16 May 2015

Was ISIS Created by Saddam's Intelligence Apparatus?

There is a recent Der Spiegel article that would make a nice antidote to Oh Dearism accompanying most news items on ISIS.

Perhaps because it did not conform to Oh Dearism, it was mentioned in a very few mainstream publications. These are the Guardian, Le Monde, Al Jazeera and the UK Times links.

According to documents found by the magazine, Samir Abd Muhammad al-Khlifawi, a colonel in Jihaz Al-Mukhabarat al Amma or Iraqi Intelligence Service under Saddam was the brains behind ISIS.

His nom de guerre was Haji Bakr. My Turkish readers will smile. That is him when he was working for Saddam.

For once, the term 'brains behind" is not a cliche: It looks like Haji Bakr conceptualized the structure of the organization, devised its main strategy, recruited its leader and managed its operations.
Officially he served as the head of ISIL’s military council and was leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi's top deputy in Syria. 
Papers found in his house after his death seem to prove though that he and fellow former intelligence officers were the actual leaders behind al-Baghdadi, and that Khlifawi was the one who has devised the meticulous plans for ISIL's conquests and administration of territory in Syria and Iraq. 
If you are a regular reader of this blog, you are already familiar with the history behind this.

After the American Consul Paul Bremer disbanded Saddam's army, top Baath officials and army officer formed a resistance movement based on Sunni tribes in Iraqi heartlands.

Remember the bloody fight for Fallujah? That was them.

When the Americans bribed the Sunni tribes to stop fighting, they managed to detain some the the leaders of the insurgency and they kept them at an infamous facility known as Camp Bucca.

Haji Bakr met the future leader of ISIS, the current Caliph and Commander of the Faithful, Al-Baghdadi at that facility and recruited him as the face of the organization.
In 2010, Bakr and a small group of former Iraqi intelligence officers made Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the emir and later "caliph," the official leader of the Islamic State. They reasoned that Baghdadi, an educated cleric, would give the group a religious face.
Beyond recruiting Baghdadi, as the head of ISIS' military council, he ensured that the future Caliph's position was unchallenged within the organization.
 Al-Khlifawi played an influential role in Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi becoming the next ISI leader, and reportedly organized an internal purge, including scores of assassinations, in order to solidify al-Baghdadi's control of the group.
Haji Bakr was shot in Syria by some rebel forces who did not know who he was. They found his papers and sold them to Der Spiegel.

They included this handwritten blueprint for the new Sunni state (the country I dubbed Pipelineistan).

Here is the actual structure

The Der Spiegel article narrates how ISIS members moved to each town many months ahead of the final battle to map out the political and economic elite, to find out secrets about them to be used against them and to eliminate future opponents in targeted assassinations.

It outlines how the structure devised by Haji Bakr was an exact duplicate of Saddam's Republic of Fear.
It seemed as if George Orwell had been the model for this spawn of paranoid surveillance. But it was much simpler than that. Bakr was merely modifying what he had learned in the past: Saddam Hussein's omnipresent security apparatus, in which no one, not even generals in the intelligence service, could be certain they weren't being spied on. 
Read the whole thing. It is worth it.

It explains how ISIS created partnerships with Bashar Al-Assad when it was convenient and how it betrayed fellow Islamists and Al Assad when it was expedient.

As I have long suspected, it is a thoroughly cynical organization.

Christopher Reuter notes that when Haji Bakr was accidentally shot by another rebel group in Syria who did not know who he was, there was not a single Koran in his house.

Interestingly, this is how he looked at the time.

And perhaps more interestingly, The Times of London used this photo to tell his story.

But to me, this is the key point of the piece:
Attempts to explain IS and its rapid rise to power vary depending on who is doing the explaining. Terrorism experts view IS as an al-Qaida offshoot and attribute the absence of spectacular attacks to date to what they view as a lack of organizational capacity. Criminologists see IS as a mafia-like holding company out to maximize profit. Scholars in the humanities point to the apocalyptic statements by the IS media department, its glorification of death and the belief that Islamic State is involved in a holy mission.

But apocalyptic visions alone are not enough to capture cities and take over countries. Terrorists don't establish countries. And a criminal cartel is unlikely to generate enthusiasm among supporters around the world, who are willing to give up their lives to travel to the "Caliphate" and potentially their deaths.
Therefore and more importantly,
 IS has little in common with predecessors like al-Qaida aside from its jihadist label. There is essentially nothing religious in its actions, its strategic planning, its unscrupulous changing of alliances and its precisely implemented propaganda narratives. Faith, even in its most extreme form, is just one of many means to an end. Islamic State's only constant maxim is the expansion of power at any price.
This is why I said that the Atlantic article about the real Caliph was inane rubbish.

And this is why I posted this piece about intelligence services.

But sadly nobody read it.

I assume it created too much cognitive dissonance with "Oh Dearism" on ISIS.

11 May 2015

Islamic Dress Code, Alcohol and Blasphemy in Islam

I have just asked the burning question about why Saudi Arabia spent hundreds of billions of dollars to reduce Islam to three precepts.

A young and devout Muslim friend of mine told me that what I wrote was nonsense because these three precepts are the sine qua non of being Muslim: they have always been part of Muslim identity as they were inscribed in the Koran.

I promised her that I would make this the subject of my next post.

This is what makes this social engineering project so fascinating to me, as neither point made by my pious Muslim friend were true. These precepts were never an integral part of Muslim identity and they are not inscribed in the Koran.

Let's take each precept separately.

Islamic Dress Code

If you Google Muslim women in 1960s and 70s here is a sample of what you will see.

This was Kabul in the 1960s

 A graduation ceremony in Egypt in 1959

The same ceremony in 1978

And in 2004

How about Pakistan? Well, this picture is from 1969

swimming competition in Karachi in 1970

I could go on but you get the picture.

I am not suggesting that all Muslim women were in swimming pools at the time but what is called Hijab today, which is this headgear,
Image result for muslims

was non-existent.

It is claimed that Hijab was invented in the 70s by Musa Sadr, a Shia cleric in Lebanon and it became a symbol of political Islam because of its universal adoption by the Islamic Republic of Iran.

I cannot tell you if the Musa Sadr story is true but I can tell you that in the 1960s and early 70s, the great majority of Muslim women who wore a headscarf used something like these.

So the part about Islamic dress code being there for time immemorial is rubbish.

As for men in shalwar kameezes with bushy beards, in the 60s, in places like Egypt, North Africa, Turkey, only those men who consider themselves part of some religious order wore beards. The rest, including imams, rarely sported facial hair (mustaches are not considered facial hair in the Middle East, men believe they were born with them).

When imams wore a beard, it was always neatly trimmed.

Next question: does the Koran tell women to cover themselves up in public?

Actually, I already answered that:
Hijab, burqa, niqab are not mentioned in the Holy Book. Typically, verses 30-31 of An-Nisa (24) surah is quoted by people who want women to be covered. 
But these verses actually talk about beauty that can be revealed in public and beauty that should remain private and the latter does not include face, hair, hands, feet, etc: 
Such a striking of feet or walk could only reveal a limited number of parts of the body, e.g. the private parts, buttocks, thighs, breasts, hips, thus any part not revealed by such an action should not be considered part of hidden beauty and therefore part of apparent beauty. Of course, this means such things as face, hair, hands, feet etc would not clearly fall into the category of beauty that is meant to be hidden.
This understanding would also fit with The Quran's instruction on the body parts that are to be cleansed during daily ablution (hands, arms, face, head and feet), see 5:6, 4:43
Forcing women to cover their heads and faces is as old as humanity and it is common to most religions. It is in the Bible. It is part of Orthodox Judaism.

Which means that it is more likely the result of your basic patriarchy than an unusual preoccupation of a Deity.


What about alcohol?

Contrary to what you might believe, alcohol has always been part of Muslim societies.
Historians believe alcohol originated in the Middle East. Indeed, the word may come from the Arabic al-kohl, eyeliner made by mixing distilled ethanol and antimony salts. Similar substances without the powder soon became popular drinks
Khamariyat, or ode to wine, continued under Islam and there are very famous poets like Abu Nuwas or Omar Khayyam who excelled in that art form. Among early Caliphs you have Haroun al Rashid (he of the One thousand and One Nights) the Commander of the Faithful, notorious for his drinking and his parties.

Many Ottoman Sultans, who doubled as Caliphs, drank wine and ingested opium.

A 19th century orientalist Edward William Lane reported wide spread consumption of alcohol in Egypt.

In more recent times, in the 20th century, alcohol was a daily reality in most Muslim countries. There is a booming alcoholic beverages sector in Egypt and Turkey,  Alcohol consumption is very high in Tunisia.  Alcohol is available in most retail outlets and restaurants in Morocco even though it is supposed to be illegal to sell it to the Muslims.

Even in Pakistan, alcohol was freely sold and consumed until the Prohibition in 1977.
I remember thinking what all the fuss was about because as a child I’d seen nightclubs, bars and roadside cafes in Karachi (that served alcohol) operating like any entertainment business would.
Even today, alcohol is fully banned only in Saudi Arabia and Libya (by Qaddafi). It is banned in Pakistan and Iran with exceptions (allowed for non-Muslims). In Egypt, Turkey, Lebanon and North Africa it is widely and legally available.
Nobody knows exactly when Islamic scholars decided that booze was sinful. In the 1970s political Islam led some countries such as Iran and Pakistan to ban alcohol, although many do not and exceptions are made for non-Muslims.
Doesn't the Holy Book ban alcohol explicitly?


The Koran discourages the consumption of alcohol but does not explicitly ban it like it does, say eating pork or charging interest.
The characteristics of haram or prohibitions found in the Koran usually begin with the expression "forbidden for you."

"Forbidden unto you are carrion and blood and swine-flesh.... (5. Al Ma' idah: 3).
In the five verses dealing with alcohol you have none of that unequivocal stance.

In fact, the Koran makes room for the consumption of alcohol and this is what it says:
"O you who believe! Draw not near unto prayer when you are drunken, till you know that which you utter,. ...." (4. An-Nisa: 43).
In the most often cited Surah on alcohol, this is what the Koran says:
"They question you about strong drink and games of chance. Say: In both is great abuse and usefulness for mankind; but the abusive side of them is greater than their usefulness." (2. Al-Baqarah :219).
The "abuse" has often been translated as "sin" to make it into a stronger rule. But this is a forced and illogical reading.
It is worth mentioning here that the word "abuse" has been replaced as "sin" by the early promoters of Islam. It is really a mind-boggling issue whether the word "sin" is an appropriate opposite of "usefulness"?
Feel free to look it up.


I covered this in some detail in my post on Charlie Hebdo. Let me remind you of the relevant points:
There are two passages in the Koran that specifically mention the reaction you are supposed to have if you, as a Muslim, see someone making fun of Islam and the verses of the Koran. 
The first one is in the Al-An'am sura (68)
And when you see those who engage in [offensive] discourse concerning Our verses, then turn away from them until they enter into another conversion. And if Satan should cause you to forget, then do not remain after the reminder with the wrongdoing people. 
This was revealed when the Prophet was in Mecca and the context was the mushrikun making fun of Islam. If you have any notion of Islam you must know what a seriously offensive situation this was. Yet Allah simply tells him and all Muslims to move away and to not come back until these people stopped making fun of Islam. 
That is it. 
And this is not all. Later when the Prophet is in Medina, Christians and Jews make fun of him and his teachings, Allah intervenes again. This is what he says in An Nisa sura (140)
And it has already come down to you in the Book that when you hear the verses of Allah [recited], they are denied [by them] and ridiculed; so do not sit with them until they enter into another conversation. Indeed, you would then be like them. Indeed Allah will gather the hypocrites and disbelievers in Hell all together.
Let me ask my good and devoutly Muslim friends: if you, as a Muslim, are offended by someone's comment about Islam, shouldn't you abide by the word of Allah?

More importantly, shouldn't your government?

Yet most Muslim countries have laws against blasphemy in their books.

Moreover, after all this ink spilled on the Mohammed cartoons and the Charlie Hebdo murders, how come no media outlet ever mentioned that the notion of Islamic blasphemy has no theological foundation?

Why am I the only person stating it?

Why Did Saudi Arabia Spend $200 Billion to Reduce Islam to 3 Precepts?

Do me a favor.

Go to Google, type Muslims and click on Images.

Go ahead, I will wait.

If you don't feel like doing it, let me tell you what you would have seen if you did:

Niqab, burqa or hijab wearing women, submissive and cut-off from the rest of society; bearded men in shalwar kameezes sporting a hostile rictus; and enraged crowds ready to kill and destroy to punish perceived blasphemy.

A sample is presented above.

If you were an alien who came to Earth secretly and spent three months consuming various media programs, you would think that Muslim identity is based on three elements.

(a) Muslim men and women should follow a strict Islamic dress code;
(b) they should refrain from consuming alcohol and shun any place where alcohol is sold or drunk;
(c) blasphemy cannot be tolerated and any insult to Islam or to the Prophet should be punished swiftly and violently.

How did a religion that was once credited for salvaging the literary and philosophical treasures of Antiquity and developing scientific and technological principles that paved the way for the Renaissance turn into this simplistic and oppressive framework?

I have an answer that will not make me popular with anyone.

But such is the life of a contrarian.

As I recently mentioned, starting from the late 1970s (especially after 1979) Saudi Arabia spent hundreds of billions of dollars to fund madrassas in Muslim countries. They literally bribed corrupt military regimes to favor these schools.

Moreover, they dispatched radical imams not only to those madrassas but to any country with a Muslim minority, especially in Western Europe.

And these institutions and imams did everything humanly possibly to inculcate these three simple precepts.

By 2008, it was estimated that the Saudis had spent 100 billion dollars. Recently, the figure was put to 200 billion.

That is billion with a B and we are talking about the House of Saud, including and especially the current King actively raising money for this purpose.

Let's pause here for a second.

Since we have no way of knowing why exactly they did that, let's take a look at the the likely consequences of these three precepts to surmise a causality. You know, Occam's Razor.

If you convinced a sizable minority in, say France, to start wearing different clothes from one day to the next and to be adamant and defensive about their new look, what would happen?

Chances are that the rest of the population would begin to view this minority differently. They would see them as strange and not fitting in. And would react as such: "Last month you wore a jacket and a pair of jeans to work and now you are wearing these baggy things, you shaved your head and you are sporting a huge beard? Why?"

That, in turn, would likely trigger a defensive reaction among that minority: "Do you mean we cannot wear these clothes and grow a beard? What about freedoms and liberties? And who do you think you are?"

The answer to that question is the first step towards polarization.

Us and Them.

If you had conveyed to this minority beforehand that their neighbors and co-workers would react negatively to their new and righteous appearance, their disapproving reaction would prove to your minority that your perspective is credible. The larger society's reaction would also harden the minority's new and seemingly threatened identity. And this state of affairs would make them very suspicious of the society in which they live.

In other words, with a simple wardrobe change, you would have successfully isolated and ostracized your minority.

If, along with their new look, you had persuaded this minority to avoid any place where alcohol is sold or consumed, you would now have ensured that they were cut off from the larger society in which they live.

Think about it. You are a Muslim and you cannot stop by the pub or cafe to say something to your neighbor because there is alcohol being sold and consumed.

You cannot go to the local supermarket because they sell booze.

You cannot socialize with your neighbors because they occasionally drink wine in the evenings.

You can only go to Muslim stores, socialize with Muslims and stay with your own community.

And be only with those Muslims who follow the same rules as you.

Us and Them.

Your minority is now fully cognizant that they live in a hostile environment. This is the case whether they live in Western Europe or in Tunisia, Turkey, Egypt and Bangladesh.

The Us and Them framework works everywhere as they are surrounded by the enemy.

Why do these hostile people react to Muslims negatively and view them as object of derision? That is because they despise Islam, the Koran and the Prophet, as these are the only things that "true Muslims" cherish and value.

Now, as good Muslims, should you allow them to despise your religion?

What is perfect about this massive effort of social engineering is that you have created a large group of people that you can control based on visible signs and behavior pattern. There is no faith exams. Their beliefs are immaterial. The rules are simple.

Finally, this built-in suspicion and hostility enables you to get a violent reaction out of your minority at the drop of a hat.

You yell, "she burned the Koran" and a large crowd instantly reacts and kills Farkhunda.

You announce that a publication made fun of the Prophet and you have unlimited supply of murderers willing to die to punish the perpetrators.

And there is a major bonus in Western countries: once you radicalized a small group, you effectively control the much larger and secular Muslims because they too would feel the hostility from the larger society.

Maybe I can make it clearer with this analogy: As I wrote many times, Jews in Diaspora disagree with conservative Israeli governments on most issues but when they are questioned by their friends and neighbors about actions taken by Israel, they are reluctant to join in what feels like Israel-bashing.

And their neighbors usually read this as them supporting Israel unconditionally.

The same is true with secular Muslims. They don't like what these radicalized Muslims are doing. But they do not like joining in what feels like Muslim-bashing.

Not being a moralist, I find the social engineering effort to eradicate all other forms of Islam to reduce the religion to three simple precepts amazing.

And I think the framework is brilliant in its simplicity.

But I wonder about three points.

Why did Saudi Arabia spend these sums (and continue to do so despite its recent economic woes)?

Why did no country react to this?

You look at the West and you see that very few radical imams were deported and almost none of the Islamic Studies Institues closed. The radicalization process took decades and no one did anything.

You look at the Muslim countries and you notice that Tunisian, Moroccan, Libyan, Egyptian, Iraqi Bangladeshi, Pakistani, Turkish, Yemeni or Indonesian governments didn't lift a finger when their countries were flooded with Islamic Studies Institutes, Koranic courses, madrassas and billions of dollars?

In fact, in all cases, the governments seem complicit in the effort.

Finally, why did no one say a word about Saudi Arabia's huge social engineering project and their role in Muslim extremism until very recently?

Surely everyone could see where this thing was going.

Instead of discussing openly the Saudi role in radicalizing Muslims, most governments did everything humanly possible to shield the House of Saud:

In fact, most Americans don't know that 15 of the 9/11 hijackers were Saudi citizens and the current Saudi king raised hundreds of millions of dollars to fund terrorism plots against the US.

Please tell me why because I have no clue.

And please don't tell me it was for oil.