Early in his new book, Your Sons Are At Your Service: Tunisia’s Missionaries of Jihad, The Washington Institute’s Aaron Zelin quotes a pair of sociologists who note that ‘where theories are plentiful … ideas are vacuous’. The book is in many ways the antithesis of this approach. It is not without theoretical content; where social movement theory arises as a means of understanding jihadism, say, the author gives an overview of the literature to contextualise it for the reader. But the general approach is historical, empirical, and detail-rich, so that by the time Zelin summarises his findings in the various sections there can be no doubt about the evidentiary basis. Continue reading
A version of this article was published in The Arab Weekly
Mustafa Bali, head of the press office for the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the coalition partner against the Islamic State (ISIS) in Syria, sent a tweet on November 14 showing Turkey’s Arab proxies engaged in “ISIS chants.” By this, he meant the takbir, “God is Great,” an expression used by Muslims every day. When criticised, Bali doubled down and blocked many critics. This was a microcosm of one of the darker threads in an SDF messaging strategy that is among the most effective propaganda campaigns on record. Continue reading
Published at The Arab Weekly
From May 26 to June 3, Iraq’s government sentenced to death 11 Islamic State operatives who had been captured in Syria. The novelty in the cases was that the Iraqis said the militants were French and ten of them were. The other was Tunisian.
The French government has made a pro forma protest against the death sentences but did nothing to impede the process. This is of a piece with the general approach European countries, including Britain, have taken to their citizens who joined jihadi groups in the Levant. Continue reading
At Saturday’s summit in Istanbul between Turkey, Russia, France and Germany, the focus was on extending the September 17 Turkey-Russia ceasefire agreement reached in Sochi that spared Idlib a full-scale offensive by Bashar al-Assad’s regime and his supporters, and to “progress” on the political track. Continue reading
The launching of a limited punitive raid against the Syrian regime of Bashar al Assad for the use of poison gas has brought some attention to the regime’s crimes. The regime’s visible crimes are numerous and devastating.
In addition to using weapons of mass destruction, fighter jets have levelled ancient cities, sieges have starved populations into submission, and improvised explosives like barrel bombs have maimed thousands. These tactics are part of what UN investigators have called a “systematic and widespread attack against [the Syrian] civilian population”.
The UN commission recently noted that what the Assad regime has done amounts to crimes against humanity, including extermination, murder, rape, and torture.
What does not get enough attention is the part of Assad’s criminality that is most difficult to see: that which takes place in the prisons, a vast network of concentration camps where torture and murder is routine. Continue reading
The Independent International Commission of Inquiry (IICI) on the Syrian Arab Republic was set up in 2011 by the United Nations Human Rights Council to track human rights abuses in Syria.
Naturally, this has meant that most of the Commission’s work is focused on the industrial-scale crimes against humanity committed by Bashar al-Asad’s regime and his enablers in Russia and Iran. Later, as non-state terrorist and extremist groups intruded into Syria, the Commission documented the atrocities by the Islamic State (IS), al-Qaeda, and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which works under the label of the People’s Protection Units (YPG) in Syria and dominates the so-called Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) that the U.S.-led Coalition works with against IS. The Commission has also recorded abuses by rebel groups.
The Commission’s latest report, released on 6 March 2018, “draws from more than 500 interviews and encapsulates the trends over the past six months in the Syrian Arab Republic, with particular focus on the impact of the offensive against [the Islamic State] and the use of siege warfare on the civilian population.” The report, therefore, has something of a focus on the SDF/PKK human rights violations, though IS’s horrific treatment of religious minorities and so on, plus the pro-Asad coalition’s ongoing campaign of massacre and displacement in areas such as East Ghuta, are given ample attention. Continue reading
The international community tried to impose a ceasefire in Syria on 24 February, passing resolution 2401 through the United Nations Security Council. The ceasefire never took hold and it is now clear it will not. This was inevitable.
Bashar al Assad’s regime, and the governments that support him in Iran and Russia, have repeatedly made use of ceasefires to sequence their war, taking advantage of the calm on some fronts to concentrate firepower on other areas. The only question is why Western diplomats gambled that this time would be any different. Continue reading