Archive for the ‘islam’ category

ISIS’ Last Stand?

June 9, 2017

The long awaited attack on Raqqa, seat of the ISIS provisional government, is about to, or has just begun. After months of pondering, “do we arm the Syrian Kurds or not”, the US has done so and the battle which will ultimately oust ISIS leaders, is at hand. Will ISIS collapse or move to another spot is unclear. Whether the ousting will put an end to terrorist activity, however, is problematic. Why is that and does it matter?

Before there was ISIS, there was al Qaeda. And while ISIS and al Qaeda did their thing, there was also al Shabaab, Boko Haram, and the Taliban. All these organizations have applied extreme Islamic fundamentalists thinking to the secular world. All of these organizations have tried to carve out a more comfortable life for themselves at the expense of someone else. Sound like thugs or common criminals?

A few days ago, a terrorist attack took place in Iran, a country run by religious extremists. ISIS claimed responsibility thereby pleading guilty to these senseless killings.

Do you think this operation was the dying gasps of a defeated organization?

The Iranian attack served a useful, but unintended, consequence. The attack pointed to a source predating al Qaeda, ISIS and all the rest. Wahhabism.

Wahhabism lives in a symbiotic relationship with the House of Saud in Saudi Arabia. In a “give to Caesar what is due” type of arrangement, the royal Saudi family supports, to the exclusion of others, the Wahhabi version of Islam. In return, the Wahhabi clerics support the royal family and look the other way should a royal sheik go over the line with cigarettes or alcohol or whatever.

So, no matter what happens with ISIS, the beacon of ultra conservative Islam, and any ridiculous or anti-social behavior one associates with ISIS or Saudi Arabia (like women’s covering and societal restrictions) will have a sponsor, who from time to time, will think god wants them to enforce such beliefs on the “infidels”. A nuisance for sure, but not an existential threat, to be sure.

Consider that last week a single armed person went into a Florida business and shot four innocent people before taking his own life. In another shooting this week in Pennsylvania, a single armed person went to a grocery store after-hours. This person barricaded the exits and then began shooting, killing three people, before taking his own life. Both of these mass killings had the markings of terrorist inspiration but alas, both turned out to be just home grown insanity.

London, Manchester, and Paris have experienced “ISIS inspired” despicably violent acts recently. Despite large sums of money and hard work by anti-terror professionals, tragic incidents have still occurred. These tragedies are red meat for clever politicians who only too gladly paint the world filled with terrorists, like they are behind every tree. Regrettably, it appears the world is also filled with gullible people only to ready and willing to swallow this populist bait and accept shallow recommendations from these dangerous, self serving politicians.

Candidate Trump and his many right wing supporters were only too ready to talk tough towards ISIS while campaigning. Now as President, Trump continues to talk tough but has little to show for it. For the rest of us, former President Obama less inspirational tones that required one to think about the real nature of terrorism, resonate as wise and informed.

  • Extreme Islam is a problem for everyone including non-extreme Muslims.
  • Extreme Islam’s threat to America pales in comparison to tragedies of everyday American life.
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Afghanistan, The Middle East All Over Again?

May 13, 2017

The Trump Administration is mulling once again taking a greater presence in Afghanistan. The concern these official site is the growing Taliban strength and the clandestine support the Taliban are receiving from Russia. Government sources are leaking that increased military presence is intended to drive the Taliban back to negotiations and not to pursue nation building. Hmmm.

The Taliban resurgence should surprise no one. Afghanistan is closer to a “failed” State than an emerging democracy due to the ethnic and tribal difference reinforced by years of corruption and drug dealing. Before 9/11, the Taliban did ruled Afghanistan but only with the brute and cruel force of its boots. Is that the type of Afghan Government the US wishes to emerge?

With respect to Russian involvement, please get me a glass of water as I sit down to catch my breath. Who would have thought? When Russia invaded and attempted to occupy Afghanistan in the 80’s, it was the US who armed and covertly trained the opposition (mostly Taliban). Pay back?

On a different front, there is less but similar talk about Syria and Iraq where American advisors are helping Kurds and Iraqis to retake Mosel and Raqqa and rid those cities of ISIS control. Ending the Syrian civil war and driving ISIS out of Iraq appear clearly worthwhile objectives, most would agree. Not surprisingly, more American advisors and air support are felt necessary to provide combat help, training, and tactical advice.  Hmmm.

Of the Trump Administration senior appointees, Secretary of Defense Mattis and National Security Advisor H R McMaster are consider top shelf, experienced, principled, and capable. Both Mattis and McMaster should be expected to act prudently and with the country’s best interest in mind. Never the less, any talk of increasing American military presence in the Muslim world should worry us. Why?

There are several reasons.

  1. Increasing troop presence can easily lead to the proverbial slippery slope. One foot in will quickly lead to a second, third, and, fourth step and possibly many more steps.
  2. Greater US presence, while arguments can be made about short term objectives, really begs what are the US long term interests and goals.
  3. And most importantly, what would be the exit plan should our goals not be reached or our interests change?

Former President Obama had chosen a foreign policy based upon urging Muslim countries solve their own differences (mainly religious, Sunni versus Shiite, moderate versus radical fundamentalist) in order to earn US military support. With President Trump it is unclear whether he views the greater Middle East similarly or even whether he is capable of holding any strategic (versus tactical) views. Therein lies the danger.

Committing US forces without a strategic vision harkens memories of heroic US military efforts followed by constant erosion of any gains. Hmmm.

With a President who excels in distraction, Americans must be careful not to cheer the commitment of more young men and women to a war which cannot be won.

Blasphemy ?

May 10, 2017

Recently President Trump issued an executive order apparently in an attempt to give greater freedom to religious organizations allowing them to speak out in the public square and not lose their tax exempt status. Regaining The Center pointed out some of the risks associated with this bogus issue in a posting “Should I Worry About My Freedoms”. Now news of a blasphemy conviction of the former Jakarta Indonesia Governor brings greater focus on a place Americans should not go.

Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, also known as Ahok, was convicted of blasphemy over charges that Ahok had told some voters that the Koran does not instruct Muslims to only vote for other Muslims. Ahok is a Christian. Hmmm.

There is a reason the US founding fathers were careful to separate church and State. Their fears of State religion was well founded and Indonesia has just demonstrated this clearly.

Human Rights In A Time Of Popularism

March 13, 2017

Over the past weekend, news headlines featured the reports that Turkey wanted to send diplomates into the Netherlands in order to campaign before Turkish residents living in the Netherlands. The diplomates purpose was said to be aimed at gaining votes for a change in the Turkish Constitution which would increase current Turkey President Erdogan’s power. By US standards, this request seems off base and should be denied. Hmmm.

American’s gut reaction, however, is based more on our sense of isolationism, that is the American public square is off limits to other nations’ political squabbles. Americans do not expect other nations to have an opinion on US politics and for sure, do not want any interference in our internal affairs (for example, the rumored Russian activity in Trump’e election). But what if a foreign country only wish to “spin” their local politics in the US press and attempt to raise favorable sentiments? Who cares?

The Dutch situation, however, is different. The Turkish intervention was aimed at convincing Turkish citizens who were living and working in the Netherlands to vote (absentee) in a Turkish elections. What’s wrong with that?

Popularism is flowering across Europe and in the Netherlands, right leaning politicians are taking every opportunity to remind Dutch citizens that Turkish guest workers are taking Dutch jobs. Post World War II a number of countries, the Netherlands and Germany in particular, invited guest workers from Turkey to come and work. For a complex set of reasons, the guest workers did not assimilate into the greater society. Go along and get along seemed to be the accepted way of life and today there are second and third generation Turkish residents in both Germany and the Netherlands who do not speak their host country’s language. Hmmm.

Popularism, itself, is a bag of many things. Xenophobes, bigots, and religious extremists often live comfortable under this umbrella. Promote discontent, label a minority as the trouble maker, and then promise (without proof) you will fix this mythical problem, and voila, a politician might get elected. Sound familiar?

But in Europe, there is a much more subtle problem under the surface. Turkey wants to become an EU member and gain full entry to the common market. For Turkey this would give their economy a great boost and would enable even larger numbers of Turkish citizens to move freely into other EU countries and compete for jobs. Oh, and by the way, if the Turkish citizens did not find employment right away, they could claim social benefits in their host country. Hmmm.

Most current EU member States have not had much concern when the migrating workers carried Spanish, Italian, Polish or even a Lithuanian passports. A Turkish passport is something else again. Why?

No surprise, most Turks are Muslim.

The Muslim religion presents a different theology, of course, and for religious intolerants, this is sufficient enough. But there’s more.   Muslims bring with them a different sent of customs, including Sharia law, dress codes, and sharply different views on women’s rights (as seen by Europeans).

Most Western people also consider religious freedom to be a core human right. Most modern western people consider woman’s equality and suffrage a human right. So how exactly does one reconcile these two opposing views? How does a country have laws which grant women the right to wear what they wish (within broad standards of decency) and turn an eye the opposite direction when another women is told she must wear a certain religious garb whether she wants to or not?

In times of plenty, a tolerant society would find ways to accommodate Islam. Genital mutilation, stoning, or multiple wives, however, represent a step to far in most tolerant Western societies. While these societies might allow relative free exercise of religious freedom, these practices would be banned.

But, in times of slow growth or decline, the idea of someone from another country coming in a taking work from another citizens is too much to expect. Turkey as an EU/Common Market member has its supporters (those who see gaining access to Turkish customers), but the realities of local country economics when framed in the conflicts of religious customs, it becomes a piece of cake for populists politicians to short circuit any dialog and pitch secular muslims as the same as fundamentalist.

It would be wise not to look down ones nose and say that would not happen in America. Think about the demonization of Mexicans who don’t follow Sharia law, don’t have different rules for women, and dress for the most part indistinguishable from other Americans. And worse, Mexicans are good workers, family oriented, and are church going people. Isn’t that what the idealized American is?

Populist politicians are pickers and choosers. They are also close to rudderless and pick issues which will yield the most votes. And while that might sound great to someone if the issue fits their hot button, one must remember that this populist leader will jump upon a new issue in the future if that serves their purpose better.

Your populist leader may not be your friend for long.  Hmmm.

A Dear Friend

September 4, 2016

This past week I had two occasion where two different people, both of whom I could honestly say I respected each and considered both a “good” person and a straight forward, non-convoluted speaker. One was blue collar and the other an educated former executive. Both I would consider “a dear friend”.

The blue collar friend allowed that Donald Trump appealed to him. He said “there are three main issues in the Presidential race, jobs, immigration, and ISIS”. Presumably, he was inferring that Trump could handle these issue better than Hillary Clnton. Hmmm.

Not in keeping with the “dear friend” status, I immediately volunteered that immigration and ISIS were not two of the three top issues and pointed out that more Americans by far die each year from automobile accidents, gun misuses, or household slips and falls than have succumbed from ISIS inspired attacks.

With regards to immigration, the flow of undocumented Mexicans into the US slowed to a trickle shortly after the 2008 recession and the number of undocumented aliens living in the US has stabilized. In short, other than jobs three reasons to vote for Trump is down to one.

My dear white collar friend is a long time conservative and for him to support a traditional Republican nominee would be no surprise. But in my opinion, the former executive is smart enough to recognize Donald Trump’s unfitness for office. Why would he be so sure Trump was the choice over Clinton?

As the discussion continued, the abortion issue arose as an article of faith. This dear friend, who is a devout Catholic, in essence could not vote for someone who supported Roe v Wade.

IMO, abortion was the litmus test which underlay all other arguments. Taxes are too high, my executive friend declared, but at the same time, my dear friend supported vouchers for Catholic Schools. He also wanted his “freedom” back which when asked for an example, said he wanted to swim in the ocean without life guard restrictions. Government was too large and President Obama was a complete failure. Hmmm.

My blue collar friend’s pick of jobs as the number one issue is understandable since his job security is enhanced with fuller employment. His choice of immigration and ISIS carry no “self interest” but rather reflect an effort to show his Trump choice on a broader foundation. His Trump preference, however, is susceptible to Clinton alternative job creation ideas if he would listen.

My dear executive friend, regrettably, I think is a lost cause. His religious driven anti-abortion beliefs color his thinking so much that he can only see Hillary Clinton’s trustworthiness issues as proof enough that she should not be President but a man like Donald Trump who arguably is as flawed as Hillary, if not more so, should be elected.

My contact with both of these dear friends took place in social settings totally unsuitable for in-depth political discussion. When I hearr political operatives or those seeking political office advocating for Trump or Clinton, it is easy for me to discount the Republican leaning person and look beyond the (at times equally) biased and rhetorical language uttered by some Democrats.

These spokespersons are not one of “my dear friends”.

The sadness of these two encounters is that a woman’s right to choose is a Constitutional right (as interpreted by the Supreme Court) and is not likely to change under a President Clinton.

The US economy is already one of the best globally and not likely to grow much faster.

And ISIS is just another name for Islamic authoritarianism and there is no reason to expect Muslims motivated by money and power to suddenly become flower children. ISIS may soon disappear but assuredly will reappear in another form.  A rose by any other name is still a rose.

I have a third dear friend to whose wife, my wife told the story of the litmus test. The third dear friend’s wife said her husband felt much the same negativity about Hillary but she was keeping her mouth shut and planning to vote for Hillary Clinton anyways. Hmmm.

Foreign Policy

April 2, 2016

This year’s GOP Presidential primary campaigns have begrudgingly included discussion of America’s foreign policy. Republicans, long advertised as “strong on defense”, claim foreign policy as their strong suit. In this year’s Presidential race, you could have fooled me.

Think about the world around us.

  • China, which has grown at an almost unimaginable double digit pace for over ten years, still clings to the notion that Asia belongs to China regardless of what international law may say. Fully nuclear capable, China remembers Japan’s war atrocities, coverts Taiwan’s return to China, and does not forget the years of colonial occupation at the hands of the West.
  • Japan has a split personality, part imperial and partial to the Samaria way of life, the other part worried about the devastation of WWII and not wanting a repeat, both of these personalities comfortable with isolationism.
  • Russia remains much the same country as depicted in “Katherine the Great” always worried about clandestine thoughts supposedly held by neighboring countries. Fully nuclear capable, Russia and its authoritative leaders simply do not think like Americans.
  • Europe is not one country but a composition of many. The big players are Germany, France, Great Britain, Italy and Spain and all are focused on increasing material wealth without giving up any cultural riches regardless of what hazards loom outside Europe’s borders. Europeans have known war like no one else.Advertised as America’s ally (under NATO), European Countries prefer focusing on their own country’s social problems than global conditions.
  • India, Pakistan, and most of Southeast Asia possess heavy loads to carry just to feed their people and, if possible keep up with their third world development. From time to time, these countries become victim of religious intolerance and in the case of India and Pakistan look at each other as the worst of enemies.
  • Africa and South America are lands of the rich and very poor. At this point, the countries making up Africa and South America are only capable of civil or regional wars. These countries posses abundant mineral resources and the potential for attractive trading alliances, yet somehow seem unable to reach the modern world.
  • Middle East and Israel are geographically commingled. Both struggle with the allure of modernity and both cling to views based upon ancient history. While Israel appears as modern as any country in the world to a traveler, its views that certain lands belong to Israel because “god” said so is not much different than China’s claim to Southeast Asia or Russia to Eastern Europe. Muslim Middle East countries have varying degrees of modern world attributes but are internally at war with a paralyzing view based upon life as it were 1000 years ago.

So tell me again me again why nuclear proliferation is a good idea, why a religious test is applicable to refugee resettlement, why trade tariffs and embargo are helpful, and why any direct military involvement in foreign lands can unilaterally reduce world tensions?

Tell me why the red meat of political speeches make any sense at all?

Tell me why the 7/24 news media not only tolerates but at times encourages politicians to make unsubstantiated policy proposal and not call them on it? Tell me, given the GOP 2016  monopoly of simplistic foreign policy views why it is ok to block Supreme Court nominations, revert to health care coverage which covers less people, or seek religious freedom protections which promulgates discrimination and unequal treatment under the law?

There is assuredly no way any candidate can get it right on all the issues, domestically or in foreign affairs. The world is too complicated and nuanced. On the other hand, naive and half baked ideas, populous based, send the wrong message to other countries and to voters.

This complex world we live in has traded world wars for regional wars for the past 60 years. Americans need to recognize that the appeal of Ted Cruz, Donald Trump, and Bernie Sanders are based upon disenfranchised segments of our population whose wants and needs reflect domestic conditions only. Satisfying these domestic wants, however, could upset world order without anyone suspecting it happening. Such an outcome could be devastating.

Electing a President is more than a beauty contest, a fancy slogan, or the person with the most money. Electing a President might begin with selecting someone as thoughtful, as sincere, and as inquisitive as Barack Obama

ISIS – Are They Behind Every Tree?

March 27, 2016

Hyperbolism is a friend of most politicians. And during a Presidential campaign season, the use of hyperbole is a must tool for most candidates. Hyperbole is particularly useful in misdirecting voters from one party’s failures to the mistaken belief that these failures are the result of the other party. For example, the GOP standard line touches on some aspect “of President Obama’s failed foreign policy”. Their litany goes… President Obama withdrew our troops too quickly and enabled the conditions leading to ISIS formation. Hmmm.

This revisionist history overlooks much.

For starters, Osama bin Laden’s “al Qaeda” movement began its brand of terrorism from safe bases in Afghanistan in the 1990’s. Al Qaeda became a household word following 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center (twin towers). With this spectacular terrorist act, Al Qaeda became enemy number one, a threat to America “because they do not like our way of life” our politicians and news media told us.

In a few months, the US went to war against the Taliban Afghan government and in the process drove al Qaeda underground and unable to further operate in the open. Future al Qaeda terrorist operations would have to be conducted by affiliates located in other countries.

These affiliates, however, were not to be found in Syria or Iraq since both countries were under the authoritarian control. Then for reasons which historians will debate for years to come, the US decided to invade and occupy Iraq. Saddam Hussein was toppled quickly and again for uncertain reasons, the US settled in for a period of regime change and “democratization”.

Soon the roots of “al Qaeda in Iraq” arose. Sunni based militias including Al Qaeda in Iraq raised havoc with Shiites and presented opposition to the newly formed Iraqi Government. Then came the “surge” where the US committed more troops and without much fanfare, began giving money to various local Sunni militias. The results were stunning and al Qaeda activities ceased.

When the US handed daily government control over to the “democratically” elected and Shiite lead government, surprise, surprise, the payments stop flowing to the Sunnis. In a short period, AQII had reappeared and during the Arab Spring morphed into ISIS.

It is problematic whether the US troop removal had anything to do with ISIS’ growth. Neoconservatives favor the story line that US military presence would have confronted ISIS and rendered them un-functional. Does this imply that the US would remain indefinitely in Iraq?

Al Qaeda and ISIS have been the faces of radical Islam. Behind these faces, however, are the raw unabashed thirst for power and a greater share of oil profits. Acts of terrorism are simply tools used in an attempt to shape world behavior and screams “leave us alone”.

The ISIS fear hyperbole can be easily seen if one wants to look. More people die each year from gun related mass shootings than terrorism world wide. More people die in traffic accidents each year than from acts of terrorism worldwide. More people die in home accidents than from terrorism worldwide. Hmmm.

President Obama’s decision to withdraw US military from Iraq, of course, was consistent with signed agreements executed during the Bush years. President Obama’s decision not to over turn these agreements, however, was thoughtful and not a result of weakness or fear. The nonsense of Sunni versus Shiite, Iran versus Saudi Arabia, and the general ambivalence of the Muslim world towards moving into modernity are social problems the US or any other country cannot solve. Only the Middle East populations can bring sense to their lives.

The troubling aspect of this non-involvement position is the region has only known leadership by power, the strongest kid on the block gets the oil and the money. What will make things different in the future?

The answer is unknowable but so what?

Suppose ISIS were to establish itself in Iraq and much of Syria. What would Egypt, Iran, or Saudi Arabia do? Take the worst case, ISIS somehow found a way to overthrow these regimes and gained greater territory. Would ISIS withhold oil from world commerce?

Unlikely, ISIS would need oil revenues (as it does today) to finance its government administration.

Would ISIS send an army of terrorists overseas (say to Brooklyn or Orlando or Salt Lake City) to create mayhem and bring foreign governments to their knees? Even more unlikely.

Hyperbole might be forgivable if one sees it as an essential part of politics. Hyperbole, however, must be constantly challenged by the responsible media so that average Americans do not drink the Kool-aid and believe these clearly unsubstantiated claims.

There will not be terrorists behind every tree but there could be an hyperbole spewing politicians.