The Man Raising an Army of Psychologists in Iraq

Good initiative and investment:

A year after helping more than 1,000 escaped ISIS captives resettle in Germany, Kurdish-German psychologist Jan Ilhan Kizilhan has returned to northern Iraq with a plan to save thousands of other psychologically scarred war victims left behind.

With backing from the German state of Baden-Württemberg, Kizilhan has set out to train a new generation of psychologists and trauma specialists he believes will be among the most qualified in the Middle East

After years of war, Iraq and Syria are struggling with a mental health crisis neither country has the capacity to address. In northern Iraq alone, where more than 1 million people are displaced by violence, just a couple dozen local psychologists are believed to be treating patients.

Various nongovernmental organizations and government initiatives have sought to fill the gaps, including Baden-Württemberg’s asylum program, which physically transported some of the most psychologically scarred women and children in northern Iraq to a part of the world where they could more easily access mental health care.

As a dark measure of the German program’s effectiveness, its directors boast that of its 1,100 beneficiaries—mostly women held as ISIS sex slaves and their children—not one has taken his or her own life in contrast to some other ISIS survivors who didn’t get a spot in the program.

Mindful of the deadly stakes for those left behind, Baden-Württemberg invested 1.3 million euros, a small fraction of its annual budget, into Kizilhan’s new institute, which aims to cultivate the experts where they’re needed.

The Institute for Psychology and Psychotraumatology sits on a neatly manicured hill at the University of Duhok in northern Iraq. On a sunny morning in May, the campus, set against the backdrop of picturesque mountains, hummed with the sounds of lawn mowers.

Just a short drive away, hundreds of thousands of displaced people live in sprawling camps, each one having risen up in the wake of an exodus—from an ISIS advance, bombings, or clashes. Just 40 miles to the south, chunks of Mosul lay in ruin from a months-long battle to oust ISIS from the populous city. Forty miles to the west: the Syrian quagmire. And despite the campus’ unblemished appearance, everyone at the school seems to have been touched by war.

Hewan Avssan Omer, a 26-year-old secretary at the institute, only escaped a 2014 ISIS attack on her village because she happened to be away at school. The militants kidnapped other members of her family, some of whom escaped just months ago. Omer’s 7-year-old cousin spent two and a half years in captivity and returned to society unable to speak his native Kurdish, confused about who his parents are and where he is from.

The staff’s proximity to and familiarity with the local crisis is intentional.

One of the biggest criticisms of the German program was that it exposed trauma victims to the additional stress of culture shock by transporting them to a foreign place.

At his office in Baden-Württemberg in early 2016, Kizilhan said the United Nations refugee agency was one of the critics to raise this concern of detaching victims “from their roots.” The German team responded that it was a price they were willing to pay, at that precarious time, for potentially saving lives. “In Iraq they are living in camps, their parents are killed, they have no roots!” Kizilhan responded. “It’s ridiculous. They need stabilization and security before they can talk about how it felt to be raped and helpless. How do you do this in a tent?”

Source: The Man Raising an Army of Psychologists in Iraq

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ISIS Targets American Imams for Believing Muslims Can Thrive in U.S. – Also in Canada

Does undermine the American right’s characterization of American Muslims:

Three American imams got put on ISIS’s hit list for promoting the idea that Islam and the West can coexist.

The terrorist group’s latest issue of propaganda Dabiq attempts to theologically justify an attack on the religious leaders in an article titled “Kill the Imams of Kufr in the West.” The men are worse than hypocrites, ISIS says, because they say Muslims can thrive in America.

“The person who calls himself a ‘Muslim’ but unapologetically commits blatant kufr [disbelief] is not a munafiq [hypocrite], as some mistakenly claim. Rather, he is a murtadd [apostate],” Dabiq claims.

The Daily Beast will identify two of the Americans with pseudonyms because of the direct threats on their lives. A third, who gave The Daily Beast permission to use his name, responded with dark humor.

“Nothing like a death threat with a danish and a latte in the morning,” Suhaib Webb told The Daily Beast.

This is the first time ISIS has put out a direct hit on U.S. imams.

Webb is treated with contempt by jihadists who call him “the joke of al-Azhar,” a reference to his time at the esteemed Islamic university in Egypt.

“I mean, it’s certainly concerning,” he said, adding that he’s been contacted by the Department of Homeland Security about the threat. “They maybe want to brief me on things to look for, to be cautious of,” he said.

The irony of being on the most extremist group’s hit list isn’t lost on Webb, who for years has been accused of Islamic extremism by the far right in America.

“In a way, [Dabiq]’s attacking what many of us think makes our country awesome. And at the same time, it repudiates people on the right,” he said. “If people like myself are radical extremists, then why is ISIS putting a death threat on us?”

Meanwhile in Canada:

Just days after celebrating cultural bridges, a Toronto imam has been targeted in a Daesh hit list.

The self-declared Islamic State called out Shaykh Abdullah Hakim Quick along with other Muslims in the West, urging followers to kill them for speaking out against the group and betraying their interpretation of Islam.

Quick works with the Canadian Council of Imams, which hosted its first annual dinner on Monday night, honouring political leaders and community members.

“It was a really good vibration that came out of that meeting, a lot of unity between people of different faiths,” Quick told the Star.

“So here comes the devil, as we would say, screaming out against us the next day.”

Quick first learned of the threat on Wednesday from a fellow imam in the council, but though he says he has contacted law enforcement and is taking precautions, he will not be intimidated.

“I will continue to do what I have to do,” he said. “Putting my trust in God. This is what Muslims do when they find themselves in difficulty, and continue on to do what’s right.”

Michael Zekulin, a terrorism researcher at the University of Calgary, says the threat is typical of Daesh’s propaganda tactics, but not necessarily legitimate.

Daesh has implored its followers to go after others in the past, he says, like Calgary-based cleric Syed Soharwardy and UFC fighter Tim Kennedy.

“It never resonated,” Zekulin said. “It’s not something you dismiss and laugh off, but at the same time I’m not sure that simply because they mentioned this individual all of a sudden (he) is a serious immediate target.”

He says more than anything the threat demonstrates the sophisticated, extensive nature of Daesh’s communication network.

To have meaning, ‘genocide’ must be protected from political exploitation: Erna Paris

Edna Paris on some of the cynicism involved with the use of ‘genocide’ in describing the war crimes of the Islamic State:

In his formal remarks, Mr. Kerry seemed notably vague on the subject. He spoke about threats to Christians, about crimes against humanity and war crimes – all indisputable facts, but unlikely to meet the threshold of genocide. He spoke of his belief that if IS were ever to create its hoped-for caliphate, “it would seek to destroy what remains of the ethnic and religious mosaic once thriving in the territory.” Tellingly, he distanced himself by saying he was “neither judge nor prosecutor nor jury,” and that potential charges against the extremists must result from an independent international investigation.

That, as Mr. Kerry certainly knew, was the crux of the matter. Genocide is the worst crime ever to be codified into law; as human beings we had to invent the category to contain the terrifying contents of the Nazi assault on the Jews of Europe during the Second World War. Mr. Kerry’s charge of genocide against Christians, made under heavy political pressure, with sparse evidence, degraded the crucial concept we must rely upon to punish the most vicious crimes.

In Britain, Prime Minister David Cameron bluntly labelled attempts to classify IS crimes as genocide, “politicization.” “These decisions must be based on credible judicial processes,” he said, lending credence to Mr. Kerry’s own words about the need for independent investigation. The government of Canada (typically more polite) also declined to join the United States, stating that it would stick with the designation of war crimes.

It’s hard to predict where the Kerry declaration will lead. What the Secretary of State did offer was refuge for Christian and other minority victims of IS brutality; however, many of those other victims are Muslims – and in the harsh world of Donald Trump, Muslims are less than welcome in America.

What matters most is the cynicism with which the singular term “genocide,” with its real and symbolic import, has been abused. If it is to continue to have purpose and meaning, the charge of genocide must be protected from political exploitation.

What Does It Mean If An Attack Is ‘ISIS-Inspired’? : NPR

Good contrast between the centralized control of Al-Qaida and the lack of centralized control by ISIS, and greater number of lone-wolf or small group terrorist activity:

Today’s violent jihadist threat is very different from those associated with al-Qaida in the past. ISIS followers appear more troubled and more confused about their intentions and motivations than their al-Qaida predecessors.

Al-Qaida’s operatives typically went to Pakistan or Yemen to train. They usually had email connections and phone conversations with known terrorist actors as they prepared to attack. And Ayman al-Zawahiri, now the leader of al-Qaida, kept a tight rein on the group’s terrorist operations. He was keen to approve each and every attack and he loathed freelancers. He worried, among other things, that unsanctioned attacks could dilute the al-Qaida brand.

The ISIS model couldn’t be more different. The attacks dubbed as ISIS-inspired in this country have tended to be the work of what law enforcement officials call “classic injustice collectors.”

These are people who have been nursing various resentments for years, who, in the heat of the moment, appear to reinvent themselves as ISIS followers. Doing so, officials say, not only gives them a greater sense of purpose, but it also seems to guarantee a great deal of publicity.

McCants says it would make sense to determine if a suspect actually had some sort of sustained interest in a particular group before deciding an attack was inspired. “If you have individuals who have no sustained interest in the group and have no organizational ties,” he said, “it seems like their interest in ISIS is much more opportunistic than it is ideological.”

Clint Watts, a Fox Fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute in Philadelphia, has been tracking the city’s police shooting case. He says it is very possible that the saturation coverage of ISIS, rather than the ideology of the group itself, motivated Archer to claim he’d opened fire on Officer Jesse Hartnett for the Islamic State.

“I think it was mostly what would be described as a headline-inspired terrorist attack,” said Watts.

Archer’s mother told police he had mental problems and recently had been hearing voices. Archer has a long criminal history. Those kinds of facts shouldn’t be lightly dismissed — they might actually provide an explanation.

“Someone who has deep psychological issues, some sort of problems in their local environment, picks up a weapon, and conducts an attack and then attributes it to a group like ISIS and before that al-Qaida,” says Watts. “The connections to the actual terrorist group are nonexistent, so that’s why, so far in this case, I’d say it is more inspired by current events than a particular ideology.”

Source: What Does It Mean If An Attack Is ‘ISIS-Inspired’? : NPR

Where is the PM when Quebec needs him? Lysiane Gagnon

Worth reading, but not as sanguine about her conclusion regarding overall Canadian fears or not regarding Canadian Muslims.

Virtually all polling I have seen, as well as the identity politics practiced by the Conservative government, suggest that a significant number of Canadians do share this fear.

Fine balance between over and under-playing, but overall better to downplay and avoid over-heating fears:

Former prime minister Stephen Harper was too warlike. Now, we have the other extreme: a prime minister who hates conflicts and sees the world through a New Age prism in which everything can be solved with love and understanding. Unfortunately, the country he leads doesn’t live in a dream world.

Maybe Mr. Trudeau’s timidity is also due to the fear of raising anti-Muslim sentiments. But this is a misplaced fear: Canadians are not stupid and they know that the huge majority of Muslims have nothing to do with radical Islam. And Muslims are often the first victims of the murderous groups who reign by terror over large parts of the Middle East and Africa.

Source: Where is the PM when Quebec needs him? – The Globe and Mail

Why ISIS has the potential to be a world-altering revolution: Scott Atran

A really good in-depth and lengthy analysis of some of the problems with current strategies against ISIS and similar movements. A necessary if not encouraging read:

The 9/11 attacks cost between $400,000 and $500,000 to execute, whereas the military and security response by the US and its allies is in the order of 10 million times that figure. On a strictly cost-benefit basis, this violent movement has been wildly successful, beyond even Bin Laden’s original imagination, and is increasingly so. Herein lies the full measure of jujitsu-style asymmetric warfare. After all, who could claim that we are better off than before, or that the overall danger is declining?

This alone should inspire a radical change in our counter-strategies. Yet, like the proverbial notion of insanity being the repetition of the same mistakes while expecting different results, our side continues to focus almost exclusively on security and military responses. Some of these responses have proven hopelessly ineffective from the outset, such as relying on the Iraqi, Afghan or Free Syrian armies.

ISIS manages 70,000 Twitter and Facebook accounts, with hundreds of thousands of followers, and sends approximately 90,000 texts daily

By contrast, there is precious little attention to social and psychological needs. I don’t mean to suggest that we solve things by offering potential jihadists better jobs. A still-unpublished report by the World Bank shows no reliable relationship between job production and violence reduction. If people are ready to sacrifice their lives, then it is not likely that offers of greater material advantages will stop them.

Instead, we must meet their psychological and aspirational needs. In just one example of how we fall short, the US State Department continues to send off-target tweets through negative mass messaging in its ineffectual ‘Think Again Turn Away’ campaign. Compare this to ISIS, which can spend hundreds of hours trying to enlist single individuals. Through its social media, the sophisticated Islamic State learns how personal frustrations and grievances can fit into a universal theme of persecution against all Muslims, and then translates anger and unrealised aspiration into moral outrage. Some estimates have ISIS managing upwards of 70,000 Twitter and Facebook accounts, with hundreds of thousands of followers, and sending approximately 90,000 texts daily. ISIS also pays close attention to the pop songs, video clips, action movies and television shows that garner high ratings among youth, and use them as templates to tailor their own messages.

By contrast, the US government has few operatives who personally engage with youth before they become a problem. The FBI is pressing to get out of the messy business of prevention and just stick to criminal investigation. ‘No one wants to own any of this,’ one group from the US National Counterterrorism Center told us. And public diplomacy efforts don’t quite get that hackneyed appeals to ‘moderation’ fall flat on restless and idealistic youths seeking adventure, glory and significance. As one imam and former Islamic State facilitator told us in Jordan:

The young who came to us were not to be lectured at like witless children; they are for the most part understanding and compassionate, but misguided. We have to give them a better message, but a positive one to compete. Otherwise, they will be lost to Daesh.

Local grass-roots approaches have had better luck in pulling people away. The United Network of Young Peacebuilders has had remarkable results in convincing young Taliban in Pakistan that enemies can be friends, and then encouraging those so convinced to convince others. But this will not challenge the broad attraction of the Islamic State for young people from nearly 90 nations and every walk of life. The lessons of local successes must be shared with government, and ideas allowed to bubble up before they boil over. To date, no such conduit exists, and young people with good ideas have few institutional channels to develop them.

Even if good ideas find ways to emerge from youth and obtain institutional support for their development to application, they still need intellectual help to persuade the public to adopt them. But where are the intellectuals to do this? Among Muslim leadership I’ve interviewed around the world, I listen to PowerPoint presentations intoning on ‘dimensions of ideology, grievance, and group dynamics’, notions that originate exclusively with Western ‘terrorism experts’ and think tanks. When I ask: ‘What ideas come from your own people?’, I’m told in moments of candour, as I was most recently by a Muslim leadership council in Singapore, that: ‘We don’t have many new ideas and we can’t agree on those we have.’

Civilisations rise and fall on the vitality of their cultural ideals, not their material assets alone

And where among our own current or coming generation are the intellectuals who might influence the moral principles, motivations and actions of society towards a just and reasonable way through the morass? In academia, you’ll find few willing to engage with power. They thus render themselves irrelevant and morally irresponsible by leaving the field of power entirely to those they censure. Accordingly, politicians pay them little heed, and the public couldn’t care less, often with good reason. For example, in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, many in my own field of anthropology principally occupied themselves with the critique of empire: is the US a classic empire or ‘empire light’? This was arguably a justifiable academic exercise, and perhaps a useful reflection in the long run, but hardly helpful in the context of a country moving fast to open-ended war, with all the agony and suffering that extended wars inevitably bring.

Responsible intellectual endeavour in the public sphere was once a vibrant part of our public life: not to promote ‘certain, clear, and strong’ action, as Martin Heidegger wrote in support of Hitler, but to generate just and reasonable possibilities and pathways for consideration. Now this sphere is largely abandoned to the Manichean preachings of blogging pundits, radio talk-show hosts, product-pushing podcasters, and television evangelicals. These people rarely do what responsible intellectuals ought to do. ‘The intellectual,’ explained France’s Raymond Aron 60 years ago, ‘must try never to forget the arguments of the adversary, or the uncertainty of the future, or the faults of one’s own side, or the underlying fraternity of ordinary men everywhere.’

Civilisations rise and fall on the vitality of their cultural ideals, not their material assets alone. History shows that most societies have sacred values for which their people would passionately fight, risking serious loss and even death rather than compromise. Our research suggests this is so for many who join ISIS, and for many Kurds who oppose them on the frontlines. But, so far, we find no comparable willingness among the majority of youth that we sample in Western democracies. With the defeat of fascism and communism, have their lives defaulted to the quest for comfort and safety? Is this enough to ensure the survival, much less triumph, of values we have come to take for granted, on which we believe our world is based? More than the threat from violent jihadis, this might be the key existential issue for open societies today.

Source: Why ISIS has the potential to be a world-altering re…

We need to talk about how Islamic State interprets Islam

Good discussion by Balsam Mustafa:

There is no immediate magical solution to this problem. A comprehensive, constructive, and critical reading of Islamic fiqh (the human understanding of Sharia law) and history in all its stages requires a huge collective effort. That effort needs to include governments, religious authorities and other institutions, such as academia and the media.

Such effort needs to start with challenging religious messages that incite hatred or violence. That should include TV channels that support sectarian and ethnic division. These are not only broadcast from Arabic countries but also from Western countries, including the US and Britain.

Given the political conflict that feeds religious and sectarian conflict – often supporting and funding extremist voices delivering the message of hatred among and beyond Muslims – this might be difficult to achieve in the foreseeable future. Still, there are steps that need to be taken to pave the way for this ultimate goal.

People are already creatively trying to shift the extremist language and narratives through comedy and factual programmes. These efforts often emphasise the human over religion or ethnicity.

And messages of this kind can be found in religious texts too – even if they are largely overlooked by extremists. Take the Quranic verse: “there is no obligation in religion”; the Hadith by prophet Muhammed: “religion is how you treat others”; and the saying by Ali Ibn Abi Talib, cousin of prophet Muhammed, “people are two types: your brothers in religion, or your human counterparts, otherwise”.

We need to listen to these messages and use them to confront violence. It will be a long journey, but it is worth all our efforts. If we defeat IS but do not have an honest, critical re-reading of Islam, another group will only come along to replace it.

As the debate among Islamic scholars has shown, it has been difficult to establish the consensus that, even if sabi and jizya were once considered valid, they are no longer legitimate. But that very difficulty reinforces the need to undertake the task.

Source: We need to talk about how Islamic State interprets Islam

What ISIS songs reveal about the group’s evolution

Another side of Daesh/ISIS’ propaganda and recruitment strategy:

After this month’s attacks in Paris, ISIS released an audio recording celebrating the attacks and taking responsibility for them. The RCMP is still investigating the recording to determine whether the voice on the recording belongs to a Canadian. Some linguists are convinced it does, and that the speech patterns suggest he is from Ontario. But it’s still not clear whose voice is on that recording.

What we do know is that the audio statement begins with an acapella song that’s as hooky as any pop song, and it plays throughout the five and a half minute recording.

The song takes the form of a traditional Islamic holy chant, called a “nasheed”. These songs have become key to the ISIS propaganda machine. They’re the soundtrack to the shocking execution videos, they’re blasted from cellphones on the battlefield and now, they’re showing up more and more in English.

Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi,fellow at the Middle Eastern Forum, says the Islamic State is one of the leading producers – if not the­ leading producer – of jihadi nasheeds today.

Day 6 asked him to  listen to the music in ISIS’ latest audio recording following the Paris attacks, and to compare it to other jihadi songs that ISIS has produced.

“My immediate thoughts on that nasheed is the language used: English,” says Al-Tamimi. He says the Islamic State has recently branched out into producing nasheeds in other languages, including English, French, German and even Hindi and Uyghur to reach  out to non-Arabic foreigners to join the Islamic State.

“This one  is what you could call one of the more generic nasheeds in terms of content, referring to conceptions of martyrdom and virgins of paradise promised for those who die in the cause of jihad,” says Al-Tamimi.

And he says the catchiness of the songs serves a strategic purpose. “In regards to the melodies of nasheeds being catchy, it can help subconsciously imbibe the nasheed into your mind. The catchiness of the nasheed will help reinforce the messaging and indoctrination,” says Al-Tamimi.

Source: What ISIS songs reveal about the group’s evolution – Home | Day 6 | CBC Radio

Experts: Yes, Anti-Refugee Rhetoric Helps ISIS – The Daily Beast

Unfortunately, not understood by so many:

President Obama said Sunday that by rejecting and vilifying Syrian refugees, Republicans (and Democrats who are going along with them) are doing the terrorists’ work for them.

“Prejudice and discrimination helps ISIL and undermines our national security,” Obama said. This sounds like a political talking point, but if you speak with the independent academics who actually study the mentality and motivations behind terrorism, it turns out Obama is correct.  Broad anti-Muslim suspicion and rhetoric is not only anti-American, it helps the terrorists!

I spoke with a number of our nation’s top academics who study the pathology and psychology of terrorism in general and ISIS in particular. Every single one agreed that the anti-Syrian refugee policies and rhetoric help ISIS.

“There is no place for bigotry in effective counterterrorism,” Professor James Forest, the director of the graduate program in security studies and interim director of the Center for Terrorism and Security Studies at UMass Lowell, told me. “Terrorist groups like al Qaeda and Islamic State thrive when they can exploit the vulnerable seams within a society, when they can exacerbate prejudices.”

Arie W. Kruglanski, professor of psychology at the University of Maryland, has written about how ISIS recruitment strategy is based on psychology, not theology.  And within that context, Kruglanski told me: “The refugee debate could fuel the bitterness and sense of grievance of young Muslims anywhere and could be used by ISIS propaganda machine to enhance anti-US sentiment and boost recruitment.”

“Counterterrorism tries to do two things,” explained Professor Max Abrahms, a political scientist at Northeastern University who studies terrorism. “You try to neutralize existing terrorists and you try to not breed new ones. The surest way to breed new ones is if you’re indiscriminate—for instance, punishing non-violent, moderate Muslims.”

In fact, Abrahms noted he thinks an attack like the one in Paris, from so-called homegrown terrorists, is less likely “because the American Muslim population is much happier, better integrated and does better financially.”

A more moderate Muslim population yields a smaller share of extremists and better relations with law enforcement—which explains why Muslims helped law enforcement prevent one out of every two al-Qaeda related plots against the U.S. since 2009.

“We need to cherish the support and moderation of the American Muslim community,” says Abrahms.

Source: Experts: Yes, Anti-Refugee Rhetoric Helps ISIS – The Daily Beast

After the terror: A time for calm reflection, not policy on the fly – The Globe and Mail

Paul Heinbecker, in his call for reflection, notes an important aspect of Canada’s strength:

Fifth, as for Canada, we, like others, cannot be defeated by terrorists but we can grievously harm ourselves if we scare ourselves into sacrificing too much liberty and dignity for security.

In a world rent by xenophobia, Canada has stood out as a successful society that has profited from refugee flows and immigration better than any other country has done. We can do it again this time with Syrian refugees. We are rare in our capacity to integrate foreigners into our society and to make the consequent diversity a strength.

The example we set is heartening to many people abroad who admire what we achieve and who aspire to the same for their own societies. Our cosmopolitanism is an extraordinary strength that anchors our well-being in a global sea of instability. We should take the time to ensure that our domestic- and foreign-policy choices do not put it at risk.

Source: After the terror: A time for calm reflection, not policy on the fly – The Globe and Mail