Belmont Club

The Strangest Victory

The Strangest Victory
(AP Photo/Hussein Malla)

When Lord Haw-Haw gave his last broadcast on the night of April 30, 1945 he had no intention of going back to England.  Like other traitors trapped in the collapsing Third Reich he knew what lay in store for him.  A car took him from the recording studio to Flensburg for onward transportation to Denmark.  But as with many things in the last days of the Third Reich the car failed to turn up and Haw-haw finished at the end of a hangman’s noose. But the days when Britain publicly hunted down traitors is apparently over.  Like many other countries in Europe today they prefer to forget them.

President Donald Trump called on European countries to take back captured Islamic State fighters late Saturday as U.S.-backed forces in Syria closed in on the extremist group’s final sliver of territory. “The United States is asking Britain, France, Germany and other European allies to take back over 800 ISIS fighters that we captured in Syria and put them on trial,” Trump said on Twitter. “The caliphate is ready to fall.”

The impending fall of the Islamic State is modern history’s most curious victory.  There will be no parades nor widespread mention of who defeated them.  It all seems an embarrassment.  The most problematic aspect of the Last Days of the Caliphate is what  to do with Western ISIS fighters if repatriated.  Germany’s foreign minister Heiko Maas “noted that trials would be ‘extremely difficult to realize’ largely due to the absence of ‘judicial information.’ … even before Trump’s tweets, Britain staunchly rejected the idea of going into Syrian or Iraqi prisons or refugee camps in search of U.K. citizens who voluntarily left to join ISIS.”

It’s as if the Kurds and Americans would do the world a favor by making the problem simply go away.  Putting them on trial would be inconvenient since many of the “ISIS brides” and fighters were radicalized in the West.  Inquiring into how this happened might conceivably put multiculturalism itself on trial.  It is a curious fact that the per capita number of ISIS recruits by country is far higher in Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and the UK than in the intolerant USA. What could account for that?

Country Per capita per million
Belgium 40
Denmark 27
Sweden 19
France 18
Austria 17
Netherlands 14.5
Finland 13
Norway 12
United Kingdom 9.5
Germany 7.5
Ireland 7
Switzerland 5
Spain 2
Italy 1.5

Everyone wants to change the subject.  Yet Hoda Muthana, who made propaganda videos for ISIS, is implictly threatening to raise them in her defense.  Joe Walsh notes that press now routinely describes the ISIS member as an “Alabama mother” indicating she will soon use domestic contextualization as the explanation for her actions.  Now “the lawyer for Hoda Muthana, the U.S. woman who fled Islamic State and now wants to return home, has called for her to be a voice of a deradicalization program that dissuades others from joining the terror group and counters online manipulation.” But at least Muthana is willing to face justice, probably calculating that she will receive a lenient sentence. More lenient at least than that suffered by ISIS victims.

Hassan Shibly, an attorney who has represented Muthana’s family in the four years since she left her home in Alabama for Syria, says … “She wants to come back to the United States to be accountable for her mistakes and then be a powerful voice to make sure others don’t repeat those same mistakes,” Shibly said in response to an interview Muthana gave to the Guardian on Monday from a detention camp in Syria.

“Hoda Muthana was a vulnerable young woman who was taken advantage of by these terrorist criminal masterminds who ultimately brainwashed her and led her to make some horrible choices that she deeply regrets.”

Just who these “terrorist criminal masterminds” would be interesting to know — and tremendously inconvenient to explain.  If Germany finds “that trials would be ‘extremely difficult to realize’ largely due to the absence of ‘judicial information'” then perhaps the ISIS combatants should be tried, as at Nuremberg in the places where their crimes were committed.

But a new Nuremberg would suit no one’s book.  The campaign against ISIS is perhaps one that politicians would rather forget, from the way it started, to how it was dismissed and finally how it was crushed in low-key.  While everyone ritually denounces the 2003 invasion of Iraq few remember the 2014 American intervention in that same country following the withdrawal only 3 years previously.

“An American-led intervention in Iraq started on 15 June 2014, when President Barack Obama ordered United States forces to be dispatched to the region, in response to offensives in Iraq conducted by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). At the invitation of the Iraqi government, American troops went to assess Iraqi forces and the threat posed by ISIL. … Since then, in coalition with the United States, nine countries have also executed airstrikes on ISIL in Iraq. These airstrikes have been operating more or less in concert with ground warfare by Kurdish and Iraqi government forces against ISIL.” The intervention which has now driven ISIS into its last perimeter was originally the Operation with No Name.

Unlike previous U.S. combat operations, no name was initially given to the 2014 military operation in Iraq and Syria by the U.S. government, until mid-October. The fact that the operation was still nameless drew considerable media criticism. U.S. soldiers remained ineligible for Campaign Medals and other service decorations due to the continuing ambiguous nature of the U.S. involvement in Iraq. On 15 October 2014, two months after the first airstrikes by the U.S., the operation was named Inherent Resolve.

This suggests that the “brides of ISIS” will be swept off the front pages as soon as it can be arranged because nobody wants to explain how the West could wreck an entire region with a zig-zag foreign policy nor how it could export so many privileged killers, with the best First World educations, who thought they could hunt down 3rd world humans in a fit of religious righteousness and “go home”.

If the campaign against ISIS is ever remembered it will be in the homes of its victims: in the mountain of the Yazidi, the villages of the Kurds and the farms of the Copts. In his new book, The 21: A Journey into the Land of Coptic Martyrs, German novelist Martin Mosebach gives us a glance of what happened on the ground by recalling what happened to 21 Coptic Christians beheaded by ISIS on a Libyan beach.

I traveled to Upper Egypt where these men came from in these little villages and the families where these men are still living in big clans of hundreds of people. I visited all of these families, their bishop, I spent time to see their liturgies, and I went to the monasteries. These monasteries are islands of Christianity in a Muslim majority world.

I found a completely different point of view of martyrdom. No lamentation, no mourning, no pity, but, instead, pride and happiness. This was not seen as an injustice or an incident that should not have happened. On the contrary, mothers, widows, brothers, and fathers all spoke the same language. Their paintings and photographs, showed the killed ones with royal crowns on their heads.

Two views indeed. In the longest timeline of history, at the scale which measures the fate of civilizations, scholars may wonder at the significance of the moment when the wealthy institutions of Europe and America paradoxically felt almost ashamed of defeating ISIS while the poor Egyptian farmers gloried in resisting it.  Maybe it’s all about home; where it is, how you define it and how you get there.

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Custer’s Trials: A Life on the Frontier of a New America, by T.J. Stiles. Winner of the 2016 Pulitzer Prize in History, this book paints a portrait of Custer that demolishes historical caricature, revealing a volatile, contradictory, intense person — capable yet insecure, intelligent yet bigoted, passionate yet self-destructive, a romantic individualist at odds with the institution of the military (he was court-martialed twice in six years). The key to understanding Custer, Stiles writes, is keeping in mind that he lived on a frontier in time. In the Civil War, the West, and many other areas, Custer helped to create modern America, but could never adapt to it. Stiles casts surprising new light on a near-mythic American figure, a man both widely known and little understood.

Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging, by Sebastian Junger. We have a strong instinct to belong to small groups defined by clear purpose and understanding or “tribes,” a connection now largely lost. But its pull on us remains and is exemplified by combat veterans who find themselves missing the intimate bonds of platoon life at the end of deployment and the high rates of post-traumatic stress disorder suffered by military veterans today. Combining history, psychology, and anthropology, Junger explores what we can learn from tribal societies about loyalty, belonging, and the eternal human quest for meaning. He explains why we are stronger when we come together, and how that can be achieved even in today’s divided world.

For a list of books most frequently purchased by readers, visit my homepage.

Did you know that you can purchase some of these books and pamphlets by Richard Fernandez and share them with your friends? They will receive a link in their email and it will automatically give them access to a Kindle reader on their smartphone, computer or even as a web-readable document.
The War of the Words, Understanding the crisis of the early 21st century in terms of information corruption in the financial, security and political spheres
Rebranding Christianity, or why the truth shall make you free
The Three Conjectures, reflections on terrorism and the nuclear age
Storming the Castle, why government should get small
No Way In at Amazon Kindle. Fiction. A flight into peril, flashbacks to underground action.
Storm Over the South China Sea, how China is restarting history in the Pacific
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