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A Raqqa letter: assessing the west

For a young adherent in Islamic State territory, American and British politics are a source of optimism.

IS fighters in Raqqa with captured weapons, Jan 2014. AP Photo/Militant Website. All rights reserved. IS fighters in Raqqa with captured weapons, Jan 2014. AP Photo/Militant Website. All rights reserved.Raqqa, 4 February 2016

Thank you for your letter and all the news from Baghdad. I am glad to know that your sister has recovered from her injuries, especially as medicines are in such short supply. I hear that the collapse in oil prices is already leading to a surge in the black market for medical supplies. Is that true?

Thanks also for asking once again after my brother. I am pleased to say that I have just heard from him at the end of a hugely worrying time since he left for Libya at the end of September.  He tells me that he is fit and well and very heavily involved in the forays from Sirte down to the oilfields. As we had heard, our militias in Sirte have expanded their hold, having been hugely helped by nearly 2,000 of our fighters who have gone to join them. 

What few people in the western military realise is that the great majority of them are actually Libyans returning home, having fought so well against the crusaders and apostates in Iraq and Syria. They are therefore dedicated to extending the Caliphate into their own home territory and also exceptionally experienced in combat. My brother tells me that the crusader military are increasing their use of drones and also using special forces raids but to little effect, so we expect to see systematic bombing raids starting soon, with the inevitable civilian casualties in turn leading to greater support for our cause.

You ask me what I am now doing – do I still work for SOBRA and indirectly undertake analysis for the leadership, and does this still relate to my British experience? In one way I am still frustrated that I cannot be on the frontline, but I am slowly accepting that this is a necessary consequence of losing my arm in that raid. At least it was my left arm. As I said in my last letter we have a good prosthetics team here in Raqqa but the priority has to be lower limb replacements and I am now told that it will be some months before I can get a prosthetic arm.

At the same time my role has changed and in quite an exciting direction. You will recall that my analytical work around the time of the British general election was in assessing how the British might react in a new parliament.  We had been worried that Miliband might get in whereas our greatest wish was for a minority Conservative government having to go into coalition with UKIP.  Our vision of Cameron beholden to Farage and having to make him home secretary and deputy prime minister would have been like heaven to us!

It wasn’t to be but at least Miliband failed, so our work on UK political analysis was downgraded. Even so, I am tasked with spending a small part of my time keeping a watching brief and have to say that the Corbyn situation is a bit of a worry. Although nearly all the British commentators think he will fail as Labour leader we have a sneaking suspicion that he is striking a chord with more people than they realise, with this including offering a voice to perhaps 20 million people who do not agree with Cameron’s stance on the war. It would be a disaster for us and the movement if he was ever to get into Downing Street, but at least that is some years off.

Because of this I have been asked to run a small but highly knowledgeable team analysing and advising on US politics throughout this election year. You may remember that I spent parts of two years in Washington so I find it particularly thrilling to be asked to analyse the race for the White House, given that the outcome will be so crucial to our future.

As far as the contenders are concerned, what we would like most would obviously be a Trump victory – even better than having Farage sharing power with Cameron in London! Our nightmare, of course, would be a Sanders victory but in spite of the Iowa result we do not currently expect him to get the Democrat ticket. 

In addition to our analysis of open sources, we do have some insider voices reporting to us, and also have a wider circle of contacts who add a more general perception. The consensus view is that Sanders has some way to go but the main impact will be to make Clinton appear more progressive than she really is, but only for the duration of the primaries. The odds are still on Cruz for the Republicans but my own view is that his support will recede and that it will be Marco Rubio who comes to the fore. We will then have a Clinton-Rubio contest and we will be reasonably content with that.

You may ask why we would be content with such a contest but I think you have to look at the bigger picture. America is moving slowly but surely to the right, and even Obama is steadily allowing a build-up of US operations against us and our associates. This is just what we want as the true defenders of Islam, and since Clinton or Rubio will be more hardline than Obama, we will have more defending to do, which works wonders for recruiting more followers.

In spite of our recent minor reverses our leadership is in good heart and are buoyed by three positive developments. The first is the American move to the right which is well-nigh certain to continue and the second is our programme of overseas attacks designed principally to stir up as much Islamophobia as possible. More attacks are being planned for western Europe but I understand that an even greater priority is Russia. The possibility of really exacerbating anti-Muslim feelings towards Russia’s 16-million strong Islamic minority is a prize really worth aiming for.

It is the third development, though, that is the hugely welcome surprise – the crisis over refugee flows to Europe. I don’t think that any of their politicians, even the few intelligent ones, have any idea what is being stirred up. Can they not see the impact of desperate people, including young children, facing razor wire and being violently repelled by armed riot police as they try to get into Europe? Can they not see that to Muslims across the world, let alone the Middle East, the vision is just proof positive that Europeans hate and despise them? This hatred will last for years and years.

So put it together – America goes more hardline, the wars intensify, the refugee flows grow, Europe turns its back as anti-Muslim feelings increase, community disorder and violence become the order of the day and. The end result? Many thousands more recruits to our cause. 

Perhaps you can understand why someone like me is quietly optimistic. Never forget, we are fighting a cause that may take a century or more to achieve. Our opponents, the 'far enemy' really do not have a clue, and long may that last!

About the author

Paul Rogers is professor in the department of peace studies at Bradford University, northern England. He is openDemocracy's international security adviser, and has been writing a weekly column on global security since 28 September 2001; he also writes a monthly briefing for the Oxford Research Group. His latest book is Irregular War: ISIS and the New Threat from the Margins (IB Tauris, 2016), which follows Why We’re Losing the War on Terror (Polity, 2007), and Losing Control: Global Security in the 21st Century (Pluto Press, 3rd edition, 2010). He is on Twitter at: @ProfPRogers

A lecture by Paul Rogers, delivered to the Food Systems Academy in late 2014, provides an overview of the analysis that underpins his openDemocracy column. The lecture - "The crucial century, 1945-2045: transforming food systems in a global context" - focuses on the central place of food systems in human security worldwide. Paul argues that food is the pivot of humanity's next great transition. It can be accessed here


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