Racists exploit BDS and Israel to advance their agendas of hatred

 
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By Khaled Diab

As recent motions in the German Bundestag and US Congress reveal, both the BDS and pro-Israel movements are exploited by racists as fig leafs to further their agendas. These racists must be exposed and challenged.

Friday 24 May 2019

Taking a leaf out of the US Congress‘s playbook, Germany’s Bundestag has labelled the pro-Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement as “anti-Semitic” in a non-binding resolution which enjoyed cross-party support.

Given that Germany has, in recent years, instated or participated in numerous sanctions programmes, one would think that its parliament could tell the difference between targeting a repressive regime and hating an entire people.

After all, I do not regard Germany’s earlier decision to sanction the Syrian regime for bombing its own people, or its embargo on arms sales to Saudi Arabia for its warmongering in Yemen, as expressions of anti-Arabism or Islamophobia. Instead, they are efforts to deploy ‘soft weapons’ to curb or stop these conflicts – or at the very least not to profit from them or be a party to them.

Likewise, the entire EU, including Germany, as well as Israel and many Jewish groups, boycotted Austria briefly after Jörg Haider’s Austrian Freedom Party became part of the governing coalition in 2000.

“The pattern of argument and methods of the BDS movement are anti-Semitic… [and] recall the most terrible phase of German history,” the motion issued by the German federal parliament stated.

Although I admire Germany’s efforts to come to terms with the crimes against humanity committed by the Hitler regime, and the country’s determination to avoid a repeat of that tragedy amid a massing current of anti-Semitism, this effort to equate the present BDS movement with Germany’s dark Nazi past is way off the mark.

There is no equivalence between a totalitarian, genocidal state which stripped Jews of their rights and very nearly succeeded in exterminating European Jewry, and a civil society campaign which defends the human rights of Palestinians and opposes the decades-old Israeli occupation. Suggesting that the two are the same is tantamount to blaming the victims for their demise.

What adds insult to injury is the German far-right’s efforts to jump cynically on the anti-BDS bandwagon.

It is beyond ironic that the extremist Alternative für Deutschland (AfD), which claims to be Israel’s “one true friend” in the Bundestag while simultaneously stoking anti-Semitism and nurturing nostalgia for the Third Reich, has put forward the harshest alternative resolution, calling for an outright ban of BDS in Germany.

This must appear to be a can’t-lose proposition to the far-right party, which can now deflect criticism of its anti-Jewish agenda while disguising its anti-Arab and anti-Muslim bigotry in a cloak of virtuosity. Moreover, European anti-Semites supporting Israel is not as odd as it sounds because they have long regarded it as channel for removing Jews from the West.

This variety of stealthy anti-Semitism needs to be challenged as actively as open racism against Jews.

Those, like the Green party, who voted for the resolution on the progressive end of the spectrum are inflicting unforeseeable damage on German democracy, by curtailing citizens’ freedom of expression and action. It also sends the implicit message that even peaceful forms of Palestinian resistance are not acceptable in some western eyes.

That is not to say the German authorities should stop challenging and combating the poison of anti-Semitism, but they should focus on actual incidents of Judeophobia, rather than stigmatising an entire anti-occupation movement.

Although the principles of BDS are not anti-Semitic, in and of themselves, the movement can and does attract anti-Semites.

Some racists instrumentalise the movement to cover up their irrational hatred of Jews and to conceal their hateful bigotry behind a sheen of respectability. Others allow their sympathy for the suffering of the Palestinian people to plunge them down the rabbit hole of rabid racism.

This leads to the sorry and troubling situation in which some pro-Palestinians perpetuate the vilest and filthiest of anti-Semitic tropes, such as the myth that wealthy Jews covertly run the world through their alleged control of the global banking system, not to mention the seemingly supernatural powers they ascribe to Israel and the Mossad.

Some truly ludicrous variations of this which I have heard or encountered include the myths that the Israeli Mossad was behind everything from the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks to the creation of the Islamic State (ISIS) jihadist group and the master puppeteer behind the Syrian civil war.

Most sickening is when a BDS supporter or pro-Palestinian sympathiser downplays or downright denies the Holocaust, either by claiming the Holocaust never took place or by insultingly insinuating that the Zionist movement played a role in the persecution of Jews in order to win sympathy for their cause, thereby simultaneously blaming the victims and absolving the perpetrators.

A recent example of this was a short video downplaying the extent of Nazi extermination drive and purporting to reveal “the truth behind the Holocaust and how Zionism benefited from it”, which was posted by AJ+ Arabic last week. Al Jazeera quickly deleted the offensive tweet and suspended the two journalists whom it said made and published it.

It is imperative that efforts to combat and weed out this insidious racism are scaled up, both in the Arab world and the West, for the integrity of the pro-Palestinian movement and for the safety and security of Jews.

While the BDS movement is clearly not racist, it is not necessarily as effective as some think, nor as ethically straightforward as its advocates believe, and a convincing moral case can be made for supporting, opposing or modifying it.

One thorny question relates to the issue of fairness. Although it is completely understandable that Palestinians would focus on their own cause and engage in a boycott of their oppressor, it is less clear why outsiders would choose this cause over others.

For many pro-Palestinian activists, their support is part of a broader humanist worldview that opposes injustice and oppression wherever it occurs and regardless of whomever commits it, such as is the case with Jewish supporters of the Palestinian cause. Moreover, Palestine and Israel are of enormous symbolic, political and historical importance, both in the Middle East and the West.

However, some are guilty of selective outrage and the hypocrisy that accompanies it. For instance, there are those who rail against the crimes and injustices of the Israeli occupation while defending the crimes and injustices of, for instance, the Assad regime.

Then, there is the conundrum of collective punishment, especially when it comes to the cultural and academic boycott of Israel and the blanket “anti-normalisation” movement in the Arab world, which impacts even Israeli progressives, such as celebrated author and academic Shlomo Sand, and sometimes even Israeli journalists sympathetic to the Palestinian cause, such as Amira Hass.

And, as the anti-normalisation camp becomes more vocal in Palestine, on the back of a quarter of a century of disappointment and decades of dispossession, this also inhibits joint action between Palestinian and Israeli civil society and citizens, as several peace activists confessed to me during a recent visit to Ramallah.

But the reality is that Palestinians will not be freed by BDS alone. In addition to a targeted boycott of the institutions that facilitate the occupation, there needs to be targeted engagement between Palestinians and Israelis, Arabs and Jews. The goal of the conflict needs to shift from vanquishing a determined enemy who refuses to bow down to gaining a steadfast ally to bow to in mutual respect.

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Of crusaders and jihadis

 
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By Khaled Diab

Despite their conviction that they are polar opposites, white supremacists and Islamist extremists share much in common, including a hatred of minorities and the enemies within, a persecution complex, and nostalgia for past glories.

Brenton Tarrent, the man being tried for the Christchurch massacre.

Monday 25 March 2019

If a terrorist were to claim that their attack was intended to “add momentum to the pendulum swings of history, further destabilising and polarising Western society,” you might be excused in thinking the perpetrator was an Islamic extremist. But these are the words of a white supremacist and crusader.

In the confused and contradictory manifesto reportedly penned by Brenton Tarrant, the 28-year-old Australian white supremacist who stands accused of perpetrating the deadly mosque shootings in Christchurch, New Zealand, the self-described terrorist asserts grandiosely that his killing spree sought to “incite violence, retaliation and further divide between the European people and the invaders currently occupying European soil,” even though the attack was carried out about as far away from European soil as it is possible to get in the inhabited corners of the world.

Tarrant also wrote that he hoped that his actions would “Balkanise” the United States “along political, cultural and, most importantly, racial lines”. This would, in his twisted vision, hasten the destruction of the current order and enable the creation of a white, Christian utopia on the smouldering ruins of multiculturalism.

The Australian extremist’s nihilistic fantasy of revolutionary change from within echoes that of many jihadis and Islamist extremists. For example, combating the “near enemy,” i.e., the enemy within, is a central pillar of the ideology and political programme of the Islamic State (ISIS) and partly explains why fellow Muslims were the largest target, in numerical terms, as well as indigenous minorities, of the self-proclaimed caliphate’s murderous rage.

These two hateful ideologies — white supremacy and radical Islamism — may regard themselves as polar opposites, but their worldviews resemble one another more than they differ. Both are paranoid, exhibit a toxic blend of superiority and inferiority towards the other, are scornful of less extreme members of their own communities and are nostalgic for an imagined past of cultural dominance.

Islamists are often in the habit of vilifying their secular, liberal and progressive compatriots and co-religionists as culturally inauthentic mimics and fakes, at best, and as sellouts and traitors, at worst. “The enemies of Islam can deceive Muslim intellectuals and draw a thick veil over the eyes of the zealous by depicting Islam as defective in various aspects of doctrine, ritual observance, and morality,” railed Hassan al-Banna, the founding father of the Muslim Brotherhood, in 1936.

This conviction that local liberal elites are aiding and abetting the enemy by betraying their own culture and people is also a common refrain amongst white supremacists, neo-Nazis and the Alt-Right. Such a belief is the root of Tarrant’s absurd assertion that “NGOs are directly involved in the genocide of the European people.”

It also highlights why the Norwegian terrorist Anders Breivik — whom Tarrant wrote that he admired — chose to attack the “near enemy” by murdering participants at a Workers’ Youth League Summer Camp, people he vilified as “cultural Marxists,” instead of the more obvious target of Muslims or other minority groups whom he also hated. (A watered-down version of this discourse is becoming popular in more mainstream right-wing and conservative circles, as epitomised in the growing demonisation of leftists, intellectuals, academics and journalists, whom President Trump regularly and dangerously brands as the “enemies of the people.”)

A contempt for “Western” modernity is another trait shared by Islamists and the Christian far right. “The Europeans worked assiduously in trying to immerse (the world) in materialism, with their corrupting traits and murderous germs, to overwhelm those Muslim lands that their hands stretched out to,” believed al-Banna. Unintentionally echoing the founding father of political Islam, Tarrant is convinced that the West has become a “society of rampant nihilism, consumerism and individualism.”

This disdain for many aspects of modernity translates into an overwhelming yearning for a supposedly more glorious and pure past and a nostalgia for bygone imperial greatness when the world was at their command — for the days of European empires or Islamic caliphates.

In his manifesto, Tarrant oozes victimhood, equating the perceived erosion of privilege with oppression, rather like Islamists in some Muslim-majority countries who regard any concessions to minorities or women as a sign of their own supposed repression. He appropriates the language of occupation, anti-colonialism and the oppressed, despite living in a society founded by European settlers.

Although Tarrant claims to be undecided about whether he is a Christian, he couches his manifesto in Christian imagery and justifies his crimes in religious terms, like his jihadi equivalents. Not only does he quote Pope Urban II, who initiated the First Crusade, but the attacker warns that: “We are coming for Constantinople and we will destroy every mosque and minaret in the city.”

Tarrant claimed that his actions were motivated by the urgent need to avert a supposed “white genocide,” a popular myth in far-right circles which maintains, absurdly, that there is a conspiracy in motion to kill off the white race. Outlandish conspiracy theories are common fodder in both far-right and Islamist circles, including anti-Semitic tropes about the world being controlled by a cabal of secretive, wealthy Jews.

The appropriation of the anti-colonial language of the oppressed shows how white supremacy has developed an inferiority complex since its peak in the 19th century, when the West pretty much ruled the rest. In place of the white man’s burden of yore, many on the far right now feel they are regarded as the burden.

This claim of resisting foreign occupation and oppression is a common refrain in contemporary white nationalist circles. Despite claiming that whites were the “the pioneers of the world,” Richard Spencer, the poster boy of the Alt-Right movement, lamented — in the notorious Washington speech during which he made a Nazi salute — that “no one mourns the great crimes committed against us. For us, it is conquer or die.”

“We are experiencing an invasion on a level never seen before in history,” Tarrant asserted dubiously in his manifesto, even though his victims were worshippers at a mosque, not an army massing at the border. “This crisis of mass immigration and sub-replacement fertility is an assault on the European people that, if not combated, will ultimately result in the complete racial and cultural replacement of the European people.”

“[There] are no innocents in an invasion, all those who colonise other people’s lands share guilt,” the Australian terrorist claimed. In this, he echoed Osama bin Laden, who described 9/11 as an act of “self-defense,” declaring that “if killing those who kill our sons is terrorism, then let history be witness that we are terrorists.”

Extremists may believe in a monumental battle between the Christian West and Islam, but the reality is the cross-border conflicts in this world are predominantly clashes of interests, not of ideologies.

There are, however, ideological clashes within our individual countries and “civilisations” — between pluralists and progressives, on the one side, and puritans and fanatics, on the other.

If the extremists prevail, they will rent apart their own societies supposedly to protect them against the perceived enemies from within and without. We must use all the social, economic, political and intellectual tools at our disposal to avert such a catastrophe.

_____

This article was first published by The Washington Post on 16 March 2019.

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Voting for Palestinian empowerment in Jerusalem

 
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By Khaled Diab

Despite the dogmatic reactions from the politically orthodox, Aziz Abu Sarah’s aborted mayoral bid is the latest manifestation of the Palestinian struggle’s shift towards a civil-rights movement.

Photo: ©K. Maes

Friday 5 October 2018

It has been over 40 years since East Jerusalem had a Palestinian mayor (Ruhi al-Khatib) and nearly three-quarters of a century since a Palestinian mayor (Mustafa al-Khalidi) governed Jerusalem as a whole.

But one Palestinian is on a mission to change this reality. Aziz Abu Sarah, a Jerusalemite Palestinian peace activist, journalist, social entrepreneur and a National Geographic Emerging Explorer has announced his candidacy for mayor in the upcoming elections at the end of October.

His motivation?

“I want to inspire hope,” he told me. As someone who lived for years in Jerusalem, I can vouch that hope is one commodity that is in extremely short supply among the Palestinians of East Jerusalem. They live under Israeli rule but are largely disenfranchised. Their precarious legal status as “permanent residents” means they have little protection or recourse against the mushrooming Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem, evictions, home demolitions, or even being stripped of their residencies.

In addition, hemmed in by the wall, East Jerusalem has become cut off economically from the rest of the Palestinian West Bank, and maintaining social and cultural ties is a one-way process, seeing as West Bank residents cannot visit Jerusalem without a difficult-to-acquire Israeli entry permit.

Nevertheless, the legal, political and social barriers standing in the way of Abu Sarah are substantial and formidable, which led me to wonder whether his candidacy was more a protest action than an actual political campaign. “I want to win. This is serious,” insisted Abu Sarah, who is part of al-Quds Lana (Jerusalem is Ours), a Palestinian-run list for seats on the city council.

The most immediate hurdle is a legal one. Abu Sarah is not technically entitled to run for mayor, as Israeli law stipulates that only an Israeli citizen may become mayor of Jerusalem, which effectively means that the vast majority of Palestinian Jerusalemites, excepting the minority with Israeli citizenship, are permitted to vote in municipal elections but not to run for office. Abu Sarah says he has hired a lawyer to make his case as a candidate before the Israeli courts, but he admits that “my chances are low of getting approved”.

“If I am approved, then I have 180,000 potential voters in East Jerusalem. This is way more than I need to win the mayoral position,” Abu Sarah asserts.

However, there is one major glitch in this optimistic view: the support Abu Sarah is counting on is notional. Since Israel occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank in 1967, there has been an official voter boycott of the municipal elections in place. “I do have an uphill battle, though, convincing Palestinians to vote, making sure Israel has enough polling stations, making sure people are not afraid from the ‘anti-normalisation’ threats,” acknowledges Abu Sarah, who had eggs thrown at him by unidentified protesters when he launched his bid.

Given that boycotting the elections for city hall has been the orthodoxy for the past half century, it is unsurprising that Abu Sarah’s campaign has provoked controversy and opposition, with representatives from the Palestinian political establishment and activist communities harshly criticising the hopeful mayoral candidate for allegedly normalising the occupation and some going so far as to accuse him of being part of an Israeli conspiracy to get Palestinian Jerusalemites to accept the occupation, i.e. a veiled (and sometimes not-so-veiled) accusation of treason.

The Mufti of al-Aqsa Muhammad Hussein hinted that participating in the elections, either as a voter or a candidate, was tantamount to heresy and whoever did so removed himself or herself from “the religion, the nation, and the homeland”, while the PLO’s Saeb Erekat suggested that any form of participation in the ballot would “serve to aid Israel in the establishment of its ‘Greater Jerusalem’ project”.

This kind of rhetoric not only places Abu Sarah’s safety and well-being at potential risk, it is also unfair. People may disagree with the strategy pursued by Abu Sarah and like-minded Palestinians but accusing them of being cowards and sell-outs is not only defamatory but also betrays a lack of imagination. “It pains me a lot that our state of dialogue within the Palestinian community has reached such a level,” Abu Sarah confesses. “I invite them to talk to me, argue with me and convince me that I am wrong. I say openly that if anyone does, I would withdraw from the elections but never due to threats,” he adds courageously.

Boycotting the municipal elections in the early days of the occupation made sense because Palestinians of Jerusalem had the hope and expectation that Israeli rule over them would not last long. Half a century on and with no end in sight, this strategy has not aged well and sticking to these outdated orthodoxies and dogmas has actually become self-defeating, as it gives the Israeli authorities a carte blanche to make life as difficult and unbearable as possible for Jerusalemite Palestinians.

“[Critics] argue that Israel wants us to vote but, in reality, that’s not true. If Israel wanted us to vote, they wouldn’t have only three or four polling stations in East Jerusalem while they have dozens in West Jerusalem,” argues Abu Sarah. “Israel doesn’t have an interest in having Palestinians know what’s happening behind closed doors or how the budget gets divided or how permits to build new areas happen.”

Despite all this, a growing number of Palestinians in Jerusalem believe that political involvement is a necessary way to safeguard their presence in the city and to keep alive their struggle, which has been abandoned by the international community and Arab world. Abu Sarah expects that up to 30% of eligible Palestinian voters will cast a ballot – a low turnout by any ordinary measure but a revolutionary jump compared with the minuscule 2% or so who voted in the previous election.

The opposition of the Fatah-led PLO to a new cadre of young leaders emerging who challenge its domination of political power and its Oslo illusions is understandable. Less clear are why Palestinian activists who favour a democratic binational state of equal citizenship for Arabs and Jews would also oppose such an initiative. Surely, voting in elections and running for office are, alongside grassroots activism and civil disobedience, vital components for achieving such an outcome.

It is both odd and contradictory that running for the Knesset and voting in Israel’s general elections is accepted when it comes to the Palestinian citizens of Israel, but taking part in local elections are a huge no-no for Palestinian Jerusalemites, who have lived under Israeli control for only 19 years less. This is in spite of the fact that, if combined, the potential political clout of these two groups of Palestinians living under direct Israeli rule would, as I have long argued, be formidable.

On the Jewish side of the city, Abu Sarah’s candidacy is being met with hostility from the ultra-nationalist and religious right, even though they are the ones most vehemently opposed to the partitioning of the city. “Israeli nationalists are terrified of Palestinians voting… They are terrified of the potential. One political group already asked the government to disqualify us,” Abu Sarah says.

Despite the hostility, Abu Sarah’s groundbreaking campaign has gained him the admiration of a significant number of Jews. “While I can’t vote in the Jerusalem municipal elections, I admire, respect and trust Aziz Abu Sarah, and I think what he’s doing is very important for Jerusalem,” says Sarah Tuttle-Singer, a writer based in Jerusalem. “It’ll be a travesty and a stain on the holy city and all of Israel if he is not allowed to run.”

I sense that Abu Sarah is likely to garner some votes from the shrinking progressive, leftist liberal Jewish communities of Jerusalem, who would vote for him both as an expression of goodwill towards their Palestinian neighbours and as a protest against the domination of the city’s politics by the ultra-nationalist and religious right.

“I feel like he represents me more than the other candidates I’ve seen so far, on the issues that matter to me most,” believes Gil Elon, a Jewish resident of Jerusalem who intends to vote for Abu Sarah if his candidacy is approved. “Also, I think he won’t have the same type of corruption and other problems that leave other candidates vulnerable to thuggish influences.”

Although Aziz Abu Sarah, under pressure from the Israeli establishment and Palestinian authorities and activists, has since this interview announced his withdrawal from the mayoral race, his and disruptive daring move carries enormous symbolic significance for the long term. It is the latest high-profile manifestation of the long process I have been observing for years, in which the Palestinian struggle is being reinvented as a civil rights movement for equality – what I call the ‘non-state solution’.

____

This article first appeared in the New Arab on 25 September 2018.

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Did Obama navigate Israeli-Palestinian negotiations without a map?

 
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By Khaled Diab

The Obama administration was reportedly unaware of the true extent of Israeli settlement activity. This reveals either a monumental level of ignorance or a post-facto attempt to justify the failure of the Kerry peace initiative.

Friday 20 July 2018

It reads almost like a political thriller. An intrepid State Department official pages through a (possibly dusty) file and discovers, in 2015, a map that would change his life forever and radically alter his outlook on the world (well, at least on the Israeli-Palestinian part of it).

The official in question was Frank Lowenstein, Barack Obama’s special envoy on Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. The map he found, which helped him see “the forest for the trees”, showed not only the actual Israeli settlements in the West Bank, but also all the land that was controlled by Israel and off limits to Palestinians, according to a report in the New Yorker.

Lowenstein and his team then reportedly “did the math”, drew up a series of larger maps and calculated that Israel had gobbled up 60% of the West Bank, territory that had been earmarked for a future Palestinian state, and that the areas Israel controlled cut off Palestinian population centres from one another. The revelation apparently shocked Obama and John Kerry, then secretary of state and peace envoy.

The New Yorker article shocked me too – albeit for very different reasons. It shocked me because I could scarcely comprehend or credit that the Obama administration was unaware of what, to anyone with knowledge of the topic or who had spent some time on the ground, was very familiar terrain.

In light of his career path and his then recent recruitment as special envoy, it is conceivable that Lowenstein was unaware of these facts, although the so-called Area C of the West Bank, which is under complete Israeli control and represents 60% of the West Bank, is one of the most basic of basics of the conflict.

But the idea that the rest of the team, especially John Kerry, who had been shuttling back and forth trying to broker a deal since 2013, found any of this to be news was almost unfathomable. This is especially the case in light of the fact that the Palestinian negotiating team resigned, in November 2013, because they argued that Israel’s ongoing and accelerating settlement activity had rendered it impossible to establish a viable and contiguous Palestinian state.

Had I known back then that the Obama administration was so reportedly clueless of the extent of the Israeli settlement enterprise, I would have applied for the position of Middle East adviser. That is not because I am especially qualified, but because the Obama administration was so self-admittedly ignorant.

For example, I could have directed Lowenstein and his team not just to the single map he came across but an entire atlas and databases, produced by the UN, mapping out pretty much every conceivable aspect of the Israeli occupation and settlements project in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, including settlements, restrictions and closures, access to water and land, as well as demolitions and communities at risk.

Palestinian, international and Israeli NGOs, not to mention academics and think tanks, also carry out extensive research on these issues, making the Israeli-Palestinian conflict one of the most researched in the world. For instance, Israeli NGO B’Tselem has published information on settlements for years that would have made for painful reading for Lowenstein and the rest of the team.

Statistics and reports, no matter how good, cannot capture reality quite like seeing the reality on the ground for oneself. If I had access to the Obama team, I would have simply invited them round to the apartment we used to rent in East Jerusalem.

Located on the Mount of Olives, our front terrace overlooked the breathtaking beauty of the Jordan Valley, all the way down to the Dead Sea and beyond, into Jordan. Underneath the magnificence of the natural landscape one could also trace many of the topographical features of the occupation, including settlements and outposts, the Israeli wall, the gleaming modern highways snaking between the settlements, the meandering, ill-maintained roads reserved for West Bank Palestinians, the densely populated Palestinian towns unable to access and grow into the surrounding Area C, defined variously by Israel as restricted military areas, state land or nature reserves, anything to keep them out of the reach of the Palestinians.

I would point to the nearby Palestinian town of Ezeriya, only a couple of kilometres away as the crow flies and home to what is believed to be the tomb of Lazarus, where Jesus is said to have wept before resurrecting his dead follower.

In the past, the tomb and the surrounding town were a short and pleasant hike from our apartment. However, when I lived there, owing to the wall and various movement restrictions, it required a 20km or so detour to reach it.

In fact, driving is one of the simplest ways to navigate the reality of the occupation and clearly witness just how much the road to two states has been bulldozed and obliterated, and how the so-called road map to peace leads to nowhere. In fact, even satellite navigation cannot decipher the complexity of the rapidly changing political reality on the ground, as attested to by the number of times my GPS sent me to a shuttered gate or road block, or a restricted military area.

On the road, I would have driven Lowenstein and his team to view and contrast the settlements, with Palestinian villages and towns, taken them to visit vulnerable and threatened communities in Area C, such as the recently evicted Bedouin village of Khan al-Ahmar, or to the temporary camps set up by activists protesting the attempts to join settlements in a continuous seam.

And even if the Obama team did not have time to undertake such time-consuming field work, all they needed to do was listen to Israel’s ultranationalist, rightwing government, which made no secret of its support of the settlement enterprise and its determination to render the prospect of a Palestinian state an impossibility.

Some time before Lowenstein’s Eureka moment, Likud and Jewish Home members of the Knesset tried to push a bill through to annex Israeli settlements, thereby rendering much of Area C permanently beyond Palestinian reach. Many on the right believe the entire West Bank is and should be Israel’s. Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely is a vocal member of this camp: not only does she oppose Palestinian statehood, she also urged Israeli diplomats to tell the world “this country is all ours. We didn’t come here to apologize for that.

Binyamin Netanyahu, who has been ideologically opposed to the creation of a Palestinian state for decades, vociferously opposed and vilified Yitzhak Rabin for forging the Oslo accords, which were also violently opposed by Hamas and Islamic Jihad suicide bombers, and actively worked to destroy it when he was first elected prime minister in 1996. During his re-election campaign in 2015, he promised the electorate that there would be no Palestinian state on his watch.

If the Obama administration was ignorant of this staggering body of publicly available evidence, it suggests a monumental level of incompetence. However, I suspect there is another explanation which makes more sense: Obama and Kerry did not possess the imagination, courage and political capital to adopt new and more effective approaches to the conflict, and, like previous administrations, they did not have the guts to admit publicly from the beginning what has been clear since the mid-1990s: that the Oslo blueprint for peace was dead in the water almost as soon as it was floated.

After all, it is easier to plead ignorance than admit to spinelessness.

—-

This article was first published by The New Arab on 11 July 2018.

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Alt-jihad – Part II: Delusions of grandeur and persecution

 
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By Khaled Diab

In the second in a series of articles exploring the disturbing parallels between radical Islamic and White/Christian extremism, Khaled Diab examines the far-right’s dual sense of superiority and inferiority, as well as its persecution complex.

Source: https://lorddreadnought.livejournal.com/69990.html

 

Tuesday 17 April 2018

In the previous piece in this series on the disturbing parallels between radical Islamic and White/Christian extremism, I examined the emerging phenomenon of far-right suicide attackers and far-right political violence in general. In this, the second article in the series, I explore a number of other parallels, namely the bizarre blend of supremacist convictions combined with a sense of inferiority, an overpowering mentality of victimhood, a persecution complex centred around a rogues’ parade of imagined enemies, as well as a related belief in outlandish conspiracy theories.

Inferiority-superiority complex

Extremist Islamist and jihadist discourse is dominated simultaneously by a dual inferiority-supremacy narrative. On the one hand, they view Islam as innately superior to other religions and political philosophies, lament Islam’s loss of global dominance and dream of the restoration of its hegemony. On the other hand, they are convinced that Muslims everywhere are oppressed and victims. Even in situations where conservative Muslims are the dominant political force and wield enormous political clout, Islamists often believe they are oppressed, their beliefs are under attack and their way of life is threatened with extinction.

A similar narrative has emerged in white and Christian nationalist circles, though, given the continuing might of the West, superiority outweighs inferiority when compared with Islamist discourse. This sense of entitlement was best summed up by Richard Spencer, the spiritual leader of the alt-right movement in America. “To be white is to be a striver, a crusader, an explorer and a conqueror. We build; we produce; we go upward,” Spencer told the audience at an alt-right conference in Washington, DC. “America was until this past generation a white country designed for ourselves and our posterity. It is our creation, it is our inheritance, and it belongs to us.”

Nevertheless, unlike the cocky white supremacy of the 19th century, when the West directly ruled most of the planet and required an ideology to justify its global dominance, instead of the white man’s burden of yore, many whites, especially men, now feel they are regarded as the burden. In fact, these far-right movements, as well as some segments of more mainstream conservatism, to a lesser degree, have appropriated the language of oppression and subjugation more common among the formerly enslaved and segregated African-Americans, or subject populations who lived under colonial rule.

At one level, this shift in rhetoric is opportunistic and cynical, with the aim of turning the tables on the truly marginalised minorities living in the West and on those who have suffered under the boot of western hegemony by suggesting that the real victims of racism and imperialism are whites, and especially the Christian right, who supposedly suffer under the multiple tyrannies of political correctness, liberalism, immigration (which is regarded as a sort of invasion by stealth) and Islam.

However, it would be a mistake to view these attitudes as merely rhetorical devices. Many on the far-right absolutely believe, their sense of supremacy and privilege notwithstanding, that they belong to an oppressed, repressed and persecuted group. At times, this can be a reflection of their sense of personal isolation. “I didn’t have many friends at school, I wanted to be a member of a group of people that had an aim,” admitted Kevin Wilshaw, who was a well-known organiser for the UK’s National Front in the 1980s and later joined the British National Party, before renouncing his former life and coming out as gay and of Jewish heritage. “Even though you end up being a group of people that through their own extreme views are cut off from society, you do have a sense of comradeship in that you’re a member of a group that’s being attacked by other people.” This sense of camaraderie, as well as a desire to stand out and be noticed, appears to have been a spur for Andrew Anglin’s transformation from a vegan anti-racist into the American extreme right’s most outspoken and outrageous troll, through his creation of the rabidly racist website The Daily Stormer.

This sense of alienation and the desperate desire to bond this produces is also something that afflicts many who fall into the embrace of radical and jihadist Islamism. “For most jihadis, the first steps on their journeys to Syria were rarely taken for political or religious reasons,” observes Kenan Malik, the Indian-Britisher writer and intellectual. “The journeys were, rather, a search for something a lot less definable: for identity, for meaning, for belongingness, for respect.”

Paranoid confusions

This sense of living in a world which deprives them of their perceived God-given right to dominate society and to rule the world translates into an increasingly outspoken and irrational victimhood mentality. “No one mourns the great crimes committed against us. For us, it is conquer or die,” Spencer lamented in the speech mentioned above, echoing the jihadist extremists the Christian right so despises. “We are not meant to live in shame and weakness and disgrace.”

This sense of being embattled has led to the paranoid conviction that the modern-day white conservative is surrounded by foes, both near enemies and far ones, to borrow from the jihadist lexicon. The far horizon of Enemistan is dominated by Muslims, who are closing in so rapidly and decisively that the very survival of Western civilisation and Christendom is at stake. At home, the alt-right fears migrants and other minorities, including a resurgence of classic Judeophobia, leftists, liberals, journalists and media professionals, experts, academics, feminists and the LGBT community.

This paranoid sense of being surrounded and besieged by enemies on every front has led to the proliferation of outlandish conspiracy theories. In societies whose superior technologies have for centuries visited mass slaughter upon weaker populations across the planet, there is now talk of a “white genocide” – a paranoid theory that there is a conspiracy to wipe out the white race. What is most infuriating about the white genocide myth is that many who subscribe to it deny the historical reality of actual genocides, such as the Holocaust or extermination campaigns against native populations.

The purported white genocide is not just confined to Europe and America, it is also allegedly taking place in Africa. The alt-right blogger Laura Southern has even produced a ‘documentary’ entitled Farmland which claims to highlight the plight of supposedly persecuted whites in South Africa. Needless to say, no such extermination programme is occurring in the country where the legacy of Apartheid still lives on in stark racial inequalities, unless by ‘genocide’ she means the relative erosion of white privilege.

The army of Islam

In Europe, the end goal of mass immigration, according to far-right conspiracy theorists, is not only ‘white genocide’ but also a stealthy conquest of the West, its complete Islamisation and subjugation and its conversion into ‘Eurabia’, the mythical European Umma. And Eurabia is apparently making major inroads in America too. The far-right myth that there are “no-go zones” in Europe where the police do not dare enter and Islamic law prevails has made it across the Atlantic, and has been spread by both Fox News and the NRA, amongst others. A similar narrative of a crusade/war against Islam is a common refrain amongst Islamists. However, this notion amongst both conservative Muslims and Christians that we are in the throes of a monumental clash of civilisations does not hold up to scrutiny, as I reveal in my book Islam for the Politically Incorrect.

How far this dastardly Muslim conquest has advanced is a matter of some disagreement, however. The most pessimistic on the far-right believe the war is already over and the West has lost, others believe we are witnessing the beginning of the end, while some, like the founder of France’s Front National (FN), are convinced that it is the “the beginning of the beginning” of the Islamic subjugation of Europe. “It’s an episode in the war that is being waged against us by Islamism,” he claimed. “The blindness and deafness of our leaders, for years, is in part responsible for these kinds of attacks.”

The most recent variation on this is the conspiracy theory that the refugees who have been entering Europe are not desperate civilians fleeing war, but part of an invading army bent on the destruction of western civilisation. This supposed phenomenon has been called “jihad by emigration” – a term coined by the creator of the far-right website Jihad Watch, Robert Spencer, not to be confused with the Richard Spencer mentioned earlier.

In its self-righteous panic, the right has become more panicky and shrill, triggering the kind of terror usually expressed by the defenceless towards an army of 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, this army without soldiers or arms is somehow mounting an 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 found itself on a major transit route, until it built a wall to keep the refugees out. “It’s an invasion that threatens our prosperity, our security, our culture and identity,” echoed Dutch far-right firebrand Geert Wilders, who once infamously called for the banning of the Quran. A related myth is the notion that Muslim asylum seekers are obsessed with an uncontrollable urge to violate and rape western women – they are not refugees but “rapefugees”.

Away from the high-security fortress of far-right perception and in the real world of hard facts, the influx of refugees into the European Union from 2012 to the peak of 2015/16 represented under half a percent of the EU’s population. Since then, thanks to government reactions to knee-jerk xenophobia or to the xenophobia of politicians, the numbers have tailed off significantly, according to Eurostat, the EU’s statistical agency. Moreover, and contrary to the ‘sponger’ image of refugees, an analysis by the Brookings Institute revealed that the inflow of refugees actually has a net positive effect on host economies – and the OECD agrees – which raises the perplexing question, if migrants are out to destroy the West, why are they making it richer?

More confoundingly still, if the aim of Muslims in Europe and America is to destroy Christendom and wipe out the infidel, either with actual bombs or with demographic time-bombs, it appears inconceivable that any Muslim fanatic worth his salt would head the other way. Yet this is exactly what they are believed to be doing, with overstated and exaggerated hordes of European Muslims heading to Syria and Iraq to heed the call of jihad, so sensationally covered that you would be forgiven if you had the impression that Europe was being depopulated of its Muslim population.

Master puppeteers

Despite the fixation on Islam, it would be a mistake to think that Muslims have replaced the Jews in extreme right discourse – their presence appears to be a complementary one. A special place remains reserved for Jews in far-right narratives and conspiracy theories. For decades following the Holocaust, these narratives had become marginalised or had gone underground (such as the transnational Malm Movement), often only mentioned in hints and suggestions. But with the rise of the far-right, they have enjoyed a comeback in recent years in a number of countries, from Hungary to the United States.

Many Judeophobic conspiracy theories are recycled or adapted traditional anti-Semitic canards revolving around how Jews represent some kind of homogeneous cabal which runs the world clandestinely by controlling the financial sector and the media. This includes the renewed vogue the discredited hoax known as The Protocols of the Elders of Zion and the fantasy that the Rothschild family controls the world’s central banks and causes war by financing both sides of every conflict enjoy in the growing far-right movement. More recent variations on this theme include the troubling mainstreaming in conservative circles of the narrative, which is especially popular in Hungary, that the tycoon and philanthropist George Soros is behind all kinds of sinister conspiracies to destroy Europe in order to be able better to rule it. Another is the conspiracy theory that a shadowy Zionist Occupation Government (‘Zionist’ here refers to Jew, not political Zionism) controls governments in the United States and Europe.

Some have even attempted to forge unified conspiracy theories of everything, in which various disparate and contradictory conspiracist ideas are forcibly mixed into a potently toxic cocktail. An example of this is how the mythical Zionist Occupation Government is responsible for mass migration in order to dilute or exterminate the white race so as to facilitate its satanic quest for global dominance. This blends anti-Semitic, Islamophobic, white genocidal and anti-leftist/liberal conspiracy theories into one incoherent whole.

Toxic far-right anti-Semitic conspiracy theories have drifted not only to segments of the far-left but have found their way into Arab, Islamic and Islamist narratives, which historically discriminated much less than Christianity against the Jews, with Muslim bigots traditionally regarding Jews with condescension rather than suspicion and fear. This changed dramatically with the advent of modern Zionism, the influence of fascism and the creation of Israel, and is often fuelled by a desperate need to scapegoat weakness and failure by depicting the ‘enemy’ as super-humanely powerful and evil.

The hatred, contempt and fear of Jews shared by Christian and Muslim extremists has occasionally resulted in some unlikely and troubling alliances between neo-Nazi groups and Islamists, such as has occurred in some parts of Germany, both of which “ascribe extraordinary political power to Israel and the Jews, and their goal is to fight this power,” in the words of Heinz Fromm, the then president of the German domestic intelligence agency.

Turkey’s Islamist president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has even suggested that the Kurdish referendum on independence was a devilish Jewish conspiracy, one unconvincingly masterminded by Bernard-Henri Lévy, once memorably described as the “Donald Trump of French philosophy”. Of course, this is not the first time that Erdoğan has ascribed superpowers to BHL, as he often referred to in France: he once hinted that the French ‘philosopher’ was behind the ouster of Egypt’s Mohammed Morsi. Islamists often portray Arab regimes with whom they disagree as being American and Jewish stooges. Some members of the outlawed and oppressed Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt subscribe to a conspiracy theory that dictator Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi has a Jewish mother. Some conservative Muslims and Islamists are convinced that ISIS is a creation of western and Zionist imperialism, as are some secular Arabs. Interestingly, numerous white supremacists are also convinced of a similar conspiracy theory, even alleging that ISIS’s caliph, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, is actually a Mossad agent.

Mainstreaming falsehood

These far-right conspiracy theories do not exist in a vacuum. They are fed by more mainstream conservative falsehoods, which then feedback to the mainstream, pulling it ever further into the la-la zone. This is apparent in everything from the decades of eurosceptic myths that led the UK to leap off the Brexit cliff to the anti-immigrant, pseudo-fascistic rhetoric of large segments of Silvio Berlusconi’s media empire in Italy. Some mainstream conservatives find the twilight zone so alluring that they take the express train to the extreme because the mainstream’s gradual drift to the former fringe was not moving nearly fast enough. An example of this is Gavin McInnes who abandoned his creation, Vice, to embrace his inner white supremacist, misogynist and racist.

Even though the negative stereotyping of Muslims and Arabs has a very long pedigree, and has for generations been a staple of Hollywood myth-making, toxic mainstream conservative demonisation took off in earnest in the wake of the horrors of the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks. Since then, America and Europe’s Muslim minorities have been inextricably linked in conservative perceptions with terrorism and treason.

The same applies to other minorities and marginalised groups, from Jews to Eastern European migrants to asylum seekers. The rightwing tabloid media in a number of countries has been vilifying them for years while claiming that it the imagined bogeyman of political correctness that was enjoying the upper hand, rather than the reality, that rightwing bigotry has been the dominant voice for generations.

Read part I

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Alt-jihad – Part I: Dying to kill

 
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By Khaled Diab

In the first of a series of articles exploring the disturbing parallels between radical Islamic and White/Christian extremism, Khaled Diab examines whether far-right suicide attackers could become a phenomenon.

Friday 30 March 2018

The Austin serial bomber, Mark Conditt, a 23-year-old unemployed man, has taken the secret with him to the grave of what motivated him to carry out his deadly attacks, which sowed terror in the community. The two who were killed in the attacks were an African-American office worker and an African-American high school student, both of whom were from families connected to the civil rights movement. Among the first to be injured were an African-American and a Hispanic woman were injured.

Was Conditt motivated by racial hatred? If so, why were some of his targets apparently random, such as the tripwire bomb he placed near a road in a quiet area of Travis County, Austin, which injured two white men? Was this revenge against a prosperous community for his unemployed status? Did his conservative religious views play a role in his bombing spree and choice of targets? Was he seeking to punish what he likely regarded as a sinful and god-forsaken society?

Whatever his actual motives were, one incredibly disturbing aspect of Conditt’s attacks was his preference to blow himself up rather than be captured. This qualifies him as a ‘suicide bomber’. This will strike many Americans and Europeans as odd. In the mainstream western mind, suicide attacks are inextricably linked to Muslims, with many conservatives, from Christian pastors to populist right-wing politicians, declaring Islam to be a ‘death cult’. Just last month, Ukip’s Gerard Batten opined that: “[Islam] glorifies death. They believe in propagating their religion by killing other people and martyring themselves and going and getting their 72 virgins.”

Although it is true that nowadays the majority of suicide attacks are carried out by Muslims, usually in Muslim-majority countries, the world leaders in suicidal terrorism were once Sri Lanka’s Tamil Tigers, the Marxist guerrilla group, who transformed suicide attacks into a powerful weapon of asymmetric warfare. The Tamil Tigers constructed “the concept of martyrdom around a secular idea of individuals essentially altruistically sacrificing for the good of the local community,” according to Robert Pape, director of the Chicago Project on Suicide Terrorism.

This is not a million miles away from Japan’s Kamikaze pilots of World War II. Whether or not people like to refer to them as suicide attackers, western soldiers also have a long history of being involved in suicidal missions. What after all is more suicidal than, say, leaving your trench to run through the no-man’s land of World War I? With the almost certain death involved in some of the deadlier battles of the Great War, involvement in them was akin to a suicide mission.

Such academic comparisons aside, could suicide attacks become a weapon of non-Islamic terrorists in America and Europe?

Well, though not (yet) widespread, this is already occurring, albeit it is a phenomenon that has gone largely unremarked. Take William Atchison, the 21-year-old petrol station attendant who, in December 2017, entered Aztec High School in New Mexico, killed two pupils, injured several others, and then turned the gun on himself. Atchinson was a white supremacist who fantasised, in online gaming forums, about killing Jews. The trouble for him is that there were none around him. “Had Atchison lived in a city with a significant Jewish population, it is even possible the tragedy he caused might have taken an anti-Semitic form instead of the shape that it did,” concluded the Anti-Defamation League (ADL).

A far more spectacular suicide shooting occurred last year at the Route 91 Harvest music festival, when Stephen Paddock, 64, who murdered 58 concert goers and wounded a staggering 851, before turning one of his many guns on himself. Chillingly, months of investigation have uncovered no clear motive for Paddock’s rampage. He was a germaphobe, had a gambling addiction and, though once rich, had lost a lot of his wealth in the last year of his life. He also complained of anxiety and pain.

This phenomenon has been in the making, under the radar, for many long years. In 2015, Chris Harper-Mercer, 26, killed nine at Umpqua Community College in Oregon, where he was a student, later shooting himself in the head during a gunfight with police. Harper-Mercer was described as a hate-filled white supremacist, albeit an anti-religious one.

In 2012, Adam Lanza murdered his mother. Perhaps propelled by his paranoid belief that human civilisation was beyond redemption and that “the only way that it’s ever sustained is by indoctrinating each new child for years on end.” Lanza drove to one of these alleged indoctrination factories, Sandy Hook Elementary School, where he shot dead 20 young children, one for each of his young years in this world. As first responders arrived, Lanza shot himself in the head. Also in 2012, a white supremacist soldier-turned-rocker committed suicide after killing six people at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin.

Considering how so many Americans are convinced that mass shootings are not motivated by ideology, it is remarkable how many of them are carried out by men who subscribe to white supremacist, conservative Christian or racist worldviews.

Other American mass shootings in which the assailant took their own life occurred in 2007 and two in 2006, including one involving a rare female shooter. That is not including all the possible suicide by police that may have occurred.

This grizzly phenomenon stretches back to the previous millennium. Two such attacks occurred in 1991: one in which the attacker killed four faculty members at the University of Iowa and another where the killer murdered 23 at a Texas cafe. Known as the Luby’s massacre, the Texas attack was, at the time, the deadliest mass shooting in US history. Apparently driven by misogyny, George Hennard, before opening fire, screamed, “All women of Killeen and Belton are vipers,” after crashing through the window of a Luby’s cafeteria with his car.

Mad or bad?

There is a psychological link between suicidal urges and committing mass murder, according to Scott Bonn, a professor of sociology and criminology, in which “alienating social forces” lead “fatalistic individuals increasingly [to] kill others, and in many instances themselves, in catastrophic acts of rage and violence”.

Despite the differential treatment of the mainstream media and politicians towards white and Muslim mass shooters, recent research has suggested they share a great deal in common, namely a suicidal urge to kill and be killed.

And there is strong evidence that suicidal tendencies are, at least partly, determined by social factors, as first posited by the pioneering French sociologist Emile Durkheim, who classified suicides into three basic groups: egoistic, altruistic and anomic. There are certain problems with Durkheim’s ideas, namely his insistence that “a given effect must always have a single cause, and that this cause must be of the same nature as the effect,” as Robert Alun Jones of the University of Illinois points out.

Even though Durkheim’s work is too reductionist, the framework he pioneered, as Bonn suggests, is useful not only in understanding suicide but in understanding suicide attacks. It also challenges the simplistic tendency in the West to classify Muslim suicide attackers as evil and ideologically driven, while white suicide attackers are deranged, psychologically disturbed ‘lone wolfs’. Of course, ideology plays a role (after all, the vast majority of such attacks are carried out by violent salafi jihadist groups), but it is, by far, not the only factor. Looking at the social-psychological background helps contextualise how and why such (self-)destructive ideas emerge and how they find some willing recruits. In short, the mad or bad dichotomy is a false one.

Enormous social upheavals can push a minority of people, who under other circumstances may have functioned peacefully in society, over the edge. The attendant despair can cause people to develop the desire to take their own lives and/or the lives of others. The absence or dismantling of social safety nets exacerbates this problem, by depriving these individuals of the kind of emotional, community and economic support to bring them back into the fold. Many even manage to remain undetected for years as they entertain ever bloodier fantasies of murder. The breakdown of law and order, or the disintegrating of the state, creates the kind of social vacuum that facilitates and enables such behaviour. In fact, such behaviour can sometimes be a desperate cry for belonging, especially amongst vulnerable individuals who join tight-knit radical groups, which function as their surrogate family.

This helps explain why different Muslim societies show different propensities for suicide attacks. In some, they are non-existent, while in others, they, along with more conventional forms of terror attacks, occur on a regular basis. In this light, it is hardly surprising that the largest number of suicide bombings occur in Iraq and Syria, two countries where war has completely destroyed the state, made life a misery and even crushed hope for a better tomorrow.

Deathwish or higher purpose?

This highlights how, while some suicide attackers may not be suicidal and carry out their deadly actions for mostly ideological reasons, a sense of altruism in which their individual existence matters not a jot when compared with their perception of the greater good, many, many others appear to be driven by the inverse: suicidal tendencies looking for an outlet. Since almost every society regards murder, both of the self and others, as a grave sin and a crime, the potential suicider with homicidal urges needs to find a way to legitimise and express these proscribed tendencies.

This occurs fairly often in the Palestinian context, where people have collectively to contend with the Israeli occupation, Palestinian oppression and a political and social situation that seems to be in constant, perpetual and ceaseless decline. When you add addition personal difficulties on top of the collective hardships, the explosive cocktail is there for the possibility of politicised suicide-homicides.

One stark manifestation of this was the wave of uncoordinated attempted stabbings by mostly young Palestinians, quite a proportion of whom appeared to be out to commit suicide by soldier. This was particularly the case for some young Palestinian women who, in addition to the occupation and socio-economic despair, had the additional burden of a suffocating patriarchy with which to deal.

This higher level of desperation can make the line between the political and the personal vaguer in the case of women than men. This can lead some troubled women to seek a more “honourable” path to taking their own lives, according to Nadia Dabbaghh, a child and adolescent psychologist and the author of the informative and taboo-breaking study Suicide in Palestine. “Rather than bring shame or dishonour to their entire family and even their community by running away or committing suicide, these women sought escape through an act that would by and large be viewed as patriotic,” observes Dabbagh.

This also sheds light on why it appears to be that America is the only wealthy industrialised country to be suffering not only from routine mass killings, but from ones that regularly feature the suicide of the attacker. This is due not only to America’s lax gun laws and the ease with which firearms can be acquired, but also to the destruction of the social safety net, the eradication of solidarity and support mechanisms, the gaping and growing inequalities, the extremely poor or non-existent healthcare millions of Americans receive, and the emergence of tribalism and identity politics as a substitute for meaningful socio-economic and political reform.

Does this mean we are likely to witness a trend of ultra-right suicide attacks in the coming years?

I hope not but it is entirely possible, especially if radical white supremacist and Christian groups, as well as anti-government militias, choose to exploit systematically these human weapons of mass murder by actually recruiting and actively brainwashing vulnerable individuals to carry out suicide attacks.

What is far more likely to continue apace is the sharp and alarming increase in far-right violence, including terror attacks, not just in America, but also on the other side of the Atlantic, including in the UK.

When, a decade ago, I warned that America was falling prey to a Christian jihad many laughed at me. When I cautioned that the greatest terror threat facing Europe and America was from white supremacists and neo-Nazis, readers did not take me seriously.

But the emerging reality could prove worse than I feared. But when dealing with this threat, we must learn from our mishandling of Islamic extremism. We must be vigilant, not vigilante. We must seek justice, not retribution. We need to excise the demons causing these toxic ideologies, not demonise the people who fall prey to them. We must fight ideas with better ideas.

Read part II – Delusions of grandeur and persecution

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Israeli pilgrim in Prophet Muhammad’s house

 
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By Khaled Diab

A visit by an Israeli Jewish blogger to some of Islam’s holiest sites has stirred up controversy and anger. But should it have?

Wednesday 27 December 2017

A photo of a smiling man dressed in a traditional Arab thawb, keffiyeh and agal while standing in the middle of the Prophet’s Mosque in Medina, Islam’s second holiest site, has sparked online outrage among some Arabs and Muslims.

That’s because the man in question, who has posted his photo posing with a bag emblazoned with Hebrew letters reading ‘Ben Tzion’, is not a Muslim worshipper but an Israeli Jewish blogger.

Instagram, where Ben Tzion had been chronicling his escapades, suspended his account, he claims, and the account is, at the time of writing, no longer active, following a deluge of angry comments.

Under the hashtag ‘#صهيوني_بالحرم_النبوي (‘Zionist_in_the_Sanctuary_of_the_Prophet’), numerous Arab Twitter users expressed severe criticism of Saudi Arabia for allegedly breaking the Arab boycott of Israel, seeing this as a further escalation of the kingdom’s apparent attempts to normalise relations with Israel.

Some took it as an opportunity to spew bigoted anti-Jewish sentiment. “Umar Ibn Al-Khattab… expelled Jews from madina [sic] 1400 years ago and now Saudi government are [sic] allowing them back again,” wrote one Twitterer.

The incident became a battleground in the ongoing Gulf propaganda war between Qatar and a Saudi-led alliance which has laid it under siege, supporters of which have accused Qatar of being an Israeli stooge. The truth is most Gulf countries have been discreetly cultivating relations with Israel for many years now.

“You prohibit Qataris from entering it but you allowed your cousin, the Jew, to enter,” wrote one Qatari user.

Despite (false) allegations that the Israeli blogger was on an officially sanctioned visit and that the Saudis had knowingly let him enter, Ben Tzion himself maintains otherwise. Speaking to BBC Arabic, he said that his trip, for which he used an undisclosed non-Israeli passport, was a private visit, to meet Saudi friends he had got to know in college in America (on a previous visit, he had visited a college friend in Iran).

In a telephone interview with the Times of Israel, Ben Tzion explained that the visit to Saudi Arabia was part of a regional ‘goodwill tour’ which also took him to Iran and Lebanon, both of which Israel defines as ‘enemy states’, prohibiting its citizens from travelling there, on pain of possible but unlikely prosecution – unless they happen to be political dissidents or Palestinians.

This two-sided rejection might be the reason why Ben Tzion keeps his full name and current location under wraps. In fact, a source close to the Times of Israel informed me that, although Ben Tzion occasionally blogs for the online news site, nobody there has met him in person.

Of Russian origin, Ben Tzion grew up in the United States, where he graduated from Babson College, a prestigious business school, and worked in real estate in the Boston area – he holds American, Russian and Israeli citizenship, my source informed me.

“No one in the Arab world ever approached me with hostility,” Ben Tzion told the Times of Israel. “Among regular people, there is no hatred. I was in Beirut two weeks ago – there’s no hatred, people are friendly.”

This revelation will shock and dismay a large number of Israelis, many of whom, I have learnt through years of interaction, are convinced they would be lynched upon entering Palestinian neighbourhoods of Jerusalem, let alone travelling deep into ‘hostile’ Arab territory. This is especially the case among Israeli Jews who equate contact with Arabs as a form of betrayal and self-hatred aimed at the destruction of the Jewish state by other means.

But such contact highlights the importance of direct, grassroots people-to-people contact. It helps demystify and humanise the other side. While this, in and of itself, will not solve the complex issues at the heart of the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict, understanding and empathy are vital prerequisites to eventual resolution.

Many Arabs will protest that this whitewashes the Israeli mistreatment of Palestinians and normalises the occupation. In my view, a distinction must be made between private, independent Israeli citizens and activists, and representatives of the state or members of organisations affiliated with the state or defending its crimes – and this distinction should be incorporated into the Arab boycott.

This does not mean that Arabs have to agree with Israelis or turn on the Palestinians. It simply means that they need to engage with Israelis and assist their Palestinian brethren in making their case.

Some Arab activists will counter that the boycott is effective and is working, as evidenced by the panicked anti-BDS legislations and activities of the Israeli state, including the recent decision to deny entry to a delegation of European parliamentarians and officials who had intended to visit jailed Palestinian leader Marwan Barghouti.

However, the limited successes BDS has scored lulls activists into a false sense of confidence. Even though Israel has become the subject of greater social and political opposition in Europe, this has scarcely made a dent in its economy and, as protection against possible but unlikely European sanctions, Israel has actively nurtured deepening ties with Asian and African states.

Moreover, the current situation empowers extremists, who increasingly call the shots, and opportunists, who take advantage of the chaos.

While principled Arab activists and citizens refuse to reach out to ordinary Israelis, the de facto Netanyahu oligarchical dictatorship is forging ever-deepening ties with equally unscrupulous Arab despots and dictators. And they are doing so not in the interest of peace, justice and security, but to further their own self-interest through conflict and war, injustice and insecurity.

Grassroots contacts founded on principles and dialogue are not simply about paving the way to a better tomorrow – they are also about sidestepping a worse and more destructive future from sucking our region even deeper into the abyss.

Another feature of the Arab backlash on social media was the rejection as somehow impure or contaminating the notion of a non-Muslim entering an Islamic sacred site. As someone who has entered the holiest sites of many other religions, I find this attitude bigoted and intolerant. While there are plenty of mosques, including the fourth holiest in Islam, the Great Mosque of Kairouan (Tunisia), which permit non-Muslims to enter, Mecca, Islam’s most sacred city, is the exclusive domain of Muslims.

This is completely unacceptable morally and counterproductive culturally and politically. Moreover, allowing non-Muslims into Islam’s most sacred heart would open up its soul to the rest of humanity.

____

This article first appeared in Haaretz on 23 November 2017.

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Hypocrisy and the Holy Land

 
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By Khaled Diab

In their reactions to Donald Trump’s hypocritical Jerusalem declaration, many Arab and Muslims leaders have exhibited their own grotesque double standards.

At the behest of the Turkish president, Islamic leaders gathered for an extraordinary summit to denounce Trump’s declaration.
Source: Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Twitter account

Tuesday 19 December 2017

Exercising his peerless talent to make enemies and infuriate people, Donald Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and move the US embassy there changes nothing on the ground – except perhaps highlighting the extent of American hypocrisy and how Washington was never an impartial broker.

Nevertheless, Jerusalem is a city of enormous symbolic significance, not just to Jews and westerners but also to Arab Muslims and Christians, and the Palestinian struggle has been at the heart of Arab and Muslim consciousness for generations.

This partly explains why a merely symbolic announcement from Trump has triggered such angry reactions both in Arab corridors of power and on the streets. Another factor is the need to forge a semblance of unity in this bitterly divided region.

Arab League foreign ministers warned that Trump’s move “deepens tension, ignites anger and threatens to plunge the region into more violence and chaos,” as though it was not already mired in both.

In keeping with the League’s track record of futile, toothless endeavours, the ministers said they would seek a UN Security Council resolution rejecting Trump’s move, as though the US was not a veto-wielding permanent member.

Lebanon’s foreign minister, Gebran Bassil, urged the Arab world to adopt economic sanctions against the United States. While Bassil was outspoken in his defence of Palestine, his position towards Palestinians is a different matter.

The foreign minister has previously stirred controversy with his opposition to the naturalisation of not only the recently arrived Syrian refugees but also the Palestinian refugees who have lived in Lebanon for decades. Bassil is even against allowing Lebanese women to pass on their nationality to their children if they are married to a Palestinian or a Syrian.

While Bassil is an extreme and bigoted example, loving Palestine but disliking the Palestinians is a fairly common dissonance in Lebanon. This is reflected in how angry protesters clashed with riot police outside the American embassy in Beirut, with some denouncing the US as the “enemy of Palestine”.

Meanwhile, nearly half a million registered Palestinian refugees call Lebanon home, many of whom live in poverty and socio-economic marginalisation, excluded from numerous professions, in one of the country’s 12 Palestinian refugee camps, including the infamous Shatila in southern Beirut.

Of course, Lebanon has been a frontline state in the Arab-Israeli conflict. It has integrated some Palestinians and its failure to integrate the remainder partly rests on the fear of what this would do to the country’s delicate balance of power, which dangerously and precariously hinges on a sectarian fulcrum. Some Lebanese are opposed to the integration of Palestinians on the grounds that this keeps the Palestinian cause alive, even if it exacts a heavy human cost.

At a rally in Beirut last week, Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah, speaking by video link, urged Palestinians to rise up against Israel and vowed that “Jerusalem and Palestine and the Palestinian people and the Palestinian resistance in all its factions” would become his group’s top priority.

One wonders why the Palestinians of Syria were not a priority for Nasrallah, whose militia has been actively supporting the Assad regime in its destruction of Syria, including Yarmouk, the Palestinian refugee camp in southern Damascus, upon which the regime and its allies have inflicted a cruel siege and fought a number of battles.

Not to be outdone, Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdoğan vowed to lead Islamic efforts to resist the US move, even hosting a summit of the Organisation of Islamic Co-operation to prove his point. Calling Israel a “child-murderer state”, Erdoğan pledged to “continue our struggle within law and democracy… Our road map will show that it will not be easy for them to realize their plans.” What Erdoğan failed to mention is that he has almost destroyed Turkey’s democracy and undermined the rule of law through a systematic campaign to jail journalists and critics and to purge the state of opponents and enemies, both real and perceived.

After the summit, Erdoğan pledged to open a Turkish embassy in East Jerusalem. However, he built a cunning escape hatch into his plan by claiming that he could not, for now, open this embassy, because East Jerusalem is under occupation. This sounds like low-risk grandstanding to me, as Turkey already has a consulate in Sheikh Jarrah. He could declare that the embassy, if he really wanted, and hang a sign outside, even if it pissed off the Israelis or led to the Israeli taking action against the consulate-cum-embassy.

The reason Erdoğan talks the walk but does not walk the talk is because of all the Turkish interests at stake. What is also absent from Erdoğan’s inflammatory remarks is that, increasingly isolated like Israel’s Binyamin Netanyahu, he ratified a lucrative reconciliation deal last year with Israel, the country he accused of infanticide.

While Turkey has longstanding official relations with Israel, Saudi Arabia, which severely reprimanded Egypt for its peace deal with Israel and ostensibly upholds the Arab boycott of Israel, is seeking closer ties, not to work towards peace and reconciliation in the Arab-Israeli conflict, but to build a mutual alliance against Iran, Riyadh’s belligerent regional rival.

Regardless of which side of the Gulf spat they stand on, much of the Gulf Co-operation Council has been hungrily eyeing Israeli technology, with Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Qatar all finding covert paths, via middle countries, through which to import Israeli products, including military ones.

This, along with Saudi Arabia’s hatred of Hamas and murderous starvation of Yemen, could explain the muted reaction from Riyadh compared with other Arab and Muslim capitals. Moreover, Saudi Arabia, under the de facto leadership of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, is keen to build an axis of autocrats with wannabe dictator Donald Trump in Washington.

Egypt’s reaction has also been fairly reserved. This is partly because of the mutual appreciation society President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi enjoys with Donald Trump, and partly because Egypt has an ambivalent relationship with the Palestinians.

On the one hand, the Egyptian regime has helped Israel maintain its blockade of Gaza by keeping its Rafah crossing mostly closed and has stoked hatred and fear towards Hamas. On the other hand, Egypt has been a central mediator, though hardly an unbiased broker, in intra-Palestinian efforts to mend bridges, helping clinch the recent reconciliation accord between Fatah and Hamas.

Beyond the regimes, on the street, where outrage is generally more genuine, much of the anger has been on behalf of stones and symbols rather than flesh and blood humans, and has featured a troubling element of religious bigotry.

Over and above the chanting of tired and outdated slogans, there has been little in the way of creative new approaches to break the deadlock and support the Palestinians.

____

This is the updated version of an article which first appeared in German in Die Zeit on 14 December 2017.

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Donald Trump: Universal scapegoat

 
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By Khaled Diab

Donald Trump is possibly the worst American president in history, but that does not give the rest of the political establishment a get-out-of-jail-free card when it comes to taking responsibility for the mess the world is in

Photo: White House

Wednesday 13 December 2017

While former US President Barack Obama regularly signalled that the “buck stops here”, even for matters that were not directly his responsibility, his successor, Donald Trump, lobs the buck way over there to escape responsibility, even for his own direct actions.

Even though Trump’s tendency to blame the political establishment for everything is legendary, less well-known are other politicians’ and leaders’ inclination to blame everything on Trump. This was visible in the tidal wave of criticism Trump received for his decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and his plans to move the US embassy there. Although this has been US law since 1995 and numerous presidents have campaigned to do just that, Trump has been accused of single-handedly destroying the ‘peace process’, which has been defunct and deceased since its birth, if not its inception, and undermining America’s role as an ‘honest broker’, as if Washington was ever impartial.

Another jarring example was the unexpected transatlantic spat with the UK sparked by Donald Trump’s decision to retweet propaganda videos shared by the fringe far-right group Britain First.

Condemning Trump’s implicit endorsement of Britain First, which Theresa May slammed as “a hateful organisation,” the British premier said the extremist group “stands in fundamental opposition to the values that we share as a nation – values of respect, tolerance and, dare I say it, common decency.” Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson echoed his boss’s sentiment, calling Britain First “a divisive, hateful group whose views are not in line with our values”.

Invoking the UK’s “proud history as an open, tolerant society”, Johnson emphasised that “hate speech has no place here”.

The sheer and breathtaking audacity and hypocrisy of this statement will immediately strike anyone who has followed, even cursorily, Boris Johnson’s almost peerless ability to offend people around the world, including his offensive claim that Libya offered great investment opportunities once they “clear the dead bodies away”.

Although wittier with a manufactured bumbling affability, his persona as dishevelled as his blonde mop of hair, Boris Johnson has much in common with Donald Trump. Both the sons of privilege, their political careers rest not on any political achievements but on their popular media personas. In the case of Johnson, his regular appearances on the popular satirical show Have I Got News For You and his widely read column propelled him into the Tories’ political A list.

Long before Donald Trump became a leading advocate of the anti-Obama birther movement and officially inaugurated the era of “post-truth” and “alternative facts”, Boris Johnson is credited with inventing EU-related fake news. “He turned euro-scepticism into an art form,” a former colleague recalled. “Boris campaigned against the cartoon caricature of Brussels that he himself invented.”

Despite the very strong likelihood that Trump will live up to people’s expectations of becoming (one of) the worst American president(s) in history, he has yet to accomplish an act of collective national self-harm quite as suicidal as the cynical Johnson-led Brexit movement.

Johnson and May’s appeal to tolerance, openness and respect ring even hollower considering how much they and their party have undermined these values, from May’s infamous disparagement of the almost half of the British people who regard themselves to be citizens of the world, to the growing tide of xenophobia threatening refugees, migrants and even EU citizens in Brexit Britain.

On the other side of the Atlantic, a similar dissonance exists amongst the conservative political establishment. It is almost as though history both ended and began with Donald Trump. This is clear in the rehabilitation of the former worst American president, George W Bush, who has recently been receiving fawning media coverage for his (veiled) criticism of Trump. Without naming Trump, Bush accused the sitting president of promoting bigotry, fuelling intolerance, undermining democracy and spreading falsehood. “Bigotry seems emboldened. Our politics seems more vulnerable to conspiracy theories and outright fabrication,” Bush rebuked.

For those of us who lived through the Bush years, this is very much a case of the pot calling the kettle black, with the main exception being that Bush was not a racist – at least not by the standards of his party. “Bush paid lip service to rights and norms before crushing them underfoot. Trump is more brazen in his language and more candid in his intent,” wrote the prominent author and journalist Gary Younge.

Despite defending diversity rhetorically, Bush and his administration were not beyond using prejudice and paranoia as tools of governance or weapons of mass distraction, even deception. They exploited the post-9/11 atmosphere of fear and anger to trample on civil liberties at home, to co-opt the media, to intimidate or silence opponents, and to launch two large-scale military invasions and occupations (in Afghanistan and Iraq) that killed hundreds of thousands, destabilised the Middle East, and effectively bankrupted the United States.

In order to achieve this, the Bush administration spread exaggerated misinformation and patently fake news, such as Iraq’s non-existent WMD arsenal, and browbeat allies and enemies alike, with polarising talk of “you are either with us or against us” and the infamous “axis of evil”, which inexplicably placed Baathist Iraq in the same camp as its arch enemy, the Islamic Republic of Iran. In the process, the Bush administration squandered the tidal wave of global goodwill and sympathy towards the United States in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

This makes the fact that the conservative resistance against Trump is being led by former Bush administration figures seem extremely ironic. One of the loudest such critics is Bush’s former speech writer, David Frum, the man who coined the axis of evil and wrote a glowing biography of the former president, who is now a senior editor at The Atlantic.

It is not just neo-conservatievs and the Republican establishment who are failing to search their souls and introspect, the Democratic party’s mainstream are also falling short in that mission. While they obsess over the extent of Russian subterfuge and meddling, they ignore their own role in creating the groundwork for the toxicity overtaking Washington. This includes choosing the status quo of Hillary Clinton over the genuine change offered by Bernie Sanders, the decades of support for destructive neo-liberal economics, and the failure to push for the reform of America’s authoritarian two-party system and outdated electoral colleges, which saw Clinton win the popular vote but lose the election.

None of this is to understate the threat Donald Trump poses to America and the outside world. But just because he is the villain that does not automatically make all his opponents and critics heroes or even innocents.

—-

This is an updated version of an article which was first published by Al Jazeera on 6 December 2017. 

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Post-ISIS Mosul, pt 1: The final death of a city?

 
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By Boštjan Videmšek/DELO

Its building turned to dust, its citizens traumatised and impoverished, Mosul may have been ‘liberated’ from ISIS but it has become a graveyard. Can this razed and devastated city ever be free again?

Based on photo by ©Boštjan Videmšek

Monday 11 December 2017

The orange sun was slowly setting over the sooty ruins of west Mosul. Nine months of clashes between the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) and a coalition of the Iraqi army, Shia militias and US-led international forces had pummeled the town with some of the most savage urban warfare the world has seen since World War II. Today, west Mosul barely exists: 80% of all buildings have been razed or damaged, while the old city centre is no more. The devastation in Iraq’s second largest city is worse than that in Stalingrad and covers a larger geographical area than Hiroshima during World War II.

Rubble, rubble everywhere. Entire blocks have been returned to dust. There are bomb craters everywhere, enormous piles of refuse, hundreds if not thousands of burned-out hunks of cars and trucks. The city is a labyrinth of destruction, an exitless maze expressing the demise of the very concept of humanity.

This is hardly an exaggeration. Collapsed high-rises lying in imploded heaps like contaminated mountains of blancmange. The all-pervasive smell of organic rot. A lone mosque braving it out in the middle of a flattened plain where a residential district used to be. An entire health-care complex – ‘Medical City’ – razed to the ground. Someone seems to have done a passable job of clearing the main thoroughfares, but all they lead to is further images of unspeakable horror.

Let us not shy away from these scenes. A house, somehow unharmed, shimmering like a mirage amid a desert of nothingness. The skeletal remains of a factory and the bared foundations of municipal facilities. Spent large-calibre shells scattered across piles of sand. Tremendous heaps of impossibly twisted scrap metal which, in a European city, might have been taken for an art installation. Caved-in side streets. A graveyard with smashed headstones, regarded as an act of blasphemy by the masterminds of ISIS. Something that might have been a football field. A small curly palm tree that had somehow survived nine months of incessant bombs, rockets, mortar shells, mines and grenades. A lone emaciated cow dementedly grazing on a chunk of plastic. Splayed animal carcasses. The long line in front of the only functioning petrol station, symbolising of the cankerous economic underbelly of Iraq’s plight.

In a word, west Mosul looks like a tomb. What used to be a town is now a huge evil crater that has sucked in thousands of innocent souls.

The fire sale

Photo: ©Boštjan Videmšek

Hundreds of trucks from Erbil and the northern Kurdish region bring in a stream of building materials. But little in west Mosul gives the impression that any sort of reconstruction is even possible. At the same time, hundreds of trucks are taking scrap metal from Mosul to Erbil and the Kurdish regions. Groups of men are transporting old bricks in wheelbarrows, all of them headed for the gigantic fire sale west Mosul has now become.

Even after immersing yourself in Mosul’s wasteland, it is still hard to believe one’s eyes. Following a knee-jerk impulse, they remain quick to turn from the scenes of utter desolation.

How is anything expected to live here ever again?

Yet for some this is merely business as usual. A patrol of the Iraqi Federal Police, backed up by a high-flying chopper treated to a bird’s eye view of all this nothingness. The freshly sown flags and the childishly colourful religious iconography of the Hashd al-Shaabi militiamen, who helped ‘liberate’ the Sunni western part of town. Flashes of a monstrous marauding force that had long been laying waste to everything in its path.

Lest we forget: in June 2014, the self-proclaimed Islamic State convoy took Mosul virtually without a fight. The Iraqi army simply scattered to the winds, leaving behind a treasure trove of mostly American weapons. The same Iraqi army that had been disbanded in the fall of 2003, turning over the entire state to the whims of religious militias, is now helping to liberate the city it had terrorised between 2005 and 2014.

No. This razed, thoroughly defeated city is not and is never meant to be free again.

A game of Russian roulette

The oily Tigris still occasionally washes up a corpse. Four out of five bridges across the river have been destroyed. Over the remaining one, traffic is sputtering along in a grand slalom between the Iraqi army and Shia militia checkpoints.

The Tigris’ entire west bank, where the ISIS fighters had dug themselves in until the bitter end, has been bombed clean. The tunnels the fighters used to move across the city have been filled in. Those brave enough to have remained in west Mosul fear that the underground still hides a number of ‘sleeper cells’. And that whatever’s down there can easily be spewed forth again.

Here amid the rubble which still entombs hundreds of corpses, any semblance of a sense of security is but a cruel joke. Large parts of the area are riddled with mines, and there is no map. Life – or whatever is still left of it – has been turned into a game of Russian roulette.

***

A 10-year-old girl named Nada refused to let the doctors at a rehabilitation centre operated by the NGO Handicap International in the eastern and significantly less afflicted part of Mosul anywhere near her, at least at first. She was very much afraid of them. After all, it was doctors who had stolen her left foot.

On 4 April 2017, she was hanging around in the courtyard of her home in Mosul’s Janjili quarter, which had been completely devastated during the months of the offensive. The house was suddenly struck by a rocket – to this day, no one knows whose. The shrapnel hit Nada in her left foot and her jaw. Her father Adel took a nasty hit to his leg. A couple of Nada’s relatives were killed in the assault. The neighbours took them to the only functioning hospital, which happened to be controlled by ISIS.

The two doctors on hand first ignored Nada and her father. Priority went to the wounded Sunni militia extremists. According to numerous reports, the doctors only helped those civilians who had openly supported the ISIS ‘caliphate’. Adel was left bleeding in his chair for 10 hours. After that, they simply sawed off his right leg.

Nada herself was left to her excruciating pain for two days. The ‘doctors’ could have saved her foot, but it simply wasn’t a priority. After a while, her wounds became infected and started overflowing with pus. At the end of the two days, a doctor finally came along and amputated the leg under the knee. Then he sent her and her father home, even though they no longer had one.

The fighting was still far from over. The entire family moved in with the grandfather, where three other war-devastated families already lived.

Photo: ©Boštjan Videmšek

“I want to go to school,” Nada told me. Wearing a pretty red dress, Nada also shared that before her town got destroyed she used to be in third grade at the local school.

As her mother held her hand, the physical therapist was working to exercise the stump of the little girl’s left foot – the one that was later fitted with a prosthetic device. From the way she surrendered herself completely to the therapist’s gentle care, it was clear Nada had been released from much of her fear of doctors. On two different occasions, she even flashed a bashful smile.

On the whole, her bright and curious eyes seemed filled with a renewed confidence, perhaps because she had regained the ability to walk. And she was doing so well. She had been promised she would soon depart for Jordan, where Médecins sans Frontiéres agreed to operate on her damaged jaw. This means she might one day be able to eat normally again.

Yet the bureaucrats, naturally enough, seem bent on jeopardising her trip to Aman. An all but irrelevant fact is that her family had gone bankrupt.

As for her grey-haired and bearded father Adel, the war had not merely cost him his right leg but also stripped him of the taxi he used to drive to support his family. His vehicle had been his one means of making a living. As I spoke to him, he was supposed to be on medication, but he simply could not afford it. With the help of his extended family he was able somehow to make ends meet and make his regular rehabilitation sessions. However, the second his luck runs out, the whole family will be facing a new level of dire straits.

An engineer, not a soldier

In mid-March, 19-year-old Dawood was tending a flock of sheep as they grazed. After stepping on a mine, his right hand and left foot were blown off. Some relatives heard the sharp detonation and ran over to where he lay mangled on the ground. He was bleeding profusely and he had lost consciousness, yet they managed to save his life… or at least an approximation of it.

After the conclusion of the grand military operation, Dawood and his parents visited the newly opened rehabilitation clinic. That was in the middle of June. The day we came to visit was the day Dawood could officially walk again, an occasion for celebration.

“I wanted to be a soldier,” he nodded proudly, his body language exuding pride at the stupendous feat he had accomplished. “But since I have lost an arm and a leg, the army won’t take me. Now I want to be an engineer.”

Dawood carefully raised himself up to his feet and took a few tentative steps, his eyes flashing determination and defiance. He employed his prosthetic right hand to grab a plastic cup and eased it up toward his mouth. “Now I can drink tea by myself,” he declared proudly and broke into a grin all the more impressive for its impishness.

***

“It is very hard to find a single person in Mosul who hasn’t lost a loved one or been wounded themselves. Round here, we mostly take care of the amputees: 70% of the 310 people in our care lost an arm or a leg in the raids. In total, some 18,000 people were wounded. There was a tremendous amount of amputations. In many cases, it had been done as a form of sanction – as punishment for disloyalty,” explained Fanny Mraz, head of Handicap International‘s mission in Iraq.

The two years she has spent here have afforded her a very close view of the entire socio-political climate. Her patients’ injuries were not merely of the physical variety. Around here, signs of post-traumatic stress syndrome were so rife they were virtually omnipresent. The trauma of nine months of savage bombardment, following the two years of ISIS’s reign of terror, which came after the root cause of it all, the western invasion and occupation, had cut deep into the marrow of all residents of the ransacked city.

“So much trauma has been piled up on these people,” Ibrahim Khalil, a doctor with the International Medical Corps, said while shaking his head. “Well, at least they’re now learning to speak openly about their pain – something rather unusual in these parts. Nonetheless, we are still at the beginning of our mission. So many people here need help. Some thousand people are now taking part in our psycho-social rehabilitation programme. For them, this war won’t be over for quite a while yet. All the public services having been dismantled, all of us here are facing a tremendous workload.”

 

__

Watch this space for part 2

 

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