I have had the privilege to moderate a conference given by French journalist, author and consultant Nicolas Hénin last week in Istanbul. He was in the focus of world media in 2013, when he was abducted by Daesh while he was covering the developments in Raqqa. His detention lasted 10 months together with other international media representatives. He was held hostage to be freed after long, tedious and dangerous negotiations between French authorities, go-betweens and Daesh. He was lucky enough to escape a certain death, as he was imprisoned in the same cell as James Foley, the American journalist whose terrible assassination by Daesh militants was released on the internet.
This long presentation of Hénin's particular period of life aims to explain how he is proficient regarding the situation on the field in Syria and Iraq. He speaks fluent Arabic, completed his university studies in Cairo and plainly refuses to talk about his captivity, preferring to focus on the reality of the situation and possible ways to head toward a solution. I would have loved to transcribe Hénin's intervention in its entirety, because he has been adamant to underline some striking issues, usually forgotten in analyses of journalists and decision-makers.
First, he has shown that both in Iraq and in Syria, the statehood structure has totally disappeared. This joins the thesis of Turkey when, albeit clumsily, the government and then Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan denounced former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's extremely communitarian and divisive administration. The Iraqi central government is not central to Iraq at all, it acts as the representative of the Iraqi Shiite community and has very strong ties with Iran. It therefore marginalizes the Sunni Arabs and Kurds altogether. A future Iraq will certainly not be a central state, because it has vanished long ago, together with the dynamics and symbols that can hold a nation together.
Hénin's analysis encompasses in the same vein the statehood in Syria. The regime is dead, it is being floated by the joint efforts of the Hezbollah, Iran and especially the Russian Federation. However, as it has been very pertinently reminded by Hénin, the regime of Syria's Bashar Assad, with its acolytes, is responsible for the deaths of 80 percent of civilians in Syria since the beginning of the war in 2011. Such a criminal gang cannot have any place in any future perspective in Syria.
Second, Hénin has insisted upon a fact that has largely gone unnoticed: Daesh's failure and total discomfiture stems from a fact that has alarmed everyone for different reasons: The massive migration of a Muslim community toward the lands of the unknown. When a "caliphate" is established, its main objective is to structure a society where Muslims would live in felicity. Well, the number of Muslims trying to escape Daesh and its caliphate are numbered in millions. This has totally discredited the Daesh once and for all. The latter will try to send militants to Europe disguised as "migrants" to foment terrorist attacks and to create and envenom a situation of conflict among the local populations and the migrants. Recently in Germany, a Daesh militant trying to escape security forces has been caught, imprisoned and delivered to the police forces by two "real" Syrian migrants, who wholeheartedly hate Daesh.
Third, Hénin made a comparison between Libya and Syria. In Libya, NATO intervention on the demand of France and Great Britain has caused the implosion of a totalitarian regime and has not been very successful. However, as compared to Syria, in Libya 5,000 people lost their lives and 12,000 civilians had to flee their hometowns. In Syria, nobody knows exactly anymore but around half a million people have died and are being killed, half of the country's population, amounting to 12 million, have left their homes or the country altogether. Therefore, an early air intervention in Syria (as demanded jointly by France and Turkey), could perhaps have limited the incredible slaughtering of the population.
And this is Hénin's final touch: He said openly that "our values must not remain in simple words only." A Syrian will be more hateful against a pilot who is bombing an entire locality than against a bearded militant who is mounting the guard at the next checkpoint. This is the main issue: The violence everyone in Syria and parts of Iraq is subjected to on a daily basis.
Let me conclude with Hénin's interesting final approach: He said that today Daesh's leader is named Al Baghdadi, despite the fact that he is not from Baghdad. In 10 years' time, the leader of the worst terror organization will call himself "Al Alebbi."
His book "The Jihad Academy" recently translated into Turkish, remains a vitally important reading.
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