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Robin Yassin-Kassab

Archive for the ‘Saudi Arabia’ Category

Iran’s Recipe for Terror Wrapped in War on Terror Packaging

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The New Arab published a piece by Iran’s foreign minister.  This, my response to Zarif, was also published by the New Arab.

daraya

Iraqi Shia militiamen pray in defeated and depopulated Daraya.

Today the New Arab publishes Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif’s latest appeal for greater regional cooperation, specifically to build a collective “security net” which would establish “prosperity, peace, and security for our children.”

This certainly sounds wonderful. Most people in our region share these noble aims. But when they are expressed by an Iranian minister (or by any servant of any state), we owe it to ourselves (and indeed to our children, whose future appears thoroughly insecure) to separate misleading rhetoric from actual facts on the ground. Surely Zarif wouldn’t disagree with this. His own article emphasises the need for “a sound understanding of the current reality.”

Let’s examine the context of this Iranian overture. It doesn’t contain any concessionary policy shift, and is therefore an appeal to the Arab public rather than to state leaderships. Zarif wishes to recreate the pre-2011 atmosphere, those halcyon days when Iran enjoyed enormous soft power across the Arab world. Back then (Iranian president) Ahmadinejad, (Hizbullah chief) Nasrallah and even Bashaar al-Assad topped Arab polls for ‘most admired leader’. Iran was widely considered a proud, rapidly developing Muslim nation and a principled opponent of American and Israeli expansion. Its popularity peaked during the 2006 Israeli-Hizbullah confrontation. People appreciated its aid to the Lebanese militia fighting what they thought was a common cause. When hundreds of thousands of Lebanese Shia fled Israeli bombs for Syria, Syrian Sunnis put any sectarian prejudice aside and welcomed them in their homes. Al-Qusayr, for instance, a town near Homs, welcomed several thousand.

How things have changed. Today many Arabs fear Iran’s expansion just as much as Israel’s. Iran’s rulers, meanwhile, openly boast their imperialism. Here for example is Ali Reza Zakani, an MP close to Supreme Leader Khamenei: “Three Arab capitals have today ended up in the hands of Iran and belong to the Islamic Iranian Revolution.” He referred to Baghdad, Beirut and Damascus, and went on to add that Sanaa would soon follow.

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Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

March 21, 2018 at 4:17 pm

Posted in Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Yemen

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The Ghouta Slaughter and Arab Responsibility

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This article was first published at the New Arab.

AFP photoIn 2011, people in the eastern Ghouta (and throughout Syria) protested for freedom, dignity and social justice. The Assad regime replied with gunfire, mass arrests, torture and rape. The people formed self-defence militias in response. Then the regime escalated harder, deploying artillery and warplanes against densely-packed neighbourhoods. In August 2013 it choked over a thousand people to death with sarin gas. Since then the area has been besieged so tightly that infants and the elderly die of malnutrition.

Seven years into this process – first counter-revolutionary and now exterminatory – the Ghouta has tumbled to the lowest pit of hell. This didn’t have to happen. Nor was it an accident. Local, regional and global powers created the tragedy, by their acts and their failures to act. And Arab and international public opinion has contributed, by its apathy and relative silence.

Blame must be apportioned first to the regime, and next to its imperialist sponsors. Russia shares the skies with Assad’s bombers, and is an equal partner in war crime after war crime, targeting schools, hospitals, first responders and residential blocks.

Then Iran, which kept Assad afloat by providing both a financial lifeline and a killing machine. Iran’s transnational militias provided 80% of Assad’s troops around Aleppo, and some surround the Ghouta today. Their participation in the strategic cleansing of rebellious (and overwhelmingly Sunni) populations helped boost a Sunni jihadist backlash and will continue to provoke sectarian conflict in the future.

But the blame stretches further. American condemnations of the current slaughter, for instance, ring very hollow in Syrian ears. The Obama administration, focused on achieving a nuclear deal with Iran, ignored Iran’s build-up in Syria. It also ensured the Free Syrian Army was starved of the weapons needed to defend liberated zones. And by signalling his disengagement after the 2013 sarin atrocity, Obama indirectly but clearly invited greater Russian intervention. Since the rise of ISIS, the United States has focused myopically on its ‘war on terror’, bombing terrorists – demolishing cities and killing civilians in the process – but never deploying its vast military might in a concerted manner to protect civilians. Objectively, despite the rhetoric, the US has collaborated with Russia and Iran.

French President Emmanuel Macron, meanwhile, called for a humanitarian truce to allow civilians to evacuate. This sounds humane, and if the fall of Aleppo is any guide, it’s probably the best scenario Ghouta residents can expect. But the proposal’s lack of ambition illustrates the current dysfunction of the global system. Instead of acting to stop the slaughter and siege, European statesmen support mass population expulsion, requesting only that it be done as gently as possible.

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Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

February 24, 2018 at 8:06 pm

‘Sectarianization’

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Felipe DanaAP

The remains of the Nuri mosque amidst the remains of the ancient city of Mosul, Iraq. photo by Felipe Dana/ AP

An edited version of this article was published in Newsweek.

In his January 20 Inaugural Address, President Trump promised to “unite the civilised world against radical Islamic terrorism which we will eradicate completely from the face of the earth.”

To be fair, he’s only had six months, but already the project is proving a little more complicated than hoped. First, ISIS has been putting up a surprisingly hard fight against its myriad enemies (some of whom are also radical Islamic terrorists). The battle for Mosul, Iraq’s third-largest city, is almost concluded, but at enormous cost to Mosul’s civilians and the Iraqi army. Second, and more importantly, there is no agreement as to what will follow ISIS, particularly in eastern Syria. Here a new Great Game for post-ISIS control is being played out with increasing violence between the United States and Iran. Russia and a Kurdish-led militia are also key actors. If Iran and Russia win out (and at this point they are far more committed than the US), President Bashar al-Assad, whose repression and scorched earth paved the way for the ISIS takeover in the first place, may in the end be handed back the territories he lost, now burnt and depopulated. The Syrian people, who rose in democratic revolution six years ago, are not being consulted.

The battle to drive ISIS from Raqqa – its Syrian stronghold – is underway. The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), supported by American advisors, are leading the fight. Civilians, as ever, are paying the price. UN investigators lament a “staggering loss of life” caused by US-led airstrikes on the city.

Though it’s a multi-ethnic force, the SDF is dominated by the armed wing of the Democratic Union Party, or PYD, whose parent organisation is the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK. The PKK is listed as a terrorist organisation by the United States (but of the leftist-nationalist rather than Islamist variety), and is currently at war with Turkey, America’s NATO ally. The United States has nevertheless made the SDF its preferred local partner, supplying weapons and providing air cover, much to the chagrin of Turkey’s President Erdogan.

Now add another layer of complexity. Russia also provides air cover to the SDF, not to fight ISIS, but when the mainly Kurdish force is seizing Arab-majority towns from the non-jihadist anti-Assad opposition. The SDF capture of Tel Rifaat and other opposition-held towns in 2016 helped Russia and the Assad regime to impose the final siege on Aleppo.

Eighty per cent of Assad’s ground troops encircling Aleppo last December were not Syrian, but Shia militiamen from Lebanon, Iraq and Afghanistan, all armed, funded and trained by Iran. That put the American-backed SDF and Iran in undeclared alliance.

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Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

July 19, 2017 at 8:55 pm

Kingdom of Strangers

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This review was first published at the Guardian.

“Surely” – a desperate character muses on his way to court – “there were a thousand other men like him who’d made mistakes enough to ruin their lives, their careers and their families, and yet surely those men had carried on, as had their families. There was room for everything in this vast, disordered place.”

The place is Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, depicted by celebrated crime writer Zoe Ferraris with sympathy and realism, and in all its complexity: through its text messages and mobiles, SUVs and shopping malls, its exorcist surgeries and women-only banks, plus the “forced meditation” of compulsory prayer. And the harsh worlds inhabited by immigrant workers. Migrant workers, female and male, constitute perhaps a third of the Saudi population, and they give this novel – Kingdom of Strangers – its title.

To start with, nineteen bodies are found in the desert. The carefully mutilated victims are immigrant women, Asians, and their corpes are arranged to convey a hidden message.

Enter Chief Inspector Ibrahim Zahrani, whose repertoire includes policeman’s intuition and Beduin trackers as well as forensic analysts and an American expert on serial killers.

Ibrahim is a liberal in his context, a rationalist, but he’s not squeamish, in his moments of pain, about applying violence to the deserving. His quiet suffering and basic decency would make him a figure of genuine tragedy if the plot didn’t rather unconvincingly spirit him out of danger at the close.

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Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

July 31, 2012 at 2:02 pm

Posted in book review, Saudi Arabia

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What Next?

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Steve Bell's Bashaar

Here’s today’s Guardian article in its pre-sub-edited form.

Last January Syria seemed, along with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states, to be amongst the least likely candidates for revolution. If President Bashaar al-Asad had run in a real election, he may well have won.

It’s difficult remembering it today: most Syrians did grudgingly credit the regime with ensuring security and prosecuting a vaguely nationalist foreign policy. It’s that keen desire for security, the overwhelming fear of Iraq-style chaos, which keeps a section of Syrians fiercely loyal to the regime even now.

To start with, although they were inspired by revolutions in Tunisa and Egypt, most protestors didn’t aim for regime change. The first demonstration – in the commercial heart of Damascus – was a response to police brutality. That one ended peacefully, but when Dera’a protested over the arrest of schoolchildren the regime spilt blood. Outraged, communities all over the country took to the streets, and met greater violence, which swelled the crowds further. A vicious circle began to spin. All the intelligence, and the nationalist pretensions, peeled away from the government to reveal a dark and thuggish core.

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Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

June 17, 2011 at 1:02 pm

The US-Saudi-Khalifa Alliance

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Following the surprise visit of US Defence Secretary Robert Gates to Bahrain, home of the American Fifth Fleet, tanks and troops of the Saud family dictatorship have crossed the causeway and are now occupying Manama. The film below shows Bahraini police tactics against unarmed protestors before the Wahhabi goons were called in. Meanwhile, the Khalifa regime is urgently recruiting more mercenaries.

Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

March 14, 2011 at 4:47 pm

Posted in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia

What Comes Next

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This is the extended version of a piece published in today’s Sunday Herald.

Erdogan reacts to his war criminal neighbour

A strange calm prevails on the Middle Eastern surface. Occasionally a wave breaks through from beneath – the killing of an Iranian scientist, a bomb targetting Hamas’s representative to Lebanon (which instead kills three Hizbullah men), a failed attack on Israeli diplomats travelling through Jordan – and psychological warfare rages, as usual, between Israel and Hizbullah, but the high drama seems to have shifted for now to the east, to Afghanistan and Pakistan. The Arab world (with the obvious exception of Yemen) appears to be holding its breath, waiting for what comes next.

Iraq’s civil war is over. The Shia majority, after grievous provocation from takfiri terrorists, and after its own leaderhip made grievous mistakes, decisively defeated the Sunni minority. Baghdad is no longer a mixed city but one with a large Shia majority and with no-go zones for all sects. In their defeat, a large section of the Sunni resistance started working for their American enemy. They did so for reasons of self-preservation and in order to remove Wahhabi-nihilists from the fortresses which Sunni mistakes had allowed them to build.

The collapse of the national resistance into sectarian civil war was a tragedy for the region, the Arabs and the entire Muslim world. The fact that it was partly engineered by the occupier does not excuse the Arabs. Imperialists will exploit any weaknesses they find. This is in the natural way of things. It is the task of the imperialised to rectify these weaknesses in order to be victorious.

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Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

January 31, 2010 at 12:18 pm

The Crisis of Islamic Civilisation

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mecca

A slightly different version of this review was written for Prospect Magazine, where it was available free-of-charge for a while, but no longer.

The contemporary religious revival is a complex business. In the same period that Muslim societies, in their weakness, seem to have re-embraced Islam, America, in its strength, has re-embraced Christianity. Western Europe remains avowedly secular. Despite the contradictions within the West, mainstream Orientalism holds that all cultures are developing towards the universal (or, more specifically, globalised) model of secular modernity and the market. The Muslim world experiences backwardness to the extent that it resists secularisation.

“The Crisis of Islamic Civilisation”, a subtle and erudite book by former Iraqi minister Ali A Allawi, challenges this thesis. Surveying the Muslims’ social, economic and moral failures, and the terror espoused by certain Islamist groups, Allawi suggests the problem might not be too much Islam, but too little.

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Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

August 27, 2009 at 9:56 pm

Sectarian Rabble-Rousing

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Al-Ahram Weekly, the English language twin of the Arabic daily, is an Egyptian state organ. The Weekly has a broader range of opinion than the tame daily, and does often contain interesting articles. The great Palestinian thinker Azmi Bishara, for instance, can be found in the Weekly. Unfortunately, however, Egyptian regime nonsense concerning the Persian-Shia ‘threat’ is also fed into the mix. This article by Galal Nassar is a sad example. Below is my response to his piece:

Dear Mr Nassar

I am not a Shia Muslim. If I were, I would not be a supporter of the velayat-e-faqih system. I agree with you entirely that the velayat-e-faqih concept is a perversion of traditional Shia ideas. I also agree that velayat-e-faqih leads to authoritarian government, to the detriment of Iranian society.

If it is authoritarianism that bothers you, however, I wonder why you single out Iran, which is at least a semi-democracy. The dictatorship in Egypt seems a much better target, especially after the mass arrests of recent weeks. Another good target is the barbaric dictatorship in Saudi Arabia. As a Sunni Muslim, I am outraged by the Wahhabi perversion of Islam that holds sway in that country.

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Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

February 4, 2009 at 11:19 am

My Absence, and a Sad Marriage

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I apologise from my absence. I’ve been very busy. I’ll be back soon, but for now I’ll post something from Conflicts Forum. I’ll post it because it clarifies the already clear truth that Salafism, whether the Salafis know it or not, has an inherent opposition to genuine resistance in the Arab and Muslim worlds. Below you’ll read about the marriage of Wahhabi nihilism and Arab fascism, and how its purpose is to deepen the Empire’s control by encouraging the people to hate each other. And there is further clarification of how very unlike this twisting, thrusting couple (Mr. Salafi and Mr. Fascist – it’s a same-sex partnership) are organisations like Hizbullah and Hamas.

The honeymoon after the wedding was remarkable for its dog-gnawed corpses, and for the smiles on the faces of fat businessmen and kings.

(I recommend Conflicts Forum’s intelligent and detailed articles. The three-part report on how Hizbullah defeated Israel in 2006 is fascinating.)

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Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

September 22, 2008 at 10:26 pm

Osama bin Laden

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by Steve Bell
by Steve Bell

Osama bin Laden squeezed his face back onto our screens at the start of Ramadan. This time, probably advised by his American follower Adam Gadahn, he tailored his discourse to a Western audience, and tainted by association the good names of Noam Chomsky and the anti-globalisation movement. Before Ramadan ends, let me talk briefly about bin Laden and those associated with him.

Still when bin Laden’s name is mentioned in many parts of the Arab world, although less so than a couple of years ago, a cheer goes up. Let’s hope that Martin Amis never reads this; he would see it as proof of his thesis that all Muslims are Wahhabi-nihilists. But cheering for bin Laden is like waving a flag or, more accurately, waving two fingers. It doesn’t mean that the cheering people would like to be ruled by bin Laden or that they subscribe to his programme, as they admit when questioned. Many of these ‘supporters’ would be killed if bin Laden could get his hands on them, either for being ‘heretics’ – like my Ibadhi Muslim students here in Oman – or for being ‘apostates’ – like the men in a bar in Aleppo in the following anecdote. These drinkers were well into their third or fourth bottle of araq when bin Laden came on the TV screen. “I swear by almighty God,” said Osama, his finger wagging, “that the Americans will not sleep soundly in their beds until the children of Palestine sleep soundly in theirs!” Immediately the men surged to their feet and held their glasses towards the TV image. “Kassak!” they roared – which means “Your glass!” or “Cheers!”

This story says it all. Beyond the tiny hardcore of Wahhabi-nihilists, bin Laden won sympathy in the Arab world because the Arabs will support anyone who talks tough against America and Israel. This is a symptom of the frustration and impotence felt by the Arabs, and the utter failure of their leaders to stand against Zionist and imperialist oppression in the region. Cheering for bin Laden is the equivalent of the protest vote. And inasmuch as al-Qa’ida targets America, the victim does not behave in a way designed to win sympathy. Before they had time to consider the implications of the September 11th attacks, many Arabs were impressed that this superpower which routinely trashed Muslim cities could be so dramatically humiliated. Central New York looked like Baghdad or Gaza, and to many that was an understandable cause for celebration. People in China and Latin America also celebrated September 11th. I’ve even heard – from a friend who was living in California at the time – that some Black and Hispanic Americans were gleeful about the attacks.

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Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

October 11, 2007 at 6:58 pm

America versus America

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My children have a Dreamworks animated film called AntZ. I suppose it’s better than the average American children’s film, but still, once you’ve watched 15 minutes you can predict both the conclusion and the moral message that will be rammed violently past your gullet for the next hour and a bit. As in very many Disney films for children or in the Hollywood versions for adults, the message is BE YOURSELF. BE AN INDIVIDUAL. STAND OUT FROM THE CROWD.

It seems contradictory that the country which feeds its children unto obesity with this message is also the country with the most conformist of populations. Americans are more likely than any other people to confuse their national identity with their state machinery, to identify themselves with their leaders and their flag, to believe that their country has a divinely-ordained manifest destiny. The ability of Americans to contemplate alternative perspectives on the world, or even to understand that people in different countries may not want to speak English or eat hamburgers, is severely limited. The declared ideology is individualism, but the reality is rigid conformism.

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Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

February 27, 2007 at 6:42 am

Posted in Iran, Saudi Arabia, USA, Wahhabism

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The Horns of Satan

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The lovely mufti of Saudi Arabia

The lovely mufti of Saudi Arabia

The Arabs and Muslims have many internal enemies. But the greatest of these, in my opinion, are the Saudi regime – America’s key Arab ally – and the Wahhabi doctrine it has at different times promoted, exploited and tolerated. Its malign influence has spread to Pakistan, Afghanistan, West Africa, Egypt and inner-city Europe, where traditional and plural Islamic cultures are being crushed by reductive ‘rulebook’ religion and sectarian intolerance. The Saudis are currently interfering in Lebanon to prop up the Siniora government, funding and providing manpower for Sunni terror organisations in Iraq, and discussing attacks on Iran with the Israelis.

Despite being the chief sponsor of the Taliban and the homeland of most of the September 11th bombers, Saudi Arabia’s alliance with the United States remains strong. American miltary bases remain dotted around the country, secret police continue to cow people into suspicious silence, criminals (but not the big ones) are still beheaded in public squares on Friday afternoons.

How long will this traitorous and barbaric regime last? In ‘The Rise and Coming Fall of the House of Saud’ Saeed Aburish predicted the regime’s downfall – for the late 1990s. When I was in Saudi Arabia, from 2001 to 2003, there was a widespread sense that the regime was in its last days. Al-Saud governance – rigidly Islamist at home, supinely pro-imperialist in its foreign relations – satisfied no-one at all, from Taliban types to Western-educated shabab who wanted more personal freedoms.

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Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

December 9, 2006 at 11:31 am

Posted in Saudi Arabia, Wahhabism

The Islamism of Not

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One of my correspondents has suggested that islamist economic policy cannot improve the dire social conditions of Muslim countries. I think it is being overly generous to islamism to think that it has an economic policy, or any kind of policy at all. Beyond vague promises to implement sharia law (and there’s a concept that means very different things to different people), islamism is best understood by what it is not. It is a rhetorical function rather than anything of substance.

Of course, there are as many different islamisms as there are contexts in which it thrives. Sunni and Shia islamism, right and left islamism, peaceful and violent, macho and feminist, and so on. Perhaps one good way to divide islamisms, however, is into two kinds: islamism to protect established power and islamism to challenge it.

Islamism which protects established power is the older form. The West complained less about it, because the West was happy with the status quo. The classic manifestation of this kind of islamism is the Wahabism of Saudi Arabia, which takes Ibn Taymiya’s anti-Shia, anti-Sufi, anti-innovation discourse to ever more puritan lengths, and which designates the Al-Saud family as guardians of the doctrine. So long as the Sauds suppress religious diversity, demolish shrines, allow full rein to the religious police, they are free to make whatever decisions they wish on the country’s oil wealth and foreign alliances. The king is ‘wali al-amr’ and it is part of religion to obey him.

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Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

September 13, 2006 at 1:12 pm