Focal Points Blog

The Smiling Face of the Islamic State

Raqqa, Syria is the Islamic State’s center of operations. (Photo: Beshr O / Flickr)

Raqqa, Syria is the Islamic State’s center of operations. (Photo: Beshr O / Flickr)

No doubt because it expects the caliphate it declared to extend beyond Iraq and Syria, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) recently changed its name to just the Islamic State (IS). Never mind that Iran is already the Islamic Republic: presumably IS hopes to one day over-run Iran and either drive out or murder its Shia population. Of course, that will never happen. In fact, Iran is mounting a military offensive against IS. At the Daily Beast, Eli Lake reports:
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Did the U.S. Capitalize on the Murder of Pakistani Journalist Shahzad?

 

(Photo: ISAF Media / Flicker)

Bruce Reidel said: “After the Abbottabad raid, the Pakistanis were under enormous pressure to show that they were serious about Al Qaeda.” (Photo: ISAF Media / Flickr)

While on vacation, the editor is re-running old posts that have retained their timeliness.

It’s been a little over three years since intrepid Pakistani journalist Syed Saleem Shahzad died on May 30, 2011. 

Not everyone found the reporting of the late Pakistani investigative journalist Syed Saleem Shahzad one hundred percent credible. But that may have just been a function of how incredulous they were at the extent to which he was able to insinuate himself with al Qaeda and the Taliban.

One of his most impressive contacts was long-time militant Ilyas Kashmiri, who fought in the Kashmir until President Musharraf wound down fighting there. Kashmiri then moved to Pakistan’s tribal areas and turned on the state, once trying to assassinate Musharraf and later named as a mastermind of the 2008 Mumbai attacks.
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Bin Laden’s Legacy: Giving Muslims Religious License to Kill Each Other

 

Bin Laden maintained that Al Qaeda couldn't fulfill its mission if it were forbidden from killing Muslims. (Photo: Dept. of Defense)

Bin Laden maintained that Al Qaeda couldn’t fulfill its mission if it were forbidden from killing Muslims. (Photo: Dept. of Defense)

While on vacation, the editor is re-running old posts that have retained their timeliness.

In light of recent violence, including against Muslims, by Boko Haram and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (or the Levant), we thought this post would be especially timely.

Michael Scheuer, some of whose pronouncements about al Qaeda since 9/11 you may be familiar with, was head of the CIA’s Bin Laden unit between 1996 and 2005. In a piece titled The Zawahiri Era, he addresses the succession of al Qaeda’s leadership.

The question on everyone’s lips is whether new al-Qaeda head Ayman al-Zawahiri is up to the job. My own bet is that al-Qaeda will survive, as it did after near economic ruin in Sudan (1994–96); after the pounding it took from the U.S.-NATO-Pakistan coalition (2001–02); and after the U.S. military helpfully killed Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, al-Qaeda’s chief in Iraq (2006), whose indiscriminate targeting of Muslims almost pushed al-Qaeda to the brink of defeat.

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Intra-Jewish Discrimination in Israel

In Israel Ashkenazi women often marginalize Mizrahi women. (Photo: Matthew Powell / Flickr)

In Israel Ashkenazi women often marginalize Mizrahi women. (Photo: Matthew Powell / Flickr)

Cross-posted from There Will Be War.

Jews are the most privileged group of citizens in Israel. Jews of European descent, called Ashkenazim, form the top of a class hierarchy while Mizrahim—Jews of African or Asian descent and Jewish immigrants from Muslim countries—are often marginalized socially, economically and politically. This extends to the feminist establishment, which started out as a movement spawned and then dominated by middle to upper middle-class, educated Ashkenazi women who preached universal female solidarity in the face of the patriarchy. Feeling unrepresented, ignored and/or ostracized, many Mizrahi feminist activists broke away from what they viewed as an Ashkenazi women’s movement unsympathetic to their own ideas of liberation, which were particular to their situations. Mizrahi women were critical of Ashkenazi insularity and discrimination—some claiming experiences of racism—but without political, social or economic capital, their voices have often been suppressed and kept from influential circles and media.
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The Flowering of Feminism in Hungary  

 

Judit Acsady was an early feminist in Hungary. (Photo: John Feffer)

Judit Acsady was an early feminist in Hungary. (Photo: John Feffer)

Cross-posted from JohnFeffer.com.

The feminist movement, which gathered strength in the 1960s and 1970s in the West, arrived in East-Central Europe much later. Women’s equality was a stated principle of the Communist governments, and official women’s organizations operated in all of the countries. But the official representation of women remained rather conservative. Alexandra Kollantai’s Marxist challenge of patriarchal structures such as marriage and the family was long forgotten as were the more radical emancipation movements that coalesced during the twilight of the Austro-Hungarian empire. “Women’s liberation” made little if any impact in the latter days of the Communist era. The social mores in the region were overwhelmingly traditional. The opposition movements tended to reflect this traditionalism as well.
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Pakistan’s Payback for Drone Attacks

 

When Pakistan’s military itself invades Afghanistan, it nudges our campaign there into the realm of the farcical. (Photo: Jared Rodriguez / Flickr)

 

While on vacation, the editor is re-running old posts that have retained their timeliness.

In the course of an October 3, 2011 article at MEMRI titled The Failing U.S. Strategy in Afghanistan, Tufail Ahmad and Y. Carmon puncture the myth that the Taliban is negotiating, or preparing to negotiate, with the United States. (MEMRI is the Middle East Media Research Institute.) Even more of a revelation — at least to me –they report that Pakistan mounted a series of military attacks on Afghanistan this year. Here’s a sample:
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Malaysia’s Relationship With Israel Gets Frostier

The popular boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement against companies that profit from the Israeli occupation is popular in Malaysia. (Photo: Kate Ausburn / Flickr)

The popular boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement against companies that profit from the Israeli occupation is popular in Malaysia. (Photo: Kate Ausburn / Flickr)

The Israel Security Agency, better known as Shin Bet, recently claimed that Malaysia, a far-away majority-Muslim country in Southeast Asia, provided elite Hamas commandoes with paragliding training.

Reported by almost all major Israeli media outlets, such as The Jerusalem Post and Haaretz, Israel made the allegation after its security forces captured a senior Hamas commander who allegedly confessed to having been sent to Malaysia to receive paragliding training to conduct “terror attacks” in Israel.

Malaysia’s Deputy Home Minister Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar issued an official statement denying the report, calling it a “baseless” effort “to tarnish Malaysia’s good name.” Many Malaysians regard Israel’s unsubstantiated allegation as a knee-jerk reaction, perhaps even an indirect response to Malaysia’s support for the Palestinian cause and its strong condemnation of Israel’s current aggressions in Gaza.
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Nuclear Disarmament and Ronald Reagan: “Trust, But Verify”

 

Reagan Wikimedia Commons

The smaller a state’s nuclear weapons program, the less that needs to be verified. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

 

While on vacation, the editor is re-running old posts that have retained their timeliness.

David Kay has “very bad news for you.” You may recall that he’s the man who led two teams to Iraq: one, after the Gulf War, determined that Iraq had a nuclear program; the other, before the Iraq War, that it then had no WMD program. Despite supporting the Iraq War anyway, Kay remains a credible voice on nuclear weapons.

His bad news, though, is about Iran, where, he recently wrote in the National Interest, “a weapons-inspection regime. . . will not work. Inspections themselves are most effective when both the state being inspected and the inspecting countries are fully on board — and even then there are limits.” For example, the “number of inspectors and level of intrusiveness necessary to ensure that [there are no nuclear weapons] in a country Iran’s size is far greater than anything that can be contemplated.”
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“In Deep Atrophy”: America’s Nukes — or Conservatives’ Brains?

 

NuclearWarhead

Today “the Bomb” is only one of a number of existential threats. (Photo: Wikimedia)

While on vacation, the editor is re-running old posts that have retained their timeliness.

Nuclear weapons may be the one issue on which the goal posts haven’t been moved back for progressives. Usually, since the Reagan administration, with boosts from the Gingrich revolution and the Neocon takeover of the Bush administration, conservative construction crews have been uprooting them on a regular basis. They then proceed to replant them further and further from the end zone.

But, when it comes to nuclear weapons, both policy and public opinion have been listing to the left — or peace-ward — for decades. In fact, it wasn’t long after their use by the United States in World War II that nuclear weapons developed a bad rep. Soon, President John F. Kennedy helped secure the passage of the Partial Test Ban Treaty. Twenty years later, even Reagan himself displayed a visceral distaste for these instruments of extermination. President Obama simply resuscitated existing sentiment stifled by the Bush administration.
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Buddhism and Ethnic Cleansing in Myanmar

Rohingya Muslims: object of Myanmar Buddhists’ enmity. (Photo: EU-ECHO / Flickr)

Rohingya Muslims: object of Myanmar Buddhists’ enmity. (Photo: EU-ECHO / Flickr)

Myanmar is undergoing a state of upheaval and transformation. As of now, the country is experiencing changes on the political, economic and social frontiers.

Amidst such transitions, Myanmar is also witnessing increased cases of religious intolerance. In spite of its rich cultural heritage and legacy of socio-religious harmony, present-day Myanmar is surely not the best place for its religious minorities.

Recently, the government of Myanmar proposed a law that seeks to impose a virtual ban on religious conversions (any case of religious conversion will need prior approval of the state). This proposed law is just one of the many recent ones that are being put into effect to target the country’s religious minorities: there are plans to outlaw interfaith marriages, and also to limit the birth rate among non-Buddhist families residing in Myanmar.
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