Focal Points Blog

Jihad an Equal Opportunity Employer

Islamist extremists come in all shapes and sizes: middle-class, poor, happy, sad. (Photo: the Telegraph)

Islamist extremists come in all shapes and sizes: middle-class, poor, happy, sad. (Photo: the Telegraph)

“Could Mateen have been caught?” asks Michael Hirsch in Politico magazine of the Orlando mass shooting. “It’s unfair to expect that U.S. law enforcement can track and stop every would-be terrorist,” he writes.

But perhaps the toughest thing to explain about the worst mass shooting in U.S. history is how a man who was interviewed three times by the FBI ended up buying, unnoticed, an entire arsenal and then gunning down, unsurveilled, more than 100 people. He’d been on the FBI’s radar because he attended the same Florida mosque as a suicide bomber named Moner Abusalha, who had gone to Syria to blow up Syrian government soldiers in 2014, but Comey said [there were] no known “connections.”

… Lorenzo Vidino, director of the Program on Extremism at George Washington University’s Center for Cyber & Homeland Security, says it’s “in the FBI’s DNA” to pursue such criminal links to terrorist groups and build a case in the way law enforcement traditionally does. … “There’s an overemphasis on operational links.”

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The Latest in Ethical Compromises and National Security Lapses From Hillary Clinton

It’s as if Ms. Clinton’s staff thought: “No one will notice. It’s only a nuclear weapons committee.” (Photo: Zimbio)

It’s as if Ms. Clinton’s staff thought: “No one will notice. It’s only a nuclear weapons committee.” (Photo: Zimbio)

Citizens United is a conservative nonprofit group that gained fame for winning the court case known by the same name. In 2010 the Supreme Court ruled that the government could not limit independent political contributions by nonprofit corporations. However long, as a result of that decision, the name Citizens United will live on in infamy, it actually performed a public service recently.
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When Shuttling Between the Public and Private Sectors Actually Helped Cut Defense Spending

A Pentagon official uses his knowledge of how defense contractors work to keep costs down.

A Pentagon official uses his knowledge of how defense contractors work to keep costs down.

“Some of the nation’s leading defense companies are declaring war on a powerful enemy — an obscure Pentagon official named Shay Assad who has helped cut more than $500 million from military contracts with his aggressive scrutiny of their costs,” writes Ellen Mitchell at Politico magazine. “The industry’s tactics include blanketing congressional committees with proposals that would make it harder for Assad and his contracting officers to get detailed breakdowns of the companies’ expenses.”
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Supporting Hillary Clinton Could Mean Choosing Between Your Son and Your Daughter

hillary-clinton-secretary-of-state-csis

Hillary Clinton’s disposition toward the use of armed force poses a threat to our children. (Photo: Flickr/CSIS)

I am roughly paraphrasing a conversation recounted to me by a middle-aged, middle-class white woman who supports Bernie Sanders and has had a grudge against Hillary Clinton ever since she disrespected Monica Lewinsky as a woman. Another middle-aged white woman, who supports Ms. Clinton’s likely nomination, questioned the first woman’s support for Sanders.
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Plenty of Blame to Spread Around for the Orlando Nightclub Shooting

Well over 20 million AR-15s have been sold to American civilians.

Well over 20 million AR-15s have been sold to American civilians.

There’s plenty of blame to assign in the Orlando nightclub shooting –– to everyone but the victims. I defy anyone to find a single instance of homosexual violence against heterosexuals (try Googling that term and you will see what I mean). While some gays may find heterosexuality as “unnatural” as some heterosexuals claim to find homosexuality, they don’t come to the deluded conclusion that heterosexuals must die.

Outside of self-defense, a capacity to kill, especially on the scale of Omar Mateen, presumes an inability to experience, or active disdain for, the quality of empathy. Imagination is required to feel empathy –– an ability to visualize another’s experience including the pain he or she would feel if attacked. From the tactical to engineering (including bomb-making), fundamentalist extremists, whether Christian or Islamic, value ingenuity in the service of their causes. But, whether by design or because of the type of person drawn to fundamentalist extremism, when it comes to imagination and innovation, its proponents tend to come up short.
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Clinton’s Foreign Policy Poses a Challenge to the Left

Be prepared for more military interventions abroad if Hillary Clinton is elected president. (Photo: Mike Mozart / Flickr)

Be prepared for more military interventions abroad if Hillary Clinton is elected president. (Photo: Mike Mozart / Flickr)

Many of us who voted for Hillary Clinton in the primaries did so on the assumption that she was more likely than Bernie Sanders to defeat Donald Trump in November. We will vote for her again in November because again we have no choice. Donald Trump as president is unthinkable. But a Clinton presidency comes with the near certainty of future U.S. military interventions abroad unless those of us who actively opposed our recent wars are prepared to do so again.

The job won’t be easy. As a senator from New York during George W. Bush’s presidency, Clinton supported the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, misguided efforts that caused tens of thousands of casualties in those countries and left a legacy of sectarian violence that continues to this day. A lingering consequence of the war in Iraq has been the rise of the Islamic state, the group now fighting for dominance in Iraq and Syria.
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Upstart Parties Crash the Ball in Spain

A failure by the left to unite in Spain and the Eurozone will open the door for Europe’s resurgent far right.

A failure by the left to unite in Spain and the Eurozone will open the door for Europe’s resurgent far right.

For the past quarter of a century there have been few watershed moments in Spanish political history. Like a well-choreographed pas de deux, the center-left Socialist Workers Party (PSOE) and right-wing Popular Party (PP) have taken turns governing the country.

But the 2015 election changed all that. Upstart parties on the right and left crashed the ball, punished the two major parties, and forced another round of voting on June 26 that could be a turning point in a growing campaign to roll back austerity policies that have spread poverty and unemployment throughout the continent.
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When It Comes to Arms Control, Clinton Might Be Even Weaker Than Trump

The idea of putting our national security in the hands of either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton does not engender confidence. (Photo: Gage Skidmore / Flickr Commons)

The idea of putting our national security in the hands of either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton does not engender confidence. (Photo: Gage Skidmore / Flickr Commons)

Disclaimer: This post by no means represents an endorsement of Donald Trump for president.

On June 1, Hillary Clinton gave a national security speech that served, in large part, as an attack on Donald Trump. “We cannot put the security of our children and grandchildren in Donald Trump’s hands. We cannot let him roll the dice with America.”

Between Trump’s bluster and an uncertainty about who he might appoint to positions such as secretary of state and defense, it’s difficult to speculate about the danger a Trump presidency might pose to national security. Though should he be elected and rumors that he might appoint Ron Paul secretary of state come true, we would likely see the least interventionist American administration since Thomas Jefferson’s. If only from her record as secretary of state, we already know that Hillary Clinton sees the United States as the world’s arbiter, a task better left to a world body, as well as a promulgator of democracy. Both necessitate armed intervention.
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Muhammad, Christ, Buddha, and … ibn Abd al-Wahhab?

Arab map

High on the list of the important religious figures relevant today are three names known to most in the East, Near East, and West: Muhammad, Jesus Christ, and the Buddha. But the fourth is unknown to most in the East and the West – Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab. In eighteenth century Saudi Arabia, he founded the fundamentalist Salafi movement of Sunni Islam, which insists on practicing Islam as it was during Muhammad’s time and seeks the implementation of sharia law. Salafists don’t shy away from politics, to the point of militant jihadism.

To further their aims, Salafis are aggressively missionary. Funded by the state of Saudi Arabia, which seeks their imprimatur, as it were, they have more or less infected Sunni Islam in Pakistan, Egypt, India, and other states. In a piece for the New York Times titled How Kosovo Was Turned Into Fertile Ground for ISIS, Carlotta Gall provides a case study on how the Saudis finance the spread of Salafism in one such state, Kosovo.
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Muhammad Ali: Early American Adopter of Islam

Not many are aware that, years ago, Muhammad Ali shifted from being a Black Muslim to a traditional Sunni and then to a Sufi. (Photo: Morocco World News)

Not many are aware that, years ago, Muhammad Ali shifted from being a Black Muslim to a traditional Sunni and then to a Sufi. (Photo: Morocco World News)

Muhammad Ali, the greatest boxer this world has ever known, is no more. The fact that he is gone is difficult to come to terms with — for years, Ali was renowned as a larger than life figure, the Greatest as he would call himself, and the demise of a man of such a high stature is surely a void that can never be filled.

In the world of sports, Muhammad Ali will forever be known as the boxing legend who won 56 bouts over the period of a 21-year career. In popular culture, he will be remembered as the man who was not afraid when it came to speaking his mind — someone who was not shy of talking about things unrelated to boxing, and would always take the right stand when needed.

But that is not the only reason why this world will miss Muhammad Ali.
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