Streetwise Professor

February 17, 2015

Questions no journalists (like those at Daily Beast) are asking

Filed under: History,Politics — The Professor @ 8:32 pm

The Daily Beast has added to the Omar-Kayla story, with an interview with Omar. So has the AP. These pieces cannot be called journalism, really. They are just stenography. When journalists decide to go beyond being merely transcribers, and ask some serious questions, here are some that need answering. I am skeptical this will happen, because many journalists obviously know al Khani, and seem to be intent on protecting him.

I will update as ideas come to mind. And you all can feel free to play at home, and submit questions via the comments.

Someone purporting to be Omar al Khani dropped a comment saying that he would answer questions. Here’s your chance: some proof of identity is necessary to make answers credible.

  1. How many ISIS prisoners have been released just once, let alone twice?
  2. Did ISIS know Omar’s identity and previous activities? When he was initially captured? If not, did they learn during his period of captivity (perhaps through torture)? Was he questioned about his activities in Syria? What identification did he have in his possession?
  3. Is it really credible to believe that ISIS did not know his identity and activities, or would release him before they did? After all, al Khani was an extremely well-known and connected (not to say self-promoting) presence in Syrian opposition circles, and on social media in particular: Google searches turn up considerable information about him. (We know of ISIS’s intense interest in exploiting social media.) As a photographer he spent considerable time in Syria. Surely he attracted attention. He was not just some guy.
  4. ISIS is notorious for the ferocity with which it deals with any other group in Syria, be they secular (by Syrian standards) oppositionists, rival Salafist groups, or the Muslim Brotherhood. They are noted for takfir. They are also notoriously paranoid, and al Khani’s activities were certain to excite that paranoia. How was al Khani able to persuade them, not once, but twice, that he was not a spy, or a threat, or merely an apostate?
  5. During his work in Syria, did al Khani have any dealings with ISIS? With whom? What was the nature of these dealings?
  6. Who funded al Khani’s operations in Syria 2011-2013? He made an allusion to assistance from individual members of the Muslim Brotherhood but seemed at pains to deny an MB connection. He also referred to help from Turkey. Was ISIS interested in how he was funded?
  7. Were there other prisoners that were held with al Khani who were (a) released, and (b) could corroborate his story?
  8. The various articles (other than the AP) state he was held two months on each occasion. Yet he had Facebook posts less than one month after his capture in August of 2013. The AP article says he was held “about 20 days.” What explains the discrepancies?
  9. In some versions of the story, al Khani says he does not know why Mueller did not follow their pre-arranged plan to claim she was his wife. In another version, he says she denied she was his wife in order to save him. Why the different versions?
  10. Why would it have made a difference if they were married, or just engaged? If she wasn’t Muslim, wouldn’t claiming that he was married to her have put Omar into jeopardy with ISIS? Or had she converted?
  11. Omar claims that Kayla Mueller was the love of his life. But he alluded to her only once on Facebook prior to his recent statement, even though he was actively posting about his photographs and his film. Why the silence? Did he make any statements about her at his public appearances? Was he continuing to attempt to secure her release? What was he doing?
  12. In the recent articles, al Khani claims that he believed that it was too dangerous for Mueller to go to Syria but that she persisted and he relented. The most obvious inference to draw from these accounts is that she had not been to Syria before. But she had posted two photographs from “Souria” on Facebook. How can this discrepancy be explained?
  13. The various articles contain chronologies of Omar’s life from 2010-2014 that are not consistent. Exactly when did he go to Sudan? When did he leave Sudan for Cairo? Where did he go when after leaving Cairo? Where/when was he with Mueller? Did he participate in, organize, or assist in the Tahrir Square protests?
  14. Why would he, of all people, be recruited to fix an internet connection in Aleppo? Aleppo was one of the most dangerous cities on earth at the time. Why would someone run such a huge risk to perform such a trivial task? Why would someone endanger their girlfriend in the bargain? Or was there another reason to go to Aleppo?
  15. Is al Khani in discussions with anyone for a book or movie deal?
  16. Ruth Sherlock of the Telegraph says she knew Kayla Mueller. Moreover, she quoted Omar frequently.  Does she know his real name? Why conceal it? Rebel groups must know. Did she attempt to verify any of his claims, about the periods of captivity, the attempted rescue, or his biography more generally? Sherlock included al Khani in a book, which she states is “a collaboration with a BBC journo & a theatre director for a play. Not all is literal.” Is there anything in the book about al Khani that is fictionalized (i.e., not “literal”)? If so, what? Is it really a good idea for a journalist to include people she interviewed frequently in a semi-fictional book?

Like a say, just a start. But it’s necessary to start somewhere.

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5 Comments »

  1. On Islamic marriage: http://www.sistani.org/english/book/48/2345/

    Comment by Misha — February 18, 2015 @ 3:32 am

  2. These pieces cannot be called journalism, really. They are just stenography.

    This has been going on for years. In return for “access” to politicians and other prominent figures, journalists promised to pitch softball questions and write puff-pieces. The journalist who asks anything awkward would find himself shut out, and I suspect this latest case is no different.

    Comment by Tim Newman — February 18, 2015 @ 6:38 am

  3. I think you make more of this than is warranted. ISIS may seem crazy to a Westerner, but their beliefs are internally consistent. An native Arabic speaker would not have a hard time avoiding a judgment of takfir as long as he hadn’t done anything like profess faith in twelver Shia doctrines or other group under general condemnation.

    While I don’t agree with Misha that ISIS would accept the website of a twelver Shia Grand Ayatollah as authoritative, there is a lot of similarity on marriage doctrine (though not 100% agreement). The first rule is the wife is subservient. Her religion makes no difference at all. Her husband’s faith trumps it. The second rule is women must be under the protection of a male guardian – husband, father, paternal uncle, brother, son, nephew, etc. A woman who voluntarily leaves such protection is automatically classified as a loose woman. By admitting Omar was not her husband, she signed her own death warrant.

    In the Muslim world, governments are never allowed to meddle in a family matter. If a couple claims to be married, no authority can intervene without strong evidence they are not. For example, if the woman’s father or brother testify she is not. In that case, though, the woman is turned over to her male relative. Her punishment becomes a family matter. With no family to take her, ISIS acted as they believed a government ought to act.

    Comment by Ben — February 18, 2015 @ 12:07 pm

  4. There is no real need to over-think or rationalize this. She was American. Demands had been made to her family/the US government. She had real value and there is no way they would just let her walk out the door. Several of the other prisoners they have executed, including I believe James Foley, had apparently sincere conversions to Islam, but that doesn’t seem to have affected ISIS decision making process at all.

    Ultimately the claim that ISIS would even consider letting her go is one that seems to fly in the face of their demonstrated behavior and everything we know about how they actually operate. To make a convincing argument to the contrary requires actual evidence or examples, not mere reasoning or theological speculation.

    Comment by JDonn — February 19, 2015 @ 12:16 am

  5. Maybe she felt that she could save his (or her) life if she did not acknowledge their relationship.

    http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2015/02/15/kayla-mueller-final-months-detailed/23455047/ seems to answer some of your questions

    Who has Miss Mueller’s passport? Did Mohandes (Esteemed Engineer) Omar show someone what to do for the next time the Internet service at the Doctors Without Borders hospital goes down?

    Comment by Malka — February 21, 2015 @ 8:21 pm

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