Why Islamists beat liberals in the Middle East

Baghdadi-ISIS 470x260Why are Islamists conspicuously and consistently more successful across the Middle East than their liberal democratic counterparts?

Put simply, it comes down to five structural distinctions that make Islamist movements so potent in ways that their secular, liberal competitors are not, says Maajid Nawaz, a former radical Islamist who is now director of Quilliam, the London-based anti-extremist group.

When combined, these tools create Islamism, this blatant manipulation of religion, an attractive ideology that will almost inevitably supersede the appeal of its secular, liberal rivals, we writes for the War On The Rocks blog:

First, it is the basis of their political motivations, the idea that drives them: Islamism. Here, I am referring to the desire and perceived imperative to enforce a version of Sharia as law.

This idea is then reinforced by the next tool: narratives. After all, every idea must be backed up by a series of narratives that confirm its legitimacy. The most often touted narrative that Islamists cling to — regardless of their creed — is that there is a war against Islam, and that Muslim victimhood across the world is a direct result of a “Crusader” conspiracy against the ummah. Ultimately, the response to the ideas peddled by such narratives is to fight back, to engage in jihad. It is not difficult to see why this might be appealing to the young and disenfranchised.

On top of narratives, every social movement needs a strong leader. If we take IS, which is almost certainly the most threatening jihadist group that we have ever faced, it revolves around the cult of personality associated with its self-proclaimed caliph, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Time and time again, we are bombarded with his image, while many IS supporters use screen grabs from his Mosul khutba as their Twitter profile pictures.

These are all further entrenched and popularised through iconographic prowess. With jihadist groups, the symbolism of choice is a black flag with the shahada written in white across it, a throwback to the Abbasid rebellion against the Umayyads. It has tenuous theological foundations and has only recently re-emerged from obscurity thanks to Hizb ut-Tahrir, which revived its use in 1953 when it was founded. As such, to refer to it as a “flag of Islam” is a grave misapprehension. Just like Islamism, it is a manipulation.

At the peak of all this and, indeed, the workings of all social movements, is an end goal. Islamism is no different. The ultimate objective of all Islamists is the desire to right the wrongs faced by Muslims throughout the world and to unite them under one leader, the caliph. Again, we can refer to IS for an example of this. Indeed, one of the things that make it so appealing to extremists is the fact that it has made tangible progress towards these goals. Its propaganda is rife with references to its shattering of the imperial borders laid down by the Sykes–Picot Agreement.

RTWT

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Turkey ‘a battleground state’ for Internet freedom

Protesters shout slogans, hold banners and wave flags as they demonstrate against new controls on the Internet approved by Turkish parliament this week in AnkaraTurkey is a battleground state for Internet regulation, as the population strives for a free Internet yet has encountered a government whose policies attempt to restrict the online sphere, according to a report released by Freedom House in advance of the Internet Governance Forum in Istanbul. The report shows how a young population, improving technology and international connections could result in a free Internet the world might envy, or government policies might provoke a model for muzzling a vibrant online sphere.

RTWT

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Rebels Who Had a Cause: Havel and Michnik After Communism

havel michnik Adam Michnik and future Czech President Vaclav Havel at a meeting with communist opposition in 1988WHAT HAPPENS to revolutionaries after the revolution? asks Barry Gewen, an editor at the New York Times Book Review.

If the revolution fails, the answer is easy: they end up in exile, in prison or dead. But what if the uprising succeeds? he writes for the National Interest:

Then the answer is more complicated. Successful rebels scatter across the political landscape, with former brothers-in-arms often becoming fierce enemies—professional radicals on one side, upholders of the new status quo on the other.

In one of the fascinating exchanges included in a collection of letters, interviews and essays called An Uncanny Era: Conversations Between Václav Havel & Adam Michnik, two of the preeminent heroes of the upheavals that destroyed the Soviet empire and brought the Cold War to an end survey the fates of their colleagues among the dissidents. 

Prescient

The problem was that the end of Communism had created an ideological vacuum, and a ‘coarse and primitive nationalism’ was rushing to fill it, in Michnik’s words:

Xenophobia, anti-Semitism and ethnic intolerance were on the rise. Talk about racial purity and the need for a strong leader was back. In 2007, Michnik observed, “We should look at the practices of Putin to understand the nature of the threats to democracy in the countries of post-Communist Europe.” Prophetically, Havel said in 2008 that Moscow “glances at neighboring states as though it doesn’t know exactly where Russia begins and where it ends.”

RTWT

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Russia’s invasion of Ukraine demands a decisive response

ukrainesolidarnoscWith Russian troops now clearly moving into Ukraine — opening a new front, assisting separatists in seizing control of the strategic town of Novoazovsk, and halting gains by the Ukrainian Army in the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts — an increasing number of analysts say Vladimir Putin’s endgame is to seize as much territory as possible and then freeze the conflict in the Donbas, Brian Whitmore writes for RFE/RL’s Power Vertical:

“Putin would appear to win, securing Crimea, a frozen conflict in Donbas, which he will assume will cripple the Ukrainian economy and the prospects of a Maidan administration ever succeeding,” Timothy Ash, a senior analyst of emerging markets for Standard Bank in London, wrote in the “Kyiv Post.”

Likewise, Arkady Moshes of the Finnish Institute of International Affairs wrote recently in “The Moscow Times” that such an outcome in eastern Ukraine would “become a source of destabilization for Ukraine’s adjacent regions” and open “the way for a real Bosnianization of Ukraine.” 

And in a report from Transdniester’s de facto capital, Tiraspol, the Russian journalist Sergei Podosenov noted that “to a certain extent, Transdniester could represent the favorable scenario for self-proclaimed Novorossia in the event of its secession from Ukraine.” 

The West’s democracies need to take actions that will lead Moscow to withdraw its military forces from Ukraine and allow Kiev to retake complete control over all of Ukraine’s territory, Ivo H. Daalder writes for the Financial Times: These should include:

First, a clear commitment by all 28 Nato allies to bolster their capacity to defend all of Nato’s territory. That requires an explicit guarantee by all 28 to halt a decade-plus of cuts in defence spending and begin to make the investments necessary for their security. …..

Second, western countries need to supply the Ukrainian military with advanced weapons and a steady supply of intelligence to bolster its ability to defend its territory. …

Finally, the EU and the US need to impose full-scale economic sanctions. That means real, Iran-style financial sanctions, including freezing Russian assets overseas and denying Russia access to the international financial system. It also means an immediate end to any arms deliveries to Russia, including those already under contract such as the French Mistral assault ships. ….

We are at a defining moment, says Daalder, president of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs:

If we ignore or prevaricate about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Mr Putin will succeed in upending the European order at a grave cost to Europe’s security. If we act decisively, and act now, Mr Putin will fail in his effort to seek Russian control over Ukraine and the territory of the former Soviet Union and Europe will again be secure.

RTWT

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U.S. condemns beating of Azerbaijan journalist: Yunuses apart in jail

azerb yunusesLeyla and Arif Yunus met as young history students in the late 1970s, at a party hosted by one of their professors at Baku State University, Daisy Sindelar writes for RFE/RL:

Arif became a respected author and historian; Leyla, a prominent rights activist and outspoken government critic. Both shared a passionate conviction of the need for reconciliation between Azerbaijan and neighbouring Armenia…..

Now, however, the couple is experiencing the first real separation of their 36-year marriage – as prisoners facing charges of fraud and treason that supporters say are punishment for their long years of activism and Baku-Yerevan peace efforts.

Leyla, 58, and Arif, 59, were arrested on 30 July and accused of spying for the Armenian secret services and using foreign aid money to recruit Azerbaijani citizens for espionage. Human Rights Watch has dismissed the charges as “completely bogus.” RTWT

azerb Ilgar NasibovThe brutal attack on journalist Ilgar Nasibov (right) in Nakhchivan, Azerbaijan is an outrage, and Azerbaijan’s authorities should ensure a prompt, effective, and impartial investigation, according to Front Line Defenders, Human Rights House Foundation, Norwegian Helsinki Committee, Rafto Foundation for Human Rights, People in Need, Human Rights Watch, Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, International Media Support, Article 19, and Reporters Without Borders:

The Azerbaijani authorities should ensure that the investigation into the assault is effective, thorough, and impartial, the organizations said. It should examine as a potential motive that the attack was connected to Nasibov’s work as a journalist and human rights defender. The investigation should be capable of identifying and bringing to justice those responsible for this assault. The authorities should ensure that Nasibov gets immediate access to medical treatment as recommended by medical specialists.

The US State Department condemned the beating of Nasibov, Director of the NGO Democracy Support Center:

We understand that in this case the police responded immediately, and the prosecutor’s office has initiated an investigation. We support a swift, full, and transparent investigation and prompt disclosure of whether criminal charges will be brought against the perpetrators. We urge that those responsible be brought to justice, and call on the Azerbaijani government to take immediate steps to protect fundamental freedoms of expression, assembly, and association.

UN human rights experts have condemned Azerbaijan’s increased prosecution of human rights activists and urged Baku to “reverse the trend of repression”.

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