Focal Points Blog

Removing Cancer of the Islamic State Can Kill the Patient

Not only has the Islamic State been driven out of Ramadi, but most of its citizens. Pictured: Government building in Ramadi.(Photo: Beshr O / Flickr Commons)

Not only has the Islamic State been driven out of Ramadi, but most of its citizens. Pictured: Government building in Ramadi. (Photo: Beshr O / Flickr Commons)

Iraqi security forces, with the help of the United States, may have managed to dislodge most of the Islamic State forces and personnel occupying Ramadi, Iraq. But the combination of Iraqi ground forces and U.S. airstrikes took a terrible toll on the city. Writes Ben Hubbard in the New York Times.

… the widespread destruction of Ramadi bears testament to the tremendous costs of dislodging a group that stitches itself into the urban fabric of communities it seizes by occupying homes, digging tunnels and laying extensive explosives.

…  Few civilians remain from a population that once numbered around 400,000, and the city lacks electricity and running water.

The Islamic State plays dirty by embedding with the population. But neither did the U.S. and Iraq do Ramadi any favors by killing the patient to save it.

 

Recent Beheadings Show Saudi Arabia Is the One Really Running Around Like a Chicken Without Its Head

Iran refrained from over-reacting to the execution of Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr. (Photo: Wikipedia)

Iran refrained from over-reacting to the execution of Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr. (Photo: Wikipedia)

Cross-posted from View from the Left Bank.

The Saudi P5+1 counter-offensive sputtering

When Israel – Netanyahu in particular, but past Israeli prime ministers as well – wants to “stick it” to Washington, knowing that it could complicate Obama’s agenda some, it announces it is going to build more settlements in the Occupied Territories at a sensitive moment for Washington, the goal being, repeatedly, to sabotage any genuine progress towards a diplomatic solution to the Israeli-Palestinian crisis.

It works like a charm every time! Washington bristles, perhaps makes a few critical remarks, but never does anything that will seriously undermine the underlying strategic relationship. This political tango has gone on for decades ad nauseam. In the end, it is based on an illusion, that being that Israeli policy is somehow independent of Washington’s overall policy. Nothing could be further for the truth as Washington holds virtually all the cards in the relationship in its hand. The idea that the “tail is wagging the dog” is, in a word, nonsense.
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Fear of Wounded Pride Drives Our China Policy

U.S. policymaker are wearing blinders if they think China will take containment sitting down. Pictured: Chinese missiles. (Photo: the Diplomat)

U.S. policymaker are wearing blinders if they think China will take containment sitting down. Pictured: Chinese missiles. (Photo: the Diplomat)

Right-wing mass media, for instance, Fox and its publications, has demonstrably affected public opinion. Progressive sentiment is frozen out, but sometimes it does find its way into centrist or once conservative media. An example is the once conservative, now more centrist, New York Daily News featuring front page after front page attacking gun advocates. In that setting progressive media is probably capable of having its greatest impact.

Another example is the National Interest, a national-security publication that was actually co-founded by a Kristol (Irving), but, devoted to realist policy, is currently center right. Yet if often features progressive opinions.

For instance, a recent article by John Glaser titled The Ugly Truth About Avoiding War With China. He writes that “China threatens the United States only insofar as America insists on being the dominant power in China’s backyard.” Apparently the United States seeks to follow a policy of containment. But, “If we try to contain China’s rise … these predictions of doom may prove right.”
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Islamic State Seeks to Lure West Into Ground War

The Islamic State seeks to create the greatest military costs possible for any Western power seeking to invade its territory.  (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

The Islamic State seeks to create the greatest military costs possible for any Western power seeking to invade its territory. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

There’s a strange disconnect (one of dozens probably) in the strategy of the Islamic State. In the Nation, Joshua Holland quotes terrorism expert Robert Pape and explains that, on the one hand, like Al Qaeda, the Islamic State is fundamentally motivated by the West’s incursions into Muslim lands. On the other hand, Holland writes:

… how does the notion that terrorists are intent on getting powers to withdraw from their territory square with the view that the group’s shift to terrorist attacks in the West is designed to draw France and its allies into a ground war in Syria?

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Conn Hallinan’s 2015 “Are You Serious?” Awards

The U.S. Defense Department and Lockheed Martin lead the way in organizations having years as damaging as they are absurd. Pictured: the troubled F-35. (Photo: Wikipedia)

The U.S. Defense Department and Lockheed Martin lead the way in organizations having years as damaging as they are absurd. Pictured: the troubled F-35. (Photo: Wikipedia)

The First Amendment Award to U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter for issuing a new Law Of War manual that defines reporters as “unprivileged belligerents” who will lose their “privileged” status by “the relaying of information” which “could constitute taking a direct part in hostilities.” Translation? If you report you are in the same class as members of al-Qaeda.

A Pentagon spokesperson said that the military “supports and respects the vital work that journalists perform.” Just so long as they keep what they see, hear, and discover to themselves? Professor of constitutional law Heidi Kitrosser called the language “alarming.”
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Raining on Burma’s Parade

Is Suu Kyi actually considering amnesty for members of Burma’s military junta? (Photo: Jason / Flickr Commons)

Is Suu Kyi actually considering amnesty for members of Burma’s military junta? (Photo: Jason / Flickr Commons)

A Nobel Prize laureate winning leading her party to victory in an election in essentially a military government — what could be better? Aung San Suu Kyi is president of Burma’s National League for Democracy (NLD), which won a majority in the recent elections. The NLD is thus ensured that its presidential candidate (not Suu Kyi because she wasn’t born in Burma) will elected.

Alas, Suu Kyi may share much in common with the military junta disguised as a democracy that has been ruling Burma for decades. At Dictator Watch, noted Burma watcher Roland Watson, long a critic of hers, pulls no punches and simply calls Suu Kyi Burma’s “new democratic dictator.”
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Aversion to Arabic a Common Symptom of Islamophobia

A Virginia teacher’s attempt to teach students Arabic calligraphy generated a significant backlash. (Photo: Dr. Case / Flickr Commons)

A Virginia teacher’s attempt to teach students Arabic calligraphy generated a significant backlash. (Photo: Dr. Case / Flickr Commons)

While sane and insane voices exist in every society, it is common knowledge by now that Islamophobia is pretty vocal in the West, especially in USA. The story of Ahmed, the kid who brought a self-made clock to school, is a case in point. Of course, Islamophobia is not the dominant ideology in USA, as can be seen in the efforts of several good-willed Americans who seek nothing but peace. After all, Ahmed did get support and appreciation from all corners, didn’t he?

However, what happens when such Islamophobic paranoia, even though it might be in the minority, spills out and makes itself visible in stuff that is otherwise not a monopoly of Islam? What happens when one’s bigotry makes him/her feel scared of a language?

Apparently, some Islamophobes in USA seem to be scared of the Arabic language.

Islamophobes Dislike Arabic?

Recently, a teacher at a school in Augusta County, Virginia handed out a homework assignment. The homework, part of the geography curriculum, dealt with world religions. Among other exercises, it included a question asking students to copy Arabic calligraphy (in order to help them understand the complexity of calligraphy in the Arabic language).

The result?

It led to an angry backlash by several parents of students, as they felt it was an attempt to convert their kids to Islam. The school received multiple calls from angry parents, and some even demanded the the concerned teacher should be fired from her job (note that the teacher did not frame the questions herself, but took it from a standard workbook on world religions).

Things kept getting ugly, with more hate-filled calls and messages coming in, and more parents reacting to the incident with threats. All the schools in the county had to be shut down, and then reopened amidst high security. Eventually, the question was eliminated from the workbook.

Thankfully, there were voices of sanity too, and some former students created a Facebook group to defend their geography teacher.

This is not the first time that Islamophobic paranoia in USA resulted in bias against the Arabic language. Back in March 2015, a school near New York City had to apologize for including Arabic as one of the languages during its Foreign Languages Week celebration.

Clearly, Islamophobes would hate anything and everything, including the Arabic language. To help them realize just how poor their logic is, I decided to put together just a small fraction of things for which they should thank the Arabic language and its speakers.

Why Should They Not Hate Arabic?

What has the Arabic language or the Arabic script ever done for anyone? Here is small selection:

  • Renowned Christian theologian Thomas Aquinas was influenced by several philosophers — guess which language those philosophers wrote it? Yes, Arabic.
  • While the good and bad qualities of Christopher Columbus are surely debatable, it is established beyond doubt that during his voyage to America, Columbus depended heavily on the calculations of al-Farghani. In fact, al-Farghani was one of the first to prove that the earth was spherical, and he wrote all of that in Arabic.
  • It is argued that zero first originated in India. However, the circular zero that is in use today comes from the works of Arabic scholars. Don’t like the zero? Good luck dividing XLIV by CLXIV.

Need more? Yes, there is a lot more.

Conclusion

If Islamophobes want to turn their children away from the Arabic language because they feel it is related to Muslims, will they be turning their kids away from Trigonometry, Algebra, Chemistry, Pharmacy and Medicine? Because all of these were, in some way or the other, invented and developed by Muslims.

Quite obviously, paranoia and religious bigotry knows no reason, and is purely illogical. Such ignorance needs to be fixed because, as shown in the references above, Arabic as a language has proven nothing but beneficial for human existence as a whole.

How Should We Deal With War Criminals?

George W. Bush was never charged for offenses which we would have labeled war crimes if perpetrated by the enemy. (Photo: YouTube)

George W. Bush was never charged for offenses which we would have labeled war crimes if perpetrated by the enemy. (Photo: YouTube)

A former Nuremberg prosecutor wrote a recent letter to the New York Times saying  “the hopes of the Nuremberg trials 70 years ago are being tarnished by being ignored.” His point was that war crimes trials should be held so that ISIS members could be brought to justice. The trials would most likely be held at the International Criminal Court at the Hague. But that court has only limited jurisdiction, since both the U.S. and Israel have refused to join. Consequently the former Nuremberg prosecutor urges that the U.S. adopt new laws that “hold perpetrators of large-scale atrocities accountable.”

The problem with prosecuting perpetrators of war crimes is that the individuals found tried and guilty are invariably on the losing side. It’s the victors who determine who the war criminals are. The legal definition of war crimes under the Geneva Conventions includes unprovoked aggression, attacking civilians, and subjecting prisoners to humiliating treatment, unlawful confinement, and torture. But in recent years Americans have too often carried out these acts.

All of them were committed by the United States during its wars in Indochina, Iraq and Afghanistan. The process of “extraordinary rendition” and the torture of terrorism suspects became routine during the administration of George W. Bush, despite the fact that the United States had signed the international agreement outlawing torture. Israel is equally culpable under international law for its continued occupation of the West Bank, its attacks on Gaza and 8-year blockade, and for seizing Palestinian-owned land for settlements in the  occupied territory.

In the real world, however, when it comes to punishing unlawful, or even villainous behavior, it is political expediency that determines what is a war crime and who is guilty of them. The American officials from Vice-President Dick Cheney on down who authorized the systematic use of torture will never be brought to account and neither will the CIA agents and contractors who carried out their orders, because the Obama administration considers it politically unwise to raise the issue. It’s a safe bet that the leaders of U.S. allies such as SaudI Arabia and Israel will not face war crimes trials. It’s not surprising that the first real war crimes trials were held after World War II. The Nazis are among history’s most notorious lawbreakers, not only for invading countries all across Europe but for committing genocide in their systematic attempt to exterminate the Jewish population of Europe along with Gypsies and Slavs. Japanese leaders were tried for a variety of crimes, including the abuse of prisoners and the use of captive for medical experiments. After World War II at least a dozen Nazi officials were tried at Nuremberg and sentenced to death. At least 39 Japanese wartime leaders were tried by the Allies in Tokyo and found guilty. All spent time in prison and seven were found guilty of war crimes and in due course hanged. But what, if not war crimes,would we call the Allied firebombing of Hamburg and Berlin, which literally incinerated thousands of ordinary German civilians, and the levelling of the city of Dresden, a cultural landmark that had no war industries?

A few years ago Robert McNamara, the secretary of defense under President Kennedy, said in a filmed interview that had the United States lost World War II American officials would undoubtedly have been accused of war crimes for having  firebombed into ashes every major Japanese city and killing thousands of Japanese civilians. Many people think Harry Truman could legitimately have been accused of war crimes for dropping atom bombs on two cities that had no strategic importance, and for doing it when Japan was on the verge of surrendering.

Since 1945 war has become even crueller, with the victims predominantly civilians. The International Criminal Court at The Hague held trials of individuals accused of war crimes during the Balkan war in the early 1990s, and several Serbs and Croats served prison terms as a result. Individuals considered responsible for the genocide in Rwanda, and atrocities elsewhere in Africa have also been tried and sentenced to prison.

The U.S. war in Indochina filled every definition of a crime. But since the victor determines who is a war criminal, no one has ever been punished. Our forces invaded Vietnam and Cambodia, neither of which posed a threat to our national security, and killed an estimated 2 million members of a largely peasant population. We poisoned their forests and crops with agent Orange, which resulted in thousands of cases of birth defects, and the cluster bombs used by U.S. forces caused agonizing wounds.

War crimes continue to be committed. In retaliation for Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1991, the U.S. air force under George H.W. Bush  dropped more bomb tonnage on Iraq than was used in the ten years of war in Indochina, according to then-Defense Secretary Cheney. The sanctions imposed on Iraq by the Clinton administration were responsible for the deaths of 500,000 Iraqi children, according to the British medical journal, the Lancet. Operation Shock and Awe in 2003 that ousted Saddam Hussein killed untold numbers of Iraqi civilians as well as more than four thousand American soldiers, and left behind a society fractured by sectarian violence. Yet the perpetrators of that war are not likely to be charged with war crimes.

The truth is, the object of a war is to win it, by any means necessary, and those means are almost always ugly. Looting, rape, torture, and the killing of civilians have been integral parts of every war. American forces are now fighting in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Niger, Cameroon, and aiding Saudi Arabia and the Gulf emirates in the bombing of Yemen. It’s a safe bet bet that in such dangerous territory,war crimes are being committed by both sides. There are no limits on brutality when soldiers are fighting for their lives against an enemy they’ve been trained to regard as less than human.

 

Vladimir Putin: Sweetheart

Authoritarian leaders often meet ignominious ends. (Photo: Jamestown.org)

Authoritarian leaders often meet ignominious ends. (Photo: Jamestown.org)

The London Review of Books has published another piece by Seymour Hersh that is controversial (though not nearly as much so as his Abbottabad article in May). In this one, he maintains that the Pentagon is providing intelligence — via Germany, Israel, and Russia — to the Assad regime in Syria to aid it in fending off the Islamic State. (Though the extent to which Syria is in direct conflict with the Islamic State is debatable.) The Pentagon seems to believe that deposing Assad would result in one U.S.-fueled Middle-East implosion too many, after Iraq and Libya.
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Manganese: Burkina Faso’s New Resource Curse

Burkina Faso is one of the poorest countries in the world. Many of its children are forced to work. (Photo: Eric Montford / Flickr Commons)

Burkina Faso is one of the poorest countries in the world. Many of its children are forced to work. (Photo: Eric Montford / Flickr Commons)

Cross-posted from View from the Left Bank.

A Nationalist Impulse?

Just a few months after a long-lasting and corrupt government was swept from power, in March of this year (2015), in Burkina Faso, the country’s transitional Minister of Mining and Energy suspended a major mining contract with Pan African Minerals at Tambao, forcing the company to stop operations there. Missing from most press explanations as to why the suspension order was issued was the growing local opposition to Pan African Minerals’ practices. On February 17, 2015, a march in protest was initiated by people in the vicinity of Markoye, the town closest to the mine, seeking Tambao mine operation stoppage until further notice. More than 3,000 local people participated. They opposed the company’s environmental practices (explosions, dust) as well as the fact that the company had reneged on its promise to employ at least fifty locals in the work there and to involve the local community more in the mines’ plans. They demanded that the operations of the mine be completely shut down until these issues were resolved.
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