Focal Points Blog

Identifying the West’s Flaws in Logic When Discussing Islam

To conservatives, hating Islam is a cottage industry.  (Photo: Edward Musiak / Flickr Commons)

To conservatives, hating Islam is a cottage industry. (Photo: Edward Musiak / Flickr Commons)

Of late, checking the news has become monotonous. Every other day, in virtually all publications and verticals of repute, there is some “expert” or the other busy discussing ways in which Islam is in conflict with the rest of world, or how Islam is having trouble dealing with itself, etc.

None of these so-called “insights” are original, nor do they add any merit to the news in general. Yet, such opinions continue to remain in vogue, and are preferred by the common populace. You know, when you segregate people and talk about ‘us’ versus ‘them’, people enjoy taking sides.

So, I decided to dig deeper, and reflect on what exactly such viewpoints are trying to convey. Is Islam really at war with everyone? Or is Islam having a crisis within itself? Do Muslims need to react?
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The Islamic State’s Strange Co-dependency With Syrian President Assad

Insurgent gains do not necessarily spell the end for Assad. (Photo: Michael Goodine / Flickr Commons)

Insurgent gains do not necessarily spell the end for Assad. (Photo: Michael Goodine / Flickr Commons)

Yesterday, we posted about how Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was withholding chlorine for health purposes and, to almost as ill effect, using it as a makeshift chemical weapon. We commented that these measures may be a sign of his desperation. On April 28, the New York Times reported:

The Syrian Army has suffered a string of defeats from re-energized insurgents and is struggling to replenish its ranks as even pro-government families increasingly refuse to send sons to poorly defended units on the front lines. These developments raise newly urgent questions about the durability of President Bashar al-Assad’s rule.

“The trend lines for Assad are bad and getting worse,” said a senior United States official in Washington, who, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss confidential intelligence assessments, nevertheless cautioned that things had not yet reached “a boiling point.”

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Chlorine: Assad’s Double-Edged Sword

By both withholding and using chlorine, Syrian President Assad has wrought yet more death and destruction on his people. (Photo: Cameron Russell / Flickr Commons)

By both withholding and using chlorine, Syrian President Assad has wrought yet more death and destruction on his people. (Photo: Cameron Russell / Flickr Commons)

In an article for the New York Review of Books titled Syria: Death from Assad’s Chlorine, Annie Sparrow begins by citing the tremendous boon to private and public health that the element chlorine has been over the last couple of centuries.

Today 90 percent of water sources in the United States and Europe rely on chlorine for safe water. This is still the most important use of chlorine, and yet so commonplace that we have forgotten its vital role in human well-being….

Beyond public health, chlorine is fundamental to modern medicine. Chlorine compounds form the building blocks for 90 percent of modern drugs.

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Poland’s Uncivil Society

Leszek Konarski and Zygmunt Fura were involved with environmental issues and the creation of Poland’s first Green Party. (Photo: John Feffer)

Leszek Konarski and Zygmunt Fura were involved with environmental issues and the creation of Poland’s first Green Party. (Photo: John Feffer)

Cross-posted from JohnFeffer.com.

During the 1980s, Poland had perhaps the strongest civil society in the world. The Solidarity trade union movement, created in August 1980, eventually counted 10 million members, a quarter of Poland’s population. And when the government cracked down on Solidarity, declaring Martial Law in December 1981, the opposition was strong enough to survive underground under considerably adverse conditions.

In 1989, as Solidarity became a legal organization, it created citizens’ committees that enlisted Poles from all walks of life to discuss the transformation of the country. These committees, in every part of the country, mirrored the Round Table negotiations between the government and the opposition that took place at the elite level.
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Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference Can’t Win for Losing

The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (RevCon) is being held for the ninth time since the treaty was entered into force in 1975. (Photo of 2010 RevCon: Xinhua-Zhu-Wei)

The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (RevCon) is being held for the ninth time since the treaty was entered into force in 1975. (Photo of 2010 RevCon: Xinhua-Zhu-Wei)

The Treaty on the Non-proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (more commonly known as the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty) has long been considered, along with the concept of deterrence, as the strongest bulwark we have against nuclear war. Briefly, the states that had developed nuclear weapons prior to the treaty were allowed to keep them as long as they promised (without being bound to a deadline) to work toward disarmament. Meanwhile, states without nuclear weapons were to refrain from developing them, but would be entitled to nuclear energy.
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How Did U.S. Go from “Constructive Engagement” to Containing China?

The smooth political succession from Deng to Jiang, Hu and lately Xi Jinping (pictured), has assured the world that Beijing’s leaders are able to execute foreign policy consistently over a long timeframe. (Photo: Thierry Ehrmann / Flickr Commons)

The smooth political succession from Deng to Jiang, Hu and lately Xi Jinping (pictured), has assured the world that Beijing’s leaders are able to execute foreign policy consistently over a long timeframe. (Photo: Thierry Ehrmann / Flickr Commons)

Admit it: the American question on “Contain China” has been changed from “Should?” to “How?” in view of the brewing consensus that the ‘constructive engagement’ policy since President Nixon was a mistake [Note 1].

In an originally titled “Wake up America, China must be contained” article and their March 2015 report issued by Council on Foreign Relations, Robert D. Blackwill and Ashley J. Tellis argue for a new Grand Strategy towards China because “the American effort to ‘integrate’ China into the liberal international order has now generated new threats to U.S. primacy in Asia — and could eventually result in a consequential challenge to American power globally …” [Note 2].
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Number of Atheists in the Arab World Rivals the West

It’s not easy being an atheist in an Arab state, most of which derive their legitimacy, in part, from Islam. (Dale Spencer / Flickr Commons)

It’s not easy being an atheist in an Arab state, most of which derive their legitimacy, in part, from Islam. (Dale Spencer / Flickr Commons)

The election of a black president in 2008 seems to have triggered a social domino effect in the United States. For instance, 38 states now allow same-sex marriage. More subjectively, not only do LBGTs seem to have become more accepted in society, but atheists have come out of the woodwork. Who knew there were so many in the United States?
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Turning the Nuclear Triad Into a Quartet

Boeing’s idea of what the long-range strike bomber might look like. (Image: Boeing)

Boeing’s idea of what the long-range strike bomber might look like. (Image: Boeing)

It’s bad enough that the United States has a nuclear triad of land, sea, and air: ICBMs (intercontinental ballistic missiles), SLBMs (submarine-launched ballistic missiles), and bombers. But now the Air Force would seek to, in effect, turn that into a quartet. Wait, what’s left after land, sea, and air? Outer space is off limits because the Outer Space Treaty forbids WMD’s in outer space.

Actually, the Air Force seeks to subdivide the bomber classification. In the Washington Post, Walter Pincus, one of its national-security columnists, who is still writing about nuclear weapons at age 82, asks:

At a time of tight defense budgets, why does the Air Force plan to spend billions of extra dollars so that a president 10 or more years from now can have two options if he or she wants to use bombers to attack an enemy with nuclear weapons?

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U.S. Too Casual About the Prospects of War With Russia Over Ukraine Crisis

The World War I centenary reminds us how quickly events can spiral out of control in the Ukraine. (Photo: Bettman / Corbis)

The World War I centenary reminds us how quickly events can spiral out of control in the Ukraine. (Photo: Bettman / Corbis)

Graham Allison, whose voice was heard often after 9/11 warning about nuclear terrorism, is the director of the Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. Dimitri K. Simes is the publisher of the National Interest. Hardly progressive, they can be characterized as centrists. Hence, when they sound the alarm that U.S. policymakers may be steering us into war with Russia over the Ukraine Crisis, you know it’s not the reflexive accusations directed at the U.S. government that we progressives indulge in when the subject is U.S. foreign policy.
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The Network of East-West Women in East-Central Europe a Product of Willful Ignorance

Ann Snitow is a writer and teacher, as well as activist with the Network of East-West Women, composed of movement activists on both sides of the former Iron Curtain. (Photo: John Feffer)

Ann Snitow is a writer and teacher, as well as activist with the Network of East-West Women, composed of movement activists on both sides of the former Iron Curtain. (Photo: John Feffer)

Cross-posted from JohnFeffer.com.

The literary scholar Viktor Shklovsky once attributed Tolstoy’s success as a novelist to the “energy of delusion.” The Russian writer was committed to constant trials and experimentation. He had a seemingly endless capacity to put himself in the position of what the Russians like to call a “holy fool” and look at the world as if through a child’s eyes.

Journalists also frequently adopt the attitude of holy fools. They are so often out of their depths and must rely on others to provide them with the information and contacts that sustain their work. It doesn’t help a journalist to assert knowledge – or feign knowledge – in an interview when the objective is to obtain as much information as possible.
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