The Diet of Worms convened 500 years ago today. Four years earlier, Martin Luther had sent his Ninety-five Theses as part of a letter to the Archbishop of Mainz, Albert of Brandenburg. The date on which Luther sent this letter, 31 October 1517, is now celebrated as “Reformation Day”, but the Reformation in a serious sense did not begin until after Luther was summoned before the 1521 Diet of Worms. Continue reading
In the 270th edition of Al-Naba, the Islamic State’s (IS) weekly newsletter, on 22 January, the main editorial on page three is entitled, “Towards A ‘Unified Syria’ Under the Rule of Unbelief!” The basic premise is that the United States is trying to orchestrate a reunification of Syria that keeps Bashar al-Asad in power, supported by Russia (with, curiously, no mention of Iran, not in the whole article); brings the PKK (“Syrian Democratic Forces”) home to Damascus; and reconciles the “Awakening” (rebel) forces supported by “secular Turkey” to this state system. Continue reading
Last week, as one of his last acts in office, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo gave a speech about Iran’s collaboration with Al-Qaeda. It was unfortunate that Pompeo did this at this time and in this way, with such blatant political intent, because the factual content of Pompeo’s speech was unassailable: the Islamic Republic’s long relationship with Al-Qaeda does stretch back about three decades, the killing of Al-Qaeda’s deputy Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah (Abu Muhammad al-Masri) in Tehran in August 2020 is demonstrative of a shift in the strategic positioning of the organisation away from Pakistan to Iran, and even the part of Pompeo’s speech that got the most pushback—about Tehran’s contact with the 9/11 killers—is not controversial and is not new.
Unmentioned in Pompeo’s speech was one of the crucibles that forged this relationship, and forged Al-Qaeda into something more than a regional menace, namely the Bosnian war of 1992-5. Continue reading
Abd al-Munim al-Badawi (Abu Hamza al-Muhajir) had become the leader of Al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia (AQM) after its founder, Ahmad al-Khalayleh, much better known as Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, had been killed in June 2006. AQM was the dominant faction within the Islamic State (IS) when it was announced in October 2006 as a merger of jihadist insurgents, and for that reason most analysts at the time considered IS a “front” for AQM. When IS’s emir, Hamid al-Zawi (Abu Umar al-Baghdadi), made his first speech in December 2006 affirming the statehood declaration, most read this as the foreign-led AQM putting an Iraqi face on their enterprise. In fact, as can now be seen, dynamics were essentially as presented by the jihadists.
Crucial was a speech Al-Badawi gave on 10 November 2006, his fifth of what would prove to be fifteen, released by Al-Furqan Media Foundation within IS’s “ministry of information”, entitled, “I’na al-Hukm I’la Allah” (إن الحكم إلا لله), something like “Judgment is Only for God” or “Judgment is God’s Only”, where he gave his bay’a (oath of allegiance) to Al-Zawi, put AQM’s troops under Al-Zawi’s command, and effectively dissolved Al-Qaeda’s presence in Iraq. A transcript of the speech is available here, and a summary of the speech is below. Continue reading
The first time U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger met Chile’s ruler, General Augusto Pinochet, was at a meeting of the Organisation of American States (OAS) in Santiago on 8 June 1976. Kissinger had deliberately kept a public distance from Pinochet because of the myth—which will never die—that he and President Richard Nixon orchestrated the coup d’état that brought Pinochet to power in September 1973. But with the OAS meeting in Pinochet’s capital city, Kissinger finally had to meet Pinochet. Kissinger’s sent two very distinct messages to Pinochet, one public, one private. Continue reading
Kellee Tsai’s Capitalism without Democracy: The Private Sector in Contemporary China (2007) is essentially an economic history of China since the Communist takeover. It is rich in sociological and every other kind of data, all very accessibly presented. A broader takeaway from the book, however, is that a transition to democracy, especially liberal democracy, is unlikely in China on a timescale that is relevant to most of us. Continue reading
The world has been captivated this week by the scenes of an insurrectionary mob overrunning the United States Capitol at the behest of President Donald Trump. It is unlikely that many people remember or even know that nearly forty years ago, this building—the meeting place of the U.S. Congress, the place where laws are made—was bombed by a Communist terrorist group, a group remarkable for its all-female membership. A new book, Tonight We Bombed the Capitol: The Explosive Story of M19, America’s First Female Terrorist Group, by William Rosenau, a senior policy historian at CNA and a fellow in the International Security program at New America, examines this forgotten episode. Continue reading
The Islamic State (IS) released the 268th edition of its newsletter, Al-Naba, on the evening of 7 January. The main editorial on page three this week dealt with the Trump-instigated mob storming the U.S. Capitol building on 6 January. Al-Naba took this as the culmination of a trend towards internal crisis for the U.S., but was not convinced that the focus on domestic politics in the next few years will mean an American retreat in the world, though, in the case of the anti-IS war, Al-Naba does detect a collapse in the American position to merely trying to delay IS’s victory. Al-Naba concludes by making clear that no President, of any colour or political persuasion, would affect IS’s stance towards the West since their war against America and its allies is based solely on the fact that these powers are unbelievers. Continue reading