A Politically Incorrect Reflection on the Paris Massacre


by Roberto Savio*

ROME, 17 November 2015 – The media everywhere are now unanimous in their condemnation of the Paris massacre three days ago, calling for unity of the West and intensification of military action against the Islamic States (IS). But would that solve the problem of terrorism? And it is not also time to make reflect on the responsibilities of the West in the rise of terrorism?

Of course, the slaughter in Paris can only cause horror and mourning. But why can some very young people act so atrociously?

The commune of Courcouronnes, the ghetto from which identified kamikaze killer Ismail Mostafa came, was also home to Asata Diakitè, one of the victims. Let then us make three reflections.

The first is that relations between the Arab world and the West have a heavy past. They started when, in 1916 during the First World War, an agreement was made to divide the Ottoman Empire among France, Britain, Russia and Italy. The disappearance of the Russian Empire, and the fight from Kemal Ataturk who was able to keep Turkey independent, left France and Britain to partition the rest.

Artificial countries were carved at the table of the negotiators, and thus Syria and Iraq – to name just the two most relevant countries in the present mess – were created. In the process, the negotiators, François Georges-Picot for France and Sir Mark Sykes for Britain, forgot to give some land to the Kurds, another contemporary problem. Rulers were installed in the new countries who were not legitimated by popular support and who never started a process of modernisation and democracy.

Then, in a brutally compressed nutshell, we come to contemporary times, with the growth of education and the arrival of Internet. Millions of educated and unemployed youth have always felt that the West had a great historical responsibility for their lives without a future. The Arab Spring brought more frustration. In Egypt, dictator Hosni Mubarak, was replaced by another, Abdelfatah Al-Sisi, with the acquiescence of the West. And Tunisia, the only surviving democracy, has received little real support.

An important part of this reflection is that the West tends to ignore the fact that all that is happening today is due to three interventions: in Iraq, Syria and Libya. All three were intended to bring about a change of regime, and eliminate unsavoury dictators Hussein, Assad and Gaddafi, always in the name of democracy and freedom. But there was never a follow-up plan after the intervention, and the vacuum left by the dictators is there to be seen.

Meanwhile, the IS did not come up unnoticed. A startling declaration came in August this year (and totally unreported elsewhere) in an Al Jazeera interview with Michael Flynn, a former head of the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA). Flynn said that, in 2007, neo-conservatives convinced then U.S. Vice-President Dick Cheney to support initiatives to topple the Assad regime by creating a hedge between Syria and Hezbollah by backing the establishment of a “Salafist principality” in Eastern Syria. This would also play favourably for Israel. Salafism, a radical and extreme branch of Sunnism, is the official religion of Saudi Arabia, which has spent large sums on exporting Salafism – and the Islamic State is an offshoot of Salafism. What is astonishing is that Flynn said that in 2012, when the IS was beginning to appear, he sent a report to the White House. Its lack of response, he said, was not they just turned a blind eye, it was “a wilful decision” to let this happen. It is a repetition of how Bin Laden was used in the war against the Russians in Afghanistan. But we should know now that it is impossible to ride fanaticism…

Anyhow, it is a fact that the West did not start to act against the IS until very late. And this fight is just a small point in the overall Syria mess, which is a proxy war, in which the enemies of the West – the Kurds, Hezbollah, the Iranians – are carrying out the real fight against the IS. And the allies of the West – Saudi Arabia, the Gulf countries and Turkey – are in fact not fighting ISIS, but only Assad, while the Russian intervention was to prod the Assad regime, with very little action against the IS.

Perhaps Paris will change that, because Putin cannot appear to be ignoring the IS, especially after it blew up a Russian plane. But, until now, the West has not really taken military action against the 50,000 fighters that the Islamic State is estimated to have … unless aerial bombing is considered a serious action. It is also important to note that on Arab streets the unanimous view is that the IS could not exist without the tolerance of the West. While this is only a rumour, it helps to fuel the resentment.

We should not forget that the goal of the Islamic State is to depose all kings and dictators and create a Salafist caliphate which will redistribute all the wealth from the Gulf to every country … and it was originally very much an internal affair of the Sunnite and Shiite Muslim world.

U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden put things clearly in public remarks on October 2014, when he said: “Our allies in the region … were so determined to take down Assad and essentially have a proxy Sunni-Shia war, what did they do? They poured hundreds of millions of dollars and tens of thousands of tonnes of weapons into anyone who would fight against Assad, except that the people who were being supplied were al-Nusra and al-Qaeda and the extremist elements of jihadism coming from other parts of the world.

The second reflection must be made about the situations of Muslims in Europe, who are becoming increasingly linked to the IS. France has a special situation, with 6 million Muslims, close to the population of Norway. Ten years ago, the same ghettos of Paris, which are now the main IS recruiting fields, were shaken by a sudden revolt which lasted 20 days, with over 10,000 cars burned. All reports from the ghettos speak of unemployed youth shunned by French society. They are the second or third generation of immigrants who felt themselves to be French, but unlike their fathers have a crisis of identity and future, and see in the Caliphate revenge and dignity. There is unanimity that since the revolts of 10 years ago, frustration has only increased, and the same can be said of many young Muslim people all over Europe.

The simultaneous action in Paris by at least three groups, with several kamikazes coming from outside France, shows what we can expect in the future. And terrorism for the Islamic State is mainly a recruitment technique. Every action increases the prestige of the Caliphate, and brings more frustrated European Muslim into its fold. Why has nobody written that it is now estimated that at least 50 percent of IS fighters come from abroad, when originally they were just Iraqis and Syrians?

The third reflection is that the West is now tragically in a no-win situation. If it intervenes really militarily, it will deepen the conviction that it is the real enemy of the Arab world, Sunnites and Shiites alike. It can easily put IS down militarily, but to solve the frustration and the spirit of revenge which is behind terrorism is quite another matter. The Paris massacre will put a stronger wedge between European Muslims and the European population, with further radicalisation which is also an ISIS calculation. But if the West does not intervene, events such as Paris are politically impossible to ignore. The New York Times has just published a letter from important neoconservative Michael Goodwin calling on U.S. President Barack Obama to resign. A similar call from the opposition for the government to resign has been heard in several European countries and calls for an integrated European army are coming from several corners, among them Italian Minister of Defence Roberta Pinotti.

So, in conclusion, who is going to benefit from Paris? First of all the xenophobic and right-wing parties, which are also now able to call for closing Europe to refugees. The new Polish Prime Minister, Beata Szydlo, has already declared that, in the light of the Paris attacks, Poland cannot accept EU quotas for asylum seekers. The popularity of the various Salvini (Italy), Le Pen (France) and Pegida (Germany) is increasing. No doubt the inevitable animosity against Muslims will strengthen the appeal of the IS. So polarisation will increase, instead of tolerance, dialogue and inclusion: violence begets more violence. It looks like we will be going from a time of greed into one of fear … and that, together with the growing impact of global warming, is increasingly being felt beyond rhetoric and easy declarations.

* Roberto Savio is founder and president emeritus of the Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and publisher of Other News.

Annex 1:

Dear Roberto,
I’m a French journalist and former Isis hostage. I receive emails from The Syria Campaign just like you, but this time they have asked to share an article I wrote in the Guardian yesterday. It has been shared over 20,000 times.

I was held hostage by Isis. They fear our unity more than our airstrikes

Nicolas Hénin

As a proud Frenchman I am as distressed as anyone about the events in Paris. But I am not shocked or incredulous. I know Islamic State. I spent 10 months as an Isis hostage, and I know for sure that our pain, our grief, our hopes, our lives do not touch them. Theirs is a world apart.

Most people only know them from their propaganda material, but I have seen behind that. In my time as their captive, I met perhaps a dozen of them, including Mohammed Emwazi: Jihadi John was one of my jailers. He nicknamed me “Baldy”.

Even now I sometimes chat with them on social media, and can tell you that much of what you think of them results from their brand of marketing and public relations. They present themselves to the public as superheroes, but away from the camera are a bit pathetic in many ways: street kids drunk on ideology and power. In France we have a saying – stupid and evil. I found them more stupid than evil. That is not to understate the murderous potential of stupidity.

All of those beheaded last year were my cellmates, and my jailers would play childish games with us – mental torture – saying one day that we would be released and then two weeks later observing blithely, “Tomorrow we will kill one of you.” The first couple of times we believed them but after that we came to realise that for the most part they were bullshitters having fun with us.

They would play mock executions. Once they used chloroform with me. Another time it was a beheading scene. A bunch of French-speaking jihadis were shouting, “We’re going to cut your head off and put it on to your arse and upload it to YouTube.” They had a sword from an antique shop.

They were laughing and I played the game by screaming, but they just wanted fun. As soon as they left I turned to another of the French hostages and just laughed. It was so ridiculous.

It struck me forcefully how technologically connected they are; they follow the news obsessively, but everything they see goes through their own filter. They are totally indoctrinated, clinging to all manner of conspiracy theories, never acknowledging the contradictions.

Everything convinces them that they are on the right path and, specifically, that there is a kind of apocalyptic process under way that will lead to a confrontation between an army of Muslims from all over the world and others, the crusaders, the Romans. They see everything as moving us down that road. Consequently, everything is a blessing from Allah.

With their news and social media interest, they will be noting everything that follows their murderous assault on Paris, and my guess is that right now the chant among them will be “We are winning”. They will be heartened by every sign of overreaction, of division, of fear, of racism, of xenophobia; they will be drawn to any examples of ugliness on social media.

Central to their world view is the belief that communities cannot live together with Muslims, and every day their antennae will be tuned towards finding supporting evidence. The pictures from Germany of people welcoming migrants will have been particularly troubling to them. Cohesion, tolerance – it is not what they want to see.

Why France? For many reasons perhaps, but I think they identified my country as a weak link in Europe – as a place where divisions could be sown easily. That’s why, when I am asked how we should respond, I say that we must act responsibly.

And yet more bombs will be our response. I am no apologist for Isis. How could I be? But everything I know tells me this is a mistake. The bombardment will be huge, a symbol of righteous anger. Within 48 hours of the atrocity, fighter planes conducted their most spectacular munitions raid yet in Syria, dropping more than 20 bombs on Raqqa, an Isis stronghold. Revenge was perhaps inevitable, but what’s needed is deliberation. My fear is that this reaction will make a bad situation worse.

While we are trying to destroy Isis, what of the 500,000 civilians still living and trapped in Raqqa? What of their safety? What of the very real prospect that by failing to think this through, we turn many of them into extremists? The priority must be to protect these people, not to take more bombs to Syria. We need no-fly zones – zones closed to Russians, the regime, the coalition. The Syrian people need security or they themselves will turn to groups such as Isis.

Canada withdrew from the air war after the election of Justin Trudeau. I desperately want France to do the same, and rationality tells me it could happen. But pragmatism tells me it won’t. The fact is we are trapped: Isis has trapped us. They came to Paris with Kalashnikovs, claiming that they wanted to stop the bombing, but knowing all too well that the attack would force us to keep bombing or even to intensify these counterproductive attacks. That is what is happening.

Emwazi is gone now, killed in a coalition air strike, his death celebrated in parliament. I do not mourn him. But during his murder spree, he too followed this double bluff strategy. After murdering the American journalist James Foley, he pointed his knife at the camera and, turning to the next intended victim, said: “Obama, you must stop intervening in the Middle East or I will kill him.” He knew very well what the hostage’s fate would be. He knew very well what the American reaction would be – more bombing. It’s what Isis wants, but should we be giving it to them?

The group is wicked, of that there is no doubt. But after all that happened to me, I still don’t feel Isis is the priority. To my mind, Bashar al-Assad is the priority. The Syrian president is responsible for the rise of Isis in Syria, and so long as his regime is in place, Isis cannot be eradicated. Nor can we stop the attacks on our streets. When people say “Isis first, and then Assad”, I say don’t believe them. They just want to keep Assad in place.

At the moment there is no political road map and no plan to engage the Arab Sunni community. Isis will collapse, but politics will make that happen. In the meantime there is much we can achieve in the aftermath of this atrocity, and the key is strong hearts and resilience, for that is what they fear. I know them: bombing they expect. What they fear is unity.

This article originally appeared in The Guardian on November 16 : http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/nov/16/isis-bombs-hostage-syria-islamic-state-paris-attacks

Nicolas’ book ‘Jihad Academy: The rise of Islamic state’ has just been released in English
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Annex 2: The Saudis Are Stumbling (And They May Take The Middle-East Down With Them)

Submitted by Tyler Durden on 11/16/2015
Submitted by Conn Hallina via AntiWar.com

For the past eight decades Saudi Arabia has been careful.

Using its vast oil wealth, it’s quietly spread its ultra-conservative brand of Islam throughout the Muslim world, secretly undermined secular regimes in its region, and prudently kept to the shadows while others did the fighting and dying. It was Saudi money that fueled the Mujahedeen in Afghanistan, underwrote Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Iran, and bankrolled Islamic movements and terrorist groups from the Caucasus to the Hindu Kush.

It wasn’t a modest foreign policy, but it was a discreet one.

Today that circumspect diplomacy is in ruins, and the House of Saud looks more vulnerable than it has since the country was founded in 1926. Unraveling the reasons for the current train wreck is a study in how easily hubris, delusion, and old-fashioned ineptness can trump even bottomless wealth.

Oil Slick

The kingdom’s first stumble was a strategic decision last fall to undermine competitors by scaling up its oil production and thus lowering the global price.

They figured that if the price of a barrel of oil dropped from over $100 to around $80, it would strangle competitors that relied on more expensive sources and new technologies, including the U.S. fracking industry, companies exploring the Arctic, and emergent producers like Brazil. That, in turn, would allow Riyadh to reclaim its shrinking share of the energy market. There was also the added benefit that lower oil prices would damage oil-reliant countries that the Saudis didn’t like – including Russia, Venezuela, Ecuador, and Iran.

In one sense it worked. The American fracking industry is scaling back, the exploitation of Canada’s tar sands has slowed, and many Arctic drillers have closed up shop. And indeed, countries like Venezuela, Ecuador, and Russia have taken serious economic hits.

But it may have worked a little too well, particularly with China’s economic slowdown reducing demand and further depressing the price – a result that should have been entirely foreseeable but that the Saudis somehow missed.

The price of oil dropped from $115 a barrel in June 2014 to around $44 today. While it costs less than $10 to produce a barrel of Saudi oil, the Saudis need a price between $95 and $105 to balance their budget. The country’s leaders, who figured that oil wouldn’t fall below $80 a barrel – and then only for a few months – are now burning through their foreign reserves to make up the difference.

While oil prices will likely rise over the next five years, projections are that the price per barrel won’t top $65 for the foreseeable future. Saudi debt is on schedule to rise from 6.7 percent of GDP this year to 17.3 percent next year, and its 2015 budget deficit is $130 billion.

The country is now spending $10 billion a month in foreign exchange reserves to pay the bills and has been forced to borrow money on the international financial market. Recently the International Monetary Fund’s regional director, Masood Ahmed, warned Riyadh that the country would deplete its financial reserves in five years unless it drastically cut its budget.

Buying the Peace (While Funding War)

But the kingdom can’t do that.

When the Arab Spring broke out in 2011, Saudi Arabia headed it off by pumping $130 billion into the economy, raising wages, improving services, and providing jobs for its growing population. Saudi Arabia has one of the youngest populations in the Middle East, many of whom are unemployed and poorly educated. Some 25 percent of the population lives in poverty. Money keeps the lid on, but – even with the heavy-handed repression that characterizes Saudi political life – for how long?

Meanwhile they’re racking up bills with ill-advised foreign interventions. In March, the kingdom intervened in Yemen’s civil conflict, launching an air war, a naval blockade, and partial ground campaign on the pretense that Iran was behind one of the war’s factions – a conclusion not even the Americans agree with.

Again, the Saudis miscalculated, even though one of their major allies, Pakistan, warned them they were headed for trouble. In part, the kingdom’s hubris was fed by the illusion that US support would make it a short war. The Americans are arming the Saudis, supplying them with bombing targets, backing up the naval blockade, and refueling their warplanes in midair.

But six months down the line the conflict has turned into a stalemate. The war has killed 5,000 people (including over 500 children), flattened cities, and alienated much of the local population. It’s also generated a horrendous food and medical crisis and created opportunities for the Islamic State and al-Qaeda to seize territory in southern Yemen. Efforts by the UN to investigate the possibility of war crimes were blocked by Saudi Arabia and the US

As the Saudis are finding out, war is a very expensive business – a burden they could meet under normal circumstances, but not when the price of the kingdom’s only commodity, oil, is plummeting.

Nor is Yemen the only war that the Saudis are involved in. Riyadh, along with Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, are underwriting many of the groups trying to overthrow Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. When antigovernment demonstrations broke out there in 2011, the Saudis – along with the Americans and the Turks – calculated that Assad could be toppled in a few months.

But that was magical thinking. As bad as Assad is, a lot of Syrians – particularly minorities like Shiites, Christians, and Druze – were far more afraid of the Islamists from al-Qaeda and the Islamic State than they were of their own government. So the war has dragged on for four years and has now killed close to 250,000 people.

Once again, the Saudis miscalculated, though in this case they were hardly alone. The Syrian government turned out to be more resilient than it appeared. And Riyadh’s bottom line that Assad had to go just ended up bringing Iran and Russia into the picture, checkmating any direct intervention by the anti-Assad coalition. Any attempt to establish a no-fly zone against Assad will now have to confront the Russian air force – not something that anyone other than certain US presidential aspirantsare eager to do.

The war has also generated a flood of refugees, deeply alarming the European Union, which finally seems to be listening to Moscow’s point about the consequences of overthrowing governments without a plan for who takes over. There’s nothing like millions of refugees headed in your direction to cause some serious rethinking of strategic goals.

The Saudis goal of isolating Iran, meanwhile, is rapidly collapsing. The P5+1 – the US, China, Russia, Great Britain, France, and Germany – successfully completed a nuclear agreement with Tehran, despite every effort by the Saudis and Israel to torpedo it. And at Moscow’s insistence, Washington has reversed its opposition to Iran being included in peace talks around Syria.

Bills Coming Due

Stymied in Syria, mired down in Yemen, and its finances increasingly fragile, the kingdom also faces internal unrest from its long marginalized Shia minority in the country’s east and south. To top it off, the Islamic State has called for the“liberation” of Mecca from the House of Saud and launched a bombing campaign aimed at the Kingdom’s Shiites.

This fall’s Hajj disaster – a stampede that killed more than 2,100 pilgrims and provoked anger at the Saudi authorities for their foot dragging on investigating it – have added to the royal family’s woes. The Saudis claim just 769 people were killed, a figure that no other country in the world accepts. And there are persistent rumors that the deadly stampede was caused when police blocked off an area in order to allow high-ranking Saudis special access to the holy sites.

Some of these missteps can be laid at the feet of the new king, Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, and of a younger, more aggressive generation of Saudis he’s appointed to key positions. But Saudi Arabia’s troubles are also a reflection of a Middle East in transition. Exactly where it’s headed is by no means clear, but change is in the wind.

Iran is breaking out of its isolation. With its large, well-educated population, strong industrial base, and plentiful energy resources, it’s poised to play a major regional, if not international, role. Turkey is in the midst of a political upheaval, and there’s growing opposition among Turks to Ankara’s meddling in the Syrian civil war.

Saudi Arabia, on the other hand, is impaled on its own policies, both foreign and domestic. “The expensive social contract between the Royal family and Saudi citizens will get more difficult, and eventually impossible to sustain if oil prices don’t recover,” Meghan L. O’Sullivan, director of the Geopolitics of Energy project at Harvard, told the New York Times.

However, the House of Saud has little choice but to keep pumping oil to pay for its wars and keep the internal peace. Yet more production drives down prices even further. And once the sanctions come off Iran, the oil glut will become worse.

While it’s still immensely wealthy, there are lots of bills coming due. It’s not clear the kingdom has the capital or the ability to meet them.