French for No-Go Zones

Posted by John Rosenthal

The recent controversy over a Fox News segment on “no-go zones” in France, culminating in Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo’s threat to sue the American channel, will undoubtedly have been a surreal experience for many French-speakers, connoisseurs of France, and, above all, French people themselves. For while the original remarks by Fox interviewee Nolan Peterson contained some fuzziness and error, the existence of such zones has been universally acknowledged in France for years: by members of all political parties, including Hidalgo’s own Socialists, and all media, including the leftist media. Of course, the French do not use the expression “no-go zones,” because the French speak French. Their expression is zones de non-droit, literally “lawless zones,” so described because the police are incapable of maintaining a regular enough presence in them to enforce the law.

For the details, see my new article in the Weekly Standard here.

Blowback: Charlie Hebdo and the Contradictions of Western Policy

Posted by John Rosenthal

The Islamic terror attack on the offices of the French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo has prompted spirited defenses of freedom of expression from the French government and its Western allies. The Western defense of freedom of expression in the face of attacks by Islamic fundamentalists has not always been so unequivocal, however. Indeed, from the start of the Mohammed cartoon controversy, the support of some Western governments – including the French – for Charlie Hebdo and other “offenders” has been tepid at best. Moreover, by allying with Islamist forces in places like Libya and Syria, the West has strengthened some of the most radical currents in the Muslim world: some of the very currents that had taken the West violently to task over the Mohammed cartoons. A brief review of the pre-history of the 2011 Libyan rebellion will make this clear…

See my new article on Geopolitical Monitor here.

Mehdi Nemmouche: The Road to the Brussels Jewish Museum Shooting

Posted by John Rosenthal

News that the suspected perpetrator of the Brussels Jewish Museum shooting is a French jihadist veteran of the Syrian war has added to what were already growing concerns about the dangers posed by European fighters returning from Syria. But closer consideration of the Brussels attack and its precedents shows that threats in Europe are not necessarily threats to Europe per se: Jews (civilians) and Americans (military personnel) remain the preferred targets of Islamic terrorists who strike on the European continent.

On the path that took the suspect, Mehdi Nemmouche, from a juvenile career of petty delinquency in France to jihadist militancy in Syria and ultimately, it seems, anti-Jewish terror in Brussels, see my new article at The Federalist here.

Spanish Diplomat on Obama’s Unfinished Wars

Posted by John Rosenthal

President Obama is reputed to be the president who “ends wars.” But Ignacio Rupérez, the former Spanish ambassador to Iraq, sees things differently. In an article in the Spanish daily ABC on the rise of ISIS in Iraq, Rupérez is quoted as follows:

Barack Obama wanted to go down in history as the president of the United States who ended wars. But in fact he should do so as the president who pulled his troops from wars without finishing.

Good Jihadist, Bad Jihadist? France’s Selective Struggle Against Jihadism in Syria

Posted by John Rosenthal

Last week, French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve announced with much fanfare the launching of a plan to stem the ever-increasing flow of young French Muslims to Syria to participate in “jihad.” But the comments of a French intelligence officer quoted in today’s edition of the daily Libération suggest that the efforts of French authorities in this regard are highly selective. Referring to the French jihadist recruits, the unnamed intelligence officer explained:

We distinguish between those that fight against Bashar al-Assad as part of the FSA [Free Syrian Army] – a struggle that has been given legitimacy by the West and by numerous fatwas – and jihadists that have been taken under the wing of al-Qaeda veterans and trained in the use of explosives and the art of deception, in order to foment attacks in Europe.

Only the latter, per the Libération report, will face arrest upon their return to France. By “al-Qaeda veterans,” the intelligence officer presumably has in mind the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham [ISIS]. It should be noted, however, that the official affiliate of al-Qaeda in Syria, Jabhat al-Nusra, is a crucial ally of the FSA.

An Eyewitness to the Syrian Rebellion: Father Frans in His Own Words

Posted by John Rosenthal

Much more on Father Frans van der Lugt’s view of the Syrian rebellion — and of coverage thereof in the media — including extensive translated quotes from three articles that Father Frans published in Dutch and an interview in French.

My new contribution to The BRICS Post here.

Father Frans on the Syrian Rebellion: The “Protestors” Shot First

Posted by John Rosenthal

Much has been written over the last week about Father Frans van der Lugt, the Dutch priest who was murdered last Monday in Homs, Syria. But in all that has been written about Father Frans and all the praise that has, undoubtedly justifiably, been heaped upon him as a man of peace, it is remarkable how little attention has been paid to his view of the Syrian rebellion.

Passing reference has been made in some press reports to a letter Father Frans published on a Dutch (in fact, Dutch/Flemish) website in January 2012 and his assessment, as contained therein, that the rebellion did not constitute a “popular uprising.” But the January 2012 post contains much more than that. Perhaps most notably, in it Father Frans writes that he personally observed armed elements among the protests that sparked the rebellion and that it was these gunmen from within the protests that opened fire on the security forces, thus provoking the response of the latter. Father Frans emphasizes that such gunmen were present in the protests “from the start” [vanaf het begin]. This, of course, runs entirely counter to the standard narrative of the rebellion that has been virtually universally adopted by the Western media.

What follows is my full translation of Father Frans’s January 2012 report from Homs. The Dutch original is available on the website of the Mediawerkgroep Syrië here.

Report from Father van der Lugt on the Situation in Homs

We owe it to the citizens of Syria to be nuanced. Otherwise, their struggle is lost.

There are many people here that sincerely believe that we can go further with this [i.e. the current Syrian] government, that it is capable of implementing reforms (see the president’s latest speech) and that it is perhaps more democratic than possible replacements.

Most of the citizens of Syria do not support the opposition. Even a country like Qatar has stated this following an opinion survey. Therefore, you also cannot say that this is a popular uprising. The majority of people are not part of the rebellion and certainly not part of the armed rebellion. What is occurring is, above all, a struggle between the army and armed Sunni groups that aim to overturn the Alawite regime and take power.

From the start the protest movements were not purely peaceful. From the start I saw armed demonstrators marching along in the protests, who began to shoot at the police first. Very often the violence of the security forces has been a reaction to the brutal violence of the armed rebels.

It is not sure that the government is playing off the two groups (Sunnis and Alawites) against one another. In Homs, it is precisely the opposite. The army is keeping the two groups from getting involved in a bloody conflict. If the army leaves, then we will have a civil war here in Homs.

Bashar al-Assad has never required the support of Christian leaders. Most support him because they are convinced that they would be worse off with another solution.

Father Frans van der Lugt
Homs, 13 January 2012

European Jihadists Flock to ISIS in Syria

Posted by John Rosenthal

Recent reports in the European press and evidence from social media implicate European jihadists fighting with the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) in atrocities committed in the vicinity of Aleppo, in northern Syria. The reports, moreover, suggest that European jihadists in Syria are more numerous than official statistics indicate.

For the details, see my new article at Al-Monitor here.

Hamburg Recruiter of 9/11 Hijackers Freed in Syria Prisoner Exchange

Posted by John Rosenthal

The Al-Qaeda recruiter who is reputed to have assembled the Hamburg Cell, which planned and largely carried out the 9/11 attacks, has been released in a prisoner exchange in Syria. His “liberators” are the rebels of Ahrar al-Sham, a major component of the so-called Islamic Front. The rebel coalition in northern Syria has sometimes been touted as a more “moderate” Islamist force worthy of Western support.

On Mohammed Haydar Zammar’s career and the circumstances of his release, see my new report on Al-Monitor here.

Reported “Moderate” Syrian Arms Recipient Has Collaborated with Qaida-Affiliate

Posted by John Rosenthal

According to a recent report in The Wall Street Journal, Saudi Arabia, apparently with US backing, has agreed to provide advanced weaponry, including shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles, to a newly formed “Southern Front” of the Syrian rebellion. The choice to arm the Southern Front was reportedly made so as to minimize the chances of weaponry being acquired by “al-Qaeda-inspired groups.” But if this is indeed the calculation of Washington and its regional allies, the problem is that the leader of the Southern Front has been known to collaborate with none other than Jabhat al-Nusra, Al-Qaeda’s official Syrian affiliate.

For the details, see my new article on Al-Monitor here.