Tag Archives: foreign policy

The Satire and the Faux: Reflections on Charlie Hebdo

Haneul Na’avi
22 Jan 2015

The massacre of employees at the Charlie Hebdo office in Paris has fostered growing animosity between Westerners and the Muslim world. In nationalist rhetoric, the champions of French Secularity vowed to cheat the death of free speech and never to bow to terrorism, and the agency retaliated with record sales of its publication, with more insults to the Prophet Mohammed.


One of many infamous Charlie Hebdo publications blamed for the attack [Photo: Panamza]

Nevertheless, the country did bow, not to the demands of al-Qaeda of the Peninsula (AQAP), the Yemeni sect claiming responsibility for the attack. Seeing their golden opportunity, French government officials capitalized on the assault in order to incrementally impose a wave of draconian policies to stifle the freedoms of its own citizens.

Shortly after the “Je Suis Charlie” demonstrations, French PM Manuel Valls openly announced the Republic would commission “the creation of 2,680 new positions in French military and intelligence agencies to monitor the population”, which would cost “425 mln EUR over three years, and would rise close to 735 mln EUR after personnel costs.

The bill passed amid condemnation of the recent “Law Strengthening the Provision Relating to the Fight against Terrorism”, in which EU Counterterrorism Coordinator Gilles de Kerchove proclaimed “[it struck a] good balance between the demands of internal security and respect for individual liberties”. The bill, passed in the French Parliament last October, would bolster current UK and German anti-terror initiatives.

The law, opposed by the European Digital Rights organization and others, targets terrorism via “anti-democratic measures […] based on vague concepts whose application can easily be extended, such as “apologie du terrorisme” (apology of terrorism), and that restrict the right to freedom of movement (art. 1), freedom of the press (art. 4), freedom of information and communication (art. 9), the protection of journalistic sources (art. 11), the right to a fair trial (art. 13) or that are simply disproportionate (art. 12, 14)”, La Quadrature du Net stated.

The regional attacks were the perfect chance to implement this new law. Unpopular legislature, pushed by an equally unpopular President (currently 8% according to YouGov statistics), achieved several aims for the struggling figurehead: (1) distracting the public from economic and foreign policy misadventures and (2) strengthening support of the current administration by nationalizing sentiment of the French people. Meanwhile, the Charlie Hebdo massacre suspects, the Kouachi brothers, and Mali-born Amedy Coulibaly, the prime suspect in the kosher supermarket attack, reveal startling connections.

Unity: Tens of thousands of people last night joined peaceful rallies in support of the people killed at the massacre in central Paris

Unity: Tens of thousands of people […] joined peaceful rallies in support of the people killed at the massacre in central Paris (Photo: AFP/ Getty Images)

France’s long history with Syria goes back to the Franco-Syrian War, but their open procurement of weapons and cash for “moderate rebels” in Syria and Iraq forms the foundation of the current crisis. A London Guardian article detailed how Hollande’s administration worked to remove Assad, and subsequently, warned about the consequences. “Some of the French cash has reached Islamist groups who were desperately short of ammunition and who had increasingly turned for help towards al-Qaida aligned jihadist groups in and around Aleppo,” Chulov writes.

The French President’s dual imperative of funding rebels in Syria and Libya, but expanding attacks on current IS militants in Iraq, has incited intense anger from IS. “France has suggested that rebels should be given ‘defensive weapons’ to use against the regime and was the first country to recognise a recalibrated political body as the legitimate voice of [the] Syrian people,” the article continues. They were veritably successful, as that ‘recalibrated political body’ is now the Islamic State; an unrelenting enemy with roots in the Mujahideen Shura Council of Iraq.

Shortly after taking office, Hollande pushed to invade Mali’s mineral-rich territories under the ruse of fighting terrorism. Just after the Sarkozy’s Libyan invasion, Hollande stepped in to extrapolate France’s imperialist agenda. Using the same tactics as in Syria, France, the US, and UK backed the Salafist, Tuareg al-Qaeda in the Islamic Mahgreb (AQIM), to overthrow Jamahiriya leader Muammar Gaddafi. Asad Ismi writes extensively about this occurrence:

AQIM is closely allied to the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), the main proxy used by France, the United States, and Britain in their overthrow of the Gaddafi regime in Libya. The AQIM militants fought alongside LIFG. Currently, France and the U.S. are also arming and financing Islamic fundamentalists in Syria to overthrow the secular government of Hafez Al-Assad.


al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), the Yemeni branch of the terrorist organization (Photo: WSN)

While warned of refusing to cooperate with Syria or Iran, Hollande has deployed the Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier in order to follow up on recent aerial assaults on IS targets in northeastern Iraq. Iraqi and Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani’s sanctioning of the Western-backed intervention has caused further resentment amongst the Islamic State’s Sunni members.

The failures and inertia of France’s intelligence community practically fostered the attack, as they failed to initiate basic protocols for properly monitoring risky security assets. The Kouachi brothers had traveled to Yemen to meet CIA asset Anwar al-Awlaki in 2011, three years after Cherif was released from Fleury-Mérogis prison; experts claim that this was what incited their radicalization. A Telegraph article evidences that they had been monitored since spring 2009 and that “French authorities stopped the surveillance in July – just six months before the Paris attacks – because they were deemed to be of low risk”.


Saiif and Cherif Kouachi, primary suspects in the Jan. 7 Charlie Hebdo massacre (Photo: Belle News)

Turkish PM Tayyip Erdogan opportunistically admonished France for failing to properly monitor the suspects. In a Jan. 17 speech, he harshly condemned the breakdown in intelligence efforts. “These people served 16-17 months in your prisons. Why didn’t you follow these people after they got out of jail? Isn’t your intelligence working? First, these countries should check themselves”, remarked the PM, whom is also guilty of coddling IS insurgents.

France’s tragic deaths were not simply payback for Charlie Hebdo’s satire of the Prophet, but symbolically reflected the anger of victims of France’s imperial ambitions and deteriorating domestic situation. Victims of aggression on both ends will require deep, reflective meditation to mend their troubled passions, and for the French Republic and other European leaders, they must take a step back from their own dark past in order to illuminate the truth.


WTF White House Statement Of The Day: Syria Airstrikes Edition

When President Obama bragged earlier that “The United States is and will remain the one indispensable nation in the world…” adding that “no other nation can do what we do,” we should have guessed some more war-mongering was coming… and sure enough. As AP reports, it appears Syrian airstrikes are on their way.. but there’s a mind-blowing twist in US foreign policy: “In an effort to avoid unintentionally strengthening the Syrian government, the White House could seek to balance strikes against the Islamic State with attacks on Assad regime targets.” In the words of the Guinness commercial, Brilliant.

As AP reports,

The intelligence gathered by U.S. military surveillance flights over Syria could support a broad bombing campaign against the Islamic State militant group, but current and former U.S. officials differ on whether air power would significantly degrade what some have called a “terrorist army.”

 "Air power needs to be applied like a thunderstorm, not a drizzle,“ Deptula said, entailing "24-7 overwatch with force application on every move of ISIL personnel.”

Further complicating the plans, any military action against Islamic State militants in Syria would also have the effect of putting the U.S. on the same side as Syrian President Bashar Assad, whose ouster the Obama administration has sought for years.

So first Iran and now Syria are best buddies with America?  Well we can’t have that…

The U.S. is not cooperating or sharing intelligence with the Assad government, Pentagon and State Department spokesmen said. But the U.S. flights are occurring in eastern Syria, away from most of Syria’s air defenses. And experts expressed doubt that Syria would attempt to shoot down American aircraft that are paving the way for a possible bombing campaign against Assad’s enemies.

 In an effort to avoid unintentionally strengthening the Syrian government, the White House could seek to balance strikes against the Islamic State with attacks on Assad regime targets. However, that option is largely unappealing to the president given that it could open the U.S. to the kind of long-term commitment to Syria’s stability that Obama has sought to avoid.

Arming the Kurds won’t stop Iraq’s brutal civil war

It will be a disaster for Iraq’s Kurds if the West succeeds in hijacking their cause, argues Ken Olende

Peshmerga women fighters in Kurdistan

Peshmerga women fighters in Kurdistan (Pic: Jan Sefti/Flikr)

David Cameron has announced that Britain will arm Kurdish forces fighting the growth of the reactionary Islamic State group in Iraq. 

Many on the left think this a good alternative to direct Western intervention, which has been responsible for the spread of sectarianism in the region.

The Kurds live in an area divided between Iraq, Iran, Syria and Turkey and have been fighting for a Kurdish state. Socialists support this struggle.

But only Western imperialism will benefit if in the process the Kurds become a pawn in the spiralling conflict.

Injecting Western arms will not stop Iraq’s slide into sectarian civil war. 

The West has always defended its own interests in the region through backing brutal dictators. 

The US backed the rise of Saddam Hussein and the war he launched against neighbouring Iran in the 1980s. His brutal suppression of Iraqi Kurds led Kurdish guerrillas, the Peshmerga, to fight on Iran’s side.

Hussein’s forces got revenge with the chemical attack on the city of Halabja in northern Iraq in 1988. 

This killed around 5,000 Kurdish people.

The US government did not call for “humanitarian” intervention. It blocked serious investigations into its ally’s war crime.

By 1991 the US had fallen out with the Iraqi regime, and armed Peshmerga forces during its first invasion of Iraq.

But its Nato ally Turkey had been fighting a guerrilla war against Kurdish separatists for a decade. It was determined that no Kurdish state should be established. 

The US has attempted ever since to make sure the Kurds in northern Iraq are strong enough to help US interests, but too weak to threaten Turkey. 

The war that tore Yugoslavia apart in the 1990s showed the reality of the West arming rebels.

Nato called for “humanitarian” support for Kosovans who were being attacked by Serb forces. 

The British prime minister Tony Blair said in 1999 that a “new generation” of world leaders was enforcing “a new internationalism where the brutal repression of whole ethnic groups will no longer be tolerated”.

Many on the left knew that bombing would not help, but thought that arming the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) guerrillas was an alternative. 

The bombing went ahead and the KLA was armed.

But far from supporting a multi-ethnic society, the Nato intervention oversaw the expulsion of 200,000 Serbs and Roma from Kosovo. The KLA was among the most enthusiastic ethnic cleansers.

More recently, after the Syrian revolution the US set out to find “trustworthy rebel partners” to arm. 

The CIA offered support to sections of the opposition in September of last year. The US wanted “moderates”. This excluded both Islamist fighters and revolutionaries.

Isis, as the Islamic State was then known, used the threat of Western intervention to declare war on rebels.

One opposition fighter in Homs said, “We know that this is a pretext for them to interfere in our country to end our revolution and attack the revolutionaries.”

Already in some parts of northern Iraq protests have taken place demanding the expulsion of Arabs from Kurdish areas, as if they were all Islamic State supporters. 

Poor nationalist movements can’t always choose who to source arms from. 

But despite the horror at what the Islamic State is doing, Western intervention will only prolong the fighting and intensify the divisions.