Over at the Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS), Anthony Cordesman takes a look at US polices affected by the conflict with ISIS and doesn’t much like what he sees. ISIS, Syria, and Iraq remain problems that current US strategy seems unable to deal with other than by temporizing.
Keeping balls in the air may delay the disaster of their falling to the ground, but fall they will. When they land, they’re going to be landing in places like Saudi Arabia and Jordan.
The Imploding U.S Strategy in the Islamic State War?
It is too early to say that the U.S. strategy against the Islamic State is imploding, but it is scarcely too soon to question whether this is possible. In fact, it is far from clear that the original U.S. strategy ever planned to deal with the complications that have arisen since President Obama officially announced a portion of what that strategy really had to be.
The Non-Strategy for Dealing with the Islamic State
To begin with, the basic goal of degrading and destroying the Islamic State always bordered on the ridiculous. It was always clear that some form of violent Islamic extremism would survive any combination of U.S. air attacks, Iraqi efforts to clear Iraq on the ground, and the limited capabilities of the Free Syrian Army. In fact, senior U.S. defense officials and military officers have repeatedly made this clear by limiting the objective to “degrade” and noting that the struggle against violent religious extremism would go on for years if not more than a decade.
Editor-at-Large Khaled Almaeena writes at Saudi Gazette that governments need to get on top of “fifth columnists” who are promoting and supporting terrorist organizations. And that includes Saudi preachers.
Almaeena laments that governments allowed this situation to develop years ago when the problem might have been dealt with more easily. There are radicals within Saudi Arabia and within the government. Unsupervised teachers have free rein to teach extremist theology, even when they’re supposed to be teaching chemistry or math. Secretaries within ministries work to subvert the missions of those ministries if they believe them “too liberal” or “too foreign” or “not the Islam I want”. Preachers preach hate and intolerance. While the government may now be seeking to rid itself of such pestilence, it’s awfully late to the game.
This is a situation that has been allowed to fester for going on 40 years. It’s long past time to fix it.
Stop these preachers of hate!
A Gulf paper reported the suspension of the Twitter account of a Saudi preacher who urged followers on social media networking websites to celebrate the death by suicide bombing of dozens of protestors in Yemen thought to be Al-Houthis. On Twitter, Khalid Al-Ghamdi gloated over the corpses of people killed in bomb attacks in Sanaa on Oct. 9. He praised the Al-Qaeda group who carried out the attack and in his twisted way asked followers to take pleasure in watching the images of the burnt bodies. His show on Al-Wesal TV has been accused by patriotic Saudis of stoking sectarianism in the region. The sadistic comments caused outrage among peace-loving people who called for his prosecution.
Al-Ghamdi’s perverted, uncivilized and barbaric behavior is totally repugnant to the majority of Muslims all over the world. To ask people to gloat over the killing of innocent women and children reveals a demonic mind. The government is intent on fighting this evil ideology of hate, intolerance, incitement to murder and the vicious brutality of glorifying such heinous acts. However, we can’t do this by praying in mosques against “Daish”, the so-called Islamic State, or by reading circulars from the authorities asking us not to be swayed by deviants. This is a threatening evil ideology that has to be fought with serious determination and political will.
Writing at Asharq Alawsat, Mshari Al-Zaydi finds that through its online recruiting, ISIS is creating an international league of zombies — mindless creatures that stalk around wreaking havoc wherever they go. Besides being seasonally apt for Halloween, he’s right.
ISIS is able to mobile seemingly brainless youths to join its fight. In addition to the foreigners recruited to fight that he lists, three American teenage girls were stopped in Germany on their way to Syria last week. The attraction of adventure, seeking a break from their boring lives, these youths seem ensorceled by the promise of something different from what they’re living. Instead of the commonplace that terrorists arise out of poverty and unemployment, we’re finding that they can very much be those dealing with “First World Problems“. The recruits are ignorant of Islam, of Islamic history, of regional politics. Those don’t matter at all. It’s that they want to be seen (at least to themselves) as doing something other than what they are doing.
The Zombies of ISIS
A Canadian national named Michael Zahaf-Bibeau, aged 32, made the headlines this week when he carried out a terrorist attack in Ottawa, killing one soldier standing guard at a war memorial before storming the nearby parliament. He was killed in the subsequent firefight with security officers.
Is there more to this story?
According to local media, Michael Zahaf-Bibeau’s mother is Canadian while his father is Libyan. He did not speak Arabic. In his youth, he had wanted to travel to Libya to learn the language and study Islam. He had a criminal record. His parents are separated. He has been seeking to travel to Syria to join the terrorist Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
At the time of writing this article, everything else regarding Zahaf-Bibeau’s motive and intentions is mere speculation.
The media reports delving into Michael Zahaf-Bibeau’s past paint a picture of a confused and angry young man. A man who wanted to express the anger and uncertainty that was boiling inside of himself; a man who wanted to prove something to the world.
Ultimately, Zahaf-Bibeau appears to be completely ignorant of true Islam, just like the two Austrian teenage girls who traveled to join ISIS, and the two British Somali schoolgirls who ran away to join this terrorist organization, as well as countless others. These people have no concept of religion, history or politics; if they did they would never join ISIS in the first place.
There’s a conspiracy theory bubbling around — I’m seeing it coming primarily out of S. Asia — that Saudi Arabia and the US are colluding to bring down the price of oil in order to damage the economies of Russia and Iran. While lower prices certainly have that effect, they also negatively affect the economies of all oil producers. If the price drops low enough, in fact, it could damage the oil-fracking industry that has so increased US production. Some countries can weather lower prices better than others. Saudi Arabia is one of those countries.
Rather than a conspiracy or political skullduggery, though, it’s the oil markets that are setting the price of oil. Lower than expected demand from China and increased supplies from the US mean that there’s less demand. Less demand means the prices go down.
An article from Arab News spells out the issue well.
The ‘politics’ behind oil price fall
It is no longer a issue of whispering in the corridors of the oil industry. It is now part of public debate. Is Saudi Arabia launching an oil price war in tandem with the US to undermine or at least weaken energy dependent adversaries Russia and Iran?
The latest to join this discussion is the notable New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, who wrote on Oct. 14 under the headline “Pump War?”
“One can’t say for sure whether the American-Saudi oil alliance is deliberate or a coincidence of interests, but, if it is explicit, then clearly we’re trying to do to President Vladimir Putin of Russia and Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, exactly what the American and Saudi Arabia did to the last leaders of the Soviet Union: pump them to death — bankrupt them by bringing down the price of oil.”
It is no surprise that people try always to find a link between oil and politics.
Writing for Al Arabiya TV, Hisham Melhem, Washington Bureau Chief for the network, reports on a fascinating conference held in Abu Dhabi last week. The conference discussed just about every facet of the discord that now defines the region. Worth reading in its entirety.
Of domestic demons and aggressive neighbors
Last week a group of scholars, current and former officials and journalists from the Middle East, U.S., Europe, Russia and China met for two days at the inaugural forum of the Abu Dhabi Strategic Debate, sponsored by the Emirate Policy Center. We met to discuss and ponder what can be done about Syria and Iraq – two countries in flames – and to ask are there any chances to prevent Yemen and Libya from moving on the same path of nihilism, whither Egypt after almost four years of tumult and uncertainty, the impact of non-Arab regional powers like Iran and Turkey on the ongoing conflicts of the Arabs, and the major powers policies (assuming that they have coherent ones) toward the Gulf region. And like most conferences the participants met but not necessarily their ideas.
Saudi media break with common practice by citing the name of a young Saudi believed to have left his education program in Australia to join a terrorist group in Syria or Iraq. Usually, Saudi media avoids naming names, but here — likely because of the family’s concern about their son — they do mention it. I think the article is intended, too, to alert other Saudi parents to the possibility of their children’s being suborned while abroad. What is notable, too, is the speed with which this story is being reported. The family sought assistance from the government of Australia just three days ago. This suggests that the Saudi government is on very high alert for wandering students studying abroad.
The Saudi student who “mysteriously” disappeared in Malaysia last month is believed to have joined one of the terrorist groups in Syria or Iraq, his brother told Al Arabiya.net.
Meshaal Suhaimi, who joined an English-language program in Sydney, Australia, last year, has been missing since Sep. 20. Suhaimi reportedly stopped attending his classes and left for Malaysia instead.
“He is young. And he is a conservative Muslim. He was definitely [indoctrinated],” said his brother, Mohammad Suhaimi. “We received pictures from one of his colleagues in Australia that prove that he is in a conflict zone.”
Saudi Gazette runs a similar story:
Al-Jazeera TV offers a useful interactive page that shows the types of assistance (humanitarian, military, or both) that are being provided to the coalition fighting against ISIS in Syria and Iraq. It has another graphic that shows which nations have taken part in air attacks on ISIS targets and where those targets are located.
The Washington Post runs an Associated Press report noting that this year’s Haj was free of both Ebola and MERS. Saudi public health authorities took measures to reduce the risk, up to the point of barring pilgrims from certain West African countries from taking part in Haj and continuing their visa restrictions on the sick and elderly from all other countries. I think this has to be considered a public health success.
MINA, Saudi Arabia — Saudi Arabia’s acting health minister said Monday that this year’s hajj has been free of Ebola and other contagious diseases because of measures taken by the kingdom to protect more than 2 million pilgrims who took part in the annual Islamic pilgrimage.
The hajj, which lasts around five days, ends Monday. Pilgrims began leaving the desert tent city of Mina, where they were taking part in the ritual of the stoning of the devil, one of the last rites of the hajj. Many headed back to Mecca, ending the hajj as they started it by circling the cube-shaped Kaaba seven times.
There were concerns regarding Saudi Arabia’s readiness to ensure a healthy hajj for pilgrims after the kingdom became the epicenter for the potentially fatal Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, or MERS. Several health workers and doctors died of that coronavirus in Saudi Arabia earlier this year, raising alarm about the safety of hospital.
Khaleej Times from the UAE runs a similar article based on a Reuters report. This report also acknowledges the heightened effort Saudi security personnel took to keep those without Haj permits out of the holy city.
Writing at Al-Monitor, Bader al-Rashed, a Saudi commentator, points out how the government of Saudi Arabia seems to be trying to draw a line between the dominant interpretation of Islam in Saudi Arabia (frequently called “Wahhabism”) and the beliefs and actions of ISIS. There are efforts being made to identify ISIS as Kharajites, referring to the 7th C. group that supported a philosophy at odds with both Sunni and Shi’a interpretations of Islam and Islamic rule and was noted for its harsh implementation of takfirism.
This is all well and good, al-Rashed writes, but is complicated by the fact that ISIS is busy handing out books written by Mohammad ibn Abdul Wahhab, whose writing are at the core of Saudi religious belief and practice. Oops.
Over the past 10 years or so, the Saudi government has tried to back away from the most severe interpretations of Islam that it had largely acquiesced to following the 1979 seizure of the Grand Mosque in Mecca. It has managed to do so, to some extent. The government, though, has not been able to ‘convert’ all Saudis to a regime of tolerance. This is proved by its now having to arrest and imprison domestic extremists.
How Saudi Arabia is distancing itself from the Islamic State
Thirteen years after US President George W. Bush declared war on terrorism, the Middle East is no closer to victory. Instead, terrorism appears to have morphed into an even more dangerous beast in the form of the Islamic State (IS). Westerners, as expressed through the media, seem to be under the same impression as they were after Sept. 11, 2001 — namely, that the Sunni jihadist movement is linked to the Wahhabi brand of Islam emanating from Saudi Arabia. This has prompted renewed debate among Saudis about this supposed Wahhabist-jihadist connection.
After bombings in Riyadh by al-Qaeda in 2003, the relationship between terrorism and religious extremism was widely discussed in the kingdom, with the government establishing the King Abdulaziz Center for National Dialogue that same year. During the dialogue’s second meeting, Extremism and Moderation … A Comprehensive Methodological Vision, it was agreed that religious programs in Saudi Arabia were the primary force behind the spread of extremism in society. As a result of the dialogue, school curricula, the religious curriculum in particular, were modified by the Ministry of Education. Doubts remained, however, that religious education had been sufficiently modified given that radical Islamists were believed to dominate the education sector in the kingdom.
Saudi Arabia is today taking seriously the allegations in the international media that it is the ideological root of the current jihadist groups. Some have sought to defend the country’s religious vision by trying to disassociate Sunni jihadist groups from their brand of Islam, instead castigating other groups, such as the Kharijites — an Islamic sect separate from Sunnis and Shiites that emerged from the first Islamic civil war in the seventh century between Ali Ibn Ali Talib and Muawiya Ibn Abi Sufyan following the killing of the third caliph, Uthman Ibn Affan.
Saudi-owned Al Arabiya TV runs an interesting editorial by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE.
He points to the fact that ISIS can only be truly defeated if its ideology can be defeated. Military success against it, though assured, does not result in its end as it will just metastasize into a new form. He points to Saudi Arabia’s deradicalization program by name, but also notes that too many countries in the region accept the presence of extremist thought within their borders. There is currently insufficient effort being put toward teaching toleration of differences, human development, and good governance.
The intellectual battle against ISIS
Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum
The global financial crisis taught the world how profoundly interdependent our economies have become. In today’s crisis of extremism, we must recognize that we are just as interdependent for our security, as is clear in the current struggle to defeat the ISIS.
If we are to prevent ISIS from teaching us this lesson the hard way, we must acknowledge that we cannot extinguish the fires of fanaticism by force alone. The world must unite behind a holistic drive to discredit the ideology that gives the extremists their power, and to restore hope and dignity to those whom they would recruit.
ISIS certainly can — and will — be defeated militarily by the international coalition that is now assembling and which the UAE is actively supporting. But military containment is only a partial solution. Lasting peace requires three bigger ingredients: winning the intellectual battle; upgrading weak governance; and grassroots human development.
Such a solution must begin with concerted international political will. Not a single politician in North America, Europe, Africa, or Asia can afford to ignore events in the Middle East. A globalized threat requires a globalized response. Everyone will feel the heat, because such flames know no borders; indeed, ISIS has recruited members of at least 80 nationalities.
Over at Al Arabiya TV, Hisham Melhem continues his critique of Arab society and politics, seeking to explain how the Arab world came to be in the situation in which it now finds itself.
He highlights the point that there is no longer any real freedom of thought in the region. Would-be intellectuals are forced into extreme positions if they wish to stay out of jail or to stay alive.
He sharply notes that while the actions of the “outsider” may prove a useful political excuse for the current state of the Arab world, it is far from an adequate excuse. He contrasts the political fortunes of Egypt and India, both becoming independent in the same year, and finds that the Egyptians — for Egyptian reasons — has fallen far behind. He further contrasts Egypt with S. Korea. Both countries had essentially similar demographics and economies in 1960, but now, Egypt has only one-eighth of S. Korea’s GDP per capita. These disparities are not accidents of faith nor are they the result of foreign oppression or interference. The stories Arabs have been telling themselves are no longer believable and populations are no longer buying into the mythology. But solving the problems can’t even start until people can start talking about them, start exploring alternatives, without having to worry whether they’ll be alive tomorrow.
Who brought the Arabs to this nadir?
In recent weeks and months I tried in this space to critique an Arab political culture that continues to reproduce the values of patriarchy, mythmaking, conspiracy theories, sectarianism, autocracy and a political/cultural discourse that denies human agency and tolerates the persistence of the old order. The article in which I said that the ailing Arab body politic had created the ISIS cancer, and a subsequent article published in Politico Magazine generated a huge response and sparked debates on Twitter and the blogosphere.
The overwhelming response was positive, even though my analysis of Arab reality was bleak and my prognosis of the immediate future was negative. Yet, these articles were not a call for despair, far from it; they are a cris de Coeur for Arabs, particularly intellectuals, activists and opinion makers, to first recognize that they are in the main responsible for their tragic conditions, that they have to own their problems before they rely on their human agency to make the painful decisions needed to transcend their predicament. These articles should be viewed through the motto of the Italian Marxian philosopher Antonio Gramsci: “Pessimism of the spirit; optimism of the will.” Pessimism of the will, means that you see and analyze the world as it is not as you wish it to be, but for this pessimism not to be fatal, it should be underpinned by the optimism of the will, to face challenges, and overcome adversity by relying on human agency.
Saudi Gazette/Okaz report that Saudi Arabia is going to be involved in the manufacture of trains. The article isn’t clear whether this will be locomotives, train cars, or both, but sees a potential to employ 10K Saudis in making the equipment to support a GCC-wide rail network. The Saudis seem to be working to lay down a claim on building rail equipment, closing the door on regional competition. The article goes on to extoll the reasons why it makes sense for the Saudis to do so.
Plans on track to manufacture trains in Kingdom
Mohammad Al-Enezi | Okaz/Saudi Gazette
DAMMAM – The Saudi Railways Organization (SRO) is planning to enter into partnerships with international companies to manufacture trains in the Kingdom.
The head of SRO, Mohammad Al-Suwaiket, said the purpose of seeking foreign partners is to benefit from their expertise in meeting the Kingdom’s need for trains.
The country’s long-term plan is to connect the governorates and cities with a rail network.
“These trains will also solve the country’s public transportation needs,” Al-Suwaiket said, explaining that he is currently considering inviting a number of international companies that have a proven global reputation in manufacturing trains to participate in setting up production facilities in the Kingdom.