It’s not IS we should fight against – it’s obscurantism

Posted on 17 November 2015 | No responses

After having published a post yesterday (No more bombs) arguing that the West won’t win peace by dropping more bombs and should instead fight against inequality and injustice, Chris, a follower of Making Sense of Things on Facebook asked if we had “any advice for what people should do to counter [the Islamic State]? Or should it just be allowed to continue? They won’t allow a diplomatic solution, as they believe any negotiation is sacrilegious, let alone voting?” This question is very relevant indeed. How can we negotiate with IS if we can’t even talk with them?

A picture I took in Al-Anbar province, Iraq, on my way to Baghdad from Jordan, May 2003.

I understand that throwing 20 bombs at the Islamic State, like the French warplanes reportedly did two days after the Paris attacks, sounds the right thing to do. It feels good, we get our revenge, we show we are strong – and, the cherry on the cake is that specialists say no civilians were harmed in the process. Let me then cast doubts about the relevancy of these bombings. Sure, a few buildings and sites used by IS foot soldiers might have been destroyed, and maybe a few insurgents killed, but we underestimate IS if we think that they didn’t see it coming. First, they’ve been targeted for months now, and have adopted strategies and tactics to reduce the impacts of the bombings. Second, if the French airplanes succeeded to not hurt a single civilian in a city that is said to gather half a million inhabitants, I wonder what exactly they targeted, knowing that IS is reported to frequently use civilians as, precisely, human shields. 

Beyond these latest stream of bombs dropped over Syria, we need to look at the war against IS from a wider perspective.

A picture of destroyed mosque that I took in northern Afghanistan in 2007

The so-called Islamic State, also know as Daech ([Da-esh] the acronym of IS in Arabic) and formerly known as Islamic State in the Levant (ISIL) or Islamic State in the Sham (Arabic for Levant – ISIS), is the product of the 2003 Iraq war. For one, IS was created and is led by a mix of former Al-Qaeda-In-Iraq Jihadists and former Baathist military officers (ex-Saddam supporters) who were both ‘losers’ of the 2003 war. Additionally, IS is also the result of the subsequent sectarian divide that grew in Iraq since 2003, with Shia taking power after the fall of Saddam and blatantly ignoring Sunni’s grievances. Through a mixture of coercion, ideology and agreements with local tribal leaders, these Sunnis now constitute IS’s base. To add to this, while IS was at some point, just one of many armed groups fighting against Syrian President Bashir al-Assad, IS was allowed to grow by Assad himself. Why would Assad do such a thing? He reportedly released extremists jihadists from his jails at the onset of the Syrian civil war, in order both, to discredit the revolutionary movements by accusing them of nurturing extremism and to provoke inter-brotherhood fighting within the rebellion, notably by ordering his troops to abstain to actively fight against IS. For a long time, IS didn’t conquer territories against Assad, but rather forcefully took over the territories that other insurgent groups had so painfully ‘liberated’ from Assad. In other words, IS played a key role in weakening the Syrian resistance both on the ground and from a legitimacy perspective. Assad in turn, didn’t bomb IS, but let it grow instead. Who would arm the rebels if these arms could end up being controlled by jihadists? Now, Assad made the same mistake that the United States did during the Soviet Afghan war. The US thought at the time that they could control the rebel fighters they had armed to fight the Soviets, but the rebels instead eventually turned against their patrons as they gradually became known as Al-Qaeda. There is little doubt that, should Syria be left alone, IS would ultimately take over Assad, but this is another story.

To make things more complicated, IS has been and is being directly and indirectly supported by Turkey as well as by wealthy/powerful Saudi Arabian and Qatari individuals. Why would Turkey do so? Well IS controls a number of oil fields in the region, which they export through the black market. See, IS tries hard to operate like a real state – it has an administration, budgets, executive and judicial systems, it manages hospitals, schools, rehabilitates roads and water channels and even promotes charities. So, as part of its ‘state’ income, it sells oils to whoever wants to buy it – including the Assad regime, I’ve been told. Turkey on its side, reportedly buys IS’s oil at a cheaper rate than international prices. It also let IS uses Turkey as a rear operations base so as to weaken the Kurds – whom they see as their archenemy.  

An old man resting on the ruins of Palmyre, Syria. I took this picture in 2004 and wonder what is left of it?…

What about the wealthy/powerful Saudi Arabian and Qatari individuals I mentioned earlier? Well, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, themselves in competition for the leadership of the Arab Sunni world, cannot blatantly support IS, but they do support other groups, who, frankly speaking are pretty much as ideologically oriented as IS, and whose foot soldiers sometimes decide to join IS’s ranks – with the weapons initially paid by Saudi Arabi and other Arab Gulf countries. Additionally, these governments reportedly allow wealthy and powerful citizens of theirs to, on their own basis, support IS. Why so? For both ideological and geopolitical reasons. First they want to support fellow Sunni who embrace their radical wahhabi ideology and fight against Syrian president Bashir Al Assad. Second, these actions are to be seen as only small parts of a larger cold war between Sunni Muslims and Shia Muslims. Indeed, after Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen, Lebanon and other countries, Syria is today the hottest battlefield of the global fight between Sunni supported by Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Egypt, etc and Shia, supported primarily by Iran and now Iraq.


I know, I understand this is complex, and admittedly, this is only a simplistic picture of what’s really going on.

Why recall all this? Because instead of sending more bombs that will largely help IS’s propaganda in recruiting new followers among the victims of the bombings, the West should put strong pressure on their allies to stop them supporting IS and let it crumble from within. The West has to answer for not pressuring Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar etc. Likewise, Russia carries a similar responsibility towards Iran and Syria. The problem is that both the West and Russia’s own economic and geopolitical interests are such that pressuring their allies, would, ultimately go against their own interests. Indeed, by doing so, they’d lose access to natural resources (think oil and gas) and financial backers as well as the possibility to set-up their own military bases in the Gulf or the Mediterranean Sea. So in fear of these changes, they prefer the short term losses that are the flow of refugees and of course, the terrorist attacks – lately in Paris and Belgium but also within our allies in Lebanon, Turkey, Algeria, etc. notwithstanding the bomb that destroyed a Russian plane in Egypt two weeks ago, killing all 224 people aboard.

Instead, if the West and Russia agreed to let go of their desire for hegemony, they could decide to tackle the respective fears of both Sunni and Shia, as well as the (legitimate) grievances of other Muslim populations, including the Palestinians, Yemenis and Libyans. This would help restoring a sense of justice across the Middle-East, hence reducing the attraction for extremism by de facto disenfranchised Muslims or by simply lost souls, as a way of resolving these grievances.

Sure, it’s complex, but not giving peace a chance will only contribute to the continuation of the conflict. IS will not be destroyed by bombs. It can be weakened – it certainly will be – but it will reorganise elsewhere, as another form of obscurantism. IS is just the third generation of jihadists after Al-Qaeda’s second generation. There will be more to come if we apply the same recipes. Instead, the West ought to take out the roots of these extremists’ perceived legitimacy by resolving its long standing issues with the Muslim world. Let’s admit that we did mess up their region. From drawing ill-informed state boundaries on the outset of the colonial period, to supporting dictators for decades and invading their countries. Facing our demons will contribute to appease their long-standing grievances. Resolving the Israel-Palestine conflict is a necessary condition to ensure peace in the wider Middle-East. It will also contribute to reducing the legitimacy and therefore appeal of extremist groups, and subsequently reduce the flow of refugees that the West is so afraid of. So instead of bombing the Middle-East, let’s ensure that populations have reasons to live happy lives in their own country. Hence the need to effectively promoting justice and reducing inequalities. And this starts here, in our home countries, by reducing obscurantism within our own societies too.


No more bombs

Posted on 16 November 2015 | 2 responses

“#PrayForTheWorld” – Art by Leemarej


I now live in Australia but I’m French. I’ve lived several years in Paris where many of my friends and family members still live. Two of the attacks occurred in the same street where by my best friend lives. His partner’s sister was enjoying drinks with her friends in one of the restaurants were so many people got killed on this tragic Friday the 13th. Luckily she survived. 

I was touched by the outpour of solidarity I have received, my warmest thanks to you all. I read lots of articles and watched heaps of media about the Paris attacks. Yet, I started quite rapidly to feel uncomfortable at the world’s focus on this latest wave of terrorist attacks. I’ve lived and worked in countries where such violence is a daily fact of life, including in Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Kenya and the Occupied Palestinian Territories. I am sad for my Iraqi, Afghan, Yemeni, Kenyan, Israeli and Palestinian friends. I feel tired for my Muslim friends who bear the brunt of this violence.
Of course, as humans, it’s normal to be touched more by tragic events that hit people and places that are culturally close to us. It’s also normal to feel a sense of fatigue and confusion about tragic yet recurrent events that occur so far away from us. Likewise it’s natural to drape ourselves in our identity when we feel so violently confronted.
But let’s not get duped. We won’t win peace by dropping more bombs. Let’s instead attend to the sufferings of those who flee the bombs – any bombs. If we want to fight, let’s fight against inequality and injustice. These are legitimate triggers to any form of extremism.
If you want to join the fight, rest assured you don’t have to travel far. Just befriend your neighbour and attend to their occasional needs. Help the homeless in your town. Support refugees in the translation of their administrative documents. Learn how our current economic system promotes greed and inequalities. Understand that the effects of climate change already lead to survival, violence and extremism. Let’s ensure that youth around us see hope in the world we are leaving them.
Pick your battle, there are many. But as A. J. Muste famously said, let’s recall loudly that “there is no way to peace, peace is the way”.


I’m sick and tired of International Women’s Day

Posted on 8 March 2015 | 10 responses

Today is International Women’s Day. I know we should celebrate this event but the truth is that I’m not in the mood for it. I’m a man, and I’m sick and tired of hearing horrible stories whichever part of the world I travel to, about how badly and unfairly women are treated in their respective society.


I’m sick and tired to know that 35 per cent (35!) of women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence.

I’m sick and tired that there are fewer women at the helm of top Australian and US companies […] Continue Reading…

How we silence sexual abuse

Posted on 1 March 2015 | 8 responses

Sexual abuse has cast a shadow over my family’s life. My mother was abused as a child by her step father, the man I grew up knowing as my grandfather. My cousin was also abused by him (repeatedly, for years). Friends I went to school with were abused by him. Children I met when I was with my grandmother while she babysat them were abused by him. In fact, I have no idea how many children my grandfather has abused over his lifetime but I suspect the numbers are huge since he is still alive and in his 90s.

I am grateful that I was never […] Continue Reading…

How to make no-dig gardens

Posted on 5 November 2014 | No responses

A few weeks ago I built some no dig garden beds in our new home that we are renting and planted them out with small cuttings and seedlings. After living in Bolivia for the past 2 years, growing at altitude and indoors, in pots, I am excited to back at sea level in the sub tropics, converting grassed areas into abundant food production gardens. Here, my plants are growing so fast that I feel like I should be able to see them gaining height real time. This is how I built my no dig gardens: Each layer is around 10cm thick but […] Continue Reading…

This changes everything

Posted on 25 October 2014 | 1 response

Today I’d like to introduce you to Rohan Anderson, if you don’t already know him.

Rohan Anderson is the blogger, photographer, writer, cook, forager, grower and hunter from Whole Larder Love. If you don’t know of him, you should check out his website which details his journey from eating processed food, obesity, anxiety, depression and allergic reactions to ditching his career, growing, hunting, preserving, curing and foraging his food.


Despite his inspiring, creative and very real life, recently I’ve read some criticisms of Rohan which have got me thinking. People don’t like him ‘constantly bashing supermarkets’ and […] Continue Reading…

We all just want to be loved, especially by ourselves

Posted on 13 October 2014 | 1 response

We all just want to be loved, but how many of us truly love ourselves? I am on a constant journey to really love myself. Sometimes I do and sometimes I am far from it.

Back in 2011 I camped in a field in a region of France to build a house out of cob with a bunch of people I didn’t know. We called it cob camp. During this time I had little mobile phone network, no car and no internet access. For those months I would wake up with the sun, spend half an hour meditating, half an hour stretching and […] Continue Reading…

Bolivian Story: Gabriel Coimbra, bringing nature to urban Bolivians

Posted on 16 September 2014 | 1 response

I met Gabriel whilst volunteering at Red Monkey, a vegan restaurant in La Paz, Bolivia. At first I knew him as the guy washing dishes and tidying up but I soon learnt that there was so much more to this young man from the Amazon! One day he gave me some soapnuts he had collected… I hadn’t seen these since we were living in Europe, in the eco stores. I was so excited to use them to make soapnut liquid as an all purpose cleaner and natural pesticide for the white flies on my tomatoes. Another time I tried […] Continue Reading…

Life’s changing: we are settling in Australia

Posted on 12 August 2014 | 5 responses

Jean and I are lucky we found each other. We have so much love that sometimes I wonder how it could possibly last. In November we’ll be counting 6 years of a surprising and beautiful journey together. I still remember the day we met. My heart fluttered and my knees nearly gave way. I had never been one  of those girls so the feelings surprised me. I convinced myself that none of it was real and it was all in my head so I spent the remaining weekend of that meditation course avoiding him. Little did I know that […] Continue Reading…

Galápagos Islands: remarkable yet preoccupying

Posted on 25 July 2014 | 1 response

We enjoyed last Christmas on the Galapagos Islands, giving ourselves the soulful gift of connecting with nature. We felt incredibly blessed to be in such a unique place on this remarkable planet of ours as animals approached us unguarded, unafraid of humans and as curious about us as we were of them. We wondered at the unique giant tortoises, tame sea lions and abundant bird life.

Our visit was bitter sweet though, as we noticed the effects of tourism and the swell in population on the islands. We wondered if we should really be there, contributing in that way. Locals profess […] Continue Reading…

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