On Feb. 14, 1989, I happened to be on a panel on press freedom for the Columbia Journalism Review when someone in the audience told us of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s religious edict for blasphemy against the British novelist Salman Rushdie. What did we think? We didn’t, as I best recall, disgrace ourselves. We said most of the right things about defending freedom of thought and the imagination.
But the death sentence from Iran’s supreme leader seemed unreal — the sending of a thunderbolt from medieval Qom against modern Bloomsbury — and we didn’t treat it with the seriousness that it deserved. I recall, alas, making a very poor joke about literary deconstructionism. My colleagues, though more sensible, were baffled and hesitant. Was it even true — or perhaps just a mistranslation?
We knew soon enough that it was true. The literary, media and political worlds rallied in defense of Mr. Rushdie. He became a hero of free speech and a symbol — even if a slightly ambivalent postcolonial one — of Western liberal traditions. But he also went, very sensibly, behind a curtain of security that was to last many years.
And by degrees — when it seemed that not only Mr. Rushdie’s life but the lives of his publishers, editors and translators might be threatened — his base of support in the literary world thinned out. Sensitive intellectuals discovered that, in a multicultural world, respect for the Other meant understanding his traditions too, and these often were, well, sterner than ours. Freedom of speech was only one value to be set against…ahem, several other values. Fear, cowardice and rationalization spread outward.
John O’Sullivan, “No Offense: The New Threats to Free Speech”, Wall Street Journal, 2014-10-31.
November 7, 2014
November 4, 2014
Sean Collins on the spectacle of the birthplace of the Free Speech Movement demanding that speakers must not say “hurtful” things, lest students be upset:
Students at the University of California, Berkeley, are demanding that the administration ‘disinvite’ comedian Bill Maher who had been asked to be the commencement ceremony speaker in December. An online petition from the Middle Eastern, Muslim and South Asian Coalition (MEMSA) declares that Maher ‘has made statements that are blatantly bigoted and racist’, in particular about Islam. Examples of ‘hate speech’ cited by the petitioners include Maher’s recent statement that ‘Islam is the only religion that acts like the mafia, that will fucking kill you if you say the wrong thing’.
In response to the clamour for Maher’s disinvitation, the undergraduate committee at UC Berkeley responsible for selecting speakers voted to rescind the invitation to Maher. But the university administration announced the invitation will stand.
The controversy resonates historically at Berkeley. The university is currently celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the Free Speech Movement (FSM), a coalition of Berkeley staff and students who fought for free-speech rights for students on campus. ‘I guess they don’t teach irony in college any more’, quipped Maher, in response to his disinvitation.
Maher does not have a ‘right’ to speak at Berkeley’s ceremony; this is not a First Amendment issue. But the campaign to remove him as the speaker at the graduation event is thoroughly censorious and antithetical to the free exchange of ideas. Trying to silence certain views is especially problematic at universities, institutions in which students are expected to engage with a variety of ideas. The attempt to oust Maher is part of a regressive anti-intellectual trend. In the past year alone, there has been a wave of speakers – including Condoleezza Rice, Christine Lagarde, Ayann Hirsi Ali and George Will – who have had invitations rescinded or who decided to decline following protests.
The slogan used by the UC Berkeley campaign against Maher is ‘Free Speech, Not Hate Speech’. This formulation is a contradiction in terms: if you seek to prevent certain speech – say on the grounds of being ‘hateful’ – then you do not support free speech. Alongside Nineteen Eighty-Four’s ‘Freedom is Slavery’, we can now add ‘Censorship is Free Speech’.
October 9, 2014
The result is exactly what we predicted would happen in the case of Islam. Bombard people with images of a far-off land they already hate and tell them to hate it more, and the result is ramping up the intolerance on the couple of dazed and marginalized representatives of that culture who have ended up stuck on your half of the divide. Sure enough, if industry or culture or community gets Blue enough, Red Tribe members start getting harassed, fired from their jobs (Brendan Eich being the obvious example) or otherwise shown the door.
Think of Brendan Eich as a member of a tiny religious minority surrounded by people who hate that minority. Suddenly firing him doesn’t seem very noble.
If you mix together Podunk, Texas and Mosul, Iraq, you can prove that Muslims are scary and very powerful people who are executing Christians all the time and have a great excuse for kicking the one remaining Muslim family, random people who never hurt anyone, out of town.
And if you mix together the open-source tech industry and the parallel universe where you can’t wear a FreeBSD t-shirt without risking someone trying to exorcise you, you can prove that Christians are scary and very powerful people who are persecuting everyone else all the time, and you have a great excuse for kicking one of the few people willing to affiliate with the Red Tribe, a guy who never hurt anyone, out of town.
When a friend of mine heard Eich got fired, she didn’t see anything wrong with it. “I can tolerate anything except intolerance,” she said.
“Intolerance” is starting to look like another one of those words like “white” and “American”.
“I can tolerate anything except the outgroup.” Doesn’t sound quite so noble now, does it?
Scott Alexander, “I Can Tolerate Anything Except The Outgroup”, Slate Star Codex, 2014-09-30.
September 17, 2014
Allah did not create man so that he could have fun. The aim of creation was for mankind to be put to the test through hardship and prayer. An Islamic regime must be serious in every field. There are no jokes in Islam. There is no humor in Islam. There is no fun in Islam. There can be no fun and joy in whatever is serious. Islam does not allow swimming in the sea and is opposed to radio and television serials. Islam, however, allows marksmanship, horseback riding and competition …
Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, meeting in Qom “Broadcast by radio Iran from Qom on 20 August 1979.” quoted in Taheri, The Spirit of Allah (1985) p.259
September 11, 2014
Amy Alkon draws on lots of sources for this post on why President Obama is making serious mistakes in his approach to fighting ISIS:
First, he gets it wrong on Islam. From his speech:
Now let’s make two things clear: ISIL is not “Islamic.” No religion condones the killing of innocents…
Islam doesn’t just condone it; it commands it:
So ingrained is violence in the religion that Islam has never really stopped being at war, either with other religions or with itself. Muhammad was a military leader, laying siege to towns, massacring the men, raping their women, enslaving their children, and taking the property of others as his own. On several occasions he rejected offers of surrender from the besieged inhabitants and even butchered captives. He actually inspired his followers to battle when they did not feel it was right to fight, promising them slaves and booty if they did and threatening them with Hell if they did not. Muhammad allowed his men to rape traumatized women captured in battle, usually on the very day their husbands and family members were slaughtered.
…Although scholars like Ibn Khaldun, one of Islam’s most respected philosophers, understood that “the holy war is a religious duty, because of the universalism of the Muslim mission and (the obligation to) convert everybody to Islam either by persuasion or by force”, many other Muslims are either unaware or willfully ignorant of the Quran’s near absence of verses that preach universal non-violence. Their understanding of Islam comes from what they are taught by others. In the West, it is typical for believers to think that their religion must be like Christianity – preaching the New Testament virtues of peace, love, and tolerance – because Muslims are taught that Islam is supposed to be superior in every way. They are somewhat surprised and embarrassed to learn that the evidence of the Quran and the bloody history of Islam are very much in contradiction to this.
Islam may be referred to as a “religion,” but I have been reading about Islam since 9/11, and at first, was surprised to find that it is actually a totalitarian political movement dressed up as a religion. I am aware that many Muslims are peaceful and do practice it as a religion, and that many have no idea about the violent overthrow of the “infidel” world that the Quran commands. Unfortunately, there are also many Muslims who practice Islam as the Quran and other major texts command. (This is not “radical” Islam, simply Islam.)
Islam commands the re-establishment of the Caliphate — and this is what they are trying to do. A bit more on that:
It becomes obligatory on every single individual to do his best to re-establish the Islamic Caliphate. Every one has to do as much as he can wherever his place is to return our Glory, supremacy and dominance…
In addition to air strikes, Obama says we’ll have American service members acting (in my description) as sort of military soccer coaches to the Iraqis. He wants Congress to okay more of this in Syria. Note that he didn’t ask Congress, but merely “consulted” with a few Congresscritters.
Ugh. Right. This is sustainable. And kind of like trying to close a bursting dam with a tube of Krazy Glue.
September 7, 2014
Strategy Page looks at the various forces and factions opposed to the rise of the Caliphate of ISIS:
In the Middle East Islamic radicalism, and its murderous offshoot Islamic terrorism, comes in many different flavors. Most groups are mutually antagonistic and will often kill each other as eagerly as they go after kaffirs (non-Moslems.) Nearly all these radical movements now condemn ISIL (al Qaeda in Iraq and the Levant) and condemn ISIL for being too extreme. To the West these seems absurd, and many Moslems agree. But radical Islam is what Islam began as and to this day there are always Moslems who embrace the concept of extreme Islamic radicalism and Islamic terrorism as being the ultimate form of Islam. Thus while Saudi Arabia bans all other religions in its territories and regularly beheads people accused of sorcery and other religious offenses, the Saudis condemn ISIL. One reason for this is that ISIL considers the Saudi government weak and not Islamic enough and worthy of being replaced (after a righteous bloodbath of the current Saudi royal family) by someone more suitable (like ISIL). Al Qaeda also condemns ISIL, initially for not ignoring al Qaeda orders to tone down the barbaric treatment (mass murder and torture) of the enemy because al Qaeda realized that this eventually triggers a backlash from other Moslems. Iran condemns ISIL because all Shia (meaning all Iranians) are heretics and deserving of summary execution. Iran-backed Hezbollah is now using that ISIL threat to justify Hezbollah grabbing more power in Lebanon, where Shia are a third of the population but far more powerful politically because Iranian cash, weapons and training have made Hezbollah too strong for the elected Lebanese government to suppress or even oppose. In Syria, the minority (more Shia) Assad government, fighting a Sunni rebellion since 2011, now calls on their current Sunni enemies (Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Arabs, plus the Sunni majority in Syria) to join with them in destroying ISIL.
Whatever else ISIL has done it has united many other Sunni faction and the Shia in the region into an uneasy anti-ISIL coalition. But even after ISIL is gone, Islamic radicalism will still be there. For most Moslems this radicalism is like the weather; every Moslem talks about but Moslems cannot seem to do anything to eliminate or even control it.
Islamic terrorism has long been trapped in a self-destructive cycle of its own making. It works like this. Islamic radicals obtain their popularity and power by proclaiming that they are defending Islam from non-believers and sinners (within Islam, often local Moslem dictators). In order to maintain this moral superiority, the Islamic radicals must be better Moslems, and insist that others do as they do. Since Islam is a religion that dictates how one lives, in considerable detail, as well as how one plays, this business of being a “good Moslem” can get tricky. And it is. There’s a race underway by Islamic radicals, and the clergy that provide theological support, to issue, and enforce, more and more rules on how a good Moslem should live.
July 31, 2014
Damian Thompson points out that the “offensive” things that are getting people upset at Richard Dawkins are exactly the same sort of things they applauded when he was attacking Christianity:
‘Richard Dawkins, what on earth happened to you?’ asks Eleanor Robertson in the Guardian today. Ms Robertson is a ‘feminist and writer living in Sydney’. She follows to the letter the Guardian’s revised style guide for writing about Prof Dawkins: wring your hands until your fingers are raw, while muttering ‘Oh, what a noble mind is here o’erthrown’.
For some time now Dawkins has been saying rude things about Muslims and feminists. This makes him a bigot in the eyes of the Left — and especially the Guardian, which is extraordinarily and mysteriously protective of Islam. As Robertson puts it:
‘Sure, he wrote some pop science books back in the day, but why do we keep having him on TV and in the newspapers? If it’s a biologist you’re after, or a science communicator, why not pick from the hundreds out there who don’t tweet five or six Islamophobic sentiments before getting off the toilet in the morning?’
Note how The Selfish Gene and The Blind Watchmaker — masterpieces of lucid thinking that advanced humanity’s understanding of evolution — have become mere ‘pop science’ now that their author is upsetting the wrong people.
It’s hard to deny that Dawkins’s ‘secular fundamentalism’ — as liberal commentators now describe it — makes for an embarrassing spectacle. When enraged pensioners pick fights with total strangers, one’s natural reaction is to go and sit somewhere else on the bus.
But Dawkins was just as offensive when his target was Christianity; it’s just that the Left didn’t have a problem with his description of Pope Benedict XVI as a ‘leering old villain in the frock’ who ran ‘a profiteering, woman-fearing, guilt-gorging, truth-hating, child-raping institution … amid a stench of incense and a rain of tourist-kitsch sacred hearts and preposterously crowned virgins, about his ears.’
As I said at the time, that article — in the Washington Post, no less — ‘conjures up the image of a nasty old man who’s losing his marbles. It’s not very nice about the Pope, either.’ But Dawkins has not become any crazier in the intervening four years; he’s simply widened his attack on blind faith, as he sees it, to include Muslims and feminists.
July 28, 2014
In The Spectator, Douglas Murray wonders when the moderate Muslims are going to speak out over the “Trojan Horse” scandal:
The Trojan Horse reports are in, and they make for damning reading. ‘An aggressive Islamist agenda… a coordinated, deliberate and sustained action to introduce an intolerant and aggressive Islamist ethos’. Teachers who claimed that the Boston marathon bombing and the murder of Lee Rigby were in fact hoaxes and an ‘Attack on Islam’. And so on. The grim details are out. But there is a story behind this story which has not been thought about, though it ought to be. That is the response of Britain’s Muslim communities to these awful revelations.
Ever since 9/11 a considerable appeal from the non-Muslim majority in the West has been ‘where are the moderates? Where are the moderate voices who are willing not just to excuse or remain silent in the face of their religion’s extremists, but to actually stand up and say ‘these people are bringing our faith into disrepute, we recognise it, we hate it, and we are going to actually push them out of the faith.’ The unwillingness of more than a tiny number of Muslims to actually stand up and speak out as well as push out the extremists is very noticeable to non-Muslims. Indeed, I would suggest that it is one of the largest contributing factors to the hardening of attitudes across Europe towards Islam in general (see here for some interesting polling on this).
So when the story of Birmingham schools emerged – with stories of the most appalling racism against white people and disgusting bigotry against Christians, gay people and others – it should have provided a fine opportunity for what is generally termed the ‘moderate majority’ to make their voices heard. Granted, the ‘Trojan Horse’ story started strangely and plenty of us were uncomfortable about writing or speaking about it until we knew what the facts were behind the allegations in the original document. But, once the press and then the official investigations got underway, it became clear that, whatever the origin of the document, what it alleged was true. It has now been repeatedly found to be true.
Yet the response of Muslim communities has not been to accept this and to do something about tackling it. Far from it. The official responses have almost to a man and woman been denial, evasion and a fall-back onto claims of ‘Islamophobia’ and racism.
July 25, 2014
Mark Steyn quotes himself extensively about the Palestinian refugees:
I’m often asked why I don’t write more about the Palestinian situation, and the reason I don’t is because the central fact of the dispute — the Palestinians’ Jew hatred — never changes. So I said what I had to say about it many years ago, and there’s very little to add. For example, in The National Post on April 18th 2002 I quoted an old Colonial Office hand:
“All British officials tend to become pro-Arab, or, perhaps, more accurately anti-Jew,” wrote Sir John Hope-Simpson in the 1920s wrapping up a stint in the British Mandate of Palestine. “Personally, I can quite well understand this trait. The helplessness of the fellah appeals to the British official. The offensive assertion of the Jewish immigrant is, on the other hand, repellent.” Progressive humanitarianism, as much as old-school colonialism, prefers its clientele “helpless,” and, despite Iranian weaponry and Iraqi money and the human sacrifice of its schoolchildren, the Palestinians have been masters at selling their “helplessness” to the West.
In Europe, colonialism may be over, but colonialist condescension endures as progressive activism, and the Palestinians are the perfect cause. Everywhere else, from Nigeria to Nauru, at some point the natives say to the paternalist Europeans, “Thanks very much, but we’ll take it from here.” But the Palestinians? Can you think of any other “people” who’d be content to live as UN “refugees” for four generations? They’re the only “people” with their own dedicated UN agency, and its regime has lasted almost three times as long as Britain’s Palestine mandate did. To quote again from that 2002 Post column:
This is only the most extreme example of how the less sense the Arabs make the more the debate is framed in their terms. For all the tedious bleating of the Euroninnies, what Israel is doing is perfectly legal. Even if you sincerely believe that “Chairman” Arafat is entirely blameless when it comes to the suicide bombers, when a neighbouring jurisdiction is the base for hostile incursions, a sovereign state has the right of hot pursuit. Britain has certainly availed herself of this internationally recognized principle: In the 19th century, when the Fenians launched raids on Canada from upstate New York, the British thought nothing of infringing American sovereignty to hit back — and Washington accepted they were entitled to do so. But the rights every other sovereign state takes for granted are denied to Israel. “The Jews are a peculiar people: things permitted to other nations are forbidden to the Jews,” wrote America’s great longshoreman philosopher Eric Hoffer after the 1967 war. “Other nations drive out thousands, even millions of people and there is no refugee problem … But everyone insists that Israel must take back every single Arab … Other nations when victorious on the battlefield dictate peace terms. But when Israel is victorious it must sue for peace. Everyone expects the Jews to be the only real Christians in this world.”
Thus, the massive population displacements in Europe at the end of the Second World War are forever, but those in Palestine a mere three years later must be corrected and reversed. On the Continent, losing wars comes with a territorial price: The Germans aren’t going to be back in Danzig any time soon. But, in the Middle East, no matter how often the Arabs attack Israel and lose, their claims to their lost territory manage to be both inviolable but endlessly transferable.
And so land won in battle from Jordan and Egypt somehow has to be ceded to Fatah and Hamas.
As I said, this is all the stuff that never changes, and the likelihood that it will change lessens with every passing half-decade. I wrote the above column at the time Jenin and the other Palestinian “refugee camps” were celebrating their Golden Jubilee. That’s to say, the “UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees” is older than most African, Caribbean or Pacific states. What sort of human capital do you wind up with after four generations have been born as “refugees”? If you’ve ever met a charming, urbane Palestinian doctor or lawyer in London or Paris, you’ll know that anyone who isn’t a total idiot — ie, the kind of people you need to build a nation — got out long ago. The nominal control of the land has passed from Jordan and Egypt to Israel to Arafat to Abbas to Hamas, but the UNRWA is forever, runnning its Mister Magoo ground operation and, during the periodic flare-ups, issuing its usual befuddled statements professing complete shock at discovering that Hamas is operating rocket launchers from the local kindergarten.
July 14, 2014
Janet Daley talks about two recently arrested “jihadis” in Britain:
In the midst of the deeply unfunny news coverage of the two young British jihadi volunteers who were arrested on terror charges when they arrived back from Syria, there was one moment of comic absurdity. It seems that before setting off on their mission, Mohammed Ahmed and Yusuf Sarwar found it necessary to place orders with Amazon for those invaluable scholarly treatises, Islam for Dummies, The Koran for Dummies and Arabic for Dummies. Hilarity aside, there is something important to be noted here.
First, these 22-year-olds were obviously not the products of some extreme mosque which had drilled them in Islamist fundamentalism. In fact, they were so untutored in the religion to which they were nominally affiliated that they had to equip themselves with a crash course in its basic principles. Nor had they come from families which were inclined to endorse their terrorist fantasies. Indeed, their own parents were so horrified when they learned of the men’s activities that they turned them in to the police. So we need to ask, as a matter of urgency, where it came from, this bizarre determination to be inducted into a campaign of seditious murder that (we can assume from their decision to plead guilty to the terror charges) they fully intended to bring home with them. What causes young men to risk their own lives, and those of who knows how many others, for a cause about which they know so little that they have to mug it up before they catch the plane?
There has come to be something of a consensus that this is a problem that only the moderate Muslim community can deal with through its own moral authority. But parents as courageous and civically responsible as these two would-be jihadis had are not going to be ten-a-penny. And it is unfair for the society at large to wash its hands and leave it all to the families and the neighbours, most of whom are as new to all this as we are. If too many young Britons are drawn to a hateful, barely understood dogma because it seems to bring some magical sense of belonging, then something is clearly wrong with their lives in this country. There is apparently nothing on offer here that can compete with the promise of exaltation that is available for the price of a plane ticket.
Contrary to all the educational shibboleths of our time, young men are motivated by aggression and power: their dreams are of glorious triumph over rivals. If they are denied these things — even in the ritualised forms that used to be provided by an education system that understood how dangerous male adolescence was — then they will seek them wherever they can be found. Gang violence, with its criminal initiation rites, or Muslim fanaticism can fill a void, offering not just a licence for brutality but for banding together into hostile tribes. There was a time — before characteristically male behaviour was devalued in favour of the female virtues of empathy and conciliation — when these proclivities were dealt with quite effectively by combative team sports and military cadet corps. Institutionalised aggression was supervised by adult authority until the young men grew up and became responsible for their own impulses.
H/T to Mark Collins for the link.
June 26, 2014
In Vice News, Jordan Larson reports on the plight of a self-declared atheist who has been confined to a mental institute in northern Nigeria because denying belief in God is a mental illness:
A young Nigerian man is being forcibly held in a mental institution for identifying as an atheist, according to charity organization International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU).
Mubarak Bala, 29, who holds a degree in chemical engineering and is a resident of the primarily Muslim Kano state in northern Nigeria, has been held and medicated against his will at the Aminu Kano Teaching Hospital since June 13.
According to IHEU, Bala was committed to a mental institution after he told his Muslim family that he did not believe in God.
His family then sought the advice of two doctors; the first gave him a clean bill of health, while the second chalked up his atheism to a “personality change.”
In one of his emails, Bala wrote, “And the biggest evidence of my mental illness was large blasphemies and denial of ‘history’ of Adam, and apostacy [sic], to which the doctor said was a personality change, that everyone needs a God, that even in Japan they have a God. And my brother added that all the atheists I see have had mental illness at some point in their life,” according to a statement on IHEU’s website.
“Kano is a Sharia state and there are many similar cases occurring, where people are forcefully oppressed just because of their beliefs or for conservative religious reasons, or for the ‘honour’ of their family,” Bamidele Adeneye, secretary of IHEU member organization Lagos Humanists, told IHEU. “Often though you only hear about it afterwards, if at all. This is a rare chance to intervene while someone is in dire need and is still alive.”
June 22, 2014
In the Daily Express, Adrian Lee reports on what happens to a town when ISIS takes over:
When the gunmen arrived in town one of their first tasks was to raid shops and confiscate every carton of cigarettes. The tobacco was loaded on to a truck and was soon burning on a giant pyre under the watchful eyes of the fanatics.
For residents in Raqqa near the border with Iraq in northern Syria this display of power was just a taste of life to come under Isis. Within days the radical Muslim group that is bulldozing through the region had decreed that women could not raise their voices in public or walk at a late hour without a male chaperone.
From elsewhere have come horrific stories of brutality including the alleged filming of mass executions. Now this group controls half of Iraq and is knocking on the door of the capital Baghdad.
Led by a man who has been described as the new Osama Bin Laden, the aim of Isis is a new Muslim state straddling Syria and Iraq, which is to be run under ultrastrict sharia law.
For anyone stepping out of line the punishments are harsh. Isis believes in crucifixion and the amputation of limbs for criminal acts. It’s claimed that to set an example the heads of their dead enemies are boiled in oil.
It is a return to the Dark Ages last witnessed when the Taliban joylessly governed Afghanistan.
ISIS is enforcing a particularly grim and joyless form of religious and social behaviour:
Singing and dancing are banned along with alcohol, cigarettes and the popular hookah pipe.
“Songs and music are forbidden in Islam as they prevent one from the remembrance of god and the koran and are a temptation and corruption of the heart,” according to a statement issued by Isis.
“Every smoker should be aware that with every cigarette he smokes in a state of trance and vanity he is disobeying god.”
Shop owners are forbidden from displaying images of people in their windows and ordered to close 10 minutes before prayer time. It’s also considered a sin to build elaborate tombstones. Under Islamic law death is final and resting places should be unadorned.
June 21, 2014
June 19, 2014
One of the most destructive wars in Europe ran from 1618 to 1648 and involved the repeated devastation of much of central Europe. The term “Thirty Years’ War” is a convenient term for the series of overlapping and interlinked conflicts between and among the combatants originally religious in nature (Protestant versus Catholic) and later becoming more of a struggle for political control (Wikipedia‘s entry covers most of the issues).
In the Spectator, Douglas Murray says this is a good model to help us understand what is happening right now in the middle east:
Syria has fallen apart. Major cities in Iraq have fallen to al-Qa’eda. Egypt may have stabilised slightly after a counter-coup. But Lebanon is starting once again to fragment. Beneath all these facts — beneath all the explosions, exhortations and blood — certain themes are emerging.
Some years ago, before the Arab ‘Spring’ ever sprung, I remember asking one top security official about the region. What, I wondered, was their single biggest fear? The answer was striking and precise: ‘That the region will clarify.’ That is a fear which now appears to be coming true.
The Middle East is not simply falling apart. It is taking a different shape, along very clear lines — far older ones than those the western powers rudely imposed on the region nearly a century ago. Across the whole continent those borders are in the process of cracking and breaking. But while that happens the region’s two most ambitious centres of power — the house of Saud and the Ayatollahs in Iran — find themselves fighting each other not just for influence but even, perhaps, for survival.
There are those who think that the region as a whole may be starting to go through something similar to what Europe went through in the early 17th century during the Thirty Years’ War, when Protestant and Catholic states battled it out. This is a conflict which is not only bigger than al-Qa’eda and similar groups, but far bigger than any of us. It is one which will re-align not only the Middle East, but the religion of Islam.
Over the last decade, many people have “explained” the unsettled and unstable situation among the various middle eastern Islamic states by pointing out that Islam never went through the sort of wrenching religious/political upheaval like the Protestant Reformation in Europe. We may actually be seeing this process live right now.
June 14, 2014
The Islamic militant group ISIS didn’t come from nowhere, but most of us only started hearing about them quite recently. Defense One has a guide to the group that has been tearing up Iraq:
Islamic State in Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), a predominantly Sunni jihadist group, seeks to sow civil unrest in Iraq and the Levant with the aim of establishing a caliphate — a single, transnational Islamic state based on sharia. The group emerged in the ashes of the U.S.-led invasion to oust Saddam Hussein as al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), and the insurgency that followed provided it with fertile ground to wage a guerrilla war against coalition forces and their domestic allies.
After a U.S. counterterrorism campaign and Sunni efforts to maintain local security in what was known as the Tribal Awakening, AQI violence diminished from its peak in 2006–2007. But since the withdrawal of U.S. forces in late 2011, the group has increased attacks on mainly Shiite targets in what is seen as an attempt to reignite conflict between Iraq’s Sunni minority and the Shiite-dominated government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Burgeoning violence in 2013 left nearly eight thousand civilians dead, making it Iraq’s bloodiest year since 2008, according to the United Nations. Meanwhile, in 2012 the group adopted its new moniker, ISIS (sometimes translated as Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL) as an expression of its broadened ambitions as its fighters have crossed into neighboring Syria to challenge both the Assad regime and secular and Islamist opposition groups there. By June 2014, the group’s fighters had routed the Iraqi military in the major cities of Fallujah and Mosul and established territorial control and administrative structures on both sides of the Iraqi-Syrian border.
At odds with al-Qaeda’s aims, ISIS has since expanded its territorial control, establishing a “de facto state in the borderlands of Syria and Iraq” that exhibits some of the traditional markers of sovereignty, note Douglas A. Ollivant and Fishman. Beyond fielding a militia, it provides limited services and administers its ultraconservative brand of justice. Much of Anbar province has remained outside the central government’s authority since January 2014, and in June, ISIS wrested control of Mosul and its environs after the army, hobbled by desertions, retreated overnight. The takeovers highlighted Baghdad’s weakness: In Fallujah, Maliki called on Sunni tribesmen to resist ISIS, and in Mosul, which had been considered a model for the surge and Awakening, he called on the Kurdish security forces, the Peshmerga, to do the same.
Insurgents’ consolidation of territorial control is a concern for the United States, which believes such areas outside of state authority may become safe havens for those jihadis with ambitions oriented toward the “far enemy” — the West. The Obama administration has responded to the regional resurgence by increasing the CIA’s support for the Maliki government, including assistance to elite counterterrorism units that report directly to the prime minister, and providing Hellfire missiles and surveillance drones. After Iraqi forces retreated from Mosul, the insurgents who routed them released more than one thousand prisoners and picked up troves of U.S.-supplied matériel.