Tag Archives: Saudi Arabia

Conversation: The Wahhabi Chronicles, by Mohsin Siddiqui

I have been meaning to write about what it means to grow up in the Saudi Arabian Wahhabi model, what has held me back thus far is more about “Where do I begin?”

The beast is complex, pathological and has many facets to its manifestation in various areas of your life. It simply permeates every little part of your existence either willingly, subconsciously or via the guilt complex that it feeds on.

My intention here is not to proselytize nor is it to prescribe a remedy. Instead it is to share my experience with you.

I was born in the heydays of the oil boom in Saudi Arabia to expatriate parents from my native Pakistan. We lived happy – somewhat dysfunctional – lives as most would assume. We did better than our extended family and made sure we shared with those back home. My parents were average Sunni Muslims who observed prayers whenever they remembered – with the exception of Friday prayers that most Muslims religiously observe – and tried to generally stick to the ‘norms’ of the faith but nothing too strictly.

Life was good and we had plenty of good fortune that many did not have. My parents wanted us to study in English schools and paid handsomely for that ‘privilege’ in Saudi Arabia. At age 3 I was put on the conveyor belt of what we call the expatriate English educational system in Saudi Arabia. The school was owned and run by a Saudi prince and had relatively good standing in the community at the time. Our English teachers were predominantly British & Irish with a sprinkle of Americans and then a dominance of South Africans in the later years of schooling. An exception to this rule was of course the teachers who taught us Arabic, Quran and Islamic Studies; Mostly Egyptians and members of other Arab states.

I do not remember religion really playing a big role in my early life other than observing prayers when my father took me for prayers or when it was Ramadan and we fasted. As children we were eager to fast and show that we were adults, win school competitions by memorizing the Quran and other such “religious” observance. It was less dogma and more mimicking and following what others were doing in the community in general. Social policing is a common activity in Muslim communities; Your devotion to God is under constant check and invasion of your privacy a trivial matter.

The religious drive creeps in slowly, first it is keeping up image with the good neighbours and then it is trying to outdo them. Of course, all of this in the name of securing your heaven; For example If you memorize the Quran then your parents get a home in heaven. Prayers became more regular as we grew older and the school system pumped out more things to adhere to.

We had two classical Arabic classes and a Quaran class per day. We had to memorize verses, hadith (Prophets sayings) and other Islamic theology.  We also had a Quran teacher come at home to teach us how to recite the Quran. This is a common thing to do in the Muslim world and most families do this irrespective of their own religiousness.

What most people do not understand is that in a society like Saudi Arabia (or a predominantly Islamic community) it is quite normal to pray regularly, read the Quran, follow Islamic teachings and think nothing of it. It is a habit almost and you are kind of blind to the affect it is creating in you on the inside. There is little else for adults to do other than be pious. Pretty soon my mother also joined a Quran school to be more in tune with what she saw as her duty as a good Muslim. In Saudi Arabia, women have little option to do anything but basically be more religious. One could argue that men too have ultimately that as the only unrestricted avenue of ‘personal development’. Religion trumps everything.

Continue reading Conversation: The Wahhabi Chronicles, by Mohsin Siddiqui

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Conversation: Rogue Diplomacy

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Oceania Saker.

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Syria,ISIS & The US-UK Propaganda War, by Eric Draitser

source: New Eastern Outlook

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With the war in Syria raging in its fifth year, and the Islamic State wreaking havoc throughout the Middle East and North Africa, it’s clear that the entire region has been made into one large theater of conflict. But the battlefield must not be understood solely as a physical place located on a map; it is equally a social and cultural space where the forces of the US-UK-NATO Empire employ a variety of tactics to influence the course of events and create an outcome amenable to their agenda. And none to greater effect than propaganda.

Indeed, if the ongoing war in Syria, and the conflicts of the post-Arab Spring period generally, have taught us anything, it is the power of propaganda and public relations to shape narratives which in turn impact political events. Given the awesome power of information in the postmodern political landscape, it should come as no surprise that both the US and UK have become world leaders in government-sponsored propaganda masquerading as legitimate, grassroots political and social expression.

London, Washington, and the Power of Manipulation

The Guardian recently revealed how the UK Government’s Research, Information, and Communications Unit (RICU) is involved in surveillance, information dissemination, and promotion of individuals and groups as part of what it describes as an attempt at “attitudinal and behavioral change” among its Muslim youth population. This sort of counter-messaging is nothing new, and has been much discussed for years. However, the Guardian piece actually exposed the much deeper connections between RICU and various grassroots organizations, online campaigns, and social media penetration.

The article outlined the relationship between the UK Government’s RICU and a London-based communications company calledBreakthrough Media Network which “has produced dozens of websites, leaflets, videos, films, Facebook pages, Twitter feeds and online radio content, with titles such as The Truth about Isis and Help for Syria.” Considering the nature of social media, and the manner in which information (or disinformation) is spread online, it should come as no surprise that a number of the viral videos, popular twitter feeds, and other materials that seemingly align with the anti-Assad line of London and Washington are, in fact, the direct products of a government-sponsored propaganda campaign.

In fact, as the authors of the story noted:

One Ricu initiative, which advertises itself as a campaign providing advice on how to raise funds for Syrian refugees, has had face-to-face conversations with thousands of students at university freshers’ fairs without any students realising they were engaging with a government programme. That campaign, called Help for Syria, has distributed leaflets to 760,000 homes without the recipients realising they were government communications.

It’s not hard to see what the British Government is trying to do with such efforts; they are an attempt to control the messaging of the war on Syria, and to redirect grassroots anti-war activism to channels deemed acceptable to the political establishment. Imagine for a moment the impact on an 18-year-old college freshman just stepping into the political arena, and immediately encountering seasoned veteran activists who influence his/her thinking on the nature of the war, who the good guys and bad guys are, and what should be done. Now multiply that by thousands and thousands of students. The impact of such efforts is profound.

But it is much more than simply interactions with prospective activists and the creation of propaganda materials; it is also about surveillance and social media penetration. According to the article, “One of Ricu’s primary tasks is to monitor online conversations among what it describes as vulnerable communities. After products are released, Ricu staff monitor ‘key forums’ for online conversations to ‘track shifting narratives,’ one of the documents [obtained by The Guardian] shows.” It is clear that such efforts are really about online penetration, especially via social media.

By monitoring and manipulating in this way, the British Government is able to influence, in a precise and highly targeted way, the narrative about the war on Syria, ISIS, and a host of issues relevant to both its domestic politics and the geopolitical and strategic interests of the British state. Herein lies the nexus between surveillance, propaganda, and politics.

But of course the UK is not alone in this effort, as the US has a similar program with its Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications (CSCC) which describes its mission as being:

…[to] coordinate, orient, and inform government-wide foreign communications activities targeted against terrorism and violent extremism… CSCC is comprised of three interactive components. The integrated analysis component leverages the Intelligence Community and other substantive experts to ensure CSCC communicators benefit from the best information and analysis available. The plans and operations component draws on this input to devise effective ways to counter the terrorist narrative. The Digital Outreach Team actively and openly engages in Arabic, Urdu, Punjabi, and Somali.

Notice that the CSCC is, in effect, an intelligence hub acting to coordinate propaganda for CIA, DIA, DHS, and NSA, among others. This mission, of course, is shrouded in terminology like “integrated analysis” and “plans and operations” – terms used to designate the various components of the overall CSCC mission. Like RICU, the CSCC is focused on shaping narratives online under the pretext of counter-radicalization.

It should be noted too that CSCC becomes a propaganda clearinghouse of sorts not just for the US Government, but also for its key foreign allies (think Israel, Saudi Arabia, Britain), as well as perhaps favored NGOs like Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, or Doctors Without Borders (MSF). As the New York Times noted:

[The CSCC will] harness all the existing attempts at countermessaging by much larger federal departments, including the Pentagon, Homeland Security and intelligence agencies. The center would also coordinate and amplify similar messaging by foreign allies and nongovernment agencies, as well as by prominent Muslim academics, community leaders and religious scholars who oppose the Islamic State.

But taking this information one step further, it calls into question yet again the veracity of much of the dominant narrative about Syria, Libya, ISIS, and related topics. With social media and “citizen journalism” having become so influential in how ordinary people think about these issues, one is yet again forced to consider the degree of manipulation of these phenomena.

Manufacturing Social Media Narratives

It is by now well documented the myriad ways in which Western governments have been investing heavily in tools for manipulating social media in order to shape narratives. In fact, the US CIA alone has invested millions in literally dozens of social media-related startups via its investment arm known as In-Q-Tel. The CIA is spending the tens of millions of dollars providing seed money to these companies in order to have the ability to do everything from data mining to real-time surveillance.

The truth is that we’ve known about the government’s desire to manipulate social media for years. Back in February 2011, just as the wars on Libya and Syria were beginning, an interesting story was published by PC World under the title Army of Fake Social Media Friends to Promote Propaganda which explained in very mundane language that:

…the U.S. government contracted HBGary Federal for the development of software which could create multiple fake social media profiles to manipulate and sway public opinion on controversial issues by promoting propaganda. It could also be used as surveillance to find public opinions with points of view the powers-that-be didn’t like. It could then potentially have their “fake” people run smear campaigns against those “real” people.

Close observers of the US-NATO war on Libya will recall just how many twitter accounts miraculously surfaced, with tens of thousands of followers each, to “report” on the “atrocities” carried out by Muammar Gaddafi’s armed forces, and call for a No Fly Zone and regime change. Certainly one is left to wonder now, as many of us did at the time, whether those accounts weren’t simply fakes created by either a Pentagon computer program, or by paid trolls.

A recent example of the sort of social media disinformation that has been (and will continue to be) employed in the war on Syria/ISIS came in December 2014 when a prominent “ISIS twitter propagandist” known as Shami Witness (@ShamiWitness) was exposed as a man named “Mehdi,” (later confirmed as Mehdi Biswas) described as “an advertising executive” based in Bangalore, India. @ShamiWitness had been cited as an authoritative source – a veritable “wealth of information” – about ISIS and Syria by corporate media outfits, as well as ostensibly “reliable and independent” bloggers such as the ubiquitous Eliot Higgins (aka Brown Moses) who cited Shami repeatedly. This former “expert” on ISIS has now been charged in India with crimes including “supporting a terrorist organisation, waging war against the State, unlawful activities, conspiracy, sedition and promoting enmity.”

In another example of online media manipulation, in early 2011, as the war on Syria was just beginning, a blogger then known only as the “Gay Girl in Damascus” rose to prominence as a key source of information and analysis about the situation in Syria.The Guardian, among other media outlets, lauded her as “an unlikely hero of revolt” who “is capturing the imagination of the Syrian opposition with a blog that has shot to prominence as the protest movement struggles in the face of a brutal government crackdown.” However, by June of 2011, the “brutally honest Gay Girl” was exposed as a hoax, a complete fabrication concocted by one Tom MacMaster. Naturally, the same outlets that had been touting the “Gay Girl” as a legitimate source of information on Syria immediately backtracked and disavowed the blog. However, the one-sided narrative of brutal and criminal repression of peace-loving activists in Syria stuck. While the source was discredited, the narrative remained entrenched.

And this last point is perhaps the key: online manipulation is designed to control narratives. While the war may be fought on the battlefield, it is equally fought for the hearts and minds of activists, news consumers, and ordinary citizens in the West. The UK and US both have extensive information war capabilities, and they’re not afraid to use them. And so, we should not be afraid to expose them.

Eric Draitser is an independent geopolitical analyst based in New York City, he is the founder of StopImperialism.org and OP-ed columnist for RT, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Oceania Saker.

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Conversation: Russia Delivers Life Into American “Democracy”

It would be a moot point to explain why the United States of America is the biggest threat to humanity. It is a well documented fact now.

While America funded,armed,directed & supported Daesh/ISIS, Russia defeated it and then in true class gave the world a sight to truly behold.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Oceania Saker.

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Conversation: Syria in the crosshairs

The geopolitical world in the last few years has been caught up in a whirlwind cycle delivering headline breaking developments at a pace unseen in previous decades.

Below is the current status quo as described brilliantly by Syria’s Dr. Bashar al-Jaafari.

Sometimes, it is hard to follow all the news with so much confusion, back tracks, misinformation, disinformation, out right lies, pseudo intellectuals and so forth.

The war on Syria is a major investment on behalf of the “coalition” – read: NATO-GCC-Israel-ISIS nexus- and it would be silly to think that it will die down just because Russia intervened. There is a renewed round of attacks on Syria both in the media and on the ground.

But the public is wiser after these past 5 years of European terrorism, to borrow from Syria’s permanent representative to the UN, that has devastated the Middle East. Social media plays a vital role with voice’s like Eva Bartlett – who runs the meticulously fact checked blog In Gaza – constantly reminding us of the information war being actively waged.

Activist Mimi Al-Laham’s recent piece highlights the diverse nature of machinations behind the scenes with the latest hostilities most certainly benefiting the war party. But this is just the tip of the iceberg in what looks like a summer offensive – Taleban style – of the NATO led ISIS/Nusra/Al Qaeda complex in the Middle East.

Mohsin Siddiqui

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Oceania Saker.

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LEBANON – NOW IT IS BEING FORCED TO COLLAPSE, Andre Vltchek

Abbreviated version originally published by RT

Lebanese army ready to defend Tripoli

Lebanon cannot stand on its feet, anymore. It is overwhelmed, frightened and broke.

It stands on the frontline, facing the ISIS in the east and north, a hostile Israel in the south and the deep blue sea to the west. 1.5 million (mostly Syrian) refugees are dispersed all over its tiny territory. Its economy is collapsing and infrastructure crumbling. The ISIS is right at the border with Syria, literally next door, or even with one foot inside Lebanon, periodically invading, and setting up countless “dormant cells” in all Lebanese cities and all over its countryside. Hezbollah is fighting the ISIS, but the West and Saudi Arabia apparently consider Hezbollah, not the ISIS, to be the major menace to their geopolitical interests. The Lebanese army is relatively well-trained but badly armed, and like the entire country, it is notoriously cash-strapped.

These days, on the streets of Beirut, one can often hear: “Just a little bit more; one more push, and the entire country will collapse, go up in smoke.”

Is this what the West and its regional allies really want?

Top foreign dignitaries, one after another, are now paying visits to Lebanon: the U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon, World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim and the EU foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini. All the foreign visitors are predictably and abstractly expressing “deep concern” about the proximity of the ISIS, and about the fate of the 1.5 million Syrian refugees now living in the Lebanese territory. “The war in the neighboring Syria is having deep impact on tiny Lebanon”, they all admit.

Who triggered this war is never addressed.

And not much gets resolved. Only very few concrete promises are being made. And what is promised is not being delivered.

One of my sources that attended the closed-door meeting of Ban Ki-moon, Jim Yong Kim and the heads of the U.N. agencies in Beirut, commented: “almost nothing new, concrete or inspiring was discussed there.”

Once lavish downtown of Beirut - now ready for war

The so-called international community is showing very little desire to rescue Lebanon from its deep and ongoing crises. In fact, several countries and organizations are constantly at Lebanon’s throat, accusing it of ‘human rights violations’ and of having a weak and ineffective government. What seems to irritate them the most though, is that Hezbollah (an organization that is placed by many Western countries and their allies in the Arab world on the “terrorist list”) is at least to some extent allowed to participate in running the country.

But Hezbollah appears to be the only military force capable of effectively fighting against the ISIS – in the northeast of the country, on the border with Syria, and elsewhere. It is also the only organization providing a reliable social safety-net to those hundreds of thousands of poor Lebanese citizens. In this nation deeply divided along the sectarian lines, it extends its hand to the ‘others’, forging coalitions with both Muslim and Christian parties and movements.

Why so much fuss over Hezbollah?

Continue reading LEBANON – NOW IT IS BEING FORCED TO COLLAPSE, Andre Vltchek

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How narratives killed the Syrian people, by Sharmine Narwani

Source: RT

© Majed Jaber / Reuters
© Majed Jaber / Reuters

On March 23, 2011, at the very start of what we now call the ‘Syrian conflict,’ two young men – Sa’er Yahya Merhej and Habeel Anis Dayoub – were gunned down in the southern Syrian city of Daraa.

Merhej and Dayoub were neither civilians, nor were they in opposition to the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. They were two regular soldiers in the ranks of the Syrian Arab Army (SAA).

Shot by unknown gunmen, Merhej and Dayoub were the first of eighty-eight soldiers killed throughout Syria in the first month of this conflict– in Daraa, Latakia, Douma, Banyas, Homs, Moadamiyah, Idlib, Harasta, Suweida, Talkalakh and the suburbs of Damascus.

According to the UN’s Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria, the combined death toll for Syrian government forces was 2,569 by March 2012, the first year of the conflict. At that time, the UN’s total casualty count for all victims of political violence in Syria was 5,000.

These numbers paint an entirely different picture of events in Syria. This was decidedly not the conflict we were reading about in our headlines – if anything, the ‘parity’ in deaths on both sides even suggests that the government used ‘proportionate’ force in thwarting the violence.

But Merhej and Dayoub’s deaths were ignored. Not a single Western media headline told their story – or that of the other dead soldiers. These deaths simply didn’t line up with the Western ‘narrative’ of the Arab uprisings and did not conform to the policy objectives of Western governments.

For American policymakers, the “Arab Spring” provided a unique opportunity to unseat the governments of adversary states in the Middle East. Syria, the most important Arab member of the Iran-led ‘Resistance Axis,’ was target number one.

To create regime-change in Syria, the themes of the “Arab Spring” needed to be employed opportunistically – and so Syrians needed to die.

The “dictator” simply had to “kill his own people” – and the rest would follow.

How words kill

Four key narratives were spun ad nauseam in every mainstream Western media outlet, beginning in March 2011 and gaining steam in the coming months.

– The Dictator is killing his “own people.”

– The protests are “peaceful.”

– The opposition is “unarmed.”

– This is a “popular revolution.”

Continue reading How narratives killed the Syrian people, by Sharmine Narwani

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Dissecting False Narratives In Syria – An Interview With Eva Bartlett

Source: The Monitor

Eva Bartlett is a Canadian freelance journalist and activist who has lived in and written from the Gaza Strip, Syria, and Lebanon. She has visited Syria four times in the last 2 years (April and June 2014, February and December 2015). You can read other articles by Eva, or visit Eva’s website. She has a lengthy article published on DissdentVoice titled Deconstructing the NATO Narrative on Syria

You can follow her on twitter here and read her articles about Syria here. The interview attempts to dissect the divergent narratives presented about Syria in the media and to get an eyewitness account from somebody who has actually been there. It is sure to cause some controversy.

Click the picture below to listen to the interview:

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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Oceania Saker.

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THE REAL COALITION AGAINST DAESH IS THE “4+1”: RUSSIA, SYRIA, IRAN, IRAQ PLUS HEZBOLLAH, by Pepe Escobar

Source: Katehon

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When Palestinians defend themselves by throwing stones, they’re called terrorists, while Israel threatens Palestinians’ life on a daily basis and is considered innocent. Moreover, U.S. politicians have said many times that Israel has the right to defend itself; do you think they want to imply that the people of Palestine do not have the right to defend themselves?

The whole narrative across the West is framed by the multiple ramifications of the Israel lobby – with fuel to the fire constantly added by Zionists and American, French and British Zio-cons. They control key media outlets and always employ the same crude tactics to discredit critics; ANY criticism of Israel – which is usually directed to the framework of an apartheid state, and the state’s internal and foreign policy – is blasted as “anti-Semitic”. Criticism of Zionism has never had and will never have anything to do with anti-Semitism. Arguably the best deconstruction of this myth is available in the book aptly titled “Deconstructing Zionism”, edited by Gianni Vattimo and Michael Marder (Bloomsbury, 2014). A subplot of the myth is the “Israel has the right to defend itself” meme – which turns reality around to justify any repressive or frankly fascist Israeli attack. On top of it, Palestinians are not considered equal citizens to Israelis (the notorious, perennial Golda Meir maxim “there are no Palestinians”) and the Israeli elite overwhelmingly regards Arabs as inferior beings.

Many argue that the Zionist regime has been planted in the region to sow discord and keep regional countries busy with internal conflicts? What is your take on that? What is your understanding of the establishment of the Zionist regime?

Israel is essentially a European – and later American – aircraft carrier parked in the most sensitive area of Southwest Asia – what the West calls “the Middle East – to divide and rule Arabs, sow perpetual chaos, and expand its (never defined) borders to the benefit of a myth, the notion of Eretz Israel (“Greater Israel”). Such an entity obviously can survive only if it faces “threats” and is perpetually surrounded by “enemies” (the narrative of “tiny” and “defenseless” Israel surrounded by brutes.) “Threats” and “enemies” essentially comprise the Palestinians; previously all Arabs, and then, narrowing down to Iraq (destroyed by the US invasion/occupation) and Syria (being destroyed by a NATO/GCC alliance as we speak); and finally Iran, because of the Islamic revolution; the fact that Iran’s foreign policy is independent; and that Iran is the de facto major power in the region. The fact that Israel and the Wahhabis of Saudi Arabia have a shady alliance with plenty of convergence in their foreign policy is all we need to know about the Israeli power play in the region.

Continue reading THE REAL COALITION AGAINST DAESH IS THE “4+1”: RUSSIA, SYRIA, IRAN, IRAQ PLUS HEZBOLLAH, by Pepe Escobar

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