Adonis Diaries

Archive for November 25th, 2015

Segmented sleep into two chunks of creative and energized conditions

People once woke up halfway through the night to think, write or make love.

What have we lost by sleeping straight through?

by Karen Emslie

It is 4.18am. In the fireplace, where logs burned, there are now orange lumps that will soon be ash.

Orion the Hunter is above the hill. Taurus, a sparkling V, is directly overhead, pointing to the Seven Sisters.

Sirius, one of Orion’s heel dogs, is pumping red-blue-violet, like a galactic disco ball. As the night moves on, the old dog will set into the hill. (I wish I could read the sky)

It is 4.18am and I am awake. Such early waking is often viewed as a disorder, a glitch in the body’s natural rhythm – a sign of depression or anxiety.

It is true that when I wake at 4am I have a whirring mind. And, even though I am a happy person, if I lie in the dark my thoughts veer towards worry. I have found it better to get up than to lie in bed teetering on the edge of nocturnal lunacy. (I watch TV when documentaries are more prevalent at this hour. My problem is having to get up twice to piss)

If I write in these small hours, black thoughts become clear and colourful. They form themselves into words and sentences, hook one to the next – like elephants walking trunk to tail.

My brain works differently at this time of night; I can only write, I cannot edit. I can only add, I cannot take away. I need my day-brain for finesse. I will work for several hours and then go back to bed. (I experienced that phenomena of writing quickly at these early hours)

All humans, animals, insects and birds have clocks inside, biological devices controlled by genes, proteins and molecular cascades.

These inner clocks are connected to the ceaseless yet varying cycle of light and dark caused by the rotation and tilt of our planet. They drive primal physiological, neural and behavioural systems according to a roughly 24-hour cycle, otherwise known as our circadian rhythm, affecting our moods, desires, appetites, sleep patterns, and sense of the passage of time.

The Romans, Greeks and Incas (all ancient civilizations) woke up without iPhone alarms or digital radio clocks. Nature was their timekeeper: the rise of the sun, the dawn chorus, the needs of the field or livestock.

Sundials and hourglasses recorded the passage of time until the 14th century when the first mechanical clocks were erected on churches and monasteries.

By the 1800s, mechanical timepieces were widely worn on neck chains, wrists or lapels; appointments could be made and meal- or bed-times set.

Societies built around industrialisation and clock-time brought with them urgency and the concept of being ‘on time’ or having ‘wasted time’. Clock-time became increasingly out of synch with natural time, yet light and dark still dictated our working day and social structures.

Then, in the late 19th century, everything changed.

The lights got turned on. (Why still saving an hour daylight at every season?)

Modern, electrical illumination revolutionised the night and, in turn, sleep. Prior to Edison, says the Virginia Tech historian A Roger Ekirch, author of At Day’s Close: Night in Times Past (2005), sleep had been divided into two distinct segments, separated by a period of night-waking that lasted between one and several hours. The pattern was called segmented sleep.

Sleep patterns of the past might surprise us today. While we might think that our circadian rhythm should wake us only as the sun rises, many animals and insects do not sleep in one uninterrupted block but in chunks of several hours at a time or in two distinct segments.

Ekirch believes that humans, left to sleep naturally, would not sleep in a consolidated block either.

His arguments are based on 16 years of research during which he studied hundreds of historical documents from ancient to modern times, including diaries, court records, medical books and literature.

He identified countless references to ‘first’ and ‘second’ sleeps in English. Other languages also describe this pattern, for example, premier sommeil in French, primo sonno in Italian and primo somno in Latin. It was the ordinariness of the allusions to segmented sleeping that led Ekirch to conclude this pattern was once common, an everyday cycle of sleeping and waking. (When you go to bed by 7 pm, it is natural to wake up after 6 hours and then resume your sleep till sun rise)

Before electric lighting, night was associated with crime and fear – people stayed inside and went early to bed. The time of their first sleep varied with season and social class, but usually commenced a couple of hours after dusk and lasted for three or four hours until, in the middle of the night, people naturally woke up.

Prior to electric lighting, wealthier households often had other forms of artificial light – for instance, gas lamps – and in turn went to bed later. Interestingly, Ekirch found less reference to segmented sleep in personal papers from such households.

For those who indulged, however, night-waking was used for activities such as reading, praying and writing, untangling dreams, talking to sleeping partners or making love.

As Ekirch points out, after a hard day of labouring, people were often too tired for amorous activities at ‘first’ bedtime (which might strike a chord with many busy people today) but, when they woke in the night, our ancestors were refreshed and ready for action.  (Thus before electricity, people were made in the second night break, were adding and never editing out was the norm?))

After various nocturnal activities, people became drowsy again and slipped into their second sleep cycle (also for three or four hours) before rising to a new day.

We too can imagine, for example, going to bed at 9pm on a winter night, waking at midnight, reading and chatting until around 2am, then sleeping again until 6am.

in the dead of night, drowsy brains can conjure up new ideas from the debris of dreams and apply them to our creative pursuits

Ekirch found that references to these two sleeps had all but disappeared by the early 20th century. Electricity greatly extended light exposure, and daytime activities stretched into night; illuminated streets were safer and it became fashionable to be out socialising.

Bedtimes got later and night-waking, incompatible with an extended day, was squeezed out. Ekirch believes that we lost not only night-waking, but its special qualities, too.

Night-waking, he told me, was different in nature from waking during the day, at least according to the documents he found.

The third US president Thomas Jefferson, for example, read books on moral philosophy before bed so that he could ‘ruminate’ over them between his two sleeps. The 17th-century English poet Francis Quarles rated darkness alongside silence as an aid to internal reflection:

Let the end of thy first sleep raise thee from thy repose: then hath thy body the best temper, then hath thy soule the least incumbrance; then no noise shall disturbe thine ear; no object shall divert thine eye.

My own night-waking confirms this difference between night- and day‑waking; my night brain definitely feels more dreamlike. When dreaming, our minds create imagery from memories, hopes and fears. And in the dead of night, drowsy brains can conjure up new ideas from the debris of dreams and apply them to our creative pursuits.

In the essay ‘Sleep We Have Lost’ (2001), Ekirch wrote that many had probably been immersed in dreams moments before waking up from the first of the two sleeps, ‘thereby affording fresh visions to absorb before returning to unconsciousness. Unless distracted by noise, sickness, or some other discomfort, their mood was probably relaxed and their concentration complete’.

Ekirch’s ideas about segmented sleep derive from old documents and archives, but are supported by modern research. The psychiatrist Thomas Wehr of the US National Institute of Mental Health found that segmented sleep returns when artificial light disappears.

During a month-long experiment in the 1990s, Wehr’s subjects had access to light for 10 hours per day, as opposed to the artificially extended period of 16 hours that is now the norm. Within this natural cycle, Wehr reported, ‘sleep episodes expanded and usually divided into two symmetrical bouts, several hours in duration, with a one- to three-hour waking interval between them’.

Both Ekirch and Wehr’s work continue to inform sleep research. Ekirch’s ideas were the subject of a dedicated session at Sleep 2013, the annual meeting of the US Associated Professional Sleep Societies.

One of the biggest implications to emerge was that the most common insomnia, ‘middle-of-the-night insomnia’, is not a disorder but rather a harking back to a natural form of sleep – a shift in perception that greatly reduced my own concern about night-waking.

It is 7.04am. I have been writing for nearly three hours and I now am going back to bed for my second sleep. I will work again later in the day. It is only because of the way that I have made my life (no children, self-employed) that I can be a segmented sleeper.

But I have also had to fit my sleeping habits into periods of nine-to-five work, and the two are hardly compatible; few sounds are more dreadful than the buzz of an alarm when you have spent several hours in the night awake and have only just gone back to sleep.

It is the clash between ‘natural’ sleep patterns and our rigid social structures – clock-time, industrialisation, school hours, working hours – that makes segmented sleeping seem like a disorder and not a boon.

Creative people often find ways to live without the nine-to-five, either because they are successful enough with their books, art or music that they don’t need a day job, or because they seek employment that allows a flexible schedule, such as freelancing.

In Daily Rituals: How Artists Work (2013), Mason Currey describes the routines of famous writers and artists, many of whom are early risers, and several segmented sleepers.

Currey found that many hit on the pattern of segmented sleep by accident. The architect Frank Lloyd Wright, for instance, would wake around 4am, unable to fall back to sleep – so he would work for three or four hours, then take a nap.

The Nobel Prize-winning novelist Knut Hamsun would often wake after sleeping for a couple of hours. So he kept a pencil and paper by his bed, and would, he said: ‘start writing immediately in the dark if I feel something is streaming through me.’

The psychologist B F Skinner kept a clipboard, paper and pencil by his bed to work during periods of night wakefulness, and the author Marilynne Robinson regularly woke to read or write during what she called her ‘benevolent insomnia’.

Some of us are morning people, others night people – early birds or night owls. Currey says that creative people who work in the night are ‘drawing on an optimal state of mind for their work’, governed by personal natural rhythms, rather than choice.

The novelist Nicholson Baker was the only person Currey encountered who had consciously decided to practise segmented sleeping. Baker is very aware of his own writing habits and routines, and likes to experiment with new writing rituals for each new book, Currey told me, so it seems appropriate that he would carve out extra productive hours by creating two mornings in one day.

Indeed, when Baker was writing what would become A Box of Matches (2003), a novel about a writer who gets up around 4am, lights a fire and writes while his family sleeps, Baker himself practised this ritual, then went back to bed for a second sleep.

‘I found that starting and nurturing this tiny early flame helped me to concentrate,’ Baker told The Paris Review. ‘There’s something simple and pleasantly meditative about building a fire at four in the morning. I started writing disconnected passages, and the writing came easily.’

It is this dreamy flow that seems to characterise creative work undertaken in the middle of the night. Between sleeps, there is the stillness, the lack of distraction and perhaps a stronger connection to our dreams.

Night also triggers hormonal changes in our brains that suit creativity.

Wehr has noted that, during night-waking, the pituitary gland excretes high levels of prolactin. This is the hormone associated with sensations of peace and with the dreamlike hallucinations we sometimes experience as we fall asleep, or upon waking. It is produced when we feel sexual satisfaction, when nursing mothers lactate, and it causes hens to sit on their eggs for long periods. It alters our state of mind.

Prolactin levels are known to increase during sleep, but Wehr found that (along with melatonin and cortisol) it continues to be produced during periods of ‘quiet wakefulness’ between sleeps, triggered by the natural cycles of light and dark, not tied to sleep per se. Blissfully zonked out by prolactin, our night brains allow ideas to emerge and intertwine as they might in a dream.

Wehr suggests that not only have modern routines altered our sleeping patterns, they have also robbed us of this ancient connection between our dreams and waking life, and ‘might provide a physiological explanation for the observation that modern humans seem to have lost touch with the wellspring of myths and fantasies’.

Ekirch agrees: ‘By turning night into day, modern technology has obstructed our oldest avenue to the human psyche, making us, to invoke the words of the 17th-century English playwright Thomas Middleton, “disannulled of our first sleep, and cheated of our dreams and fantasies”.’

Modern technology might have muddied the channels that connect us to our dreams and encouraged routines that are out of synch with our natural patterns, yet it can also lead us back. The industrial revolution flooded us with light, but the digital revolution might turn out to be far more sympathetic to the segmented sleeper.

Technology fuels the invention of new ways of organising our time.

Home working, freelancing and flexitime are increasingly common, as are concepts such as the digital nomad and the online or remote worker – all of whom might adopt a less rigid routine, one that allows night-wakers to find a more harmonious balance between segmented sleeping and work commitments.

If we can make time to wake in the night and ruminate with our prolactin-sloshed brains, we may also reconnect to the creativity and fantasies our forebears enjoyed when, as Ekirch notes, they ‘stirred from their first sleep to ponder a kaleidoscope of partially crystallised images, slightly blurred but otherwise vivid tableaus born of their dreams’.

Note: Extended siesta time (1.30 to 2 hours) has the same benefit and give you an additional boost for another 6 to 8 hours of creative work.

Retired people who are ready to experiment and forget their “early birds eat the worms” habit might benefit greatly from a leisurely sleep patterns.

Karen Emslie is a Scottish writer, artist and photographer. She has been car-jacked in Barcelona, lost in the Alps, and harassed by fake police in Cuba, but still loves the adventurer’s life. She is based in Spain.

Magical Thinking about Isis

Adam Shatz

Before the Lebanese civil war, Beirut was known as the Paris of the Middle East. Today, Paris looks more and more like the Beirut of Western Europe, a city of incendiary ethnic tension, hostage-taking and suicide bombs.

Parisians have returned to the streets, and to their cafés, with the same commitment to normality that the Lebanese have almost miraculously exhibited since the mid-1970s. Même pas peur, they have declared with admirable defiance on posters, and on the walls of the place de la République. But the fear is pervasive, and it’s not confined to France

In the last few weeks alone, Islamic State has carried out massacres in Baghdad, Ankara and south Beirut, and downed a Russian plane with 224 passengers. It has taunted survivors with threats of future attacks, as if its deepest wish were to provoke violent retaliation.

Already traumatised by the massacres in January, France appears to be granting that wish. ‘Nous sommes dans la guerre,’ François Hollande declared, and he is now trying to extend the current state of emergency by amending the constitution.

Less than 48 hours after the event, a new round of airstrikes was launched against Raqqa, in concert with Russia. With a single night’s co-ordinated attacks, IS – a cultish militia perhaps 35,000 strong, ruling a self-declared ‘caliphate’ that no one recognises as a state – achieved something France denied the Algerian FLN until 1999, nearly four decades after independence: acknowledgment that it had been fighting a war, rather than a campaign against ‘outlaws’.

In the unlikely event that France sends ground troops to Syria, it will have handed IS an opportunity it longs for: face to face combat with ‘crusader’ soldiers on its own soil.

Recognition as a war combatant is not IS’s only strategic gain.

It has also spread panic, and pushed France further along the road to civil strife.

The massacre was retribution for French airstrikes against IS positions, but there were other reasons for targeting France. Paris is a symbol of the apostate civilisation IS abhors – a den of ‘prostitution and vice’, in the words of its communiqué claiming responsibility for the attacks.

Not only is France a former colonial power in North Africa and the Middle East but, along with Britain, it helped establish the Sykes-Picot colonial borders that IS triumphantly bulldozed after capturing Mosul.

Most important, it has – by proportion of total population – more Muslim citizens than any other country in Europe, overwhelmingly descendants of France’s colonial subjects.

There is a growing Muslim middle class, and large numbers of Muslims marry outside the faith, but a substantial minority still live in grim, isolated suburbs with high levels of unemployment.

With the growth rate now at 0.3 per cent, the doors to the French dream have mostly been closed to residents of the banlieue. Feelings of exclusion have been compounded by discrimination, police brutality and by the secular religion of laïcité, which many feel is code for keeping Muslims in their place.

Not surprisingly, more than a thousand French Muslims have gone off in search of glory on the battlefields of Syria and Iraq. Most of these young jihadis became radicalised online not in the mosque.

Some, like the perpetrators of the attacks in January and November, have histories of arrest and time spent in prison; about 25 per cent of IS’s French recruits are thought to be converts to Islam.

What most of the jihadis appear to have in common is a lack of any serious religious training: according to most studies, there is an inverse relationship between Muslim piety and attraction to jihad.

As Olivier Roy, the author of several books on political Islam, recently said, ‘this is not so much the radicalisation of Islam as the Islamicisation of radicalism.’

By sending a group of French – and Belgian – citizens to massacre Parisians in their places of leisure, IS aims to provoke a wave of hostility that will end up intensifying disaffection among young Muslims.

Unlike the Charlie Hebdo massacre, the 13 November attacks were universally condemned. The victims were of every race, the murders were indiscriminate, and many Muslims live in Seine-Saint-Denis, where the bombing at the the Stade de France took place. In theory, this could have been a unifying tragedy.

Yet it is Muslims who will overwhelmingly bear the brunt of the emergency measures and of the new rhetoric of national self-defence.

Fayçal Riyad, a Frenchman of Algerian parents, who teaches at a lycée in Aubervilliers, a few hundred metres from where the 18 November raid against the fugitive attackers took place, pointed out the change in the air.

In his January speech,’ Riyad said, ‘Hollande clearly insisted on the distinction between Islam and terrorism. This time he not only abstained from doing so, but in a way he did the opposite by speaking of the necessity of closing the frontiers, insinuating that the attackers were foreigners, but above all in echoing the National Front’s call for stripping binational French people of their nationality if they’re found guilty of acts against the interests of the country. So that is aggravating our fear.’

Marine Le Pen, whose National Front expects to do well in the regional elections in December, is exultant. But anti-Muslim sentiment is hardly confined to the far right. There has been talk in centre-right circles of a Muslim fifth column; a leading figure in Sarkozy’s party has proposed interning 4000 suspected Islamists in ‘regroupment camps’.

IS achieved a further strategic objective by linking the massacre to the refugee crisis. The memory of Aylan Kurdi, the three-year-old boy from Kobani who was found drowned on a Turkish beach, has now been eclipsed by a passport found near the corpse of one of the attackers.

That this assailant made his way to France through Greece, carrying a passport in the name of a dead Syrian fighter, suggests careful planning. The purpose is not merely to punish Syrians who have fled the caliphate, but to dampen European compassion for the refugees – already strained by unemployment and the growth of right-wing, anti-immigrant parties. Marine Le Pen called for an immediate halt to the inflow of Syrian refugee.

Jeb Bush suggested that only Christian Syrians be admitted into the United States. If the West turns its back on the Syrian refugees, the effect will be to deepen further their sense of abandonment, another outcome that would be highly desirable to IS.

It is hard not to feel sentimental about the neighbourhoods of the 10th and the 11th, where IS attacked Le Petit Cambodge and the Bataclan theatre.

I know these neighbourhoods well; a number of my journalist friends live there. In a city that has become more gentrified, more class-stratified and exclusionary, they are still reasonably mixed, cheap and welcoming, still somehow grungy and populaire.

Odes to their charms have flooded the French press, as if the attacks were primarily an assault on the bobo lifestyle. ‘They have weapons. Fuck them. We have champagne,’ the front page of Charlie Hebdo declared. But as the journalist Thomas Legrand noted on France Inter, ‘the reality is that we have champagne … and also weapons.’

France has been using those weapons more frequently, more widely, and more aggressively in recent years. The shift towards a more interventionist posture in the Muslim world began under Sarkozy, and became even more pronounced under Hollande, who has revealed himself as an heir of Guy Mollet, the Socialist prime minister who presided over Suez and the war in Algeria.

It was France that first came to the aid of Libyan rebels, after Bernard-Henri Lévy’s expedition to Benghazi. That adventure, once the US got involved, freed Libya from Gaddafi, but then left it in the hands of militias – a number of them jihadist – and arms dealers whose clients include groups like IS.

France has deepened its ties to Netanyahu

Hollande has made no secret of his ‘love’ for Israel – and criminalised expressions of support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.[1]​1

Hollande’s pursuit of ‘economic diplomacy’ in the Arab world is a euphemism for an ever cosier relationship with the Saudi kingdom, whose export of Wahhabist doctrine has done much to spread jihadist ideology.

The alliance is an old one. It was a team of French commandos who came to the kingdom’s defence during the 1979 siege of Mecca by a group of radical Islamist.

The Saudis then beheaded 63 of the perpetrators, in public executions of a kind now practised by IS, the kingdom’s bastard children.

Exploiting Saudi anger over Obama’s pursuit of a rapprochement with Tehran, France has aligned itself with the Saudis on Iran’s nuclear programme and on Syria, and is now competing with the US to become Saudi Arabia’s top supplier of advanced military technology.[2]​2

In one of his last interviews, Tony Judt said:

When Bush said that we are fighting terrorism ‘there’ so that we won’t have to fight them ‘here’, he was making a very distinctively American political move.

It is certainly not a rhetorical trope that makes any sense in Europe, [where politicians recognise that] if we begin a war between Western values and Islamic fundamentalism, in the manner so familiar and self-evident to American commentators, it won’t stay conveniently in Baghdad.

It is going to reproduce itself thirty kilometres from the Eiffel Tower as well.

The French government refuses to accept any such thing.

Most people in Paris were stunned by 13 November, but not those who were listening to IS. Weeks earlier, Marc Trévidic, a magistrate who specialises in terrorism cases, warned in Paris Match that France had become IS’s ‘number one enemy’ because of its activities in the Middle East.

‘It’s always the same story,’ he said in an interview after the attacks. ‘We let a terrorist group grow into a monster, and when it attacks us, we’re surprised … And we’re friends with countries that are responsible for disseminating this ideology – Saudi Arabia … We’re in a total paradox.

There has been a lot of magical thinking about IS.

Liberal hawks, like Roger Cohen in the New York Times, have called for a ground offensive in the usual Churchillian terms – something no Western leader has any appetite (or sizeable constituency) for after Afghanistan and Iraq.

Leftists have demanded an end to the drone war, a breaking of ties with Saudi Arabia and the creation of a Palestinian state.

According to a writer in the online magazine Jadaliyya, only ‘hallucinating’ neoconservatives could argue that the attacks target the West or France for what they are, rather than for what they do.

But IS says very clearly in its communiqué that it’s attacking Paris both for ‘the crusader campaign’ and as ‘the capital of prostitution and vice’ – and it seems obtuse not to take it at its word.

To be sure, anger over Western policies is among the drivers of recruitment for groups like IS, but IS is not a purely reactive organisation: it is a millenarian movement with a distinctly apocalyptic agenda.

As Elias Sanbar, a Palestinian diplomat in Paris, points out, ‘One of the most striking things about Islamic State is that it has no demands. All the movements we’ve known, from the Vietcong to the FLN to the Palestinians, had demands: if the occupation ends, if we get independence, the war ends.

But Daesh’s project is to eliminate the frontiers of Sykes-Picot. It’s like the Biblical revisionism of the settlers, who invent a history that never existed.’

The creation of a Palestinian state is a necessity, above all for Palestinians, but it’s not likely to make much of an impression on IS, which rejects the Middle Eastern state system entirely.

A far more subtle – but in some ways just as wishful – analysis has come from Olivier Roy, who argued in the New York Times that the Paris attacks are a sign of desperation rather than strength:

Isis’s reach is bounded; there are no more areas in which it can extend by claiming to be a defender of Sunni Arab populations.

To the north, there are Kurds; to the east, Iraqi Shiites; to the west, Alawites, now protected by the Russians. And all are resisting it. To the south, neither the Lebanese, who worry about the influx of Syrian refugees, nor the Jordanians, who are still reeling from the horrid execution of one of their pilots, nor the Palestinians have succumbed to any fascination for Isis.

Stalled in the Middle East, Isis is rushing headlong into globalised terrorism.

It’s an intellectually seductive and almost reassuring argument: IS appears to be on the march, but it’s actually in its death throes, having suffered losses in Kobani and Sinjar.

But it’s also an argument that has been made before.

After 11 September, it was widely argued that al-Qaida attacked the ‘far enemy’ in the West because it had failed to defeat ‘the near enemy’, the regimes of the Middle East.

Today that theory seems less credible. Al-Qaida experienced a regional revival, thanks in large part to the Iraq war.

And for IS, an offshoot of al-Qaida in Iraq, the distinction between near and far enemies is porous: all apostates are enemies. Although it has conquered a significant piece of territory – something bin Laden and Zawahiri never dared attempt – its power is only partly rooted in the caliphate.

It is as keen to conquer virtual as actual territory. It draws on a growing pool of recruits who discovered not only IS but Islam itself online, in chatrooms and through messaging services where distance vanishes at the tap of a keyboard.

Indeed, the genius of IS has been to overcome the distance between two very different crises of citizenship, and weave them into a single narrative of Sunni Muslim disempowerment: the exclusion of young Muslims in Europe, and the exclusion of Sunnis in Syria and Iraq.

Roy is right that IS can’t ‘win’ in any conventional sense, but it doesn’t have to expand the caliphate in order to remain in business.

In the global society of the spectacle, it’s on a roll.

Paris has seen its share of terrorist attacks since the 1970s, but the assault on the Bataclan felt very different, and even more disquieting than al-Qaida’s strikes in Madrid and London.

Bombings on trains, because the perpetrators are invisible and death is as sudden as in an earthquake, are somehow more easily absorbed than killings by men in balaclavas, armed with Kalashnikovs, haranguing their victims before methodically mowing them down.

The message seemed to be: this is what it feels like in Baghdad and Aleppo, this is what it feels like to be utterly helpless, this is what it feels like to be at war.

And because the massacre was followed by promises of similar attacks in Paris and other ‘crusader’ cities, it has thrown into relief the impasse in which the West now finds itself, an impasse in large part of its own making.

Hollande may speak confidently of a war to destroy IS once and for all, but his options are limited, and unpalatable, and his lack of imagination imposes further constraints. Mass arrests, interrogations and surveillance could make France safer in the short term, only to drive another generation of alienated youths into the hands of IS.

The state of emergency, which he is the only president other than Sarkozy to have invoked since the Algerian war, could quickly turn against him, deepening the sense among banlieue residents that they are an internally colonised population.[3]​3

The most important task of the French state is arguably to combat the roots of jihadist terrorism in France, where a Muslim name remains a liability.

Third and fourth generation citizens of North African descent are still routinely described as ‘immigrants’, and the neighbourhoods where they live have been called ‘the lost territories of the Republic’, as if they weren’t even a part of France.

A long-term project to end discrimination against Muslims, and ensure their participation in the workplace, civic life and politics, would help to reduce the temptations of radical Islamism.

So would an effort to address the fact that 70 per cent of the prisoners in French jails are Muslims. But boldness and foresight are in short supply among French politicians, and terrorism and economic austerity may make them still scarcer.

Hollande doesn’t want to be too far to Le Pen’s left in the next election.

The airstrikes France is conducting with Russian co-operation may provide the public with a taste of revenge, but airstrikes seldom turn people against their rulers and often do the opposite.

In co-ordinating the strikes with Russia, Hollande is moving in a direction fervently advocated by the French right, which has been suffering from an acute case of Putin envy.

But such an alliance could, yet again, play into IS’s hands: other than Assad, there is no figure more reviled by Syrian Sunnis than Putin, so an air war in concert with Russia and in tacit alliance with Assad would fan the flames of Sunni anger, and be further fuel for IS propaganda.

In a recent interview with Vice, Obama described IS as a child of the Iraq war.

It’s true that if it weren’t for the dismantling of the Iraqi state, and its replacement by a Shia-dominated sectarian system, IS would probably not exist.

And in its war against the Sykes-Picot frontiers, IS has paid a peculiar homage to the neoconservatives who have always viewed the post-Ottoman borders as artificial constructs, a map to be redrawn in blood, with multi-confessional states replaced by ethnically exclusive, weak statelets: Christian Lebanese, Kurdish and Shia.

But the problem of IS can’t be laid exclusively at the door of Bush, Blair et al.

The war in Libya, and Obama’s accommodation with the Sisi regime in Egypt, have encouraged the spread of IS well beyond Iraq. It is, however, the US’s dangerously incoherent Syria policy that has perhaps done the greatest damage.

When Obama called for Assad to step down, apparently confident that his days were numbered because an American president had said so, he raised the expectations of the opposition that the US had their backs, in the event that Assad began firing on them.

But Obama had no intention of sending troops, or imposing a no-fly zone. His determination to will the means for Assad’s removal has never matched Russia’s or Iran’s determination to keep him in power. The result was to leave the Syrian opposition exposed to Assad’s war.

Assad, who read American intentions better than the opposition, was emboldened by Obama’s obvious wish not to be drawn directly into the war, even after the famous ‘red line’ was crossed.

Unable to secure direct support from the US, the various, increasingly fragmented rebel groups looked for arms and aid wherever they could find them: Turkey, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and sheiks and businessmen in the Gulf.

The support came with strings attached: namely, ideological guidance, and an increasingly assertive anti-Shia orientation.

Thanks to the recklessness of Erdoğan and the Qataris, jihadist groups from Jabhat al-Nusra to IS hijacked the rebellion, while the West turned a blind eye, until it was forced to create its own, ineffectual ‘moderate’ rebels, who didn’t stand a chance against the Islamists.

By insisting that Assad step down before any transition, Washington prolonged the war, and made the European refugee crisis inevitable: only so many refugees could be dumped in Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan.

All the actors in the Syria cauldron – the Gulf states, Turkey, Hizbullah, the Russians, the Americans – have had a hand in creating this monster, but no one seems to want to fight it, apart from the Kurds.

The question of Assad’s fate has prevented the emergence of a unified Russian-American front against IS. Assad’s forces and their allies, including Hizbullah and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, have focused their attacks on Syrian rebel groups which, unlike IS, have directly challenged the regime.

The Gulf states, whose imams have played no small part in the expansion of jihadist extremism, are too worried about Iran’s nuclear programme and the Houthis of Yemen to lift a finger, particularly if their actions end up strengthening Assad.

Erdoğan’s main concern is not IS but the Kurdish rebels.

The Americans and the French, until last year, took comfort in the notion that IS was a local actor, loathsome to be sure, but unlikely to strike at Western interests: an irritant, rather than a national security threat.

Now IS is unrivalled among jihadist groups, and no one knows quite what to do that won’t make the problem worse. Anything that can be done now risks being too little, too late.

It’s true that IS is no match, militarily, for the West. The attacks of 13 November were in the anarchist tradition of the ‘propaganda of the deed’, and we shouldn’t fall for it: the social order of Europe isn’t in jeopardy. But it would also be a mistake to underestimate the problem.

IS has managed to insert itself, with no small amount of cunning, and with acute sensitivity to feelings of humiliation, into two of the most intractable conflicts of our time: the relationship of European societies to their internal, Muslim ‘others’ and the sectarian power struggles that have engulfed the lands of Iraq and Syria since 2003.

In an earlier era, these conflicts might have remained separate, but they are now linked thanks to the very devices that are the symbol of globalisation, our phones and laptops.

It no longer makes sense to speak of near and far, or even of ‘blowback’: the theatre of conflict has no clear borders, and its causes are multiple, overlapping and deeply rooted in histories of postcolonial rage and Western-assisted state collapse. The attacks in Paris don’t reflect a clash of civilisations but rather the fact that we really do live in a single, if unequal world, where the torments in one region inevitably spill over into another, where everything connects, sometimes with lethal consequences. For all its medieval airs, the caliphate holds up a mirror to the world we have made, not only in Raqqa and Mosul, but in Paris, Moscow and Washington.

20 November


adonis49

adonis49

adonis49

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