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York University Professor Sabah Alnasseri discusses the strategy of ISIS and regional actors following the attacks in Paris and Beirut

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JESSICA DESVARIEUX, PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome to the Real News Network. I’m Jessica Desvarieux in Baltimore. Much of the news on Thursday focused on a newly-released video from ISIS threatening to attack major American cities like New York. But New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said that there had been, quote, no credible and specific threat against New York City, and urged people to ignore the video and go about their lives. Many point to these type of videos as being part of ISIS’s strategy of fear. But what’s beyond this fear-baiting? Now joining us to answer this question is Sabah Alnasseri. Sabah is a professor of political science at York University in Toronto, Canada. Thanks for joining us, Sabah. SABAH ALNASSERI: Good to be with you, Jessica. DESVARIEUX: So let’s get right into this ISIS strategy. Can you just lay out for us some main objectives that ISIS has when it concerns the attack that happened in Paris, as well as their objectives related to Syria and Iraq? ALNASSERI: Right. Let me start with this, you know, that the recent attack in Paris is a product of Paris rather than ISIS. What do I mean by that. ISIS exploited and utilizes the allied nation criminalization, dehumanization, inferiorization, et cetera, of young Muslim and Arab people in Europe. Especially in France, one of the most racist states in Europe. So it utilizes the alienation of these young people. And empowers them, in a sense that they take revenge on the same societies that excluded them and racially profiled them. So that’s part of the strategy of ISIS, which means that the attacks in Paris speak so much about the relationship of France to its own migrant community rather than to the violence of ISIS. Of course, ISIS, you know, I discussed this once with Chris Hedges, as a settler-colonialist movement similar to Israel, the only way it can sustain its state is through perpetuating the conflict. Extending the conflict. Think about the United States in the 1970s, when it looked that the U.S. was not winning the war in Vietnam. And there were possible peaceful solutions of the conflict in Vietnam. The United States extended the war to Cambodia precisely to jeopardize any possible political solution. So ISIS utilizes the same tactic by extending the war in Iraq and Syria to other parts, where it can sustain its state, knowing that any peaceful solution in Iraq or Syria, any shift in the political forces, would mean the collapse of ISIS. So logically, they need to perpetuate and sustain the conflict. DESVARIEUX: Okay. Sabah, let’s pivot and talk about the West strategy dealing with ISIS, specifically the United States. We know that there is ongoing bombing happening there in Syria, and President Obama, he laid out his strategy. Let’s take a listen. PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: We have a comprehensive strategy, using all elements of our power. Military intelligence, economic development, and the strength of our communities. We have always understood that this would be a long-term campaign. DESVARIEUX: So we just heard the president there acknowledging that this is going to be a long-term campaign. Some may even say endless. What do you make of his comments, Sabah, and do you see this type of plan making those in the West more vulnerable to attack? ALNASSERI: Yes. I mean, it’s–this is one of the three surprises, actually, I have about the Paris attack. Let me start with the third surprise. The predictability of the reaction of Western states since 9/11. So whenever there’s an attack we can hear the same usual talk about militarization, intensification of the conflict, send in more troops [inaud.] weapons, and it’s a long war, an endless war. And that’s the message. The message is to prepare the people for an endless form of violent politics. This is the message, and they need to sustain it just like ISIS needs to sustain its state [inaud.] elements. So that’s business as usual. The problem with that, you can see, is–and again, this is one of my third surprises about the predictability of the reaction of Western states, is see one of the alleged perpetrators in Paris had a Syrian passport. Or that’s what they claim. So what this provoked is a mass criminalization and racist reactions within Europe and the United States. I think 26 states and the Republican candidates spoke against admitting Syrian refugees to the United States or to Europe. So this is not only reminiscent of the colonial mindset, but it is [deja vu] with fascism and Nazism in the 1930s. Because at that time when Jewish European people were massacred, you know, the Nazis and the fascist regimes committed genocide against the Jewish people, none of the Western states, the so-called civilized states, the UK or U.S., accepted the Jewish refugees. So we are actually, as I said, experiencing a deja vu with these, with these times. The second surprise is that our surprise, that the French people were surprised that they were attacked, considering that their state, according to its own declaration, is in a war with ISIS. France was involved in Libya, 2011 in the war. In Mali, in Iraq and so on. So to be surprised that you are attacked is a surprise in itself. And the third surprise, and maybe the most important one, is see, despite all the war of intervention, occupation of, massacring of million and/or displacing millions of Arab or Muslim people of the Middle East, yet the absolute majority of the people in the Middle East reacted in a peaceful way. Not in a violent way. You can see 100,000 refugees come from the Middle East. Not to carry [up] and attack Europe. Otherwise Europe would have been destroyed. But actually to seek safe haven. A peaceful situation where they, where they have run away from the same violence that people of Paris recently experienced. So the surprise is despite all the terror and violence, and incarceration, et cetera, of the Arab Muslim people, yet they are actually still reacting in a very peaceful way. So that, these are the three surprises that cause me to think about something very important. Namely to drop the [inaud.] war terror. For three reasons. First, because since 9/11 terror is synonymous or interchangeable with Islam. Thus, it cultivates Islamophobia. You cannot differentiate between good and bad Muslims with [inaud.]. You can see, as I said, what the reaction of the states in Europe and the United States, by criminalizing millions of Syrians because of one passport. You can see, terror is interchangeable with Islam and thus cultivates Islamophobia. Second, terror is a violent term. It’s not only the [inaud.] but it’s a judgment. Which means it creates more violence and makes it almost impossible for the people of the West to sympathize and understand and create a form of solidarities with the people in the Middle East. And third, terror distracts from the terror of the state, of Western states actually committing vis-a-vis the people of the Middle East. That’s why I think the first thing we should do, we drop the term, the [non-word] terror to think about the situation in a different way. DESVARIEUX: That’s definitely important, dropping that name, terror, as you mentioned. But let’s talk about some ways that we can defeat and destroy ISIS. That’s on a lot of people’s minds right now, because they are a terrorist organization. I mean, they attack civilians. And it’s not to say that governments themselves can’t be considered terrorist organizations, but that’s something else. But let’s really talk about specific alternatives, both short-term and long-term strategy for dealing with ISIS, specifically ISIS. ALNASSERI: Well, just [inaud.] the solution is obvious since years. That’s the problem. But none of the involved regional and international actors is interested in solving it peacefully. You can see it in Syria. You know, since 2011, 2012, there were and are many options how to solve the conflict politically. Yet the regional and Western powers, you know, support and arm and finance all these extremist groups to perpetuate conflict in Syria, because their objective is a regime change, not a peaceful solution. The same thing in Iraq. It is so obvious and so clear that the most straightforward way of solving the conflict in Iraq is by politically, economically, and territorially integrating all the Iraqi people they call [inaud.] Sunnis into the state. And then let the people then themselves, as they did before, take care of ISIS. But again, here is no, there’s no will to do that. There is no strategy to solve the conflict peacefully. Rather what we see, from increased attacks, increased militarization, troops on the ground. But that’s precisely the purpose of again, of Western power to perpetuate the conflict, to perpetuate violence, to perpetuate instabilities rather than solve the conflict and getting rid of ISIS. Getting rid of ISIS is relatively easy if one has the will to do it. And there are options to do it. But I don’t see any of the actors interested in doing this at the moment. DESVARIEUX: I see. And the will to get that there, I mean, that’s going to take also the people themselves, the citizens of these countries, to learn about these issues more. Sabah Alnasseri, thank you so much for your analysis. ALNASSERI: Thanks, Jessica, for having me. DESVARIEUX: And thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.


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Sabah Alnasseri was born in Basra, Iraq, and earned his doctorate at the Johann-Wolfgang Goethe University in Frankfurt, Germany. He teaches Middle East politics and economy at the Political Science Department at York University in Toronto, Canada. His publications cover various topics in Marxist political economy, Marxist state theory in the tradition of Gramsci, Poulantzas and Althusser, theory of regulation, and Middle East politics and economy.