Berenice Stories

Short Stories by John Oakes

Posts Tagged ‘Syria

“Are Jihadists Informed by the Quran or Grand Theft Auto?”

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‘Syrian children have been subjected to “unspeakable” suffering in the nearly three years of civil war, with the Government and allied militia responsible for countless killings, maiming and torture, and the opposition for recruiting youngsters for combat and using terror tactics in civilian areas, according to the first United Nations report on the issue.’ UN News Centre, 4th February 2014.’

In 1961 I was a briefly suspected by the Libyan police of stealing a consignment of golden ‘bijouterie’ which had arrived by air from Italy and stored awaiting collection in one of my warehouse at Tripoli’s international airport. I was arrested and interrogated by a polite and well trained police lieutenant and, it transpires, followed by competent detectives for some time.

Some members of my Libyan staff who also came under suspicion were treated with less consideration. On them the police used an interrogation technique known as the bastinado. I had not heard of this painful process until I asked one of them why walking caused him such pain. He told me that during his interview in the airport police post he was forced to lie on a bedstead whilst someone thrashed the soles of his feet with a stick.

It took two years for an insurance agent to work out that a near bankrupt Tripoli jeweller had arranged an insurance scam in which a box of worthless costume jewellery was shipped to him by air from an accomplice in Naples. It was insured for a considerable sum as ‘golden bijouterie’ and marked as a valuable consignment on the air waybill and cargo manifest. He arranged for other accomplices in Tripoli to steal it from my freight warehouse so that he might claim its fictitious value in gold from his insurers. His scam, his insurance claim and his business failed.

My failure to protest about the brutal interrogation of my staff is amongst my bad memories but I may have been conditioned by my own education to accept it as normal. In the late 1940s I attended a boarding school in the English county of Cornwall where beatings of younger boys by their elders were common and vicious. Initiation ceremonies in such establishments were both physically and psychologically violent and were perpetrated by boys who are now pillars of society. Violence, habitually committed, leads to a point where it loses its significance. Put simply, savagery begets savagery.

When moral leadership, law and order and civic society is absent people tend to seek mutual security by bonding in groups which may be religious, racial, political, tribal, gang or clan. When this happens individual identity merges with the ‘group self’ and loathing for other groups is increased. Groups with strong internal identities, especially religious and political groups, can become capable of inhuman savagery. Eventually people will do savage things if their leaders tell them it is acceptable once they have renounced their individuality and merged with the group self. Examples of this are found in the Red Terror, the Pol Pot extermination of 25% of the Cambodian population and the horrors perpetrated in the name of religion today. When religion is infused into the ‘group self’ it seems to heighten hatred for those who hold incompatible values. The fate of Christians in the Middle East is a notable example. Salafist-Jihadists have begun to see themselves as the sole arbiters of Islam. They persuade their foot-soldiers that ‘their hands are prepared to do the blessed act’ of beheading their enemies.

Revenge, which is a strong value in Arab culture, may play a part in perpetuating the savagery. The Bedouin tribal concept of ‘Amara dam – ‘those who have agreed on the blood’ – means a group of close male tribal relatives who are bound to revenge a killing of one of their number or to pay blood money should one of their number kill a member of another tribe. This is a manifestation of group behaviour sanctioned by tradition and which grew up in the lawless and nomadic tribal life of true Arabs to reduce the homicide rate.

I suggest that this was what made the killing reported in the Libya Herald dated 30th August 2014; ‘The Shura Council of Islamic Youth in Derna has killed an Egyptian man it accused of murder in what is reportedly the second public execution carried out by the group in the town……..The execution was the second such public killing in Derna. On 27 July, Islamic Youth put to death two men, one Egyptian and another Libyan, for an alleged murder. This most recent killing has received wide-spread attention after a video of the proceedings was uploaded to the internet. The veracity of the video has been confirmed and shows one man…… killed by a single gunshot to the head. He is surrounded by around 40 members of the Islamic Youth most of whom carry Kalashnikov rifles and wear face masks and military fatigues of one kind or another. One member holds the black flag of Al-Qaeda at the centre of proceedings. There are a large number of spectators present in the stands at the football ground but they cannot be seen in the video. The execution is met with the sounds of chanting and applause.’ Sources in Derna say that the man who pulled the trigger was the murder victim’s brother.

In a paper entitled ‘Kitchener’s Lost Boys’ published in The Evacuee and War Child Journal, volume 1, number 7 and dated 2012, I attempted to show that juvenile adventure and war stories played a major role in recruiting adolescent volunteers to fight for Kitchener’s New Armies in the early years of World War I. I argued that the effect was magnified because of the neuro-physiological changes which take place in the frontal lobes of the human brain between the ages of 12 and 19. This is a period, which might be called the early formative years, when synaptic connections are forged in the frontal lobes in response to experiences. The frontal lobes influence conformity in adults and the connections formed therein during adolescence are said to exert a profound influence over subsequent moral behaviour.

Educators will point out that adolescence is a period when the tendency to form groups is at its strongest. In this case it is often a defence against perceived injustice or for self protection. The group self becomes very strong and is bolstered by a hierarchy, conformity in dress and language and dislike of out-groups. This tendency is exploited by military trainers to focus loyalty onto ‘the cause’ and to reduce individuality in favour of group loyalty.

As James Walvin wrote in a study of English childhood between 1800 and 1914; “It is reasonable to assume that the adults who displayed such fierce nationalism in the early years of the century had learned their jingoistic lines and acquired their sense of national superiority in their early formative years, when thumbing through their books, comics, magazines and yarns.” We might remind ourselves that Walvin refers to a period when the first Information Technology revolution took place fuelled by improvements in papermaking, printing, book binding and by the coming of railways offering rapid distribution of what became the mass print media.

Those of us who are against censorship in any form may have to consider our convictions with greater care in the case of our own IT revolution and in particular the ‘Social Media’. Perhaps we might take the view that the social media is a ‘virtual’ country where law and order, moral leadership and civic society are largely absent. People tend to use it to form virtual groups some of which develop strong group identities. Vulnerable adolescents are particularly prone to this effect and may isolate themselves with their laptops and games consoles from real society and begin to abdicate their identity to a ‘group self’. In this way Jihadist propagandists adjust the inner personal narrative of their target audience so that their recruiters find ready volunteers.

In particular we might consider the effect of violent videos depicting public executions and savagery on adolescent development. I argue that these videos are the ‘flight simulators’ for brutalising the minds of young recruits to the Islamist militias.

A future James Walvin might well write; “It is reasonable to assume that the adults who displayed such fierce Jihadist zeal in the early years of the 21st century had learnt their murderous ways and acquired their sense of religious superiority in their early formative years, when watching videos and playing violent games on their laptops and games consoles.”

Update 27th September 2014

This sad piece is about a ‘Bedroom Radical’ who, despite a promising life in Scotland was radicalised in just the way I have outlined above;

http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2014/09/03/parents-of-bedroom-radical-aqsa-mahmood-plead-for-her-to-come-home-from-syria_n_5761220.html

….and this story of radicalisation by social media;
http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/sep/26/brighton-mosque-laments-deaths-teenagers-jihadis-syria

Read this fine essay by a respected journalist for a succinct overview of the emerging ‘Caliphates’;

http://www.aawsat.net/2014/08/article55335958

LIBYA – SOME NOTES ON ISLAMIC KALASHNITOCRACIES – THE LITTLE CHALIPHATE OF DERNA AND THE BIGGER CHALIPHATE OF DAASH

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Ansar Sharia has established a Salafist Caliphate in the eastern Libyan city of Derna and is at war in neighbouring Benghazi with the forces of retired Libyan Major General Khalifa Hafter.
Ansar Sharia is an armed Salafist Jihadists group which refuses to become involved in elections because it perceives politics to be anti Islamic. In their view the will of god supersedes the will of the people. In practice this faction would impose its interpretation of Sharia law at the point of a gun. For them, to borrow a phrase, the AK47 rifle outranks the ballot box. They state that “The goal of Ansar al-Sharia brigade is to implement the laws of Allah on the land, and reject the human implemented laws and earthly made constitutions. There will be nothing ruling in this country other than the laws of Allah.” They propose the establishment of a theocratic government in Libya and the ‘restoration’ of a global Islamic Caliphate. Perhaps, in view of their habit of imposing their rule with the aid of that ubiquitous persuader the Kalashnikov automatic rifle, it might be suggested they are attempting to establish of an Islamic Kalashnitocracy.
The sometime Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Tony Blair, has been pontificating on the emergence of the Caliphate of Daash, better known to the west as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant. He has been asserting that the toppling of Saddam Hussein by the US and UK at the behest of himself and G.W. Bush was not the cause of the recent brutal and comprehensive seizure of Iraq’s northern cities by Sunni Jihadist. He argues that sectarian policies of the al-Maliki government and the West’s failure to intervene in Syria are to blame. He also argues that ““The extremists are small in number, but their narrative – which sees Islam as the victim of a scornful West externally, and an insufficiently religious leadership internally – has a far bigger hold.”In this he may be right.
What is most disturbing is the general ignorance of Islam in the west. That ignorance may extend to influential legislators in both the US and the UK and certainly infects the public perception of Muslims in the UK. It must be time surely for Islamic leaders to have the courage to explain that Salafist Jihadists, such as Ansar Sharia, are a minority, albeit lethal. They might profitably explain that there are differing interpretations of Jihad and it is likely that Salafist Jihadists have a narrow view of its meaning which is not held by the majority of Muslims.
This week in Parliament the British Prime Minister, David Cameron, asserted that the ‘Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant’ poses a real and present danger to the UK. At the same time Prime Minister Cameron hinted at a rapprochement with the Shia state of Iran and the possibility of cooperating with it to restore the ‘status quo anti-bellum with caveats’ in Iraq. He and his advisers must surely be wary of precipitating a wider sectarian war. For Cameron, the near total reliance of Britain on Qatari natural gas must be a serious factor in the wider debate and he will note that the Gulf States have not been bosom friends of Iran. The Saudis have already warned against western intervention.
Whilst much of the world’s media focuses on the Iraq crisis I would point out that the Islamic Kalashnitocrats have a wider agenda as witness the devastating attacks by Boko Haram in Nigeria and the Cameroon and the lethal attacks by Al Shaabab in Kenya. The Senegalese President Macky Sall has warned that Africa is facing a mounting terrorism crisis, particularly, the threat of the militant group Boko Haram, and that the continent is in the “heart of the storm.”
The future of Libya, placed as it is at the historic nexus of the trans-Saharan Islamic missionary routes, is of some considerable importance to Sub Saharan Africa.
John Oakes
21st June 2014

For books by John Oakes see… (USA): http://www.amazon.com/John-Oakes/e/B001K86D3O/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_1 ….. (UK): http://www.amazon.co.uk/John-Oakes/e/B001K86D3O/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_pop_1

GADDAFI’S LETHAL LEGACY – AN OVERVIEW (UPDATED 25TH JULY 2014)

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A FIRST POST IN AN OCCASIONAL SERIES ABOUT THE FATE OF GADDAFI’S ENOURMOUS STOCKPILE OF ARMS

At the Paris Summit for Security in Nigeria at the Elysée Palace in Paris on Saturday, May 17, 2014. Ashraq Al-Awsat reported:-

“Hours after yet another attack in a Boko Haram stronghold—this time in Cameroon, near the border with Nigeria—the leaders agreed to improve policing of frontiers, share intelligence, and trace the weapons and cash that are the group’s lifeblood.

“This group is armed, with heavy weapons of an unimaginable sophistication and the ability to use them,” said French President François Hollande.

He said the weapons came from chaotic Libya, and the training took place in Mali before the ouster of its Al-Qaeda linked Islamist leaders. As for the money, Hollande said its origins were murky.”

Gaddafi’s appetite for arms was extraordinary and his arms depots have been systematically looted since his downfall. Libyan has become a major source of illegal arms exported eastwards into Egypt and Syria, westwards to arm the al Qaeda franchise fighting in the Chaambi Mountains in Tunisia and southwards into the Sahel countries and Nigeria

We are well into the third year of the post Gaddafi era in Libya. The process of reconstruction and reformation has not, so far, been markedly successful. The level of international support has declined and the loose alliance which is attempting to run the country is under severe strain.

At a London investment conference on 17th August 2013 the Libyan Prime Minister Dr Ali Zeidan stated; “I say frankly that if the international community does not help us collect arms and ammunition, then the return of security is going to take a long time. The (Libyan) government can only do so much”. Amongst the major threats to Libya and her neighbours is the lack of control over the vast amount of weaponry and military hardware which the Gaddafi regime left in its wake. Because of the fractured nature of the rebellion and the chaotic logistic systems employed by both the Gaddafi loyalists and the rebel militias substantial quantities of arms and munitions are unaccounted for to this day.

When it became clear that the NATO and Qatari forces aligned against him had achieved air superiority Gaddafi dispersed vast quantities of mines, mortars, artillery, anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles, tanks and ammunition into abandoned buildings and private properties. These caches were drawn on by both Gaddafi loyalists and rebel militias during the fluid and chaotic civil war.

Few people know how much there was or where it is now. Many are still guessing, including MI6 which the London Sunday Times has quoted as its source for the statement that ‘there is a million tons of weaponry in Libya – more than the entire arsenal of the British Army – most of it unsecured’.
Following Gaddafi’s demise much of the weaponry was seized by revolutionary and post revolutionary militias which are now using it to control regions where the rule of law is weak or absent.

The mercenary army which Gaddafi recruited from neighbouring countries to bolster the defence of his regime dispersed homewards after the fall of Tripoli carrying looted weapons and ammunition. In particular, the exodus of his battle hardened Tuareg warriors with their considerable armoury caused instability in Mali and unrest in the other Sahel.

The remote and climatically unfavourable southern regions of Libya have been declared a military zone and are thus opaque to Libya watchers. This means that the areas around Ghadamis, Ghat, Awbari, Al-Shati, Sebha, Murzuq and Kufra as closed zones of military operations. The long border between Libya and her southern neighbours – Darfur, Chad and Niger – have always been porous and are now more so. The looted arms may be cached in large quantities in this area and moved out by convoy when the opportunity arises or smuggled in small quantities by what is known as ant smugglers, individuals or small groups who make frequent to a fro journeys carrying arms, drugs and migrants.

The near lawless south of Libya has attracted the attention of the Al Qaeda ‘Emir’ Mukhtar Belmukhtar who may have established training base there and who is a notorious trafficker in arms, cigarettes and people. Mukhtar Belmukhtar is believed to have mounted the attack in January 2013 on the BP gas facility in Southern Algeria from Libya and has been seen recently in an Al Qaeda video posing with a anti-aircraft rocket launcher (MANPAD) which may have been looted from Libya. Chad, Niger and Algeria have protested to Libya about the growing security threat posed by the lawlessness in the region.

There are a number of bloggers and some US legislators who are claiming that CIA operatives at the time when US Ambassador Chris Stevens was killed in Benghazi were running arms from Gaddafi’s looted stockpiles in Libya to rebel forces in Syria. Amongst them is Phil Greaves to whose blog is found here http://notthemsmdotcom.wordpress.com/.

There is growing and persistent evidence that ships containing arms and ammunition are plying between the Libyan ports of Misurata and Benghazi and ports in Turkey adjacent to Syria. These shipments are either made with the tacit agreement or the acquiescence of the Libyan Government. It seems to those of us who watch events that both Benghazi and Misurata, Libya’s second and third largest cities, are largely bereft of government control. Misurata is in the hands of well organised militias or ‘Thwars’ and Benghazi has been hijacked by militias with powerful salafist/wahabi/jihadist supporters but little popular appeal.

Arms are also moving illegally towards the escalating rebellion in the Sinai where the Egyptian army is waging a war which is likely to attract Al Qaeda franchises and to destabilise the border with Israel. Hezbollah in the Gaza strip has been seen to display arms which have their origin in Libya and which it may be using in its activities in Syria. The Egyptian military is disconcerted about the distribution of Libyan arms amongst discontented groups west of Suez.
JOHN OAKES

For books by John Oakes see… (USA): http://www.amazon.com/John-Oakes/e/B001K86D3O/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_1 ….. (UK): http://www.amazon.co.uk/John-Oakes/e/B001K86D3O/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_pop_1

Update 27th September 2013

At a meeting on 26th September with five of the G8 foreign ministers in New York, Prime Minister Ali Zeidan repeated his call for international help to stop the plundering of stock piles of Qaddafi-era arms and ammunition.

Read more: http://www.libyaherald.com/2013/09/26/five-of-the-g8-renew-help-pledges-to-zeidan-in-new-york/#ixzz2g71LmLe3

Update 2nd March 2014
Essential Reading……….

http://www.usip.org/publications/illicit-trafficking-and-libya-s-transition-profits-and-losses

Update 28th March 2014

News of explosions around Sebha indicate that the arms dumps are ungraded still.

http://www.libyaherald.com/2014/03/27/major-ordinance-explosion-outside-sebha-deliberate-say-security-forces/#axzz2xFHiMIFO

Update 19th May 2014

This piece shows that Nigeria’s Boko Haram obtained their considerable and sophisticated weaponry from Gaddafi’s stockpiles in Libya

http://www.aawsat.net/2014/05/article55332375

Update 25th July 2014

Egypt is very concerned about the unprecedented amount of arms and ammunition being smuggled across her long and difficult border with Libya:

http://www.aawsat.net/2014/07/article55334641

LIBYA – GADDAFI’S AFRICAN LEGACY AND NIGERIA (UPDATED 2ND AUGUST 2013)

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Western intervention, ostensibly to help the citizens of Benghazi who had mounted the ‘17th February 2011’ rebellion against Muammar Gaddafi, soon turned into an exercise in regime change which crucially upset Vladimir Putin and influenced his response to the Syrian crisis.
Libya has since held its first peaceful and successful elections for sixty years. The elections were as nearly democratic as might be expected in country so long without a civic society but the problems facing the new government are manifold and difficult. The presence of powerful armed militias, the imprisonment and alleged torture of black African workers from Mali, Niger and other sub-Saharan countries, the cessationist movements in eastern Libya and the damaging rumours of corruption together threaten the emergence of a strong central democratic government.
One effect of the massive military intervention by the western nations (and Qatar) was the near destruction of the Libyan Army leaving no force able to control or absorb the proliferating militias. Realists now recognise that the destruction of the Iraqi army and civil service after the removal of Saddam Hussein resulted in serious loss of lives and civic disorder. The dangers of similar period of havoc in Libya cannot be dismissed easily.

The effect of Gadaffi’s demise on Mali, Niger, Chad and Burkina Faso draws little attention from the mainstream press. It should not be thus. Hidden amongst these impoverished and divided countries lie problems for oil rich Nigeria, a country struggling to reconcile its more populous Muslim north with its oil rich Christian south. There is growing unease, notably in the USA, about the current state of affairs in Nigeria, a country which some pundits are saying is ripe for Balkanisation.
Gaddafi himself, as President of the African Union, called for the division of Nigeria into two states; a Muslim north and a Christian south. Gaddafi was ever simplistic and naive in his meddlesome interventions in the politics of other countries.
The dangers for Nigeria lie in the destabilisation of Mali, already partially accomplished by the al Qaeda franchise Ansar Dine and the potential destabilisation of Niger threatened by a restive Tuareg population strengthened by returning Gaddafi mercenaries. Both these countries have porous borders with Nigeria’s impoverished and restive north in which a further al Qaeda franchise, Boko Haram, has established a foothold. It is exploiting the endemic unrest, harsh military rule and police corruption.
‘Boko Haram’ is the local name for the ‘People Committed to the Propagation of the Prophet’s Teachings and Jihad’ (Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati Wal-Jihad). It is led by Abubakar Muhammad Shekau and said to number 3,000 fighters. It is based in north east Nigeria conveniently close to the Niger and Mali borders and where people feel ignored by the predominantly Christian government led by Goodluck Jonathan.
As Professor Jean Herskovits wrote in the New York Times on 12th January 2012 ‘……..Meanwhile, Boko Haram has evolved into a franchise that includes criminal groups claiming its identity. Revealingly, Nigeria’s State Security Services issued a statement on Nov. 30 [2011], identifying members of four “criminal syndicates” that send threatening text messages in the name of Boko Haram. Southern Nigerians — not northern Muslims — ran three of these four syndicates, including the one that led the American Embassy and other foreign missions to issue warnings that emptied Abuja’s high-end hotels. And last week, the security services arrested a Christian southerner wearing northern Muslim garb as he set fire to a church in the Niger Delta. In Nigeria, religious terrorism is not always what it seems…………’
This volatile situation has been further intensified by the arrival of arms in Nigeria, looted from Gaddafi’s extensive armouries in the aftermath of his demise. Nigeria’s Minister of State for defence, Mrs Olasula Obada, speaking in Abuja, said recently ‘Today in Nigeria, we are at peace with our neighbours and do not face any external threats…..However, we are aware that since the end of the Libyan war, some weapons made their way down south and [into] Nigeria. Nevertheless, today in Nigeria, we do face serious internal threats, but we do hope that the threats will be reduced to the barest minimum.”
The United Sates is becoming interested. Ambassador Johnnie Carson, the US Assistant Secretary on African Issues has stated; “Over the past year, Boko Haram has created widespread insecurity across northern Nigeria, inflamed tensions between various communities, disrupted development activities, and frightened off investors. The near daily spate of bombings and attacks that have claimed the lives of thousands of Nigerians is unacceptable, and the United States strongly condemns this violence”
We should note that Ansar Dine in Mali has been ‘absorbed by AQIM (al-Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb). This is possibly one of the richest al Qaeda franchises having profited greatly from kidnapping, smuggling and other illegal activities. The core members of Boko Haram were trained by AQIM.
A pessimistic view, and one which is becoming increasingly common amongst observes, is that an absorption of Ansar Dine in Mali and Boko Haram in north eastern Nigeria by AQIM might create a new focus for al Qaeda operations and their attendant lawlessness in the bad lands south of Algeria and Libya with the dangerous destabilisation of Nigeria as one of its consequences.
Strangely the ‘Gaddafist’ blog ‘Libya360’ appears to suggest that Boko Haram is a child of the CIA and the US Africa Command (AFRICOM); an interpretation which illustrates the strange twists and turns matters are now taking in sub-Saharan Africa.

Update 1st November 2012

See Amnesty International’s report;http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/asset/AFR44/043/2012/en/04ab8b67-8969-4c86-bdea-0f82059dff28/afr440432012en.pdf

Update 11th February 2013

Reports of Boko Haram terrorists training in Mali

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/africaandindianocean/mali/9860822/Timbuktu-al-Qaedas-terrorist-training-academy-in-the-Mali-desert.html

Update 9th March 2013

A disturbing killing of a British captive.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/africaandindianocean/nigeria/9919656/Nigerian-militants-kill-seven-hostages-including-Briton.html

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/africaandindianocean/nigeria/9920655/British-hostage-killed-because-kidnappers-thought-UK-was-launching-rescue-mission.html

Update 2nd August 2013

This in al Jazeera today shows that Boko Haram has developed a new strategy in northern Nigeria. It is killing school teachers.

http://www.aljazeera.com/news/africa/2013/08/201381194058468813.html

Update 12th August 2013

A valuable compilation of articles about Boko Haram in the British Guardian newspaper:

http://www.theguardian.com/world/boko-haram

Update 25th August 2013

Further violence is reported in this today. The possible death of Abubakar Shekau between July 25 and Aug. 4 from gunshot wounds inflicted in a gun battle with security forces is raised here also.

http://www.aawsat.net/2013/08/article55314677