The white ‘saviours’ of the Arabs
Up to 700 Britons could now be fighting in Syria and police are powerless to stop would-be jihadists heading there, the UK’s counter-terrorism chief has admitted.–FromÂ the Telegraph/ thanks to Esmeralda
The heartfelt lunatic appeal isÂ here.Â (Hugh Fitzgerald)
Birmingham City Council’s leader, Sir Albert Bore, today attacked the TelegraphÂ for its “wholly reprehensible and completely unacceptable” publication of a leaked Department for Education report into three of the so-called “Trojan Horse” schools taken over by Muslim hardliners. This is what in the trade is called “deflection”: try to make the story about the leaking of the report, rather than the contents of it.It’s not hard to understand why Sir Albert wants to change the subject. The contents of the leaked report – which substantiate many of the claims made against the schools – make his and his council’s past behaviour look rather silly.
He murdered three Americans who worked in a hospital for Afghan children.
He’s described as a “rogue” member of the Afghan security services. There have been quite a few such “rogues.” How would you determine which Muslim member of the army or police is going to, or is likely to, or might at some point for any reason or non-reason whatsoever, become a “rogue” member of that society? Is there a way to predict? Is it safe to predict that it will happen much too often, for any Muslim to be trusted with, for example, the responsibility of piloting a plane, running a tank, holding a submachine gun, holding a rifle?–Here.
At it again with her palpable lack of understanding and sympathy, Catherine Ashton is rebuked by Israel’s Foreign MinisterÂ here.
Sois-belle et tais-toi, Catherine.
Does that bother you at all, Lady Ashton, to be a part of providing an incentive for all those murders? In legal terms, Lady Ashton, doesn’t that make you and the EU accessories to those murders?Â Have you even once forcefully condemned the Palestinian Authority’s practice of rewarding and making heroes out of those who murder innocent men, women and children? Has the EU ever once threatened to end the cash flow unless it stopped?
And to add insult to injury, in your remarks, the murder of Baruch Mizrachi barely rates a sentence, almost an afterthought.Â And you equivocate by calling for ‘an immediate end to all acts of violence’, as though Israelis were likewise targeting Arab families for murder on the highways.Â And then you call on Israel and Israel alone to mend its ways and reverse these so-called punitive actions that you deplore so much.
Are you that dead to shame, Lady Ashton? Are you that blind to justice?
Do you sleep well at night?
|“All men dream, but not equally,” writesÂ TE LawrenceÂ in his memoirs of theÂ 1916-18Â Arab revolt. “Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds, wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act upon their dreams with open eyes, to make them possible.”The British army officer who has gone down in history as “Lawrence of Arabia”Â – further transformed into a Western hero by the 1962 epic film starring late actor Peter O’Toole – has inspired many scholars of the Middle East.
Yet nearly a century after he supposedly led 5,000 Arab Bedouin through the desert on camel-back to fight for their freedom and dignity against the Ottoman Turks in a liberated Damascus, hundreds of young European men have joined the ongoing “Arab awakening” battles across the Middle East.
Are these volunteers idealist dreamers or “dangerous men”?
Last April, aÂ surveyÂ by King’s College LondonÂ found as many asÂ 600 people from 14 European countriesÂ have taken part in the conflict in Syria, since it began three years ago. The figure includes Muslim-born Europeans with ancestral links to the Arab world, but also non-Muslim youths with no family or cultural ties to the region.
The actual breakdown remains unclear, but according toÂ Mathieu Guidere, a professor of Islamic Studies at the University of Toulouse in France, “About a third – at least 30 percent – are converts who haveÂ no links with the Arab or Muslim world.”
The motivations of these Western volunteers, who leave behind all that is familiar and enter armed conflicts in faraway lands, remains an enigma.
For Jeremy Wilson, an authorised biographer of TE Lawrence, a possible parallel lies in the personal backgrounds of such combat volunteers.
“Lawrence did not fit easily into British society because he knew he was an illegitimate child, at that time a devastating social and career handicap… So he was an involuntary outsider,”Â WilsonÂ says.
“Would [these Western volunteers] fight in the Middle East if they were content at home? I don’t think the temptation would be very strong. For each person who goes there must be personal reasons – perhaps religion, perhaps some deeply held political conviction like the foreign volunteers who fought in the Spanish Civil War. That said, there is probably a sprinkling of pure adventurers – the kind of people who might otherwise become mercenaries.”
French revolutionary spirit
In Lawrence’s case, there was also the anti-French angle at the height of World War I. Ironically, according to French intelligenceÂ sources,Â there are some 220 men from France who have gone to Syria – 40 converts to Islam – not to protect French colonialism this time, but to fight the regime in Damascus.
Guidere, who has interviewed fighters from foreign conflicts across French-speaking Europe, says these men have played into traditional French revolutionary aspirations.
“In France, there is a certain revolutionary mindset,” he explains. “Since the French Revolution, the French have waged a lot of revolutions, and each generation aims to wage its own. The problem is there is no ideology or possibility to do this now, even though in the media and the education system the myth of the revolution is still going strong – the idea of radically changing the world through armed revolt. During the 1970s, because it wasn’t possible to revolt in France, aspiring French ‘revolutionaries’ went to South America, inspired by legendary figures such as Che Guevara or Fidel Castro.”
Today, such motivated elements might be trekking to insurrectionary hotspots in the Muslim world. And if Guevara and Castro inspired the generation before them, Guidere says today’s Western volunteers – such as Belgian-bornÂ Brian de MulderÂ (now Abu Qasem Brazili) – find an answer to their aspirations in political Islam and the fight for it.
“You have to add to this the fact that young French people and Europeans in general are opposed to the system as a whole right now,” he says. “They want to radically change the [global] system because they are not happy with it… And there is no other ideology today that promotes revolution and offers the possibility of armed rebellion.”
Guidere says some young men may also be motivated by humanitarian reasons, or a desire to “save” the Syrian people, as he puts it, but those concerns do not find an avenue within current crises.
“The Free Syrian Army rejects them because they don’t want trouble with European governments. The secular groups don’t accept them, either. The only groups that welcome them and train them to wage battle are the Salafi ‘jihadi’ groups. But they require them to convert – because they say they are fighting and dying for Allah.”
For Brian McQuinn, a researcher from the University of Oxford who conducted field research in Misrata, Libya, during the 2011 revolution, it’s important to distinguish events in Syria from those in Libya.
“There were very few men who fought in Libya that did not have a family connection to the country… Syria might be a different matter,” he says. “Of the individuals who were living in Europe or the UK before the revolution began, the vast majority had family in Libya.”
McQuinn points out that motivations were varied and personal, but the family component was a common one.
“Most of them had family members who had suffered at the hands of the Gaddafi government and believed that the revolution was just,” he says. “They wanted to contribute to this moment in Libyan history and to their vision of Libya as a free and democratic country.”
McQuinn is wary of labelling any armed battle waged by men who happen to be Muslims as a “jihad” – doing so, he says, verges on “Orientalism”.Â “Technically, aÂ jihadÂ can only be called by the imams and Muslim scholars of the country involved, and as such it is limited only to that country.”
Freedom fighters or fame-seekers?
Many young Western men fighting in Libya, Syria or elsewhere are equipped with video cameras and are savvy social media users, so their exploits are broadcast widely. Some have achieved instant stardom as a result of their escapades abroad. Do they risk facing accusations of being fame-seekers?
Wilson points out that during World War I, Lawrence’s activities “were virtually unknown outside a very small circle of British officers”.Â “He planned to write a book about the campaigns, if he survived, but he had always wanted to be a writer, and he rightly saw the Arab revolt as a magnificent subject,” he says.
American Matthew VanDyke, 34, describes himself as a revolutionary activist and combat veteran of the Libyan Revolution. He’s also aÂ documentary film-makerÂ and media commentator who joined the rebels in Libya in March 2011 before moving to Syria a year later. In Syria he began to “help the revolution, filming, advising rebels, and some other projects that I haven’t talked about publicly”, he says.
“I was motivated by a combination of personal reasons – I had good Libyan friends there whom I had known for years who needed help – and ideological reasons. I travelled the region for years by motorcycle and saw the effects of authoritarianism on the region and its people,” he says, adding he is Christian and has never converted, although some rebels suggested he do so.
VanDyke rejects accusations of being a seeker of fame or thrills, citing his academic background and “years of experience in the region and solid reputation as an analytical analyst, media commentator and public speaker”.
Now and then
Meanwhile, several new booksÂ on the legacy of LawrenceÂ have recently hit the marketÂ and the renewed interest is partly due to the cataclysmic events in the Middle East today, making it fair to ask whether the “Arab world” for which Lawrence fought has reached its shelf-life and is coming undone.
Wilson says there is more to this than commemoration of the centenary of World War I – and the drawing up of the borders of the modern Middle East.
“Lawrence took a long-term view of history. He never believed that the specific political solutions set up in the new states in the Arab world would last. He expected the states to try different forms of government until eventually they found something that worked for them,” he says, adding the frontiers drawn up on the ground – on the basis of theÂ Sykes-PicotÂ map – weren’t those recommended by Lawrence.
“Lawrence could not have foreseen the two factors that have dominated Middle East politics since the 1930s – the discovery of oil in the Arabian Peninsula and the State of Israel,” Wilson says.
Perhaps this is the most appropriate lesson that Western fighters can draw from the experience of the original “saviour of the Arabs“: Be careful what you fight for – the end result might not be what you had in mind.