Gilbert Achcar, Morbid Symptoms: Relapse in the Arab Uprising

Notice: Gilbert Achcar, Morbid Symptoms: Relapse in the Arab Uprising

In this eagerly awaited book, foremost Arab world and international affairs specialist Gilbert Achcar analyzes the factors of the regional relapse. Focusing on Syria and Egypt, Achcar assesses the present stage of the uprising and the main obstacles, both regional and international, that prevent any resolution. In Syria, the regime’s brutality has fostered the rise of jihadist forces, among which the so-called Islamic State emerged as the most ruthless and powerful.

In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood’s year in power was ultimately terminated by the contradictory conjunction of a second revolutionary wave and a bloody reactionary coup. Events in Syria and Egypt offer salient examples of a pattern of events happening across the Middle East.

Morbid Symptoms offers a timely analysis of the ongoing Arab uprising that will engage experts and general readers alike. Drawing on a unique combination of scholarly and political knowledge of the Arab region, Achcar argues that, short of radical social change, the region will not achieve stability any time soon.

About the author

Gilbert Achcar grew up in Lebanon. He is Professor of Development Studies and International Relations at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. His publications include The Clash of Barbarisms: September 11 and the Making of the New World Disorder (2002), published in 15 languages; Perilous Power: The Middle East and US Foreign Policy (2008), with Noam Chomsky; the critically acclaimed The Arabs and the Holocaust: The Arab–Israeli War of Narratives (2010); and The People Want: A Radical Exploration of the Arab Uprising (2013).

Via Stanford University Press

Is Turkey’s Pivot to Russia about Erdogan’s Survival?

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Turkey’s prime minister, Yildirim Binali, has announced a significant about-face in Turkey’s Syria policy. Murat Yetkin writes:


“The most important priority for us is to stop the bloodshed as soon as possible,” Yıldırım said at a press conference in Istanbul on Aug. 20, later adding that the rest amounted to irrelevant “details.” He also said that the U.S. and Russia agree that al-Assad cannot hold Syria together in the long run but he could be considered for the transition. Upon a question, Yıldırım said Turkey’s deal with Russia to normalize relations had an “important share” in this policy shift.”

The attempted coup of July 15, 2016 in Turkey shook that country’s political system to the core. Although President Tayyip Erdogan of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) had broken in 2013 with his former allies, the right wing religious cult around Fethullah Gulen, he appears to have believed that he had tamed it. He survived the members’ leak of recorded conversations pointing to AKP corruption and support of fundamentalist militias in Syria. His party went on winning elections without the Gulenists, who were revealed to have less popular support than they had imagined.

So the coup attempt appears to have taken Erdogan by surprise. One important but neglected report suggests that it was the Russians who informed him of the chatter their cyber-spies had picked up from Turkish officers, a few hours before the coup was launched. Russia intensified its cyber surveillance of the Turkish military after it shot down a Russian fight-jet in November of 2015.

Several members of Erdogan’s circle, including cabinet ministers, have blamed the United States for the coup, since Gulen lives in the US. Personally, I find the idea that President Obama plotted a coup against the Turkish government implausible (Joe Biden frankly calls the notion “bonkers.”) But that I find it implausible does not stop the AKP elite from believing in it. (I’m also not sure that Gulenist sleeper cells in the officer corps were the only or main element in the plot).

It has to be admitted that elements of the US foreign policy elite find Erdogan extremely inconvenient. He did not step up to combat Daesh (ISIS, ISIL), which contributed to its ability to hit Paris, Brussels and Baghdad. He has bombed the YPG Kurds in Syria, which have been the only reliable and effective allies of the US against Daesh. And he has tangled with the Israelis over Gaza, and tangling with the Israelis is not allowed according to the Washington consensus. But it should be remembered that many NATO allies have been inconvenient for Washington at one point or another over the decades (Charles De Gaulle used to give them conniption fits) and it hasn’t been US policy to overthrow those allies in coups. (The US did stage coups, but I doubt any among NATO allies).

But let’s just imagine that Erdogan does think that the US was either behind the coup or at least was willing to wink at it (Washington didn’t at the time seem all broken up at the idea), whereas Putin actively intervened to warn him about the plotters’ chatter. Remember that the coup-makers were trying to kill Erdogan, and they could easily have succeeded. This coup was personal. Erdogan would be grateful to Putin, would have gained a degree of trust in his intentions, and inclined to show some gratitude. Erdogan seems to think he can go on winning elections the rest of his life (he is 63) and will have an opportunity to transform Turkey into a presidential system. Those ambitions were almost cut short by mutinying soldiers of his own military.

Erdogan is embarked upon a massive purge of oppositionists (they cannot all be Gulenists), with tens of thousands of people detained or charged, including journalists, academics, minor bureaucrats, and even soccer players and others Obviously not involved in the coup.

NATO countries are democracies and generally object to mass round-ups with no habeas corpus more redolent of Zimbabwe than Western Europe, and their criticism has stung and inconvenienced Erdogan in his apparent march to a presidency for life unencumbered by a rule of law or grassroots democratic processes. (Admittedly, his enemies, whether the PKK [Kurdistan Workers Party] or the Gulenists, have far less respect for both).

Then there is the problem for the AKP government that the US Department of Defense is actively allied with the YPG Kurds of northern Syria and is de facto helping them establish their Rojava, or an ethnic Kurdish mini-state on the Turkish border, in return for YPG help in rolling up Daesh. This policy seems in part to be Secretary of Defense Ash Carter’s revenge on Erdogan for refusing to destroy Daesh.

But from Ankara’s point of view, the YPG is a terrorist group. It would be as though a foreign country helped an anti-American Mexican cartel take over Tijuana, posing a perceived threat to San Diego. (I don’t myself see any sign that the YPG has ambitions outside Syria or that it has a command structure in common with the brutal PKK group from which it is descended, but we’re talking about how Ankara sees thing).

So Erdogan is pretty done out with Washington. But despite his enormous ambition, he cannot make Turkey, a middle income country of 75 million, into a global power by wishing it so, and needs other countries for trade, technology and military help.

On top of Putin’s assistance, then you have the series of Daesh bombings in Ankara, Istanbul and elsewhere, which should have made anyone begin to rethink whether backing or winking at the radical Muslim militias in Syria is really a wise idea, and whether having them come to power in Damascus would really benefit Turkey.

Russia sees Daesh in al-Raqqa, Syria, as an extension of radical Muslim rebelliousness that has affected Chechnya and the Caucasus. Google maps says you could drive from Aleppo through Turkey to Grozny in Chechnya in less than 24 hours. And, there are Russian Chechen nationals forming regiments in al-Raqqa. For Daesh to take over Syria (or for the Army of Conquest to do so) would create a radical Chechen base from which Russia could be attacked.

Another thing. Erdogan’s arrogance toward Russia in the wake of the plane shoot-down last fall was ill-advised. Putin’s consequent economic sanctions deeply harmed Turkish exporters of fruits and vegetables and entrepreneurs connected to the tourism industry (Antalya, on the Mediterranean coast, had become virtually a Russian city in the summer, but abruptly was turned into a ghost town). Middle class businessmen are one of the AKP’s primary constituencies, and part of the rationale of the party is to enhance their profit opportunities, not drive them into bankruptcy.

So Erdogan’s break with the more ideological former Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and his replacement with the pragmatist Yildirim Binali on 24 May was perhaps already a sign that a more pragmatic Syria policy was in the offing. But after the coup, there was every reason to make a new opening to Russia. And you couldn’t do that without adjusting Syria policy.

The Turkish government has thus adopted the position that US Secretary of State John Kerry was forced into last February, in the lead-up to the now-lapsed cessation of hostilities. That is, that he dropped the demand for an immediate resignation of Bashar al-Assad as president of Syria in preparation for new elections. Apparently at some points Russia had been willing to consider forcing al-Assad out, but Iran, Russia’s strategic partner in Syria, refused to budge on this issue.

The compromise for those who insist on a change of personnel at the top is to say, ‘no al-Assad’ in the long run, but he can stay during this interim or transition period (the US does not want the Syrian government to collapse, given what happened in Iraq and Libya after such a collapse)

And that is what Prime Minister Binali now says is Turkish policy as well.

There are other impetuses for the Turkish pivot to Russia. Yeni Safak reported on 19 August that Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu tod Sputnik, “Without Russia’s contribution, there cannot be a permanent solution in Syria. We keep saying this. The same goes for Iran, too, with which we also have to boost our relations in this regard.”

It continued that “Cavusoglu said Moscow could not find a ‘more loyal’ friend than Turkey.”

He admitted that Russia and Turkey have differences of opinion (like, who should win the war in Syria!) but that nevertheless Turkey wanted to increase relations with Russia “to a level that is even better than before.”

Cavusoglu also underlined that Turkey is going to Russia to build up its military capabilities beyond what NATO is willing to help with. NATO has been worried about what it sees as Erdogan’s steady move to authoritarianism, which has cooled technology interchange. Cavusoglu admitted this drawback: “Unfortunately, we see countries in NATO are a bit hesitant when it comes to exchange of technology and joint investments.”

I think all this pivot to Russia business can easily be exaggerated. Turkey has been in NATO a long time and the Turkish officer corps has deep ties with Brussels and Washington. Some of what is going on may be Erdogan flirting with Putin to signal to Washington, Berlin, Paris and London to leave him alone about the mass arrests Or Else. And, ultimately, Moscow and Ankara do not at all see the future of Syria the same way. There will be continued frictions. But it is also undeniable that Turkey’s foreign policy in the wake of the coup is accelerating its pragmatist direction. Better relations with the Russian Federation is part of that process.

Related video:

RT: “Ankara considers military ties with Russia as NATO shies away – Turkish FM ”

US-Allied Kurds advance in Hasaka City, NE Syria

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Clashes continued on Sunday between the Kurdish YPG [People’s Protection Units] and the Syrian Arab Army in Hasaka, according to the Egyptian press . Surveying Syrian social media, Misr24 said that the Kurds had apparently advanced into Hasaka and driven the Syrian army from some districts, including al-Nashwa and Ghuwayran.

The Kurds are reported to have taken 2/3s of the city.

On Saturday, there had been heavy clashes and thousands of civilians fled from the city. Last Thursday, YPG-held districts were subjected to aerial bombardment by the regime of Bashar al-Assad.

On Friday, US planes showed up, apparently to contest Syria’s ability to target YPG fghters.

Some observers maintain that Turkey indirectly greenlighted the Syrian regime’s attack on the Kurds in Hasakah when it made up with Russia and accepted the idea that Syrian strongman Bashar al-Assad can stay in power during an envisioned transition to a new and more democratic government. Damascus may have interpreted that Turkish concession as permission to attempt to reestablished state control in the breakaway Kurdish districts.

The regime has lost control of most of the al-Jazira region of northeast Syria, but did have troops stationed in Hasakah and Qamishly.

Russia, which has close relations with the Syrian armed forces, is attempting to mediate a settlement, since Moscow would prefer that its two clients declare a truce so that the Arab Muslim radicals might be defeated.

Related video added by Juan Cole:

AFP: “Syria regime hits Kurd-held area for first time”

Saudis bomb Sanaa during “Million-Person march”

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

The Houthi Ansarullah Movement that controls most of north and west Yemen staged what was by all accounts an enormous demonstration in the capital of Sanaa on Saturday. It may have been the single largest demonstration in the country’s history. While it was unlikely actually to have involved a million people, it did probably tens of thousands, and it showed how strong grassroots support for the Houthis is in the north.

The massive demonstration in Sab`in Park in downtown Sanaa was intended to send a signal to Saudi Arabia and its coalition that the Houthis are enormously popular in the north and that the General People’s Congress, the parliament of Yemen in its present form, shares in that popularity.

If so, Saudi Arabia did not get that message. Its fighter-bombers targeted downtown Sanaa in the midst of the demonstration, which arguably was a war crime (you aren’t allowed to endanger large numbers of civilians in war if you don’t have to). The Saudis are at war with rebel supporters of the Houthis, whom Saudi Arabian inaccurately depicts as a cat’s paw of Iran.

The Houthis are a fundamentalist movement growing out of the moderate Zaidi branch of Shiite Islam in north Yemen. They were one of the groups that supported the Yemeni revolution of 2011-2012, which deposed ‘president for life’ Ali Abdullah Saleh. But during the transition to elected governments, the Houthis derailed the country’s move to democracy by making a coup and gradually dismissing civilian high governing officials.

About a third of Yemenis are Zaidis, but the proportion is much more enormous if we look only at their power base in the northwest of the country. Sunni Aden and some other regions were liberated from Houthi control by Saudi Arabia and its allies in the Gulf Cooperation Council (plus Morocco and Jordan).

The Saudi-led group has bombarded Yemen intensely for the past year, knocking out key infrastructure and killing or endangering the civilian population.

One Houthi spokesman said that the crowds in the square had sent a message to Saudi Arabia and its allies, that the Houthis are here to stay and retain a great deal of popularity.

The indiscriminate Saudi bombing of Yemen and the destruction of civilian infrastructure such as bridges and ports has caused the Obama administration to begin distancing itself from this war. But too late– most Yemenis see the US as behind the GCC effort.

—–

Related video added by Juan Cole:

Massive pro-Houthi rally in Yemen | DW News

Juan Cole, “The Idea of Peace in the Qur’an” (Kluge Center Blog)

Juan Cole | Library of Congress | John W. Kluge Center | – –

The past summer I had an appointment at the John W. Kluge Center that allowed for research in the Library of Congress collections, and have written most of a book about peace in the Qur’an or Koran, the Muslim scriptures. This short blog post distills a few pages of that study. – Juan

Posted August 19, 2016 by Jason Steinhauer

The following is a guest post by Dr. Juan Cole, 2016 Kluge Chair in Countries and Cultures of the South.

In contemporary debates on the roots of Muslim radicalism and the character of the religion, it is important to go back to the Muslim scripture or Qur’an (sometimes spelled Koran). Like the Bible, the Qur’an has verses about war as well as peace, but those on peace have been insufficiently appreciated.

The Qur’an is believed by Muslims to have been revealed to Muhammad ibn Abdullah, a merchant of Mecca on the west coast of Arabia, between 610 and 632 of the Common Era. Muhammad was one in a long series of human prophets and messengers from the one God, standing in a line that includes Abraham, Moses, David, Solomon, John the Baptist and Jesus of Nazareth. Each apostle of God, Muslims hold, has reaffirmed God’s oneness and the need to have faith and live a moral life. In each of these religions, adherence to the basics in the Ten Commandments given to Moses is necessary, including avoiding sins such as theft, adultery, and murder.

islam-is-peace

Perhaps because it arose during a great seventh-century war between the Byzantine and Iranian empires, peace (al-salam) was a profound concern for the Qur’an. An early chapter (97) of the Qur’an comments on the first revelation given to the prophet, in 610, while he was meditating at a cavern at Mt. Hira near Mecca. It speaks of a descent of angels and of the Holy Spirit on the night of power when the revelation was sent down, ending with the verse “And peace it is, until the breaking of the dawn.” This verse identifies the night of revelation, and therefore the revelation itself, with peace. Peace in Semitic languages like Hebrew and Arabic is not only conceived of as an absence of conflict, but as a positive conception, of well-being. The revelation and recitation of scripture, Chapter 97 is saying, brings inner peace to the believer.

The Qur’an says that Muhammad was sent as a warner to his people and to the world, that the Judgment Day is coming, when people will be resurrected from their graves and judged by God. The good, or the people of the right hand, will go to heaven, while the wicked will be consigned to the torments of hell. Heaven, a repository of human aspirations, is depicted by the Qur’an as suffused by peace. In 50:34, the Qur’an says that the virtuous admitted to paradise are greeted by the angels with the saying, “‘Enter in peace!’ That is the day of eternity.” The Qur’an admits that most of those who will be resurrected are “ancients,” not “moderns, i.e. that most of the inhabitants of heaven will be Jews, Christians and members of other religions. This multi-cultural Muslim paradise is described as lush and verdant, with water flowing and a cornucopia of delights provided. Qur’an 56:25-26 assures the believers, “Therein they will hear no abusive speech, nor any talk of sin, only the saying, “Peace, peace.”

In heaven, Qur’an 56:90-91 promises “And they are among the companions of the right hand, then they will be greeted, ‘Peace be to you,’ by the companions of the right hand.” And 36:54-56 says that after the Resurrection, “The dwellers in the garden on that day will delight in their affairs; they and their spouses will repose on couches in the shade. They will have fruit and whatever they call for. “Peace!” The word will reach them from a compassionate Lord.” Commentators have noted that this verse seems to demonstrate a progression, from delight and repose to the heavenly fruit and finally to the highest level of paradise, where God himself wishes peace and well-being on the saved.

This word comes from the Lord because, in the Qur’an’s view, it expresses his own essence. Qur’an 59:23 discloses that peace is one of the names of God himself: “He is God, other than whom there is no god, the King, the Holy, the Peace, the Defender, the Guardian, the Mighty, the Omnipotent, the Supreme.”

Read the whole thing

Near-War: US Planes almost tangle with Syrian MiGs, which bombed area of US troop Embeds

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

The fighting that has broken out between Kurdish YPG fighters and the Syrian Arab Army in Hasaka, northeast Syria, is hardly a new thing. There were clashes in April.

Syria says that the Kurds brought it on themselves by trying to expand into government-held territory.

As the US has deepened its involvement in Syria, this round of fighting could drag the US into war.

The People’s Protection Units or YPG is a Syrian Kurdish militia that now holds large swathes of northern Syria. These leftist Kurds are in conflict with Daesh (ISIS, ISIL) and with the fundamentalist rightwing Arab guerrillas such as the al-Qaeda-linked Army of Syrian Conquest and the Saudi-backed Army of Islam.

Since the YPG is the only really reliable ground force willing and able to take on Daesh, the US has allied with it (over the objections of Turkey). Washington has embedded some 200 US troops with YPG units (some were even caught wearing YPG insignia).

In Hasaka and Qamishli, the YPG holds territory adjacent to that held by the army of the Syrian government, led by Bashar al-Assad. Al-Assad doesn’t like the leftist Kurds, whom he considers separatists, but he has bigger problems, and so often the YPG is left alone by the Syrian army, for now.

But the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) maintains that the YPG has been expanding its territory in Hasaka at the expense of Damascus. So, with all the subtlety of a mobster, al-Assad scrambled fighter jets and bombed YPG-held Hasaka.

But if you bomb the YPG, you might well hit an American special operations soldier.

Washington minded, and flew its own jets over Hasaka on Friday, apparently scaring off the Syrian pilots (the Pentagon tried to play this confrontation down).

But this US and coalition intervention could have a long tail. Is the US committing itself to a no-fly-zone over Rojava, the area of Syria on which the YPG wants to erect a mini-state? Arguably, the US no-fly-zone over Iraq helped get us into the Iraq War.

So not only are US troops in danger of being killed by al-Assad’s mad bombers (as tens of thousands of innocent civilians have been) but US pilots are in danger at any moment of going to war in the skies against the Syrian air force.

Me, I think this is a dangerous flashpoint.

I mean, it may blow over. But if al-Assad killed a US soldier operating among the Kurds, can you imagine the storm of feces in Washington? And if it happens once either of the presidential candidates get into office, it could be the Gulf of Tonkin all over again.

—–

Related video:

AFP: “Syria regime pounds Kurdish positions for second day”

Merkel: Migrants did not bring Radical Terrorism to Germany

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said at a campaign event on Wednesday evening, that there is no relationship between the influx of some one million migrants and refugees into Germany in the past year and the incidents of radical Muslim violence in the country.

She pointed out that Muslim radicalism as a phenomenon pre-existed the rise of Daesh (ISIS, ISIL) and that even Daesh was there before the refugee crisis. She said that German authorities have been worried about Daesh for some years.

To some extent she blamed social media rather the the influx of refugees.

She said that the right way to deal with domestic terrorism is more state powers and better trained police.

Reuters reports that Merkel said that forms of Islam compatible with the constitution are welcome in Germany:

“”We have said clearly that an Islam that works and lives on the basis of the constitution … belongs to Germany . . .”

About half of Germans agree with her. And what is remarkable is that you have the head of state talking in this clear-eyed and generous way about people who have lost everything and sought a better life. It is hard to imagine a US politician of Merkel’s level openly speaking out this way. Of course her party may suffer for it at the polls– we have yet to see. But Merkel is not backing down.

Merkel has long insisted that Islam belongs to Germany. I pointed out 18 months ago that this assertion is historically true.

If Germans did not want Islam to belong to Germany, they shouldn’t have gone out and subjugated e.g. Tanzania in the 19th century (although a mixed society it has a strong Muslim community). There was also German colonialism in West Africa, where there were also Muslims. If you go out an incorporate people into your empire, they belong to you whether they or you like it or not.

I wrote:

“Some 57% of Germans say in polls that they feel threatened by Islam. A country of 80 million, Germany has 4 million Muslims, 2/3s of them Turks. About half of these Turks of Muslim heritage, however, hail from the Alevi Shiite minority in Turkey, and many Alevi families became secular leftists in the 1960s and 1970s. So most Turkish Muslims are not interested in Sunni fundamentalism. Moreover, only about half of resident Muslims are citizens, so they are not in a position to ‘Islamize’ anything, even if they wanted to– which most do not. In polling, Germans give unrealistically high estimates of how many Muslims they think there are in the country.

Germans have very small family size and the country is projected to fall from 80 million to only 60 million by 2050, thus falling behind France, which is growing through immigration. Merkel’s government appears to favor emulating the French policy, encouraging immigration, to avoid Germany losing its economic and demographic leadership role in Europe”.

Besides, there was radical terrorism of leftist and rightist varieties in Germany in the twentieth century and it was far more deadly than the Daesh attacks of today (as horrific and inexcusable as those are). To start the clock on social violence with last year’s arrival of so many immigrants and refugees and then to blame everything on them is ahistorical thinking.

—–

Related video:

Angela Merkel stands by refugee policy after attacks in Germany

Dragon Rising? China seeks Closer military Cooperation with Syria

By Juan Cole | Informed Comment | – –

The Arabic press is reporting that a high Chinese official on a visit to Damascus has announced that Beijing intends to strengthen its military relationship with the current Syrian government. At the same time he affirmed that China would avoid involvement in the civil war. Reuters broke the story in the West.

China has a long history of involvement in Syrian security affairs and is already doing some training of the Syrian military. But Beijing now seems intent on taking the relationship to the next level.

The news comes in the wake of reports that Russia is strengthening its own military ties with Iran and may be flying missions against fundamentalist rebels in Syria from that country.

China and Russia both belong to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which appears to see Iran and Syria as potential strategic assets in its rivalry with the US and NATO. They feel as though NATO stole Libya from them, and are determined to make a stand in Syria. The newspaper of the Chinese military said that Russia’s moves in Crimea and Syria should be studied by Chinese officers. Iran has observer status in the SCO.

The director of the Chinese Central Military Commission’s Office for International Military Cooperation, Rear Admiral Guan Youfei, made the remarks after meeting with Fahad Jassim al-Freij, the Syrian Defense Minister.

China’s Global Times quoted Hua Liming, former Chinese Ambassador to Iran, as saying that “China’s position on the Syrian crisis will not change, that is, [it will] allow the Syrians to decide their country’s destiny . . . Intervention from outside can only enlarge the crisis, so China will maintain the relationship with the government and encourage negotiations between different parties.”

The same newspaper said that “Observers said China is worried about the terrorists’ influence on religious extremists in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.”

That is, China’s interest in increasing its training of and support for the Syrian Arab Army of the al-Assad regime stems in part from fear of the hundreds of Uyghurs who have gone to join Daesh (ISIS, ISIL) or to follow the al-Qaeda operative Abu Muhammad al-Julani, leader of the Army of Syrian Conquest. They are apprehensive that these fighters will return to Xianjiang in northwest China and spread radicalism. China has about 40 million Muslims. Many are Han Chinese. But in the northwest, about 12 million Turkic Uyghurs live. The government has relocated millions of Han Chinese there to reinforce Beijing’s control, in the face of a small separatist movement. The Western intelligence agencies have been accused of stirring up the Uyghurs, as well.

The Global Times also quoted a professor of Middle East Studies at Shanghai International Studies University, Zhao Weiming, who suggested that the Syria play is payback by Beijing for perceived US interference in the South China Sea.

Professor Zhao further pointed out that China may see the Syrian civil war as beginning to wind down, given the ceasefire agreement of spring-summer 2016 (and despite its recently unraveling). It might then be an opportune time for China to put down a marker of influence in Syria without risking getting involved in the civil war or in the Iran-Saudi rivalry.

—-

Related video:

RT: “China ‘to provide aid, enhance military training’ in Syria – top army official”

Trump and Extreme Vetting of Muslims

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

In an attempt at a foreign policy speech in Youngstown, Ohio, on Monday, Donald Trump attempted to get back to his fearmongering roots by focusing on the threat of ISIL, which he depicted as a hydra-headed menace with tentacles in a range of Western countries including the US.

In fact, Daesh (ISIS, ISIL) is a relatively small organization that has been shrinking in both personnel and territory. It has lost its footholds in Diyala, al-Anbar and Salahuddin provinces in Iraq and a campaign against its remaining stronghold in that country, Mosul, by Kurdish and Shiite forces is now building. It is possible that it will be finished as a holder of territory in Iraq before the November election in the US. Likewise, in Syria, Daesh has just lost Manbij, which sits astride one of its major smuggling routes. It has also lost most of northern al-Raqqa province, the city of Palmyra, and other important real estate. In Libya, its fighters in Sirte have fled the city under US bombardment. As for Sinai, those are mistreated Sinai residents– some of them Bedouin tribes, who have been fighting the Egyptian army for some time and only declared themselves ISIL to gain the benefits of franchising, sort of like a local burger joint putting up golden arches and pretending it is a McDonald’s. The terrorism it has pulled off in Europe has been of the lazy soft-target variety, and while the deaths it has caused have been traumatic and are horrific, the incidents haven’t actually been a challenge to national security anywhere outside the Middle East.

Trump supported the interventions he now condemns, including the Iraq War and the no-fly zone in Libya, so his picture of a Middle East in flames as a result of President Obama’s policies is ignoring his own positions.

Trump said he wanted to ally with Russia against ISIL. De facto, that is an arrangement President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry have already worked out.

Having tried to scare people with an ISIL clearly in rapid decline, he went on to bash ordinary Muslims again. He wants to exclude immigrants from “volatile” parts of the world, and wants to exclude those who question gay marriage e.g.

He called for extreme vetting of those admitted. But US visa procedures, unbeknownst to Trump, are already extremely strict. His vague addition of the modifier “extreme” to “vetting” won’t make them more strict.

He said,

“We should only admit into this country those who share our values and respect our people. . . In addition to screening out all members or sympathizers of terrorist groups, we must also screen out any who have hostile attitudes towards our country or its principles – or who believe that Sharia law should supplant American law. Those who do not believe in our Constitution, or who support bigotry and hatred, will not be admitted.”

Sharia law is just Muslim religious law, akin to Roman Catholic canon law or Jewish religious law (Halakhah). It isn’t a substitute for the US constitution. Aside from a few countries like Saudi Arabia and Iran, it isn’t even part of the constitution of most Muslim countries (Turkey’s constitution is based on that of Switzerland; even Tunisia’s party of the religious right, al-Nahda, declined to push for putting shariah in the Tunisian constitution; etc., etc.)

Would believing in these things religiously make you ineligible to come to the US?

Marriage age for girls of 12

Stoning adulterers to death.

Death penalty for gay sex

Burning at the stake for incest

If so, Trump would actually be excluding fundamentalist Jews from the US. Some American Jews are worried that Trump would exclude Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox Jews from Israel.

Likewise, a lot of Ukrainians, who are also from a volatile part of the world, likely don’t subscribe to some of the values Trump wants to make litmus tests.

Trump hopes for a bounce in the polls via this ugly religious bigotry. I am hoping that Americans are better than that.

—–

Related video:

PBS Newshour: “Trump reveals his national security plan — while Clinton says he doesn’t have one”

Top 5 Ways Olympian Ibtihaj Muhammad is a Better American than Trump

Ibtihaj Muhammad, the first American woman athlete to compete in the Olympics wearing the hijab or Muslim head-covering, is a fatal complication to Donald Trump’s Islamophobia.

Ms. Muhammad shared in a team bronze medal in the saber competition in fencing at Rio. Trump disguises his bigotry toward Muslims by invoking them in the same breath with immigration, but a majority of the over 1 percent of Americans who are Muslim are citizens. One major group of Muslims, the African-Americans, are much more long-standing Americans than he is.

Trump says there is something the matter with that community because it has a violent fringe, and wants to stop Muslims from coming to the US. But Trump’s ethnic groups, white Presbyterians and Germans, have both been known to have, let us say, a violent fringe, and we don’t ban them from travel to America. Here are some ways Ms. Muhammad is a much more exemplary American than Trump.

1. Trump’s grandfather immigrated to the US, and his mother was Scottish, so he is a hyphenated American. The Muhammad family was kidnapped from Africa, possibly from a Muslim village in Senegal or Nigeria, and brought to North America sometime in the sixteenth through eighteenth centuries. They’ve been here a damn sight longer than the Trumps and so by Trump’s lights have a better claim on American-ness than the Donald.

2. Her father worked as a policeman. In contrast, Trump cultivates the more violent bikers and white supremacists who hate law enforcement.

3. Her mother worked in special education. Children exposed to Trump’s serial ramblings will need an extra 12 years just to unlearn all the Trumpisms he has put in their heads.

4. Ms. Muhammad makes America proud and defends our diversity. Trump makes us ashamed and attacks people different from himself.

5. The team of which Ms. Muhammad is a part won a bronze medal for the USA at the Olympics in fencing. Trump fired people on a reality show for a few years.

——

Related video:

The Late Show with Stephen Colbert: “Late Show Fencing Challenge: Stephen vs. Ibtihaj Muhammad”