Bombing ISIS in Syria will not tackle extremism in Brussels

 
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By Khaled Diab

Rather than airstrikes against the Islamic State (ISIS), Belgium should strike at the root causes of homegrown extremism.

Bruxelles est (Re)belle. Miguel Discart https://www.flickr.com/people/miguel_discart_vrac/

Bruxelles est (Re)belle.
Miguel Discart https://www.flickr.com/people/miguel_discart_vrac/

Tuesday 5 April 2016

When we moved from Europe back to the Middle East, some of our Belgian friends who were unfamiliar with the region were worried about us and expressed concern for our safety.

So it felt bizarre that my wife and I found ourselves checking on the well-being of friends in Belgium after the terrorist attacks at Brussels airport and in the capital’s metro system, which claimed at least 31 lives and left another 330 injured, some in critical condition. To add to the irony, colleagues and friends in Gaza, who have more than enough on their plates, contacted my wife to check that her family was all right.

The scenes of the destruction and slaughter seemed almost unreal when juxtaposed against the casual, everyday mundanity with which I have used both hubs over the years. However, although the onslaught was shocking, it was sadly not surprising, especially following the Paris attacks in November of last year. “We feared a terrorist attack, and it occurred,” declared the Belgian premier Charles Michel solemnly.

Brussels is, after all, not only the capital of Belgium, it is also the unofficial capital of the European Union and hosts NATO’s headquarters. It is also home to a pool of disillusioned and marginalised young Muslims who can be preyed upon by jihadist recruiters.

In the aftermath of the attacks, the fear is palpable, even for those who are determined not to allow terror to guide their lives. “It’s not easy not to have fear,” one Belgian admitted to me, “and I try not to fear, just love.”

Belgium’s Muslim minority is not only fearful of the terrorists but also the almost inevitable backlash from the mainstream. “It was always a dream for me to have a [trendy] beard,” recalls Hassan Al Hilou, a 16-year-old Iraqi-Belgian student and entrepreneur who has started up an online platform for youth. “But I am scared of my own hair and scared of my own name.”

Syrian refugees are also feeling the heat. “I have escaped from a war zone and now I am feeling threatened just walking down the street.” one refugee who has received threats was quoted as saying.

In addition to the solidarity, defiance and soul-searching has come the inevitable finger pointing, with reports of suspected intelligence failures and bungling, which prompted Justice Minister Jan Jambon to try to tender his resignation.

However, it is easy to find fault and condemn in hindsight, as happened previously in the United States after the 11 September attacks, or in Paris, London and Madrid, amongst others. But, at the end of the day, even after all the precautions are taken, determined killers will eventually locate a weakness or gap to exploit. “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone,” European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said in Belgium’s defence.

Some criticism is also agenda-driven. It seems to have become almost routine for governments and interest groups to seize on every terror attack to roll back civil liberties and trample on our privacy.

The EU’s counter-terrorism coordinator Gilles de Kerchove hinted at this in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo massacre when he urged European representatives to “never let a good crisis go to waste”. And true enough, Kerchove pounced on the Brussels bombings to try to blast through controversial legislation on airline passenger data.

This tendency has me and many others who value our hard-won freedoms worried. “We are gradually moving towards a state in which our security will come at a heavy price,” says my friend Jan, despite his concern about extremist activity in his neighbourhood, Molenbeek, an area of Brussels dubbed as “jihad central” by the more sensationalist segments of the media. “I hate the voices who say that it is either freedom or security.”

Just as occurred with the Front National in France following the Paris attacks, the latest atrocities have provided Belgium’s faltering far-right with a surge in support, with its ripple effects empowering everyone from Geert Wilders in neighbouring Holland to Donald Trump across the Atlantic.

The anti-immigrant Vlaams Belang claims that its support has grown by 25% since the attacks while the fringe white supremacist Voorpost says its membership doubled in just three days. Vlaams Belang’s leader Tom Van Grieken has already seized on the opportunity to demand a “water-tight” border policy and the “preventive detention” of known Islamic extremists, which sounds like far-right code for harassing Muslims.

Later, the far-right party went further to demand the reintroduction of the death penalty for Muslim terrorists and their accomplices (but preusambly not for non-Muslim ones) and, like Trump across the Atlantic, the VB wants to ban foreign Muslims from entering Belgium.

But some are hopeful that the combined power of young Muslim and mainstream moderates of the divide can overcome the religious and racial supremacists. “I believe in this generation,” insists Hassan Al Hilou. “We know how to accept everyone and their cultures, how to live together with love and not with hate.”

For its part, the Belgian government immediately unveiled plans to resume airstrikes against ISIS targets, as if bombing Syria or Iraq would somehow de-radicalise extremists in Brussels.

As I’ve argued in before, the government’s fixation on security and the “war on terrorism” diverts vital resources from the policies that would prevent the homegrown terrorist threat, which draws on the alienation, disenchantment, exclusion and marginalisation felt by inner-city Muslim youth, making them softer targets for extremist brainwashing.

The way to deprive jihadist recruiters of a fresh supply of young people willing to die would be to give youth greater reasons to live, by promoting respectful integration and mutual tolerance, as well as investing in education and job creation.

____

Follow Khaled Diab on Twitter.

This is an updated version of an article which first appeared in The National on 28 March 2015.

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The myth of the European jihadist hordes

 
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By Khaled Diab

The terrorist attacks in Brussels will reinforce the idea that returning jihadists pose an existential threat to Europe. But the facts say otherwise.

Bruxelles est (Re)belle. Miguel Discart https://www.flickr.com/people/miguel_discart_vrac/

Bruxelles est (Re)belle.
Miguel Discart https://www.flickr.com/people/miguel_discart_vrac/

Monday 28 March 2016

It has been described as a “treasure trove” and “goldmine”. German intelligence has reportedly obtained the recruitment documents of 22,000 members of Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL.

While some have cast doubts on the authenticity of the information released in the media or raised questions about whether this was perhaps an intentional ISIS leak, the German security services are satisfied that the documents are authentic.

One thing this cache of documents and earlier finds clearly point to is the basic breakdown of where ISIS recruits come from. An analysis of 1,700 ISIS documents obtained by Zaman al-Wasl found that nearly three-quarters of recruits were from Arab countries, with Saudi Arabia leading the pack, followed by Tunisia, Morocco and Egypt.

Interestingly, Syrians only make up under 2% of the recruits listed in this cache, lending greater credibility to the notion that ISIS’s blood-soaked theocracy is a kind of foreign imposition.

However, while ISIS depends heavily on foreigners with no connections to the local social fabric, thereby facilitating its brutality, this figure is probably too low, especially considering how long the terror group has now ruled.

“It’s possible that [Syrians] are mentioned in other documents, and these are mostly about foreigners,” Hassan Hassan, co-author of the acclaimed ISIS: Inside the Army of Terror, told me. “Syrians have a sizeable presence within ISIS, particularly young people or former insurgents.”

Despite all the media hype and political frenzy accompanying the phenomenon of European jihadists, only a small minority of ISIS recruits in the leaked documents actually come from Europe.

This chimes with the estimates of Western intelligence agencies and independent think tanks. In early 2015, the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation (ICSR) at King’s College London estimated the presence of 4,000 Western European fighters in Syria and Iraq. At the end of 2015, another estimate, released by intelligence consultancy the Soufan Group, put the number of Europeans combatants in Syria and Iraq at 5,000.

Although the number of European recruits appears to have risen significantly over the past couple of years, it still represents a miniscule proportion of Europe’s Muslim minority.

The European Union is home to 13-20 million Muslims, while Europe as a whole has a Muslim population of 44 million. This means that European jihadists in Syria and Iraq represents a maximum of 0.04% of the EU’s Muslim population.

Despite this microscopic fraction, the concave mirror of sensationalist politicians and media outlets makes it appear to be a monstrous phenomenon of giant proportions – as if a European jihadist foreign legion is marching to the Levant, while a similar army, disguised as refugees, is marching in the other direction, to conquer Europe.

This magnifying and amplifying effect has serious real-world consequences. One significant effect is how the hype shifts government responses away from holistic policies and towards narrow, security-focused punitive measures.

While fear of the terrorism potential of returning jihadists is understandable and we must be vigilant so as to prevent future atrocities, such as the recent attacks in Brussels which left at least 31 dead, this overlooks the fact, as the experience of some Muslim countries shows, that the most effective form of de-radicalisation of jihadists is often “jihad” itself. Confronted with the discrepancy between their “utopian” ideals and the ugly, murderous reality, many return wishing to turn over a new leaf and reintegrate into society.

Instead of locking ex-jihadists up and throwing away the key, or stripping them of their nationalities, thereby giving them no path towards de-radicalisation and re-integration, we need a more nuanced approach.

Though war crimes committed should be punished, the growing ranks of disillusioned ISIS defectors can be utilised to undermine the group’s appeal and propaganda, and assist in state efforts to prevent radicalisation among vulnerable individuals.

“Governments and civil society should recognise the defectors’ value and make it easier for them to speak out,” contends Peter Neumann, ICSR’s director. “Where possible, governments should assist them in resettlement and ensure their safety.”

Moreover, the exaggerated hype around jihadists makes ordinary Europeans feel far, far unsafer than they actually are and shakes their trust in their Muslim compatriots. It also causes a sense of greater marginalisation and isolation among ordinary Muslims in Europe, as they endure a mounting wave of racism and hate crimes.

“It’s like I can’t do anything anymore without feeling unsafe,” a young Muslim woman from Brussels told me recently. A young Arab man in Brussels told me that he was now afraid of his own beard and name.

This hysteria strengthens the hands of extremists. Islamist and jihadist recruiters are able to prey on the vulnerabilities and sense of alienation felt by young, disaffected Muslims to radicalise more of them. It also weakens and undermines the role of secular and moderate Muslims as cultural bridges.

Far-right and neo-Nazi hatemongers exploit the actions of the few jihadists to demonise the majority of peaceful Muslims – a strategy exploited by groups as diverse as the Front National in France, Jobbik in Hungary and numerous Republican presidential candidates in the United States, most vociferously by frontrunner Donald Trump.

In fact, the fixation on jihadists, Islamic terrorism and Muslims is distracting much-needed attention away from the odious and troubling phenomenon of the rise of far-right white and Christian supremacism and extremism, both in Europe and the United States.

On the other end of the scale, it has given the distorted impression that the bulk of Westerners are hostile towards Muslims. While this holds true in places like Italy and Poland, this is not the case in Western Europe.

Despite two major Islamic terrorist attacks in France over the past couple of years and the growing vocalness of the far-right, the vast majority of French people have a positive view of Muslims (76%), according to a Pews survey. Britons and Germans also hold similarly favourable views.

This points to a way forward out of the growing hate and animosity marking the public discourse. The silenced and increasingly side-lined sensible majority must seize back the podium from the extremists, whether they be Islamists or the anti-immigrant far-right, and the media and politicians must pay greater attention to us.

____

Follow Khaled Diab on Twitter.

This is the updated version of an article which first appeared on Al Jazeera on 17 March 2016.

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ليست سورية هي المسألة، المسألة هي العالم

 
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بقلم بوستيان فيدمشك

في لقاء موسع، يتحدث الكاتب والناشط البارز ياسين الحاج صالح هنا عن سوريا الماضي، الحاضر المأساوي والمستقبل المجهول.

صوري 1

الأربعاء 27 يناير 2016

ياسين الحاج صالح، من مواليد 1961، كاتب سوري يعيش في تركيا منذ خريف 2013. كان سجينا سياسيا شيوعيا أيام حافظ الأسد لمدة 16 عاما. زوجته سميرة الخليل مخطوفة منذ الشهر الأخير في عام 2013 من دوما في غوطة دمشق، وأخوه فراس مخطوف من قبل داعش في الرقة منذ تموز 2013. وله كتب منشورة عن الشأن السوري، وعن الإسلام المعاصر، وعن تجربة السجن.

نشرت هذه المقابلة باللغة الانجليزية هنا

ترجم المقابلة عن الانجليزية فاتح تامر، وراجعها ياسين الحاج صالح

_____

كيف حالك؟ وأين تعيش اليوم؟
أنا بخير، شكراً على السؤال. حين كنت في سوريا اعتدت على القول: ليس لدي أسباب شخصية للشكوى، ولا أسباب عامة للرضا. لكن بعد الثورة، واختطاف زوجتي سميرة وشقيقي فراس، ثم عيشي خارج البلد، في اسطنبول، صار ما هو شخصي عاماً وسياسياً أكثر من أي وقت مضى، وما هو عام وسياسي صار شخصياً جدا. إنها حياة صراع.

بماذا تشعر عندما ترى الكثير من أبناء بلدك ينزحون من النزاع الأسوأ في وقتنا الحالي؟ هل توقعت هذه الهجرة الجماعية؟
قبل أسابيع، ساعدت شخصيا بتهريب زوجة أخي وابنهما من تركيا إلى اليونان. وكمبتدئ في هذه الصنعة، استشرت أصدقاء، والتقيت بمهربين، واخترت أحدهم في النهاية. كنت قلقاً على سلامتهم، واسترخيت طبعا لدى وصولهم إلى بلد أوروبي، وإن لم يكن البلد الذي أرادوا الوصول إليه في البداية. يبقى الآن تدبير أمر النصف الآخر من العائلة، أخي وابنيه الأصغرين، ليلتحق بالنصف الأول. وبمساعدة أصدقاء، نعمل الآن على تأمين شقيقي الآخر وعائلته في بلد آخر، هذا بعد أن تم اغتيال صديق مشترك لنا، الصحفي والمخرج الوثائقئ ناجي الجرف في 27 كانون الأول 2015 في تركيا.
كما ترى، ندعو أنفسنا إلى عالم لم يكن كريما معنا ولم يساعدنا على التحرر في وطننا.

لا، لم أتصور يوماً إمكانية حصول نزوح واسع كهذا. لم أتوقع أن يتمكن النظام من قتل مئات الآلاف من السوريين، وأن ترتفع حظوظه بالبقاء بالسلطة كلما ازداد عدد ضحاياه. لم أتوقع نشوء كيان متوحش مثل داعش. ولم أعتقد بإمكانية مشاركة حوالي 70 دولة في قصف بلدي، قصف لا يستهدف المجرم الذي يحكم البلد، بل قوة إجرام جانبية.

كيف ترى التعاطي الأوروبي مع أزمة اللاجئين؟

كلي إعجاب بكثير من الأشخاص من البلدان الأوروبية، متطوعات ومتطوعين أفرادا. معجب بكرمهم وشجاعتهم، وأراهم يشرفون الجنس البشري. تأثرت كثيراً برسالة وصلتني من امرأة نرويجية قبل حين، جاءت من بلدها لتساعد اللاجئين في جزيرة ليسبوس اليونانية. أما بالنسبة للحكومات فليس من العدل أن تشمل بمجموعة واحدة، ألمانيا ليست كهنغاريا، والسويد ليست كالدنمارك، لكن أظن بأن الدول كلها تعمل على بناء أسواء عالية حولها لمنع تدفق اللاجئين إليها، وبشكل خاص الفقراء والضعفاء منهم.
تقوم الحكومات الأوروبية منذ شهور بالضغط على أنقرة لعدم السماح لللاجئين بمغادرة تركيا. في تشرين الثاني 2015 دفعوا للحكومة التركية مبلغ 3 مليار يورو مقابل حماية الحدود الأوروبية من خطر اللاجئين.
مع كل هذا الدم الذي أريق تحت أنظار العالم خلال الأعوام الخمسة الماضية قادت البشري نفسها نحو الفقدان الكامل للشعور الأخلاقي. أعتقد بأن عدم الاكتراث الذي أظهره العالم بخصوص المحنة السورية سيؤدي بالمؤسسات السياسية كلها إلى إحساس أدنى بالمعاناة الإنسانية في كل أنحاء العالم.

في وضعٍ غارق بالفوضى كهذا، أين ترى يمكن الحل أو الحلول؟
يمكن للمرء أن يفكر بتسوية تاريخية تنهي الحرب، وتضمن انسحاباً شاملاً للقوات الأجنبية، وتؤسس لبيئة سياسية مختلفة كليا في البلد. يمكن لحل سياسي مستدام أن يبنى حصراً على أساس أكثرية سياسية جديدة في سورية. ولا يمكن تحقيق هذا الأمر عن طريق مواجهة داعش لوحدها، أو النظام لوحده. يتطلب وجود أكثرية سورية جديدة حدوث تغيير سياسي جوهري، وهو الأمر الذي لا يمكن تصوره بدون وضع حد نهائي لحكم سلالة الأسد، وهي في السلطة منذ أكثر من 45 سنة،وتتحمل المسؤولية عن حربين كبيرتين في البلد: حرب 1979-1982 وحرب 2011 الجارية الآن.
هذا التغيير هو الشرط السياسي والأخلاقي المسبق للوصول إلى حرب على داعش بمشاركة واسعة من قبل السوريين. ما زالت القوى العالمية حتى الآن تحاول وضع العربة أمام الحصان عن طريق استهداف داعش وحدها، متجاهلة جذورالعسكرة والتطرف والطائفية خلال السنوات الخمس الماضية، أعني نظام الأسد. هذه سياسة قصيرة النظر ومحكومة بالفشل، بصرف النظر عن أنها لا أخلاقية. إنها وصفة مثالية لحربٍ لا تنتهي.
يمكن أن يتم بناء سوريا الجديدة على عدد من الأسس الجوهرية: اللامركزية، اعتبار الجماعات الإثنية والدينية والمذهبية المختلفة جماعات متساوية تأسيسيا، مساواة حقوقية وسياسية بين المواطنين الأفراد (عرب وكرد وآخرون، مسلمون ومسيحيون وآخرون، سنيون وعلويون وآخرون: متدينون وعلمانيون وآخرون). من غير المقبول الحديث عن سوريا كدولة علمانية، كما تنص وثيقة فيينا الموضوعة في 30 تشرين الأول 2015، حين لا تتطرق الوثيقة نفسها لأي شيء عن العدالة والمحاسبة، وتتجنب كلمة الديمقراطية. هذا الضرب من إعطائنا محاضرات عن العلمانية يذكر بأسوأ خصائص الخطاب الاستعماري.

ماذا يجدر بما يسمى “المجتمع الدولي” فعله؟ وماذا عن الأمم المتحدة؟
السنوات الخمسة الماضية كانت فرصة ممتازة لمتابعة آلية عمل المؤسسات الدولية والقوى العالمية. بالنسبة لي لم تعد القضية قضية سورية وحدها، إنها قضية العالم. ليس الأمر أنني لا أتابع ما يجري في بلدي، لكن العالم حالياً موجود في سوريا (70 دولة دخلت بالحرب هناك).
أرى أن عالم اليوم يفتقر إلى كوامن العدالة والحرية أكثر من أي وقت مضى منذ نحو قرن. في كانون الأول من 2015 ألمح فلاديمير بوتين إلى إمكانية استخدام الأسلحة النووية ضد “الإرهابيين”، هذا تصريح استثنائي وغير مسؤول، وقد قوبل بصمت مطبق من المجتمع الدولي. بعده بأيام قال الرجل نفسه بأن العملية العسكرية الروسية في سوريا “لا تشكل عبئا على الميزانية… بل إن من الصعب تخيل تدريب أفضل منها للقوات الروسية. يمكن أن نتدرب هناك لمدة طويلة من دون أن نلحق أي ضرر بخزينتنا”. تصريح مليء بالغطرسة الاستعمارية، لكنه لم يستثر أي ردة فعل على الإطلاق من الأمم المتحدة أو القادة الغربيين، ولا من مجموعات حقوق الإنسان أو المنظمات اليسارية في العالم.
تطور الوضع في سوريا من ثورة ضد الطغيان الى مسألة عالمية، المسألة السورية. أرى أن صنع المسائل هو النهج السياسي للأقوياء في صنع التاريخ. المسائل أوضاع معقدة تبث اليأس في النفوس، وهي تدوم عقوداً أو أجيالاً بأكملها أو “إلى لأبد”، كما يقول أحد شعارات موالي الأسد، وخلال هذا الوقت الطويل ينشبك الفقراء والضعفاء في أوضاع معقدة لا مخرج منها. وعلى النقيض، فإن نهج الضعفاء السياسي هو الثورات التي تخلق الوضوح والأمل. إن سحق الثورات في سوريا والمنطقة عموماً هو المهمة المتشكرة التي تجمع الأقوياء في سوريا والمنطقة والعالم عموماً. هذه العُقدة الغوردية التي يعقدونها ستبقى معنا لوقت طويل للغاية.
تاريخياً، سارت المسائل والحروب الكبيرة سارت معاً على قدم وساق. المسألة الشرقية انتهت مع الحرب العالمية الأولى، والمسألة اليهودية وجدت “حلين نهائيين” في الحرب العالمية الثانية وما تبعها، الثاني منهما كان على حساب الشعب الفلسطيني. ويمكن للمرء أن يضيف المسألة الكردية: منع الأكراد من تشكيل دولتهم، وهو أيضاً منبع للكراهية واليأس والحرب. سوريا مساحة تقاطع لهذه المسائل الثلاث معا.
لهذا السبب فإن سوريا هي تمثل عالماً مصغراً ومثالاً عالمياً. لا حاجة للقول بأن الأمم المتحدة والمجتمع الدولي هما صانعو مسائل، بل هم قوى ثورة مضادة. لا ينتظر المرء منهم أن يكونوا قوى ثورية، لكن دورهم كان إجرامياً بحق.

هل الانقسام السني-الشيعي أعمق اليوم من أن يحل سياسياً؟
إنه كذلك. ولكن لا يوجد حل سياسي للانقسامات الطائفية. وعلى كل حال، ليس الانقسام بحد ذاته هو المشكلة، المشكلة هي الصراع العنيف بين الجماعات الاعتقادية. وعلى العكس من الاعتقاد السائد في الغرب، فإن هذا الصراع ليس شيئا يترتب تلقائيا على وجود سنة وشيعة. في الحقيقة وعلى النقيض من ذلك، الصراعات الاجتماعية والسياسية هي التي تحرك هذه الانتماءات الخاملة وتشحنها بكهرباء سياسية خطرة. فتحولها عمليا إلى أحزاب سياسية، بل عسكرية. وهذا أيضاً من مناهج الأقوياء في إضعاف الشعوب المتمردة لتحويل الصراع من النطاق السياسي الاجتماعي الذي يتمثل بالمواجهة بين النخبة والفئات الأضعف إلى النطاق الثقافي الاجتماعي المتمثل بالمواجهة بين الضعفاء على جانبي خطوط الانقسام الدينية والاعتقادية. ما أريد قوله هو أنه يلزم أن تدرك بصورة أفضل ديناميكيات وعمليات النزاع السياسي الاجتماعي في بلدان مثل سوريا، العراق، البحرين، إيران والسعودية، وكذلك والنزاعات الاقليمية من أجل فهم الانقسام السني الشيعي نفسه. هذا الانقسام يتعمق اليوم بالتأكيد، ويجري استخدامه كأداة للسيطرة على الجموع وتعميق الهيمنة على المنطقة. الطائفية عموما هي استراتيجية للسيطرة السياسية. والمسألة في النهاية مسألة سياسة، ليست مسألة دين أو ثقافة.

هل بإمكاننا القول بأن سوريا لا تزال قائمة كبلد، كدولة؟
مجدداً، سوريا اليوم هي العالم. هناك أكثر من 70 دولة مشتركة بالحرب بشكل رسمي، ويوجد أيضاً جهاديون من أكثر من 70 دولة موجودون أيضاً هناك. سوريا مسألة عالمية، رمز فريد للظلم واللامبالاة والنسيان. لدينا سوريا هذه على الأقل، سوريا الرمز.

يؤسفني القول بأنني لست واثقاً من بقاء سوريا كبلد قابل للحياة. الاحتمال الوحيد لنجاة سوريا هو تغير سياسي جوهري. سوريا كما هي الآن بلا تغير تموت، عاجلاً أم آجلاً. فقط سوريا المتغيرة ستكون قابلة للحياة.

إن الأسباب الأولية لنشوء الحرب ووحشية النظام هي أمور قد تم بشكلٍ أو بآخر نسيانها في الرواية الغربية عن الحرب. لماذا؟

بشكل رئيسي بسبب علاقة تماه بين النظام والقوى العالمية العظمى على المستويات البنيوية والرمزية. ان عقيدة الحداثة هي مسألة مشتركة بين الفاشي بربطة عنق، بشار الأسد، وهؤلاء القادة ذوي ربطة العنق في الغرب الذين ينقصهم بعد النظر والإحساس بالمسؤولية العالمية. للأمر صلة بشكل ما مع تكون النخبة السياسية في الغرب، وهي مكونة من أشخاص ذوي دخل عال، منعزلين تماماً عن المعاناة الشعبية الناجمة عن السياسة. وهذا أحد مصادر أزمة الديمقراطية في الغرب ذاته. فالديمقراطية تموت حين تنفصل عن الصراع من أجل العدالة. نحن نشاهد بأعيننا كيف أن الديمقراطية تتقلص الى مجرد تكنولوجيا سياسية لإدارة الأزمات. منهج إدارة الأزمة، بانفصاله التكويني عن القيم وقضايا العدالة هو اليوم المنهج السائد في السياسة خلال السنوات ال25 الماضية، حتى في الغرب. هذا المنهج ليس نافعاً في شيء سوى خلق المسائل، والشرق الأوسط هو التجسيد الفعلي لهذه السياسات اللاأخلاقية.
وترجع بعض جذور ضعف الذاكرة الى تكوين الوسائل الاعلامية الكبرى في الغرب، حيث يتجه التفضيل إلى ما هو مثير على حساب ما هو هام إنسانياً وسياسياً. على سبيل المثال، قطع رأس رجل ما أكثر إثارة من قتل 100 آخرين ببرميل متفجر، وأكثر نيلا للاهتمام والتغطية الإعلامية. نتماهى مع من يقتلون بطريقتنا، جرائمهم مثل جرائمنا ليست أخبارا ولا تغطيها أقنية الأخبار التي نتحكم بها. لكن يصيبنا الهلع من هؤلاء الذين يقومون بالقتل بطريقة مختلفة، هنا الجريمة خبر جدير بالاهتمام، إلى درجة قيام وسائل الإعلام الغربية بشن حملات دعائية لداعش على مدار سنتين.
على فكرة، أعتقد بأن هذا الافتتان بداعش، وقد بدأ في صيف 2013، مرتبط بصورة وثيقة بالصفقة الكيماوية المشينة بين الولايات المتحدة وروسيا. فهم منها نظام الأسد ضمنياً أنه من المقبول أن يقتل الناس بأسلحة أخرى، ليس تلك التي قمنا نحن بتحريمها. كانت وسائل الإعلام الرئيسية مطيعة للغاية بتغطية كل ما تقوم به داعش وتهميش كل جرائم النظام، هادفةً لإضافة الشرعية على تلك الصفقة الخسيسة بين حاميي السلام  العالمي المفترضين.
الهوس بداعش هو وسيلة متبعة لغسيل عار تلك الصفقة. ترغب وسائل الإعلام والنخب القوية أن تبقى الشعوب متسمرة أمام العجيب المعروض، وتظل أذهانهم معلقة بقاطعي الرؤوس الوحشيين، المختلفين تماماً عنا وعن شعوبنا العزيزة. أريد أيضا أن أضيف شيئاً فيما يتعلق بمسألة الهوس بداعش. يخيل لي أن هذا المستوى المجنون من القتل والسيطرة الذي تمارسه داعش في المناطق التي تحتلها هو المستوى الذي تطمح النخب القوية في “العالم المتحضر” لتقليده. هذا العنف له وظيفة رئيسية: إنه يرفع سقف ما يمكن فعله بالشعوب في بلاد أخرى، معطياً نخب السلطة في كل مكان إحساساً بالسيطرة والحرية. فاذا كان من الممكن القيام بهذا الفعل هناك اليوم، فلعله سيكون ممكناً هنا أيضاً يومأ ما. داعش تمثل التجارب المخبرية التي يراود مخيلة نخب غربية محاكاة ما تفعله يوماً ما. طوباهم هذه هي كابوسنا. ولهذا بالضبط ينبغي أن تشعر الشعوب في الغرب بالقلق مما يجري في سوريا في السنوات الخمس الماضية. لا تدافعوا عنا، بل دافعوا عن أنفسكم!

هل هنالك أي جهة على الاطلاق تقوم بلعب دورٍ ايجابي؟
جهة خارجية؟ ربما لا. لكنه سيكون خطأً كبيراً ان استنتجنا من هذا الكلام أن كل الأطراف متساوون بالسوء. السجل التركي معقد، لقد قامت باستقبال حوالي مليوني ونصف لاجئ، وضعنا هنا مقبول، وحتى الآن أخذت تركيا موقفاً متسقا من نظام الشبيحة في سوريا، لكنها سببت العديد من المتاعب بسبب مخاوفها غير المنصفة وغير العقلانية حيال الكرد على جانبي الحدود. موقف فرنسا كان غالباً ثابتا أيضاً. كلا البلدين كانا واضحين طوال الوقت وحددا أن المجرم هو نظام الأسد، وأنه يجب أن يتم التخلص منه وحاولا التصرف على هذا الأساس، ولكن تم كبحهما عن طريق الولايات المتحدة. مثلت واشنطن العدو الأسوأ للثورة السورية، أسوأ حتى من روسيا، التي كانت عدواً صريحاً منذ اللحظة الأولى، بالاضافة لايران وتوابعها العراقية واللبنانية. لست مناهضا أصوليا للامبريالية على طريقة من يعتقدون أنها جوهر سري مكنون في مكان ما في الولايات المتحدة، ربما في البيت الأبيض أو البنتاغون أو السي آي إيه، ولكني حاولت جاهداً أن أجد أي عوامل إيجابية في السياسة التي انتهجتها إدارة أوباما حيال سوريا، ولم أفلح. العالم بأكمله أصبح مكاناً أسوأ من ذي قبل، وخاصةً بعد الصفقة الكيميائية والتي كانت بمثابة هدية كبيرة لداعش وجبهة النصرة، وبالتأكيد للأسد.

أما بالنسبة للأطراف الداخلية، فأعتقد أنه يمكن تعريف الظلامية بأنها القول بعدم وجود جيدين في الصراع السوري، وأن الكل سيئون. أرى بأن هذه نظرة أصولية، تشبه أسلوب داعش في التعامل مع قضيتنا. أنا لا أقول بأنه لا يوجد سيئون، هنالك كثير منهم، ولا أريد القول أيضا بأن هناك الكثير من الأشخاص الجيدين، وهو صحيح طبعا، ما لم يكن الواحد منا روبرت فيسك أو باتريك كوكبيرن أو فلاديمير بوتين. عوضاً عن كل ذلك، أريد إحداث تحول في الباراديغم من التوزيع الرجعي لتصنيفات جيد وسيء إلى النظر في الديناميكيات الفعلية للصراع. سبق وألمحت الى المجزرة الكيماوية والتي قضى بها 1466 سورياً على يد النظام الأسدي في آب 2013، والصفقة الكيماوية بين الأميريكيين والروس والنظام. دعني أتوقف هنا قليلا: ما كانت تلك الصفقة؟ كان هنالك أربع أطراف، وليس ثلاثة، في ذلك الوقت: النظام، الأميركيون، الروس، ثم ملايين السوريين الذين كانوا يقاومون نظام الطغمة الأسدية لأكثر من سنتين وخمسة أشهر حينها، سلميا في البداية وبالسلاح لاحقاً. لم يكسب النظام من تلك الصفقة المخزية نجاته فحسب، بل أيضاً الحصانة والإفلات من العقاب. تمكن الروس من إنقاذ نظام عميل لهم وكسب دور أعظم في المنطقة والعالم بشكل ملحوظ، في حين نجحت الولايات المتحدة (ومن خلف الكواليس، اسرائيل) في تجريد النظام من أسلحته الخطيرة والتي كان يفترض بأنها رادعة لاسرائيل.
الطرف الذي تم التضحية به بشكل كامل هو الطرف الذي كان قد فقد لتوه 1466 شخصاً في ظرف ساعة واحدة: السوريون الثائرون. لهذا السبب كانت هذه الصفقة خسيسة، وكذلك كان “أبطالها”، وعلى الأخص من اسمه باراك أوباما.
وبسبب وحشية النظام، وخسة أنوات العالم الكبار، انطلقت موجةٌ من التطرف والأسلمة والعسكرة والاستماتة، وغيرت كل شخصٍ في البلد، ومن بينهم أنا. في أيلول 2015، تواجدت في أوسلو لعدة أيام، وهناك ظهرت في برنامج تلفزيوني. قبل البرنامج، سألتني المقدمة إن كنت معتدلا؟ أجبتها: لا، لست معتدلاً. ارتاعت لبرهة، فأرادت أن تطمئن: لكنك علماني، أليس كذلك؟
تقرر العادات الخطابية في الغرب أن كلمة “معتدل” تعني بأنه يقف معنا (نحن كمركز للعالم)، وهي مرادفة أيضا لكلمة “جيد”. وتكون “متطرفا” و”سيئا” إذا وقفت الى جانب شعبك.
من جهتي، أنا سيء.

كيف ترى التورط التركي في الشأن السوري؟ وما هو مستقبل المسألة الكردية؟
هذا هو المنبع الرئيس لأهم أخطاء الحكومة التركية في سوريا. لم تتمكن تركيا من التعامل مع المشكلة الكردية في أراضيها على أساس من المساواة والحرية والأخوة. الآن هنالك حرب حقيقية في المناطق الكردية في تركيا، يجري فيها إذلال للناس الفقراء وتشريدهم وقتلهم. وقد صدَّرت الحكومة التركية إلى سوريا تجربتها السيئة بالتعاطي مع الأكراد. وكي تصير الأمور أسوأ، قام حزب الاتحاد الديمقراطي الكردي السوري باستيراد تجربته في تركيا إلى سوريا، واستورد معها مطبقيها، ومعها الرمزيات الخارجية للإيديولوجية الحداثية الرثة، المصمم خصيصاً لسحر المُعنّسين (الذكور غالبا) من يساريي للطبقة الوسطى في الغرب. سبب هذا الكثير من المعاناة حتى الآن، وأخشى أنه في سبيله إلى تسبيب المزيد. ما نشهده الآن برأيي هو عملية بناء نظامٍ حزب واحد مغالٍ في النزعة القومية الكردية، وله علاقاتٍ خفية مع نظام الأسد وإيران، وأخرى أقل سريةٍ مع الولايات المتحدة وروسيا.

كيف يمكن قتال داعش بصورة فعال؟ شخصياً، أنا لا أرى أي إرادة سياسية حقيقية لمحاربتهم بالقوة المطلقة.
أنت محق. لا ترى إرادة سياسية لقتال داعش لأنها غير موجودة ببساطة. هنالك إرادة سياسية لاستمرار الحرب طويلاً. وبقاء داعش جيد للحرب كي تستمر. زوالها هو الشيء السيء من وجهة النظر هذه. ولهذا يبدو العالم موحداً في وجه هذا التنظيم الفاشي ضعيف التسليح، بدون تحقيق أي تقدم في سبيل هزيمته.
أعتقد بأن المنطق الأميركي لتحليل المشكلة هو كالتالي: داعش قوية برجالها، لذلك علينا أن نحاصرهم في منطقة محددة، كي لا ينتشروا في كل مكان كما حدث بعد غزونا (الهستيري) لأفغانستان في 2001. ثم أنه يجب أن يبقى بشار نظراً للدرس الذي تعلمناه من غزونا (الإجرامي) للعراق وتفكيك الدولة فيه. أما بالنسبة لهؤلاء الذين هم ضد داعش ويحاربون الأسد، يعني… يعني هم غالباً “سيئون”. وربما يسير التفكير الروسي هكذا: نريد لبشار أن يبقى بالسلطة. ولتحقيق هذا علينا أن ندمر أولئك الذين يحاربونه حقاً. طبعا سنتكلم علناً عن حرب على الإرهاب فقط، وعن وقتال داعش. أليس هذا ما كان الأميركيون يطنطنون به طوال الوقت؟ عندما نسحق كل هؤلاء الذين هم ضد داعش وبشار، فإن التفاهم الضمني بيننا وبين الأميريكيين سيصبح علنياً، وسنقرر مصير سوريا والشرق الأوسط سويةً. اسرائيل ستقف معنا. نحن نستطيع أن نعطيها أكثر من ما يمكن أن يعطيها الأميركيون.

فلندع جانبا هذا التخطيط الاستراتيجي الافتراضي، أعتقد أنه ليس من الصعب أبداً قتال داعش، لكن لا يمكنك أن تفعل ذلك وأنت تتجاهل بشكل ممنهج القوات المحلية التي واجهت هذا الكيان في الماضي، وبينما أنت تعتمد على تنظيمٍ فاشيٍ آخر، نظام الأسد.

هناك ثلاث مستويات لصراع مثمر مع داعش. أولاً، يجب أن يتم تحديد قضية عادلة لهذه الحرب، ولا يمكن لهذه القضية أن تكون سوى العدالة والحرية لهؤلاء الذين تقمعهم داعش، وهو ما لا يمكن تحقيقه مع تجاهل المصدر الرئيسي للقمع والظلم، نظام الأسد. كيف تريدني أن أحارب داعش وأنت تتعامل من وراء ظهري مع نظام طغموي قتل أو تسبب بقتل 300000 من أبناء بلدي؟
ثانياً، يجب أن تكون هناك رؤية سياسية واضحة لدعم انتقال ديمقراطي للسلطة في سوريا والعراق. ستكون أوضاع الانتقال فوضوية في كلا البلدين لسنوات قادمة أو حتى أكثر، لكن هذا سيكون أفضل بكثير من حرب تستمر لأجيال طويلة ضد داعش، كما قال كل من جولي بيشوب وزير الخارجية الأسترالي ومارتن ديمبسي رئيس هيئة الأركان المشتركة الأميركية السابق، في كلمات مماثلة منذ عدة شهور.
ثالثاً، نحتاج استراتيجية عسكرية واضحة ومن الممكن تطبيقها خلال شهور أو سنة أو سنتين. ما أراه الآن هو حرب من دون هدف معلن بوضوح، بدون جدول زمني، وبدون حلفاء محليين (حزب الاتحاد الديمقراطي ليس حليفاً حقيقياً، فهو مرتبط بعلاقات مع النظام الفاشي، وهو غير ديمقراطي في تعامله مع السكان المحليين، دعك عن أن الاعتماد المنفرد عليه سيؤدي الى التسبب بمشكلة إثنية كبيرة في سوريا).

التعبئة الدولية اليوم ضد داعش تحفزها نزعة إبادة، وليس تحقيق العدالة. وهذا بالضبط ما يميز التعبئة التي تقوم بها داعش ضد العالم. هل من المستغرب حقاً أن نعترف بأن داعش هي انعكاس لصورة عالمنا الحالي على المرآة؟ كيف يمكن أن نفسر هذا الانجذاب المرضي للكتابة والحديث عن داعش في وسائل الاعلام الغربية بغير ذلك؟ بغير هذا النزع لنزع السحر عن وجه العالم؟
ربما هذا هو السبب الحقيقي لانعدام الرغبة في قتال هذا العدو العالمي المفترض.

ما سيكون دور داعش المستقبلي في سوريا والعراق؟
لا شيء على الإطلاق.
داعش هي مزيج من استعمار استيطاني ونظام فاشي وإرهاب عدمي. وهي بذلك مضخة للشر والموت يجب أن يتم تفكيكها بالكامل.
لكن من الضروري أن يكون هناك تغيير كبير بالتعبئة الحالية النازعة لإنسانية المسلمين، التي قد تتسبب بمجزرة كبيرة. أفضل نقطة للانطلاق هي فهم حقيقة داعش كقوة في العالم وتفسيرها بأدوات تحليل علمانية. ليست داعش شيئا دينيا، ولا هي نمو لبذرة في صلب الإسلام عابرة للزمن.

ومن المؤسف أن المرء لا يرى فرصة لتغيير، عندما نرى أشخاصاً مثل سلافوي جيجك يتبرع بالمشاركة في هذه الحملة الهستيرية، مزوداً إياها بمنطق تصنيفي حربي من قبيل “نحن” و”هم”، وتعميمات جاهلة عن الصراع السوري (صراع زائف حسب رأيه) وعن سوريا التي لا يعرف إطلاقاً شيئاً عنها، لا عن مجتمعها ولا عن تاريخها ونظامها السياسي واقتصادها السياسي وبيئتها الإقليمية. هذا النجم ما بعد الحديث كتب مؤخراً مقالةً ذات نزعة أكثر حربية بعد عن العلاقة بين تركيا وداعش، مقالة مبنية بالكامل على معلومات مغلوطة وعلى شغف بالكراهية. إذا أخذنا هذه الوقائع بعين الاعتبار، أخشى بأن الآمال بتغيير في مسارات التفكير أصبحت أضعف بشكل ملحوظ.

يخيل للمرء بأن داعش على قدر ما هي سيئة للسوريين والعراقيين، هي شيءٌ جيد للغرب ولروسيا. لذلك فالسؤال عن مستقبل داعش يجب أن يكون: هل سيقومون يوماً ما بفعل شيءٍ حقيقي لتفكيك هذا الكيان؟ هل هم حقاً معادون لهذا المزيج من استعمار استيطاني ونظام فاشي وتنظيم إرهابي؟ لعلهم يتعرفون في داعش على أشياءً يتعرفونها جيدا في أنفسهم.

هل ما يجري هو إعادة ترسيم للحدود في المنطقة؟
من المحتمل أننا داخلون في عملية كهذا. رسم حدود الشرق الأوسط كان نتيجة ما انتهت إليه الحربان العالميتان الأولى والثانية، والتغيرات التاريخية في مسألتين رئيسيتين، المسألة الشرقية والمسألة اليهودية، وجرى بإشراف القوى الاستعمارية التي شكلت النظام العالمي الحالي. سوابق حربي العراق ولبنان تفيد أن إعادة رسم الحدود ليس بالموضوع السهل. لكي يقع شيء من هذا القبيل يجب أن يحدث واحدٌ من شيئين بالضرورة: نظام عالمي جديد، و/أو تطهير عرقي على مستوى هائل، يتسبب بضحايا أكثر مما وقع في رواندا.

ولا أرى كيف من الممكن أن رسم حدود جديدة للمنطقة سيؤدي لحل أي مشاكل معلقة فيها. منذ الآن تبلغ أعمار الدول الموجودة في منطقتنا مئة عام تقريبا، وهي أقبل للإصلاح من دول جديدة ستكون إما صافية عرقيا أو طائفيا، وبالتالي أقل قابلية للترقي السياسي والأخلاقي لسكانها، أو مختلطة، لكن بدون ضمانات لعدم تصاعد الأوضاع لحلقة جديدة من الحروب العرقية أو الطائفية. وفي كلا الحالتين ستسعى كل من هذه الدول الجديدة الصغيرة لحماية نفسها من نظيراتها عن طريق اللجوء إلى القوى الاستعمارية القديمة نفسها التي رسمت الخرائط القديمة، ورعت الصراعات الحالية نفسها.
أنا مع (1) إصلاح دولنا (لامركزية، استقلالية محلية واسعة وحكم ذاتي، إلخ…).
(2) دولة فلسطينية سيدة.
(3) دولة كردية سيدة.
أتطلع أيضا إلى قيام كومونويلث شرق أوسطي حيث يعيش سوية العرب، الاسرائيليون اليهود، الأتراك، الأكراد والايرانيون، على أسس من المساواة والاحترام والرخاء المشترك.

سوريا تدمرت، يوجد الآن أكثر من 4.5 مليون لاجئ وأكثر من 11 مليون نازح داخل وطنهم. الدولة انهارت، جيلان على الأقل أصيبوا برضوض نفسية شديدةوتحطمت حياتهم بشكل غير قابل للعكس. ما الذي يمكن فعله للمساعدة؟ كيف يمكننا الانطلاق من الصفر؟ كيف نعيد بناء المجتمع؟
أولاً، علينا أن نسحب السكين من الخاصرة. نظام الأسد هو سكين، سكين مسمومة، لن تتعافى سوريا أبداً قبل إزالتها. ثانياً، سوريا ستحتاج الكثير من الوقت لتتماثل للشفاء. انه أمر مؤسف للغاية أنه لا يمكننا أن نتوقع المساعدة من المجتمع الدولي الذي ساعد بالأحرى في غرز السكين في مكانها منذ البداية. التعافي الوطني أصبح مهمةً غاية في الصعوبة، لكن ما تحتاجه سوريا بشدة هو إطلاق دينامية معاكسة لما سبق من دينامية عسكرة وتطرف وطائفية، دينامية مصالحة واعتدال واستيعاب للجميع. الناس الآن ناقمون ونزاعون إلى الثأر ببساطة لأنهم لا يزالون تحت القتل. من شأن دينامية مختلفة أن تقوي الاستعداد للتعاون والتفاهم المشتركين.

أعتقد أن عددا متزايدا من الناس سيعملون من أجل سوريا جديدة وأكثر استيعابا في اللحظة التي تنزع فيها السكين الأسدية من الجسد السوري. هم الآن متناثرون في كل أنحاء العالم، لكن حدوث تغير حقيقي في البلد وبناء سوريا جديدة سيكون قضية  جامعة لأكثرهم.

معظم المتعلمين غادروا البلد. كيف ترى المستقبل في وطنك؟
سؤالك مؤلم. إن لم تمت سوريا، فالعديد من هؤلاء الذين غادروا البلد سيعودون. وسأكون واحداً منهم بالتأكيد. أنا بانتظار أصغر فرصة للعودة. علي أن أقتفي أثر زوجتي وشقيقي الذين خُطفا في 2013.
أعتقد بأن إبداعية الناس يمكنها أن تفعل الكثير. اتحاد الضعفاء والمحرومين هو أمر ممكن، وهو ما سينقذ سوريا. أرغب بالعيش في سوريا جديدة أو سوريا تتغير، وسط الناس الذين يصارعون من أجل الحياة. لقد عشت هناك حياتي كلها.

كيف تؤثر مأساة شعبك على طريقتك بالكتابة؟
أنا بالأساس كاتب مقالات. أجد متعة في ذلك وأعيش منه.
ولما كنت الناجي بعد أن اختطفت زوجتي وشقيقي والعديد من أصدقائي بدون أي معلومات عنهم، فأنا أحاول أن أروي قصصهم، كي لا تضيع وتنسى. هذا أحد أهم المواضيع التي أكتب عنها.

وككاتب، أعتقد بأن مساهمتنا النوعية ككتاب في الثورة المخذولة تتمثل في إحداث ثورة في مجالنا الخاص، مجال الكتابة، والثقافة عموما.
الثورة ثقافية هي أمر ضروري جداً في سوريا والعالم العربي، وهي المشروع الوحيد الذي من الممكن يصون كرامة المخطوفين والمعذبين والمقتولين. أعرف أن عملي مشرب اليوم بحس مأساوي جاء مما أصاب سورية، وأصاب أحبابي، وأصابني شخصيا. في اللغة العربية هناك علاقة اشتقاقية بين كلمتي المعاناة والمعنى، وأعتقد بأنه يجب إعادة بناء ثقافتنا على أساس من معاناتنا وتجاربنا المريعة.
إلى ذلك، أرى أن الثقافة ميدان استراتيجي لصراعنا في هذا الوضع الاستثنائي. لقد قلت فوق شيئاً عن الأعداء وميادين الصراع. يمكن أن تكون الحرب أداةً في الصراع عندما يكون لك عدو واحد (طغيان السلالة الأسدية)، لكن السياسة هي الوسيلة عندما يكون لديك عدوين (لنقل الأسديين والجماعات الدينية المتطرفة)، أما الثقافة في الميدان الأنسب عندما تكون بمواجهة ثلاث أعداء: سلالة الأسد، المجموعات الإسلامية العدمية وقوى الامبريالية العالمية، روسيا والولايات المتحدة أساسا. بالطبع يجب أن تتشكل الثقافة بالطريقة الأنسب للرد على التحدي المتمثل بهذه القوى الثلاثة اللاانسانية. ما يوحد هذه الميادين الثلاثة من الصراع هو الذاتية والإبداع.
إنها مسألة انعتاق.

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Sexual harassment, Islam and the politicisation of women’s bodies

 
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By Khaled Diab

Sexual harassment in Cologne and elsewhere is not about Islam. It is about the patriarchy and the politicisation of women’s bodies.

This offensive cartoon has appeared at Pegida rallies and on T-shirts.

This offensive cartoon has appeared at Pegida rallies and on T-shirts.

Tuesday 26 January 2016

Charlie Hebdo ran a cartoon in its latest issue featuring the drowned Syrian child Aylan Kurdi, in which it suggests that, had he lived, the boy would have morphed into a man-ape and become an “ass groper”. This was a crude reference to the shocking spate of robberies and mass sexual assaults of women in Cologne on new year’s eve, which has further fuelled anti-migrant and anti-refugee sentiment across Europe.

Defenders of the cartoon claim it is a parody that “mirrors racist public discourse” and a “damning indictment of our anti-refugee sentiment.”

As someone who is no stranger to satire and who was outraged by the slaying of Charlie Hebdo staff by Islamist terrorists, I feel these defences give the satirical French magazine too much credit. Even if we were to give it the benefit of the doubt, racists and bigots are likely to take the cartoon – which echoes traditional depictions of blacks as oversexed monkeys – at face value, and use it to confirm their prejudices.

Rather than challenging the growing anti-refugee sentiment, I feel Charlie Hebdo is pandering to it. Social media in Germany and across Europe has been awash with a tidal wave of hate speech against migrants since the Cologne mob attacks, as epitomised by the grotesquely racist “rapeugees” hashtag and the call on Facebook for a “manhunt of foreigners”, which has already claimed casualties.

That is not to say that I do not feel outraged by what happened in Cologne on new year’s eve. So far, nearly 350 women have reported being sexually assaulted by roaming mobs of drunken men, many of whom were described as looking Arab or North African.

The scale and mob nature of these attacks reminds me of Tahrir square, where groups of men would erect a “circle of hell” around female protesters and sexually assault them.

Although a large number of these savage attacks were likely opportunistic, exploiting the confusion of big crowds and the vulnerability of women inside them, others were politically motivated.

Victims accounts and circumstantial evidence suggest that many were likely carried out by the regime’s paid thugs or undercover police to intimidate female protesters, by the Muslim Brotherhood, and other Islamists, who have a track record of inciting against female protesters, incensed by women acting as equals and demanding equality.

The reactions to these crimes have more often than not also been politicised, with Egyptian society’s most reactionary forces, from the military to the Muslim Brotherhood, trying to capitalise on these tragedies by blaming their political opponents for them.

A similar dynamic has been at play in Germany. The apparently orchestrated nature of the sexual assaults in Cologne suggests that they may have been politically motivated, though for what end or by whom is a mystery.

As if the sexual abuse of the women in Cologne was not enough, anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant groups and politicians have been falling over themselves to politicize their plight.

This political profiteering was on blatant display during a rally organised by the anti-Islam Pegida (Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the Occident).

“This is Deutschland, not Afghanistan,” opined Tommy Robinson, the former leader of the extremist English Defence League and founder of the European Defence League. “Islam is the cancer and Pegida is the cure.”

What exactly sexual assault and sexual harassment have to do with Islam – or at least any more so than other religions – is unclear. Syrian refugees, for one, do not seem to have read the memo. A group of them produced a flyer addressed to the German public, in which they declaimed: “Our cultural values were trampled by these crimes. Those values include respect for women and men [and] respect for bodily integrity.”

On new year’s eve, one American woman in Cologne was rescued from a mob attempting to assault her by a group of Syrian refugees who set up a protective cordon around her and helped her locate her boyfriend. “The good people, nobody speaks about them,” one of the young woman’s rescuers lamented.

If Islam really were to blame for the Cologne assaults, then you’d expect there to be a clear pattern of sexual harassment across the Arab and Muslim world. But anecdotal evidence suggests that no such pattern exists.

An unscientific survey I conducted of female friends and acquaintances confirmed Egypt and Pakistan as among the worst in the Muslim world, and India topped the non-Muslim league. Meanwhile, the Levant, including Syria before the civil war, was seen as pretty mellow. “I feel a lot more comfortable around 11pm in Manger Square… than I do walking in Cairo during broad daylight,” one friend confessed.

In Egypt, the sexual harassment epidemic is partly a backlash against the gender revolution taking place, in which women are becoming more assertive and unapologetic in their demands for equality, as well as years of denial and the breakdown in law and order.

Interestingly, women living in some Gulf states, such as the UAE and Bahrain, report that the harassment there is minimal. Given their conservative reputation, this would appear to be an anomaly.

However, this conservatism may be part of the reason why their streets are relatively free of sexual harassment. There, the traditional concept of a woman’s “honour” being intertwined with that of her family is still robust. So, rather than gender equality, it is the idea that a woman is some man’s sister, daughter or even mother that holds other men back.

Although less common, this attitude is not unfamiliar in the West. This was demonstrated at the Pegida rally. Not only were the majority of the protesters there men, Tommy Robinson reminded his audience that: “It is the duty of every man to protect their women.”

“When exactly those people who otherwise spend the year telling women that they should button up their blouses suddenly start promoting women’s rights, then it is instrumentalized racism,” wrote Sascha Lobo in Der Spiegel.

Much as we would like to believe that we, in the West, live in some kind of post-patriarchal society of equals, misogyny remains, persistently and infuriatingly, alive and well. And despite all the gender legislation and education, sexual harassment in public is a reality that millions of women on both sides of the Atlantic must live with.

“The place where I have been most harassed is France by non-Arab men,” one well-travelled friend admitted. Another said that harassment was less frequent in Europe than in the Middle East but when it occurred it was “more aggressive or very rude… Harassers have pretty often seemed drunk or high.”

What limited research has been conducted reveals that street harassment is a challenge of global proportions. One study in the United States found that a whopping 87% of American women had been sexually harassed, with half reporting “extreme” harassment. A Europe-wide survey found that one in three women had experienced physical or sexual abuse, with one in 20 reporting they had been raped.

The assaults in Cologne were an extreme and discomfiting public display of this reality, and singling out migrants will not resolve the problem. In addition to better policing, Europeans need to tackle the misogyny and sexism, both amongst minorities and the majority, that give men a sense of entitlement to women’s bodies, breed a blame-the-victim culture and provide victims with insufficient emotional and legal support.

____

Follow Khaled Diab on Twitter.

This article first appeared in Haaretz on 20 January 2016.

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Yassin al-Haj Saleh: “Syria is a unique symbol of injustice, apathy and amnesia”

 
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By Boštjan Videmšek/DELO

In an exclusive interview, prominent Syrian writer and dissident Yassin al-Haj Saleh talks about Syria’s past, tragic present and uncertain future.

صوري 1

Wednesday 20 January 2016

Yassin al-Haj Saleh is a leading Syrian writer, a former political prisoner and one of Syria’s foremost intellectuals. Ever since his student days, Saleh has been a vocal critic of the Assad regimes. He was arrested in 1980 during the presidency of Hafez al-Assad and spent the next 16 years as a prisoner of conscience.

During the early days of the Syrian uprising, his voice became louder than ever. In 2012, he was given the Prince Claus Award (supported by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs) but was unable to collect it, as he was living in hiding in Damascus. In 2013, he fled to Turkey. His wife and brother were abducted the same year. He is the author of several books,  including Deliverance or Destruction? Syria at a Crossroads (2014).

Here, he speaks to Boštjan Videmšek about Syria’s past, tragic present and uncertain future.

How and where are you right now?

I am fine, thank you. When I was in Syria, I used to say: I have no personal reasons to complain of, and no public reasons to be contented. After the revolution, with the abduction of my wife Samira and my brother Firas and my living in exile in Istanbul, the personal has become public and political much more than before. The public and political has become personal. It is a life of a struggle.

How do you feel when you see so many of your fellow citizens on the run from the most horrible conflict of our time? Did you expect an exodus like that?

Weeks ago, I helped smuggle my sister-in-law and my nephew from Turkey to Greece. As a beginner, I consulted friends, met smugglers, and chose one.

I was anxious about their safety, and was relieved when they arrived in a European country, even if it was not the one they wanted to go to. The other half of my brother’s family, he and his two younger sons, are to join the first half someday. With the help of friends, we are trying to arrange things for another brother and his family to take refuge in another European country, after a mutual friend of ours, the journalist and film maker Naji Jerf, was assassinated in Turkey on 27 December 2015.

We are helping ourselves to a world that did not help to liberate us at home. Never had I contemplated the possibility of such an exodus. I did not expect that the regime would kill hundreds of thousands of people and that its chances of staying in power would grow bigger as the numbers of its victims soared. I did not expect the emergence of a monstrous creature like Da’esh [ISIS]. I did not expect that around 70 countries would be partners in bombing my country: not against the ruling criminal, but against an offshoot of his monstrosity.

How do you see the European handling of the refugee crisis?

I am impressed by many people from many European countries, mostly individual volunteers. Their generosity, courage and humanity dignify the human race. I was touched by a message from a Norwegian woman who was in Lesbos helping refugees. As for governments, while it is not fair to include all of them in one category – Germany is not like Hungary, Sweden is not Denmark – I think they are unified in building higher walls in the face of the influx of refugees, specifically the poorest and most vulnerable ones.

For months now, European governments have been pressuring Ankara not to allow refugees to depart from Turkey. In November, they promised to pay €3 billion to the Turkish governments to guard European borders.

With all this blood that has been spilt over the past five years right under the world’s nose, humanity has led itself down the path to full ethical numbness. I suppose the indifference the world showed towards the Syrian ordeal will lead to even less sensitivity to human suffering in political institutions everywhere.

Where do you – in this chaotic situation – see the solution(s)?

One could think of a historical compromise that ends the war, guarantees full withdrawal of foreign forces, and is the basis of a wholly different political landscape in the country. A sustainable solution can only be built on a new political majority. This cannot be achieved through facing Da’esh alone or the regime alone. A new Syrian majority requires a substantial political change that is impossible to envisage without putting a full-stop to the rule of the Assad dynasty that has been in power for 45 years, a dynasty responsible for two big wars in the country: 1979-1982 and 2011-…

This change is the political and ethical precondition for a war against Da’esh with the broad participation of Syrians. The global powers have so far been putting the cart before the horse by targeting Da’esh only, ignoring the root cause of the militarisation, radicalisation, and sectarianisation that has occurred over the past five years, namely the Assad regime. This is a short-sighted and failing policy, not to mention unethical. It is a prescription for an endless war.

The new Syria could be built on a number of essential principles: decentralisation; thinking of different ethnic, religious and confessional communities as equal constituent communities; full equality among individual citizens (Arabs, Kurds and others; Muslims, Christians and others; Sunnis, Alawites and others; religious, secular and others). It is not acceptable to talk about Syria as a secular state, as the Vienna document of 30 October 2015 states, when the same document says nothing about justice and accountability, and avoids the word democracy. Lecturing about secularism reminds one of the worst traits of the colonial discourse.

What should the so-called international community do? What about the UN?

The past five years were a great chance to follow the international institutions and the world powers. For me, it is no longer Syria, it is the world, which is in a deep crisis. It is not that I do not follow what is happening in my country, but the world is in Syria (around 70 states are at war there).

I tend to think that the world lacks the potential for freedom and justice more than at any time over the past a century. In December, Vladimir Putin raised the possibility of using nuclear weapons against “terrorists”, an extraordinarily irresponsible statement that was met with utter silence form the international community. A few days later, the same man said that the Russian offensive in Syria “is not a serious burden for the budget … It’s hard to imagine a better exercise [for the Russian forces]. So we can train there [in Syria] for a long time without any serious harm to our budget.” Full of colonial arrogance, this statement stirred no reaction at all from the UN or Western leaders, not even a word from human rights groups, or any leftist organisations in the world.

The situation in Syria has developed from a revolution against tyranny to a global question, the Syrian question. Creating questions is, in my opinion, the political method of the powerful in shaping history. They create complicated, despair-inducing situations that last decades or generations (or forever, as an Assadist slogan says), during which the poor and weak are entangled in ineffectual struggles. By contrast, the method of the vulnerable is to create clarity and hope through revolutions. Crushing the revolutions in Syria and in the region has been the common job of the powerful local, regional and global powers. The Gordian knots they create will be with us for a long time.

In history, questions and big wars walked hand in hand. The Eastern Question ended in the First World War, and the Jewish Question found two “Final Solutions” in the Second World War and its aftermath (the second at the expense of the Palestinian people). One might add the Kurdish question: denying the Kurds statehood, which is also a source of hatred, despair, and war. Syria is an active field for this question now.

That is why Syria is a microcosm and a global metaphor.  Needless to say – the UN and the international community are creators of questions, or are, indeed, counterrevolutionary powers. I do not expect them to be revolutionary, but their role was criminal indeed.

Is the Sunni-Shia divide now too deep to overcome it politically?

It is. But there are no political solutions to confessional divisions. However, division in itself is not a problem; the problem is the violent struggle between the confessional groups. Contrary to the common wisdom in the West, this struggle is not something primordial that emanates from the very fact that there are Sunnis and Shia. Actually, it is the opposite: social and political struggles mobilise these idle belongings of ours and electrify them, or charge them politically. They transform into political, indeed military, parties. This is also the method of the powerful in order to weaken rebellious people and transfer the struggle from the socio-political field (the underprivileged v the elite) to the socio-cultural field (our underprivileged against theirs). What I want to say is that we need to know better the dynamics and processes of the social and political struggle in countries like Syria, Iraq, Bahrain, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the regional struggles to understand the ‘Sunni- Shia divide’. This is deepening indeed. It is being used as a tool to rule the masses and to exercise regional influence. Sectarianism, in general, is a strategy for political control. So it is politics, not religion or “culture”.

Can we say that Syria still exists as a country, as a state?

Again, Syria is the world. More than 70 countries are formally at war in the country, and jihadists from more than 70 countries are also there. Syria is a global question, a unique symbol of injustice, apathy, and amnesia. We have this Syria, at least – the symbol.

I am sorry to say that I am less sure about Syria as a viable country. The only chance, however, for Syria to survive is substantial political change. Unchanged, Syria is a dying land, sooner or later. Only changed will Syria become viable.

The reasons for the war and the brutality of the regime have been more or less forgotten in the Western narrative of the war. Why?

Primarily due to the identification between the regime and the major powers on the structural and symbolic levels. The modernist ideology is a common issue between the fascist with a necktie, Bashar al-Assad, and those neck-tied leaders in the world who lack vision and global responsibility. This issue is, in a way, related to the formation of the political elite in the West: high-income people who are fully isolated from politically inflicted human suffering. One source of the crisis is democracy in the West. If separated from the struggle and human aspiration for justice, democracy dies. In front of our eyes, we are witnessing democracy being reduced to political technology for dealing with crises. Crisis management, with its innate divorce from values and issues of justice, is the dominant method of politics over the past 25 years, even in the West. This method is good for nothing but creating questions, and the Middle East is the incarnation of these extremely unethical policies.

Some additional roots of this amnesia are related to the constitution of the powerful mass media in the West: the exciting is always more preferable to feed the masses on than what is humanly and politically important. For instance, beheading a man is more exciting than killing 100 with a barrel bomb. We identify with these who kill the way we do (their crimes, like ours, are not news), but we are enchanted with those who kill in a different way to the degree that we have offered Da’esh free propaganda for two years.

By the way, I think this enchantment with Da’esh that began in the summer of 2013 has deep connections with the sordid chemical deal between the US and Russia, which practically informed the Assad regime that it was okay to kill people with other tools, not with the one we had forbidden. The mainstream media was obedient in highlighting whatever Da’esh did and sidelining the crimes of the regime in order to legitimise that despicable deal between the two big global keepers of the peace (read: war). Da’eshmania is a way of suppressing the shame of that deal. Media and power elites want the masses to remain mesmerised, with their minds fixated on those exotic decapitators, who are absolutely different from us and our dear masses.

I want to add one additional thing concerning this fascination with Da’esh. I suspect that the mad extent of killing and control that Da’esh is practising in the regions it occupies is the level the power elites in the “civilized world” aspire to imitate. That violence has an essential virtue: it pushes past the limits of what can be done to the population at home, giving the power elites everywhere a sense of mastery and freedom. If this can be done there, it will be possible here someday. Da’esh is the laboratory test the elites like to peep at and hope to imitate someday. It is their utopia and our dystopia. That is why the population in the West should be anxious of what has been happening in Syria for the past five years. Do not defend us, defend yourselves!

Is there any player at all who has  a positive role?

External players? Maybe not. However, it would be a big mistake to conclude from that that all the players are equally bad. Turkey’s record is mixed: it welcomed around 2.5 million refugees. Our situation here is acceptable and, so far, Tukey has had a consistent position towards the Shabeeha regime in Syria, but it caused a lot of trouble because of it is irrational and unjust concerns about the Kurds on both sides of the border. France’s position was mostly a consistent one, too. Both countries were clear all the time that the culprit is the regime and it should be overthrown and they tried to act accordingly, but were kept back by the United States. Washington has been the worst enemy of the Syrian revolution, worse even than Russia, which was a clear enemy from the first moment, along with Iran and the latter’s satellites in Lebanon and Iraq. I am not an essentialist anti-imperialist who thinks that imperialism is an essence hidden somewhere in the US, maybe at the White House, the Pentagon, or the CIA, but I tried hard to locate any positive elements in the Syrian policy of Obama’s administration in Syria. The world at large has become a worse place, especially after the chemical deal which was a big gift to Da’esh and al-Nusra Front (and, of course, to Assad), than it was before.

As for internal players: I think one can identify obscurantism as the position of saying that there are no “good guys” in the Syrian conflict; they are all bad. I see this as an essentialist, Da’esh-like way of approaching our cause. I do not imply that there are no bad guys, there are many; neither do I want to say that there are many good guys, which is of course true, unless one is Robert Fisk, Patrick Cockburn, or Vladimir Putin. Rather, I want to make a paradigm shift from that reactionary distribution of labels of good and bad, to the actual dynamics of the struggle. I alluded before to the chemical massacre in which 1,466 Syrians were killed at the hand of the Assad regime, and to the chemical deal between the Americans, Russians and the regime. What was that deal? There were four actors, not three, at the time: the regime, the Americans, the Russians and millions of Syrians who had been resisting the thuggish regime for more than two years and four months, peacefully at the beginning then with arms. The regime gained not only its survival from that sordid deal but also impunity; the Russians managed to save a client regime and won a greater recognised role in the region and the world, while America (and from behind the scenes, Israel) succeeded in disarming the regime of the dangerous weapons that were thought of being deterrent to Israel. The party that was completely sacrificed is the one who had just lost 1,466 people in one hour: the rebellious Syrians. That is why that deal was despicable and its “heroes”, especially the one named Barak Obama, were extremely villainous.

Due the regime’s brutality and the baseness of the big egos of the globe, a dynamic of radicalisation, Islamisation and militarisation, was triggered and changed everybody in the country, myself included. In September 2015, I was in Oslo for a few days, where I appeared on a TV programme. Before this show, the presenter asked me, if I was “moderate”. No, I am not, I replied. She was alarmed, but she wanted to be sure: “But you are secular, aren’t you?” For the discursive habits in the West, ‘moderate’ implies that siding with us (“We are the centre of the world.”) and “good” are synonyms. You are “extremist” and “bad” whenever you side with your own people.

Of course, I am bad.

How do you see Turkey’s involvement and the future of the Kurdish question?

This is the main cause of the Turkish government’s biggest mistakes in Syria. Turkey has not been able to deal with its own Kurdish problem on a basis of equality, freedom and fraternity. Just now, there is a real war in the Kurdish regions in Turkey, with poor people being humiliated, displaced and killed. To Syria, the Turkish government exported its bad experience in dealing with the Kurds. And to make things worse, the Syrian PYD imported from Turkey its experience there, people to apply this experience, and with spades of the modernist ideological rubbish, designed specifically to enchant middle class left-wing spinsters (mostly males) in the West. This has already caused a lot of suffering, and I am afraid it will only cause more. What we are witnessing is, in my view, the building of an ultranationalist, one-party system, with hidden connections to the Assad regime and Iran, and less hidden ones with the US and Russia.

How can we effectively fight Da’esh? Personally, I don’t see any substantial political will to fight them with full force.

You do not see political will to fight Da’esh because there is none. There is political will for the war to go on. Da’esh is good for the war to continue. Its demise is the bad thing from this perspective. That is why the world seems unified against this ill-equipped (in military terms) fascist organisation, without making progress toward defeating it.

I think the American reasoning goes this way: Da’esh is strongest in its men. We have to besiege them in a certain area, so they will not spread everywhere the way they did after we (hysterically) invaded Afghanistan in 2001. Bashar should stay according to the lesson we learnt from our (unjustifiable) invasion of Iraq and dismantling the state there. As for those who are against Da’esh and fighting Bashar, well, er… they are mostly bad. The Russian monologue maybe goes like this: we want Bashar to stay in power. To achieve this we have to destroy those who are really fighting him. Of course, we will talk only about a war against terror and fighting Dae’sh, is it not that what the Americans have been droning on about the whole time? When we crush all those who are against Bashar and Da’esh, the clandestine understanding between us and the Americans will become public, and we will decide the fate of Syria and the Middle East together. Israel will side with us. We can give it more than the Americans are able to do.

Imaginary strategising aside, I think it is not at all difficult to fight Dae’sh, but you cannot do so while systematically ignoring the local forces that did face this entity in the past, and relying on another fascist organisation, namely the Assad regime.

There are three levels of a fruitful struggle against Da’esh. First, to honestly build a just cause for this war, and this cannot be but justice and freedom for those oppressed by it, which in turn cannot be achieved while ignoring the main source of oppression and injustices, the Assad regime. How do you want me to fight Da’esh while you are dealing from behind my back with a cliquish regime that killed 300,000 of my fellow citizens? Second, there should be a clear political vision of supporting a democratic transition in Syria and Iraq. Things will be messy in the two countries for years to come or even more, but this is still far better than a war that goes on for generations as both Jolly Bishop, the Australian foreign affairs minister, and Martin Dempsey, the former American head of staff, said in similar words few months ago.

Third, you need a clear military strategy that can be achieved in months or a year or two. What I see now is that we have a war without a clearly expressed aim, with no timeframe, with no local allies (The PYD is not that ally: they have relation with the fascist regime, and they are not democratic, let alone that relying solely on them will creating a very big ethnic problem in Syria). The international mobilisation against Da’esh is annihilation-oriented (not geared towards justice). But this is also the essential feature of Da’esh’s mobilisation against the world. Is it that far-fetched to say that Da’esh is a mirror reflection of the present world? How else can we explain this morbid attraction to talking and writing about Da’esh in the media of the West? This dis-disenchantment of the world?

Maybe this is the reason for this reluctance to fight this supposed global enemy.

What will be their role in the future of Syria and Iraq?

Absolutely nothing.

Da’esh is a mixture of settler colonialism, a fascist regime, and a nihilist terrorist organisation. As such, it is a pump of evil and death that should be completely dismantled.

But there should be a big shift in the current dehumanising mobilisation that affects all Muslims and promises us only a huge massacre. For effecting such a shift, the best starting point is to understand Dae’sh as a worldly power and explain it through secular tools of analysis. It is not a religious thing, not a flourishing of a primordial seed within Islam.

It is a sorry fact that one does not see any prospect for such a shift, when even people like Slavoj Žižek volunteer in this hysterical campaign, providing it with a warring classificatory logic of us and them, and stupid generalisations about the Syrian struggle (a pseudo struggle according to him) and Syria that he knows absolutely nothing about – its society, history, political system, political economy, regional environment. That postmodernist superstar wrote recently an even more combative article about the relationship between Turkey and Da’esh – one based on false information and a passion for hatred. With this in mind, I am afraid hopes for a change of course become considerably slimmer. One may even think that Da’esh, as bad as it is for Syrians and Iraqis, is something good for the West and Russia. So the question of Da’esh’s future is: will they ever do anything real to dismantle this entity? Are they really antagonistic to this combination of settler colonialism, fascist regime, and terrorist organization? Maybe they are identifying in it things that they know very well in themselves.

Are the old borders in the region being redrawn?

It is possible that we are in the process. Drawing borders in the Middle East was an outcome of two world wars and historical shifts in two questions (the Eastern and the Jewish one), under the supervision of the colonial powers as they shaped the present world system. The precedents of Iraq’s and Lebanon’s wars denoted that creating new states and redrawing borders is not as easy as we may think. For such a thing to happen, one of the following two is a pre-requirement: a new world system and/or a massive ethnic cleansing; one that surpasses Rwanda.

I do not see how redrawing new maps in the region will solve any older problems. Our present states are already a century old at least, and they are reformable far more than new states that will be either pure, and consequently less capable of ethical and political promotion, or mixed, with no guarantees of not spiraling into a new circle of ethnic or sectarian wars. And in both cases these new smaller states will seek protection from each other by resorting to the same old colonial powers that drew the old maps, and that patronised their very present struggle.

I am for (1) reforming our states (decentralisation, autonomous regions, etc.); (2) a sovereign Palestinian state; (3) a sovereign Kurdish state. I look forward to a Middle Eastern commonwealth, where Arabs, Israeli Jews, Turks, Kurds, and Iranians live together on a basis of equality, respect, and shared prosperity.

Syria has been destroyed, with 4.5 million refugees and more than 11 million people displaced inside their own country. The state has collapsed, at least two generations have been deeply traumatised, their lives irreversibly shattered. What can be done to help? How do we start from “ground zero”? How do we rebuild society?

First of all, you have to remove the knife from the loin.The  Assad regime is a knife, a poisoned one, that Syria will never recover from without it first being removed. Second, Syria will need a long time to convalesce. It is regrettable that one cannot expect help from “the international community” that helped plunge the knife in the first place. National recovery has become a formidable task, but what Syria needs most is to launch an opposite dynamic to that of militarisation, radicalisation, and sectarianisation – one of reconciliation, moderation and inclusivity. People are vengeful now just because they are still being killed. A different dynamic will encourage a predisposition towards co-operation and mutual understanding.

I believe that an increasing number of people will work for a new, more inclusive Syria, the moment the Assadic knife will be plucked out of the Syrian body. They are now scattered all over the world, but real change in the country and building a new Syria will be a collective cause for the majority of them.

Most of the educated people fled. How do you see the future of your country?

Your questions are painful. If Syria does not die, many of those who fled would come back. I will be one, definitely. I just want a minimal chance to go back home. I have to track down a loving wife and a brother, both abducted in 2013.

I believe that the creativity of people can do a lot. The alliance of the vulnerable, the underprivileged, is possible, and they will save Syria. I only want to live in a changing/changed Syria, among the people who are struggling for life. I lived there all my life.

How does the tragedy of your people affect the way you write?

I am essentially an essayist. I enjoy doing this and I am living off it.

Having survived after my wife, my brother and many of my friends were abducted with no information about them, I am trying to tell their stories, to prevent them from lapsing into oblivion. This is one of the main topics of my work.
As a writer, I think our specific participation as writers in the let-down revolution is to achieve revolution in our own sphere: writing and culture in general. A cultural revolution is extremely vital in Syria and the Arab World, and it is the only project that radically dignifies those abducted, tortured and killed. I know that my work is now imbued with a tragic sense, derived from what befell Syria, my beloved and me personally. In Arabic, there is a telling etymological relation between suffering and meaning, and I think that our culture should be rebuilt around our horrible experiences of suffering.

Besides, I feel that culture is a strategic field of our struggle in this exceptional situation. I said something before about enemies and fields of struggle: war could be a tool of struggle when you have one enemy (Assad dynasty tyranny), politics is the method when you have two enemies (say tyranny and religious extremism), but culture is the right field when you have three enemies, as we have: the Assad dynasty, the nihilistic Islamic groups and global imperialist powers, principally the US and Russia. Of course, culture should be formed in a way that responds best to the challenge of these three inhumane powers. What unifies these three fields of struggle is autonomy and creativity.

It is a matter of emancipation.

 

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Western Muslims: The neglected link

 
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By Khaled Diab

Despite their under-utilisation and the suspicion they elicit, European and American Muslims can help bridge the chasm between “West” and “East”.

Tuesday 5 January 2016

As Marine campaigns to prove that Le Pen is mightier than the sword of Islam and Donald plays his Islamophobic Trump card, a sense of gloom has descended upon European and American Muslims and their sympathisers.

The latest poll by Brookings reflects the depth of mainstream hate and distrust in America: over three-fifths of those polled have unfavourable views of Islam, with this rising to a whopping 73% amongst Republican voters.

However, there is a sliver of a silver lining. Despite years of neo-con scaremongering, the vast majority of Americans do not subscribe to the “clash of civilisations” theory, with fewer than two-fifths believing that the values of Islamic and Western societies are incompatible.

As a longstanding critic of Samuel P Huntington’s simplistic theory, I am pleased with this finding. Interests clash, civilisation do not tend to. In fact, as I’ve argued numerous times before, the clash within civilisations is far greater than the conflicts between them.

Though Americans dislike Islam, over half of them expressed favourable views of Muslims, rising to two-thirds among Democrats. Those who knew a Muslim tended to be even better predisposed. For example, while only 22% of Republican voters who knew no Muslims viewed them favourably, this shot up to 59% for Republicans who were well-acquainted with some Muslims.

My own personal experiences back this up, especially in Europe. Europeans I know who live near Muslims or have actually visited a Muslim-majority country generally have a more positive view of Muslims than those who live in white suburbia.

Rula Jebreal.

Rula Jebreal.

“The presence of millions of Muslims living, working, voting in Europe and North America is a constant reminder that there is no clash between Islam and the West because Islam is part of the West,” contends New York-based Rula Jebreal, the prominent Palestinian-Italian journalist and novelist, who is the author of the compelling fictionalised autobiography Miral.

Although many on both sides of the divide see Islam and the West (Christendom) as being two discrete entities, I regard them as a single “mash of civilisations”. Islam is hardwired into Western civilisation through its philosophy, science, mathematics, medicine and more.

Even culturally, the West wouldn’t be the same without Islamic culture. Take just one man, the legendary though largely forgotten Ziryab, who single-handedly revolutionised European fashion, cuisine and music.

The same goes the other way around. Islam’s very roots were profoundly influenced by Christianity and Greco-Roman civilisation and philosophy. In modern times, the process of modernisation has largely been synonymous with Westernisation, first brought home in the minds of 19th-century Egyptians who moved to study and work in France. Even more recently, the Arab Spring drew large numbers of Western Arabs and Muslims back to their ancestral lands, especially Tunisia and Egypt.

Despite periodic animosity, this ancient link between Europe and the Middle East means that Europeans generally understand and sympathise with Muslims more, with Islamophobia largely the preserve of the far right – for now. “Here in America, however, Islamophobia has been mainstreamed,” notes Jebreal.

Throughout my long years as a journalist, I have drawn on my dual Arab and European heritage to highlight the nuances, ambiguities, diversities and subtleties of history, politics, culture and beliefs. This is out of a conviction that the devil, and demonisation, lie in sweeping generalisations, while the human and humanising reside in the detail. Simplistic narratives and solutions are appealing. However, in a complex world, reductionism lead to misdiagnosis and complications, fuelling ever greater mayhem and hatred.

Wajahat Ali

Wajahat Ali

And the growing prominence of Western Arabs and Muslims is helping in this humanising mission. “We see more people of colour and Muslims succeeding as journalists, story tellers, entrepreneurs, community activists,” explains Pakistani-American Wajahat Ali, a journalist and host with Al Jazeera America. “Tragedy and pain also compel urgency and inspire work. Post 9-11, you see a more proactive, progressive, engaged Muslim-American and Arab-American communities.”

Humour, from satire to parody, is a powerful tool in this effort, as it deploys laughter as a devastating weapon against bigotry. In my own writing, I have used satire to mock everything from far-right conspiracy theories about the Islamisation of the West to ISIS’s a-historical caliphate, which, unlike its predecessors does not tolerate science, literature, gay poetry or odes to wine.

Similarly, other Muslims, from stand-up comics to writers, have been employing gallows humour to draw attention to the plight of their community. For instance, when Donald Trump suggested that Muslims should carry special identification, Wajahat Ali quickly obliged and created his own Muslim ID card. In it, he described his ethnicity as “Bollywood” and his religion as “Sunny-side Sunni”.

Regardless of whether you employ reason or humour, it often feels futile, especially when hate seems to be gaining the upper hand. It seems to me that it is far easier to burn bridges, and scorch the surrounding earth, than it is to build them and plant the seeds of understanding and compassion.

Ayman Mohyeldin

Ayman Mohyeldin

This is a frustration shared by others. “The biggest challenge is overcoming the sheer scale of unawareness and miseducation  people in the US suffer from,” laments Ayman Mohyeldin, one of the few Arab-American journalists working in a high-profile position for a major US news network, NBC. “That can only be achieved through grassroots awareness and macro level visibility in the public sphere.”

“I don’t know if I made a difference,” admits Wajahat Ali. “I’ve been at this for 12 years and the level of anti-Muslim hysteria and bigotry is higher now than it was in 9-11.”

But this must not dissuade us from trying to reach out, even if the chasm is widening. “With every individual trying to blow up the bridge both from within and outside, there are 10 willing to build,” points out Ali.

“I am not willing to cede the ground to extremists on both sides ­– the jihadists and the Islamophobes,” insists a determined Rula Jebreal. “But in an age of 24/7 cable news and social media on phones, we don’t have much time on our side.”

And with fires blazing in the Middle East and the larva bubbling under the surface in Europe and America, I share this sense of urgency. “[We] need a multicultural coalition of the willing – a global justice league – to come together to bridge the divides,” proposed Wajahat Ali.

In my view, despite their under-utilisation and the suspicion they elicit on both sides of the growing divide, European and American Muslims are the best-positioned to play this role. They can help explain the so-called West to the so-called East and vice-versa, dispel the myth that some sort of “jihad” or “crusade” is in motion, and help replace animosity with co-operation.

____

Follow Khaled Diab on Twitter.

This article first appeared in The National on 19 December 2015.

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ISIS and the mash of civilisations

 
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By Khaled Diab

Counterintuitive as it may sound, ISIS is proof that the clash of civilisations is a myth. The reality is that interests clash, while cultures mix.

Thursday 26 November 2015

When the Islamic State (ISIS) claimed responsibility for the atrocities which took place in Paris, its message was sprinkled with references to “a faithful group of the soldiers of the Caliphate” who attacked “Crusaders” in Paris, a city described as the “the carrier of the banner of the Cross”.

This has added fuel to the notion that a monumental battle between Islamism, or even Islam, and the West is underway. “Islamist fundamentalism must be annihilated,” said the far-right Front National’s leader Marine Le Pen who is previously alleged to have compared Muslims praying on the street to the Nazi occupation of France.

Almost inevitably, with the precision of a Swiss timepiece, some evoked the late Samuel P Huntington. “This is not a grievance-based conflict,” opined Republican presidential hopeful, Senator Marco Rubio. “This is a clash of civilisations, for they do not hate us because we have military assets in the Middle East.”

Although ISIS undoubtedly hates Christians and other non-Muslims with a passion and believes in just such a clash, buried amid its jihadist rhetoric of fighting the “infidel” is a clear indication that the choice of Paris as a target was largely motivated by France’s “military assets” in Syria.

“The smell of death will never leave their noses as long as they lead the convoy of the Crusader campaign.. and are proud of fighting Islam in France and striking the Muslims in the land of the Caliphate with their planes,” ISIL’s statement mentioned above expressed explicitly.

This highlights how clashes of interests, far more than ideology, inform “foreign policy”, even of a fanatical, ideologically driven group like ISIS.

Since its inception, ISIS’s “jihad” has been about territory politically and resources, economically. Ideologically, its main enemy has been what it regards as errant Muslims who are worse than the “infidel”, in ISIS’s reckoning, because they claim to belong to Islam but walk the path of “kufr” or “unbelief”.

Despite ISIS’s horrendous and merciless persecution and ethnic cleansing of minorities, such as Yazidis and Christians, in numerical terms, its main victims, like those of most jihadist and violent Islamist groups, have been fellow Muslims.

In fact, a kind of global war is in motion, both in Syria and elsewhere, between ISIS, al-Qaeda and other jihadist outfits, each of which considers the others to be Godless and not true to Islam, whereas their real motivation is greed for power and influence, and envy of one another’s “successes”.

This was illustrated in the assassination by al-Qaeda-allied al-Nusra Front of Abu Ali al-Baridi, the commander of the ISIS-affiliated al-Yarmouk Martyrs Brigade. In a statement about the killing, al-Nusra placed al-Baridi firmly outside the community of believers.

In a similar vein, the latest attack in Paris may have partly been spurred by the rivalry between the world’s two leading jihadist groups. With al-Qaeda claiming the Charlie Hebdo attacks in January, ISIS may have been seeking to one-up its bitter rival’s grim record.

To my mind, this highlights the oft-overlooked clash within civilisations, which I believe far outweighs, in terms of ferocity, intensity, passion, and sheer carnage the clash between Islam and Christendom. This can be witnessed in the conflicts in the contemporary Middle East, as well as the traditional Sunni-Shia schism.

In Europe, this is visible in how, despite the fears of this or that society or culture bringing down the West (or Christendom before it), the two occasions in which European civilisation came close to annihilation – World War I and II – was due to internal ruptures and rivalries.

Ideologically, it is apparent in the numerous schisms within Christianity – between the Western and Eastern churches, or between Catholics and Protestants. These schisms enabled the early Islamic conquerors to easily overcome the Byzantines who were hated in, for example, Egypt, because Copts were regarded as “heretics”. During the Dutch Revolt, Protestants used the slogan “Liever Turksch dan Paus” (“Rather Turkish than Pope”).

In fact, despite the headline ideological conflict between Islam and Christendom, pragmatic and even friendly alliances have, for centuries, been forged across this divide. This can be seen in the long-lasting alliances the Ottomans forged with France and later Germany. This was also visible everywhere from Andalusia to the Crusader kingdoms to the Arab alliance with the British against the Turks or today’s longstanding US-Saudi axis.

Perhaps most significantly of all, and what gets left bleeding by the wayside in these polarised times, is what I like to call the “mash of civilisations”. Judaism, Christianity and Islam have so influenced each other, over the centuries, and been influenced by the same traditions, including Greco-Roman and Mesopotamian, that it is impossible to speak of them as separate civilisations.

They are sub-groups of a single civilisation, and the diversity within each is greater than the differences between them. And it is by recognising and highlighting this mash of cultures that we can combat the divisive ideologies propagated by the fanatics in our midst.

The Middle East and the West belong to the same Judeo-Christian-Islamic tradition, which is merely a subset of human civilisation.

____

Follow Khaled Diab on Twitter.

This article first appeared on Al Jazeera on 16 November 2015.

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The UN’s Insecurity Council

 
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By Khaled Diab

The UN Security Council has a long track record of failing to resolve conflicts. Now it is also in danger of bringing the major powers to blows.

UN SC

Wednesday 4 November 2015

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon’s recent surprise visit to Israel and Palestine followed fast on the heels of France’s efforts in the UN Security Council to issue a presidential statement in support of the deployment of international observers at the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount and other holy sites in Jerusalem.

Such a flurry of activity by and within the UN is clearly intended to calm the violence that has been escalating for the past month. But even with the best intentions, does the UN in its current form have any capability or credibility in this conflict?

The French draft on international observers, by focusing on the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount, above all gives credibility to the myth that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is about religion – but it also confuses a symptom with the disease.

The Temple Mount is only a microcosm of the wider conflict and it is not where the greatest abuses occur. It would be far better and more useful if international observers were deployed across the occupied territories and in East Jerusalem to monitor the daily transgressions there.

Better still would be an international peacekeeping force, which would be good for both sides. For Palestinians, it would offer protection from Israel’s arbitrary and repressive military rule. For Israelis, it would provide security without the corrupting domestic influence of draconian militarism. For both sides, it could offer the breathing space required to rebuild bridges burnt over the past couple of decades.

However, it is near impossible that such an ambitious proposal would fly, if even the idea of proposing international guardian angels at Jerusalem’s holy sites is meeting with such stiff resistance.

Israel is adamantly opposed to the French proposal. “Israel is not the problem on the Temple Mount; it’s the solution. We maintain the status quo,” Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu claimed defiantly.

And Israel, through its patron and ally, the United States, holds an effective veto over the UN. Washington has exercised its veto right, as one of the five permanent member of the Security Council, to shield Israel dozens of times, not to mention the threat, or fear, of a veto on numerous other occasions to stifle resolutions at their inception.

But it is not just the US that has exploited its veto power irresponsibly to undermine global and local security. Other permanent members have been similarly reckless.

Take Syria as an example. Moscow, along with Beijing, has vetoed four resolutions on Syria. Displaying a multilateralism of sorts, all five of the Security Council’s permanent members, either directly or indirectly, have been involved in the Syrian civil war.

Rather than working for the common global interest of, first, preventing, and now, ending the Syrian conflict, they have selfishly been pursuing their own perceived narrow national interests. Moreover, the Security Council’s failures do not just stop at the here and now. The council’s inability to defang conflict is legendary, with one of the most alarming examples being the Rwandan genocide.

This is partly because the Security Council’s architecture is not fit for purpose. Intended primarily to prevent global conflicts involving the major powers, it is ineffective in regional or proxy warfare.

The Security Council has arguably succeeded in this mission and, even during the Cold War, it helped prevent direct confrontation between the major powers of the capitalist and communist camps. However, they did, and continue to, engage in proxy conflicts, with Syria being the most notable current example.

Additionally, most conflicts today are local or regional ones, and so are difficult to defuse with this architecture, especially the incredibly problematic veto right, which blocks the ability for collective action if just one permanent member objects.

Moreover, we have reached a dangerous fork in the road. Nowadays the Security Council is in danger of magnifying, rather than dissipating, conflict, as its paralysis over Syria and the involvement of its permanent members in Syria demonstrates.

There is an urgent need to reform the UN’s architecture to make it a more effective force for global peace and stability.

A growing chorus of voices argue that the number of permanent members of the Security Council should be enlarged to reflect the contemporary reality of the world and to better include unrepresented regions. Candidates put forward include India, Brazil and the European Union.

However, an enlarged Security Council in which its new permanent members also exercised a veto would likely paralyze this body even more than it already is. It is my view that, with or without enlargement, the veto has to go.

Given the gravity and importance of the issues it deals with, a supermajority voting system could be established in which  a resolution would pass if, say, at least two-thirds of the 15 members of the Security Council (including the 10 temporary one).

However, this does little to address the fundamentally undemocratic and paternalistic nature of the Security Council, which effectively subordinates the will of the international community of nations to that of just five countries.

This can be addressed by making the Security Council subordinate to the General Assembly, and the executor of its will. Of course, for the current permanent members, who would have to agree unanimously to such a step, it would be tantamount to turkeys voting for Christmas.

In addition, if that kind of power is transferred to the General Assembly, larger countries would justifiably say that this unfairly discriminated against them. The UN’s current system of one country, one vote means that tiny Tuvalu, with a population of just under 11,000, carries as much weight as China’s 1.35 billion. This means that if the General Assembly were to start handling issues of international security directly, it would also need to be reformed, with a weighted voting system reflecting individual country’s populations – or the division of larger countries into voting regions, each of which would receive a seat at the UN.

Some small or pariah countries, such as Jewish Israel and Shia Iran, feel that the General Assembly has an intrinsic bias against them. Many Israelis are convinced Israel is held to a different standard.

Whether or not this view is accurate, such situations are possible. Just like a national democracy can turn into a dictatorship of the majority, the same can occur within an international democracy. Avoiding such eventualities would require a powerful constitution to govern the UN’s reformed security mandate and a “do no harm” philosophy.

But even if the Security Council were reformed to overcome its inertia, could it resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?

Many peace activists on both sides are convinced it could, while the Palestinian Authority and PLO have premised their global diplomatic strategy on the idea that the international community, represented by the UN, holds the keys to peace.

At a certain level, this is a valid point of view. Centralising the international response and rooting it in international law would, at the very least, remove the foreign meddling that created and fuels the conflict. At best, it would empower the international community to address the root causes fuelling the conflict. However, this would require a shift away from the long-deceased Oslo paradigm and towards a civil rights platform, identifying and empowering local partners who can build the popular support necessary to lead their peoples towards peaceful coexistence.

But even if the international community were able to act as a single voice and find creative ways to tackle and address the root issues, this would not necessarily resolve the conflict. After all, the UN played a major role in helping create the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the first place.

When it voted for the partition of Palestine in 1947, the newly conceived UN failed to ensure local buy-in, and this foreign hubris had dire consequences. Back then, failing to gain Palestinian and Arab acceptance led to war. Today, failure to gain Israeli support also risks leading to war or, at the very least, Israel openly embracing its pariah status, entering into self-imposed global isolation, and taking the gloves off completely.

The UN and the wider international community can only help lead Israelis and Palestinians to water. But they cannot force them to drink from the font of peace against their will.

____

Follow Khaled Diab on Twitter.

This is the extended version of an article which first appeared in Haaretz on 20 October 2015.

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Invading Europe without invaders

 
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By Khaled Diab

Any objective observer can see  that the refugees of today are not the invaders of history. So why are so many Europeans afraid of refugees?

Bedraggled, desperate and unarmed, the stream of refugees flowing into Europe can only be referred to as an army in the loosest, most figurative sense of the word.  Photo: © Jure Eržen

Bedraggled, desperate and unarmed, the stream of refugees flowing into Europe can only be referred to as an army in the loosest, most figurative sense of the word.
Photo: © Jure Eržen

Friday 9 October 2015

It has been wondrous to behold the massive outpouring of sympathy towards refugees in Europe. Every “refugees welcome” placard and act of solidarity has restored my faith a little in our human ability to do collective good. Those poignant acts of solidarity – from donations of meals and clothes to people offering their homes to those who have taken flight – which have shamed our leaders into action have been kindling to warm my heart during this winter of human misery.

But it strikes me that, as the mainstream has warmed to the refugees and their plight, the right has become more panicky and shrill, triggering the kind of fear and anxiety usually expressed by the defenceless towards ruthless conquerors.

Bedraggled, desperate and unarmed, the stream of refugees flowing into Europe can only be referred to as an army in the loosest, most figurative sense of the word. Yet, across Europe, conservatives have been singing, in chorus, the refrain “Islamic invasion”.

“They’re not refugees. This is an invasion,” said Laszlo Kiss-Rigo, a bishop in southern Hungary, a country which has become a far-right hotbed in recent years and, stuck on a major transit route, has been building a wall to  keep the refugees out.

What is most remarkable is that Bishop Kiss-Rigo’s comments were a rebuke of his spiritual boss, Pope Francis I’s commendable appeal to European churches to take in refugees.

Much further west, similar calls to man the barricades could also be heard. “It’s an invasion that threatens our prosperity, our security, our culture and identity,” said Dutch far-right firebrand Geert Wilders, who once infamously called for the banning of the Quran.

When it comes to prosperity, the influx of refugees (equivalent to just 0.37% of the EU’s population since 2012) poses little to no threat, economists and other experts agree. An analysis by the Brookings Institute  reveals that the inflow of refugees actually has a net positive effect on host economies – and the OECD agrees.

If the European economy stands to benefit from the influx of refugees, why all the panic?

One reason is economic anxiety. Across Europe job insecurity has risen dramatically while youth unemployment in many countries is perilously high. In addition, the corrosion of the welfare state and severe austerity measures have left millions reeling in shock.

Rather than attribute Europe’s economic ills on the continent’s growing welfare state for the wealthy, the corporations exporting (or “outsourcing”) jobs for greater profit and financial sector mismanagement, far-right demagogues find it easier to blame the weak, and kick those who are already down. In addition, the periphery countries dealing with the brunt of the crisis are the poorest and least-equipped to do so.

Beyond economics, many Europeans are genuinely concerned about the potential danger to their security posed by refugees. While it seems far-fetched and even preposterous to people like me that those fleeing the combined terror of the Assad regime and ISIS will themselves turn to terrorism, many ordinary Europeans do not possess the luxury of that insight.

In addition, there is the slim chance that ISIS will play on these fears and send a handful of terrorists amid the flow of genuine refugees. In such an instance, all it need take is a single act of calculated terror to cause Fortress Europe to pull up the drawbridges it has recently slightly let down.

However, fears about security are subordinate to anxieties about culture and identity. Since World War II, Western Europe has witnessed a remarkable demographic transformation in which citizens from former colonies – and from Turkey, in the case of Germany – and their offspring now constitute a significant minority of the population.

Though many have related to this new multicultural reality as enriching and empowering, others have found it troublesome and threatening, particularly those who feel their culture is superior to those of the immigrants. When coupled with the corrosive effects of globalisation and rapid technological development, as well as the rapid demise of religion in many parts of Europe in recent decades, many feel adrift in an uncharted ocean.

Although fanatics capture the headlines and people’s imaginations, this death of religion has also been occurring among what Europe identifies as its Muslim minority, which was never defined so monolithically in the past. For example more than a fifth of “Muslims” in France don’t believe in Islam nor practise it.

One reason why anxiety towards Muslims carries an extra punch compared to other groups, such as Indians and Chinese, is the centuries-old mutual rivalry between neighbouring Islam and Christendom (nowadays referred to as the West).

Just as the crusades continue to cast a shadow over the Middle East, Islamic expansionism in the early centuries of Islam have left their mark on European identity, both negatively and positively.

This partly explains why an older Spanish gentleman told a friend of mine: “There is more than one way to re-conquer Spain.” This is despite the fact that it has been half a millennium since Spain completed its Reconquista and expelled the last Muslim king in Andalusia, Muhammad XII of Granada.

This Muslim menace is shrouded in the mists of time and subsequent might for the powerful former empires of western Europe, which partly explains why they have been able to absorb large Muslim populations. However, this is less the case in some parts of central and southeastern Europe, where the Ottomans dominated until relatively recently, and whose independence was won at a huge cost. But this should be something that unites them with the Syrians who, like many eastern and southern Europeans, were victims of the Ottoman empire too, especially once it shed its multicultural tolerance.

Remembered history, along with the resurgence of religiosity and its negligible Muslim minority, might help explain why Slovakia wished only to take in Christian Syrian refugees. After all, what is today Slovakia was a frontline in the constant wars between the Ottoman and the Habsburg empires, though Slovakia, except for a small sliver in the south, was never actually ruled by the Turks.

Populists and demagogues have been riding, and fanning, the wave of re-Christianisation and growing Islamophobia by playing the history card relentlessly. “When it comes to living together with Muslim communities, we are the only ones who have experience because we had the possibility to go through that experience for 150 years,” said Viktor Orban, Hungary’s far-right “Viktator”, evoking memories of the Ottoman carve-up of the medieval Kingdom of Hungary which empowered the peasantry but destroyed the ruling class.

This is a far cry from the earlier pronouncements by Orban, who is an atheist who now regularly talks about “Christian values”, that “Turkey is not a state at the edge of Europe anymore.” What Orban’s swinging rhetorical pendulum underlines is that there is no “clash of civilisations”, just clashes of interests and convenience.

Moreover, any sensible observer should be able to see clearly that the refugees of today are not the invaders of history. In our interconnected world, people need to conquer their fears and let sensibility and humanity reign.

____

Follow Khaled Diab on Twitter.

This is the extended version of an article which first appeared on Al Jazeera on 1 October 2015.

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Prisoners of love in Syria

 
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By Raya Al-Jadir

In Syria, Amer and Raghda found liberation from political prison in love. But as refugees in Europe, their love became hostage to politics and guilts.

ASLS

Tuesday 6 October 2015

London’s British Film Institute recently hosted the preview of ‘A Syrian Love Story’ a documentary by Sean McAllister who, over a period of five years, followed Amer and Raghda as their lives became intertwined when they both found themselves in a Syrian prison.

Their love story began 15 years ago behind bars when Amer, a Palestinian refugee in Syria and an active member of the leftwing of the PLO, met Raghda, a Syrian Alawite who opposed the regime. He first saw her bloodied face after being deposited in a neighbouring cell following a severe beating. They eventually started communicating through a tiny hole they had secretly made in the wall. They fell in love and, when released, got married and started a family together. But politics never allowed them to have a conventional married life. Raghda spent most of her time in prisons while Amer was left to care for their four sons.

In 2009, while McAllister was enjoying a night out at a local bar, he came across Amer who was on the phone talking about his imprisoned wife. Up until that point, McAllister had been, in his own words, living in the journalist bubble that the Assad regime wanted to confine them within, seeing and recording what the government approved. During that first encounter, Amer told McAllister: “If you want to report about the real Syria, follow me I will show you the hidden reality that the world won’t get to see.”

A few months before the wave of revolutions hit the Arab world, McAllister’s camera began to follow Amer and his four sons – at the time, Raghda was a political prisoner and Amer was left to care for the young children alone. Fadi, Shadi, Kaka and Bob had spent their whole lives watching either their father or mother go to prison for their political beliefs. During the filming the family had to move constantly out of fear, as Raghda was well known to the security services and her family were under constant surveillance. Bob, who was three years old when filming began, did not understand why his mother was not with them and the closest he got to her was a phone call. Kaka, the middle child, quiet, who is considerate and mature, vowed to follow his parents to prison for the sake of freedom, whereas Shadi, the eldest, seemed to be indifferent to his situation, and was even in love with a girl who is pro-Assad and against anyone who opposed his rule. The couple break up when Shadi’s girlfriend gets engaged to someone else. At the end of the documentary, we learn she died during the conflict when, soon after her wedding, a bomb struck her house.

This intimate family portrait helps the outsider to understand why people are literally dying for change in the Arab world. Once the revolution started, Amer saw it as an opportunity to free Raghda from prison and took part in the protests. But he had to change houses and moved to the Yarmouk camp in Damascus, which was besieged by the Assad regime, then brutally attacked by ISIS.

Under international pressure, the Syrian government released some political prisoners, including Raghda. However, Sean McAllister himself got arrested for filming and the political pressure on all activists intensified, especially Amer and Raghda, who were seen on the footage captured by McAllister and stored on his laptop and camera which were confiscated by Syrian intelligence.

Out of fear ,the family fled to Lebanon, where cracks in Amer and Raghda’s relationship began to surface and grow. Feeling torn and desperate to join the big change that was sweeping Syria, Raghda could no longer just stay and watch from afar and, so, she returned to Syria, leaving Amer and the children to struggle to eek out an existence. Amer informed the London audience during the Q&A session that there were days when he had to rely on local Lebanese churches for food. Being Palestinan meant that he could not get a job, his children were not accepted into local schools and, even when he applied to the UN for political asylum, he was told that without Raghda he stood no chance, as he was not Syrian.

After three months, Raghda returned and, finally, they were approved by the UN and were taken to France, where they received political asylum in the sleepy town of Albi, watching the revolution from afar, waiting for Assad to fall.

However, contrary to the idea that once you are out of the conflict zone you are somehow safe and happy, in exile, the family began to fall apart. Raghda’s mental heath suffered and she even attempted suicide. Amer started an affair after he failed to find the love that once existed in a prison cell. The irony of the documentary is that love was thriving in a prison cell but died in the country of love and freedom. The audience see their new life in France develop but the war is now between them. In finding the freedom they fought so hard for, their relationship begins to fall apart.

At the end of the 76 minutes documentary, the audience witnessed how the once pro-revolutionary Kaka question the benefit that the call for change brought to Syria, while Bob, who is eight now, declares he is ‘French’ and no longer remembers his previous life in Syria. In fact, when McAllister asedk Bob about his house in Tartous, Syria, he had no collection of a place they once loved and called home – he even confused it with Tripoli in Lebanon.

A Syrian Love Story is a documentary that McAllister regards as “the most special film I have made to date.” One that he was not even sure it would ever see the light of day, as he wasn’t commissioned or supported to make the film until quite late in the process, McAllister had one objective for making the documentary: to allow people to understand the Syrian conflict without all the political jargon. “I wanted the average Hull factory worker to see the revolution without all the politics…just as a simple story of ordinary human beings,” McAllister informed the audience, who gave him and Amer’s family a standing ovation for a simple but thought-provoking tale of a family’s journey of hope, dreams and despair: for the revolution, their homeland and each other.

 

A SYRIAN LOVE STORY by Sean McAllister

Twitter: @SyrianLoveStory #ASyrianLoveStory

Facebook: www.facebook.com/ASyrianLoveStoryFilm

Website: www.asyrianlovestory.com

TECHNICAL DETAILS

Duration: 76 mins

Production country: United Kingdom

Languages: English, Arabic, French

Subtitles: English

Production year: 2015

HD, Colour

IN CINEMAS ACROSS THE UK  AND ON VOD FROM 18TH SEPTEMBER

 

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