Focal Points Blog

All (Muslim) Apologies

Muslims are repeatedly called upon to answer for the violent actions of a microfraction of its populace. (Photo: Edward Musiak / Flickr Commons)

Muslims are repeatedly called upon to answer for the violent actions of a microfraction of its populace. (Photo: Edward Musiak / Flickr Commons)

I want to wish you a blessed and happy belated (we’re never on time, I know) Eid-al-Adha. Given the news about Islam in the media the last few weeks, including some harsh exchanges on CNN with Reza Aslan and an HBO shouting match between Bill Maher and Sam Harris against Ben Affleck, Michael Steele, and Nicholas Kristof (this really happened. I’m as surprised as you are), I also wanted to give you a few tips about how to proceed with Eid celebrations and, in general, how to conduct yourselves (see non-Muslims, I’m doing my part!), even though I am not really representative of 1.5 billion people. No, from what I have gathered from the media, only members of al-Qaeda, ISIS, and other fanatical groups get to be that.
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Conflict Resolution and German Reunification

Jamie Walker, a specialist in mediation and conflict resolution, became involved in inter-German conflict resolution.

Jamie Walker, a specialist in mediation and conflict resolution, became involved in inter-German conflict resolution.

If any country were in need of a national program of conflict resolution at every level of society, it would have been Germany after it reunified in 1990. East and West Germany were like a couple that had rushed into marriage with very little understanding of what it would be like to live together, merge finances, come to joint decisions, and make all the little adjustments that are necessary when two people with very different backgrounds are suddenly thrown together. Marriage counselors can help a new couple sort through all these challenges.

But Germany didn’t have a national agency of marriage counselors to mediate the conflicts that arose after reunification. It took a rather traditional approach. West Germany acted in many ways like the husband in a patriarchal family. West Germany was the primary breadwinner, the one that brought the lion’s share of the wealth to the union. And so West Germany made most of the decisions.
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Nuking an Asteroid May Sound Like a Good Idea, But…

An asteroid approaching the earth needs to be dealt with, but nuclear weapons are not the answer. (Photo: NASA)

An asteroid approaching the earth needs to be dealt with, but nuclear weapons are not the answer. (Photo: NASA)

Though designated as in excess of national defense needs by the National Nuclear Security Administration, parts of certain nuclear warheads containing uranium have been granted a reprieve from disassembly “pending a senior-level government evaluation of their use in planetary defense against earthbound asteroids.” In Foreign Policy, Jeffrey Lewis elaborates.

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and Russia’s State Atomic Energy Organization (ROSATOM) signed an agreement that provides for cooperation in a number of areas, including safeguards against nuclear proliferation, nuclear reactors, and defense from asteroids. … It’s not entirely clear to me what there is to talk about with ROSATOM beyond how we absolutely, positively cannot do any of the things they are discussing.

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Iraq Awash in Carnage Long Before the U.S. Invasion

Mesopotamian empires ruled by the sword. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Mesopotamian empires ruled by the sword. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Iraq once composed much of Mesopotamia, through which the Tigris and Euphrates rivers flowed. Often viewed as the cradle of civilization in the West, Mesopotamia included the Sumer, Akkadian, Babylonian, and Assyrian empires. But even then it was dripping in blood. 
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For Airstrikes on the Islamic State, U.S. Relaxing Drone Strikes’ Burden of Proof

Women and children have already been killed Tomahawk missiles in Syria. (Photo: Department of Defense)

Women and children have already been killed Tomahawk missiles in Syria. (Photo: Department of Defense)

If you’re appalled at civilian deaths due to U.S. drone strikes in Afghanistan and Pakistan, prepare to be aghast at civilian deaths due to U.S. airstrikes in Syria and Iraq. Michael Isikoff for the Associated Press wrote:

The White House has acknowledged for the first time that strict standards President Obama imposed last year to prevent civilian deaths from U.S. drone strikes will not apply to U.S. military operations in Syria and Iraq.

A White House statement to Yahoo News confirming the looser policy came in response to questions about reports that as many as a dozen civilians, including women and young children, were killed when a Tomahawk missile struck the village of Kafr Daryan in Syria’s Idlib province on the morning of Sept. 23.

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Tunisia and the Upcoming Elections, Part One: Waste Deep in IMF Structural Adjustment

Tunisia is being spun by the West as the Arab Spring’s only success story. (Photo: Dennis Jarvis / Flickr, The Commons)

Tunisia is being spun by the West as the Arab Spring’s only success story. (Photo: Dennis Jarvis / Flickr, The Commons)

1.

Upcoming elections in Tunisia will be the focus of both national and international attention in the coming period. Parliamentary elections on October 26 will be followed by a presidential election on November 23. The election campaign is in full swing at the moment. With these elections, hopefully a period of rocky political transition is coming to a close, but this is far from certain. Unlike the rosy analyses coming out of Washington suggesting that Tunisia is an island in a sea of instability, the actual picture in the North African country remains essentially fragile at best and could, despite the rosy prognoses, collapse. Still, Syria and Iraq might be in shambles, Egypt in the hands of a military dictatorship, Yemen in full political crisis, Libya for all practical purposes essentially (or nearly) in a state of collapse, here in the United States, Tunisia is being showcased as the Arab Spring’s only success story, a somewhat exaggerated situation.
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The Strange Non-Death of Polish Neoliberalism

Michal Sutowski is on the staff of Krytyka Polityczna, the Polish Left movement devoted to critical thinking and political action.

Michal Sutowski is on the staff of Krytyka Polityczna, the Polish Left movement devoted to critical thinking and political action.

Cross-posted from JohnFeffer.com.

Neo-liberalism, like the famous cat, seems to have nine lives in Poland. The effort to cut back the state and give freer rein to the market has suffered at least three near-death experiences. The initial “shock therapy” approach implemented by Leszek Balcerowicz in the first Solidarity-affiliated government in 1990 generated such high unemployment and social dissatisfaction that voters ejected these first neo-liberal politicians from office and replaced them with the former Communists. But it turned out that the former Communists were more than happy to implement the same kind of austerity market reforms as their predecessors – with similar results. And they too eventually were booted from office.

The global financial crisis that swept the world after 2007 should have been the final nail in the coffin for the neo-liberal model, for hadn’t the unregulated market nearly sent the global economy into an irreversible tailspin? And yet, globally, neo-liberalism didn’t die. This was because of what Colin Crouch, in his book The Strange Non-Death of Neo-Liberalism, calls “privatized Keynesianism.” A combination of government deregulation and new market instruments provided easier credit for the poor and middle class and lucrative “derivatives” for the wealthy. Although these mechanisms took a hit during the crisis, they have more or less remained intact, substituting for what in a previous era would have been government support programs.
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The Khorasan Group Creation Myth

Is Al Qaeda, in the form of the Khorasan group, really back with a vengeance? (Photo: Flickr)

Is Al Qaeda, in the form of the Khorasan group, really back with a vengeance? (Photo: Flickr)

In a much-discussed article at First Look, Glenn Greenwald and Murtaza Hussain analyze how the Khorasan Group suddenly emerged as the terrorist organization du jour. No, it’s not that the news cycle is so short that the Islamic State is old news. Nor is it because the Islamic State is no longer a threat. Greenwald and Hussain write:

As the Obama Administration prepared to bomb Syria without congressional or U.N. authorization, it faced two problems. The first was the difficulty of sustaining public support for a new years-long war against ISIS, a group that clearly posed no imminent threat to the “homeland.” A second was the lack of legal justification for launching a new bombing campaign with no viable claim of self-defense or U.N. approval.

The solution to both problems was found in the wholesale concoction of a brand new terror threat that was branded “The Khorasan Group.” After spending weeks depicting ISIS as an unprecedented threat — too radical even for Al Qaeda! — administration officials suddenly began spoon-feeding their favorite media organizations and national security journalists tales of a secret group that was even scarier and more threatening than ISIS, one that posed a direct and immediate threat to the American Homeland. Seemingly out of nowhere, a new terror group was created in media lore.

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Factionalism and Totalitarianism Are the Scylla and Charybdis of the Arab World

Mahmoud Abbas, leader of Fatah, does Arab unity no favors. (Photo: Olivier Pacteau / Flickr)

Mahmoud Abbas, leader of Fatah, does Arab unity no favors. (Photo: Olivier Pacteau / Flickr)

At Asia Times Online, Ramzy Barzoud writes about the lack of what he calls Arab gallantry.

… millions protested for Gaza across the world in a collective global action unprecedented since the US war in Iraq in 2003. South American countries led the way, with some governments turning words into unparalleled action, not fearing Western media slander or US government reprisals. Few Arab countries even came close to what the majority Christian Latin American countries like Ecuador have done to show solidarity with Gaza.

. . . But the lack of reactions on Arab streets (perhaps Arab societies are too consumed fighting for their own honor and dignity?) and the near complete silence by many Arab governments as Israel savaged Gaza civilians, forces one to question present Arab gallantry altogether.

. . . Hardly shocking, although certainly dishonorable, some Arab journalists who stayed largely quiet as the Palestinian death toll in Gaza grew rapidly, went on a well-organized crusade. While they shed crocodile tears for Gaza’s children, they insisted that Gaza lost, strengthening Netanyahu’s desperate narrative that his war had achieved its objectives. The Gaza-didn’t-win line was repeated by many well-paid journalists and commentators as to defeat the prevailing notion that resistance was not futile. For them, it seems that Palestinians need to accept their role in the ongoing Arab drama of being perpetual victims, and nothing more.

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Scotland, Nationalism, and Freedom

What would have been the flag of independent Scotland, alongside the British flag (Photo: Lawrence Lew / Flickr)

What would have been the flag of independent Scotland, alongside the British flag (Photo: Lawrence Lew / Flickr)

Cross-posted from the Globe Monitor.

Scotland recently rejected freedom, and voted in favor of staying in the United Kingdom. Of course, this will not be the last time we hear from Scottish nationalism, and voices for self-determination and recognition will continue to be heard, until sovereignty is achieved and Scotland’s earns its rightful place among the nation-states of the world.

However, apart from setting a paradigm in self-determination for the rest of the world, the Scottish referendum also gave us a lesson in the ground realities of history and nationalism.
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