Focal Points Blog

Maliki Big Loser in the Blame Game

There’s plenty of blame to go around for ISIS’s progress in Iraq. (Photo: State Department / Flickr)

There’s plenty of blame to go around for ISIS’s progress in Iraq. (Photo: State Department / Flickr)

Everyone wants to blame Iraq’s Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki for the military success of ISIS (the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham) in Iraq. For instance, appearing on Fox News,

Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) criticized the U.S. for arming “Islamic rebels who kill Christians” in Syria and who are now militant in Iraq and said “the person most culpable” for the crisis in Iraq is President Maliki. Paul hit back at Sean Hannity’s oversimplification of the Iraq crisis and attempts to blame President Obama and Democrats on Hannity’s radio show this week.

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ISIS’ New Caliphate and Christ’s Kingdom of God

 

In the end, martyrdom on the cross was a lot more effective than martyrdom by suicide bombing. (Photo: Random House)

In the end, martyrdom on the cross was a lot more effective than martyrdom by suicide bombing. (Photo: Random House)

The Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham recently announced the formation of a new caliphate — or empire, if you will — comprising the existing states in the Muslim world. Its leader, Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, will act as the caliph — or emperor, if you will.I’m currently reading Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth by Reza Aslan (Random House, 2013) and it occurs to me that ISIS’ announcement is not unlike Jesus Christ proclaiming the Kingdom of God with, like al Baghdadi, himself as the king.

Where exactly do Christ and his disciples fit on the scale of religious extremism? Islam has its Sunni jihadists and, in China, militant Uighurs. Buddhism has its 969 Movement in Burma that attacks Rohingya Muslims and, in Sri Lanka, the Buddhist Power Force also targets Muslims. The United States has its Christian fundamentalists who kill abortion-killing doctors. The quantities in which each kills varies, from one at a time to hundreds and even thousands (9/11) at a time. But killing is killing.
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The Impact of Chinese Maritime Policies on India

 

China has claimed sovereignty over almost the entire South China Sea. (Image: World Atlas)

China has claimed sovereignty over almost the entire South China Sea. (Image: World Atlas)

Two important bodies of water have been in the news for some months now. Numerous media reports have focused on Chinese claims made on the two seas off its eastern and southeastern shores. The Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea, though uninhabited (and visible to the naked eye on a special map), had been claimed by the Japanese since the late 19th century and administered by Tokyo since the early 1970s, when the U.S. gave Japan control over these islands under the Okinawa Reversion Agreement.The Chinese had made no consistent claims over these islands until 1971.This was shortly after a U.N. geological survey found oil and natural gas reserves in the East China Sea, “lying around the Senkakus and beyond.”It was at that time that Beijing protested the U.S. transfer of authority over the islands to Tokyo, claiming they belonged to China (who calls them the Diaou Islands). But the years after 1972, following President Nixon’s visit to China, saw a gradual normalization of Sino-American relations.
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Rare Progressive Victory Will Help Build a Peace Economy

 

Rep Keith Ellison presents amendment to Congress on peace economy transitions, June 18 2014. (Photo: C-SPAN)

Rep Keith Ellison presents amendment to Congress on peace economy transitions, June 18 2014. (Photo: C-SPAN)

Progressives certainly haven’t had a whole lot to celebrate lately — most urgently, a possible military intervention in Iraq is on the horizon — but on the defense front there’s at least something worth a sip of champagne:

Cong. Keith Ellison (D-MN),  co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, recently introduced an amendment to the House defense appropriations bill to take $10 million from the Pentagon’s general operating account. The $10 million would be redirected to the Pentagon’s Office of Economic Adjustment,  an agency whose sole purpose is to help communities facing military base closures and Pentagon contract cancellations plan for themselves a future that is not dependent on a militarized economy.
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Tunisia’s New Constitution: Balancing Democracy With Islam

 

The oppression under which women lived during colonial rule has, in the interim, only marginally improved because of authoritarian regimes and religious traditions. (Photo: Aslan Media / Flickr)

The oppression under which women lived during colonial rule has, in the interim, improved only marginally because of authoritarian regimes and religious traditions. (Photo: Aslan Media / Flickr)

On August 13, 2011 , a scorching summer’s day in Tunis, mobs of the disheartened, infuriated, and passionate flooded the streets. Over a thousand women marched to convey a simple message: the time for equality had come.

The rally set into stark relief that for decades, under grueling regimes and imposing tyrannies, Tunisia has lacked a clear agenda for equality. As in other countries with tyrannical leaders, Tunisians were stripped of their rights, their voice, and any way of keeping the government accountable to citizens. Isolation within Africa  further spurred Tunisians’ anger. What began as an act of protest with the self-immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi soon turned into an intensive campaign of civil resistance, crying out for the ouster of the Tunisian dictator. Months of bitter violence and protest led to the downfall of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, on January 14, 2011, in a bloodless coup now known as the “Jasmine Revolution.” Yet even after that momentous change, much remained to be done to advance women’s and civil rights.
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Since Fall of Berlin Wall, East-Central Europe Has Been in Eternal “Transition”

 

Tibor Varady (pictured): “Communism was supposed to be something shiny and wonderful. But the magic word ‘transition’ suggested that if we had problems … we hadn’t arrived yet.” (Photo: John Feffer)

Tibor Varady (pictured): “Communism was supposed to be something shiny and wonderful. But the magic word ‘transition’ suggested that if we had problems … we hadn’t arrived yet.” (Photo: John Feffer)

Cross-posted from JohnFeffer.com.

It has been commonplace to use the term “transition” when referring to what took place in East-Central Europe in the years immediately following 1989. The term initially had a refreshing vagueness to it. So much was up in the air. So much was changing. The fixed certainties of the past had melted away. At the same time, it was not exactly clear what the future held or, at least, when that future (of European Union membership, of a fully developed market economy, of a transparent democracy) would arrive. “Transition” offered a sense of movement forward without any fixed time frame. As an unemployed person might say that they are “between jobs,” the region as a whole was “in transition” from one state of affairs to another.
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Enough Undeclared Plutonium to Make 80 Nuclear Bombs? No Problem — if You’re Not Iran

 

The double standard about nuclear weapons threatens the nonproliferation regime. [Photo: Flickr]

The double standard about nuclear weapons and fuel, such as this plutonium ring, threatens the nonproliferation regime. [Photo: Flickr]

 

Japan Times reports that, “in what experts are terming an ‘inappropriate omission,’”*

Japan failed to include 640 kg of unused plutonium in its annual reports to the International Atomic Energy Agency in 2012 and 2013.

In its defense, an official at the Japan Atomic Energy Commission said

The stock is part of [technical stuff you don’t need to stumble over — RW] fuel stored in a reactor that was offline during this period, and was thus deemed exempt from IAEA reporting requirements. [But experts] warn that Japan’s reporting does not reflect the actual state of unused plutonium that could be diverted for nuclear weapons. The unreported amount is enough to make about 80 nuclear bombs! [Emphasis, as well as bang ­— ! — added.]

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The Two Faces of ISIS: Summary Executions and Planting Flowers

 

If ISIS moderates its brutality, maybe it should be given a shot at running Iraq. (Photo of power plant in Bayji: Wikimedia Commons)

If ISIS moderates its brutality, maybe it should be given a shot at running Iraq. (Photo of power plant in Bayji: Wikimedia Commons)

At the Washington Post Monkey Cage, Andrew Shaver and Gabriel Tenorio report that a “lack of basic services, including electricity, fuel and water … may have laid conditions suitable for ISIS’ spread.” In order to “assess how the provision of social services during the Iraq war affected insurgent violence,” they examined “the relationship between available electricity and insurgent attacks on coalition forces.” They found “strong if preliminary evidence that increased electricity supply worked to reduce insurgent violence during the conflict.”
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The Sunni Caliphate’s Little-Known Counterpart — the Shiite Imamate

 

A caliphate is more democratic than an imamate — in theory. (Photo: Flickr)

A caliphate is more democratic than an imamate — in theory. (Photo: Flickr)

So Iraq is in turmoil, and a full-fledged sectarian conflict between Sunnis and Shiites looks imminent. Probably, USA will need to interfere yet again (there’s oil at stake, after all), and the inefficiency of Nouri al-Maliki’s rule has been exposed.

However, beyond all that, something else is worth discussing here. The message and motives of ISIS have clearly shown that they intend to restore the Caliphate, like it or not. This has sent the alarm bells ringing: Caliphate poses a threat to both Western hegemony in the region as well as the misrule of regional despots. Quite obviously, everyone is alarmed at the success of ISIS.

The fact that ISIS have shown a visible dislike for Shiite rule in Iraq further adds a new dimension to the age-old question: Sunni Caliphate or Shiite Imamate? Which one is better as a self-rule option for Muslims, and more importantly, for preserving the peace of the entire region?
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Soldiers Suffered From PTSD in the Middle Ages, Too

 

PTSD and moral injury are as old as mankind. (Image: Public Domain)

PTSD and moral injury are as old as mankind. (Image: Public Domain)

 

Often a component of Post-traumatic Stress Syndrome, moral injury is defined thusly by the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs.

In the context of war, moral injuries may stem from direct participation in acts of combat, such as killing or harming others, or indirect acts, such as witnessing death or dying, failing to prevent immoral acts of others, or giving or receiving orders that are perceived as gross moral violations.

The only thing new about PTSD is the term (which was coined in the seventies); we can safely assume that’s the case with moral injury as well. In an important recent work of history, The Norman Conquest (Pegasus Books, 2012), Marc Morris depicts growing revulsion, four years after the Battle of Hastings, among some of William the Conqueror’s Norman forces at the war crimes they found themselves engaging in to suppress English rebellions.
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