June 30 2018

Write Tribe Festival Of Words – June 2018 Day 7 – Photo Prompt


Sometimes a blink of an eye
Sometimes a long road filled with pain

An eternity, another day you have to get through
Something you don’t want to
But you do

You can’t do it
But you have to
Because what else can you do

Something worth fighting for
There is someone that loves you
Don’t forget that while going through those 24-hours, my heart and mind is open 24 hours.

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June 30 2018

The Girl Who Escaped ISIS : Farida’s Story by Farida Khalaf

In the summer of 2014, the jihadi group that had until then called itself “Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant” seemed invincible. Its fighters swept through north and central Iraq, seizing swaths of territory including Mosul, the country’s second city, and bulldozing earthworks that marked the Syria-Iraq border. Despite their US‑provided equipment and overwhelmingly superior numbers, the Iraqi armed forces fled in the face of ruthless attack columns flying Isis’s black war banner. The group celebrated these victories by taking the grandiose new name of Islamic State – no more petty geographical limitations. They also announced the establishment of a caliphate: a reimagining of the original pan-Islamic empire led by the Prophet Muhammad, with the cleric Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi at its head.

As westerners followed these distant events in the news, in northern Iraq an 18-year-old girl followed them too, with the same disbelief and pity for Isis’s victims. Farida Khalaf dreamed of becoming a teacher and in the peaceful village of Kocho, where she played football with her four brothers under the apricot trees, the violence seemed a long way off. But her family were Yazidi, members of a 700,000-strong Kurdish minority who follow a faith based on pre-Islamic traditions. And so, in the eyes of the puritanical Isis, they were devil worshippers who must be exterminated – or enslaved.

The Girl Who Beat Isis is Farida’s powerful testimony of that summer and the months that followed, co-written with the German author and journalist Andrea C Hoffmann. In its opening chapters, the dismantling of the lives of Farida and her fellow Yazidis is nightmarishly rapid and complete. When Isis arrive in Kocho, the villagers are rounded up and given the chance to convert to the jihadis’ brand of Islam. When they refuse, the men and older boys – including Farida’s father and oldest brother – are killed, and the unmarried women and girls, including Farida and her friend Evin, are loaded on to a bus at gunpoint. Their destination is the human market of Raqqa, the new caliphate’s de facto capital in northern Syria. There, they will be sold as sex slaves.

Their experiences confirm the ritualised system of sex slavery that has been described in Isis’s own publications: in reintroducing it, Isis has gone further than groups such as the Taliban or al‑Qaida. Farida’s “owner” prays before he rapes her. The girls are forced to take contraceptive pills so as not to break Islamic legal injunctions against sex with pregnant slaves, and are also made to pray as Muslims. Debating with the fighters about Islam or humanity, as Evin tries to do, proves futile.

What amazes both Farida and her readers are the glimpses of normality amid this horror. When her first buyers drag her from the slave market, she can hardly believe that the sun is still shining, and that Raqqa – the sinister “capital of terror” – has ordinary shops and kiosks selling everything from snacks to football shirts. Similarly, there are hints that life under Isis control is more complex than it appears. The girls meet civilians forced to work for the group and fighters who have joined under duress. But freedom brings the book’s final disturbing twist – the escapees are stigmatised by their traditional community, and tormented by guilt over their inability to stop the rapes and the resulting “dishonour” to their families. With little medical or psychological support, and no future, their only chance is to hope for resettlement in Europe. Amid the policy-wrangling over how to combat Isis, and the cynical calculations of the international powers embroiled in Syria and Iraq, this is a compelling testament to the suffering of ordinary people caught up in violence far beyond their control – and to the particularly terrible price it exacts from women.

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June 29 2018

Black Flags: The Rise of ISIS by Joby Warrick


Abu Musab al-Zarqawi offended even his al-Qaeda mentors with the brutality of his tactics: suicide bombings in public areas; massacres of Shia Muslims; and beheading of hostages. The Jordanian terrorist introduced an al-Qaeda 2.0, paving the way for Isis. Warrick shows how the botched US invasion of Iraq and the Syrian civil war both provided fertile ground for Islamic extremism. Zarqawi thrived in the post-invasion Iraqi chaos and his spiritual heir, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, took advantage of lawless Syria to create a jihadist army. The author’s access to sources such as a Jordanian security chief, a CIA investigator and an Iraqi tribal leader enrich the narrative and he skilfully interweaves their testimony with his pacy account of the terrible events in Iraq and Syria. This is journalism at its best: clear, readable and enlightening.

In “Black Flags,” Mr. Zarqawi comes across as a kind of Bond villain, who repeatedly foils attempts to neutralize him. He was a hard-drinking, heavily tattooed Jordanian street thug (well versed in pimping, drug dealing and assault), and when he found religion, he fell for it hard, having a relative slice off his offending tattoos with a razor blade. Joby Warrick’s Pulitzer prize-winning study of the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham, better known as Isis, has the narrative drive of a thriller. He begins with the emergence of the ruthless Jordanian terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who pioneered the use of filmed beheadings after the 2003 Iraq invasion: “His brand of jihadism was utterly, brutally original.” In contrast to the leader of al-Qaida, Osama Bin Laden, who regarded himself “as a unifier of Muslims”, Zarqawi also targeted Iraq’s Shias. Such “calculated barbarism” was aimed at provoking civil war, but it was the bitter internal strife of another country – Syria – that provided the ideal environment for Isis to emerge under Zarqawi’s successor, the scholarly son of an Iraqi imam: Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. In war-torn Syria, Baghdadi was able to go further than even al-Qaida, by founding a caliphate, a 7th-century theocracy, in the heart of the Middle East. From the mistakes made before and after the invasion of Iraq, to the continuing tragedy of Syria’s civil war, Warrick’s account is both compelling and authoritative.

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June 28 2018

Write Tribe Festival Of Words – June 2018 Day 5 – Photo Prompt

That’s all it takes
Just one step. Nothing more. Nothing less.

People come and go
Some taking that fateful steps
Others turning the other way.

The path is steep. Narrow.
Daunting in every way.
It’s impossible…isn’t it?
What if I stumble? Fall?
I couldn’t possibly get back up.

Climbing these stairs doesn’t seem so far anymore
Achievable. Freeing. Even close.
Faith is a difficult thing, but all it takes
Is a single step.

A step I’m finally willing to take to climb it.

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June 28 2018

ISIS: Inside the Army of Terror Book by Hassan Hassan and Michael Weiss

Two accounts – from Michael Weiss and Hassan Hassan, and from Patrick Cockburn – offer contrasting perspectives on the rise of jihadism in the Middle East Weiss and Hassan have produced a detailed and readable book. Their informants include American and regional military officials and intelligence operatives, defected Syrian spies and diplomats, and – most fascinating of all – Syrians who work for Isis (these are divided into categories such as politickers, pragmatists, opportunists and fence-sitters). The authors provide useful insights into Isis governance – a combination of divide-and-rule, indoctrination and fear – and are well placed for the task. Hassan, an expert on tribal and jihadist dynamics, is from Syria’s east. Weiss reported from liberated al-Bab, outside Aleppo, before Isis took it over. The authors begin by tracing the history of the most important forefather of ISIS: Abu Mus’ab al-Zarqawi, including his early years in the Afghanistan-Pakistan (Af-Pak) area in the closing days of the Soviet military presence in Afghanistan, his journey home to Jordan by 1992 and relationship with jihadi intellectual Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi that culminated in his imprisonment, and his subsequent return to Af-Pak in 1999 that first saw signs of tensions between Zarqawi and al-Qa’ida leader Osama bin Laden (OBL), where he nonetheless secured an alliance of convenience and ran a training camp in Herat, Afghanistan.

Following the invasion of Afghanistan, Zarqawi forged another alliance of convenience with Ansar al-Islam in Iraqi Kurdistan, moving there and throughout the region via Iran before his firm establishment on the scene of the Iraq War in 2003 with his Jamaat al-Tawhid wa al-Jihad and subsequent allegiance to OBL as the affiliated al-Qa’ida in Mesopotamia/Iraq. Where appropriate, Weiss and Hassan are keen to draw analogies in Zarqawi’s history and strategy with the present-day approach of ISIS, such as the same genocidal attitudes towards Shi’a designed partly to provoke murderous counter-responses and draw Sunnis further still towards the notion of Zarqawi/ISIS as ‘protector of Sunnis’, so to speak.

Indeed, one cannot really overstate the link between Zarqawi and ISIS, but it might also be worth noting that the tensions between OBL and Zarqawi (despite OBL’s acceptance of Zarqawi’s allegiance) and ISIS’ break from al-Qa’ida do not stop ISIS today from attempting to appropriate OBL as one of their own, as well as the likes of Abdullah Azzam. Weiss and Hassan further document in considerable and revealing detail how ISIS has been able to co-opt tribes in eastern Syria. Everyone by now knows of the Shaitat tribal uprising in Deir az-Zor province against ISIS in August 2014, but less observed is the fact that ISIS got members of the same tribe to put down the rebels by brute force (p. 842). ISIS’ divide-and-rule strategies for individual tribes- together with its ability to act as mediator between other tribes- severely complicate efforts to stir a tribal backlash to roll back ISIS in the heart of its territories. The book’s epilogue offers a number of spot-on conclusions. First, one must be wary of Iran and the Assad regime’s presentation of themselves as the solution to the ISIS phenomenon, as their own repressive approaches towards the original Syrian uprising especially have helped contribute to the problem. Iran in particular, with its ongoing strategy of cultivating sectarian proxy militias in Syria and Iraq that employ brute force, can only be seen as aggravating the situation, even as notions of cooperation with Iran amid the context of striking a grand bargain over the nuclear deal become ever more prevalent. Second, the ISIS split from al-Qa’ida, far from being a case of a ‘let them fight each other and engage in jihadi blood-letting’ bonus, actually presents a threat to the West as the two brands may look to compete as to who can pull off the better attack on Western soil.

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