A Recently Translated Novel Lays Bare the Horrors of Assad’s Syria

July 14 2017

In his semi-autobiographical novel The Shell (originally published in Arabic in 2008), Mustafa Khalifa—who spent the years from 1982 to 1994 as a political prisoner in the notorious Tadmor prison—tells the story of a Syrian arrested and held prisoner on trumped-up charges. The book, writes Kyle Orton, is not only a powerful and moving account but also one that can be instructive to those in the West still enamored of the idea of partnering with Bashar al-Assad to defeat Islamic State (IS):

The notion that IS, a symptom of the war Assad started, could be treated with a narrow counter-terrorism strategy—in isolation from broader conflict—was always a fantasy. The recent collision between the coalition’s anti-IS war and the [Syrian] civil war is merely the intrusion of reality: it was one war all along. As the U.S.-led coalition was destroying the caliphate, it was parceling out territory to various contenders in Syria, changing the political and military balance in the wider war—mostly against the rebels, from which IS had taken most of its territory.

Still, for many Westerners, there is something that just doesn’t quite compute; Assad is a bad guy, [Westerners admit], but IS [is composed of] monsters! They drown people in cages and enslave Yazidis—medieval savagery that must surely be everybody’s priority. . . . The Shell helps break down this illusion [of a moral distinction] between a jihadist organization that revels in its brutality and a regime that proceeds in silence with a system of near-indescribable cruelty on a scale Islamic State cannot even dream of.

Khalifa’s protagonist, Musa, is living in Paris. Returning to his home country, he is picked up by the security services, tortured by being folded into a tire and caned on his feet until he passes out, and then thrown in a cell. Musa will remain in detention for the next thirteen years. Formally held, despite being an atheist of Christian background, as a suspected member of the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, Musa will never be charged with any offense, and only finds out in the last few months of his captivity the trivial [crime] that landed him in prison.

Read more at Fathom

More about: Arabic literature, Bashar al-Assad, ISIS, Politics & Current Affairs, Syria, Syrian civil war

The Temple Mount Terrorist Attack Exposes the Real Reasons behind Palestinian “Rage”

July 20 2017

After the terrorist attack at the Temple Mount last week, Israeli police found a large cache of weapons hidden in the al-Aqsa complex. Eli Lake comments on Palestinian reactions, and what they suggest about the persistent canard that “al-Aqsa is in danger” from alleged Jewish infiltration:

The real threat to the mosque on Friday did not come from Jewish settlers, [as Palestinian propaganda would have it], but from the Israeli Arabs [who did the shooting]. So it’s important to examine the response from Palestinian leaders. Let’s start with Abbas. He was forceful in his condemnation of the act, noting that there is no room for violence in such a holy place. . . . But by Monday the old patterns emerged. [His] Fatah party called this week for a “day of rage.” Was this to protest the gunmen who entered the “noble sanctuary,” or those mourning their deaths? No. This protest is aimed at Israel for erecting metal detectors at the entrance of the Temple Mount compound after the shootings.

The most telling response, however, came from Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated group that rules Gaza. A spokesman for the group, Sami Abu Zuhi, said on Friday the attack “was a natural response to Israeli terrorism and their defilement of the al-Aqsa mosque.” . . . [But] how can any thinking person take the professed pieties of Hamas leaders seriously if they rail against “defilement” of the site yet praise gunmen who fled to it in a shooting spree?

As Martin Kramer, a historian at Shalem College in Jerusalem, told me this week, the attack at the Temple Mount broke a taboo. “The usual Islamist claim is that the danger to the mosque and the shrine is from Jews,” he said. “Here there was an actual conspiracy to smuggle weapons into this holy place and Hamas does not condemn it, they praise it. Who poses the greater danger to al-Aqsa?”

Read more at Bloomberg

More about: Hamas, Israel & Zionism, Palestinians, Temple Mount, Terrorism