paraphrasing macklemore: same god

when she was raised in the free world,

people told her she was muslim,

cause she wanted to wear a scarf, to cover her head from the cold stares,

she told her ma’, tears rushing down her face,

she’s like, girl you’ve been baptized since before pre-k.

“yeah i guess she had a point, didn’t she”,

a bunch of stereotypes in everyone’s head

she remembers doing the math, like “yeah i like christmas, pork and drinks”,

a preconceived idea of what it all meant.

but those who believe in a different god

have the characteristics,

the neo-conservative, right wing, think it’s a decision

and you can be cured with some treatment of “democracy”.

man-made rewiring of just a different man-made wire.

defining god, oh nah here we go, the “free world” still fears what it doesn’t know,

a guy who loves all his children is somehow forgotten

but we kill over the construct of nationalism and books written hundreds of years ago.

 

and i can’t change, even if i tried, even if i wanted to.

and i can’t change, even if i tried, even if i wanted to.

my god, my family, my tradition,

they keep me warm, they keep safe, they keep me alive.

 

if i was muslim, i think the world would hate me,

have you read the hateful comments lately?

“the arab terrorist” get’s dropped on a daily,

we become so numb to what we are saying.

a culture founded from oppression

yet we don’t have acceptance for ’em,

call each other “danger” behind the keys of a message board

all words rooted in hate, yet our generations still ignore it.

islam is synonymous with danger –

it’s the same hate that has caused wars from religion, gender or skin color, the choice of your dress,

the same fight that led people to walk-outs and sit-ins,

it’s human rights for everyone, there is no difference!

live on and be yourself,

when i was in church, they taught me something else,

if you preach hatred at the service, those words aren’t anointed,

that holy water you soak in has been poisoned,

and everyone is more comfortable remaining voiceless

rather than fighting for humans that have their dignity stolen,

i might not be the same, but that’s not important,

no freedom until we’re equal, damn right i support it.

 

and i can’t change, even if i tried, even if i wanted to.

and i can’t change, even if i tried, even if i wanted to.

my god, my family, my tradition,

they keep me warm, they keep safe, they give everyone identity.

 

we press play, don’t press pause,

progress, march on,

take down the veil hanging over your own eyes,

turn your back on hateful causes

to stand up avoiding muslims becoming our next jews.

history is written in blood, a warning,

will the next generation judge us for the crimes we commit today?

a world so hateful

people rather die for a cause than live where they are.

and welcoming integration is not going to solve it all,

but it’s a damn good place to start.

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syria started in libya

the war in syria is on everybodies mind – isis is portrayed to be yet the worst thing human kind has produced in its millenials of violent history, refugees are pouring the consequences of the war into otherwise so happily ignorant european faces and the media attention is so focused on syria that they even forget that iraq is equally in bits and pieces (well, we wrote about iraq for ten years already; syria sells better, despite the current ‘big war’ and potentially decisive battle being in iraqi mosul, but who will notice? itMs all ‘against isis’ anyways; plus, if we write about iraq people might start to assume it’s the americans fault … so let’s focus on syria!).

the thing is – yes isis is brutal, but not the most brutal the world has ever seen; yes, an ever growing amount of refugees in europe puts pressure on socioeconomic systems and societies, but at the same time ‘our systems’, our politicians and our weapons and steel companies are the ones who helped a lot in creating this f*cked up situation in the first place; and last, yes mosul is a decisive battle but syria started in libya and if you want to end syria, you also have to start in libya!

technically one could even argue, syria started in tunesia. do you still remember that at all? 2011, the arab spring. highly (over)celebrated in western media (and sadly picked up largely unreflectedly by an ever more populistic western academia) as the glorious starting point of democracy in the ‘middle ages stuck’- middle east. actually, history could still prove this analysis to be right – but just like in european history, democracy is not something that comes overnight, nor without a lot of bloodshed (remember the jacobines?). personally, i am not so concerned with the question whether this event is a move towars democracy or another shift in the balance of power; what matters is that the tunisian example spread like a fire and spilled over to -among others- libya. the reason why libya is so much more important to mention than the others is simple: because the ‘western alliance’ screwed it up royally! i can’t remember whether it was the europeans or the americans who had the gloriously brilliant idea to kill gaddafi; the brutal, yet stabilizing dictator of the country who for the past decades had been their trusted ally (if you want to throw values over board, this is how you do it!). either way, gaddafi was killed and every fan of game of thrones can tell you what happened next: when you remove the (illegitimate but) strong center of power, what you get is chaos, destruction, and decentralization of power. war, in one word. the state fell apart. local militias formed, townsmen picked up weapons to fight and to defend themselves, and in the mist of war everyone started killing for better opportunities.

the situation today
at the moment, in libya, there are three governments. (if you ask whether any of them are democratic, you missed the point entirely.) local warlords terrorize the cities and towns. people pull taxes, livelihoods, and children at will from those too weak to defend themselves. why? because they can. there is no law. there is no authority to control them. and before you judge – i really really wonder what the streets would look like in baltimore if you pulled out the police for just a few days and told the people to make their own laws. or try paris. people who have money, influence or weapons, try to climb the ladder of influence. power is a soothing drug. it makes you want it while believeing you deserve it. the law of the fist (or the firearm -lovingly supplied by their former official allies in the western countries) trumps all morale, religion, rhethoric, and law.
so when have we forgotten about libya? syria went really badly down the drains around 2013. isis became popularly known in 2014. by that time, war in libya had been waging for three full years. and yet suddenly we forgot about it. boring, let’s move on. but the power vacuum in this one country has created such a black hole of violence, human catastrophe, and weapons that it actually affects the entire region around them – and yet we (in the western world of media and biased perception) decide to completely ignore these inter-connectivities.

let me ask you a question – where does isis have its weapons from?
there is a group of people, some iraqi, some syrian, some from all regions of the world who pour in because they enjoy ‘a good ol’ scrap’ – they want to fight in the syrian war. they want to prove their own masculinity. they don’t have jobs to give them a future – so they look for a future in war: die in glory or fight for more money, women, and opportunity. war gives opportunity to those who have none – it’s the oldest trick in the book; and yet the western continent who (thank god and the european union) has been untouched by war for almost two generations now choses to blatantly ignore this fact based on their own self-image of civilization and somehow ‘higher’ stage of humanity that they then voluntarily and patronizingly export into the rest of the world. but people fight. willingly and voluntairly. and they need weapons to pillage and loot. so where to take them from? the local black market has good-old russian material from the cold war at best. the weapons are used and old and sometimes a bigger threat than the enemy. but isis has fresh weapons. modern weapons. heavy weapons. weapons only a state would (or should?) ususally have. where did they get them from? from libya.
imagine you being a military leader in libya. you’re wealthy above average. you are powerful and yet you still follow commands. what if the supreme command breaks away though? what if your army disintegrates? people leave; they steal a weapon or two on their way out. everything goes down the drains. do you stand and pull everyone together? do you punish those who leave? it might be easy with some but when it’s half your army things get tricky. so what now? do you start fighting yourself? you know how to. you have access to a lot of great weapons. but wait, if they leave, and steal, and get away with it, why wouldn’t you? but why steal a tank when you can sell it? sell it and take a long long vacation on an island somewhere; your bank account hidden on another island or between the swiss mountains. what do you think happened after the collapse of the soviet union? it’s the same story, always. and so the weapons from libya drippled into the black market and into syria.

so nowadays we are all so focused on syria that we forgot libya ever happened. but libya is in pieces. still. the human suffering, despite not being shown in youtube clips made by isis and hence not being quite as media effective in the west, is tremendously high and the laws against humanity will one day fill international court rooms and student’s theses as another ruanda that the west just overlooked. oops.
libya is forgotten. do we take refugees from libya? we don’t. in fact we actively act as though there was nothing wrong there. at max there is some who mention how annoying it is that ever since gaddafi is gone, the libyan state is the center of human trafficking to europe. well, let’s put up a big defence line of maritime patrols in the sea, let’s consider bombing refugee ships ashore in libya, and let’s bribe the new local warlords to not send us refugees – we give them a good deal on more weapons in return! oh glorious europe, the more you announce your values of human rights the more you prove your own hypocricy in libya. libya in fact proves the worry a kurdish major expressed to me just last week: “isis is not our problem. as long as isis is here, western attention is here. the real problem starts after isis, when hashti shabi and other militias will start fighting within iraq an no one will even care to look at their cruelty.”
what a statement. isis is not a problem; the problem ony start when the west choses to turn their attention away. well, we turned our attention away from libya – and people die as a result of our ignorance.

in the west, we uphold human rights. yet we treat muslims and arabs like second class people – ask the jews how that feels. we defend liberties and democracy and yet we support anything that keeps ‘those damn refugees off our backs’. should we shoot at them at the border?-when did it become okay again to even think like that let alone utter it in public?!
so, while europe upholds values of humanity, we forget to be human – because we forget the people behind the numbers and we forget entire civilizations and our own faults in the chaos. we even manage to forget an entire country five times the size of germany!
the thing is, even when you drop the humanity argument – libya is vital strategically too! as long as libya is in pieces, the entire region will be unstable. so if syria started in libya, you need to end it in libya too. but unfortunately people are no longer aware of the inter-connectivities in this world …

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kirkuk – a city’s frontline in the middle east

when i think of kirkuk, i see plastic bags waving in the wind, caught up in barbwire. kirkuk is made up of many walls, protected by barbwire on top. it is there that many lonely plastic bags have been caught; so many in fact, i wonder whether some were actually put there on purpose. they are black and blue, pink, white and yellow. and they dance in the wind as the cars drive bye.
it is this scene which is descriptive of kirkuk to me: it looks peaceful, colors flying, waving in the wind. soft hills of yellow flowers -at least when visiting kurdistan in spring, and men walking and sitting on the dusty streets off the tarmac. yet just as the plastic bags are caught in a barbwire, so are the people. the walls and fences are a symbol of the constant battle of the city and its people; from within and from without.

as i flip through the pictures with former brigadier general of the first front line i visited in kirkuk back in 2014, he keeps pointing at faces he recognizes: dead, dead, dead. the number of dead people on my phone increases. they are called “martyrs” among the kurds. some of their faces decorate the side of the street, usually along the military checkpoints. all of them decorate the memories of their brothers in arms. i have yet to hear a story of a front line without getting the toll of their dead and wounded. and yet it seems that the danger in kirkuk is not isis but their own internal fragility.

back in 2014, the war with isis seemed to have strengthened the security of kirkuk. kurdish soldiers flooded into the area, putting up check points and drawing the border to daesh carefully along the lines of ethnic belonging between kurds and arabs and turks in the historically torn city. bombing attacks went down. from three a day to one or two a week. the war seemed indeed to be pushed outside of the city towards the front lines. and everybody was involved in kirkuk – all parties and all nations. the governor is put up by the southern kurdish party, puk, who have a traditionally strong influence in the city. but the kurdish democratic party, kdp, is also present in kirkuk due to its historical importance for kurdish self-perception and identity as well as their better influence with the turks, who are in the area because of the high number of turkmen living in this city (nationality does not necessarily end by a different passport if one believes in ethnic-blood). also the kurds of iran are in the city, and a while ago, i also came across the pkk of turkey. and the sole presence of the puk can allow the assumption for a certain degree of iranian influence as well – something that is strongly confirmed by the kurds of iran who are equally as worried about iran in their back as they are about isis in their front. and with all of that, one can of course not overlook the arab elements which stirr up the already explosive mix in addition. tellings of history depart on the “why and how” of the arabization of kirkuk but no one disputes the fact that under saddam hussein’s regime, an influx of arab settlers spread across the kirkuk governorate and the city in particular. it is those elements today that are (often correctly) suspected of working with isis – harboring their soldiers, spying on the kurdish efforts, and even deploying like sleeper cells within the city. but just as not all arabs are bad and all kurds or turks are good – the balance within the multi-ethnic city is more fragile than ever.

at the moment, the city is split in three parts: kurdish, arabic and turkmen. two internal securities, so called assayish on both sides, patrol the streets. but despite the pressence of forces, the city increasingly breaks into ever smaller parts. it is exactly this tripartition that creates power vacuums which are increasingly filled by small gangs. the increasing economic difficulties in the entire region of iraqi kurdistan has left people to a level of despair that any method of income has become acceptable. street robbery and crime has increased massively – felt by myself only in the increased care my kurdish friends paid towards my safety in traveling through kirkuk. when a year ago i still drove in a private car with my translator, this time we had two personal guards on board. but just like last year, i hope that one day, the plastic bags can be replaced by flags and flowers, while at the same time fearing that this city has yet to see the fiercest fighting over every single inch of its territory. and so, in a fragile balance, towards an unknown future, life continues …

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talking to enemies

there is a certain challenge to working on military merging processes. for starters, the military is a sensitive matter in any nation. suspicions are high to look for spies and anyone who might use information against themselves. because, despite europe believing that we as a human kind have moved passed the ‘primitive’ instinctive power that is based on fists and sticks and guns to a time of human rights and values and morals, even in europe one only has to ask about the size of their fists and sticks and guns to realize their rhethoric does not fit their actions and perceptions. in the middle east, and other areas of the world, at least no one denies the fact that the forces are a vital part in personal and societal survival. it is therefore the most natural thing for them to be protective about information. the understanding of that fact as a researcher helps in chosing the most careful approach to the forces. the second and most important step following this first understanding is the building of trust.

the currency of trust
trust can not be put in numbers. there is no recipe to achieve it. trust is a matter of sensitivity to different characters, honesty in the intention, and humbleness in the approach.
i personally see it as my own honor to protect those who i approach. this is not just about journalistic morals of protecting ones sources; to me this is bigger than a job description. trust is a two way street. and since i am the one approaching them, asking them to trust me, it is up to me more than them to keep up my end of the bargain. and with the honest intention in my heart to truly understand the situation from their perspective and maybe, through the abilities of academic thought i have attained over the years, be able to find a new angle and maybe even a solution, i approach the delicate issue of building trust on a delicate topic like the armed forces. and in that effort, the protection of those who i ask to trust me for the pleasure of my own research and understanding is of the utmost importance.

yet among the trust building and the imperative of protecting those i speak with, i constantly balance on the edge of the sword. it is both the great risk and the excitement that comes with the job on top of the intellectual pleasure. the sword is my bridge between the different parties involved in the merging process.
no matter how careful i am; no matter how honest i mean it not to be interested in taking sides or in playing one against the other, eventually i will end up talking to enemies.
and this is where the balancing act begins. different from approaching one state’s military, politically divided forces, guerilla, and militias have their different groupings and with each one the trust building effort is its own task and experience. beyond that, however, a lot of the groups are interlinked in a manner that the increase of trust with the one group diametrically decreases the trust with the other.

examples of experience – how the balancing act works in practice
while in kurdistan in 2014 and ever since, for example, this need to balance the different sides, affected the way i traveled, the amount i chose to talk to people on different sides, and the company i chose to take research journeys with. to speak honestly, it is very tiring and probably the hardest part of the job to make people on the one side believe that just because you talk to people on the other side or spend some time there, you do not necessarily ‘take their side’ or buy into their ideology. and this goes both ways. but the idea of academic neutrality, or the ‘elfenbeinturm‘ as we call it in german referring to the detachment of any sides that an academic takes on by viewing the entire field from above rather than simply from one angle, is unknown to this part of the world (for a good reason as also the elfenbeinturm idea has been raped front- side- and backwards by european politicians and so called academics that hid their own agenda behind big moral values and loud proclamations of interest for the nations). it is therefore both a tiring and a delicate task to stay in the balance with all sides (consider that these sides are also constantly in flux and changing) to build the trust necessary for any kind of actual in-depth work of analysis. in talking with enemies, to me there is no recipe except the constant awareness of ones own work’s fragility… to be continued …

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Peshmerga: united in future?

Tell History is an awesome project which collects short stories about people’s experiences during historical events and processes.

To support this project, I was recently asked to talk about my experiences in Kurdistan – see: Visiting Iraq without Iraqi approval – discovering Kurdistan and my analytical assessment of the unification of the Peshmerga – see: Peshmerga: united in future?

I’m looking forward to comments, input, thoughts and reflections.

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why i love to travel

in the german language there are two words that very well suit my spirit and have been used to describe me by others: wanderlust and fernweh. the first is the lust, the want, the desire to wander, to travel, to journey, to explore. the latter is the sense of missing and longing towards the far-away. this far away is neither a person nor a specific location, however, it describes more the sense of distance, of something new, of adventure maybe, and of exploration. it is the journey rather than a certain goal that builds the underlying value and sentiment. now, me, i seem to have been born with these sentiments. yet regardless of their consistent presence, i have not come around to ask myself and be asked by others why i seem to fail to feel at home in my home country and why i seem constantly restless to journey to ever far away lands. more so, my increasing habit of fulfilling my desire to not just far-away places, but to what are largely considered ‘dangerous’ places, like iraq and pakistan, have left wonder and worry in many of my closely related friends and family.

the reflection on these matters that i am to present here now is to be understood as a construct of many years of wondering and thinking. a process, which i believe, will never be fully resolved. but in my current journey, in pakistan, i have come to a new sense of clarity that, for the first time, i feel like sharing.

about my home country, austria.

it is no secret to most that i have a troubled relationship with my ‘motherland’. i myself trace this primarily repulsive sentiment back to the story of my childhood, where my being different -primarily in language (dialect)- has been equated to a sense of not-belonging to the community around me. until today, when i hear the question ‘you are not from here, are you?’, i hear them say ‘you do not belong here, do you?’. children back in my days where most expressive about it when they told me to go back to where i came from; which to me did not make any sense, given i was born in the region and even my parents, despite being of a different region, where still ‘austrian’ by passport, paper and birth. and hence commenced my life-long wonder with the categories ‘us’ and ‘them’; given i was made a ‘them’ in a context that by birth-certificate and definition of nation-state should have been an ‘us’. it is in this difference that i observed my surrounding more from an outsiders perspective while trying to be an insider for many years.

now, when traveling to far away lands, i am actually different. and here i feel alright with being different. in fact, it has been the being different in other parts of the world that has made me more confident with being different also at ‘home’. and still i could not help but have the question cross my mind that whether i feel more comfortable being abroad that being at ‘home’ because i am in fact more austrian when being abroad than when being in austria. it is abroad that i realize my germanic values of precision and order; it is abroad that being austrian matters. this question has plagued me for obvious reasons – what an irony and self-illusion would it be if the essence of my desire to travel would be the need to feel like ‘an austrian’! it was now in pakistan that i finally found an answer to this question. i do not travel abroad to seek identity; yes, i find it in parts regardless, but it is not what excites my heart and soul. instead, at the bottom of my desire lies a simple fact:

traveling is constant learning.

when traveling afar, my eyes are wide open. everything is new and exciting. and under this rain of new impressions, as my eyes are open like those of an innocent child seeing the world for the first time, my heart and mind open as well. at this moment one would rightfully point out that there is also places that i have not seen in austria, germany, orswitzerland; but to me ‘new’ alone is not the essence i seek. all those areas are still the same culture. things are in order. beauty is obvious. structure is appreciated. discipline is lived. the difference that actually exist between those areas to me are too small as though they would touch more than just my eyes. it is only in the chaos of the thai streets, in the morning prayers of istanbul, in the long beards and adidas clothes of arabic men, or in the individually colorful trucks of pakistan that i find my spirit moved. it is in the discomfort of a cold shower, in the sudden dissapearance of light in another electricity shortage, and in the bumpy roads and trash-littered streets that i find appreciation for life and the luxury of the first world.

but more than that, there is so much that happens when traveling afar that no journey could ever be captured in a photograph. or maybe it is just this the art of photography, when one manages to put even a distant viewer into a certain moment of clarity; touching more than just the eyes, but instead the heart and mind and all the senses. what i learned from traveling, after all, is this: when you just travel with your eyes, you don’t travel yet. go somewhere, snap a picture (a pretty picture, at that! who would want to show the relatives at home a dirty beach, a broken house, or a starving kid; unless of course it is in the expression of ‘how poor those people are’; capturing both a sense of broken heart and continuing inaction) and leave. many a traveler and philosopher has said ‘the road is the goal’ and it is a sentiment i can only echo. it is why i also desire living in those far away places – and yes, to me, this is still ‘traveling’. it is the living there that gives me time to extend my journey, my discovery of something new. it is the living there that allows me more insight into the struggles and realities, into the subtle humors on the streets, into the daily matters of getting water, electricity or a government permit. it is there, where, despite not moving somewhere new constantly, one still receives a constant input to reflect about life, oneself and ones position in this world.

of stories, hearts, and smiles

even more than what i see and do, however, it is the stories of the people around me -some of which i can only guess from the short moment in which i lay my eyes on a stranger and observe their walk, their faces, their actions. there are so many stories still breathing alive in the middle and far east. and behind each face one can only start to guess the many ties of ancestry and family and tradition. in the west, i feel, these stories are written -preserved forever in the terms of right and wrong- and education, the act of learning, has to be artificially created. here, in contrast, the stories still live, in all their complexities and re-tellings; they live in the people who tell them, they live in the memories of those who hear them, and they live as a presence between every rock and tree and stone in this area. and as i move and feel and smell and touch and listen to all that is around me, this is when my heart is truly touched. and with my heart, so is my mind; it is engaged, in so many questions and so many answers; trying to understand the way life happens here, trying to comprehend the way people look at life and love and values and everything else there is between heaven and earth. it is here that light is shed on new dark spots of my own horizon. it is here that i learn so much about myself as well. and it is here that i discover the boundries of my own being.

and one of the things i learned about myself in these lands is that i appreciate the strength of these people who are so often looked down upon as ‘the poor’ and ‘the victim’ and ‘the stupid’ (yes, we use the word ‘uneducated’ in the western world, but let someone call it the way the word is intended!). yes they struggle -in fact they struggle with so much that any ‘problem’ in the west can only be smiled upon- but as they struggle, they smile. horror and terror is faced with humor. commemoration and shock, yes, but also with resilience and smiles (see ‘being pakistani ain’t no joke’ by syed ali abbas zaidi), while every incident in the west causes huge outcries and symbols of solidarity on every major social webpage (nothing against showing solidarity and not trying to de-value the shock and horror to those affected, but the fact is that human-made tragedies of terrorism, killings and attacks do not just happen in europe, and it is as much a tragedy if it happens in pakistan, libya, syria, lebanon, russia, iraq, afghanistan and anywhere else in the world – and i have yet to see the same amount of outrage and solidarity to these episodes of tragedy!). it is this strength, particularly compared to my own heritage and what i observe around me ‘at home’, that sparks both admiration and desire in me; desire to understand how they look at the world, maybe even to find the source of their resilience against everything they are facing in their lifetimes. yes, i am truly inspired by those souls that refuse to smile -even if not on their lips sometimes, i still see it in their eyes; by those hearts that are not yet poisoned with greed and want and ‘having’; and by those minds that still remember -remember the stories of a distant past, remember the values of living, and remember that there is more than one way to look at the world – a plurality, by the way, that i, at least, deem worthy of preserving. and so i go out into the world and seek it…

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what i think about isis

today i was asked what i think about isis. i – as a western scholar, a person who has been physically close to the islamic state in iraq, and as a simple human being. figuring that this might be something of interest to a bigger audience, i am now summarizing my explanation of opinion and personal account in this post.

first of all, i believe that one can not kill ideas. and isis is as much an idea as it is a movement.
the idea that supports isis today -and al-qaeda the day before, and others before that…- is a believe of imperial suppression by the western world, by the western way of doing things, by the western mindset and ideology. individual freedom and liberty is in fact not a universal human value, contrary to predominant us-american believe. some societies value honor, community, or loyalty. in fact, there are many different values and moral codes, some religious and others not, that may be more important to the culture and character of a society and its people than those promoted and believed in by the west. forcing upon any of them any idea of liberal peace, market economy, and democracy -despite even best intentions- is prone to create systems susceptible to corruption, nepotism, and so many other fancy concepts western academia has developed to explain why other countries and nations have failed to implement their way of doing things. in the mind of the people, however, a connection between fraud and corruption is directly drawn to ‘the west’ and its ideas in total.
what i believe needs to be recognized from western scholarship and policy-makers is that there are other ideas and values other than their own in this world. another example here is the russian federation, china, or any other part of the world outside the western sphere. the islamic world, after all, is not the only one struggling with an experienced western patronization.
so, if one accepts that there are other believes and values and ways of organizing societies other than what is propagated as ‘the’ model for all human kind and all human times by the western world, one also has to recognize that any (softly or harshly) externally enforced push towards the western way of doing things is largely conceived as intrusion, if not even patronization.
and if one gets this far in trying to understand other peoples perceptions of the world and its current order, i wonder how one could fail to at least acknowledge that eventually this struggle with experienced suppression might also take violent forms. this does not mean that i support violence, or believe in violence as an end or means to finding a solution or relieving suppression. on the contrary, i very strongly feel my own western upbringing here in the preference of peaceful solutions. but this intrinsic value of peaceful solution also tells me that i need to listen and understand the struggle from all perspectives in order to even start to think towards any form of resolution. and just because i do not agree with the perceptions, the ends or the means of a group in this world, does not mean that i can not listen and acknowledge that their perspective has as much value and truth to them as my opinion and values have to me.
bringing this thought back to the islamic state, i personally strongly condemn the acts of brutality and atrocity conducted by isis and its members. i am horrified by the amount of cruelty and inhumanity that is part of their practice and propaganda. and i can not support any of their actions or their interpretation of islam.
at the same time, as a scientist and observer of international affairs, i have to be sober and clear minded enough to realize that isis is yet another form of an idea that is sparked, fed, and sustained by the experience of us-american imperialism and hegemony as well as western ideological patronization.

the reasons i see for why such a brutal form of this idea developed lies in a combination of factors in the area of iraq and syria.
the iraq invasion by the united states in 2003 was a mess. i am not the first person to say this, no surprise there. the western lens of identifying the struggle in iraq as a secular conflict turned into a self-fulfilling prophecy. and the radicality of the de-baath-ification programme cemented these new cleavages as much as the maliki-government did upon u.s.-exit. and if a part of the population is expelled from government, put into prison randomly and without justice and trials, and peaceful protests get no attention or are even shot at – eventually the people will radicalize. this has nothing to do with islam. this has nothing to do with ‘arabic culture’. enter syria: given the bad treatment and low levels of opportunity in iraq, anyone with any military talent or the necessary youth to fight, went to syria to support one group or another, to fight for money, for spoils, for thrill. back comes a group that is more organized, more weaponized, and more willing to take a stance – starting by freeing prisoners. until, in one of such operations, in mosul, the iraqi army collapsed, retreated, and enter isis on the stage of international media attention.

putting this historical understanding of the development of isis (as roughly as it was sketched here -for a well done analysis see pbs frontline ‘the rise of isis’, august 2014) together with the understanding and acceptance of there being some in this world who feel suppressed by western ideas and values -simply because they have other values and ways of organizing societies- one can not help but at least acknowledge the presence of isis. and by presence i mean the realization that the people creating this (or other) movement(s) are rationally calculating that the violent form of action is most supportive to their struggle according to their perception of the world’s status quo; which in turn leads to a legitimacy of this movement and action in the supporting society.
and despite isis’ level of brutality seeming like a ‘new’ issue, the thought supporting this and other movements, organizations and groups in fact dates back to the 1950s – at least following adam curtis’ wonderful documentary analysis, in which he shows the irony of us-american neo-conservativisim and radical islamism -as two ideas that faced each other most violently in the bush administration and its wars with afghanistan and iraq- actually having the same root problem: the realization that individualism can lead to a decay of society as a community (the pinnacle of which is foreseen to be an ultimate decay of humanity). and while the neocons come up with one solution, sayyid qutb and others come up with an islamic solution -an idea, a conservative (meaning: facing-backwards-towards-the-past-as-having-been-a-better-time) ideology- which has supported the taliban, boko haram, al-qaeda and many others until today. and even if isis might be gone one day, or might change in its form, this idea, just as any other, can not be killed, no matter the amount or rpgs, f16s, or even size of icbm storage.

second, i believe that isis is here to stay. the only way i see there to be any physical end towards the current form of the movement is in a combination of resolution of the syrian conflict, military containment and engagement of them in iraq, and monetary drying-out of the movement.

now, a solution to the syrian conflict is unlikely at best. international balance of power is still more important than the suffering of the population. (if it was not for the for-european-standards-massive amount of refugees, let’s be honest, we might still not pay attention to the human suffering in syria. yes we would, you say? so what did the european states do 2011? 2012? 2013? 2014? did people not suffer then? if that argument is not enough, i have another single-word-argument for you: libya. libya is as much a mess as syria, the human suffering is to no extent lower, and yet hardly any country takes in libyans – but we care about the human suffering… i see…) let’s just leave it at that -this is an entirely different can of worms.

if there were a solution and stabilization in syria, hypothetically, i could see isis retreat to iraq, where they still have massive holds on territory and the not-to-be-underestimated strategic position of holding the city of mosul. from there, military containment would be realistically doable. yet, anything that goes into the direction of ‘destroying’ them, has to think further than military options. again, bullets do not kill ideas.
the most realistic option, i see is in the economic dyring-out of the movement -which is in itself unrealistic given the many supporters of isis and their access to oil and gas resources (yes, also the black market pays in money; meaning that even if an official economic ban could hurt isis, the black market is still providing a life line). more than resources however, the support from private sponsors as well as diverse governments (note the regional polarization of saudi arabia vs. iran) supporting the idea of a(ny) force engaging and disturbing the kurds or the shias in the region, is a source of revenue that can not be underestimated and that would be hard to effectively dry-out. so instead, when speaking of drying-out, one needs to think in terms of relativity rather than totality.

the level of relativity i see as realistic is one where the local population is forced to rethink their allegiance to the islamic state due to severe suffering from high food prices, impossible living standards etc. (the other question is how long any self-proclaimed-humanitarian-causes-supporting government could uphold such a strategy legitimately…) so far, at least this is my personal impression, these levels of distress are not high enough to the local population in order to rethink their allegiance. and even if it were, what’s the alternative? the iraqi government -which played a big part in creating isis in the first place? or the kurdish autonomous region?
and with that many variables of ‘unrealistic’, ‘potentially’, and ‘maybe’, i feel safe to conclude that isis is here to stay at least for a little while longer.

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