Informed Comment Thoughts on the Middle East, History and Religion 2015-12-01T09:34:36Z WordPress Juan Cole <![CDATA[Putin: Turkey was protecting ISIL oil Smuggling; Russia urges Assad-Kurdish Alliance]]> 2015-12-01T09:34:36Z 2015-12-01T09:34:36Z By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Monday in Paris that his government had intelligence that the reason Turkey shot down a Russian fighter jet last week was to protect oil smuggling from Daesh (ISIS, ISIL) through Turkey. Putin said,

“”We have every reason to think that the decision to shoot down our plane was dictated by the desire to protect the oil supply lines to Turkish territory, right to the ports where it is loaded onto tankers. . . We have received additional information which unfortunately confirms that this oil, produced in areas controlled by the Islamic State and other terrorist organisations, is transported on an industrial scale to Turkey.”

In response, Turkish president Tayyip Erdogan said that if any proof could be brought forward that Turkey shot down the Russian plane because of Daesh petroleum, he would resign.

Erdogan tried to turn the tables on Putin by charging that a Russian national in Syria is engaged in brokering the ISIL petroleum smuggling.

Russia said Monday that the ban on importing vegetables from Turkey would remain in place. Russian sanctions on Turkey also hit the tourist trade, costing Turkey some $3 bn a year. These measures only affected Russian spending in Turkey. Turkish imports of Russian fossil fuels remain uninterrupted.

Putin has a much more effective way of bringing the pain to Erdogan, however. The leftist newspaper Radikal quoted the daily BasHaber’s interview tith

Prof. Abbas Vali of Bogazici University, who said [BBC Monitoring trans]:

“The PYD [Kurdish Democratic Union Party] was pleased about Russia’s intervention in Syria. An alliance between the PYD and Russia is inevitable. Russia’s bombardment of the radical Islamist groups on the ground will have a huge impact on the PYD operations. (…) Russia’s operations will considerably bolster the PYD on the ground.”

The PYD and its paramilitary arm, the YPG (People’s Protection Unites) are considered by Turkey to be branches of the separatist Kurdish terrorist organization the PKK (Kurdistan Workers Party), but the US and Russia do not agree, and have been willing to cooperate with the leftist Kurds in Syria against Daesh (ISIS, ISIL).

Putin is attempting to shore up the government of Bashar al-Assad, while Turkey hopes to see it overthrown by Muslim fundamentalist rebels. Putin is angling for an alliance of the leftist Kurds with the Baath regime against Daesh Radikal notes (BBC Mon. trans.):

“In a meeting in Sochi last month ( 23 October 2015,) Vladimir Putin spoke of his country’s goals for the air operations and their intentions regarding Kurds as follows: ” You cannot separate terrorists as moderates and extremists. Defeating terrorist groups in Syria will not resolve all the problems but it will create the necessary conditions for a political solution. The government and Kurdish forces in Syria should join forces in combating terrorism. Our air operations in Syria will have positive results.”

Nothing would anger Turkey’s government more than for Russia to give military support to the Syrian Kurds in their quest to establish a connected territory, “Rojava,” linking the three major Kurdish cantons in northern Syria.

Semih Idiz of the Cumhuriyet (“the Republic), a left of center Turkish paper, revealed (BBC Monitoring trans.) that in response to the shoot down of the Russian fighter jet:

“The Russian General Staff Chief has also stated that they are going to provide aerial escorts to the jets carrying out the bombing campaign against the Turkmens, which they are going to step up substantially, “in order to protect them from behind.”

Idiz, in an article on how al-Assad is the main beneficiary of the shootdown, concluded,

“When we look at the political sphere, Moscow is going to try to render Turkey as ineffective as possible in the Syrian negotiations. It is useful to recall that the United States and Russia are spearheading the negotiations in question. And it is also useful to keep in mind that Turkey, because of a series of strategic mistakes, is one of the weakest links of the “Syrian table.”

Now if you were [Syrian President Bashar] Al-Asad, would you not be rejoicing on account of Turkey’s having shot down the Russian plane?


Related video:

France 24 English: “Paris Climate conference: Row between Russia & Turkey continues as Putin snubs meeting with Erdogan”

contributors <![CDATA[Snowden restores 4th Amendment: NSA halts mass Warrantless spying on your Telephone Records]]> 2015-12-01T08:01:25Z 2015-12-01T07:55:48Z By David Greene and Nadia Kayyali | ( Electronic Frontier Foundation) | – –

The NSA’s collection en masse of the call detail records of millions of ordinary Americans ended quietly at midnight November 29. The bulk collection was phased out after a 180-day transition period provided for in the USA FREEDOM Act. The USA FREEDOM Act was signed by President Obama on June 2, 2015, and amended section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act, which the NSA had claimed gave it authority to collect the records, to specifically prohibit the bulk collection.

We wrote previously on what that means for the collection of records and how it affects our cases against the NSA.

Rather than the previous mass collection of all phone records possessed by particular providers, the USA Freedom Act limits collection of call detail records to instances where there is “reasonable, articulable suspicion” that a specific “individual, account, or personal device” is associated with international terrorism. This “individual, account, or personal device” is known in the law as a “specific selection term.” Rather than the old method whereby the NSA collected record of all customers of certain providers, the NSA, under this program, now obtains only those records associated with the specific selection term. The new procedure still allows the NSA to perform “bulky,” if not “bulk,” collection because providers are required to turn over not only the records associated with the specific selection term, but also the records of all those who called or were called by the specific selection term.

Note also that USA Freedom has a broader definition of specific selection term for the collection of tangible things other than calling records. In these cases, the term must be a “person, account, address, or personal device.” The language of the legislation directs that this term be used to limit the scope of these requests for information to the greatest extent possible, and specifies that it cannot be used to collect records that are overly broad, like those that relate to a geographic region or an entire electronic communications service provider.

The government also recently complied with another important requirement of USA FREEDOM. On November 25, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court designated five individuals as eligible to serve as amicus curiae, that is, “friends of the court.” This was perhaps the most important reform of USA FREEDOM. Previously, the FISC almost always heard only from the government in deciding whether to grant the government’s requests to conduct surveillance.

As we noted when USA Freedom passed, we don’t think it’s perfect, but it is a step in the right direction.

USA FREEDOM and the phase-out of the old mass collection of call records does not end un-warranted bulk surveillance. It is still going on with respect to other communciations media and under the alleged authority of other laws. We continue to challenge the collection being conducted under Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act and Executive Order 12333 next. Under 702, the government has siphoned communications directly from tech companies and the key infrastructure of the Internet and worse. Executive Order 12333 is supposed to protect Americans from Presidentially-directed spying; however, despite the protections, it it is being used for mass spying that collects Americans’ communications, address books, and other information. And we still don’t know how it has been used to target non-US persons, despite the requirement under international law that surveillance be necessary and proportionate.

So as we mark a milestone in section 215 reform, we call again for substantial reform of 702 and 12333. And as a first step in that reform, the government must make the details of programs conducted under these authorities public.

Via Electronic Frontier Foundation

Related video added by Juan Cole:

CCTV: “US NSA ends mass phone surveillance program”

contributors <![CDATA[ISIL/ Daesh exults at our loss of Liberties: “8 Men caused a nationwide state of emergency”]]> 2015-12-01T07:59:10Z 2015-12-01T07:34:41Z by Charles Kurzman | ISLAMiCommentary

Two years ago, al-Qaeda’s Iraqi franchise took Raqqa, Syria, from al-Qaeda’s Syrian franchise, and was promptly kicked out of al-Qaeda. Within the year, the rulers of Raqqa proclaimed themselves “the Islamic State” and embarked on a global campaign to spread their so-called caliphate throughout the world.

The group’s attacks this month in Egypt, Lebanon, and France suggest that this campaign has taken a new and dangerous turn, exposing sites around the world to the sort of brutal violence that Syrians and Iraqis have experienced for years.

The so-called Islamic State has no chance of actually conquering Paris or Beirut with small squads of suicide attackers, armed with crude bombs and a handful of machine guns. But that is not its real goal.

What the Islamic State really wants is to provoke a panicky overreaction.

Ideally, according to the Islamic State’s publications, France, the United States, and their allies will embark on a ground invasion of Syria, bringing an end to the world.

The Islamic State subscribes to a millenarian vision that end-times are upon us, as documented in Will McCants’s new book, “The ISIS Apocalypse.” For example, the Islamic State’s leadership cites a hadith — an eyewitness account passed down from a companion of the Prophet Muhammad — that messianic deliverance will occur when Christians attack Dabiq, a town in northern Syria, or al-A’maq, a town in southern Turkey. One third of the Muslim forces will run away and be struck down for their betrayal, according to this prophecy; one third will die in battle; and one third will live in a Muslim paradise on earth.

To underscore this vision, the Islamic State named its main English-language magazine “Dabiq,” and one of its news services “al-A’maq.”

In other words, the leaders of the Islamic State welcome a military escalation. As a landlocked territory at war with all of its neighbors, with limited agricultural production and no legal trading partners, the Islamic State must rely on smuggled imports for many of its population’s necessities. It has little chance of delivering economic security to its residents. Armaggedon is their only hope.

Barring an apocalyptic clash, the Islamic State aims to demoralize its enemies through fear and panic. Even with the attack in Paris, the Islamic State and its affiliates have caused far fewer civilian casualties in the West than the West’s air strikes have caused in Syria and Iraq, according to detailed estimates by

But the United States, Russia, and their allies do not brag about civilian casualties. The Islamic States does. It seeks to spread fear among its enemies, beyond the sites of violence, leveraging the global media’s fixation on terrorism for its own goals.

Over the past year, the Islamic State came to realize that even small-scale, low-tech attacks by Muslim extremists — a knifing in Boston, rifle shots in Chattanooga — could attract massive attention and concern. Few Muslims have taken up the call to mayhem, but a few is enough. Opportunistic politicians will do the Islamic State’s work for it, warning their constituencies that they face an existential threat from ISIS and its supporters.

Claiming to project strength, these politicians stoke the sense of vulnerability that the Islamic State aims to instill. The Islamic State gloats about the panicky policies of the West, which it views as signs of weakness.

“A nationwide state of emergency was declared as a result of the actions of eight men armed only with assault rifles and explosive belts,” the Islamic State’s Dabiq magazine bragged after the Paris attack. “The Islamic State dispatched its brave knights to wage war in the homelands of the wicked crusaders, leaving Paris and its residents ‘shocked and awed.’”

The Islamic State is particularly hopeful that Western countries will retaliate against their own Muslim communities. Like al-Qaeda before it, the Islamic State believes that Muslims in the West will conclude that their faith and identity are incompatible with obedience to the laws of the United States and Europe.

“Muslims in the crusader countries will find themselves driven to abandon their homes for a place to live in the Khilafah [the self-proclaimed caliphate of the Islamic State], as the crusaders increase persecution against Muslims living in Western lands,” Dabiq predicted earlier this year.

This has been al-Qaeda’s hope for more than a dozen years, and it has not been fulfilled. Muslims in the West, despite waves of punitive policies, have proven overwhelmingly resistant to provocation.

Still, the Islamic State believes that each new attack will ratchet up pressure on Muslims in the West, and some politicians in the West are only too happy to oblige. In the name of security, they promise to undermine the security of their Muslim neighbors.

“Bush spoke the truth when he said, ‘Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists,” Osama Bin Laden said in an interview the month after 9/11. “Meaning, either you are with the crusade or you are with Islam.” The Islamic State, despite its rivalry with al-Qaeda, has adopted this commitment to a clash of civilizations.

What the Islamic State cannot stand is a resolute commitment to coexistence — a recognition that the West has weathered worse, that this threat too shall pass, and that the freedoms and values that have served as guiding ideals for generations should not be sacrificed in a moment of panic. Now that projects strength.


Charles Kurzman is a Professor of Sociology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and author of The Missing Martyrs: Why There Are So Few Muslim Terrorists (Oxford University Press, 2011). He is also co-director of UNC Chapel Hill’s Carolina Center for the Study of the Middle East and Muslim Civilizations.

ISLAMiCommentary is a public scholarship forum that engages scholars, journalists, policymakers, advocates and artists in their fields of expertise. It is a key component of the Transcultural Islam Project; an initiative managed out of the Duke Islamic Studies Center in partnership with the Carolina Center for the Study of the Middle East and Muslim Civilizations (UNC-Chapel Hill). This article was made possible (in part) by a grant from Carnegie Corporation of New York. The statements made and views expressed are solely the responsibility of the author(s).

Other web sites and print publications may re-publish this article as long as there is source attribution (author and ISLAMiCommentary) and a link back to ISLAMiCommentary.

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Via ISLAMICommentary


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contributors <![CDATA[Shooting of pro-Kurdish Human Rights Lawyer Deepens Turkey’s Political Crisis]]> 2015-12-01T07:22:30Z 2015-12-01T07:22:30Z | – –

On November 28, Tahir Elçi, one of Turkey's most prominent pro-Kurdish lawyers, was holding a press conference close to the very same minaret he referenced in his tweet above, explaining that the people of Turkey's Kurdish-populated East were tired of conflict and recurrent government military operations in the region.

Moments after he finished his speech he was shot dead as police and Kurdish militants clashed, with his death prompting thousands to come together for a politically charged funeral in the Kurdish region's administrative capital.

The violence that claimed Tahir Elçi's life also saw two policemen killed and a number of journalists wounded. The government controlled by the AKP (Justice and Development Party) responded immediately, with Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu promising his killers would definitely be caught

The leaders of opposition parties also expressed condolences. While MHP (Nationalist Movement Party) chief Devlet Bahçeli said Tahir Elçi's death had saddened all political factions in the country, CHP (Republican People's Party) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu tweeted:

Exclaiming “we do not want violence” should not have resulted in death. The forces who massacred Tahir Elçi and our policemen must give an account of what they have done.

But in Turkey's currently toxic political landscape, everybody has a different interpretation of who these ‘forces’ were. The pro-Kurdish left-leaning HDP (People's Democratic Party) characterized Elçi's shooting as a political assassination.

Head of Diyarbakir Bar Association Tahir Elçi is viciously murdered by the slayers of law. WE WILL PURSUE YOU!


The polarization that has come to typify online responses to Turkey's Kurdish conflict was again in evidence in the aftermath of the shooting. Thousands of tweets were posted under the hashtags #TahirElçi and #TahirElçiÖlümsüzdür (#TahirElçiIsImmortal).

Those that do not blame militants from the PKK (Kurdistan Workers Party) for Elçi's death, blame the state.

State media made him a target. Prosecutor took him into custody. A marksman shot him through his temple. The governer, moreover, declared a curfew. Unsolved murder?

On Ekşisözlük, a widely used forum, one nationalist commenter wrote:

övdüğü pkk tarafından kursuna dizilen. kurşunlar havada uçuşurken pismanlik duymuştur eminim. edit = saldırıda bir de polis şehit olmuş, kürt ırkçısı birinin ölümü konuşulurken, gerçek emekçinin ölümü hiç konusulmuyor.

He was executed by the same PKK [Kurdistan Workers’ Party — the main Kurdish militant faction] that he praised. I am sure he was full of regrets as those bullets travelled though the air […] During the attack, one policeman was shot to death. While a Kurdish racist's death is being debated, no one talks about the death of a real worker.

Other observers have drawn a parallel with the assassination of Hrant Dink, a high profile ethnic Armenian journalist gunned down in 2007, whose death was never fully solved.

Protests in several cities

Shortly after Elçi's death thousands took to the streets in Diyarbakır as well as Istanbul and İzmir. The gathering of almost 2,000 in Taksim in Istanbul was broken up by tear gas and water cannon.

16:56 #İstiklalStreet, people shout “Thief, murderer AKP”, after the police attack against #TahirElçi protest.

Istanbul, Turkey. 28th November 2015 -- Protesters run for cover from tear gas fired by Turkish riot police during a demostration on Istiklal avenue in Istanbul after a top Kurdish lawyer was killed in Diyarbakir on November 28, 2015. Demotix image by Avni Kantan. ID: 9171320.

Istanbul, Turkey. 28th November 2015 — Protesters run for cover from tear gas fired by Turkish riot police during a demostration on Istiklal avenue in Istanbul after a top Kurdish lawyer was killed in Diyarbakir on November 28, 2015. Demotix image by Avni Kantan. ID: 9171320.

The protests reflect growing public frustration at insecurity in Turkey with hundreds of people having died in political violence in the second half of this year.

The improvement in relations with the country's Kurdish minority was once hailed as a key achievement of the AKP government. But as AKP seeks to reassert its dominance across the country's political landscape following an electoral victory in November, it has fallen back on nationalist rhetoric while using the PKK threat as a pretext for wide-ranging and oppressive security operations in the country's east.

Who was Tahir Elçi?

Tahir Elçi was a very successful human rights lawyer, who was the defence lawyer in many important cases such as Lice, Roboski, and Temizöz. He was an important activist who worked for peace between the Kurdish and Turkish communities. Last month, however, he was arrested for declaring that the PKK was not a ‘terrorist organization’. After the arrest, he was released conditionally and banned from traveling abroad.

In a series of tweets, one Twitter user explained Elçi's importance:

Who is Tahir Elçi: a group of tweets by .elephant woman.

Who is Tahir Elçi: tweets by @civilvvars.

There are maybe some of us who did not know Tahir Elçi as we are supposed to. Tahir Elçi is – was – one of the best human rights lawyers of this country.

He was the lawyer of 21 people who disappeared in custody in Cizre, 16 people who were killed in Lice, and 34 people who were bombed in Roboski.

Tahir Elçi managed to win many important decisions in Human Rights Courts, especially on the topics of the right to live and torture in Turkey….

…Thanks to his efforts, many cases of forced disappearances, bombings and torture that were either kept waiting or left unpunished were recommenced.

Today, we have lost a very important lawyer who has given all his life to peace and the human rights struggle. Please get to know him better and do not forget him.

Politically charged funeral

Tahir Elçi's funeral was held on November 29 at Koşuyolu Park, in front of Yaşam Hakkı Anıtı (Statue of the Right to Live) and attended by around 50,000 people. Many more were reportedly blocked from attending due to the cancellation of flights and buses to the region.

HDP's co-president Selahattin Demirtaş, the head of Turkey's Bar Association Metin Feyzioğlu, and the bar presidents of 80 different cities and many other political figures attended the funeral.

Thousands continue to walk after Elçi's funeral, the public salutes the funeral from everywhere.

During the funeral, HDP's Demirtaş gave a powerful speech saying he had doubts about whether this murder would be solved:

Tahir's death is not because of the state, but because of the lack of state. There is a state in Ankara, which does not feel this pain. How could you hold a society together, which can not even come together around this pain.



Related video added by Juan Cole:

Euronews: “Top Kurdish lawyer Tahir Elci shot dead in Turkey”

contributors <![CDATA[Two Israelis Found Guilty of Burning Alive Palestinian Teen]]> 2015-12-01T07:04:09Z 2015-12-01T07:04:09Z By IMEMC | – –

The Jerusalem District Court, on Monday, convicted two of the three people accused in the murder of Muhammad Abu Khdeir.

On July 2, 2014, Abu Khdeir, 16, was murdered by tree Israeli men in the neighborhood of Shuafat, in occupied East Jerusalem close to his home. He was driven to the Jerusalem Forest, where he was beaten and burned alive by his kidnappers. The Israeli Defense Minister has officially recognized him as “a victim of terror”, granting his family compensation rights.

According to the PNN, three Israeli Jews were standing trial for the murder – Ben-David, 31, and two minors who haven’t been named.

Both minors blamed Ben-David for planning the murder of Abu Khdeir and exerting heavy pressure on them to participate.

They accused Ben-David of giving them pills and energy drinks in the hours before the murder, as stated by Haaretz.

During the trial, one of the minor’s had taken the stand and said “he never dreamed” that they were going to kill Abu Khdeir, trying to place all of the blame for the murder on Ben-David. The minor said that Ben-David was “like my father” and that he felt compelled to follow his lead, as reported by the Jerusalem Post.

Abu Khdeir’s father called the minor a “liar” in response to his testimony.

According to Haaretz, Yosef Haim Ben-David, the main defendant, submitted last-minute psychiatric evaluation that claimed he was not responsible for his actions.

However, the Israeli court said that there is enough evidence to convict Ben-David. The judges ordered the psychiatric evaluation, which was written in English by an Israeli psychiatrist, to be translated to Hebrew on Monday.

Ben-David had reportedly undergone psychiatric treatment in the past, in connection with another incident in which he attempted to strangle his own infant daughter.

When appearing for the arraignment, was reported to say at the entrance hall: “I am the messiah.”

Until now, only the two minors were considered guilty. The court is expected to consider the plea of Ben-David on December 20.

The prosecution claimed during the deliberations that Ben-David was responsible for his actions and fit to stand trial. They presented the court evidence, including videos, showing Ben-David alert and fully aware of what was happening, as reported by Haaretz.

Hossein Abu Khdeir, Mohammed’s father, said after the reading of the verdict that Ben-David was trying to mislead the court. “There is no justice,” he said.

Abu Khdeir’s parents attended every court session and expressed regular dissatisfaction with the lengthy delays in the legal process.

“Why haven’t they demolished the homes of these three murderers?” Hussein Abu Khdeir, the youth’s father, asked at the last court session. “If they were Arabs, their homes would have been demolished immediately. Because they burned my son alive, people today are stabbing.”



Related video added by Juan Cole:

Wochit News: “Two Israeli Teenagers Were Convicted for Killing a 16-Year-Old Palestinian in 2014”

Juan Cole <![CDATA[Turkey’s Coup against Press, own Generals over Arms Supplies to Syrian Militants]]> 2015-11-30T09:14:39Z 2015-11-30T09:05:50Z By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Turkey has jailed two very prominent journalists for publishing video last May of a January, 2014, Turkish intelligence convoy of weapons to Syrian militants. When I say prominent, I mean prominent. They are Can Dundar, editor-in-chief of the Cumhuriyet newspaper, and Ankara bureau chief Erdem Gul. Cumhuriyet (“Republic”) was founded in 1924 and is center-left in its orientation. So this would be like the FBI carting off Dean Baquet of the New York Times for reporting on CIA shipments of T.O.W. missiles to Salafi rebels in Syria. The journalists are charged with espionage and belonging (!) to a terrorist organization– charges fantastic on the face of it.

Meanwhile, the Syrian army is charging that Turkey has vastly increased arms shipments to rebels in Syria since last week’s shootdown of a Russian fighter jet, and is receiving smuggled gasoline and antiquities in payment.

The Turkish government has now also arrested several senior generals who, acting on a tip, were the ones who in January 2014 ordered the search of trucks allegedly carrying arms to rebels in Syria– on which Cumhuriyet reported. Huriryet writes: “Istanbul Deputy Chief Prosecutor İrfan Fidan interrogated Ankara Gendarmerie Regional Commander Maj. Gen. İbrahim Aydın, Brig. Gen. Hamza Celepoğlu and Ret. Col. Burhanettin Cihangiroğlu on Nov. 28 and sent them to court appealing for their arrest on Nov. 29.”

Hurriyet explains:

“On Jan. 19, 2014, a convoy of trucks on their way to cross into Syira was stopped by gendarmerie forces upon suspicion that they were carrying military material to rebel groups fighting against the Bashar al-Assad regime. The incident turned into a big news story when the gendarmerie forces detained the intelligence officers and confiscated the trucks.

President Erdogan, who was prime minister at the time, reacted harshly over the case, accusing sympathizers of US-based Islamic scholar Fethullah Gulen in the judiciary and the security forces of undermining the government. He said the Gulen movement was responsible for the halting of the trucks, as well as the Dec. 17-25, 2013 corruption cases that he claimed had tried to bring down the government . . .

The government says the case of the halted trucks is evidence of the Gulenists’ “anti-national” behaviour, as it claims that the trucks were carrying assistance to Turkmens fighting in Syria against both al-Assad and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). When Dundar and Erdem published their story as fresh evidence in the case, despite courts ruling to restrict media coverage of the incident upon the government’s request, they made President Erdogan furious. Prosecutors soon opened cases against them.”

So this case has to do with the 2013-2014 campaign of the secretive religious-Right Gulen faction within the Turkish government to bring then-PM Tayyip Erdogan (now president) into disrepute. Gulenists had made damning recordings and collected documents when they were still partners with Erdogan and a constituent group inside the Justice and Development Party (AKP). Erdogan weathered the charges against him in the eyes of the public, and his party just won enough seats to rule without seeking a coalition with any other party.

That Turkey and the Gulf oil states have been supporting hard line fundamentalist Salafi groups in Syria such as the Army of Conquest (an al-Qaeda-led coalition) is an open secret. That Daesh (ISIL, ISIS) has been smuggling gasoline and kerosene from the refineries it captured, in part to Turkey, is another open secret.

So why is the AKP government waging a war on the press and its own generals to cover up this activity?

My guess is that Erdogan is having prosecutors send a signal to journalists and military men that acting on or revealing further Gulenist leaks will not be permitted. Perhaps he fears that the Gulen movement has more dirt on him than it has already brought out and just wants to forestall its becoming public. He may also be attempting to put all activities of the MiT (the Turkish CIA) out of bounds for the press and the Turkish military.

But the focus on that January, 2014, military shipment is also suspicious. Erdogan claimed that it was humanitarian aid going to the Syrian Turkmen in the north of Syria. But the inspection of the gendarmerie and the video released by Cumhuriyet demonstrate that the trucks were carrying weaponry. Cumhuriyet reported that the cargo comprised a thousand mortar shells, 50,000 bullets for machine guns and 30,000 heavy artillery shells. — Is the problem that it wasn’t going to Turkmen at all but to some group so radical that Erdogan would be embarrassed if it were known he was supplying it?

While Turkey is roiled by a war on journalists (the editor-in-chief of the conservative Muslim newspaper Zaman, which allegedly has ties to the Gulen movement, has just also been arrested, for insulting Erdogan), the arms flowing through the country are allowing the Salafi fighters to withstand the Russia air campaign south and east of Aleppo.

In a headache for President Obama, his Syrian Democratic Forces (a coalition of Kurdish, Sunni Arab and Christian militias) have been kicked out of some villages south of Aleppo by another set of American clients, the Falcons of the Mountain (Suqur al-Jabal), who are hard line religionists and hate the Kurds as secular leftists allied with christians. Al-Qaeda in Syria is also taking territory in the Aleppo area, opportunistically benefiting from Russian and regime attacks on Daesh there.

Turkey supports the Turkmen and the Army of Conquest despite the membership of al-Qaeda in the latter, against the Kurdish YPG. Russia is said to be helping the Kurds.


Related video:

Euronews: “Turkey: two journalists jailed over Syria smuggling reports”

contributors <![CDATA[What does ISIL/ Daesh actually want?]]> 2015-11-30T05:47:24Z 2015-11-30T05:47:24Z By Amalendu Misra | (the Conversation) | – –

Every religious community, at some point in its history, has harboured a vision of the apocalypse. It reminds us that the world periodically goes through tumultuous socio-religious strife, agonising chaos and unbearable anarchy. Hence Christians refer to an Antichrist in the context of an irredeemable age. Hindus, for their part, regularly invoke the metaphor of Kaliyug to describe man-made anarchy.

For fundamentalists in various religious traditions, this anarchy is brought to an end by an act of the divine. Consequently, those who believe in such apocalypse mostly leave the fate of their community and that of the larger world in the hands of their specific gods and messiahs.

Put simply, these are people who are content that “the divine will take its course, unaided by human intervention”.

Some other fundamentalists, however, find themselves in a bit more of a hurry. Instead of sticking to the old-fashioned waiting game for the messiah to arrive, they appoint themselves as agents of the imaginary transformation. The [so-called] Islamic State [group, IS] falls into this category.

A violent geography

In the biblical Book of Revelation we are introduced to the idea of an end of the world theory or Armageddon. We find references to this prophecy in various Islamic scriptures too. Since IS believes in an antiquated version of Islam, its subscription to this theory is perhaps not surprising.

What is less expected though, is that IS not only believes in the literal meaning of the coming Armageddon – it sees itself as its chief protagonist.

Outwardly it gives the impression of existing as a conglomeration of cruel, bloodthirsty lunatics but the core ideology of IS is firmly rooted in a carefully considered belief system that is predicated upon a millenarian worldview. Guided by this specific understanding of the future, it follows skillfully designed strategies likely to usher in a desired outcome.

In view of critics who have pored over its deeds in recent years, one could draw parallels between various Islamic “end-of-days” prophecies and the course of action that IS seems to follow.

There is the order it has imposed on a specific people, the geography it controls and the battles it has raised against the outside world. In IS geopolitics, the physical space of occupied Syria and Iraq is the heartland of the end of world times. This, it believes, is the terrain on which the war between Muslims and infidels will be fought.

Armageddon requires a clearly defined foe. IS, not surprisingly, has a roll call of enemies. It is incensed by the existence of the Jewish state of Israel; it is disturbed by the intervention in the Islamic world (read Iraq) by non-Muslims, it is frustrated by the external economic exploitation of Islamic wealth.

To rid the Islamic world of these adversaries necessitates an epic military engagement. But to engage its foes in this grand war, IS needs to take the combat to them. It knows that attacking its foes on their own turf will force them to come marching into that specific prophetic terrain where they will meet their end. Having carefully prepared its battle plan IS has also pinpointed the location of these future battlefields.

A pre-modern dystopia

The coming Armageddon, according to the IS worldview, is a necessary condition. So it rejects peace as a matter of principle. If it is to establish an uncontested Islamic empire in the form of a caliphate, it has to actively pursue an all-out war with rest of the world.

To win this war requires a mammoth effort. It must stand prepared. It must have a strict social order. There must be death-defiant pride among its soldiers. Above all there should be an organisational structure that will make its god proud. The pre-modern tribal laws being practised in IS-controlled territory is but small testament to this millenarian zeal.

More important though is the flood of foot soldiers coming from beyond the traditional heartland of Islam to join the fight. Bored, disillusioned, alienated, constantly monitored and having grown up in heavy doses of violent video games and incendiary sermons in the local mosque, many Muslim youths in the West find the IS discourse irresistible.

By combining myth and modernity, IS conjures up an ideal post-apocalyptic world where it alone reigns supreme. The vision becomes all the more attractive to its followers when it gives them an actual foretaste of that future world – enacting video-game fantasies of mowing down your enemies in a real life crowded street to freely plucking enemy women as your sexual slaves. Breaking this temptation is the key to stopping more young people from joining the death march of IS.

The Conversation

Amalendu Misra, Senior Lecturer, Department: Politics, Philosophy and Religion, Lancaster University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


Related video added by Juan Cole:

Frontline: “Children of ISIS (full film) | FRONTLINE”

contributors <![CDATA[The GOP Race as America’s Hunger Games]]> 2015-11-30T04:53:02Z 2015-11-30T05:22:35Z Nomi Prins | ( | – –

Fact: too many Republican candidates are clogging the political scene. Perhaps what’s needed is an American Hunger Games to cut the field to size. Each candidate could enter the wilderness with one weapon and one undocumented worker and see who wins. Unlike in the fictional Hunger Games for which contestants were plucked from 13 struggling, drab districts in the dystopian country of Panem, in the GOP version, everyone already lives in the Capitol. (Okay, Marco Rubio lives just outside it but is about to enter, and Donald Trump like some gilded President Snow inhabits a universe all his own with accommodations and ego to match.)

The six candidates chosen here (based on composite polling) have remarkably similar, unoriginal, inequality-inducing, trickle-down economic recommendations for the country: reduce taxes (mostly on those who don’t need it), “grow” the economy like a sprouting weed, balance the budget by cutting as yet not-delineated social programs, overthrow Obama’s health-care legacy without breaking up the insurance companies, and (yawn)… well, you get the idea. If these six contenders were indeed Hunger Games tributes, their skills in the American political wilderness would run this way: Ben Carson inspires confusion; Marco Rubio conveys exaggerated humility; Ted Cruz exudes scorn; Jeb Bush can obliterate his personality at a whim; and Carly Fiorina’s sternness could slice granite. This leaves Donald Trump, endowed with the ultimate skill: self-promotion. As a tribute, he claims to believe that all our problems stem from China and Mexico, as well as Muslim terrorists and refugees (more or less the same thing, of course), and at present he’s leading the Games.

When it comes to economic policy, it seems as if none of them will ever make it out of the Capitol and into the actual world of American reality.  Like Hillary Clinton, blessed by Wall Street’s apparently undying gratitude for her 9/11 heroism, none of the Republican contestants have outlined a plan of any sort to deal with, no less break the financial stronghold of the big banks on our world or reduce disproportionate corporate power over the economy, though in a crisis Cruz would “absolutely not” bail them out again.   Stumbling around in the wilderness, Carson at least offered a series of disjointed, semi-incomprehensible financial suggestions during the last Republican “debate,” when asked why he wouldn’t break banks up. “I don’t want to go in and tear anybody down,” he said. “I mean that doesn’t help us, but what does help us is to stop tinkering around the edges and fix the problem.”

Rubio, already in top Hunger Games form, swears that it’s recent regulations (not legacy elite decisions) that did the dirty deed. “The government made [the banks] big by adding thousands and thousands of pages of regulations,” he said of Dodd-Frank legislation (which doesn’t actually alter Wall Street structurally in any way). In fact, in recent decades every major power grab or consolidation in American business, from banks to energy companies, resulted from bipartisan deregulation.

None of these big-money-backed candidates seem particularly concerned that another economic crisis could ever cripple the country, or have evidently even noticed that most Americans have yet to experience the present “recovery.”  None seem to realize that when the Federal Reserve winds down its cheap money policy and banks and companies are left to fend for themselves, more economic hell could break loose in the style of the 2007-2008 meltdown. Jeb Bush recently summed up the general 2016 Republican position on the economy in a single what-me-worry-style sentence: “We shouldn’t have another financial crisis.” ‘Nuff said.

In the 2012 presidential election, Mitt Romney’s chances dwindled after he disparaged 47% of the country as so many leeches. Today’s Hunger Gamers have learned from his experience. Optics spell opportunity, so as a group they’re shuffling the usual Republican-brand tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy in with selective recognition of the broader population and promises to kill all loopholes in some future utopian tax bill. None of them, of course, would consider raising the minimum wage to put more money in the pockets of workers before tax-time hits. Even old Henry Ford knew the power of wages when, early in the last century, he strengthened his car empire by doubling the then-prevailing minimum wage for his workers to $5 a day — enough for them not only to save up and buy his Model-Ts, but also boost productivity.

The present set of Hunger Gamers could invoke Republican President Teddy Roosevelt’s trust-busting ire, or President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s willingness to fund vast national construction projects, or even (to reach into the distant past) President Herbert Hoover’s initial attempts to pass what became, under Democrat Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the 1933 Glass-Steagall Act that separated deposit-taking from speculation at banks. But to be realistic, none of them belong to the Republican Party as it once existed.  They all live in an American Panem and so feel no compunctions about promoting the idea that corporations contributing ever less to the federal till would Make America Great Again.

Now, let’s send those six candidates into that wilderness, weapons in hand, one at a time, and while we’re at it, examine their minor differences by checking out their campaign websites to see what kind of games we can expect in a coming Republican era of “good times.”

Ben Carson

If you look through the index of Ben Carson’s latest bestseller, A More Perfect Union, you won’t even find the words “economy,” “banks,” or “Wall Street.”  Instead, his campaign slogan, “Heal, Inspire, Revive,” could headline a yoga retreat. His position as the Republican co-frontrunner or runner-up (depending on which polls you look at) relies on his soft-spoken, non-politician persona, not his vague economic ideas that flash by in a chameleon-like fashion.

Yes, he was a brilliant neurosurgeon, but the tenacity and skills required to become a gifted medical practitioner have not translated well into presidential-style economic policies.  To the extent that he has a policy at all, it’s a shopworn version of the twenty-first-century Republican usuals: ratifying a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution “to restore fiscal responsibility,” introducing a flat tax, not raising the minimum wage, yada, yada, yada.  In a Washington Post op-ed last year, he recounted his mother’s days as a “domestic in the homes of wealthy people who were generous to her” and would slip young Carson and his brother “significant monetary incentives” in return for good grades. One even loaned him a luxury convertible. With such employers — and the incredibly rich are a well-known generous bunch, at least when it comes to supporting Republican presidential candidates (just 158 families have contributed more than half the money to this election so far, mostly to Republicans) — who needs a government-declared minimum wage?

Regarding taxes, Carson considers the 74,000-page tax code “an abomination.” And who would argue otherwise? But like his various opponents, he’s not about to point out that it was largely crafted by the representatives of mega-corporations, not Wal-Mart workers at meet-ups with senators. He’s for a flat tax of 10% with no exemptions for the poor, based on biblical economics 101. Maybe people who don’t produce bumper crops should just pray for a better lot.

He would conveniently cut the official corporate tax rate from 35% (the average effective tax rate is 27.9% but the biggest, brightest companies don’t even approach that amount) to between 15% and 20%, the definition of corporate manna from heaven.  He would also allow companies to bring their foreign profits back to the U.S. completely tax-free if they would even… pretty, pretty please… consider allocating 10% of them to “finance enterprise zones” in major cities. And so it goes in Carsonland.

Best bet on his campaign website: A $25 bumper sticker that says #IAMACHRISTIAN, proof that he’s eager to channel his inner evangelical Katniss.

Donald Trump

Trump actually brought up President Dwight Eisenhower recently, but only for Operation Wetback, his grim Mexican immigrant deportation program. No I-like-Ike mention was made of his funding of the interstate highway system or the way he strengthened banking regulations.

The Donald lists five core positions on his site, including the two economic pillars of his campaign: “U.S.-China trade reform” and “tax reform,” both of which would, of course, “make America great again.” This may already sound a bit repetitively familiar to you, but he wants to reduce the corporate tax rate to 15% because it “would be 10 percentage points below China’s and 20 points below our current burdensome rate that pushes companies and jobs offshore.”  Given that our biggest companies already pay far less than that “burdensome” rate, can there be any question that lowering it further would produce more generous CEOs and slay dreaded China at the same time?

Like President Snow, Trump would start aggressively and only get more so, economically speaking. He would “attack” the national debt and deficit by eliminating government waste, fraud, and abuse, and “grow” the economy xenophobically by doing in local Mexicans and distant Chinese, and all of this cutting and slashing would, like a Chia Pet, make the economy sprout even as tax revenues were savaged.  Or, even if it isn’t one of his five core positions, he could pull a genuine Snow and get rid of old-fashioned-style government, leaving Americans officially beholden to an oligarch.

In another piece of (black) magic, his campaign website assures readers that cutting the deficit and reducing our debt would also stop China from “blackmail[ing] us with our own Treasury bonds.” No matter that China actually lent us money to run our government and bolster our financial system, and that a thank-you note might be in order (on paper made in China, of course).

When it comes to tax reform, Trump’s “populist” program would remove 75 million households from the income tax rolls and provide them, so he claims, with a simple one-page form to send the IRS, saying “I win.”  Though he would cut the current seven tax brackets to four — 0%, 10%, 20%, and 25% — it’s his 15% corporate tax rate that trumps the field. Rubio would only chop it to 25%, Bush to 20%, Cruz to 16%, and Carson… who knows? Various estimates suggest that Trump’s plan would lead to a staggering federal revenue loss (so lucky for us that, in a Trump presidency, the rich would undoubtedly be so grateful that their generosity would soar beyond imagining). The nonpartisan Citizens for Tax Justice computed the cost of his plan at $12 trillion over 10 years.  So don’t expect any Eisenhower-esque national building campaigns (other than that “beautiful” wall on the Mexican border).

Best gimmick on his campaign website: A $15 Trump dog sweater modeled by the saddest damn wiener dog ever. Perhaps its mother was a deported Chihuahua.

Marco Rubio

Rubio’s slogan “a new American century” couldn’t be grander, perhaps to compensate for the lackluster version of economic policy at his campaign website.  It’s certainly not the sort of thing you’d expect from someone aspiring to be president of the world’s largest economy. Despite that, rest assured that he’s had economics and success on his mind 24/7.  After all, Goldman Sachs is now his top contributor and his super PACs are on a run, too, including the rap-inspired “Baby Got Pac” just launched by multimillionaire John Jordan.

And in true Hunger Games fashion — when the “odds” head in a tribute’s favor, the patrons and gifts begin rolling in — Rubio just bagged Republican mega-donor billionaire Frank VanderSloot. Mitt Romney’s former national finance co-chairman, VanderSloot joins a growing roster of Rubio billionaires, including hedge-fund moguls Paul Singer and Cliff Asness.

“Marco Rubio is the brightest and most capable candidate,” wrote VanderSloot of his new political buddy. Of the others he and his brain trust considered, he added, “Jeb simply does not have the leadership skills necessary to unite the people behind him”; Carson lacks “the international knowledge or skill set”; Cruz and Trump are “simply not electable in a general election” (no billionaire-envy there); and Fiorina, his second choice, “simply isn’t resonating with the voters.”

Rubio’s tax plan, the “cornerstone” of his economic policy, would — you won’t be surprised to learn — reduce the number of tax brackets from seven to three and eliminate taxes in ways particularly beneficial to the billionaire (especially hedge-fund billionaire) class, including the estate tax and taxes on capital gains and dividends. For the broad population, Rubio includes family tax cuts. According to an analysis by the Tax Policy Center, his plan would be a bargain compared to Trump’s, costing federal government coffers a mere $2.4 trillion or more in receipts over the next decade. As a byproduct, his program is essentially guaranteed to spark a new round of financial speculation, but don’t for a second let the 2007-2008 meltdown cross your mind since, as every Republican knows, with a Marco Rubio, Donald Trump, or Ben Carson in the Oval Office that can’t happen.

Best gimmick on his campaign website: You can “fall into campaign season” by ordering a “Marco Polo” made-in-the-USA shirt for $48 in patriotic red, white, or blue naturally! For a mere $500 extra, you can personally have the honor of buying Rubio a “plane ticket” (perhaps to meet and greet his next billionaire).

Ted Cruz

The Cruz campaign website offers a hodge-podge of semi-incoherent economic salesmanship. His tax plan, or what he likes to call (without the slightest justification) the “next American revolution,” promises to “reignite growth in our economy.” His “simple flat tax” (yep, another of those!) would abolish the Internal Revenue Service as well.  Personal income tax brackets would go from seven to… count ‘em!… one at a 10% rate across the board and the corporate income tax would be replaced by a flat tax of 16%. And it should be taken for granted that the American economy would soar into the stratosphere!

Cruz’s tax code would be so “simple with a capital-S” that it would make Donald Trump’s look complicated. A postcard or phone app would suffice for individual and family filings. There would be no tax on profits earned abroad and it almost goes without saying that Obamacare taxes would die a strangulated death. Loopholes for businesses would apparently go, too.

Cruz claims his simple flat tax will elevate the gross domestic product, increase wages by 12.2%, create nearly five million new jobs, and undoubtedly fill the world with unicorns.  It would also wipe out between $768 billion and $3.6 trillion in federal tax receipts over 10 years.

Best gimmick on his campaign website: For $55 you can get a bad-boy poster of Cruz sporting a Sons of Anarchy look (tattoos, cigarette in mouth, etc.) captioned “Blacklisted and Loving It.”

Jeb Bush

Jeb! has by far the sleekest web page. He and his donor entourage took the “presidential concept” seriously with a look that seems to have been stolen directly from “the Capitol” in the Hunger Games.

Its economic section excoriates the tax code for being “rigged with multiple carve-outs for favored industries.” He blasts Obama’s economic policies for leading to “low growth, crony capitalism, and easy debt.” Yet, under Jeb’s governorship, Florida’s debt escalated from $15 billion to more than $23 billion. After his term, the housing-bubble that had inflated the state’s coffers burst big time, and Florida’s economy under-performed much of the country during the financial crisis. While homeowners statewide went underwater, he landed a multi-million dollar consultancy gig with… gulp!… Lehman Brothers.

By now, you won’t be shocked to learn that Bush’s plan would cut tax brackets from seven to three: 28%, 25% and 10%, and that he would cut the corporate tax rate from 35% to 20%, five points below China’s. (These days, if you’re a Republican, you’ve got to stick it to China.)

While Jeb would not rein in Wall Street (for all the obvious and already well-documented reasons), right now it looks as if he’s not going to have a chance to not rein in anything.  While his PR team maintains “Jeb can fix it,” invigorating his wilting campaign will require more than a bow and arrow and a mockingbird.

Best gimmick on his campaign web page: “The Guaca Bowle” for $75 because who doesn’t need one? (Bush family guac recipe not included.)

Carly Fiorina

Fiorina’s web page doesn’t offer a lot of economic anything. It’s more like a personality infomercial. For her official positions, you need to watch video clips of her TV appearances from CBS This Morning to late night talk shows and — if you’re starting to get bored — just imagine Stanley Tucci as Hunger Games host of festivities Caesar Flickerman narrating.

Fiorina calls for “zero-based budgeting” because “zero” sounds so much cleverer than “balanced” and touts ad nauseam a three-page tax plan (perhaps the current one in a microscopic font, since we don’t actually know the details). The repetition of simple concepts to the masses seems to be her modus operandi.

Best gimmick on the Carly for America Super PAC website: For only $26 you can get a “Hillary Who?” infant one-piece, the perfect gift for any Republican baby.

How Corporations Really Pay Taxes

Despite the prominence of tax cuts in the policies of the top six Republican candidates, even the venerable Brookings Institution found that they have a minimal effect on economic growth.  In addition, when you consider all the promised corporate cuts, you should know that corporations already don’t contribute much.

According to Citizens for Tax Justice, between 2008 and 2012, 26 of the 288 Fortune 500 firms (consistently profitable in those years) managed to pay nothing, nada, zero in federal income tax.  The 288 firms collectively paid an effective federal income tax rate of 19.4%, and a third of them paid an effective rate of less than 10%. Five companies — Wells Fargo, AT&T, IBM, General Electric, and Verizon — also bagged over $77 billion of the $364 billion in tax breaks doled out in those years. Extra jobs didn’t follow. Think of this crew as the real winners of the American Hunger Games in this period.

For 2014, for instance, Goldman Sachs avoided forking over federal income taxes on almost half of its $6.8 billion in U.S. profits, paying an effective tax rate of 18.6%. Between 2010 and 2012, due to tax breaks associated with executive pay, Fortune 500 companies saved an extra $27 billion in federal and state taxes. That’s a lot of dosh to use for Super PAC support.

In 2012, the Democrats blasted candidate Mitt Romney’s tax plan as a giveaway to the rich. This time around, our six tributes-cum-candidates are taking no such chances.  They’re making sure to throw crumbs to the middle and working classes, even as they offer more caviar to the wealthy and corporations. Depending on the candidate and plan, the overall loss of national revenue will range from an estimated $1.6 trillion (even factoring in growth that may never happen) to $12 trillion, but will be a stunning amount.

Perhaps with such a field of candidates, the classic Hunger Games line will need to be adapted: “Let the games begin and may the oddity of it all be ever in your favor.” Certainly, there has never been a stranger or more unsettling Republican campaign for the presidential nomination or one more filled with economic balderdash and showmanship.  Of course, at some point in 2016, we’ll be at that moment when President Snow says to Katniss Everdeen, “Make no mistake, the game is coming to its end.” One of these candidates or a rival Democrat will actually enter the Oval Office and when that happens, both parties will be left with guilt on their hands and all the promises that will have to be fulfilled to repay their super-rich supporters (Bernie aside). And that, of course, is when the real Hunger Games are likely to begin for most Americans.  Those of us in the outer districts can but hope for revolution.

Nomi Prins, a TomDispatch regular, is the author of six books, a speaker, and a distinguished senior fellow at the non-partisan public policy institute Demos. Her most recent book is All the Presidents’ Bankers: The Hidden Alliances That Drive American Power (Nation Books). She is a former Wall Street executive. Special thanks go to researcher Craig Wilson for his superb work on this piece.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, Nick Turse’s Tomorrow’s Battlefield: U.S. Proxy Wars and Secret Ops in Africa, and Tom Engelhardt’s latest book, Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World.

Copyright 2015 Nomi Prins



Related video added by Juan Cole:

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