Sunday, November 15, 2015

Les Banlieues

Molenbeek - the Brussels suburb believed to harbor many Jihadis

In the previous edition of DDGD, I made the easy prediction that the terrorists involved in the Paris Attacks were probably inhabitants of the various Parisian banlieues. Revelations over the last 48 hours confirm this, but also point to a possible involvement of actors hailing from abroad with some of them trained in Syria, albeit not Syrians. Some of these actors seem to hail from a particular banlieue of Brussels, while at least one figure seem to have been a Syrian who came through Greece as a refugee. Some of the French and Belgian actors could have been trained by IS/Daesh in one of their camps in Syria. Be that at it may, and despite the growing complexity of the picture, the main conclusions are the same:
  •     We are dealing here with an ethos that could spark domestically planned attacks in Europe and the U.S. and beyond. Receiving training abroad gives an extremely crucial advantage and allows for the perpetration of deadlier attacks, but it is not necessary for planning and conducting attacks. “Surveillance files have been opened on more than 5,000 suspected Islamic extremists in France, but security services only have the manpower and resources to monitor a small fraction of these numbers 24/7. Around 1,000 have traveled to Syria and Iraq to fight jihad or are in transit there, and those are just the ones French authorities know about.
  •      Syrian and other refugees should not be feared or demonized. After all, we are dealing here with hundreds of thousands of refugees as opposed to possibly a couple of dozen terrorist infiltrators. This may not mean much on the popular level as there is certainly no shortage of opportunistic populist politicians willing to cease the moment to push for their extremist and racist agendas. Still, reasonable politicians cannot abandon the scene; their voice is needed now more than ever in order to tackle the challenges ahead in an objective and rational manner.
  •     The push for peace in Syria should now gain more momentum; the plan introduced by the parties in Vienna is promising, but gives too much time to Russia, Iran and Assad to create more untoward realities on the ground that could defeat the purpose of achieving a serious democratic transition in Syria.
  •      There is still a need in France and elsewhere to tackle the issue of ghetto development and job creation in regard to certain suburbs and communities, and to facilitate the integration processes in regard to migrants and refugees.

“Surveillance files have been opened on more than 5,000 suspected Islamic extremists in France, but security services only have the manpower and resources to monitor a small fraction of these numbers 24/7. Around 1,000 have traveled to Syria and Iraq to fight jihad or are in transit there, and those are just the ones French authorities know about.”

As such, we have three pitfalls we need to avoid in the coming phase:
  •     We cannot dismiss the existence of an indigenous dimension to the problem of terrorism, that is, the domestic factors encouraging radicalization of Muslim youth in France, Britain and elsewhere. Another aspect of this dimension is gun smuggling from the Balkans and other Eastern European countries, the Paris Attacks would have been impossible without these smuggled weapons (this is why Donald Trump’s remark on this matter is such a big fucking bĂȘtise). This particular problem cannot be effectively tackled without addressing a variety of problems related to the current relations between East and West Europe, including the issue of endemic administrative corruption in the East.
Homage to Trump: “Hey Melania honey, don’t forget to pack your gun for the concert this evening, you know, just in case the band turned out to be horrible or something. This reminds me: I really need to get me a new cowboy outfit and holster for my upcoming meeting with Putin.”

Note: The Syrian Conflict as well as the various terrorist operations that happened since, in Iraq, Kenya, Lebanon, Egypt and now France comes a further proof of the dangerous nature of that macabre and unholy, if you will, three-way linking autocratic regimes, organized crimes and terrorist networks and which cannot be handled without an integrated strategy that calls for addressing a variety of “domestic” and “foreign” challenges.
  •     We also cannot afford to ignore the fact that we are dealing with a growing ethos whose primary causes stem from problems indigenous to countries in Africa and Asia and inherently related to structural failures there as well as to failure associated with the political and religious culture. Interventions in these countries’ affairs from both the West and the East - with the latter’s role often neglected by Western-based analysts with their narcissistic obsession with their role in this world – often serve to amplify the impact of these inherent problems but they do not create or invent them (see note below). Combatting this ethos, therefore, requires an integrated strategy that seeks to respond to the root causes involved, as I noted previously and as my friend Rami Khouri argues here today, that is, the three-pronged problem of authoritarianism, corruption and underdevelopment.
  •      Refugees not the problem and a handful of terrorists should not be used to demonize millions of innocent refugees. We should fight against all attempts by populist right-wing politicians to do so, as this is bound to compound the suffering of these innocent people, as well as create the potential for radicalizing the most emotionally vulnerable among them.
United Nations General Assembly Hall

: Indeed, we are dealing here with the long-standing structural failure of the Global Order, stemming from the long-term neglect of the pursuit of the basic goals announced in the UN Charter: conflict resolution and democratization. The onset of the Cold War served to waylay and defer this pursuit, but the end of this war marked a low-key revival that resulted in such endeavors as the European Association Agreement, various peace processes conducted under the supervision of the UN in different parts of the world and, later, the Freedom Agenda announced by the Bush Administration. But these efforts were not pursued with the necessary sense of urgency, and they dragged on and on, and when finally, the sense of urgency was introduced, it came as a result of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and culminated in America’s Iraq Misadventure which undermined the whole matter. Obama’s foreign policies served to exponentially worsen the situation. Because the challenge that has been facing us since the establishment of the UN was never about intervention-avoidance, but about agreeing a formula for smart intervention. How can conflict resolution, if not preemption, work without intervention? While intervention should never be reduced to a militaristic affair, how can diplomacy work if not backed by real threat of sanctions and force?

For this, these recommendations made by Peter van Buren below with their usual incoherent mix of folly and righteousness create only paralysis.

“If I had exactly the right strategy, I’d tell you what it is, and I’d try and tell the people in Washington and Paris and everywhere else. But I don’t have the exact thing to do, and I doubt they’d listen to me anyway.

But I do have this: stop what we have been doing for the last 14 years. It has not worked. There is nothing at all to suggest it ever will work. Whack-a-mole is a game, not a plan. Leave the Middle East alone. Stop creating more failed states. Stop throwing away our freedoms at home on falsehoods. Stop disenfranchising the Muslims who live with us. Understand the war, such as it is, is against a set of ideas — religious, anti-western, anti-imperialist — and you cannot bomb an idea. Putting western soldiers on the ground in the MidEast and western planes overhead fans the flames. Vengeance does not and cannot extinguish an idea.”

These are the problem here: there was no attempt at identifying the causes of the failure of the Global War on Terror over the last 14 years. We are only left with the inference that intervention itself was wrong and not simply the manner and scope of it. Declaring that “Whack-a-mole is a game, not a plan” is all too true, but coming from a man with no plan, as he himself admit, it was bound to lead to statements like this: “Leave the Middle East alone.” Can we really do so at this stage, especially considering that we helped create the mess by allowing for all these previously hidden problems to rise to the surface? Refusing to fix what you helped broke is not a good moral policy, and creates more antagonism towards us among the ranks of the people affected by our intervention, and then, by our departure. On the other hand, should we leave the Middle East alone, will others do the same? Could we afford not to be concerned about that?

But of course, van Buren is right about not compromising our basic freedoms at home and disenfranchising Muslims. Mixing these clearly ethical stands with a series of foolish and downright amoral recommendations on the Middle East is exactly why such Libertarian stands are so dangerous and inconsistent. If we are truly concerned about values and principles, then, we do have a responsibility towards the peoples of the Middle East and far beyond. Because when you choose to intervene and disengage on the basis of the most suitable domestic narrative, and irrespective of the impact to others, this make you part of the problem that those others are dealing with. In order to avoid this, we should be more consistent in the way we apply certain principles. And we are talking here about the very principles enshrined in the UN Charter and Universal Declaration of human Rights. So, despite the seemingly ethical and human nature of the stands iterated by van Buren, among other Libertarian figures, including Ron and Rand Paul, they are in fact inherently selfish and unethical. 

As for bombing ideas, of course one cannot do so. But when that idea legitimates and calls for killing innocent people to get a certain ideological message across, and when, despite this, it manages to attract followers ready to act on it, then, that leaves one little choice but to act forcefully on all relevant fronts: the ideational, the socioeconomic, the political, the diplomatic and the military. But leaving the Middle East alone now when IS/Daesh, Assad, Putin, Khamenei, Erdogan, Hezbollah, etc. are busy trying to reshape it is not simply unethical, it’s simply put the wrong strategy to adopt. But then, it is not supposed to be a strategy, for if it were, van Buren and colleagues would have told us. Instead they admit that they have no strategy, then, they prescribe this.

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