"The Bleeding of the Christians Over 4 Years": Infographic in the Islamic State's al-Naba' Newsletter
Besides the Islamic State's very strong anti-Shi'a sentiment (as part of its wider railing against "apostates" from Islam), the group's propaganda has also emphasised the targeting of Christians in its attacks. This is especially so in the group's propaganda emanating from Africa, where the group regularly claims attacks targeting Christians and highlights the Christian identity of its victims in those claims. This highlights the group's wider approach to dealing with Christians beyond the more well-known denunciations of "Crusaders"- a term often associated with Western powers fighting against the Islamic State, but is in fact applied to all Christians in general perceived to be at war with the Islamic State. Simply put, the Islamic State's approach for Christians is three-fold: convert to Islam, submit to the authority of the Islamic State as dhimmis, or die. The only apparent exception is the aftermath of the group's takeover of Mosul in 2014, in which an agreement was struck that allowed the Christians to depart for territory not controlled by the Islamic State while relinquishing their property.
Allegations and reports of torture and abuse in prisons in the Syrian civil war have abounded. Much of the focus in this regard is on the Syrian government side, though in truth, probably no side is innocent of allegations of torture and abuse against detainees. This assessment does not mean making an exact moral equivalence between all sides, but it should be recognised that much of the problem surrounding torture and abuse in prisons goes back to a wider regional culture of cruelty in the judicial system, in which it is considered acceptable to use coercive means to extract information and secure confessions.
The following series of posts were written by Abd al-Razzaq al-Mahdi, a cleric in the area of Idlib and its environs who was at one time affiliated with Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham. In these posts, al-Mahdi discusses the problem of torture and abuse in prisons in the 'liberated' areas of Syria (i.e. those outside of government control and held by the insurgents, including but not necessarily limited to Idlib and its environs). He also discusses the issue of detention of women and young children being imprisoned with their mothers.
[This is a free-access post. To subscribe and obtain more content, go to https://aymennaltamimi.substack.com/].
Syria's economic situation- particularly in areas held by the Syrian government- has only continued to deteriorate with time, and with this deterioration, living standards have continued to diminish. Perhaps the most familiar indicator of this economic decline is the deterioration of the value of the Syrian pound: one U.S. dollar is now equivalent to more than 5000 Syrian pounds.
The continuing drop in the economic situation and living standards is in turn partly linked to what is one of the most contentious issues of Syria policy: namely, the imposition of extensive Western sanctions on the Syrian government in a bid to put economic pressure on it. The case for sanctions has been most concretely framed in terms of pressuring the government to accept a political 'transition.' Yet there is little evidence that this approach is having any success, as there is no sign that the government has made any concrete concessions because of sanctions. Nor has the government indicated any willingness to discuss a 'transition.'
Of the Visigothic kings who ruled Spain prior to the Islamic conquest, the reign of King Wamba (672-680 CE) is among those documented in greatest detail through contemporaneous or near contemporaneous historical writing, thanks to an extended narrative account by Julian of Toledo (archbishop of Toledo in the period 680-690 CE) of how Wamba dealt with a revolt early on in his reign (673 CE) in the Visigothic kingdom's holdings in southern Gaul (now southern France)- a region that has been called by various names such as Septimania and Gothic Gaul.
During this revolt, Wamba had sent his general Paulus to put down the revolt, only for Paulus himself to revolt against Wamba and assume the title of king (at least for the Gallic regions). The account of this revolt- put under the title of "The History of King Wamba"- consists of four works: (i) a purported letter from Paulus to Wamba, (ii) Julian's narrative account of the revolt, (iii) an extended rhetorical "insult" (Latin: Insultatio) directed against Gaul for the harbouring and nurturing the revolt, and (iv) the "judgement" (Latin: Iudicium) against Paulus and his accomplices.
While Julian's narrative account of the revolt is not disputed in attribution, the Iudicium is not universally agreed to be his work. In turn, the question over attribution of the latter raises the question of whether Julian himself participated in these events: that is, did he participate in Wamba's campaign to subdue the revolt and head with the king and his forces into Gaul? The Iudicium is certainly a contemporaneous account of events and of the judgement against Paulus and his faction, and gives the impression that its author was an active participant and eye-witness in the events. This is to be contrasted with Julian's narrative account, which does not give an eye-witness impression for the events narrated with the exception of apparently attending Wamba's coronation in Toledo. I personally incline to the view that the Iudicium was not written by Julian, and that Julian did not go into Gaul and become a witness to the events there.
In a turn of events that many observers of Syria's northwest did not expect, Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham, which dominates Idlib and its environs, has advanced into the Afrin enclave ('Olive Branch' zone) and has seized the important towns of Jindiris and Afrin. This zone had previously been dominated by the first three legions of the Turkish-backed Syrian National Army. In a notable split, however, two major groups (the al-Hamza Division and the Sultan Sultan Suleiman Shah Division) of the Syrian National Army are allied to Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham, which is also being supported by Ahrar al-Sham. This alliance is primarily opposed by forces of the Third Legion of the Syrian National Army, which is at the present time primarily represented in the Shami Front and Jaysh al-Islam groups.
There have been various reports and rumours regarding whether Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham will withdraw and alleged Turkish mediation between the conflicting sides. What is clear however is Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham's desire to expand its authority beyond Idlib and its immediate environs and into the areas of north Aleppo countryside spanning from Afrin to Jarabulus. Not only were there hints of this desire in speeches given by Abu Muhammad al-Jowlani over the summer (as noted by Aaron Zelin), but also in the current discourse of Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham's leaders and supporters. For example, 'al-Shimali al-Hur' (one of the more familiar pro-Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham accounts) has been using the hashtag: "One liberated area." This reflects a goal of Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham since its inception: to realise a single-faction-led project unifying the insurgent-held areas of Syria.
The war in Syria has now lasted for more than 11 years, but the majority of its days have not consisted of active battles. As time passes, this observation will be even more valid if there is maintenance of the status quo since the spring of 2020, when a ceasefire arrangement for northwest Syria was established between Turkey and Russia, ending the most recent major military campaign. The reality of most of the war has been and still is 'ribat': that is, maintenance of the frontlines and keeping on the lookout for enemy movements. This ribat in the present time is sometimes punctuated by skirmishes and exchanges of fire, but not active battles.
Analysts of Islamic State and jihadism in general are sometimes accused of unnecessarily amplifying the messages of jihadist groups. The criticism in my view is not entirely invalid. For example, I see no reason why analysts should be promoting on Twitter the early announcement of a forthcoming release by the Islamic State's al-Furqan Foundation (which these days normally takes the form of a speech by the official spokesman of the group).
My esteemed friend and colleague Richard Landes, who last year had me translate a letter by Saint Agobard and other bishops on the "Jewish superstitions" in ninth-century CE Carolingian France, has drawn my attention to another interesting medieval text with a suggestion for translation- this time a sermon by the French monk Adémar de Chabannes, who lived in the late tenth and early eleventh centuries CE and is best known for championing the cause of Saint Martial (the first bishop of Limoges) and falsely portraying him as one of the original apostles when in fact he was a third century bishop. To support this false claim regarding Martial, Adémar engaged in literary forgery, and it is probable that his tendencies to fabrication were only exacerbated by the humiliation he endured at the hands of an Italian prior- Benedict of Chiusa- in 1029 CE as the supposed apostolic mass of Martial (which Adémar had invented) was about to be celebrated in front of a public audience. The audience ended up siding with Benedict.
Iraq currently finds itself in the grip of a political crisis principally rooted in a deadlock between the followers of Muqtada al-Sadr (the 'Sadrists') and the other Shi'a political factions in a coalition called 'The Coordination Framework.' The latter is backed by Iran though this does not mean that all factions of the framework are united by a pro-Iranian affinity or stance. What unites them principally is a negative: opposition to the prospect of Sadr dominating the Iraqi state.
قاتل الكثير من العراقيين في الحرب بسوريا الى جانب الحكومة، وكان بعضهم يقيم في سوريا قبل الحرب ولعب دوراً مهماً في تأسيس التشكيلات مثل لواء أبي الفضل العباس ولواء ذو الفقار ولواء أسد الله الغالب وفوج التدخل السريع ولواء الإمام الحسين ولواء أسود العراق. وأتى البعض من العراق إلى سوريا ليعود الى العراق لاحقاً. أمّا بهاء حامد الحيالي، فتمثّل سيرته ما يجمع بين النوعين، حيث لم يقم في سوريا قبل الحرب ولكنه أتى وكان يقيم هناك تقريباً وقت وفاته. تابعت صفحته على وسائل التواصل الإجتماعي إلا أنني لم أتمكن من اجراء مقابلة معه. وتوفي قبل أكثر من سنة وأوثّق سيرته هنا، معتمداً في الغالب على شهادة أحد أقربائه.