The Great White Lie
I must have been six or seven years old when I first heard the words ‘white lie’. My mother explained that it was ok to tell a lie to spare someone’s feelings. At present a gigantic white lie is being perpetrated on the American people. The government warns that the war against Islamic terrorism will go on for years, but fails to tell us why. That white lie spares us the feeling of despair we would experience if we knew that we’re not only fighting ISIS and its acolytes in Syria and Iraq, but eventually like-minded groups that stretch across entire swathes of the world.
As long as the public is only aware of ISIS and Al Queda, it can resign itself to the idea of the Untied States having ‘one more enemy’ in the long list of enemies it has faced Were people aware of the fact that the convictions that motivate ISIS and AQ are shared by ever rising numbers of Muslims around the world, they would be so distraught that they might actually begin to wonder what those convictions are, so that perhaps an open-ended war could be averted.
I’ve always disputed Huntington’s ‘Clash of Civilizations’ because it implies that Western civilization is superior to all others. Now it’s precisely that conviction that is being challenged ever more forcefully and ever more broadly by Muslims, at a time when many Westerners have arrived at the same con-clusion.
There are two strands to Muslim opposition to the West: the one we hear about is religious, focusing on sexual freedom and attitudes toward women, however, the Muslim world counts a growing cohort of secular young people. As we saw with the Tamarod movement against President Mubarak, many of these youth are attracted to neo-liberal ‘democracy’, with its accent on ‘progress’ and ‘making it’. But there is another group, epitomized by the young Turks who demonstrated for weeks in Istanbul’s beloved Gezi Park to prevent it from being razed to build a shopping mall. This group rejoins a growing number of Westerners who see consumerism as detrimental both to the planet and the soul.
Now just imagine that the religious majority of the world’s Muslim population of 1.6 billion (23% of the world’s population), is affected by the spread of Islamist groups. That is what is being hidden from Western publics, as governments gear up for another round of war.
Aymenn Jawad Al Tamimi, a graduate of Oxford University and a Shillman-Ginsburg Fellow at the Middle East Forum, has analyzed support for radical Islamist leaders, including Baghdadi, in countries across the Middle East, Africa and the Pacific.
The first part of his analysis was published last August by Jihadology http://jihadology.net/2013/08/22/musings-of-an-iraqi-brasenostril-on-jihad-bayah-to-baghdadi-foreign-support-for-sheikh-abu-bakr-al-baghdadi-and-the-islamic-state-of-iraq-and-ash-sham/. It leaves out Malaysia and China, as well as the ‘Stans’ on Russia’s Southern border, but it is sufficiently broad to command attention. Here are some excerpts from his country-by-country analysis:
“Gestures of support from Saudi Arabia primarily take the form of anonymous individuals holding placards declaring admiration for ISIS. The ideological inclinations of the placard-holders are made clear by calling Saudi Arabia ‘Bilad al-Haramain’ (‘Land of the Two Sanctuaries’- referencing Mecca and Medina).
A photo taken near the Kaaba in late July, 2013, celebrates the successful prison breaks orchestrated by ISIS at Abu Ghraib and Taji in Baghdad that resulted in the release of hundreds of detainees, including muhajireen who had been imprisoned since 2006/7. The placard reads: ‘Greetings from Bilad al-Haramain to the lions of the two rivers [Tigris and Euphrates] for the liberation of Taji and Abu Ghraib prison; for the Islamic State of Iraq and ash-Sham’.
In a photo released on a jihadi forum a young Saudi girl holds a placard with ISIS insignia. The first and relevant part of the placard reads: ‘How excellent you are, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and your heroic soldiers! Verily you have caused pain to the Safavids.’ In this context, the term ‘Safavids’ is a derogatory reference to the Shi’a.
I would suggest that by conveying these gestures of support from Saudi individuals to ISIS, jihadi circles are implying that ISIS is receiving significant funding from private Saudi citizens who support ISIS.
Somalia, home to the official al-Qa’ida affiliate Harakat Shabaab al-Mujahideen (HSM), has also seen gestures of support for ISIS and Sheikh Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, as illustrated by images released by the pro-ISIS media channel ash-Sham, which is based in Raqqa, Syria. There have of course been rumors and anecdotes of Somali fighters in Syria. Somalia itself has also seen small demonstrations in support of the uprising in Syria.
Despite Sheikh ?awahiri’s indication of the need to dissolve ISIS, not only are al-Qa’ida affiliates elsewhere acknowledging ISIS and Sheikh Baghdadi as the leader of the jihad in Bilad ash-Sham, but also official jihadi forums like Sham?kh Isl?m no longer appear to be deleting posts put out in ISIS’ name.
Tripoli, marked by sectarian tensions between Sunnis and Alawites, has long been known as an area of greater Sunni religiosity than other parts of Lebanon. For years, observers on the ground (e.g. my friend and colleague Phillip Smyth), have noted the regular appearance of the black flag of jihad at rallies.In a similar vein, Facebook pages dedicated to the Sunni community in Tripoli feature the ISIS banner to indicate ideological affiliation. Noteworthy are the thousands of likes these pages have received.
While it may be the case, as Diana Rudha ash-Shammary suggests, that many of these likes come from fake accounts or duplicates, the numbers must reflect in some way a significant support base for ISIS in Tripoli, especially when corroborated with other evidence.
Referring to the recently failed Latakia offensive into Alawite territory that was launched by ISIS, Jabhat al-Nusra and Salafi groups, the second FB page featured a statement from ‘our lord Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi (may God protect him): We are striving for there to be Eid prayers in al-Qarda?a.’
This statement should illustrate what the ultimate purpose behind the Latakia offensive was. Far from being an area of vital strategic importance, the aim was instead to score a symbolic and psychological victory against the regime by aiming to capture the Alawite heartland and Assad’s ancestral village in particular.
In addition to this online material, videos have emerged recently from Tripoli showing the ISIS banner. For example, on 9 August, a video was posted on Facebook of a demonstration in Tripoli for Islamist inmates imprisoned at Roumieh prison in Lebanon – an issue that has been around for quite some time. In the video, entitled ‘Victory march of the oppressed in Roumieh,’ demonstra-tors can be seen holding ISIS banners. It is quite possible that the inspiration for this demonstration came from the ISIS jailbreaks in Baghdad the previous month.
This year’s Eid celebrations also saw the ISIS banner on display in Tripoli’s Sunni areas.
As for the Sinai, support for ISIS is limited to an image doing the rounds on pro-ISIS social media pages, purporting to show jihadists in the Sinai pledging allegiance to ISIS. In the grand scheme of the wider jihad in the Sinai since the coup that deposed Morsi, this photo and the purported explanation for it mean very little. Yet depending on ISIS’ long-term success, it would not be all that implausible if some ISIS muhajireen in particular eventually decide to bring armed struggle to Egypt beyond the Sinai with support from Sheikh Baghdadi.”
In the second part of his analysis, published this August on Syria Comment file:///Users/deen/Documents/Support%20for%20bagdadi%20Part%202.webarchive, Tamimi states:
“IS, it should be recalled, has a Gazan contingent known as the Sheikh Abu al-Nur al-Maqdisi Battalion. Thus it would be fair to characterize Jamaat Ansar al-Dawla al-Islamiya fi Bayt al-Maqdis as an IS network in the Gaza-Sinai area.
More recently, a statement was put out on jihadi forums with the announcement of a “Jund al-Khilafa bi Ard al-Kenana” (“Soldiers of the Caliphate in Egypt”), declaring a pledge of allegiance to IS. Pointing to the actions of the “dogs of the Rafidites- the agents of the Majus from the filthy Safavids, and the disbelieving Nusayris [Alawites]” against Sunnis in Iraq and al-Sham, and attacking the “dog of the Jews – the disbelieving tyrant of Egypt” Sisi, the purported new group pledged its allegiance to “the commander of the believers, the Caliph of the Muslims – Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi al-Husseini (may God protect him).” A threat was also issued to the “enemies of Islam from among the Americans and the Cross-Worshippers,” making clear that their bases and embassies are legitimate targets.
Ansar al-Shari’a Tunisia was known for its staunchly pro-ISIS stance last year, as one of its leading members had written a lengthy tract concluding that it was obligatory on members of Jabhat al-Nusra to switch allegiance to ISIS. The group has found the notion of IS as the Caliphate more difficult to accept, however rank-and-file ground members are aligning with IS and heading off to Iraq-Syria to become fighters for IS.
Like Ansar al-Shari’a Tunisia, many of Ansar al-Shari’a Libya’s rank-and-file members have undoubtedly had IS leanings, translating to a Libyan fighting division within IS:
Of note here is a pro-IS break-off from AQIM known as “Jund al-Khilafa fi Ard al-Jaza’ir” (‘The Soldiers of the Caliphate in the land of Algeria’), which released a statement this month affirming a ‘renewal’ of allegiance to the Islamic State, criticizing the “corruption” of the “manhaj [program] of al-Qa’ida.”
(Recently, a French tourist was captured in a mountainous region of Algeria by a local Islamist group and, when France refused to pay a ransom, beheaded.)
There have been some indications of support for IS (and its prior incarnation ISIS) from some members of the jihadi group Abu Sayyaf: the most notable case being a bay’ah to IS by a senior Abu Sayyaf leader called Isnilon Hapilon, who emerged with a group of followers in a video pledging allegiance to the ‘Caliph’ Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi
Last year, I noted that the main place to watch for pro-ISIS sentiment in Lebanon was the city of Tripoli. This trend of support – extending into the period since the Caliphate’s announcement – has endured. Online, it is represented by an outlet calling itself “News of Tarabulus [Tripoli] of Sham” (reflecting the fact that Lebanon is considered a part of al-Sham).
More recently, in the wake of U.S.-led coalition airstrikes on IS, combined with IS and Jabhat al-Nusra playing on sectarian tensions and local animosity in Arsal against Hezbollah, there was a pro-IS demonstration in Arsal after Friday prayers this week, featuring the slogan: “The people want the Islamic State.”
Much of Al Tamimi’s research centers on the competition between Al Qaeda and ISIS, and he concludes this report by saying that examples of support shown for IS, though by no means insignificant, fail to show that ‘IS has eclipsed al-Qa’ida.
In a final remark that Americans are likely to find chilling:
“I do not quite buy the notion that al-Qa’ida needs to carry out a large-scale attack on the West in the near-term to fend off competition for support from IS.
That said, projections into the future need to take account of current developments and possible scenarios. First, it still remains true that the majority of foreign Sunni jihadis who head to the Syria-Iraq arena join IS, primarily because it is easier to join than Jabhat al-Nusra and places emphasis on the Islamic state-building enterprise and its ultimately global scope: how the Arab world jihadis who end up returning to their home countries will affect local jihadi group dynamics needs to be considered.
Further, in my view both IS and al-Qa’ida Central are vulnerable to loss of stature if the leader is taken out: IS has invested so heavily in Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s image as a caliph – particularly with the lineage claims and his accomplishments – that it seems doubtful IS has a contingency plan for succession to the Caliphate in the event of his death. Meanwhile, in the Afghanistan-Pakistan area, one can legitimately ask if there is anyone in al-Qa’ida Central to replace Zawahiri in the event of his death.”
These disparate excerpts from two much longer documents should suffice to convey the fact that the American government is perpetrating a gigantic white lie, by not painting a clear picture of the ‘civilizational’ phenomenon that it is gearing up to confront militarily. It’s clear that widespread grassroots support for ISIS is motivated first of all by pride in an indigenous movement that aims to restore the Arab world across boundaries to prominence. On a more sophisticated level, and in terms of many Western fighters, it’s about affirming traditional values that dovetail with anti-consumerism. Efforts to roll back this multi-faceted phenomenon will not only be open-ended, to succeed it would have to be more massive than anything seen heretofore.