The recent repackaging of Syrian al-Qaeda affiliate from Jabhat al-Nusra to Jabhat Fatah al-Sham has hoodwinked very few people. The Americans, who blacklisted Nusra back in 2012 and are widely and practically sympathetic to the Syrian Islamist insurrection against the government of President Bashar al-Assad have refused to accept there is anything substantial in the name change besides different labelling.
Taking a step back, the name ‘al-Qaeda’ itself has indefinite and opaque origins but the leaders and individuals who came to personify ‘al-Qaeda’, especially after the atrocities in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, emanated in an Islamist insurgency which had considerable support from the West. Specifically, the Afghan war in the 1980s which pitted the old Soviet Union against Islamist jihadis was where many of al-Qaeda’s future operatives and leaders learned their bombastic trade.
An organisation called the ‘Maktab al-Khidamat’ i.e. the “Service Bureau” was set up to greet, meet and manage the Arab recruits for the insurgency against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. Both future leaders of al-Qaeda, the late ‘Sheikh’ Usama bin Laden and current ‘Emir’ Aymen al-Zahrawi were drawn to Afghanistan during this period. Bin Laden was head-hunted by Saudi intelligence after they couldn’t find a minor member of the Saudi royal clan to join the ‘jihad’, while Zahrawi first arrived in Afghanistan as part of an ‘aid convoy.’ More so, it is known thousands from the Arab world were recruited to fight the Soviets and Western media were more than willing to favourably refer to them as ‘Mujahideen’ i.e. Holy Warriors. Continue reading
The zenith of all political naivety must be to expect a politician to be consistent in his or her supposed beliefs or positions. Quite formulaically, politicians reach for awe inspiring moral heights of propriety, rhetoric and common sense when they are far removed from the levers of political power. But as soon as the levers fall into their lap, by some weird political alchemy these same politicians suddenly begin to espouse opinions they had seemingly opposed before their ascension to power. In layman’s terms, they say one thing out of office and do another when in office.
Within a timeframe of a mere nine months as Her Majesty’s Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs for the United Kingdom i.e. Foreign Secretary, Mr. Boris Johnson has provided a text book case of a politician adopting two diametrically opposed positions on each side of the variable of political power. Continue reading
“By our swindle they were glorified…The more we condemned and despised ourselves, the more we could cynically take pride in them, our creatures…They were our dupes, wholeheartedly fighting the enemy.” T.E. Lawrence, “Seven Pillars of Wisdom”
The enemy Thomas Edward Lawrence (a.k.a. “Lawrence of Arabia”) is referring to in the above quote is none other than Turkish Ottoman Empire. The people who were ‘swindled’ and ‘duped’ are the Arabs who were convinced and manipulated to take up arms and rise up in an ‘Arab Revolt’ a hundred years ago, against their Turkish overlords in support of the British Empire’s war effort during World War One.
The Ottoman Empire entered the war on the side of Germany in November 1914. In the United Kingdom, many thought the war would end quickly and everyone would be home for Christmas because the British populace were weaned on stories of imperialist heroics administering the natives of Asia and Africa a military beating in a surprising short amount of time. Unsurprisingly, millions immediately enrolled to fight Germany to only find that they too were shockingly fighting with the latest military technology. To overcome the stalemate that quickly transpired on the western front i.e. the war in Europe, the British came up with a supremely cunning idea of prioritising the defeat of Germany’s ally, the Ottoman Empire in the hope of hastening a quick and decisive victory. On this basis, the primary and most important military strategy was an attack through the Strait of Dardanelles to capture Istanbul, the seat and capital of the Ottoman Empire.
Winston Churchill, First Lord of the Admiralty, put the idea forward of a naval expedition to sail through the Strait of Dardanelles and capture Istanbul Continue reading
Founding political myths provide reassuring points of reference but they do not provide the full, or even, real reason on why major historical moments occurred. As is popularly known the American Revolution was triggered specifically by the Boston Tea Party in defiance of the British Parliament’s Tea Act of 1773. Yet in a recent article in the New York Review of Books, historian Professor Steve Pincus argues it was a series of economic policies, enforced by the British parliament from the 1760’s onwards that made no small contribution to the colonialist’s rebellion against King George’s tyranny.
Recently in the United Kingdom a commemoration was held to mark hundred years since the Gallipoli expedition during World War One. The British Empire had intended to defeat the Ottoman Empire’s forces by sailing through the straits Continue reading
Three days before the Saudi led air force began its bombing of the Republic of Yemen on Thursday 26th March, the British Foreign Secretary, Philip Hammond was in the Saudi capital, Riyadh meeting with his host’s foreign secretary, Prince Saud al-Faisal on Monday 23rd March 2015.
In their joint press conference after their meeting, the British foreign Secretary declared that “no one wanted to see military action in Yemen.” This was echoed by his Saudi counterpart who stressed the need for a “peaceful solution” to the situation in Yemen.
The situation in Yemen changed dramatically when a Northern militia group, Ansar Allah (“Houthis”), had taken control of the Yemeni capital, Sana’a in September 2014. After four months of intermittent agreements, resignations and re-appointments the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) approved President of Yemen, Abd ar-Rubbuh Mansour Hadi eventually fled the capital and sought refuge in Yemen’s second city, Aden. Hitherto, the Houthis seemed content with their presence in the Northern areas of the country, but suicide bombings in two mosques in Sana’a on Friday 20th March seemed to have triggered a change in the equation. Furthermore, with Hadi in Aden, the GCC countries had led the move to close their embassies in Sana’a and operate out of their consulates in Aden. This move was clearly aimed at isolating the Houthis. Caught in the middle of all this, is the Southern Yemeni movement for independence, the Hirak, which has been active since 2007.
Although Yemen has been united since 1990 Continue reading