Opinion

The Great Debate

We all know about jihadists, but what about those waging an ‘anti-jihad’?

Human rights activist holds a placard during an anti-Talibanisation protest in LahoreAs the UN Security Council tackles the entity claiming to be “Islamic State,” and President Barack Obama invokes global Muslim responsibility, many ask whether people of Muslim heritage do enough to counter extremism.

The fact is, away from the media spotlight, thousands wage daily battles in their own countries against what President Obama called a “network of death.”

Unfortunately, jihadists make headlines while those who wage the anti-jihad rarely do. After all, everyone has heard of Osama bin Laden, but few know of those standing up to would-be bin Ladens across the globe.

There is a long, untold history of brave individuals of Muslim heritage who have challenged extremists.

In the 1990s, the women’s group known as the Algerian Rally of Democratic Women or RAFD (Refuse) dared to do just that during a “dark decade” of jihadist atrocities committed by the Armed Islamic Group battling the Algerian state. That violence claimed as many as 200,000 lives.

from Jack Shafer:

War without end: The U.S. may still be fighting in Syria in 2024, 2034, 2044 . . .

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This must be what perpetual war looks like.

In a Pentagon briefing yesterday, Army Lieutenant General Bill Mayville called the cruise missiles and bombs flung at targets in Syria "the beginning of a credible and sustainable persistent campaign." How long will the campaign last? "I would think of it in terms of years," Mayville responded.

Although the bombs exploded on Syrian soil, they didn't target Bashar al-Assad's battered, murderous regime. The bombs were addressed to Syria's enemy, the Islamic State, a nascent nation that has pledged to topple both Iraq and Syria, as well as Lebanon, Jordan, Israel, Cyprus, and parts of southern Turkey, and erect a caliphate on the parcel.

But in attacking Syria's enemy, the United States wasn't looking to make friends with Syria. President Barack Obama called for Assad to step down in 2011, and it was only last year that the United States was prepared to bomb Syria for having crossed the chemical-weapons "red line" to kill its own citizens. Not that the United States is remarkably choosey about which nations it counts among its allies. Among the Middle East nations joining with the United States to strike Syria is Qatar, which has allowed one of its sheikhs to raise funds for an Al Qaeda affiliate in Syria. As you know, the United States is at war with Al Qaeda in all of its flavors, including the Syria-based Khorasan Group, upon which U.S. bombs fell this week. The Khorasan Group is said to be plotting attacks on the United States and Europe.

Air strikes won’t disrupt Islamic State’s real safe haven: social media

jihad tweet President Barack Obama has pledged to destroy Islamic State and ensure fighters “find no safe haven.” But even as U.S.-led airstrikes are underway in Iraq and Syria, it is clear that bombs alone will not do the job. For Islamic State hides out in the most perfect haven: the World Wide Web.

In June 2014, the militant group that Obama refers to as Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL, grabbed the world’s attention after it took over much of northern Iraq in roughly four days. Islamic State accomplished this by building a massive, sophisticated virtual network of fighters in addition to those on the ground. Indeed, its expansion online has been as swift as its territorial gains. It is this virtual power grab that will be most difficult to combat.

The Internet has largely sustained the jihadist movement since 9/11. With this powerful tool, jihadists coordinate actions, share information, recruit new members and propagate their ideology.

Until the rise of Islamic State, extremist activity and exchanges online usually took place inside restricted, password-protected jihadist forums. But Islamic State brought online jihadism out of the shadows and into the mainstream, using social media — especially Twitter – to issue rapid updates on its successes to a theoretically unlimited audience.

You never know who you’re going to meet on Turkey’s ‘jihadi highway’

Smugglers carrying blue jerry cans on horses ride back to Syria along the wire fences after ferrying fuel smuggled into Turkey from over the border in Syria, in Hatay province

Turkey’s border with Syria, like all borders, allows passage both ways – at least for the right price.

Refugees fleeing north to escape a three-year civil war and Islamic extremists heading south to fight Syrian President Bashar al-Assad all need a little help to make the crossing.

And in towns like Kilis, located just a few miles from Syria, they find it.

“We smuggle,” a 12-year-old boy wearing Adidas shorts and Velcro sandals told me as he hung out on a metal fence with his friends. “We’re the kids of the area, so we’ll walk where we want. It’s easy.”

A NATO ally stays on sidelines of fight against Islamic State

U.S. President Barack Obama listens as he hosts a bilateral meeting with Turkey's President Tayyip Erdogan during the NATO Summit at the Celtic Manor Resort in Newport, Wales, in the United Kingdom

Few countries are in a better position than Turkey to help the United States fight Islamic State. The moderate Islamic country shares a 750 mile border with Syria, is a NATO member and a long-time ally of America. But don’t hold your breath for Turkey’s support.

For a long time, Turks have resented the “curse of strategic significance” related to its forming NATO’s southern flank. They felt it enabled the military to keep a watchful eye over their politicians. Likewise, it fueled the politicians’  sense of impunity that shielded them from the need for reform.

This was part of the reason why, at the time of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Turkey refused to provide logistic support for the U.S.-led invasion to bring down Saddam Hussein. The chaos into which Iraq then descended after 2003 only reinforced the ruling AK party’s supporters of the validity of Turkey’s bid to go its own way.

What’s between the covers of al Qaeda’s ‘Inspire’ magazine

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Inspire is an English-language online magazine published since 2010 by al Qaeda. I just read the latest issue and found a lot of what I expected, and some things I didn’t.

Aimed primarily at radicalizing young audiences in the United States and Britain, the English language magazine appears semi-regularly (there have been 12 issues so far). Graphically well-done, the editorial parts of the magazine are a mix of religious and jihadi-inspirational pieces, reporting and bomb-making instructions.

Yep, bomb-making instructions. That’s the part that’s most controversial: the clear, step-by-step photo-illustrated instructions for making your own explosives using common materials, plus the encouragement to use them in crowded places.

The best weapon to fight the Islamic State is already in Iraq

A Kurdish Peshmerga fighter stands guard at the Bakirta frontline near the town of Makhmur

In 21st century Iraq, the enemy is not a state, though it calls itself one. The Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) is a group of Islamist insurgents whose presence stretches across the border between Syria and Iraq.

The only way to defeat the Islamic State is through military force, but Americans will not be doing the fighting on the ground. General John Allen, who commanded NATO forces in Afghanistan, has observed that, “the Kurds, the Sunnis and the Free Syrian resistance elements of the region are the ‘boots on the ground’ necessary to the success of this campaign.”

Make no mistake: dismantling a nascent Islamic State is a serious undertaking, involving thousands of U.S. personnel and a robust interagency effort. The insurgents are ruthless, resourceful and are adept at weaving themselves into the fabric of the region, making them virtually undetectable until they strike. If President Barack Obama’s strategy is to “contain” ISIL, not destroy it, as the New York Times reported on Aug.  22, he will fail.

With or without Maliki, Iraq will tear itself apart

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The word out of Washington is Nouri al-Maliki must go. A new prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, will unify Iraq with American help.

We’ve seen this movie before — an attempt at a quick fix of Iraq’s problems. Like every other quick fix tried, this one will fail, too. The United States is ignoring the inevitable: Iraq will eventually dissolve into separate nation-states. Efforts are needed to manage that process, not to hope it will go away.

Some history. Following the regime change of 2003 and the elimination of Saddam Hussein, the United States failed to create any civil structure to fill the vacuum. Religious, ethnic, tribal and geographic tensions in Iraq were unleashed (I’ll label it all Sunni-Shi’ite-Kurd as shorthand, though the reality is much more complex.) A U.S.-patched-together “government” (the Governing Council, of which Abadi was a part) accomplished little more than marking the first failed quick fix in the Iraq story.

from John Lloyd:

Are we at war? And why can’t we be sure anymore?

Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron poses for group photograph taken with G8 leaders at the Lough Erne golf resort in Enniskillen

The question -- “Are we at war?” -- seems absurd. Surely, we would know it if we were. But maybe we’re in a new era -- and wars are creeping up on us.

In the decade after the collapse of communism, the United States and its allies seemed invulnerable to challenges, from military to technological to economic. All changed in the 2000s, the dawning of the third millennium: an Age of Disruption. Russia, under a president smarting publicly at the loss of the Soviet empire, has now delivered an answer to decline: aggressive claims on lost territories.

China, admired for its free-market-driven growth since the 1980s, is feared for the strategic expansion that now accompanies it. This happens in its own region: a dispute between Beijing and Tokyo over disputed ownership of the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands remains tense. It is also at work far beyond -- in Africa, the Middle East and Latin America -- where it seeks energy and natural resources.

Assad’s terror farce at the Geneva talks

Just days before the most recent Syrian peace talks in Geneva began, a report detailing “industrial-scale” killing in President Bashar al-Assad’s prisons revealed the nature of his government. Despite this setback, the regime continues to claim that it is only fighting terrorists.

While their rhetoric is convenient, the reality is that only one side of the Syrian negotiations is actively fighting al Qaeda – the opposition. Though Assad has the capacity to attack extremists, from the spring of 2011 until today he has chosen to target civilians instead.

During two weeks I just spent interviewing Syrians in the southern border towns of Turkey, I found nearly universal opposition to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS), the army of foreign jihadists backed by al Qaeda that has now taken over many liberated areas across Northern Syria.

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