Why Waleed is both right and wrong

23 Nov

This passionate plea from television personality and academic Waleed Ali, made in response to the recent terrorist attacks in Paris, begins with the statement: ISIL is weak.

This is true. ISIL, like any other organisation, institution and individual that resorts to violence, intimidation and slaughter, is weak. There is no strength in terror. There is only moral, intellectual, psychological and emotional weakness. To use violence is to admit defeat on all levels, though rarely will any organisation, institution or individual recognise and acknowledge that psychological truth.

The problem is, however, that weakness does not equate to harmlessness. The morally, intellectually, psychologically and emotionally weak have been responsible for the worst atrocities this world has witnessed and endured, and they have come from the east and the west, from most religions you can name, and from the secular.

It’s counter-intuitive to correlate weakness with terrorists. Terrorists terrorise, causing unfathomable anguish and disruption, disabling cities, bringing down aircraft, destroying families, creating bloodied havoc, leaving in their wake a sense of powerlessness, helplessness, rage and grief that have little possibility of resolution: why would we imagine these people as weak?

Waleed Ali is correct to call them weak in the moral, intellectual, psychological and emotional sense. But they are dangerous, and they remain dangerous, because weak does not equal harmless.

Today the city of Brussels is in lockdown in fear of a terrorist attack. ISIL are weak, but they can lock down cities. Imagine the fear and apprehension felt by residents of that city today, yesterday and tomorrow, as they wait for the next attack. And if it doesn’t come, they won’t easily stop fearing. ISIL are weak, but they are also controlling a city, manipulating its citizens through terror, and the threat of terror.

The weak are the most dangerous people on earth, because their weakness is so often expressed as brutality. To describe ISIL as weak is both true and misleading, the latter because the term “weak” is synonymous with harmless, pathetic, contemptible,vulnerable, but never with dangerous, murderous and brutal.

We can think of ISIL as weak, as Ali urges, but only in the understanding of what weakness means in this context. They are weak and they are dangerous. This danger can’t be underestimated because they are weak.





19 Responses to “Why Waleed is both right and wrong”

  1. A. D. HALL November 23, 2015 at 7:53 am #

    You are so right. Thanks for a perspective of common sense – it is hard to find one these days.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. 8 Degrees of Latitude November 23, 2015 at 10:35 am #

    Right on the button. I’m going to post this on my Hector’s Diary editorial board page. It needs very wide reading.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. hudsongodfrey November 23, 2015 at 12:16 pm #

    He’s also saying that ISIL is militarily weak. That they wouldn’t face a standing army, (not that such a thing exists in modern warfare), because their numbers are relatively small and their weapons inferior. That’s real weakness.

    Are ISIL weak in the psychological sense? Well, I think we usually say as much of people whose emotional desires submerge their rationality. Yet for a group marked by that flaw they’re also unusually cognisant of the fact that the kind of hatred that motivates them when coupled with fear also plays remarkably well upon the psychological weaknesses of Western societies stretched to the limits of tolerance. I took that to be the main thrust of Ali’s plea against being sucked in by “the bastards”.

    In fact if we were to be the ones psychologically weak enough to be sucked into boots on the ground in Syria, yielding to the military hawks, or worse the nationalist right, then nobody is going to say our weakness equates to harmlessness. Westerners should however be thinking about how we’ve everything to lose by giving ISIL the crusade they clearly want us to engage in. Their most fervent hope being clearly to make the choice for Muslims a starker one between us and them.

    Nor should it escape anyone that the “us and them” rhetoric employed by George W Bush and Tony Abbott fails in precisely the same manner to serve our better interests.


    So we should take on board that these atrocities are the work of specific perpetrators whose links whether direct or otherwise to ISIL call for justice to be pursued to the full extent of the law in France, Beirut or Mali, and beyond to the point where we may seek to cripple a terrorist organisation. Getting involved in how this effects somebody else’s civil war however is a separate matter we’ve no convincing reason to believe we’d be able to bring about a positive conclusion to.

    Careless conflation of taking justice to ISIL and resolving the Syrian civil conflict, however the national interests of those showing their enthusiasm for it are balanced, would be disastrous not least for all the same reasons that apply when domestic tensions feed radicalisation. If it’s Muslim against Muslim, of whatever sect, then the strife is contained, but it Westerners get involved then it gives the bastards oxygen.

    In the almost a week since Ali articulated, perhaps more clearly, some ideas others may have been searching for, we’ve done reasonably well on the domestic front not to reach for the “us and them” rhetoric of hate. Looking at how the great and powerful are hustling for Assad to figure in their “solution” draws a far less attractive picture. It was in that sense always a risk, and perhaps a two pronged strategy from ISIL, that we’d avoid one or the other of their traps but not both.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Jennifer Wilson November 23, 2015 at 12:58 pm #

      I think ISIL, ISIS, Daesh, however they are named, are cunning and highly manipulative. These are the weapons of the weak. They first learn their adversaries’ tender places. The crudest of them are employed to behead and slaughter, but the more cunning run the show, I’m guessing.

      They obviously have some talented IT people as well. Apparently Anonymous are having some trouble bringing the technology network down, as they vowed they would do after Paris.

      I doubt we would have been spared the us and them rhetoric to quite the same degree had Abbott still been PM.

      Liked by 1 person

      • hudsongodfrey November 23, 2015 at 4:15 pm #

        I’m with you in Abbott’s case. The first thing he uttered in response to the Paris attacks blamed refugees. The man clearly has no idea that he’s being manipulated.

        An discomforting perspective to adopt with respect to ISIL attacks on Westerners would liken them to drone attacks in that the perpetrators probably justify them using the calculus of little effort for much reward.

        More to come I’m sure.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Sam Jandwich November 23, 2015 at 1:48 pm #

    Yes I agree with you Jennifer – though I think Waleed was talking primarily to the redneck “reclaim Australia” contingent rather than to readers of Sheep and other sensible people.

    He was basically making the point that anyone who gives in to the temptation to hate, criticise or seek to curtail Islam are equally as weak as the terrorists – if not more so. He thinks that by pointing this out, these people will think twice about their actions, since ultimately all they want is to come out on top in all this.

    In doing so he is of course positioning himself as part of the “strong” mainstream international and mostly-legitimate governments, who ultimately have the military capability to wipe out Daesh quite easily if they put their minds to it, but who have sensibly decided that doing so would cause even more global disruption that it would solve. Whether the Reclaim Australia types will actually listen to him is probably contingent on whether they consider him to be representative of this mainstream.

    On this I have my doubts, purely based on my having had to resort to reading the Telegraph in a café today while I was waiting for my jam sandwich to be made, for want of alternatives… Apparently Andrew Bolt thinks that Malcolm Turnbull has “stumbled” by seeking a negotiated solution to the situation in Syria rather than just blasting the bejeezuz out of them – and I think the loonies are probably more likely to listen to him than Waleed Ali.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Jennifer Wilson November 23, 2015 at 3:05 pm #

      Oh Lordy, that moment in cafe when all there is to read is the Tele.

      I doubt the Reclaim faction will give Waleed anything but grief – he’s a Muslim. That’s all they need.

      Liked by 1 person

    • hudsongodfrey November 23, 2015 at 5:59 pm #

      Going by the fact that I frequently enjoy what Waleed has to say and try to avoid Bolt for the sake of my blood pressure I suspect that The Project’s video is speaking to people on the left and centre rather than to the right. The right aren’t listening, but events like these that would tempt anyone’s patience tend to make even the most ardent centrist wonder, if only briefly, whether some on the right have valid points.

      I took the point of Ali’s video to be as an antidote to those doubts. Because tolerance is not only the target of these outrages, its the weapon with which we make our best attempt to ward off the worst of all possible consequences.

      The subtext we clearly apply to this is that the worst thing for many of us would be to find that our society cannot insulate itself from violent outbreaks that fall somewhere between being the fault of terrorists’ hateful ideology and our past political expediencies.

      That said, get a psychologist to drive a bus through the holes in any generalisations I supply, but I sense a genuine left/right mindfuck exists here. People on the right seem to be both more fearful and accepting fear as being more a natural state of affairs they tend to gravitate towards violence to overcome it. People on the left, and I suspect/hope well into the centre, seem to be less fearful of everything but violence making the current situation more of a conundrum for us. Perhaps? It’s just an idea, based on things I’ve read or heard before. If it makes some sense as applied to this situation, then it points to the need for different ways of talking with different people.


  5. Marilyn November 23, 2015 at 6:10 pm #

    I think he is wrong for never pointing out that the US deliberately started IS to over come Assad, now they are paying Al Qaida and others to fight IS but they are joining IS. The dementia of the US continually starting new ”terror” groups to fight the last lot of terror groups must be exposed for what it is.

    Criminally deranged war mongering and civilians pay the price. I am sick to death of the racist western notion that we can bomb whoever we want for as long as we like, steal their resources and slaughter their people and never except any blowback.

    Liked by 2 people

    • hudsongodfrey November 23, 2015 at 7:22 pm #

      Its a can of worms where fingers will I imagine long be pointed. One should neither imagine that the US intended this and are unaware that it has backfired, nor that the Russians aren’t equally complicit in allying themselves to undesirable people.

      It was only when a map was shown me of how many different groups divide the disputed territory between Syria and Iraq that I begun to realise what a mess this has truly become. In a sectarian civil war between rebels and or terrorists under a dozen slightly different banners. It isn’t as if one side can win or perhaps even two of them evenly divide their territory. Most will be losers, and I therefore expect many will almost constantly be finding others to blame.

      I’m disappointed that I can’t find the map I recall seeing. When I looked again today I found several different maps many of them hotly disputed, and if you divide them by religious sect it’s no clearer who’s in the majority. The only thing that is clear is why there are so many refugees. What hope would anyone have or expectation of any kind of future.


    • Jennifer Wilson November 23, 2015 at 8:06 pm #

      Your last para is spot on, Marilyn.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. hudsongodfrey November 23, 2015 at 10:24 pm #

    Just a thought on the topic that I came up with and wanted to share, perhaps get feedback on.

    ISIL it seems to me fit the description of being extremely right wing in most aspects of their outlook, so does it not strike anyone as odd that their most vehement opposition in the West comes from similarly extreme right wingers?

    Or does it? Do these Western right wingers mainly oppose the willingness of the left to tolerate diversity in more or less the same way fundamentalist Muslims abhor what they’d call the dilution of their faith by moderates?

    Does this thinking in any way reshape what anyone thinks informs debates we have around these issues?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jennifer Wilson November 25, 2015 at 6:52 am #

      I’ve been pre-occupied with Tolstoy and Anna.
      It doesn’t strike me as odd, but it does strike me as psychologically intriguing and even counter intuitive.
      Your point is starkly illustrated in the images of the Reclaim Australia crowd, many of whom concealed their faces with balaclavas and scarves of the Australian flag, while simultaneously complaining that Muslims women should not wear the jihab because it conceals their identities.

      Both ISIL & Reclaim are racists so it’s also inevitable that they’ll despise one another on those grounds alone.

      Perhaps the extreme right can be let alone to cannibalise itself, as that would appear to be the only possible outcome if their various factions are ever put together in a room and left to it.


  7. LSWCHP November 23, 2015 at 11:33 pm #

    One of the ironic “Murphy’s Laws” of soldiering is “If they’re shooting at you, it’s a high intensity conflict”. So to those poor souls who suffered horribly and died in Paris last week, it was definitely a high intensity conflict.

    But to the millions of people in other areas of Paris on that night? Not so much.

    The actual physical damage was miniscule, and the casualties were few. The numbers killed were the equivalent of about two weeks worth of French road accident fatalities, or 4 days worth of homicides in America.

    I’m not being callous or heartless in drawing these comparisons and I’m not attempting to diminish in any way the appalling nature of the Paris attack, or the terrible suffering of those involved. There is no denying any of that. But the actual damage that these people can inflict on a modern nation-state at this time is very small when compared to the overall resources available to the state. So I agree with Mr Ali that ISIS are weak, both spiritually and physically.

    Where they are strong is in their moral effect on the people around them, which is vastly disproportionate to the actual damage they can inflict. During WWII, major cities all over Europe were bombed to pieces every night but continued functioning. Today, all of Brussels is locked down because of the actions and threatened actions of perhaps a dozen people.

    I suppose this is the horrible magic of terrorism. We can imagine ourselves in the shoes of the random victims, and so even though our enemy is weak and most of us aren’t being shot at, it seems like a high intensity conflict to us because we live in the same community as the victims.

    This is what the terrorists want. And if we succumb, and introduce the arbitrary detention without trial laws, and the laws that make it a crime to even mention that we’ve been
    detained, and all those other ghastly laws, then they will have won from their position of weakness.

    Liked by 1 person

    • hudsongodfrey November 24, 2015 at 12:23 am #

      You know how things are seldom 100% one thing or another. Well after 9/11 America seemed to decide to convince itself that permission to attack Arab countries was inevitable. There was little or no counterintuitive vibe that this might be in the words of the time “letting the terrorists win”.

      So we know the events that occurred and were quite literally more, or less faithfully reported. That’s a percentage of what I think differs now from then. The mainstream media’s agenda outside the US has always differed by degrees. But maybe because this is Europe, and Russia is involved. People and the media who’re shaping mainstream opinions seem more prepared to hear that “letting the terrorists win” line against blaming innocent migrants and refugees for the behaviour of radical Muslims whose political agendas really do centre mostly upon other parts of the world.

      There was already a fair bit of once-bitten-twice-shy thinking in play not least among those of us who didn’t quite buy into Western lead regime change the first time round, or okay not since the Shah really! The difference now is it seems to have gained credence where earlier it was roundly ignored. If anything the ones being shoved in a corner now are the far right of Western politics.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. doug quixote November 24, 2015 at 7:21 am #

    The first point to note is that Daesh is not in control of the likes of the suicide bombers/attackers in Paris. We make a mistake if we ascribe a directing authority to them. In that sense they are very weak.

    However, their claim to be the Caliphate is by example precept and propaganda a strong position, using the disaffection and alienation of Islamic youth to gather money and fighters to their cause, and to inspire hate crimes and atrocities like the Paris attacks.

    Those of us who fancy that supporting the Palestinians under Hamas is a good thing might note that Shiite Muslims in general and Hamas in particular will be the first to be beheaded, burned alive or otherwise slaughtered under Daesh’s Caliphate.

    I might note that Hezbollah, recent darlings of the Left, are supporting Assad in Syria because they see the existential threat to themselves. That is, they would be slaughtered by Daesh.

    The Left have a lot of re-thinking to do.


    • Marilyn November 24, 2015 at 5:48 pm #

      Hamas is not shi”ite, they are sunni muslims and why do you use stupid language like ”darlings of the left” to describe Hezbollah. You really are idiotic at times aren’t you.


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