be a source of hate preaching, I think we will see this trend increase over time, more mosques will be closed in many countries around the world. The result of that will be many muslims including the majority who are against violence as seeing this as a direct attack on their faith, which could also have unintended consequences.

This has become a global problem and one which needs a global solution, personally I think it is too late, Pandora’s Box has been opened. If action had been taken earlier to stop injustice and inequality, if governments had cared about people rather than power then there would have been a chance and groups such as Daesh would not have the power they have today. In a way, every bomb dropped on Daesh makes them stronger, they have become like the mythical Hydra, cut off a head and two more grow in its place as young ideological muslims conditioned by slick propaganda join the group to defend their religion against attacks from the corrupt west and equally corrupt arab rulers.

The world is now entering a time of great danger, not since the end of Second World War has such an existential threat existed and to be honest our politicians have no real idea of how to deal with it. Before, wars were between countries, now we face a war against an idea which has become international. Bombing an idea out of existence once it becomes deep seating among many people in many countries is simply not possible. Politicians are going to have to come up with new ideas and think very carefully about the potential consequences of those ideas, not something at which they have ever been very good.

ISIS. Do we really know what we are doing?

Much is being made of attempts to destroy ISIS but the question needs to be asked, will the current strategy work or will it lead to increased chaos in the Middle East?

ISIS

ISIS

 ISIS, or Daesh as they are called in the Middle East,appear not to be too worried about the USA-led coalition air-strikes. In fact they seem to have had very little impact so far.

The question being asked by governments in the region and around the world is what can be done to stop ISIS. They are effectively re-drawing the map of the Middle East, the Sykes-Picot Agreement has finally come undone. One of the things I find interesting is how little direct effort the governments of the Middle East as well as Egypt are putting into the fight considering the existential crisis which confronts them. Part of this comes down to culture, diverse Arab cultures do not have a history of being able to work together and coordinate efforts. Organization works along tribal lines rather than being based on national institutions. For this reason it is very difficult for them to collaborate in any coherent fashion.

More importantly however, is the fear of what could happen back home if they start fighting directly against ISIS in Iraq and Syria. As an example of this, as reported to me by personal contacts in Jordan, Jordan has chosen not to get involved in the fight with ISIS at the moment due to the sheer number of supporters it has in the country. The cities of Al Zarqa and Ma’en are hotbeds of support for ISIS and in many cases the police are too afraid to enter large parts of those cities. If Jordan were to get involved in fighting directly against ISIS it is quite likely domestic terrorism would be a result. The same goes for many countries in the region, underground support for ISIS is growing rapidly.

The question has be asked, why is this the case? From conversations I have had with sources in the region there seems to be a twofold reason. The first is disenfranchisement of large portions of the populations in the region. Unless you are born into the right tribe or family, your opportunities for education and a good job are severely curtailed. The view taken is that the governments of the region are seen as self-serving, corrupt and not caring about large parts of the population. In this respect, support for ISIS is more political rather than religious. ISIS is seen as a great equalizer, making sure that those who live under its rule will be equally looked after. As an ideal, it is very powerful in the minds of many who have been deprived for so long. It is difficult for our Western mindset to grasp this, but many in the region feel ISIS is the only way to deal with government corruption.

The second reason for support for ISIS is religious. Not in the sense of agreeing with its brand of Islam but rather the US led air-strikes are being seen as an attack on Islam in general. A source told me that when he takes a taxi, he always asks the driver for his opinion of ISIS. Invariably the response is always the same, that while he doesn’t like ISIS, attacks by the USA are understood to be part of a wider attack against Islam and if the situation called for it, he would go fight.

All of this brings us back to the USA’s strategy of how to deal with the extremists. Air-strikes are proving to be ineffective. Even if the decision were made to send in ground forces, it would be unlikely to have success, ISIS are very good at disappearing into the population, when I was in Menbij in Syria last year, it was already in the city but nobody knew it — they were simply waiting for the right time to take over. Added to this, if the USA and allies put boots on the ground, support for ISIS would explode, memories of the last war in Iraq are still very raw for many in the region. ISIS is trying to draw the USA further into conflict as it knows doing so will make it stronger.

So what is the solution? This is not an easy question to answer, at base this is an Arab problem which requires an Arab solution. First, the political reasons for why there is so much support for ISIS need to be addressed, being more inclusive for large parts of the population across the region and reducing government corruption.

Secondly, if there is going to be military action against ISIS it should be Arab led to avoid the strong impression of this being a war on Islam. Can it happen? I’m not so sure. There is too much division in strategy between the various countries of the region. For them to work together would require a huge change in mindset. Unfortunately, I see no end to the current situation and this war has the potential to carry on indefinitely.

For me personally, this is a very sad situation. I have a great fondness for the Middle East, based on my own experience and family history. I’m considered a brother by the Al-Zoubi family — actually they are a huge tribe which spans the Syrian-Jordanian border. The Arab people and also the Persians of Iran, are some of the warmest you could ever hope to meet. Across the region, the ordinary people want to live in peace but are having this opportunity torn away from them because of international politics as well as the governments of the region vying with each other for regional dominance. It is these things which allowed ISIS to grow and I don’t see them going away anytime soon.

This article is cross-posted from digitaljournal.com

International politics and ISIS in a nutshell

From the start it was clear that Syria and Iran wanted ISIS (Daesh) to develop even if they don’t have direct control over them. It is the best way of making chaos in the Sunna regions.

Then there is Turkey, using Daesh to fight the Kurds and weaken them, weakening the PKK is  a main objective. Turkey also has hegemonic ambitions in the region as does Iran.

Finally, the USA is not as anti ISIS (Daesh) as many suppose, it is a useful tool to weaken the overall power of the governments in the region, but ISIS (Daesh) must not be permitted to become too strong itself. USA is interested in making a new balance between Sunna and Shia.

Turkey will become the new dominant Sunna power instead of Saudi Arabia (KSA), their collaboration with Daesh and relationship with the USA indicates this.

Jordan will at some point take control of south Syria, using the rebel Syrian brigades in that area.

Iran is not a religious state as many believe, they simply use religion as a form of control. It seems the new balance the USA wants to create is between Turkey and Iran, the gulf states will become less relevant, particularly as USA and Canadian oil and gas output increase.

As for Israel, it has good relations with Jordan, Egypt, UAE and KSA as well as strong back channel communications with Iran.

This article is based on my own personal experience of the Middle East as well as conversations within the intelligence community.

Turkey stands by while ISIS and Kurds fight in Kobani

Despite the fact that heavy fighting is taking place between ISIS (Daesh) and Kurds in Kobani, Syria, all within spectator distance of the Turkish border, Turkey is refusing to do anything at the moment to help push back the Islamic extremists.

The main reason for this is because the Kurds in Kobani, in general, are said to be aligned with the PKK, which has been battling Turkey for many years for an autonomous Kurdish region. Turkey publicly says it is against Daesh but it would rather see them wipe out the Kurds in Kobani. It refuses to allow Kurds to cross the border into Syria to support their fellow Kurds in the fight. Unless something changes, Daesh will win the fight, they have heavy weapons and modern equipment vs a lightly armed Kurdish force.

Turkey is definitely preparing to take control of large parts of Syria along its border. It is also known that Turkey and Daesh have collaborated in areas of mutual interest. Another interesting fact is the tomb of Suleyman Shah, grandfather of Osman 1 who founded the Ottoman empire and is most revered by Turks down to this day, is very close to Kobani. When the dust settles and the Kurds have been pushed out of Kobani, I expect to see Daesh make a strategic withdrawal allowing Turkey to come in and take over the area. What is also very interesting is that despite US airstrikes against Daesh targets in Kobani, they have proven ineffective and done nothing to stop the extremists advance. Could it be that the US is choosing not to try too hard here for strategic reasons?

This situation will develop further. Watch this space.

Turkey to create buffer zone in Syria?

It has been reported that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan stated at the World Economic Form meeting in Istanbul, that he wants to create a buffer zone inside Syria. The reason given is so the thousands of refugees who recently fled ISIS (Daesh) will be able to return to their homes in security.

To be honest, this is the perfect excuse Erdogan has been looking for to make a land grab in Syria. It is something I wrote about back in March as you can read here and again in April, here. Turkey is definitely the elephant in the room. It has been suspiciously tolerant of Daesh, allowing its fighters to cross the border as well as permitting the movement of weapons into Syria. What this suggests is that Turkish motivations for creating a buffer zone are not to be trusted. All the indications are that Turkey would love to reclaim some of the territory it had as part of the Ottoman empire. With nationalism being stoked in the country, this would be a popular move for Erdogan to make. On the opposite side of the coin, it could create a lot of tension with the Kurds who have created their own autonomous areas in northern Syria over the course of the conflict. If Turkey goes for the land grab, will the Kurds be allowed to continue governing themselves? Time will tell.

Syria will never go back to the borders it had before the conflict started, it is being divided up for geo-political reasons. In the process, the risk of unintended consequences increases. Now that the US led coalition is carrying out airstrikes on Daesh, the dynamic is changing, groups such as Jabhat al Nusra are collaborating with Daesh as now the attacks are seen as an attack on Islam. The operation to bomb them could ultimately lead to them becoming stronger and gaining even more support.

Watch this space.