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Ed Webb

Exporting Jihad - The New Yorker - 0 views

  • A friend of Mohamed’s, an unemployed telecommunications engineer named Nabil Selliti, left Douar Hicher to fight in Syria. Oussama Romdhani, who edits the Arab Weekly in Tunis, told me that in the Arab world the most likely radicals are people in technical or scientific fields who lack the kind of humanities education that fosters critical thought. Before Selliti left, Mohamed asked him why he was going off to fight. Selliti replied, “I can’t build anything in this country. But the Islamic State gives us the chance to create, to build bombs, to use technology.” In July, 2013, Selliti blew himself up in a suicide bombing in Iraq.
  • Tourism, one of Tunisia’s major industries, dropped by nearly fifty per cent after June 26th last year, when, on a beach near the resort town of Sousse, a twenty-three-year-old student and break-dancing enthusiast pulled an automatic weapon out of his umbrella and began shooting foreigners; he spared Tunisian workers, who tried to stop him. The terrorist, who had trained at an Islamic State camp in Libya, killed thirty-eight people, thirty of them British tourists, before being shot dead by police.
  • he condemned the Sousse massacre and a terrorist attack in March, 2015, at Tunisia’s national museum, the Bardo, where three gunmen killed two dozen people. The victims were innocents, he said. Kamal still entertained a fantasy of joining a reformed police force. His knowledge of Islam was crude, and his allegiance to isis seemed confused and provisional—an expression of rage, not of ideology. But in Douar Hicher anger was often enough to send young people off to fight
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  • “The youth are lost,” Kamal told me. “There’s no justice.” Douar Hicher, he said, “is the key to Tunisia.” He continued, “If you want to stop terrorism, then bring good schools, bring transportation—because the roads are terrible—and bring jobs for young people, so that Douar Hicher becomes like the parts of Tunisia where you Westerners come to have fun.”
  • revolution opened up a space that Salafis rushed to fill. There were a lot more of them than anyone had realized—eventually, tens of thousands. In February, 2011, Tunisia’s interim government declared an amnesty and freed thousands of prisoners, including many jihadis. Among them was Abu Iyadh al-Tunisi, the co-founder of the Tunisian Combat Group. Within two months, he had started Ansar al-Sharia.
  • “The radical narrative tells you that whatever you’ve learned about Islam is wrong, you have to discard it—we have the new stuff. The old, traditional, moderate Islam doesn’t offer you the adventure of the isis narrative. It doesn’t offer you the temptation to enjoy, maybe, your inner savagery. isis offers a false heaven for sick minds.”
  • Democracy didn’t turn Tunisian youths into jihadis, but it gave them the freedom to act on their unhappiness. By raising and then frustrating expectations, the revolution created conditions for radicalization to thrive. New liberties clashed with the old habits of a police state—young Tunisians were suddenly permitted to join civic and political groups, but the cops harassed them for expressing dissent. Educated Tunisians are twice as likely to be unemployed as uneducated ones, because the economy creates so few professional jobs. A third of recent college graduates can’t find work. Frustration led young people to take to the streets in 2011; a similar desperate impulse is now driving other young people toward jihad.
  • the factors that drive young men and women to adopt Salafi jihadism are diverse and hard to parse: militants reach an overwhelmingly reductive idea by complex and twisted paths. A son of Riyadh grows up hearing Salafi preaching in a state-sanctioned mosque and goes to Syria with the financial aid of a Saudi businessman. A young Sunni in Falluja joins his neighbors in fighting American occupation and “Persian”—Shiite—domination. A Muslim teen-ager in a Paris banlieue finds an antidote to her sense of exclusion and spiritual emptiness in a jihadi online community. Part of the success of isis consists in its ability to attract a wide array of people and make them all look, sound, and think alike.
  • Souli wasn’t sure what should be done with returned jihadis, but, like nearly everyone I met, he spoke of the need for a program of rehabilitation for those who come back. No such program exists
  • In its eagerness to modernize, the Ben Ali regime encouraged widespread access to satellite television and the Internet. The sermons of Islamist firebrands from the Gulf, such as the Egyptian-born cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi, entered the homes of Tunisians who felt smothered by official secularism. Oussama Romdhani, who was a senior official under Ben Ali—he was referred to as the “propaganda minister”—told me, “Radicals were able to use these tools of communication to recruit and disseminate the narrative, and they did it quite efficiently.”
  • Around 2000, the Tunisian Combat Group, an Al Qaeda affiliate, emerged in Afghanistan, dedicating itself to the overthrow of the Tunisian government. One of its founders, Tarek Maaroufi, provided false passports to two Tunisians who, allegedly on instructions from Osama bin Laden, travelled to northern Afghanistan posing as television journalists and assassinated Ahmed Shah Massoud, the Afghan mujahideen commander, on September 9, 2001. The Combat Group’s other leader, known as Abu Iyadh al-Tunisi, was an Al Qaeda commander; when the Americans overthrew the Taliban, in late 2001, he escaped from Tora Bora with bin Laden, only to be arrested in Turkey, in 2003, and extradited to Tunisia. (Sentenced to forty-three years in prison, he seized the chance to radicalize his fellow-prisoners.)
  • Why can’t the police do their job and stop the terrorists but let the smugglers go with a bribe?
  • “Maybe it’s the Tunisian nature—we like risk,” a former jihadi told me. A million Tunisians live and work in Europe. “A lot of drug dealers are Tunisian; many smugglers of goods between Turkey and Greece are Tunisian; a lot of human traffickers in Belgrade are Tunisian. Online hackers—be careful of the Tunisians, there’s a whole network of them.”
  • Walid was vague about his reasons for returning to Tunisia. He mentioned a traumatic incident in which he had seen scores of comrades mowed down by regime soldiers outside Aleppo. He also pointed to the creation of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, in April, 2013, which soon engaged in bitter infighting with the Nusra Front. Walid spoke of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the caliph of the Islamic State, with the personal hatred that Trotskyists once expressed for Stalin. He accused isis of destroying the Syrian resistance and helping the Assad regime. He believed that isis was created by Western powers to undermine Al Qaeda and other true jihadi groups.
  • these aged men from the two Tunisias—Essebsi a haughty remnant of the Francophile élite, Ghannouchi the son of a devout farmer from the provinces—began a series of largely secret conversations, and set Tunisia on a new path. In January, 2014, Ennahdha voluntarily handed over the government to a regime of technocrats. Ghannouchi had put his party’s long-term interests ahead of immediate power. A peaceful compromise like this had never happened in the region. Both old men had to talk their followers back from the brink of confrontation, and some Ennahdha activists regarded Ghannouchi’s strategy as a betrayal.
  • To many Tunisians, Nidaa Tounes feels like the return of the old regime: some of the same politicians, the same business cronies, the same police practices. The Interior Ministry is a hideous seven-story concrete structure that squats in the middle of downtown Tunis, its roof bristling with antennas and satellite dishes, coils of barbed wire barring access from the street. The ministry employs eighty thousand people. There is much talk of reforming Tunisia’s security sector, with the help of Western money and training. (The U.S., seeing a glimmer of hope in a dark region, recently doubled its aid to Tunisia.) But the old habits of a police state persist—during my time in Tunis, I was watched at my hotel, and my interpreter was interrogated on the street.
  • The inhabitants of Kasserine, however neglected by the state, were passionate advocates for their own rights. They had played a central role in the overthrow of the dictatorship, staging some of the earliest protests after Bouazizi’s self-immolation. In every coffee shop, I was told, half the conversations were about politics. Although Kasserine is a recruiting area for jihadis, Tunisia’s wealthy areas are so remote that the town felt less alienated than Douar Hicher and Ben Gardane.
  • “You feel no interest from the post-revolutionary governments in us here. People feel that the coastal areas, with twenty per cent of the people, are still getting eighty per cent of the wealth. That brings a lot of psychological pressure, to feel that you’re left alone, that there’s no horizon, no hope.”
  • The old methods of surveillance are returning. In the center of Kasserine, I met an imam named Mahfoud Ben Deraa behind the counter of the hardware store he owns. He had just come back from afternoon prayers, but he was dressed like a man who sold paint. “I might get kicked out of the mosque, because last Friday’s sermon was something the government might not like,” the imam told me. He had preached that, since the government had closed mosques after terror attacks, “why, after an alcoholic killed two people, didn’t they close all the bars?” To some, this sounded like a call for Sharia, and after informers reported him to the police the governor’s office sent him a warning: “In the course of monitoring the religious activities and the religious institutions of the region, I hereby inform you that several violations have been reported.” The imam was ordered to open the mosque only during hours of prayer and to change the locks on the main doors to prevent unsupervised use. The warning seemed like overreach on the part of the state—the twitching of an old impulse from the Ben Ali years.
  • “I never thought I would repeat the same demands as five years ago. The old regime has robbed our dreams.”
  • According to the Tunisian Interior Ministry, a hundred thousand Tunisians—one per cent of the population—were arrested in the first half of 2015. Jihadi groups intend their atrocities to provoke an overreaction, and very few governments can resist falling into the trap.
  • New democracies in Latin America and Eastern Europe and Asia have had to struggle with fragile institutions, corruption, and social inequity. Tunisia has all this, plus terrorism and a failed state next door.
  • Ahmed told himself, “If I pray and ask for divine intervention, maybe things will get better.” Praying did not lead him to the moderate democratic Islam of Ennahdha. His thoughts turned more and more extreme, and he became a Salafi. He quit smoking marijuana and grew his beard long and adopted the ankle-length robe called a qamis. He un-friended all his female friends on Facebook, stopped listening to music, and thought about jihad. On Internet forums, he met jihadis who had been in Iraq and gave him suggestions for reading. Ahmed downloaded a book with instructions for making bombs. In the period of lax security under Ennahdha, he fell in with a radical mosque in Tunis. He was corresponding with so many friends who’d gone to Syria that Facebook deactivated his account. Some of them became leaders in the Islamic State, and they wrote of making thirty-five thousand dollars a year and having a gorgeous European wife or two. Ahmed couldn’t get a girlfriend or buy a pack of cigarettes.
  • “Dude, don’t go!” Walid said when they met on the street. “It’s just a trap for young people to die.” To Walid, Ahmed was exactly the type of young person isis exploited—naïve, lost, looking for the shortest path to Heaven. Al Qaeda had comparatively higher standards: some of its recruits had to fill out lengthy application forms in which they were asked to name their favorite Islamic scholars. Walid could answer such questions, but they would stump Ahmed and most other Tunisian jihadis.
  • “We need to reform our country and learn how to make it civilized,” he said. “In Tunisia, when you finish your pack of cigarettes, you’ll throw it on the ground. What we need is an intellectual revolution, a revolution of minds, and that will take not one, not two, but three generations.”
Ed Webb

Egypt's Morsi Need Only Apply Law In Conflicts With Jihadists - Al-Monitor: the Pulse o... - 0 views

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    I used to chat to the author of this piece a lot in the 1990s: very well informed on all the Egyptian Islamist currents.
Ed Webb

Our revolution has been stolen, say Libya's jihadists | Reuters - 0 views

  • One effect of hostile reactions at home and abroad has been that some Islamist groups, part of a patchwork of militias which fill a vacuum left by Gaddafi, have made a tactical retreat from view, in some declaring their brigades to have disbanded.
  • Islamist fighters in Derna make clear they will seek redress for grievances, many with little to do with religion, some dating to colonial times, others rooted in a sense that victory in the fight against Gaddafi they began years ago has been "stolen" by his former henchmen and stooges of the West
  • "The state is making up this conspiracy. The state deliberately ignores the fact that there is an Islamic renaissance," said Dirbi, whose brother was among more that 1,200 Islamist inmates machine-gunned by guards in a Tripoli prison in 1996."I want to see Gaddafi's men on trial, not being rewarded and honored,"
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  • The town's radical reputation has lately been burnished by the presence of several former Guantanamo prisoners, including Sufyan bin Qumo, who heads the Ansar al-Shariah Islamist group blamed by the American for the U.S. embassy attack.
  • Some jihadists are already preparing for what they see is an inevitable showdown with those who seek to turn Libya into an "apostate" nation. They can see no compromise with an infidel West bent on changing Libya's Islamic identity.
  • For the Islamist groups, which are part of a Salafi movement whose members try to model their lives on the early followers of the Prophet Mohammad, the legitimacy of the newborn Libyan state is highly questionable."It's the revolution that made the state and some of the opportunists who did not participate in the revolution or shed any blood for the revolution are the ones who are forcing their orders on us," Azouz said.
  • "The solution is to draft an Islamic constitution ... and set up Sharia courts so that people can trust that this state is a true Islamic state,"
  • "In Libya it's only been a year and the idea of democracy and political parties is difficult for people to absorb. The people have not responded to this imported, packaged democracy. We don't accept it. We have a religion that needs to be taken into account," said Azouz, an English teacher who belongs to one of Derna's most prominent families.
  • The deep streak of radicalism in eastern Libya that fed on the neglect of towns such as Derna during the Gaddafi era is still strong these days. Many jihadists say the country's new rulers are favoring Tripoli just as the former dictator did.
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    Complicated dynamics
Ed Webb

Insight: Mimicking al Qaeda, militant threat grows in Sinai | Reuters - 0 views

  • Diplomats and analysts say there is no evidence as yet of formal links between al Qaeda and the Sinai militants - made up of Bedouin aggrieved at their treatment by Cairo, Egyptians who escaped prisons during last year's uprising against Hosni Mubarak, and Palestinians from neighboring Gaza.
  • They blend a toxic mix of smuggling, gun-running and human trafficking with the "takfiri" ideology of al Qaeda - which declares all Muslims who do not follow their purist, Salafist interpretation of Islam as "kafirs" - infidels. Crime and religion are soldered by ferocious opposition to Israel.
  • "Our ammo is over and we don't know where we are."
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  • "What brought this ideology is the marginalization," says one resident. "If someone can't earn a living, he thinks the alternative is to be strict in worship."
  • Mubarak built up tourist resorts in South Sinai that locals say mostly benefited Egyptians from the Nile Valley, and tried to impose an Egyptian administrative structure on North Sinai which undermined the authority of local Bedouin tribal elders.
  • "They ran away in all directions and nobody knows where they went,"
  • In every village, three or four youths have disappeared to join the militants, sometimes inspired by al Qaeda propaganda over the Internet, and sometimes by preachers in local mosques.
  • North Sinai is in some ways similar to the tribal areas of Pakistan, where al Qaeda has dug deep roots. Both have been neglected by central government; both lie in the middle of wider political conflicts.And the authority of tribal leaders in both has been diminished as money - from crime, Gulf remittances and state patronage - filtered into other hands - making it easier for militants to promote unity in Islam over tribal loyalty.
  • the rise of these new Bedouin fundamentalists," said Yaari. "They are destroying the old tribal structures. They allow marriages between rival tribes and force women to wear the veil. This never happened before
  • Already, according to one Arab diplomat in Islamabad, Egyptian members of al Qaeda have begun to move back from Pakistan to take advantage of political changes at home.
  • "Al Qaeda is more interested in using Palestine as a tag for its global fight rather than have an actual base in Gaza or the West Bank," said one diplomat. "They believe a Palestinian group would have a more nationalist outlook."
Ed Webb

A Dangerous Mind? - NYTimes.com - 0 views

  • As a political scientist specializing in Islamic law and war, I frequently read, store, share and translate texts and videos by jihadi groups. As a political philosopher, I debate the ethics of killing. As a citizen, I express views, thoughts and emotions about killing to other citizens. As a human being, I sometimes feel joy (I am ashamed to admit) at the suffering of some humans and anger at the suffering of others. At Mr. Mehanna’s trial, I saw how those same actions can constitute federal crimes.
  • having the intent to support a foreign terrorist organization
  • MR. MEHANNA’S crimes were speech crimes, even thought crimes. The kinds of speech that the government successfully criminalized were not about coordinating acts of terror or giving directions on how to carry out violent acts. The speech for which Mr. Mehanna was convicted involved the religious and political advocacy of certain causes beyond American shores
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  • the government’s case rested primarily on Mr. Mehanna’s intent in saying the things he said — his political and religious thoughts, feelings and viewpoints
  • The centerpiece of the government’s case against Mr. Mehanna’s speech activities was a translation of a text titled “39 Ways to Serve and Participate in Jihad.” The government described this text, written by a late pro-jihad Saudi religious scholar, as a “training manual for terrorism.” It is nothing of the sort. It is a fairly routine exercise of Islamic jurisprudence explaining to pious Muslims how they can discharge what many of them believe to be a duty to contribute to wars of self-defense. This text does explain that in Islamic law a Muslim may “go for jihad” or “collect funds for the mujahidin.” But it also explains that, in place of fighting or sending money, a Muslim can assuage his conscience and take care of widows and children, praise fighters, pray for fighters, become physically fit, learn first aid, learn the Islamic rules of war, have feelings of enmity for one’s enemies, spread news about captives and abandon luxury. The act of translating this text is far from incitement to violent action. The text in fact shows Muslims numerous ways to help fellow Muslims suffering in their own lands, without engaging in violence. Instead of this common-sense reading, however, the government did something extraordinary. It used this text of Islamic law to help define for us what should count as a violation of our own material support law. Everything Mr. Mehanna did, from hiking to praying, was given a number in the indictment based on this text as an act of material support for jihad. For example, his online discussion with a friend about working out and exercising should, in the government’s words, be “placed next to the directives in 39 Ways (Step 25: ‘Become Physically Fit’).” Federal prosecutors, in effect, used a Saudi religious scholar to tell us what our “material support” statute means.
  • The Mehanna prosecution is a frightening and unnecessary attempt to expand the kinds of religious and political speech that the government can criminalize
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