the Blog Papers of Dr. Michael Sakbani; Economics, Finance and Politics

Dr. Michael Sakbani is a professor of economics and Finance at the Geneva campus of Webster-Europe. He is a senior international consultant to the UN system, European Union and Swiss banks. His career began at the State university of NY at Stoney Brook,then the Federal Reserve Bank of New York followed by UNCTAD where he was Director of the divisions of Economic Cooperation, Poverty Alleviation, and UNCTAD`s Special Programs. Published over 100 professional papers.

Monday, May 11, 2020

ISIS, al Qaeda, the Muslim Brothers and Political Salafists; the Problematique of Political Islam












Dr. Michael Sakbani is a professor of economics and Finance at the Geneva campus of Webster-Europe. He is a senior international consultant to the UN system, European Union and Swiss banks. His career began at the State university of NY at Stoney Brook,then the Federal Reserve Bank of New York followed by UNCTAD where he was Director of the divisions of Economic Cooperation, Poverty Alleviation, and UNCTAD`s Special Programs. Published over 125 professional papers.

ISIS, al Qaeda, the Muslim Brothers and Salafists; the Problematique of Political Islam.
                  By 
          Dr. Michael Sakbani

Al Qaeda in Afghanistan Moves into Iraq

The origins of ISIS are indeed murky. As far as one can ascertain the origins hail from al Qaeda in Afghanistan, which was created by the US, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia with the help of Israel. A side of this can be seen in the semi-documentary film "Charlie Wilson`s War".
 After the fall of the Talibans in 2001, elements of the Jihadis in Afghanistan ran away to both Iran and Pakistan. Some important leaders were hosted by Iran; that is where we know now was Bin- Ladden`s family. 

There have been voices among commentators accusing the USA of being the founder of ISIS. This confuses direct founding as an explicit act with preparing the background that enables the emergence of movements like ISIS. While the USA is guilty of founding the Mujahideen outfit in Afghanistan, its role in Iraq was to prepare the grounds for its emergence. The invasion of Iraq on trumped-up grounds resulted in erasing all its governmental institutions and tearing apart the Iraqi social tissue. The US introduced under Proconsul Paul Bremmer, a sectarian political system that excluded the previous regime millions of supporters and collaborators (the Baath eradication law) and marginalized the Sunni Arabs
, who constitute 30% of the population. The ensuing sectarian Governments, especially under Nouri al Maliki drove Iraq into Civil War and created whole strata of aggrieved citizens. This furnished an excellent soil for breeding potential recruits for extremist groups which thrive on exploiting vacuums created by discrimination and chaos.   
After the US invasion of Iraq, Iran was interested for obvious reasons to plant controllable resistance elements in Iraq to pressure the US occupiers and so was Syria. Syria had thousands of imprisoned fundamentalist Islamists (political Islam advocates) and a large number of Saddam`s Republican Guards officers. In 2005, Syria released so many of these fundamentalists knowing full well that their destination will be Iraq. Saddam`s R.G. officers were the natural choice to lead these elements and organize the resistance to the American invasion of Iraq.
Thus, Jihadis started entering Iraq with outside help from Iran and Syria throughout 2005 and 2006. Iranian and the Syrian Intelligence services lent arms and organization to these al Qaeda remnants. In a short time, al Qaeda in Iraq became operational in 2005 under the name " Bands of the Righteous People" and that is when Abu Musaab al Zarkawi emerged as its leader. Zarqawi and his outfit, which later became known as "al Qaeda in Iraq " became a major challenge to the USA and they edged Iraq in 2006 towards a sectarian civil war.  Iraq was so enraged by this Syrian transgression that Prime Minister Maliki publicly threatened to bring the matter to the UN Security Council.

General David Petraeus, the US commander in Iraq, succeeded in 2007-2008 in drafting the Arab Sunni tribes to fight al Qaeda. This was done by putting many Arab Sunnis, especially tribal chiefs, on US`payrolls and making some other promises regarding their future in Iraq. The phenomena therein were known as "al Sahawat". The Arab tribes indeed defeated al Qaeda by 2008. The idea of General Petraeus was to merge these forces after the defeat of al Qaeda with the Iraqi security forces. However, being Sunnis, the Iraqi sectarian Shitte politicians, led by Nuri al Maliki, and naturally backed by Iran, did not want that. Even more, Maliki cut off their salaries and put many of them in prison, leaving many of them as unprotected targets for al Qaeda`s vengeance. The US was feeble in its objections to what Maliki did and Petraeus, the father of the idea, was transferred back to The US.

Radicalization in camp Bucca

The Iraqi prisons were notorious for their ill-treatment, and after the scandal of Abu- Gharib, the US decided to establish a new prison for political detainees compatible with civilized norms This was called camp Bucca. Camp Bucca was the place where the US put the Iraqi prisoners transferred from Abu-Gharib and other detainees imprisoned by Maliki. The vast majority of the detainees were Arab Sunnis thrown into jail by arbitrary arrests and sometimes without evidence of wrongdoing. During a couple of years, Sunni prisoners in the camp mingled with the imprisoned remnants of al Qaeda in Iraq and both got indoctrinated by the likes of Abubakre al Baghdadi, who was authorized by the USA to teach religion to the camp prisoners. Camp Bucca was in a sense a radicalization laboratory. Many of its prisoners were gradually released and those that were not,  were involved in the prison escape of 2012 during the post- US `s rule of Mr. Maliki.
In 2008-2011, Maliki`s sectarian policies reached their peak. He had his own secret prisons where thousands were imprisoned without legal warrants. Hundreds were tortured and scores killed and disappeared. This was in addition to overt discrimination in jobs, opportunities, and public services. The 30 % Arab Sunnis of the population began to think of open rebellion against Baghdad. In 2012 huge demonstrations took place in the six majority Arab Sunni provinces of Iraq. The Kurds, another 16.5 %, of whom 90% are Sunnis, plus the Sunni Turkomans (Another 3.5 %) boycotted Baghdad. Maliki responded with brutal armed suppression and massive arrests of men and women. Thus, when it arrived on the scene, ISIS found receptive grounds for militant Sunni action.
It should be recalled that the remnants of Saddam`s Baath was present throughout Iraq, especially in the Northern areas. Around Mosul, many of the cadres of officers of the old Iraqi army were unemployed and living under constant security chase. Maliki`s government inflicted abject discrimination upon the Sunni Arab population in these areas, and, like in the rest of Iraq, provided no basic services. When ISIS showed up the choice between it and Maliki was for all a Hobbesian choice.

An Islamist outfit as an objective ally of Asad.  
By 2012, after the eruption of the Syrian revolution, Iran and its ally, Maliki, were eager to form fighting forces to support Asad. And it took no genius to think of the remnants of al Qaeda in Iraq as candidates, Maliki further staged a prison escape of some 2500 Jihadis from Camp Bucca in what was perhaps the biggest staged prison evasion in history. In addition, the Syrian securities had thousands of imprisoned Jihadis and several hundreds of Saddam`s Republican Guards ex-officers who fled to and were given refuge by Syria. The Syrian security forces, with Iraqi help, merged all these disparate elements into a fighting force now called “the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham”, ISIL. Asad had a genuine interest in implanting a terrorist organization in the midst of the Syrian revolution. It would bolster his claims that he was facing terrorists and not a popular revolution and would split further his opposition and provides him with inside information. In fact, Asad publicly acknowledged in June 2013, to the newspaper al Quds -al -Arabi, that he has agents planted among the armed oppositions.  
Armed and supported by the Syrian intelligence, the new outfit started its activities by attacking the Syrian opposition i.e., the Syrian Free Army`s liberated areas in northern Syria. For a whole year, this pattern continued and there was not a single reported attack on the regime`s units. In perfect symmetry, the regime did not once hit their positions. In short order, this group attacked and captured Raqqa and expanded in North-East Syria without any regime resistance. In 2013, it spilled into Iraq. In their conquest, ISIL began to absorb into their ranks, more of the old Iraqi army officers and many disgruntled Jihadis from Islamists defunct groups as well as disaffected Sunnis from everywhere in the world.
Saddam`s officers gave ISIL a professional military leadership and helped redefine their aims and tactics. From an outfit fashioned by the intelligence services, ISIL morphed into an Islamist independent fighting force capable of attracting thousands of Jihadis from all over the world. Western intelligence estimated their number in mid-2014 at 20,000 to 30,000. Thousands of them came through Turkey, which up to 2015, looked the other way. The guilt in unleashing ISIL is shared by the Gulf States, the US, Turkey, and the Syrian regime. In 2014, the name changed to ISIS, DAISH in Arabic.

Al Qaeda v. ISIS: the Islamists`Problematique
ISIS ideology has the same Salafist-Wahabi fundamentalist roots as does al Qaeda. and both of these movements are ideologically related to the ideology of the Jihdists among the followers of Muslim Brothers. While the MB appeared in the 1990s to accept democratic alteration, the movement in its prevailing condition has been far from cohesive and its organizational structure permits a wide spectrum of views including violent Jihadism. Thus, both ISIS and al Qaeda are essentially evolved products of MB. However, ISIS differs from al Qaeda in many respects. 
Al Qaeda ideology is an austere Wahhabi-Islam not contaminated by the historical and sociological developments of the different Muslim communities. In its drastic historical simplicity, it attempts to purge Islam of all cultural and other influences subsequent to its first 40 years under the so-called “Four Successor Khalifs”  of the Prophet. The Salafist understanding of Islam is textual and literal and it takes selective elements of the text regardless of the time and place they addressed. So, there is a dominance of the "Madina" Soras even though they have often a specific and limited relevance.
On the intellectual side, the Salafist intellectual base rests on  the political Islamist thinking of the Pakistani Abualaa al Maududi, which rejects democracy and the concept of a civil state and advocates a Sharia-based state, where the sovereignty “hakimyah”, is for God , These thoughts of al Maudoudi were held at the time of struggle in British India to establish Pakistan. Later on, after Pakistan was founded, he changed some of his old advocacies. But ironically, his Egyptian M.B. followers, Sayed Qutb and AR Yasin, advocated Maudoudi`s old ideas in the Arab context where the societies were essentially Muslim societies. These followers took aim at these Muslim`societies and their respective rulers as the object of Jihad. Jihad, as informed by Islam, is a defensive strategy when Muslims are attacked. However, the Islamists made it a compulsory duty to be discharged against those who do not accept their thought. The Islamists adopted the Takfeeri ideas of the Qotb, who advocated violence and disfranchising from Islam of anyone who has a different interpretation than his and he further legalized their killing. 
Salafist thinking suffers many epistemological flaws. In the first place, it mixes up between the biographical virtues of the “righteous predecessors” and their epoch. That the purity and sincerity of those early followers of Islam are admirable, does not in any way furnish grounds to bestow the same admiration upon their period. That period in human history was, of necessity, less developed, and less enlightened than our era. In the second place, what we know about the successors`period are tales whose veracity is largely suspect. The historians of that epoch did not have under the belt, the rigorous standards of historical investigation that we have now. Thus, our knowledge of the historical example set by the epoch is rather mythical and infused with imaginative details. written quite often decades later. Even if we accept the proposed narrative, that era was troubled and flawed. Three of the four righteous Khalifs were assassinated and the community of believers at the time was not one with exulted history. In the third place, overlooking 1350 years of subsequent evolution in various countries and continents of Muslims is ignoring sociological realities by which we must judge pragmatic phenomena. There is no system of jurisprudence known to man, including that of the Islamic Sharia, that does not take sociological realities as one of the sources of law. Thus, the drastic purification of Islam from its attendant transformations is irrational and deficient in historical contextual jurisprudence logic. In the fourth place, invoking this restricted period as a historical example of success to emulate in our current period is an exercise in pragmatic irrelevance; it is a fantasy to think that we can recreate that epoch and re-establish its circumstances at present. To give one example, re-establishing the “Khilafat” for 2 billion Muslims living on five continents with different backgrounds, languages and cultures is a fantasy, a fiction at best. 
This idea of” Khilafat” has no basis in Islam. The first” Khilafat” which was a succession in a secular sense of the Prophet, lasted only during two successors: Abubaker and Omer.  a short period of years with specific historical circumstances. After that, there was never an accepted Khalifa by all Muslims anywhere at any time. In the early Abbasids era, there were two Khalifs one in Baghdad and one in Cordoba. In the late period of the Abasids, there was one Khalif in Baghdad and another in Cairo. At the Ottoman time, Sultan Salim declared himself a Khalifa in 1516 when many other rulers in The Islamic world were in control of their own national territories, with a flag, an army, laws, and all other constituents of Sovereignty: “hakimyah”.
 The dominant Islamic theologians and scholars, draw up a distinction between the State and Religion. Religion is in the realm of beliefs and “Ibbadats”, whereas a” State” is in the realm of pragmatic affairs “Muaamalats”. A state has to have Sovereignty, with all the specific attributes of this term: a  frontier, equal citizenship franchise, its own territory, a flag and its own laws. Naturally, the world is composed of numerous states. The Ouran explicitly states in one of the Souras, that God created humans in different ethnicities, different colors, different tribes so as to know and discover each other and live in peaceful coexistence. This constellation of nations is rejected by the Islamists who advocate one Khilafat worldwide with an unequal free franchise for the followers of different  religions
 This stand of merging religion with the state, a hallmark of Islamists thought, appeared in Islam under The Shiite doctrine of "Willayatul Faqih", fashioned by Ruhulah al Khumayni in the 1960`s, and in similar thought of the M.B. It also emerged in instances of political exigencies such as those that faced Ibin Taymieh at the time of the Moguls invasion, and Maudoudi in British India. Indeed there is nothing in the Quran or the sayings and deeds of the Prophet that calls for this merger. When the Prophet established his state in Madinah, he addressed a basic proclamations, the Yathrib proclamation, to Muslims and others, Jews (beni Ouf), Quraishis and other different believers. laying down the basic law of a joint, non-discriminatory state: (Umma), a state with the equal citizenry and state neutrality in respect of religion and its paractice. This is the essence of both the civil state in Islam and moderate secularism: the true content of state neutrality. 
All of the above-explained that the pillars of political Islamist`s thought are, indeed, precepts of an ideology that is essentially alien to Islam.

The Profile and Modus Operandi of the Islamists
In all countries where the Islamists governed, they showed that they have no programs and no expertise in governing. The records of Iran, Iraq, Egypt, Afghanistan, Tunisia and Sudan provide ample proof of that.  The Islamists used Islam to gain power, and after that, they tried to monopolize authority and in all other matters of governance, they were demonstrable failures. Once again, when they tried to claim an economic system, a banking system, a system of governance, or a social order, they had nothing of substance to propose.
    Despite the common source of their ideologies, the various outfits had significant differences. The M.B. is a multilayered association. There is a public Party in Egypt, an international circuit of Sister- Parties outside Egypt and a secretive underground organization that has an armed, violent manifestation. Al Qaeda` is an armed Jihadist organization. Its international posture is anti-Western, in particular anti-US, on the belief that the West has been aggressing the Islamic World. It does not seek to convert the West, rather avoids its influence and aggression. Bin Ladin actually offered in January 2006 a truce if the West quits Muslim countries and stops its aggression. Al Qaeda did not conquer territory and never faced the problems of running a society. 
ISIS, in contrast, is an international project for establishing an Islamic World Order. It recognizes no boundaries and does not respect any national separation, hence its latest name IS, the Islamic State. ISIS` behavior, is more savage than that of al Qaeda and it has more developed know-how of media and its use. It has also a developed commercial sense of doing business through religion. The organization uses Islam as a recruiting platform for those looking for a spiritual and psychological refuge. In fact, so many of its practices like self-martyrdom and spilling the blood of innocents, violate the basic tenants of Islam, The recruits of ISIS are on the whole thinly educated and most do not even speak Arabic and hardly know much about Islam. 
Many of the recruits are from Western Europe. Some researchers put the total Europeas at 6000. with a Western European majority. The profiles of these recruits, according to intelligence sources, are of social marginals with police records for various minor crimes. Some (e.g. the terrorists of Paris and Brussels attacks) had been drug dealers and owners of bars selling liquor. Unlike those from the Arab world, their known profiles show that they frequent no mosques or other public institutions and drift at the margin of their communities. In contrast, the Arab Jihads in ISIS, are largely unemployed victims of economic poverty and above all blocked futures. The officers and leaders are overwhelmingly Iraqi with many drawn from the ranks of Saddam`s army. Naturally, there are some exceptions to this norm in the presence of some Europeans from not--deprived backgrounds who are revolted by the materialism of their society and equally enraged by the brutality of the Asad regime.. The eastern Europeans are mostly from the Russian Federation, victims of the Chechen prosecution. In conclusion, ISIS is not populated by religious fundamentalists only, but by alienated social marginals, and by young Arabs for whom the future holds neither economic nor personal prospects. Unlike al Qaeda, ISIS is not led from the top; it is decentralized enough to be considered more populist. Thus in its controlled territory, it has a decentralized structure.
These differences are revealed by their operational modes. While the al Qaeda`s affiliate in Syria, Jabhatul Nusra, is willing to fight under the umbrella of the SFA for the purpose of deposing the Syrian regime, ISIS brooks no such alliance and has an Agenda distinct from that of the Syrian revolution and is in complicity with the Syrian regime. Moreover, Jabhatul Nusra is overwhelmingly composed of Syrians, whereas ISIS has a vast majority of non-Syrians.
 In a short period after it came upon the scene, ISIS secured fiscal independence, with the revenues  accruing from levies imposed on local populations and from selling oil after capturing oil wells in Syria and later on in Iraq. Among its black-market customers were the Syrian regime itself as well as Turkish contractors operating with partners in Iraqi Kurdistan and using the Turkish ports to export the oil to third countries, among whom is Israel.
       In June 2014, Mosul was attacked and the Iraqi army led by Malikis`political officers and largely manned by former Shiite militias ran away leaving their arms and supplies. Now, the ragtag elements had 
more arms, more money, and greater numbers. With imparted discipline from Saddam`s officers, they started a rampage in northern Syria and Iraq displaying frightening and unprecedented savagery and killing hundreds of people from all groups, including Sunnis. They culminated this rampage by proclaiming Baghdadi as their Khalif. 
The cascade of events conferred on ISIS new dynamics; it started to feel its own wings for flying independently and developed its own agenda, which cut into both the Iranian and Assad`s plans. When ISIS swept through the Kurdish lines and threatened the survival of the Iraqi Kurdish region, Israel and the US woke up. They realized the uncontrollable character of ISIS and took a measure of its barbarian savagery and danger to their Kurdish allies.
As a new terrorist Islamist outfit, ISIS was exploited by Asad to refurbish his credentials as a state force on the ground opposing Islamists. Iran, the other initial sponsor, now felt that these ragtag forces began to bite into its schemes in Iraq and acquired independence in their action. Each of the initial God.-fathers, now offered their services to combat ISIS: Iran to lubricate its nuclear negotiations and Assad to refurbish his credentials.
The US quickly built up an international coalition against ISIS, Many Arab countries, as well as Turkey and Iran, joined up, even though they have different and contradictory agendas. General John Allen was appointed Coordinator for this 61 -country alliance. It has indeed been an alliance of strange bed-fellows.


posted by michael sakbani | 8:32 AM 
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