Monday, February 9, 2015

Me, Myself & I in Raqqa & Melbourne


"In Islamic State's de facto capital, Raqqa, a Syrian city on the banks of the Euphrates, few Syrians hold positions of power. Running the show, residents say, are the thousands of foreigners who have converged there to establish an Islamic utopia they believe will soon conquer the planet. 'What we have is a foreign occupation,' said Sarmad al-Jilane, a former electronics student from Raqqa who now runs a website - Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently - from neighbouring Turkey documenting Islamic State's abuses in his home town. 'Those who are paid by them, like them, of course. But most others hate them because of all these killings and beheadings.' About 20,000 foreign fighters have joined Islamic State in Syria and Iraq over the past two years, Western intelligence officials say. While virtually all nationalities are represented, countries such as Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Russia and France have produced some of the largest contingents. As this influx continues, mostly through Syria's long and porous border with Turkey, the rise of the foreign fighters is changing the face of the Syrian war. In the early days of the conflict, many combatants came to Syria to defend Sunni Muslims against President Bashar al-Assad's regime. Now, their main motivation often appears to be creating a new Islamic society - an experiment in which the fate of Syria and Syrians is secondary at best." (Foreign fighters run caliphate's capital, Yaroslav Trofimov, The Wall Street Journal/The Australian, 6/2/14)


"Musa [Cerantonio] seems to know everyone in Footscray. He moseys down the street with his hand in his pocket, shooting 'Salaam alaikums' and small talk to the perfume salesman in the mall and the old men in a Sudanese restaurant. He's like the Fonz. We chew on Sudanese meat dishes in the restaurant. He's ranting about a woman, a left-wing activist from his uni days. Musa had enrolled at Victoria University in an arts course, majoring in media and history, and on Orientation Day he found she had set up a stall next to his Islamic Society table. 'She came over and dropped this pile of flyers for an event they were having, something pro-Palestine,' he recalls. 'So I said to her, 'Please take them off. I don't want them here'.' This is the first time I've seen fire in his eyes... 'She was giving me this confused look, like, 'Why not? I mean, it's for Palestine.' I said, 'Look, you're not a Muslim, you don't agree with Islam. As for us, that's what we want for Palestine. We want Sharia, we want Islamic law. You don't want that, so let's admit we don't want the same thing.' She started to get a little bit offended. She's like, 'Oh, but, you know, we have to work together,' and I'm like, 'No, we don't have to work together.'

"Musa wipes yogurt off his fingers, still fiery, as he moves from Palestine to Syria. 'We believe that Jesus will return as the Messiah. We do agree with the Christians that it will be Jesus Christ, except when he comes back, he's actually going to be fighting against them and show them that their religion has been corrupted. We believe that when he does return, he would return to Syria.' I think how at odds Musa is with everyone, from Tony Abbott to the regular hippies in the Q&A audiences who insist this sort of thing isn't about religion.

"He prefers Melbourne to Sydney. 'You don't have any Lebanese over here. Personally, I think that's not entirely a bad thing,' he chuckles darkly. 'They're always up to something.' When he says this, with his white skin and Aussie accent, he sounds like a shockjock talkback caller. His position is not as incongruous as it first seems. Musa, like other Islamic State supporters, believes solely in Islam the religion. Anything cultural, like things associated with being Arab, is seen as a distraction or even blasphemous. When he sees the Palestinian flag, he tells me, he wants to spit on it. The Koran demands one Islamic super-state, not nation states, he says... Today [Musa] was angrier at left-wingers than neo-cons. He prefers George W. Bush to Barack Obama, and Zionists to hippies." (Free radical, John Safran, Good Weekend, 17/1/15)

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