Quotulatiousness

September 11, 2017

Smug Canadian vanity over helping (some) refugees may harm a larger number of more desperate refugees

Filed under: Cancon, Middle East — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Jonathan Kay in the National Post:

By my anecdotal observation, these accounts are not overblown. At Toronto dinner parties, it’s become common for upscale couples to brag about how well their sponsored refugees are doing. (Houmam has a job! The kids already speak English! Zeinah bakes the most amazing Syrian pastries — I’m going to serve some for desert!) Syrian refugees aren’t just another group of Canadian newcomers. They’ve become central characters in the creation of our modern national identity as the humane yang to Trump’s beastly yin.

Given all this, it seems strange to entertain the thought that — contrary to this core nationalist narrative — our refugee policy may actually be doing more harm than good. Yet after reading Refuge: Rethinking Refugee Policy in a Changing World, a newly published book jointly authored by Paul Collier and Alexander Betts, I found that conclusion hard to avoid. When it comes to helping victims of Syria’s civil war, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

[…]

What’s worse, the lottery-style nature of the system means that refugees have incentive to take enormous risks. German Chancellor Angela Merkel received lavish praise for admitting more than 1 million Muslim refugees in 2015. But the data cited in Refuge suggest the tantalizing prospect of first-world residency is precisely what motivated so many refugees to endanger their lives by setting out from Turkey in tiny watercraft. We like to believe that generous refugee-admission policies are an antidote to the perils that claimed Alan Kurdi’s life. The exact opposite seems more likely to be true.

Moreover, the refugees who make it to the West do not comprise a representative cross-section of displaced Syrians — because those who can afford to pay off human smugglers tend to be the richest and most well-educated members of their society. (Betts and Collier cite the stunning statistic that fully half of all Syrian university graduates now live outside the country’s borders.) This has important policy ramifications, because refugees who remain in the geographical vicinity of their country of origin typically return home once a conflict ends — whereas those who migrate across oceans usually never come back. Insofar as the sum of humanity’s needs are concerned, where is the need for Syrian doctors, dentists and nurses more acute — Alberta or Aleppo?

[…]

But logically sound as it may be, the authors’ argument also flies in the face of our national moral vanity. Scenes of refugees being greeted at the airport by our PM offer a powerful symbol of our humanitarian spirit. Having our PM cut cheques to foreign aid agencies? Less so. While focusing more on supporting Syrian refugees who’ve been displaced to other Middle Eastern countries would allow us to do more good with the same amount of money, we’d also be acting in a less intimate and personal way — and we’d get fewer of those heartwarming newspaper features about Arab children watching their first Canadian snowstorm.

And so we have to ask ourselves: In the end, what’s more important — doing good, or the appearance of doing good? If we’re as pure of heart as we like to imagine, we’ll seek out the policy that saves the most people, full stop. And Refuge supplies an outstanding road map for getting us there.

August 25, 2017

The End of the Bronze Age

Filed under: History, Middle East, Science — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 28 Sep 2015

Around 1200 BC, the countries of the Eastern Mediterranean went into major cultural decline: The Late Bronze Age came to a sudden end.

Kingdoms that had wielded immense power completely disappeared. For several centuries after this, agriculture was people’s only means of subsistence. These were pivotal changes in history. Explaining them remains one of the big challenges in Mediterranean archaeology.

In this video, the foundation Luwian Studies presents a comprehensive and plausible scenario of what might have happened.

May 23, 2017

Remembering the Six-Day War

Filed under: History, Middle East, Military, Religion — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

With the 50th anniversary coming up in a few weeks, Jerrold L. Sobel provides a retrospective on the Arab-Israeli war of 1967:

For those of us alive during those daunting days in May 1967 leading up to the war, it was a period in time we will never forget, nor should we. Its ramifications were and are germane to this very day.

No discussion of the Six-Day War can be made without the background of its major protagonist, Gamal Abdel Nasser. Whereas today ISIS is attempting to dominate the Islamic world under an Islamic Caliphate, Nasser, then president of Egypt, attempted to do the same but with a secular approach. On July 23, 1952, he and a group of officers staged a coup and ousted the Egyptian King Farouk. Although the real leader, Nasser initially remained in the background but in fact was instrumental in abolishing the monarchy in 1953. The following year he came out of the shadows to assume absolute power and began instituting far-reaching economic reforms which instantly made him the darling of the Arab world. By 1956 his relations with the West had deteriorated to the point that he brazenly nationalized the Suez Canal, prompting an invasion by England, France, and Israel. Under pressure from the U.S., these forces withdrew, and a United Nations Emergency force was subsequently placed as a buffer between Egypt and Israel; the withdrawal of which would play a pivotal role in the conflict 11 years later.

At the pinnacle of his popularity, Nasser joined with Syria forming what became the United Arab Republic (U.A.R.), a move which encouraged the Syrians to ramp up incessant attacks against Israel from their vantage point on the Golan Heights, towering 3,000 feet above the Galilee. No Israeli farm or Kibbutz was spared the wrath of Syrian artillery. Much like the residents of Sderot and other Israeli towns adjacent to Gaza today, Jews were forced to sleep and conduct their lives in bomb shelters.

[…]

In the early hours of June 5, 1967 Israel launched a preemptive air strike on the air forces of Egypt, Jordan, and Syria with devastating effect. Five days later the armies of these nations along with Iraq, which also joined the fray were crushed and forced to sue for a ceasefire. The war may have taken only six days but its ramifications and similarities to today’s Middle East conflict is unquestionable. What were the accomplishments?

  • For the first time since prior to the Ottoman Empire, Jews have unfettered access to their Holy sites and a united Jerusalem their ancient capital.
  • The indefensible 1948 armistice line which bisected Israel from the Jordan River to within 9 miles of the Mediterranean Sea had been abrogated.
  • Israel took control of Judea and Samaria, which was illegally annexed by Jordan following the ’48 armistice.
  • Israel commands the highly defensible Jordan Valley where terrorist attacks had emanated from both Jordan and Syria.
  • Israel was able to trade the Sinai Peninsula for a peace treaty with her main antagonist, Egypt.
  • The Golan Heights, the onetime haven for terrorists and Syrian artillery, was annexed and have remained relatively quiet for the past 50 years.
  • Most importantly, by winning the war decisively, Israel staved off what was intended to be another mass genocide of the Jewish people….

What was not accomplished?

  • An end to terrorism.
  • An end to Anti-Semitic cartoons and rhetoric throughout much of the Islamic world, particularly Iran.
  • An end of vilification of Israel by the Palestinian leadership, media, and educational system.
  • A Palestinian leader willing to recognize Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people.
  • A United Nations only united in castigating the only true democracy in the Middle East.
  • A total negation of slander on campus against Jews masked under the pretense of Anti-Zionism; particularly the BDS movement.

Despite these and other seemingly irreconcilable problems, winning the Six-Day War has allowed the Jewish state to survive and rise from its fledgling third-world status into a technological, economic, and military behemoth; an island of democratic renaissance surrounded by a sea of despair.

April 29, 2017

100 Days of Trump: Three Best and Worst Moments of Presidency So Far

Filed under: Liberty, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Published on 28 Apr 2017

Reason presents the three worst—and the three best—achievements of President Trump’s first 100 days.
____________________________________________

Third Worst Moment: Replace and Repeal FAIL.

Along with his pledge to build a wall on the southern border and deport illegal immigrants en masse, Trump’s campaign was all about ramming through the “Repeal and Replace Obamacare Act,” which would have cut red tape, gotten rid of the individual mandate, and created a true marketplace for medical insurance. Instead, thanks to the president’s own lack of savvy and GOP dithering, it didn’t even get a proper vote in Congress.

Third Best Moment: The nomination and confirmation of Neil Gorsuch.

The nomination of an intellectually powerful and highly respected jurist to replace the late Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court demonstrated that President Trump isn’t the flake that many critics figured him to be. Neil Gorsuch might not be libertarian, but he is, in the estimation of Georgetown Law’s Randy Barnett, a serious thinker who believes that government power is and should be limited.

Second Worst Moment: The Country That Bombs Together.

The one action for which President Trump has received bipartisan praise was the bombing of a Syrian government air base to protest the alleged use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime. Even opposition leaders such as Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer signed on to a starkly humanitarian intervention that served no greater purpose than rallying voters here in America.

Second Best Moment: Deregulatory appointees at the FDA, FCC, and EPA.

There’s no question that Trump has picked some terrible cabinet members—Attorney General Jeff Sessions has openly talked about ramping up the war on pot in states where it’s legal, for instance. He also defends asset-forfeiture abuse and has hinted at reviving federal porn prosecutions, too. But picks such as Ajit Pai at the Federal Communications Commission, Scott Gottlieb at the Food and Drug Administration, and Scott Pruitt at the Environmental Protection Agency are serious deregulators who are already starting to prune back regulations that accomplish little but cost taxpayers and innovators lots of time, money, and resources.

Worst Moment: Muslim Travel Ban.

The president has issued two executive decrees calling for a moratorium on travel from several majority-Muslim countries and the suspension of America’s refugee program. Both have been stayed by federal courts and it remains unclear if one will ever become the law of the land. Regardless it’s anti-American to effectively establish a religious test for travelers and migrants here—and it also undermines attempts to reach out to the vast majority of Muslims who are the primary targets of Islamic fundamentalism.

Best Moment: He’s Getting Real.

Every new president enters office thinking they can direct the course of human history via his pen or, in the case of Trump, his Twitter feed. For all his bluster and lack of self-awareness, he’s also learning that the world is more complicated than he reckoned. He’s pushed back deadines for all sorts of projects, from funding for his stupid and useless immigration wall to a timeline for tax reform, which shows that he is living in the real world at least. To the extent he realizes that his best path forward is in cutting economic regulations rather than vilifying immigrants, renegotiating trade deals, and starting new wars, he’ll not only be a better president—he’ll create a better America too.

Written by Nick Gillespie. Produced by Paul Detrick and Alexis Garcia.

April 8, 2017

Trump’s Syria Strike Won’t Solve Any Problems But Could Make Everything Worse

Filed under: Middle East, Military, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Published on 7 Apr 2017

“It is in the vital national security interest of the United States to prevent and deter the use of deadly chemical weapons,” said President Donald Trump in explaining a U.S.-missile strike on a Syrian airbase. That might sound good and even noble in theory, explains Emma Ashford of the Cato Institute, but the plain truth is that he’s wrong. What’s worse, it’s far from clear what either the United States or other countries in the region will do next.

The essential lesson that George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and now Donald Trump keep forgetting is that military interventions, especially in other countries’ civil wars, often makes things worse, Ashford tells Nick Gillespie.

Produced by Austin Bragg. Cameras by Todd Krainin and Mark McDaniel.

November 15, 2016

QotD: The one certain outcome of the Syrian civil war

Filed under: Middle East, Quotations, Religion, Russia — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Russia and the West are fighting to decide whether Syria will be run by Sunni Islamists backed by Saudi Arabia or Shiite Islamists backed by Iran. This insane civil war has burned up countless lives, not to mention plenty of dollars, rubles, euros and pounds. The only certain winners of this war, once the dust has settled, will chant “Allahu Akbar” and call for the death of the infidels.

Daniel Greenfield, “It’s a Mad, Mad War”, Sultan Knish, 2016-10-27.

July 19, 2016

Attempting to make sense of the state of the Middle East

Filed under: History, Middle East, Politics, Religion — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

At Samizdata, Brian Micklethwait links to an essay that summarizes some of the confusing and contradictory motives and actions that have roiled the Middle East for the last few years:

I haven’t much to say about all this, but one thought does occur to me, which is that it seems rather wrong for Americans to blame other Americans for this bloody shambles. (Haivry himself does not blame America.) The next silliest thing to believing that your country is an unchallengeably magnificent superpower that never ever errs is to believe that your country’s mistakes and crimes are overwhelmingly more important and blameworthy than those of any other country, these two attitudes being far more similar than those who indulge in the latter one typically realise. The Middle East would surely now be a bloody shambles whatever the Americans had recently tried to do about it.

If there are imperialist villains to be blaming, how about Britain and France? But one suspects that, again, even if those notorious “lines in the sand” had never been drawn around a century ago, what would be happening on top of this sand would still now be a bloody shambles.

The only rays of light that Haivry discerns are in the form of the various little non-Islamic and anti-Islamist statelets that are starting to form, such as the newly emerging Kurdistan. The Kurds aren’t the only ones doing this, apparently. Good to hear.

Here’s the link to the Ofir Haivry essay.

In 2007, in a seminar room in Jerusalem, a day-long session was devoted to Israeli regional strategic perspectives. I was among the participants together with several other scholars, a former Israeli interior minister, a future Israeli defense minister, and two future Israeli ambassadors to the U.S. At a certain point, the talk turned to various scenarios for the regional future and the opportunities or dangers each of these entailed for Israel. When the possible breakup and partition of Arab states like Iraq or Syria was raised, the near-unanimous response was that this was simply too fantastic a scenario to contemplate.

Now we live that scenario. The great Sunni Arab implosion that began with the 2011 “Arab Spring” was unforeseen in its suddenness, violence, and extent. But some, both inside and outside the Arab world, had long suspected that, sooner or later, a day of reckoning would indeed arrive. (Among Westerners, the names of Bernard Lewis and David Pryce-Jones come most readily to mind.) Today, those in the West who acknowledge this great collapse for what it is will be better able to face the emerging realities. But the first and most important step is to recognize that there is no going back.

[…]

And what would all this entail for Western interests and for the regional policy of the U.S. (should it wish to have an active one)? There is no point in dreaming any longer of a grand deal with Iran, or of rebooting the good old days with Turkey, let alone resuscitating an Arab hegemony led by Egypt and the Saudis. As with the huge, decades-long effort by Great Britain to prop up the Ottoman empire, finally blasted in World War I, so with the increasingly forlorn effort by the U.S. to save the Sunni Arab regional order from collapsing, now finally revealed as a road to nowhere. One might as well attempt to restore the Balkans to the Habsburg empire or the Ottoman fold, or to resuscitate Yugoslavia.

With artificial regimes and borders gone, people in the region seek protection and solidarity in the old identities that have survived the Arab reverie: their nation, their religion, their tribe. These are the only building blocks upon which a new and stable system can be founded. The process will be long, complex, and fraught with difficulty, but it offers a prospect of strategic as well as moral coherence. A region redrawn along lines of actual self-definition would give voice to the communities on the ground that will become invested in its success and work for its stability.

For Western observers and policy makers, the principle should be to look with appropriately cautious favor on significant groupings that possess their own voice and some degree of self-government, while ensuring that in the event of their political defeat, they will not be exterminated—which is far more than any of the Arab world’s political systems ever offered anyone. Some of these groupings will evolve into robust independent nations, others into weak federal states or new tribal confederations. Some, cherishing the opportunity, will build thriving and prosperous democracies, and perhaps even become natural allies of the West and Israel. Others will undoubtedly, yet again, waste their opportunities, devolving into another round of petty and corrupt tribal entities—though with the advantage to themselves of ethnic and religious cohesiveness and to outsiders of being too small to entertain dreams of internal or external genocide. In the Middle East, again, not such a bad outcome.

January 26, 2016

Inventing ISIS

Filed under: Middle East, Religion, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Strategy Page looks at some of the prevailing beliefs about the origins of ISIS among refugees:

Interviews with refugees from the fighting in Iraq and Syria as well as people still in those countries shows that over 80 percent believe the Islamic terrorists in general and ISIL and al Qaeda in particular are creations of the West (particularly the United States) and Israel as a means to destroy their countries and Islam. This is nothing new and while all this is unbelievable to most Westerners and largely ignored by Western media and politicians it is very real and has been for a long time. Media in these countries is full of even more fanciful (to Westerners) inventions. This has caused problems for Western troops operating in those countries, although some have figured out how to take advantage of it.

All cultures have a certain belief in magic and what Westerners call “conspiracy theories” to explain otherwise unexplainable events. In the Islamic world, there is a lot of attention paid to sorcery and magic, and people accused of practicing such things are regularly attacked and sometimes executed because “sorcery” is a capital crime under Islamic law. Conspiracy theories are also a popular way to explain away inconvenient facts and this is often found useful in countries that are hostile to other forms of sorcery.

For example back in 2008 many Pakistanis believed that the then recent Islamic terrorist attack in Mumbai, India was actually the work of the Israeli Mossad or the American CIA and not the Pakistani terrorists who were killed or captured and identified. Such fantasies are a common explanation, in Moslem nations, for Islamic terrorist atrocities. Especially when Moslems, particularly women and children are among the victims. In response many Moslems tend to accept fantastic explanations shifting the blame to infidels (non-Moslems).

After the September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States, many Moslems again blamed Israel for staging those attacks. A favorite variation of this is that, before the attacks on the World Trade Center, a secret message went out to all Jews in the area to stay away. Another variation has it that the 19 attackers (all of them Arab, 15 from Saudi Arabia) were really not Arabs but falsely identified as part of the Israeli deception. In the United States some Americans insist that the attack was the work of the U.S. government, complete with the World Trade Center towers being brought down by prepositioned explosive charges. While few Americans accept this, the CIA and Mossad fantasies are widely accepted in the Moslem world. Even Western educated Arabs, speaking good English, will casually express, and accept, these tales of the Israeli Mossad staging the attacks, in an effort to trick the U.S. into attacking Afghanistan and Iraq. Americans are shocked at this, but the Moslems expressing these beliefs just shrug when confronted with contradictory evidence.

December 6, 2015

Does Canada have a “hero complex”?

Filed under: Cancon, Politics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

At Spiked, Irene Ogrizek looks at Canada’s view on the Syrian refugee crisis:

The Syrian refugee crisis is testing the limits of public compassion. As Sweden and Germany struggle with overwhelmed infrastructures, some states in the US have simply said no to refugees. For those Americans, memories of 9/11 were revived by the Paris attacks, and a collective sense of hunkering down and sitting out the finger-pointing asserted itself. In Canada, our new prime minister, Justin Trudeau, promised to bring 25,000 refugees over before Christmas. He has since taken the advice of his advisers and come up with a more reasonable timeframe. Canada will accept 10,000 before Christmas and 15,000 in the two months following.

As a nation of immigrants, there is reflexive awareness around the issue of immigration in Canada. It evokes deep feelings of patriotism and provides an opportunity for collective and individual heroism. Even a cursory look at our mainstream media reveals the pressure to be heroic. ‘As a nation, we must step up to the plate’ and ‘Canadians are compassionate and sponsor refugee families’, are common refrains. As the refugee crisis has unfolded, this desire to be heroic has manifested itself in an attempt to conquer perceived public fears of terrorism – and migration’s alleged role in spreading it.

However, in this, our politicians and media outlets are being disingenuous. It isn’t terrorism per se that frightens Canadians, but the domestic loss of freedom that so often follows terrorist attacks — a freedom, as evidenced in our laissez-faire attitude to law enforcement, that Canadians cherish. No offence to Brits or Americans, but Canadians don’t want to live under constant surveillance or become vigilant, gun-toting citizens. We really do prefer our boring status quo.

So why is the template of heroism so important? Mythologist and author Joseph Campbell says the hero’s adventure is ‘one he is ready for’ and that the ‘landscape and the condition of the environment will match his readiness’. But what happens if there are no opportunities to prove oneself, especially in a country as sedate as Canada? The late New York Times columnist David Carr said of his drug-addicted young self: ‘Tucked in safe suburban redoubts, kids who had it soft like me manufactured peril. When there is no edge, we make our own.’ There is a similar edge to this explosion of pro-refugee altruism in Canada — and, just like Carr’s experience, it has its roots in intoxication.

December 3, 2015

Bombing probably won’t change anything in Syria

Filed under: Middle East, Military, Politics — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Charles Stross looks at the role of Turkey in the fight against ISIS (that is, Turkey’s actions within the theatre of war, not strictly speaking, actions against ISIS):

Turkey was, prior to 1918 and the Sykes-Picot Agreement, the hegemonic imperial power in the middle east, in the form of the Ottoman Empire. Syria was as much a part of Turkey’s “sphere of influence” as the Eastern Ukraine was of Russia’s — incidentally, another zone where the post-1918 settlement is going up in gunsmoke and it’s raining airliners. More to the point, geopolitically Turkey is in a weird position. It was roped into NATO in the wake of the second world war as part of the USA’s policy of encirclement of the USSR—but Turkey’s national aspirations are intrinsically at odds with some of its NATO partners, spiking on occasion to the level of warfare. Let us not forget that Turkey was also the imperial hegemon that ruled Greece and the Balkans. And today Turkey controls a vital regional resource — the tributary rivers that flow into the Euphrates, the main supply of irrigation of water into Syria and northern Iraq. Turkey has been damming the Euphrates and restricting the water flow to Raqqa province, violating international water sharing conventions. Syrian anger over the Güney Doğu Anadolu project was a major reason why the Assad government began providing material support to the PKK insurgency in Turkey. In turn, Turkish control over the Euphrates headwaters is a potent weapon against the Kurdish independence movement.

I’m an outsider and not adequately informed on this area. However, it looks (from here) as if the Turkish centralizing obsession with suppressing the PKK has led to the destabilization of Syria and northern Iraq. Syria’s government encouraging a push towards water-intensive agriculture coincided with the most intense drought on record in Syria, from 2007 to 2010, then ran into the generalized political discord of the Arab Spring: the Ba’ath government badly mishandled the demographic/economic situation during the 00’s and it would be a mistake to lay the blame for the Syrian civil war entirely on Turkey. However, cutting the river water supply to a drought-stricken region in the middle of a period of popular discontent didn’t help.

Today, 4 years after the war began, Syria is a shattered mess. It’s noteworthy that Da’esh controls areas where the water supply has been most badly affected, crippling agriculture, the main support of the poor, mostly conservative Sunni locals. Add in lots of former Iraqi army officers (pushed into fighting by the de-Ba’athication policies imposed by the US occupation and then the anti-Sunni policies of the subsequent Shi’ite government in Baghdad) and a seasoning of Wahhabite fanatics, and you have the recipe for Da’esh to get started, take root, and hold territory.

September 16, 2015

The African migrants are not driven by demographic change

Filed under: Africa, Europe — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Matt Ridley explains that demography does not explain the sudden influx of refugees from Africa to the European Union:

Even the most compassionate of European liberals must wonder at times whether this year’s migration crisis is just the beginning of a 21st-century surge of poor people that will overwhelm the rich countries of our continent. With African populations growing fastest, are we glimpsing a future in which the scenes we saw on the Macedonian border, or on Kos or in the seas around Sicily last week will seem tame?

I don’t think so. The current migration crisis is being driven by war and oppression, not demography. Almost two thirds of the migrants reaching Europe by boat this year are from three small countries: Syria, Afghanistan and Eritrea. These are not even densely populated countries: their combined populations come to less than England’s, let alone Britain’s, and none of them is in the top 20 for population growth rates.

Well then, perhaps that is even more ominous. If these three relatively small countries can cause such turmoil, imagine what would happen if say the more populous countries in Africa fell into similar chaos. Today Africa’s population (north and sub-Saharan) is about 50 per cent larger than Europe’s (East and West). By 2050, when — according to United Nations estimates — Africa’s population will have more than doubled from 1.1 billion to about 2.4 billion people and Europe’s will have shrunk from 740 million to about 709 million, there will be more than three Africans for every European.

Actually, demography is a poor predictor of migration. Nowhere in the world are people leaving countries specifically because of population growth or density. The population density of Germany is five times as high as that of Afghanistan or Eritrea: unlike water, people often move up population gradients. Tiny Eritrea, with only five million people, is a hell-hole for purely political reasons. It has a totalitarian government that tries to make North Korea and the old East Germany look tame: it conscripts every 17-year-old into lifelong and total service of the state. No wonder 3 per cent of its people have already left.

September 4, 2015

The problem of moral pornography

Filed under: Media, Middle East — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

In the Spectator, Brendan O’Neill explains why sharing a photo of a dead Syrian child is a symptom of moral pornography:

Have you seen the dead Syrian child yet? Look at his lifeless body. His head buried in the sand. His sad, resigned posture after he and his family made the treacherous journey from Syria to Turkey only to wash up dead on a Turkish beach. Isn’t this just the saddest photo you’ve ever seen? And gross too? Quick, share it! Show it to your friends — on Twitter, Facebook — so that they will feel sad and grossed-out too. Gather round, everyone: stare at the dead Syrian child.

We all know about the problem of sexual pornography on the internet. Now we need to talk about the problem of moral pornography. And nothing better illustrates it than the photo of Aylan, a three-year-old Syrian who drowned alongside his five-year-old brother Galip, his mother and others fleeing the hell of Syria.

The global spreading of this snapshot — which appears on the front page of the Independent today and inside the Guardian, and is even callously being turned into a meme by sections of the weeping Twitterati — is justified as a way of raising awareness about the migrant crisis. Please. It’s more like a snuff photo for progressives, dead-child porn, designed not to start a serious debate about migration in the 21st century but to elicit a self-satisfied feeling of sadness among Western observers.

[…]

Did the newspapers who put this kid on their front pages contact his remaining family members in Syria to seek their permission? Doesn’t look like it. When it comes to producing moral porn for the right-on, it seems the normal rules of journalism — and civilisation — can be suspended. And he’s only Syrian, right? It’s not like his poor, war-battered next of kin will be looking at the internet. Except the Guardian has now discovered that he has family in Canada, so they will very likely see the photo. Oh well, no matter: crack on, publish it, marvel at the purity of your emotional response to it, and be sure to tell everyone what your emotional response was. ‘I cried so hard’ thousands of tweeters are saying. The operative word here being ‘I’.

June 20, 2015

ISIS and the endangered archaeological sites of the Middle East

Filed under: History, Middle East, Religion, Science — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Last month, Michael J. Totten described ISIS as “The Borg of the Middle East”:

ISIS has conquered Syria’s spectacular Roman Empire city of Palmyra, a UNESCO World Heritage site long known affectionately as the “bride of the desert,” and in all likelihood is gearing up to demolish it. We know this because they’ve done it before. ISIS used hammers, bulldozers, and explosives to destroy the ancient Iraqi cities of Hatra and Nimrud near Mosul, and they did it on video.

“These ruins that are behind me,” said an ISIS vandal on YouTube, “they are idols and statues that people in the past used to worship instead of Allah. The Prophet Muhammad took down idols with his bare hands when he went into Mecca. We were ordered by our prophet to take down idols and destroy them, and the companions of the prophet did this after this time, when they conquered countries.”

Muslims have ruled this part of the world for more than 1,000 years. All this time, they’ve been unbothered by the fact that Palmyra, Hatra, and Nimrud include pagan monuments, temples, statues, and inscriptions that predate Islam. Only now are these places doomed to annihilation. ISIS is more belligerently Philistine than any group that has inhabited the region for a millennium. The only modern analogue is the Taliban’s destruction of the ancient Buddhist statues at Bamiyan with anti-aircraft guns, artillery shells and dynamite in March 2001, mere months before their al-Qaida pals attacked New York City and Washington.

This attitude toward history harks back less to the seventh century than to the twentieth, when Pol Pot reset the calendar to Year Zero after the Khmer Rouge seized power in Cambodia, and when Mao Zedong’s Chinese Cultural Revolution murdered millions in the war against everything “old.”

Maamoun Adbulkarim, Syria’s antiquities chief, told Reuters that the army carted hundreds of ancient statues away to safety, but of course the giant Roman columns and the museum itself aren’t going anywhere except, perhaps, underneath the jaws of ISIS bulldozers. “This is the entire world’s battle,” he said.

That’s how bad things are in Syria now. The mass-murderers, war criminals, sectarian gangsters, and state sponsors of international terrorism in Bashar al-Assad’s Arab Socialist Baath Party regime can plausibly tout themselves as the defenders of civilization. In this particular case and in this particular place, they’re right.

June 18, 2015

Six Days in June

Filed under: History, Middle East, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 23 Feb 2014

Six Day War – Israeli victory – Documentary

The shooting lasted on six tense days in June 1967, but the Six Day War has never really ended. Every crisis that has ripped through this region in the ensuing decades stems from those six fateful days. On its 40th anniversary, the region remains trapped in conflict and is every bit as explosive as it was in 1967. “Six Day War” chronicles the events of forty years ago with a fresh historical perspective. Beginning with the buildup for the war, and the political and military maneuvering of Israeli Prime Minister Levi Eshkol and Egyptian President Jame Adel Nasser, the film takes us through the six days of fighting, the war with Jordan, the occupation of the West Bank and the annexation of Jerusalem. Featuring stunning archival footage and first-hand accounts of the war from both the Israeli and Arab soldiers who fought it, “Six Day War” explores how these events became the flash point in history that reshaped the regional political landscape, destroyed old systems and brought new forces to the fore.

March 12, 2015

ISIS recruiting is going great. Retention? That’s a bit more dodgy

Filed under: Media, Middle East, Military, Religion — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

At Strategy Page, a look at an under-reported phenomenon as ISIS struggles with retaining some of its foreign volunteers:

ISIL is having problems with its foreign recruits. Many of them arrive with the intention of simply living in an “Islamic state” not fighting to expand that state. ISIL tried to accommodate the foreigners, lest they return home and report unfavorably about life in ISIL controlled territory. This led to foreign recruits getting better treatment (housing, food, access to “wives” and all manner of creature comforts. This, naturally, led to resentment by local (Syria and Iraq) recruits. That led to more locals deserting, joining the growing number of foreigners who simply walked away. Or tried to walk away as in late 2014 ISIL began accusing those who left of desertion and jailing or executing them. This inspired more (but better planned) desertions and growing dissent within both the ranks and among commanders. ISIL does want skilled foreigners in their caliphate but most of the foreign volunteers have no useful skills and ISIL seeks to use them as fighters or suicide bombers. Few people with useful skills are eager to join ISIL.

Internal criticism is not the only problem ISIL is facing in 2015. ISIL has recently suffered prominent defeats in Iraq and Syria as well as continued rebellions in both countries. Even the Syrian Army is retaking ground from ISIL. The Kurds are defeating ISIL forces outside Kobane in Syria and near the Iraq border. In Iraq Kurds, Iraqi soldiers and Sunni and Shia militias are both stopping ISIL attacks and pushing back ISIL forces outside of Mosul, Kirkuk and Tikrit. An offensive to retake Mosul is expected before June. Meanwhile air attacks not only continue but are more frequent and more damaging. This makes it more difficult to stockpile supplies or move large numbers of gunmen quickly. More leaders are being found and killed by these air attacks. Important economic targets like oil refineries are being destroyed. Inside the ISIL run “caliphate” (eastern Syria and western Iraq) there are growing shortages of everything and ISIL is finding that conquest is easier than running an economy. The economic problems fuel the rebellions and desertions and it’s a vicious circle that is destroying ISIL from within. The problem with ISIL is that so far it has solved its supply (logistical) problems via looting. But there has been no new conquests to loot for over six months and the stockpiles of plunder taken in 2014 is nearly exhausted. It’s another example of the old military maxim, “amateurs study tactics while professionals study logistics.” The accountants always win in the end.

The forces arrayed against ISIL have a better grasp of the logistical problems and have done something with that awareness. Thus Kurdish and Iraqi forces operating along the border with Syria have cut the best supply routes between Syria and Iraq. ISIL can still move between these two areas but with greater difficulty (using more fuel and time to do so). Taking longer to travel puts ISIL more at greater risk of attack by coalition warplanes. Worse, it becomes impractical to move essential supplies (especially food and fuel) between Iraq and Syria.

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