Focal Points Blog

Is Islam Owning Its History?

The Islamic State refuses to view its early teachings through a prism of a sort of cultural — or more accurately in this case, temporal — relativism. (Photo: Edward Musiak / Flickr Commons)

The Islamic State refuses to view its early teachings through a prism of a sort of cultural — or more accurately in this case, temporal — relativism. (Photo: Edward Musiak / Flickr Commons)

In a lengthy article in the Atlantic that raises troubling questions about Islam, Graeme Wood seeks to divine What ISIS Really Wants. The short answer is that the Islamic State (the preferred terminology at FPIF Focal Points) is attempting to fulfill an end-times prophecy from early Islam as by-the-book as possible. Since we may re-visit this article, which is as enlightening as it is controversial, in a future post or two, we will focus on just one of Wood’s themes today — that the Islamic State, considered by many to be a perversion of Islam, actually hews closely to Islamic teachings (however archaic).
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The Islamic State’s Ultraviolence Has Much in Common With Christianity’s Past and Present

Most Christians today are ignorant of the violence their religion has brought to bear against Muslims and Jews. Pictured: Siege of Antioch. (Photo: Public Domain / Wikimedia)

Most Christians today are ignorant of the violence their religion has brought to bear against Muslims and Jews. Pictured: Siege of Antioch. (Photo: Public Domain / Wikimedia)

On Friday we posted about a Foreign Policy in Focus piece in which Hannah Gais wrote about how Islam is just a handy tool that militants use to battle oppression. We asked: Once and for All, Does Islam Play Too Fast and Loose With Violence?

In the New York Times, Susan Jacoby addresses another example of religious violence: the Crusades. In her article, she’s not writing about atrocities that Christians wreaked against Muslims, but just as they were starting out for Jerusalem at the beginning of the first Crusade in 1096, upon Jews.
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The Irony of Colonial Apologetics

Congolese slaves on a Belgian colonial rubber plantation. (Photo: Ultimate History Project)

Congolese slaves on a Belgian colonial rubber plantation. (Photo: Ultimate History Project)

As some formerly colonized countries in Sub-Saharan Africa still grapple with resource disputes and sectarian violence, it is hardly unusual to hear people wonder aloud whether 19th and 20th century colonialism was actually a solution, not a problem, for the non-Western world.  Reveling in their contrarianism, some pontificators eventually conclude that, yes, “almost all of sub-Saharan Africa…[was] better governed by Europeans” and that formerly colonized countries are themselves to blame for favoring an anti-market “grievance culture” over colonialism’s free market values.  Gladly promulgating this view, Daniel Kruger writes that “Africa’s problem today is not the after-effects of colonialism” but rather that many Western universities’ African alumni returned home in the mid-20th century committed to “nationalisation and big government.” And lest we worry that colonialism indefensibly violated the rights of the colonized and punctured the sanity of entire nations, Keith Windschuttle tells us to take comfort in the fact that colonialism actually imparted to colonized people another valuable gift: ideas of “liberal democratic government” and “British concepts of sovereignty and the rule of law.”
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Once and for All, Does Islam Play Too Fast and Loose With Violence?

Immigrant Islamic communities often regard restrictions on public expressions of faith as forcing them to reject their heritage. (Photo: Edward Musiak / Flickr Commons)

Immigrant Islamic communities often regard restrictions on public expressions of faith as forcing them to reject their heritage. (Photo: Edward Musiak / Flickr Commons)

Those in the West who think Islam provides justification for Islamist extremist violence are often not privy to the protests from mainstream Muslim. Whether due to bias against Islam or just “if it bleeds, it leads,” the issue is not given much exposure in mainstream American media. But is there actually any truth to it? To begin with, it’s frankly unnerving that Islam’s founder was, at one point in his life, a warrior.
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Europe Gets up off the Mat to Battle Austerity

The Syriza government has made it clear that Greece is finished with the austerity policies that crashed its economy. (Photo: Thierry Ehrmann / Flickr)

The Syriza government has made it clear that Greece is finished with the austerity policies that crashed its economy. (Photo: Thierry Ehrmann / Flickr)

In the aftermath of last month’s Greek election that vaulted the left anti-austerity party Syriza into power, armies of supporters and detractors—from Barcelona to Berlin—are on the move. While Germany’s Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaueble was making it clear that Berlin would brook no change in the European Union’s (EU) debt strategy that has impoverished countries like Greece, Spain, Portugal, and Ireland, left organizations from all over Europe met in Barcelona to drew up a plan of battle.

As Schaueble was stonewalling Greek Finance Minister Yanis Karoufakis, the Party of the European Left (PEL), along with assorted Green parties, gathered for the “1st European South Forum” in Catalonia’s capital to sketch out a 10-point “Declaration of Barcelona” aimed at ending “austerity and inequality,” and promoting “democracy and solidarity.”
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Stephen Walt Ventures Into the Taboo, Calls for Appeasement in Ukraine

Ukraine troops manning a road block. (Photo: Sasha Maksymenko / Flickr Commons)

Ukraine troops manning a road block. (Photo: Sasha Maksymenko / Flickr Commons)

As if arming Islamist extremist rebels wasn’t bad enough, now some are urging the United States to arm Ukraine. In Foreign Policy magazine, Stephen Walt writes about a task force of NATO-friendly diplomats and foreign-policy experts established by three tanks that “wants the United States to send Ukraine $1 billion in military assistance as soon as possible, with more to come.”

These, he explains, “are the same people who have been telling us since the late 1990s that expanding NATO eastwards posed no threat to Russia and would instead create a vast and enduring zone of peace in Europe.” Even though “open-ended NATO expansion has done more to poison relations with Russia than any other single Western policy. … these experts are now doubling down to defend a policy that was questionable from the beginning and clearly taken much too far.”
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Do International Financial Institutions Have a Vested Interest in Keeping the World’s Impoverished Ill?

Structural adjustment just another name for a public health crisis. Photo: Center for Disease Control / Flickr Commons)

Structural adjustment just another name for a public health crisis.(Photo: Center for Disease Control / Flickr Commons)

In the London Review of Books, Paul Farmer, a professor of global health at Harvard, examines “the iniquities of healthcare funding,” as the subtitle to his article Who Lives and Who Dies reads.

Who lives and who dies depends on what sort of healthcare system is available. And who recovers, if recovery is possible, depends on the way emergency care and hospitals are financed.

… Holes in the nets – even the contraction of the notion of common goods like social protection – are one of ‘the causes of the causes’ of both ill-health and the impoverishment it so often triggers or complicates.

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The Islamic State’s Biggest Crime May Be Its Braggadocio

Just like the Islamic State, the United States uses fire as a weapon of war. Pictured: Hellfire missile mounted on a Predator drone. (Photo: Scott Reed, USAF / Wikimedia Commons)

Just like the Islamic State, the United States uses fire as a weapon of war. Pictured: Hellfire missile mounted on a Predator drone. (Photo: Scott Reed, USAF / Wikimedia Commons)

With the burning alive of Jordanian pilot Moaz al-Kasasbeh, the Islamic State has gone beyond turning slasher movies into reality shows with its beheadings to pushing the envelope of torture porn. But as, at Glenn Greenwald reminds us at the Intercept, it’s not the only armed force in recent times to use immolation as a weapon. In fact, in the tradition of its use of napalm in the Vietnam War, the United States rains hellfire down on suspected terrorists, in the form of Hellfire missiles launched from drones, which gives new life to the cliché “burnt to a crisp.”
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The Confederalists: A Kurdish Movement Bolsters Women and Bashes the West

Female Kurdish freedom fighters. (Photo: Democracy Chronicles / Flickr Commons)

Female Kurdish freedom fighters. (Photo: Democracy Chronicles / Flickr Commons)

Cross-posted from The New Context.

“While the world is discussing what to do with ISIS, Kurdish women are doing it,” Dilar Dirik cried in a September 2014 speech about theories of statelessness at a European conference. Dirik, a PhD candidate at Cambridge, used the speech to give a voice to the embattled Kurds and remarkable Kurdish women, and denounce the Western nation-state. During the last week of January 2015, armed Kurdish groups declared victory over the Islamic State in Kobani, on the Syria-Turkey border. But Dirik spoke back when the city of Kobani was under siege by IS and Western powers were not yet engaged in the fight.
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The Islamic State Singled Out Jordanian Pilot as Symbol of Air War Against It

Portrait of Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al Baghdadi. (Photo: Thierry Ehrmann / Flickr Commons)

Portrait of Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al Baghdadi. (Photo: Thierry Ehrmann / Flickr Commons)

At Global Guerillas, John Robb, author of the outstanding book Brave New War, explains exactly what he thinks the Islamic State was doing by burning alive Jordanian pilot Moaz al-Kasasbeh. First, he writes, it was a three-part presentation: an interview al-Kasasbeh, footage of Western airstrikes on the Islamic State, and the burning of al-Kasasbeh.
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