Sunday, January 11, 2015

Talking Paris, Charlie and the Salafists

There is much to be said about the horrifying events of the past few days. The Next Century Foundation of which I am Secretary General has already issued a strong statement. First I would like to say something of another cartoonists who has touched my world who has been assassinated, then of how the security services and others deal with extremism, and then of the evolution of Muslim fanaticism now that ISIS is centre stage.

Naji al Ali, Charlie Hebdo and the rest

My late father was a close friend of the Palestinian cartoonist Naji al Ali who was assassinated by Mossad in London back in 1987. The killing devastated my father. Ironically, I gave framed prints of his cartoons to each of my three children this Christmas. This is a typical Naji al Ali cartoon; it is one that suggests even Christ would be angered by the plight of the Palestinians:

And back then he was killed because he was hated by some. And now we have all these cartoonists amongst those who have just been killed in Paris:

Cabu (Jean Cabut), 76;
Charb (Stéphane Charbonnier), 47, the Editor and a strong campaigner against racism;
Philippe Honoré, 74;
Tignous (Bernard Verlhac), 57;
Georges Wolinski, 80, a distinguished French Jewish cartoonist and a recipient of the Legion of Honour.

For what? What did they do that was so offensive? This was what merited all that killing:

"100 lashes if you don't die of laughter"

This was a cartoon of the Prophet Mohammed, as were others published at the time. Certainly it may be offensive to some and may arguably be satire in poor taste. But does it merit murder?

Dealing with extremism

What is extraordinary is the degree of networking between these killers. Here our prison system has much to answer for. As a former prison visitor myself I am much concerned by the way we segregate our prisons keeping minority groups together presumably for convenience. Extremists should not be allowed to mix with other prisoners. Our own Abu Hamza from Finsbury Park Mosque taught the terrorist Djamel Beghal who did time in prison with Cherif Kouachi who with his older brother Said did most of the killing. The same Djamel Beghal whom Hyat Boumeddiene went to visit in the south of France for crossbow training. The system failed us here. Hyat Boumeddiene was of course the wife and co-conspirator of Ahmedi Coulibaly, the third terrorist, the one who targeted the Jewish supermarket.
And there's another failing surely: Cherif Kouachi traveled to Yemen in 2011 to meet the Arab-American terrorist leader Anwar al Awlaki (subsequently himself assassinated in a drone strike).
Back in 2010 Awlaki wrote in the terrorist magazine, "Inspire" to say in regard to the Charlie Ebdo cartoons: "It is better to support the Prophet by attacking those that slander him than it is to travel to the land of Jihad."
This is the same Anwar al Awlaki who exchanged 18 e-mails with Fort Hood shooter Nidal Hasan back in 2009 before he killed 13 and injured 30. E-mails monitored by the security services; but the truth is that the security services are busy garnering so much information that they can never analyse the data they acquire. They need to focus instead of trawling everything.
Anwar Awlaki was dangerous indeed. He was the ideologue that inspired the impressionable underpants bomber Abdulmuttallab also in 2009.
We need to get better systems in place to deal with extremism.

The Evolution of Muslim Fanaticism

Cherif Boumeddiene may have been loyal to the late Anwar al Awlaki, an al-Qa'ida leader (Awlaki was after all his funder) but Ahmedi Coulibaly and his wife Hyat were loyal to Islamic State. Islamic State or ISIS (Daesh in Arabic) represents a new level of fanaticism. ISIS has the motto "Pure Mohammadan Islam". A curiosity in itself this motto because as a rule Muslims resent the word "Mohammadan". ISIS regard al-Qa'ida as ideologically muddled. They follow the extreme puritan teachings of Saudi ideologue, the late Youssef al-Ayyeri. He rejected democracy which he regarded as a decadent infidel ideology. He rejected "modernism" and materialism and the emergence of states based on ethnic identities. Similarly he rejected nationalism which he regarded as divisive, and he rejected both socialism and communism. He also rejected traditional Islamic tolerance for Christians and Jews, the "People of the Book". His view was that they were only tolerated by the Prophet as a matter of convenience and what is now needed is "cleansing" of other religions from the world. These are "heathen ideologies".
ISIS develops Youssef al-Ayyeri's ideas and takes them still further. They reject diluted forms of Islam that call Islam a "religion of peace". They regard the world as divided between Dar al Islam (the house of Islam) and Dar al Harb (the House of War). There can never be peace between Islam and that which is not Islam.
The only form of government acceptable in "pure Mohammedan Islam" is the "Caliphate" and the only law is sharia law.


We have seen two approaches to Western tolerance / intolerance of Islam. One is the Franco-American approach of "integrationalism" and the other is the Anglo-European approach of "multiculturalism". If success is measured in terms of mere numbers recruited to ISIS then integrationalism is more successful. France may be suffering the brunt of this but there are comparatively few French recruits to ISIS - comparatively few per capita when compared to nations like Britain.

But we miss the point. This has all happened before. We have a subculture that feels marginalised. So did those subject to the Tsars and the consequence was communism. So did the Germans post World War One and the consequence was Nazism. The modern Muslim in much of the Sunni Arab World feels marginalised and the consequence is ISIS.

We need to think hard about the policies we adopt in the Middle East. In Libya today we are now backing General Haftar against the alleged Islamists and he is a Gaddafi clone. In Iraq the Shiite led government still imposes the anti-Sunni deBaathification laws that we gave them. And our bombing campaign to contain ISIS all too often targets civilian areas. You think I am talking without personal knowledge? My good friend Ambassador Hambley and myself were attacked by ISIS an hour out of Kirkuk earlier in 2014 and wouldn't have escaped with our lives but for the courageous fight put up by the boys from the Iraq Army who were escorting us. I have two children living and working in Iraq at present. Here is my daughter, Loveday's, take on the liberation of  Jurf al-Sakhar if you would like the viewpoint of a Cornish girl. Read it and weep. We are to defeat ISIS this way? We need wiser heads in charge of Western policies than we have at present - or we may yet pay a terrible price.

But there is a deeper warning in all this. If you ever saw the Bond movie "Skyfall" this was part of M's speech: "Our enemies are no longer known to us. They do not exist on a map, they aren't nations. They are individuals. And look around you - who do you fear? Can you see a face, a uniform, a flag? No, our world is not more transparent now, it's more opaque!"

But the terrible truth is our enemies are visible - and I suspect we are the ones who create them. We ourselves must deal better with our subcultures. We live in a society in which the gulf between rich and poor is increasing and as a consequence, in an era of food banks and spiraling rents, people are being marginalised. And all too often, as in the Middle East so in the West, the marginalised are from the religious and ethnic minorities.


Michael Macy said...

I was taughtt that karma is no more or less than repeating the same mistake again and again. Thank you for reminding us of the past results of excluding the poor and disadvanged. To quote Pete Seeger (always a good thing)
"When we will we ever learn?"

William said...

Thanks Michael. Rev Larry Wright made this comment which he said I could post:

We have entered an age where personal and collective absolutes dominate political and ideological debates, or at least over-shadow them. Any discourse we enter into, even at the most local or domestic level, is qualified by the absolutism swirling around us: the absolutism of global capitalism, ISIS and other forms of Jihadism, militant nationalism, economic neo-conservatism, populist xenophobia and religious fanaticism. As we experienced in the last century politicised forms of extremism inevitably lead to exclusive truth claims and the determination to destroy all other claims to truth. The rise of pluralism, atheism, cynicism and political disengagement have been some of the consequences reaped by the post world wars generations.

The question I wrestle with is this: Is our Western, liberal,democratic, world view also an absolute unable to seriously critique itself?

nehad ismail said...

I think Muslims should now consider the unthinkable. They must re-examine the
Qur'an and revise it to suit modern times.
Muslims need to look again at the Quranic texts.
The basic problem is very clear. It is that millions of people in the Islamic world do not believe in free speech, freedom of religion, democracy, a secular state, free enterprise and human rights.
Muslims live in a state of denial. They always find scapegoats for extremism and terrorism. Blaming all and sundry for the Islamic world failures. The modern Islamic movements such as ISIS are dragging the Muslim world back to the dark ages and slowly but surely taking us into the abyss.

All Muslims must stand together and not only condemn them but work together to defeat extremists like ISIS. Some critics of Islam blame the strict interpretation of Islam by Wahhabism a Saudi strand of Islam and the teaching of children to curse and hate kuffars for the rise in fundamentalism and extremism. Shouldn't Muslim scholars agree to remove such texts that permit the killing of Kuffars (infidels) just because they are not Muslims? Muslim scholars must agree to revise religious texts that call for Jihad and violence against non-Muslims.
The world is tired of the often repeated mantra that Islam is a religion of peace. People judge Muslims by their actions on the ground against their fellow Muslims, not by slogans. Muslims Must stand up to stop the destruction of a great faith.

Khalid al Mubarak said...

Thanks very much.The criminals were confronted by a Muslim guard..Another Muslim at the Kosher Restaurant has saved lives.Terror does not represent Muslims.while condemning the terrorists,we should remember that they are a tiny and isolated group.Addressing the causes of grievances would help Muslim moderates to uproot terrorist menace.