A few Thoughts on the ISIS-"Caliphate"

June 30th, 2014 - On Sunday, ISIS declared the existence of a "Caliphate" and changed its name to "The Islamic State", dropping "in Iraq and Greater Syria" in an effort to signal a universal claim of leadership and authority over all Muslims wherever they may live. This declaration was spread through an audio by ISIS's official speaker and also in a written version, supplied in several languages. There is little reason to believe this is a fake, given the established channels of distribution, the content and the reactions of ISIS sympathizers.

Many of us have been watching ISIS, al-Qaida and other Jihadist organizations for a while, and we will have a lot to report and discuss in the days and weeks to come, so I will keep this brief. These are just some early thoughts I have been having today and wanted to share with you.

1. In its declaration (Peter von Ostaeyen has covered it here), ISIS stresses the lack of legitimacy of existing Muslim states. This falls in line with ISIS ideology (and the ideology of the groups that ISIS stems from). But it should still be taken seriously. ISIS is clearly not done yet.

2.- ISIS clearly believes that a critical mass of Muslims sympathizes with them. I believe they may be making the mistake of over-estimating that support.

3.- ISIS is very likely hoping that the declaration of the "Caliphate" may lead to tribes or villages or other groups of people outside of the Iraq/Syria-thetare declaring their allegiance to Abu Bakr. While ISIS would know pretty well that this is not sustainable, it could still lead to a degree of chaos and strife in countries like Jordan or Lebanon or Saudi Arabia that may suit ISIS quite well. Remember: Since Zarqawi's days we know that the concept of destabilizing countries is part of the DNA of that group.

4.- It is interesting to note that ISIS argues that any delay in the declaration of a "Caliphate" would be wrong. Saying we had to announce it rather than we wanted to announce it is clever and can become part of a narrative that has the power to convince more people.

5.- You can't declare a Caliphate every other week. This is something that Abu Bakr can do once, and only once. This is why I think he must be pretty confident that even if everybody around him unites against him, he is still able to hold onto some areas.

6.- In terms of historic connection, I think it is important to understand that ISIS is not seeing this is a continuation of the Caliphate that was abolished in 1924. I think ISIS would claim that this Caliphate of theirs is the direct successor the the Caliphate of Ali. Jihadists aren't huge fans of the Ummayads, Abbassids and Ottomans.

7.- Declaring a Caliphate is a direct challenge to the leaders of Jordan and Morocco who are widely considered to be actual descendants of the Prophet Mohammed and (in theory) eligible for the position. It's going to be interesting to see how they will react. Anything ranging from ridiculing ISIS to asking for a war is possible.

8.- Of course Al-Qaida's reaction should be interesting, too. I am personally quite sure that Aiman al-Zawahiri would rather shoot himself than swear allegiance to Abu Bakr, but there may be important people within the AQ nexus who will think more pragmatically (and who don't like al-Zawahiri). There are significant rumors about voices within AQIM and AQAP looking at ISIS favorably. It is definitely not unthinkable that parts of al-Qaida switch to al-Baghdadi.


Do we have to talk Scenarios?

June, 10th, 2014 - The take-over of large parts of Mosul by ISIS has huge repercussions, some in the short term, quite a few in the long term. All of them are scary. None of them allow for any side interested in the future of Syria, Iraq or, in fact, the Middle East, to not at least think about possible reactions.

Why? Because Mosul is not any city. It is a big city, it is a commercial centre, it is the gateway to Syria and it is home to a diverse ethnic mix - including many Sunnis, but also Kurds, Christian, Yezids, among other groups. 

As long as ISIS can hold on to Mosul, a major hub is added to the loosely connected chain of islands under ISIS influence, now ranging from the outskirts of Aleppo in Syria to parts of central Iraq. It is telling and concerning that Iraq's security services apparently didn't put up much of a fight but instead seem to have left in a hurry. Given that the state of Iraq didn't manage to regain control over Faluja and Ramadi, I don't see how that is going to happen in the case of Mosul. 

It is going to be vital now what the Kurdish factions decide to do. They are probably the only ones who could make a difference at this point, but I assume they will, for the time being at least, concentrate on protecting the Kurdish areas in the environment of Mosul rather than challenging ISIS full-on. 

Given that, ISIS stands to exploit their seizure of Mosul - which includes, according to reasonable reports, not only weaponry and military vehicles, but also funds. Some of these additional resources will be poured into the Syrian struggle, making life harder for those Syrian rebels fighting the Syrian regime and ISIS at the same time. Those are the immediate repercussions. 

But it is also worthwhile noting that ISIS is coming closer to making good on their promise of statehood (not in any traditional, international law kind of sense, of course). I am ready to call their entity a pseudo-state at this point. Or perhaps even a proto-state. Why is that? Because they have displayed a learning curve as far as governing goes. Wherever ISIS takes control, the following things happen: Implementation of a harsh version Sharia law; supplying citizens with food; changing school curricula; training Imams; offering other services. Recently, e.g., ISIS boasted they had set in place a consumer protection agency. I don't think many Syrians like this style of governance; but they may, in many cases, prefer enduring it to fighting against ISIS. 

Now all of this is concerning enough. But the situation is even more concerning because ISIS isn't and never was about either Iraq or Syria. ISIS (even back then when it was the official Iraqi branch of al-Qaida) was about creating a coherent area of influence, ready to serve as an operational basis. National borders don't mean anything to ISIS. (And it is telling that in the wake of the fall of Mosul, some of their pundits declared the end of the Sykes-Picot-borders). To put in different terms: ISIS isn't fighting against anyone as much as they are trying to gain from the current situation in Iraq and Syria. And they are having successes. The momentum is on their side. 

This is why we may have reached a point where we need to talk about scenarios - because I, for one, believe that this debate will start soon. Who has a mandate, who feels a responsibility, who is capable of taking on ISIS? 

As I see it, no-one within Syria and Iraq has the power by himself to accomplish this. The Iraqi state already failed in Faluja and Ramadi. The Kurdish militias may not be strong enough. Jabhat al-Nusra and their allies in Syria aren't either. 

But allowing ISIS to go on should not be an option. ISIS fighters may not be a large force, but they also shouldn't be underestimated. They will not stop at Mosul. Why should they? So what's next? 

ISIS is currently exercising control over an area almost the size of Belgium. That is enough to have anyone worry. If they consolidate their position, if they are able to move resources and fighters, train fighters and make plans for expansion, they will do just that. The result would be that the problem grows bigger swiftly, with every new territorial gain increasing the risk of terror attacks beyond Iraq and Syria. 

I am not a fan of military inventions, as I have stated here before. I also am convinced that the best moment to intervene in Syria has long, long passed and won't come back. But I also believe that it is silly and ignorant to just close one's eyes in the face of this danger. 

Clearly, there is no power in sight that would at this point in time propagate intervention. However, I daresay that we will wee a debate about deploying US drones to Iraq in Syria soon - as dangerous as that would be, given the densely populated areas we are talking about here. 

I am quite ready to admit that I don't have a solution either. I guess all I am saying is that this problem is not going to go away by itself. So what I would really like to see is an informed debate about options before we find ourselves in a situation where our only option left to us is to discuss measures already taken. 

That means that now is the right time to talk scenarios. Even if we may not enjoy that. 



Truth, Ambiguity and Covering Terrorism

By Yassin Musharbash (c) 

I trust the ambiguous over that which appears certain; I believe it comes closer to the truth. As a journalist this sometimes causes difficulty, because the ambiguous dwells in cumbrous words: allegedly; supposedly; reportedly... I have spent more than one deadline day shielding words like these from editors. These words don't make for beautiful articles. My hope is they make for more truthful articles. It is rare enough we stumble across something truly true.

The last time I felt this happen was in November 2013. I was standing on a tiny balcony in the city centre of Alexandria in Egypt, smoking a cigarette. Two persons sat in the living room that led to the balcony; over the past two days I had spent a total of 14 hours with them. What went through my head on that balcony was that I wanted to write about how Leah Farrall, a former counter terrorism officer of the Australian Federal Police, and Mustafa Hamid, a former Taliban adviser, had gotten to know each other and built enough trust between them to be able to write a book together over the course of two years, here in Alexandria.

I assume that most professions have their own déformation profesionelle; journalists tend to look for the truth in details: When exactly did you hear about it? What went trough your head in that moment? Was is while you were having coffee? Did you learn about it from the radio, or from television? Or did someone call you? What station was it again? And what were you wearing that day, what did you do after you learned about it? What was the weather like?

I, for one, was walking past a café in Southern Greece on that day, noticing the oddness of patrons sitting at their tables, all eyes glued to the TV set, but no one saying a word. I approached the TV set, only to witness the second tower collapsing.

It is of course not interesting at all how I experienced 9/11. But from that day on I, as a journalist, worked mainly on al-Qaida and Islamist Extremism. On 9/11, I was still a student of Arabic Studies, but I had already begun to work as a freelancer for several papers. I had written about Islamism before. On that day, Terrorism as a topic came to me, and I very much accepted it as my topic.

I could not help but think about that moment in Greece as I was standing on the balcony in Alexandria more than 12 years later. Why? Perhaps because it is always special to meet someone who knew Osama Bin Laden. More, I suspect, because in Mustafa Hamid’s case it is indeed interesting how he experienced that day.

On 9/11, he was in the Afghan city of Kandahar, where sweets were handed out when news about the terror attacks in New York and Washington broke. Others may have been celebrating that day, but Mustafa Hamid wasn't. He was angry. Only three weeks prior, he had met with Osama Bin Laden. On that occasion, the Saudi al-Qaida chief had let on plans were in place for a „big strike“ that would kill thousands. Mustafa Hamid asked Osama Bin Laden to stop his plan: „I knew what this would mean for Afghanistan“, he told me. It was a frosty meeting. It turned out to be their last encounter.

After I got back to Berlin from Alexandria I asked Mustafa Hamid to describe to me in yet more detail how that last encounter took place. What was the weather like that day? Where exactly had they met? What had Bin Laden been wearing? Had he smiled when he talked about his „plan“?

Mustafa Hamid kindly sent me two pages in Arabic. But by the time his email arrived, an unexpected process had already been set in motion: I had begun to sense that the real story was not what I thought it was when I was standing on that balcony in Alexandria.

Detail is usually hard currency in journalism. I remember that I once wrote an article about a German convert to Islam who had joined a militant Jihadi group in Pakistan. On the day before his departure from Germany he had taken his cat to the veterinarian. What a great piece of detail! But unfortunately it didn't reveal anything. And it explained nothing.

So I asked myself: What difference does it make to know what clothes Osama Bin Laden had been wearing that day?

Wasn't it more important that Mustafa Hamid was angry at the Saudi? Wasn't it more important that Mustafa Hamid and Leah Farrall managed to write a book together? Wasn't it more important to ask if there was something to learn from this, for all of us? I don't want to be romantic, but: If a former counter terrorism official and a former Taliban adviser can laugh together, as Farrall and Hamid do – why can't all of us?

I asked them both about the common ground in their endeavour and they agreed it was to set the historical record straight. Hamid, the eye witness; Farrall, the academic who had read literally everything on the role of Arab fighters in Afghanistan from 1979 onwards. This common ground is the reason their book is as powerful as it is (The Arabs at War in Afghanistan will be published later this summer).

But at the same time I sensed another element beyond their shared academic interest. It is significant that Mustafa Hamid recalls he chose to be intentionally discourteous towards Leah Farrall when they first met: „I thought she was like those in Abu Ghuraib“. Soldiers, torturing Iraqis, heaped in naked piles: That, apparently, was what came to his mind when he learned that Leah Farrall had been with the Australian Federal Police – even though neither Australians nor Police were involved in the Abu Ghuraib scandal. „But I quickly realised she was different, she was honest and serious, and she gave me honest answers when I asked her something.“

And how about Leah Farrall? “I remember sitting with colleagues years ago, discussing whom we would most like to talk to from the mujahidin world (a surprisingly common topic of conversation). Mr Hamid topped my list and had done so since I chanced upon two stories he had recounted in his books. In one, he told of forgetting to buy his children sweets while on a trip away and returning to face their wrath; the other, recalling encountering the body of a dead Soviet soldier, and the sadness he felt, even for his enemy.”

When Leah Farrall met Mustafa Hamid in person years later, she addressed him as „Mustafa“, and not by his nom de guerre „Abu Walid“. „That reminded me of my humanity“, says he. What was the bridge that made them trust one another? I daresay: A degree of respect for another person's life. But foremost: Honesty about themselves and openness towards the other.

The US TV series “Homeland” is a global success and critics often praise it, saying that it sheds light on the shades of grey in “Great War on Terror” that unfolded after 9/11. A CIA-Agent, a former US-Marine, who was (or was not) turned by al-Qaida during captivity in Iraq: That's the set-up. It is true that “Homeland” plays skillfully with viewers' expectations. But shades of grey? The truth is that in “Homeland” there is black and there is white. The suspense of the show really only comes from the question of who, behind his last mask, turns out to be evil. And who, at the bottom of it all, is good.

But that is not what shades of grey are about. Shades of grey don't mean that you don't know enough. Shades of grey mean that sometimes there are no simple answers.

Mustafa Hamid makes a point of the fact that he always felt in alignment with the Taliban movement but was never a member of the terrorist network Al-Qaida. Leah Farrall says: “I was happy I worked in law enforcement and not secret services because I never had to lie, and I wasn’t part of an apparatus that was involved in activities now widely viewed as repugnant and very much dictated by this black and white distinction of evil and good and with us or against us that dictated how some of the covert agencies operated in their less accountable space.” That is what shades of grey are about.

In January 2011, when millions took to the streets in Egypt to protest the Mubarak regime, I spent two weeks in Cairo. One morning I spoke to a young revolutionary who had not been attending work for days in order to live in the protesters' camp on Tahrir Square. He was very tired and had all but lost his voice. But he was euphoric. One thing he said touched me in particular: „One day it will be cool to be an Arab!“ There was so much pain mirrored in that sentence. Pain because anywhere outside of the Muslim world for all of his adult life that young man had been considered, as a Muslim and an Arab, a security risk.

Sometimes I ask myself if we can actually remember what life was like before 9/11. And how we used to look at one another and at the world. This “we” I am referring to is an almost global “we”: It encompasses almost all people considering themselves part of “the West” as well as almost all people considering themselves part of the “Muslim world”. Plus those who believe they are part of both worlds - a huge number of people.

I believe that prior to 9/11 we all used to accept shades of grey to a higher degree than after. I believe that 9/11 is the day that killed all shades of grey. The day on which many of us, as individuals, as citizens, as members of nations, consciously or unconsciously organised ourselves in patterns like shards of metal under the influence of a magnetic field.

But if one day, if that day, has such a power, I want to understand it. And by that I mean: Not as symbol; not as warning but in its concrete historical genesis. Not as a deed with its own specific operational history and perpetrators, that's what the US 9/11 commission report is for. But as that which unfolded as opposed to those which did not.

In Alexandria, I asked Leah Farrall about the single most interesting thing she learned from her studies and her conversations with Mustafa Hamid. She replied: “The role of chance.” Chance? Chance is not usually a category that plays a role in the discussions of historians or terror experts when they talk about al-Qaida and 9/11.

In hindsight, it is always tempting to interpret history as an inevitable chain of events. In the case of 9/11, one such “inevitable chain” goes like this: In 1996, Osama Bin Laden declared war upon the United Stated; pronouncing every US soldier anywhere in the world a legitimate target. On August 7th, 1998, two huge bombs exploded in front of the US embassies in Nairobi and Daressalam, killing more than 200 people. On October 12th, 2000, 17 US sailors died when al-Qaida operatives attacked the USS Cole off the Yemeni port of Aden in a suicide mission. Given this prehistory, what could 9/11 possibly be other than the next logical step?

That is true. But is also not true. It is only true in as much as all three events have already been the result of a dynamic within the al-Qaida nexus that was all but inevitable. What happened was that Osama Bin Laden gained the upper hand and the means to pursue this particular course of action – even though many in the al-Qaida leadership and close to it were not in favour of attacking the US at all. It is important to understand this: While many inside al-Qaida were against 9/11, some of those who planned the attacks had only reluctantly become members of al-Qaida in the first place. Like Khalid Sheikh Muhammed.

In the summer of 2009, I received an unusual email. “I have a message for you”, it read. Then there was a link to an uploader website. I followed the link and found a letter in which a group of Jihadists from Germany, who had migrated to Waziristan and joined a terrorist group there, invited me to interview them. Naturally, I immediately informed my editors. A short while later my phone rang, a number from Pakistan: It was the spokesman of said group, a Turkish-German militant. He said I should fly to Quetta in Pakistan, and I would be brought to their camps from there. I would be allowed to take pictures, interview who I wanted to interview, etc. My editors and I agreed quickly that I would not take that trip. It was way too risky and we could not trust these people. But we agreed to send them a number of questions. If their answers were more than just propaganda, we would decide how to deal with their proposal later. A few weeks passed. Then I learned the Americans had contacted the German Office of the Chancellery and had supplied them with the complete correspondence I had had with the militants.

The Americans? I suppose, more precisely, the NSA. Honestly, it felt horrible. I remember gesturing my wife into the bathroom and then, like in a bad movie, turning on the tap of the bathtub. I whispered to her that we would have to assume that our communications were being monitored.

"Even if there's just a 1 percent chance of the unimaginable coming due, act as if it is a certainty”: This is how US journalist Ron Suskind in 2006 cites what he calls the “One per cent Doctrine”, also known as the “Cheney Doctrine”, for then Vice President Dick Cheney was the creator of this doctrine, formulated in the White house in November 2001, only weeks after 9/11.

The Iraq War, Guantanamo, Waterboarding, CIA Black Sites and renditions: Through the prism of the Cheney Doctrine all of these events seem less arbitrary, don't they? The same is true for global surveillance: Until this day, nothing explains NSA's greed for data better than this doctrine.

There is no need to compare Dick Cheney to Khalid Sheikh Muhammad to see that not only inside al-Qaida, but also within the US administrations the more extremist positions had the upper hand. Sure, Al-Qaida never distanced itself from 9/11 whereas in the US there was a process of democratic revision of all of these practices. But again: This isn't a comparison. It's just meant to re-iterate the fact that we are – in neither sphere – talking about inevitable chains of events.

Nobody knows what the world would look like if 9/11 had not happened. But what if we forced ourselves to try and look at the world as if that was the case? Bearing in mind that those responsible for 9/11 and the doctrine by which reaction was shaped are a handful of people – not millions.

I don't want to gloss over things: I am half-Jordanian, and I long for the times I experienced there as a kid. My Jordanian family is part of the country’s Christian minority. And until very recently what my aunt told me at my last visit there would have been unthinkable: That the guy in the bakery who used to bake all the cakes for our family events let it be known that he wouldn't put crosses on cakes anymore.

But by the same token I don't want to withhold that I am nervous whenever I have to travel to the US. Sure, so far I have always been allowed in. But the last time it really helped that the officer who screened me knew me from Twitter and thus was able to understand that my visa entries from Pakistan, Yemen and Saudi Arabia didn't mean I was a risk but were proof of my profession.

I believe in a way we are all prisoners – prisoners in a kind of Guantanamo of the Mind. But I don't want to live there. I want to continue to meet with and talk to people like Mustafa Hamid, even if the US decides to designate them as terrorists, and without accepting that judgment as something I have to agree with. Just as I want to keep meeting with and talking to CIA analysts and operatives without immediately categorising them as torturers or murderers. I want to draw my own conclusions. Sometimes I want to pass on drawing my own conclusions. And sometimes I even want to be able to admit that I can't draw my own conclusions.

Because I know and understand that the world is complicated and that almost nothing is either black or white; because I believe that people can change; because I know that our world, really, is a world of shades of grey.

One day we will look back on the “Great War on Terror” and its warpage, and we will realize that it didn't end on the day that Obama was awarded the Nobel peace prize; nor on the day that Osama Bin Laden was killed; nor on the day that the last NATO soldier left Afghanistan. The “Great War on Terror” will have ended, because enough people around the world will have understood and remembered that the ambiguous is closer to the truth and to reality than the seemingly certain. 

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NB: This Essay was first published in German by ZEITmagazin on May 28th, 2014. It is copyright-protected. It has been marginally edited for this Blog. 

It's Terrorism, Stupid!

April 14th, 2014 - "Heil Hitler", the man shouted when he was done. By then, he had shot to death three people: a 14 year old boy, his grandfather, and an unidentified woman. All three were Jews. All three had been killed at a Jewish community center near Kansas City. The killer, Frazier Glen Miller, is the founder and leader of the "Carolina Knights of the Ku Klux Klan" as well as the "White Patriot Party".

There can be no doubt that this deed, which occurred on Sunday, was motivated by antisemitism  and that the perpetrator is a rightwing extremist and a racist. Yet no-one seems to be willing to call this an act of terrorism. Instead, the NYT, The Washington Post and CNN are calling it a "shooting" or a "shooting spree".

Why?

Why does this attack not qualify as an act of terrorism? There are many definitions of terrorism, but most combine two elements: The victims are civilians, and the motif is political and/or ideological. Is that not true in this case? Of course it is.

Tomorrow marks the first anniversary of the Boston bombing, which was perpetrated by two brothers of Chechen background and of Muslim faith. In their case, there never was any doubt that they had perpetrated an act of terrorism. When Mohamed Merah killed seven people in Southern France in March 2012, among them soldiers as well as members of the Jewish community, everybody called it terrorism.

To be sure, the Boston attackers had used explosives against people - what other than terrorism could that possibly be? And Merah claimed he was a member of al-Qaida (which could never be substantiated).

But I still don't see why the Kansas City attack would be something entirely different.

I am not talking about judicial terms that may be applicable here. I am talking about journalistic reflexes. Because there is a hidden pattern behind this not calling the attack an act of terrorism. An Islamist who commits an act of violence and is being called a terrorist is being made and interpreted as a part of something larger - a group, a scene, a movement - by this very designation. By the same token, failing to call the Kansas City attack an act of terrorism will let Frazier Glen Miller and his deed appear unconnected to anything larger or broader.

The Boston bombers were not connected to other militant extremists in any meaningful way. They planned their attack by themselves. Of course there is still a connection between what they did and what other Islamist extremists did elsewhere in the world. But that connection is not factual; it is a connection in the sphere of phenomenology.

Is that any different in the case of the Kansas City attack? I believe not.

I believe that Miller's attack is, for example, as connected to the Nazi-Terrorist series of ten murders committed by the NSU in Germany as the Boston Bombing is connected to, say, the Jihadist attack on the US consulate in Benghazi.

Or to put it differently: If we (and not unrightly so) connect militant Islamists with one another because they shout "Allahu Akbar" while they are killing people, we should also see the connection between people shouting "Heil Hitler" while murdering Jews. We talk about the "Global Jihadist Movement" all the time. There also is a global anti-semitic, far-right movement that resorts to violence against civilians.

I am not trying to allocate blame here. I am just concerned that some of us journalists have not been able to insulate themselves fully from the impression that since 9/11 terrorism is an exclusively Islamist phenomenon. Whereas in fact, as we all know, the majority of terrorist attacks world wide are not committed by Islamists.

PS: In the interest of full disclosure, I was inspired by Thomas Hegghammer's tweet when blogging this. Here is how his tweet went: "@Hegghammer Convicted white supremacist massacres Jews, shouts Heil Hitler, but is still not a "terrorist" to CNN and KS police: cnn.it/RhMmZf" 

PPS: Also see http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/dangerous-minds/201404/why-isn-t-anyone-calling-terrorism for a similar take. 

PPS: This is a slightly edited version of a German blog post that I published earlier today at DIE ZEIT's website, the paper that I work for. 












No Recipes and Old Recipies

April 4, 2014 - Can I be honest with you? As a (half-) Jordanian who has friends in Syria and knows that country pretty well, I find it harder and harder every day to log on to my Twitter timeline in the morning. I have been covering terrorism for more than a decade now and during the worst years of the Iraqi insurgency I would spend my mornings in the newsroom watching decapitation videos, so it's not that I am not used to graphic images.

But in the case of Syria, what makes me take in my timeline with eyes half-shut only is images of dead or wounded children that will stay with me no matter what. Such is the extent of brutality and arbitrary as well as targeted violence in this conflict that I can't help but feel sad, lost, angry and helpless at the same time almost every single day.

I also feel defeated, for there is nothing in sight, no power, no credible force, no convincing idea or concept for a solution, that would allow me to believe that this is going to be over any time soon. Instead I am afraid that things may yet get worse for the people I care about most - civilians who just want to go about heir lives. This can't only be about taking sides between the parties in the armed conflict (like Russia and Iran supporting the regime, and Saudi and Qatar supporting the armed opposition). It should be about the people of Syria.

The Lebanese civil war lasted from 1975 until 1990. I have reached a point at which I wouldn't rule out any more that the Syrian civil war might last as long. What a terrible outlook.

I feel personally closer to Syria, but I also love Egypt. During the revolution, in early 2011, I spent almost three weeks there. It was a great experience. But not much of that spirit seems to be left.

Instead, the new regime of the day has decided to crack down on the Muslim brotherhood and to frame that as an Egyptian version of the War on Terror. I am aware of the Egyptian debate and why this idea may resonate with a large number of Egyptians.

But this is not what this post is about. I am trying to make a different point here: If we have no recipe in the case of Syria, we have ample reason to interpret what the Egyptian government is doing as a bad recipe.

A recipe that has failed before, decades ago. Failed in such a spectacular way that it helped Al-Qaida grow. Failed in such a way that it turned people into militants who weren't militants before.

I understand that there is even less space for interference in the Egyptian case. But this post is not really about how we - the international community - should react. Instead, it is about how in both theaters we should be aware that what lies ahead us may be even worse than what we have seen so far.

I hate to spell it out. I don't want it to be true. I hope I will be proven wrong. But at this point my conclusion is that in Syria and Egypt many more people will die at the hand of militant Islamists (and in the Syrian case, of course, by the hand of the regime, too.)

What this means for the Global Jihadist Movement, for Al-Qaida and other Islamist networks is something that I am very interested in - but not in this post. In this post I am just expressing my sadness. Two great countries, two great peoples -- and many more lives that will be lost in vain.

I am dreading tomorrow morning's logging onto Twitter. Do you know what I am talking about?












Snowden Remarks for DIE ZEIT

February, 13th, 2014 - As most of you know, I work for DIE ZEIT, a German weekly newspaper that is issued every Thursday. In this week's edition we have a very interesting 2-page spread with testimonials of some very interesting international Whistleblowers, some famous, some less famous, but all of them important in their own way.

We have approached and received contributions or comments from seven whistleblowers who have passed on information about wrongdoings in organizations as diverse as the NSA, the Mi5, Enron, the Danish military or a particularly interesting case from Germany, in which a veterinarian blew the whistle about indications of mad cow disease that nobody wanted to persue and that she then felt the moral obligation to pass on the media.

Among those who have responded to our outreach was Edward Snowden. In case you are interested, following is his original English contribution. 

(NB: Please do bear in mind that this is a contribution exclusive to DIE ZEIT with (c), so if you want to quote from it, please make that clear - and/or contact us, especially if you work for a professional media organization.)


"Whistleblowers are elected by circumstance: they are a product of wrongdoing, rather than the source of it. After all, Ellsberg didn't engineer the invasion of Vietnam, and I didn't authorize the wiretapping of so many innocent Germans and then conceal it from the public. We were witnesses to injustice. The furious response of embarrassed governments to whistleblowers often conceals this simple truth: it is not the revelation of wrongdoing that is responsible for the backlash, but the wrongdoing itself.

"I believe that exceptionally serious matters -- such as the massive, indiscriminate national surveillance programs sweeping the world today -- must be debated and decided in the light of day. People cannot consent to programs and policies about which they were never consulted.  Real democracy requires that citizens be partner to government, rather than merely subject to it."

Another German Jihadist Killed by Drone

January 14th - In February 2012, a German Jihadist by the name of Patrick N. was killed by a drone in Waziristan according to a two-part audio message issued by the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU). The news was first reported on Sunday; I have now had a chance to take a look at the message and to speak to a few people about it.

First of all, there is little reason to dispute the basic facts presented by German IMU member and unofficial spokesman "Abu Adam". Patrick N. travelled to Pakistan with his wife and two children in October of 2011. There is older footage in IMU tapes in which he is shown smiling and suggesting that other German Muslims follow his example. He says he was about to depart for training camp next, so this footage seems to have been recorded fairly early after his arrival. Three months later he was dead. According to "Abu Adam", he was killed in a drone strike that, he maintains, killed ten other people from different nations alongside Patrick N.

According to the IMU message N. grew up in a children's home after the death of his mother and his grandparents. He is said to have converted in Islam at the age of 14 in 2001.

N. would be the 5th German drone victim so far.

By now it also transpired that N. was arrested briefly by the German police (and let go without any charges) very shortly before he left for Pakistan.

What remains unclear at this time is who else was killed in said drone strike and what, if any, "high value targets" were among those targeted. Patrick N. is unlikely to have been such a HVT, firstly given his arrival only three months prior and secondly given the IMU's assurances that he never took part in any actual fighting.

More as or rather if more news trickle in.