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A DESERT STORM:WHY THE WESTERN SAHARA FIGHTING GOES ONAND ON PAGES 8-9
YOUNG JIHADI RETURNEES ARE MORE RADICAL THAN THOSE OF AL-QAIDA
The Iraq generation
ALBERTO MAGNELLI– Orderly storm (1967)
What’s the G20 for?
BY SERGE HALIMI
The rich men’s club, founded 34 years ago, was beginning to show its age. It had become too exclusive, too western, too cosy. Initially, Asia was only represented by Japan, which generally had nothing to say, and Latin America and Africa were not represented at all. Then walls came down, the balance of world power tipped, the age of the global village and cultural dialogue was born: what had been the Group of Six (G6) in 1975 (1) became the G7 in 1976 (when Canada joined), the G8 in 1997 (when Russia became a member), and finally the G20. This was back in 1999, long before Nicolas Sarkozy started to take credit for every innovation since the world began. With the arrival of Brazil, Argentina, South Africa, India and China, the G20 was inevitably going to turn the crumbling international order on its head, let the South have a say, and ring the death knell of the Washington “consensus”. November 2008 seemed the ideal moment. Financial crash, economic crisis – a perfect opportunity perhaps to wipe the slate clean and start again in this brave new world of many voices? This type of “diversity” turned out to be much the same as other kinds. Ignoring pressure from below, the club dusted down the old balance of power and replaced the tired old leaders with bright new boys. As for the programme, the G20 (2) declared: “Our work will be guided by a shared belief that market principles, open trade and investment regimes, and effectively regulated financial markets foster the dynamism, innovation, and entrepreneurship that are essential for economic growth, employment and poverty reduction.” And it had the effrontery to add: “These principles… have lifted millions out of poverty, and have significantly raised the global standard of living.” In other words, the strategy enacted three decades ago was the right one and the current crisis – just a little blip? – will be solved by more “effective” regulation of financial markets. One must pause at this point to admire the restraint shown by Argentina, still smarting from the wounds inflicted by the liberal order it has just joined.
The G20 declaration is a mixture of platitudes, gobbledegook and dogma. Two months after the Wall Street crash, we look in vain for any sign of doubt about the inequitable policies – and the financial institutions – which encouraged tens of millions of ordinary people to incur massive debts to offset the persistent erosion of their incomes. There is not a word about tax havens, unless they should feel threatened by the announcement that measures are forthcoming “to protect the global financial system from uncooperative and non-transparent jurisdictions that pose risks of illicit financial activity”. And fans of investment funds are no doubt shaking in their shoes now the G20 countries have promised to “strengthen financial market transparency… by enhancing required disclosure on complex financial products.” But how can the G20 name the culprits when the biggest ones are drafting the Group’s press releases? Of course, a “new Bretton Woods agreement” can’t be cobbled together in a few weeks. The original 1944 agreement was two years in the making. But it wasn’t just a matter of improvisation at the meeting and a changing of the guard in Washington. The 20 were occasionally capable of some straight talking: “We underscore the critical importance of rejecting protectionism… within the next 12 months, we will refrain from raising new barriers to investment or to trade in goods and services… we shall strive to reach agreement this year on modalities that leads to a successful conclusion to the WTO’s Doha Development Agenda with an ambitious and balanced outcome.” How strange if the result of the current economic storm turns out to be that governments representing 65% of the world’s population have chosen to endorse free trade and financial globalisation. TRANSLATED BY BARBARA WILSON
(1) The Group consisted of France, the Federal Republic of Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States. (2) “Declaration of the Summit on Financial Markets and the World Economy”, Washington, 15 November 2008.
INSIDE THIS ISSUE
Policing the pirates:European attempts to make Somali waters safe page 3
Why Russia is making friends with its Muslim neighbours page 5
Congo in crisis,once again page 6
Will Obama realign USpolitics? page 7
The ghosts of East Timor’s past page 10
Sitting pretty:why Jersey isn’t afraid of losing its tax-haven status page 12 Das Kapital:extracts from Viken Berberian’s new book page 14 Have we underestimated the threat to the world’s glaciers? page 16
Thousands of militants who went to Iraq to fight the US invasion and then left,have spread across the Middle East,Europe and Central Asia.They are young people who had no prior political engagement but left Iraq with a new radical ideology,hardened by war
BY VICKEN CHETERIAN
Imet Abu Talha last summer in Majdel Anjar, a village in Lebanon’s Bekaa valley. The meeting wasn’t easy: a few days earlier, Lebanese security forces had discovered an al-Qaida cell in nearby Bar Elias and arrested a number of returnees from Iraq. Abu Talha said: “I agreed to meet you because we want our ideas to reach your readers.” He explained how, after the US invasion of Iraq, he had responded to the call of the Islamist leader, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, to join the Iraqi resistance. He had not been among the first group from the village to go to Iraq. It took six months before he received the message that he could join a group on their way to Baghdad. “They needed to check my identity and resolve because of the complex logistics of the trip,” he explained. Abu Talha joined a group of four, all pretending to be businessmen, and travelled to Qamishli in Syria, near the border, where someone took $300 from each of them to take them to Baghdad. But Syrian security forces surrounded the border village before they could cross, forcing them to escape into the desert. After several days of wandering they reached Baghdad but it was too late to meet their contact there. They wandered for a few more days and finally met Abu Anas al-Shami, an aid to Zarqawi (both were later killed in the fighting).
‘An idea more than an organisation’
Abu Talha waited for a month in apartments in Baghdad and then Falluja, with several other volunteers from various Arab countries. They were all waiting their turn for a suicide mission, but there were too many candidates and the logistics were complicated. After a month in Iraq, Abu Talha was sent home. However, he promised to spread the word and send money to the network. During our conversation, he frequently mentioned Zarqawi, and called him “noble and courageous. Since his martyrdom, no one has been able to replace him, or his leadership”. When I asked him about his ties with al-Qaida, he replied: “al-Qaida is more of an idea than an organisation.” Months before the US invasion, volunteers from a number of Arab countries went to Iraq to defend Saddam Hussein’s regime. Its rapid collapse left them demoralised and lacking any sense of purpose, and those who succeeded in returning to their countries of origin were often physically and psychologically broken. They were replaced by a second wave of volunteers who went to Iraq, not to defend Saddam but to fight the US forces there. They were Islamists inspired by jihadist and pro-takfir (excommunication) ideologies and by the generation of “Afghan Arabs” who preceded them
in the fight against Soviet occupation in Afghanistan in the 1980s. Unlike the earlier Afghan Arabs, who had support and encouragement from various Arab states and from the US administration, the returnees from Iraq have complex relations with different governments: some encourage them, then repress them later; most look on them with apprehension. All use them.
The central question
In the 1980s, the Afghan Arabs had semi-official offices in a number of Gulf countries. Volunteers flying to Pakistan to join the mujahideen bases were received and given reduced fares. The new generation of jihadists get no such privileges. Thousands of them have been captured by the Syrian or Jordanian authorities and sent back to their countries of origin, where they are arrested and imprisoned: there have been more than 900 such cases in Tunisia and 400 in Algeria. Some sources put the numbers of returnees at more than 2,000 from Saudi Arabia (1), Yemen, Tunisia, and more than 1,000 from Jordan. These figures are high in comparison with the Afghan Arabs: though 10-15,000 Arab volunteers are thought to have fought in Afghanistan, most did so in the late 1980s when the fate of the war was already decided. Thanks to these volunteers, the Algerian Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC) has become the al-Qaida branch in the Maghreb. The group had reached a low several years ago, and started recruiting as if for jihad in Iraq, and then used the new recruits for operations inside Algeria (2). Until the invasion of Iraq, the jihadist movement had been peripheral to the core values, causes and struggles of the Arab world. It was inspired by the Muslim Brotherhood, forged in Afghanistan in the 1980s, and it went on to fight in Bosnia and Tajikistan in the early 1990s, and in Chechnya, with the arrival of 12 jihadists led by the Chechen rebel commander Khattab in early 1995. Yet for the ArabMuslim world, Afghanistan, Bosnia and Chechnya remain marginal, both geographically and symbolically. The debate about the jihadists’non-involvement in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (the central struggle of the Arab-Muslim world) dates back to Afghanistan, and is still relevant today. Abdullah Azzam, the “father” of the Afghan Arabs, was Palestinian and was often asked why he had sought jihad in Afghanistan rather than in Palestine. Abdullah Anas (real name Boudjema Bounoua), his companion and son-in-law, told me:
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